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B E R K E L E Y

F I C T I O N

Managing Editors

Katherine Cellers Sandy Lwi

Associate Editors

Rachel Brumit Gazelle Emani Marie Kent Jeff Normann ChadVogler Steven Wilson

Assistant Editors

Grace Blasco Taylor Chen Bryce Kobrin Steven Ma Kathleen Manis RhodaPiland Jaime Portillo SashaVolkov

Cover art by Kenneth Ronquillo

Copyright 2007 by Berkeley Fiction Review The Berkeley Fiction Review is not an official publication of the Associated Students of the University of California. These stories are works of fiction and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ASUC or the University of California, Berkeley. The Berkeley Fiction Review is a non-profit publication. ASUC sponsored. www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~bfr x _^ ' Inquiries, correspondence, and submissions should be sent to: Berkeley Fiction Review, 1 OB Eshleman Hall, Univ. of California, BerkeleyCA 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

R E V I E W

Staff Winnie Andrews Anna Belak Claire BHde Adriana Catena Mui-HaiChu Nichole Cristee Matthew Detert Alice Fanchiang Miles Fink Mariam Friunts Courtney Gin Jake Green

Sophie Halton Lauren Harrison Ryan Hatcher NickHerron Raymond Hobbs Naima Hussain Holly Jones Jennifer Kerssen Min Young Kim Susan Kim Kelly Koay Mia Krstic

Allison Lahl Stephanie Ludwig KeTsey McClure Molly Meyer Catherine Perez Rachel Petach Susanna Pho TheaPrieto Alexandra Reider Rose Rimler Regina Ryu Arianna Schioldager

Natalie Tsui Brooke Turpin CarlaRuizVelasco Zoe Woodcraft LinWu Linda Xiao Andrea Zabielskis EmilynZhao


B E R K E L E Y

F I C T I O N

Managing Editors

Katherine Cellers Sandy Lwi

Associate Editors

Rachel Brumit Gazelle Emani Marie Kent Jeff Normann ChadVogler Steven Wilson

Assistant Editors

Grace Blasco Taylor Chen Bryce Kobrin Steven Ma Kathleen Manis RhodaPiland Jaime Portillo SashaVolkov

Cover art by Kenneth Ronquillo

Copyright 2007 by Berkeley Fiction Review The Berkeley Fiction Review is not an official publication of the Associated Students of the University of California. These stories are works of fiction and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ASUC or the University of California, Berkeley. The Berkeley Fiction Review is a non-profit publication. ASUC sponsored. www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~bfr x _^ ' Inquiries, correspondence, and submissions should be sent to: Berkeley Fiction Review, 1 OB Eshleman Hall, Univ. of California, BerkeleyCA 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

R E V I E W

Staff Winnie Andrews Anna Belak Claire BHde Adriana Catena Mui-HaiChu Nichole Cristee Matthew Detert Alice Fanchiang Miles Fink Mariam Friunts Courtney Gin Jake Green

Sophie Halton Lauren Harrison Ryan Hatcher NickHerron Raymond Hobbs Naima Hussain Holly Jones Jennifer Kerssen Min Young Kim Susan Kim Kelly Koay Mia Krstic

Allison Lahl Stephanie Ludwig KeTsey McClure Molly Meyer Catherine Perez Rachel Petach Susanna Pho TheaPrieto Alexandra Reider Rose Rimler Regina Ryu Arianna Schioldager

Natalie Tsui Brooke Turpin CarlaRuizVelasco Zoe Woodcraft LinWu Linda Xiao Andrea Zabielskis EmilynZhao


A D V I S O R S

Faculty Stephen Booth

Publications

F O R E W O R D

Here at the Berkeley Fiction Review we deal in language. From the intensely heated debates waged weekly by our staff to the monotonous process of revision, correspondence and maintenance that keeps our publication afloat, language ties our work together. We are blessed to contribute to the tradition of the Berkeley Fiction Review; a tradition of passionate commitment to literature.

Lyman Mower

Alumna Sarah McClure Haufrect

Unfortunately, this year got off to a shaky start and we quickly learned the meaning of the saying "when it rains, it pours." What began as a straightforward editorial-process turned into a deluge of past mismanagement and broken communication. We want to thank all the writers and contributors who kept their patience while we waded through seemingly endless amounts of backed-up work. Our staff members this year were particularly discerning and approached all the stories we received with open minds and critical eyes. We are proud of the fine staff that worked tirelessly reading and selecting stories and we are proud of the fantastically talented writers who make this process worthwhile, As a result, we are proud to present you with thirteen excellent stories that span the spheres of joy, sorrow and even the wonderfully absurd through their creativity and originality. They are the result of the storms we have weathered, and we hope that they in turn provide you shelter from the various rains life can bring, and continue to do so as you return to read them again and again.

Sincerely,

Katherine Cellers

Sandy Lwi


A D V I S O R S

Faculty Stephen Booth

Publications

F O R E W O R D

Here at the Berkeley Fiction Review we deal in language. From the intensely heated debates waged weekly by our staff to the monotonous process of revision, correspondence and maintenance that keeps our publication afloat, language ties our work together. We are blessed to contribute to the tradition of the Berkeley Fiction Review; a tradition of passionate commitment to literature.

Lyman Mower

Alumna Sarah McClure Haufrect

Unfortunately, this year got off to a shaky start and we quickly learned the meaning of the saying "when it rains, it pours." What began as a straightforward editorial-process turned into a deluge of past mismanagement and broken communication. We want to thank all the writers and contributors who kept their patience while we waded through seemingly endless amounts of backed-up work. Our staff members this year were particularly discerning and approached all the stories we received with open minds and critical eyes. We are proud of the fine staff that worked tirelessly reading and selecting stories and we are proud of the fantastically talented writers who make this process worthwhile, As a result, we are proud to present you with thirteen excellent stories that span the spheres of joy, sorrow and even the wonderfully absurd through their creativity and originality. They are the result of the storms we have weathered, and we hope that they in turn provide you shelter from the various rains life can bring, and continue to do so as you return to read them again and again.

Sincerely,

Katherine Cellers

Sandy Lwi


C O N T E N T S

Trips to Win Alan Brag

95

The Story of the Stone Giselda Beaudin

13

Foot, a Tale of the Irrational Mind David Winner

113

At Honey Creek Jessica Smith

22

The Kingdom of the Egg John Patrick Bishop

124

Mercy Suzanna Banwell Third Place Sudden Fiction Winner

35

Softie Brenna Burns

38

Interior Art Michael Greenstein Michelle Lo

Home Sweet Home Rosemary Zurlo-Cuva

42

Cover Art Kenneth Ronquillo

Minos Rustom Davar First Place Sudden Fiction Winner

54

How to Leave a Mark Susi Wyss

56

Hopper's Lighthouse E.J. Chang

59

The Message Scott Nagele

73

The Insanity of Others Flaminia Ocampo

85

January Martine Charnow Second Place Sudden Fiction Winner

92


C O N T E N T S

Trips to Win Alan Brag

95

The Story of the Stone Giselda Beaudin

13

Foot, a Tale of the Irrational Mind David Winner

113

At Honey Creek Jessica Smith

22

The Kingdom of the Egg John Patrick Bishop

124

Mercy Suzanna Banwell Third Place Sudden Fiction Winner

35

Softie Brenna Burns

38

Interior Art Michael Greenstein Michelle Lo

Home Sweet Home Rosemary Zurlo-Cuva

42

Cover Art Kenneth Ronquillo

Minos Rustom Davar First Place Sudden Fiction Winner

54

How to Leave a Mark Susi Wyss

56

Hopper's Lighthouse E.J. Chang

59

The Message Scott Nagele

73

The Insanity of Others Flaminia Ocampo

85

January Martine Charnow Second Place Sudden Fiction Winner

92


S U D D E N

F I C T I O N

Tenth Annual Sudden Fiction Contest Winners First Place ( Mnos" Rustom Davar Second Place "January" Martine Charnow Third Place "Mercy" Suzanna Banwell


S U D D E N

F I C T I O N

Tenth Annual Sudden Fiction Contest Winners First Place ( Mnos" Rustom Davar Second Place "January" Martine Charnow Third Place "Mercy" Suzanna Banwell


r ^

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monk and a Taoist walk into a bar. The monk has a stone in his pocket. They order two Yuenglings, pints on tap. This is not a joke. It's how one A " f the most famous Chinese love stories begins. With a stone, and a pint ofbeer. "Where are you taking that thing?" the Taoist asks the monk. The bartender is trying not to listen. He doesn't know what they're talking about. The monk draws the stone from his pocket, places it on the bar. It hums a little among the peanut shells and glass rings. It is the pale green of a watercolor dragon in aT children's book. The monk grins and swallows beer. The stone trembles. The Taoist, suddenly thirsty, anticipating the need, orders a second drink. The bartender tilts the glass to the tap and lets the liquid slide in. Believe it or not, the stone is going to become a lover. The stone is the subject of the story; he is intimately involved. It is the bread that firstmakes'Molly cry. She bought it at the grocery store around the comer from her apartment. She didn't understand all the different checkout stations so she brought the bread to the wrong counter. The woman scolded her in rapid Mandarin, shaking her cropped dark hair and gesturing to a far counter. Molly didn't understand the words, but the meaning was clear enough. She carried her bread back to the other counter. She could feel eyes on her, a little army of young women at their counters staring. She dissolved into colors: yellow hair, blue eyes, red face. In the morning, she stands at the kitchen counter. It is modern, clean and

^^f-^hh^i

13 1


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monk and a Taoist walk into a bar. The monk has a stone in his pocket. They order two Yuenglings, pints on tap. This is not a joke. It's how one A " f the most famous Chinese love stories begins. With a stone, and a pint ofbeer. "Where are you taking that thing?" the Taoist asks the monk. The bartender is trying not to listen. He doesn't know what they're talking about. The monk draws the stone from his pocket, places it on the bar. It hums a little among the peanut shells and glass rings. It is the pale green of a watercolor dragon in aT children's book. The monk grins and swallows beer. The stone trembles. The Taoist, suddenly thirsty, anticipating the need, orders a second drink. The bartender tilts the glass to the tap and lets the liquid slide in. Believe it or not, the stone is going to become a lover. The stone is the subject of the story; he is intimately involved. It is the bread that firstmakes'Molly cry. She bought it at the grocery store around the comer from her apartment. She didn't understand all the different checkout stations so she brought the bread to the wrong counter. The woman scolded her in rapid Mandarin, shaking her cropped dark hair and gesturing to a far counter. Molly didn't understand the words, but the meaning was clear enough. She carried her bread back to the other counter. She could feel eyes on her, a little army of young women at their counters staring. She dissolved into colors: yellow hair, blue eyes, red face. In the morning, she stands at the kitchen counter. It is modern, clean and

^^f-^hh^i

13 1


The Story of the Stone

Berkeley Fiction Review

wandered. He ended up in the land belonging to the Fairy of Disenchantment." The Taoist "snorts into his beer, "the fairy of disenchantment - that's an oxymoron." The monk waits until he stops laughing. "There was a river where the Stone liked to walk. One day he noticed the Crimson Pearl Flower. She caught his fancy, so he watered her every day." "The Crimson Pearl what?" the Taoist asks. The monk's face grows haughty. "The Crimson Pearl Flower, a blossom transformed into a fairy girl by the stone's faithful watering." "And then what?" the Taoist asks. "Well she knew she owed the stone. It was his watering that made her a fairy; she would have stayed a flower, died a flower. She couldn't water him back. What good would it do? He's a stone after all. So she decided to water him metaphorically, with the tears shed during a whole human lifetime. She's being reborn as a mortal, and the stone is going too. That's where I'm taking him, to start his life as a human man." The monk glances at his watch, "And I'm late." He throws some money on the bar and scoops up the stone. The Taoist turns back to his beer. "Is the game on?" he asks the bartender.

white. She could be anywhere. Her husband Doug kisses her cheek quickly. "I'll be home by six," he says. "We can all have dinner together." She sees their transplanted sitcom family; inside it's all the same. Husband, children, breakfast. But outside is Beijing. "Ok," she says, and glances up from the coffee maker. She had insisted it come along, a bulky carry-on. "There are Starbucks in Beijing these days," Doug had said, but she needed coffee in the mornings in her own home. She can hear the clattering sounds of her children in the back of the apartment. Doors closing, drawers closing, water running. The front door slams sharply, Doug leaving. She stirs milk into her coffee. Stephanie tumbles into the kitchen, ponytail, notebooks, lip gloss. "Good morning honey," Molly says. "Morning," her daughter replies, fishing in the fridge for orange juice. Molly had realized quickly that Beijing didn't seem to have breakfast. She couldn't feed her children dumplings and pork rolls in the mornings. Doug had put his hand on her shoulder and told her to spend whatever she needed to spend. Some things are going to be expensive here, he had said, but everything else is cheap. So she bought milk and orange juice and coffee. Ka-fay, she thinks to herself, mimicking the Chinese pronunciation. She unwraps the bread and draws a knife through it. An orange sticky substance oozes out from the center, clings to her knife. She picks up a slice, suprised, and bites into it, then discreetly spits the sweet, gelatinous fruit into a paper towel. "I'm starving," Tom says behind her. He is, like all sixteen-year-old boys, always starving. Molly stares at the loaf of bread. It was supposed to be breakfast, slices of toast with butter and jam. "Surprise," she says, turning towards her children, "have whatever you want for breakfast this morning." She dumps the loaf in the trash can and sits at the table with her coffee. She watches Tom eat leftover chicken and rice while Steph helps herself to a handful of cookiesr—-They leave the house together to catch the bus to the Beijing American school. When she is alone, she cries.

It's like a cafeteria, Molly thinks, and she doesn't know why she's there. Except she's hungry, and she doesn't feel up to the grocery store, to the complicated counters and fruit-filled breads. She stands awkwardly hovering behind the counter as people push past her to order. She watches the cooks frying heavy batches of noodles and vegetables and meat. Steam rises from the swirling black woks as they are lifted and leaned above the flames by thin, sweating men who deftly toss and sear the sizzling contents. She finally muscles her way to the front and orders jaozi: dumplings. It's a word she knows, a pronunciation she is sure of. Cha too, is easy, the syllable rising like a question. She hands the man behind the counter a bill, doesn't count her change, accepts the wide plate of twenty dumplings. Twenty dumplings! She stares until she is pushed out of the way. She sits at the end of a long table. Mandarin flaps'aTound her, quick and chirping. She eats her way slowly through the dumplings, through the jaozi. It is hot inside the cafeteria. Her hair is wet against her neck. She can feel her shirt sticking to her armpits and ribs and breasts, her bra damp with s. weat. The tea burns her tongue, the steam from her cup curls towards her nose as she sips. The heat makes her hungry. She eats her way through all twenty dumplings. In the evening, she isn't hungry. She cooks white rice and vegetables in soy sauce. She is not deft and quick like the men at the cafeteria. The wok is heavy, and she stirs one-handed with a stiff rubber spatula. She watches her husband and children scoop up the stir-fry with chopsticks. They hold the bowls to their mouths and shovel.

"This is not an ordinary stone," the monk says. The Taoist is feeling tipsy. He hasn't eaten much; the temple offerings lately have been sparse. Maybe compassion is a fading quality. He bangs on the bar and shouts for peanuts. The bartender brings over a bowl. "Obviously," says the Taoist. He thinks the monk is being pompously obscure. "This stone was created by a goddess. He's a leftover. She used all the other stones to repair the heavens. Only he was left. He was at loose ends. He 14

15 JL


The Story of the Stone

Berkeley Fiction Review

wandered. He ended up in the land belonging to the Fairy of Disenchantment." The Taoist "snorts into his beer, "the fairy of disenchantment - that's an oxymoron." The monk waits until he stops laughing. "There was a river where the Stone liked to walk. One day he noticed the Crimson Pearl Flower. She caught his fancy, so he watered her every day." "The Crimson Pearl what?" the Taoist asks. The monk's face grows haughty. "The Crimson Pearl Flower, a blossom transformed into a fairy girl by the stone's faithful watering." "And then what?" the Taoist asks. "Well she knew she owed the stone. It was his watering that made her a fairy; she would have stayed a flower, died a flower. She couldn't water him back. What good would it do? He's a stone after all. So she decided to water him metaphorically, with the tears shed during a whole human lifetime. She's being reborn as a mortal, and the stone is going too. That's where I'm taking him, to start his life as a human man." The monk glances at his watch, "And I'm late." He throws some money on the bar and scoops up the stone. The Taoist turns back to his beer. "Is the game on?" he asks the bartender.

white. She could be anywhere. Her husband Doug kisses her cheek quickly. "I'll be home by six," he says. "We can all have dinner together." She sees their transplanted sitcom family; inside it's all the same. Husband, children, breakfast. But outside is Beijing. "Ok," she says, and glances up from the coffee maker. She had insisted it come along, a bulky carry-on. "There are Starbucks in Beijing these days," Doug had said, but she needed coffee in the mornings in her own home. She can hear the clattering sounds of her children in the back of the apartment. Doors closing, drawers closing, water running. The front door slams sharply, Doug leaving. She stirs milk into her coffee. Stephanie tumbles into the kitchen, ponytail, notebooks, lip gloss. "Good morning honey," Molly says. "Morning," her daughter replies, fishing in the fridge for orange juice. Molly had realized quickly that Beijing didn't seem to have breakfast. She couldn't feed her children dumplings and pork rolls in the mornings. Doug had put his hand on her shoulder and told her to spend whatever she needed to spend. Some things are going to be expensive here, he had said, but everything else is cheap. So she bought milk and orange juice and coffee. Ka-fay, she thinks to herself, mimicking the Chinese pronunciation. She unwraps the bread and draws a knife through it. An orange sticky substance oozes out from the center, clings to her knife. She picks up a slice, suprised, and bites into it, then discreetly spits the sweet, gelatinous fruit into a paper towel. "I'm starving," Tom says behind her. He is, like all sixteen-year-old boys, always starving. Molly stares at the loaf of bread. It was supposed to be breakfast, slices of toast with butter and jam. "Surprise," she says, turning towards her children, "have whatever you want for breakfast this morning." She dumps the loaf in the trash can and sits at the table with her coffee. She watches Tom eat leftover chicken and rice while Steph helps herself to a handful of cookiesr—-They leave the house together to catch the bus to the Beijing American school. When she is alone, she cries.

It's like a cafeteria, Molly thinks, and she doesn't know why she's there. Except she's hungry, and she doesn't feel up to the grocery store, to the complicated counters and fruit-filled breads. She stands awkwardly hovering behind the counter as people push past her to order. She watches the cooks frying heavy batches of noodles and vegetables and meat. Steam rises from the swirling black woks as they are lifted and leaned above the flames by thin, sweating men who deftly toss and sear the sizzling contents. She finally muscles her way to the front and orders jaozi: dumplings. It's a word she knows, a pronunciation she is sure of. Cha too, is easy, the syllable rising like a question. She hands the man behind the counter a bill, doesn't count her change, accepts the wide plate of twenty dumplings. Twenty dumplings! She stares until she is pushed out of the way. She sits at the end of a long table. Mandarin flaps'aTound her, quick and chirping. She eats her way slowly through the dumplings, through the jaozi. It is hot inside the cafeteria. Her hair is wet against her neck. She can feel her shirt sticking to her armpits and ribs and breasts, her bra damp with s. weat. The tea burns her tongue, the steam from her cup curls towards her nose as she sips. The heat makes her hungry. She eats her way through all twenty dumplings. In the evening, she isn't hungry. She cooks white rice and vegetables in soy sauce. She is not deft and quick like the men at the cafeteria. The wok is heavy, and she stirs one-handed with a stiff rubber spatula. She watches her husband and children scoop up the stir-fry with chopsticks. They hold the bowls to their mouths and shovel.

"This is not an ordinary stone," the monk says. The Taoist is feeling tipsy. He hasn't eaten much; the temple offerings lately have been sparse. Maybe compassion is a fading quality. He bangs on the bar and shouts for peanuts. The bartender brings over a bowl. "Obviously," says the Taoist. He thinks the monk is being pompously obscure. "This stone was created by a goddess. He's a leftover. She used all the other stones to repair the heavens. Only he was left. He was at loose ends. He 14

15 JL


Berkeley Fiction Review ' That's how the story starts: with a monk and a Taoist, and the stone of course. The monk brings the stone to the place where his mortal life will start, the place where Crimson Pearl Flower's life will start. That is the bulk of the story, a several volume saga. It follows the stone and the flower through their lives together. It charts the course of her tears. They are plentiful. The world is filled with tragedy. Molly doesn't know the story yet. She might not understand it. The monk and the Taoist in the bar would confuse her, so would the stone, and the Crimson Pearl Flower. The monk would be more pompous towards her than he is towards the Taoist. But a debt of tears, that she might understand. "You need to get out more," Doug says. They are in bed on a Saturday night. Molly puts the book she is reading, The Story of the Stone, down on her stomach. The spine of the book lines up with her sternum. "Maybe," she says, "but I don't exactly know how." "Well, what about the kids' friends?" Doug asks, "What about their parents? I'm sure there are other mothers who aren't working? Probably fathers too." He chuckles. Molly is embarassed: her children are showing her up. They have friends. They ride their bikes through the streets and meet their friends at the McDonalds outside the Forbidden City. My-dang-lao, Stephanie repeats incessantly, hysterical at the Mandarin translation of the Golden Arches. "And I know some of my co-workers have families. There's a cocktail thing this Thursday, at a bar downtown, other guys are bringing their wives. You should come." "Maybe I will," Molly says, but how will she get there? Will Doug-teach her the address? Would he come home to get her? Could she practice the words enough that any cabbie would understand them? And how will she find the place? She is illiterate here: the signs are pictures, shapes with no meaning. Molly knows she is being ridiculous. Doug would pick herjurif she wanted, if she asked him. Doug rolls over and switches off his bedside light. Molly picks the book up off her chest. She is only at the beginning, and she's not sure what's going on, but she can't fall asleep yet: Doug gave Toni permission to go out tonight with friends. Molly won't sleep until she hears him come home, wash up, sigh his way to bed. So she turns back to her book. She has a hunch the story is heading towards tragedy. Molly walks into a bar. Only the Taoist is left. He is on his third beer. Molly sits next to him and orders a Tsingtao. "It's the funniest thing," says the Taoist, "but I just met a Buddhist who was on his way to a reincarnation party. He was delivering a stone due to start his 16

The Story of the Stone mortal life." Molly smiles at the Taoist, "I'm reading that book," she says. "It's a book?" the Taoist's eyebrows fly up. "Well, I'll be damned," he says. Molly sips her beer. The Taoist stares into his glass, then glances up at Molly. "You look Irish," he says. "I'm half." Molly's nose is spattered with freckles. "I stand out in Beijing," she says. "People stare at me." "What can you do?" asks the Taoist. "Nothing I suppose. I can't make myself blend in, that's for sure." "Beijing huh?" says the Taoist. He swivels on his stool and watches Molly nod. "I recommend the new summer palace. You been there yet?" Molly shakes her head, "No. I've hardly been anywhere." "Why not?" the Taoist asks. Molly looks at the amber surface of her beer. "I think I've fallen down the rabbit hole. We've been in Beijing almost four months but nothing gets easier. Even my own husband is unfamiliar." The Taoist watches the freckles; they bow down with her frown, sifting across her cheekbones. "The summer palace," he says again, "it's the most beautiful place in Beijing." Doug is called into work on Sunday morning. Unexpectedly. Goodbye family outing. Steph and Tom talk non-stop through breakfast - Molly doesn't hear what they are saying. She remembers taking ballroom tlancing lessons with Doug, after Steph was born, to help her get back into shape. Doug would surprise her in the kitchen, steal her from the dishes, foxtrot her through the living room. Tom, at six, a hyena" on the couch^ laughed hysterically as his father dipped his mother, her hair flying loose, rubber dishwashing gloves clutched1 to Doug's shoulders. "So can I? Since we're not doing a family thing today anymore?" Steph asks. Molly looks at her blankly. ,. — ^ "Meet my friends at Friday's for lunch." "Friday's?" "We're sick of Chinese food. Karen's dad can pick me up. I already called her." Molly sighs and nods. Somewhere in the midst of breakfast she agreed to let Tom off on some excursion involving an internet cafe and a sandwich shop on the Beijing University campus. She washes the disheslilowly, no foxtrot iriterruptions, feeling the blistering water on the backs of her hands. Her fingers turn red, skinny lobster claws. She watches the undrinkable water flow over her knuckles and down the drain. She makes the kids brush their teeth with Evian. When she showers, she 17


Berkeley Fiction Review ' That's how the story starts: with a monk and a Taoist, and the stone of course. The monk brings the stone to the place where his mortal life will start, the place where Crimson Pearl Flower's life will start. That is the bulk of the story, a several volume saga. It follows the stone and the flower through their lives together. It charts the course of her tears. They are plentiful. The world is filled with tragedy. Molly doesn't know the story yet. She might not understand it. The monk and the Taoist in the bar would confuse her, so would the stone, and the Crimson Pearl Flower. The monk would be more pompous towards her than he is towards the Taoist. But a debt of tears, that she might understand. "You need to get out more," Doug says. They are in bed on a Saturday night. Molly puts the book she is reading, The Story of the Stone, down on her stomach. The spine of the book lines up with her sternum. "Maybe," she says, "but I don't exactly know how." "Well, what about the kids' friends?" Doug asks, "What about their parents? I'm sure there are other mothers who aren't working? Probably fathers too." He chuckles. Molly is embarassed: her children are showing her up. They have friends. They ride their bikes through the streets and meet their friends at the McDonalds outside the Forbidden City. My-dang-lao, Stephanie repeats incessantly, hysterical at the Mandarin translation of the Golden Arches. "And I know some of my co-workers have families. There's a cocktail thing this Thursday, at a bar downtown, other guys are bringing their wives. You should come." "Maybe I will," Molly says, but how will she get there? Will Doug-teach her the address? Would he come home to get her? Could she practice the words enough that any cabbie would understand them? And how will she find the place? She is illiterate here: the signs are pictures, shapes with no meaning. Molly knows she is being ridiculous. Doug would pick herjurif she wanted, if she asked him. Doug rolls over and switches off his bedside light. Molly picks the book up off her chest. She is only at the beginning, and she's not sure what's going on, but she can't fall asleep yet: Doug gave Toni permission to go out tonight with friends. Molly won't sleep until she hears him come home, wash up, sigh his way to bed. So she turns back to her book. She has a hunch the story is heading towards tragedy. Molly walks into a bar. Only the Taoist is left. He is on his third beer. Molly sits next to him and orders a Tsingtao. "It's the funniest thing," says the Taoist, "but I just met a Buddhist who was on his way to a reincarnation party. He was delivering a stone due to start his 16

The Story of the Stone mortal life." Molly smiles at the Taoist, "I'm reading that book," she says. "It's a book?" the Taoist's eyebrows fly up. "Well, I'll be damned," he says. Molly sips her beer. The Taoist stares into his glass, then glances up at Molly. "You look Irish," he says. "I'm half." Molly's nose is spattered with freckles. "I stand out in Beijing," she says. "People stare at me." "What can you do?" asks the Taoist. "Nothing I suppose. I can't make myself blend in, that's for sure." "Beijing huh?" says the Taoist. He swivels on his stool and watches Molly nod. "I recommend the new summer palace. You been there yet?" Molly shakes her head, "No. I've hardly been anywhere." "Why not?" the Taoist asks. Molly looks at the amber surface of her beer. "I think I've fallen down the rabbit hole. We've been in Beijing almost four months but nothing gets easier. Even my own husband is unfamiliar." The Taoist watches the freckles; they bow down with her frown, sifting across her cheekbones. "The summer palace," he says again, "it's the most beautiful place in Beijing." Doug is called into work on Sunday morning. Unexpectedly. Goodbye family outing. Steph and Tom talk non-stop through breakfast - Molly doesn't hear what they are saying. She remembers taking ballroom tlancing lessons with Doug, after Steph was born, to help her get back into shape. Doug would surprise her in the kitchen, steal her from the dishes, foxtrot her through the living room. Tom, at six, a hyena" on the couch^ laughed hysterically as his father dipped his mother, her hair flying loose, rubber dishwashing gloves clutched1 to Doug's shoulders. "So can I? Since we're not doing a family thing today anymore?" Steph asks. Molly looks at her blankly. ,. — ^ "Meet my friends at Friday's for lunch." "Friday's?" "We're sick of Chinese food. Karen's dad can pick me up. I already called her." Molly sighs and nods. Somewhere in the midst of breakfast she agreed to let Tom off on some excursion involving an internet cafe and a sandwich shop on the Beijing University campus. She washes the disheslilowly, no foxtrot iriterruptions, feeling the blistering water on the backs of her hands. Her fingers turn red, skinny lobster claws. She watches the undrinkable water flow over her knuckles and down the drain. She makes the kids brush their teeth with Evian. When she showers, she 17


The Story of the Stone

Berkeley Fiction Review

always one female and one male. The female has her paw on a baby lion and the male has his paw on a globe." She points to the other lion and sure enough, his blackened bronze paw rests on a sculpted sphere. The palace is a layer cake—courtyards inside courtyards. Doug is playing father: he asks Steph and Tom question after question. They are gum-snapping guidebooks, pulling him by the hand through the stony gardens. Molly pictures the pair of lions: Doug has his paw on the cubs right now, she thinks, and always on the globe. After the Forbidden City they go to the Beijing silk store, and Molly picks out a black fabric dancing with pheonix and dragons. The mythological beasts are traced in golcj. She waits in line to be fitted for a traditional Chinese dress, a qi pao. Doug's hand rests on her elbow. He looks around for the kids. They are lingering by the doorway, heads craned toward the narrow streets of the marketplace. "This might take a while," Doug said. "Why don't I walk around with the kids for a bit? We'll come back in fifteen minutes or so." "How will I tell them what I want?" Molly asks. She makes her voice buttery; a smile splits her face. Doug thinks she is joking. "Yeah right, they might be confused. I don't think any tourists come in here." He laughs and walks away. Steph and Tom are gathered into his broad wake. They all vanish from the doorway. Molly is surrounded by silk and Mandarin. A woman gestures Molly forward. Molly hands her the fabric, says the word qi pao. It is easy. Molly and the women communicate in gestures, the woman's hand slicing across Molly's thigh to indicate the height of the slit that will run up the side of the dress. Molly nods. The woman laughs delightedly. Molly thinks she is talking about the length of her legs: she towers over the woman who goes to work with measuring tape and notepad. — Across from her, a very young Chinese woman is trying on a red qi pao. Molly knows that red is the bridal color. The woman is familiar. Molly thinks about, the Taoist, and then about the book she is reading. This woman in red, she is the Crimson Pearl Flower in mortal form. In the book her human name is Dai-yu. In the book the tears have started - her life of thwarted love and loneliness is steamrojling- along. -Molly is frightened of the descent. Dai-yu, the woman in red, turns and looks at Molly. Her mouth is flower pink, washed out by the crimson of her dress. Molly wants to touch her, feel the silk spill of her hair, the baby curve of her chin. Molly knows the red qi pao is a joke. Dai-yu will never be a bride. The woman measuring Molly stands and snaps shut the tape and the notepad. One week she says, holding up a finger. Molly nods. A debt of tears, she thinks, is her destiny.

closes her eyes and dunks her face fast under the stream, lips snapped shut, a watertight seal. Doug laughs when he sees her, says her caution isn't necessary. He holds her towel out for her and she steps into the folds. There is a brief moment in the midst of the motion when his arms are around her: she wants to dance with him in the bathroom, foxtrot in Beijing. But she knows he has to go to work. What a wonderful opportunity, she had thought, when they first discussed the year in Beijing, but now her day slides open, a blank white page. Molly takes a cab to Doug's work event. She is proud of herself. She practiced saying the address in front of the mirror, her mouth like a stranger, foreign words lingering against the tiles. Doug is not there when she arrives. She is awkward, orders a martini. No one approaches her. No one knows who she is. Doug shows up late. He is contrite. He kisses her on the lips even though this is a work function. He slides an arm around her waist and tips her off balance. She drags back against him, vodka slipping over the edge of her glass and onto her hand. The Taoist at the bar gives her a wry look. She shushes him, a finger to her lips. Doug introduces her to his colleagues, pressed men in pressed suits who are busy anticipating the explosion of China. It's a market waiting to happen, just on the brink, you know. Get in there early, make your mark, learn the language, the culture. Billions of new consumers, cheap labor, a society ready for new technologies. Their wives are smooth, white wrists holding glasses of white wine. They smile at Molly and make jokes about how they miss home, the supermarkets, the super-highways, the super-sales. "It gets easier," they say to Molly, little secret smiles on their lips. But they don't say how. They take a cab home. Doug rattles off their home address. His Mandarin is stiff, not as good as Tom's, but he is assertive: he insists on being understood. They spoon up against each other in bed. Molly draws her knees up towards her chest. Doug kisses her neck, a serpent hand sneaks around to her breasts. They make love quietly, lying just like that: Doug^motfth buried in her hair, Molly fetal, eyes closed, desperate with his touch. The family outing materializes. A foursome they troop to the Forbidden City. A sign outside the entrance reads, "The 600 years old Forbidden City is ready to step into the 21st century in all its majesty." Tom hoots with laughter. Molly shepherds him through the gate. A pair of lions greet them at the bottom of the first set of steps. Stephanie caresses the lion cub curled beneath the front paw of one of the lions. "This is the female," she says. "What do you mean?" Doug asks. "I learned about it in school. When they built the lions in pairs there was

"I saw her," Molly says to the Taoist. He is in her kitchen. It is two in the morning, or three. Molly doesn't know. She refuses to look at the clock. Her children are safe in bed: Doug is on his side upstairs, head craned back against the 19

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The Story of the Stone

Berkeley Fiction Review

always one female and one male. The female has her paw on a baby lion and the male has his paw on a globe." She points to the other lion and sure enough, his blackened bronze paw rests on a sculpted sphere. The palace is a layer cake—courtyards inside courtyards. Doug is playing father: he asks Steph and Tom question after question. They are gum-snapping guidebooks, pulling him by the hand through the stony gardens. Molly pictures the pair of lions: Doug has his paw on the cubs right now, she thinks, and always on the globe. After the Forbidden City they go to the Beijing silk store, and Molly picks out a black fabric dancing with pheonix and dragons. The mythological beasts are traced in golcj. She waits in line to be fitted for a traditional Chinese dress, a qi pao. Doug's hand rests on her elbow. He looks around for the kids. They are lingering by the doorway, heads craned toward the narrow streets of the marketplace. "This might take a while," Doug said. "Why don't I walk around with the kids for a bit? We'll come back in fifteen minutes or so." "How will I tell them what I want?" Molly asks. She makes her voice buttery; a smile splits her face. Doug thinks she is joking. "Yeah right, they might be confused. I don't think any tourists come in here." He laughs and walks away. Steph and Tom are gathered into his broad wake. They all vanish from the doorway. Molly is surrounded by silk and Mandarin. A woman gestures Molly forward. Molly hands her the fabric, says the word qi pao. It is easy. Molly and the women communicate in gestures, the woman's hand slicing across Molly's thigh to indicate the height of the slit that will run up the side of the dress. Molly nods. The woman laughs delightedly. Molly thinks she is talking about the length of her legs: she towers over the woman who goes to work with measuring tape and notepad. — Across from her, a very young Chinese woman is trying on a red qi pao. Molly knows that red is the bridal color. The woman is familiar. Molly thinks about, the Taoist, and then about the book she is reading. This woman in red, she is the Crimson Pearl Flower in mortal form. In the book her human name is Dai-yu. In the book the tears have started - her life of thwarted love and loneliness is steamrojling- along. -Molly is frightened of the descent. Dai-yu, the woman in red, turns and looks at Molly. Her mouth is flower pink, washed out by the crimson of her dress. Molly wants to touch her, feel the silk spill of her hair, the baby curve of her chin. Molly knows the red qi pao is a joke. Dai-yu will never be a bride. The woman measuring Molly stands and snaps shut the tape and the notepad. One week she says, holding up a finger. Molly nods. A debt of tears, she thinks, is her destiny.

closes her eyes and dunks her face fast under the stream, lips snapped shut, a watertight seal. Doug laughs when he sees her, says her caution isn't necessary. He holds her towel out for her and she steps into the folds. There is a brief moment in the midst of the motion when his arms are around her: she wants to dance with him in the bathroom, foxtrot in Beijing. But she knows he has to go to work. What a wonderful opportunity, she had thought, when they first discussed the year in Beijing, but now her day slides open, a blank white page. Molly takes a cab to Doug's work event. She is proud of herself. She practiced saying the address in front of the mirror, her mouth like a stranger, foreign words lingering against the tiles. Doug is not there when she arrives. She is awkward, orders a martini. No one approaches her. No one knows who she is. Doug shows up late. He is contrite. He kisses her on the lips even though this is a work function. He slides an arm around her waist and tips her off balance. She drags back against him, vodka slipping over the edge of her glass and onto her hand. The Taoist at the bar gives her a wry look. She shushes him, a finger to her lips. Doug introduces her to his colleagues, pressed men in pressed suits who are busy anticipating the explosion of China. It's a market waiting to happen, just on the brink, you know. Get in there early, make your mark, learn the language, the culture. Billions of new consumers, cheap labor, a society ready for new technologies. Their wives are smooth, white wrists holding glasses of white wine. They smile at Molly and make jokes about how they miss home, the supermarkets, the super-highways, the super-sales. "It gets easier," they say to Molly, little secret smiles on their lips. But they don't say how. They take a cab home. Doug rattles off their home address. His Mandarin is stiff, not as good as Tom's, but he is assertive: he insists on being understood. They spoon up against each other in bed. Molly draws her knees up towards her chest. Doug kisses her neck, a serpent hand sneaks around to her breasts. They make love quietly, lying just like that: Doug^motfth buried in her hair, Molly fetal, eyes closed, desperate with his touch. The family outing materializes. A foursome they troop to the Forbidden City. A sign outside the entrance reads, "The 600 years old Forbidden City is ready to step into the 21st century in all its majesty." Tom hoots with laughter. Molly shepherds him through the gate. A pair of lions greet them at the bottom of the first set of steps. Stephanie caresses the lion cub curled beneath the front paw of one of the lions. "This is the female," she says. "What do you mean?" Doug asks. "I learned about it in school. When they built the lions in pairs there was

"I saw her," Molly says to the Taoist. He is in her kitchen. It is two in the morning, or three. Molly doesn't know. She refuses to look at the clock. Her children are safe in bed: Doug is on his side upstairs, head craned back against the 19

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Berkeley Fiction Review pillow, snoring. "Who?" the Taoist asks. "Dai-yu," Molly says, then remembers that the Taoist might not know her mortal name, "The Crimson Pearl Flower. She was buying a qi pao." "Ah," says the Taoist. He nods sagely. This is easy for him to do, sage is his thing. "It's a sad story isn't it?" he asks. Molly sits heavily at her table, elbows thrown against the top. "I don't like it. I don't like knowing that it's just going downhill. I know she's paying offa debt of tears so it has to get worse. In the silk store today, she looked so young. She smiled at me, even her mouth is tragic. The weight of her promise is like a raincloud, like she just walks around with a little personal storm, like a cartoon character, it's always grey-where she is." "It all depends," says the Taoist, "on whether you believe in destiny." "Destiny has nothing to do with it. She made a promise to the Stone. She owes him. She'll stick to her guns." Molly turns slowly, barefoot on the carpet. She is wearing her new qi pao. Her long legs show through the gap at the sides which rises almost to the top .of her thighs. The thick silk cushions itself to her ribs and "hips. The dress is sleeveless: Molly doesn't know any stories about Chinese dragons or phoenix, but she can imagine. Doug sits on the edge of the bed, his big body compacted, hands on his knees leaning forward. He sees his wife become someone else, a fiction, an impossible character, a blonde princess from the Forbidden City. "You look beautiful," he says, but he wants to touch her, make her Molly again. She turns toward him. Her back reflected behind her in the mirror on the wall is a column of black, a night sky with dragon constellations. She steps forward, toenails impressing the carpet. "Unfamiliar, like someone I don't know," he adds. Molly's mouth twists. She thinks of Dai-yu in the Chinese wedding ojess'. I,f I love him, she had thought, then this is a small sacrifice, this strange year, this strange place. Doug continues, "Beijing is different, isn't it?" he asks her, "sometimes I thinkTm miles from reality. Sometimes I think that when the plane landed we stepped into a dream." He holds out his hands. Molly steps between his knees. His arms slide across the silk and he presses his face to the pheonix rising over her stomach, over her breasts. She weaves her fingers through his hair. He smells the way he's always smelled, mint and evergreen. "Do you know what I mean?" he says, looking up at her. Affirmation she thinks. Her fingers rumble with the buttons down the side oftheqi pao. Doug helps. Together they strip her of the Forbidden city, leave a silky puddle of Chinese dragons on the floor, unwrap her freckles, her long limbs. 20

The Story of the Stone Molly takes the Taoist's advice. She goes to the new Summer Palace. She studies the guidebook, memorizes the words, the tones, takes a cab by herself. Doug is working; the kids are at school. She buys her ticket outside the entrance. It reads in English: the ticket to anywhere, though it is only the ticket to the new Summer Palace. Molly smiles and tucks the ticket carefully into her purse. A ticket to anywhere is a useful thing. The new Summer Palace is not just a palace. It is endless, lakes and gardens and temples. Molly follows a long bridge, multiple stone arches, across the glittering lake. She wanders through pavillions that branch among lily-pad littered ponds. She climbs a wooded hillside crowned with a tiered pagoda. She watches the boats, swans on the lake's surface. On a stone patio along the water she sees the Taoist. He is holding a small orange plastic bucket half-filled with water and a paintbrush as long as his arm. As Molly watches, he dips the brush into the bucket. He bends and paints Chinese characters onto the square stones of the patio. Aqua calligraphy, he paints them beautifully, no careless drops, no erring lines. He looks at Molly and smiles. "I told you this was the best spot in Beijing," he says. Molly glances away, across the blue and silver water. When she looks back the characters are fading already, the damp lines evaporating. The Taoist bends and paints new words. These too will evaporate. These too will fade. And then.be replaced. Molly thinks of Dai-yu and the stone. It's an old, sad story, she knows, and the characters can't escape. ''She closes the book. The words fade. The Taoist's brush moves on the pavement, a story in pieces blooming wet on the hot stone.

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Berkeley Fiction Review pillow, snoring. "Who?" the Taoist asks. "Dai-yu," Molly says, then remembers that the Taoist might not know her mortal name, "The Crimson Pearl Flower. She was buying a qi pao." "Ah," says the Taoist. He nods sagely. This is easy for him to do, sage is his thing. "It's a sad story isn't it?" he asks. Molly sits heavily at her table, elbows thrown against the top. "I don't like it. I don't like knowing that it's just going downhill. I know she's paying offa debt of tears so it has to get worse. In the silk store today, she looked so young. She smiled at me, even her mouth is tragic. The weight of her promise is like a raincloud, like she just walks around with a little personal storm, like a cartoon character, it's always grey-where she is." "It all depends," says the Taoist, "on whether you believe in destiny." "Destiny has nothing to do with it. She made a promise to the Stone. She owes him. She'll stick to her guns." Molly turns slowly, barefoot on the carpet. She is wearing her new qi pao. Her long legs show through the gap at the sides which rises almost to the top .of her thighs. The thick silk cushions itself to her ribs and "hips. The dress is sleeveless: Molly doesn't know any stories about Chinese dragons or phoenix, but she can imagine. Doug sits on the edge of the bed, his big body compacted, hands on his knees leaning forward. He sees his wife become someone else, a fiction, an impossible character, a blonde princess from the Forbidden City. "You look beautiful," he says, but he wants to touch her, make her Molly again. She turns toward him. Her back reflected behind her in the mirror on the wall is a column of black, a night sky with dragon constellations. She steps forward, toenails impressing the carpet. "Unfamiliar, like someone I don't know," he adds. Molly's mouth twists. She thinks of Dai-yu in the Chinese wedding ojess'. I,f I love him, she had thought, then this is a small sacrifice, this strange year, this strange place. Doug continues, "Beijing is different, isn't it?" he asks her, "sometimes I thinkTm miles from reality. Sometimes I think that when the plane landed we stepped into a dream." He holds out his hands. Molly steps between his knees. His arms slide across the silk and he presses his face to the pheonix rising over her stomach, over her breasts. She weaves her fingers through his hair. He smells the way he's always smelled, mint and evergreen. "Do you know what I mean?" he says, looking up at her. Affirmation she thinks. Her fingers rumble with the buttons down the side oftheqi pao. Doug helps. Together they strip her of the Forbidden city, leave a silky puddle of Chinese dragons on the floor, unwrap her freckles, her long limbs. 20

The Story of the Stone Molly takes the Taoist's advice. She goes to the new Summer Palace. She studies the guidebook, memorizes the words, the tones, takes a cab by herself. Doug is working; the kids are at school. She buys her ticket outside the entrance. It reads in English: the ticket to anywhere, though it is only the ticket to the new Summer Palace. Molly smiles and tucks the ticket carefully into her purse. A ticket to anywhere is a useful thing. The new Summer Palace is not just a palace. It is endless, lakes and gardens and temples. Molly follows a long bridge, multiple stone arches, across the glittering lake. She wanders through pavillions that branch among lily-pad littered ponds. She climbs a wooded hillside crowned with a tiered pagoda. She watches the boats, swans on the lake's surface. On a stone patio along the water she sees the Taoist. He is holding a small orange plastic bucket half-filled with water and a paintbrush as long as his arm. As Molly watches, he dips the brush into the bucket. He bends and paints Chinese characters onto the square stones of the patio. Aqua calligraphy, he paints them beautifully, no careless drops, no erring lines. He looks at Molly and smiles. "I told you this was the best spot in Beijing," he says. Molly glances away, across the blue and silver water. When she looks back the characters are fading already, the damp lines evaporating. The Taoist bends and paints new words. These too will evaporate. These too will fade. And then.be replaced. Molly thinks of Dai-yu and the stone. It's an old, sad story, she knows, and the characters can't escape. ''She closes the book. The words fade. The Taoist's brush moves on the pavement, a story in pieces blooming wet on the hot stone.

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he day Mitchell Eagen tried to escape the Honey Creek Rehabilitation and Incarceration Center he wasn't really thinking about the practical aspects of escape. He didn't stop to consider what would happen to him once he got out—where he would go, who he would see, or where he could stay. Instead, his mind was full up with other things—things like small edges of lace, tiny patent leathers, hair ribbons that unraveled into cool ponds of fabric in his hands. And so, with hands itching to touch things he hadn't touched in years, Mitchell Eagen stepped to the side during yard exercises. He paused for a moment, loafing near the picnic table where a man with long limbs and an impossible waistline sat waiting. The man was a visitor. Of course he was. He wasn't wearing the standard rehabilitation center outfit: black polyester pants—elastic, no belt—and unbreathing gray collared shirt. The thin man was wearing jeans, which were one of the luxuries Mitchell had never thought he'd miss. Mitchell shaded his eyes and nodded'at'the man. The tag clipped to the visitor's shirt identified him as Gene Hubert. "Gene," Mitchell said. He extended his hand—all friendliness and familiarity—which Gene took after a moment's consideration. "He's over there waiting for you. By the Frisbee field. He said I should bring you over." Gene frowned. "They told me to wait here." He jerked his thumb in the direction of the main gate, where a handful of guards stood watch over Mitchell's ward. They were one of the lowest security wards in the compound. They had special privileges that the others—others classified by the state to be too dangerous for anything but strict incarcerations-did not. Mitchell's ward, for instance, was allowed fried chicken dinners and long stretches of yard time. And Frisbee. They were allowed Frisbee, too. 22

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Mitchell smiled. "Yeah, I know," he said, then shrugged. "But they always say that. We can't all sit at the picnic table, huh?" '*No, I suppose not," Gene said, although he looked doubtful. He seemed to like the picnic table and its proximity to the guards just fine. "Come on," Mitchell said. "I'll walk you over." When Gene shook his head, Mitchell smiled one more time. He hoped it looked clean and good. It was his best smile, the one he used when he needed things. Groceries or socks or a hotel room. "What do you think we 're going to do out here in the open?" Mitchell continued. "Do you think we're going to jump you?" And that's when Gene laughed. He-took one more look at the guards before shrugging and standing. "Lead the way," he said. "I've been looking forward to this visit for a long time." Mitchell's tongue arched to the top of his mouth, and saliva collected underneath. There it was again—the feel of a moist edge of pink satin caught between his teeth. He swallowed hard. "I know," he said. "I know exactly how you feel." The day Mitchell Eagen tried to escape from the Honey Creek Rehabilitation and Incarceration Center—the place where Ben Howe had worked for three years—Ben wasn't thinking about the rehabilitator inmates. He wasn't keeping the constant count they were taught to keep. He wasn't considering any strange lumps in their clothing or shifts in their glances. Instead, he was thinking about his wife. Specifically, he was thinking about the way she'd put her face down on the counter that morning. Her hair went all around her, and her knees trembled. She'd been making him luncli—bologna with muenster cheese, a handful of carrots, a Twinkie—when she put her head down onto the ziplocked sandwich. It was that noise, that little thud and crinkle, that made him lift his head. He was ironing his pants in the corner, making sure the seams were stiff and menacing, but when she went down he set the iron upright and went to her. He tried to put a hand on her back, but she shook it off. So he stood there with hands jammed into his pockets. --"" "I don't think it's ever going to happen," Shannon said. "Come on now." He didn't-have to ask what she was talking about. He knew. Of course he knew. It was me only thing they'd been able to talk about for the last two months. Babies. The fact that they wanted them but weren't getting any closer to having them. They'd both been to specialists, and they'd both been assured they were fine, even better than fine, but it still wasn't happening. "I think it must be me," Shannon said. "Someone up there..." and at this she lifted her wet eyes toward the ceiling, "someone up there doesn't like me all that much." "They like you fine," Ben said. 23


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he day Mitchell Eagen tried to escape the Honey Creek Rehabilitation and Incarceration Center he wasn't really thinking about the practical aspects of escape. He didn't stop to consider what would happen to him once he got out—where he would go, who he would see, or where he could stay. Instead, his mind was full up with other things—things like small edges of lace, tiny patent leathers, hair ribbons that unraveled into cool ponds of fabric in his hands. And so, with hands itching to touch things he hadn't touched in years, Mitchell Eagen stepped to the side during yard exercises. He paused for a moment, loafing near the picnic table where a man with long limbs and an impossible waistline sat waiting. The man was a visitor. Of course he was. He wasn't wearing the standard rehabilitation center outfit: black polyester pants—elastic, no belt—and unbreathing gray collared shirt. The thin man was wearing jeans, which were one of the luxuries Mitchell had never thought he'd miss. Mitchell shaded his eyes and nodded'at'the man. The tag clipped to the visitor's shirt identified him as Gene Hubert. "Gene," Mitchell said. He extended his hand—all friendliness and familiarity—which Gene took after a moment's consideration. "He's over there waiting for you. By the Frisbee field. He said I should bring you over." Gene frowned. "They told me to wait here." He jerked his thumb in the direction of the main gate, where a handful of guards stood watch over Mitchell's ward. They were one of the lowest security wards in the compound. They had special privileges that the others—others classified by the state to be too dangerous for anything but strict incarcerations-did not. Mitchell's ward, for instance, was allowed fried chicken dinners and long stretches of yard time. And Frisbee. They were allowed Frisbee, too. 22

Creek

Mitchell smiled. "Yeah, I know," he said, then shrugged. "But they always say that. We can't all sit at the picnic table, huh?" '*No, I suppose not," Gene said, although he looked doubtful. He seemed to like the picnic table and its proximity to the guards just fine. "Come on," Mitchell said. "I'll walk you over." When Gene shook his head, Mitchell smiled one more time. He hoped it looked clean and good. It was his best smile, the one he used when he needed things. Groceries or socks or a hotel room. "What do you think we 're going to do out here in the open?" Mitchell continued. "Do you think we're going to jump you?" And that's when Gene laughed. He-took one more look at the guards before shrugging and standing. "Lead the way," he said. "I've been looking forward to this visit for a long time." Mitchell's tongue arched to the top of his mouth, and saliva collected underneath. There it was again—the feel of a moist edge of pink satin caught between his teeth. He swallowed hard. "I know," he said. "I know exactly how you feel." The day Mitchell Eagen tried to escape from the Honey Creek Rehabilitation and Incarceration Center—the place where Ben Howe had worked for three years—Ben wasn't thinking about the rehabilitator inmates. He wasn't keeping the constant count they were taught to keep. He wasn't considering any strange lumps in their clothing or shifts in their glances. Instead, he was thinking about his wife. Specifically, he was thinking about the way she'd put her face down on the counter that morning. Her hair went all around her, and her knees trembled. She'd been making him luncli—bologna with muenster cheese, a handful of carrots, a Twinkie—when she put her head down onto the ziplocked sandwich. It was that noise, that little thud and crinkle, that made him lift his head. He was ironing his pants in the corner, making sure the seams were stiff and menacing, but when she went down he set the iron upright and went to her. He tried to put a hand on her back, but she shook it off. So he stood there with hands jammed into his pockets. --"" "I don't think it's ever going to happen," Shannon said. "Come on now." He didn't-have to ask what she was talking about. He knew. Of course he knew. It was me only thing they'd been able to talk about for the last two months. Babies. The fact that they wanted them but weren't getting any closer to having them. They'd both been to specialists, and they'd both been assured they were fine, even better than fine, but it still wasn't happening. "I think it must be me," Shannon said. "Someone up there..." and at this she lifted her wet eyes toward the ceiling, "someone up there doesn't like me all that much." "They like you fine," Ben said. 23


Berkeley Fiction Review "Do you think it's because of Jimmy Testavido?" she asked. "Because of that night I lied and said I was on the pill, even though I wasn't? I'd had too much Sangria, and I just wanted Jimmy to come lay next to me." Ben grimaced. The thought of his wife with anyone else but him— especially a waste of flesh like Jimmy Testavido, who, just last week, had changed Ben's oil at Grunke's Speedy Lube—made his stomach cinch up with metallic certainty. "You were all of eighteen years old," he said. "And besides, what's that got to do with anything? Sex before marriage? No one waits anymore. I don't see anyone else getting in trouble for it." Shannon shook her head. "I spent the next week praying to God," she said. "I said that if he made sure I wasn't pregnant, I'd never pray for anything ever again." She pressed her face back into the sandwich—considerably dented now— and kept on weeping. Ben put a hand on her back and this time she didn't brush it off. It wasn't fair. None of it. His wife was a good woman. She'd done nothing but take care of her sister after their mother died, then put herself through college while working as a waitress, then met Ben at a jazz concert in the town park. She went to church every Sunday when he was at work. She baked pies at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and donated them to the food pantry. • She worked as a special education teacher at a last-chance school for kids who'd been shuffled between institutions. Her idea of a wild night was drinking a bottle of pricey French wine, then putting on her red boots and dancing while Ben sat watching on the couch. If anyone— earthbound or otherwise—found fault with that, Ben wanted to know why. Finding fault with him, that was easier. If someone was really keeping tabs, maybe they weren't so pleased with that time in high'school when he put a guy's head through the wall after his then-girlfriend's honor was questioned. Or maybe it was that he sometimes laughed when the Honey Creek guys made jokes about niggers or spies. He supposed it could even'be that he'd let Sherry, the receptionist, kiss him at the last ward Christmas'p^arty. He'd waited a tic too long before pushing away and tapping his wedding band on the bridge of her nose. "Nope," he'd said. "Can't." When she smiled and leaned in again he repeated it. "Nope," he said. "Can't. Can't." But, really, it was more for his benefit than her own. Ben was thinking about that—about his wife, about them wanting babies they couldn't seem to have, about reasons why they couldn't—while he stood near the visitor check-in. He watched the inmates loiter through yard time. Some were smoking. Some were reading. Others were playing Chinese checkers or Frisbee. Those were the things he saw. What he didn't see was Gene, one of the visitors, go off with Mitchell Eagen. He didn't see them walk toward the Frisbee 24

At Honey Creek field, or, more precisely, toward the tool shed that sat on its edge. He didn't see those things because he couldn't stop thinking about his wife's head hitting the sandwich over and over and over, denting it until it was unrecognizable to the human eye. Mitchell Eagen had arrived at Honey Creek four years earlier, after a string of impressive abductions. The first was a city councilman's daughter, and the story got a lot of press. It had been easy. He'd just gotten her an ice cream, a new outfit, and a red-haired wig. "It's dress-up," he'd told her. "We're going to put on a surprise play for your parents." The girl's name was Missy. She trusted everyone. She nodded when he told her about the surprise play, and her head full of cinched-up curls jerked excitedly in the afternoon light. A ways off, her nanny was talking to an attractive man and his Norwich terrier, so she never saw Mitchell Eagen lead her charge off into the park bathroom, into a stall in the empty ladies' room, where he handed her a bag from JC Penney's. "It's a dress," he said when she looked confused. "A party dress." He'd picked the ugliest thing he could find. Cheap-looking and gaudy. Something with multi-colored sequins and several layers of hot pink tulle. It was something he was certain the councilman's wife would never dream of dressing her daughter in. He crossed his arms and waited, but Missy wouldn't budge. She held the bag tight in her small fist. "Come on with it," he said, and gestured toward the bag. She shook her head. "You'll have to leave," she said. "I don't undress in front of boys." He shrugged and gave an awkward bow, as if she were royalty. "Of course," he said. "How silly of me." And then he stepped backward, clear out of the stall, and shut it so she could change in private. She came out minutes later looking cheap and lost. When she moved she sounded like a pifiata streaming paper mache in a light wind, a pinata hanging on its rope and waiting to be cracked. "How do I look?" she asked. She stood very seriously and let him consider her. He hande"d her the wig and a pair of miniature sunglasses shaped like hearts. "Try these," he said. She needed help with the wig. Of course she'did. The wig was a heavy mess of knots. So Mitchell went about tying her hair back with an elastic, then tucking loose strands underneath the net inside. She never took her eyes off the mirror that hung over dripping faucets. "I look Irishj" she decided, then narrowed her eyes and worked her mouth like it belonged on a fish. "They're after me Lucky Charms!" she said, her voice affecting a tinny-sounding Irish accent. 25


Berkeley Fiction Review "Do you think it's because of Jimmy Testavido?" she asked. "Because of that night I lied and said I was on the pill, even though I wasn't? I'd had too much Sangria, and I just wanted Jimmy to come lay next to me." Ben grimaced. The thought of his wife with anyone else but him— especially a waste of flesh like Jimmy Testavido, who, just last week, had changed Ben's oil at Grunke's Speedy Lube—made his stomach cinch up with metallic certainty. "You were all of eighteen years old," he said. "And besides, what's that got to do with anything? Sex before marriage? No one waits anymore. I don't see anyone else getting in trouble for it." Shannon shook her head. "I spent the next week praying to God," she said. "I said that if he made sure I wasn't pregnant, I'd never pray for anything ever again." She pressed her face back into the sandwich—considerably dented now— and kept on weeping. Ben put a hand on her back and this time she didn't brush it off. It wasn't fair. None of it. His wife was a good woman. She'd done nothing but take care of her sister after their mother died, then put herself through college while working as a waitress, then met Ben at a jazz concert in the town park. She went to church every Sunday when he was at work. She baked pies at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and donated them to the food pantry. • She worked as a special education teacher at a last-chance school for kids who'd been shuffled between institutions. Her idea of a wild night was drinking a bottle of pricey French wine, then putting on her red boots and dancing while Ben sat watching on the couch. If anyone— earthbound or otherwise—found fault with that, Ben wanted to know why. Finding fault with him, that was easier. If someone was really keeping tabs, maybe they weren't so pleased with that time in high'school when he put a guy's head through the wall after his then-girlfriend's honor was questioned. Or maybe it was that he sometimes laughed when the Honey Creek guys made jokes about niggers or spies. He supposed it could even'be that he'd let Sherry, the receptionist, kiss him at the last ward Christmas'p^arty. He'd waited a tic too long before pushing away and tapping his wedding band on the bridge of her nose. "Nope," he'd said. "Can't." When she smiled and leaned in again he repeated it. "Nope," he said. "Can't. Can't." But, really, it was more for his benefit than her own. Ben was thinking about that—about his wife, about them wanting babies they couldn't seem to have, about reasons why they couldn't—while he stood near the visitor check-in. He watched the inmates loiter through yard time. Some were smoking. Some were reading. Others were playing Chinese checkers or Frisbee. Those were the things he saw. What he didn't see was Gene, one of the visitors, go off with Mitchell Eagen. He didn't see them walk toward the Frisbee 24

