Berkeley Fiction Review, Volume 29

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B E R K E L E Y

F I C T I O N

M a n a g i n g Editors

Rhoda Piland Malia Linda Javier

Associate Editors

Jillian Ardrey Dasha Bulatov Morgan Cotton Sarah Dormer Beebe Xia

Assistant Editors

Stacey Cataylo Thomas Gamburg Max Gektin Christianne Go Adrienne Johnson Danica Li Steven Ma Caitlin McGuire Taylor Norman

i

Cover art by Kelty Luber

Copyright 2009 by Berkeley Fiction Review The Berkeley Fiction Review is not an official publication of the Associated Students of the University of California or the UC Berkeley English department. 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 an undergraduate run non-profit publication. ASUC sponsored.

Staff Denise Amling Pafeesa Amrbar Austin Ashcraft George Ashworth Demira Bangaru Jacqueline Berkman Jennifer Brown Katelyn Burke Eric Burstyn Joseph Copeland Nichole Cristee Elena Czubiak Alex Dixon Natalie Estrella Kalvin Fadakar Kim Filipinas

www.ocf.berkeley.edu/-bfr bfictionreview@yahoo.com Inquiries, correspondence, and submissions should be sent to: Berkeley Fiction Review, 1 OB Eshleman Hall, Univ. of California, Berkeley CA 94720. The Berkeley Fiction Review is not responsible for unsolicited material. Member of CLMP Distributed by Ubiquity, Brooklyn, New York Printed by Alonzo Printing, Hayward California

ISSN 1087-7053

& 1 _

R E V I E W

Lauren Freeman Megan Geuss Alissa Gordon Leah Greenbaum Maureen Grzan Tavi Haberman Betty Ho Laurel Hochstetler Grace Kao Grace Le Vania Lee Anna Leifeste Steven Ma Lindsay Madison Katie McCarthy Patrick McDonald

Christina Merrick Callan Miranda Melissa Nasiruddin Diana Newby Cheny Ng Corrie Park Trisha Remetir Daniel Ricchiazzi Joan Roa Ranees Rodriguez Fay Romesburg Sarah Schneider Taylor Schooley Heejung Sim Jeff Snyder Alison Tate

Ryan Taylor Kara Timmins Casey Tran Helene Truong HuyVu Joseph Wager Jessica Walters Chambliss Williams Kelly Winer Tiffany Wong Ginger Wu Karen Wu Margot Zavaleta


B E R K E L E Y

F I C T I O N

M a n a g i n g Editors

Rhoda Piland Malia Linda Javier

Associate Editors

Jillian Ardrey Dasha Bulatov Morgan Cotton Sarah Dormer Beebe Xia

Assistant Editors

Stacey Cataylo Thomas Gamburg Max Gektin Christianne Go Adrienne Johnson Danica Li Steven Ma Caitlin McGuire Taylor Norman

i

Cover art by Kelty Luber

Copyright 2009 by Berkeley Fiction Review The Berkeley Fiction Review is not an official publication of the Associated Students of the University of California or the UC Berkeley English department. 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 an undergraduate run non-profit publication. ASUC sponsored.

Staff Denise Amling Pafeesa Amrbar Austin Ashcraft George Ashworth Demira Bangaru Jacqueline Berkman Jennifer Brown Katelyn Burke Eric Burstyn Joseph Copeland Nichole Cristee Elena Czubiak Alex Dixon Natalie Estrella Kalvin Fadakar Kim Filipinas

www.ocf.berkeley.edu/-bfr bfictionreview@yahoo.com Inquiries, correspondence, and submissions should be sent to: Berkeley Fiction Review, 1 OB Eshleman Hall, Univ. of California, Berkeley CA 94720. The Berkeley Fiction Review is not responsible for unsolicited material. Member of CLMP Distributed by Ubiquity, Brooklyn, New York Printed by Alonzo Printing, Hayward California

ISSN 1087-7053

& 1 _

R E V I E W

Lauren Freeman Megan Geuss Alissa Gordon Leah Greenbaum Maureen Grzan Tavi Haberman Betty Ho Laurel Hochstetler Grace Kao Grace Le Vania Lee Anna Leifeste Steven Ma Lindsay Madison Katie McCarthy Patrick McDonald

Christina Merrick Callan Miranda Melissa Nasiruddin Diana Newby Cheny Ng Corrie Park Trisha Remetir Daniel Ricchiazzi Joan Roa Ranees Rodriguez Fay Romesburg Sarah Schneider Taylor Schooley Heejung Sim Jeff Snyder Alison Tate

Ryan Taylor Kara Timmins Casey Tran Helene Truong HuyVu Joseph Wager Jessica Walters Chambliss Williams Kelly Winer Tiffany Wong Ginger Wu Karen Wu Margot Zavaleta


F O R E W O R D

A D V I S E R S

Faculty Georgina Kleege

Publications A n n Marie Molosky Pettigrew

We are often asked what kind of stories we accept. Well, the answer to that is a long story and we only include short stories so we're not telling ... Okay, if you must know, unlike many magazines the selection process is not up to an individual editor, but rather the entire staff. So, sometimes to our dismay, our votes aren't any more important than the rest of the staff. Sure, we've had secret meetings trying to change that, and yes we imposingly sit at the head table, but alas it is a democracy. So, while we (Rhoda) might like stories about sentient sofas or we (Malia) might promise explicit services if our favorite authors send in stories (which they did, Sam Pink), sometimes the staff doesn't agree with us, in fact, sometimes they laugh really hard at us. So, we really don't have an answer to that question - the best we can say is that we receive about 1,000 manuscripts a year and accept the 15 that stand out among the rest. This year some of our favorites blur the lines between prose and poetry; realistic fiction and experimental - playing with form and content. As always, we try to share new voices and are proud to feature bloggers and 16-year-old aspiring authors alongside established writers. We're also excited to start accepting online submissions. We hope this will give us a wider array of stories and a chance to include more writers from across the globe and those hidden gems too lazy to buy a stamp. So with this, our 29th issue, we hope we have established the Berkeley Fiction Review as a space for emerging authors whose styles and ideas question the bounds of fiction. Thank you to all of the authors and artists who contributed to this issue, please keep your great work corning. Sincerely,

Rhoda Piland

Malia Linda Javier


F O R E W O R D

A D V I S E R S

Faculty Georgina Kleege

Publications A n n Marie Molosky Pettigrew

We are often asked what kind of stories we accept. Well, the answer to that is a long story and we only include short stories so we're not telling ... Okay, if you must know, unlike many magazines the selection process is not up to an individual editor, but rather the entire staff. So, sometimes to our dismay, our votes aren't any more important than the rest of the staff. Sure, we've had secret meetings trying to change that, and yes we imposingly sit at the head table, but alas it is a democracy. So, while we (Rhoda) might like stories about sentient sofas or we (Malia) might promise explicit services if our favorite authors send in stories (which they did, Sam Pink), sometimes the staff doesn't agree with us, in fact, sometimes they laugh really hard at us. So, we really don't have an answer to that question - the best we can say is that we receive about 1,000 manuscripts a year and accept the 15 that stand out among the rest. This year some of our favorites blur the lines between prose and poetry; realistic fiction and experimental - playing with form and content. As always, we try to share new voices and are proud to feature bloggers and 16-year-old aspiring authors alongside established writers. We're also excited to start accepting online submissions. We hope this will give us a wider array of stories and a chance to include more writers from across the globe and those hidden gems too lazy to buy a stamp. So with this, our 29th issue, we hope we have established the Berkeley Fiction Review as a space for emerging authors whose styles and ideas question the bounds of fiction. Thank you to all of the authors and artists who contributed to this issue, please keep your great work corning. Sincerely,

Rhoda Piland

Malia Linda Javier


C O N T E N T S

D e s k t o p Dating M a r k Fellin

13

Cerberus Sleeps B K Loren

21

Let's Take A Bath Together S a m Pink

38

W o m a n with U m b r e l l a M a r k Broeske

40

So L u c k y Liz M o o d y First Place S u d d en Fiction Winner

50

Unnatural Aimee Pogson

Fortified R a n d y Schmidt

100

Ice C r e a m Todd W h a l e y

108

T h r e e P r o b l e m s w i t h the Fat Girl Laurah N o r t o n Raines

117

The E n d of Everything G o o d Martin Slag

127

Art Carousel Michael Hatcher

12

52

Release Jessica L a m b e r t

39

Bomb Patrick Hicks

60

Tree of K n o w l e d g e A d a m Carlin

59

Special S o a p Jim Bainbridge Second Place Sudden Fiction Winner

74

Primal Squawk Ryan Hatcher

85

76

Maze Man Joseph Milazzo

107

Seahawks Greg Pierce

86

Cezanneatron3000 Sarah Rothberg

145

No Fun Anymore Jennifer F a w k e s O f Peculiarities and Cookies RJ Carter Third Place Sudden Fiction Winner

98

Cover: Night Kelty L u b e r


C O N T E N T S

D e s k t o p Dating M a r k Fellin

13

Cerberus Sleeps B K Loren

21

Let's Take A Bath Together S a m Pink

38

W o m a n with U m b r e l l a M a r k Broeske

40

So L u c k y Liz M o o d y First Place S u d d en Fiction Winner

50

Unnatural Aimee Pogson

Fortified R a n d y Schmidt

100

Ice C r e a m Todd W h a l e y

108

T h r e e P r o b l e m s w i t h the Fat Girl Laurah N o r t o n Raines

117

The E n d of Everything G o o d Martin Slag

127

Art Carousel Michael Hatcher

12

52

Release Jessica L a m b e r t

39

Bomb Patrick Hicks

60

Tree of K n o w l e d g e A d a m Carlin

59

Special S o a p Jim Bainbridge Second Place Sudden Fiction Winner

74

Primal Squawk Ryan Hatcher

85

76

Maze Man Joseph Milazzo

107

Seahawks Greg Pierce

86

Cezanneatron3000 Sarah Rothberg

145

No Fun Anymore Jennifer F a w k e s O f Peculiarities and Cookies RJ Carter Third Place Sudden Fiction Winner

98

Cover: Night Kelty L u b e r


S U D D E N

F I C T I O N

Eleventh A n n u a l Sudden Fiction Contest Winners

First

Place

"So Lucky" Liz M o o d y S e c o n d

Place

"Special S o a p " Jim Bainbridge Third

Place

'Of Peculiarities and Cookies' R J Carter


S U D D E N

F I C T I O N

Eleventh A n n u a l Sudden Fiction Contest Winners

First

Place

"So Lucky" Liz M o o d y S e c o n d

Place

"Special S o a p " Jim Bainbridge Third

Place

'Of Peculiarities and Cookies' R J Carter


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MARK FELLIN

Eat my meat Bushwick girls are sluts Jimi Hendrix Rules sucks donkey dong The wisdom scrawled across the desks of West Brooklyn High School was neither enlightening nor inspiring. But then again, there wasn't a whole lot uplifting about 1968. The war in Vietnam was tearing the country—and my family—apart. Bobby Kennedy and Dr. King were gunned down in hotels. And the Apollo program was running into more and more problems, making the moon mission seem less and less likely. That summer my family moved diagonally across Brooklyn, which meant a new high school for me. So in the fall, there I was: a friendless, clueless sophomore in the city's biggest zit factory. West Brooklyn High was a monstrous, charcoal gray citadel populated by 4,400 jaded students and guarded by hundreds of frazzled teachers. A place where no one wanted to be but apparently everybody was. My first day was inauspicious: late for three classes, two books lost, and one fight neatly avoided by letting some enormous dimwit cut me in the lunchroom line. I was a small kid, a bespectacled boney wisp topped by a thick mop of chocolate hair. And while fisticuffs weren't my thing, I could usually outsmart, or alternately outrun, most aggressors. History 202 was my last class. The teacher, Mr. Dillman, was a squat, pear-shaped man with a cottony white mane floating around his head. He was particularly fastidious about where we sat, and, for the first time that 13


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MARK FELLIN

Eat my meat Bushwick girls are sluts Jimi Hendrix Rules sucks donkey dong The wisdom scrawled across the desks of West Brooklyn High School was neither enlightening nor inspiring. But then again, there wasn't a whole lot uplifting about 1968. The war in Vietnam was tearing the country—and my family—apart. Bobby Kennedy and Dr. King were gunned down in hotels. And the Apollo program was running into more and more problems, making the moon mission seem less and less likely. That summer my family moved diagonally across Brooklyn, which meant a new high school for me. So in the fall, there I was: a friendless, clueless sophomore in the city's biggest zit factory. West Brooklyn High was a monstrous, charcoal gray citadel populated by 4,400 jaded students and guarded by hundreds of frazzled teachers. A place where no one wanted to be but apparently everybody was. My first day was inauspicious: late for three classes, two books lost, and one fight neatly avoided by letting some enormous dimwit cut me in the lunchroom line. I was a small kid, a bespectacled boney wisp topped by a thick mop of chocolate hair. And while fisticuffs weren't my thing, I could usually outsmart, or alternately outrun, most aggressors. History 202 was my last class. The teacher, Mr. Dillman, was a squat, pear-shaped man with a cottony white mane floating around his head. He was particularly fastidious about where we sat, and, for the first time that 13


Berkeley Fiction Review first day, I caught a break. "Osgood, Oliver?" "Here." Dillman scanned the room for my upraised hand. "Row eight, last seat." I walked to the far end of the room and slipped into my new desk—a window seat in the back comer, a daydreamer's paradise. Not that school was a drag. I didn't really mind it, and I was a pretty good student. But there were lots of bad vibes bouncing around the Osgood house at the time, and the relative serenity of a back row seat was a welcome sanctuary. Dillman was still droning on about his seating system when I noticed that fateful first message placed neatly, economically, on the upper left comer of my laminated desk. Someone save us...over...being attacked by Major Boredom (Mr. Lebowitz and his slurpy lisp)... over...send help! — DH The handwriting was a curious cross between confidence and whimsy. Almost certainly a girl's, it reminded me of Sara's longhand. Sara had been my brother's girlfriend. When Ed's belongings arrived that summer, her letters to him were among the items in the surprisingly small green box. Strange how little Ed had accumulated during his eleven months overseas. Stranger still how my parents had quietly resealed the lid, slipped the box into Ed's room and closed the door. When the 2:30 bell jangled me back, Dillman was discussing his teaching philosophy. The squawking of metal chairs scraping across linoleum silenced him as everyone rushed for the door. Day one was over. I flipped my book bag across my shoulder, rubbed DH's note off the polished surface with a wet finger and scribbled my own. We 're in bad shape too... over... battlingfhgforces of General Apathy... over ... but hold on, we '11 get through this together. — OO That first week went pretty smoothly, all things considered. Like I said, the school was cavernous, with wings and extensions angling off the main building in all directions. And after the dismay of feeling insignificant wore off, the freedom of being insignificant kicked in. There were so many faces zipping around, ignoring you, looking lost, looking angry, that there was nothing to feel self-conscious about. Home was a different story. Our three bedroom apartment on Union Street had shrunk considerably since Ed was killed in Khe Sanh. The 14

Mark Fellin three of us couldn't get out of each other's way. We were cordial, we still ate dinner at 6:30 sharp, we watched Green Acres together, but it felt counterfeit, imitation, like mashed potatoes from the box. And we never ever spoke about Ed. Healthy, no; pragmatic, no doubt. The explosion would come a few years later, like a forgotten Claymore mine tripped by a peasant child. M y first friend at West Brooklyn High was a round Polish kid from Green Point who was already going bald, Stan Szyg-something-ski. Entering the school as a sophomore put me at a distinct disadvantage, but Stan's eagerness to impart on me the easiest ways to steal food from the cafeteria and the easiest girls to cajole into the gym balcony helped me feel like a local. Of course, both bits of information were useless to me—I was no thief and no lover. Still, it was a symbiotic relationship: Stan got to feel like a mentor and I was able to keep my head above water until I learned to swim. And my desktop dalliance continued. DH and I wrote and rubbed and ranted regularly, typically in two sentence bursts. The way our class schedules worked, she always sat in the seat before I did, so the rhythm of our dialogue took the form of her comments in the morning, my responses in the afternoon and then back to her in the morning. It must have been a seldom used desk, too, because no one else ever joined the conversation. It was just the two of us. The second week started with a torrential rainstorm and a marked evolution in our daily exchanges. Another weekend watching my parents'marriage disintegrate. I think my dad's cheating...my mom has stopped asking where he's been. I don't want them to get a divorce. — DH Sorry about your folks. Whatever my folks had is slowly dissolving, too. They don t sleep in the same bed anymore. But don t sweat it, seems to me old people stay together just for the sake of it. — OO I guess the formula goes something like: anonymity + inhibition = brutal honesty. In any case, we moved on from there. / hate my bangs and I hate my freckles but I really hate that these things matter to me. What do you hate? — DH Hate's pretty strong. What makes me angry is that people like you and me need to question everything because there's nobody we can trust anymore. (P.S.J'm sure your bangs are bitchin.) — OO 15


Berkeley Fiction Review first day, I caught a break. "Osgood, Oliver?" "Here." Dillman scanned the room for my upraised hand. "Row eight, last seat." I walked to the far end of the room and slipped into my new desk—a window seat in the back comer, a daydreamer's paradise. Not that school was a drag. I didn't really mind it, and I was a pretty good student. But there were lots of bad vibes bouncing around the Osgood house at the time, and the relative serenity of a back row seat was a welcome sanctuary. Dillman was still droning on about his seating system when I noticed that fateful first message placed neatly, economically, on the upper left comer of my laminated desk. Someone save us...over...being attacked by Major Boredom (Mr. Lebowitz and his slurpy lisp)... over...send help! — DH The handwriting was a curious cross between confidence and whimsy. Almost certainly a girl's, it reminded me of Sara's longhand. Sara had been my brother's girlfriend. When Ed's belongings arrived that summer, her letters to him were among the items in the surprisingly small green box. Strange how little Ed had accumulated during his eleven months overseas. Stranger still how my parents had quietly resealed the lid, slipped the box into Ed's room and closed the door. When the 2:30 bell jangled me back, Dillman was discussing his teaching philosophy. The squawking of metal chairs scraping across linoleum silenced him as everyone rushed for the door. Day one was over. I flipped my book bag across my shoulder, rubbed DH's note off the polished surface with a wet finger and scribbled my own. We 're in bad shape too... over... battlingfhgforces of General Apathy... over ... but hold on, we '11 get through this together. — OO That first week went pretty smoothly, all things considered. Like I said, the school was cavernous, with wings and extensions angling off the main building in all directions. And after the dismay of feeling insignificant wore off, the freedom of being insignificant kicked in. There were so many faces zipping around, ignoring you, looking lost, looking angry, that there was nothing to feel self-conscious about. Home was a different story. Our three bedroom apartment on Union Street had shrunk considerably since Ed was killed in Khe Sanh. The 14

Mark Fellin three of us couldn't get out of each other's way. We were cordial, we still ate dinner at 6:30 sharp, we watched Green Acres together, but it felt counterfeit, imitation, like mashed potatoes from the box. And we never ever spoke about Ed. Healthy, no; pragmatic, no doubt. The explosion would come a few years later, like a forgotten Claymore mine tripped by a peasant child. M y first friend at West Brooklyn High was a round Polish kid from Green Point who was already going bald, Stan Szyg-something-ski. Entering the school as a sophomore put me at a distinct disadvantage, but Stan's eagerness to impart on me the easiest ways to steal food from the cafeteria and the easiest girls to cajole into the gym balcony helped me feel like a local. Of course, both bits of information were useless to me—I was no thief and no lover. Still, it was a symbiotic relationship: Stan got to feel like a mentor and I was able to keep my head above water until I learned to swim. And my desktop dalliance continued. DH and I wrote and rubbed and ranted regularly, typically in two sentence bursts. The way our class schedules worked, she always sat in the seat before I did, so the rhythm of our dialogue took the form of her comments in the morning, my responses in the afternoon and then back to her in the morning. It must have been a seldom used desk, too, because no one else ever joined the conversation. It was just the two of us. The second week started with a torrential rainstorm and a marked evolution in our daily exchanges. Another weekend watching my parents'marriage disintegrate. I think my dad's cheating...my mom has stopped asking where he's been. I don't want them to get a divorce. — DH Sorry about your folks. Whatever my folks had is slowly dissolving, too. They don t sleep in the same bed anymore. But don t sweat it, seems to me old people stay together just for the sake of it. — OO I guess the formula goes something like: anonymity + inhibition = brutal honesty. In any case, we moved on from there. / hate my bangs and I hate my freckles but I really hate that these things matter to me. What do you hate? — DH Hate's pretty strong. What makes me angry is that people like you and me need to question everything because there's nobody we can trust anymore. (P.S.J'm sure your bangs are bitchin.) — OO 15


Berkeley Fiction Review And I believed that. I mean, I was just a 15-year-old kid and myopic in more ways than one. But it only took a few minutes of the nightly news—• or side one of Cream's "Disraeli Gears"—to realize that the adults, our leaders, were mnning things by the seats of their pants. Or worse. As for the bitchin bangs, I'd heard a girl say it to another girl in biology class and she seemed to like it. Evidently, so did DH. You 're right about trust. It seems like no one's even paying attention. Thanks about the bangs...are you trying to "score points" with me??? — DH All hands on deck. The S.S. Oliver Osgood was now officially in uncharted waters, soon to be lost at sea. Scoring points? I'd never gone on a date, never kissed a girl, never even held a girl's hand. I wanted to do all those things, and more, but scoring points with a girl with bitchin bangs? I spent the entire class deciding how to best end this whole ludicrous... relationship. But when the bell rang... Urn, yes. But that's beside the point...the points...the...you get me all frazzled lately. Anyway...yeah, these are crazy times. But there's a saying, "may you live in interesting times." So maybe these are them. Those. — OO Smooth. DH stepped out of my daydreams and into my real dreams at that point. She took the form of French actress Claudine Auger, the Bond girl in Thunderball. Oooh-la-la. A fantastic stand-in, but ultimately unsatisfying. I needed to meet DH. And our next correspondence started the ball rolling, if somewhat unevenly, in that direction. Beatles or Stones? — DH This was big. The Beatles came from the heart, "Eleanor Rigby," "Sgt. Pepper's." The Stones were hardcore, "Sympathy for the Devil," "Satisfaction." But since honesty was now my official policy with my girl DH... The Doors. Bewitched or I Dream ofJeannie? — OO My brother was always playing the Doors in the house and although it took a while, the band's fusion of "psychedelic rock, hard rock, and blues had. grown on me. To this day I still believe that Ed was singing "Break on Through" when he died: "I found an island in your arms / Country in your eyes / Arms that chain us / Eyes that lie / Break on through to the other side." As for Barbara Eden, she was sweet,yet half a rung below DH at that point. 16