At Honey Creek field, or, more precisely, toward the tool shed that sat on its edge. He didn't see those things because he couldn't stop thinking about his wife's head hitting the sandwich over and over and over, denting it until it was unrecognizable to the human eye. Mitchell Eagen had arrived at Honey Creek four years earlier, after a string of impressive abductions. The first was a city councilman's daughter, and the story got a lot of press. It had been easy. He'd just gotten her an ice cream, a new outfit, and a red-haired wig. "It's dress-up," he'd told her. "We're going to put on a surprise play for your parents." The girl's name was Missy. She trusted everyone. She nodded when he told her about the surprise play, and her head full of cinched-up curls jerked excitedly in the afternoon light. A ways off, her nanny was talking to an attractive man and his Norwich terrier, so she never saw Mitchell Eagen lead her charge off into the park bathroom, into a stall in the empty ladies' room, where he handed her a bag from JC Penney's. "It's a dress," he said when she looked confused. "A party dress." He'd picked the ugliest thing he could find. Cheap-looking and gaudy. Something with multi-colored sequins and several layers of hot pink tulle. It was something he was certain the councilman's wife would never dream of dressing her daughter in. He crossed his arms and waited, but Missy wouldn't budge. She held the bag tight in her small fist. "Come on with it," he said, and gestured toward the bag. She shook her head. "You'll have to leave," she said. "I don't undress in front of boys." He shrugged and gave an awkward bow, as if she were royalty. "Of course," he said. "How silly of me." And then he stepped backward, clear out of the stall, and shut it so she could change in private. She came out minutes later looking cheap and lost. When she moved she sounded like a pifiata streaming paper mache in a light wind, a pinata hanging on its rope and waiting to be cracked. "How do I look?" she asked. She stood very seriously and let him consider her. He hande"d her the wig and a pair of miniature sunglasses shaped like hearts. "Try these," he said. She needed help with the wig. Of course she'did. The wig was a heavy mess of knots. So Mitchell went about tying her hair back with an elastic, then tucking loose strands underneath the net inside. She never took her eyes off the mirror that hung over dripping faucets. "I look Irishj" she decided, then narrowed her eyes and worked her mouth like it belonged on a fish. "They're after me Lucky Charms!" she said, her voice affecting a tinny-sounding Irish accent. 25


Berkeley Fiction Review He carried her out of the park like it was nothing. "You're a princess," he said. "A duchess. A maharaja's daughter." She laughed and laughed and laughed, and no one thought anything of the tall man who was carrying the small girl away from the park. Everyone they passed smiled, nodded hellos, and they didn't let a single worrisome thought cross their minds. The wig—the most flimsy, tenuous part of the plan because it looked so shoddy—didn't even concern them. Those who passed thought she'd been through chemo. They thought, How sad. They thought, What a good man to take care of her so. Mitchell said yes to everything she asked for. He said yes to two ice creams when she couldn't decide between chocolate or bubblegum. He said yes to dinner at Pirate Pete's Seafood Shanty. He said yes when she wanted to press every button in the elevator. He said yes when she asked if she could tap dance on his kitchen counters. He said yes. He poured himself a scotch. He sat on a stool. He watched as she clacked across his countertops. He watched as the wig went askew and slipped down her back. He watched as it landed on the floor in a tangle of waxy red. She stopped dancing. She looked down at the wig, then back up at Mitchell. "Uh-oh," she said. She looked tired and sallow. She looked jaundiced. She rubbed her eyes and sighed. "It's alright," he said. "Maybe we should get you to bed anyway." She shrugged. "My hair," she said, and put her hands in the mess that had come unstuck from the elastic. She tugged so that her hair stood on all ends, making her look like she'd run full on into a live wire and suffered the voltage. Mitchell went to her. He lifted her from the counter and fitted her on his hip. "I've got some ribbons," he said. "Pink and purple and red. We'lltieyourhair back that way." She nodded and put her face in his shoulder. She put her small hands around his neck. And then she said yes. When Ben Howe came to Honey Creek he learned very quickly the hierarchy of hate that was established between the rehabilitation inmates and the guards. Some of the inmates were small fries—guys whose crimes were stupid and trivial, guys who were genuinely embarrassed and good natured about their being caught—but some of the fehabilitators were big names. They were guys who'd been on the national news, guys who'd made issues of People Magazine or the NewYork Times. CNN talked about them. Late night TV hosts shaped monologues around them. The state wanted to prove they could fix them. Mitchell Eagen was one of those guys, and he was at the top of the mosthated list. In locker rooms, guards would compare ways they would, if they ever

26

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got the chance, take him out. Some wanted to snipe him, others wanted to meet him in a dark alley. Castration was a popular option. Pistol whipping, too. But there was a time in Ben Howe's life when he didn't spend considerable amounts of time thinking about how he would like to end Mitchell Eagen. This was a time when Ben was still working at his father's diner. He soaped dishes and cut potatoes into French fries. It was a quiet, simple life. The diner during the day, then, after the dinner rush, night school for criminal justice. Every week during the summer he went to the city's free jazz concert at Asbury Park. He went with some of the waitresses from work—women his mother's age who had taken to baking him pies or slipping turnovers into his unlocked car. One night they were standing near the stage and listening as the band played through a slow and silky Coltrane piece. Billie, the oldest of the waitresses, jerked her head to the left. "Poor girl," she remarked to her friends, and Ben looked over at what she was seeing. There, a few groups away from them, was a slim girl whose hair was rising and falling with the wind. When it would blow the strands back from her face he could see that she was crying. She was listening to the music, thumping a hand over her heart with the beat, and she was crying. Ben thought, Now that's someone worth knowing. They married a year later at a small affair in the same park where they'd met. His father's diner put on the reception with a spread of barbeque chicken and grilled potato salad. They made barrelfuls of rum punch and drank from spiral straws. After some of the waitresses from the diner started the Electric Slide, Ben's father stopped the music to toast to the.newlyweds. "I know if Ben's mother were here right now, she'd be asking Shannon how long until she thought she and Ben might have a baby," he said. "So in her honor, I suppose we should raise a glass to the beautiful, the intelligent, the many babies that are hanging somewhere in the balance." Shannon, who was looped on too much rum punch, put her hands inside Ben's tux and squeezed his waist. "I'm going to give you so many babies, so many beautiful babies," she said, "that it's going to make your head spin." Ben had drunk too much rum too, and so he caught her in a scandalous embrace. "Yes," he said. "Let's get starteoVZLater that night she cried when they were through making love. She lay very still and put a hand over her stomach. "This is it," she said. "This is really it. I can feel it." It wasn't it. Of course it wasn't. But they went on trying, and she went on believing she could feel a change inside her, like something deep in her middle was budding and turning rosy, like something was stretching its gummy, newforming limbs out, out, out, until they touched the sides of her stomach. "There!" she would sometimes say, after dinner or during the previews at a movie. She would flatten a hand over her midsection, make him put his there, too. "I felt something. Really this time." 27


Berkeley Fiction Review He carried her out of the park like it was nothing. "You're a princess," he said. "A duchess. A maharaja's daughter." She laughed and laughed and laughed, and no one thought anything of the tall man who was carrying the small girl away from the park. Everyone they passed smiled, nodded hellos, and they didn't let a single worrisome thought cross their minds. The wig—the most flimsy, tenuous part of the plan because it looked so shoddy—didn't even concern them. Those who passed thought she'd been through chemo. They thought, How sad. They thought, What a good man to take care of her so. Mitchell said yes to everything she asked for. He said yes to two ice creams when she couldn't decide between chocolate or bubblegum. He said yes to dinner at Pirate Pete's Seafood Shanty. He said yes when she wanted to press every button in the elevator. He said yes when she asked if she could tap dance on his kitchen counters. He said yes. He poured himself a scotch. He sat on a stool. He watched as she clacked across his countertops. He watched as the wig went askew and slipped down her back. He watched as it landed on the floor in a tangle of waxy red. She stopped dancing. She looked down at the wig, then back up at Mitchell. "Uh-oh," she said. She looked tired and sallow. She looked jaundiced. She rubbed her eyes and sighed. "It's alright," he said. "Maybe we should get you to bed anyway." She shrugged. "My hair," she said, and put her hands in the mess that had come unstuck from the elastic. She tugged so that her hair stood on all ends, making her look like she'd run full on into a live wire and suffered the voltage. Mitchell went to her. He lifted her from the counter and fitted her on his hip. "I've got some ribbons," he said. "Pink and purple and red. We'lltieyourhair back that way." She nodded and put her face in his shoulder. She put her small hands around his neck. And then she said yes. When Ben Howe came to Honey Creek he learned very quickly the hierarchy of hate that was established between the rehabilitation inmates and the guards. Some of the inmates were small fries—guys whose crimes were stupid and trivial, guys who were genuinely embarrassed and good natured about their being caught—but some of the fehabilitators were big names. They were guys who'd been on the national news, guys who'd made issues of People Magazine or the NewYork Times. CNN talked about them. Late night TV hosts shaped monologues around them. The state wanted to prove they could fix them. Mitchell Eagen was one of those guys, and he was at the top of the mosthated list. In locker rooms, guards would compare ways they would, if they ever

26

At Honey

Creek

got the chance, take him out. Some wanted to snipe him, others wanted to meet him in a dark alley. Castration was a popular option. Pistol whipping, too. But there was a time in Ben Howe's life when he didn't spend considerable amounts of time thinking about how he would like to end Mitchell Eagen. This was a time when Ben was still working at his father's diner. He soaped dishes and cut potatoes into French fries. It was a quiet, simple life. The diner during the day, then, after the dinner rush, night school for criminal justice. Every week during the summer he went to the city's free jazz concert at Asbury Park. He went with some of the waitresses from work—women his mother's age who had taken to baking him pies or slipping turnovers into his unlocked car. One night they were standing near the stage and listening as the band played through a slow and silky Coltrane piece. Billie, the oldest of the waitresses, jerked her head to the left. "Poor girl," she remarked to her friends, and Ben looked over at what she was seeing. There, a few groups away from them, was a slim girl whose hair was rising and falling with the wind. When it would blow the strands back from her face he could see that she was crying. She was listening to the music, thumping a hand over her heart with the beat, and she was crying. Ben thought, Now that's someone worth knowing. They married a year later at a small affair in the same park where they'd met. His father's diner put on the reception with a spread of barbeque chicken and grilled potato salad. They made barrelfuls of rum punch and drank from spiral straws. After some of the waitresses from the diner started the Electric Slide, Ben's father stopped the music to toast to the.newlyweds. "I know if Ben's mother were here right now, she'd be asking Shannon how long until she thought she and Ben might have a baby," he said. "So in her honor, I suppose we should raise a glass to the beautiful, the intelligent, the many babies that are hanging somewhere in the balance." Shannon, who was looped on too much rum punch, put her hands inside Ben's tux and squeezed his waist. "I'm going to give you so many babies, so many beautiful babies," she said, "that it's going to make your head spin." Ben had drunk too much rum too, and so he caught her in a scandalous embrace. "Yes," he said. "Let's get starteoVZLater that night she cried when they were through making love. She lay very still and put a hand over her stomach. "This is it," she said. "This is really it. I can feel it." It wasn't it. Of course it wasn't. But they went on trying, and she went on believing she could feel a change inside her, like something deep in her middle was budding and turning rosy, like something was stretching its gummy, newforming limbs out, out, out, until they touched the sides of her stomach. "There!" she would sometimes say, after dinner or during the previews at a movie. She would flatten a hand over her midsection, make him put his there, too. "I felt something. Really this time." 27


Berkeley Fiction Review But it was always indigestion. Or nothing. Shannon began to remind him of men he'd seen in old war movies—men who kept on thinking their leg or hand was there, even after it had been shot clean off, men who would rub at air in order to stop an invisible ache. Sometimes he would come home and she would be on the porch staring into their front yard. Her hand—a little nervous, a little shaky—would hover over her stomach, over her bellybutton, like it was trying to divine something or trying to imagine a weight and shape that just couldn't or wouldn't come. Mitchell Eagen had kept himself in line for over four years. He'd been a model prisoner of Honey Creek. He kept to himself. He did his work. He kept his space clean. He ate three balanced meals a day. He said please, he said thank you, he said yes, sir when it was called for. It pleased him, then, that certain things that had been unused for so long hadn't snuffed themselves out. Maybe it was true what some people said. Maybe there was something gone wrong inside him that had nothing to do with upbringing or his mother or what kind of toys he played with. It was something more permanent than any of that. A trait, a gene that got its edges crimped somewhere along the way. The electric thrill that came down to even Mitchell's toes as he hooked his hands around the base of Gene's neck proved that nothing had withered or gone rusty, despite the rehabilitation classes. In those classes, his doctors tried to get him to work through his desperate moments with .visualization. "Let's do this for the greater good," the doctors said. They were always saying things like that. The greater good. He didn't know what that meant. World peace. Economic stability. Individual freedom. It could've been anything. Their rules to help the greater good were simple. Whenever he started thinking of the past and the girls he'd known and the things he'd done, that's when he was supposed to take a deep breath, count to one hundred, and then transport himself to a place of zen. He was supposed to think about fishing on Lake Puckett with his grandfather or playing-piek-up baseball in his hometown. Those things were supposed to overtake the bounce of blond curls or the brush of tiny, milky fingers across the veins in his hand. And the taste of unfastened ribbons in his mouth. He definitely wasn't supposed to think about that. But right now there wasn't time for any thinking. Just movement. That's all that was left. He had to be quick about it, before Gene's body could make a protest that seemed unnatural. The guards would see something was wrong, and they would come. Mitchell found the pressure point and exerted a steady force through the tips of his fingers. Gene's body sagged instantly, but Mitchell kept him upright and moving forward. Gene's feet bumped along the field's rocky terrain. Holding him like that—like he was a ventriloquist's dummy—Mitchell quickly rounded the 28

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) back end of the small maintenance shed the groundskeepers used. He propped Gene against the building and started unbuttoning his clothes. He was careful not to pop buttons or tear fabric. He didn't want evidence of a struggle. He slipped the clothes over Gene's arms and head and feet. He gave them a quick snap in the air. He shook out wrinkles. He smoothed them down across his chest. The pants wouldn't be a problem—he and Gene were a similar height. The shirt, it would be tight, but it would work. Of course it would work. Mitchell slipped into Gene's clothes, then dressed the unconscious man in the state-issued prison uniform. He buttoned the starchy shirt. He pressed the sneakers* Velcro strips down tight. He arranged Gene's hands so it looked like he'd fallen asleep while reclining on the back of the shed. And that's when Mitchell began1* visualizing. It wasn't bass on Lake Puckett or a high fly ball over Pete McMannus's head? It was something warm and tropical. AparkinastatethatborderedtheGulfCoast. The murky scent of bayou, the heavy perfume of summer's end. Laughter twinned with tag and hopscotch. The loose limbs of tanned little girls pumping themselves high, high, higher on chipping swing sets. It smelled and sounded and looked so good in his head that he wanted to somehow fit the whole thing into his mouth, chew it, swallow it, feed off it forever. But he was getting ahead of himself. Mitchell Eagen stood and straightened Gene's clothes one more time before he rounded the corner and strode toward the front with a borrowed gait—the gait of a visitor happy to be leaving. He handed Gene's visitor's tag to the guards at the first checkpoint, and they waved him through. They waved him through. Ben Howe knew something wasn't right. He tried verifying the number of prisoners, but it was useless. He hadn't done a starting count and the number of people in the yard had changed four, five, six times since his shift had started. He looked hard at the faces around him. He saw drug runners and guys who put lit cigarettes out on their newborns. He saw doctors who performed unnecessary surgeries on their patients. He saw men who-hit women with cars, breaking arms and legs so when they got out to Tape them the victims couldn't fight back. Those were the prisoners in close range. There were a dozen others in far-off places of the yard, and he couldn't see their faces. Ben didn't see Mitchell Eagen, and he was looking specifically for him. Each guard was like that—had one prisoner they watched like no one else. The prisoner they hated the most The one whose crime meant something to the guard, a crime that was somehow a personal insult. Wally Thompson watched the prisoner who'd been locked up for mutilating black teenagers with curling irons. Lou Franklin watched the man who'd put a bottle of gin inside his newborn daughter. Brandon Vinnick watched the 29


Berkeley Fiction Review But it was always indigestion. Or nothing. Shannon began to remind him of men he'd seen in old war movies—men who kept on thinking their leg or hand was there, even after it had been shot clean off, men who would rub at air in order to stop an invisible ache. Sometimes he would come home and she would be on the porch staring into their front yard. Her hand—a little nervous, a little shaky—would hover over her stomach, over her bellybutton, like it was trying to divine something or trying to imagine a weight and shape that just couldn't or wouldn't come. Mitchell Eagen had kept himself in line for over four years. He'd been a model prisoner of Honey Creek. He kept to himself. He did his work. He kept his space clean. He ate three balanced meals a day. He said please, he said thank you, he said yes, sir when it was called for. It pleased him, then, that certain things that had been unused for so long hadn't snuffed themselves out. Maybe it was true what some people said. Maybe there was something gone wrong inside him that had nothing to do with upbringing or his mother or what kind of toys he played with. It was something more permanent than any of that. A trait, a gene that got its edges crimped somewhere along the way. The electric thrill that came down to even Mitchell's toes as he hooked his hands around the base of Gene's neck proved that nothing had withered or gone rusty, despite the rehabilitation classes. In those classes, his doctors tried to get him to work through his desperate moments with .visualization. "Let's do this for the greater good," the doctors said. They were always saying things like that. The greater good. He didn't know what that meant. World peace. Economic stability. Individual freedom. It could've been anything. Their rules to help the greater good were simple. Whenever he started thinking of the past and the girls he'd known and the things he'd done, that's when he was supposed to take a deep breath, count to one hundred, and then transport himself to a place of zen. He was supposed to think about fishing on Lake Puckett with his grandfather or playing-piek-up baseball in his hometown. Those things were supposed to overtake the bounce of blond curls or the brush of tiny, milky fingers across the veins in his hand. And the taste of unfastened ribbons in his mouth. He definitely wasn't supposed to think about that. But right now there wasn't time for any thinking. Just movement. That's all that was left. He had to be quick about it, before Gene's body could make a protest that seemed unnatural. The guards would see something was wrong, and they would come. Mitchell found the pressure point and exerted a steady force through the tips of his fingers. Gene's body sagged instantly, but Mitchell kept him upright and moving forward. Gene's feet bumped along the field's rocky terrain. Holding him like that—like he was a ventriloquist's dummy—Mitchell quickly rounded the 28

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) back end of the small maintenance shed the groundskeepers used. He propped Gene against the building and started unbuttoning his clothes. He was careful not to pop buttons or tear fabric. He didn't want evidence of a struggle. He slipped the clothes over Gene's arms and head and feet. He gave them a quick snap in the air. He shook out wrinkles. He smoothed them down across his chest. The pants wouldn't be a problem—he and Gene were a similar height. The shirt, it would be tight, but it would work. Of course it would work. Mitchell slipped into Gene's clothes, then dressed the unconscious man in the state-issued prison uniform. He buttoned the starchy shirt. He pressed the sneakers* Velcro strips down tight. He arranged Gene's hands so it looked like he'd fallen asleep while reclining on the back of the shed. And that's when Mitchell began1* visualizing. It wasn't bass on Lake Puckett or a high fly ball over Pete McMannus's head? It was something warm and tropical. AparkinastatethatborderedtheGulfCoast. The murky scent of bayou, the heavy perfume of summer's end. Laughter twinned with tag and hopscotch. The loose limbs of tanned little girls pumping themselves high, high, higher on chipping swing sets. It smelled and sounded and looked so good in his head that he wanted to somehow fit the whole thing into his mouth, chew it, swallow it, feed off it forever. But he was getting ahead of himself. Mitchell Eagen stood and straightened Gene's clothes one more time before he rounded the corner and strode toward the front with a borrowed gait—the gait of a visitor happy to be leaving. He handed Gene's visitor's tag to the guards at the first checkpoint, and they waved him through. They waved him through. Ben Howe knew something wasn't right. He tried verifying the number of prisoners, but it was useless. He hadn't done a starting count and the number of people in the yard had changed four, five, six times since his shift had started. He looked hard at the faces around him. He saw drug runners and guys who put lit cigarettes out on their newborns. He saw doctors who performed unnecessary surgeries on their patients. He saw men who-hit women with cars, breaking arms and legs so when they got out to Tape them the victims couldn't fight back. Those were the prisoners in close range. There were a dozen others in far-off places of the yard, and he couldn't see their faces. Ben didn't see Mitchell Eagen, and he was looking specifically for him. Each guard was like that—had one prisoner they watched like no one else. The prisoner they hated the most The one whose crime meant something to the guard, a crime that was somehow a personal insult. Wally Thompson watched the prisoner who'd been locked up for mutilating black teenagers with curling irons. Lou Franklin watched the man who'd put a bottle of gin inside his newborn daughter. Brandon Vinnick watched the 29


Berkeley Fiction Review newest prisoner, the one who'd kept his wife in a closet for three days and, the day after his arrival at Honey Creek, beat another prisoner to death with three batteries stuffed into a mildewing sock. Ben watched Mitchell Eagen because of what he'd done to those little girls. He'd seen the pictures in the paper. Black and white pictures of girls with curly hair. Pictures of them with their arms hanging at odd angles around their parents'necks. Their whole bodies looked unfinished. Their joints seemed raw and spongy. Looking at them, Ben thought of Thanksgiving wishbones and the moist crack they made when broke in two. In those black and white pictures, those little girls were crying tears bigger than seemed physically possible. They shined like obscene diamonds on their faces. "Hey." One of the other guards standing near Ben's post knocked him in the shoulder. "I've got an off count on the visitors. You?" Ben gave a noncommittal shrug. There was a strange tug in his center. There was something wrong. Of course there was. He'd known it all along. "Better get the list. Get the numbers," he said. The other guard turned to head back toward the check-in. He would come back with the official binder that tracked each visitor, their entrance and exit times, their badge numbers. Ben shifted on his feet. One of the visitors was walking toward him. It looked like he was limping, like he had some sort of pain in the arch of his foot. He stepped tenderly toward the front gate. The guard nodded at him and turned out his palm for the visitor's tag. The lanyard went up, went over the visitor's head and then, in that moment as he passed the tag to the check-in guard and turned through the gate and toward the parking lot, that's when Ben saw the visitor's face. The sunlight fell across the brow, the eyes, the nose, the chin of the man Ben watched like no one else. "Hey," he said—quietly, to himself, before he was certain. But then the man's gait changed. It quickened as he walked away from the gates of Honey Creek. "Hey," Ben said, louder now. The other guard was coming back.with the binder and all its records— useless, useless records—but Ben was already moving. He brushed past the guard, past the check-in, past where the grass turned to gravel. "Stop!" he said. "Breach!" he said, but no one moved. The other guards were confused. They watched as Ben ran after the visitor who'd just checked out. Ben tackled Mitchell Eagen before he reached the first row of cars. Rocks spit up from under their shoes. Dust plumed as Ben twisted Mitchell to the ground. Mitchell's teeth snapped at the air. Everything else—his hands and legs and feet—were pinned. His neck bent at strange, unnatural angles as he tried to find an unprotected inch of Ben's skin to bite. But Ben ground him into the gravel. Mitchell's hair turned gray with dust. "Eagen," Ben said. He sucked air in through his mouth. "Eagen, you shit." 30

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"You don't know me," Mitchell said. He kept straining. He kept snapping. Ben put his fist into his face, and Mitchell's nose flattened underneath it. A warm gush of blood poured from his nostrils. But it wasn't enough. Ben started hitting him and he couldn't stop. He picked up rocks and crushed them into Mitchell's face. He pounded against his sternum. "I haven't done anything!" Mitchell howled. "Never! Do you understand me? None of this is my fault!" By now the other guards had figured it out. They'd found the real Gene slumped behind the shed, and they were running toward Ben. Handcuffs glinted in the afternoon sun. But even when they got there, even when they shouted for it to be enough, Ben kept hitting Mitchell Eagen. He hit him until his face was pulp. He hit him until his face was raw and red with blood. He hit him until Mitchell Eagen vomited. "Alright then, Howe," someone said. "It's done." But Ben didn't stop until the blood pooled behind Mitchell's head. He didn't stop until someone dialed the paramedics. When he heard the call for the doctor, Ben put his hands down to his sides. He rubbed them in the dirt. He scrubbed the skin and blood and bone from his hands. "I'm done now," he said. The other guards looked nervous. They shifted on their feet They tried not to look directly at either men. Someone told Ben to get out of there, and the guards nodded. "Just go," they said. He did. Ben stood up and walked toward his car, which was parked a few rows away. He spit into the cups of his palms and rubbed them together to wash off the last of the blood. Then he got in, turned the ignition, and drove home. Ben knew Mitchell Eagen would not die. When he pushed himself off Mitchell, Ben had seen the rough shudder of a body full of enough life to keep on living. The doctors would do what doctors do, and they would put Mitchell's face back together, let him rest, feed him dry toast and orange juice until he could stand again. Then he would go back to HoneyCreek. Ben-knew-he would not be going back to Honey Creek. He knew that later on his supervisor would call and explain that even though he'd been a very good employee—faithful, punctual, smart— and even though he'd stopped the escape of a dangerous criminal who could've gone on to abduct the supervisor's own daughter and'take her out to some field somewhere, tie her hair up in ribbons and start kissing her on the forehead, on the ears, on the neck—even though Ben had stopped all of that, there was no longer a place for him at Honey Creek. There would be a formal investigation. The state would want to know what happened. Maybe Mitchell would sue. He could claim the force was unjust. He could talk about the dozens of guards standing over him

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Berkeley Fiction Review newest prisoner, the one who'd kept his wife in a closet for three days and, the day after his arrival at Honey Creek, beat another prisoner to death with three batteries stuffed into a mildewing sock. Ben watched Mitchell Eagen because of what he'd done to those little girls. He'd seen the pictures in the paper. Black and white pictures of girls with curly hair. Pictures of them with their arms hanging at odd angles around their parents'necks. Their whole bodies looked unfinished. Their joints seemed raw and spongy. Looking at them, Ben thought of Thanksgiving wishbones and the moist crack they made when broke in two. In those black and white pictures, those little girls were crying tears bigger than seemed physically possible. They shined like obscene diamonds on their faces. "Hey." One of the other guards standing near Ben's post knocked him in the shoulder. "I've got an off count on the visitors. You?" Ben gave a noncommittal shrug. There was a strange tug in his center. There was something wrong. Of course there was. He'd known it all along. "Better get the list. Get the numbers," he said. The other guard turned to head back toward the check-in. He would come back with the official binder that tracked each visitor, their entrance and exit times, their badge numbers. Ben shifted on his feet. One of the visitors was walking toward him. It looked like he was limping, like he had some sort of pain in the arch of his foot. He stepped tenderly toward the front gate. The guard nodded at him and turned out his palm for the visitor's tag. The lanyard went up, went over the visitor's head and then, in that moment as he passed the tag to the check-in guard and turned through the gate and toward the parking lot, that's when Ben saw the visitor's face. The sunlight fell across the brow, the eyes, the nose, the chin of the man Ben watched like no one else. "Hey," he said—quietly, to himself, before he was certain. But then the man's gait changed. It quickened as he walked away from the gates of Honey Creek. "Hey," Ben said, louder now. The other guard was coming back.with the binder and all its records— useless, useless records—but Ben was already moving. He brushed past the guard, past the check-in, past where the grass turned to gravel. "Stop!" he said. "Breach!" he said, but no one moved. The other guards were confused. They watched as Ben ran after the visitor who'd just checked out. Ben tackled Mitchell Eagen before he reached the first row of cars. Rocks spit up from under their shoes. Dust plumed as Ben twisted Mitchell to the ground. Mitchell's teeth snapped at the air. Everything else—his hands and legs and feet—were pinned. His neck bent at strange, unnatural angles as he tried to find an unprotected inch of Ben's skin to bite. But Ben ground him into the gravel. Mitchell's hair turned gray with dust. "Eagen," Ben said. He sucked air in through his mouth. "Eagen, you shit." 30

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"You don't know me," Mitchell said. He kept straining. He kept snapping. Ben put his fist into his face, and Mitchell's nose flattened underneath it. A warm gush of blood poured from his nostrils. But it wasn't enough. Ben started hitting him and he couldn't stop. He picked up rocks and crushed them into Mitchell's face. He pounded against his sternum. "I haven't done anything!" Mitchell howled. "Never! Do you understand me? None of this is my fault!" By now the other guards had figured it out. They'd found the real Gene slumped behind the shed, and they were running toward Ben. Handcuffs glinted in the afternoon sun. But even when they got there, even when they shouted for it to be enough, Ben kept hitting Mitchell Eagen. He hit him until his face was pulp. He hit him until his face was raw and red with blood. He hit him until Mitchell Eagen vomited. "Alright then, Howe," someone said. "It's done." But Ben didn't stop until the blood pooled behind Mitchell's head. He didn't stop until someone dialed the paramedics. When he heard the call for the doctor, Ben put his hands down to his sides. He rubbed them in the dirt. He scrubbed the skin and blood and bone from his hands. "I'm done now," he said. The other guards looked nervous. They shifted on their feet They tried not to look directly at either men. Someone told Ben to get out of there, and the guards nodded. "Just go," they said. He did. Ben stood up and walked toward his car, which was parked a few rows away. He spit into the cups of his palms and rubbed them together to wash off the last of the blood. Then he got in, turned the ignition, and drove home. Ben knew Mitchell Eagen would not die. When he pushed himself off Mitchell, Ben had seen the rough shudder of a body full of enough life to keep on living. The doctors would do what doctors do, and they would put Mitchell's face back together, let him rest, feed him dry toast and orange juice until he could stand again. Then he would go back to HoneyCreek. Ben-knew-he would not be going back to Honey Creek. He knew that later on his supervisor would call and explain that even though he'd been a very good employee—faithful, punctual, smart— and even though he'd stopped the escape of a dangerous criminal who could've gone on to abduct the supervisor's own daughter and'take her out to some field somewhere, tie her hair up in ribbons and start kissing her on the forehead, on the ears, on the neck—even though Ben had stopped all of that, there was no longer a place for him at Honey Creek. There would be a formal investigation. The state would want to know what happened. Maybe Mitchell would sue. He could claim the force was unjust. He could talk about the dozens of guards standing over him

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Berkeley Fiction Review as he was smashed within an inch of his life. He could ask why no one stopped Ben. Honey Creek would have no choice but to prove they were serious about employing only the right sorts of guards—ones that would enforce without overstepping bounds. And to prove this, Ben would lose his job. When his tires crunch over the gravel of his driveway, Ben tenses. His fingers tighten on the steering wheel. He can still hear the snap of Mitchell's teeth as he tried to escape Ben's grip. It wasn't enough. The face in the gravel, the flattening of his nose, hitting him until he retched—none of that was even close to what Ben had intended. He'd wanted to kill Mitchell Eagen, he'd wanted to take his life and hold it in his hands, letting it slip through his fingers like it was unsubstantial and easily lost: a handful of water, a fistful of sand. Now with the sound of rocks cracking under his tires, Ben wants to turn the car around and drive back to where he left Mitchell stretched out in the dirt and blood and vomit. He imagines people would step aside gracefully, like this was all just a movie, and he could stand over Mitchell and tell him this was enough, now it was time for him to be done, for all of this to be done. Ben wanted to tell Mitchell Eagen that every time he opened up the newspaper and found another picture of a little girl with matted curls and a mouth hanging crooked on her jaw he wanted to dismantle the person who made her loQk that way. He wanted to hook his hands inside Mitchell's cheeks and peel away his skin until there was nothing left. But Ben swallows those things. They slide behind his tongue and down his throat into some hot place inside him, where, he knows, they will stay. He parks the car. He sits and breathes. Shannon is standing on the front porch watching him. When he turns to look at her the first thing he sees is her hands. They aren't hovering nervously. They aren't keeping a safe distance from the flatness of her stomach or the dip of her bellybutton. Instead, they are pressed solidly there. They are protecting hands. They are holding something in. She shouts for him, and he gets out of the car. "Ben," she says. "Come up here." This is one of those moments, he iscgrtaih' of it. There's his wife, standing on the front porch wearing an old Barry Manilow concert T-shirt and sweatpants rolled up to the knee. Her hair is tied up, her face is split with something like the first real smile he's seen on her in months. This is almost exactly how he has pictured this moment, but in one minute he will walk up those stairs and when she takes his hand and puts it on her stomach, he will tell her what he has to tell her. He will watch her face change. He will feel the slackening of her body. "Honey," he says, and starts toward her. '"This is it," she says. "Really, really." She has her arms around him. She is whispering that she loves him, that he is amazing, that he is righteous, faithful, and perfect: He is holding her and thinking she is wrong, that she is all those things, that she deserves everything she wants and that he is only lucky to be the 32

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one standing next to her in a moment like this. He wants to tell her all those things, actually say them out loud, but there's a noise behind them—it's the phone—and she is already turning because she thinks it's for her, that it's someone she can tell—her mother, her sister, her friends—and before he can say anything she is moving away. She doesn't know that by picking up that phone she is changing their history. She will walk to the phone with her hand on her stomach. She will answer in a sugared voice, excited to spill the news into the person on the line, but it will be Honey Creek, and the story will change. Before she steps through the door, Shannon turns once more and smiles at him. "Shouldn't it always feel like this?" she asks. "Every day?" And then the door slams behind her. The phone rings once more and cuts off when she picks up.^ Ben can still hear the echo of its ring in his ears. The sound is sour, high pitched, sad. Ben can taste change in his mouth, and it is metallic and biting, like blood, like gravel, like exposed bone. It is the taste of things to come.

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Berkeley Fiction Review as he was smashed within an inch of his life. He could ask why no one stopped Ben. Honey Creek would have no choice but to prove they were serious about employing only the right sorts of guards—ones that would enforce without overstepping bounds. And to prove this, Ben would lose his job. When his tires crunch over the gravel of his driveway, Ben tenses. His fingers tighten on the steering wheel. He can still hear the snap of Mitchell's teeth as he tried to escape Ben's grip. It wasn't enough. The face in the gravel, the flattening of his nose, hitting him until he retched—none of that was even close to what Ben had intended. He'd wanted to kill Mitchell Eagen, he'd wanted to take his life and hold it in his hands, letting it slip through his fingers like it was unsubstantial and easily lost: a handful of water, a fistful of sand. Now with the sound of rocks cracking under his tires, Ben wants to turn the car around and drive back to where he left Mitchell stretched out in the dirt and blood and vomit. He imagines people would step aside gracefully, like this was all just a movie, and he could stand over Mitchell and tell him this was enough, now it was time for him to be done, for all of this to be done. Ben wanted to tell Mitchell Eagen that every time he opened up the newspaper and found another picture of a little girl with matted curls and a mouth hanging crooked on her jaw he wanted to dismantle the person who made her loQk that way. He wanted to hook his hands inside Mitchell's cheeks and peel away his skin until there was nothing left. But Ben swallows those things. They slide behind his tongue and down his throat into some hot place inside him, where, he knows, they will stay. He parks the car. He sits and breathes. Shannon is standing on the front porch watching him. When he turns to look at her the first thing he sees is her hands. They aren't hovering nervously. They aren't keeping a safe distance from the flatness of her stomach or the dip of her bellybutton. Instead, they are pressed solidly there. They are protecting hands. They are holding something in. She shouts for him, and he gets out of the car. "Ben," she says. "Come up here." This is one of those moments, he iscgrtaih' of it. There's his wife, standing on the front porch wearing an old Barry Manilow concert T-shirt and sweatpants rolled up to the knee. Her hair is tied up, her face is split with something like the first real smile he's seen on her in months. This is almost exactly how he has pictured this moment, but in one minute he will walk up those stairs and when she takes his hand and puts it on her stomach, he will tell her what he has to tell her. He will watch her face change. He will feel the slackening of her body. "Honey," he says, and starts toward her. '"This is it," she says. "Really, really." She has her arms around him. She is whispering that she loves him, that he is amazing, that he is righteous, faithful, and perfect: He is holding her and thinking she is wrong, that she is all those things, that she deserves everything she wants and that he is only lucky to be the 32

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one standing next to her in a moment like this. He wants to tell her all those things, actually say them out loud, but there's a noise behind them—it's the phone—and she is already turning because she thinks it's for her, that it's someone she can tell—her mother, her sister, her friends—and before he can say anything she is moving away. She doesn't know that by picking up that phone she is changing their history. She will walk to the phone with her hand on her stomach. She will answer in a sugared voice, excited to spill the news into the person on the line, but it will be Honey Creek, and the story will change. Before she steps through the door, Shannon turns once more and smiles at him. "Shouldn't it always feel like this?" she asks. "Every day?" And then the door slams behind her. The phone rings once more and cuts off when she picks up.^ Ben can still hear the echo of its ring in his ears. The sound is sour, high pitched, sad. Ben can taste change in his mouth, and it is metallic and biting, like blood, like gravel, like exposed bone. It is the taste of things to come.

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Third

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C C "^T "Jr ou have to put it out of its misery, Missy," Farmer Gaffney says. \f He's talking about my baby woodchuck, the one he found two JL days ago and gave to me. I named him Chuckles, 'cause he's a woodchuck and his fur is so soft it tickles my fingers. But Chuckles hasn't sucked any of the milk from my dropper, and he has diarrhea. Everywhere. "No!" I cry, "I can't" "It's the right thing to do," he says. "But how?" I ask. "Just like a sufferin' runt pig," he says. "You take it by the back legs and snap your wrist fast. Breaks its neck. They don't feel it, and then they're at peace. It aint right to let a wee one suffer," he says quietly. " It aint right." Chuckles' limp body pumps each breath hard in my hand. His fur is wet with my tears. I hand him to Farmer Gaffney. "I can't," I say. "You do it." And I run. Later we bury Chuckles in a shoebox in the garden next to Lucky Houdini, my goldfish, and Elfie, our mouse. We put on our black clothes and line-up under the big Maple and sing the sad songs for Chuckles. Farmer Gaffney sings 'Mazing Grace nice and sad. Dad won Lucky for me at a fair in England by throwing a ping-pong ball into his bowl. Then my sisters wanted a fish, too, so Dad threw another, then another. He got Lucky's ball in on the first try, but a zillion tries and a heap of British pounds later he still hadn't landed a second. So finally the fair guy just let him pick out two more fish. We each put our fish in an empty candy tin and carried them on the plane. In the air my sisters thought their fishes' water got too dirty, so

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C C "^T "Jr ou have to put it out of its misery, Missy," Farmer Gaffney says. \f He's talking about my baby woodchuck, the one he found two JL days ago and gave to me. I named him Chuckles, 'cause he's a woodchuck and his fur is so soft it tickles my fingers. But Chuckles hasn't sucked any of the milk from my dropper, and he has diarrhea. Everywhere. "No!" I cry, "I can't" "It's the right thing to do," he says. "But how?" I ask. "Just like a sufferin' runt pig," he says. "You take it by the back legs and snap your wrist fast. Breaks its neck. They don't feel it, and then they're at peace. It aint right to let a wee one suffer," he says quietly. " It aint right." Chuckles' limp body pumps each breath hard in my hand. His fur is wet with my tears. I hand him to Farmer Gaffney. "I can't," I say. "You do it." And I run. Later we bury Chuckles in a shoebox in the garden next to Lucky Houdini, my goldfish, and Elfie, our mouse. We put on our black clothes and line-up under the big Maple and sing the sad songs for Chuckles. Farmer Gaffney sings 'Mazing Grace nice and sad. Dad won Lucky for me at a fair in England by throwing a ping-pong ball into his bowl. Then my sisters wanted a fish, too, so Dad threw another, then another. He got Lucky's ball in on the first try, but a zillion tries and a heap of British pounds later he still hadn't landed a second. So finally the fair guy just let him pick out two more fish. We each put our fish in an empty candy tin and carried them on the plane. In the air my sisters thought their fishes' water got too dirty, so

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Berkeley Fiction Review they changed it. I left Lucky's alone. Mom said the water on the plane must have had a lot of chemicals in it 'cause their fish were dead before we landed. My sisters flushed them down the jet toilet then dashed to their seats to see them fly by the window. Off to heaven. Lucky made it home where an ice storm knocked out our power for six days and he froze in his bowl. I didn't know how I'd get him out of the ice, but I made a shoebox for him.- Then the lights came on, the house warmed up, and Lucky's ice melted. He started to swim around. I ran the bowl over to Farmer Gaifhey. "Well I'll be!" he said, "an escape artist!" That's when we gave Lucky his last name: Houdini. When Lucky Houdini finally did die we decorated a shoebox for him. I invited Farmer Gaffney and he said if we couldhold the funeral after milkin' time he'd be sure obliged to come. So we waited. Then we put. on our black clothes, lined up under the big Maple, and Farmer Gaffney, holding his hat over his heart, sang the songs even sadder than we did. Elfiewasamouse. We were excited when she had her first babies. Then she ate them all. Fanner Gaffney said: "Havin' her mate in the cage makes her nervous so she's eatin' her babies. To save them from him." So we took Ruby, her red-eyed husband, out of the cage. I think Mink the cat got him. He disappeared anyway, so he didn't get a shoebox. Then Elfie had two more litters, one right after the other, all by herself. "Yup," Farmer Gaffney said, "mice store sperm." "What's sperm?" I asked. "baby seed." "Oh." Elfie seemed to store memory of Ruby too, 'cause she kept right on eating her babies. My little sister started searching everyday day for new pink pieces of baby mice. She left the top off the cage and Mink got in. Mom caught Mink in the act. Not soon enough to save Elfie, but soon enough to have something to put in a shoebox. So we decorated a new one, putÂŁn,our black clothes, lined-up under the big Maple and sang the sad songs for Elfie. Farmer Gaffney missed Elfie's funeral, he was away selling his big old pig. Mom-said we couldn't wait, we'd better get Elfie in the ground. So I sang 'Mazing Grace a little extra loud for Farmer Gaffney, and later he said he could hear me clear across the county.

Mercy Mom says: "Baby Gaffney can't come home. He came too soon." Farmer Gaffney goes every night to visit bis little boy, soon as his milking is done. Says they got his baby on all kinds of tubes. Says the little guy is suffering. Says he can't stand by and watch his wee one suffer. Says it aint right, it aint right. Tonight Farmer Gaffney went to visit his tiny baby boy. Tonight baby Gaffney died in the hospital. Dad cried tonight for the first time. Ever. I find a shoebox. I put on my black clothes and get ready to sing the sad songs. But I don't know what to put in my box. "Where's baby Gaffney?" I ask Dad. He says, "01' Buck loved that baby, couldn't stand to see him suffer. Just wanted to put him out of his misery." "Where is Farmer Gaffney?" I ask. "He's gone away, Missy. For a long time. It aint right what they've done to him, it aint right." I go out to the garden, stand under the big Maple and sing 'Mazing Grace real, real loud, asloud as I can when I'm crying. I hope Farmer Gaffney can hear me, wherever he's gone.

Last week Missus Gaffney had a baby. Her eighth. Farmer Gaffhey's other kids are all grown-up and gone, so I knew Missus Gaffney had been storing some baby seed. But Mom and Dad aren't smiling. They keep whispering worriedlike. "What's wrong?" I ask Mom, her eyes making me scared she's gonna cry. 36

37


Berkeley Fiction Review they changed it. I left Lucky's alone. Mom said the water on the plane must have had a lot of chemicals in it 'cause their fish were dead before we landed. My sisters flushed them down the jet toilet then dashed to their seats to see them fly by the window. Off to heaven. Lucky made it home where an ice storm knocked out our power for six days and he froze in his bowl. I didn't know how I'd get him out of the ice, but I made a shoebox for him.- Then the lights came on, the house warmed up, and Lucky's ice melted. He started to swim around. I ran the bowl over to Farmer Gaifhey. "Well I'll be!" he said, "an escape artist!" That's when we gave Lucky his last name: Houdini. When Lucky Houdini finally did die we decorated a shoebox for him. I invited Farmer Gaffney and he said if we couldhold the funeral after milkin' time he'd be sure obliged to come. So we waited. Then we put. on our black clothes, lined up under the big Maple, and Farmer Gaffney, holding his hat over his heart, sang the songs even sadder than we did. Elfiewasamouse. We were excited when she had her first babies. Then she ate them all. Fanner Gaffney said: "Havin' her mate in the cage makes her nervous so she's eatin' her babies. To save them from him." So we took Ruby, her red-eyed husband, out of the cage. I think Mink the cat got him. He disappeared anyway, so he didn't get a shoebox. Then Elfie had two more litters, one right after the other, all by herself. "Yup," Farmer Gaffney said, "mice store sperm." "What's sperm?" I asked. "baby seed." "Oh." Elfie seemed to store memory of Ruby too, 'cause she kept right on eating her babies. My little sister started searching everyday day for new pink pieces of baby mice. She left the top off the cage and Mink got in. Mom caught Mink in the act. Not soon enough to save Elfie, but soon enough to have something to put in a shoebox. So we decorated a new one, putÂŁn,our black clothes, lined-up under the big Maple and sang the sad songs for Elfie. Farmer Gaffney missed Elfie's funeral, he was away selling his big old pig. Mom-said we couldn't wait, we'd better get Elfie in the ground. So I sang 'Mazing Grace a little extra loud for Farmer Gaffney, and later he said he could hear me clear across the county.

Mercy Mom says: "Baby Gaffney can't come home. He came too soon." Farmer Gaffney goes every night to visit bis little boy, soon as his milking is done. Says they got his baby on all kinds of tubes. Says the little guy is suffering. Says he can't stand by and watch his wee one suffer. Says it aint right, it aint right. Tonight Farmer Gaffney went to visit his tiny baby boy. Tonight baby Gaffney died in the hospital. Dad cried tonight for the first time. Ever. I find a shoebox. I put on my black clothes and get ready to sing the sad songs. But I don't know what to put in my box. "Where's baby Gaffney?" I ask Dad. He says, "01' Buck loved that baby, couldn't stand to see him suffer. Just wanted to put him out of his misery." "Where is Farmer Gaffney?" I ask. "He's gone away, Missy. For a long time. It aint right what they've done to him, it aint right." I go out to the garden, stand under the big Maple and sing 'Mazing Grace real, real loud, asloud as I can when I'm crying. I hope Farmer Gaffney can hear me, wherever he's gone.

Last week Missus Gaffney had a baby. Her eighth. Farmer Gaffhey's other kids are all grown-up and gone, so I knew Missus Gaffney had been storing some baby seed. But Mom and Dad aren't smiling. They keep whispering worriedlike. "What's wrong?" I ask Mom, her eyes making me scared she's gonna cry. 36

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Softie

S O F T I E

b y

B r e n n a

B u r n s

syntactically mobile as 'like' and 'you know,' when the pedigree of the land came up). His dad and two bankers co-owned a herd of white cattle. The cows' shins were like the slender grips of baseball bats, under enormous fat knees. The bankers were absentee landlords. The ranch house was full of the bankers' weekend things: their furniture from first marriages. There was food to last a year at least. It was like the houses that lost hunters stumble into in stories, with the table set for twelve, only it was shelves full of powdered potatoes, canned gravy, beets; a chest freezer. The enchanted bomb-shelter version of the tale. I dug pheasant sausage out of the frost. It was studded with lead shot. We chewed with our front teeth. We sorted each bite with the tips of our tongues. The land didn't belong to me. I was lucky, I was like a feather; in my life I hadn't out-right owned a blade of grass. We shot bullets into the hillside, pa! the turf split

ife is mean, you're a smudge in my heart. L

1

i

Browning, you're an intersection; the Blackfeet Nation. A white girl in a white truck, I'm pulling into your gas station; I won't, stay long. You know. Dust is all over you. Even the gas station aches. A girl disappears around the cinderblock bend; shirt-tail like a white ghost disappears last Life scatters like a flock, or doesn't bat an eye; I am fueling up. I call ahead from the payphone: Charlie I'm coming so put your pants on. You have me tuned down to the second hand. You have me tuned exactly. Like the atomic clock that is ticking somewhere in Colorado. But I am still late as foxes and voles. * East out of Browning; this road^is^so^ unused—it could be a sacred highway. We should process along it once a millennium. Though winter's a bastard here and it's not in mint condition. The road doesn't renew itself. It's almost spring now. The road is flanked by coming green. People call it'spring green-up.' The new blades of grass come up as warily as periscopes. But they'll abandon caution and throw themselves onto the world, like all new things. * Charlie was the son of a banker. His daddy bought the 4,000 acres from a Canadian professor who'd gotten weary of his thesis—Utopian agriculture will flourish when you can fling your arms wide. Someone had fucked some Blackfeet out of it in the thirties ('in lieu of back taxes' was a phrase that appeared, as 38

Charlie calls his truck'Primer-gray Whale,' and'she.' She is dull. Not a single thing glints. Her wheels are set so wide! We pull off the road and drive up a balding hill, we cut two new ruts in the silver grass. The hills are so many we can use them like kleenex. The sun goes down, we smoke a joint on the hilltop. Out where the horizon line disappears between two blue fields, a small settlement turns its lights on. The illusion is perfect—that we are approaching an outpost from space—and names fill our minds: Aldebaran, Mos Eisley, Mars. One afternoon Charlie drove me out into a field. He'd seen a band of horses out that way a few times. It was just a field between fields. It was nobody's field. We parked and sat on the hood of the truck. It took hours for the sound of our slamming doors to taper away. Then the horses came up out of a gully and circled around the truck. A baby on thin legs came and smelled my hand. It inhaled deeply at the crease of my thumb. Charlie said, "I'm talking to a manj^m going to-buy that one for you." He said, "That horse loves you." I lent him two hundred dollars to buy it for me and I got ready for the horse to come. I cleaned house in my heart. I saved a coffee can for measuring grain. Early in the summer Arne from down the road stopped by now and then. He thought we might become his new neighbors; the next generation of farmers. In his living room, with the linoleum walls leaning in around us, he showed us his collection of Indian things. He had tiny pouches, mysterious rods, little teeth; his common-law wife took us down the rows of beets in the yard, their tiny crowns 39


Softie

S O F T I E

b y

B r e n n a

B u r n s

syntactically mobile as 'like' and 'you know,' when the pedigree of the land came up). His dad and two bankers co-owned a herd of white cattle. The cows' shins were like the slender grips of baseball bats, under enormous fat knees. The bankers were absentee landlords. The ranch house was full of the bankers' weekend things: their furniture from first marriages. There was food to last a year at least. It was like the houses that lost hunters stumble into in stories, with the table set for twelve, only it was shelves full of powdered potatoes, canned gravy, beets; a chest freezer. The enchanted bomb-shelter version of the tale. I dug pheasant sausage out of the frost. It was studded with lead shot. We chewed with our front teeth. We sorted each bite with the tips of our tongues. The land didn't belong to me. I was lucky, I was like a feather; in my life I hadn't out-right owned a blade of grass. We shot bullets into the hillside, pa! the turf split

ife is mean, you're a smudge in my heart. L

1

i

Browning, you're an intersection; the Blackfeet Nation. A white girl in a white truck, I'm pulling into your gas station; I won't, stay long. You know. Dust is all over you. Even the gas station aches. A girl disappears around the cinderblock bend; shirt-tail like a white ghost disappears last Life scatters like a flock, or doesn't bat an eye; I am fueling up. I call ahead from the payphone: Charlie I'm coming so put your pants on. You have me tuned down to the second hand. You have me tuned exactly. Like the atomic clock that is ticking somewhere in Colorado. But I am still late as foxes and voles. * East out of Browning; this road^is^so^ unused—it could be a sacred highway. We should process along it once a millennium. Though winter's a bastard here and it's not in mint condition. The road doesn't renew itself. It's almost spring now. The road is flanked by coming green. People call it'spring green-up.' The new blades of grass come up as warily as periscopes. But they'll abandon caution and throw themselves onto the world, like all new things. * Charlie was the son of a banker. His daddy bought the 4,000 acres from a Canadian professor who'd gotten weary of his thesis—Utopian agriculture will flourish when you can fling your arms wide. Someone had fucked some Blackfeet out of it in the thirties ('in lieu of back taxes' was a phrase that appeared, as 38

Charlie calls his truck'Primer-gray Whale,' and'she.' She is dull. Not a single thing glints. Her wheels are set so wide! We pull off the road and drive up a balding hill, we cut two new ruts in the silver grass. The hills are so many we can use them like kleenex. The sun goes down, we smoke a joint on the hilltop. Out where the horizon line disappears between two blue fields, a small settlement turns its lights on. The illusion is perfect—that we are approaching an outpost from space—and names fill our minds: Aldebaran, Mos Eisley, Mars. One afternoon Charlie drove me out into a field. He'd seen a band of horses out that way a few times. It was just a field between fields. It was nobody's field. We parked and sat on the hood of the truck. It took hours for the sound of our slamming doors to taper away. Then the horses came up out of a gully and circled around the truck. A baby on thin legs came and smelled my hand. It inhaled deeply at the crease of my thumb. Charlie said, "I'm talking to a manj^m going to-buy that one for you." He said, "That horse loves you." I lent him two hundred dollars to buy it for me and I got ready for the horse to come. I cleaned house in my heart. I saved a coffee can for measuring grain. Early in the summer Arne from down the road stopped by now and then. He thought we might become his new neighbors; the next generation of farmers. In his living room, with the linoleum walls leaning in around us, he showed us his collection of Indian things. He had tiny pouches, mysterious rods, little teeth; his common-law wife took us down the rows of beets in the yard, their tiny crowns 39


Berkeley Fiction Review

Softie

were such a gentle green. She said, "Canning can save you forty bucks a month." She said, "Plant'early. Next spring." But by August Charlie slept till noon, some days he didn't dress. When the great combines were migrating from field to field, hiring themselves out from the Hutterite colonies down South all the way up to Arne's pale fields, we still didn't lift a finger. The cows were waiting. They shifted their mass from leg to leg, on shins as thin as baseball bats. Arne spat on the ground in front of Charlie and said, "I know what you do all day."

bears, they sprang up all over the bristling hills. They were little elfin puppy dogs. I said, "It's an agricultural practice." "It's like cutting the grass." I shot one from the passenger-side window of Charlie's dull gray truck. I winged it. It disappeared into a hole. Charlie said, "Get the fuck out of the truck and kill it" I stood by the side of the road in front of the hole until its face reappeared. I hesitated before I shot it. * Charlie came to bed one night with an old magazine. There was an article in the magazine about a Canadian couple who had murdered a girl. The man kidnapped her, raped her for a week, and killed her; the womanfilmedit for him. She brought the girl a teddy bear, or else she took the teddy bear away. I can't remember. From jail she said he made her do it. Charlie read the article to me in bed. He said, "That man understood the basic thing." "For a really loyal dog, beat it for no reason. Then sometimes you give it people food, for no reason." "Random acts of kindness, ha ha." * Bearing down the two-lane highway, rolling with the enormous momentum of the Primer-gray Whale, we saw a mutt pulling its paralyzed hindquarters along in the gravel next to the road. It was shortly after dawn. The road extended without an interruption,' simply a grey ribbon between two soft hills, far apart from each other. The road divided a silvery, thatched plain. The dog was following the road. I could taste the shape of my heart all that day.

Out here it's a black desert at night—and the hills change coats. Apack of coyotes is always pealing in some inaccessible valley but not this one. The cows become elegant in the dark because their shins are gobbled up by the blackness; they seem omniscient. We lean back against the mangy hillside, the ground takes us with a thud. A hundred lights coalesce in the darkness, on the Canadian side. Like a little galaxy that fell. Tonight we'll sleep on 4,000 acres. * At spring run-off, before Arneson had forsaken us for assholes, the Milk flooded and cut us off from the land to the south. He called one evenjng and said there was a neighborly job to do. A cow had been calving in a shed on our side, and the ranch hands went for lunch and got stuck on the other side of the Milk. Arne picked us up. We went down-to the calving shed. The cow was lying on her side in the dark. The calf's head and front legs poked out from under her tail. Its small face was blue and its tongue bulged out of its mouth. In the beam ofArne's light, the scene looked like-some rococo city butcher's display. The little tongue was like a marzipan plum. Arne said, "Strangled itself." He looked at me,and said, "Does it bother you little lady?" I said, "No." He said, "It does me." He put a chainju;ouhd the calf's neck and pulled it out with a hydraulic jack. The cow made one long sound. Like a floorboard deep in the planet, and it was unmistakable. Her complaint * I liked'the idea of the extremities I'd reached. I was not behaving like a college girl. I shot prairie dogs with a .22 rifle. Charlie said, "That was my grandma's rifle. I'm giving it to you." I held a dead one up by its tail for a picture: I'm wearing a monogrammed Diadora windbreaker, holding the long gun like a handbag; my eyebrows are gathered. I meant to learn the secrets of stoicism this way. By shooting prairie dogs. But I couldn't tell if I was feeling tenderness or not. They were like happy teddy

40

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Berkeley Fiction Review

Softie

were such a gentle green. She said, "Canning can save you forty bucks a month." She said, "Plant'early. Next spring." But by August Charlie slept till noon, some days he didn't dress. When the great combines were migrating from field to field, hiring themselves out from the Hutterite colonies down South all the way up to Arne's pale fields, we still didn't lift a finger. The cows were waiting. They shifted their mass from leg to leg, on shins as thin as baseball bats. Arne spat on the ground in front of Charlie and said, "I know what you do all day."

bears, they sprang up all over the bristling hills. They were little elfin puppy dogs. I said, "It's an agricultural practice." "It's like cutting the grass." I shot one from the passenger-side window of Charlie's dull gray truck. I winged it. It disappeared into a hole. Charlie said, "Get the fuck out of the truck and kill it" I stood by the side of the road in front of the hole until its face reappeared. I hesitated before I shot it. * Charlie came to bed one night with an old magazine. There was an article in the magazine about a Canadian couple who had murdered a girl. The man kidnapped her, raped her for a week, and killed her; the womanfilmedit for him. She brought the girl a teddy bear, or else she took the teddy bear away. I can't remember. From jail she said he made her do it. Charlie read the article to me in bed. He said, "That man understood the basic thing." "For a really loyal dog, beat it for no reason. Then sometimes you give it people food, for no reason." "Random acts of kindness, ha ha." * Bearing down the two-lane highway, rolling with the enormous momentum of the Primer-gray Whale, we saw a mutt pulling its paralyzed hindquarters along in the gravel next to the road. It was shortly after dawn. The road extended without an interruption,' simply a grey ribbon between two soft hills, far apart from each other. The road divided a silvery, thatched plain. The dog was following the road. I could taste the shape of my heart all that day.

Out here it's a black desert at night—and the hills change coats. Apack of coyotes is always pealing in some inaccessible valley but not this one. The cows become elegant in the dark because their shins are gobbled up by the blackness; they seem omniscient. We lean back against the mangy hillside, the ground takes us with a thud. A hundred lights coalesce in the darkness, on the Canadian side. Like a little galaxy that fell. Tonight we'll sleep on 4,000 acres. * At spring run-off, before Arneson had forsaken us for assholes, the Milk flooded and cut us off from the land to the south. He called one evenjng and said there was a neighborly job to do. A cow had been calving in a shed on our side, and the ranch hands went for lunch and got stuck on the other side of the Milk. Arne picked us up. We went down-to the calving shed. The cow was lying on her side in the dark. The calf's head and front legs poked out from under her tail. Its small face was blue and its tongue bulged out of its mouth. In the beam ofArne's light, the scene looked like-some rococo city butcher's display. The little tongue was like a marzipan plum. Arne said, "Strangled itself." He looked at me,and said, "Does it bother you little lady?" I said, "No." He said, "It does me." He put a chainju;ouhd the calf's neck and pulled it out with a hydraulic jack. The cow made one long sound. Like a floorboard deep in the planet, and it was unmistakable. Her complaint * I liked'the idea of the extremities I'd reached. I was not behaving like a college girl. I shot prairie dogs with a .22 rifle. Charlie said, "That was my grandma's rifle. I'm giving it to you." I held a dead one up by its tail for a picture: I'm wearing a monogrammed Diadora windbreaker, holding the long gun like a handbag; my eyebrows are gathered. I meant to learn the secrets of stoicism this way. By shooting prairie dogs. But I couldn't tell if I was feeling tenderness or not. They were like happy teddy

40

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Home Sweet Home

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M

E

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R o s e m a r y

H

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M

a panic attack at a restaurant or movie theater. Misery and the avoidance of misery were her life. What more could there be to say about it? "Lucas hates me, you know. He'll send me to all the most horrible places. I'll be reviewing truck stops." Dean took off his glasses. He was nearly blind without them. His darkcircled eyes showed pink at the edges and made Sofie think of world-weary rabbits. "Well regardless, you have to find a way to get here on time for the story meeting. I feel so lost when you leave me alone with the staff." He produced a white handkerchief and began carefully unfolding it to wipe his lenses. "Gosh, Dean, you hired them. And besides, I'm just as crazy as the rest" "Yes, but your craziness makes sense to me: In a dangerous world, be afraid. I take comfort in your disorder. In fact," he slid his glasses back on, "I have an idea for a new column. Essentially about city life, but from an oddball angle. Just the assignment for you. We could call it Travel for Agoraphobics." "That's not funny, Dean." "I'm completely serious. The paper could use more street-level perspective. Your bus ride today could be a column. Or rather, your walk up State Street. Isn't there a new coffee shop somewhere? What's shakin' at the pom arcade? Do the regular panhandlers get up early enough to be on the street at nine-thirty on a Friday morning? Observation peppered with judicious amounts of angst Come on. This is your kind of stuff." He was right, she had to admit This was her kind of column. "You realize that what you're running herer-eleverly disguised as a weekly newspaper—is a sheltered workshop for head-case writers." "You think so?" Dean cocked his head, considering. "I wish you'd tell my wife. She never thinks I'm doing anything for the community."

E

Z u r l o - C u v a

W

ith a good field guide and a pair of binoculars you may discover an amazing array of bird life in your own back yard. And I'm not talking about robins, those nauseating little cheerleaders for the bird world, waking you up at the crack of dawn with their chirpy message that may as well translate to: You will never be as happy as we are. ^-Travel for Agoraphobics

After the Friday morning story meeting, Sofie followedDean to his office and plopped herself down on the antique mahogany chair he'd bought at an office resale because he liked its size and heft and that it harked back to older, more newspapery times. Also, the chair was so hard and uninviting to sit in that it discouraged everyone but Sofie from staying long in his office. "So?" Dean said, paging through a stack of yellow phone message slips. She'd have to do some explaining>after showing up half an hour late again for the meeting, but she thought she could count on Dean not to rake her over the coals. "Bad bout of claustrophobia on the bus. Had to get off four stops early." "What does this idiot want?" he said, peering at one of the slips. He looked up to study her as if she might be yet another message in need of deciphering. "I thought the anxiety thing was settling down. I was going to put you back on as my second-string restaurant reviewer." "It gets better and worse." A few months ago, she might have gone into it. She might have shared an anecdote from her most recent therapy group. But by now she'd grown sick of her own story. Filled with dread much of the time, she no longer traveled, hated stepping onto a crowded bus, rarely risked the possibility of

They were down to four in her therapy group, which meant less fighting for time and attention. Sofie looked forward to these sessions with a churning ambivalence. Group began by sharing ne,ws and airing any leftover feelings from the previous week. Jane, a newish member, regularly used the opportunity to pick on Sofie. Their therapist liked the way that in group her clients ended up recreating the sibling rivalries, the oedipal dramas, and"schoolyard"hurhiliations of childhood. Sheila believed that consciously re-enacting these experiences forced them to change strategies. Sofie had heard Sheila go so far as to call one-on-one therapy emotional masturbation for people who'd rather talk than change. Sofie had been there and done that. You could say Sheila won her over with that one. "I have a leftover for Sofie," Jane said this week, as she did every other. Eileen, Sofie's closest ally in group, rolled her eyes. Just as it happens in families, group members tended to pick sides and form coalitions. They sat around Sheila's office on comfy chenille sofas, a Persian rug at their feet in shades of navy and green with smatterings of maize and pink. Sofie had lived whole lives in the intricacies of that pattern.

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Home Sweet Home

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a panic attack at a restaurant or movie theater. Misery and the avoidance of misery were her life. What more could there be to say about it? "Lucas hates me, you know. He'll send me to all the most horrible places. I'll be reviewing truck stops." Dean took off his glasses. He was nearly blind without them. His darkcircled eyes showed pink at the edges and made Sofie think of world-weary rabbits. "Well regardless, you have to find a way to get here on time for the story meeting. I feel so lost when you leave me alone with the staff." He produced a white handkerchief and began carefully unfolding it to wipe his lenses. "Gosh, Dean, you hired them. And besides, I'm just as crazy as the rest" "Yes, but your craziness makes sense to me: In a dangerous world, be afraid. I take comfort in your disorder. In fact," he slid his glasses back on, "I have an idea for a new column. Essentially about city life, but from an oddball angle. Just the assignment for you. We could call it Travel for Agoraphobics." "That's not funny, Dean." "I'm completely serious. The paper could use more street-level perspective. Your bus ride today could be a column. Or rather, your walk up State Street. Isn't there a new coffee shop somewhere? What's shakin' at the pom arcade? Do the regular panhandlers get up early enough to be on the street at nine-thirty on a Friday morning? Observation peppered with judicious amounts of angst Come on. This is your kind of stuff." He was right, she had to admit This was her kind of column. "You realize that what you're running herer-eleverly disguised as a weekly newspaper—is a sheltered workshop for head-case writers." "You think so?" Dean cocked his head, considering. "I wish you'd tell my wife. She never thinks I'm doing anything for the community."

E

Z u r l o - C u v a

W

ith a good field guide and a pair of binoculars you may discover an amazing array of bird life in your own back yard. And I'm not talking about robins, those nauseating little cheerleaders for the bird world, waking you up at the crack of dawn with their chirpy message that may as well translate to: You will never be as happy as we are. ^-Travel for Agoraphobics

After the Friday morning story meeting, Sofie followedDean to his office and plopped herself down on the antique mahogany chair he'd bought at an office resale because he liked its size and heft and that it harked back to older, more newspapery times. Also, the chair was so hard and uninviting to sit in that it discouraged everyone but Sofie from staying long in his office. "So?" Dean said, paging through a stack of yellow phone message slips. She'd have to do some explaining>after showing up half an hour late again for the meeting, but she thought she could count on Dean not to rake her over the coals. "Bad bout of claustrophobia on the bus. Had to get off four stops early." "What does this idiot want?" he said, peering at one of the slips. He looked up to study her as if she might be yet another message in need of deciphering. "I thought the anxiety thing was settling down. I was going to put you back on as my second-string restaurant reviewer." "It gets better and worse." A few months ago, she might have gone into it. She might have shared an anecdote from her most recent therapy group. But by now she'd grown sick of her own story. Filled with dread much of the time, she no longer traveled, hated stepping onto a crowded bus, rarely risked the possibility of

They were down to four in her therapy group, which meant less fighting for time and attention. Sofie looked forward to these sessions with a churning ambivalence. Group began by sharing ne,ws and airing any leftover feelings from the previous week. Jane, a newish member, regularly used the opportunity to pick on Sofie. Their therapist liked the way that in group her clients ended up recreating the sibling rivalries, the oedipal dramas, and"schoolyard"hurhiliations of childhood. Sheila believed that consciously re-enacting these experiences forced them to change strategies. Sofie had heard Sheila go so far as to call one-on-one therapy emotional masturbation for people who'd rather talk than change. Sofie had been there and done that. You could say Sheila won her over with that one. "I have a leftover for Sofie," Jane said this week, as she did every other. Eileen, Sofie's closest ally in group, rolled her eyes. Just as it happens in families, group members tended to pick sides and form coalitions. They sat around Sheila's office on comfy chenille sofas, a Persian rug at their feet in shades of navy and green with smatterings of maize and pink. Sofie had lived whole lives in the intricacies of that pattern.

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Berkeley Fiction Review "What would you like to say to her?" Sheila asked from the throne of her leather desk chair: a Celtic warrior queen surveying her battlefield, six feet tall with red hair and blue eyes so dark that from a distance they read as black. "I'd like to say," Jane turned to Sofie, "that I don't think you take my concerns very seriously." No, Sofie thought, I don't take you very seriously. She was smart enough not to say that out loud. "What is it about me that makes you think that?" she asked. Sofie had learned not to try to explain herself. It only prolonged the argument. Jane's gaze faltered. "I'm not sure. I just feel it." Of course she wasn't sure. She had Sofie mixed up with her sister or mother or some high school boyfriend who, we can guess, never listened. Until Jane figured this out, she was going to be a pain in Sofie's ass, and, oddly enough, Sofie was never going to take her very seriously. "Well," Sheila said to Jane. "If you get a clearer sense of what's going on for you, let us know later." She shifted her focus to Sofie, her scrutiny a weird -mixture of kindness and brooding intensity. "What about you? Do you have any news to report?" Each week she could scarcely wait for this moment, and when it came she wanted to hide. "My new column seems to be a success." Cheers went up among the group members. Sheila smiled at the show of camaraderie and support, which she regarded as another benefit of group therapy. "I loved the one where you talked about going to the grocery," Tamara said. She'd come to group after a month in rehab, and worried about developing a food addiction now that she was off alcohol. Tamara seemed to live on canned soup and chocolate, and Sheila regularly encouraged her to try fruit and vegetables. "I never thought about it before, how much less likely you are to get trapped in the outside aisles. Plus the food choices are healthier." "Thanks," Sofie said and took a breath. She had one other little bit of news. "Also, Oliver begged me to go on a field trip with his class out of town." 4 That caught Sheila's interest A few weeks^ago Sofie informed the group that she'd come to peace with the notion ofjiying the rest of her life within city limits. She'd argued that life was essentially a spiritual journey, which did not require actual physical trips to be experienced. "Where to?" Sheila wanted to know. "A pumpkin farm." Sofie didn't expect even her group to understand the fits of terror this request was throwing her in: long ride on crowded bus, strange terrain with (maybe) animals, unpredictable fall weather. "In the country," she added, in case they weren't getting it. "Out of town." "And what did you tell your son?" Sofie felt like a beetle caught on its back, little legs wiggling helplessly in the air. "Nothing yet. I didn!t want to disappoint him right away. But I can't go. I

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Home Sweet Home mean, an hour on a school bus—" "So we have time to work on this?" Sheila interrupted. The truth is, Sofie loved Sheila's fierceness. Sheila made her feel safe—Sofie was not, as they say, in denial about this—in a way her own mother never came close to. When she didn't refuse, Sheila said, "Good," and swiveled on her leather throne. "Eileen, do you have news to report? At six, Oliver was solid, his flesh firm and sweet. Sofie cracked open her eyes as he crawled into bed next to her, conforming to her shape with a squirming energy and then abruptly relaxing, his butt pressed hard to her stomach. He'd inherited what her family referred to as the Catalano bubble butt, the full muscled buttocks of compact athletes like gymnasts or baseball players. "Good morning," she said. Her child only grunted in response. It was Saturday, the rigors of first grade exhausted him, and he wanted to sleep in. They dozed until George padded into the bedroom, freshly showered and shaved. He went to the closet he got out a pair of chinbs, not jeans. "You're going to work?" Last year, when George had finally had his fill of working evenings and weekends, of traveling to games that held little interest, and interviewing jocks who had only the same, moronic things to say, he'd left his newspaper sports writing job to run media relations for a local HMO. Sofie was impressed, if also a bit surprised, by how well he'd adapted to corporate life. The job paid twice what he'd made at the paper and gave them Cadillac health insurance that covered her ridiculous therapy bills. On the other hand, he was far busier than either of them had imagined, and often felt compelled to go in and catch up on the weekend. "Just a couple of hours," he soothed. "I'll be back to take Mr. O to his soccer game." "Hear that?" She shook the lump lying beside her. George buttoned a blue oxford-cloth shirt. He used to be a flannel-shirtand-jeans sort of guy, but he had nice shoulders and only the first hint of softness around his middle, so he looked good dressediike thisrDuring the week he often wore a suit. It would take Sofie another year to get used to that. She sat up and began to assess her anxiety level. She didn't want to. She saw that it only aggravated her symptoms to take inventory in the morning, but she could never stop herself. Heart: steady, medium pace. Stomach: not aching, not queasy, not hungry. Dreams: none from her repertoire of recurring nightmares that featured chase scenes, hostage situations, or hiding like an animal in the bushes. Vision: from their tall bedroom window she could see one fat cloud in a jewel-blue sky, troubling in that lovely weather created such a burden of expectation that it must be enjoyed. Sofie wanted to lie down again.

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Berkeley Fiction Review "What would you like to say to her?" Sheila asked from the throne of her leather desk chair: a Celtic warrior queen surveying her battlefield, six feet tall with red hair and blue eyes so dark that from a distance they read as black. "I'd like to say," Jane turned to Sofie, "that I don't think you take my concerns very seriously." No, Sofie thought, I don't take you very seriously. She was smart enough not to say that out loud. "What is it about me that makes you think that?" she asked. Sofie had learned not to try to explain herself. It only prolonged the argument. Jane's gaze faltered. "I'm not sure. I just feel it." Of course she wasn't sure. She had Sofie mixed up with her sister or mother or some high school boyfriend who, we can guess, never listened. Until Jane figured this out, she was going to be a pain in Sofie's ass, and, oddly enough, Sofie was never going to take her very seriously. "Well," Sheila said to Jane. "If you get a clearer sense of what's going on for you, let us know later." She shifted her focus to Sofie, her scrutiny a weird -mixture of kindness and brooding intensity. "What about you? Do you have any news to report?" Each week she could scarcely wait for this moment, and when it came she wanted to hide. "My new column seems to be a success." Cheers went up among the group members. Sheila smiled at the show of camaraderie and support, which she regarded as another benefit of group therapy. "I loved the one where you talked about going to the grocery," Tamara said. She'd come to group after a month in rehab, and worried about developing a food addiction now that she was off alcohol. Tamara seemed to live on canned soup and chocolate, and Sheila regularly encouraged her to try fruit and vegetables. "I never thought about it before, how much less likely you are to get trapped in the outside aisles. Plus the food choices are healthier." "Thanks," Sofie said and took a breath. She had one other little bit of news. "Also, Oliver begged me to go on a field trip with his class out of town." 4 That caught Sheila's interest A few weeks^ago Sofie informed the group that she'd come to peace with the notion ofjiying the rest of her life within city limits. She'd argued that life was essentially a spiritual journey, which did not require actual physical trips to be experienced. "Where to?" Sheila wanted to know. "A pumpkin farm." Sofie didn't expect even her group to understand the fits of terror this request was throwing her in: long ride on crowded bus, strange terrain with (maybe) animals, unpredictable fall weather. "In the country," she added, in case they weren't getting it. "Out of town." "And what did you tell your son?" Sofie felt like a beetle caught on its back, little legs wiggling helplessly in the air. "Nothing yet. I didn!t want to disappoint him right away. But I can't go. I

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Home Sweet Home mean, an hour on a school bus—" "So we have time to work on this?" Sheila interrupted. The truth is, Sofie loved Sheila's fierceness. Sheila made her feel safe—Sofie was not, as they say, in denial about this—in a way her own mother never came close to. When she didn't refuse, Sheila said, "Good," and swiveled on her leather throne. "Eileen, do you have news to report? At six, Oliver was solid, his flesh firm and sweet. Sofie cracked open her eyes as he crawled into bed next to her, conforming to her shape with a squirming energy and then abruptly relaxing, his butt pressed hard to her stomach. He'd inherited what her family referred to as the Catalano bubble butt, the full muscled buttocks of compact athletes like gymnasts or baseball players. "Good morning," she said. Her child only grunted in response. It was Saturday, the rigors of first grade exhausted him, and he wanted to sleep in. They dozed until George padded into the bedroom, freshly showered and shaved. He went to the closet he got out a pair of chinbs, not jeans. "You're going to work?" Last year, when George had finally had his fill of working evenings and weekends, of traveling to games that held little interest, and interviewing jocks who had only the same, moronic things to say, he'd left his newspaper sports writing job to run media relations for a local HMO. Sofie was impressed, if also a bit surprised, by how well he'd adapted to corporate life. The job paid twice what he'd made at the paper and gave them Cadillac health insurance that covered her ridiculous therapy bills. On the other hand, he was far busier than either of them had imagined, and often felt compelled to go in and catch up on the weekend. "Just a couple of hours," he soothed. "I'll be back to take Mr. O to his soccer game." "Hear that?" She shook the lump lying beside her. George buttoned a blue oxford-cloth shirt. He used to be a flannel-shirtand-jeans sort of guy, but he had nice shoulders and only the first hint of softness around his middle, so he looked good dressediike thisrDuring the week he often wore a suit. It would take Sofie another year to get used to that. She sat up and began to assess her anxiety level. She didn't want to. She saw that it only aggravated her symptoms to take inventory in the morning, but she could never stop herself. Heart: steady, medium pace. Stomach: not aching, not queasy, not hungry. Dreams: none from her repertoire of recurring nightmares that featured chase scenes, hostage situations, or hiding like an animal in the bushes. Vision: from their tall bedroom window she could see one fat cloud in a jewel-blue sky, troubling in that lovely weather created such a burden of expectation that it must be enjoyed. Sofie wanted to lie down again.

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Berkeley Fiction Review George watched her, obviously aware of what she was up to. "Sofie," he . said. He managed to imbue her name with a whole world of frustration and sadness f and possibly'also a shade of encouragement. He sat down on the edge of the bed.' Sofie wasn't sure why George hadn't left her; she hadn't been much of a wife these last couple of years. Sometimes, when he came home late from a meeting, she'd sniff for the remnant scents of another woman. She read carefully through the credit card bills. So far no hint of the slightest impropriety. Not that she would . blame him. What man wouldn't prefer to be with a woman who enjoyed the J occasional getaway weekend, who didn't hyperventilate in a crowded restaurant,; and had a reasonably predictable interest in sex? She'd still have to kill him, of ' course. Or the other woman—Sofie could never decide who would have to go. But, before pulling the trigger, she'd be big enough to admit that she understood. "Say something funny," she said. It seemed all at once that if she could just laugh she might be able get out of bed. George regarded her, dark eyes inscrutable. "Were you aware that the Dalai Lama prefers to eat meat?" "I assumed he was a vegetarian," Sofie said, wondering where this would lead. George shook his head. "Nope. When the Dalai Lama first came to America, he asked his friends to take him to a baseball game. They took him to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox, and when he wanted a snack, they showed him to the concessions counter. He surprised everyone by ordering a hot dog." "No," she said. "The Dalai Lama would not eat a hot dog." "But he did," George insisted. "He ordered a hot dog. And when they asked how he wanted it, he told them, 'Make me one with everything.'" Sofie stared at her husband, who waited for the punch line to sink in. It may have been the way he smiled so that his one crooked tooth rested on the inside edge of his lip—the grin of a school boy who has just told an incredibly bad joke—but she started to laugh. She had never outgrown her weakness for boys who could tell bad jokes on command. She was still laughing when Oliverjitirrea" and sat up. "Ms. Winter-Smith said there are llamas at the pumpkin farm." Now George laughed and roughed up Oliver's hair. Sofie tried not to look stricken. George leaned over to kiss her. "See you in a couple of hours." It pays to case the restaurant in advance before eatingout. Then, whenyou make your reservation, you can specify exactly where you 'd be most comfortable sitting. Perhaps you'd prefer to be near the door or to sit with your back to a wall. If the maitre 'd cannot accommodate your needs on

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Home Sweet Home the date you 've chosen, it is entirely worth the trouble to wait for another night. —Travel for Agoraphobics Sofie sat at her desk working on her column, which is to say that she was staring at a blank screen, ruminating with dread over Oliver's class field trip. Ms. Winter-Smith had caught her on her way out of the house that morning, irresistibly bouncy and thrilled to let Sofie know how much Oliver looked forward to having his mom on the trip, how he babbled about it every day, along with something— the teacher had sounded perplexed here—about feeding hot dogs to the llamas, but actually, they desperately needed another parent chaperone for this one. Sofie had, swallowing quantities of bile, somehow agreed. Dean stepped out of his office and called her name. "Could you come here a sec?" Sofie took the mahogany chair, pulled a knee up under her chin and waited for Dean to get organized, which meant watching him page through the stacks of paper on his desk only to leave them exactly as they were in the first place. "Shit," he said at last. "I have a confession. I got into it on the phone with Lucas last night and I threatened to have you alternate restaurant reviews with his." "Are you out of your mind? What are you trying to do to me?" "I know." Dean's face crumpled in a grimace of regret and self-loathing. "But he's such a dick and his reviews have been so stale lately. I said it without tninking. I must have hoped the threat of competition would spur him to try harder." "Never works." "I know, I know." Dean peered through the glass wall of his office, distracted by something out there in the stew of semi-occupied office equipment. "At any rate, I wanted to apologize and warn you before he got here." His eyes cut to the door. "And I just made it Good morning, Lucas." "Good morning." Lucas stood in the doorway and raked them both with his aqua stare. He was a small man, not yet forty, quite handsome really, though Sofie could barely stand to look at him. He-wore his hair in the sort of razor cut she associated with British pop stars: ~ "No need to get into it." She'd decided to stop this fight before it started. Dean never should have tried to use her against Lucas. "I'm not doing any restaurant reviews." "Oh?" Lucas pretended to be surprised. "Because it really wouldn't be a problem. My editor at Gourmet has been begging me forever to take on more assignments when I've got extra time." "Lucas, I apologize for the mistake and I hope you'll continue reviewing for the paper each wee"k as always." Dean opened a desk drawer and started to rummage around in it 47


Berkeley Fiction Review George watched her, obviously aware of what she was up to. "Sofie," he . said. He managed to imbue her name with a whole world of frustration and sadness f and possibly'also a shade of encouragement. He sat down on the edge of the bed.' Sofie wasn't sure why George hadn't left her; she hadn't been much of a wife these last couple of years. Sometimes, when he came home late from a meeting, she'd sniff for the remnant scents of another woman. She read carefully through the credit card bills. So far no hint of the slightest impropriety. Not that she would . blame him. What man wouldn't prefer to be with a woman who enjoyed the J occasional getaway weekend, who didn't hyperventilate in a crowded restaurant,; and had a reasonably predictable interest in sex? She'd still have to kill him, of ' course. Or the other woman—Sofie could never decide who would have to go. But, before pulling the trigger, she'd be big enough to admit that she understood. "Say something funny," she said. It seemed all at once that if she could just laugh she might be able get out of bed. George regarded her, dark eyes inscrutable. "Were you aware that the Dalai Lama prefers to eat meat?" "I assumed he was a vegetarian," Sofie said, wondering where this would lead. George shook his head. "Nope. When the Dalai Lama first came to America, he asked his friends to take him to a baseball game. They took him to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox, and when he wanted a snack, they showed him to the concessions counter. He surprised everyone by ordering a hot dog." "No," she said. "The Dalai Lama would not eat a hot dog." "But he did," George insisted. "He ordered a hot dog. And when they asked how he wanted it, he told them, 'Make me one with everything.'" Sofie stared at her husband, who waited for the punch line to sink in. It may have been the way he smiled so that his one crooked tooth rested on the inside edge of his lip—the grin of a school boy who has just told an incredibly bad joke—but she started to laugh. She had never outgrown her weakness for boys who could tell bad jokes on command. She was still laughing when Oliverjitirrea" and sat up. "Ms. Winter-Smith said there are llamas at the pumpkin farm." Now George laughed and roughed up Oliver's hair. Sofie tried not to look stricken. George leaned over to kiss her. "See you in a couple of hours." It pays to case the restaurant in advance before eatingout. Then, whenyou make your reservation, you can specify exactly where you 'd be most comfortable sitting. Perhaps you'd prefer to be near the door or to sit with your back to a wall. If the maitre 'd cannot accommodate your needs on

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Home Sweet Home the date you 've chosen, it is entirely worth the trouble to wait for another night. —Travel for Agoraphobics Sofie sat at her desk working on her column, which is to say that she was staring at a blank screen, ruminating with dread over Oliver's class field trip. Ms. Winter-Smith had caught her on her way out of the house that morning, irresistibly bouncy and thrilled to let Sofie know how much Oliver looked forward to having his mom on the trip, how he babbled about it every day, along with something— the teacher had sounded perplexed here—about feeding hot dogs to the llamas, but actually, they desperately needed another parent chaperone for this one. Sofie had, swallowing quantities of bile, somehow agreed. Dean stepped out of his office and called her name. "Could you come here a sec?" Sofie took the mahogany chair, pulled a knee up under her chin and waited for Dean to get organized, which meant watching him page through the stacks of paper on his desk only to leave them exactly as they were in the first place. "Shit," he said at last. "I have a confession. I got into it on the phone with Lucas last night and I threatened to have you alternate restaurant reviews with his." "Are you out of your mind? What are you trying to do to me?" "I know." Dean's face crumpled in a grimace of regret and self-loathing. "But he's such a dick and his reviews have been so stale lately. I said it without tninking. I must have hoped the threat of competition would spur him to try harder." "Never works." "I know, I know." Dean peered through the glass wall of his office, distracted by something out there in the stew of semi-occupied office equipment. "At any rate, I wanted to apologize and warn you before he got here." His eyes cut to the door. "And I just made it Good morning, Lucas." "Good morning." Lucas stood in the doorway and raked them both with his aqua stare. He was a small man, not yet forty, quite handsome really, though Sofie could barely stand to look at him. He-wore his hair in the sort of razor cut she associated with British pop stars: ~ "No need to get into it." She'd decided to stop this fight before it started. Dean never should have tried to use her against Lucas. "I'm not doing any restaurant reviews." "Oh?" Lucas pretended to be surprised. "Because it really wouldn't be a problem. My editor at Gourmet has been begging me forever to take on more assignments when I've got extra time." "Lucas, I apologize for the mistake and I hope you'll continue reviewing for the paper each wee"k as always." Dean opened a desk drawer and started to rummage around in it 47


Berkeley Fiction Review Lucas examined Sofie now. "I hope your affliction isn't giving you too much trouble." He lingered unnecessarily over "affliction." "And I hope you haven't been burdened by too many pork chops enlightened with tart cherry coulis." She lingered over "enlightened," a verb he managed to work into every review. Dean inhaled deeply and tore at the wrapping on a roll of antacids he'd fished from the back of his drawer. Lucas's eyes narrowed to slits. Sofie stood. "I'm going to work at home." The bus wasn't crowded, but the walls threatened to close in anyway. Sofie got off on Monroe Street, still a mile from home, its small shops a tempting distraction from the misery of her thoughts. She would never admit it, but Lucas had struck a nerve. Clearly, her co-workers regarded her as an emotional cripple, a pathetic woman-child who broke into a sweat just thinking about visiting a sweet little pumpkin farm with a class of first graders. When Sofie got off the bus she'd had a notion that she might browse in a few of the shops, maybe gather material for new installments of her column, ostensibly about living in her city, but mostly about how to keep uncomfortable feelings at bay. Or, as George had put it after reading the first one, how to survive without actually living. "More angst," Dean had commanded after the first flurry of positive letters to the editor. "You've really tapped into something here, Sof." Since the inaugural column, George hadn't found the heart to read any more. Sofie walked along in a fog of self-flagellation, not even noticing the shops she was passing, until she woke up, so to speak, in front of A Stitch in Time. In the window hung a beautiful cardigan, knit from yarn that contained all the colors of the sea, every permutation of blue-gray-green. Ropes of beautifully intricate cable climbed up the front, surrounded by moss-like stitching. It might have been the most perfect sweater she'd ever seen. A Stitch in Time was the sort of hole-in-the-wall shop where a cow bell jangled on the door when you entered. Shelves and cubby holes lined the walls, stuffed with yam in every color, thickness andJexture that nature, aided by modem fiber technology, allowed. Only a narrow path remained unfilled by boxes and tables that spilled over with piles of skeined yarn and prepackaged projects complete with needles and instructions for baby blankets, fuzzy throws, vests and sweaters. In the back was a long wooden table, its surface covered with knitting bags and open pattern books. Women sat around it, knitting and talking. One woman got up from the table. She was old1—they all seemed old from where Sofie was standing. This one had short gray hair and sharp eyes and asked, "Can I help you?" Sofie had planned to say that she was writing an article and wanted a tour. She had not planned to say, "I want to learn how to knit the sweater in the window." 48

Home Sweet Home The woman looked her up and down as if she'd applied for a job operating heavy machinery. "How much knitting experience do you have?" "Well." It really did feel like an interview. "My mother tried to teach me when I was eleven. I made a potholder. I didn't have much patience back then." The woman absorbed this information with equanimity; it was no more than she had expected. "Let's get you started, then." Sofie followed her to the desk, where she opened a file drawer and riffled through it. "Here." She handed Sofie instructions for a boat-necked sweater vest. "You're not ready for the cardigan." ' "But—" "Come along." She took Sofie to the cubby that held the sea-colored yarn, removed six skeins, then pulled Sofie along by the sheer force of her personality to select the knitting needles, about which Sofie was not consulted. Finally, the woman sat her on an open chair at the big table. "We're going to do this right," she warned. The other women continued knitting, though they acknowledged Sofie's presence with polite nods or smiles. "I'm Lou, by the way." "Sofia," she said. "But don't you want me to pay first?" "We'll get your money soon enough. Now, how much time do you have?" Sofie looked at her watch. It was only 10:30. "Hours," she said. "Good. That's what it's going to take. Let me show you the cast-on." By the time Sofie looked at her watch and remembered to go and meet Oliver's school bus, she'd knitted two inches of ribbing and two more of plain stockinet stitch. After providing what she deemed to be the correct amount of instruction, Lou had picked up her own knitting and let Sofie struggle on her own. The women worked on tiny watch caps for hospital babies, mittens and scarves for their church charities. They chatted off and on, but Sofie couldn't say what they talked about. Nothing penetrated the concentration she applied to her work. At regular intervals, Lou let her own knitting fall back to the table, grabbed the needles out of Sofie's hands—"Pay attention. You dropped a stitch in that last row"—arid fixed the mistake. Lou did not treat Sofie kindly or gently, and yet when noon came around, bottled iced tea and a paper-wrapped taco from the-nearby Mexican deli appeared at her elbow. "Oh," shcsaid. "Who can I pay for this?" Lou assured her that it would be on her bill. The next morning Sofie called Dean to say she was working at home, and she did peck away at a paragraph or two before 10 a.m., when A Stitch in Time opened. Lou took one look at her work and said, "What a mess." Sofie nearly cried when Lou ripped out five rows and made her knit them up again. "EVeryone has to rip out," Lou said. "That's how you learn." Knitting, her tone implied, was not for sissies. Days went by in a knit and purl trance. Often Sofie held up her work to admire her progress, in love with the small, tidy arrows of stockinet stitch that 49


Berkeley Fiction Review Lucas examined Sofie now. "I hope your affliction isn't giving you too much trouble." He lingered unnecessarily over "affliction." "And I hope you haven't been burdened by too many pork chops enlightened with tart cherry coulis." She lingered over "enlightened," a verb he managed to work into every review. Dean inhaled deeply and tore at the wrapping on a roll of antacids he'd fished from the back of his drawer. Lucas's eyes narrowed to slits. Sofie stood. "I'm going to work at home." The bus wasn't crowded, but the walls threatened to close in anyway. Sofie got off on Monroe Street, still a mile from home, its small shops a tempting distraction from the misery of her thoughts. She would never admit it, but Lucas had struck a nerve. Clearly, her co-workers regarded her as an emotional cripple, a pathetic woman-child who broke into a sweat just thinking about visiting a sweet little pumpkin farm with a class of first graders. When Sofie got off the bus she'd had a notion that she might browse in a few of the shops, maybe gather material for new installments of her column, ostensibly about living in her city, but mostly about how to keep uncomfortable feelings at bay. Or, as George had put it after reading the first one, how to survive without actually living. "More angst," Dean had commanded after the first flurry of positive letters to the editor. "You've really tapped into something here, Sof." Since the inaugural column, George hadn't found the heart to read any more. Sofie walked along in a fog of self-flagellation, not even noticing the shops she was passing, until she woke up, so to speak, in front of A Stitch in Time. In the window hung a beautiful cardigan, knit from yarn that contained all the colors of the sea, every permutation of blue-gray-green. Ropes of beautifully intricate cable climbed up the front, surrounded by moss-like stitching. It might have been the most perfect sweater she'd ever seen. A Stitch in Time was the sort of hole-in-the-wall shop where a cow bell jangled on the door when you entered. Shelves and cubby holes lined the walls, stuffed with yam in every color, thickness andJexture that nature, aided by modem fiber technology, allowed. Only a narrow path remained unfilled by boxes and tables that spilled over with piles of skeined yarn and prepackaged projects complete with needles and instructions for baby blankets, fuzzy throws, vests and sweaters. In the back was a long wooden table, its surface covered with knitting bags and open pattern books. Women sat around it, knitting and talking. One woman got up from the table. She was old1—they all seemed old from where Sofie was standing. This one had short gray hair and sharp eyes and asked, "Can I help you?" Sofie had planned to say that she was writing an article and wanted a tour. She had not planned to say, "I want to learn how to knit the sweater in the window." 48

Home Sweet Home The woman looked her up and down as if she'd applied for a job operating heavy machinery. "How much knitting experience do you have?" "Well." It really did feel like an interview. "My mother tried to teach me when I was eleven. I made a potholder. I didn't have much patience back then." The woman absorbed this information with equanimity; it was no more than she had expected. "Let's get you started, then." Sofie followed her to the desk, where she opened a file drawer and riffled through it. "Here." She handed Sofie instructions for a boat-necked sweater vest. "You're not ready for the cardigan." ' "But—" "Come along." She took Sofie to the cubby that held the sea-colored yarn, removed six skeins, then pulled Sofie along by the sheer force of her personality to select the knitting needles, about which Sofie was not consulted. Finally, the woman sat her on an open chair at the big table. "We're going to do this right," she warned. The other women continued knitting, though they acknowledged Sofie's presence with polite nods or smiles. "I'm Lou, by the way." "Sofia," she said. "But don't you want me to pay first?" "We'll get your money soon enough. Now, how much time do you have?" Sofie looked at her watch. It was only 10:30. "Hours," she said. "Good. That's what it's going to take. Let me show you the cast-on." By the time Sofie looked at her watch and remembered to go and meet Oliver's school bus, she'd knitted two inches of ribbing and two more of plain stockinet stitch. After providing what she deemed to be the correct amount of instruction, Lou had picked up her own knitting and let Sofie struggle on her own. The women worked on tiny watch caps for hospital babies, mittens and scarves for their church charities. They chatted off and on, but Sofie couldn't say what they talked about. Nothing penetrated the concentration she applied to her work. At regular intervals, Lou let her own knitting fall back to the table, grabbed the needles out of Sofie's hands—"Pay attention. You dropped a stitch in that last row"—arid fixed the mistake. Lou did not treat Sofie kindly or gently, and yet when noon came around, bottled iced tea and a paper-wrapped taco from the-nearby Mexican deli appeared at her elbow. "Oh," shcsaid. "Who can I pay for this?" Lou assured her that it would be on her bill. The next morning Sofie called Dean to say she was working at home, and she did peck away at a paragraph or two before 10 a.m., when A Stitch in Time opened. Lou took one look at her work and said, "What a mess." Sofie nearly cried when Lou ripped out five rows and made her knit them up again. "EVeryone has to rip out," Lou said. "That's how you learn." Knitting, her tone implied, was not for sissies. Days went by in a knit and purl trance. Often Sofie held up her work to admire her progress, in love with the small, tidy arrows of stockinet stitch that 49


Berkeley Fiction Review nestled into each other row by row, the subtle variations in the color of the yarn. In these moments a pride swelled in her, recalling the age when she believed every picture she drew must be displayed on the refrigerator, and every silly poem pinned to the bulletin board at school. Sofie embarrassed herself with these thoughts. She finished next week's column, did the grocery shopping, made supper for her husband and child, all with the efficiency of one who must get on with other, more important work. At night she dreamed about knitting and purling. In the morning she forgot to take inventory. When she woke, her thoughts went straight to ribbing her sweater's boat neckline, the piecing and finishing work Lou had promised to teach her "when you get there." Finally, at the back table of A Stitch in Time, Sofie pieced and sewed her new vest together, wove in the loose strands, and held it up for the women to admire. They were interested for about three seconds. Lou said, "You got that under your belt. Now we'll start you on something with sleeves. No," she added, observing Sofie's face, "not the cardigan." Sofie went to group therapy, her new knitting bag filled with balls of springy red yarn and the pattern for a small boy's raglan sleeve V-neck sweater, already partially ribbed. Tamara pointed out that she'd produced a wearable and reasonably attractive article of clothing in a week. Eileen put in an order for a sweater. Sheila, never one to forget that her job was ultimately to push the little birdies out of die nest, fixed Sofie in one of her probing stares. "And how are you preparing for your son's class field trip?" "Right," Sofie said. "I haven't been thinking too much about that." It should not have surprised her when George failed to complain about her new pre-occupation, not even a joke about how much all that yarn was costing. Possibly he was just glad that Sofie was cooking more often, or that it had been a few weeks since he'd caught her crying in the shower. He'd grown used to getting so little from her. On the night before the pumpkin farm trip, she slept the kind of feverish sleep where you dream the whole time thatyou^re awake. She did finally wake, deep in the night, too alert to drop back off, but not really panicked, and let her mind go to her new knitting project. She was trying to talk Lou into letting her add a small cable to the front of her little boy's sweater. Lou had said something snippy about getting ahead of herself, and yet she hadn't completely shut Sofie down. Now Sofie contemplated how she might try Lou again with the cable idea. This new passion had offered more than distraction from Sofie's usual array of worries. She felt useful and competent in a way she'd never anticipated. She may still be panting with terror to visit a pumpkin farm twenty miles out of town, but in some mysterious way, that had ceased to be the defining fact of her life. Sofie's brain "would not settle, and in her agitation she rolled over towards sleeping George. He caught her as if he'd been waiting. With her face in his 50

Home Sweet Home shoulder, she smelled the fabric softener in his T-shirt, the sleepy heat of his skin beneath it When she opened her mouth to apologize for waking him, he gave her a slow and deliberate kiss. He waited. She had rejected him so many times in recent memory, pushed him away in her frenzy not to feel trapped or invaded. Now it struck her how brave he was to hold her like this, to offer himself with such hope and no expectation. Sofie kissed him back, slid a hand under his shirt. They both waited -another moment, breathing, she trying hard not to think. They made love then, carefully, as if their bodies had been bruised and in need of healing. Afterwards, when she lay with her head on his chest, he stroked the back of her neck, an expression—unaccustomed in recent months—of his desire to please her. "Why are you so good to me?" Sofie whispered, unsure she'd even said it out loud. His fingers paused from their stroking. "You're my life." He sounded so sure. "What more can I tell you?" She couldn't speak. A slew of hot tears spilled from her eyes so fast they must have splashed on his skin. "Sofie," he said, fingers soft again on her neck. "It's time to be well." Getting on a crowded bus can be dicey at any time, but in winter, with the windows closed and everyone packed in their toasty layers, the mingling of exhalations might push a sensitive, not to say hypochondriacal inclined person beyond endurance. And yet, even a bus overfull with the odors of last night's dinners—could so many people be eating garlic for breakfast?— and poorly metabolized alcohol, provides its pleasant surprises. Like the day that a man, comfortably seated, insisted on holding my packages when I had nowhere to sit. Of course I was trapped by this kindness. Still,- it engendered a kind of hope: —Travel for Agoraphobics She took her knitting bag, not that she thought she could knit on a moving bus without getting sick, but as a security blanket there on her lap. Oliver sat next to her, wide-eyed, nose pressed to the window. Sofie remembered taking him, three months old and still in a baby pack, on his first city bus trip to her office downtown. He never once closed his eyes, but watched with what looked like intelligent interest as passengers got off and on.

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Berkeley Fiction Review nestled into each other row by row, the subtle variations in the color of the yarn. In these moments a pride swelled in her, recalling the age when she believed every picture she drew must be displayed on the refrigerator, and every silly poem pinned to the bulletin board at school. Sofie embarrassed herself with these thoughts. She finished next week's column, did the grocery shopping, made supper for her husband and child, all with the efficiency of one who must get on with other, more important work. At night she dreamed about knitting and purling. In the morning she forgot to take inventory. When she woke, her thoughts went straight to ribbing her sweater's boat neckline, the piecing and finishing work Lou had promised to teach her "when you get there." Finally, at the back table of A Stitch in Time, Sofie pieced and sewed her new vest together, wove in the loose strands, and held it up for the women to admire. They were interested for about three seconds. Lou said, "You got that under your belt. Now we'll start you on something with sleeves. No," she added, observing Sofie's face, "not the cardigan." Sofie went to group therapy, her new knitting bag filled with balls of springy red yarn and the pattern for a small boy's raglan sleeve V-neck sweater, already partially ribbed. Tamara pointed out that she'd produced a wearable and reasonably attractive article of clothing in a week. Eileen put in an order for a sweater. Sheila, never one to forget that her job was ultimately to push the little birdies out of die nest, fixed Sofie in one of her probing stares. "And how are you preparing for your son's class field trip?" "Right," Sofie said. "I haven't been thinking too much about that." It should not have surprised her when George failed to complain about her new pre-occupation, not even a joke about how much all that yarn was costing. Possibly he was just glad that Sofie was cooking more often, or that it had been a few weeks since he'd caught her crying in the shower. He'd grown used to getting so little from her. On the night before the pumpkin farm trip, she slept the kind of feverish sleep where you dream the whole time thatyou^re awake. She did finally wake, deep in the night, too alert to drop back off, but not really panicked, and let her mind go to her new knitting project. She was trying to talk Lou into letting her add a small cable to the front of her little boy's sweater. Lou had said something snippy about getting ahead of herself, and yet she hadn't completely shut Sofie down. Now Sofie contemplated how she might try Lou again with the cable idea. This new passion had offered more than distraction from Sofie's usual array of worries. She felt useful and competent in a way she'd never anticipated. She may still be panting with terror to visit a pumpkin farm twenty miles out of town, but in some mysterious way, that had ceased to be the defining fact of her life. Sofie's brain "would not settle, and in her agitation she rolled over towards sleeping George. He caught her as if he'd been waiting. With her face in his 50

Home Sweet Home shoulder, she smelled the fabric softener in his T-shirt, the sleepy heat of his skin beneath it When she opened her mouth to apologize for waking him, he gave her a slow and deliberate kiss. He waited. She had rejected him so many times in recent memory, pushed him away in her frenzy not to feel trapped or invaded. Now it struck her how brave he was to hold her like this, to offer himself with such hope and no expectation. Sofie kissed him back, slid a hand under his shirt. They both waited -another moment, breathing, she trying hard not to think. They made love then, carefully, as if their bodies had been bruised and in need of healing. Afterwards, when she lay with her head on his chest, he stroked the back of her neck, an expression—unaccustomed in recent months—of his desire to please her. "Why are you so good to me?" Sofie whispered, unsure she'd even said it out loud. His fingers paused from their stroking. "You're my life." He sounded so sure. "What more can I tell you?" She couldn't speak. A slew of hot tears spilled from her eyes so fast they must have splashed on his skin. "Sofie," he said, fingers soft again on her neck. "It's time to be well." Getting on a crowded bus can be dicey at any time, but in winter, with the windows closed and everyone packed in their toasty layers, the mingling of exhalations might push a sensitive, not to say hypochondriacal inclined person beyond endurance. And yet, even a bus overfull with the odors of last night's dinners—could so many people be eating garlic for breakfast?— and poorly metabolized alcohol, provides its pleasant surprises. Like the day that a man, comfortably seated, insisted on holding my packages when I had nowhere to sit. Of course I was trapped by this kindness. Still,- it engendered a kind of hope: —Travel for Agoraphobics She took her knitting bag, not that she thought she could knit on a moving bus without getting sick, but as a security blanket there on her lap. Oliver sat next to her, wide-eyed, nose pressed to the window. Sofie remembered taking him, three months old and still in a baby pack, on his first city bus trip to her office downtown. He never once closed his eyes, but watched with what looked like intelligent interest as passengers got off and on.

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Berkeley Fiction Review As the bus pulled away from the school she felt the old inward sinking and flutter. Her mouth was so dry she wished she'd remembered a bottle of water. Oliver turned from the window, smiled with the inexpressible happiness of a sixyear old on his school field trip. He slipped a hand into hers, and she managed not to start crying. The ride took 40 minutes, out to the rolling hills west of the city. Sofie had not been out of town in almost two and a half years. The morning was sunny, the sky above them a deep October blue, though on the horizon, a blaze of autumn leaves lay brilliant against livid clouds that promised an afternoon storm. The threatening weather seemed appropriate, more honest in some way. The bus traveled up a long gravel drive, kicking up clouds of dust and grit, and the children, who'd been fairly quiet, began to chatter and squeal. "Come on, Mom," Oliver said when she didn't move fast enough out of the bus. She stepped down to the gravel with leaden legs, following Ms. WinterSmith and the children to a straw-filled wagon hitched to a tractor. The children clambered up into the wagon, and a young man who smelled of sun and mint chewing gum gave Sofie a,hand up to the dusty straw. She stifled a sneeze. Oliver climbed onto her lap. A couple of the little girls cuddled against Ms. Winter-Smith. "We'll say hello to the llamas first," said their guide, a middle-aged woman in jeans and a denim over-shirt who radiated purposeful calm in the midst of babbling, excited children. Sofie fought a wave of nausea as the tractor pulled them away from the driveway. She concentrated on breathing deeply, in and out, and within a few minutes they reached the edge of a fenced field. Three llamas stood on the faded grass, two brown and one a dirty white. Their heads seemed small for their bodies, and perched atop their long necks at an angle that gave the impression of craning to see over a tall fence. Sofie hoped she could stay on the wagon, but of course their guide began helping the children down and she was forced to follow. "Stay back from the fence, children," said jhe lady in denim. "The llamas are very curious, and I know how much youjwant to pet them, but there are so many of you, it's better just to let them be. Okay?" It may have been only a projection, as Sheila liked to say, but Sofie thought the children looked more than happy to keep their distance. The denim lady talked about what the lamas ate and how their coats went to make beautiful yams. The information might have interested Sofie, if at that moment the dirty white llama hadn't moved to the edge of the fence. It stood now only a few feet away. Sofie froze^as the animal stretched its long neck in her direction. "Look Mom," Oliver said. "He likes you." Sofie felt the animal's hot, grassy breath on her head and neck. She could feel herself heating up. Beads of sweat popped out at her hairline and she squeezed Oliver's hand hard enough that he tried to pull it away. 52

Home Sweet Home "How about that?" The demin lady spoke with surprise. "Isabel doesn't make friends with just anyone." The children were laughing and Sofie tried to laugh too. It came out more like demented panting. The llama exhaled into Sofie's ear and, apparently having achieved its mysterious purpose, moved away. They were getting instructions now, to turn and cross a small, mown field to where the pumpkins lay already harvested on the crumbled dirt. Oliver ran with the children who at that moment resembled a pack of hounds chasing after a fox. Still sweating, Sofie stopped to check her pulse, certain she was about to pass out, humiliate herself, and traumatize her son. At her last therapy group, she'd asked Sheila how people kept going when the going got so ungodly rough. Sheila had said you made a decision, and that while deciding didn't make anything easy, it made the pain more tolerable. Sofie wondered what Lou would say if she saw her pupil standing here gasping and feeling her wrist. Sofie would no doubt get one of Lou's more pointed looks. "Snap out of it," she'd say. "We have no time for this." "Mom," Sofie heard Oliver call. "Come here." Sofie still felt sort of sick, but decided not to pay attention to that. Maybe she could manage that much, sort of like kitting the boring vest when you wanted to make an elaborate cardigan. She went to examine the pumpkin her boy had his eyes on. "This one," he said. It was a tall pumpkin, thin, with a definite list to the left. "You're sure?" He nodded, thoroughly satisfied with his choice. "Okay, then." "Oh boy." He bent to pick up his pumpkin. "This is so great. Next we get to have hot cocoa and cider." "Oh boy," she said.

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Berkeley Fiction Review As the bus pulled away from the school she felt the old inward sinking and flutter. Her mouth was so dry she wished she'd remembered a bottle of water. Oliver turned from the window, smiled with the inexpressible happiness of a sixyear old on his school field trip. He slipped a hand into hers, and she managed not to start crying. The ride took 40 minutes, out to the rolling hills west of the city. Sofie had not been out of town in almost two and a half years. The morning was sunny, the sky above them a deep October blue, though on the horizon, a blaze of autumn leaves lay brilliant against livid clouds that promised an afternoon storm. The threatening weather seemed appropriate, more honest in some way. The bus traveled up a long gravel drive, kicking up clouds of dust and grit, and the children, who'd been fairly quiet, began to chatter and squeal. "Come on, Mom," Oliver said when she didn't move fast enough out of the bus. She stepped down to the gravel with leaden legs, following Ms. WinterSmith and the children to a straw-filled wagon hitched to a tractor. The children clambered up into the wagon, and a young man who smelled of sun and mint chewing gum gave Sofie a,hand up to the dusty straw. She stifled a sneeze. Oliver climbed onto her lap. A couple of the little girls cuddled against Ms. Winter-Smith. "We'll say hello to the llamas first," said their guide, a middle-aged woman in jeans and a denim over-shirt who radiated purposeful calm in the midst of babbling, excited children. Sofie fought a wave of nausea as the tractor pulled them away from the driveway. She concentrated on breathing deeply, in and out, and within a few minutes they reached the edge of a fenced field. Three llamas stood on the faded grass, two brown and one a dirty white. Their heads seemed small for their bodies, and perched atop their long necks at an angle that gave the impression of craning to see over a tall fence. Sofie hoped she could stay on the wagon, but of course their guide began helping the children down and she was forced to follow. "Stay back from the fence, children," said jhe lady in denim. "The llamas are very curious, and I know how much youjwant to pet them, but there are so many of you, it's better just to let them be. Okay?" It may have been only a projection, as Sheila liked to say, but Sofie thought the children looked more than happy to keep their distance. The denim lady talked about what the lamas ate and how their coats went to make beautiful yams. The information might have interested Sofie, if at that moment the dirty white llama hadn't moved to the edge of the fence. It stood now only a few feet away. Sofie froze^as the animal stretched its long neck in her direction. "Look Mom," Oliver said. "He likes you." Sofie felt the animal's hot, grassy breath on her head and neck. She could feel herself heating up. Beads of sweat popped out at her hairline and she squeezed Oliver's hand hard enough that he tried to pull it away. 52

Home Sweet Home "How about that?" The demin lady spoke with surprise. "Isabel doesn't make friends with just anyone." The children were laughing and Sofie tried to laugh too. It came out more like demented panting. The llama exhaled into Sofie's ear and, apparently having achieved its mysterious purpose, moved away. They were getting instructions now, to turn and cross a small, mown field to where the pumpkins lay already harvested on the crumbled dirt. Oliver ran with the children who at that moment resembled a pack of hounds chasing after a fox. Still sweating, Sofie stopped to check her pulse, certain she was about to pass out, humiliate herself, and traumatize her son. At her last therapy group, she'd asked Sheila how people kept going when the going got so ungodly rough. Sheila had said you made a decision, and that while deciding didn't make anything easy, it made the pain more tolerable. Sofie wondered what Lou would say if she saw her pupil standing here gasping and feeling her wrist. Sofie would no doubt get one of Lou's more pointed looks. "Snap out of it," she'd say. "We have no time for this." "Mom," Sofie heard Oliver call. "Come here." Sofie still felt sort of sick, but decided not to pay attention to that. Maybe she could manage that much, sort of like kitting the boring vest when you wanted to make an elaborate cardigan. She went to examine the pumpkin her boy had his eyes on. "This one," he said. It was a tall pumpkin, thin, with a definite list to the left. "You're sure?" He nodded, thoroughly satisfied with his choice. "Okay, then." "Oh boy." He bent to pick up his pumpkin. "This is so great. Next we get to have hot cocoa and cider." "Oh boy," she said.

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Dad's in his leather chair, reading the newspaper. We interrupt and explain the problem, and also blame Mom for us having to interrupt. He puts down his newspaper. I hear him cuss softly and I retain the swear-word for later use. "They're sandwiches, for God's sake. Just eat them and be done with i t " He takes up his newspaper. We walk with our plates back out into the hall. "Maybe he's right," I say. "Maybe we should just eat them." Nina doesn't agree. We're both brats, but Nina's worse than I am. "If we eat them," she says, "then we*'ll never know the truth." So now it's up to Grandpa. He's our last hope, because all our neighbors are fed up with us and have requested that we don't knock on their doors and pester them anymore. Grandpa's a sweetheart, and I know he's got a soft spot for me, because I made him a paper origami butterfly for his birthday, and Nina made him nothing, so I'm quite happy that he is our last hope. Grandpa's upstairs in his bedroom. We knock on the door but he doesn't answer. So we strut in with our little problem. Grandpa is lying under a thick red blanket and he's snoring. "Perhaps we shouldn't wake him," I suggest. But Nina goes ahead and prods him awake, balancing her plate precariously with the other hand. She explains the situation. Grandpa sits up and yawns. He has a birthmark on his forehead that I've always wanted to rub off. He turns to us, closes his eyes and starts to bob his finger between our two plates. "Eeny Meeny Miny Mo, catch a brownie by the toe..." Grandpa picks my sandwich. I'm elated. Nina isn't but it serves her right We could have stopped before it got to this point. So I don't feel guilty about whooping, and doing a little victory dance, still holding onto my sandwich plate, of course. I'm so excited I even offer Grandpa a bite of my sandwich. "Sure," he says. And then Grandpa bites into it without checking, which is his own fault really. But then he starts spluttering, and then coughing, and then choking, and his face starts to redden, and when he continues like this for a whole minute-and doesn't look like he's going to stop, Nina runs off to get Mom and Dad, and I hold Grandpa's hand tight. " Dad bolts into the room soon and starts to thump poor Grandpa on the back. I step back into a corner, and I watch Dad thumping Grandpa. Mom comes in too. She tells him not to thump so hard. Dad tells her to shut up, this is his father. Nina comes and stands by my side. I'm scared. She looks scared, but not as scared as I am. She turns to me. "We're not going to be allowed to play in the kitchen any more,'5 she says.

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y sister Nina and I compete over everything. Boys. School. Attention.. Everything. Today, it's sandwiches. We'reinthekitchenandwe're having a sandwich-making competition. These are the rules: we can use anything in the refrigerator but nothing from the larder cupboards; no triple or quadruple-decked sandwiches. Whatever we can fit between two slices of plain white bread—that's all. Nina fills hers with peanut butter, celery, half a boiled egg, two onion rings, a tangerine flake, half a pear, and some sprinkles of feta cheese. I fill mine with jalapenos, chili peppers, green peppers, banana peppers, bologna, turkey ham, and top it all off with a generous dose of habanera hot sauce. Then we try to judge our own work objectively. But of course there's no way we're going to agree. I think mine's better. She thinks hers is better. I'm right, but since I'm unable to convince her of this, we decide to go ask Mom. Mom's impartial and has been making sandwiches for years, so she shouldjmow. Mom's lying out on the porch with cucumbers on her eyes. We carry our sandwiches out on blue paper plates, relate our predicament to her and ask for her opinion. She lifts up the edges of the cucumbers and stares at us, incredulous. "Do you girls realize what a silly thing this is to argue over?" she asks. We tell her that we do realize, but that we're going to keep arguing anyway, so she needs to resolve the issue for us, please. "No," she says. "Go bother your father." And that's that. Mom's impartial, but also stubborn, so we know we're not going to get any more out of her. As we walk to Dad's study, I'm not too happy about this. Dad's always favored Nina because she has his eyes. I might as well just chuck my sandwich right now.

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Dad's in his leather chair, reading the newspaper. We interrupt and explain the problem, and also blame Mom for us having to interrupt. He puts down his newspaper. I hear him cuss softly and I retain the swear-word for later use. "They're sandwiches, for God's sake. Just eat them and be done with i t " He takes up his newspaper. We walk with our plates back out into the hall. "Maybe he's right," I say. "Maybe we should just eat them." Nina doesn't agree. We're both brats, but Nina's worse than I am. "If we eat them," she says, "then we*'ll never know the truth." So now it's up to Grandpa. He's our last hope, because all our neighbors are fed up with us and have requested that we don't knock on their doors and pester them anymore. Grandpa's a sweetheart, and I know he's got a soft spot for me, because I made him a paper origami butterfly for his birthday, and Nina made him nothing, so I'm quite happy that he is our last hope. Grandpa's upstairs in his bedroom. We knock on the door but he doesn't answer. So we strut in with our little problem. Grandpa is lying under a thick red blanket and he's snoring. "Perhaps we shouldn't wake him," I suggest. But Nina goes ahead and prods him awake, balancing her plate precariously with the other hand. She explains the situation. Grandpa sits up and yawns. He has a birthmark on his forehead that I've always wanted to rub off. He turns to us, closes his eyes and starts to bob his finger between our two plates. "Eeny Meeny Miny Mo, catch a brownie by the toe..." Grandpa picks my sandwich. I'm elated. Nina isn't but it serves her right We could have stopped before it got to this point. So I don't feel guilty about whooping, and doing a little victory dance, still holding onto my sandwich plate, of course. I'm so excited I even offer Grandpa a bite of my sandwich. "Sure," he says. And then Grandpa bites into it without checking, which is his own fault really. But then he starts spluttering, and then coughing, and then choking, and his face starts to redden, and when he continues like this for a whole minute-and doesn't look like he's going to stop, Nina runs off to get Mom and Dad, and I hold Grandpa's hand tight. " Dad bolts into the room soon and starts to thump poor Grandpa on the back. I step back into a corner, and I watch Dad thumping Grandpa. Mom comes in too. She tells him not to thump so hard. Dad tells her to shut up, this is his father. Nina comes and stands by my side. I'm scared. She looks scared, but not as scared as I am. She turns to me. "We're not going to be allowed to play in the kitchen any more,'5 she says.

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y sister Nina and I compete over everything. Boys. School. Attention.. Everything. Today, it's sandwiches. We'reinthekitchenandwe're having a sandwich-making competition. These are the rules: we can use anything in the refrigerator but nothing from the larder cupboards; no triple or quadruple-decked sandwiches. Whatever we can fit between two slices of plain white bread—that's all. Nina fills hers with peanut butter, celery, half a boiled egg, two onion rings, a tangerine flake, half a pear, and some sprinkles of feta cheese. I fill mine with jalapenos, chili peppers, green peppers, banana peppers, bologna, turkey ham, and top it all off with a generous dose of habanera hot sauce. Then we try to judge our own work objectively. But of course there's no way we're going to agree. I think mine's better. She thinks hers is better. I'm right, but since I'm unable to convince her of this, we decide to go ask Mom. Mom's impartial and has been making sandwiches for years, so she shouldjmow. Mom's lying out on the porch with cucumbers on her eyes. We carry our sandwiches out on blue paper plates, relate our predicament to her and ask for her opinion. She lifts up the edges of the cucumbers and stares at us, incredulous. "Do you girls realize what a silly thing this is to argue over?" she asks. We tell her that we do realize, but that we're going to keep arguing anyway, so she needs to resolve the issue for us, please. "No," she says. "Go bother your father." And that's that. Mom's impartial, but also stubborn, so we know we're not going to get any more out of her. As we walk to Dad's study, I'm not too happy about this. Dad's always favored Nina because she has his eyes. I might as well just chuck my sandwich right now.

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How to Leave a Mark

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o

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Susi

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M

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everything feels different now that I'm back. Can you give me some time to figure out what I want? A month later, a large box will arrive filled with the letters you sent to him from the moon. He will have enclosed a neat, handwritten note telling you how remarkable the letters were, encouraging you to use the material for a book. When he calls to ask if the package arrived, thank him for his thoughtfulness. When he asks if he can visit, say: not just yet. Ask again for more time, then use that time to re-read your old letters and vacillate between the notion that your life is either an astounding miracle or a random accident. Sleep during the day and inspect the moon at night through a telescope, searching for your footprints, any sign that you were once there. He won't be phoning you again, so take a deep breath and call him half a year later. Tell him you've missed him, you're finally getting the hang of walking with gravity again, you'd like to still be friends. Listen to the silence and wonder what he's thinking—until he tells you that "friends" is not a good idea. After you hang up, have a good cry. Decide you.deserve to be alone as long as you're incapable of making decisions, of choosing what should be good for you, of letting go of your consuming need to leave your mark on the world. Much later, as your spaceship circles the earth on your latest mission, a friend will call you on your satellite phone to tell you that she saw him near her apartment Close your eyes and picture him as she describes him, pushing a halffull grocery cart, a woman at his side. Open them again to look at the inside of your spaceship, to make sure you're not floating into the ship's controls. Then ask her if he seemed happy, holding your breath as she answers: I couldn't tell, all I noticed was that she looked just like you.

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all in love however you want, however you think would make a great story to tell your would-be children, but don't forget as it's happening that you have other plans for your life. Explain these plans to him as you lie together in bed one night, your eyes fixed on the black sky framed by the window, focusing on the full moon suspended in the darkness like a milky-white, swirled marble. Tell him about the years of training you've gone through to take on the mission, to become the first person to live on the moon for a year, the ground you'll be breaking as a woman in your profession. Explain that this is to be your legacy, your stamp on human kind. Talk about it with such passion that he tells you to go, to pursue your dream while he waits for his—meaning, while he waits for you. Write to him from your moonpod often, long missives that can't begin to capture your new life, your perspective on the tiny-ness of the world, your glimpses into velvety dark infinity. When you watclLthe^earth, think of how the moon looked the night you talked about your plans, and realize that from this vantage point the earth, too, looks like a marble—a mottled, intricate sphere of dark blue, green, and brown, speckled white by the atmosphere. Hold your hand up against it in the sky, squinting your eyes, and pretend you're holding the marble between the tips of your fingers. When the year is over and you're back on earth, meet up with him in the city where he moved while you were gone. Note how slow and stilted the conversation feels, as if you'd never cried into the crook of his neck, had never seen him naked or watched him shave. When a young girl interrupts your conversation to ask for your autograph, be relieved at the distraction and draw a crescent-shaped moon next to your name. When he pushes for more, tell him: 56

57 , L


How to Leave a Mark

H

o

w

T O

b y

L E A V E

Susi

A

M

A

R

everything feels different now that I'm back. Can you give me some time to figure out what I want? A month later, a large box will arrive filled with the letters you sent to him from the moon. He will have enclosed a neat, handwritten note telling you how remarkable the letters were, encouraging you to use the material for a book. When he calls to ask if the package arrived, thank him for his thoughtfulness. When he asks if he can visit, say: not just yet. Ask again for more time, then use that time to re-read your old letters and vacillate between the notion that your life is either an astounding miracle or a random accident. Sleep during the day and inspect the moon at night through a telescope, searching for your footprints, any sign that you were once there. He won't be phoning you again, so take a deep breath and call him half a year later. Tell him you've missed him, you're finally getting the hang of walking with gravity again, you'd like to still be friends. Listen to the silence and wonder what he's thinking—until he tells you that "friends" is not a good idea. After you hang up, have a good cry. Decide you.deserve to be alone as long as you're incapable of making decisions, of choosing what should be good for you, of letting go of your consuming need to leave your mark on the world. Much later, as your spaceship circles the earth on your latest mission, a friend will call you on your satellite phone to tell you that she saw him near her apartment Close your eyes and picture him as she describes him, pushing a halffull grocery cart, a woman at his side. Open them again to look at the inside of your spaceship, to make sure you're not floating into the ship's controls. Then ask her if he seemed happy, holding your breath as she answers: I couldn't tell, all I noticed was that she looked just like you.