Mark Fellin My brother loved the Doors. I guess he still does. Jim Morrison is soooo boss! And those shows are dumb. Star Trek is itfor the hip and the hep.—DH Star Trek? Had I found someone even nerdier than me? Star Trek? Your bro has good taste. Does he go to this school? And forget Star Trek, it's going nowhere. That William Shatman guy will be forgotten by next year. — OO No, he was drafted last summer. He was burned really bad in Kontum. He's in a special hospital in Hartford. We go see him on weekends. — DH I'm sorry to hear that, DH This war is pointless, corrupt and illegal. Please wish your bro my best this weekend. — OO You're an asshole. My brother joined the Marines to defend people like you and me. He's a hero, and that's more than you can say. Our first fight. The three week honeymoon was over. She hadn't even bothered with the compulsory initials. It was Thursday afternoon. I wrote: That's not what I mean. The war itself is awful, not the soldiers who fight it. They're the brave ones. I meant the politicians are evil. — OO But when I reached my desk on Friday, an anvil lodged in my gut, my message was still there, nothing from DH. I slouched through that last class of the week, languishing. For the first time since becoming an only child, I wrote something about Ed. My brother was killed in Vietnam, DH. He didn t volunteer, he didn t want to go, but he didn t hide. I don t know if he died with honor, but he lived with it. And I miss him. I'm sorry your brother's in a bad way. — OO On the day my brother received his orders to report to Basic Training, we had a family meeting. It was September 1967. The four of us took our usual positions around the red and chrome kitchen table. My father said it was Ed's duty to answer the country's call, as he himself had done in '44. Mom, on the other hand, said it was time to make some calls about real estate in Canada. Ed didn't say much either way. He was 19, working in a mechanics shop in Flatbush, falling in love with Sara. I sat silent, hands in my lap. I was sad, with a touch of envy. The battlefield spreads in Time magazine were haunting and numbing, but exciting, too. Still, my brother was no fighter. Not even close. Ed was a taller, lankier, not-as-bright version of me. He could be criminally lazy, as well as maniacally driven. He fell asleep once while we were eating dinner, splashed face-first into mom's 17


Berkeley Fiction Review And I believed that. I mean, I was just a 15-year-old kid and myopic in more ways than one. But it only took a few minutes of the nightly news—• or side one of Cream's "Disraeli Gears"—to realize that the adults, our leaders, were mnning things by the seats of their pants. Or worse. As for the bitchin bangs, I'd heard a girl say it to another girl in biology class and she seemed to like it. Evidently, so did DH. You 're right about trust. It seems like no one's even paying attention. Thanks about the bangs...are you trying to "score points" with me??? — DH All hands on deck. The S.S. Oliver Osgood was now officially in uncharted waters, soon to be lost at sea. Scoring points? I'd never gone on a date, never kissed a girl, never even held a girl's hand. I wanted to do all those things, and more, but scoring points with a girl with bitchin bangs? I spent the entire class deciding how to best end this whole ludicrous... relationship. But when the bell rang... Urn, yes. But that's beside the point...the points...the...you get me all frazzled lately. Anyway...yeah, these are crazy times. But there's a saying, "may you live in interesting times." So maybe these are them. Those. — OO Smooth. DH stepped out of my daydreams and into my real dreams at that point. She took the form of French actress Claudine Auger, the Bond girl in Thunderball. Oooh-la-la. A fantastic stand-in, but ultimately unsatisfying. I needed to meet DH. And our next correspondence started the ball rolling, if somewhat unevenly, in that direction. Beatles or Stones? — DH This was big. The Beatles came from the heart, "Eleanor Rigby," "Sgt. Pepper's." The Stones were hardcore, "Sympathy for the Devil," "Satisfaction." But since honesty was now my official policy with my girl DH... The Doors. Bewitched or I Dream ofJeannie? — OO My brother was always playing the Doors in the house and although it took a while, the band's fusion of "psychedelic rock, hard rock, and blues had. grown on me. To this day I still believe that Ed was singing "Break on Through" when he died: "I found an island in your arms / Country in your eyes / Arms that chain us / Eyes that lie / Break on through to the other side." As for Barbara Eden, she was sweet,yet half a rung below DH at that point. 16

Mark Fellin My brother loved the Doors. I guess he still does. Jim Morrison is soooo boss! And those shows are dumb. Star Trek is itfor the hip and the hep.—DH Star Trek? Had I found someone even nerdier than me? Star Trek? Your bro has good taste. Does he go to this school? And forget Star Trek, it's going nowhere. That William Shatman guy will be forgotten by next year. — OO No, he was drafted last summer. He was burned really bad in Kontum. He's in a special hospital in Hartford. We go see him on weekends. — DH I'm sorry to hear that, DH This war is pointless, corrupt and illegal. Please wish your bro my best this weekend. — OO You're an asshole. My brother joined the Marines to defend people like you and me. He's a hero, and that's more than you can say. Our first fight. The three week honeymoon was over. She hadn't even bothered with the compulsory initials. It was Thursday afternoon. I wrote: That's not what I mean. The war itself is awful, not the soldiers who fight it. They're the brave ones. I meant the politicians are evil. — OO But when I reached my desk on Friday, an anvil lodged in my gut, my message was still there, nothing from DH. I slouched through that last class of the week, languishing. For the first time since becoming an only child, I wrote something about Ed. My brother was killed in Vietnam, DH. He didn t volunteer, he didn t want to go, but he didn t hide. I don t know if he died with honor, but he lived with it. And I miss him. I'm sorry your brother's in a bad way. — OO On the day my brother received his orders to report to Basic Training, we had a family meeting. It was September 1967. The four of us took our usual positions around the red and chrome kitchen table. My father said it was Ed's duty to answer the country's call, as he himself had done in '44. Mom, on the other hand, said it was time to make some calls about real estate in Canada. Ed didn't say much either way. He was 19, working in a mechanics shop in Flatbush, falling in love with Sara. I sat silent, hands in my lap. I was sad, with a touch of envy. The battlefield spreads in Time magazine were haunting and numbing, but exciting, too. Still, my brother was no fighter. Not even close. Ed was a taller, lankier, not-as-bright version of me. He could be criminally lazy, as well as maniacally driven. He fell asleep once while we were eating dinner, splashed face-first into mom's 17


Berkeley Fiction Review infamous celery soup and burned the skin off his eyelids. But whenever he washed our old man's maroon '64 Tempest GTO, Ed double scrubbed every inch of that car with a toothbrush. My brother loved that machine. When I hugged him on the day he left for Fort Dix, he looked like the world's bravest non-soldier. I knew I ' d never see him again. The weekend was warm and bright and sunny and I couldn't wait for it to end. I didn't even watch the Giants beat the Eagles. My old man did drag me to see Planet of the Apes. (I was so crabby I rooted for the monkeys.) It's something he would have normally done with Ed. My job description was expanding. On Monday morning I was tempted to sit on the floor in front of our classroom until I found DH so that I could apologize, clarify, rectify. And if not for my own class schedule and the hall monitors and the fact that I was terrified of meeting her, I would have. My concerns, though, proved unfounded. How was the weekend? — DH She'd come back to me. Still, the near disaster convinced me that the wood and ink phase of our courtship had run its course. Our conversations were getting too complicated. Better now. How about we meet somewhere tomorrow? — OO / can % I have dance class — and aren r you busy with practice these days anyway? — DH Practice? Whatever. I forged ahead. Practice? No, I'm charming naturally, no practice required. How about Thursday? — OO Veeeeery funny, Mr. Charming. Yes, if you're really free I'll meet you Thursday, 3:00, outside the Newsroom. — D H The Newsroom was in the basement, opposite the gym and the auditorium. It's where all the student clubs and associations posted information, lots of people buzzing around all the time. I liked the idea. It's a date. — OO There, I said it. And I needed to say it again. To whom? Not many choices, really.. .Stan. I found him where he always was, crouched behind the wooden bleachers in the main gym, watching the cheerleaders practice. Since I hadn't told him anything yet, I took it from the top. As I expected, he got a kick out of it. He slapped me on the back, wished me luck and started off toward the smaller gym to see if he could catch some of the 18

Mark Fellin girls' volleyball team practice; Stan was an insatiable perv. Just before he turned the comer, he stopped and chuckled. "Oliver," he said. "Wouldn't it be funny if this DH girl thought you were Omar Olivera." Stan laughed again, his belly shaking. "That would be funny," he confirmed before tip-toeing into the gym. I watched the door close behind Stan's fat, theorizing ass. Omar Olivera: ^ S i x foot-one, two hundred pounds v^High cheek bones v'Cleft chin ^Decent mustache ^"Captain of the TV baseball and football teams ^Sophomore class vice-president v^Over-rated jerk ^Initials: OO I went home and slept like a baby, meaning I cried and whined and pissed myself. Almost. The next morning I avoided Sherlock Stan, ignored a trigonometry quiz and chucked my lunch in the trash. I sat through Dillman's class wondering what it felt like when you stepped on a landmine, when you heard the initial click. The bell tolled and I glanced down at the desk - our desk. See you later, OO, can t wait. — DH I rubbed, I wrote and I made my way down to the Newsroom. By the time you read this we '11 have met...I'm guessing you were surprised...pleasantly I hope... — OO We did. She was. Not at all. It all went down pretty quickly in real time, but quicksand slow from the inside looking out. I reached the bottom of the stairs, pushed through the swinging doors, turned left and stumbled through the crowds fonning around their respective bulletin boards. My victory march had been transformed into a funeral procession. I came to the end of the hall and stopped. DH was wearing tight pink pants, a black sweater and knee-high black leather boots. Her hair was short and dark and framed her oval face perfectly. Her bangs were absolutely bitchin. I pretended to look at the Math League schedule for a while. She pretended to read about the next Civics Committee meeting. I turned to 19


Berkeley Fiction Review infamous celery soup and burned the skin off his eyelids. But whenever he washed our old man's maroon '64 Tempest GTO, Ed double scrubbed every inch of that car with a toothbrush. My brother loved that machine. When I hugged him on the day he left for Fort Dix, he looked like the world's bravest non-soldier. I knew I ' d never see him again. The weekend was warm and bright and sunny and I couldn't wait for it to end. I didn't even watch the Giants beat the Eagles. My old man did drag me to see Planet of the Apes. (I was so crabby I rooted for the monkeys.) It's something he would have normally done with Ed. My job description was expanding. On Monday morning I was tempted to sit on the floor in front of our classroom until I found DH so that I could apologize, clarify, rectify. And if not for my own class schedule and the hall monitors and the fact that I was terrified of meeting her, I would have. My concerns, though, proved unfounded. How was the weekend? — DH She'd come back to me. Still, the near disaster convinced me that the wood and ink phase of our courtship had run its course. Our conversations were getting too complicated. Better now. How about we meet somewhere tomorrow? — OO / can % I have dance class — and aren r you busy with practice these days anyway? — DH Practice? Whatever. I forged ahead. Practice? No, I'm charming naturally, no practice required. How about Thursday? — OO Veeeeery funny, Mr. Charming. Yes, if you're really free I'll meet you Thursday, 3:00, outside the Newsroom. — D H The Newsroom was in the basement, opposite the gym and the auditorium. It's where all the student clubs and associations posted information, lots of people buzzing around all the time. I liked the idea. It's a date. — OO There, I said it. And I needed to say it again. To whom? Not many choices, really.. .Stan. I found him where he always was, crouched behind the wooden bleachers in the main gym, watching the cheerleaders practice. Since I hadn't told him anything yet, I took it from the top. As I expected, he got a kick out of it. He slapped me on the back, wished me luck and started off toward the smaller gym to see if he could catch some of the 18

Mark Fellin girls' volleyball team practice; Stan was an insatiable perv. Just before he turned the comer, he stopped and chuckled. "Oliver," he said. "Wouldn't it be funny if this DH girl thought you were Omar Olivera." Stan laughed again, his belly shaking. "That would be funny," he confirmed before tip-toeing into the gym. I watched the door close behind Stan's fat, theorizing ass. Omar Olivera: ^ S i x foot-one, two hundred pounds v^High cheek bones v'Cleft chin ^Decent mustache ^"Captain of the TV baseball and football teams ^Sophomore class vice-president v^Over-rated jerk ^Initials: OO I went home and slept like a baby, meaning I cried and whined and pissed myself. Almost. The next morning I avoided Sherlock Stan, ignored a trigonometry quiz and chucked my lunch in the trash. I sat through Dillman's class wondering what it felt like when you stepped on a landmine, when you heard the initial click. The bell tolled and I glanced down at the desk - our desk. See you later, OO, can t wait. — DH I rubbed, I wrote and I made my way down to the Newsroom. By the time you read this we '11 have met...I'm guessing you were surprised...pleasantly I hope... — OO We did. She was. Not at all. It all went down pretty quickly in real time, but quicksand slow from the inside looking out. I reached the bottom of the stairs, pushed through the swinging doors, turned left and stumbled through the crowds fonning around their respective bulletin boards. My victory march had been transformed into a funeral procession. I came to the end of the hall and stopped. DH was wearing tight pink pants, a black sweater and knee-high black leather boots. Her hair was short and dark and framed her oval face perfectly. Her bangs were absolutely bitchin. I pretended to look at the Math League schedule for a while. She pretended to read about the next Civics Committee meeting. I turned to 19


Berkeley Fiction Review r face her. "Hi," I said. She smiled politely, looked past me down the hall, checked her watch. "I think we share a desk," I added, breaking our customary I-go-yougo pattern. DH finally looked at me. Her head dipped slightly to the right and she poured her crimson-lipped, emerald-eyed, sun-kissed self all over me. "We...oh," she half-said. "I'm Oliver Osgood."

C

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B

E

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U

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S L E E P S

BKLOREN

Now, I've seen disappointment in my life: I've been divorced twice, I'm a proctologist, I'm a Mets fan. But right there, standing in the basement of West Brooklyn High School forty years ago, that girl was, and still is, the most disappointed person I've ever seen. Disappointment doesn't manifest itself with a frown; that's sadness. Disappointment is much more complex. It draws the lips into a tight, straight line, like a good zip-lock bag. There may be a teardrop or two, but first comes the 100-mile mannequin stare. Disappointment is defeat, dipped in disbelief and deep-fried in fury. "We.. .oh." That's all DH - Dahlia Hunter, I would later learn - ever said to me. She wandered away, the quick but unsure walk of the stunned. I wanted to shout... What's your favorite song on the White Album? — OO How are your parents doing? — OO Is your brother feeling any better? — OO But I didn't. I just rubbed it all away.

He rests his head against the bars, feels his lip caught on the steel and leaves it there, his teeth flashing like a wild beast's and who cares. He closes his eyes halfway, snores. It's the same old the drill. "Daddy, Daddy," the call of a twelve-year-old girl down the hallway. "Oh, Honey, look," a dainty wife dragging a thick-palmed, barrelchested man behind her. "Now that's a daw-og," two syllables, the man says, claiming his territory, pissing everywhere. Cerberus dreams of sundown. At night the coyotes wail. He hears them through the walls of this place, imagines them wild-eyed, shadowhunting under the eaves of suburban houses, scrawny and on the verge. Rage against the dying of the light, the poet said. Better than Euripides; better than Aeschylus. One of the fewnerks-of living-this long. The howl of it all, the raging muzzle pointed skyward, not in praise or prayer, just a deep night's siren moan, the roundness of the vowel, the hollow note, the howl. Do not go gently into that good night, but this is what he dreams, to go gently—if only he could. Darkness enfolding him forever, a sweetness he can never have. He falls asleep listening to the sound of the river that was his youthful home. The family turns away, back down the corridor. Next day, and here they are again. Mother, father, the delicate girl who liked the dark circle over his left eye, called the layers of thick skin 21

20 L


Berkeley Fiction Review r face her. "Hi," I said. She smiled politely, looked past me down the hall, checked her watch. "I think we share a desk," I added, breaking our customary I-go-yougo pattern. DH finally looked at me. Her head dipped slightly to the right and she poured her crimson-lipped, emerald-eyed, sun-kissed self all over me. "We...oh," she half-said. "I'm Oliver Osgood."

C

E

R

B

E

R

U

S

S L E E P S

BKLOREN

Now, I've seen disappointment in my life: I've been divorced twice, I'm a proctologist, I'm a Mets fan. But right there, standing in the basement of West Brooklyn High School forty years ago, that girl was, and still is, the most disappointed person I've ever seen. Disappointment doesn't manifest itself with a frown; that's sadness. Disappointment is much more complex. It draws the lips into a tight, straight line, like a good zip-lock bag. There may be a teardrop or two, but first comes the 100-mile mannequin stare. Disappointment is defeat, dipped in disbelief and deep-fried in fury. "We.. .oh." That's all DH - Dahlia Hunter, I would later learn - ever said to me. She wandered away, the quick but unsure walk of the stunned. I wanted to shout... What's your favorite song on the White Album? — OO How are your parents doing? — OO Is your brother feeling any better? — OO But I didn't. I just rubbed it all away.

He rests his head against the bars, feels his lip caught on the steel and leaves it there, his teeth flashing like a wild beast's and who cares. He closes his eyes halfway, snores. It's the same old the drill. "Daddy, Daddy," the call of a twelve-year-old girl down the hallway. "Oh, Honey, look," a dainty wife dragging a thick-palmed, barrelchested man behind her. "Now that's a daw-og," two syllables, the man says, claiming his territory, pissing everywhere. Cerberus dreams of sundown. At night the coyotes wail. He hears them through the walls of this place, imagines them wild-eyed, shadowhunting under the eaves of suburban houses, scrawny and on the verge. Rage against the dying of the light, the poet said. Better than Euripides; better than Aeschylus. One of the fewnerks-of living-this long. The howl of it all, the raging muzzle pointed skyward, not in praise or prayer, just a deep night's siren moan, the roundness of the vowel, the hollow note, the howl. Do not go gently into that good night, but this is what he dreams, to go gently—if only he could. Darkness enfolding him forever, a sweetness he can never have. He falls asleep listening to the sound of the river that was his youthful home. The family turns away, back down the corridor. Next day, and here they are again. Mother, father, the delicate girl who liked the dark circle over his left eye, called the layers of thick skin 21

20 L


Berkeley Fiction Review folding around his neck cute. "Cerberus?" says the thick-palmed father, squinting at the animalcontrol impound tag hanging outside Cerberus's cell. "What the hell kind ofnameisthat?" The volunteer, a twig of a woman with grey hair to her waist, shrugs. "We get so many dogs. We do our best." Her voice trails off, hair falling across her face. Then the metal grate of his cell creaks open, and the leash comes out, the collar. Should he waggle around like a mortal dog, tongue lashing with affection? Should he curry favor? He ambles out the cell door, past the father, and he can't help it: when the girl throws her arms around his neck and squeezes him, his butt wiggles, can't keep still. He feels that dog-smile crossing his jowls, and he hasn't smiled like this in half a century. It's something about her. She squeals and he can't hold back, lets his pink tongue slather her face from chin to forehead, and she giggles. And, goddamn, he thought he'd finally outgrown all this. What the hell? His heart thumps like a rabbit's foot against the inside of his ribcage, Freighted with hope, again, again. "C'mon on, boy," the father says. The man opens the back door of the SUV and pats the seat. Cerberus stands still. The SUV seat is four feet off the hot black asphalt. He hasn't jumped that high in ages, isn't about to start now. "Up, boy. Up, Cer-cer-cer-berus." The man coaxes. Cerberus sits. The man grimaces, bends at the waste, exhales as if breathing's an effort. He hoists all fifty-five pit-bull pounds of Cerberus into the car. "We're changing that name," he says. "I like it," the daughter says. The man's fists tighten around the wheel. He twists at the waist, looks at Alma sitting in the back seat with her arms around Cerberus. "You're going to be responsible for walking that dog." He wags his finger now, his happy coin flipping in the air and landing on rage this time. Alma nods. "And feeding him." "He's mine. I know, Dad. He's my dog. Aren't you, Cerbie, yes, you are." She buries her face in Cerberus's neck, and god, that feels good. Cerberus feels his taut muscles go limp. The father shifts into reverse. "Damn right he's your dog." It slips through his lips like a serpent. The wife rests her small hand on her husband's blue-jeaned thigh. "She'll be fine with him, Keith. She's old

22

BK Loren enough for some responsibility." Helen turns to the back seat, "Aren't you, Alma? You'll be fine." Alma nods. Cerberus sighs, and a bit of spittle drops from his hanging tongue. His heart sinks with hope. There's the we-want-to-give-ahomeless-dog-a-home type; the a-pit-bull-like-this-is-good-protection type; the we-want-to-try-a-dog-before-having-kids type; and this: a-dogteaches-a-kid-responsibility type—which means if Alma forgets to feed him, the parents won't do it. No walk, same thing. He is her responsibility. If Alma does not love and care for him, CerberusTl be back in the pound, a lesson to her. He's been around the acropolis a few times, yet still, he closes his mouth and rests his big ancient head on Alma's lap. She melts into him, hugs him tight. Under his short white and brown hair, his jowls flush pink. When they get home the father's all smiles again. They stopped by an In-N-Out Burger on the way, he cracked open a beer soon as he got in the door; since then, he's back to his old self. "Let's see what the little fella can do." The guy's chest is as thick as Cerberus's, a tight T-shirt wrapped around it. The last guy who looked like this and adopted Cerberus was a Harley-riding gay man who was way into dog fashion. Pretty soon, Cerberus was sporting a Harley T-shirt, leather vest and cap to match. Orange and black did not become him, but there he was, in Jimmy-J's black and chrome sidecar, breezing around town, but, well, he got used to it. He waited in the sidecar while Jimmy-J hit the grocery, even waited till after midnight when Jimmy-J didn't think he would stay long at the bar, but then Jimmy met Roland, soused himself into oblivion, and Cerb had to tear at the battery wire with his teeth to keep the car from starting so the two-legged mortals could flag a cab home safely. Next morning, too hung-over to realize what Cerberus had done for them, they hired a cab back to the Harley (Cerb curled all night in the sidecar, shivering), then packed him off to the pound—Roland's allergies and the chewed battery wire—and that was the beginning of the rest of their lives. "Sit, Cerberus," Keith says. Cerb casts him a glance, walks a few paces away, then plops down on the floor, that extra loose jowl of his catching on the floral sofa as he leans into it. "Come, Cerberus, come." Cerberus rolls his eyes to look at Keith. "Shake, Cerberus, shake." Keith crouches down in front of Cerb and 23


Berkeley Fiction Review folding around his neck cute. "Cerberus?" says the thick-palmed father, squinting at the animalcontrol impound tag hanging outside Cerberus's cell. "What the hell kind ofnameisthat?" The volunteer, a twig of a woman with grey hair to her waist, shrugs. "We get so many dogs. We do our best." Her voice trails off, hair falling across her face. Then the metal grate of his cell creaks open, and the leash comes out, the collar. Should he waggle around like a mortal dog, tongue lashing with affection? Should he curry favor? He ambles out the cell door, past the father, and he can't help it: when the girl throws her arms around his neck and squeezes him, his butt wiggles, can't keep still. He feels that dog-smile crossing his jowls, and he hasn't smiled like this in half a century. It's something about her. She squeals and he can't hold back, lets his pink tongue slather her face from chin to forehead, and she giggles. And, goddamn, he thought he'd finally outgrown all this. What the hell? His heart thumps like a rabbit's foot against the inside of his ribcage, Freighted with hope, again, again. "C'mon on, boy," the father says. The man opens the back door of the SUV and pats the seat. Cerberus stands still. The SUV seat is four feet off the hot black asphalt. He hasn't jumped that high in ages, isn't about to start now. "Up, boy. Up, Cer-cer-cer-berus." The man coaxes. Cerberus sits. The man grimaces, bends at the waste, exhales as if breathing's an effort. He hoists all fifty-five pit-bull pounds of Cerberus into the car. "We're changing that name," he says. "I like it," the daughter says. The man's fists tighten around the wheel. He twists at the waist, looks at Alma sitting in the back seat with her arms around Cerberus. "You're going to be responsible for walking that dog." He wags his finger now, his happy coin flipping in the air and landing on rage this time. Alma nods. "And feeding him." "He's mine. I know, Dad. He's my dog. Aren't you, Cerbie, yes, you are." She buries her face in Cerberus's neck, and god, that feels good. Cerberus feels his taut muscles go limp. The father shifts into reverse. "Damn right he's your dog." It slips through his lips like a serpent. The wife rests her small hand on her husband's blue-jeaned thigh. "She'll be fine with him, Keith. She's old