K

W y s s

F

all in love however you want, however you think would make a great story to tell your would-be children, but don't forget as it's happening that you have other plans for your life. Explain these plans to him as you lie together in bed one night, your eyes fixed on the black sky framed by the window, focusing on the full moon suspended in the darkness like a milky-white, swirled marble. Tell him about the years of training you've gone through to take on the mission, to become the first person to live on the moon for a year, the ground you'll be breaking as a woman in your profession. Explain that this is to be your legacy, your stamp on human kind. Talk about it with such passion that he tells you to go, to pursue your dream while he waits for his—meaning, while he waits for you. Write to him from your moonpod often, long missives that can't begin to capture your new life, your perspective on the tiny-ness of the world, your glimpses into velvety dark infinity. When you watclLthe^earth, think of how the moon looked the night you talked about your plans, and realize that from this vantage point the earth, too, looks like a marble—a mottled, intricate sphere of dark blue, green, and brown, speckled white by the atmosphere. Hold your hand up against it in the sky, squinting your eyes, and pretend you're holding the marble between the tips of your fingers. When the year is over and you're back on earth, meet up with him in the city where he moved while you were gone. Note how slow and stilted the conversation feels, as if you'd never cried into the crook of his neck, had never seen him naked or watched him shave. When a young girl interrupts your conversation to ask for your autograph, be relieved at the distraction and draw a crescent-shaped moon next to your name. When he pushes for more, tell him: 56

57 , L


H O P P E R ' S

b y

E J .

L I G H T H O U S E

C h a n g

D

r. Varian read over his dictation once more. It was impeccable. The grammar, the punctuation, down to the spelling of idiosyncratic surgical terms like "the Mattox maneuver" or "Denonvilliers' fascia" were perfect. "Allis clamps"- was typed correctly instead of "Alice clamps." The "B" in "DeBakey forceps" was appropriately capitalized. This must be hers. There was no doubt. Dr. Varian always had a special fondness for precision. Though he realized it was a tall order to hold most people to, he frequently emphasized the importance of precision to his residents in the operating room. "Don't barbeque that whole side," he would snap as his nervous resident holding the Bovie cautery tried to suppress his intention tremor. "Find'the one bleeder and stop it." He demanded precision from many areas of his life. He himself was unfailingly punctual to morning rounds. For residents working on his service, he expected them to adhere to the dictum: if you're five minutes early, you are ten minutes too late. If someone were to present a patient to him, he wanted to know the exact value of the white blood cell count, not simply that it was elevated. If a resident was to tell him that a patientwas'going into renal failure, he expected a recitation of the patient's creatinine for the last five days. But above all, Dr. Varian demanded precision in the operating room. He believed that every patient deserved the perfect operation and the perfect operation was based on precision, from first incision to last stitch. He had practiced long enough to know that at times complications happen despite all efforts. But that was even more reason to hold himself and those he worked with to the highest standards. This meant he expected his scrub nurse to hand him the exact instrument he wanted when he wanted it. He expected his medical students to cut the suture 3mm from the knot when he told them to.' And from his residents, he expected meticulous technique and did not 58

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H O P P E R ' S

b y

E J .

L I G H T H O U S E

C h a n g

D

r. Varian read over his dictation once more. It was impeccable. The grammar, the punctuation, down to the spelling of idiosyncratic surgical terms like "the Mattox maneuver" or "Denonvilliers' fascia" were perfect. "Allis clamps"- was typed correctly instead of "Alice clamps." The "B" in "DeBakey forceps" was appropriately capitalized. This must be hers. There was no doubt. Dr. Varian always had a special fondness for precision. Though he realized it was a tall order to hold most people to, he frequently emphasized the importance of precision to his residents in the operating room. "Don't barbeque that whole side," he would snap as his nervous resident holding the Bovie cautery tried to suppress his intention tremor. "Find'the one bleeder and stop it." He demanded precision from many areas of his life. He himself was unfailingly punctual to morning rounds. For residents working on his service, he expected them to adhere to the dictum: if you're five minutes early, you are ten minutes too late. If someone were to present a patient to him, he wanted to know the exact value of the white blood cell count, not simply that it was elevated. If a resident was to tell him that a patientwas'going into renal failure, he expected a recitation of the patient's creatinine for the last five days. But above all, Dr. Varian demanded precision in the operating room. He believed that every patient deserved the perfect operation and the perfect operation was based on precision, from first incision to last stitch. He had practiced long enough to know that at times complications happen despite all efforts. But that was even more reason to hold himself and those he worked with to the highest standards. This meant he expected his scrub nurse to hand him the exact instrument he wanted when he wanted it. He expected his medical students to cut the suture 3mm from the knot when he told them to.' And from his residents, he expected meticulous technique and did not 58

59


Berkeley Fiction Review tolerate any hint of sloppiness. However, Dr. Varian had long since given up all expectations that the nameless, faceless transcriptionists could transcribe with the precision with which he performed his operations. Perhaps it wasn't completely the fault of the transcriptionists. Dr. Varian's dictation skills were not bad, but he was prone to occasional run-on sentences. And since it was customary to describe action in the passive voice in dictations, sometimes he would forget to include a subject in a sentence when there should be one. Yet at times his dictations would come back making no sense at all. What appeared on the page would be so ridiculous he could not have possibly said what was typed there. For example, "Prior to discharge, patient passed a large brown stool ambulating in the halls." Or, "The patient was alert and oriental." Once Dr. Varian was very chagrined to see that in one of his operative reports, instead of reading, "The patient was prepped and draped in the usual sterile fashion," it was, "The patient was prepped and raped in the usual sterile fashion." Unfortunately, Dr. Varian depended on his dictations for information during his daily work. Often, he would review a dictated history and physical of a patient coming to an office visit for follow-up. On occasions when a patient came back with a probable surgical complication, he would review the operative report. Recently, Dr. Varian noticed a distinct improvement in the quality of the transcription. At first it was a very subtle difference. He simply wasn't as annoyed as before when reading his own dictations. When he realized that the transcriptions were consistently improved from previous, he thought, "Thank goodness the hospital administration finally .decided to hire competent people." Slowly, however, Dr. Varian sensed that the transcriptions were actually better than what he had dictated. The contents were never changed, but somehow the sentence structures were more elegant and overall composition more sophisticated than how he remembered saying it. Instead of terse staccato phrases interspersed with long laundry lists of description, these newly transcribed dictations were pieces of flowing prose. Dr. Varian felt as if he was back in junior high school and his grammar teacher had returned his writing assignment full of red marks. He began to make a point df^comparing what he had said to what appeared on the page. There definitely was a heavy-handed editor at work, but it was difficult to find fault with it. What he meant to convey was, if anything, clearer after the editorial changes. He appreciated the extra efforts of this new transcriptionist but his mischievous side felt like giving a little challenge. Perhaps he was also just slightly indignant that someone would correct what he said on a regular basis. "Let's see how good you really are," he thought. He began to use extremely technical terminology and mentioned brand name instruments and devices without spelling them out. He would purposely drone out sentence upon sentence without taking a breath. When he really wanted to have fun, he strung together phrases with neither a subject nor an object. But all these would come back as the most well 60

Hopper's

Lighthouse

thought-out pieces of prose. The most obscure surgical devices would be spelled correctly. The dictation flowed logically and coherently as if taken from a prewritten speech. Dr. Varian was even more intrigued. He read through his dictations even more closely. He tried to decipher some personality hidden within the typewritten text. He looked for some pattern, any regularity in the editing style, to convince himself it was all from one person. He decided that she had a particular distain for run-on sentences. She never let one go through unedited. She seemed to like the use of semi-colons. Dr. Varian always felt that the semi-colon was one of the more attractive punctuation marks. And she paid endearing attention to detail. She always signed his name as "Joseph P. Varian, M.D." even though he never once mentioned his middle initial. She was obviously intelligent, he concluded. That was for sure. Perhaps she possessed some medical or surgical background. It seemed unlikely she would be so deft at surgical terminologies without some prior knowledge. She has an admirable command of language and took pleasure in well-formed sentences and well-spoken words. She was a perfectionist. She enjoyed a challenge and would take up a good dare. This was not a barely pubescent woman working in her first job post college. But could she be an old woman? Dr. Varian thought about his eighth grade grammar teacher again. She must be more than sixty-years-old by now! He began to start his dictations with a friendly "Good morning" or "Good afternoon," instead of launching straight away into, "This is Dr. Joseph Varian dictating for patient so-and-so." Almost imperceptibly, the simple greetings turned into whatever was on his mind at the time. He'd say, "Get ready for this one. Boy, was this a long painful case." Or, "Well, this was the most fun I had in the OR all week. I think we really did something to help this patient, too." Or, "I suppose I have to dictate this office visit, but I'm not sure I want to relive the experience by telling i t " It occurred to Dr. Varian that'between dictating his operative-reports and office notes, she was the person he most frequently spoke to on a day-to-day basis. Now as he sat in his office going through themost recent batch of returned transcriptions, he found it difficult to hold a mental picture of her in his mind. He remembered a paradoxical question someone once posed to him: "If a word doesn't exist for something, does that thing exist?" And since he had no name for her, does she really exist? "Well then," Dr. Varian thought, "I'll just call her something." Before he could stop his own mind from working, the name that popped into his head was Mary. "That's quite a slip," Dr. Varian smiled to himself, a little startled, a little amused.

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Berkeley Fiction Review tolerate any hint of sloppiness. However, Dr. Varian had long since given up all expectations that the nameless, faceless transcriptionists could transcribe with the precision with which he performed his operations. Perhaps it wasn't completely the fault of the transcriptionists. Dr. Varian's dictation skills were not bad, but he was prone to occasional run-on sentences. And since it was customary to describe action in the passive voice in dictations, sometimes he would forget to include a subject in a sentence when there should be one. Yet at times his dictations would come back making no sense at all. What appeared on the page would be so ridiculous he could not have possibly said what was typed there. For example, "Prior to discharge, patient passed a large brown stool ambulating in the halls." Or, "The patient was alert and oriental." Once Dr. Varian was very chagrined to see that in one of his operative reports, instead of reading, "The patient was prepped and draped in the usual sterile fashion," it was, "The patient was prepped and raped in the usual sterile fashion." Unfortunately, Dr. Varian depended on his dictations for information during his daily work. Often, he would review a dictated history and physical of a patient coming to an office visit for follow-up. On occasions when a patient came back with a probable surgical complication, he would review the operative report. Recently, Dr. Varian noticed a distinct improvement in the quality of the transcription. At first it was a very subtle difference. He simply wasn't as annoyed as before when reading his own dictations. When he realized that the transcriptions were consistently improved from previous, he thought, "Thank goodness the hospital administration finally .decided to hire competent people." Slowly, however, Dr. Varian sensed that the transcriptions were actually better than what he had dictated. The contents were never changed, but somehow the sentence structures were more elegant and overall composition more sophisticated than how he remembered saying it. Instead of terse staccato phrases interspersed with long laundry lists of description, these newly transcribed dictations were pieces of flowing prose. Dr. Varian felt as if he was back in junior high school and his grammar teacher had returned his writing assignment full of red marks. He began to make a point df^comparing what he had said to what appeared on the page. There definitely was a heavy-handed editor at work, but it was difficult to find fault with it. What he meant to convey was, if anything, clearer after the editorial changes. He appreciated the extra efforts of this new transcriptionist but his mischievous side felt like giving a little challenge. Perhaps he was also just slightly indignant that someone would correct what he said on a regular basis. "Let's see how good you really are," he thought. He began to use extremely technical terminology and mentioned brand name instruments and devices without spelling them out. He would purposely drone out sentence upon sentence without taking a breath. When he really wanted to have fun, he strung together phrases with neither a subject nor an object. But all these would come back as the most well 60

Hopper's

Lighthouse

thought-out pieces of prose. The most obscure surgical devices would be spelled correctly. The dictation flowed logically and coherently as if taken from a prewritten speech. Dr. Varian was even more intrigued. He read through his dictations even more closely. He tried to decipher some personality hidden within the typewritten text. He looked for some pattern, any regularity in the editing style, to convince himself it was all from one person. He decided that she had a particular distain for run-on sentences. She never let one go through unedited. She seemed to like the use of semi-colons. Dr. Varian always felt that the semi-colon was one of the more attractive punctuation marks. And she paid endearing attention to detail. She always signed his name as "Joseph P. Varian, M.D." even though he never once mentioned his middle initial. She was obviously intelligent, he concluded. That was for sure. Perhaps she possessed some medical or surgical background. It seemed unlikely she would be so deft at surgical terminologies without some prior knowledge. She has an admirable command of language and took pleasure in well-formed sentences and well-spoken words. She was a perfectionist. She enjoyed a challenge and would take up a good dare. This was not a barely pubescent woman working in her first job post college. But could she be an old woman? Dr. Varian thought about his eighth grade grammar teacher again. She must be more than sixty-years-old by now! He began to start his dictations with a friendly "Good morning" or "Good afternoon," instead of launching straight away into, "This is Dr. Joseph Varian dictating for patient so-and-so." Almost imperceptibly, the simple greetings turned into whatever was on his mind at the time. He'd say, "Get ready for this one. Boy, was this a long painful case." Or, "Well, this was the most fun I had in the OR all week. I think we really did something to help this patient, too." Or, "I suppose I have to dictate this office visit, but I'm not sure I want to relive the experience by telling i t " It occurred to Dr. Varian that'between dictating his operative-reports and office notes, she was the person he most frequently spoke to on a day-to-day basis. Now as he sat in his office going through themost recent batch of returned transcriptions, he found it difficult to hold a mental picture of her in his mind. He remembered a paradoxical question someone once posed to him: "If a word doesn't exist for something, does that thing exist?" And since he had no name for her, does she really exist? "Well then," Dr. Varian thought, "I'll just call her something." Before he could stop his own mind from working, the name that popped into his head was Mary. "That's quite a slip," Dr. Varian smiled to himself, a little startled, a little amused.

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Berkeley Fiction Review Mary was his girlfriend from college. She still lived in the city and they occasionally saw each other in the setting of large social functions. The thing he missed most about her was her friendship. They were running partners in college even before they started dating. Mary played varsity soccer and Dr. Varian always secretly thought it sexy that she was probably a better runner than him. He would have liked to somehow maintain closer contact with her. Her two children were adorable but her husband never seemed to like him. The few times they met, he was standoffish if not hostile. Dr. Varian took some pleasure in thinking that this was because Mary's husband felt threatened by him. Nevertheless, he respected those social cues and kept polite distance. Dr. Varian was never quite sure what happened between him and Mary. He was certain that she loved him. He carried on doing what was most important to him: being the best doctor and surgeon he could be, always confident that he had her support and understanding. He assumed she'd always be there. One day, when he turned around, she wasn't. At the time, he wasn't too concerned. He was a good-looking and ambitious young surgeon and having women around wasn't going to be a problem. The problem was: though he enjoyed the company of women, he always found the ordeal of courtship slightly distasteful. The women who clamored to him, he never felt were good enough. Those he secretly admired, he was too proud to pursue. By the time he realized he was alone, it was too late. He was too set in his ways and too comfortable in his own life that no woman was worth it. •• Then again, maybe he was just shy. Growing up he was a quiet and slightly awkward boy. When it became apparent that he was intelligent and adept at almost anything 'he did, his peers thought of him as aloof. As people often become the person others think they are, he took to that persona and rather liked it. He felt less pressure to interact with others. When his career as a surgeon became increasingly busier and his temper and patience correspondingly shorter, he developed a reputation for being intimidating and unkind. It made being by himself even easier. For the most part, Dr. Varian was exceedingly satisfied with the way he lived. He often said the only difference between him and most of his male colleagues was that he didn't have alimony checks to mail off each month. These days when Dr. Varian inspected his face after his morning shave, he saw the same angular features that made him handsome in his twenties. His brows now had the hard lines of someone who took one too many night calls, but his eyes twinkled with the quiet arrogance of a man who at forty-two was known as one of the best technical surgeons in the region. Dr. Varian knew he still turned the heads of all the young nurses on the ward, even though they might be afraid of him. Occasionally, a brave one would flirt with him. Depending on his mood, he'd either let it go with a smile or be cruelly abrupt. Dr. Varian was no fool, not even when it came to himself. His fascination with this transcriptionist amused him. Has solitude finally gotten the better of 62

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Lighthouse

him? He now found solace talking with a nameless faceless woman he knew nothing about? Perhaps "she" was not a woman at all! It was completely plausible that this transcriptionist might be a man. There was no way to know. Dr. Varian's stomach turned. "As long as these are only thoughts I use to entertain myself, who cares! She can be whoever I want her to be." This, however, was extremely unsatisfying. So much so that the next day he asked his secretary, "Sherrie, do you know who does our dictations these days?" Dr. Varian immediately saw the concern this drew in Sherrie's eyes. He was so used to asking questions in a stern intimidating manner that others automatically assumed he was unhappy about something. "No, they are all outsourced by the hospital. Why? Is there a problem?" "Oh, I was just wondering," Dr. Varian tried to make his voice softer. "The quality of the transcriptions has gotten much better." Sherrie relaxed, "I can try and find out if you'd like." "Oh no, it's not that important." Dr. Varian retreated into his office. The colectomy from the morning still had to be dictated. He picked up the phone and dialed the dictation number. "Good afternoon. This is Joseph Varian dictating an operative report for patient Amanda Gilbert. Pre-op diagnosis is colon cancer. Post-op diagnosis is thesame. Procedure is a sigmoid colectomy...." Dr. Varian continued with his dictation as usual, all the while feeling less and less grounded that this strange interaction he appeared to be having over the dictation line was real. Was this transcriptionist a person at all? When he got to the end, he signed, "That's all. As you can tell it was pretty straightforward." He paused for a moment and then, "I wanted to thank you for all your good work and, uh... it's a shame that I don't know your name." After he said it, he was shocked he actually said it. A little bewildered, he quickly followed with, "End of dictation," as it was customary to say to indicate the end of a report, and hung up the phone,-"End of dictation?" How stupid could he have possibly sounded? Dr. Varian could see Mrs. Gilbert's colectomy report coming back reading, "The skin was closed with staples. A dressing of gauze and paper tape was applied. The patient then recovered without event in the post anesthesia unit. Oh, and it's a shame I don't know you name. Signed Joseph P. Varian, M.D." For days afterwards, Dr. Varian looked for Mrs. Gilbert's operative report in his daily stack of paperwork. The average turn around time for transcriptions was three days, but he looked each day anyway, hoping his last statement was simply ignored. At last, it reached his desk four days later. With trepidation he flipped to the end. There were no irregularities. It was as formal and professional 63


Berkeley Fiction Review Mary was his girlfriend from college. She still lived in the city and they occasionally saw each other in the setting of large social functions. The thing he missed most about her was her friendship. They were running partners in college even before they started dating. Mary played varsity soccer and Dr. Varian always secretly thought it sexy that she was probably a better runner than him. He would have liked to somehow maintain closer contact with her. Her two children were adorable but her husband never seemed to like him. The few times they met, he was standoffish if not hostile. Dr. Varian took some pleasure in thinking that this was because Mary's husband felt threatened by him. Nevertheless, he respected those social cues and kept polite distance. Dr. Varian was never quite sure what happened between him and Mary. He was certain that she loved him. He carried on doing what was most important to him: being the best doctor and surgeon he could be, always confident that he had her support and understanding. He assumed she'd always be there. One day, when he turned around, she wasn't. At the time, he wasn't too concerned. He was a good-looking and ambitious young surgeon and having women around wasn't going to be a problem. The problem was: though he enjoyed the company of women, he always found the ordeal of courtship slightly distasteful. The women who clamored to him, he never felt were good enough. Those he secretly admired, he was too proud to pursue. By the time he realized he was alone, it was too late. He was too set in his ways and too comfortable in his own life that no woman was worth it. •• Then again, maybe he was just shy. Growing up he was a quiet and slightly awkward boy. When it became apparent that he was intelligent and adept at almost anything 'he did, his peers thought of him as aloof. As people often become the person others think they are, he took to that persona and rather liked it. He felt less pressure to interact with others. When his career as a surgeon became increasingly busier and his temper and patience correspondingly shorter, he developed a reputation for being intimidating and unkind. It made being by himself even easier. For the most part, Dr. Varian was exceedingly satisfied with the way he lived. He often said the only difference between him and most of his male colleagues was that he didn't have alimony checks to mail off each month. These days when Dr. Varian inspected his face after his morning shave, he saw the same angular features that made him handsome in his twenties. His brows now had the hard lines of someone who took one too many night calls, but his eyes twinkled with the quiet arrogance of a man who at forty-two was known as one of the best technical surgeons in the region. Dr. Varian knew he still turned the heads of all the young nurses on the ward, even though they might be afraid of him. Occasionally, a brave one would flirt with him. Depending on his mood, he'd either let it go with a smile or be cruelly abrupt. Dr. Varian was no fool, not even when it came to himself. His fascination with this transcriptionist amused him. Has solitude finally gotten the better of 62

Hopper's

Lighthouse

him? He now found solace talking with a nameless faceless woman he knew nothing about? Perhaps "she" was not a woman at all! It was completely plausible that this transcriptionist might be a man. There was no way to know. Dr. Varian's stomach turned. "As long as these are only thoughts I use to entertain myself, who cares! She can be whoever I want her to be." This, however, was extremely unsatisfying. So much so that the next day he asked his secretary, "Sherrie, do you know who does our dictations these days?" Dr. Varian immediately saw the concern this drew in Sherrie's eyes. He was so used to asking questions in a stern intimidating manner that others automatically assumed he was unhappy about something. "No, they are all outsourced by the hospital. Why? Is there a problem?" "Oh, I was just wondering," Dr. Varian tried to make his voice softer. "The quality of the transcriptions has gotten much better." Sherrie relaxed, "I can try and find out if you'd like." "Oh no, it's not that important." Dr. Varian retreated into his office. The colectomy from the morning still had to be dictated. He picked up the phone and dialed the dictation number. "Good afternoon. This is Joseph Varian dictating an operative report for patient Amanda Gilbert. Pre-op diagnosis is colon cancer. Post-op diagnosis is thesame. Procedure is a sigmoid colectomy...." Dr. Varian continued with his dictation as usual, all the while feeling less and less grounded that this strange interaction he appeared to be having over the dictation line was real. Was this transcriptionist a person at all? When he got to the end, he signed, "That's all. As you can tell it was pretty straightforward." He paused for a moment and then, "I wanted to thank you for all your good work and, uh... it's a shame that I don't know your name." After he said it, he was shocked he actually said it. A little bewildered, he quickly followed with, "End of dictation," as it was customary to say to indicate the end of a report, and hung up the phone,-"End of dictation?" How stupid could he have possibly sounded? Dr. Varian could see Mrs. Gilbert's colectomy report coming back reading, "The skin was closed with staples. A dressing of gauze and paper tape was applied. The patient then recovered without event in the post anesthesia unit. Oh, and it's a shame I don't know you name. Signed Joseph P. Varian, M.D." For days afterwards, Dr. Varian looked for Mrs. Gilbert's operative report in his daily stack of paperwork. The average turn around time for transcriptions was three days, but he looked each day anyway, hoping his last statement was simply ignored. At last, it reached his desk four days later. With trepidation he flipped to the end. There were no irregularities. It was as formal and professional 63


Berkeley Fiction Review as all the others. However, there was an additional page after it All it had in typed print was: "My name is Elaine." Dr. Varian read over this simple sentence again and again with interest. He flipped to the back of the page but there was nothing else. A woman of few words. Fascinating. He really didn't expect a response to his off-hand remark. That she would type back an answer was a complete surprise. Without wanting to be, Dr. Varian was happy. He gave a little chuckle after staring at the typewritten line a few more moments. He then placed the sheet in a separate folder in his locked bottom drawer. He began to address his dictations to her. "Good morning, Elaine," he would say. "Hope you're having a good day. Mine was a bit hectic. It's 7am but I've been up all night. I was on trauma call and a terrible motorcycle accident came in. We should be able to pull him through. Had to take out his spleen though. Here's the operation...." Now that he knew she really existed, Dr. Varian talked even more freely than before. She never wrote back again. He didn't think she would. Butshewas listening on the other end of this mysterious dictation line. That was enough. Dr. Varian found his situation to be more and more curious: He never felt so exposed and the other person so hidden. It was an odd position to be in. She knew how he spent almost every hour of every day. She knew who he was, what he did, where he worked. Dr. Varian's CV and background were public knowledge. There was no reason why she wouldn't know them as well. She probably knew what he looked like and could pick him out in a crowd. And because he would tell her, she knew about his moods and thoughts and attitudes. She knew what amused him and what frustrated him. All he knew of her was "Elaine." What was she like? Was she young or old? Married perhaps? Why was she a transcriptionist? Had she wanted anything else from her life? She indicated with her silence that none of this information would be volunteered. It seemed to Dr. Varian too uncouth to ask. On this particular Saturday, Dr. Vafianhad nothing in particular to do. He was not on call. He had no patients in the hospital. There were no grant deadlines coming up and there were no papers to finish writing. He already did his morning run in the park and read the relevant sections of the weekend newspaper. Dr. Varian tried to avoid days like these as much as possible and indeed they were few and far in between. As long as he was working, he was content and his life was full of purpose. But on leisurely days like these, he would"be so unsettled it would feel almost like an anxiety attack. He started to sit down with a book but was in no mood to read. He resented the television at times likes these and refused to turn it on. He began to pace about his house, which wasn't big but spacious for one person. It was suddenly stifling to be there and he felt that he must go out. Out of habit, he started to drive toward the hospital. He was almost parked when he 64

Hopper's

Lighthouse

remembered there was absolutely no reason why he should be there. He thought of the residents on duty that weekend, their look of shock if they were to see him, and the ensuing whispers through the hospital. "Oh my,God, Dr. Varian is always here!" "Doesn't he have any other life?" It irritated him that he should have nowhere else to go besides the hospital. With a quick angry swerve he turned out of the parking lot. He started to drive toward no specific destination and ended up on the freeway headed for a random direction. Dr. Varian always enjoyed the handling of his sports coupe. Once he reached the open highway and downshifted to eighty miles per hour, he felt his heart less heavy. He kept driving until it began to grow dark and then retraced his path back home. But he dreaded going back to his house. He sat in his car parked in the garage with the engine running for several minutes and then another half an hour with the engine off. In the dim light of evening, the quietness of his house took on a sinister quality. Behind him, the setting sun sank lower and lower beneath the horizon. The shadows grew longer and longer, finally fading into darkness. Without options, Dr. Varian stepped into his house. In its absolute quietness, each sound he made with his actions seemed deafening. The shuffling of his feet on the doormat, the way his keys clanged against the countertop, the sound of the faucet and running water as he washed his hands, were all unbearably loud. Dr. Varian paced through the rooms of his house. Each one of his steps on the wood panel floor resounded with a hollow echo. There was so much space. He looked around and noted the position of his furniture. He glanced over what he had hanging on the walls, his bookcases of books, the grey screen of the television. He wandered to his bedroom. His closet door was half open, his shirts and shoes very orderly inside. He wandered to his study where his cherry wood desk was. In the kitchen, there were a few unwashed plates in the sink. Tired of the noise he was making, he took refuge leaning back into his easy chair in the living room. The reading lamp beside him felt like a singular spotlight upon him in the universe. It illuminated his legs and feet, hands and fingers in soft hues. The lights and shadows in particular accentuated the lines and creases of his hands. They were not only his livelihood, but the~source of his egoism for the things they were capable of and the individual lives they've changed. Now, in that strange light, they seemed hardly his own. Dr. Varian uncorked a bottle of chardonnay. He looked about his living room again. He had only himself and the space around him. Was this all? Was this all he possessed? He laughed bitterly. He felt a sudden desire to speak to Elaine. Instead, he poured himself a glass of wine. By the time he got through the-bottle, however, he was dialing the dictation line. "Hi, Elaine. This is Joe."

65


Berkeley Fiction Review as all the others. However, there was an additional page after it All it had in typed print was: "My name is Elaine." Dr. Varian read over this simple sentence again and again with interest. He flipped to the back of the page but there was nothing else. A woman of few words. Fascinating. He really didn't expect a response to his off-hand remark. That she would type back an answer was a complete surprise. Without wanting to be, Dr. Varian was happy. He gave a little chuckle after staring at the typewritten line a few more moments. He then placed the sheet in a separate folder in his locked bottom drawer. He began to address his dictations to her. "Good morning, Elaine," he would say. "Hope you're having a good day. Mine was a bit hectic. It's 7am but I've been up all night. I was on trauma call and a terrible motorcycle accident came in. We should be able to pull him through. Had to take out his spleen though. Here's the operation...." Now that he knew she really existed, Dr. Varian talked even more freely than before. She never wrote back again. He didn't think she would. Butshewas listening on the other end of this mysterious dictation line. That was enough. Dr. Varian found his situation to be more and more curious: He never felt so exposed and the other person so hidden. It was an odd position to be in. She knew how he spent almost every hour of every day. She knew who he was, what he did, where he worked. Dr. Varian's CV and background were public knowledge. There was no reason why she wouldn't know them as well. She probably knew what he looked like and could pick him out in a crowd. And because he would tell her, she knew about his moods and thoughts and attitudes. She knew what amused him and what frustrated him. All he knew of her was "Elaine." What was she like? Was she young or old? Married perhaps? Why was she a transcriptionist? Had she wanted anything else from her life? She indicated with her silence that none of this information would be volunteered. It seemed to Dr. Varian too uncouth to ask. On this particular Saturday, Dr. Vafianhad nothing in particular to do. He was not on call. He had no patients in the hospital. There were no grant deadlines coming up and there were no papers to finish writing. He already did his morning run in the park and read the relevant sections of the weekend newspaper. Dr. Varian tried to avoid days like these as much as possible and indeed they were few and far in between. As long as he was working, he was content and his life was full of purpose. But on leisurely days like these, he would"be so unsettled it would feel almost like an anxiety attack. He started to sit down with a book but was in no mood to read. He resented the television at times likes these and refused to turn it on. He began to pace about his house, which wasn't big but spacious for one person. It was suddenly stifling to be there and he felt that he must go out. Out of habit, he started to drive toward the hospital. He was almost parked when he 64

Hopper's

Lighthouse

remembered there was absolutely no reason why he should be there. He thought of the residents on duty that weekend, their look of shock if they were to see him, and the ensuing whispers through the hospital. "Oh my,God, Dr. Varian is always here!" "Doesn't he have any other life?" It irritated him that he should have nowhere else to go besides the hospital. With a quick angry swerve he turned out of the parking lot. He started to drive toward no specific destination and ended up on the freeway headed for a random direction. Dr. Varian always enjoyed the handling of his sports coupe. Once he reached the open highway and downshifted to eighty miles per hour, he felt his heart less heavy. He kept driving until it began to grow dark and then retraced his path back home. But he dreaded going back to his house. He sat in his car parked in the garage with the engine running for several minutes and then another half an hour with the engine off. In the dim light of evening, the quietness of his house took on a sinister quality. Behind him, the setting sun sank lower and lower beneath the horizon. The shadows grew longer and longer, finally fading into darkness. Without options, Dr. Varian stepped into his house. In its absolute quietness, each sound he made with his actions seemed deafening. The shuffling of his feet on the doormat, the way his keys clanged against the countertop, the sound of the faucet and running water as he washed his hands, were all unbearably loud. Dr. Varian paced through the rooms of his house. Each one of his steps on the wood panel floor resounded with a hollow echo. There was so much space. He looked around and noted the position of his furniture. He glanced over what he had hanging on the walls, his bookcases of books, the grey screen of the television. He wandered to his bedroom. His closet door was half open, his shirts and shoes very orderly inside. He wandered to his study where his cherry wood desk was. In the kitchen, there were a few unwashed plates in the sink. Tired of the noise he was making, he took refuge leaning back into his easy chair in the living room. The reading lamp beside him felt like a singular spotlight upon him in the universe. It illuminated his legs and feet, hands and fingers in soft hues. The lights and shadows in particular accentuated the lines and creases of his hands. They were not only his livelihood, but the~source of his egoism for the things they were capable of and the individual lives they've changed. Now, in that strange light, they seemed hardly his own. Dr. Varian uncorked a bottle of chardonnay. He looked about his living room again. He had only himself and the space around him. Was this all? Was this all he possessed? He laughed bitterly. He felt a sudden desire to speak to Elaine. Instead, he poured himself a glass of wine. By the time he got through the-bottle, however, he was dialing the dictation line. "Hi, Elaine. This is Joe."

65


Berkeley Fiction Review Though he had been speaking to her with familiarity for quite some time now, he had never before referred to himself as "Joe." "Did you ever feel that your house is too big? My house is too big. I used to love my house. Here, everything was exactly the way I wanted it Now I . can't stand it. I can't stand it but I've got nowhere else to go. I am the only evidence that anyone lives here and I do it poorly." Dr. Varian awoke the next morning with a headache. He was nauseated with regret about what he did. He vaguely remembered calling Elaine and saying some pathetic things, though exactly what he couldn't recall. He tried to comfort himself that whatever it was, it couldn't have been that outrageous. He would be incapable of it even while drunk, but he could not explain how he allowed himself to make such an unprofessional phone call in the first place. For the next few days, Dr. Varian avoided dialing the dictation line. It was an irrational fear. He knew he would get the same automated prompts for him to record his verbal report. Elaine's voice would not come on all of a sudden on the other end of the line. Yet terrible embarrassment seized him and he let his dictations pile up to almost unmanageable levels. Similarly, when the next batch of transcriptions came back, he was afraid to look at them. He couldn't decide whether it'd be more humiliating if Elaine returned some generic sympathetic consolation or if she kept her usual silence. Dr. Varian wanted to throw the entire thing away. Of course, he couldn't as they contained important medical information about his patients. How much worse would it be if Elaine did return an intimate note of some kind and Sherrie ended up filing it with a patient's permanent medical record. Dr. Varian forced himself to flip through the stack page by page. Everything was in perfect order. He started to breathe a sigh of relief just before he saw that the very last page was a note from Elaine: "Dear Joe, I know what you mean. There's a Hopper exhibit at the art museum now. I think you will like it. V. ^y Elaine" The note was typewritten in the fashion of her one line reply months ago. Again, she didn't even hand sign her name. Dr. Varian was grateful for the discretion in her short note, but how could she really know what he meant that night? Was she also alone in a house that was too big? And what of this Hopper exhibit? Those few lines, bland and impersonal in typed font, seemed so mysterious and imbued with meaning. Dr. Varian placed it with her first note in his locked bottom drawer.

66

Hopper's

Lighthouse

The following weekend, though Dr. Varian returned to his comfortably over-busy work schedule, he made a point to visit the art museum Sunday afternoon. He couldn't remember the last time he had been to the museum. It was a welcomed diversion from his daily routines centered on work. He took his assignment from Elaine very seriously. He was filled with curiosity what codified messages he was supposed to gleam from these paintings. Having never been a student of the arts, he was afraid he was apt to miss the point entirely. Feelings of insecurity were not something Dr. Varian experienced very often and he was unsure how to deal with it. Yet he was prepared to focus all his powers of analytical thinking and critical judgment, which had served him so well in surgery, into figuring out what Elaine was telling him through Hopper's art. With this mission clearly in mind, he strolled into the first gallery. There, he was met with a painting of a rather unattractive naked woman standing alone in a room. His first instinct was to move on, but he forced himself to stand before it and study it more closely. The room in the painting was sparsely furnished but a bed in the background suggested that it was a bedroom. It was evening time. The woman stood completely naked facing a doorway. She was neither smiling nor frowning. There was nothing seductive about her. A harsh light flooded through the door and was unforgiving of the lines on her face and loose flesh of her thighs. Suddenly, the coloring of her skin in that light reminded Dr. Varian of the way his hands looked under the lamplight that night he was alone in his house. A cold shiver coursed down the length of his spine. He curled his toes from wincing. Dr. Varian knew why he was there. The first gallery was themed, "Private Spaces," and there were other paintings of lonely interiors and the people who inhabited them. Someone sat in a non-descript apartment living room facing a window toward a desolate street. Another person was alone in a hotel room with an unopened suitcase by her feet. The second gallery, titled, "Public Places," held pictures of half-deserted theaters, restaurants with people eating in silence, and train cars where people sat apart from each other. The exhibit was popular and Dr. Varian had to weave through the crowd to see many of the paintings. He observed the characters in each of Hopper's depictions until he felt the weight of their loneliness transferred into him. All the while, around him, young art students chattered excitedly about light or color or form. As he fell in deeper communion with the people of the painted world, he watched from a distance the couples walking hand-in-hand and those in twos or threes in quiet discourse. The final gallery held a collection of landscapes. A solitary house stood beside an empty railway. Another picture showed swift breezes across barren hillsides. Dr. Varian's line of sight drew him toward a lighthouse painting and he approached it for a closer look. He hardly noticed the man who was already before it The white gleam of the lighthouse building was mesmerizing and stark against

67


Berkeley Fiction Review Though he had been speaking to her with familiarity for quite some time now, he had never before referred to himself as "Joe." "Did you ever feel that your house is too big? My house is too big. I used to love my house. Here, everything was exactly the way I wanted it Now I . can't stand it. I can't stand it but I've got nowhere else to go. I am the only evidence that anyone lives here and I do it poorly." Dr. Varian awoke the next morning with a headache. He was nauseated with regret about what he did. He vaguely remembered calling Elaine and saying some pathetic things, though exactly what he couldn't recall. He tried to comfort himself that whatever it was, it couldn't have been that outrageous. He would be incapable of it even while drunk, but he could not explain how he allowed himself to make such an unprofessional phone call in the first place. For the next few days, Dr. Varian avoided dialing the dictation line. It was an irrational fear. He knew he would get the same automated prompts for him to record his verbal report. Elaine's voice would not come on all of a sudden on the other end of the line. Yet terrible embarrassment seized him and he let his dictations pile up to almost unmanageable levels. Similarly, when the next batch of transcriptions came back, he was afraid to look at them. He couldn't decide whether it'd be more humiliating if Elaine returned some generic sympathetic consolation or if she kept her usual silence. Dr. Varian wanted to throw the entire thing away. Of course, he couldn't as they contained important medical information about his patients. How much worse would it be if Elaine did return an intimate note of some kind and Sherrie ended up filing it with a patient's permanent medical record. Dr. Varian forced himself to flip through the stack page by page. Everything was in perfect order. He started to breathe a sigh of relief just before he saw that the very last page was a note from Elaine: "Dear Joe, I know what you mean. There's a Hopper exhibit at the art museum now. I think you will like it. V. ^y Elaine" The note was typewritten in the fashion of her one line reply months ago. Again, she didn't even hand sign her name. Dr. Varian was grateful for the discretion in her short note, but how could she really know what he meant that night? Was she also alone in a house that was too big? And what of this Hopper exhibit? Those few lines, bland and impersonal in typed font, seemed so mysterious and imbued with meaning. Dr. Varian placed it with her first note in his locked bottom drawer.

66

Hopper's

Lighthouse

The following weekend, though Dr. Varian returned to his comfortably over-busy work schedule, he made a point to visit the art museum Sunday afternoon. He couldn't remember the last time he had been to the museum. It was a welcomed diversion from his daily routines centered on work. He took his assignment from Elaine very seriously. He was filled with curiosity what codified messages he was supposed to gleam from these paintings. Having never been a student of the arts, he was afraid he was apt to miss the point entirely. Feelings of insecurity were not something Dr. Varian experienced very often and he was unsure how to deal with it. Yet he was prepared to focus all his powers of analytical thinking and critical judgment, which had served him so well in surgery, into figuring out what Elaine was telling him through Hopper's art. With this mission clearly in mind, he strolled into the first gallery. There, he was met with a painting of a rather unattractive naked woman standing alone in a room. His first instinct was to move on, but he forced himself to stand before it and study it more closely. The room in the painting was sparsely furnished but a bed in the background suggested that it was a bedroom. It was evening time. The woman stood completely naked facing a doorway. She was neither smiling nor frowning. There was nothing seductive about her. A harsh light flooded through the door and was unforgiving of the lines on her face and loose flesh of her thighs. Suddenly, the coloring of her skin in that light reminded Dr. Varian of the way his hands looked under the lamplight that night he was alone in his house. A cold shiver coursed down the length of his spine. He curled his toes from wincing. Dr. Varian knew why he was there. The first gallery was themed, "Private Spaces," and there were other paintings of lonely interiors and the people who inhabited them. Someone sat in a non-descript apartment living room facing a window toward a desolate street. Another person was alone in a hotel room with an unopened suitcase by her feet. The second gallery, titled, "Public Places," held pictures of half-deserted theaters, restaurants with people eating in silence, and train cars where people sat apart from each other. The exhibit was popular and Dr. Varian had to weave through the crowd to see many of the paintings. He observed the characters in each of Hopper's depictions until he felt the weight of their loneliness transferred into him. All the while, around him, young art students chattered excitedly about light or color or form. As he fell in deeper communion with the people of the painted world, he watched from a distance the couples walking hand-in-hand and those in twos or threes in quiet discourse. The final gallery held a collection of landscapes. A solitary house stood beside an empty railway. Another picture showed swift breezes across barren hillsides. Dr. Varian's line of sight drew him toward a lighthouse painting and he approached it for a closer look. He hardly noticed the man who was already before it The white gleam of the lighthouse building was mesmerizing and stark against

67


Berkeley Fiction Review a pale blue sky. There was something in the way a few ethereal wisps of cloud hung beside the lighthouse tower that evoked a sense of longing. The two of them stood shoulder-to-shoulder for quite some time before the other man ventured, "Like it?" Dr. Varian was startled by the human voice directed toward him. He had not spoken for the past two hours and had no words. "Urn... yeah." The man looked like he was in his sixties. He was half-bald and the hair that remained was white. He was friendly with full ruddy cheeks and his eyes were sharp behind his wire-rimmed glasses. "Interesting, don't you think?" "The painter seemed to like lighthouses. There are several of them in this room," Dr. Varian replied. He must have sounded terse or somehow rude because the other man soon walked away without another comment. Left by himself, he gazed at the lighthouse, austere and alone on a seaside cliff. He thought about the countless people he helped through the years of practicing his profession and then the missed opportunities in his own life while he was becoming the best surgeon he could be. Briefly, he inhaled with justification. Attunes in order to serve a purpose, one becomes isolated. But as he stood before the painting, Hopper's lighthouse was neither proud nor noble, just forlorn. Dr. Varian heaved a big sigh and drove his hands into his coat pockets. Unexpectedly, he found in his right pocket his portable Dictaphone. He rarely used it after the hospital switched over to the dictation phone line system and had forgotten where he had placed it. Though Dr. Varian never believed in coincidence, he thought it must be a sign of some sort for him to come across it now. He brought the small tape recorder to his lips and softly spoke into it "Hello Elaine. This is Joe. I'm at the Hopper exhibit now. Thanks for the suggestion. Many of the paintings are very striking and, I must say, I haven't been so moved by anything in a while. But I gotta tell ya, if I had a slightly weaker constitution, I'd be just about ready to jump off a bridge now." Dr. Varian couldn't help but chuckle at this because already his heart was a thousand times lighter. "You were right. You knew exactly what I meamV'And apparently, so did Hopper." The next day, he asked Sherrie to send the tape to the dictation service. Three days later, Elaine returned a note with the usual stack of transcriptions. "Dear Joe, I'm glad you went to the exhibit. Hopper is one of my favorite painters, but I could never bear to look at any of his pictures for long. I believe in redemption and there is no redemption in Hopper. Maybe you'll also enjoy another exhibit at the Artist's Collective by Lisa Beale. She's a contemporary artist and produces mix media pieces along the same themes; though I don't think they induce bridge-jumping urges. Elaine" 68

Hopper's

Lighthouse

They kept up a regular correspondence thereafter. This usually took the form of Elaine recommending an activity of some kind related to their current topic of conversation. Dr. Varian would then attend these events with his portable Dictaphone and record his reactions as if speaking to her right next to him. He through voice and she through type had many lively discussions. Their interaction was at once extremely intellectual and intimate on one hand and very impersonal on the other. They often talked about life, how they've lived and how they would like to live, but always in the abstract Elaine rarely talked about herself. Sometimes there would be little clues into her life. Once she mentioned vaguely about having had a broken heart in the past. Another time she talked briefly about living with a great weight of responsibility. But none of it translated into anything specific. Dr. Varian still did not know the most basic pieces of information about her. Yet his affinity toward her grew and became such that he felt her presence in places where she wasn't. One time, he went to the opera on her suggestion. In his finely tailored suite, he looked down from his box seat at the people chatting on the orchestra level before curtain and back above at those streaming into the balconies. He wondered whether Elaine may be somewhere in the grand opera house on this night. During intermission, he strolled through the chandeliered halls and observed the wbmen in their fine gowns with what nonchalance he could feign. No one looked like her. He bought himself a cocktail, retreated next to one of the pillars and spoke softly into the Dictaphone. "Hello,'Elaine. I'm at the opera now. It's intermission. The martinis they make here are surprisingly good.... The only thing I really want now is to go over to that bartender there and buy you a drink... and bring it back here to you where I'm standing." Dr. Varian pressed pause and pictured the edge of her smile that she must have when she'd bring the martini glass to her lips. Then he rewound the tape to the spot right after he said, "It's intermission," and recorded over everything that came after it. He replaced instead with, "The opera is beautiful, Elaine. Thanks. The soprano in the first half is quite enchanting and her singing very delicate." Slowly, unaware of it himself, Dr. Varian began to make time for her. He anticipated the activities she would suggest and madesure he had certain evenings of the week open for them. He made "surprise" appearances at the hospital less and less. He stopped terrorizing residents by asking random laboratory values on patients in the middle of the night. He no longer volunteered to take extra call nights within his practice group and stopped scheduling his elective cases on the weekends. Everyone in the hospital noticed these changes. There could only be one explanation. Dr. Varianfinallygothimselfawoman. And because there was no sign or proof of this woman's existence, rumors of her spread even more rampantly. The residents all thought^"Thank God!" The surgical nurses gossiped incessantly that she must be someone within the hospital system. Why else would Dr. Varian

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Berkeley Fiction Review a pale blue sky. There was something in the way a few ethereal wisps of cloud hung beside the lighthouse tower that evoked a sense of longing. The two of them stood shoulder-to-shoulder for quite some time before the other man ventured, "Like it?" Dr. Varian was startled by the human voice directed toward him. He had not spoken for the past two hours and had no words. "Urn... yeah." The man looked like he was in his sixties. He was half-bald and the hair that remained was white. He was friendly with full ruddy cheeks and his eyes were sharp behind his wire-rimmed glasses. "Interesting, don't you think?" "The painter seemed to like lighthouses. There are several of them in this room," Dr. Varian replied. He must have sounded terse or somehow rude because the other man soon walked away without another comment. Left by himself, he gazed at the lighthouse, austere and alone on a seaside cliff. He thought about the countless people he helped through the years of practicing his profession and then the missed opportunities in his own life while he was becoming the best surgeon he could be. Briefly, he inhaled with justification. Attunes in order to serve a purpose, one becomes isolated. But as he stood before the painting, Hopper's lighthouse was neither proud nor noble, just forlorn. Dr. Varian heaved a big sigh and drove his hands into his coat pockets. Unexpectedly, he found in his right pocket his portable Dictaphone. He rarely used it after the hospital switched over to the dictation phone line system and had forgotten where he had placed it. Though Dr. Varian never believed in coincidence, he thought it must be a sign of some sort for him to come across it now. He brought the small tape recorder to his lips and softly spoke into it "Hello Elaine. This is Joe. I'm at the Hopper exhibit now. Thanks for the suggestion. Many of the paintings are very striking and, I must say, I haven't been so moved by anything in a while. But I gotta tell ya, if I had a slightly weaker constitution, I'd be just about ready to jump off a bridge now." Dr. Varian couldn't help but chuckle at this because already his heart was a thousand times lighter. "You were right. You knew exactly what I meamV'And apparently, so did Hopper." The next day, he asked Sherrie to send the tape to the dictation service. Three days later, Elaine returned a note with the usual stack of transcriptions. "Dear Joe, I'm glad you went to the exhibit. Hopper is one of my favorite painters, but I could never bear to look at any of his pictures for long. I believe in redemption and there is no redemption in Hopper. Maybe you'll also enjoy another exhibit at the Artist's Collective by Lisa Beale. She's a contemporary artist and produces mix media pieces along the same themes; though I don't think they induce bridge-jumping urges. Elaine" 68

Hopper's

Lighthouse

They kept up a regular correspondence thereafter. This usually took the form of Elaine recommending an activity of some kind related to their current topic of conversation. Dr. Varian would then attend these events with his portable Dictaphone and record his reactions as if speaking to her right next to him. He through voice and she through type had many lively discussions. Their interaction was at once extremely intellectual and intimate on one hand and very impersonal on the other. They often talked about life, how they've lived and how they would like to live, but always in the abstract Elaine rarely talked about herself. Sometimes there would be little clues into her life. Once she mentioned vaguely about having had a broken heart in the past. Another time she talked briefly about living with a great weight of responsibility. But none of it translated into anything specific. Dr. Varian still did not know the most basic pieces of information about her. Yet his affinity toward her grew and became such that he felt her presence in places where she wasn't. One time, he went to the opera on her suggestion. In his finely tailored suite, he looked down from his box seat at the people chatting on the orchestra level before curtain and back above at those streaming into the balconies. He wondered whether Elaine may be somewhere in the grand opera house on this night. During intermission, he strolled through the chandeliered halls and observed the wbmen in their fine gowns with what nonchalance he could feign. No one looked like her. He bought himself a cocktail, retreated next to one of the pillars and spoke softly into the Dictaphone. "Hello,'Elaine. I'm at the opera now. It's intermission. The martinis they make here are surprisingly good.... The only thing I really want now is to go over to that bartender there and buy you a drink... and bring it back here to you where I'm standing." Dr. Varian pressed pause and pictured the edge of her smile that she must have when she'd bring the martini glass to her lips. Then he rewound the tape to the spot right after he said, "It's intermission," and recorded over everything that came after it. He replaced instead with, "The opera is beautiful, Elaine. Thanks. The soprano in the first half is quite enchanting and her singing very delicate." Slowly, unaware of it himself, Dr. Varian began to make time for her. He anticipated the activities she would suggest and madesure he had certain evenings of the week open for them. He made "surprise" appearances at the hospital less and less. He stopped terrorizing residents by asking random laboratory values on patients in the middle of the night. He no longer volunteered to take extra call nights within his practice group and stopped scheduling his elective cases on the weekends. Everyone in the hospital noticed these changes. There could only be one explanation. Dr. Varianfinallygothimselfawoman. And because there was no sign or proof of this woman's existence, rumors of her spread even more rampantly. The residents all thought^"Thank God!" The surgical nurses gossiped incessantly that she must be someone within the hospital system. Why else would Dr. Varian

69


Berkeley Fiction Review be so tight-lipped about the affair? Besides, he never goes anywhere else where he could have met someone. During Monday morning's laparoscopic cholecystectomy, Dr. Clay, the anesthesiologist, asked from behind the sterile drapes, "So Joe, how was your weekend?" He winked to Debra, the scrub nurse, who was handing Dr. Varian one of the trocars. "Oh, it was good. I went to a play." "A play! I didn't know you liked the theater." "I didn't know either. But this production was actually pretty good. Not like the one-man show I saw the week before. How could anyone have come up with something so inane!" "Who did you go with?" "I went by myself." "By yourself?" Dr. Clay said incredulously, "Now really, Joe." "Yes. Why? I can't go to a play by myself?" Dr. Clay gave Debra a wry smile and shrug when Dr. Varian wasn't looking. Debra turned her eyes up and shook her head disappointedly. One day, Sherrie couldn't stand it anymore and flat out confronted him when he came into his office and picked up the day's returned transcriptions. "Who is she?" "Who is who?" Dr. Varian replied, caught very much off-guard. "Oh, Dr. Varian, come on! Everyone knows you've been seeing someone for months now." "I have not." "Right. You go out every weekend, many times on weeknights. You have a skip in your step. You smile for no reason. You keep saying you go to these things alone. Nobody believes it!" "Well, it's true." "I don't know why you hide her so well. It's not like it's-a crime," Sherrie said in frustration, very put off. Dr. Varian went into his office and^clpsecl the door. Today, among the transcriptions, Elaine wrote a note about the Latin American film festival that was going on and some of the features she thought worth going to. In the end, she wrote: "I appreciate that you keep going to these things I suggest even though I know sometimes you're a little tortured by them. I continue to be impressed that you would take time from, your busy schedule to do these things that I enjoy. I always look forward to hearing your thoughts and opinions. Your criticisms are often very astute and I find your sarcasm very entertaining. Thanks....

Hopper's

Lighthouse

Dr. Varian opened his bottom drawer to put this letter with all the rest. There was now a thick folder full of all her typewritten notes. He flipped through them and pondered how he could feel so close to this woman he only knew as "Elaine" while she remained so elusive and mysterious. Sherrie's tirade alerted him as to how long Elaine and he had been corresponding in this bizarre manner. Their way of interacting was so comfortable that Dr. Varian was reluctant to do anything to disrupt it. However, increasingly he wondered why he still knew so little about her and why they still hadn't met Perhaps she was married and never had the heart to tell him. Or maybe she was very unattractive in some way and didn't want him to ever see her. But then again, maybe these things didn't happen simply because he never asked her. In thinking about her so much and knowing so little, Dr. Varian made up little stories about her. He imagined her to be a single parent with a little boy maybe ten years old. She was probably overqualified as a transcriptionist but took the job so she could work from home and be with her child. Her ex-husband did her some terrible wrong; maybe he cheated on her. Ever since she divorced him, she focused her energies on rearing her kid and attending the arts that she loved so much. He longed to verify whether his imaginings were accurate. Less and less he feared that his vision of her would prove completely false. More and more he wanted simply to know her. Dr. Varian wondered whether his fascination with her would diminish even if he found out she was married or very old or very ugly. It occurred to him that he was the cause of this inexplicable state of affairs with Elaine. Maybe he was a coward. Maybe he was timid and passive with her from the very beginning and continued to be so. He resented those thoughts. Those were not nouns and adjectives he identified himself with. He, who had made split second decisions to crack open a dying man's chest, who was stolid with singularity ofpurpose as an open belly welled up with blood, did not have the nerve to ask a woman out on a date? He dialed the dictation line. As he did, the voice of one of his old professors floated into his mind. Dr. Hunt was a crotchety old general surgeon when Dr. Varian was training as a resident. His favorite pastime was striking fear and unease into the junior residents. But by-the end of-their training, the residents uniformly had great affection for him as a superb teacher of technique and surgical judgment. One of his favorite sayings, which he always said with stern eyes and an almost imperceptible half-smile, was, "A surgeon may often be wrong, but never in doubt" "Hello, Elaine. This is Joe. I should be the one thanking you. I enjoy going to all the performances and exhibits you tell me about. You've added a whole new dimension to my life that wasn't there before." Dr. Varian pressed pause. He rubbed his chin in contemplation and furrowed his brows as he heard in his head the words he was about to speak.

Elaine" 70

71


Berkeley Fiction Review be so tight-lipped about the affair? Besides, he never goes anywhere else where he could have met someone. During Monday morning's laparoscopic cholecystectomy, Dr. Clay, the anesthesiologist, asked from behind the sterile drapes, "So Joe, how was your weekend?" He winked to Debra, the scrub nurse, who was handing Dr. Varian one of the trocars. "Oh, it was good. I went to a play." "A play! I didn't know you liked the theater." "I didn't know either. But this production was actually pretty good. Not like the one-man show I saw the week before. How could anyone have come up with something so inane!" "Who did you go with?" "I went by myself." "By yourself?" Dr. Clay said incredulously, "Now really, Joe." "Yes. Why? I can't go to a play by myself?" Dr. Clay gave Debra a wry smile and shrug when Dr. Varian wasn't looking. Debra turned her eyes up and shook her head disappointedly. One day, Sherrie couldn't stand it anymore and flat out confronted him when he came into his office and picked up the day's returned transcriptions. "Who is she?" "Who is who?" Dr. Varian replied, caught very much off-guard. "Oh, Dr. Varian, come on! Everyone knows you've been seeing someone for months now." "I have not." "Right. You go out every weekend, many times on weeknights. You have a skip in your step. You smile for no reason. You keep saying you go to these things alone. Nobody believes it!" "Well, it's true." "I don't know why you hide her so well. It's not like it's-a crime," Sherrie said in frustration, very put off. Dr. Varian went into his office and^clpsecl the door. Today, among the transcriptions, Elaine wrote a note about the Latin American film festival that was going on and some of the features she thought worth going to. In the end, she wrote: "I appreciate that you keep going to these things I suggest even though I know sometimes you're a little tortured by them. I continue to be impressed that you would take time from, your busy schedule to do these things that I enjoy. I always look forward to hearing your thoughts and opinions. Your criticisms are often very astute and I find your sarcasm very entertaining. Thanks....

Hopper's

Lighthouse

Dr. Varian opened his bottom drawer to put this letter with all the rest. There was now a thick folder full of all her typewritten notes. He flipped through them and pondered how he could feel so close to this woman he only knew as "Elaine" while she remained so elusive and mysterious. Sherrie's tirade alerted him as to how long Elaine and he had been corresponding in this bizarre manner. Their way of interacting was so comfortable that Dr. Varian was reluctant to do anything to disrupt it. However, increasingly he wondered why he still knew so little about her and why they still hadn't met Perhaps she was married and never had the heart to tell him. Or maybe she was very unattractive in some way and didn't want him to ever see her. But then again, maybe these things didn't happen simply because he never asked her. In thinking about her so much and knowing so little, Dr. Varian made up little stories about her. He imagined her to be a single parent with a little boy maybe ten years old. She was probably overqualified as a transcriptionist but took the job so she could work from home and be with her child. Her ex-husband did her some terrible wrong; maybe he cheated on her. Ever since she divorced him, she focused her energies on rearing her kid and attending the arts that she loved so much. He longed to verify whether his imaginings were accurate. Less and less he feared that his vision of her would prove completely false. More and more he wanted simply to know her. Dr. Varian wondered whether his fascination with her would diminish even if he found out she was married or very old or very ugly. It occurred to him that he was the cause of this inexplicable state of affairs with Elaine. Maybe he was a coward. Maybe he was timid and passive with her from the very beginning and continued to be so. He resented those thoughts. Those were not nouns and adjectives he identified himself with. He, who had made split second decisions to crack open a dying man's chest, who was stolid with singularity ofpurpose as an open belly welled up with blood, did not have the nerve to ask a woman out on a date? He dialed the dictation line. As he did, the voice of one of his old professors floated into his mind. Dr. Hunt was a crotchety old general surgeon when Dr. Varian was training as a resident. His favorite pastime was striking fear and unease into the junior residents. But by-the end of-their training, the residents uniformly had great affection for him as a superb teacher of technique and surgical judgment. One of his favorite sayings, which he always said with stern eyes and an almost imperceptible half-smile, was, "A surgeon may often be wrong, but never in doubt" "Hello, Elaine. This is Joe. I should be the one thanking you. I enjoy going to all the performances and exhibits you tell me about. You've added a whole new dimension to my life that wasn't there before." Dr. Varian pressed pause. He rubbed his chin in contemplation and furrowed his brows as he heard in his head the words he was about to speak.