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BK Loren enough for some responsibility." Helen turns to the back seat, "Aren't you, Alma? You'll be fine." Alma nods. Cerberus sighs, and a bit of spittle drops from his hanging tongue. His heart sinks with hope. There's the we-want-to-give-ahomeless-dog-a-home type; the a-pit-bull-like-this-is-good-protection type; the we-want-to-try-a-dog-before-having-kids type; and this: a-dogteaches-a-kid-responsibility type—which means if Alma forgets to feed him, the parents won't do it. No walk, same thing. He is her responsibility. If Alma does not love and care for him, CerberusTl be back in the pound, a lesson to her. He's been around the acropolis a few times, yet still, he closes his mouth and rests his big ancient head on Alma's lap. She melts into him, hugs him tight. Under his short white and brown hair, his jowls flush pink. When they get home the father's all smiles again. They stopped by an In-N-Out Burger on the way, he cracked open a beer soon as he got in the door; since then, he's back to his old self. "Let's see what the little fella can do." The guy's chest is as thick as Cerberus's, a tight T-shirt wrapped around it. The last guy who looked like this and adopted Cerberus was a Harley-riding gay man who was way into dog fashion. Pretty soon, Cerberus was sporting a Harley T-shirt, leather vest and cap to match. Orange and black did not become him, but there he was, in Jimmy-J's black and chrome sidecar, breezing around town, but, well, he got used to it. He waited in the sidecar while Jimmy-J hit the grocery, even waited till after midnight when Jimmy-J didn't think he would stay long at the bar, but then Jimmy met Roland, soused himself into oblivion, and Cerb had to tear at the battery wire with his teeth to keep the car from starting so the two-legged mortals could flag a cab home safely. Next morning, too hung-over to realize what Cerberus had done for them, they hired a cab back to the Harley (Cerb curled all night in the sidecar, shivering), then packed him off to the pound—Roland's allergies and the chewed battery wire—and that was the beginning of the rest of their lives. "Sit, Cerberus," Keith says. Cerb casts him a glance, walks a few paces away, then plops down on the floor, that extra loose jowl of his catching on the floral sofa as he leans into it. "Come, Cerberus, come." Cerberus rolls his eyes to look at Keith. "Shake, Cerberus, shake." Keith crouches down in front of Cerb and 23


Berkeley Fiction Review holds out one hand. "Shake, c'mon boy, shake." Cerberus stands and shakes his whole body like a dog just out of water, then saunters away. "Agh." The father stands, waving his arms. "He sheds." The father helps his own father to the dinner table. The younger man curves his body over the old man's bent figure, hands resting next to his father's on the walker. They walk as if they are spooning, the son a parenthesis around his father. Cerb hears the son's voice, You're so old, father, who are you father, goddamnitfather, out of pitch to humans, out of pitch even to the man who speaks it, and then, "Goddamnit, Dad," because the old man has steered off course again. The two of them teeter off balance, until the son grabs the edge of the dinner table, coffee splashing from cups as father and son find their steadiness again. "Shit, Dad. Why can't you just... shit]" I wish I could just shit, the old man says, decibels too high for any human to hear, and Cerberus chuckles, a slobbering guffaw. He watches the geezer leave the walker behind, toddle forward, and sit himself in his dinner chair. Seeing the old man's eyes, what the son would call empty, but what any dog at the pound would recognize as defiant. Helen brings Pyrex dishes and sets them on the table. Sloppy Joe meat, buns, a salad. The elderly man smiles at her, his pointy chin stubbled with white. Keith stands behind his father, flexing his jaw. He tries to shake it off now, says, "It's okay, Dad. It's okay," says it as softly as he once spoke in his wife's ear, days when he was courting her. He no longer courts her. Cerberus closes both eyes, dreaming of the old man's future, death waiting in the threshold to cradle him as it will never cradle Cerberus. He twitches in his sleep, wakes to the sound Of Ahna's footsteps running up the concrete sidewalk, up the front steps, across the hardwood floor to the dinner table, out of breath, "Hi, Cerberus," passing him like a warm, Aegean breeze. In the hanging fog of sleep, he almost stands and rears his head, like in the old days, so big, so ugly that writers had always exaggerated it: three heads, one hundred heads, a thousand heads, they said. It was one head, he wanted to tell them—impressive in size and ugliness to be sure, but just one head. Cerberus was the same as any other dog, save for the fact that his life would go on forever and ever, amen. He sighs now, and rests his head on crossed paws. The family eats. Cerberus watches from

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BK Loren his animal distance. After dinner, Helen cleans the kitchen and Keith snores in his chair, the old man conked out on the sofa next to him, both men's jaws hanging open like barn doors. Alma has homework to do in her room. "You can play with the dog after you're finished," her dad says, so Cerb spends the evening in the living room with his chin resting on the old man's shearling slippers. He likes the smell of them, the sweaty stink that lingers on life. But he likes Alma more, would rather be with her; he fights his feelings when he's awake, but in his sleep, he dreams of her. When he hears her voice outside the dream, "Out for bedtime. Cerberus, c'mon. Out before we go to sleep," he springs to all fours, surprises even himself with spryness, and the jolt rouses the two old men. "Wha wha wha," Keith says, looking around, confused. Then his eyes light on Cerb, the cause of the commotion, and he hisses, and Cerb cocks his head in question. Hadn't Keith wanted him when Cerberus was behind bars? Hadn't Keith been the one to say, now that's a daw-og? Centuries past, and Cerberus has never grown to understand this trait of humans: wanting; getting; throwing away. Wanting again. Keith's father barely opens his eyes, sees Cerb, and smiles, "Heh heh," he says, no one listening. "I hope he's housebroken," Keith says. "He is, Dad. Look at him." Cerberus slips past Alma and lumbers out the back door, shits happily. It takes the chilly night exactly three seconds to seep beneath his thin coat and give him a shiver. He lifts his leg, pisses. "Good boy," Alma says. Cerberus turns his head toward her midstream, can't stop looking at her even now. He finishes up, then runs toward the door. Hope is the thing with feathers, he hears his own heart pitter-pattering, and goddamn; goddamnit, he tries to will it away. "Well, make sure of it," Keith calls. "I just watched him. He went right out and peed, Dad." "Leave him out, Alma. Close the doggie door. You never know." Cerb keeps his pace, running toward Alma. All he wants is to be around her, and then she sighs the way young girls sigh at their fathers when they're tired of following rules, and the door slams in Cerberus's face. He stops in his tracks, sits. The cold concrete patio presses against 25


Berkeley Fiction Review holds out one hand. "Shake, c'mon boy, shake." Cerberus stands and shakes his whole body like a dog just out of water, then saunters away. "Agh." The father stands, waving his arms. "He sheds." The father helps his own father to the dinner table. The younger man curves his body over the old man's bent figure, hands resting next to his father's on the walker. They walk as if they are spooning, the son a parenthesis around his father. Cerb hears the son's voice, You're so old, father, who are you father, goddamnitfather, out of pitch to humans, out of pitch even to the man who speaks it, and then, "Goddamnit, Dad," because the old man has steered off course again. The two of them teeter off balance, until the son grabs the edge of the dinner table, coffee splashing from cups as father and son find their steadiness again. "Shit, Dad. Why can't you just... shit]" I wish I could just shit, the old man says, decibels too high for any human to hear, and Cerberus chuckles, a slobbering guffaw. He watches the geezer leave the walker behind, toddle forward, and sit himself in his dinner chair. Seeing the old man's eyes, what the son would call empty, but what any dog at the pound would recognize as defiant. Helen brings Pyrex dishes and sets them on the table. Sloppy Joe meat, buns, a salad. The elderly man smiles at her, his pointy chin stubbled with white. Keith stands behind his father, flexing his jaw. He tries to shake it off now, says, "It's okay, Dad. It's okay," says it as softly as he once spoke in his wife's ear, days when he was courting her. He no longer courts her. Cerberus closes both eyes, dreaming of the old man's future, death waiting in the threshold to cradle him as it will never cradle Cerberus. He twitches in his sleep, wakes to the sound Of Ahna's footsteps running up the concrete sidewalk, up the front steps, across the hardwood floor to the dinner table, out of breath, "Hi, Cerberus," passing him like a warm, Aegean breeze. In the hanging fog of sleep, he almost stands and rears his head, like in the old days, so big, so ugly that writers had always exaggerated it: three heads, one hundred heads, a thousand heads, they said. It was one head, he wanted to tell them—impressive in size and ugliness to be sure, but just one head. Cerberus was the same as any other dog, save for the fact that his life would go on forever and ever, amen. He sighs now, and rests his head on crossed paws. The family eats. Cerberus watches from

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BK Loren his animal distance. After dinner, Helen cleans the kitchen and Keith snores in his chair, the old man conked out on the sofa next to him, both men's jaws hanging open like barn doors. Alma has homework to do in her room. "You can play with the dog after you're finished," her dad says, so Cerb spends the evening in the living room with his chin resting on the old man's shearling slippers. He likes the smell of them, the sweaty stink that lingers on life. But he likes Alma more, would rather be with her; he fights his feelings when he's awake, but in his sleep, he dreams of her. When he hears her voice outside the dream, "Out for bedtime. Cerberus, c'mon. Out before we go to sleep," he springs to all fours, surprises even himself with spryness, and the jolt rouses the two old men. "Wha wha wha," Keith says, looking around, confused. Then his eyes light on Cerb, the cause of the commotion, and he hisses, and Cerb cocks his head in question. Hadn't Keith wanted him when Cerberus was behind bars? Hadn't Keith been the one to say, now that's a daw-og? Centuries past, and Cerberus has never grown to understand this trait of humans: wanting; getting; throwing away. Wanting again. Keith's father barely opens his eyes, sees Cerb, and smiles, "Heh heh," he says, no one listening. "I hope he's housebroken," Keith says. "He is, Dad. Look at him." Cerberus slips past Alma and lumbers out the back door, shits happily. It takes the chilly night exactly three seconds to seep beneath his thin coat and give him a shiver. He lifts his leg, pisses. "Good boy," Alma says. Cerberus turns his head toward her midstream, can't stop looking at her even now. He finishes up, then runs toward the door. Hope is the thing with feathers, he hears his own heart pitter-pattering, and goddamn; goddamnit, he tries to will it away. "Well, make sure of it," Keith calls. "I just watched him. He went right out and peed, Dad." "Leave him out, Alma. Close the doggie door. You never know." Cerb keeps his pace, running toward Alma. All he wants is to be around her, and then she sighs the way young girls sigh at their fathers when they're tired of following rules, and the door slams in Cerberus's face. He stops in his tracks, sits. The cold concrete patio presses against 25


Berkeley Fiction Review his scantily-haired flanks. He's tough, sure, one of the toughest dogs in history, but cold is his bane; he has not a wafer-thin layer of fat to warm his bulging muscles. Sometimes, he knows, if he stares at a door long enough, a two-legged will wrap those opposable thumbs around the knob and turn. If his staring persuades Alma to do this now, he'll be inside, warm, and snoozing by her bed in seconds. Alma will not let him sleep outside, not with his thin coat, his old bones. She will not let him down. Half hour later he's still staring, shivering. Finally, he saunters out into the yard, sniffs the grounds, listens to the stories told through the scent of layered dirt. One sniff and his nostrils catch the fresh green smell of rain in a village built here eons ago (he remembers the village); the musty tickle of wet loam farmed by the villagers (he remembers the fertile ground); the distinct aroma of newly mown grass (Keith, last week). The scent of history, of time passing, it's all right here, under the first layer of soil. He howls softly, a hum melodic enough to make people in the neighborhood look up from reading the nightly news, watching TV, or surfing the internet; but not loud enough for them to identify it as a real sound, a howl. They wonder, go back to their tasks. Meanwhile, Cerberus pads around the backyard, his nose full of stories, and finally settles on staring into Keith and Helen's bedroom window, a buttery glow of light inlaid into the side of the red brick house. He sees the silhouette of Keith enter the room, disappear into the master bathroom, then return wearing just his T-shirt and boxers, his thick hair combed off his forehead with water. In this room, Keith loses his strut. His shoulders weigh heavy on him. He paces from bed to window a few times, stops, looks out, and the light inside keeps Keith from seeing Cerberus sitting right in front of him. Cerberus knows this. You can only see from darkness into light, never the other way around. And so, Cerb watches Keith place his elbows on his knees, lower his forehead to his palms, curve his back into a comma in a sentence Cerberus has read too many times. He sniffs the air, picks up the scent of regret, self-loathing. He feels a pinch in the soft Fjust below his ribcage. Keith's an asshole, yeah, but now Cerb understands. But Keith keeps on. He reaches under the bed, pulls out the blue steel barrel, cradles the gun, and now the soft V in Cerb's stomach seizes. Holy shit. Even from here, Cerb can hear the tick-tick-tick of Helen's shoes, the scuff ofAlma's slippers walking on the hardwood floor in the other room.

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BK Loren He hears their voices, Do you want a cookie, Mom? Some ice cream? Helen calls to Keith, Dessert, and when there's no answer, she puts an edge in her voice, Honey, we made fresh, hot chocolate chip cookies. Your favorite. Still no answer, and she sighs, and she must sit down because the sound of her footsteps goes quiet, and Cerberus sprints to the back door, barrels into the doggie-door panel with a boom, then scratches like crazy to get inside, howls for someone, anyone, to open the door, please, he's freezing, yes, but that's not the point. He runs back to the buttery window, sees Keith balancing the butt of the shotgun of the floor, resting the barrel on the tender roof of his mouth. He hears the rush of an ancient river through his ears; he howls now, howls at the top of his lungs, and Keith pulls the trigger, a click, a practice shot, no ammo this time, and Cerberus knows this stupid trick, the rehearsal. Keith slides the 12-gauge back under the bed, stands, and opens the bedroom door. "Alma!" he hollers. "Will you watch that goddamn dog of yours? Get the barking son-of-abitch in this house, now!" The distinct scuff of Alma's slippers now, and the door flings open. Like a pit-bull shot out of a cannon, Cerberus barrels past Alma, past Helen, thrashes down the hallway, knocks Keith against one wall of the narrow passage, and bursts into the bedroom, barking, snarling, howling with his nose pointed to the dark space under the bed. "Son-of-a-bitch." Keith comes at him now, arms raised and ready to beat the dog, and yeah, Cerb's mother is a bitch, but so what, for chrissakes, and Keith keeps coming at him and Cerberus makes his ball-ofmuscle body as flat as possible, tries to crawl under the bed, if he can just get that goddamn gun in his teeth, but his claws slip on the hardwood floor, scratching it all to hell, and Keith flies into a rage, Cerberus bearing the brunt of it, and he could fight back, he could, but he thinks of the dog pound, and living without Alma, and just then, Alma comes to him. She slips her thin body between Keith and Cerb, and she's crying. "Leave him alone, Daddy!" "Teach that dog a lesson!" "No!" Cerb hears her voice and then Alma wraps around him like a blanket and the blows of the father stop. Cerberus hears breathing now. That's all, just huge gusts of air rushing through the house: that's how it sounds to his dog ears. Keith takes in shallow breaths, a fearful quiver. Helen shivers in the background.

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Berkeley Fiction Review his scantily-haired flanks. He's tough, sure, one of the toughest dogs in history, but cold is his bane; he has not a wafer-thin layer of fat to warm his bulging muscles. Sometimes, he knows, if he stares at a door long enough, a two-legged will wrap those opposable thumbs around the knob and turn. If his staring persuades Alma to do this now, he'll be inside, warm, and snoozing by her bed in seconds. Alma will not let him sleep outside, not with his thin coat, his old bones. She will not let him down. Half hour later he's still staring, shivering. Finally, he saunters out into the yard, sniffs the grounds, listens to the stories told through the scent of layered dirt. One sniff and his nostrils catch the fresh green smell of rain in a village built here eons ago (he remembers the village); the musty tickle of wet loam farmed by the villagers (he remembers the fertile ground); the distinct aroma of newly mown grass (Keith, last week). The scent of history, of time passing, it's all right here, under the first layer of soil. He howls softly, a hum melodic enough to make people in the neighborhood look up from reading the nightly news, watching TV, or surfing the internet; but not loud enough for them to identify it as a real sound, a howl. They wonder, go back to their tasks. Meanwhile, Cerberus pads around the backyard, his nose full of stories, and finally settles on staring into Keith and Helen's bedroom window, a buttery glow of light inlaid into the side of the red brick house. He sees the silhouette of Keith enter the room, disappear into the master bathroom, then return wearing just his T-shirt and boxers, his thick hair combed off his forehead with water. In this room, Keith loses his strut. His shoulders weigh heavy on him. He paces from bed to window a few times, stops, looks out, and the light inside keeps Keith from seeing Cerberus sitting right in front of him. Cerberus knows this. You can only see from darkness into light, never the other way around. And so, Cerb watches Keith place his elbows on his knees, lower his forehead to his palms, curve his back into a comma in a sentence Cerberus has read too many times. He sniffs the air, picks up the scent of regret, self-loathing. He feels a pinch in the soft Fjust below his ribcage. Keith's an asshole, yeah, but now Cerb understands. But Keith keeps on. He reaches under the bed, pulls out the blue steel barrel, cradles the gun, and now the soft V in Cerb's stomach seizes. Holy shit. Even from here, Cerb can hear the tick-tick-tick of Helen's shoes, the scuff ofAlma's slippers walking on the hardwood floor in the other room.

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BK Loren He hears their voices, Do you want a cookie, Mom? Some ice cream? Helen calls to Keith, Dessert, and when there's no answer, she puts an edge in her voice, Honey, we made fresh, hot chocolate chip cookies. Your favorite. Still no answer, and she sighs, and she must sit down because the sound of her footsteps goes quiet, and Cerberus sprints to the back door, barrels into the doggie-door panel with a boom, then scratches like crazy to get inside, howls for someone, anyone, to open the door, please, he's freezing, yes, but that's not the point. He runs back to the buttery window, sees Keith balancing the butt of the shotgun of the floor, resting the barrel on the tender roof of his mouth. He hears the rush of an ancient river through his ears; he howls now, howls at the top of his lungs, and Keith pulls the trigger, a click, a practice shot, no ammo this time, and Cerberus knows this stupid trick, the rehearsal. Keith slides the 12-gauge back under the bed, stands, and opens the bedroom door. "Alma!" he hollers. "Will you watch that goddamn dog of yours? Get the barking son-of-abitch in this house, now!" The distinct scuff of Alma's slippers now, and the door flings open. Like a pit-bull shot out of a cannon, Cerberus barrels past Alma, past Helen, thrashes down the hallway, knocks Keith against one wall of the narrow passage, and bursts into the bedroom, barking, snarling, howling with his nose pointed to the dark space under the bed. "Son-of-a-bitch." Keith comes at him now, arms raised and ready to beat the dog, and yeah, Cerb's mother is a bitch, but so what, for chrissakes, and Keith keeps coming at him and Cerberus makes his ball-ofmuscle body as flat as possible, tries to crawl under the bed, if he can just get that goddamn gun in his teeth, but his claws slip on the hardwood floor, scratching it all to hell, and Keith flies into a rage, Cerberus bearing the brunt of it, and he could fight back, he could, but he thinks of the dog pound, and living without Alma, and just then, Alma comes to him. She slips her thin body between Keith and Cerb, and she's crying. "Leave him alone, Daddy!" "Teach that dog a lesson!" "No!" Cerb hears her voice and then Alma wraps around him like a blanket and the blows of the father stop. Cerberus hears breathing now. That's all, just huge gusts of air rushing through the house: that's how it sounds to his dog ears. Keith takes in shallow breaths, a fearful quiver. Helen shivers in the background.