Elaine" 70

71


Berkeley Fiction

Review

What if he was about to ruin everything? What if the advance he was about to make was completely unwelcome? What if.... What kind of ninny surgeon am I, anyway? A surgeon may often be wrong, but never in doubt "Elaine," he said, "I was wondering whether you may like to join me for lunch this Sunday at The Garden. Let's say twelve thirty? I'll make reservations." Then he hung up. The timing was good, thought Dr. Varian. It was Thursday afternoon. Elaine should get the message by tomorrow but would not be able to send back a response before the weekend. He didn't want to give her, or himself, too much time to think about this meeting. She would not have the chance to reply with excuses, real or unreal, as to why or why not she could have lunch that day. She would have to demonstrate how she felt about him through action. If she doesn't show up because she was offended or frightened or uninterested, that would be all right Dr. Varian was willing, and hoped she would be as well, to pretend that his invitation was somehow lost in the mysterious dictation system and never reached her. He would contentedly have lunch by himself at his favorite table. This time of year, the central courtyard of the restaurant would be full of summer flowers. If it was a nice day, the sun would shine through the French windows and cast warm light across the pristinely white table linens. He wouldn't be too disappointed if he were having their delicious ginger carrot soup and fresh baked bread over the Sunday paper. But, if she does show up, then he would find out everything all at once: who she was, what she was like, if she had a trace of the kind of feelings he had for her or if it all was truly a fiction in his mind. The high emotional stakes of this gamble stirred a surgeon's bravado within him and he was proud to have made such a risky wager. Sunday afternoon, the usually impeccably punctual Dr. Varian was five minutes late by the time he reached the hostess podium at The Garden. He had made every arrangement to ensure that, no matter what kind of emergency, there was sufficient coverage from his colleagues that l)e would not be called to the hospital. Even so, it took a'conscious decisionjo-feave his pager at home. It felt uncomfortable and slightly morally culpable to abandon his call to duty, but he was determined not to feel the vibrations of his pager when sitting across from her. He gazed blankly into the simple yet elegant dining hall filled with the quiet clinking of glasses and silverware. As he scanned the room, it occurred to him that it was possible that she was already there and looking back at)him. Suddenly embarrassed, he averted his eyes. "May I help you, sir?" the hostess asked. "Yes. Joseph Varian, table for two." Inside, facing the central courtyard full of summer flowers, with the warm sunlight casting beautiful shadows over her folded hands on the white tablecloth, someone heard the voice that she had heard hundreds of times. 72

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here was no getting around the fact that it was going to be awkward. The break room was a generous space, with several tables, vending machines, and even a couple of sofas. Every seat was taken and there were still many people standing against the back wall in an expectant huddle. Wayne followed Mr. Halliday into the room. The buzz of conversations around the room quieted to a murmur. Halliday addressed the crowd. "A good morning everyone". Some returned Halliday's greeting, somejnerely nodded, and some remained completely silent, and still. "I have asked you to come together this morning so that I can introduce our new Vice President of Business Operations. Please give a warm welcome to Mr. Wayne Grazni". Then Halliday did the exact thing that Wayne most hoped he would not do. He started to clap. The room followed his lead without adopting his enthusiasm. Through the cheerless applause, Wayne felt eyes searching him for whatever it was that made him so special. He gave them a quick wave, trying to look humble. _,_- The coerced applause faded quickly. Halliday went on. "Now, some of you that have been around for a while have seen a few V.P.s of Business Ops come and go. Wayne is here for the long haul. He isn't just some fellow who did real well in the interviews. We went out and got this guy, and iThink you're all going to be glad we did. He's a deal maker. Remember the Telelink Transglobal Communications merger? Remember how iffy it looked for a while? This is the guy who closed that deal". Some of the more career-minded people were starting to catch on to where Halliday was going. Recognition came into their eyes; they nodded. "Now, it's no secret", Halliday resumed, "that we here at Telephonies America have made a buyout bid for Great Plains Telecom. I'll be honest: we're 73


Berkeley Fiction

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What if he was about to ruin everything? What if the advance he was about to make was completely unwelcome? What if.... What kind of ninny surgeon am I, anyway? A surgeon may often be wrong, but never in doubt "Elaine," he said, "I was wondering whether you may like to join me for lunch this Sunday at The Garden. Let's say twelve thirty? I'll make reservations." Then he hung up. The timing was good, thought Dr. Varian. It was Thursday afternoon. Elaine should get the message by tomorrow but would not be able to send back a response before the weekend. He didn't want to give her, or himself, too much time to think about this meeting. She would not have the chance to reply with excuses, real or unreal, as to why or why not she could have lunch that day. She would have to demonstrate how she felt about him through action. If she doesn't show up because she was offended or frightened or uninterested, that would be all right Dr. Varian was willing, and hoped she would be as well, to pretend that his invitation was somehow lost in the mysterious dictation system and never reached her. He would contentedly have lunch by himself at his favorite table. This time of year, the central courtyard of the restaurant would be full of summer flowers. If it was a nice day, the sun would shine through the French windows and cast warm light across the pristinely white table linens. He wouldn't be too disappointed if he were having their delicious ginger carrot soup and fresh baked bread over the Sunday paper. But, if she does show up, then he would find out everything all at once: who she was, what she was like, if she had a trace of the kind of feelings he had for her or if it all was truly a fiction in his mind. The high emotional stakes of this gamble stirred a surgeon's bravado within him and he was proud to have made such a risky wager. Sunday afternoon, the usually impeccably punctual Dr. Varian was five minutes late by the time he reached the hostess podium at The Garden. He had made every arrangement to ensure that, no matter what kind of emergency, there was sufficient coverage from his colleagues that l)e would not be called to the hospital. Even so, it took a'conscious decisionjo-feave his pager at home. It felt uncomfortable and slightly morally culpable to abandon his call to duty, but he was determined not to feel the vibrations of his pager when sitting across from her. He gazed blankly into the simple yet elegant dining hall filled with the quiet clinking of glasses and silverware. As he scanned the room, it occurred to him that it was possible that she was already there and looking back at)him. Suddenly embarrassed, he averted his eyes. "May I help you, sir?" the hostess asked. "Yes. Joseph Varian, table for two." Inside, facing the central courtyard full of summer flowers, with the warm sunlight casting beautiful shadows over her folded hands on the white tablecloth, someone heard the voice that she had heard hundreds of times. 72

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here was no getting around the fact that it was going to be awkward. The break room was a generous space, with several tables, vending machines, and even a couple of sofas. Every seat was taken and there were still many people standing against the back wall in an expectant huddle. Wayne followed Mr. Halliday into the room. The buzz of conversations around the room quieted to a murmur. Halliday addressed the crowd. "A good morning everyone". Some returned Halliday's greeting, somejnerely nodded, and some remained completely silent, and still. "I have asked you to come together this morning so that I can introduce our new Vice President of Business Operations. Please give a warm welcome to Mr. Wayne Grazni". Then Halliday did the exact thing that Wayne most hoped he would not do. He started to clap. The room followed his lead without adopting his enthusiasm. Through the cheerless applause, Wayne felt eyes searching him for whatever it was that made him so special. He gave them a quick wave, trying to look humble. _,_- The coerced applause faded quickly. Halliday went on. "Now, some of you that have been around for a while have seen a few V.P.s of Business Ops come and go. Wayne is here for the long haul. He isn't just some fellow who did real well in the interviews. We went out and got this guy, and iThink you're all going to be glad we did. He's a deal maker. Remember the Telelink Transglobal Communications merger? Remember how iffy it looked for a while? This is the guy who closed that deal". Some of the more career-minded people were starting to catch on to where Halliday was going. Recognition came into their eyes; they nodded. "Now, it's no secret", Halliday resumed, "that we here at Telephonies America have made a buyout bid for Great Plains Telecom. I'll be honest: we're 73


Berkeley Fiction

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getting some resistance from Great Plains. That's why we decided we had to add a proven deal-maker to our team." A few more people began to get Halliday's gist. There were more nods. As Halliday spoke, Wayne took note of the people scrutinizing him. He was sure he picked out some accountants uniformly dressed in white shirts and navy blue ties. One cluster of folks looked rather dispirited, almost hung over: customer service representatives, Wayne thought. Nearby was a group that seemed torn between weariness and a budding enthusiasm for the possibilities associated with expansion. These must be the customer service supervisors. They reminded Wayne of a pack of Siberian Huskies, as they looked on with their disparate eyes. Instead of one blue and one brown eye, each had one glum eye and one cautiously hopeful eye. The glum eye saw where the next irate customer, and the next after that, would be directed; the cautiously hopeful eye caught a glimpse of promotion from middle-lower-middle management to upper-lower-middle management "Here is what Wayne means to everyone in this room", Halliday continued. "Your 40 IK contributions are matched with company stock. If we take over Great Plains, that means more- business, bigger profits, and higher stock values. Our stock price could skyrocket within a few years. That equals more money for all of you big money for some of you." Halliday certainly knew what buttons to push. Even the melancholy customer service representatives started nodding, although the accountants smiled most brightly as they did calculations in their heads. Wayne felt more comfortable with every additional head that joined the nodding. He liked the fact that all the different occupations of the industry were mingled in one place he even picked out a couple of engineers. It was quite a contrast from his old job at Telelink, where the headquarters was all suits. It would be refreshing to be exposed to the nuts and bolts of telephony, rather than a nondescript group of executives who, just as easily, could have been selling toilet paper. Thanks to Halliday's skillful work, Wayne faced a fairly receptive audience when his turn came. "Mr. Halliday did not mention, when he offered me the position, that my job was to pad everybody's retirement.NjOw'l see who my real bosses are." The response was a splattering of chuckles, but it was far better than no chuckles at all. "In all seriousness, I'm' obviously not nearly as well informed as Mr. Halliday to make predictions. But I want to assure you that I'm going to do everything in my power to close the Great Plains deal, and enhance the reputation and value of this great company. I hope you'll accept me as a member of your team." The clapping was sincere this time. Halliday's build-up had opened the door, and Wayne's answering touch of humility had won them. The Great Plains people were next. He'd have them eating from his hand before they knew what hit them. "How was that?" Halliday asked as he walked Wayne back toward his office. 74

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"Good. You did a great job of warming them up to me." "And you closed the deal. Stay in that mind-set." Halliday walked fast. They were back in the executive suite in a flash. "I'm sorry I can't stick around, but V ve got that meeting with Jack Pinski from Great Plains. Have you looked over the papers I sent you? Good. If Pinski's ready to talk turkey, I'll want you right away. Meanwhile, have a look around, but don't stray from the phone too long." Halliday deposited Wayne at his new office. "Hopefully, I'll see you in a little bit. I'll give you directions when I call." "Great. Good luck." "I hired you sol wouldn't have to rely on luck." Halliday flashed a smile and was gone. Wayne swiveled in his leather chair, surveying his new professional home. It was far nicer than any office he'd ever had before. In front of him spread a huge wooden desk. He wasn't good with woods, so he had no idea which one it was, but. it was shiny and sharp, which made it his favorite kind. On the far side of his desk were two elegant, straight-backed chairs. Against the left hand wall was a leather sofa. The best thing of all was outside his window: a park meadow with a pond in the middle. It was a far cry from the parking lot he'd overlookedat Telelink. The pristine levelness of the top of his desk was broken only by the telephone and the file folder containing the Great Plains documents. They stood out in sharp contrast to the flat horizon like lonely homesteads upon a vast prairie. Halliday had ordered a new computer and cell phone for him, but neither had come yet No matter, the desk phone and the Great Plains file were the only essential objects this morning. So long as they were at hand, he was off to a good start. He leafed through the file, flashing an eager glance at the phone every now and then. He already felt like he knew the papers thoroughly, but he didn't want there to be any chance of a surprise that would undermine Halliday's faith in his abilities. His whole life he'd been a quick study. If he had all the information necessary to solve a puzzle, he had no doubts about his abilities to do so pretty quickly. All he had to do now was stay in his office until he heard from Halliday. When that call came it would be Wayne's time to shine. As soon as these thoughts crystallized- in Wayne's mind they began to dissolve in all the coffee he'd drunk that morning. Nervous about meeting the staff, he'd downed a couple extra cups. Now, that coffee would drive him from his office, if only for a moment. On his way to the main corridor he stopped to ask Myrna, the executive receptionist, the way to the men's room. Myrna was one of those extremely conscientious and competent assistants who quietly guide their bosses through the minefield of everyday details. Myrna seemed so modest that asking her the way to the men's room felt coarse, but he didn't have time to wander the halls looking for it. Wayne hadn't realized that the customer service center was so close to the executive suite. Yet it was right on the way to the bathroom. Through its glass 75


Berkeley Fiction

Review

getting some resistance from Great Plains. That's why we decided we had to add a proven deal-maker to our team." A few more people began to get Halliday's gist. There were more nods. As Halliday spoke, Wayne took note of the people scrutinizing him. He was sure he picked out some accountants uniformly dressed in white shirts and navy blue ties. One cluster of folks looked rather dispirited, almost hung over: customer service representatives, Wayne thought. Nearby was a group that seemed torn between weariness and a budding enthusiasm for the possibilities associated with expansion. These must be the customer service supervisors. They reminded Wayne of a pack of Siberian Huskies, as they looked on with their disparate eyes. Instead of one blue and one brown eye, each had one glum eye and one cautiously hopeful eye. The glum eye saw where the next irate customer, and the next after that, would be directed; the cautiously hopeful eye caught a glimpse of promotion from middle-lower-middle management to upper-lower-middle management "Here is what Wayne means to everyone in this room", Halliday continued. "Your 40 IK contributions are matched with company stock. If we take over Great Plains, that means more- business, bigger profits, and higher stock values. Our stock price could skyrocket within a few years. That equals more money for all of you big money for some of you." Halliday certainly knew what buttons to push. Even the melancholy customer service representatives started nodding, although the accountants smiled most brightly as they did calculations in their heads. Wayne felt more comfortable with every additional head that joined the nodding. He liked the fact that all the different occupations of the industry were mingled in one place he even picked out a couple of engineers. It was quite a contrast from his old job at Telelink, where the headquarters was all suits. It would be refreshing to be exposed to the nuts and bolts of telephony, rather than a nondescript group of executives who, just as easily, could have been selling toilet paper. Thanks to Halliday's skillful work, Wayne faced a fairly receptive audience when his turn came. "Mr. Halliday did not mention, when he offered me the position, that my job was to pad everybody's retirement.NjOw'l see who my real bosses are." The response was a splattering of chuckles, but it was far better than no chuckles at all. "In all seriousness, I'm' obviously not nearly as well informed as Mr. Halliday to make predictions. But I want to assure you that I'm going to do everything in my power to close the Great Plains deal, and enhance the reputation and value of this great company. I hope you'll accept me as a member of your team." The clapping was sincere this time. Halliday's build-up had opened the door, and Wayne's answering touch of humility had won them. The Great Plains people were next. He'd have them eating from his hand before they knew what hit them. "How was that?" Halliday asked as he walked Wayne back toward his office. 74

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"Good. You did a great job of warming them up to me." "And you closed the deal. Stay in that mind-set." Halliday walked fast. They were back in the executive suite in a flash. "I'm sorry I can't stick around, but V ve got that meeting with Jack Pinski from Great Plains. Have you looked over the papers I sent you? Good. If Pinski's ready to talk turkey, I'll want you right away. Meanwhile, have a look around, but don't stray from the phone too long." Halliday deposited Wayne at his new office. "Hopefully, I'll see you in a little bit. I'll give you directions when I call." "Great. Good luck." "I hired you sol wouldn't have to rely on luck." Halliday flashed a smile and was gone. Wayne swiveled in his leather chair, surveying his new professional home. It was far nicer than any office he'd ever had before. In front of him spread a huge wooden desk. He wasn't good with woods, so he had no idea which one it was, but. it was shiny and sharp, which made it his favorite kind. On the far side of his desk were two elegant, straight-backed chairs. Against the left hand wall was a leather sofa. The best thing of all was outside his window: a park meadow with a pond in the middle. It was a far cry from the parking lot he'd overlookedat Telelink. The pristine levelness of the top of his desk was broken only by the telephone and the file folder containing the Great Plains documents. They stood out in sharp contrast to the flat horizon like lonely homesteads upon a vast prairie. Halliday had ordered a new computer and cell phone for him, but neither had come yet No matter, the desk phone and the Great Plains file were the only essential objects this morning. So long as they were at hand, he was off to a good start. He leafed through the file, flashing an eager glance at the phone every now and then. He already felt like he knew the papers thoroughly, but he didn't want there to be any chance of a surprise that would undermine Halliday's faith in his abilities. His whole life he'd been a quick study. If he had all the information necessary to solve a puzzle, he had no doubts about his abilities to do so pretty quickly. All he had to do now was stay in his office until he heard from Halliday. When that call came it would be Wayne's time to shine. As soon as these thoughts crystallized- in Wayne's mind they began to dissolve in all the coffee he'd drunk that morning. Nervous about meeting the staff, he'd downed a couple extra cups. Now, that coffee would drive him from his office, if only for a moment. On his way to the main corridor he stopped to ask Myrna, the executive receptionist, the way to the men's room. Myrna was one of those extremely conscientious and competent assistants who quietly guide their bosses through the minefield of everyday details. Myrna seemed so modest that asking her the way to the men's room felt coarse, but he didn't have time to wander the halls looking for it. Wayne hadn't realized that the customer service center was so close to the executive suite. Yet it was right on the way to the bathroom. Through its glass 75


Berkeley Fiction Review wall he could see rows of cubicles, filled with representatives talking into headsets and staring at computer screens. Two men stood outside of their cubicles, their headsets down around their necks, conversing casually. When they caught sight of Wayne they fairly dove back into their cubicles, panicking to look busy. Wayne savored the authority that had been vested into his presence, but he had no time to take note of slackers in the ranks. He had pressing business. Myrna gave him a friendly smile when he returned to the executive suite". He was really having a pretty good first day after all. The employees were taking him seriously, Mr. Halliday showed great faith in his abilities, and if Myrna were any indication, the culture of the place was very welcoming. Coming here had been a really good move. He began whistling to himself. Back in his office, he gazed out through the window at the pond. He'd do some high-quality planning looking out upon that pond. He'd make himself into the Telephonies America resident corporate-genius right here in this office, with his pond, and his huge desk, and his files full of hardball business deals, and his telephone... his telephone! All the while he had been musing about his rosy future, he had not noticed the message indicator on his telephone. Somebody, almost certainly Halliday, had called while he was in the men's room. While he was wasting time on fantasy, Halliday was, in all likelihood, hanging on to the tenuous Great Plains deal by the skin of his teeth, waiting for his new super hero to come to the rescue. Oh well, it couldn't be that bad. The message could be no more than three minutes old. He assumed it was a message, because it was a dark triangle in the little window next to the MESSAGE button. The truth was that Wayne had never used a phone system like this before. In fact, Wayne had never used a phone system more complicated than a household answering machine. In spite of Telelink's position in the communications industry, the COO had been a man enslaved by nostalgia. As a result, the receptionist took all Wayne's phone messages and handed them to him on note paper. Clearly, Myma was not assigned such duties. There was no time now for musing over the culture shock of the modern office. He placed the receiver by his ear and pressed'the MESSAGE button. Dial tone. He pressed again. More dial tone. Again and again he pressed, each time with more fervor. More and more dial tone. He put the receiver back down on the pad and took a good hard look at phone. There were six buttons to the right of the numbers. They were labeled: SPEAKER, FORWARD, TRANSFER, CONFERENCE, MESSAGE, HOLD. Wayne, for all of his inexperience with the staple of his livelihood, was not a stupid man. He reasoned that the SPEAKER button should allow him to hear the person on the other end of the line without needing to hold the receiver to his ear. FORWARD should allow him to send a call to another extension TRANSFER and CONFERENCE seemed self-explanatory; HOLD was the most obvious of all. And if there were any sense left in this damned upside-down world, MESSAGE should allow him to hear 76

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the message that was obviously waiting impatiently for him. He wiped a hand across his brow. His fingers came away damp. He picked up the phone again and pounded on the MESSAGE button. "Damn you! Play my damned message!" He got dial tone, and the growing noise of his hand pounding on the handset. It was no use. He banged the receiver down. Myrna could help him retrieve his message. He got up and took one stride toward the door before he stopped short. He couldn't ask the receptionist to teach him how to work his phone. He was a telephone company executive, and to hear Halliday build him up, he was the prodigy of the entire industry. He'd be laughed right out of the building if word got out that he didn't know how to operate his own damned telephone. Those two customer service reps who dove for their cubicles today would stand still and laugh at him through the glass. Myrna was out of the question. Or was she? She'd have Halliday's cell number. Wayne could just call Halliday. If he played it vaguely enough, Halliday would clue him in to the message he'd left and Wayne would be able to act like he'd heard it already. He resumed his march toward Myrna's desk. "Excuse me, Myrna. Can I get Mr. Halliday's cell phone number from you?" "Are you going to try to call him right now?" she asked in reply. "Yes." Suddenly he felt the need to seem especially casual about it. "In the next ten or fifteen minutes, probably." "It won't do you any good." She pulled out the bottom drawer of her desk. The drawer contained exactly one cell phone. "It's Mr. Halliday's. He says he's sick of his kids calling, for advances on their allowances in the middle of important meetings. I suggested he turn it off, but I think he just doesn't like cell phones. They say it's a generational thing." Walking dejectedly back to his office, Wayne heard the faint sound of Myrna's desk ringing. He heard the drawer slide open. "Mr. Halliday's office," Myrna spoke into the cell phone. "No Jimmy, your dad's not here right now." Wayne lost the conversation as he crossed the threshold into his office. It was still there. He had hoped friat-the little,-dark triangle next to the MESSAGE button had magically disappeared. Then he could counter Halliday's inevitable disappointment by saying, "Look, there's no message. Something must be wrong with the phone system." But it was still there, pointing the finger of guilt squarely at him. He would have cast the message into eternity unheard, if only he could erase the evidence of its existence. But he was not even competent to do that. He sat down heavily, studying the piece of apparatus that was transforming itself into the means of his undoing. Above the numeral buttons were a half dozen slim, white buttons that were unlabelled. He had not tried them before. Perhaps they held the key to this great puzzle. Holding the receiver to his ear, he 77


Berkeley Fiction Review wall he could see rows of cubicles, filled with representatives talking into headsets and staring at computer screens. Two men stood outside of their cubicles, their headsets down around their necks, conversing casually. When they caught sight of Wayne they fairly dove back into their cubicles, panicking to look busy. Wayne savored the authority that had been vested into his presence, but he had no time to take note of slackers in the ranks. He had pressing business. Myrna gave him a friendly smile when he returned to the executive suite". He was really having a pretty good first day after all. The employees were taking him seriously, Mr. Halliday showed great faith in his abilities, and if Myrna were any indication, the culture of the place was very welcoming. Coming here had been a really good move. He began whistling to himself. Back in his office, he gazed out through the window at the pond. He'd do some high-quality planning looking out upon that pond. He'd make himself into the Telephonies America resident corporate-genius right here in this office, with his pond, and his huge desk, and his files full of hardball business deals, and his telephone... his telephone! All the while he had been musing about his rosy future, he had not noticed the message indicator on his telephone. Somebody, almost certainly Halliday, had called while he was in the men's room. While he was wasting time on fantasy, Halliday was, in all likelihood, hanging on to the tenuous Great Plains deal by the skin of his teeth, waiting for his new super hero to come to the rescue. Oh well, it couldn't be that bad. The message could be no more than three minutes old. He assumed it was a message, because it was a dark triangle in the little window next to the MESSAGE button. The truth was that Wayne had never used a phone system like this before. In fact, Wayne had never used a phone system more complicated than a household answering machine. In spite of Telelink's position in the communications industry, the COO had been a man enslaved by nostalgia. As a result, the receptionist took all Wayne's phone messages and handed them to him on note paper. Clearly, Myma was not assigned such duties. There was no time now for musing over the culture shock of the modern office. He placed the receiver by his ear and pressed'the MESSAGE button. Dial tone. He pressed again. More dial tone. Again and again he pressed, each time with more fervor. More and more dial tone. He put the receiver back down on the pad and took a good hard look at phone. There were six buttons to the right of the numbers. They were labeled: SPEAKER, FORWARD, TRANSFER, CONFERENCE, MESSAGE, HOLD. Wayne, for all of his inexperience with the staple of his livelihood, was not a stupid man. He reasoned that the SPEAKER button should allow him to hear the person on the other end of the line without needing to hold the receiver to his ear. FORWARD should allow him to send a call to another extension TRANSFER and CONFERENCE seemed self-explanatory; HOLD was the most obvious of all. And if there were any sense left in this damned upside-down world, MESSAGE should allow him to hear 76

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the message that was obviously waiting impatiently for him. He wiped a hand across his brow. His fingers came away damp. He picked up the phone again and pounded on the MESSAGE button. "Damn you! Play my damned message!" He got dial tone, and the growing noise of his hand pounding on the handset. It was no use. He banged the receiver down. Myrna could help him retrieve his message. He got up and took one stride toward the door before he stopped short. He couldn't ask the receptionist to teach him how to work his phone. He was a telephone company executive, and to hear Halliday build him up, he was the prodigy of the entire industry. He'd be laughed right out of the building if word got out that he didn't know how to operate his own damned telephone. Those two customer service reps who dove for their cubicles today would stand still and laugh at him through the glass. Myrna was out of the question. Or was she? She'd have Halliday's cell number. Wayne could just call Halliday. If he played it vaguely enough, Halliday would clue him in to the message he'd left and Wayne would be able to act like he'd heard it already. He resumed his march toward Myrna's desk. "Excuse me, Myrna. Can I get Mr. Halliday's cell phone number from you?" "Are you going to try to call him right now?" she asked in reply. "Yes." Suddenly he felt the need to seem especially casual about it. "In the next ten or fifteen minutes, probably." "It won't do you any good." She pulled out the bottom drawer of her desk. The drawer contained exactly one cell phone. "It's Mr. Halliday's. He says he's sick of his kids calling, for advances on their allowances in the middle of important meetings. I suggested he turn it off, but I think he just doesn't like cell phones. They say it's a generational thing." Walking dejectedly back to his office, Wayne heard the faint sound of Myrna's desk ringing. He heard the drawer slide open. "Mr. Halliday's office," Myrna spoke into the cell phone. "No Jimmy, your dad's not here right now." Wayne lost the conversation as he crossed the threshold into his office. It was still there. He had hoped friat-the little,-dark triangle next to the MESSAGE button had magically disappeared. Then he could counter Halliday's inevitable disappointment by saying, "Look, there's no message. Something must be wrong with the phone system." But it was still there, pointing the finger of guilt squarely at him. He would have cast the message into eternity unheard, if only he could erase the evidence of its existence. But he was not even competent to do that. He sat down heavily, studying the piece of apparatus that was transforming itself into the means of his undoing. Above the numeral buttons were a half dozen slim, white buttons that were unlabelled. He had not tried them before. Perhaps they held the key to this great puzzle. Holding the receiver to his ear, he 77


Berkeley Fiction Review tried each of them. None did more than taunt him with the steady silence of failure. Again, he banged the phone down. There was a soft knock on his already opened door. The sound of it startled him. One of the engineers that he had seen in the break room was standing in his doorway. Wayne felt his face grow warm. He prayed that this man had not been standing there watching as he futilely hammered away at the sundry buttons of his telephone set "Hello, Mr. Grazni." The stranger approached with an arm extended forward. "I'm Dale Weintraub. I work downstairs in Development" Dale was probably fifty-five. Wayne shook his hand. "Nice to meet you," he said in a strange voice. "I just wanted to stop in to welcome you aboard. It's nice to finally have a V.P. of Business Ops around here who knows something about the business. We've had some in here who'd never worked for a phone company before. They didn't last long." "Really?" Wayne's strange voice said. "They didn't understand that you've got to know how a telephone works to run a telephone company. It's hard to respect leadership when you know they're faking it." "Is that right?" Wayne asked purposelessly. "What an unfortunate thing to not understand." He found himself redistributing his papers around his desk so that one sheet happened to cover up the little display windows on his telephone. "Myself, I'm old school. I've been working with telephones since the days of rotary dials and party lines back when the phone company made the phone. Take that phone there." Dale pointed to the half-buried phone on Wayne's desk. Wayne suppressed a guilty felon's convulsion as if Dale had just pointed out the murder weapon. "That's not the fanciest model, but it handles all your basic functions, and any six-year-old can operate it Over the years, I've had a hand in probably ninety percent of the technology that's gone into that phone." "That's quite an accomplishment," Wayne told him with far too little enthusiasm as he added another miscellaneous' fiiece of paper to the phone's camouflage. Wayne felt a knot forming in his stomach. Dale could, in his sleep, tell Wayne how to retrieve his all-important message. Asking him to do so would be the beginning of the end. To admit ignorance now would be to relinquish, on his first day, any validity of leadership inherent in Wayne's position. The employees 'would form a pool to bet on how long he would last, as he now imagined they had done with each of his predecessors. Dale noticed Wayne's shuffling of papers. "Well, I see you've got a lot of work, so I'll leave you to it. I just wanted to tell you that I look forward to where this company can go with some real telephone people in charge." "Thanks for stopping by," Wayne said with a weak smile. As Dale walked away, the part of Wayne that wanted to keep his job at any cost had an impulse to 78

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call him back to explain the workings of his infernal machine. Yet, deep down, Wayne knew that he could not walk these corridors every day, seeing only condescension and contempt in the eyes of all those under his authority. He let Dale go before slowly peeling back the papers from over the phone. The dark little triangle was still there. Utter despair. Halliday's tenuous hopes for making the deal could be falling apart right now because Wayne wasn't there to lend his expertise. If the deal died, Halliday's whole purpose for recruiting Wayne was gone. If the deal died because Wayne had been unresponsive to Halliday's summons, Halliday would have small motive to keep Wayne around. Wayne had never been unwanted anywhere before. He was always the top recruit. Being cast away was the black hole of death to him. He felt himself begin to shake. Think. There must be a manual for the phone somewhere. He began yanking out and slamming shut the drawers of his desk one after another as each proved itself to be empty. Rows of cabinets lined two of his walls. These he began searching as soon as he was satisfied that the desk was useless to him. The first row was as little help as the desk was. In the angle where the two rows of cabinetry joined was a lazy Susan. Swinging this open, he found something far less important than a telephone operator's manual, but welcome nonetheless. Here, swung out from under the counter were two bottles of liquor and four tumblers. Under any other circumstances, this discovery would have gone untouched for years. Wayne was not a drinker, but just now he felt circumstances spinning out of his control. Something to settle his nerves'might help. Thus far, this was the only aid he had discovered, and he knew he needed help from somewhere. There was vodka and whiskey. He didn't know one from the other, but the whiskey looked more substantial, and therefore more helpful. He poured some into a tumbler and looked at it for a moment, as if wondering what was best do with it Then, as seemed most practical, he tossed the contents into the back of his mouth. With great difficulty, he suppressed his throat=s displeasure, swallowing hard and taking a deep breath to cool his tonsils. His office was too hot. A bead of sweat ran down his temple. He loosened his tie and unbuttoned his collar.- That was a little better. He resumed his march down the adjoining row of cabinets. Soon the search was completed, without reward. He returned to his desk and dropped himself into his chair. The dark triangle seemed even more prominent, as if whatever it was trying to communicate to him were becoming ever more urgent with each passing moment. Unable to think of what he should do next, he began mindlessly rapping the side of his hand against the phone in an effort to spur himself to an idea. He realized he was doing this only when he noticed the phone moving slowly toward the edge of the desk. A vindictive instinct took him over. He increased the frequency and the force with which he knocked his hand against the phone. The phone 79


Berkeley Fiction Review tried each of them. None did more than taunt him with the steady silence of failure. Again, he banged the phone down. There was a soft knock on his already opened door. The sound of it startled him. One of the engineers that he had seen in the break room was standing in his doorway. Wayne felt his face grow warm. He prayed that this man had not been standing there watching as he futilely hammered away at the sundry buttons of his telephone set "Hello, Mr. Grazni." The stranger approached with an arm extended forward. "I'm Dale Weintraub. I work downstairs in Development" Dale was probably fifty-five. Wayne shook his hand. "Nice to meet you," he said in a strange voice. "I just wanted to stop in to welcome you aboard. It's nice to finally have a V.P. of Business Ops around here who knows something about the business. We've had some in here who'd never worked for a phone company before. They didn't last long." "Really?" Wayne's strange voice said. "They didn't understand that you've got to know how a telephone works to run a telephone company. It's hard to respect leadership when you know they're faking it." "Is that right?" Wayne asked purposelessly. "What an unfortunate thing to not understand." He found himself redistributing his papers around his desk so that one sheet happened to cover up the little display windows on his telephone. "Myself, I'm old school. I've been working with telephones since the days of rotary dials and party lines back when the phone company made the phone. Take that phone there." Dale pointed to the half-buried phone on Wayne's desk. Wayne suppressed a guilty felon's convulsion as if Dale had just pointed out the murder weapon. "That's not the fanciest model, but it handles all your basic functions, and any six-year-old can operate it Over the years, I've had a hand in probably ninety percent of the technology that's gone into that phone." "That's quite an accomplishment," Wayne told him with far too little enthusiasm as he added another miscellaneous' fiiece of paper to the phone's camouflage. Wayne felt a knot forming in his stomach. Dale could, in his sleep, tell Wayne how to retrieve his all-important message. Asking him to do so would be the beginning of the end. To admit ignorance now would be to relinquish, on his first day, any validity of leadership inherent in Wayne's position. The employees 'would form a pool to bet on how long he would last, as he now imagined they had done with each of his predecessors. Dale noticed Wayne's shuffling of papers. "Well, I see you've got a lot of work, so I'll leave you to it. I just wanted to tell you that I look forward to where this company can go with some real telephone people in charge." "Thanks for stopping by," Wayne said with a weak smile. As Dale walked away, the part of Wayne that wanted to keep his job at any cost had an impulse to 78

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call him back to explain the workings of his infernal machine. Yet, deep down, Wayne knew that he could not walk these corridors every day, seeing only condescension and contempt in the eyes of all those under his authority. He let Dale go before slowly peeling back the papers from over the phone. The dark little triangle was still there. Utter despair. Halliday's tenuous hopes for making the deal could be falling apart right now because Wayne wasn't there to lend his expertise. If the deal died, Halliday's whole purpose for recruiting Wayne was gone. If the deal died because Wayne had been unresponsive to Halliday's summons, Halliday would have small motive to keep Wayne around. Wayne had never been unwanted anywhere before. He was always the top recruit. Being cast away was the black hole of death to him. He felt himself begin to shake. Think. There must be a manual for the phone somewhere. He began yanking out and slamming shut the drawers of his desk one after another as each proved itself to be empty. Rows of cabinets lined two of his walls. These he began searching as soon as he was satisfied that the desk was useless to him. The first row was as little help as the desk was. In the angle where the two rows of cabinetry joined was a lazy Susan. Swinging this open, he found something far less important than a telephone operator's manual, but welcome nonetheless. Here, swung out from under the counter were two bottles of liquor and four tumblers. Under any other circumstances, this discovery would have gone untouched for years. Wayne was not a drinker, but just now he felt circumstances spinning out of his control. Something to settle his nerves'might help. Thus far, this was the only aid he had discovered, and he knew he needed help from somewhere. There was vodka and whiskey. He didn't know one from the other, but the whiskey looked more substantial, and therefore more helpful. He poured some into a tumbler and looked at it for a moment, as if wondering what was best do with it Then, as seemed most practical, he tossed the contents into the back of his mouth. With great difficulty, he suppressed his throat=s displeasure, swallowing hard and taking a deep breath to cool his tonsils. His office was too hot. A bead of sweat ran down his temple. He loosened his tie and unbuttoned his collar.- That was a little better. He resumed his march down the adjoining row of cabinets. Soon the search was completed, without reward. He returned to his desk and dropped himself into his chair. The dark triangle seemed even more prominent, as if whatever it was trying to communicate to him were becoming ever more urgent with each passing moment. Unable to think of what he should do next, he began mindlessly rapping the side of his hand against the phone in an effort to spur himself to an idea. He realized he was doing this only when he noticed the phone moving slowly toward the edge of the desk. A vindictive instinct took him over. He increased the frequency and the force with which he knocked his hand against the phone. The phone 79


Berkeley Fiction Review inched its way toward the edge of the desk until it was maneuvered into a teetering position. The slightest touch would send it over the edge. He leaned back, considering it for a moment, a self-satisfied executioner, listening for his victim's vain cries for mercy. The condemned phone was a stoic. It would not give him satisfaction by begging for its own life. Yet if the accused would not plead on its own behalf, what mercy could the executioner show? With a subtle nod to fate, he tapped the phone with only the tip of his pinky finger. The crash was louder than he had anticipated. A moment later, Myrna was at his door. "Is everything okay? I heard a noise." Myrna's appearance was unfortunate. With her in the doorway Wayne could not even enjoy his revenge. He pretended it had been an accident. "I knocked the phone over. Clumsy, huh?" he said, overacting the casual role. Reluctantly stooping to pick it up, he saw a look of revelation steal over Myrna's face as she noticed the open bottle of whiskey on the counter top. "I see," Myrna mumbled, trying desperately to pretend she had seen nothing. She retreated quickly and quietly. Wayne set the phone back down on his desk. "Damn you!" he condemned it, softly enough so that Myrna would not hear. The dark little triangle was still as prominent as ever. On top of everything else, Myrna thought he was a drunk. In that case, there was no harm in having another drink. The first one had stopped his shaking. Maybe another one would help him settle his thoughts and reason his way out of his difficulties. He didn't stare at the second one before he tossed it back. There was less gag reflex this time. That had to be a good sign. They sure did like to keep it hot in here. He undid the next button down from his collar. Think. What to do? What to do? He snapped his fingers. Just get rid of the phone altogether. He could not very well be expected to answer a phone message on a phone that did not exist. Phone? What phone? There had never been any phone in his office. With enthusiasm he climbed under the desk and unplugged the cord from the jack. Coiling up the cord with gusto, he picked up the phone. What to do with it? He probably coulp!n>get away with merely tossing it out the window onto the back lawn if only he could make it all the way to the pond in one heave. Doubting that he could manage a good, tight spiral with an aerodynamically unsound telephone, he determined that the pond was too far. Besides, if someone happened to see him hurl the phone out his window, Myrna's suspicions about his tenuous sobriety would be as good as proven. No matter the pond. It wasn't as complicated as all that. The phone only need be somewhere hidden from view. For example, how was he to know that there was an unplugged phone in one of the cupboards? He put the phone in the cupboard farthest removed from the whiskey. There. That was settled. He was completely innocent of all knowledge that Mr. Halliday had ever attempted to summon him. 80

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No sooner had he closed the cabinet door than he realized that the plan he had just implemented was doomed. Halliday knew there had been a phone on his desk. As important as it might become for him to call Wayne, he would have made sure of it Besides, Wayne had specifically drawn Myrna's attention to the phone by foolishly throwing it on the floor. Even if Halliday could be made to doubt that there had been a phone on Wayne's desk, one word from Myrna would bring down the whole scheme. There were too many witnesses. Sliding the hoax past Halliday was unlikely enough, but then, damn it, Myrna knew too much! It was no good. In order for this plan to work, he'd have to kill Myrna, or somehow convince her to lie for him, which,fromwhat he had surmised of Myrna's character, seemed far more complex than murdering her outright. He removed the phone from the cabinet, set it back down on his desk, and plugged it in again. Defeated, he slumped into his chair. He ran his hand through his hair a couple of times, grasping for an idea that fell short of Homicide. His head relinquished an alarming dampness of sweat, but it gave up no more ideas. He was beaten. It was time to see things as they were. It was time to surrender. It was time for the phone company executive to go ask the receptionist to teach him how to operate a telephone. He collected up his resolve as best he could and forced himself to march toward Myrna's desk. He soon found that his natural reluctance to pursue this course was making it difficult to walk with firm steps toward his destination. He was beginning to feel light-headed too. In fact he was growing downright dizzy as he slowly made his way toward Myrna's desk. He came upon Myrna from behind. The horror that she should notice his unsteadiness took hold of him. After what she had seen in his office, what would she think? Dizzily believing that by throwing himself into a stiff, upright posture he could hide his instability, he jerked himself so violently that all semblance of balance became untenable. He landed on one knee beside Myrna, brushing her arm slightly as he lit. Myrna jumped and gave out a shriek of terror as if some horrible creature had suddenly clutched hold of her, as indeed one haa\_!'-Gh, Mr. Grazni!" she cried with some poorly hidden uneasiness. "You-scared the daylights out of me!" "I'm sorry, Myrna. I didn't mean to come upon you so suddenly." Something in his spinning head concluded that he could make amends by placing the two of them on less formal terms. "And please, call me Wayne." On the other hand, the very sober idea of getting up off the floor and giving her a little breathing .room never occurred to him. Anyone else would have noticed that she was leaning, in great discomfort, toward the far side of her chair so much more so after he had destroyed the barrier of formality between them. "What do you want?" Myrna asked, her voice rising a full octave from beginning to end. She had never in all of her career asked a boss such a curt 81


Berkeley Fiction Review inched its way toward the edge of the desk until it was maneuvered into a teetering position. The slightest touch would send it over the edge. He leaned back, considering it for a moment, a self-satisfied executioner, listening for his victim's vain cries for mercy. The condemned phone was a stoic. It would not give him satisfaction by begging for its own life. Yet if the accused would not plead on its own behalf, what mercy could the executioner show? With a subtle nod to fate, he tapped the phone with only the tip of his pinky finger. The crash was louder than he had anticipated. A moment later, Myrna was at his door. "Is everything okay? I heard a noise." Myrna's appearance was unfortunate. With her in the doorway Wayne could not even enjoy his revenge. He pretended it had been an accident. "I knocked the phone over. Clumsy, huh?" he said, overacting the casual role. Reluctantly stooping to pick it up, he saw a look of revelation steal over Myrna's face as she noticed the open bottle of whiskey on the counter top. "I see," Myrna mumbled, trying desperately to pretend she had seen nothing. She retreated quickly and quietly. Wayne set the phone back down on his desk. "Damn you!" he condemned it, softly enough so that Myrna would not hear. The dark little triangle was still as prominent as ever. On top of everything else, Myrna thought he was a drunk. In that case, there was no harm in having another drink. The first one had stopped his shaking. Maybe another one would help him settle his thoughts and reason his way out of his difficulties. He didn't stare at the second one before he tossed it back. There was less gag reflex this time. That had to be a good sign. They sure did like to keep it hot in here. He undid the next button down from his collar. Think. What to do? What to do? He snapped his fingers. Just get rid of the phone altogether. He could not very well be expected to answer a phone message on a phone that did not exist. Phone? What phone? There had never been any phone in his office. With enthusiasm he climbed under the desk and unplugged the cord from the jack. Coiling up the cord with gusto, he picked up the phone. What to do with it? He probably coulp!n>get away with merely tossing it out the window onto the back lawn if only he could make it all the way to the pond in one heave. Doubting that he could manage a good, tight spiral with an aerodynamically unsound telephone, he determined that the pond was too far. Besides, if someone happened to see him hurl the phone out his window, Myrna's suspicions about his tenuous sobriety would be as good as proven. No matter the pond. It wasn't as complicated as all that. The phone only need be somewhere hidden from view. For example, how was he to know that there was an unplugged phone in one of the cupboards? He put the phone in the cupboard farthest removed from the whiskey. There. That was settled. He was completely innocent of all knowledge that Mr. Halliday had ever attempted to summon him. 80

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No sooner had he closed the cabinet door than he realized that the plan he had just implemented was doomed. Halliday knew there had been a phone on his desk. As important as it might become for him to call Wayne, he would have made sure of it Besides, Wayne had specifically drawn Myrna's attention to the phone by foolishly throwing it on the floor. Even if Halliday could be made to doubt that there had been a phone on Wayne's desk, one word from Myrna would bring down the whole scheme. There were too many witnesses. Sliding the hoax past Halliday was unlikely enough, but then, damn it, Myrna knew too much! It was no good. In order for this plan to work, he'd have to kill Myrna, or somehow convince her to lie for him, which,fromwhat he had surmised of Myrna's character, seemed far more complex than murdering her outright. He removed the phone from the cabinet, set it back down on his desk, and plugged it in again. Defeated, he slumped into his chair. He ran his hand through his hair a couple of times, grasping for an idea that fell short of Homicide. His head relinquished an alarming dampness of sweat, but it gave up no more ideas. He was beaten. It was time to see things as they were. It was time to surrender. It was time for the phone company executive to go ask the receptionist to teach him how to operate a telephone. He collected up his resolve as best he could and forced himself to march toward Myrna's desk. He soon found that his natural reluctance to pursue this course was making it difficult to walk with firm steps toward his destination. He was beginning to feel light-headed too. In fact he was growing downright dizzy as he slowly made his way toward Myrna's desk. He came upon Myrna from behind. The horror that she should notice his unsteadiness took hold of him. After what she had seen in his office, what would she think? Dizzily believing that by throwing himself into a stiff, upright posture he could hide his instability, he jerked himself so violently that all semblance of balance became untenable. He landed on one knee beside Myrna, brushing her arm slightly as he lit. Myrna jumped and gave out a shriek of terror as if some horrible creature had suddenly clutched hold of her, as indeed one haa\_!'-Gh, Mr. Grazni!" she cried with some poorly hidden uneasiness. "You-scared the daylights out of me!" "I'm sorry, Myrna. I didn't mean to come upon you so suddenly." Something in his spinning head concluded that he could make amends by placing the two of them on less formal terms. "And please, call me Wayne." On the other hand, the very sober idea of getting up off the floor and giving her a little breathing .room never occurred to him. Anyone else would have noticed that she was leaning, in great discomfort, toward the far side of her chair so much more so after he had destroyed the barrier of formality between them. "What do you want?" Myrna asked, her voice rising a full octave from beginning to end. She had never in all of her career asked a boss such a curt 81


Berkeley Fiction Review question. Then too, it was an unusual circumstance in her career, sitting awkwardly on one hip, eyes growing wide with fear of this whiskey-breathing man. "Well," he began, still without enough sense to pick himself up off the ground. "This is a little awkward. In fact, I feel a little shy about asking you this, given our relative positions within the company." Myrna's eyes fairly bulged with horror as she almost toppled off the far side of her chair from her body and soul leaning that way. 'The point is," he went on, without coming any nearer to the point, "I'm the new guy around here, and nobody's really spent any time with me, to, well, you know, show me the ins and outs of things." Myrna made a point of turning a framed picture of herself, a man, and two young children so that he could not miss seeing it. He figured it must be a nervous habit of hers to rearrange the things on the top of her desk. Maybe when he got to know her better, he'd ask her about that. But for right now, he had a problem to solve. "Anyway, I was hoping you'd be willing to come into my office and show me something." Myrna turned white. She really was a nervous one, he thought. It probably was a good thing that he was still on his knees after all. If he had been standing he might not have made it through that first wave of nausea. After the first wave subsided he got to his feet so that he could run to the men's room. By the time he made it there the second wave was upon him. He collapsed into a stall and vomited into the bowl. After purging himself sufficiently, he went to the sink to rinse his mouth. What he saw in the mirror put sense into Myrna's squeamishness. His hair was wild from the sweaty hands he had run through it. His face was wet with perspiration and his eyes were merely inhuman^slits. The loose knot of his tie hung several inches below his neck, revealing the wide open top of his shirt, through which sprouted the topmost tufts of his ample chest hair. All that he lacked to complete the image of a raving lunatic was foam at his lips, which the bilious taste in his mouth made him half imagine. Myrna's reactions made even more sense when he paired the image of himself with recollection of the things he had saidlo her. He was much less dizzy now, but when he made himself actually hear the words he had said to her, he had to fight the urge to vomit again. He had to apologize to Myrna, but he'd better get cleaned up first. He rinsed the bad taste out of his mouth as^best he could, then washed his face several times with cold water. After buttoning his shirt up and tightening his tie, he smoothed out his hair. It was not his best look, but at least he was not the Mr. Hyde who had just destroyed his entire rapport with his most important assistant. He headed back toward the office, trying like hell to think of what he would say to Myrna. Myrna was gone. Another woman sat in her chair. "Where'd Myrna go?" he asked. 82

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"Oh, she wasn't feeling well, so she took her lunch early. I'm Shelly. I cover her breaks. You're the new V.P., right?" "Yeah," he said, as if he were reconsidering. Shelly just shrugged, as if she couldn't think of a good reason why he shouldn't be the new V.P. What a difference ten minutes makes. He slunk back into his office. It was worse than he'd realized. Not only had he probably irreparably damaged the unearned faith that his new boss had placed in him, but he'd also terrorized, to the point of illness, a very nice woman who would probably turn out to be Halliday's favorite niece or something. Halliday's ire would be raised quite enough by Wayne's unresponsiveness to his summons for assistance. But after he'd heard Myrna's compelling testimony about his shiny new Vice President getting boozed up and hitting on her before his first lunch hour, he'd surely not keep Wayne through thcafternoon. There was no sense in sitting around waiting for the axe. He could still salvage a little dignity and save Myrna from the horror of having to recount her traumatic story. Indeed, there was only one honorable way out. From his file folder he took a clean sheet of paper and his pen. "Dear Mr. Halliday," he wrote. "With utmost regret and sincerest apologies, I find it necessary to tender my resignation." He was upon the point of elaborating on the causes of his decision when a nearby voice startled him from his thoughts. "Well, Pinski had to cancel. His daughter's having a baby or something." Wayne snapped himself back into his chair as Halliday came through the open doorway. Halliday took note of the fact that Wayne had been so intent upon his writing. "I see you've been hard at work while I was gone." Wayne quickly folded the paper. "Not really," he choked out. "I was just making some notes." Thoughts, like lightning, flashed through Wayne's head. If there had been no meeting, then the phone message wasn't from Halliday. That sin was instantly absolved. Still, there was the Myrna fiasco. But he could explain to Myrna. She'd understand that it was all very innocent. He'd do something nice for her something not overly affectionately nice but nice. Everything could be fixed. Believe it or not, everything could be fixed! Then Wayne saw the uncapped whiskey bottle sitting on top of the counter. If only Halliday would leave before setting his eyes in that direction it would be okay. Halliday spied the bottle almost immediately; his eyebrows went up. He walked to the counter. Holding the empty tumbler close to his face, he examined it carefully. Finally, having satisfied himself,' he turned to Wayne and asked, "Mind if I have a quick nip? The windup and let down from this meeting tensed me up a bit." Wayne nodded, whereupon Halliday poured. He carried his drink back towards Wayne's desk. "You know, you've got a message there," he said, pointing at the dark triangle in the little window on the phone. Halliday had no idea what he'd said. With that simple, neighborly 83


Berkeley Fiction Review question. Then too, it was an unusual circumstance in her career, sitting awkwardly on one hip, eyes growing wide with fear of this whiskey-breathing man. "Well," he began, still without enough sense to pick himself up off the ground. "This is a little awkward. In fact, I feel a little shy about asking you this, given our relative positions within the company." Myrna's eyes fairly bulged with horror as she almost toppled off the far side of her chair from her body and soul leaning that way. 'The point is," he went on, without coming any nearer to the point, "I'm the new guy around here, and nobody's really spent any time with me, to, well, you know, show me the ins and outs of things." Myrna made a point of turning a framed picture of herself, a man, and two young children so that he could not miss seeing it. He figured it must be a nervous habit of hers to rearrange the things on the top of her desk. Maybe when he got to know her better, he'd ask her about that. But for right now, he had a problem to solve. "Anyway, I was hoping you'd be willing to come into my office and show me something." Myrna turned white. She really was a nervous one, he thought. It probably was a good thing that he was still on his knees after all. If he had been standing he might not have made it through that first wave of nausea. After the first wave subsided he got to his feet so that he could run to the men's room. By the time he made it there the second wave was upon him. He collapsed into a stall and vomited into the bowl. After purging himself sufficiently, he went to the sink to rinse his mouth. What he saw in the mirror put sense into Myrna's squeamishness. His hair was wild from the sweaty hands he had run through it. His face was wet with perspiration and his eyes were merely inhuman^slits. The loose knot of his tie hung several inches below his neck, revealing the wide open top of his shirt, through which sprouted the topmost tufts of his ample chest hair. All that he lacked to complete the image of a raving lunatic was foam at his lips, which the bilious taste in his mouth made him half imagine. Myrna's reactions made even more sense when he paired the image of himself with recollection of the things he had saidlo her. He was much less dizzy now, but when he made himself actually hear the words he had said to her, he had to fight the urge to vomit again. He had to apologize to Myrna, but he'd better get cleaned up first. He rinsed the bad taste out of his mouth as^best he could, then washed his face several times with cold water. After buttoning his shirt up and tightening his tie, he smoothed out his hair. It was not his best look, but at least he was not the Mr. Hyde who had just destroyed his entire rapport with his most important assistant. He headed back toward the office, trying like hell to think of what he would say to Myrna. Myrna was gone. Another woman sat in her chair. "Where'd Myrna go?" he asked. 82

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"Oh, she wasn't feeling well, so she took her lunch early. I'm Shelly. I cover her breaks. You're the new V.P., right?" "Yeah," he said, as if he were reconsidering. Shelly just shrugged, as if she couldn't think of a good reason why he shouldn't be the new V.P. What a difference ten minutes makes. He slunk back into his office. It was worse than he'd realized. Not only had he probably irreparably damaged the unearned faith that his new boss had placed in him, but he'd also terrorized, to the point of illness, a very nice woman who would probably turn out to be Halliday's favorite niece or something. Halliday's ire would be raised quite enough by Wayne's unresponsiveness to his summons for assistance. But after he'd heard Myrna's compelling testimony about his shiny new Vice President getting boozed up and hitting on her before his first lunch hour, he'd surely not keep Wayne through thcafternoon. There was no sense in sitting around waiting for the axe. He could still salvage a little dignity and save Myrna from the horror of having to recount her traumatic story. Indeed, there was only one honorable way out. From his file folder he took a clean sheet of paper and his pen. "Dear Mr. Halliday," he wrote. "With utmost regret and sincerest apologies, I find it necessary to tender my resignation." He was upon the point of elaborating on the causes of his decision when a nearby voice startled him from his thoughts. "Well, Pinski had to cancel. His daughter's having a baby or something." Wayne snapped himself back into his chair as Halliday came through the open doorway. Halliday took note of the fact that Wayne had been so intent upon his writing. "I see you've been hard at work while I was gone." Wayne quickly folded the paper. "Not really," he choked out. "I was just making some notes." Thoughts, like lightning, flashed through Wayne's head. If there had been no meeting, then the phone message wasn't from Halliday. That sin was instantly absolved. Still, there was the Myrna fiasco. But he could explain to Myrna. She'd understand that it was all very innocent. He'd do something nice for her something not overly affectionately nice but nice. Everything could be fixed. Believe it or not, everything could be fixed! Then Wayne saw the uncapped whiskey bottle sitting on top of the counter. If only Halliday would leave before setting his eyes in that direction it would be okay. Halliday spied the bottle almost immediately; his eyebrows went up. He walked to the counter. Holding the empty tumbler close to his face, he examined it carefully. Finally, having satisfied himself,' he turned to Wayne and asked, "Mind if I have a quick nip? The windup and let down from this meeting tensed me up a bit." Wayne nodded, whereupon Halliday poured. He carried his drink back towards Wayne's desk. "You know, you've got a message there," he said, pointing at the dark triangle in the little window on the phone. Halliday had no idea what he'd said. With that simple, neighborly 83


Berkeley Fiction Review statement he had poked a hole in all of Wayne's feelings of relief. Wayne's mind raced for a response that would not showcase his ignorance or betray the profound annoyance that had been reawakened within him. Meanwhile, a light of remembrance came to Halliday's eyes. "That's right," realized the boss. "I never gave you the voice mail number. I'm sorry, I was just so focused on this meeting." Halliday innocently shook his head as if had merely been a harmless oversight. He'd probably never know about all the vomiting he'd caused. Myrna was probably puking out her guts even now. "Dial 2-6868.@ Halliday continued. "When it picks up, dial 9 for a tutorial that will tell you how to set up your password." Wayne picked up the receiver and started dialing. Now that the damage had already been done, Halliday was full of tips: "Now that I think about it," he went on, "if you want to see if you can play your message before you go through that wholerigmarole,try dialing 1814 before you dial 9. This used to be my extension, and that password might still work." When the automated voice came on Wayne dialed 1814. He listened intently for a moment. His face turned grave. Finally, he pulled the phone from his ear, but seemed too lost in thought to actually hang up. The receiver just hung there in his hand, almost as if he were endeavoring to hand it to Halliday. Halliday waited a moment for Wayne to say something. Wayne seemed about to speak, but he didn't "Well, did you hear the message?" Halliday finally asked. "Yeah." Wayn?, like a blind man, stared through Halliday. His voice was very soft. "It's somebody named Jimmy. He wants to know if he can borrow the car to go to a rock concert."

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hile the Second World War was devastating Europe, far away, in a country of pampas on the Atlantic Ocean, in a mental hospital for women on the outskirts of a city, a baby girl was born. The girl's mother, Dr. Kutz, was the only psychiatrist who lived in the hospital and the only woman with such a title. She made her home in two large rooms, on the main floor of one of the blocks; except for one painting of a landscape on a wall and some flowers in a vase on a table, these rooms were more or less like the rest in the hospital: white walls, steel single bed, thin mattress, and bars on the windows. I would have never been interested in Dr. Kutz if it were not for the fact that she was my grandmother, and that her daughter would become my mother. Already before getting pregnant, Dr. Kutz had lost interest in life outside the hospital. In one of her medical reports, writing at length on the subject of enclosed lives, she reflected, "Forced or chosen confinements are supposedly different—yet they are not. Oblivion to the outside world ensues inevitably, and in both situations one'isjeft to wonder ljowunec~essary the outside world really is." But this hospital story is not about Dr. Kutz, it is about Inez-^-her daughter—who arrived in this world, as she would say later, by her mother's sheer determination to continue with her pregnancy. One day, Dr. Kutz discovered she was pregnant with the child of a Catholic man who was married, and the father of two teenager sons. He also happened to be the hospital's director. When she was his student, he must have decided she had an aptitude for psychiatry or for being his lover, because, going against the tradition of employing only men, he offered her a job upon her graduation. He praised her for showing the same detachment from her patients as male psychiatrists—the insistence for saying that mental illness didn't respond to kindness. 85


Berkeley Fiction Review statement he had poked a hole in all of Wayne's feelings of relief. Wayne's mind raced for a response that would not showcase his ignorance or betray the profound annoyance that had been reawakened within him. Meanwhile, a light of remembrance came to Halliday's eyes. "That's right," realized the boss. "I never gave you the voice mail number. I'm sorry, I was just so focused on this meeting." Halliday innocently shook his head as if had merely been a harmless oversight. He'd probably never know about all the vomiting he'd caused. Myrna was probably puking out her guts even now. "Dial 2-6868.@ Halliday continued. "When it picks up, dial 9 for a tutorial that will tell you how to set up your password." Wayne picked up the receiver and started dialing. Now that the damage had already been done, Halliday was full of tips: "Now that I think about it," he went on, "if you want to see if you can play your message before you go through that wholerigmarole,try dialing 1814 before you dial 9. This used to be my extension, and that password might still work." When the automated voice came on Wayne dialed 1814. He listened intently for a moment. His face turned grave. Finally, he pulled the phone from his ear, but seemed too lost in thought to actually hang up. The receiver just hung there in his hand, almost as if he were endeavoring to hand it to Halliday. Halliday waited a moment for Wayne to say something. Wayne seemed about to speak, but he didn't "Well, did you hear the message?" Halliday finally asked. "Yeah." Wayn?, like a blind man, stared through Halliday. His voice was very soft. "It's somebody named Jimmy. He wants to know if he can borrow the car to go to a rock concert."