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Berkeley Fiction Review The old man sleeps in the living room, untussled by it all, snoring like a hive of bees. And inside all this, Cerberus hears the heart beating inside Alma's chest, the in-and-out of her breath, a small wind across a beautiful landscape. Soon Alma's pulse is almost back to normal, about thirty beats slower than his own. She picks him up—he weighs more than half her weight, and she picks him up like a kitten in her arms. Her eyes are swollen. He licks them. She carries him out of the room, says, "I hate you," as she passes her father, and Cerberus waits for Keith's response, more beating, more rage. But there's none. Keith remains quiet. In the hallway, Alma sets Cerberus down. "Come on, boy," she says. She opens the door of her bedroom. Cerberus looks back at Keith, tries for some eye contact. Keith remains hunched in his room. Cerberus follows Alma. He wants to tell her how he feels, the comfort she gives him after so many eons of lonesomeness. But language is beyond him. He's a minimalist, his mouth shaped only for survival, tearing meat, scaring the shit out of people and cats, stuff like that. He has never felt anyone cry for him before. It's better than any honey cake he ever tasted in Elysium. He trots to the foot of her bed and curls up on the mat she's put there for him. He would follow her anywhere. Cerberus sleeps. He sleeps with centuries of memories fading. He sleeps, at last, with the sense of home wrapping around him, a silence he's never heard before, not the absence of noise but the presence of (can he even think the word?) of love. Friends he's known forever pass by his window in the night sky: Orion and Venus; his distant relative the Hydra; the crab that nipped at Hercules's feet as the bully slayed the Hydra, all part of that age-old game. Still ensconced in half-sleep, he raises his head, readjusts his old hip bones under him, moans a deep, content dog-moan. Before he lays his head back down, he glances at her. And he stops. There, in the soft-edged night, he sees her back rising and falling as she breathes, and he sees the unmistakable sign, the specific way her shoulder blades come to two meringue-like peaks, the stumps of two unformed wings rising from her back. In earlier days, she'd have been scheduled for apotheosis or consortion with some god, any number of things that would have turned her immortal. In earlier days, she would have been one of him. Eternity exists

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BK Loren for us like a tongue for a deaf mute, said the poet, and Cerberus wants Alma to speak the language of forever as if it were her native tongue. Cerberus stands up, rests his head on her bedside. He watches her sleep. He knows better, but he can't help himself. He places one paw on the soft edge of her mattress. She doesn't stir. And so the other paw goes up, and then one back paw, and the other, until the full weight of his slobbery pit-bull presence fills the bed, next to her. She wakes slightly, feels him there, tosses her arm around him, and he curls up small as he can make himself, fitting neatly into the curve of her body. His head presses against her chest. He hears her heart beating, feels the pulse of it against his right ear. The sound resonates in his chest, and he sleeps like a pup curled up against the warmth of his mother, fragile and powerless, at last. Dawn fingers its way between the slats of Alma's blinds, makes her room blush, and she wakes to the light. "Oh, Cerberus," she says. She laughs and hugs him, even pushes her nose right up close to his, her arms wrapped all the way around his body. "But you shouldn't be up on the furniture," she says. She nudges him off the bed and he scrambles to get to all fours. She walks to the closet, her long, graceful legs swimming in her pajamas, which she sheds, leaving the flannel lying in a pool on the floor as she pulls on a pair of low-riding jeans, two t-shirts layered, and a pair of canvas tennies. "I don't mind, but you know Daddy." She raises her eyebrows and he wants to tell her he knows, he understands, she loves him and wants to protect him, but it's okay. He can protect himself; and he can protect her. He pads closer to her with a spring in his step, his mouth open and panting the way any good dog does when he's happy. "Oh, I ' m gonna miss you today, Cerbie," Alma says. She gives his flanks a few solid pats, then out the front door, on her way to school. He presses his wet nose against the glass storm door. Alma meets up with some mortal kids at the comer. They're wearing earphones and talking to her at the same time, deaf to the music of her voice. They laugh, and Alma tosses her arm around one girl's shoulder, and they walk like this, stumbling and laughing, till they disappear around the comer. Cerberus folds his feet under him, slides his wet nose all the way down the glass. He's sound asleep by the time he hears, "Oh, crap. Cerberus!" He wakes to see Keith standing above him, almost cowers, but then remembers who he is. He's tired of it all; if he wanted to, he could send 29


Berkeley Fiction Review The old man sleeps in the living room, untussled by it all, snoring like a hive of bees. And inside all this, Cerberus hears the heart beating inside Alma's chest, the in-and-out of her breath, a small wind across a beautiful landscape. Soon Alma's pulse is almost back to normal, about thirty beats slower than his own. She picks him up—he weighs more than half her weight, and she picks him up like a kitten in her arms. Her eyes are swollen. He licks them. She carries him out of the room, says, "I hate you," as she passes her father, and Cerberus waits for Keith's response, more beating, more rage. But there's none. Keith remains quiet. In the hallway, Alma sets Cerberus down. "Come on, boy," she says. She opens the door of her bedroom. Cerberus looks back at Keith, tries for some eye contact. Keith remains hunched in his room. Cerberus follows Alma. He wants to tell her how he feels, the comfort she gives him after so many eons of lonesomeness. But language is beyond him. He's a minimalist, his mouth shaped only for survival, tearing meat, scaring the shit out of people and cats, stuff like that. He has never felt anyone cry for him before. It's better than any honey cake he ever tasted in Elysium. He trots to the foot of her bed and curls up on the mat she's put there for him. He would follow her anywhere. Cerberus sleeps. He sleeps with centuries of memories fading. He sleeps, at last, with the sense of home wrapping around him, a silence he's never heard before, not the absence of noise but the presence of (can he even think the word?) of love. Friends he's known forever pass by his window in the night sky: Orion and Venus; his distant relative the Hydra; the crab that nipped at Hercules's feet as the bully slayed the Hydra, all part of that age-old game. Still ensconced in half-sleep, he raises his head, readjusts his old hip bones under him, moans a deep, content dog-moan. Before he lays his head back down, he glances at her. And he stops. There, in the soft-edged night, he sees her back rising and falling as she breathes, and he sees the unmistakable sign, the specific way her shoulder blades come to two meringue-like peaks, the stumps of two unformed wings rising from her back. In earlier days, she'd have been scheduled for apotheosis or consortion with some god, any number of things that would have turned her immortal. In earlier days, she would have been one of him. Eternity exists

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BK Loren for us like a tongue for a deaf mute, said the poet, and Cerberus wants Alma to speak the language of forever as if it were her native tongue. Cerberus stands up, rests his head on her bedside. He watches her sleep. He knows better, but he can't help himself. He places one paw on the soft edge of her mattress. She doesn't stir. And so the other paw goes up, and then one back paw, and the other, until the full weight of his slobbery pit-bull presence fills the bed, next to her. She wakes slightly, feels him there, tosses her arm around him, and he curls up small as he can make himself, fitting neatly into the curve of her body. His head presses against her chest. He hears her heart beating, feels the pulse of it against his right ear. The sound resonates in his chest, and he sleeps like a pup curled up against the warmth of his mother, fragile and powerless, at last. Dawn fingers its way between the slats of Alma's blinds, makes her room blush, and she wakes to the light. "Oh, Cerberus," she says. She laughs and hugs him, even pushes her nose right up close to his, her arms wrapped all the way around his body. "But you shouldn't be up on the furniture," she says. She nudges him off the bed and he scrambles to get to all fours. She walks to the closet, her long, graceful legs swimming in her pajamas, which she sheds, leaving the flannel lying in a pool on the floor as she pulls on a pair of low-riding jeans, two t-shirts layered, and a pair of canvas tennies. "I don't mind, but you know Daddy." She raises her eyebrows and he wants to tell her he knows, he understands, she loves him and wants to protect him, but it's okay. He can protect himself; and he can protect her. He pads closer to her with a spring in his step, his mouth open and panting the way any good dog does when he's happy. "Oh, I ' m gonna miss you today, Cerbie," Alma says. She gives his flanks a few solid pats, then out the front door, on her way to school. He presses his wet nose against the glass storm door. Alma meets up with some mortal kids at the comer. They're wearing earphones and talking to her at the same time, deaf to the music of her voice. They laugh, and Alma tosses her arm around one girl's shoulder, and they walk like this, stumbling and laughing, till they disappear around the comer. Cerberus folds his feet under him, slides his wet nose all the way down the glass. He's sound asleep by the time he hears, "Oh, crap. Cerberus!" He wakes to see Keith standing above him, almost cowers, but then remembers who he is. He's tired of it all; if he wanted to, he could send 29


Berkeley Fiction Review this hunk-a-lunk straight to Hades. He almost growls, but then realizes Keith is the cheery version of himself this morning. "Aw, jeez," Keith says, and walks to the kitchen, comes back with some Windex and Brawny. "Looking out for Alma, weren't you, boy? Yeah, I know. Looking out for my little girl. Our little girl." Keith rubs till the spot where Cerb's nose was squeaks and the glass shines. "Up for a morning stroll there, Bud?" Keith opens the coat closet, dons his morning windbreaker, a flannel for Pops, and, yes!, a dog leash. "Helen, me and Dad are walking the dog," he calls toward the kitchen. Helen pokes her head out of the arched kitchen doorway. She smiles. "You're getting to like him, aren't you?" "Hell, yes. Man's best friend. You shoulda seen him looking out after Alma this morning." He cocks his head in admiration. Helen looks from Cerberus to Keith to Cerberus, an Alma-like smile, more creased but still beautiful, crossing her face. She dips back into the kitchen. "Well, he can have the bacon grease when you get back," she calls. Bacon grease? Cerberus's jowls drip with desire. Bacon grease for him? He feels that full body waggle overtaking his tough-guy posture. Keith stands in front of his father, his legs spread wide and low to steady himself. Morning comes hard to Keith's old man, light slamming against his veiny, paper-thin eyelids, his bony legs still half embedded in the sofa bed where he sleeps. "The doctor says you gotta be up." Keith opens his arms and coaxes his father to stand, then leans forward, places the old man's hands on his own shoulders. "Hold on, Dad. Gotta be upright to take your meds." The old man rises stiff as a totem pole, and Keith catches him as he teeters, and for a moment they accidentally-embrace. And then Keith says, quieter than Cerberus has ever heard him, "Dad." He bends at the waist, unlaces his father's interlocked fingers from behind his own neck. Cerb watches, some kind of amazement coming over him. There's beauty here he's heard humans speak of, but he's never noticed it before. If there were music, this could be a dance, Keith dipping his father low, holding him, then twisting outward and away in a little do-si-do, and placing the old man's hands firmly on the walker so the two can stand alone. Then the dance ends. "You're going with us, Dad, no arguments," Keith says, loud as a train. 30

BK Loren The old man makes a noise like sucking marbles and humming at the same time. It goes on for a solid minute or so. "Come on, come on, come on," says Keith. "Look, we're taking the dog for a walk. Aren't we, Cerb? Come on, Dad, you love dogs." The old man's lips part like one piece of flesh slowly severing into two. His voice roils up from his gut. "I don't get no good service around here. Where's the manager of this place? Where's the manager of this hotel?" "Right, okay, Dad, let's go." Keith walks backward, pulling the walker forward slightly with each step. The old man toddles toward his son, and pretty soon, he and his walker are skating, the morning light carving a path across the hardwood floor for him. Keith stands there now, just stands. He watches his father struggle to walk, and Cerberus sniffs the air. He can smell the scent of memory all over Keith, his body drenched with the mustiness of an early spring evening when the same guy he's looking at now, the old geezer, came nimbly in the same living room where they are now, landing his solid fist into a soft leather baseball glove, calling Keith's name, and Keith, barely five foot tall, came running. Cerberus can smell the boyish excitement of a father-son game of catch leaking through Keith's fifty-year old pores, and he can smell Keith husking it all off too, the tough guy resurfacing. When Keith finally shakes it off and bends down close to Cerberus's neck to clip the leash, Cerberus knows his senses are right: the scent of nostalgia drenches this guy. It's the purpose of aftershave, to hide the pheromones of masculine emotion. Cerberus can smell right through it all. "All right, Dad, let's go," Keith says, and the old man follows him, shuffling as if he can't help himself—he must follow his son to the door. Keith hollers to Helen, "Back soon." It's a bright autumn day; red leaves against the blue sky, and a few branches at the very tops of trees are bare already. They reach into the sky like thin brushstrokes on a canvas, trailing off into the blue. Cerberus notices these details. He shakes his head. Thousands of years of this and today, he notices. He can hardly keep from breaking the leash. Has he ever smelled air this crisp? His nostrils sting with the scent of red and orange leaves. Will they take him to an off-leash park? Oh, yes, please. The desire to run pumps through his ancient legs. He remembers days when he used to sprint ten, sometimes fifteen miles an hour. It was flying, his

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Berkeley Fiction Review this hunk-a-lunk straight to Hades. He almost growls, but then realizes Keith is the cheery version of himself this morning. "Aw, jeez," Keith says, and walks to the kitchen, comes back with some Windex and Brawny. "Looking out for Alma, weren't you, boy? Yeah, I know. Looking out for my little girl. Our little girl." Keith rubs till the spot where Cerb's nose was squeaks and the glass shines. "Up for a morning stroll there, Bud?" Keith opens the coat closet, dons his morning windbreaker, a flannel for Pops, and, yes!, a dog leash. "Helen, me and Dad are walking the dog," he calls toward the kitchen. Helen pokes her head out of the arched kitchen doorway. She smiles. "You're getting to like him, aren't you?" "Hell, yes. Man's best friend. You shoulda seen him looking out after Alma this morning." He cocks his head in admiration. Helen looks from Cerberus to Keith to Cerberus, an Alma-like smile, more creased but still beautiful, crossing her face. She dips back into the kitchen. "Well, he can have the bacon grease when you get back," she calls. Bacon grease? Cerberus's jowls drip with desire. Bacon grease for him? He feels that full body waggle overtaking his tough-guy posture. Keith stands in front of his father, his legs spread wide and low to steady himself. Morning comes hard to Keith's old man, light slamming against his veiny, paper-thin eyelids, his bony legs still half embedded in the sofa bed where he sleeps. "The doctor says you gotta be up." Keith opens his arms and coaxes his father to stand, then leans forward, places the old man's hands on his own shoulders. "Hold on, Dad. Gotta be upright to take your meds." The old man rises stiff as a totem pole, and Keith catches him as he teeters, and for a moment they accidentally-embrace. And then Keith says, quieter than Cerberus has ever heard him, "Dad." He bends at the waist, unlaces his father's interlocked fingers from behind his own neck. Cerb watches, some kind of amazement coming over him. There's beauty here he's heard humans speak of, but he's never noticed it before. If there were music, this could be a dance, Keith dipping his father low, holding him, then twisting outward and away in a little do-si-do, and placing the old man's hands firmly on the walker so the two can stand alone. Then the dance ends. "You're going with us, Dad, no arguments," Keith says, loud as a train. 30

BK Loren The old man makes a noise like sucking marbles and humming at the same time. It goes on for a solid minute or so. "Come on, come on, come on," says Keith. "Look, we're taking the dog for a walk. Aren't we, Cerb? Come on, Dad, you love dogs." The old man's lips part like one piece of flesh slowly severing into two. His voice roils up from his gut. "I don't get no good service around here. Where's the manager of this place? Where's the manager of this hotel?" "Right, okay, Dad, let's go." Keith walks backward, pulling the walker forward slightly with each step. The old man toddles toward his son, and pretty soon, he and his walker are skating, the morning light carving a path across the hardwood floor for him. Keith stands there now, just stands. He watches his father struggle to walk, and Cerberus sniffs the air. He can smell the scent of memory all over Keith, his body drenched with the mustiness of an early spring evening when the same guy he's looking at now, the old geezer, came nimbly in the same living room where they are now, landing his solid fist into a soft leather baseball glove, calling Keith's name, and Keith, barely five foot tall, came running. Cerberus can smell the boyish excitement of a father-son game of catch leaking through Keith's fifty-year old pores, and he can smell Keith husking it all off too, the tough guy resurfacing. When Keith finally shakes it off and bends down close to Cerberus's neck to clip the leash, Cerberus knows his senses are right: the scent of nostalgia drenches this guy. It's the purpose of aftershave, to hide the pheromones of masculine emotion. Cerberus can smell right through it all. "All right, Dad, let's go," Keith says, and the old man follows him, shuffling as if he can't help himself—he must follow his son to the door. Keith hollers to Helen, "Back soon." It's a bright autumn day; red leaves against the blue sky, and a few branches at the very tops of trees are bare already. They reach into the sky like thin brushstrokes on a canvas, trailing off into the blue. Cerberus notices these details. He shakes his head. Thousands of years of this and today, he notices. He can hardly keep from breaking the leash. Has he ever smelled air this crisp? His nostrils sting with the scent of red and orange leaves. Will they take him to an off-leash park? Oh, yes, please. The desire to run pumps through his ancient legs. He remembers days when he used to sprint ten, sometimes fifteen miles an hour. It was flying, his

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"Cerberus!" Helen calls, her voice like the ocean itself, waves caressing a flesh-like shore. She calls his name again, and he wants to run to her. He does. But he can't get the walk off his mind, the smell of Keith, the jagged silence before he agreed to help his father. Finally, Helen's sweet voice seduces him. He runs, his black toenails clicking on the hardwood floor, and he skids around the comer, lands himself in a sit, right at her feet. His eyes follow the slender curve of her calf muscle (bare beneath her morning robe) and rest on the calm blue of her long-lashed eyes. "Good boy," she says. "Keith, I think he's trained. Look how he sits. He comes and just sits." She pets his head and he leans into those wonderful legs. Then she walks to the stove, comes back with a Campbell's can of bacon grease, just recently cooled and solidified.

jowls flapping in the wind, his eyes squinting to keep from watering. He ambles next to Keith on the leash now, keeping it all in. They walk slowly, accommodating the old man. "I know, Dad, I know, but..." Keith argues with his Dad, but what does Cerberus care? He's out in the world for the first time in eons. His paws hit the pavement, remembering dirt, remembering rivers, mud, and the glory of slimy algae as he dog-paddled through a fish-stinking pond. Ah, the perfume of aged trout. Please let's go to the dog park. And just then he hears the jabbering of the two men stop. The air turns jagged with silence. "I'll help, Dad," Keith says, eventually. "I'll be with you." The tenor of Keith's voice is copper, something tinged with green and about to corrode. The sound wraps around Cerberus's heart like heavy metal, sends his butt straight to the concrete, a stubborn dog not ready for walking. He waits for Keith to rage at him, to yank the leash. Keith stands, his shoulders folded inward. He faces his father. The old man can barely make eye contact, his lower lids red, sagging, the weight of the world pulling his skin, his bones closer and closer to the ground each day. Eyesight is not Cerberus's best sense, but he thinks he sees the father's lower lip—candy-red, always a little too shiny with spit—trembling. There is nothing weak about the man, nothing self-pitying. But he stands there, facing his son, and his lip, the loose skin on his face, trembles uncontrollably. In what's not meant to be a whisper, he says, "Thank you." It's all the sound he can eke out.

Jeez, has he gone to heaven? Before he eats, he sits on the floor and bites himself on the ass, chews it a little, just to make sure he's not dreaming. Nope, he's awake, and he dives into the bacon grease, laps it up like Dionysus sucking a liter of wine. It leaves him feeling drunk too. Not drunk as in happy. Drunk. Slower. The lumpy-throated sadness after the high. He can't fit into his own skin. Something's different. He remembers Alma sleeping, her nascent wings, her almost immortality. He can't shake the sound of Keith's voice, Yes Dad, I'll help you, I'll be there. His brain brims with the image of Keith with that gun, and the violence he tried to swallow, and he suddenly feels things he's never felt before and without language, who is he to name his feelings? Keith has left for work now, has taken his old man to day-care at the senior center, and Helen has gone off, too, her hair combed into a little blonde shield, like Athena's headdress, belying the human beauty he's come to know this weekend. He tries to sleep, like any good dog should do at a time like this, but he keeps seeing that gun, and he has this springy feeling in his chest for Keith, for Alma, for Helen, even for the old man. He's a smart dog, sure, but soon enough, he finds himself wobbling back to the bedroom, diving under the bed, taking the wooden butt of the gun in his teeth, and carrying it to the living room. By noon, his mouth is full of splinters, and the butt of the gun is shredded. Then he goes for the ammo. He carries box by box down the hallway, into the living room and out the doggie door. He rips

And Keith hears it, and his chest sinks, and he cranes his neck back and looks to the sky and places one hand on his head and he turns in circles right there on the sidewalk. There's a sound coming out of him, like cold water trickling over rocks, like, the water is too cold and the rocks are creaking beneath it. They turn and walk back toward the house then. They're in the middle of the block, haven't gone anywhere, and father and son turn and head homeward. Cerberus follows. Inside, the old man points to a bathroom cabinet, and Keith pulls out a small baggy full of pills, a piece of paper, some string. He tells his father, yes, okay, yes, and the scent of loss grows so thick on his skin that Cerberus thinks it might smother him.

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"Cerberus!" Helen calls, her voice like the ocean itself, waves caressing a flesh-like shore. She calls his name again, and he wants to run to her. He does. But he can't get the walk off his mind, the smell of Keith, the jagged silence before he agreed to help his father. Finally, Helen's sweet voice seduces him. He runs, his black toenails clicking on the hardwood floor, and he skids around the comer, lands himself in a sit, right at her feet. His eyes follow the slender curve of her calf muscle (bare beneath her morning robe) and rest on the calm blue of her long-lashed eyes. "Good boy," she says. "Keith, I think he's trained. Look how he sits. He comes and just sits." She pets his head and he leans into those wonderful legs. Then she walks to the stove, comes back with a Campbell's can of bacon grease, just recently cooled and solidified.

jowls flapping in the wind, his eyes squinting to keep from watering. He ambles next to Keith on the leash now, keeping it all in. They walk slowly, accommodating the old man. "I know, Dad, I know, but..." Keith argues with his Dad, but what does Cerberus care? He's out in the world for the first time in eons. His paws hit the pavement, remembering dirt, remembering rivers, mud, and the glory of slimy algae as he dog-paddled through a fish-stinking pond. Ah, the perfume of aged trout. Please let's go to the dog park. And just then he hears the jabbering of the two men stop. The air turns jagged with silence. "I'll help, Dad," Keith says, eventually. "I'll be with you." The tenor of Keith's voice is copper, something tinged with green and about to corrode. The sound wraps around Cerberus's heart like heavy metal, sends his butt straight to the concrete, a stubborn dog not ready for walking. He waits for Keith to rage at him, to yank the leash. Keith stands, his shoulders folded inward. He faces his father. The old man can barely make eye contact, his lower lids red, sagging, the weight of the world pulling his skin, his bones closer and closer to the ground each day. Eyesight is not Cerberus's best sense, but he thinks he sees the father's lower lip—candy-red, always a little too shiny with spit—trembling. There is nothing weak about the man, nothing self-pitying. But he stands there, facing his son, and his lip, the loose skin on his face, trembles uncontrollably. In what's not meant to be a whisper, he says, "Thank you." It's all the sound he can eke out.

Jeez, has he gone to heaven? Before he eats, he sits on the floor and bites himself on the ass, chews it a little, just to make sure he's not dreaming. Nope, he's awake, and he dives into the bacon grease, laps it up like Dionysus sucking a liter of wine. It leaves him feeling drunk too. Not drunk as in happy. Drunk. Slower. The lumpy-throated sadness after the high. He can't fit into his own skin. Something's different. He remembers Alma sleeping, her nascent wings, her almost immortality. He can't shake the sound of Keith's voice, Yes Dad, I'll help you, I'll be there. His brain brims with the image of Keith with that gun, and the violence he tried to swallow, and he suddenly feels things he's never felt before and without language, who is he to name his feelings? Keith has left for work now, has taken his old man to day-care at the senior center, and Helen has gone off, too, her hair combed into a little blonde shield, like Athena's headdress, belying the human beauty he's come to know this weekend. He tries to sleep, like any good dog should do at a time like this, but he keeps seeing that gun, and he has this springy feeling in his chest for Keith, for Alma, for Helen, even for the old man. He's a smart dog, sure, but soon enough, he finds himself wobbling back to the bedroom, diving under the bed, taking the wooden butt of the gun in his teeth, and carrying it to the living room. By noon, his mouth is full of splinters, and the butt of the gun is shredded. Then he goes for the ammo. He carries box by box down the hallway, into the living room and out the doggie door. He rips

And Keith hears it, and his chest sinks, and he cranes his neck back and looks to the sky and places one hand on his head and he turns in circles right there on the sidewalk. There's a sound coming out of him, like cold water trickling over rocks, like, the water is too cold and the rocks are creaking beneath it. They turn and walk back toward the house then. They're in the middle of the block, haven't gone anywhere, and father and son turn and head homeward. Cerberus follows. Inside, the old man points to a bathroom cabinet, and Keith pulls out a small baggy full of pills, a piece of paper, some string. He tells his father, yes, okay, yes, and the scent of loss grows so thick on his skin that Cerberus thinks it might smother him.

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"Right. Right." Alma's voice breaks now, too. Her arms like Icarus' as he descended from the sun, she runs to the kitchen, returns with a DustBuster, and starts in on the mess Cerb made. Cerberus can hear the thrum of her heart again. He wants to comfort her, and he moves in. "Git," she hollers, says it loud in his ear, and he jumps back. "Just go. Outside. Go!" She points to the back door, and Cerberus begins the long walk. "Think your dad will let you keep him?" Cerberus hears Jayden say. There is silence, and he's not there to see Alma's response. Can't smell it either. All he can smell is sadness.

some of the shells to pieces, buries the rest. Black powder lodges in his gums and he hacks and spits it out, and that's just fine, because the gun's a mess and the ammo's a pile of nothing. First one home, three o'clock, after school, is Alma. She opens the door, and Cerberus comes running. He wags his whole body. He lets out little whines (and this he did not plan, acting like zpet). She's got this male human with her, Jayden, and his dark hair hangs low over his eyes, and his smooth, tanned cheekbones are handsome, though his height, almost six feet, makes him awkward and withdrawn. He knows he's only posing as a man. Cerberus could smell this all the way through the door and out from the street even before Jayden entered.

Cerberus sits in the backyard. Little molehills of dirt surround him, and beneath them, the ammo he's buried. He feels proud of his work. He feels like a hero. He shivers in the chilly air. Must be an hour later by the time Alma comes out, and he runs to her, and again the same reaction. "Holy shit." She does not pet him. Does not bend down to give him a hug. Jayden goes to the garage and returns with a shovel. He starts slamming the backside of the shovel on top of the little piles of fresh dirt. "Why'd he dig like this?" he asks. Alma shrugs. She's stomping on the freshly dug up dirt with the flat ofhertennies. "He doesn't look like a goddamn digger," Jayden says. "Those little rat dogs, they dig like hell. But this dog. Shit." Jayden steps toward Cerberus and pats his solid back. Cerberus sits by Jayden. He leans against Jayden's leg. His tongue presses the roof of his mouth, trying to feel the seed of a word.

"Cerberus!' Alma kneels down, hugs him, and Cerb's mind goes blank. He hears only the buzz of life around him. The tall man-boy stands behind Alma. "Cool dog," he says, his voice pleated and breaking in the middle. "Isn't he great?" "What's his name?" "Cerberus." The man-boy laughs. Two low pitched chucks, and then his lanky body folds like a suitcase, and his knees bend and he's on the ground, petting Cerberus like an old friend. He wrestles with Cerberus, and the man-boy growls like a dog, and then Alma says, "Holy shit, Jayden." "What?" Alma stands with her head in a Raggedy-Ann position, looking at the splintered gun. "Holy flick." Jayden stops playing with Cerberus, looks at the mess. He chuck-chucks another laugh that doesn't sound like a laugh. "Your old man's gonna be pissed." Cerberus sits, cocks his head. Two millennia and he has not learned to speak with words. He looks from the gun to Alma. He hears whines coming out of himself again, those high-pitched hums that he wishes were words. "What did you do, Cerberus?" Alma says. He remains seated, but scoots backwards. "Clean it up," Jayden says. He stands fast, and he's almost like a man now, almost in control. He starts picking up the splinters with his hands. "Your old man won't know. Clean it up."

Cerberus expects Keith to go ballistic. Helen expects Keith to fly into a rage. Alma lies on her bed in her room, staring at the ceiling, one hand hanging off the side of the bed, resting on Cerberus. She knows what her father will do. Keith comes home. Cerberus runs to the front door and he sees Keith through the picture window, and his body wags about to break in two in the middle. He rests his chin on the sill, watches Keith get the new wheelchair from the trunk, then help his father from the car. There is that dance they do again, and it makes Cerberus's tail stop smiling, calms him with a kind of sadness he can't fathom. He feels like Prometheus, his chest split open, some strange bird tugging at the fiber of his heart. Bark Fuck 35

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"Right. Right." Alma's voice breaks now, too. Her arms like Icarus' as he descended from the sun, she runs to the kitchen, returns with a DustBuster, and starts in on the mess Cerb made. Cerberus can hear the thrum of her heart again. He wants to comfort her, and he moves in. "Git," she hollers, says it loud in his ear, and he jumps back. "Just go. Outside. Go!" She points to the back door, and Cerberus begins the long walk. "Think your dad will let you keep him?" Cerberus hears Jayden say. There is silence, and he's not there to see Alma's response. Can't smell it either. All he can smell is sadness.

some of the shells to pieces, buries the rest. Black powder lodges in his gums and he hacks and spits it out, and that's just fine, because the gun's a mess and the ammo's a pile of nothing. First one home, three o'clock, after school, is Alma. She opens the door, and Cerberus comes running. He wags his whole body. He lets out little whines (and this he did not plan, acting like zpet). She's got this male human with her, Jayden, and his dark hair hangs low over his eyes, and his smooth, tanned cheekbones are handsome, though his height, almost six feet, makes him awkward and withdrawn. He knows he's only posing as a man. Cerberus could smell this all the way through the door and out from the street even before Jayden entered.

Cerberus sits in the backyard. Little molehills of dirt surround him, and beneath them, the ammo he's buried. He feels proud of his work. He feels like a hero. He shivers in the chilly air. Must be an hour later by the time Alma comes out, and he runs to her, and again the same reaction. "Holy shit." She does not pet him. Does not bend down to give him a hug. Jayden goes to the garage and returns with a shovel. He starts slamming the backside of the shovel on top of the little piles of fresh dirt. "Why'd he dig like this?" he asks. Alma shrugs. She's stomping on the freshly dug up dirt with the flat ofhertennies. "He doesn't look like a goddamn digger," Jayden says. "Those little rat dogs, they dig like hell. But this dog. Shit." Jayden steps toward Cerberus and pats his solid back. Cerberus sits by Jayden. He leans against Jayden's leg. His tongue presses the roof of his mouth, trying to feel the seed of a word.

"Cerberus!' Alma kneels down, hugs him, and Cerb's mind goes blank. He hears only the buzz of life around him. The tall man-boy stands behind Alma. "Cool dog," he says, his voice pleated and breaking in the middle. "Isn't he great?" "What's his name?" "Cerberus." The man-boy laughs. Two low pitched chucks, and then his lanky body folds like a suitcase, and his knees bend and he's on the ground, petting Cerberus like an old friend. He wrestles with Cerberus, and the man-boy growls like a dog, and then Alma says, "Holy shit, Jayden." "What?" Alma stands with her head in a Raggedy-Ann position, looking at the splintered gun. "Holy flick." Jayden stops playing with Cerberus, looks at the mess. He chuck-chucks another laugh that doesn't sound like a laugh. "Your old man's gonna be pissed." Cerberus sits, cocks his head. Two millennia and he has not learned to speak with words. He looks from the gun to Alma. He hears whines coming out of himself again, those high-pitched hums that he wishes were words. "What did you do, Cerberus?" Alma says. He remains seated, but scoots backwards. "Clean it up," Jayden says. He stands fast, and he's almost like a man now, almost in control. He starts picking up the splinters with his hands. "Your old man won't know. Clean it up."

Cerberus expects Keith to go ballistic. Helen expects Keith to fly into a rage. Alma lies on her bed in her room, staring at the ceiling, one hand hanging off the side of the bed, resting on Cerberus. She knows what her father will do. Keith comes home. Cerberus runs to the front door and he sees Keith through the picture window, and his body wags about to break in two in the middle. He rests his chin on the sill, watches Keith get the new wheelchair from the trunk, then help his father from the car. There is that dance they do again, and it makes Cerberus's tail stop smiling, calms him with a kind of sadness he can't fathom. He feels like Prometheus, his chest split open, some strange bird tugging at the fiber of his heart. Bark Fuck 35

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Berkeley Fiction Review Bark. Fuck. Bark. Fuck He watches the two men walk. Most dogs either have permanent Alzheimer's or they're Zen masters, so in-the-moment they can barely remember the last time they peed. Cerberus remembers. He knows what he's done. Keith places his hand on the doorknob and Cerberus knows what is in store for him. What happens next freaks Cerb out. Freaks him right to the core. There's no rage. No fists. No threats. Before bedtime, Keith goes outside with Cerberus. He waits in the night, too, while Cerberus takes a long, pleasant pee. Afterwards, Cerberus trots up to Alma's room, noses his way past the half-closed door, gets ready to sleep. And then it comes. He hears his name, Keith's voice. Cerberus stutter-steps, forward, then backward, in the threshold of Alma's door. He makes a decision. He can face his fate. He plods into Keith and Helen's room. Keith is alone, there on the bed, the same place he was when Cerberus watched him through the window. Same position, too. Chin in palms, elbows on knees, gravity working hard on him. Cerberus takes it like a man. He sits squarely in front of Keith. He awaits his retribution. Keith remains still. Cerberus does not fidget. He looks at Keith and Keith looks back. Perhaps there is recognition. Cerberus would like to think there is, but he's a dog; what does he know? After a while, Keith reaches out. He scratches behind Cerberus's ears. He says, "It's ftickin' hard man, hard." Keith opens his eyes wider, looks off to the side, something Cerb has learned men do to keep water from falling onto their cheeks. Into the thin air, Keith says, "Can't do it. My own father needs me, and I can't do it." Cerberus worries his brow. He rolls his tongue in his mouth, lets it hang out, panting, yearning for the shape of a word. "Yeah," Keith says. "Yeah, I know." Keith's hand feels good on Cerberus's head. And then he withdraws it. Cerberus misses the touch, and he watches Keith turn down the covers and curl up like a seed in his bed. The old man snores on the couch. Helen's footsteps work their way toward the bedroom after a long day. Alma is already asleep. 36

BK Loren Cerberus stands in the hallway, head low, motionless. Tomorrow, he thinks, he will go back to the pound. Keith will come to his senses, realize what Cerberus has done. His motionlessness gives way. He takes a few steps down the hallway, turns into Alma's room. There she is. In another lifetime, she'd have had wings. Cerberus watches her sleep. And he makes it a habit. He places one paw, then the next, on the bed. He's sure she feels the weight of him on the mattress. But she does not push him away. Instead, she curls her legs up tighter toward her chest. The motion presses Cerberus closer to her body. Cerberus sighs, a big huge pit-bull sigh. His jowls flubber. In the middle of the night, half awake, he feels it. It's enough to make him writhe out of bed, enough to send him howling like a coyote in the night, the myth seeping out of him, mortality seeping in. Eternity exists like a tongue for a deaf mute. Cerberus hears better than any human, and yet he cannot speak. He opens his eyes in the darkness. He remembers the world: blue sky, green leaves that bleed to red, red ones that fall to brown. The musty scent of night. The breath from his own lips. Alma turns in her sleep. For the moment, her touch leaves him. And he longs for it. So this is it. This is mortality. He feels the beauty of loss falling all around him. It startles him at first, this adjustment after so many years of forever. He hears the old man in the living room. He hears Helen speaking in a soft voice to Keith in their bedroom. He hears Alma breathing, feels her chest rising and falling against his own. Constellations cross the dark window. Everything has changed now. He feels the comforting impermanence of things. Cerberus closes his eyes. He sleeps.

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Berkeley Fiction Review Bark. Fuck. Bark. Fuck He watches the two men walk. Most dogs either have permanent Alzheimer's or they're Zen masters, so in-the-moment they can barely remember the last time they peed. Cerberus remembers. He knows what he's done. Keith places his hand on the doorknob and Cerberus knows what is in store for him. What happens next freaks Cerb out. Freaks him right to the core. There's no rage. No fists. No threats. Before bedtime, Keith goes outside with Cerberus. He waits in the night, too, while Cerberus takes a long, pleasant pee. Afterwards, Cerberus trots up to Alma's room, noses his way past the half-closed door, gets ready to sleep. And then it comes. He hears his name, Keith's voice. Cerberus stutter-steps, forward, then backward, in the threshold of Alma's door. He makes a decision. He can face his fate. He plods into Keith and Helen's room. Keith is alone, there on the bed, the same place he was when Cerberus watched him through the window. Same position, too. Chin in palms, elbows on knees, gravity working hard on him. Cerberus takes it like a man. He sits squarely in front of Keith. He awaits his retribution. Keith remains still. Cerberus does not fidget. He looks at Keith and Keith looks back. Perhaps there is recognition. Cerberus would like to think there is, but he's a dog; what does he know? After a while, Keith reaches out. He scratches behind Cerberus's ears. He says, "It's ftickin' hard man, hard." Keith opens his eyes wider, looks off to the side, something Cerb has learned men do to keep water from falling onto their cheeks. Into the thin air, Keith says, "Can't do it. My own father needs me, and I can't do it." Cerberus worries his brow. He rolls his tongue in his mouth, lets it hang out, panting, yearning for the shape of a word. "Yeah," Keith says. "Yeah, I know." Keith's hand feels good on Cerberus's head. And then he withdraws it. Cerberus misses the touch, and he watches Keith turn down the covers and curl up like a seed in his bed. The old man snores on the couch. Helen's footsteps work their way toward the bedroom after a long day. Alma is already asleep. 36

BK Loren Cerberus stands in the hallway, head low, motionless. Tomorrow, he thinks, he will go back to the pound. Keith will come to his senses, realize what Cerberus has done. His motionlessness gives way. He takes a few steps down the hallway, turns into Alma's room. There she is. In another lifetime, she'd have had wings. Cerberus watches her sleep. And he makes it a habit. He places one paw, then the next, on the bed. He's sure she feels the weight of him on the mattress. But she does not push him away. Instead, she curls her legs up tighter toward her chest. The motion presses Cerberus closer to her body. Cerberus sighs, a big huge pit-bull sigh. His jowls flubber. In the middle of the night, half awake, he feels it. It's enough to make him writhe out of bed, enough to send him howling like a coyote in the night, the myth seeping out of him, mortality seeping in. Eternity exists like a tongue for a deaf mute. Cerberus hears better than any human, and yet he cannot speak. He opens his eyes in the darkness. He remembers the world: blue sky, green leaves that bleed to red, red ones that fall to brown. The musty scent of night. The breath from his own lips. Alma turns in her sleep. For the moment, her touch leaves him. And he longs for it. So this is it. This is mortality. He feels the beauty of loss falling all around him. It startles him at first, this adjustment after so many years of forever. He hears the old man in the living room. He hears Helen speaking in a soft voice to Keith in their bedroom. He hears Alma breathing, feels her chest rising and falling against his own. Constellations cross the dark window. Everything has changed now. He feels the comforting impermanence of things. Cerberus closes his eyes. He sleeps.

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SAM PINK

Hold my hand. Let's take a bath together. I don't mind if it's cold in the bathtub. And I don't mind being crowded. When you are not looking, I will open my mouth by your head to see if your head would fit inside. If you notice, I will act like I am yawning and say, "I must be tired" and then under my breath I will add, "of not biting your head". I will put bubbles in the bath and throw a handful of them into the air. I will say, "Yay, it is snowing." You will say, "Don't lie to me." I will respond, "But it is so much fun". I will wash you with a bar of soap. The soap will be made of soft skeletons but I will not tell you. If I told you, you'd probably just leave. I will run the bar over your body and wish I was the bar because after touching your body, the bar doesn't have to say a word to you. I will watch the dirt go down the drain. "I'm out of towels," I will say. "Uh, I think I have some downstairs. Let's go check." While we are checking", I will push you into the oven. I will dry you in the oven. And you will press your hands and face against the glass. Let's take a bath together because when I take a bath by myself, I am afraid I will drown.

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SAM PINK

Hold my hand. Let's take a bath together. I don't mind if it's cold in the bathtub. And I don't mind being crowded. When you are not looking, I will open my mouth by your head to see if your head would fit inside. If you notice, I will act like I am yawning and say, "I must be tired" and then under my breath I will add, "of not biting your head". I will put bubbles in the bath and throw a handful of them into the air. I will say, "Yay, it is snowing." You will say, "Don't lie to me." I will respond, "But it is so much fun". I will wash you with a bar of soap. The soap will be made of soft skeletons but I will not tell you. If I told you, you'd probably just leave. I will run the bar over your body and wish I was the bar because after touching your body, the bar doesn't have to say a word to you. I will watch the dirt go down the drain. "I'm out of towels," I will say. "Uh, I think I have some downstairs. Let's go check." While we are checking", I will push you into the oven. I will dry you in the oven. And you will press your hands and face against the glass. Let's take a bath together because when I take a bath by myself, I am afraid I will drown.

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Mark Broeske

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would remember the numbers in the headlines, the photos above the fold, and his meaty fingers would tighten around the wheel and reality would settle back in. Tuesdays and Thursdays and every weekend, Franklin drove the Greyhound line from Amarillo to Tucumcari, NM, back to Amarillo, then east to Shamrock and back with a dozen stops in between. Such had been his routine for the past seven years. He considered this occasionally, concluding that it wasn't likely to change for the next seven, or the seven after that. Instead he chose to think about Monet. They had just finished talking about Impressionism in the art history class he took at Amarillo Junior College, three nights a week. At 32, he was not the oldest student in the class, but he didn't blend in with the undergrown mustaches and petite brunettes who filled the tiny desks. The desks forced the separation issue. Weighing in at 308 pounds, he slouched in an unattached chair against the back wall, juggling a notebook on his knee. At first, the Greeks had annoyed Franklin. Sculpture after sculpture of toned, fit, lean gods with a feminine curve and pale eyes. He preferred the Renaissance with its chubby cherubs and flabby figures. All the men had some muscle to them—even baby Jesus on Mary's arm, flexed his infantile biceps as he blessed those who bowed before him—but it was buried beneath the secular folds of the every man.

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MARKBROESKE

Franklin sometimes wondered what Monet would make of his bus route along 1-40 through the Texas panhandle. Gone would be Monet's familiar fields of poppies or water lilies reflecting in rippling ponds. No fog to blur the landscape or gentle wind to smear the paint. Just stale flatness and weed bushes jutting from the arid earth. Here, a woman would need a parasol, but not for artistic effect. But on just the right day, the strip along 1-40 that was Franklin's route could be damn near cinematic. Threads of clouds stitched the heavens together. The road ran smooth and undisturbed. The tawny dry grass rolled lazily, slowing time, nurturing moments into eons, allowing those little farm sheds and windmills and silos and water towers to wink like cousins on the far raft. The stillness preserved. Signs advertised for cheap lodging and accidental attractions, scatteredlikesleeping cats. The sunset wrapped the world in a warm womb, as steady telephone poles passed in a simple tranquil rhythm.

Despite his size, Franklin was often invisible to his passengers. Before departure from Amarillo, he stood outside the bus, hands in pockets, delivering friendly nods. People smiled back, waved even, but rarely looked him in the eye. They were all types. Black men traveling in pairs. College kids with their Longhorns or Red Raiders caps. Dark skinned Mexican families. Old widows with crochet needles. All would climb the steps and look through him before scanning down the aisle for an open seat. Then they would plug up their ears and blind themselves with crosswords and celebrity magazines. At the end they would file out, with the few regulars offering "See ya later" from behind their sweat stained backs.

There were days when Franklin saw his route this way. When he would relax his fingers along the wheel, and allow his body to slacken. The noise of the passengers and engine faded into a distant echo. The colors blurred through the windshield in rough strokes. And he would float for miles. But he would catch himself floating, and remind himself of the dangers. The newspaper clippings posted in the Greyhound offices, in the back, out of sight from the customers, served as a constant reminder to drivers. He

As was protocol, Franklin helped people with their luggage at each stop, getting on and getting off. Men usually pushed past him, maneuvering gym bags and cheap nylon luggage into the slivers of space available. Women were more likely to hand him bags, even without his asking, but with a look of strong suspicion, they often watched him as he manipulated 41

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would remember the numbers in the headlines, the photos above the fold, and his meaty fingers would tighten around the wheel and reality would settle back in. Tuesdays and Thursdays and every weekend, Franklin drove the Greyhound line from Amarillo to Tucumcari, NM, back to Amarillo, then east to Shamrock and back with a dozen stops in between. Such had been his routine for the past seven years. He considered this occasionally, concluding that it wasn't likely to change for the next seven, or the seven after that. Instead he chose to think about Monet. They had just finished talking about Impressionism in the art history class he took at Amarillo Junior College, three nights a week. At 32, he was not the oldest student in the class, but he didn't blend in with the undergrown mustaches and petite brunettes who filled the tiny desks. The desks forced the separation issue. Weighing in at 308 pounds, he slouched in an unattached chair against the back wall, juggling a notebook on his knee. At first, the Greeks had annoyed Franklin. Sculpture after sculpture of toned, fit, lean gods with a feminine curve and pale eyes. He preferred the Renaissance with its chubby cherubs and flabby figures. All the men had some muscle to them—even baby Jesus on Mary's arm, flexed his infantile biceps as he blessed those who bowed before him—but it was buried beneath the secular folds of the every man.

A

MARKBROESKE

Franklin sometimes wondered what Monet would make of his bus route along 1-40 through the Texas panhandle. Gone would be Monet's familiar fields of poppies or water lilies reflecting in rippling ponds. No fog to blur the landscape or gentle wind to smear the paint. Just stale flatness and weed bushes jutting from the arid earth. Here, a woman would need a parasol, but not for artistic effect. But on just the right day, the strip along 1-40 that was Franklin's route could be damn near cinematic. Threads of clouds stitched the heavens together. The road ran smooth and undisturbed. The tawny dry grass rolled lazily, slowing time, nurturing moments into eons, allowing those little farm sheds and windmills and silos and water towers to wink like cousins on the far raft. The stillness preserved. Signs advertised for cheap lodging and accidental attractions, scatteredlikesleeping cats. The sunset wrapped the world in a warm womb, as steady telephone poles passed in a simple tranquil rhythm.

Despite his size, Franklin was often invisible to his passengers. Before departure from Amarillo, he stood outside the bus, hands in pockets, delivering friendly nods. People smiled back, waved even, but rarely looked him in the eye. They were all types. Black men traveling in pairs. College kids with their Longhorns or Red Raiders caps. Dark skinned Mexican families. Old widows with crochet needles. All would climb the steps and look through him before scanning down the aisle for an open seat. Then they would plug up their ears and blind themselves with crosswords and celebrity magazines. At the end they would file out, with the few regulars offering "See ya later" from behind their sweat stained backs.

There were days when Franklin saw his route this way. When he would relax his fingers along the wheel, and allow his body to slacken. The noise of the passengers and engine faded into a distant echo. The colors blurred through the windshield in rough strokes. And he would float for miles. But he would catch himself floating, and remind himself of the dangers. The newspaper clippings posted in the Greyhound offices, in the back, out of sight from the customers, served as a constant reminder to drivers. He

As was protocol, Franklin helped people with their luggage at each stop, getting on and getting off. Men usually pushed past him, maneuvering gym bags and cheap nylon luggage into the slivers of space available. Women were more likely to hand him bags, even without his asking, but with a look of strong suspicion, they often watched him as he manipulated 41

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Berkeley Fiction Review

Mark Broeske Franklin didn't keep one over his sofa. Instead, he cut out the 3 by 5 image of Impression, Sunrise from his textbook and taped it to the cockpit dashboard of his bus. During long stretches his eyes would drift over to it. Its sky aflame with morning. The chilly air rising from the water. The trees hibernating in the fog like ruins. And while one boat prepares for the day's work, a solitary fisherman stands in the shallow hull, peering at the sunrise against the trees and fog, breathing in the cool mist, floating in the gently rocking waters.

space. A woman had done just that the first Saturday she rode Franklin's bus, boarding from Shamrock. She handed him her relic of a time far gone: a massive brown case with rounded edges and wheels that had broken long ago. He took it with both hands around its tiny handle, expecting it to be heavy and finding it much heavier, when he caught a whiff or something, something peppery and woodsy, an exotic spice he couldn't name, emanating from this woman. He gripped and regripped the handle, trying to pinpoint the smell, and why it struck him. He looked up at her face. She looked away quickly, blurring his memory. Franklin looked back through the mirrors for her during the two hour journey back to Amarillo, but he couldn't find her, and she and her brown case had disappeared shortly after arriving at the depot. She rode the return trip the following day, but another passenger offered to put her brown case away. He looked on as she nodded hurriedly, failing to pull her hair behind her ears so that he couldn't even see the profile of her face. At Shamrock, he threw the doors open and pushed through the exiting passengers. He wanted to return the brown case to this woman, breathe in her scent once more, let it settle into his shirt cuffs. Several passengers rushed him when he opened the luggage compartment, and in the mess of hands and forearms, he saw one hand—rough, worn, with chipped nail polish—plunk down like a stork's beak and yank on the brown handle. He nearly grabbed the wrist to see the arm, but another man pushed past him for more baggage, and when he departed all that was left of the woman with the brown case was her faint image trudging down a dirt road, trailed by a cloud of dust.