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hile the Second World War was devastating Europe, far away, in a country of pampas on the Atlantic Ocean, in a mental hospital for women on the outskirts of a city, a baby girl was born. The girl's mother, Dr. Kutz, was the only psychiatrist who lived in the hospital and the only woman with such a title. She made her home in two large rooms, on the main floor of one of the blocks; except for one painting of a landscape on a wall and some flowers in a vase on a table, these rooms were more or less like the rest in the hospital: white walls, steel single bed, thin mattress, and bars on the windows. I would have never been interested in Dr. Kutz if it were not for the fact that she was my grandmother, and that her daughter would become my mother. Already before getting pregnant, Dr. Kutz had lost interest in life outside the hospital. In one of her medical reports, writing at length on the subject of enclosed lives, she reflected, "Forced or chosen confinements are supposedly different—yet they are not. Oblivion to the outside world ensues inevitably, and in both situations one'isjeft to wonder ljowunec~essary the outside world really is." But this hospital story is not about Dr. Kutz, it is about Inez-^-her daughter—who arrived in this world, as she would say later, by her mother's sheer determination to continue with her pregnancy. One day, Dr. Kutz discovered she was pregnant with the child of a Catholic man who was married, and the father of two teenager sons. He also happened to be the hospital's director. When she was his student, he must have decided she had an aptitude for psychiatry or for being his lover, because, going against the tradition of employing only men, he offered her a job upon her graduation. He praised her for showing the same detachment from her patients as male psychiatrists—the insistence for saying that mental illness didn't respond to kindness. 85


Berkeley Fiction Review When confronted with the fact that she was pregnant, she decided it was simpler for her to give life than to take it away. A daughter or son would grow within the safe limits of the mental hospital, go to the public school, and then in adulthood she or he would be a professional of some sort. She didn't spend time worrying about social norms or about what people would say or think of a single mother. As it turned out, her daughter's wild personality adapted perfectly well to the freedom of growing up in a mental hospital. Inez would often comment that unlike almost all her classmates at school, she had a happy childhood. Very much loved and almost never alone, she grew up kind and gentle, as it may happen when spending part of your weekdays and all your weekends among a lot of nonsensical aunts who confuse you with the Virgin Mary and adore you. Because they were harmless for the most part, Dr. Kutz allowed the women to hold Inez in their arms and to sing her lullabies. One of them said, "I never had a porcelain doll before." It didn't take long for Inez to understand the hospital's system of categorizing by clothing, and because everybody wore the same kind of uniform, a lab coat, until she was twelve, Inez perceived the world around her—that enclosed world of hers—in hierarchies of different coat colors: gray for the most unkempt and bizarre women, green for the nurses who yelled and cared for the gray coats, and white for men and her mother, who rarely mixed with the other colors but seemed to boss everybody around. Colors determined how Inez would interact. At lunchtime she chose with whom she wanted to sit. For example, if she sat with the gray coats, she would bang her spoon against her plate or cup like them, or eat with her hands when it was impossible to cut sausages without a knife (gray colors never had knives, as they were considered dangerous). With the greens, she had to eat with a fork and knife and learn good manners. In their company, making noises while chewing, or putting elbows on the table, or worst of all, touching food with her fingers, were all unacceptable, but she could talk, ask questions, laugh as long as she wanted, and get up and leave the table when they stopped paying attention to her. With the whites, who had lunch first and always among themselves, she almost never sat. On the rare occasions it happened, everything was forbidden: talking, smiling, moving, and even chewing^seemed out of the question. With them, she didn't even dare to swallow. Strangely enough, the whites often worried about her light appetite. The grays helped in the cafeteria. They set the tables with plastic plates and glasses, and before anyone had even sat down to eat, they took the dishes back to the kitchen. They dropped all the clean dishes and cutlery into the dirty sink and washed them again. Often, while holding a tray, they forgot why they were there, or perhaps were distracted by some greater urgency than taking a tray back to the kitchen, and they would let the tray fall, saying immediately upon hearing the noise on the linoleum, "But what can that noise be?" Chairs and tables were painted orange, supposedly to cheer up the cafeteria, but of course, as Inez

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The Insanity of Others would realize in adulthood, one has to live a lot before discovering how deeply sad orange chairs and orange tables can be. Not all gray coats helped in the cafeteria. Some lay down on their beds all day long; others disappeared suddenly from their blocks and then reappeared one day, telling everybody about the luxury trips and cruises upon the Pacific Ocean they'd gone, but when asked about the names of the places they had visited, they couldn't answer and seemed offended. "What does it matter what the places are called? What matters is that I've been there." Many of them loved to tell secrets to Inez, things that she couldn't repeat— for example, that they were Princess Anastasia. The Princesses Anastasia didn't seem to understand how, having survived journeys across Siberia, they had wound up in such a bad resort without an. ocean, where the sheets itched and the food repulsed them. After revealing their noble ancestry to Inez—"don't tell anybody," they would plead, "people get envious easily," or "don't tell because even here the Bolsheviks can come and kill me"—they usually complained about the cafeteria's smell, that mix of fried food and disinfectant. Green coats, when not working and sighing, took turns going out to the field that they all, regardless of whether they wore gray, green or white coats, called "the garden." It was a vast landscape around brick blocks, with some patches of grass, a bunch of dehydrated plants, and a purposeful lack of trees. "Trees have branches," Dr. Kutz had told her daughter, "and from branches patients can hang themselves." Green coats enjoyed complaining about the weather—when it was hot because it was hot, when it was cold because it was cold—but in a few rare moments, they forgot to complain and instead chased butterflies with Inez. White coats seemed to be in constant motion, and when passing Dr. Kutz's daughter, they inevitably patted her on the shoulder. Since her first memories of them, they had repeated this gesture each time they saw her, perhaps in encouragement or even affection, yet it was a gesture that almost didn't acknowledge her presence. The only occasion when the colors mixed was at the end of the year on December thirtieth, because on December thirty-first doctors were with their families. In the evening, in the cafeteria, the green.coats with the gray-ones enjoyed putting up discarded decorations that the doctors had brought from their houses after Christmas. The male patients from the mental hospital next door, who also wore gray coats, arrived in the company of their all-male nurses, who wore blue coats. There was an incredible number of men among the women, and everybody danced to the sound of a festive music; all wore smiles which, according to Inez, meant they were happy, or as close to happy as they could be. Year after year, her mother danced with the director of the women's mental hospital. One of these December thirtieth evenings, Inez would learn from a gray coat that the director was her father. In truth, the woman only said, "He reminds me of somebody, but I can't

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Berkeley Fiction Review When confronted with the fact that she was pregnant, she decided it was simpler for her to give life than to take it away. A daughter or son would grow within the safe limits of the mental hospital, go to the public school, and then in adulthood she or he would be a professional of some sort. She didn't spend time worrying about social norms or about what people would say or think of a single mother. As it turned out, her daughter's wild personality adapted perfectly well to the freedom of growing up in a mental hospital. Inez would often comment that unlike almost all her classmates at school, she had a happy childhood. Very much loved and almost never alone, she grew up kind and gentle, as it may happen when spending part of your weekdays and all your weekends among a lot of nonsensical aunts who confuse you with the Virgin Mary and adore you. Because they were harmless for the most part, Dr. Kutz allowed the women to hold Inez in their arms and to sing her lullabies. One of them said, "I never had a porcelain doll before." It didn't take long for Inez to understand the hospital's system of categorizing by clothing, and because everybody wore the same kind of uniform, a lab coat, until she was twelve, Inez perceived the world around her—that enclosed world of hers—in hierarchies of different coat colors: gray for the most unkempt and bizarre women, green for the nurses who yelled and cared for the gray coats, and white for men and her mother, who rarely mixed with the other colors but seemed to boss everybody around. Colors determined how Inez would interact. At lunchtime she chose with whom she wanted to sit. For example, if she sat with the gray coats, she would bang her spoon against her plate or cup like them, or eat with her hands when it was impossible to cut sausages without a knife (gray colors never had knives, as they were considered dangerous). With the greens, she had to eat with a fork and knife and learn good manners. In their company, making noises while chewing, or putting elbows on the table, or worst of all, touching food with her fingers, were all unacceptable, but she could talk, ask questions, laugh as long as she wanted, and get up and leave the table when they stopped paying attention to her. With the whites, who had lunch first and always among themselves, she almost never sat. On the rare occasions it happened, everything was forbidden: talking, smiling, moving, and even chewing^seemed out of the question. With them, she didn't even dare to swallow. Strangely enough, the whites often worried about her light appetite. The grays helped in the cafeteria. They set the tables with plastic plates and glasses, and before anyone had even sat down to eat, they took the dishes back to the kitchen. They dropped all the clean dishes and cutlery into the dirty sink and washed them again. Often, while holding a tray, they forgot why they were there, or perhaps were distracted by some greater urgency than taking a tray back to the kitchen, and they would let the tray fall, saying immediately upon hearing the noise on the linoleum, "But what can that noise be?" Chairs and tables were painted orange, supposedly to cheer up the cafeteria, but of course, as Inez

86

The Insanity of Others would realize in adulthood, one has to live a lot before discovering how deeply sad orange chairs and orange tables can be. Not all gray coats helped in the cafeteria. Some lay down on their beds all day long; others disappeared suddenly from their blocks and then reappeared one day, telling everybody about the luxury trips and cruises upon the Pacific Ocean they'd gone, but when asked about the names of the places they had visited, they couldn't answer and seemed offended. "What does it matter what the places are called? What matters is that I've been there." Many of them loved to tell secrets to Inez, things that she couldn't repeat— for example, that they were Princess Anastasia. The Princesses Anastasia didn't seem to understand how, having survived journeys across Siberia, they had wound up in such a bad resort without an. ocean, where the sheets itched and the food repulsed them. After revealing their noble ancestry to Inez—"don't tell anybody," they would plead, "people get envious easily," or "don't tell because even here the Bolsheviks can come and kill me"—they usually complained about the cafeteria's smell, that mix of fried food and disinfectant. Green coats, when not working and sighing, took turns going out to the field that they all, regardless of whether they wore gray, green or white coats, called "the garden." It was a vast landscape around brick blocks, with some patches of grass, a bunch of dehydrated plants, and a purposeful lack of trees. "Trees have branches," Dr. Kutz had told her daughter, "and from branches patients can hang themselves." Green coats enjoyed complaining about the weather—when it was hot because it was hot, when it was cold because it was cold—but in a few rare moments, they forgot to complain and instead chased butterflies with Inez. White coats seemed to be in constant motion, and when passing Dr. Kutz's daughter, they inevitably patted her on the shoulder. Since her first memories of them, they had repeated this gesture each time they saw her, perhaps in encouragement or even affection, yet it was a gesture that almost didn't acknowledge her presence. The only occasion when the colors mixed was at the end of the year on December thirtieth, because on December thirty-first doctors were with their families. In the evening, in the cafeteria, the green.coats with the gray-ones enjoyed putting up discarded decorations that the doctors had brought from their houses after Christmas. The male patients from the mental hospital next door, who also wore gray coats, arrived in the company of their all-male nurses, who wore blue coats. There was an incredible number of men among the women, and everybody danced to the sound of a festive music; all wore smiles which, according to Inez, meant they were happy, or as close to happy as they could be. Year after year, her mother danced with the director of the women's mental hospital. One of these December thirtieth evenings, Inez would learn from a gray coat that the director was her father. In truth, the woman only said, "He reminds me of somebody, but I can't

87


Berkeley Fiction Review

The Insanity of Others

remember who." Then, looking at Inez, she exclaimed, "Of course, he reminds me of ' you. You are exactly like him, but much sweeter, and with a wig." Not too long after the party started, her mother and the director left without saying good-bye. Soon after them, all the other doctors left, usually just before the most amusing part, when the music turned slow, and the light in the cafeteria became less bright, and green coats mixed with the blue coats, and men and women gray coats joined together. All of them, no matter what color, danced cheek to cheek, their bodies very close, and their hands, especially the gray hands, touching and caressing. Inez watched them, and these images became endearing memories—memories of comfort and satiated need. Until adulthood when she recounted them to her husband, who wondered aloud if locking mental patients with their nurses in the cafeteria, as doctors usually did before leaving, was not somehow weird. Generally, Dr Kutz was the one in charge of unlocking the doors, and when she appeared in the doorway, the music again turned merry and bodies untangled. Then Dr. Kutz, with her severe demeanor but an almost kind smile, would take Inez by the hand and leave the cafeteria, asking her daughter if she'd had a good time and praising her for being such a nice girl. Nine months later, a rumor among the gray coats passed in excited whispers. One of them had given birth to a baby and the woman was back, but the baby was nowhere to be seen. "Only doctors have babies who grow," one of them reflected aloud, looking at Inez, and another added, "Because most of the times ours float in formaldehyde." When Inez asked her mother to explain these comments, Dr. Kutz reassured her. "Nonsense. Don't forget: they are mad." At thirteen, Inez became more interested in each of the gray coats. She combed their hair while asking questions about their.past Memories, for them, had stopped at a precise moment, at a turning point when time had lost its promise of a future. Often, they remembered obsessively—the only way to remember when you £nd up in a mental hospital—the crisis that deprived them of the outside world and of their freedom. Many decades later, when people learned where Inez had spent her childhood, they wanted to hear anecdotes-abqut the mental hospital, probably to comfort their own neuroses by listening about the madness of others. Inez would often recount the story that a toothless woman had told her many times. This woman had inherited a mausoleum in a plush cemetery in the city, the only inheritance from a family that had once been rich. Thanks to unscrupulous lawyers, distant relatives found a way to take the mausoleum from her by pretending she hadn't paid taxes, and this broke her. The best childhood memory she had was when she went with her parents on Sundays, winter or summer, and spent the day shining the bronzes, sweeping and dusting, and afterwards having a picnic in the shiny mausoleum. There was one detail that Inez never added to her description of this woman: all along her forearms, especially around her wrists, she had bracelets of skin from slitting her wrists so frequently.

When psychiatry students went to their classes at the hospital, usually, a green coat took a gray one to the interrogation room for them to question her and guess her diagnosis correctly before a white coat would confirm or contradict their conclusions. On one of those days, Inez changed the routine. She lied to the nurses. Her mother, she said, had sent her to tell them that there was no need to take any patients to the interrogation room. "Why?" some of the green coats asked, but none would dare disobey Dr. Kutz. The case the psychiatrist would present was a girl who, after her father's death, had stopped talking and spent her days watching a wall. Inez decided to pretend she was the girl. Of course there was the risk of her treachery being discovered—she was much younger than the real patient—but if it was, the students would be left with the uncomfortable knowledge that they had been questioning the wrong person—one who wasn't mad at all— and that they hadn't been competent enough to notice. Nobody came in the room to interrupt her deception. The first thing that Inez noticed was how all the students seemed to be yelling more than talking. Perhaps because they'd been told she was mute, they thought she was also deaf. The more she stuck to her silence, the less kind they were. They grew impatient and irritated, and increased the volume of their voices, aggressively repeating their questions. In the end, they all became discouraged, commenting among themselves that mental patients could only be helped if they wanted to be helped. One of them started humming a patriotic song that children were forced to sing when saluting the flag at school. Inez remained almost catatonic in her chair, her gaze fixed on a humidity stain on the ceiling. Soon, when they were all singing and thrusting their fists in the air, she tiptoed from the room, and nobody even noticed. Once in the hallway, she looked out the window and saw the gray coats in the garden. She noticed their purposeless gestures: smoking cigarettes they didn't have, knitting with their fingers as if they were needles, singing lullabies to their empty arms. The thick window's glass had muted all sounds from the garden, but at her back, the volume of the patriotic song had increased to the point of sounding like the screams of a deranged political crowd. She went outside to keepfromhearing them—and just in time too, because two green coats were running down thejiorridor with-two white ones in pursuit. Inez walked toward a place her mother and the nurses had forbidden her to go for as long as she could remember. "Only the hospital director is allowed to go there. And if he finds you," one of the nurses had said jokingly, "he'll give you electro shocks." It was a building in the Tudor style, a senseless choice of architecture, and incongruous with the impersonal style of the surrounding constructions, the"dnly building in the whole compound encircled by trees. The lack of sun around the house made it seem like something from a gothic children's tale, and climbing plants covered all its surrounding walls. She entered the house through a broken window without glass. Inside, it smelled of confinement, and the walls exuded a freezing cold. Some minutes had to 89

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Berkeley Fiction Review

The Insanity of Others

remember who." Then, looking at Inez, she exclaimed, "Of course, he reminds me of ' you. You are exactly like him, but much sweeter, and with a wig." Not too long after the party started, her mother and the director left without saying good-bye. Soon after them, all the other doctors left, usually just before the most amusing part, when the music turned slow, and the light in the cafeteria became less bright, and green coats mixed with the blue coats, and men and women gray coats joined together. All of them, no matter what color, danced cheek to cheek, their bodies very close, and their hands, especially the gray hands, touching and caressing. Inez watched them, and these images became endearing memories—memories of comfort and satiated need. Until adulthood when she recounted them to her husband, who wondered aloud if locking mental patients with their nurses in the cafeteria, as doctors usually did before leaving, was not somehow weird. Generally, Dr Kutz was the one in charge of unlocking the doors, and when she appeared in the doorway, the music again turned merry and bodies untangled. Then Dr. Kutz, with her severe demeanor but an almost kind smile, would take Inez by the hand and leave the cafeteria, asking her daughter if she'd had a good time and praising her for being such a nice girl. Nine months later, a rumor among the gray coats passed in excited whispers. One of them had given birth to a baby and the woman was back, but the baby was nowhere to be seen. "Only doctors have babies who grow," one of them reflected aloud, looking at Inez, and another added, "Because most of the times ours float in formaldehyde." When Inez asked her mother to explain these comments, Dr. Kutz reassured her. "Nonsense. Don't forget: they are mad." At thirteen, Inez became more interested in each of the gray coats. She combed their hair while asking questions about their.past Memories, for them, had stopped at a precise moment, at a turning point when time had lost its promise of a future. Often, they remembered obsessively—the only way to remember when you £nd up in a mental hospital—the crisis that deprived them of the outside world and of their freedom. Many decades later, when people learned where Inez had spent her childhood, they wanted to hear anecdotes-abqut the mental hospital, probably to comfort their own neuroses by listening about the madness of others. Inez would often recount the story that a toothless woman had told her many times. This woman had inherited a mausoleum in a plush cemetery in the city, the only inheritance from a family that had once been rich. Thanks to unscrupulous lawyers, distant relatives found a way to take the mausoleum from her by pretending she hadn't paid taxes, and this broke her. The best childhood memory she had was when she went with her parents on Sundays, winter or summer, and spent the day shining the bronzes, sweeping and dusting, and afterwards having a picnic in the shiny mausoleum. There was one detail that Inez never added to her description of this woman: all along her forearms, especially around her wrists, she had bracelets of skin from slitting her wrists so frequently.

When psychiatry students went to their classes at the hospital, usually, a green coat took a gray one to the interrogation room for them to question her and guess her diagnosis correctly before a white coat would confirm or contradict their conclusions. On one of those days, Inez changed the routine. She lied to the nurses. Her mother, she said, had sent her to tell them that there was no need to take any patients to the interrogation room. "Why?" some of the green coats asked, but none would dare disobey Dr. Kutz. The case the psychiatrist would present was a girl who, after her father's death, had stopped talking and spent her days watching a wall. Inez decided to pretend she was the girl. Of course there was the risk of her treachery being discovered—she was much younger than the real patient—but if it was, the students would be left with the uncomfortable knowledge that they had been questioning the wrong person—one who wasn't mad at all— and that they hadn't been competent enough to notice. Nobody came in the room to interrupt her deception. The first thing that Inez noticed was how all the students seemed to be yelling more than talking. Perhaps because they'd been told she was mute, they thought she was also deaf. The more she stuck to her silence, the less kind they were. They grew impatient and irritated, and increased the volume of their voices, aggressively repeating their questions. In the end, they all became discouraged, commenting among themselves that mental patients could only be helped if they wanted to be helped. One of them started humming a patriotic song that children were forced to sing when saluting the flag at school. Inez remained almost catatonic in her chair, her gaze fixed on a humidity stain on the ceiling. Soon, when they were all singing and thrusting their fists in the air, she tiptoed from the room, and nobody even noticed. Once in the hallway, she looked out the window and saw the gray coats in the garden. She noticed their purposeless gestures: smoking cigarettes they didn't have, knitting with their fingers as if they were needles, singing lullabies to their empty arms. The thick window's glass had muted all sounds from the garden, but at her back, the volume of the patriotic song had increased to the point of sounding like the screams of a deranged political crowd. She went outside to keepfromhearing them—and just in time too, because two green coats were running down thejiorridor with-two white ones in pursuit. Inez walked toward a place her mother and the nurses had forbidden her to go for as long as she could remember. "Only the hospital director is allowed to go there. And if he finds you," one of the nurses had said jokingly, "he'll give you electro shocks." It was a building in the Tudor style, a senseless choice of architecture, and incongruous with the impersonal style of the surrounding constructions, the"dnly building in the whole compound encircled by trees. The lack of sun around the house made it seem like something from a gothic children's tale, and climbing plants covered all its surrounding walls. She entered the house through a broken window without glass. Inside, it smelled of confinement, and the walls exuded a freezing cold. Some minutes had to 89

J L


Berkeley Fiction Review pass before she became used to the obscurity of the room. On shelves, inside large laboratory vessels, in some kind of smelly preserving liquid, women's heads floated. They were not whole heads, but half-heads, with a single wide-open eye, which even alone and lifeless hadn't lost the power to question when, why, and how had the heads stopped being whole. In other flasks, human fetuses also floated in liquid. At that moment a hand touched her shoulder, and while suppressing a scream, she heard the director's voice telling her, "This was my father's lab." There was no animosity in his voice, and not even surprise at finding her there. With a little laugh, as if laughing against his will, he pointed to the flasks containing fetuses, and added, "And if it weren't for your mother, you would be there." As she turned to look at him, she noticed a jeer that distorted his mouth, and the harsh glance of one who never suffers or forgives. A need to run and escape took the place of any other thought or reasoning. This inexplicable panic would repeat itself throughout her life, each time she met that assured glance in other people—as if in the fabric's uniformity of mental health, she had learned to discern the invisible yet dangerous stain. There was something in that man's expression she would never forget: a dimness that the left eyelid, closing itself involuntarily, underlined constantly, which was a satisfaction, a pride of being who he was, that bordered on insanity.

if;

90


Berkeley Fiction Review pass before she became used to the obscurity of the room. On shelves, inside large laboratory vessels, in some kind of smelly preserving liquid, women's heads floated. They were not whole heads, but half-heads, with a single wide-open eye, which even alone and lifeless hadn't lost the power to question when, why, and how had the heads stopped being whole. In other flasks, human fetuses also floated in liquid. At that moment a hand touched her shoulder, and while suppressing a scream, she heard the director's voice telling her, "This was my father's lab." There was no animosity in his voice, and not even surprise at finding her there. With a little laugh, as if laughing against his will, he pointed to the flasks containing fetuses, and added, "And if it weren't for your mother, you would be there." As she turned to look at him, she noticed a jeer that distorted his mouth, and the harsh glance of one who never suffers or forgives. A need to run and escape took the place of any other thought or reasoning. This inexplicable panic would repeat itself throughout her life, each time she met that assured glance in other people—as if in the fabric's uniformity of mental health, she had learned to discern the invisible yet dangerous stain. There was something in that man's expression she would never forget: a dimness that the left eyelid, closing itself involuntarily, underlined constantly, which was a satisfaction, a pride of being who he was, that bordered on insanity.

if;

90


January Second

Place

Sudden

Fiction

Winner

J A N U A R Y

b y

Martine

C h a r n o w

I

n January, the wind from the sea would get so strong that it could shut down the seaside town for days at a time. It usually came at night and would travel up the South Lanes, narrow shopping streets that were converted from fishermen's alleys, sweeping up everything in its path; it made rubbish dance along the pavement, bolted down chairs and tables rattle like shackled prisoners, seagulls flip and glide as though floating on ocean waves. Natives to Brighton and those who had made it their home needed only to look out their window the morning after a sea breeze hit to know that shops wouldn't be opening that day, classes would be canceled, buses wouldn't run. Megalinda Surpintine awoke on one such morning to find that a cow had blown into the garden. The American girl was filling up the kettle and marveling at the way the outdoor dryer bounced and clanged in the wind when she noticed something standing in front of it. Listening carefully, she could decipher a distinct mooing sound, and when she squinted her^ygsr^he could make out its ears and tail flapping incessantly in the wind. Bewildered, she knocked on her flatmate's door. "Hello?" came Sara's groggy reply. "Sorry to bother you," Megalinda called through the door, "but I think there's a cow in the garden:" She realised at once how ridiculous this statement had sounded. "Well, invite her in," Sara said, appearing at the door in a bath robe. . "Invite it in?" "Just until the winds let up." "But," Megalinda started. 92

v

"Go on," Sara mumbled, stumbling back to bed as the door shut behind her. Megalinda stood there for a moment in the hallway. She had never invited a cow inside before, and was nervous and slightly embarrassed by the idea of doing it. She breathed out slowly, then plodded through the lounge back to the kitchen. She paused, then pulled open the back door. Her hair whipped across her face. "Co-ow?" she called out, trying to brush the hair from her face with one hand while still clenching the door with the other. The wind whooshed and whizzed in her ears. She hoped the cow had wandered off already. "Moo-oo," the cow answered. It was huddling on the back stoop. "I can't believe I'm saying this," Megalinda began. She had to yell on account of the wind. "But, would you like to come in?" Something glistened in the cow's, eyes, and the next moment, it had pushed past her and was shaking leaves out of its hair onto the kitchen floor. Megalinda shoved the door closed. "Pretty windy out there, huh?" The cow looked unimpressed. Megalinda tried to imagine what Sara would do were she entertaining a cow. "Cuppa tea?" she tried. The cow blinked. Megalinda wondered if it was insensitive and perhaps rather barbaric to offer a cow something that required milk. She opened the refrigerator to see what else she could find. "We have beer," she suggested, leaning her arm on the open door. "Do cows drink beer?" She peeked over her shoulder to see how the cow responded. It was difficult to read its facial expressions, but it seemed somewhat in favour of the idea. She opened two bottles of Stella and poured one into a bowl for the cow, then walked into the lounge and set the bowl on the floor. The cow followed her and stood in front of it "Cheers," Megalinda said, taking a gulp from her bottle. "Moo," the cow said, taking a lap from the bowl. Megalinda switched on the tv.JniMhe-wind was-making the reception go fuzzy, so she switched to the DVD player instead; the menu for Disc One of the five hour BBC "Pride and Prejudice" mini-series popped up on the screen. "Mmm, Colin Firth," she murmured. "Moo," the cow said. Now they seemed to be getting somewhere. Two discs and six Stellas later, they both were sitting on the floor and Megalinda-was braiding the cow's tail. "I have a perfect ribbon for this," she said, holding up the finished braid. She brought her other wrist to her mouth and carefully untied a sky blue ribbon with her teeth. "It's good luck!" she announced as it fell into her lap. It was the ribbon she had used to label her luggage on her ten-hour flight over from Los 93


January Second

Place

Sudden

Fiction

Winner

J A N U A R Y

b y

Martine

C h a r n o w

I

n January, the wind from the sea would get so strong that it could shut down the seaside town for days at a time. It usually came at night and would travel up the South Lanes, narrow shopping streets that were converted from fishermen's alleys, sweeping up everything in its path; it made rubbish dance along the pavement, bolted down chairs and tables rattle like shackled prisoners, seagulls flip and glide as though floating on ocean waves. Natives to Brighton and those who had made it their home needed only to look out their window the morning after a sea breeze hit to know that shops wouldn't be opening that day, classes would be canceled, buses wouldn't run. Megalinda Surpintine awoke on one such morning to find that a cow had blown into the garden. The American girl was filling up the kettle and marveling at the way the outdoor dryer bounced and clanged in the wind when she noticed something standing in front of it. Listening carefully, she could decipher a distinct mooing sound, and when she squinted her^ygsr^he could make out its ears and tail flapping incessantly in the wind. Bewildered, she knocked on her flatmate's door. "Hello?" came Sara's groggy reply. "Sorry to bother you," Megalinda called through the door, "but I think there's a cow in the garden:" She realised at once how ridiculous this statement had sounded. "Well, invite her in," Sara said, appearing at the door in a bath robe. . "Invite it in?" "Just until the winds let up." "But," Megalinda started. 92

v

"Go on," Sara mumbled, stumbling back to bed as the door shut behind her. Megalinda stood there for a moment in the hallway. She had never invited a cow inside before, and was nervous and slightly embarrassed by the idea of doing it. She breathed out slowly, then plodded through the lounge back to the kitchen. She paused, then pulled open the back door. Her hair whipped across her face. "Co-ow?" she called out, trying to brush the hair from her face with one hand while still clenching the door with the other. The wind whooshed and whizzed in her ears. She hoped the cow had wandered off already. "Moo-oo," the cow answered. It was huddling on the back stoop. "I can't believe I'm saying this," Megalinda began. She had to yell on account of the wind. "But, would you like to come in?" Something glistened in the cow's, eyes, and the next moment, it had pushed past her and was shaking leaves out of its hair onto the kitchen floor. Megalinda shoved the door closed. "Pretty windy out there, huh?" The cow looked unimpressed. Megalinda tried to imagine what Sara would do were she entertaining a cow. "Cuppa tea?" she tried. The cow blinked. Megalinda wondered if it was insensitive and perhaps rather barbaric to offer a cow something that required milk. She opened the refrigerator to see what else she could find. "We have beer," she suggested, leaning her arm on the open door. "Do cows drink beer?" She peeked over her shoulder to see how the cow responded. It was difficult to read its facial expressions, but it seemed somewhat in favour of the idea. She opened two bottles of Stella and poured one into a bowl for the cow, then walked into the lounge and set the bowl on the floor. The cow followed her and stood in front of it "Cheers," Megalinda said, taking a gulp from her bottle. "Moo," the cow said, taking a lap from the bowl. Megalinda switched on the tv.JniMhe-wind was-making the reception go fuzzy, so she switched to the DVD player instead; the menu for Disc One of the five hour BBC "Pride and Prejudice" mini-series popped up on the screen. "Mmm, Colin Firth," she murmured. "Moo," the cow said. Now they seemed to be getting somewhere. Two discs and six Stellas later, they both were sitting on the floor and Megalinda-was braiding the cow's tail. "I have a perfect ribbon for this," she said, holding up the finished braid. She brought her other wrist to her mouth and carefully untied a sky blue ribbon with her teeth. "It's good luck!" she announced as it fell into her lap. It was the ribbon she had used to label her luggage on her ten-hour flight over from Los 93


m

Berkeley Fiction Review

%

Angeles. Her companion let out a modest belch. "Looks like the winds have let up," Sara said, coming down the stairs. "You're up!" Megalinda shouted, a little too loudly. Sara propped open the front door. "Oh," Megalinda said. She looked at the ribbon in her hand and then at the cow. Suddenly, she remembered how nice it felt when Sara had walked her ] home from the train station that first week she'd arrived back in October. "Maybe I'll go with her. I think she'd prefer to walk back with a friend." Sara smiled. The cow led Megalinda over the hill behind her flat and then up and over another until the pavement gave way to a dirt path surrounded only by grassy hills and chestnut trees. Finally, they reached a low barbed-wire fence and followed it \ around until they arrived at an open wooden gate. On the other side of the gate, a \ dozen or so cows stood grazing in the field. Each had some sort of scarf or ribbon tied around her head and most of them were stumbling a little bit. The cow pressed her nose against Megalinda's hand. Megalinda petted f her head, then held out the ribbon. "It's good luck," she reminded her, but the braid had come out of the cow's tail, so she tied it to her ear instead. "Moo," the cow said, before turning around to rejoin her herd. "Moo," Megalinda echoed. She lingered a moment, watching the ribbon flutter in the light breeze that was beginning to stir again, then turned around and headed back into town. i

94

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b y

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A l a n

W

I

N

B r a y

P

assed the guarded gate you go, blue-gray bus belching a black diesel cloud behind you for the uniformed Army guards to breathe, MP's, they are, you suppose, a job you might like after basic training, you allow yourself to dream, a draftee, direct from home, delivered right on time to your initial duty station where the dismal denizens all garbed in green stare at you as if thinking, "Here comes the newest grist of eighteen-year-old guys destined to be ground into grisly fodder to feed the fulminating war machine." Vietnam, you're fully aware, is the war. It's being waged halfway around the world. Wholeheartedly, by those who don'fhave to go to fight it. -Not so much so, by those of you who do. Young men with no power. Young men with no money, to go to college, even if they qualified academically as you surely did, and with no contacts in the medical profession or in the National Guard or a unit of Reservesio wrangle a deferment, 4F or otherwise. "Welcome to Reception Station!" he screams, deaf as a doornail, you guess, to be yelling so from such close range. He's a corporal, you think, or something similar, with two stripes on each fatigued upper arm, golden and turned down, plus an auxiliary set on the front of his black steel helmet, intended to be imposing, you bet, although it appears to be cheap painted plastic in reality. "Get your young civilian buns up and off of that bus, all you hippies. Where the hell do you think you are, still back on the block?" Hippies, you wonder? "The very first thing we're going to do," he shouts, glaring right at you, you feel, "is to clip off those pretty locks that you flower children are wearing up 95


m

Berkeley Fiction Review

%

Angeles. Her companion let out a modest belch. "Looks like the winds have let up," Sara said, coming down the stairs. "You're up!" Megalinda shouted, a little too loudly. Sara propped open the front door. "Oh," Megalinda said. She looked at the ribbon in her hand and then at the cow. Suddenly, she remembered how nice it felt when Sara had walked her ] home from the train station that first week she'd arrived back in October. "Maybe I'll go with her. I think she'd prefer to walk back with a friend." Sara smiled. The cow led Megalinda over the hill behind her flat and then up and over another until the pavement gave way to a dirt path surrounded only by grassy hills and chestnut trees. Finally, they reached a low barbed-wire fence and followed it \ around until they arrived at an open wooden gate. On the other side of the gate, a \ dozen or so cows stood grazing in the field. Each had some sort of scarf or ribbon tied around her head and most of them were stumbling a little bit. The cow pressed her nose against Megalinda's hand. Megalinda petted f her head, then held out the ribbon. "It's good luck," she reminded her, but the braid had come out of the cow's tail, so she tied it to her ear instead. "Moo," the cow said, before turning around to rejoin her herd. "Moo," Megalinda echoed. She lingered a moment, watching the ribbon flutter in the light breeze that was beginning to stir again, then turned around and headed back into town. i

94

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assed the guarded gate you go, blue-gray bus belching a black diesel cloud behind you for the uniformed Army guards to breathe, MP's, they are, you suppose, a job you might like after basic training, you allow yourself to dream, a draftee, direct from home, delivered right on time to your initial duty station where the dismal denizens all garbed in green stare at you as if thinking, "Here comes the newest grist of eighteen-year-old guys destined to be ground into grisly fodder to feed the fulminating war machine." Vietnam, you're fully aware, is the war. It's being waged halfway around the world. Wholeheartedly, by those who don'fhave to go to fight it. -Not so much so, by those of you who do. Young men with no power. Young men with no money, to go to college, even if they qualified academically as you surely did, and with no contacts in the medical profession or in the National Guard or a unit of Reservesio wrangle a deferment, 4F or otherwise. "Welcome to Reception Station!" he screams, deaf as a doornail, you guess, to be yelling so from such close range. He's a corporal, you think, or something similar, with two stripes on each fatigued upper arm, golden and turned down, plus an auxiliary set on the front of his black steel helmet, intended to be imposing, you bet, although it appears to be cheap painted plastic in reality. "Get your young civilian buns up and off of that bus, all you hippies. Where the hell do you think you are, still back on the block?" Hippies, you wonder? "The very first thing we're going to do," he shouts, glaring right at you, you feel, "is to clip off those pretty locks that you flower children are wearing up 95


Berkeley Fiction Review above your ears. Just who do you think you are, a bunch of cute little Sonny Bono's?" Flower children, you worry? "Some of you look more like Cher, than Sonny." He rants, picking visually ' on the guy standing right next to you, whose hair, you admit, is indeed a trifle . lengthy. "What do you think this is, basic training for WACs? You curly, woolly goofballs!" You're not a goofball, you don't think. "You're all going to have cue ball heads, by tomorrow morning!" Gads. "We're going to shear all of you like a flock of sheep!" Gadzooks. "No hair, means no pair!" Yikes. "And I mean tits, all you sissy Mary's!" Jesus Christ.

IB-

"All that hair looks lame," he assures you, poking at you dangerously with his open switchblade knife. "Let me shave it off for you." It's dark and damp in the alley, with only a dimly diaphanous mist of city illumination drifting about in the night to spatter his face grotesquely with faded highlights without shadows, without molded form, depth and dimensionality, to look like an eerie cardboard cutout. You shouldn't have accompanied him into the alley, you're pretty positive. Yet; it's not as if you had much choice in the matter, he stopping and corralling you out by the curb and slipping bis arm around you and all but escorting you in the direction he wanted you to go. Fortunately, you know him a little from high school, before he dropped out. At least, you think it's fortunate that you know him; but, standing there with him in the alley, you can't help from beginning to worry about your safety. y He's a gang-banger. s. ^ He's not all that stable, you recall, mentally. "Shave off my hair?" you ask him. "What for?" Hearing that, he smiles not so warmly. At least, it appears that he's smiling. "Shaved heads are cool," he assures you. "You can't look tough with a bunch of floppy hair hanging in your face." "Doesn't your head get cold?" you wonder. To that, he grimaces in apparent despair. "Cold!" he tries to laugh, not too successfully. "Maybe, after all, I wasn't right about you." "Right about what?" 96

Trips to Win "About you being the type of guy who might like to join," he explains. "Join what?" you ask, worried more by the minute. "Your gang?" With those words issuing from you mouth too loud, for Ms comfort, he tries to shush you. "We don't like to call it a gang," he tells you, frowning with a fingertip to his lips. "It'sjustacoolclub. Digit?" "I had a clubhouse once," you offer up, with the hope of changing the subject. "In a free in my backyard. Our club was called The Mysterious Fern Tree Boys." That, it seems, he can't quite believe. "What?" he asks. "Were you bad?" "Oh, no," you smile. "We were good kids." At that, he shakes his head in obvious disgust. "I mean," he attempts to clarify, "were you, baaad!" It takes only a moment for what he says to sink into your understanding. And once it does, you and he are really communicating. "Oh," you say. "Like Michael Jackson, baaad!" With that, without warning, you start doing your moonwalk quickly away from him hoping to make a sneaky escape back onto the sidewalk and clear out of the vicinity. "Michael Jackson?" he growls. "I'm baaad," you begin to sing. "Oooh. I'm so baaad." To your chagrin, he shuffles after you. "Say?" he complains. "Where do you think you're going?" "To get my black glove." Inanely, you try. "Come back here," he warns. "What?" you challenge him, a trifle timidly. "I can't leave if I want to leave?" "I'm not done talking to you." "It's still a free country," you inform him. "Maybe so," he nods. "But, this isn't a free alley." "It's not?" you gasp, acting surprised and glancing around. "Then I'm splitting this scene, pronto." ^-~ -\ "You're a wuss," abruptly; he accuses you. His sudden and overt confrontational stance takes you just a bit aback. "No," you dare to disagree, despite. "I'm not a wuss." "Shut up," he warns you. "What do you think this is, a lame game?" You say nothing. "I'll bet you're a little light in the loafers." Thinking it best, you hold your tongue. "You are a wuss." Bravely, you shake your head in the negative. "Don't talk back to me," idiotically, he snaps. 97


Berkeley Fiction Review above your ears. Just who do you think you are, a bunch of cute little Sonny Bono's?" Flower children, you worry? "Some of you look more like Cher, than Sonny." He rants, picking visually ' on the guy standing right next to you, whose hair, you admit, is indeed a trifle . lengthy. "What do you think this is, basic training for WACs? You curly, woolly goofballs!" You're not a goofball, you don't think. "You're all going to have cue ball heads, by tomorrow morning!" Gads. "We're going to shear all of you like a flock of sheep!" Gadzooks. "No hair, means no pair!" Yikes. "And I mean tits, all you sissy Mary's!" Jesus Christ.

IB-

"All that hair looks lame," he assures you, poking at you dangerously with his open switchblade knife. "Let me shave it off for you." It's dark and damp in the alley, with only a dimly diaphanous mist of city illumination drifting about in the night to spatter his face grotesquely with faded highlights without shadows, without molded form, depth and dimensionality, to look like an eerie cardboard cutout. You shouldn't have accompanied him into the alley, you're pretty positive. Yet; it's not as if you had much choice in the matter, he stopping and corralling you out by the curb and slipping bis arm around you and all but escorting you in the direction he wanted you to go. Fortunately, you know him a little from high school, before he dropped out. At least, you think it's fortunate that you know him; but, standing there with him in the alley, you can't help from beginning to worry about your safety. y He's a gang-banger. s. ^ He's not all that stable, you recall, mentally. "Shave off my hair?" you ask him. "What for?" Hearing that, he smiles not so warmly. At least, it appears that he's smiling. "Shaved heads are cool," he assures you. "You can't look tough with a bunch of floppy hair hanging in your face." "Doesn't your head get cold?" you wonder. To that, he grimaces in apparent despair. "Cold!" he tries to laugh, not too successfully. "Maybe, after all, I wasn't right about you." "Right about what?" 96

Trips to Win "About you being the type of guy who might like to join," he explains. "Join what?" you ask, worried more by the minute. "Your gang?" With those words issuing from you mouth too loud, for Ms comfort, he tries to shush you. "We don't like to call it a gang," he tells you, frowning with a fingertip to his lips. "It'sjustacoolclub. Digit?" "I had a clubhouse once," you offer up, with the hope of changing the subject. "In a free in my backyard. Our club was called The Mysterious Fern Tree Boys." That, it seems, he can't quite believe. "What?" he asks. "Were you bad?" "Oh, no," you smile. "We were good kids." At that, he shakes his head in obvious disgust. "I mean," he attempts to clarify, "were you, baaad!" It takes only a moment for what he says to sink into your understanding. And once it does, you and he are really communicating. "Oh," you say. "Like Michael Jackson, baaad!" With that, without warning, you start doing your moonwalk quickly away from him hoping to make a sneaky escape back onto the sidewalk and clear out of the vicinity. "Michael Jackson?" he growls. "I'm baaad," you begin to sing. "Oooh. I'm so baaad." To your chagrin, he shuffles after you. "Say?" he complains. "Where do you think you're going?" "To get my black glove." Inanely, you try. "Come back here," he warns. "What?" you challenge him, a trifle timidly. "I can't leave if I want to leave?" "I'm not done talking to you." "It's still a free country," you inform him. "Maybe so," he nods. "But, this isn't a free alley." "It's not?" you gasp, acting surprised and glancing around. "Then I'm splitting this scene, pronto." ^-~ -\ "You're a wuss," abruptly; he accuses you. His sudden and overt confrontational stance takes you just a bit aback. "No," you dare to disagree, despite. "I'm not a wuss." "Shut up," he warns you. "What do you think this is, a lame game?" You say nothing. "I'll bet you're a little light in the loafers." Thinking it best, you hold your tongue. "You are a wuss." Bravely, you shake your head in the negative. "Don't talk back to me," idiotically, he snaps. 97


Berkeley Fiction

Review

The SS officer leans over his desk very close to you, staring at you hard from only an inch or two away. His lips are curled back like those of a Doberman pincher on the prowl, his jaw is well set in stubbornness, and his eyes are hardened cold, blue like the hue of a North Atlantic iceberg, frozen solid and frightfully unthawing. "You're a coward," he accuses. Up above the both of you, a single light bulb swings rhythmically back and forth, brashly uncovered, casting brightly dancing shadows on the white interrogation room walls. Gazing at them through him, around him, over him, and anywhere but into his chilled stare, you watch the lively shadow dance and try to think of more pleasant things. "Absolutely, there's no doubt about it," he speaks, attempting to capture your wandering gaze. "A coward, indeed, is what you are." Stupidly, most likely, you venture in response. "A coward, I am not," you insist. "It is simply that I do not know the answers to the questions that you ask." Leaning back again, he fairly growls out his contempt "It is a very serious threat to the well-being of the Fatherland," he barks. "We can't allow people meeting without the proper permission and official authorization, for reasons unspecified. Only a coward would holdback information of such importance, names and places that could disarm a disloyal threat to both our Fuhrer and the Fatherland." "I have no information for you, at all," you try, thinking it will be of little use.

You're correct. Violently, in response, he brings his fist down on the small desk before

him. "Coward!" he screams. "Yellow-bellied swine!" Out with the' shrieking word, wine, like a slow motion mushy moth, flies from his mouth an ooze of his saliva to drift irfyourmrection and strike you in a the face disgustingly. It almost makes you cringe, to have it there on your person so filthily, the foul spittle of an SS officer, yet you dare not reach up to wipe it willfully away for fear of presenting him with the opportunity of striking you. So, instead, although you desire a clean face, you struggle mightily to buck up and live with the spittle there. "I'm a good German," in quavering voice, you insist. "I am loyal, and I always have been, to the Fatherland." A second time, he leans over very close to you. "And are you a good Nazi, additionally?" he challenges you. "In your town, outside Berlin, like a good Nazi, do you keep a constant watch for any sign of discontentment or discord?" 98

T Trips to Win "Yes," you tell him. "Truly, I always do." "Liar!" he shouts. "We know there have been clandestine meetings." "Not to my knowledge. Honestly." "Who has attended these meetings?" "I do not know." "Swine!" he accuses, anew. "You're a coward!" "You must be some kind of screw-up, trainee!" the drill sergeant lambastes you, poking the brazen brim of his smokey-the-bear hat right into your taut and seriously unsmiling face. It's your first day up on the training hill and the first thing that you do is drop your dufflebag in the damn street. How can anyone be so dumb and clumsy? "I tripped, sir," hopefully, you respond, with the proper exuberance and respect required. Yet, hearing that, he seems to spout steam. "Sir?" he fairly roars. "Did you call me, sir?" "No, sir," hastily, you correct yourself. "I didn't call you, sir." "Yes, trainee, you did!" he shouts. "Don't you ever call me, sir, again. I work for my money." "Yes, sir," you bark. "You're a screw-up, trainee!" "Yes, sir," submissively, you agree. "You worthless maggot!" "Sorry, sir." "I'll have you out of the sack at two A.M.!" "Yes, sir." "Doing twenty pushups for me!" "Yes, sir." "Every night for a week!" "Yes, sir." "What did you say?" "Yes, sergeant." ^- - * "It's about damn time, trainee!" "Yes, sergeant." "I don't believe this!" "Yes, sergeant." "Prisoner," the voice harshly orders, awakening you. "Get up and dressed. It's time for further interrogation." "What?" you wonder, not understanding. It's, you think, still the middle of the night, "Snap to it, prisoner," the voice demands. "Up and at i t " 99


Berkeley Fiction

Review

The SS officer leans over his desk very close to you, staring at you hard from only an inch or two away. His lips are curled back like those of a Doberman pincher on the prowl, his jaw is well set in stubbornness, and his eyes are hardened cold, blue like the hue of a North Atlantic iceberg, frozen solid and frightfully unthawing. "You're a coward," he accuses. Up above the both of you, a single light bulb swings rhythmically back and forth, brashly uncovered, casting brightly dancing shadows on the white interrogation room walls. Gazing at them through him, around him, over him, and anywhere but into his chilled stare, you watch the lively shadow dance and try to think of more pleasant things. "Absolutely, there's no doubt about it," he speaks, attempting to capture your wandering gaze. "A coward, indeed, is what you are." Stupidly, most likely, you venture in response. "A coward, I am not," you insist. "It is simply that I do not know the answers to the questions that you ask." Leaning back again, he fairly growls out his contempt "It is a very serious threat to the well-being of the Fatherland," he barks. "We can't allow people meeting without the proper permission and official authorization, for reasons unspecified. Only a coward would holdback information of such importance, names and places that could disarm a disloyal threat to both our Fuhrer and the Fatherland." "I have no information for you, at all," you try, thinking it will be of little use.

You're correct. Violently, in response, he brings his fist down on the small desk before

him. "Coward!" he screams. "Yellow-bellied swine!" Out with the' shrieking word, wine, like a slow motion mushy moth, flies from his mouth an ooze of his saliva to drift irfyourmrection and strike you in a the face disgustingly. It almost makes you cringe, to have it there on your person so filthily, the foul spittle of an SS officer, yet you dare not reach up to wipe it willfully away for fear of presenting him with the opportunity of striking you. So, instead, although you desire a clean face, you struggle mightily to buck up and live with the spittle there. "I'm a good German," in quavering voice, you insist. "I am loyal, and I always have been, to the Fatherland." A second time, he leans over very close to you. "And are you a good Nazi, additionally?" he challenges you. "In your town, outside Berlin, like a good Nazi, do you keep a constant watch for any sign of discontentment or discord?" 98

T Trips to Win "Yes," you tell him. "Truly, I always do." "Liar!" he shouts. "We know there have been clandestine meetings." "Not to my knowledge. Honestly." "Who has attended these meetings?" "I do not know." "Swine!" he accuses, anew. "You're a coward!" "You must be some kind of screw-up, trainee!" the drill sergeant lambastes you, poking the brazen brim of his smokey-the-bear hat right into your taut and seriously unsmiling face. It's your first day up on the training hill and the first thing that you do is drop your dufflebag in the damn street. How can anyone be so dumb and clumsy? "I tripped, sir," hopefully, you respond, with the proper exuberance and respect required. Yet, hearing that, he seems to spout steam. "Sir?" he fairly roars. "Did you call me, sir?" "No, sir," hastily, you correct yourself. "I didn't call you, sir." "Yes, trainee, you did!" he shouts. "Don't you ever call me, sir, again. I work for my money." "Yes, sir," you bark. "You're a screw-up, trainee!" "Yes, sir," submissively, you agree. "You worthless maggot!" "Sorry, sir." "I'll have you out of the sack at two A.M.!" "Yes, sir." "Doing twenty pushups for me!" "Yes, sir." "Every night for a week!" "Yes, sir." "What did you say?" "Yes, sergeant." ^- - * "It's about damn time, trainee!" "Yes, sergeant." "I don't believe this!" "Yes, sergeant." "Prisoner," the voice harshly orders, awakening you. "Get up and dressed. It's time for further interrogation." "What?" you wonder, not understanding. It's, you think, still the middle of the night, "Snap to it, prisoner," the voice demands. "Up and at i t " 99


Berkeley Fiction Review "What time is it?" you manage to mutter. For a reply, you feel a not so gentle booted kick at your leg. "It's time for further interrogation," the voice repeats. "What's the matter? Can you hear?" In the prison corridors, it doesn't matter whether it's the middle of the night or not. Day and night make no difference there, you see, as you march still half asleep with tramping escort down through the maze of identical aisles somberly alit with incandescent bulbs and lined with cold steel doors on both sides, tightly closed and sealed shut and latched with metal bars, so many doors, all the same, all steel with only sliding metal slits for normal access. In the aisle before you, a ways away, other guards are at work opening a steel door and entering a darkened cell. "Prisoner," you hear them order. "Get up and dressed. It's time for further interrogation." Good sleep, here, you realize, is not possible. "Snap to it, prisoner." Good sleep, here, you realize, is not allowed. Good sleep, here... Good sleep... "Keep the pace, prisoner," the voice warns you. You feel the bump of the butt of a military rifle in your back, prodding you onward. Good sleep... "Roll out of that bunk, trainee!" the voice of the drill sergeant orders you. It comes to you suddenly out of the blackness of sleep, an unfriendly and most threatening call. "I warned you I'd be here at midnight." Blindly throwing back your covers and unsteadily jumping to your feet, you snap to a groggy sort of attention before him. The barracks lights are on, all at once you realize, the abrupt brightness they produce stinging your eyes and making 'you squint. "You said two A.M., sergeant," youxorrect him, wondering in your dark and dazed state if you're being somewhat foolish. "What?" he growls, enlightening you. "Are you calling me a liar?" "No, sergeant." "I suspect you're hiding contraband in your bunk!" Contraband, you wonder? While you're wondering, he tears apart your bed, throwing your green Army blankets, your white, sheets and pillow to the barracks floor in an angry huff. Your mattress is next, dragged off your bunk and tossed to the floor with everything else. "That's the sloppiest-made bunk I've ever seen," he chides you, with an unfriendly frown most menacing. "Who made your bed for you when you were at 100

Trips to Win homef your mother?" "Yes, sergeant." "I thought so." "My bunk was made perfectly, sergeant." "Are you contradicting me, mama's boy?" "I'd appreciate it, sergeant," you dare. "If you stopped insulting-my mother." "What?" he rages. "Are you talking back to me" Having said your peace, gotten it off your chest, you manage for your own good to~bite your tongue. "You'd better make that bunk, trainee!" he orders you. "We're ninning to the rifle range tomorrow morning, eight miles each way. I think you're going to need your rest." "Yes, sergeant," you try. "But, first," he raves. "Drop down right there and give me twenty good Army pushups. Get to it, trainee!" "Yes, sergeant." "Reluctantly, yet with alacrity, you do his bidding. "One, sergeant," you count off, pushing yourself up with arms straight and eyes forward staring at the barracks wall. "I can't hear you!" "Two, sergeant," you nearly yell. "I still can't hear you!" "Three, sergeant!" "You only have five minutes. Then, it's lights out again!" "Four, sergeant!" The music booms in his low to the road, little black car, loud enough, you fear, to wake the dead. His car, itself, is noisy too, equipped with a special type of muffler, you suppose, manufactured by someone from somewhere to make a buck annoying the rest of the world with loud and insidious racket. His car is of Japanese make. _. Maybe, you consider, its-mufffer, too. "Yaaooow!" the music screams. Boom-boom. Boom-boom. "Your mother hates you, loves to fake you! Don't trust that bitch a lick! She'll call the cops, they'll steal your crops! The judge is such a prick!" Thrrraaaft, the car answers. "Say?" out loud, you wonder. "How can you afford this fart car?" "What car" he asks you, unable to hear you properly.

101


Berkeley Fiction Review "What time is it?" you manage to mutter. For a reply, you feel a not so gentle booted kick at your leg. "It's time for further interrogation," the voice repeats. "What's the matter? Can you hear?" In the prison corridors, it doesn't matter whether it's the middle of the night or not. Day and night make no difference there, you see, as you march still half asleep with tramping escort down through the maze of identical aisles somberly alit with incandescent bulbs and lined with cold steel doors on both sides, tightly closed and sealed shut and latched with metal bars, so many doors, all the same, all steel with only sliding metal slits for normal access. In the aisle before you, a ways away, other guards are at work opening a steel door and entering a darkened cell. "Prisoner," you hear them order. "Get up and dressed. It's time for further interrogation." Good sleep, here, you realize, is not possible. "Snap to it, prisoner." Good sleep, here, you realize, is not allowed. Good sleep, here... Good sleep... "Keep the pace, prisoner," the voice warns you. You feel the bump of the butt of a military rifle in your back, prodding you onward. Good sleep... "Roll out of that bunk, trainee!" the voice of the drill sergeant orders you. It comes to you suddenly out of the blackness of sleep, an unfriendly and most threatening call. "I warned you I'd be here at midnight." Blindly throwing back your covers and unsteadily jumping to your feet, you snap to a groggy sort of attention before him. The barracks lights are on, all at once you realize, the abrupt brightness they produce stinging your eyes and making 'you squint. "You said two A.M., sergeant," youxorrect him, wondering in your dark and dazed state if you're being somewhat foolish. "What?" he growls, enlightening you. "Are you calling me a liar?" "No, sergeant." "I suspect you're hiding contraband in your bunk!" Contraband, you wonder? While you're wondering, he tears apart your bed, throwing your green Army blankets, your white, sheets and pillow to the barracks floor in an angry huff. Your mattress is next, dragged off your bunk and tossed to the floor with everything else. "That's the sloppiest-made bunk I've ever seen," he chides you, with an unfriendly frown most menacing. "Who made your bed for you when you were at 100

Trips to Win homef your mother?" "Yes, sergeant." "I thought so." "My bunk was made perfectly, sergeant." "Are you contradicting me, mama's boy?" "I'd appreciate it, sergeant," you dare. "If you stopped insulting-my mother." "What?" he rages. "Are you talking back to me" Having said your peace, gotten it off your chest, you manage for your own good to~bite your tongue. "You'd better make that bunk, trainee!" he orders you. "We're ninning to the rifle range tomorrow morning, eight miles each way. I think you're going to need your rest." "Yes, sergeant," you try. "But, first," he raves. "Drop down right there and give me twenty good Army pushups. Get to it, trainee!" "Yes, sergeant." "Reluctantly, yet with alacrity, you do his bidding. "One, sergeant," you count off, pushing yourself up with arms straight and eyes forward staring at the barracks wall. "I can't hear you!" "Two, sergeant," you nearly yell. "I still can't hear you!" "Three, sergeant!" "You only have five minutes. Then, it's lights out again!" "Four, sergeant!" The music booms in his low to the road, little black car, loud enough, you fear, to wake the dead. His car, itself, is noisy too, equipped with a special type of muffler, you suppose, manufactured by someone from somewhere to make a buck annoying the rest of the world with loud and insidious racket. His car is of Japanese make. _. Maybe, you consider, its-mufffer, too. "Yaaooow!" the music screams. Boom-boom. Boom-boom. "Your mother hates you, loves to fake you! Don't trust that bitch a lick! She'll call the cops, they'll steal your crops! The judge is such a prick!" Thrrraaaft, the car answers. "Say?" out loud, you wonder. "How can you afford this fart car?" "What car" he asks you, unable to hear you properly.

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Berkeley Fiction Review

Trips to Win It's a tattoo, alright, a pair of lightning bolt SS figures punched into his skin just below his armpit, inked jet black and all but hidden from view. The only reason you noticed it at all is that it's hot in the interrogation room and he's removed his SS officer's shirt to keep from sweating through it and mining its appearance, you suppose. All SS officers, you've been told, have been tattooed thus, marking them permanently for identification should, in the course of the war, things become confused, identities become questionable, allegiances become worrisome, loyalties become of concern. It's more or less, you suspect, not much more than a Western American cowboy cattle brand. Ownership, it assures. Positive identification, it guarantees. No imposters can be slipped into place, without it. No traitorous defectors can escape detection, because of its presence. It's an artificial birthmark. It's an ankle tag on a migrating duck. It's a uniform that cannot ever be removed. It's a brand of recognition. "So," he says, striding from his place near the white wall'toward you. "Are you a coward, still?" "No," you assure him. "I never was one." "Where were the meetings held?" he queries you. "And who do you know that attends them?" You straighten up in your seat, impulsively. "I am aware of no meetings having taken place. Therefore; of course, I have no knowledge of anyone attending them." Hearing that, he turns his back to you. "You are lying," quietly, he accuses. "Why are you not in the military, in service to the Fatherland?" "I have been exempted from military service," you explain. "Why have you been exempted?" he wonders. "I am a pharmacist," you tell-hinT "It is an occupation our Fuhrer has deemed may be exempted from military service due to desperate need here in this land of my birth." ' Slowly, he turns to face you. "May be exempted?" he tries to smile. "This; I think, implies also, may not necessarily be so. Don't you think?" "Yes," you agree. "How many meetings took place?" he asks you. "Who are the leaders of the movement?" "I know of no movement," you claim. With this, his face rums red.

"This fart car," you repeat, almost in a shout "Do you have a job, somewhere, or something?" "Shish ke-bob?" he asks. "This fart car?" "What car?" Shrugging your shoulders, you abandon all effort to communicate normally in human fashion and just sit there thinking to yourself. You're off to meet the rest of his gang, you imagine, in some bigger alley somewhere where the light gives them all cardboard faces without three dimensions. Yegads, you worry. You wonder if they'11 all have switchblade knives. You wonder too, if they all dropped out of high school. They all take drugs, you bet, everything under the sun, most likely, if your suspicions are correct As you sit there hoping that your eardrums don't soon burst with the booming, you wonder which drug makes them so surly. He never smiles, genuinely. He's the biggest grouch you've ever met. Even the Grinch that stole Christmas is one up on him in the happiness department. What a sorehead, you marvel. What a crab. He may as well be the old woman who lives down the street from you with the flower garden, always worried about her petunias and pansies, grouching all around and grumbling all about and grousing to everyone who can hear her that it's a cold, cruel world full of brat kids and crapping dogs off the leash. At last, you sigh, inaudibly, that old woman doesn't go out of her way to broadcast her misery to the entire community around her with a boom box and a fart car. Misery, truly, loves company, you suppose. "Do you work?" you yell, curious to know. "Who's a jerk?" he yells back, giving^bu a threatening glance. "Do you have a job?" "Who sits on a cob?" he frowns, eyeing you suspiciously. ''Never mind!" you say, giving it up again. "Who's blind?" he shouts. "I can see as well as you can." Boom-boom. Boom-boom. On his arm nearest you, in the purple light of his eerie dashboard, for the first time you notice his tattoo. It's a small skull and crossed bones etched into the skin of his biceps just below his shirt sleeve. Tattoos, you must admit, you don't understand a bit. What, you wonder, are they supposed to mean?

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Trips to Win It's a tattoo, alright, a pair of lightning bolt SS figures punched into his skin just below his armpit, inked jet black and all but hidden from view. The only reason you noticed it at all is that it's hot in the interrogation room and he's removed his SS officer's shirt to keep from sweating through it and mining its appearance, you suppose. All SS officers, you've been told, have been tattooed thus, marking them permanently for identification should, in the course of the war, things become confused, identities become questionable, allegiances become worrisome, loyalties become of concern. It's more or less, you suspect, not much more than a Western American cowboy cattle brand. Ownership, it assures. Positive identification, it guarantees. No imposters can be slipped into place, without it. No traitorous defectors can escape detection, because of its presence. It's an artificial birthmark. It's an ankle tag on a migrating duck. It's a uniform that cannot ever be removed. It's a brand of recognition. "So," he says, striding from his place near the white wall'toward you. "Are you a coward, still?" "No," you assure him. "I never was one." "Where were the meetings held?" he queries you. "And who do you know that attends them?" You straighten up in your seat, impulsively. "I am aware of no meetings having taken place. Therefore; of course, I have no knowledge of anyone attending them." Hearing that, he turns his back to you. "You are lying," quietly, he accuses. "Why are you not in the military, in service to the Fatherland?" "I have been exempted from military service," you explain. "Why have you been exempted?" he wonders. "I am a pharmacist," you tell-hinT "It is an occupation our Fuhrer has deemed may be exempted from military service due to desperate need here in this land of my birth." ' Slowly, he turns to face you. "May be exempted?" he tries to smile. "This; I think, implies also, may not necessarily be so. Don't you think?" "Yes," you agree. "How many meetings took place?" he asks you. "Who are the leaders of the movement?" "I know of no movement," you claim. With this, his face rums red.

"This fart car," you repeat, almost in a shout "Do you have a job, somewhere, or something?" "Shish ke-bob?" he asks. "This fart car?" "What car?" Shrugging your shoulders, you abandon all effort to communicate normally in human fashion and just sit there thinking to yourself. You're off to meet the rest of his gang, you imagine, in some bigger alley somewhere where the light gives them all cardboard faces without three dimensions. Yegads, you worry. You wonder if they'11 all have switchblade knives. You wonder too, if they all dropped out of high school. They all take drugs, you bet, everything under the sun, most likely, if your suspicions are correct As you sit there hoping that your eardrums don't soon burst with the booming, you wonder which drug makes them so surly. He never smiles, genuinely. He's the biggest grouch you've ever met. Even the Grinch that stole Christmas is one up on him in the happiness department. What a sorehead, you marvel. What a crab. He may as well be the old woman who lives down the street from you with the flower garden, always worried about her petunias and pansies, grouching all around and grumbling all about and grousing to everyone who can hear her that it's a cold, cruel world full of brat kids and crapping dogs off the leash. At last, you sigh, inaudibly, that old woman doesn't go out of her way to broadcast her misery to the entire community around her with a boom box and a fart car. Misery, truly, loves company, you suppose. "Do you work?" you yell, curious to know. "Who's a jerk?" he yells back, giving^bu a threatening glance. "Do you have a job?" "Who sits on a cob?" he frowns, eyeing you suspiciously. ''Never mind!" you say, giving it up again. "Who's blind?" he shouts. "I can see as well as you can." Boom-boom. Boom-boom. On his arm nearest you, in the purple light of his eerie dashboard, for the first time you notice his tattoo. It's a small skull and crossed bones etched into the skin of his biceps just below his shirt sleeve. Tattoos, you must admit, you don't understand a bit. What, you wonder, are they supposed to mean?

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Berkeley Fiction Review "Liar!" he screams. "Filthy, coward swine!" Prudently, you hold your words. "I'll see you freezing your feet on the Russian front," he threatens you. "As an ammunition runner on the foremost lines!" For longer, you say nothing. "You are a coward!" No response is appropriate. "You will talk," he yells. "Or else!" Nothing. "You are a traitor!" It's foggy on the training hill, with clouds of wet mist rolling in from the nearby coast in a continuous blanket of dismal gray that clings to everything and hugs the ground as if too heavy to rise very high above it. The shadowy shapes of your fellow trainees linger and loiter about in the gloom, early morning, it is, groups of them gathered here and there to chat quietly among themselves for the free minute or two allowed you while you await the arrival of the cattle trucks that will drive you out to the CS gas venue and training compound. It's your day to be tear gassed. What fun, you worry. Even in the fog, he finds you. He marches straight over to where you stand alone and lets you have it "So," he starts. "You qualified expert on the rifle range, I see. That's some surprise to me. You must have cheated and stole someone else's target with shot group." "No, sergeant," you assure him. "You couldn't have fired expert," he lambastes you. "You're a dufus!" "No, sergeant," you disagree. "I fired expert." "I don't believe it," he tells you. "It's true, sergeant," you tell him. As usual, it doesn't matter what you.s^y-0'r how you say it, whatever and however, it will make him angry. He's hated you ever since the moment he laid his eyes up you, for reasons unknown. "Well," he warns you. "Don't get cocky. We'll see how you handle CS gas in the face. It's going to make you cry, pretty boy." You perk up your ears. "Are you going to join us, sergeant?" you bark at him. "What was that, trainee?" he frowns. "What did you say?" "You can set us an example, sergeant!" "You dufus!" "It shouldn't be too tough for you."