The woman with the brown case returned the following month, again from Shamrock on Saturday and returning Sunday. And again the following month. And the following. Each time Franklin gathered a small detail from her. Her eyes were brown, but encircled by a cloudy yellowness. They puffed like she had been crying, but her eyeliner never smeared. A delta of small wrinkles streamed from them. She would smooth out and pull at her clothes in discomfort. She often wore the same outfit—a white blouse and flowing skirt—on the trip to Amarillo, but often an oversized t-shirt and worn jeans for the return trip. She hauled around a large purse with an embellished star. She wore a massive blue ring on the middle finger of her right hand. When the person sitting next to her tried to strike up a conversation to pass the time, she offered short responses: enough to answer, but not quite engage. She read books—not magazines—large flexible tomes with small print. The titles were obscure to Franklin, though that didn't stop him from looking for them in the Amarillo Junior College library. He looked through the passenger manifest for her name: Maggie Wilcox.

When the art class reached the Impressionists, his teacher had flipped through slides of Monet's work like an unfortunate requirement, speeding through the usual bases of water lilies, bridges, and London Parliament. The instructor stopped short of calling Monet a coward for throwing himself into the Seine to escape debt and later fleeing to England to avoid conscription. His brush strokes were hasty and impulsive, not gentle and naturalistic. He focused on hackneyed subjects, not the universally commonplace. And while the plein-air landscapes originally hoped to encapsulate every sensory detail of the scene—every color of grass, every warmth of sunlight, every zephyr—they were now more appropriate for hanging over sofas.

While eating slices of a frozen pizza on his dinette, Franklin imagined what Maggie did every month in Amarillo. She must be visiting someone: her mother. A woman made elderly before her time by hard work and chronic illness. Maggie would bring medicine to this woman, take her to the grocery store and help her stock up on canned goods and pasta, patiently listen to stories of her father—a war veteran and drunkard, may he rest in peace—and updates of the neighborhood doings, including that little Palmero hussy down the street who thinks no one notices her exit a different car before Saturday dawn, but she sees everything, she knows everything, it's just that no one listens to her any more. Maggie wore those clothes because her mother—whom she still affectionately calls Mama—preferred the Saturday night minister, not the squeaky little man

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Berkeley Fiction Review

Mark Broeske Franklin didn't keep one over his sofa. Instead, he cut out the 3 by 5 image of Impression, Sunrise from his textbook and taped it to the cockpit dashboard of his bus. During long stretches his eyes would drift over to it. Its sky aflame with morning. The chilly air rising from the water. The trees hibernating in the fog like ruins. And while one boat prepares for the day's work, a solitary fisherman stands in the shallow hull, peering at the sunrise against the trees and fog, breathing in the cool mist, floating in the gently rocking waters.

space. A woman had done just that the first Saturday she rode Franklin's bus, boarding from Shamrock. She handed him her relic of a time far gone: a massive brown case with rounded edges and wheels that had broken long ago. He took it with both hands around its tiny handle, expecting it to be heavy and finding it much heavier, when he caught a whiff or something, something peppery and woodsy, an exotic spice he couldn't name, emanating from this woman. He gripped and regripped the handle, trying to pinpoint the smell, and why it struck him. He looked up at her face. She looked away quickly, blurring his memory. Franklin looked back through the mirrors for her during the two hour journey back to Amarillo, but he couldn't find her, and she and her brown case had disappeared shortly after arriving at the depot. She rode the return trip the following day, but another passenger offered to put her brown case away. He looked on as she nodded hurriedly, failing to pull her hair behind her ears so that he couldn't even see the profile of her face. At Shamrock, he threw the doors open and pushed through the exiting passengers. He wanted to return the brown case to this woman, breathe in her scent once more, let it settle into his shirt cuffs. Several passengers rushed him when he opened the luggage compartment, and in the mess of hands and forearms, he saw one hand—rough, worn, with chipped nail polish—plunk down like a stork's beak and yank on the brown handle. He nearly grabbed the wrist to see the arm, but another man pushed past him for more baggage, and when he departed all that was left of the woman with the brown case was her faint image trudging down a dirt road, trailed by a cloud of dust.

The woman with the brown case returned the following month, again from Shamrock on Saturday and returning Sunday. And again the following month. And the following. Each time Franklin gathered a small detail from her. Her eyes were brown, but encircled by a cloudy yellowness. They puffed like she had been crying, but her eyeliner never smeared. A delta of small wrinkles streamed from them. She would smooth out and pull at her clothes in discomfort. She often wore the same outfit—a white blouse and flowing skirt—on the trip to Amarillo, but often an oversized t-shirt and worn jeans for the return trip. She hauled around a large purse with an embellished star. She wore a massive blue ring on the middle finger of her right hand. When the person sitting next to her tried to strike up a conversation to pass the time, she offered short responses: enough to answer, but not quite engage. She read books—not magazines—large flexible tomes with small print. The titles were obscure to Franklin, though that didn't stop him from looking for them in the Amarillo Junior College library. He looked through the passenger manifest for her name: Maggie Wilcox.

When the art class reached the Impressionists, his teacher had flipped through slides of Monet's work like an unfortunate requirement, speeding through the usual bases of water lilies, bridges, and London Parliament. The instructor stopped short of calling Monet a coward for throwing himself into the Seine to escape debt and later fleeing to England to avoid conscription. His brush strokes were hasty and impulsive, not gentle and naturalistic. He focused on hackneyed subjects, not the universally commonplace. And while the plein-air landscapes originally hoped to encapsulate every sensory detail of the scene—every color of grass, every warmth of sunlight, every zephyr—they were now more appropriate for hanging over sofas.

While eating slices of a frozen pizza on his dinette, Franklin imagined what Maggie did every month in Amarillo. She must be visiting someone: her mother. A woman made elderly before her time by hard work and chronic illness. Maggie would bring medicine to this woman, take her to the grocery store and help her stock up on canned goods and pasta, patiently listen to stories of her father—a war veteran and drunkard, may he rest in peace—and updates of the neighborhood doings, including that little Palmero hussy down the street who thinks no one notices her exit a different car before Saturday dawn, but she sees everything, she knows everything, it's just that no one listens to her any more. Maggie wore those clothes because her mother—whom she still affectionately calls Mama—preferred the Saturday night minister, not the squeaky little man

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Berkeley Fiction Review on Sundays. Maggie would leave her brown case in the basement bedroom she grew up in, and sleep in the same undersized, creaky bed. The next morning she would wake before Mama and make egg in a basket for her. Maggie would read Sunday newspaper headlines to her, to which Mama would cynically comment. In the afternoon, she would kiss Mama goodbye, before catching the city bus to the Greyhound depot. Franklin smiled for Maggie. Towards the end of the fall term, Franklin considered signing up for a painting course. He too saw something out there that might be worth recording. From the school bookstore, he purchased a modest canvas, a pack of eight acrylics, and three various brushes, and hiked to a quiet part of town, away from the highway, where a pair of Manzanitas leaned towards one another in a dirt field. An easel being too expensive, he sat in the dirt and balanced the canvas on his lap. And when he realized he did not have a palate nor water to clean the brush off, he squeezed a dollop of brown onto the bottom comer and resolved to add more color later. The thin handle of the brush felt awkward in his hand, like writing with a piece of straw. He started by outlining the scene before him, beginning with the nearly bare branches of the trees, and then moving down to the trunk as it spread away into the earth. The insignificant plants and weeds that spawned from the soil proved difficult as they blended with the dirt. He fluttered the brush on the canvas, trying to simulate the gentle breeze on the foliage, but leaving instead coarse hairs blending into one another. Franklin's painting looked like a kindergarten crafts project, himself like a child with a crayon clenched firmly in his fist. He tossed the canvas and paints into a dumpster outside a Denny's. But he did not crumble. He had images in his head. They just couldn't escape through his hands. He decided to try photography. The camera he checked out from the media center looked worn and nicked like a student driver vehicle. His sausage fingers swelled around it. Its disproportional weight felt awkward in his hands, yet, despite it all, it fit. This was something he could tame and master. He explored his apartment for alien material. The cracks in the formica like bird tracks. The gleam of a knife. The ghostly formations of dust on the TV screen. The wrinkled comer of his unmade bed. The water stain in the ceiling. He wandered the apartment complex. The barcode railings. 44

Mark Broeske The matted fur of a cat under a porch. The little girl sitting against the door singing to herself. Franklin carefully framed these images, aligned them, composed them, and sealed them with a snap. Eight weeks after Maggie first began riding Franklin's route, she brought a child with her. Franklin's smile fell at the sight of the boy in his wrinkled slacks and collared shirt. The child trudged up the stairs and scowled at the floor, while Maggie led him gently with her arm across his shoulders. Franklin tried to regain his polite smile and muster a good morning, but Maggie led the boy down the aisle before he managed. She gave him the window seat. Franklin strained to hear any conversation between Maggie and the boy on the way to Amarillo. He waited to hear his innocent tongue ask his mother for something. To say, "Ma, what's that?" Or, "Thanks mommy for taking me to see grandma." To which she would reply, "No problem, son." Maybe, he would ask something of Aunt Maggie, like why his parents couldn't come with them to visit Amarillo, and why they had sent him with his aunt on this long bus trip. She would explain that his parents knew that she—as an unmarried, childless woman—loved an opportunity to take her nephew out to visit his grandmother. Franklin strained to hear something, but whatever conversation they might have had was drowned by the whine of the engine. When they arrived in Amarillo, he thought he heard Maggie yell out for Derek or Eric or Darren or Aaron, to straighten up, to stay by her. The boy stared at the aisle floor as they exited. They didn't ride back the next day. Maggie didn't ride the next month. Or the next. She left Franklin sitting alone in the break room, eating a ham and cheese sandwich from the vending machine wondering what had become of Maggie Wilcox. The little boy was obviously responsible. He was likely her son, but that didn't mean anything. In fact, he had to be her son, because they weren't going to Mama's to grocery shop and gossip. Instead, they were headed to Clements Prison, to visit little Derek-Eric-Darren-Aaron's father who was serving 1- 10 for a botched armed robbery. The boy's father was not Maggie's husband, in fact she had never been married. Instead, he was simply some guy, a generic, unimportant nobody whom she didn't notice in high school, but frankly there were only so many bars in Shamrock, Texas. His name was equally unimportant, and he had a nose that had never quit set right and instead broke to the left. She had been going to visit

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Berkeley Fiction Review on Sundays. Maggie would leave her brown case in the basement bedroom she grew up in, and sleep in the same undersized, creaky bed. The next morning she would wake before Mama and make egg in a basket for her. Maggie would read Sunday newspaper headlines to her, to which Mama would cynically comment. In the afternoon, she would kiss Mama goodbye, before catching the city bus to the Greyhound depot. Franklin smiled for Maggie. Towards the end of the fall term, Franklin considered signing up for a painting course. He too saw something out there that might be worth recording. From the school bookstore, he purchased a modest canvas, a pack of eight acrylics, and three various brushes, and hiked to a quiet part of town, away from the highway, where a pair of Manzanitas leaned towards one another in a dirt field. An easel being too expensive, he sat in the dirt and balanced the canvas on his lap. And when he realized he did not have a palate nor water to clean the brush off, he squeezed a dollop of brown onto the bottom comer and resolved to add more color later. The thin handle of the brush felt awkward in his hand, like writing with a piece of straw. He started by outlining the scene before him, beginning with the nearly bare branches of the trees, and then moving down to the trunk as it spread away into the earth. The insignificant plants and weeds that spawned from the soil proved difficult as they blended with the dirt. He fluttered the brush on the canvas, trying to simulate the gentle breeze on the foliage, but leaving instead coarse hairs blending into one another. Franklin's painting looked like a kindergarten crafts project, himself like a child with a crayon clenched firmly in his fist. He tossed the canvas and paints into a dumpster outside a Denny's. But he did not crumble. He had images in his head. They just couldn't escape through his hands. He decided to try photography. The camera he checked out from the media center looked worn and nicked like a student driver vehicle. His sausage fingers swelled around it. Its disproportional weight felt awkward in his hands, yet, despite it all, it fit. This was something he could tame and master. He explored his apartment for alien material. The cracks in the formica like bird tracks. The gleam of a knife. The ghostly formations of dust on the TV screen. The wrinkled comer of his unmade bed. The water stain in the ceiling. He wandered the apartment complex. The barcode railings. 44

Mark Broeske The matted fur of a cat under a porch. The little girl sitting against the door singing to herself. Franklin carefully framed these images, aligned them, composed them, and sealed them with a snap. Eight weeks after Maggie first began riding Franklin's route, she brought a child with her. Franklin's smile fell at the sight of the boy in his wrinkled slacks and collared shirt. The child trudged up the stairs and scowled at the floor, while Maggie led him gently with her arm across his shoulders. Franklin tried to regain his polite smile and muster a good morning, but Maggie led the boy down the aisle before he managed. She gave him the window seat. Franklin strained to hear any conversation between Maggie and the boy on the way to Amarillo. He waited to hear his innocent tongue ask his mother for something. To say, "Ma, what's that?" Or, "Thanks mommy for taking me to see grandma." To which she would reply, "No problem, son." Maybe, he would ask something of Aunt Maggie, like why his parents couldn't come with them to visit Amarillo, and why they had sent him with his aunt on this long bus trip. She would explain that his parents knew that she—as an unmarried, childless woman—loved an opportunity to take her nephew out to visit his grandmother. Franklin strained to hear something, but whatever conversation they might have had was drowned by the whine of the engine. When they arrived in Amarillo, he thought he heard Maggie yell out for Derek or Eric or Darren or Aaron, to straighten up, to stay by her. The boy stared at the aisle floor as they exited. They didn't ride back the next day. Maggie didn't ride the next month. Or the next. She left Franklin sitting alone in the break room, eating a ham and cheese sandwich from the vending machine wondering what had become of Maggie Wilcox. The little boy was obviously responsible. He was likely her son, but that didn't mean anything. In fact, he had to be her son, because they weren't going to Mama's to grocery shop and gossip. Instead, they were headed to Clements Prison, to visit little Derek-Eric-Darren-Aaron's father who was serving 1- 10 for a botched armed robbery. The boy's father was not Maggie's husband, in fact she had never been married. Instead, he was simply some guy, a generic, unimportant nobody whom she didn't notice in high school, but frankly there were only so many bars in Shamrock, Texas. His name was equally unimportant, and he had a nose that had never quit set right and instead broke to the left. She had been going to visit

45


Mark Broeske

Berkeley Fiction Review

During class the following week, that picture was projected onto the screen, and the undergrown mustaches and petite brunettes craned their heads back at him, wondering who was this guy, was he new? Franklin adjusted his cap and looked down, smiling ever so slightly to himself. A few weeks later, his instructor featured Franklin's photo in a small exhibit on campus, and was reprinted above the fold in the student newspaper alongside a review of the exhibit. The article appeared on the bulletin board in the Greyhound offices, with Franklin's name highlighted and copy of his driver's photo attached. He began hearing congratulations and nice picture while standing in line for payroll or wandering through the garage. He taped the photo on the dash, just below Impression, Sunrise. One time before departure, the rider in the front seat behind Franklin—a older man, bearded, bald and scrawny—tapped him on the shoulder and asked him what was with the pictures. Franklin briefly explained.

this man, first to scold, then provide, then serve with parental severance papers. Derek-Eric-Darren-Aaron would be better without an ex-con for a father figure. It was for the best that he sign those. No need for the boy to worry about the day that his old man paroled out. Instead, she would care for the boy, by herself. She had no need to see this prisoner anymore. Everything would be settled, and this nefarious father would never be heard from even in times of great financial need when he only needed a little something to get back on his feet, he was trying he really was and—just for the night—he needed to spend the night somewhere other than the back seat of his car. Franklin was happy for Maggie, for a woman who was a survivor. She would work hard every day as an IHOP waitress so that her boy could have the normal childhood he deserved. She would beam with pride every time her boy came home with a Rotary award or baseball trophy, but would hold her face in her hands with worry whenever he was caught with those thieving little punks that hung around their house. But in the end, she would be stronger, so that when Derek-Eric-Darren-Aaron signed up for a tour of duty she would hug him, and hold his face in her hands for one last good look before he boarded the Greyhound bus bound for Amarillo, where Franklin always was and would be at the wheel to see her once again.

"Shoot," the man said, "We got ourselves a regular Picasso driving this bus. That's pretty damn good, buddy." And then Maggie and the child returned. They boarded from Amarillo, dressed down, with the familiar brown case. Franklin stood up a little straighter, slightly slimmer from his now frequent ventures through the comers of Amarillo. She approached him with her eyes looking down at the boy, asking him which seat he would like. Franklin said: "Welcome back." Maggie glanced up at him, startled, then broke into a brief smile before they passed him. Franklin's eyes shifted between 1-40 and Maggie's left arm and knee through the mirror. He stayed two miles below the speed limit to stretch the time. Somewhere before Alanreed^ he figured out what had happened to Maggie Wilcox and why she returned to Mm unexpectedly. After finalizing the paperwork with Derek-Eric-Darren-Aaron's father, she and the boy had moved into Mama's house. Mama was grateful to have her grandson around and taught him how to lose at gin and bridge while Maggie secured a data entry job for the county. She had been working and saving for a place of their own so that she could get her son out of that one-horse town and into a good school so that he could make something of himself, no matter what he wanted that to be. And now, this return trip was to tie up some loose ends, rent a U-Haul, and make the move permanent.

Franklin smiled to himself, thinking about how proud Maggie would be then. Franklin's photography class was held in the same room as the art history class. He crouched in the same seat in the back, balancing his notebook on his knee, studying slide after slide of Cameron, Rejlander, Adams, Mann, Sherman, Crewdson, looking for balance, framing, the rule of thirds, angle, focus, composition. On his days off, he wandered Amarillo on foot. He wandered behind Laundromats and through convenience store aisles, looking for natural frames, changing angles, playing with shadows. A crucifix towering from a Baptist church. A Mexican mother and child in the median, waiting to cross. He floated for miles through the streets. An endless line of birds weighing down a power line. A smiling panhandler, to whom he gave two dollars. Finally, he found the same empty lot with the same Manzanitas. The sun was setting, glowing red and orange and purple, setting the stickly branches aflame with life and light, radiating like a Hiroshima cherry blossom.

47

46 i


Mark Broeske

Berkeley Fiction Review

During class the following week, that picture was projected onto the screen, and the undergrown mustaches and petite brunettes craned their heads back at him, wondering who was this guy, was he new? Franklin adjusted his cap and looked down, smiling ever so slightly to himself. A few weeks later, his instructor featured Franklin's photo in a small exhibit on campus, and was reprinted above the fold in the student newspaper alongside a review of the exhibit. The article appeared on the bulletin board in the Greyhound offices, with Franklin's name highlighted and copy of his driver's photo attached. He began hearing congratulations and nice picture while standing in line for payroll or wandering through the garage. He taped the photo on the dash, just below Impression, Sunrise. One time before departure, the rider in the front seat behind Franklin—a older man, bearded, bald and scrawny—tapped him on the shoulder and asked him what was with the pictures. Franklin briefly explained.

this man, first to scold, then provide, then serve with parental severance papers. Derek-Eric-Darren-Aaron would be better without an ex-con for a father figure. It was for the best that he sign those. No need for the boy to worry about the day that his old man paroled out. Instead, she would care for the boy, by herself. She had no need to see this prisoner anymore. Everything would be settled, and this nefarious father would never be heard from even in times of great financial need when he only needed a little something to get back on his feet, he was trying he really was and—just for the night—he needed to spend the night somewhere other than the back seat of his car. Franklin was happy for Maggie, for a woman who was a survivor. She would work hard every day as an IHOP waitress so that her boy could have the normal childhood he deserved. She would beam with pride every time her boy came home with a Rotary award or baseball trophy, but would hold her face in her hands with worry whenever he was caught with those thieving little punks that hung around their house. But in the end, she would be stronger, so that when Derek-Eric-Darren-Aaron signed up for a tour of duty she would hug him, and hold his face in her hands for one last good look before he boarded the Greyhound bus bound for Amarillo, where Franklin always was and would be at the wheel to see her once again.

"Shoot," the man said, "We got ourselves a regular Picasso driving this bus. That's pretty damn good, buddy." And then Maggie and the child returned. They boarded from Amarillo, dressed down, with the familiar brown case. Franklin stood up a little straighter, slightly slimmer from his now frequent ventures through the comers of Amarillo. She approached him with her eyes looking down at the boy, asking him which seat he would like. Franklin said: "Welcome back." Maggie glanced up at him, startled, then broke into a brief smile before they passed him. Franklin's eyes shifted between 1-40 and Maggie's left arm and knee through the mirror. He stayed two miles below the speed limit to stretch the time. Somewhere before Alanreed^ he figured out what had happened to Maggie Wilcox and why she returned to Mm unexpectedly. After finalizing the paperwork with Derek-Eric-Darren-Aaron's father, she and the boy had moved into Mama's house. Mama was grateful to have her grandson around and taught him how to lose at gin and bridge while Maggie secured a data entry job for the county. She had been working and saving for a place of their own so that she could get her son out of that one-horse town and into a good school so that he could make something of himself, no matter what he wanted that to be. And now, this return trip was to tie up some loose ends, rent a U-Haul, and make the move permanent.

Franklin smiled to himself, thinking about how proud Maggie would be then. Franklin's photography class was held in the same room as the art history class. He crouched in the same seat in the back, balancing his notebook on his knee, studying slide after slide of Cameron, Rejlander, Adams, Mann, Sherman, Crewdson, looking for balance, framing, the rule of thirds, angle, focus, composition. On his days off, he wandered Amarillo on foot. He wandered behind Laundromats and through convenience store aisles, looking for natural frames, changing angles, playing with shadows. A crucifix towering from a Baptist church. A Mexican mother and child in the median, waiting to cross. He floated for miles through the streets. An endless line of birds weighing down a power line. A smiling panhandler, to whom he gave two dollars. Finally, he found the same empty lot with the same Manzanitas. The sun was setting, glowing red and orange and purple, setting the stickly branches aflame with life and light, radiating like a Hiroshima cherry blossom.

47

46 i


Berkeley Fiction Review

Mark Broeske

Franklin laughed for Maggie, for this woman who had pulled herself up, who was making a change, who was reborn. He wanted to go back there and celebrate with her. He laughed and smiled and shook his head and approvingly tapped the wheel. Just then, the front tire exploded. The boom was louder because it was so unexpected. The cab dipped forward, dragging the bus behind it into the opposing lane. Franklin gripped the wheel and hauled it straight. Pieces of tread slammed into the wheel well and rumbled beneath the other tires. Passengers yelped. The brakes rubbed and squealed to life, digging into discs and shoes, slowing the bus down so that it caught up with time. Franklin twisted the wheel to the right, guiding it onto the gravel shoulder.

" I ' m a photographer," Franklin explained, lifting up the camera slightly, "Most of my pictures are of still life. Bushes. Landscapes. I rarely get a chance to take a portrait. Would you mind?" Maggie stared at him from atop the embankment. Franklin knew he had crossed the line. He waited for her head to turn, to mask her face in hair, to hurriedly call the boy to come back. Soon Derek-Eric-Darren-Aaron would come out of the brush and they would rush past him, negotiating space in the shade of the bus. After the repair, they would squeeze into the phalanx of passengers, then slip into a distant crack. And the familiar brown case would vanish along with Maggie Wilcox. But she didn't vanish. Instead she nodded slightly and kept her posture, turned halfway between her son and the bus.