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Trips to Win Just then, right at that instant, arriving in the nick of time to rescue you from your own impertinence, the convoy of cattle trucks appears out of the fog to pull up alongside your barracks and wait for you to board. "Permission to board the cattle trucks?" you request, before he has the time to lambaste you further. "Got to go get gassed, sergeant!" "You...,"he starts. But before he can finish, you pivot sharply away from him and hurry off without his permission to the trucks, quickly climbing aboard and finding a place to stand near the cab and up against the wooden railings. Spying you boarding, the rest of the company follows, climbing up to join you. "Let's go get gassed!" someone sarcastically yells. "Yahoo!" Everybody laughs. He drives as if he's eaten loco weed. It's in and out of traffic, back and forth between lanes, accelerating to avoid yellow signal lights and sometimes not stopping for red ones. You' re mostly surprised he isn't long since dead, some surprised he's not in jail, and more than just a little amazed that there aren't every any cops around when he breaks the law, which with his driving he does frequently. If you drove like he does, you're sure,' you'd have five tickets in five minutes and a suspended license. But, for some reason, he gets away with it. Which, you worry, seems somewhat strange. Boom-boom. Boom-boom. thrrraaaft! "Can you slow down?" politely, you request. "Who's a clown?" he fires back. "You better watch your mouth." "Why?" you try not to laugh. "What's it doing?" "I am not cooing;" he disagrees. "I'm talking as normal as the next guy." '*You're yelling," hopefully, you yell. "Telling who?" he replies, with an angry scowl. "I haven't pdone anything bad to you." „.- >•— "Don't you mean, baaad?" you smile, beginning your Michael Jackson routine in your seat. That seems to throw him for a loop. "I'm baaad," again, you start to sing. "Oooh. I'm so baaad." "Shut upj" he warns. "Are you a fruit?" "I am not cute," you assure him. "You must be a sissy." "What's fishy?" "You are," you laugh. "You smell like a spoiled trout." "A lout?" he grimaces. "You better stop calling me names." "Pull over," with a grin, you request. 105


Berkeley Fiction Review "Liar!" he screams. "Filthy, coward swine!" Prudently, you hold your words. "I'll see you freezing your feet on the Russian front," he threatens you. "As an ammunition runner on the foremost lines!" For longer, you say nothing. "You are a coward!" No response is appropriate. "You will talk," he yells. "Or else!" Nothing. "You are a traitor!" It's foggy on the training hill, with clouds of wet mist rolling in from the nearby coast in a continuous blanket of dismal gray that clings to everything and hugs the ground as if too heavy to rise very high above it. The shadowy shapes of your fellow trainees linger and loiter about in the gloom, early morning, it is, groups of them gathered here and there to chat quietly among themselves for the free minute or two allowed you while you await the arrival of the cattle trucks that will drive you out to the CS gas venue and training compound. It's your day to be tear gassed. What fun, you worry. Even in the fog, he finds you. He marches straight over to where you stand alone and lets you have it "So," he starts. "You qualified expert on the rifle range, I see. That's some surprise to me. You must have cheated and stole someone else's target with shot group." "No, sergeant," you assure him. "You couldn't have fired expert," he lambastes you. "You're a dufus!" "No, sergeant," you disagree. "I fired expert." "I don't believe it," he tells you. "It's true, sergeant," you tell him. As usual, it doesn't matter what you.s^y-0'r how you say it, whatever and however, it will make him angry. He's hated you ever since the moment he laid his eyes up you, for reasons unknown. "Well," he warns you. "Don't get cocky. We'll see how you handle CS gas in the face. It's going to make you cry, pretty boy." You perk up your ears. "Are you going to join us, sergeant?" you bark at him. "What was that, trainee?" he frowns. "What did you say?" "You can set us an example, sergeant!" "You dufus!" "It shouldn't be too tough for you."

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Trips to Win Just then, right at that instant, arriving in the nick of time to rescue you from your own impertinence, the convoy of cattle trucks appears out of the fog to pull up alongside your barracks and wait for you to board. "Permission to board the cattle trucks?" you request, before he has the time to lambaste you further. "Got to go get gassed, sergeant!" "You...,"he starts. But before he can finish, you pivot sharply away from him and hurry off without his permission to the trucks, quickly climbing aboard and finding a place to stand near the cab and up against the wooden railings. Spying you boarding, the rest of the company follows, climbing up to join you. "Let's go get gassed!" someone sarcastically yells. "Yahoo!" Everybody laughs. He drives as if he's eaten loco weed. It's in and out of traffic, back and forth between lanes, accelerating to avoid yellow signal lights and sometimes not stopping for red ones. You' re mostly surprised he isn't long since dead, some surprised he's not in jail, and more than just a little amazed that there aren't every any cops around when he breaks the law, which with his driving he does frequently. If you drove like he does, you're sure,' you'd have five tickets in five minutes and a suspended license. But, for some reason, he gets away with it. Which, you worry, seems somewhat strange. Boom-boom. Boom-boom. thrrraaaft! "Can you slow down?" politely, you request. "Who's a clown?" he fires back. "You better watch your mouth." "Why?" you try not to laugh. "What's it doing?" "I am not cooing;" he disagrees. "I'm talking as normal as the next guy." '*You're yelling," hopefully, you yell. "Telling who?" he replies, with an angry scowl. "I haven't pdone anything bad to you." „.- >•— "Don't you mean, baaad?" you smile, beginning your Michael Jackson routine in your seat. That seems to throw him for a loop. "I'm baaad," again, you start to sing. "Oooh. I'm so baaad." "Shut upj" he warns. "Are you a fruit?" "I am not cute," you assure him. "You must be a sissy." "What's fishy?" "You are," you laugh. "You smell like a spoiled trout." "A lout?" he grimaces. "You better stop calling me names." "Pull over," with a grin, you request. 105


Berkeley Fiction Review "Plover?" he can't believe. "I'm pulling over." "Let me out of here." "Get out of here," he concurs. "You can't call me names, like that" Once outside his fart car, booming in the night, there on the sidewalk, on the road halfway to somewhere, right in front of him you start doing your moonwalk again for him to see, escaping adroitly backward into the darkness. "I'm baaad. Oooh. I'm so baaad." "You're crazy!" he screams. "You're a daisy!" you scream back. And, with that, right johnny-on-the-spot, giving you an angry sort of confused glance over his shoulder and laying down a little patch of harmless rubber with a teensy screech and farting long and loud, he speeds off booming bombastically into the unfriendly night Never to be seen by you even for another infinitesimal moment, surely, you desire. What a muttonhead, you marvel. ' The fog has cleared completely at the tear gas training venue out in the rolling and sandy backcountry, with the sky a mid-morning blue high above you complete with searing yellow sun. Already, you're in the prone and prepared position, with your gas mask-in-case clipped to your pistol belt at your waist on the right side, you steel pot balanced on your head, and your precious M-14 clutched tight and secure in your left hand. Your drill sergeant, for some reason unknown to you, selected you and pulled you out of your platoon line, showing you some unwanted and personal attention, and inserted your fatigued person into the spot that placed you first in your training group, first to be allowed into the compound and first to be situated by the training cadre in the very first prone and prepared slot farthest to the left of all the soldiers unlucky enough about to be gassed with you. You're sornewhat confused about the motivation of your drill sergeant in placing you so, but there's nothing ypu can do about it except to wonder. You're absolutely positive, though^Jhafne wasn't being nice to you. Thirty seconds, the training cadre promised you, at the tear gas venue and compound lecture and instruction session earlier. Thirty short seconds, all of them assured you would pass before the gas overcame you, enough time to yank your mask out of its case and slip it over your head and clear it by plugging up its paired filters with your palms and exhaling hard, first'here, then there, sealing its rubber border effectively apout your face. You'll have to drop your M-14, for an instant. You'll have to take off your steel pot. Thirty measly seconds, you worry, to accomplish all of that. It's not enough time, you're afraid, you being very-hard pressed to get it all done. 106

Trips to Win Before you, initially, there's a recessed and open yard of raked red dirt, typical Army crap, rake the dirt, smooth out the pebbles, arrange the rocks in neat rows just in the event a general wanders passed. Beyond the yard, fifty yards or so distant, you can see a wooden wall for scaling while wearing you mask in the noxious drifting gas. Beyond the wall, you've been informed, there's a long barbedwired, low-crawl pit you'll have to negotiate by slithering beneath its low nasty strands on your back with masked face up like an alien-looking worm. Still, in the CS gas. Thirty seconds, to don your mask. Gads. If you don't manage your mask correctly and on time, you worry, it's a pretty good bet you'll most likely die. The gas is horrible, truly debilitating and incapacitating, you are aware, because you've already experienced a hint of it in the tear gas shed. Without a doubt, it's awful. Gadzooks. To you immediate left, not more than five feet away from you, just then you notice a gaping, drainage-pipe-sized tube protruding from an earthen bank and aimed directly at you. It's bright blue, like the sky, and it looks like it's made of plastic. What's that thing for, you wonder? Seeing it there worries you just a bit But... Thirty seconds, you remind yourself. Once you hear the signal. Thirty short seconds. If you screw up, undoubtedly, you fret, you'll be immersed in a noxious and miserable hell. Listen closely, you warn yourself. Listen closely, for the starting bell. Brrring! At the sound of the bell, instantly, before you even know what's happening, before you can even begin to respond to the signal to begin the training exercise, reach down for your gas_mask in its-case,- a^wirling white cloud, suddenly comes pouring out the blue plastic tube right beside you, rolling out in a puffy ball of gas, and strikes you immediately right square in the face. "Hey," silently, you attempt to complain. But, almost before you can finish your thought, the gas envelops you and overcomes you. It stings at your eyes like acid, immediately, acridly invading your nostrils and burning them and your lips. Attempting desperately to inhale on unfouled breath to hold to keep the gas at bay, until you can, hopefully, snatch your mask and put it on for proper protection, all you manage to accomplish is to suck a caustic dose of the permeating poison deep down into your lungs. With that, all at once, you can't breathe at all'. 107.


Berkeley Fiction Review "Plover?" he can't believe. "I'm pulling over." "Let me out of here." "Get out of here," he concurs. "You can't call me names, like that" Once outside his fart car, booming in the night, there on the sidewalk, on the road halfway to somewhere, right in front of him you start doing your moonwalk again for him to see, escaping adroitly backward into the darkness. "I'm baaad. Oooh. I'm so baaad." "You're crazy!" he screams. "You're a daisy!" you scream back. And, with that, right johnny-on-the-spot, giving you an angry sort of confused glance over his shoulder and laying down a little patch of harmless rubber with a teensy screech and farting long and loud, he speeds off booming bombastically into the unfriendly night Never to be seen by you even for another infinitesimal moment, surely, you desire. What a muttonhead, you marvel. ' The fog has cleared completely at the tear gas training venue out in the rolling and sandy backcountry, with the sky a mid-morning blue high above you complete with searing yellow sun. Already, you're in the prone and prepared position, with your gas mask-in-case clipped to your pistol belt at your waist on the right side, you steel pot balanced on your head, and your precious M-14 clutched tight and secure in your left hand. Your drill sergeant, for some reason unknown to you, selected you and pulled you out of your platoon line, showing you some unwanted and personal attention, and inserted your fatigued person into the spot that placed you first in your training group, first to be allowed into the compound and first to be situated by the training cadre in the very first prone and prepared slot farthest to the left of all the soldiers unlucky enough about to be gassed with you. You're sornewhat confused about the motivation of your drill sergeant in placing you so, but there's nothing ypu can do about it except to wonder. You're absolutely positive, though^Jhafne wasn't being nice to you. Thirty seconds, the training cadre promised you, at the tear gas venue and compound lecture and instruction session earlier. Thirty short seconds, all of them assured you would pass before the gas overcame you, enough time to yank your mask out of its case and slip it over your head and clear it by plugging up its paired filters with your palms and exhaling hard, first'here, then there, sealing its rubber border effectively apout your face. You'll have to drop your M-14, for an instant. You'll have to take off your steel pot. Thirty measly seconds, you worry, to accomplish all of that. It's not enough time, you're afraid, you being very-hard pressed to get it all done. 106

Trips to Win Before you, initially, there's a recessed and open yard of raked red dirt, typical Army crap, rake the dirt, smooth out the pebbles, arrange the rocks in neat rows just in the event a general wanders passed. Beyond the yard, fifty yards or so distant, you can see a wooden wall for scaling while wearing you mask in the noxious drifting gas. Beyond the wall, you've been informed, there's a long barbedwired, low-crawl pit you'll have to negotiate by slithering beneath its low nasty strands on your back with masked face up like an alien-looking worm. Still, in the CS gas. Thirty seconds, to don your mask. Gads. If you don't manage your mask correctly and on time, you worry, it's a pretty good bet you'll most likely die. The gas is horrible, truly debilitating and incapacitating, you are aware, because you've already experienced a hint of it in the tear gas shed. Without a doubt, it's awful. Gadzooks. To you immediate left, not more than five feet away from you, just then you notice a gaping, drainage-pipe-sized tube protruding from an earthen bank and aimed directly at you. It's bright blue, like the sky, and it looks like it's made of plastic. What's that thing for, you wonder? Seeing it there worries you just a bit But... Thirty seconds, you remind yourself. Once you hear the signal. Thirty short seconds. If you screw up, undoubtedly, you fret, you'll be immersed in a noxious and miserable hell. Listen closely, you warn yourself. Listen closely, for the starting bell. Brrring! At the sound of the bell, instantly, before you even know what's happening, before you can even begin to respond to the signal to begin the training exercise, reach down for your gas_mask in its-case,- a^wirling white cloud, suddenly comes pouring out the blue plastic tube right beside you, rolling out in a puffy ball of gas, and strikes you immediately right square in the face. "Hey," silently, you attempt to complain. But, almost before you can finish your thought, the gas envelops you and overcomes you. It stings at your eyes like acid, immediately, acridly invading your nostrils and burning them and your lips. Attempting desperately to inhale on unfouled breath to hold to keep the gas at bay, until you can, hopefully, snatch your mask and put it on for proper protection, all you manage to accomplish is to suck a caustic dose of the permeating poison deep down into your lungs. With that, all at once, you can't breathe at all'. 107.


Berkeley Fiction Review Involuntarily, you hack. •*•> You're suffocating, you realize. You're dying, you know you are. Oh, god, you think, you're truly dying. In an impulsive near fit of mental panic and physical despair, you wildly scramble down and sprint across the compound yard headlong and for your very life, besieged by the clinging cloud of death, accompanied by other fellow soldiers, only dimly extant in your consciousness, some with masks on, some without them, others with them ill fit and useless, like you, sprinting for their lives. The gas is horrendous, there's no way to fight it, all you can do is to try and escape it at all cost, the stinging, the burning, the veritable suffocation. And, you've taken a hardy dose. 'You can hardly see. Still, you can't breathe at all. You're dying. Yes, unfortunately. You're really dying. Fighting off the urge to give in to the feeling, in an endless instant, you scale the wooden wall and with your adrenalin flowing fairly fly through the lowcrawl pit in interminable record time. Once out from beneath the barbed wire and beyond it, somehow, you find a clearing in the cloud and, stumbling into it, you pull off your steel pot and yank out your gas mask and put it on, clearing it and gasping with all your might to catch the slightest trace of oxygen. To your everlasting relief, you do suck in some good air. And, almost instantly, a little, it's better. Oh, god, you think, it is better. Maybe, you hope, you're not dying anymore. At least; now, you think, you have some chance to survive. Oh. You're not dying. Oh. You're really not. Even though it's so, to quickly douse your exhilaration, you realize with a painful start, much to your chagrin, that for-sorfie reason you don't have your weapon with you, your precious M-14. You, in your panic, immediately you reason, must have blindly dropped it somewhere back in the compound yard. And leaving a weapon behind, you know all too well, is a cardinal Army sin, an unpardonable mistake, a ticket to hell. Anything else, just about, any other screw-up, eventually, would be forgiven you. But, not losing your M-14. They'll rip you to shreds, you worry. You'll never hear the end of it. It's the long-awaited opportunity,' no doubt, your drill sergeant has been praying for ever since he laid eyes upon you, something he can use to virtually hogtie and crucify you in front of everyone else. It's an excuse to endlessly harass you, .unmercifully. 108

Trips to Win It's an accepted reason to assign you endless extra duty. For him, you imagine, it will be a dream come true. For you, however, you understand, it would be unbearable. All of a sudden, the CS gas no longer frightens you; and, without hesitation, back into the clinging cloud of it you go, back through the low-crawl pit in reverse, beneath the barbed wire in haste you squirm. Then, back over the wooden wall you climb, as no one, you suppose, ever has before to find yourself standing alone in the compound yard with its rake marks and arranged lines of pebbles. At first, amidst the swirling gas, you can't see your weapon. Coming from somewhere above, you hear a voice. "Oh-oh," it exclaims, loud enough to be plain. "Someone left their M-14. Someone is in deep shit, now." It might be the voice of God, you surmise. But, you doubt it. Just then, you spy it in the dirt. At that same moment, almost, they spot you. They're high up in a building beside the yard, which you can just make out through the gas, upstairs behind a long pane of observation glass, obviously monitoring and supervising the exercise. You can see four of them, but you can't quite make them out clearly. "Look," one of them says. "He came back to get it." And go get your weapon, immediately, you do. "I've never seen that before," another of them comments. The CS gas is all around you, swirling and drifting mostly at your level close to the ground; yet, it no longer really bothers you, now that your mask is on and properly cleared, only stinging you a bit at the exposed skin of your face and hands. No longer are you dying, to be sure, breathing easily and standing all alone in the yard amidst the nightmare with your M-14 retrieved and secured in your grateful grip. You'll rest, for a minute, you think, before making your escape, by just standing there and calmly glancing around to check the place out. "What's he doing?" someone wonders. "He's trying out his mask," someone else concludes. "That dufus," someone else, yet, remarks. Without a^loubt, it's the very distinctive voice of your drill sergeant Still, the gas is thick and burning; yet, you're all but immune to its effects with your mask fitted snugly to your face. The feeling is, almost, you find, as if you're standing casually in the very bowels of hell, unharmed, with the devil himself looking down upon you in disbelief. You think you may as well stand there a little longer. "He was under the gun," someone comments. "The gas hit him right in the face. He didn't have a chance." Turning your head and glancing up at them through your mask's plastic and goggle-eye lenses, you think you can identify two cadre officers in distinctive 109


Berkeley Fiction Review Involuntarily, you hack. •*•> You're suffocating, you realize. You're dying, you know you are. Oh, god, you think, you're truly dying. In an impulsive near fit of mental panic and physical despair, you wildly scramble down and sprint across the compound yard headlong and for your very life, besieged by the clinging cloud of death, accompanied by other fellow soldiers, only dimly extant in your consciousness, some with masks on, some without them, others with them ill fit and useless, like you, sprinting for their lives. The gas is horrendous, there's no way to fight it, all you can do is to try and escape it at all cost, the stinging, the burning, the veritable suffocation. And, you've taken a hardy dose. 'You can hardly see. Still, you can't breathe at all. You're dying. Yes, unfortunately. You're really dying. Fighting off the urge to give in to the feeling, in an endless instant, you scale the wooden wall and with your adrenalin flowing fairly fly through the lowcrawl pit in interminable record time. Once out from beneath the barbed wire and beyond it, somehow, you find a clearing in the cloud and, stumbling into it, you pull off your steel pot and yank out your gas mask and put it on, clearing it and gasping with all your might to catch the slightest trace of oxygen. To your everlasting relief, you do suck in some good air. And, almost instantly, a little, it's better. Oh, god, you think, it is better. Maybe, you hope, you're not dying anymore. At least; now, you think, you have some chance to survive. Oh. You're not dying. Oh. You're really not. Even though it's so, to quickly douse your exhilaration, you realize with a painful start, much to your chagrin, that for-sorfie reason you don't have your weapon with you, your precious M-14. You, in your panic, immediately you reason, must have blindly dropped it somewhere back in the compound yard. And leaving a weapon behind, you know all too well, is a cardinal Army sin, an unpardonable mistake, a ticket to hell. Anything else, just about, any other screw-up, eventually, would be forgiven you. But, not losing your M-14. They'll rip you to shreds, you worry. You'll never hear the end of it. It's the long-awaited opportunity,' no doubt, your drill sergeant has been praying for ever since he laid eyes upon you, something he can use to virtually hogtie and crucify you in front of everyone else. It's an excuse to endlessly harass you, .unmercifully. 108

Trips to Win It's an accepted reason to assign you endless extra duty. For him, you imagine, it will be a dream come true. For you, however, you understand, it would be unbearable. All of a sudden, the CS gas no longer frightens you; and, without hesitation, back into the clinging cloud of it you go, back through the low-crawl pit in reverse, beneath the barbed wire in haste you squirm. Then, back over the wooden wall you climb, as no one, you suppose, ever has before to find yourself standing alone in the compound yard with its rake marks and arranged lines of pebbles. At first, amidst the swirling gas, you can't see your weapon. Coming from somewhere above, you hear a voice. "Oh-oh," it exclaims, loud enough to be plain. "Someone left their M-14. Someone is in deep shit, now." It might be the voice of God, you surmise. But, you doubt it. Just then, you spy it in the dirt. At that same moment, almost, they spot you. They're high up in a building beside the yard, which you can just make out through the gas, upstairs behind a long pane of observation glass, obviously monitoring and supervising the exercise. You can see four of them, but you can't quite make them out clearly. "Look," one of them says. "He came back to get it." And go get your weapon, immediately, you do. "I've never seen that before," another of them comments. The CS gas is all around you, swirling and drifting mostly at your level close to the ground; yet, it no longer really bothers you, now that your mask is on and properly cleared, only stinging you a bit at the exposed skin of your face and hands. No longer are you dying, to be sure, breathing easily and standing all alone in the yard amidst the nightmare with your M-14 retrieved and secured in your grateful grip. You'll rest, for a minute, you think, before making your escape, by just standing there and calmly glancing around to check the place out. "What's he doing?" someone wonders. "He's trying out his mask," someone else concludes. "That dufus," someone else, yet, remarks. Without a^loubt, it's the very distinctive voice of your drill sergeant Still, the gas is thick and burning; yet, you're all but immune to its effects with your mask fitted snugly to your face. The feeling is, almost, you find, as if you're standing casually in the very bowels of hell, unharmed, with the devil himself looking down upon you in disbelief. You think you may as well stand there a little longer. "He was under the gun," someone comments. "The gas hit him right in the face. He didn't have a chance." Turning your head and glancing up at them through your mask's plastic and goggle-eye lenses, you think you can identify two cadre officers in distinctive 109


Berkeley Fiction Review blue helmet liners standing behind the glass with a third officer of unknown rank and authority, possibly of high standing, along with your drill sergeant, the four of them staring with interest down at you. "He was under the gun?" the third officer asks, for confirmation. "Yes, colonel," one of the cadre officers assures him. "I saw it. He didn't even have the chance to reach for his mask." Your drill sergeant, seemingly, begins to glare. "I think he's doing more than just trying out his mask," the colonel says. "Yes, colonel. I think you're right." "I think he's telling us to go fly a kite." "Yes, colonel." "I know who he is," your drill sergeant assures them. Turning to face the four of them fully, you dare to stand alone in the gas and stare back up at them. "I hope you know who he is, sergeant," the colonel says. "I've never seen anything like this in twenty years in the Army. That's a good soldier." "Yes, sir," a cadre officer agrees. "A damn good soldier." "I want that trainee's name, sergeant," the colonel says. "I think, maybe, be belongs in Officers Candidate School." For a long time, your drill sergeant doesn't reply. But then, finally, he reluctantly speaks. "Yes, colonel," he's forced to say. "I'll get you his name." Having heard that, having taken it all in, you gladly turn and disappear back into the CS gas to go through the course a third and final time. This time through, you discover, is very easy going.

Trips to Win unknown. To clear your lungs of concrete dust, you cough. To attempt to see in the sudden, sullen gloom, you squint and blink your eyes. There is a light. A beam of it seems to come to you through a hole blown in the back wall. It shines upon your face, blinding you. "Hurry," a voice encourages you. "Now, we must go underground." It's a familiar voice... .. .the frantic voice of Frans. "The Allies have taken Paris," with excitement, it exclaims. "Paris?" you ask.

The SS officer is thoroughly fed up with you, thoroughly frustrated with his perception of your lack of cooperation and his inability to make you tell him what he's sure you know. Back toward the rear wall of the-interrogation room he stomps, another time, fists clenched tightly in anger and doberman hackles in fierceness raised. He spins to face and confront you. "Yes!" he screams. "You are a cowaxd!^ Glaring at you, he scowls and growls. "Eventually, you will squeal like a stuck pig," vehemently, he threatens you. "With no doubt, absolutely, you will!" Right then, at that exact instant, no sooner than those wrathful words have exited his snarling lips,frighteninglyloud and suddenly shocking, an explosion of power and thunder rocks the room and rips the rear wall apart right behind him pelting you with ragged chunks of rubble and throwing you from your chair with its mighty wave of abrupt and corrupt concussion. For the longest moment, in your head and otherwise, all is silent amidst the ruin, all is black amidst the confusion, the room's bare and swinging light bulb instantly and permanently extinguished by a force unleashed from a source 110

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Berkeley Fiction Review blue helmet liners standing behind the glass with a third officer of unknown rank and authority, possibly of high standing, along with your drill sergeant, the four of them staring with interest down at you. "He was under the gun?" the third officer asks, for confirmation. "Yes, colonel," one of the cadre officers assures him. "I saw it. He didn't even have the chance to reach for his mask." Your drill sergeant, seemingly, begins to glare. "I think he's doing more than just trying out his mask," the colonel says. "Yes, colonel. I think you're right." "I think he's telling us to go fly a kite." "Yes, colonel." "I know who he is," your drill sergeant assures them. Turning to face the four of them fully, you dare to stand alone in the gas and stare back up at them. "I hope you know who he is, sergeant," the colonel says. "I've never seen anything like this in twenty years in the Army. That's a good soldier." "Yes, sir," a cadre officer agrees. "A damn good soldier." "I want that trainee's name, sergeant," the colonel says. "I think, maybe, be belongs in Officers Candidate School." For a long time, your drill sergeant doesn't reply. But then, finally, he reluctantly speaks. "Yes, colonel," he's forced to say. "I'll get you his name." Having heard that, having taken it all in, you gladly turn and disappear back into the CS gas to go through the course a third and final time. This time through, you discover, is very easy going.

Trips to Win unknown. To clear your lungs of concrete dust, you cough. To attempt to see in the sudden, sullen gloom, you squint and blink your eyes. There is a light. A beam of it seems to come to you through a hole blown in the back wall. It shines upon your face, blinding you. "Hurry," a voice encourages you. "Now, we must go underground." It's a familiar voice... .. .the frantic voice of Frans. "The Allies have taken Paris," with excitement, it exclaims. "Paris?" you ask.

The SS officer is thoroughly fed up with you, thoroughly frustrated with his perception of your lack of cooperation and his inability to make you tell him what he's sure you know. Back toward the rear wall of the-interrogation room he stomps, another time, fists clenched tightly in anger and doberman hackles in fierceness raised. He spins to face and confront you. "Yes!" he screams. "You are a cowaxd!^ Glaring at you, he scowls and growls. "Eventually, you will squeal like a stuck pig," vehemently, he threatens you. "With no doubt, absolutely, you will!" Right then, at that exact instant, no sooner than those wrathful words have exited his snarling lips,frighteninglyloud and suddenly shocking, an explosion of power and thunder rocks the room and rips the rear wall apart right behind him pelting you with ragged chunks of rubble and throwing you from your chair with its mighty wave of abrupt and corrupt concussion. For the longest moment, in your head and otherwise, all is silent amidst the ruin, all is black amidst the confusion, the room's bare and swinging light bulb instantly and permanently extinguished by a force unleashed from a source 110

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1. here must be a reason. It must be about something," says the therapist. T "I suppose." "Are you angry at your foot?" "Maybe." "Do you think it's about when your father went back to Russia?" "No."

Ivan Smith has recently returned to New York, his dissertation having proved unfeasible, to find many of his friends no longer in town. He would have stayed in North Carolina, so goes his version of the story, if it had not been for Leslie's cajoling. On the evening of his twenty-eighth birthday, Ivan has quite a bit to drink. The soiree, as Leslie has named it, takes place at the home of friends of hers with whom he is not entirely comfortable. Around eleven o'clock, after finishing the last of several bottles of burgundy, he suggests they better get going. "It's always a pleasure to spend time with Leslie's friends," he says on the way out the door, trying not to sound sarcastic. The occasion of his birthday warrants the choice of a taxi over the long subway ride back to Queens, but when it gets intractably stuck on the ramp leading up to the bridge, he harrumphs emphatically. "Yes, you're right," says Leslie, "the train would have been faster." After ten minutes of minimal progress, a peculiar sensation begins in the front of his foot opposite from the arch, similar to the sort of restlessness he 112

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1. here must be a reason. It must be about something," says the therapist. T "I suppose." "Are you angry at your foot?" "Maybe." "Do you think it's about when your father went back to Russia?" "No."

Ivan Smith has recently returned to New York, his dissertation having proved unfeasible, to find many of his friends no longer in town. He would have stayed in North Carolina, so goes his version of the story, if it had not been for Leslie's cajoling. On the evening of his twenty-eighth birthday, Ivan has quite a bit to drink. The soiree, as Leslie has named it, takes place at the home of friends of hers with whom he is not entirely comfortable. Around eleven o'clock, after finishing the last of several bottles of burgundy, he suggests they better get going. "It's always a pleasure to spend time with Leslie's friends," he says on the way out the door, trying not to sound sarcastic. The occasion of his birthday warrants the choice of a taxi over the long subway ride back to Queens, but when it gets intractably stuck on the ramp leading up to the bridge, he harrumphs emphatically. "Yes, you're right," says Leslie, "the train would have been faster." After ten minutes of minimal progress, a peculiar sensation begins in the front of his foot opposite from the arch, similar to the sort of restlessness he 112

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Berkeley Fiction Review gets in his back after he's been sitting for too long in a cramped place. After looking down at where his foot lies, right under the driver's seat, and appraising it carefully, he twists it back and forth. Once he gets the bone to make a satisfying cracking sound, the sensation disappears. But a moment or so later, the restlessness comes back. Something's trapped right under the skin, something that wants out The second time Ivan twists his foot he can't make it crack. So he takes it out from under the driver's" seat and tries again, more vehemently this time. When he finally succeeds, he nicks Leslie's left leg. Fortunately, the traffic soon clears, and they're on their way home.^ Back in their apartment, Leslie's birthday present does not turn out to be a carefully selected token of her affection. The series of gift certificates entitle him to engage in what was a relatively new phenomenon of the time, online shopping: Exhausted by drink and feeling unappreciated (nothing like the proper birthday fetes he had received in the days before he'd left the city) he collapses on their unmade futon bed and begins what should be an easy journey to the land of nod, set to begin as soon as he's cracked his foot one last time. But after an almost delirious sense of relief, the restlessness returns, so he jerks his foot free from the sheets and twists it back and forth. Crack. "Stop that honey," says Leslie after the sixth or seventh time. "Sorry," says Ivan, cracking again. It's addictive. The post-crack release lifts him up like a narcotic. The desire to crack again immediately afterwards frustrates and unnerves him. Crack The prickly little being in his foot is sowing its oats after years of repression. Crack. Leslie sighs angrily and moves to the couch-in the other room. Alone on the futon, Ivan can crack at will. V.^^ 2 "Does she take you for granted?" "A little maybe." "Is she on your mind when you crack your foot?" "Not really." The following day is a Sunday, and they spend it doing pleasant Sundayish things, a walk in the park, a brunch in the garden of an upscale restaurant just opened as spring has finally broken forth. That night the foot only briefly bothers him, just a quick crack or two before he sleeps.

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Early Monday morning, Ivan gets a call from the most unruly of the junior high schools for which he's been substitute teaching. There he negotiates yelling, fist-fighting, eraser throwing and other cliches of the profession. He can do nothing to help a short, blond and ineffably disabled boy, who reminds him of himself as a child, from getting picked on mercilessly. That night his foot doesn't wait until bedtime to demand satisfaction. It strikes while he's sipping beer and watching old situation comedies in an attempt to relax before facing the same ruffians the next day. Dancing around the floor like an irritable pet, it insists on more cracking. The Lucy Show, the Honeymooners, and half of Barney Miller are over by the time the sensation begins to faintly subside, a vague sleepiness appearing in its wake. But by the time he's made it to bed not even bothering to kiss the preoccupied Leslie (who's having a tense telephone conversation with her mother) goodnight, the feeling has worsened, each crack louder than the last, the desire to do it again immediately afterwards more and more fierce. "Stop that," says Leslie from the other room. But he can't. 3. The following week the graying, stereotypically Jewish-looking doctor ascertains that Ivan does not, in fact, have anything like a prickly sensation in his legs at night. As the "foot issue," as Leslie has christened it, does not "present" as a common diagnosis, the doctor has nothing useful to say. "But it feels like something's stuck inside it," Ivan complains to the doctor, reluctant to leave the examining room, "like if you just went in there with a knife^you could get it rid of i t " The doctor shakes his head and leaves to attend to patients with more credible problems. As time goes by, Ivan and Leslie develop a nightly response to the problem. 1. An hour or so before bedtime, as the sensation is growing unbearable, Ivan kisses Leslie a polite goodnight 2 As it worsens, he watches bite-sized nuggets of simple television, reaching for the beginnings of fatigue. 3. At more or less the same time, they find themselves on opposite sides of their full-sized futon. 4. In the midst of his cracking, he begins a tortured prayer under his breath, "Oh God, oh God, oh God!." 5. It gets louder. 6. Leslie's impatience becomes tangible from the other side of the futon. 7. Ivan gets up to his feet and retreats to the couch in the other room where he can crack and yell to his heart's content. 115


Berkeley Fiction Review gets in his back after he's been sitting for too long in a cramped place. After looking down at where his foot lies, right under the driver's seat, and appraising it carefully, he twists it back and forth. Once he gets the bone to make a satisfying cracking sound, the sensation disappears. But a moment or so later, the restlessness comes back. Something's trapped right under the skin, something that wants out The second time Ivan twists his foot he can't make it crack. So he takes it out from under the driver's" seat and tries again, more vehemently this time. When he finally succeeds, he nicks Leslie's left leg. Fortunately, the traffic soon clears, and they're on their way home.^ Back in their apartment, Leslie's birthday present does not turn out to be a carefully selected token of her affection. The series of gift certificates entitle him to engage in what was a relatively new phenomenon of the time, online shopping: Exhausted by drink and feeling unappreciated (nothing like the proper birthday fetes he had received in the days before he'd left the city) he collapses on their unmade futon bed and begins what should be an easy journey to the land of nod, set to begin as soon as he's cracked his foot one last time. But after an almost delirious sense of relief, the restlessness returns, so he jerks his foot free from the sheets and twists it back and forth. Crack. "Stop that honey," says Leslie after the sixth or seventh time. "Sorry," says Ivan, cracking again. It's addictive. The post-crack release lifts him up like a narcotic. The desire to crack again immediately afterwards frustrates and unnerves him. Crack The prickly little being in his foot is sowing its oats after years of repression. Crack. Leslie sighs angrily and moves to the couch-in the other room. Alone on the futon, Ivan can crack at will. V.^^ 2 "Does she take you for granted?" "A little maybe." "Is she on your mind when you crack your foot?" "Not really." The following day is a Sunday, and they spend it doing pleasant Sundayish things, a walk in the park, a brunch in the garden of an upscale restaurant just opened as spring has finally broken forth. That night the foot only briefly bothers him, just a quick crack or two before he sleeps.

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Early Monday morning, Ivan gets a call from the most unruly of the junior high schools for which he's been substitute teaching. There he negotiates yelling, fist-fighting, eraser throwing and other cliches of the profession. He can do nothing to help a short, blond and ineffably disabled boy, who reminds him of himself as a child, from getting picked on mercilessly. That night his foot doesn't wait until bedtime to demand satisfaction. It strikes while he's sipping beer and watching old situation comedies in an attempt to relax before facing the same ruffians the next day. Dancing around the floor like an irritable pet, it insists on more cracking. The Lucy Show, the Honeymooners, and half of Barney Miller are over by the time the sensation begins to faintly subside, a vague sleepiness appearing in its wake. But by the time he's made it to bed not even bothering to kiss the preoccupied Leslie (who's having a tense telephone conversation with her mother) goodnight, the feeling has worsened, each crack louder than the last, the desire to do it again immediately afterwards more and more fierce. "Stop that," says Leslie from the other room. But he can't. 3. The following week the graying, stereotypically Jewish-looking doctor ascertains that Ivan does not, in fact, have anything like a prickly sensation in his legs at night. As the "foot issue," as Leslie has christened it, does not "present" as a common diagnosis, the doctor has nothing useful to say. "But it feels like something's stuck inside it," Ivan complains to the doctor, reluctant to leave the examining room, "like if you just went in there with a knife^you could get it rid of i t " The doctor shakes his head and leaves to attend to patients with more credible problems. As time goes by, Ivan and Leslie develop a nightly response to the problem. 1. An hour or so before bedtime, as the sensation is growing unbearable, Ivan kisses Leslie a polite goodnight 2 As it worsens, he watches bite-sized nuggets of simple television, reaching for the beginnings of fatigue. 3. At more or less the same time, they find themselves on opposite sides of their full-sized futon. 4. In the midst of his cracking, he begins a tortured prayer under his breath, "Oh God, oh God, oh God!." 5. It gets louder. 6. Leslie's impatience becomes tangible from the other side of the futon. 7. Ivan gets up to his feet and retreats to the couch in the other room where he can crack and yell to his heart's content. 115


Berkeley Fiction Review 4. "Bring yourself back to last night" "Okay." "Smell your bedroom smells, feel the sheet against your back." "Okay." "You have to keep your eyes closed, Ivan." "Sorry." "Now concentrate on your foot, conjure what that feels like." "Okay." "Share with me your associations. What does it make you think about?" "Nothing. I just want it to stop. I want it to fucking stop." One night after he's retreated to the couch but still finds the restlessness impossible to bear, he reaches the inevitable conclusion that his foot is personally responsible. He inspects it, looking forolues as to its dark nature, but it just looks innocently back up at him, feigning ignorance. "Motherfucking, shit-faced, asshole cunt foot," he tells it in a hushed voice so Leslie can't hear from the other room. Then he slams his fist onto its front, that devastating cracking point The dull ache is reassuring, at first — at least, it replaces the restlessness. When the sensation comes right back, he slams himself with even more force, but he still can't seem to get at the creature that lives inside, which he sees as one of those demon germs eradicated by disinfectants on old television commercials, bright yellow-colored with a funny antenna and an impertinent scowl. "Yow!" he yells. "Shut up," his half-asleep partner yells back. The next morning he awakes to find a large bruise on his foot. He walks with a bit of a limp. ^ ^ ^ "What happened to you?" asks Leslie on her way out the door. By the time he's had his coffee and waited long enough to know that no school requires his services, his foot doesn't hurt as , much, but he feels foolish for having intentionally damaged himself. The next night, though, after once again cracking and cracking to no avail, he takes one of the ten-pound weights that reside'under the couch and smashes his foot His bloodcurdling cry brings Leslie in from the other room. What has just happened can easily be deduced by the sound of the weight hitting the ground and the spectacle of Ivan jumping up 116

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.and down holding his injured limb in his hand. "You've got to do something about this, Ivan," she says glumly, "this simply can't go on." 5. A friend of Leslie's, a woman present on the fateful birthday evening on which the horror show began, recommends a therapist. Determining to "crack the puzzle of Ivan Smith," the therapist immediately hones in on the sad tale of Ivan's Russian father's return to his homeland, the taking on his mother's Anglo last name in rebellion. The novice therapist, a balding man about Ivan's age, asks too many questions all at once. "How did you feel when your father left? How did your mother feel? Had your father been depressed?" and so on. Silent Ivan eventually figures he'll never get out of this if he doesn't say something. Of course, they were all depressed. "If America was really that bad," he declares with sudden conviction, "why did he have to conle here in the first place?" "Hmm," says the therapist noncommittally. "Why do you hate your foot so much?" "I don't know," says churlish Ivan. "It doesn't deserve it," says the therapist, hazarding an opinion, "it's part of you isn't?" 6. He keeps going to the therapist, but life at home continues to deteriorate. These days Leslie goes to bed beforeJiim and shuts the door, leaving the couch as his only option. He cracks and screams ("Oh God, Oh God, oh God") and cracks and screams some more. She wears earplugs. They don't really talk. _---' They certainly d6n't make love. They've stopped discussing marriage. "I can't take much more of this," says Leslie one evening while they're chewing their rigatoni in silence,-"but that can come as no surprise." "I went to the doctor," says Ivan, an embarrassingly nasal cast to his voice, "I'm going to the therapist" "But it doesn't help," says Leslie, asserting the obvious. 7.

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Berkeley Fiction Review 4. "Bring yourself back to last night" "Okay." "Smell your bedroom smells, feel the sheet against your back." "Okay." "You have to keep your eyes closed, Ivan." "Sorry." "Now concentrate on your foot, conjure what that feels like." "Okay." "Share with me your associations. What does it make you think about?" "Nothing. I just want it to stop. I want it to fucking stop." One night after he's retreated to the couch but still finds the restlessness impossible to bear, he reaches the inevitable conclusion that his foot is personally responsible. He inspects it, looking forolues as to its dark nature, but it just looks innocently back up at him, feigning ignorance. "Motherfucking, shit-faced, asshole cunt foot," he tells it in a hushed voice so Leslie can't hear from the other room. Then he slams his fist onto its front, that devastating cracking point The dull ache is reassuring, at first — at least, it replaces the restlessness. When the sensation comes right back, he slams himself with even more force, but he still can't seem to get at the creature that lives inside, which he sees as one of those demon germs eradicated by disinfectants on old television commercials, bright yellow-colored with a funny antenna and an impertinent scowl. "Yow!" he yells. "Shut up," his half-asleep partner yells back. The next morning he awakes to find a large bruise on his foot. He walks with a bit of a limp. ^ ^ ^ "What happened to you?" asks Leslie on her way out the door. By the time he's had his coffee and waited long enough to know that no school requires his services, his foot doesn't hurt as , much, but he feels foolish for having intentionally damaged himself. The next night, though, after once again cracking and cracking to no avail, he takes one of the ten-pound weights that reside'under the couch and smashes his foot His bloodcurdling cry brings Leslie in from the other room. What has just happened can easily be deduced by the sound of the weight hitting the ground and the spectacle of Ivan jumping up 116

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.and down holding his injured limb in his hand. "You've got to do something about this, Ivan," she says glumly, "this simply can't go on." 5. A friend of Leslie's, a woman present on the fateful birthday evening on which the horror show began, recommends a therapist. Determining to "crack the puzzle of Ivan Smith," the therapist immediately hones in on the sad tale of Ivan's Russian father's return to his homeland, the taking on his mother's Anglo last name in rebellion. The novice therapist, a balding man about Ivan's age, asks too many questions all at once. "How did you feel when your father left? How did your mother feel? Had your father been depressed?" and so on. Silent Ivan eventually figures he'll never get out of this if he doesn't say something. Of course, they were all depressed. "If America was really that bad," he declares with sudden conviction, "why did he have to conle here in the first place?" "Hmm," says the therapist noncommittally. "Why do you hate your foot so much?" "I don't know," says churlish Ivan. "It doesn't deserve it," says the therapist, hazarding an opinion, "it's part of you isn't?" 6. He keeps going to the therapist, but life at home continues to deteriorate. These days Leslie goes to bed beforeJiim and shuts the door, leaving the couch as his only option. He cracks and screams ("Oh God, Oh God, oh God") and cracks and screams some more. She wears earplugs. They don't really talk. _---' They certainly d6n't make love. They've stopped discussing marriage. "I can't take much more of this," says Leslie one evening while they're chewing their rigatoni in silence,-"but that can come as no surprise." "I went to the doctor," says Ivan, an embarrassingly nasal cast to his voice, "I'm going to the therapist" "But it doesn't help," says Leslie, asserting the obvious. 7.

117


Berkeley Fiction Review The psychiatrist asks some of the same questions as the therapist but not so foolishly all at once. He's also a lot older. His off-hand, slightly diffident manner reminds Ivan, stereotypically enough, of his lost Russian father. "I'm promiscuous with the prescribing of drugs," he says. "But don't think of me as a pill pusher." The pills (one to make him calm, the other to make him sleep) improve life considerably. Being a little drowsy during the day doesn't bother him much, and being put down at night with minimal to do certainly has its charms. Leslie invites him back to bed for the first time in months and is in the middle of fervently kissing him when he falls asleep. "Better than the cracking," she says the following morning, "better than the yelling." 8. But as time progresses, the calming pill makes him more and more lackluster, junior high school kids running ramshod over him in even the better schools. For two consecutive days, he sleeps through his alarm and another substitute has to be found. The edge of fatigue trails after him everywhere despite the coffee and the naps. It's like one of those itches at the back of your tongue that you can't quite scratch. And the foot flares back at him in the evenings through his sleepy daze: first, a feeling of vague unease, then a devilish desire to crack that comes right back no matter how much he obliges it. There's no transition between the wide-awake night and the sleep-sogged morning when he looks down at his foot lying sweetly outside the blanket like a falsely innocent child. He feels blissfully tired one evening at an early hour. He hasn't even had dinner yet but knows he must take advantage of this unlikely window of opportunity and put himself to sleep. Once in bed, his foot feels oddly docile, but his stomach strikes instead, not pain but hunger, gluttonous and overwhelming. Running to the kitchen and knocking over a chair in his haste, he downs all that he can find: chips slopped with salsa, a pack of slightly old lunch meat, ah apple, a piece of parmagiamg'rafrng cheese The following evening a wiser Ivan makes sure to eat a full dinner and falls asleep with a pill and a minimum of foot distress. He wakes up quite pleased with himself for faring so well during the night. By the time he's pulled himself off the futon and on to his feet, however, a foul taste fills his mouth, and his stomach heaves in hysteric pain. Once he's emptied his bowels, he makes his way to the kitchen for his morning coffee to find Leslie sweeping up after what has all the markers of a natural disaster. The kitchen floor is littered with fractured chips, cookie crumbs and what appear to be pieces of eggshell. On the counter are larger half-eaten bits of the same food matter. Apparently, he has done this in his sleep. Ivan has the good sense to shoo Leslie from the kitchen and finish the cleaning himself. 118

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Mind

The next night, Ivan falls warily to sleep, willing his body to stay in place. His foot gnaws away at him until Leslie's shuffling in bed signals the time for his couch exile. That morning when he wakes up, his stomach is blissfully free of distress, the kitchen marvelously empty of nighttime contamination. The following morning, though, Ivan and Leslie wake up late for work and must leave their kitchen in the fouled and fetid state in which they find it Except for suggesting, no, ordering Ivan back to the psychiatrist, Leslie remains silent about the addition of the night eating to his repertoire of nocturnal horrors. What, after all, is there for either of them to say. Working together in marvelous tandem that evening, they take out the remaining food from the kitchen. Ivan slips into the other room while Leslie hides the meats, the vegetables, the cheeses in layers of plastic and paper and puts them in unlikely drawers and closets, places impossible to find in the middle of crazed nights. They simply throw out the more tempting items, the chips, the cookies, the ice cream He wakes up the following morning to find only slight signs of disturbance, a few drawers left open, a half loaf of bread torn up with his hands.' That night he falls asleep with relative ease, the foot in mild remission, but wakes to find his stomach in the now familiar agony and the kitchen in another state of emergency, crumbs, ripped pieces of paper, plastic wrappers. Nothing can be hidden from his devious sleep mind. "No food," orders the increasingly dogmatic Leslie, "no food left out over night." But the pattern continues, ever more dismal, a night of apparent victory followed by another of a stranger, more devastating defeat Ivan wakes up the first night of the total food prohibition era to find himself wobbling from side to side in the empty kitchen, psychically battered enough by the long night's hunger to crawl into bed and find an easy sleep. The following night after another relatively peaceful struggle against the God of Awake, Ivan smells a series of unusual odors: gasoline, concrete, something ominously urinous. The strong wind that blows on his face cannot come from an open window inside their apartment, the cold dank sensation on his bare feet can only be pavement. On a dark street corner not far from their apartment, Ivan's hand grips the door of a closed deli. He's not actually naked, but since he's forgotten both to wear underwear and to zip his zipper, his bristly pubic hair pokes up through his pants. His shirt is on backwards, of course. There's no evidence to suggest he's been trying to break into the store. Thankfully, he's just standing puppy-dog-pathetic in front. He slinks back home to find Leslie wide awake and cognizant, more or less, of what has just happened.

119


Berkeley Fiction Review The psychiatrist asks some of the same questions as the therapist but not so foolishly all at once. He's also a lot older. His off-hand, slightly diffident manner reminds Ivan, stereotypically enough, of his lost Russian father. "I'm promiscuous with the prescribing of drugs," he says. "But don't think of me as a pill pusher." The pills (one to make him calm, the other to make him sleep) improve life considerably. Being a little drowsy during the day doesn't bother him much, and being put down at night with minimal to do certainly has its charms. Leslie invites him back to bed for the first time in months and is in the middle of fervently kissing him when he falls asleep. "Better than the cracking," she says the following morning, "better than the yelling." 8. But as time progresses, the calming pill makes him more and more lackluster, junior high school kids running ramshod over him in even the better schools. For two consecutive days, he sleeps through his alarm and another substitute has to be found. The edge of fatigue trails after him everywhere despite the coffee and the naps. It's like one of those itches at the back of your tongue that you can't quite scratch. And the foot flares back at him in the evenings through his sleepy daze: first, a feeling of vague unease, then a devilish desire to crack that comes right back no matter how much he obliges it. There's no transition between the wide-awake night and the sleep-sogged morning when he looks down at his foot lying sweetly outside the blanket like a falsely innocent child. He feels blissfully tired one evening at an early hour. He hasn't even had dinner yet but knows he must take advantage of this unlikely window of opportunity and put himself to sleep. Once in bed, his foot feels oddly docile, but his stomach strikes instead, not pain but hunger, gluttonous and overwhelming. Running to the kitchen and knocking over a chair in his haste, he downs all that he can find: chips slopped with salsa, a pack of slightly old lunch meat, ah apple, a piece of parmagiamg'rafrng cheese The following evening a wiser Ivan makes sure to eat a full dinner and falls asleep with a pill and a minimum of foot distress. He wakes up quite pleased with himself for faring so well during the night. By the time he's pulled himself off the futon and on to his feet, however, a foul taste fills his mouth, and his stomach heaves in hysteric pain. Once he's emptied his bowels, he makes his way to the kitchen for his morning coffee to find Leslie sweeping up after what has all the markers of a natural disaster. The kitchen floor is littered with fractured chips, cookie crumbs and what appear to be pieces of eggshell. On the counter are larger half-eaten bits of the same food matter. Apparently, he has done this in his sleep. Ivan has the good sense to shoo Leslie from the kitchen and finish the cleaning himself. 118

Foot, a Tale of the Irrational

Mind

The next night, Ivan falls warily to sleep, willing his body to stay in place. His foot gnaws away at him until Leslie's shuffling in bed signals the time for his couch exile. That morning when he wakes up, his stomach is blissfully free of distress, the kitchen marvelously empty of nighttime contamination. The following morning, though, Ivan and Leslie wake up late for work and must leave their kitchen in the fouled and fetid state in which they find it Except for suggesting, no, ordering Ivan back to the psychiatrist, Leslie remains silent about the addition of the night eating to his repertoire of nocturnal horrors. What, after all, is there for either of them to say. Working together in marvelous tandem that evening, they take out the remaining food from the kitchen. Ivan slips into the other room while Leslie hides the meats, the vegetables, the cheeses in layers of plastic and paper and puts them in unlikely drawers and closets, places impossible to find in the middle of crazed nights. They simply throw out the more tempting items, the chips, the cookies, the ice cream He wakes up the following morning to find only slight signs of disturbance, a few drawers left open, a half loaf of bread torn up with his hands.' That night he falls asleep with relative ease, the foot in mild remission, but wakes to find his stomach in the now familiar agony and the kitchen in another state of emergency, crumbs, ripped pieces of paper, plastic wrappers. Nothing can be hidden from his devious sleep mind. "No food," orders the increasingly dogmatic Leslie, "no food left out over night." But the pattern continues, ever more dismal, a night of apparent victory followed by another of a stranger, more devastating defeat Ivan wakes up the first night of the total food prohibition era to find himself wobbling from side to side in the empty kitchen, psychically battered enough by the long night's hunger to crawl into bed and find an easy sleep. The following night after another relatively peaceful struggle against the God of Awake, Ivan smells a series of unusual odors: gasoline, concrete, something ominously urinous. The strong wind that blows on his face cannot come from an open window inside their apartment, the cold dank sensation on his bare feet can only be pavement. On a dark street corner not far from their apartment, Ivan's hand grips the door of a closed deli. He's not actually naked, but since he's forgotten both to wear underwear and to zip his zipper, his bristly pubic hair pokes up through his pants. His shirt is on backwards, of course. There's no evidence to suggest he's been trying to break into the store. Thankfully, he's just standing puppy-dog-pathetic in front. He slinks back home to find Leslie wide awake and cognizant, more or less, of what has just happened.

119


Berkeley Fiction Review "Tomorrow, first thing," she says. She means, of course, the psychiatrist 9. The psychiatrist takes him off the sleeping pills and ups the dosage of the anti-crazy pills. As a result, he's sleepy all day the next day, a snail trail of drowsy drool creeping down his chin during the study hall at which he's supposedly^ presiding. No longer ameliorated by sleep medicine, the foot wreaks its inevitable revenge that night. Striking an hour or so after dinner (and breaking all the terms of their brief detente) it demands to be cracked, struck, begged for mercy. He doesn't even try to sleep in bed, heading straight to the couch around eleven o'clock and rolling back and forth, cracking his foot and yelling inanities to himself, "Oh God, oh shit.fuck of God etc...*" The foot creature has changed from the relatively innocent, good olddays of yellow antenna'd demonhood into something reddish and globular. Covered, as Ivan now sees it, with varicose veins, brownish bruises and smelling like overripe melon, it wraps its tendrils more and more potently around the tendons in Ivan's foot, making merry while he writhes and yells. At some dark desperate moment not far fromjJawn, Ivan feels someone approach, Leslie., Oddly, he doesn't sense her recent pissed-off vibe. She actually feels sorry for hint. Coming up from behind, she wraps her arms lovingly around him. While Ivan dearly appreciates the gesture, a rare moment of physical solicitude in these trying times, his body simply won't allow it It demands to be left alone in its misery. He tries to stay in place but feels desperately claustrophobic. It makes him short of breath, his heart pounding relentlessly, the evil in his foot slowly waking from a brief and merciful slumber. First Ivan's shoulders shutter instinctually as if confronted by something menacing, disgusting. Then they buck spastically like an angry colt, sending Leslie flying down to the floor, knees first. She yelps in pain and frustration. Months of dealing with this horror^show", then to be thrown to the ground after offering comfort! By morning, the still limping Leslie is packing her bags and announcing that she needs a break. 10. The next weeks pass in a miserably flurry. One night his fooftakes pity on him, but he doesn't get sleepy as the night progresses. 1:10,1:11,1:12, he watches the minutes pass until morning. Some nights he breaks the psychiatrist's orders and takes one of the remaining sleeping pills. First, though, he buys himself a store of accessible food, so he's not in danger of roaming wild through the streets when struck by the inevitable hunger.

120

Foot, a Tale of the Irrational

Mind

Other nights, the intolerable restlessness of his foot makes him so angry that he slams it hard enough for pain to become the dominant sensation. Days become stranger as he gets less and less sleep. When he's called to substitute teach (quite rare as he's no longer deemed reliable) he finds the kids relatively easy to discipline. He just glares viscerally at them when they misbehave, his foot demon flaring briefly and usefully up through his body to his eyes, murderous and cold. Spitballs stop in mid air, illicit notes freeze mid passage, even the most recalcitrant kids sit quietly in their seats. Mr. Smith was scary. Mr. Smith was creepy. He gets up late on the days he doesn't teach, his foot relenting slightly in the mornings,^ but can't ever get himself to feel really awake. Cup of coffee after cup of coffee can't dissolve the foggy cloud stuck between his skull-and his face. Towards midday, he makes himself ridiculous low-calorie lunches, unsuccessfully compensating for his nighttime eating. He slices thin pieces of tasteless supermarket tomatoes on slivers of whole wheat bread or just gulps down large bowls of brannish cereals, which makes him shit the afternoons away. As the sun begins to fall, .the day slipping away, the night looms enormously ahead. All he can think to do is switch on the television. Staring in front of it, he flips from channel to channel, focusing with intense abstraction on the images unfolding in front of him. The baseball players in their formal cotton uniforms run around like spastic children. The talk show hosts make their inexplicably ironic jokes, rousing random-seeming moments of audience delight The old movie detectives shuffle through shadowy cities, sniffing out distant dramas and rough and tumble enigmas. 11. He can't call Leslie because she'll only hear the panic in his voice. She'll know things are only getting worse and won't want to call him back. He takes the last sleeping pill one night a couple months after she's left. It seems to calm his foot, but he still doesn't sleep. He only lets himself check the time every five minutes, but about-three in-the morning his hearts roars into anxious overdrive. Each breath is shallow, not bringing in near enough oxygen. He closes his eyes and tries to relax but knows that if he doesn't sleep he will surely die. Still awake a half an hour later and no less anxious, he decides that only Leslie can help him. But the number of the friend with whom she's staying is not where it should be right by the phone. He tears through the kitchen in search of it, pulling every utensil, gadget and scrap of paper from every drawer. Desolately, he returns to the phone to find it right where he had looked before. He punches the numbers, waits as it rings, but finds himself infuriated by Leslie's friend's nasal nonchalance on the outgoing message. Rather than 121


Berkeley Fiction Review "Tomorrow, first thing," she says. She means, of course, the psychiatrist 9. The psychiatrist takes him off the sleeping pills and ups the dosage of the anti-crazy pills. As a result, he's sleepy all day the next day, a snail trail of drowsy drool creeping down his chin during the study hall at which he's supposedly^ presiding. No longer ameliorated by sleep medicine, the foot wreaks its inevitable revenge that night. Striking an hour or so after dinner (and breaking all the terms of their brief detente) it demands to be cracked, struck, begged for mercy. He doesn't even try to sleep in bed, heading straight to the couch around eleven o'clock and rolling back and forth, cracking his foot and yelling inanities to himself, "Oh God, oh shit.fuck of God etc...*" The foot creature has changed from the relatively innocent, good olddays of yellow antenna'd demonhood into something reddish and globular. Covered, as Ivan now sees it, with varicose veins, brownish bruises and smelling like overripe melon, it wraps its tendrils more and more potently around the tendons in Ivan's foot, making merry while he writhes and yells. At some dark desperate moment not far fromjJawn, Ivan feels someone approach, Leslie., Oddly, he doesn't sense her recent pissed-off vibe. She actually feels sorry for hint. Coming up from behind, she wraps her arms lovingly around him. While Ivan dearly appreciates the gesture, a rare moment of physical solicitude in these trying times, his body simply won't allow it It demands to be left alone in its misery. He tries to stay in place but feels desperately claustrophobic. It makes him short of breath, his heart pounding relentlessly, the evil in his foot slowly waking from a brief and merciful slumber. First Ivan's shoulders shutter instinctually as if confronted by something menacing, disgusting. Then they buck spastically like an angry colt, sending Leslie flying down to the floor, knees first. She yelps in pain and frustration. Months of dealing with this horror^show", then to be thrown to the ground after offering comfort! By morning, the still limping Leslie is packing her bags and announcing that she needs a break. 10. The next weeks pass in a miserably flurry. One night his fooftakes pity on him, but he doesn't get sleepy as the night progresses. 1:10,1:11,1:12, he watches the minutes pass until morning. Some nights he breaks the psychiatrist's orders and takes one of the remaining sleeping pills. First, though, he buys himself a store of accessible food, so he's not in danger of roaming wild through the streets when struck by the inevitable hunger.