Franklin turned and stood before his passengers. The excited murmurs muffled as his presence was felt. His eyes focused on Maggie and the boy, then widened to all. He told them about the tire, that they were to remain calm. When he radioed for help, the dispatcher told him to hold tight for a few hours. The air-conditioning stopped working. Passengers fined up in the shade cast by the bus. Franklin dug out umbrellas from deep inside the luggage compartment for those who couldn't find room in the shade. He made sure Maggie took one. Then, Franklin grabbed his camera.

Franklin crouched low. The umbrella he had given her cast a shadow ahead of Maggie, masking her face except for her yellowed eyes. Her clothes rippled like a flag in front of the thin smears of cloud that streaked across the blue sea. Meticulously, he dialed the lens, squinted through the viewfinder, framing it just right, just right. The boy poked his head above the embankment, asking, "Maggie?" but she hushed him without moving. He froze too, as did Franklin: stopping, stretching, holding his breath, before gently, pressing the shutter.

Out here, along 1-40 through the Texas panhandle, the views could be damn near cinematic. This day was truer than most. The sky was rich in blue. Ajetliner left a scratch in the sky. The earth filled with the buzzing of insects and the fragile branches of bushes rustling in a breeze. Franklin looked down through the viewfinder at a stem that had wound itself up and through and around the metal post of a barbed wire fence. He altered the focus, framed the top leaves that peaked out, fading the background out. And that's when he saw Maggie on the embankment twenty yards to his left. The boy bounded down the other side and his body disappeared in the brush. Franklin smiled at these old familiar friends. He knew they were eager to get home, gather the few belongings they had left behind, say their final goodbyes to their old selves only to hurry back to the depot, back to Amarillo and Mama and their new bright futures. Franklin's footsteps in the dirt announced his arrival, and Maggie turned to him. "He just has to pee," she said, answering the unsaid question. Franklin smiled and asked, "Could I take your picture?" Maggie's smile faded and her eyebrows tightened. 48

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Berkeley Fiction Review

Mark Broeske

Franklin laughed for Maggie, for this woman who had pulled herself up, who was making a change, who was reborn. He wanted to go back there and celebrate with her. He laughed and smiled and shook his head and approvingly tapped the wheel. Just then, the front tire exploded. The boom was louder because it was so unexpected. The cab dipped forward, dragging the bus behind it into the opposing lane. Franklin gripped the wheel and hauled it straight. Pieces of tread slammed into the wheel well and rumbled beneath the other tires. Passengers yelped. The brakes rubbed and squealed to life, digging into discs and shoes, slowing the bus down so that it caught up with time. Franklin twisted the wheel to the right, guiding it onto the gravel shoulder.

" I ' m a photographer," Franklin explained, lifting up the camera slightly, "Most of my pictures are of still life. Bushes. Landscapes. I rarely get a chance to take a portrait. Would you mind?" Maggie stared at him from atop the embankment. Franklin knew he had crossed the line. He waited for her head to turn, to mask her face in hair, to hurriedly call the boy to come back. Soon Derek-Eric-Darren-Aaron would come out of the brush and they would rush past him, negotiating space in the shade of the bus. After the repair, they would squeeze into the phalanx of passengers, then slip into a distant crack. And the familiar brown case would vanish along with Maggie Wilcox. But she didn't vanish. Instead she nodded slightly and kept her posture, turned halfway between her son and the bus.

Franklin turned and stood before his passengers. The excited murmurs muffled as his presence was felt. His eyes focused on Maggie and the boy, then widened to all. He told them about the tire, that they were to remain calm. When he radioed for help, the dispatcher told him to hold tight for a few hours. The air-conditioning stopped working. Passengers fined up in the shade cast by the bus. Franklin dug out umbrellas from deep inside the luggage compartment for those who couldn't find room in the shade. He made sure Maggie took one. Then, Franklin grabbed his camera.

Franklin crouched low. The umbrella he had given her cast a shadow ahead of Maggie, masking her face except for her yellowed eyes. Her clothes rippled like a flag in front of the thin smears of cloud that streaked across the blue sea. Meticulously, he dialed the lens, squinted through the viewfinder, framing it just right, just right. The boy poked his head above the embankment, asking, "Maggie?" but she hushed him without moving. He froze too, as did Franklin: stopping, stretching, holding his breath, before gently, pressing the shutter.

Out here, along 1-40 through the Texas panhandle, the views could be damn near cinematic. This day was truer than most. The sky was rich in blue. Ajetliner left a scratch in the sky. The earth filled with the buzzing of insects and the fragile branches of bushes rustling in a breeze. Franklin looked down through the viewfinder at a stem that had wound itself up and through and around the metal post of a barbed wire fence. He altered the focus, framed the top leaves that peaked out, fading the background out. And that's when he saw Maggie on the embankment twenty yards to his left. The boy bounded down the other side and his body disappeared in the brush. Franklin smiled at these old familiar friends. He knew they were eager to get home, gather the few belongings they had left behind, say their final goodbyes to their old selves only to hurry back to the depot, back to Amarillo and Mama and their new bright futures. Franklin's footsteps in the dirt announced his arrival, and Maggie turned to him. "He just has to pee," she said, answering the unsaid question. Franklin smiled and asked, "Could I take your picture?" Maggie's smile faded and her eyebrows tightened. 48

49


Liz M o o d y First

Place

S

Sudden

o

Fiction

L

U

C

K

Winner

Y

LIZ M O O D Y

He's sitting in an orange plastic chair and watching his wife die. She looks like she is sleeping. The machines beep. She is alive - no, her heart is beating. He reads books sometimes, but as he turns the pages his eyes skim over words and he can't recollect anything that happened, so he rums them back and reads them again. It adds to the sameness of his days. It reminds him that his life, just like hers, is frozen. The doctors ask him if he wants to move her to a nursing home. "Will that help her get better?" he asks and they look at him like he doesn't understand. His boss calls him. "If you can't come to work, I have to fire you," he says. "I have no choice." He settles into a pattern. He lives on string cheese and prepackaged burritos and Reese's Peanut Butter cups from the gas station around the comer. He starts to resent her. I lost my job, he thinks, and I'm losing you, too. I'm losing everything and you're just lying there. You can't even breathe alone, he thinks, and feels guilty because he can breathe and because he resents her. I'm a good husband, he tells himself. She's a good wife. This is no one's fault, he thinks. "You can move her to a nursing home," the doctors tell him. "No one will think less of you for it." She wakes up. He kisses her cheeks and her lips and her chest and looks into her 50

eyes. She doesn't recognize him. "You're so lucky," everyone tells him. "It's a miracle." He smiles and nods and shakes his head. Because, after all, it is a miracle. He holds her hand as she takes her first steps. The nurse teaches him how to change her diapers and soon, he does it with ease, wiping excrement from the areas he once kissed. After six months, she comes home. She moves slowly around the house, touching picture frames, tracing her fingers over the arm of the couch. He has fewer things now. He sold what he could. "I remember this," she says, picking up a snow globe that he bought her in Chicago on their first anniversary. She shakes it and glitter falls on the Sears Tower. Why that, he wonders. Why that and not me? At night he wonders what it would be like if she had died. Then, she can walk and she can talk and she remembers: not everything, but most things. They go to the movies, he gets a new job. They have sex again, but it is slow and halting and she looks confused. When he can't come she gets out of bed and makes dinner. He still has the pictures of the two of them before. He shows them to her and she smiles. It doesn't look the same as the smile in the photograph. He watches her when they're lying in bed. He touches her arm and she rolls over so she is facing him. "I don't love you anymore," he says. She nods. "I'm sorry." He turns off the light.

51


Liz M o o d y First

Place

S

Sudden

o

Fiction

L

U

C

K

Winner

Y

LIZ M O O D Y

He's sitting in an orange plastic chair and watching his wife die. She looks like she is sleeping. The machines beep. She is alive - no, her heart is beating. He reads books sometimes, but as he turns the pages his eyes skim over words and he can't recollect anything that happened, so he rums them back and reads them again. It adds to the sameness of his days. It reminds him that his life, just like hers, is frozen. The doctors ask him if he wants to move her to a nursing home. "Will that help her get better?" he asks and they look at him like he doesn't understand. His boss calls him. "If you can't come to work, I have to fire you," he says. "I have no choice." He settles into a pattern. He lives on string cheese and prepackaged burritos and Reese's Peanut Butter cups from the gas station around the comer. He starts to resent her. I lost my job, he thinks, and I'm losing you, too. I'm losing everything and you're just lying there. You can't even breathe alone, he thinks, and feels guilty because he can breathe and because he resents her. I'm a good husband, he tells himself. She's a good wife. This is no one's fault, he thinks. "You can move her to a nursing home," the doctors tell him. "No one will think less of you for it." She wakes up. He kisses her cheeks and her lips and her chest and looks into her 50

eyes. She doesn't recognize him. "You're so lucky," everyone tells him. "It's a miracle." He smiles and nods and shakes his head. Because, after all, it is a miracle. He holds her hand as she takes her first steps. The nurse teaches him how to change her diapers and soon, he does it with ease, wiping excrement from the areas he once kissed. After six months, she comes home. She moves slowly around the house, touching picture frames, tracing her fingers over the arm of the couch. He has fewer things now. He sold what he could. "I remember this," she says, picking up a snow globe that he bought her in Chicago on their first anniversary. She shakes it and glitter falls on the Sears Tower. Why that, he wonders. Why that and not me? At night he wonders what it would be like if she had died. Then, she can walk and she can talk and she remembers: not everything, but most things. They go to the movies, he gets a new job. They have sex again, but it is slow and halting and she looks confused. When he can't come she gets out of bed and makes dinner. He still has the pictures of the two of them before. He shows them to her and she smiles. It doesn't look the same as the smile in the photograph. He watches her when they're lying in bed. He touches her arm and she rolls over so she is facing him. "I don't love you anymore," he says. She nods. "I'm sorry." He turns off the light.

51


Aimee Pogson as she follows his motions, and remember when I was young, innocently watching TV, doing whatever my teachers told me to do, packed into a small room with other kids who I would never choose to be friends with in another ten to twenty years. When I look at this image of my other, younger self, it is hard to see the resemblances between the child and the woman I have become. I sigh and open my desk drawer to find a tissue. I find myself faceto-face with a salmon. U

N

N

A

T

U

R

A

L

AIMEE POGSON

I awoke this morning to find a dead salmon lying outside my bedroom window, its vacant black eyes rolled upward, reflecting the summer sun. This is the fifth such salmon I have encountered this week. I promptly removed it from my windowsill, wrapped it in newspaper, and put it in the freezer. I have never really known how to dispose of a salmon and so I stack them up in my freezer, to be dealt with another day. I brew a pot of coffee and consider this influx of dead fish. I find them everywhere - in my car, on my doorstep, inside my closet, tucked in my shoes. I am neither a fishermen nor an ocean dweller. There is no reason for these salmon to invade my house; I did not invite them. I look for a river, a stream, a series of puddles a salmon can jump through, and find nothing. Nature, it seems, moves in mysterious ways. The children sit on a fluffy carpet in front of the TV, mesmerized by the were-man in the swamp. I don't know why the other preschool teachers insist on showing them this movie - it will certainly give them nightmares. I like seeing the kids quiet though. It gives me a chance to study them, to imagine their futures, the people they will become. There is one girl in particular who reminds me of myself when I was young, or at least the way I like to remember myself. Her hair is dark and wavy, her eyes curious and green. She follows directions with enthusiasm and giggles over macaroni creatures and the boys' endless antics. I watch her as she watches the were-man, the tense tilt of her head

52

I once held hands with a man who worked in the seafood section of a grocery store. The scent of scallops and shrimp hung on his fingers. I imagined microscopic bits of scales caught under his nails, remnants of a life lived at sea. I held hands with him again and then again. His eyes were murky. His voice lured me into something dark and oppressive. When I closed my eyes, I felt myself descending. I thought, this is what it means to drown. I found a man who wore expensive cologne and kissed him long and hard. Salmon bodies appear in my tub as if lured by the prospect of an eventual bath. I scoop them out and carry them to my freezer. It seems as if I am running out of room. I have decided to seduce a sushi chef. My freezer is full and I have no other options. I cruise past the sushi counter at the grocery store, batting my mascara-laden lashes, smiling in the chef's general direction. I walk by again and again until his eyes begin to follow me, then I make my move. I approach the counter, look into his eyes, and say, "I will take a tuna roll." "Tuna," he repeats. "That's a good choice." I smile and nod. "Yes, it is," I say. "Indeed, it is." The were-man is on the move again. The children watch him with anxious eyes, flinching as he attacks various woodland creatures. I look at the other teachers and they smile and nod. Clearly this is educational, somehow. I watch the dark-haired girl and wonder who she will grow up to love. I imagine the ways her life will be shaped and bent by another. Sometimes I place myself in the position of this girl, frightened by 53


Aimee Pogson as she follows his motions, and remember when I was young, innocently watching TV, doing whatever my teachers told me to do, packed into a small room with other kids who I would never choose to be friends with in another ten to twenty years. When I look at this image of my other, younger self, it is hard to see the resemblances between the child and the woman I have become. I sigh and open my desk drawer to find a tissue. I find myself faceto-face with a salmon. U

N

N

A

T

U

R

A

L

AIMEE POGSON

I awoke this morning to find a dead salmon lying outside my bedroom window, its vacant black eyes rolled upward, reflecting the summer sun. This is the fifth such salmon I have encountered this week. I promptly removed it from my windowsill, wrapped it in newspaper, and put it in the freezer. I have never really known how to dispose of a salmon and so I stack them up in my freezer, to be dealt with another day. I brew a pot of coffee and consider this influx of dead fish. I find them everywhere - in my car, on my doorstep, inside my closet, tucked in my shoes. I am neither a fishermen nor an ocean dweller. There is no reason for these salmon to invade my house; I did not invite them. I look for a river, a stream, a series of puddles a salmon can jump through, and find nothing. Nature, it seems, moves in mysterious ways. The children sit on a fluffy carpet in front of the TV, mesmerized by the were-man in the swamp. I don't know why the other preschool teachers insist on showing them this movie - it will certainly give them nightmares. I like seeing the kids quiet though. It gives me a chance to study them, to imagine their futures, the people they will become. There is one girl in particular who reminds me of myself when I was young, or at least the way I like to remember myself. Her hair is dark and wavy, her eyes curious and green. She follows directions with enthusiasm and giggles over macaroni creatures and the boys' endless antics. I watch her as she watches the were-man, the tense tilt of her head

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I once held hands with a man who worked in the seafood section of a grocery store. The scent of scallops and shrimp hung on his fingers. I imagined microscopic bits of scales caught under his nails, remnants of a life lived at sea. I held hands with him again and then again. His eyes were murky. His voice lured me into something dark and oppressive. When I closed my eyes, I felt myself descending. I thought, this is what it means to drown. I found a man who wore expensive cologne and kissed him long and hard. Salmon bodies appear in my tub as if lured by the prospect of an eventual bath. I scoop them out and carry them to my freezer. It seems as if I am running out of room. I have decided to seduce a sushi chef. My freezer is full and I have no other options. I cruise past the sushi counter at the grocery store, batting my mascara-laden lashes, smiling in the chef's general direction. I walk by again and again until his eyes begin to follow me, then I make my move. I approach the counter, look into his eyes, and say, "I will take a tuna roll." "Tuna," he repeats. "That's a good choice." I smile and nod. "Yes, it is," I say. "Indeed, it is." The were-man is on the move again. The children watch him with anxious eyes, flinching as he attacks various woodland creatures. I look at the other teachers and they smile and nod. Clearly this is educational, somehow. I watch the dark-haired girl and wonder who she will grow up to love. I imagine the ways her life will be shaped and bent by another. Sometimes I place myself in the position of this girl, frightened by 53


Berkeley Fiction Review the were-man, eager to go home and play video games or run around outside. Her life stretches before her, seemingly endless, punctuated by certain turning points - high school, college, marriage, a career. She doesn't understand that these events are just small segments of her life. She doesn't understand the vacancy in between, the endless day-to-day reality that needs to be confronted. She doesn't see the details, the lines and color and clarity and flaws that real life presents. Apian is a plan, but plans often get changed. Directions alter. Others get in the way. Sense and order and logic can be smashed, disrupted, and overturned. Love is love, but love is also fear and trust and distrust. It is connection and disconnection, friendship and desertion. For me, love was a man who woke up grumpy, calmed after coffee, laughed often, and never remembered to return phone calls. He turned the world upside down in a way that was beautifully devastating, uniquely wonderful. I held my breath when he told a joke, anticipating his amused smile more than the punch line. I held his hand while he watched TV, a book balanced in my other hand. I felt vulnerable in his presence, in a way that was both pleasant and terrifying. I ventured into him, the mystery that is another person, and he ventured into me, uncovering, exposing. It is possible to snap under such scrutiny, to cringe as your own flaws and secrets are shown, one by one. It is possible to distrust and disconnect. This kind of intensity makes you consider the front door, the way the hinges always creak like the wail of the dead and opt instead for an open window as you make your escape one late spring night. I couldn't have known this when I was young, but life is hard and frightening. All of it, without exception, from beginning to end. The sushi chef sits at my kitchen table eating a spicy stir fry that I have spent a better part of the afternoon laboring over. I watch as his face flushes from hot peppers and the endorphins I imagine must be racing through his body. I make small talk and tell him jokes. I describe the preschool where I work, occasionally glancing nervously at the salmon that has appeared on my bookshelf. After dinner, I lead the sushi chef to my couch, put in a movie, and slowly edge closer and closer to him until we are sitting shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip. A few minutes later we are kissing, wrapped in an embrace that is strange simply because we are strangers. I think of the salmon stacked in my freezer, of the man who forgot to return phone calls, and it occurs to me that I shouldn't

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Aimee Pogson be doing what I'm doing. I should feel guilt, shame, a strong sense of self-contempt, but instead I am vacuous. I am hollow. I am a shell. I am a woman who is running out of room in her freezer and has no other options. A little while later, I lead the sushi chef back into the kitchen and make him a cup of coffee - dark roast, my specialty. While we are waiting for the coffee to brew, I casually open the freezer and offer him some salmon. "My brother loves to fish," I lie. "And he's always stocking my freezer. Why don't you take some?" The sushi chef smiles awkwardly and leaves with two, and only two, salmon. After he is gone, I take the rest of the coffee into the living room and recline on the couch. I study the salmon on the bookshelf, its pinkish red scales so similar to my own flushed skin, and imagine the way blood and veins flow and cross our bodies, streaking blue and purple, red when exposed to air. There are so many colors that demonstrate life—green and red and brown and gold—but when I close my eyes and picture myself as I feel, I see only shades of gray. I am at the bank, depositing a check when I notice that the teller is wearing a wedding band. I casually let my eyes wander up to his face, verifying what I had only half noticed before. The teller appears to be very young, barely out of high school. His face is boyish and smooth; his blonde hair is a mop of curls. He is at least fifteen years younger than me, but judging by his job, his dress shirt and tie, and wedding ring, he is clearly more settled. I imagine him marrying his high school sweetheart, adopting a dog, having a child, embracing a career in the same town he has lived in his whole life. I wonder if this is the way things are supposed to be. I wonder if there is something terribly wrong with me. ~ I am distracted when I reach into my purse for my checkbook and don't notice the difference between the smooth, lined cover of my checkbook and scales. When I remove my hand, I am holding a salmon, its dull dead eyes staring helplessly at the teller. The teller gazes at the salmon and then slowly looks at me. "Is that natural?" he asks. I shake my head, unsure. It occurs to me that I am a woman who breaks hearts and scares children. I don't know what natural is. I think back on the events of my life and wonder if I have done everything wrong, 55


Berkeley Fiction Review the were-man, eager to go home and play video games or run around outside. Her life stretches before her, seemingly endless, punctuated by certain turning points - high school, college, marriage, a career. She doesn't understand that these events are just small segments of her life. She doesn't understand the vacancy in between, the endless day-to-day reality that needs to be confronted. She doesn't see the details, the lines and color and clarity and flaws that real life presents. Apian is a plan, but plans often get changed. Directions alter. Others get in the way. Sense and order and logic can be smashed, disrupted, and overturned. Love is love, but love is also fear and trust and distrust. It is connection and disconnection, friendship and desertion. For me, love was a man who woke up grumpy, calmed after coffee, laughed often, and never remembered to return phone calls. He turned the world upside down in a way that was beautifully devastating, uniquely wonderful. I held my breath when he told a joke, anticipating his amused smile more than the punch line. I held his hand while he watched TV, a book balanced in my other hand. I felt vulnerable in his presence, in a way that was both pleasant and terrifying. I ventured into him, the mystery that is another person, and he ventured into me, uncovering, exposing. It is possible to snap under such scrutiny, to cringe as your own flaws and secrets are shown, one by one. It is possible to distrust and disconnect. This kind of intensity makes you consider the front door, the way the hinges always creak like the wail of the dead and opt instead for an open window as you make your escape one late spring night. I couldn't have known this when I was young, but life is hard and frightening. All of it, without exception, from beginning to end. The sushi chef sits at my kitchen table eating a spicy stir fry that I have spent a better part of the afternoon laboring over. I watch as his face flushes from hot peppers and the endorphins I imagine must be racing through his body. I make small talk and tell him jokes. I describe the preschool where I work, occasionally glancing nervously at the salmon that has appeared on my bookshelf. After dinner, I lead the sushi chef to my couch, put in a movie, and slowly edge closer and closer to him until we are sitting shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip. A few minutes later we are kissing, wrapped in an embrace that is strange simply because we are strangers. I think of the salmon stacked in my freezer, of the man who forgot to return phone calls, and it occurs to me that I shouldn't

54

Aimee Pogson be doing what I'm doing. I should feel guilt, shame, a strong sense of self-contempt, but instead I am vacuous. I am hollow. I am a shell. I am a woman who is running out of room in her freezer and has no other options. A little while later, I lead the sushi chef back into the kitchen and make him a cup of coffee - dark roast, my specialty. While we are waiting for the coffee to brew, I casually open the freezer and offer him some salmon. "My brother loves to fish," I lie. "And he's always stocking my freezer. Why don't you take some?" The sushi chef smiles awkwardly and leaves with two, and only two, salmon. After he is gone, I take the rest of the coffee into the living room and recline on the couch. I study the salmon on the bookshelf, its pinkish red scales so similar to my own flushed skin, and imagine the way blood and veins flow and cross our bodies, streaking blue and purple, red when exposed to air. There are so many colors that demonstrate life—green and red and brown and gold—but when I close my eyes and picture myself as I feel, I see only shades of gray. I am at the bank, depositing a check when I notice that the teller is wearing a wedding band. I casually let my eyes wander up to his face, verifying what I had only half noticed before. The teller appears to be very young, barely out of high school. His face is boyish and smooth; his blonde hair is a mop of curls. He is at least fifteen years younger than me, but judging by his job, his dress shirt and tie, and wedding ring, he is clearly more settled. I imagine him marrying his high school sweetheart, adopting a dog, having a child, embracing a career in the same town he has lived in his whole life. I wonder if this is the way things are supposed to be. I wonder if there is something terribly wrong with me. ~ I am distracted when I reach into my purse for my checkbook and don't notice the difference between the smooth, lined cover of my checkbook and scales. When I remove my hand, I am holding a salmon, its dull dead eyes staring helplessly at the teller. The teller gazes at the salmon and then slowly looks at me. "Is that natural?" he asks. I shake my head, unsure. It occurs to me that I am a woman who breaks hearts and scares children. I don't know what natural is. I think back on the events of my life and wonder if I have done everything wrong, 55