120

Foot, a Tale of the Irrational

Mind

Other nights, the intolerable restlessness of his foot makes him so angry that he slams it hard enough for pain to become the dominant sensation. Days become stranger as he gets less and less sleep. When he's called to substitute teach (quite rare as he's no longer deemed reliable) he finds the kids relatively easy to discipline. He just glares viscerally at them when they misbehave, his foot demon flaring briefly and usefully up through his body to his eyes, murderous and cold. Spitballs stop in mid air, illicit notes freeze mid passage, even the most recalcitrant kids sit quietly in their seats. Mr. Smith was scary. Mr. Smith was creepy. He gets up late on the days he doesn't teach, his foot relenting slightly in the mornings,^ but can't ever get himself to feel really awake. Cup of coffee after cup of coffee can't dissolve the foggy cloud stuck between his skull-and his face. Towards midday, he makes himself ridiculous low-calorie lunches, unsuccessfully compensating for his nighttime eating. He slices thin pieces of tasteless supermarket tomatoes on slivers of whole wheat bread or just gulps down large bowls of brannish cereals, which makes him shit the afternoons away. As the sun begins to fall, .the day slipping away, the night looms enormously ahead. All he can think to do is switch on the television. Staring in front of it, he flips from channel to channel, focusing with intense abstraction on the images unfolding in front of him. The baseball players in their formal cotton uniforms run around like spastic children. The talk show hosts make their inexplicably ironic jokes, rousing random-seeming moments of audience delight The old movie detectives shuffle through shadowy cities, sniffing out distant dramas and rough and tumble enigmas. 11. He can't call Leslie because she'll only hear the panic in his voice. She'll know things are only getting worse and won't want to call him back. He takes the last sleeping pill one night a couple months after she's left. It seems to calm his foot, but he still doesn't sleep. He only lets himself check the time every five minutes, but about-three in-the morning his hearts roars into anxious overdrive. Each breath is shallow, not bringing in near enough oxygen. He closes his eyes and tries to relax but knows that if he doesn't sleep he will surely die. Still awake a half an hour later and no less anxious, he decides that only Leslie can help him. But the number of the friend with whom she's staying is not where it should be right by the phone. He tears through the kitchen in search of it, pulling every utensil, gadget and scrap of paper from every drawer. Desolately, he returns to the phone to find it right where he had looked before. He punches the numbers, waits as it rings, but finds himself infuriated by Leslie's friend's nasal nonchalance on the outgoing message. Rather than 121


Berkeley Fiction Review further sideline (his already sidelined cause) by leaving some desperate message, he delicately hangs up the phone. It's only after he's sure it's been disconnected that he smashes his fist onto the kitchen counter. Not leaving a message is actually a wise course of action because no one will know it's him. A call in the middle of the night, just one, could be from anyone. Crank calls, wrong numbers happen at all hours. But no, Ivan reels in terrible realization, not when your ex almost-fiance never sleeps. Its source will be immediately evident, and, as the damage has already been done, there's no reason not to call again, and this time obey the voice that tells him to "do what you need to do after the tone." This time a live voice picks up the line. "Leave us alone until morning," it tells him. "I can't," he replies, "I'm dying over here." "She's asleep." "But I'll just keep calling." A pause on the line, whispering in the background. "It's okay," sleepy Leslie tells him, frustration evident under the surface of her comfort, "everything's okay; now go to sleep." She's off the phone before he can dispute her claim.

Foot, a Tale of the Irrational

Mind

of blood on the kitchen floor, but he's sleepy again. He slips to the ground, gathering the filthy green throw rug around his head to use as a pillow. He glimpses enough of his foot to see that he's finally been able to wound the creature inside it. While it still flashes its despicable manifestations, the relatively innocent yellow devil of early days, the tumor-like veiny bulge it later became, a bilious fluid — colorless, far from human — seeps from of it It whines painfully on some un-tuned frequency that's hard to separate from the television sounds coming in through the open window from the apartment across the way. His foot can't quite form words but does okay with syllables, making pained glottal consonants, silky high-pitched vowels, as it swells, oozing infection through the skin, muscles atid ligaments. Before he knows it, it's late in the morning, maybe even afternoon. His wound throbs but has mostly stopped bleeding. He shuffles towards the espresso machine leaving a dark red trail on the linoleum. His injured foot looks contritely up at him as he sips his coffee, swollen with pus and blood, smelling faintly like cheese but scared into submission.

One day, a few miserable weeks later, he calls Leslie and declares himself cured. "Now you can move back in," he informs her. "Well," she replies, "you know I need more time." "What do you mean?" he asks as calmly as he can. "I just don't know." "Are you seeing someone else?" "It's not important" 12. One misty fall night months later, Ivan feels deliciously sleepy. Around nine, he slips off his clothes and creeps intoJjejk'His foot is silent, his stomach content. When, an hour or so late, a car alarm goes off on the street below, the sound enters seamlessly .into his dream. Leslie has come home, bringing with her an enormous king-sized bed. It somehow fits into their tiny bedroom but sets off a mysterious alarm. They search and search for it amidst the disheveled sheets' .Awake a moment or so later; Ivan's stomach growls petulantly. The weight he's gained sags below him like a terrible tire, as his foot yowls for attention. A couple of bowls of cereal silence his stomach, and the steak knife does the job on his foot. The sawing creates a dull ache along with quite a bit 122

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Berkeley Fiction Review further sideline (his already sidelined cause) by leaving some desperate message, he delicately hangs up the phone. It's only after he's sure it's been disconnected that he smashes his fist onto the kitchen counter. Not leaving a message is actually a wise course of action because no one will know it's him. A call in the middle of the night, just one, could be from anyone. Crank calls, wrong numbers happen at all hours. But no, Ivan reels in terrible realization, not when your ex almost-fiance never sleeps. Its source will be immediately evident, and, as the damage has already been done, there's no reason not to call again, and this time obey the voice that tells him to "do what you need to do after the tone." This time a live voice picks up the line. "Leave us alone until morning," it tells him. "I can't," he replies, "I'm dying over here." "She's asleep." "But I'll just keep calling." A pause on the line, whispering in the background. "It's okay," sleepy Leslie tells him, frustration evident under the surface of her comfort, "everything's okay; now go to sleep." She's off the phone before he can dispute her claim.

Foot, a Tale of the Irrational

Mind

of blood on the kitchen floor, but he's sleepy again. He slips to the ground, gathering the filthy green throw rug around his head to use as a pillow. He glimpses enough of his foot to see that he's finally been able to wound the creature inside it. While it still flashes its despicable manifestations, the relatively innocent yellow devil of early days, the tumor-like veiny bulge it later became, a bilious fluid — colorless, far from human — seeps from of it It whines painfully on some un-tuned frequency that's hard to separate from the television sounds coming in through the open window from the apartment across the way. His foot can't quite form words but does okay with syllables, making pained glottal consonants, silky high-pitched vowels, as it swells, oozing infection through the skin, muscles atid ligaments. Before he knows it, it's late in the morning, maybe even afternoon. His wound throbs but has mostly stopped bleeding. He shuffles towards the espresso machine leaving a dark red trail on the linoleum. His injured foot looks contritely up at him as he sips his coffee, swollen with pus and blood, smelling faintly like cheese but scared into submission.

One day, a few miserable weeks later, he calls Leslie and declares himself cured. "Now you can move back in," he informs her. "Well," she replies, "you know I need more time." "What do you mean?" he asks as calmly as he can. "I just don't know." "Are you seeing someone else?" "It's not important" 12. One misty fall night months later, Ivan feels deliciously sleepy. Around nine, he slips off his clothes and creeps intoJjejk'His foot is silent, his stomach content. When, an hour or so late, a car alarm goes off on the street below, the sound enters seamlessly .into his dream. Leslie has come home, bringing with her an enormous king-sized bed. It somehow fits into their tiny bedroom but sets off a mysterious alarm. They search and search for it amidst the disheveled sheets' .Awake a moment or so later; Ivan's stomach growls petulantly. The weight he's gained sags below him like a terrible tire, as his foot yowls for attention. A couple of bowls of cereal silence his stomach, and the steak knife does the job on his foot. The sawing creates a dull ache along with quite a bit 122

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Kingdom • of the Egg

K

I

N

b y

A

G

D

O

J o h n

M

O F

T H E

Patrick

E

G

G

B i s h o p

s Humpty left his stone room in the western wing of the castle, he brushed skeletal fingers across his bed sheets, made from a fabric called silk that arrived by caravan when this ridiculous war had just begun. Twenty years later and the silk was still smooth to the touch. He'd done nothing certain yet. But already he was glancing wistfully at the scrollwork canopy bed upon which the royal carpenter had worked in solitude for two months; already touching the magenta silk for what might be the last time, even though he knew he could still turn back, wrap those sheets around his enamel shell and get another few hours of shuteye. But he couldn't chicken out now. For twenty years he'd languished in silent protest behind the castle walls, hearing only the sketchiest reports from the front of ground gained and given. The arthritic mason chiseled the names of the kingdom's fallen warriors upon the Tablet of Remembrance next to the city's Great Gate and all that time Humpty had lacked^the^courage to do the one thing that could bring this war to a close. Now the northern horizon was pocked with smoke from the invader' fires. He couldn't afford to wait any longer. He hooked his fox fur shawl through his elbows and around his equator then quietly budged open the door that led to the candlelit hallway. He knew the guard at the entrance to the vestibule would be sleeping off a drunk and that an unmanned passageway through the slaves' kitchen would lead him out of the castle. Once outside, he lumbered through the city's alleys as swiftly as his chicken legs and those oversized slippers would allow, mindful of loose cobbles. The drum had yet to sound and the city at that moment was silent, exhilarating. The stable boys were still dreaming on hay mattresses of manhood 124

and battle and a polished shield that bore the crest of the egg-the kingdom's highest honor. The dogs had yet to start their morning rounds loping between crooked buildings, just dogs, just animals scavenging for whatever these wasteful people threw away for them to eat. He heard the drum sound five times and quickened his approach to the staircase at the northwest comer of the city wall. The staircase was close to forty feet high, exposed, and by the time Humpty reached the top, he was panting from both the exertion and his jangled nerves. He'd gambled well on the time, reaching the top of the wall during a rotation of the guards. He took a deep breath before lifting one leg through the notched parapet and perching himself atop it. The darkness was burning off and he looked across what he could see of the kingdom-the cliffs diving into the sea, the ancient forest already touched with autumn, the grazing lands and furrowed loam from which farmers had reaped bumper harvests each year since the egg's arrival. "Don't do it!" someone cried. Humpty jerked around to see a tall guard at the top of the stairs, hands raised at the elbows as if trying to calm a nervous horse. The shape of his helmet identified him as one of the palace detail. He must have followed him here. "Don't come a step closer or I'll jump! I mean it," Humpty shrieked, startled by the wildness of his voice. "I'll stay where I am if you can promise me you won't jump. How does that sound? Can you do that?" The helmet's obscured the guard's face, but Humpty could tell by the timbre of his voice that he was young. And already a palace guard. Once an honorable job, the egg thought bitterly, before reproaching himself for that bitterness because it certainly wasn't the kid's fault that everything had gotten so corrupted with the priests and the broken treaties and this most recent campaign his brother Rolfe had waged for the last five years. The guard was probably the idealist type hoping to do good and marry well. It didn't give the egg an pleasure to think about the beating he'd get if Humpty jumped on his watch. "I have demands. These demands will be met, or I'm going over," Humpty said. He brought his slippered foot back pnto-the wall.-His-legs were trembling. "I'm going to sit, but don't come any closer. I'm not myself right now." The egg laid down his shawl and gingerly took a seat atop it. It was rare that he got this much exercise and he wheezed with relief when he was propped against the wall with his spotted legs kicked out in front of him., "Are you hurt?" the guard asked. "No," the egg responded. "Can you take off your helmet?" The guard removed the helmet to reveal a neat ponytail. His left cheek bore the scar he received at his initiation into the order. The kid had a trustworthy face and the sight of it weakened Humpty's will. Now he wished he'd just thrown himself from the wall without ceremony. Clean. Simple. The guard's face made 125


Kingdom • of the Egg

K

I

N

b y

A

G

D

O

J o h n

M

O F

T H E

Patrick

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G

G

B i s h o p

s Humpty left his stone room in the western wing of the castle, he brushed skeletal fingers across his bed sheets, made from a fabric called silk that arrived by caravan when this ridiculous war had just begun. Twenty years later and the silk was still smooth to the touch. He'd done nothing certain yet. But already he was glancing wistfully at the scrollwork canopy bed upon which the royal carpenter had worked in solitude for two months; already touching the magenta silk for what might be the last time, even though he knew he could still turn back, wrap those sheets around his enamel shell and get another few hours of shuteye. But he couldn't chicken out now. For twenty years he'd languished in silent protest behind the castle walls, hearing only the sketchiest reports from the front of ground gained and given. The arthritic mason chiseled the names of the kingdom's fallen warriors upon the Tablet of Remembrance next to the city's Great Gate and all that time Humpty had lacked^the^courage to do the one thing that could bring this war to a close. Now the northern horizon was pocked with smoke from the invader' fires. He couldn't afford to wait any longer. He hooked his fox fur shawl through his elbows and around his equator then quietly budged open the door that led to the candlelit hallway. He knew the guard at the entrance to the vestibule would be sleeping off a drunk and that an unmanned passageway through the slaves' kitchen would lead him out of the castle. Once outside, he lumbered through the city's alleys as swiftly as his chicken legs and those oversized slippers would allow, mindful of loose cobbles. The drum had yet to sound and the city at that moment was silent, exhilarating. The stable boys were still dreaming on hay mattresses of manhood 124

and battle and a polished shield that bore the crest of the egg-the kingdom's highest honor. The dogs had yet to start their morning rounds loping between crooked buildings, just dogs, just animals scavenging for whatever these wasteful people threw away for them to eat. He heard the drum sound five times and quickened his approach to the staircase at the northwest comer of the city wall. The staircase was close to forty feet high, exposed, and by the time Humpty reached the top, he was panting from both the exertion and his jangled nerves. He'd gambled well on the time, reaching the top of the wall during a rotation of the guards. He took a deep breath before lifting one leg through the notched parapet and perching himself atop it. The darkness was burning off and he looked across what he could see of the kingdom-the cliffs diving into the sea, the ancient forest already touched with autumn, the grazing lands and furrowed loam from which farmers had reaped bumper harvests each year since the egg's arrival. "Don't do it!" someone cried. Humpty jerked around to see a tall guard at the top of the stairs, hands raised at the elbows as if trying to calm a nervous horse. The shape of his helmet identified him as one of the palace detail. He must have followed him here. "Don't come a step closer or I'll jump! I mean it," Humpty shrieked, startled by the wildness of his voice. "I'll stay where I am if you can promise me you won't jump. How does that sound? Can you do that?" The helmet's obscured the guard's face, but Humpty could tell by the timbre of his voice that he was young. And already a palace guard. Once an honorable job, the egg thought bitterly, before reproaching himself for that bitterness because it certainly wasn't the kid's fault that everything had gotten so corrupted with the priests and the broken treaties and this most recent campaign his brother Rolfe had waged for the last five years. The guard was probably the idealist type hoping to do good and marry well. It didn't give the egg an pleasure to think about the beating he'd get if Humpty jumped on his watch. "I have demands. These demands will be met, or I'm going over," Humpty said. He brought his slippered foot back pnto-the wall.-His-legs were trembling. "I'm going to sit, but don't come any closer. I'm not myself right now." The egg laid down his shawl and gingerly took a seat atop it. It was rare that he got this much exercise and he wheezed with relief when he was propped against the wall with his spotted legs kicked out in front of him., "Are you hurt?" the guard asked. "No," the egg responded. "Can you take off your helmet?" The guard removed the helmet to reveal a neat ponytail. His left cheek bore the scar he received at his initiation into the order. The kid had a trustworthy face and the sight of it weakened Humpty's will. Now he wished he'd just thrown himself from the wall without ceremony. Clean. Simple. The guard's face made 125


Berkeley Fiction Review Humpty's plan seem all the more shameful to him-taking the city hostage with threats, he wasn't proud. He grew angry at himself and then angry at the guard for arousing such emotions. "What are you doing out here?" the guard asked. "I'm royalty, I do whatever I want. What are you doing addressing the prince without a helmet?" The guard put his helmet back on. "I'm fulfilling the oath I took to you and the King your brother," he said. "I never asked you for anything," Humpty replied petulantly. God, he was so tired of hearing that. Humpty rubbed a hand across the shell above his eyes where he guessed his brain was, but what did he really know? He was a giant egg with knobbed elbows and knees thicker than the limbs they connected. Two eyes the size of a woman's hand were planted above a wide mouth set with straight teeth. How could anyone say whether there was a brain inside all of that? "The public is going to want to know what you're doing up here," the guard said. "They'll need a reason." Humpty stared out over the wall. The sun was beginning to crest the eastern peaks, light creeping over the land like bloom iron spilled over the forge. "I want us to negotiate a surrender with the invaders," he said. "That or I jump. Tell your master-at-arms to put it through the regular channels. The King's going to have to come home." The guard began to speak, then reconsidered. In the light, he remembered he was merely a servant of the egg. "You should tell people I'm up here," Humpty said. "They'll find out on their own eventually and you've got to start preparing them for what's coming. This is going to be a mess."

Humpty hadn't always been a mes§.JIe was discovered by sentries in an ox-card beyond the city's wall about half a century before. Without knowing what else to do, they brought him to the King, whose wisdom surely surpassed their own. In the throne room, the barren Queen peered at Humpty though the wooden bars of his cage. A garland of heather flowers strung around her neck perked to life and she took pity on this good egg so clearly out of his element Months later, in the same throne room, the happy couple adopted him as their own. Humpy missed those early days before the priests had drawn the connection between his presence and the kingdom's new prosperity, before statues of the egg were placed in farmhouses across the land and an army had to be raised to protect Humpty from the invaders. Granted, there were certain pains unique to his childhood. For his own protection he spent most of his time within the castle 126

Kingdom of the Egg grounds, never learning to fence or ride a horse. And there were those nightmares that had plagued him since adolescence. And it had taken some adjusting early on when the Queen conceived and told him he'd soon have a sibling. But whose life didn't have such regrets and missed opportunities? Even as a child, Humpty considered himself luckier than most And he was, friend, everybody knew that From the seamstresses to the potters, to the shepherds and the cobblers, to the itinerant artisans and players who still came to the kingdom in those days on horse-drawn wagons. They remembered life before the egg. They remembered trudging through rank and muddy streets, dodging donkey apples, assuming that a drink could lift them above their various miseries: the daughter who died of cholera, the rat droppings near the bread, their hungry bellies and violent tempers. Yesterday's yesterday. Now their fattened progeny came one and came all to the capital on the Harvest Festival to espy the egg prince that changed their fortunes, the egg that changed their lives. Humpty believed he had a duty to those people. This was the mantle of royalty-his parents taught him that They were cast in the mold of their forefathers who tamed this wilderness with the law and the sword. They wrote the book on nobility. Staring across the moat and pasturelands, Humpty wondered again if his parents would understand what he was doing. Would they know he was trying to honor them? Would they understand he was finally taking a stand for the good of the kingdom, the people? His parents had died long ago at which point Rolfe was anointed as King. Humpty could only remember his mother and father now by the portraits that hung in the Great Hall. The memory of their faces in portraiture was so present with him in that moment that it drowned out the bleating crowd below. After dawn, news of Humpty's would-be suicide spread through the city's markets. Soon people were leaving chores untended, arguments unresolved, deals unclosed, and walking, then running, then running in packs towards the northwest foot of the wall where they could already hear voices calling towards the sky. „—-Guards had formed a barrier and held back the citizens, hands upon their crossbows. "Back up," they said. "Give him some room." Sometimes Humpty could hear a voice cut through the static, saying, "Do not forsake us," or "hang in there prince," or "show us your yolk!" But those last jokers were few and-far between. The people loved Humpty. They'd even put him on their flag a few years back-an egg resting upon a bed of heather. It was Humpty who provided the harvest that fed the soldiers and the monks and the alchemists and the tradesmen. He made the kingdom famous across the known world. He put them on the map: "Clear the way," he heard below. 127


Berkeley Fiction Review Humpty's plan seem all the more shameful to him-taking the city hostage with threats, he wasn't proud. He grew angry at himself and then angry at the guard for arousing such emotions. "What are you doing out here?" the guard asked. "I'm royalty, I do whatever I want. What are you doing addressing the prince without a helmet?" The guard put his helmet back on. "I'm fulfilling the oath I took to you and the King your brother," he said. "I never asked you for anything," Humpty replied petulantly. God, he was so tired of hearing that. Humpty rubbed a hand across the shell above his eyes where he guessed his brain was, but what did he really know? He was a giant egg with knobbed elbows and knees thicker than the limbs they connected. Two eyes the size of a woman's hand were planted above a wide mouth set with straight teeth. How could anyone say whether there was a brain inside all of that? "The public is going to want to know what you're doing up here," the guard said. "They'll need a reason." Humpty stared out over the wall. The sun was beginning to crest the eastern peaks, light creeping over the land like bloom iron spilled over the forge. "I want us to negotiate a surrender with the invaders," he said. "That or I jump. Tell your master-at-arms to put it through the regular channels. The King's going to have to come home." The guard began to speak, then reconsidered. In the light, he remembered he was merely a servant of the egg. "You should tell people I'm up here," Humpty said. "They'll find out on their own eventually and you've got to start preparing them for what's coming. This is going to be a mess."

Humpty hadn't always been a mes§.JIe was discovered by sentries in an ox-card beyond the city's wall about half a century before. Without knowing what else to do, they brought him to the King, whose wisdom surely surpassed their own. In the throne room, the barren Queen peered at Humpty though the wooden bars of his cage. A garland of heather flowers strung around her neck perked to life and she took pity on this good egg so clearly out of his element Months later, in the same throne room, the happy couple adopted him as their own. Humpy missed those early days before the priests had drawn the connection between his presence and the kingdom's new prosperity, before statues of the egg were placed in farmhouses across the land and an army had to be raised to protect Humpty from the invaders. Granted, there were certain pains unique to his childhood. For his own protection he spent most of his time within the castle 126

Kingdom of the Egg grounds, never learning to fence or ride a horse. And there were those nightmares that had plagued him since adolescence. And it had taken some adjusting early on when the Queen conceived and told him he'd soon have a sibling. But whose life didn't have such regrets and missed opportunities? Even as a child, Humpty considered himself luckier than most And he was, friend, everybody knew that From the seamstresses to the potters, to the shepherds and the cobblers, to the itinerant artisans and players who still came to the kingdom in those days on horse-drawn wagons. They remembered life before the egg. They remembered trudging through rank and muddy streets, dodging donkey apples, assuming that a drink could lift them above their various miseries: the daughter who died of cholera, the rat droppings near the bread, their hungry bellies and violent tempers. Yesterday's yesterday. Now their fattened progeny came one and came all to the capital on the Harvest Festival to espy the egg prince that changed their fortunes, the egg that changed their lives. Humpty believed he had a duty to those people. This was the mantle of royalty-his parents taught him that They were cast in the mold of their forefathers who tamed this wilderness with the law and the sword. They wrote the book on nobility. Staring across the moat and pasturelands, Humpty wondered again if his parents would understand what he was doing. Would they know he was trying to honor them? Would they understand he was finally taking a stand for the good of the kingdom, the people? His parents had died long ago at which point Rolfe was anointed as King. Humpty could only remember his mother and father now by the portraits that hung in the Great Hall. The memory of their faces in portraiture was so present with him in that moment that it drowned out the bleating crowd below. After dawn, news of Humpty's would-be suicide spread through the city's markets. Soon people were leaving chores untended, arguments unresolved, deals unclosed, and walking, then running, then running in packs towards the northwest foot of the wall where they could already hear voices calling towards the sky. „—-Guards had formed a barrier and held back the citizens, hands upon their crossbows. "Back up," they said. "Give him some room." Sometimes Humpty could hear a voice cut through the static, saying, "Do not forsake us," or "hang in there prince," or "show us your yolk!" But those last jokers were few and-far between. The people loved Humpty. They'd even put him on their flag a few years back-an egg resting upon a bed of heather. It was Humpty who provided the harvest that fed the soldiers and the monks and the alchemists and the tradesmen. He made the kingdom famous across the known world. He put them on the map: "Clear the way," he heard below. 127


Berkeley Fiction Review A congregation of priests accompanied the Queen as she moved through the crowd. They stopped at the foot of the staircase and the Queen began the climb accompanied by a novitiate wearing a domed white hat, his fingers wrapped around her elbow. She arrived out of breath with her skirt gathered in her hands. The gyard immediately averted his eyes. "Forgive me," the Queen said, lowering her skirt. "It's not easy in these clothes." Humpty waddled towards her and she pressed her cheek to his shell. For the last five years, he'd only seen the Queen at necessary public events. She was dressed plainly and he noticed how dark her face was missing its alabaster unguents. "Brother,-" she said. "Well, I'm relieved to see you in such spirits. You wouldn't believe the rumors that are spreading down there. They say you've gone mad, that you've switched sides, that somehow the people are to blame for this...this situation." "I assure you, Gretchen, I'm not crazy," he said through his teeth. Though he'd grown to accept the Queen as his sister-in-law, Humpty had never warmed up to her. He'd been of the mind that Rolfe should have followed tradition and married one of his cousins. But Rolfe wanted to wed a true beauty, and Humpty was never in a position to speak against him and thus never did. Gretchen came from a moneyless protectorate in the east. Since the marriage, her life's great aspiration, it seemed to Humpty was to remind everyone how different the kingdom was from the real world where real people lived. In the real world, people said what they meant, while the kingdom's citizens spoke with false smiles and a knife in their pocket. In the real world, people worked for a living, while the kingdom had grown fat and soft all because of some magic egg. Bless him of course. Humpty'd always found her a little too self-righteous, a little too dark of hue, a little too much. When she locked herself in the tower five years ago, emerging only to adjudicate the ceremonial responsibilities of her position, Humpty had displayed the obligatory concern but he'd also been glad. "Well, I've got to hand it to you>!!_she'said. "You know how to throw a tantrum." This was exactly what Humpty meant by too much. "I'm siding with you, to be sure," she continued. "I want this war to end more than anyone. But of course, some of us aren't in the position to make such symbolic gestures. It's for us to admire those who can. People like you keep the kingdom from dropping into the sea. "I know it must seem strange to you," he said after a pause. "Strange? No, I don't think it's strange," she said straightening a loose tress of ebony hair. "A prince of the mighty kingdom wanting to jump off the wall.. .Well, I have to admit it does sound a little strange. To the casual listener at

128

Kingdom of the Egg least, someone without particular insight into your mind. But I'm sure there's something behind i t " 'There's a principal behind it," the egg said. "There's an ideal." "Something noble, see, I knew. That's why I'm sure you're doing the right thing by waltzing up here and frightening everybody like this. Sometimes a kingdom needs a good panic to bring people back down to earth. All part of your plan. I'm sure. All a part of your message." Humpty could tell the Queen was enjoying tormenting him. "I'm feeling a little tired, if you would excuse yourself," he told her. She made no motion to depart. "If you wouldn't mind, Gretchen," he said. She still didn't leave. Enough, he thought to himself. He wanted, to finally lay aside pretense and give in to spite. He said, "Don't lecture me on tantrums. You're not the only woman to wear a mourning gown, how many of them have locked themselves away? Do you think that's how a queen acts in the real world?" Humpty regretted the words the second they left his lips. "Gretchen," he said. "You know what, brother? People always bang on about how wonderful it is that you showed upfromwherever you came from. Howluckyweallare. From where I stand, you've caused more trouble than a few extra bushels of rye are worth. I hope you jump." The Queen walked towards the pale novitiate at the top of the stairs. "And Humpty," she said, poised at the staircase. "You can cast yourself as the hero of this spectacle. But I see through you. You're no idealist, just a spoiled egg with too much time on his hands." She gathered up her skirt. The blood had risen to her cheeks, restoring some measure of the beauty she'd sacrificed to her grief. She found herself smiling as she descended, the egg pacing furiously above her.

It took more than a day of hard riding for a messenger to reach Rolfe at the front. Meanwhile, there was no shortage of deliberation on how to bring the egg down and save the King the journey home. The master-at-arms drew up a plan for six men to nab him as he slept, but it was ultimately abandoned. Humpty was difficult to get a grip on and they couldn't risk dropping him should he struggle. One of the younger guards suggested mixing a sleeping tonic with his nightly dram of mead, but that idea too was discarded. A radical wing of astrologers had tried to poison him a few years back and everyone knew how that ended. Once it was clear the egg wasn't budging, the castle's head slave vaulted into action. Palace cooks set up shop at the base of the wall where they could 12ÂŁ


Berkeley Fiction Review A congregation of priests accompanied the Queen as she moved through the crowd. They stopped at the foot of the staircase and the Queen began the climb accompanied by a novitiate wearing a domed white hat, his fingers wrapped around her elbow. She arrived out of breath with her skirt gathered in her hands. The gyard immediately averted his eyes. "Forgive me," the Queen said, lowering her skirt. "It's not easy in these clothes." Humpty waddled towards her and she pressed her cheek to his shell. For the last five years, he'd only seen the Queen at necessary public events. She was dressed plainly and he noticed how dark her face was missing its alabaster unguents. "Brother,-" she said. "Well, I'm relieved to see you in such spirits. You wouldn't believe the rumors that are spreading down there. They say you've gone mad, that you've switched sides, that somehow the people are to blame for this...this situation." "I assure you, Gretchen, I'm not crazy," he said through his teeth. Though he'd grown to accept the Queen as his sister-in-law, Humpty had never warmed up to her. He'd been of the mind that Rolfe should have followed tradition and married one of his cousins. But Rolfe wanted to wed a true beauty, and Humpty was never in a position to speak against him and thus never did. Gretchen came from a moneyless protectorate in the east. Since the marriage, her life's great aspiration, it seemed to Humpty was to remind everyone how different the kingdom was from the real world where real people lived. In the real world, people said what they meant, while the kingdom's citizens spoke with false smiles and a knife in their pocket. In the real world, people worked for a living, while the kingdom had grown fat and soft all because of some magic egg. Bless him of course. Humpty'd always found her a little too self-righteous, a little too dark of hue, a little too much. When she locked herself in the tower five years ago, emerging only to adjudicate the ceremonial responsibilities of her position, Humpty had displayed the obligatory concern but he'd also been glad. "Well, I've got to hand it to you>!!_she'said. "You know how to throw a tantrum." This was exactly what Humpty meant by too much. "I'm siding with you, to be sure," she continued. "I want this war to end more than anyone. But of course, some of us aren't in the position to make such symbolic gestures. It's for us to admire those who can. People like you keep the kingdom from dropping into the sea. "I know it must seem strange to you," he said after a pause. "Strange? No, I don't think it's strange," she said straightening a loose tress of ebony hair. "A prince of the mighty kingdom wanting to jump off the wall.. .Well, I have to admit it does sound a little strange. To the casual listener at

128

Kingdom of the Egg least, someone without particular insight into your mind. But I'm sure there's something behind i t " 'There's a principal behind it," the egg said. "There's an ideal." "Something noble, see, I knew. That's why I'm sure you're doing the right thing by waltzing up here and frightening everybody like this. Sometimes a kingdom needs a good panic to bring people back down to earth. All part of your plan. I'm sure. All a part of your message." Humpty could tell the Queen was enjoying tormenting him. "I'm feeling a little tired, if you would excuse yourself," he told her. She made no motion to depart. "If you wouldn't mind, Gretchen," he said. She still didn't leave. Enough, he thought to himself. He wanted, to finally lay aside pretense and give in to spite. He said, "Don't lecture me on tantrums. You're not the only woman to wear a mourning gown, how many of them have locked themselves away? Do you think that's how a queen acts in the real world?" Humpty regretted the words the second they left his lips. "Gretchen," he said. "You know what, brother? People always bang on about how wonderful it is that you showed upfromwherever you came from. Howluckyweallare. From where I stand, you've caused more trouble than a few extra bushels of rye are worth. I hope you jump." The Queen walked towards the pale novitiate at the top of the stairs. "And Humpty," she said, poised at the staircase. "You can cast yourself as the hero of this spectacle. But I see through you. You're no idealist, just a spoiled egg with too much time on his hands." She gathered up her skirt. The blood had risen to her cheeks, restoring some measure of the beauty she'd sacrificed to her grief. She found herself smiling as she descended, the egg pacing furiously above her.

It took more than a day of hard riding for a messenger to reach Rolfe at the front. Meanwhile, there was no shortage of deliberation on how to bring the egg down and save the King the journey home. The master-at-arms drew up a plan for six men to nab him as he slept, but it was ultimately abandoned. Humpty was difficult to get a grip on and they couldn't risk dropping him should he struggle. One of the younger guards suggested mixing a sleeping tonic with his nightly dram of mead, but that idea too was discarded. A radical wing of astrologers had tried to poison him a few years back and everyone knew how that ended. Once it was clear the egg wasn't budging, the castle's head slave vaulted into action. Palace cooks set up shop at the base of the wall where they could 12ÂŁ


Kingdom of the Egg

Berkeley Fiction Review

horses, then men speaking to their horses, leathering creaking against buckles as they dismounted saying easy there, easy now. Humpty didn't move a hand. Rolfe had spent the last five years on this, the bloodiest of the kingdom's campaigns. Who know what he was capable of? He heard Rolfe's broadsword clanging against the staircase, the plates of his armor jostling against each other. He watched from the turret as the guard saluted his brother. Rolfe examined the egg's empty bed and then looked over the parapet. The prince stepped out of the darkened turret. "Rolfe," he said. "Hey Eggy, you hiding from something?" Rolfe took off his helmet. He left his sword in its scabbard. "Let me take off this armor." The guard helped him remove his breast plate. The King's trousers and shirt were sour with sweat. Humpty held his breath as he met his brother's embrace. Rolfe then plopped down on the bed. The last five years had changed Humpty's brother. Rolfe's chestnut braid and beard were-mostly grey. Theaugust face Acre deeper creases around the eyes; the threadbare skin was lined with veins. He look likeiheir father. The egg took a seat next to him, feeling almost nothing of the perennial jealousies he'd,harbored towards Rolfe-the gifted athlete, the golden boy, the champion of the standard. "I'm starved," Rolfe said. "Will you eat? I'll get a slave to bring us some bread and sausages to tie us over until the feast this afternoon." "What feast?" 'The feast celebrating my return from the front and your return from this wall," the King said. "I've already dispatched ment to hunt stag, the breweries have been notified." "I don't think that's such a good idea, Rolfe," Humpty said. Rolfe bade the guard to bring him a warm tunic and the bread and sausages. After the guard left, he asked, "Why is that not a good idea?" "First of all, because the kingdom's urfder attack!" Humpty cried in exasperation. Rolfe's eyes narrowed, revealing for the first time how truly and finally ticked off he was atHumpty. "You don'tneed to remind mer I don't see a sword in your hand." "I'm not coming down until we surrender," Humpty said. "We either surrender or I jump." "You're not going to jump." Humpty knew from the very start he'd have to be willing to back up his threats with action. He was pleased to discover himself approaching the edge, determined to jump to ground belowRolfe ran his fingers through his beard and then called to him. "Okay, okay, hold on. You've got your blood up now, good of you for that brother. This isn't an ideal homecoming, but I'm glad to be home, I could use

bring the prince his favorite foods still hot and steaming. Bards and jesters beat tambourines at the foot of the staircase to remind the egg that hey, there was something to live for as well-there was music, and dancing, and true love and roasted pigeon. Humpty paced the wall. The priests delivered hourly updates on his mood to the crowd. They said the prince was in a profound state of melancholy. They encouraged his followers to repent. That first night, Humpty allowed a team of carpenters up the wall to construct a makeshift bed, which was actually quite comfortable. But the servants had neglected to bring his beloved silk sheets, and Humpty couldn't bring himself to ask for them. While he slept on the bed still fragrant with wood shavings, he was also winding down a staircase to the catacombs beneath the castle, only to emerge among the rows of an apple orchard. In the dream it was midday and Humpty wandered between the cultivated rows beneath a tracery of light and shadow. A wind picked up, rustling apple against bough and leaf against leaf. Every time, it seemed as though the wind might abate, it grew louder and stronger, gathering bits of dirt and plant matter. Humpty felt a rattle inside his shell. His innards revolted. His legs buckled and he splayed his hands wildly staggering towards towards the trunk of a groaning tree. Apples slanted to the earth. The orchard heaved in the wind. A creaking bough finally snapped loose. Humpty collapsed to the damp soil and watched as a crack spider webbed across his body. Then something changed and he was aware of himself as that new force straggling inside the shell. Then light. Then a whisper of air. He knew that if he could only busy through a little more of that shell he'd be able to free his head, then a leg. He woke up before any of that. He put on his oversized slippers. He instructed the guard to fetch his. .breakfast and spent the rest of the day- as he always did after such a dream- thinking of men astride gryphons, men held aloft by their wings. ) Close to daybreak on the third night of Humpty's suicide watch, he heard hooves trampling the earth. Peering through an embrasure, he saw his brother and twenty horsemen approaching the city. Humpty paced along the wall before retreating to the nearest turret. The Great Gate lurched on its hinges and the horsemen entered the citya brittle clatter that distilled into the sound of horseshoes on stone, then men atop

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horses, then men speaking to their horses, leathering creaking against buckles as they dismounted saying easy there, easy now. Humpty didn't move a hand. Rolfe had spent the last five years on this, the bloodiest of the kingdom's campaigns. Who know what he was capable of? He heard Rolfe's broadsword clanging against the staircase, the plates of his armor jostling against each other. He watched from the turret as the guard saluted his brother. Rolfe examined the egg's empty bed and then looked over the parapet. The prince stepped out of the darkened turret. "Rolfe," he said. "Hey Eggy, you hiding from something?" Rolfe took off his helmet. He left his sword in its scabbard. "Let me take off this armor." The guard helped him remove his breast plate. The King's trousers and shirt were sour with sweat. Humpty held his breath as he met his brother's embrace. Rolfe then plopped down on the bed. The last five years had changed Humpty's brother. Rolfe's chestnut braid and beard were-mostly grey. Theaugust face Acre deeper creases around the eyes; the threadbare skin was lined with veins. He look likeiheir father. The egg took a seat next to him, feeling almost nothing of the perennial jealousies he'd,harbored towards Rolfe-the gifted athlete, the golden boy, the champion of the standard. "I'm starved," Rolfe said. "Will you eat? I'll get a slave to bring us some bread and sausages to tie us over until the feast this afternoon." "What feast?" 'The feast celebrating my return from the front and your return from this wall," the King said. "I've already dispatched ment to hunt stag, the breweries have been notified." "I don't think that's such a good idea, Rolfe," Humpty said. Rolfe bade the guard to bring him a warm tunic and the bread and sausages. After the guard left, he asked, "Why is that not a good idea?" "First of all, because the kingdom's urfder attack!" Humpty cried in exasperation. Rolfe's eyes narrowed, revealing for the first time how truly and finally ticked off he was atHumpty. "You don'tneed to remind mer I don't see a sword in your hand." "I'm not coming down until we surrender," Humpty said. "We either surrender or I jump." "You're not going to jump." Humpty knew from the very start he'd have to be willing to back up his threats with action. He was pleased to discover himself approaching the edge, determined to jump to ground belowRolfe ran his fingers through his beard and then called to him. "Okay, okay, hold on. You've got your blood up now, good of you for that brother. This isn't an ideal homecoming, but I'm glad to be home, I could use

bring the prince his favorite foods still hot and steaming. Bards and jesters beat tambourines at the foot of the staircase to remind the egg that hey, there was something to live for as well-there was music, and dancing, and true love and roasted pigeon. Humpty paced the wall. The priests delivered hourly updates on his mood to the crowd. They said the prince was in a profound state of melancholy. They encouraged his followers to repent. That first night, Humpty allowed a team of carpenters up the wall to construct a makeshift bed, which was actually quite comfortable. But the servants had neglected to bring his beloved silk sheets, and Humpty couldn't bring himself to ask for them. While he slept on the bed still fragrant with wood shavings, he was also winding down a staircase to the catacombs beneath the castle, only to emerge among the rows of an apple orchard. In the dream it was midday and Humpty wandered between the cultivated rows beneath a tracery of light and shadow. A wind picked up, rustling apple against bough and leaf against leaf. Every time, it seemed as though the wind might abate, it grew louder and stronger, gathering bits of dirt and plant matter. Humpty felt a rattle inside his shell. His innards revolted. His legs buckled and he splayed his hands wildly staggering towards towards the trunk of a groaning tree. Apples slanted to the earth. The orchard heaved in the wind. A creaking bough finally snapped loose. Humpty collapsed to the damp soil and watched as a crack spider webbed across his body. Then something changed and he was aware of himself as that new force straggling inside the shell. Then light. Then a whisper of air. He knew that if he could only busy through a little more of that shell he'd be able to free his head, then a leg. He woke up before any of that. He put on his oversized slippers. He instructed the guard to fetch his. .breakfast and spent the rest of the day- as he always did after such a dream- thinking of men astride gryphons, men held aloft by their wings. ) Close to daybreak on the third night of Humpty's suicide watch, he heard hooves trampling the earth. Peering through an embrasure, he saw his brother and twenty horsemen approaching the city. Humpty paced along the wall before retreating to the nearest turret. The Great Gate lurched on its hinges and the horsemen entered the citya brittle clatter that distilled into the sound of horseshoes on stone, then men atop

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But the foregone conclusion of violence was beyond their control, just as a fish was powerless to decide whether to breathe water or air. "Men can change as long as someone takes a stand," Humpty said without conviction. "Ideals can change the world." It's happened before," the King admitted. "But it's slow going. In the meantime, someone has to fight." Humpty felt deflated. What right did he have to speak of ideals? What did he know of hunger or loss? He'd never smelled rotted meat. He'd never entered a charnel house. He'd never had to light his child's funeral pyre as Rolfe did when his son perished on the eastern outpost five years ago. The banner guards brought his corpse to the castle wrapped in dusty eiderdown. Rolfe lit the tinder with a desiccated bundle of heather. Grey smoke rose straight into the sky as if pulled on a string. The Queen was right. Humpty was no idealist The guard brought the King his tunic, the bread and sausages and a metal basin in which to wash his hands. Humpty watched as Rolfe dipped his fingers in the water, struck again by the maleness of his brother's form. No more pretending, the egg thought to himself. "I'm never going to hatch," he said. His brother swallowed a mouthful. "Sure you will." "I'm over fifty. It should have happened by now," the egg replied. "You don't know that. There's no evidence for that." "Eggs are supposed to hatch. I can't wait any longer." The King stood up, shaking his head with a forced smile on his face. "So you're telling me that you're suffering from an existential crisis?" Rolfe said, raising his voice^ "Why does this not surprise me? Why can't you just take life for what it is, instead of moping around all the time?" Rolfe-leaned against the wall, gazing north towards the front. There was that sung again, brilliant, tawny "I'm waiting for you to say something," he said to the egg. Humpty finally told his brother that slave children used to run from his sight. He described a half century of fragility, traveling in a curtained palanquin, accepting only tepid embraces from those who feared he might shatter. He spoke of his caustic envy watching Rolfe grow into manhood, taking a bride, fathering a child, each sunset inching towards dust like a leaf fluttering from the branch towards the irrefutable logic of biology, towards that destiny that was also more than biology-was the blade in his hand, was the arrow loose from the quiver. Meanwhile, Humpty could but watch from afar, sexless as a pebble, his fingersHmmming on his shell, the question burning inside him: what next for me?

a good meal, that's no lie. I don't want to argue. I want to find a solution to your problem." "You have to end the war." "So this is an anti-war protest." "You don't have to say it like that" Humpty replied. "Likewhat? It doesn't matter. Tell me how this surrender would work." "It's not all that complicated. We lay down our arms, you turn me over to the invaders." "And if I'm not willing to do that?" "I jump. Word reaches their army that they've been robbed of their prize. Everyone goes home. Happily ever after." Rolfe paused to marshal his resources. As he dissected each element of his brother's plan he spoke in even tones as the cool voice of ration and probability. Surrender? To surrender would mean the kingdom would have to hand the egg to the invaders in chains. Rolfe wasn't about to relinquish the source of the kingdom's providence, his brother no less, to those lawless barbarians. Not on his watch. And let's suppose Humpty was true to his word and jumped. The invaders had already committed considerable resources to the war and would be loathe to - return empty-handed. They'd continue pillaging until they were repulsed or had taken the castle. An army had a momentum all its own. Not even the death of an egg could stop the invaders now. "But think about the effect of your death, your suicide' no less, would have on our armies," the King said. "It would dash their hopes just when they need it the most." "I don't mean that much to them," Humpty said. "Come on, you know what the people think. We live in the kingdom of the egg where even the lowest slave goes without hunger, do you realize how proud that makes them? I know you don't believe in this war. But you have to believe me, we're better off winning than losing. \^e can't win without you. 1 The King had spent two decades inland dvit of the invaders' lands. He'd seen bogs that could swallow a horse and its rider, cattle misshapen from hunger. Beyond the kingdom's greenery flowed brackish streams. The invaders were dusty and wild, as if carved from the same stones they upturned with their plows. "We are blessed," he told his brother. "And suppose you'dnever existed in the first place. Do you think there'd be peace?" he asked. Humpy wanted to say yes. But he'd read the histories and epics. They told him that men had fought under a flag or a badge for as long as they'd paid scribes to record their history. " They told him that men could choose which war to fight and which way to fight it

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Berkeley Fiction Review

But the foregone conclusion of violence was beyond their control, just as a fish was powerless to decide whether to breathe water or air. "Men can change as long as someone takes a stand," Humpty said without conviction. "Ideals can change the world." It's happened before," the King admitted. "But it's slow going. In the meantime, someone has to fight." Humpty felt deflated. What right did he have to speak of ideals? What did he know of hunger or loss? He'd never smelled rotted meat. He'd never entered a charnel house. He'd never had to light his child's funeral pyre as Rolfe did when his son perished on the eastern outpost five years ago. The banner guards brought his corpse to the castle wrapped in dusty eiderdown. Rolfe lit the tinder with a desiccated bundle of heather. Grey smoke rose straight into the sky as if pulled on a string. The Queen was right. Humpty was no idealist The guard brought the King his tunic, the bread and sausages and a metal basin in which to wash his hands. Humpty watched as Rolfe dipped his fingers in the water, struck again by the maleness of his brother's form. No more pretending, the egg thought to himself. "I'm never going to hatch," he said. His brother swallowed a mouthful. "Sure you will." "I'm over fifty. It should have happened by now," the egg replied. "You don't know that. There's no evidence for that." "Eggs are supposed to hatch. I can't wait any longer." The King stood up, shaking his head with a forced smile on his face. "So you're telling me that you're suffering from an existential crisis?" Rolfe said, raising his voice^ "Why does this not surprise me? Why can't you just take life for what it is, instead of moping around all the time?" Rolfe-leaned against the wall, gazing north towards the front. There was that sung again, brilliant, tawny "I'm waiting for you to say something," he said to the egg. Humpty finally told his brother that slave children used to run from his sight. He described a half century of fragility, traveling in a curtained palanquin, accepting only tepid embraces from those who feared he might shatter. He spoke of his caustic envy watching Rolfe grow into manhood, taking a bride, fathering a child, each sunset inching towards dust like a leaf fluttering from the branch towards the irrefutable logic of biology, towards that destiny that was also more than biology-was the blade in his hand, was the arrow loose from the quiver. Meanwhile, Humpty could but watch from afar, sexless as a pebble, his fingersHmmming on his shell, the question burning inside him: what next for me?

a good meal, that's no lie. I don't want to argue. I want to find a solution to your problem." "You have to end the war." "So this is an anti-war protest." "You don't have to say it like that" Humpty replied. "Likewhat? It doesn't matter. Tell me how this surrender would work." "It's not all that complicated. We lay down our arms, you turn me over to the invaders." "And if I'm not willing to do that?" "I jump. Word reaches their army that they've been robbed of their prize. Everyone goes home. Happily ever after." Rolfe paused to marshal his resources. As he dissected each element of his brother's plan he spoke in even tones as the cool voice of ration and probability. Surrender? To surrender would mean the kingdom would have to hand the egg to the invaders in chains. Rolfe wasn't about to relinquish the source of the kingdom's providence, his brother no less, to those lawless barbarians. Not on his watch. And let's suppose Humpty was true to his word and jumped. The invaders had already committed considerable resources to the war and would be loathe to - return empty-handed. They'd continue pillaging until they were repulsed or had taken the castle. An army had a momentum all its own. Not even the death of an egg could stop the invaders now. "But think about the effect of your death, your suicide' no less, would have on our armies," the King said. "It would dash their hopes just when they need it the most." "I don't mean that much to them," Humpty said. "Come on, you know what the people think. We live in the kingdom of the egg where even the lowest slave goes without hunger, do you realize how proud that makes them? I know you don't believe in this war. But you have to believe me, we're better off winning than losing. \^e can't win without you. 1 The King had spent two decades inland dvit of the invaders' lands. He'd seen bogs that could swallow a horse and its rider, cattle misshapen from hunger. Beyond the kingdom's greenery flowed brackish streams. The invaders were dusty and wild, as if carved from the same stones they upturned with their plows. "We are blessed," he told his brother. "And suppose you'dnever existed in the first place. Do you think there'd be peace?" he asked. Humpy wanted to say yes. But he'd read the histories and epics. They told him that men had fought under a flag or a badge for as long as they'd paid scribes to record their history. " They told him that men could choose which war to fight and which way to fight it

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Berkeley Fiction Review What potential lay beneath his smooth shell? A giant rooster? An abomination of dragon and man? Two legs attached to a yolk? He couldn't bear his ignorance any longer. Rolfe chewed on his thumb while looking out across the moat He spit a piece of his thumbnail into the breeze. "I always wanted to be like you," he said. "To be more than just a man." Humpty didn't reply. "Is it really that bad?" Rolfe asked. He found his answer in his brother's sad discus eyes. Rolfe stared at his hands for a long time. The stories they could tell. "Go on and jump," he said finally "Will you end the war?" Humpty asked. "Does it matter? You're jumping either way, right?" Humpty didn't respond. He stepped to the edge. The guard stiffened his back and drew his shoulder blades together. "Your Highness," he whispered to the King. "He made it up here once, he'll make it up here again," the King explained. "You can't stop someone with willpower." "There are ways of.. .protecting the prince from himself," the guard said. "We could lock him in the dungeon, I suppose. But I want to enter the hall of my father with a clean conscience. That still means something to me." Rolfe brought his hands together underneath his tunic, mind already cast to the future. He needed a vision to lead the citizens through this new time of uncertainty. With or without the egg, he was still the leader of these people. "We'll have that feast this afternoon," he said to no one" in particular. "I'll double the order we placed with the brewers. That should take the edge off the public grief." He looked at Humpty and made a final entreaty. "You realize this is about the most selfish thing you've ever done," he said. The egg was surprised to see tears in his eyes. The King helped Humpty atop the parapet. The sun had started in earnest its climb towards noon. The air smelled ofjuniperb'erries and smoke. A grouping of swallows passed above as an arrowhead of wings and feathers. Humpty surrendered and leapt in their direction.

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Berkeley Fiction Review What potential lay beneath his smooth shell? A giant rooster? An abomination of dragon and man? Two legs attached to a yolk? He couldn't bear his ignorance any longer. Rolfe chewed on his thumb while looking out across the moat He spit a piece of his thumbnail into the breeze. "I always wanted to be like you," he said. "To be more than just a man." Humpty didn't reply. "Is it really that bad?" Rolfe asked. He found his answer in his brother's sad discus eyes. Rolfe stared at his hands for a long time. The stories they could tell. "Go on and jump," he said finally "Will you end the war?" Humpty asked. "Does it matter? You're jumping either way, right?" Humpty didn't respond. He stepped to the edge. The guard stiffened his back and drew his shoulder blades together. "Your Highness," he whispered to the King. "He made it up here once, he'll make it up here again," the King explained. "You can't stop someone with willpower." "There are ways of.. .protecting the prince from himself," the guard said. "We could lock him in the dungeon, I suppose. But I want to enter the hall of my father with a clean conscience. That still means something to me." Rolfe brought his hands together underneath his tunic, mind already cast to the future. He needed a vision to lead the citizens through this new time of uncertainty. With or without the egg, he was still the leader of these people. "We'll have that feast this afternoon," he said to no one" in particular. "I'll double the order we placed with the brewers. That should take the edge off the public grief." He looked at Humpty and made a final entreaty. "You realize this is about the most selfish thing you've ever done," he said. The egg was surprised to see tears in his eyes. The King helped Humpty atop the parapet. The sun had started in earnest its climb towards noon. The air smelled ofjuniperb'erries and smoke. A grouping of swallows passed above as an arrowhead of wings and feathers. Humpty surrendered and leapt in their direction.

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

Suzanna Stout Banwell (Mercy) has been a human rights attorney for the better part of the last 20 years. In the last couple of years she has shifted gears to have more time with her tween and teen sons, and to get serious about her prose and poetry. Recently her writing has won prizes at the Whidbey Island Writer's Association Annual Conference and has been published in Ascent Aspirations, the Beltway Poetry Review, and is forthcoming in a volume of essays entitled "Letters to Our Fathers."

Giselda Beaudin (The Story ofthe Stone) received her B A in Comparative Literature from Brown University and her MA in English and Creative Writing from Binghamton University, where she served as a fiction editor for Harpur Palate. Her short fiction has been published in Ellipsis and Fugue. Alan S. Bray (Trips to Win) is a graduate of California State University, San Bernardino, with a degree in biology, having attended college on the GI Bill, being a combat veteran of the Vietnam War. He and his wife, Zee, lovers for thirty-seven years, have been happily married for seven. Brenna Burns' (Softie) writing has appeared in Orchid Literary Review, Quick Fiction, The GW Review, and is forthcoming ftrthe Indiana Review. She's a regular contributor to the magazine Bailliwik. She studied Wildlife Biology at the University of Montana, but is mostly watching pigeons and squirrels these days. E. J. Chang (Hopper's Lighthouse) Hopper's Lighthouse is this writer's first published short story. Her other works include Late Night, Light Rain, a one-act play that was a finalist in the 2000 Tennessee Williams/f^ew Orleans Literary Festival. She also authored Stag, a yet unpublished unpxoduced full length play. She lives in San Francisco. Martine Charnow (January) is a graduating senior majoring in English at UC Berkeley. She won first place in the 2007 Elizabeth Mills Crothers Prize in Literary Composition and was awarded honorable mention in the 2005 Julia Keith Shrout Short Story Prize. She was also published in the Fall 2006'and Spring 2007 issues of the Cal Literary Arts Magazine. Rustom Davar (Minos) graduated with an M.A. and an M.F. A. in Fiction from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. He currently lives in Mumbai, India, with his family and six large dogs.

Michael Greenstein (interior art) studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. His ink drawings appear in a number of fine literary magazines. Michelle Lo (interior art) is currently a senior at Mountain View High School, attending UC Berkeley in the fall with a MCB Genetics major. Most of her artwork was made in an AP Studio Art class, with some of her reprints sold at art auctions. "Musical Footprints", one of her featured pieces, also won the Congressional Art Award Finalist for the 14thDistrictin2006. In the near future, she will be completing a mural for a company in Milpitas. Look for her in Berkeley! Scott Nagele (The Message) lives under a fragile truce with his telephone in Okemos, Michigan. His work has appeared in Blueline and Talking River Review, and in the anthology, Between the Leaves. He is author of the comic novel, Wasted Moons. Flaminia Ocampo (The Insanity of Others) has published several works of fiction in Spanish. Her stories and criticism have appeared in English in Inkwell, Web del Sol, Verb Sap, The Jabberwock Review, and Bookforum. She teaches at The New School in New York. Kenneth Tan Ronquillo (cover art) is a twenty-one year old Filipino-Chinese-EmoAmerican from San Jose, California. He graduated this yearfromUC Berkeley with a major in public health epidemiology/biostatistics and a minor in creative writing. When he's not busy procrastinating, he enjoys de ja vu, rice consumption,,de ja vu, memorizing lines from Power Rangers seasons one and two, and calling his grandmother. Jessica Smith (At Honey Creek) is a recent graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato's MFA program. She now teaches writing and literature at the University at Buffalo. Her work has recently been published in Permafrost and The Louisville Review. David Winner (Foot, a tale of the Irrational Mind) Susi Wyss' (How to Leave a Mark) fiction has appeared in Connecticut Review and Bound Off. She holds a master's degree in Fiction Writing from Johns Hopkins University, and currently serves as associate editor for The Potomac Review.


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

Suzanna Stout Banwell (Mercy) has been a human rights attorney for the better part of the last 20 years. In the last couple of years she has shifted gears to have more time with her tween and teen sons, and to get serious about her prose and poetry. Recently her writing has won prizes at the Whidbey Island Writer's Association Annual Conference and has been published in Ascent Aspirations, the Beltway Poetry Review, and is forthcoming in a volume of essays entitled "Letters to Our Fathers."

Giselda Beaudin (The Story ofthe Stone) received her B A in Comparative Literature from Brown University and her MA in English and Creative Writing from Binghamton University, where she served as a fiction editor for Harpur Palate. Her short fiction has been published in Ellipsis and Fugue. Alan S. Bray (Trips to Win) is a graduate of California State University, San Bernardino, with a degree in biology, having attended college on the GI Bill, being a combat veteran of the Vietnam War. He and his wife, Zee, lovers for thirty-seven years, have been happily married for seven. Brenna Burns' (Softie) writing has appeared in Orchid Literary Review, Quick Fiction, The GW Review, and is forthcoming ftrthe Indiana Review. She's a regular contributor to the magazine Bailliwik. She studied Wildlife Biology at the University of Montana, but is mostly watching pigeons and squirrels these days. E. J. Chang (Hopper's Lighthouse) Hopper's Lighthouse is this writer's first published short story. Her other works include Late Night, Light Rain, a one-act play that was a finalist in the 2000 Tennessee Williams/f^ew Orleans Literary Festival. She also authored Stag, a yet unpublished unpxoduced full length play. She lives in San Francisco. Martine Charnow (January) is a graduating senior majoring in English at UC Berkeley. She won first place in the 2007 Elizabeth Mills Crothers Prize in Literary Composition and was awarded honorable mention in the 2005 Julia Keith Shrout Short Story Prize. She was also published in the Fall 2006'and Spring 2007 issues of the Cal Literary Arts Magazine. Rustom Davar (Minos) graduated with an M.A. and an M.F. A. in Fiction from the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. He currently lives in Mumbai, India, with his family and six large dogs.

Michael Greenstein (interior art) studied art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and L'Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. His ink drawings appear in a number of fine literary magazines. Michelle Lo (interior art) is currently a senior at Mountain View High School, attending UC Berkeley in the fall with a MCB Genetics major. Most of her artwork was made in an AP Studio Art class, with some of her reprints sold at art auctions. "Musical Footprints", one of her featured pieces, also won the Congressional Art Award Finalist for the 14thDistrictin2006. In the near future, she will be completing a mural for a company in Milpitas. Look for her in Berkeley! Scott Nagele (The Message) lives under a fragile truce with his telephone in Okemos, Michigan. His work has appeared in Blueline and Talking River Review, and in the anthology, Between the Leaves. He is author of the comic novel, Wasted Moons. Flaminia Ocampo (The Insanity of Others) has published several works of fiction in Spanish. Her stories and criticism have appeared in English in Inkwell, Web del Sol, Verb Sap, The Jabberwock Review, and Bookforum. She teaches at The New School in New York. Kenneth Tan Ronquillo (cover art) is a twenty-one year old Filipino-Chinese-EmoAmerican from San Jose, California. He graduated this yearfromUC Berkeley with a major in public health epidemiology/biostatistics and a minor in creative writing. When he's not busy procrastinating, he enjoys de ja vu, rice consumption,,de ja vu, memorizing lines from Power Rangers seasons one and two, and calling his grandmother. Jessica Smith (At Honey Creek) is a recent graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato's MFA program. She now teaches writing and literature at the University at Buffalo. Her work has recently been published in Permafrost and The Louisville Review. David Winner (Foot, a tale of the Irrational Mind) Susi Wyss' (How to Leave a Mark) fiction has appeared in Connecticut Review and Bound Off. She holds a master's degree in Fiction Writing from Johns Hopkins University, and currently serves as associate editor for The Potomac Review.


Berkeley Fiction

Review

Rosemary Zurlo-Cuva (Home Sweet Home) lives in Madison, Wisconsin where she works as a freelance writer and teaches creative writing to middle schoolers. Her fiction has appeared in Permafrost, Lullwater Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, Crucible, Compass Rose, Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature, and Wisconsin Academy Review.

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 be published in Issue 2 8

Guidelines: $ 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 . o d e r p a y a b l e to B F R S u d d e n F i x 1 0 0 0 w o r d s 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 n o t b e returned.

Send submissions Sudden Fiction K

Berkeley Fiction

to:

Contest Review

lOBEshlemanHali University of Berkeley, C A

California 94720-4500

D e a d l i n e is October

3 1 , 2 0 0 7

W i n n e r s w i l l b e notified b y the e n d o f January 2 0 0 8


Berkeley Fiction

Review

Rosemary Zurlo-Cuva (Home Sweet Home) lives in Madison, Wisconsin where she works as a freelance writer and teaches creative writing to middle schoolers. Her fiction has appeared in Permafrost, Lullwater Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, Crucible, Compass Rose, Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature, and Wisconsin Academy Review.

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 be published in Issue 2 8

Guidelines: $ 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 . o d e r p a y a b l e to B F R S u d d e n F i x 1 0 0 0 w o r d s 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 n o t b e returned.

Send submissions Sudden Fiction K

Berkeley Fiction

to:

Contest Review

lOBEshlemanHali University of Berkeley, C A

California 94720-4500

D e a d l i n e is October

3 1 , 2 0 0 7

W i n n e r s w i l l b e notified b y the e n d o f January 2 0 0 8


1

y


1

y


Profile for Berkeley Fiction Review

Berkeley Fiction Review, Volume 27  

Berkeley Fiction Review is a UC Berkeley undergraduate, student-run publication that looks for innovative short fiction that plays with form...

Berkeley Fiction Review, Volume 27  

Berkeley Fiction Review is a UC Berkeley undergraduate, student-run publication that looks for innovative short fiction that plays with form...

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