Berkeley Fiction Review taken all the wrong turns, made bad decision after bad decision. I don't even know because I can't see myself clearly. I feel my way through life from a blind place inside myself. "I don't think so," I say finally. "But what can you do? They keep showing up." The teller shrugs and shakes his head. As I leave, I see him cast a sympathetic glance in my direction. The sushi chef and I are lying in my bed. Somehow he has ended up with my pillow and so I lay my head against his arm and try to ignore the discomfort. He turns to look at me and says, "I love you." I don't know if he is in love with me, the intimacy we have shared, or the salmon I send home with him each time we meet, but really, I ' m too tired to think about it. Instead I say the first words that come to mind. "Don't love me. I can never love you." He turns to look at me, too dumbfounded to speak, and for a moment we lie together in silence. I wonder if I am the first woman to resist his declarations of love, to turn down an offer of romance in a world where everyone is looking for a soul mate. I expect him to roll out of bed and leave, maybe add a smart remark or two, but he only sighs and says, "Sometimes I can't believe you work with children." "What's that supposed to mean?" Random cruelty I can deal with, but a personal attack? I didn't even think we knew each other well enough for that. "You're just so high strung." He strokes my hair like I'm a puppy or a beloved cat. "You need to relax a little. Have fun." I try to remember the last time I had fun, but all I can think of are the salmon that keep showing up around my hpuse. On my windowsill. In my dishwasher. Under my bath towels. The salmon are wearing me out. I'm tired of wrapping them in newspaper, trying to think of ways to dispose of them. "You know what I do when I ' m stressed out?" he says. "I imagine that I'm in my favorite place. I close my eyes, breathe deeply, and try to remember all of the details. You have to think about what the place smells and sounds like. You have to make it as real as possible." "That's nice," I say. I can't imagine ever taking the time to mentally transport myself to a "favorite place" but I try to sound enthusiastic. "Why don't you try it now? Just lay back and imagine your place. 56

Aimee Pogson I'll do it too." And just like that his eyes are closed and he's gone, breathing in and out, experiencing his happy place. I stare up at the ceiling for a moment and then close my eyes. I ' m not sure what my favorite place is. When I try to think of a favorite place, I draw a blank, When I think harder, I come up with a series of generic places—my grandma's kitchen, my childhood backyard in winter, the mall—none of them places I am really attached too. I finally settle for a field, a meadow of sorts. I have only been in a meadow once or twice in my life, but it seems like a satisfactory favorite place, quiet, far away from people and salmon. I imagine that I am standing in the center of the meadow. I imagine that there is a slight breeze, making the tall grass wave like it is being stirred by a million tiny fingers. There are flowers too, purple flowers. Purple is my favorite color. Flowers are some of my favorite objects. I stop to smell them in the grocery store. I imagine myself breathing in and breaming out, but I can't. My chest feels tight, constricted. I gasp for air, but nothing comes. I am standing in open air and I am drowning. On the ground before me is a salmon, its mouth opening and closing, easily. I open my eyes with a start, relieved to be back in the bedroom. The sushi chef turns to look at me. "Are you okay?" I nod, unable to speak. He continues to watch me, his eyes dark and worried. "Most people don't react that way to their favorite place," he says. "What were you thinking about?" "Nothing," I say. "I'm fine." I feel dissected by his gaze, my actions turned over and prodded, and I look away. He runs his hand along my arm, waiting for me to speak, and I feel a shiver of longing, cold and frightening in its need. When he leaves later that night, I will stretch myself across the bed, taking all the space for myself. I will stop returning his phone calls. I will erase him from my mind. For now, I fix my attention on the far wall and shrug off his questions. The salmon will continue to appear, in plant holders and under pillows, a migration running directly through my house, crowding my space. When the were-man devours a rabbit, bones snapping and cracking, several of the children reach their breaking point. There are gasps, sobs. The dark-haired girl gets up and tries to run out of the room, crying, and 57


Berkeley Fiction Review taken all the wrong turns, made bad decision after bad decision. I don't even know because I can't see myself clearly. I feel my way through life from a blind place inside myself. "I don't think so," I say finally. "But what can you do? They keep showing up." The teller shrugs and shakes his head. As I leave, I see him cast a sympathetic glance in my direction. The sushi chef and I are lying in my bed. Somehow he has ended up with my pillow and so I lay my head against his arm and try to ignore the discomfort. He turns to look at me and says, "I love you." I don't know if he is in love with me, the intimacy we have shared, or the salmon I send home with him each time we meet, but really, I ' m too tired to think about it. Instead I say the first words that come to mind. "Don't love me. I can never love you." He turns to look at me, too dumbfounded to speak, and for a moment we lie together in silence. I wonder if I am the first woman to resist his declarations of love, to turn down an offer of romance in a world where everyone is looking for a soul mate. I expect him to roll out of bed and leave, maybe add a smart remark or two, but he only sighs and says, "Sometimes I can't believe you work with children." "What's that supposed to mean?" Random cruelty I can deal with, but a personal attack? I didn't even think we knew each other well enough for that. "You're just so high strung." He strokes my hair like I'm a puppy or a beloved cat. "You need to relax a little. Have fun." I try to remember the last time I had fun, but all I can think of are the salmon that keep showing up around my hpuse. On my windowsill. In my dishwasher. Under my bath towels. The salmon are wearing me out. I'm tired of wrapping them in newspaper, trying to think of ways to dispose of them. "You know what I do when I ' m stressed out?" he says. "I imagine that I'm in my favorite place. I close my eyes, breathe deeply, and try to remember all of the details. You have to think about what the place smells and sounds like. You have to make it as real as possible." "That's nice," I say. I can't imagine ever taking the time to mentally transport myself to a "favorite place" but I try to sound enthusiastic. "Why don't you try it now? Just lay back and imagine your place. 56

Aimee Pogson I'll do it too." And just like that his eyes are closed and he's gone, breathing in and out, experiencing his happy place. I stare up at the ceiling for a moment and then close my eyes. I ' m not sure what my favorite place is. When I try to think of a favorite place, I draw a blank, When I think harder, I come up with a series of generic places—my grandma's kitchen, my childhood backyard in winter, the mall—none of them places I am really attached too. I finally settle for a field, a meadow of sorts. I have only been in a meadow once or twice in my life, but it seems like a satisfactory favorite place, quiet, far away from people and salmon. I imagine that I am standing in the center of the meadow. I imagine that there is a slight breeze, making the tall grass wave like it is being stirred by a million tiny fingers. There are flowers too, purple flowers. Purple is my favorite color. Flowers are some of my favorite objects. I stop to smell them in the grocery store. I imagine myself breathing in and breaming out, but I can't. My chest feels tight, constricted. I gasp for air, but nothing comes. I am standing in open air and I am drowning. On the ground before me is a salmon, its mouth opening and closing, easily. I open my eyes with a start, relieved to be back in the bedroom. The sushi chef turns to look at me. "Are you okay?" I nod, unable to speak. He continues to watch me, his eyes dark and worried. "Most people don't react that way to their favorite place," he says. "What were you thinking about?" "Nothing," I say. "I'm fine." I feel dissected by his gaze, my actions turned over and prodded, and I look away. He runs his hand along my arm, waiting for me to speak, and I feel a shiver of longing, cold and frightening in its need. When he leaves later that night, I will stretch myself across the bed, taking all the space for myself. I will stop returning his phone calls. I will erase him from my mind. For now, I fix my attention on the far wall and shrug off his questions. The salmon will continue to appear, in plant holders and under pillows, a migration running directly through my house, crowding my space. When the were-man devours a rabbit, bones snapping and cracking, several of the children reach their breaking point. There are gasps, sobs. The dark-haired girl gets up and tries to run out of the room, crying, and 57


Berkeley Fiction Review I am the first to intercept her. I get down on one knee, bringing myself to her level, and try to envelope her in a hug. A hug seems reasonable to me, especially after the sight of such a brutal and untimely death, but she pulls away, runs to another teacher who has come up behind me. As the other teacher comforts her, the dark-haired girl gives me a funny look from beneath her tears. "You smell," she tells me. "Like fish." I take the were-man movie home with me and watch it once, twice, studying the furry man in the swamp, hunched and filthy, preying on small defenseless creatures. As I watch, I wonder who the man was before he became the were-man in the swamp. Was he married? Did he have children, a job, responsibilities? Or was he someone who always hovered on the edge of humanity, unable to connect, waiting for that one bad day that would send him running into the wilderness to terrorize small, defenseless creatures? I wonder what I am meant to take away from this film and why we are showing it to children. I think about the line between the carnal and the civilized. When I close my eyes, I see the man who never returned phone calls. I see his hands, the freckles that dotted them. I feel the rough patches of skin at the tip of each finger, along each knuckle. I sense the way love can be endless, deep, consuming, terrifying, and the way he embraced that love, expecting me to do the same. Then I remember jumping from the bedroom window, spraining my ankle, and dragging myself on despite the pain. Am I supposed to understand the were-man, or am I supposed to fear him, to be afraid of ending up like him? There is a salmon on the coffee table, reclining beside the candy dish. For a moment, I consider touching the salmon, running my fingers along its scales, looking into its glassy eyes. So many salmon yet I haven't truly touched a single one. I lean forward until I can see each individual scale, the patterns of color. I reach out my hand, straining towards the salmon, and then stop, unable to bring myself to touch the fish. I lean back against the couch, study the salmon, and wonder how much longer this will go on.

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Adam Carlin


Berkeley Fiction Review I am the first to intercept her. I get down on one knee, bringing myself to her level, and try to envelope her in a hug. A hug seems reasonable to me, especially after the sight of such a brutal and untimely death, but she pulls away, runs to another teacher who has come up behind me. As the other teacher comforts her, the dark-haired girl gives me a funny look from beneath her tears. "You smell," she tells me. "Like fish." I take the were-man movie home with me and watch it once, twice, studying the furry man in the swamp, hunched and filthy, preying on small defenseless creatures. As I watch, I wonder who the man was before he became the were-man in the swamp. Was he married? Did he have children, a job, responsibilities? Or was he someone who always hovered on the edge of humanity, unable to connect, waiting for that one bad day that would send him running into the wilderness to terrorize small, defenseless creatures? I wonder what I am meant to take away from this film and why we are showing it to children. I think about the line between the carnal and the civilized. When I close my eyes, I see the man who never returned phone calls. I see his hands, the freckles that dotted them. I feel the rough patches of skin at the tip of each finger, along each knuckle. I sense the way love can be endless, deep, consuming, terrifying, and the way he embraced that love, expecting me to do the same. Then I remember jumping from the bedroom window, spraining my ankle, and dragging myself on despite the pain. Am I supposed to understand the were-man, or am I supposed to fear him, to be afraid of ending up like him? There is a salmon on the coffee table, reclining beside the candy dish. For a moment, I consider touching the salmon, running my fingers along its scales, looking into its glassy eyes. So many salmon yet I haven't truly touched a single one. I lean forward until I can see each individual scale, the patterns of color. I reach out my hand, straining towards the salmon, and then stop, unable to bring myself to touch the fish. I lean back against the couch, study the salmon, and wonder how much longer this will go on.

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Adam Carlin


Patrick Hicks

B

O

M

B

PATRICK H I C K S

I still don't have an explanation for what I saw in 1943, but no one really knows what happened to Second Lieutenant Miller over the skies of Germany that summer. Even the scientists that were flown into our airbase couldn't figure it out. They tried to act like they were in control but if you looked into their eyes or watched how their hands shook when they took notes, well, you'd know. They were just as confused and frightened as we were, but no matter what anyone says to the contrary, I know what I saw, and everything I am about to say is true. Everything. We were attached to the 71 st Heavy Bomb Group in England, and for many of us it was our first time outside the United States. Second Lieutenant Miller was the bombardier on my B-17 Flying Fortress, and I was the pilot. I was in charge of a ten-man crew, and it was my job to get us safely over the drop zone. That's when Miller took over. He peered down into his crosshairs, calculated for speed and distance and height, and then released his ordnance. On a good day he might obliterate four or five city blocks. Not much remained except for little puffs of fire or maybe the faint outline of what used to be a street. Miller once told me he felt like a magician because with a single wave of his hand he could—poo/—make whole cities disappear. He was an odd guy, though. When we weren't working, he rarely went to the bars. Instead, he sat in a hangar full of bombs and read books like Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, Dracula, and Don Quixote. I guess that's where he got this crazy notion to name our bomber Rocinante. We were

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eating breakfast one morning when he leaned into me, his mouth full of scrambled egg and bacon. "That's the name of Don Quixote's horse," he swallowed. He shoveled in another forkful. "It's a good name. Want me to paint something on the side of our 17?" So he got himself a few cans of paint and a stepladder, and he hummed and whistled as he created this Pegasus throwing bombs at a windmill on the side of our plane. The white horse had a chestplate of armor, and its feathered wings were all highly detailed—"she'll keep us safe," he sang from the top rung—and then he painted all these bombs into a saddle. Down in the comer there was a windmill, but instead of four wooden arms paddling the air there was a rotating swastika. Above the entire painting was the single word: Rocinante. It was so well done that a photojournalist from Life Magazine had us line up beneath the painting and smile. We wore our dress uniforms and wondered what we'd look like to everyone back in America. We saluted the camera. We gave the thumbsup sign. We waved to our moms. "She'll bring us good luck," Miller said, patting my shoulder. "You wait and see, Captain. Rocinante will keep us safe." And maybe she did keep us safe. We were all superstitious back then, so who knows what's what about the truth. With so much death orbiting around us and so many incomprehensible images of bombers breaking apart and being sucked from the skies... well, I guess a spirit world just felt closer to us back then. Thousands of ghosts were created every time we lifted into the sky. Buildings melted, factories boiled in fire, people disappeared. Black voodoo magic happened every day. The devil rose out of the ground. We never talked about dying because that was tempting fate, but all of us had good luck charms and private rituals that kept evil from reaching into our B-17. Whenever I climbed into the cockpit, I always wore a rosary that had been blessed by an archbishop back in Minnesota, but other guys had things like rabbits' feet, four-leaf clovers, horseshoes, or locks of hair. Our navigator had a lucky pencil. My co-pilot scratched his name into a bullet and convinced himself that he'd come out of the show alive. And he did. When Edmund Deering finally died of a pulmonary fibrosis in 1998, he still had that bullet with his name on it. They put it in a tiny box and buried it with him. Like the rest of us, Second Lieutenant Miller also had his private charms and rituals. The scientists, those egghead smarty types from Ox-

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Patrick Hicks

B

O

M

B

PATRICK H I C K S

I still don't have an explanation for what I saw in 1943, but no one really knows what happened to Second Lieutenant Miller over the skies of Germany that summer. Even the scientists that were flown into our airbase couldn't figure it out. They tried to act like they were in control but if you looked into their eyes or watched how their hands shook when they took notes, well, you'd know. They were just as confused and frightened as we were, but no matter what anyone says to the contrary, I know what I saw, and everything I am about to say is true. Everything. We were attached to the 71 st Heavy Bomb Group in England, and for many of us it was our first time outside the United States. Second Lieutenant Miller was the bombardier on my B-17 Flying Fortress, and I was the pilot. I was in charge of a ten-man crew, and it was my job to get us safely over the drop zone. That's when Miller took over. He peered down into his crosshairs, calculated for speed and distance and height, and then released his ordnance. On a good day he might obliterate four or five city blocks. Not much remained except for little puffs of fire or maybe the faint outline of what used to be a street. Miller once told me he felt like a magician because with a single wave of his hand he could—poo/—make whole cities disappear. He was an odd guy, though. When we weren't working, he rarely went to the bars. Instead, he sat in a hangar full of bombs and read books like Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, Dracula, and Don Quixote. I guess that's where he got this crazy notion to name our bomber Rocinante. We were

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eating breakfast one morning when he leaned into me, his mouth full of scrambled egg and bacon. "That's the name of Don Quixote's horse," he swallowed. He shoveled in another forkful. "It's a good name. Want me to paint something on the side of our 17?" So he got himself a few cans of paint and a stepladder, and he hummed and whistled as he created this Pegasus throwing bombs at a windmill on the side of our plane. The white horse had a chestplate of armor, and its feathered wings were all highly detailed—"she'll keep us safe," he sang from the top rung—and then he painted all these bombs into a saddle. Down in the comer there was a windmill, but instead of four wooden arms paddling the air there was a rotating swastika. Above the entire painting was the single word: Rocinante. It was so well done that a photojournalist from Life Magazine had us line up beneath the painting and smile. We wore our dress uniforms and wondered what we'd look like to everyone back in America. We saluted the camera. We gave the thumbsup sign. We waved to our moms. "She'll bring us good luck," Miller said, patting my shoulder. "You wait and see, Captain. Rocinante will keep us safe." And maybe she did keep us safe. We were all superstitious back then, so who knows what's what about the truth. With so much death orbiting around us and so many incomprehensible images of bombers breaking apart and being sucked from the skies... well, I guess a spirit world just felt closer to us back then. Thousands of ghosts were created every time we lifted into the sky. Buildings melted, factories boiled in fire, people disappeared. Black voodoo magic happened every day. The devil rose out of the ground. We never talked about dying because that was tempting fate, but all of us had good luck charms and private rituals that kept evil from reaching into our B-17. Whenever I climbed into the cockpit, I always wore a rosary that had been blessed by an archbishop back in Minnesota, but other guys had things like rabbits' feet, four-leaf clovers, horseshoes, or locks of hair. Our navigator had a lucky pencil. My co-pilot scratched his name into a bullet and convinced himself that he'd come out of the show alive. And he did. When Edmund Deering finally died of a pulmonary fibrosis in 1998, he still had that bullet with his name on it. They put it in a tiny box and buried it with him. Like the rest of us, Second Lieutenant Miller also had his private charms and rituals. The scientists, those egghead smarty types from Ox-

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Patrick Hicks

Berkeley Fiction Review

"That's how far my bombs drop." He looked at the stars and acted like I wasn't there. "It takes seven minutes to fall from that high up, and you're going 120 miles per hour when you hit the ground. Think you'd scream all the way down?" Then he walked into the dark. The little red ball of his cigarette fell away from me. Winked out into the night. Swallowed whole.

ford and Cambridge and Harvard, wanted to know if these things somehow influenced "The Event," as they called it in their official reports. They tried to connect Miller's goofy rituals with what happened on June 27, 1943. Maybe it affected his bombs somehow, I don't know, but I do know that he always took his bubblegum out of his mouth before every run. He pressed it against the same spot on one of the crossbeams and hunched over his scope, and then—after he dropped what he came to drop, after all those seeds of death had tumbled to the ground—he popped his gum back into his mouth. He never said "bombs away" like he was supposed to; he always yelled "boom!" as loud as he could over the flight intercom.

"The Event" happened on our thirteenth mission. We knew it would be a bad hop over Germany because our planes were given a full load of explosives and fuel. When we woke up, the stink of gasoline saturated the air, crawled into our noses, made us think twice about lighting cigarettes. Plus there was that spooky number: thirteen. It filled my heart with spiders. The morning of June 27 was like any other day of the war. All the pilots, co-pilots, and bombardiers crowded into a Nissan hut where, on a large map, we were given the target. We would be running over a city called Kiel because that's where the Nazis built their U-Boats. The concrete bunkers were easy enough to locate, and we were told to expect moderate to heavy flak. Major Gillespie gave us this information as if it were a weather report, as if we might encounter hail or some other inconvenience on our way to work. There were trays of hard-boiled eggs for us to grab on our way out. Deering and I filled out pockets for the long haul ahead and talked about these impossible rumors of slave labor we'd heard. Was it really true? Were the Nazis forcing Jews to build U-Boats? We walked towards Rocinante and shrugged our shoulders. What could be done about it even it if were true? We were at war....c'esr la vie...v/Q had to suck it up and fly on.

"Boom!" he'd scream. "No more not-sees, boys!" That was another thing. He never called the people on the streets and hiding in the bomb shelters civilians or Germans. He called them notsees because he liked the play on words. "I'm a goddamn magician, boys! Now you see them, now you don't!" Miller was good at what he did. There was only one spot in the whole big sky where he could release his bombs accurately, and I never saw him miss that little trapdoor of air. Not once. I mean, the man knew his explosives like they were his own. He sometimes gave them names. Sometimes, back at base, while the rest of us were relaxing in our Nissan huts and listening to the BBC or playing blackjack or whatever, he was out in a hangar studying bombs. He looked at firing pins and detonation fuses and oiled gears. He knew all about racks and linkages and switches, and he especially knew about the electricity that pulsed from his thumb to the releasing pins. He considered survivability in relationship to blast radius and made up all these elaborate charts where he calculated what would happen to the human body at 25 feet or 50 feet or 100 feet. Shock waves, shrapnel, and fire could blast a person into fleshy confetti at 15 feet or, if they were standing a further away, maybe around a comer, it might only shatter the delicate bones that kept their inner ear ticking. Miller said he wanted to understand what was happening on the ground. He started to lose sleep. His firing thumb began to twitch on its own, like it was doing its own thing.

Second Lieutenant Miller kept to the ritual and inspected his bombs. The 500-pounders and 1000-pounders that morning looked normal, and there was nothing really odd about them. The scientists would later find this hard to believe, but I know it's true because I was there with Miller. I checked the bombs myself. "Looks good to me," he said. He gave me a limp salute and crawled into Rocinante with a full pack of gum. The other men got out their good luck charms, and some of them patted the Pegasus on the side of our plane. As each man entered the fuselage, Miller asked if anyone wanted a stick of gum. This was all pure ritual, and it made us feel that it was

One night I asked Miller if he was okay, if he needed anything. He looked at the stars and shook his head very slowly. He lit a cigarette and asked what it would be like to fall 35,000 feet.

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62 L

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Patrick Hicks

Berkeley Fiction Review

"That's how far my bombs drop." He looked at the stars and acted like I wasn't there. "It takes seven minutes to fall from that high up, and you're going 120 miles per hour when you hit the ground. Think you'd scream all the way down?" Then he walked into the dark. The little red ball of his cigarette fell away from me. Winked out into the night. Swallowed whole.

ford and Cambridge and Harvard, wanted to know if these things somehow influenced "The Event," as they called it in their official reports. They tried to connect Miller's goofy rituals with what happened on June 27, 1943. Maybe it affected his bombs somehow, I don't know, but I do know that he always took his bubblegum out of his mouth before every run. He pressed it against the same spot on one of the crossbeams and hunched over his scope, and then—after he dropped what he came to drop, after all those seeds of death had tumbled to the ground—he popped his gum back into his mouth. He never said "bombs away" like he was supposed to; he always yelled "boom!" as loud as he could over the flight intercom.

"The Event" happened on our thirteenth mission. We knew it would be a bad hop over Germany because our planes were given a full load of explosives and fuel. When we woke up, the stink of gasoline saturated the air, crawled into our noses, made us think twice about lighting cigarettes. Plus there was that spooky number: thirteen. It filled my heart with spiders. The morning of June 27 was like any other day of the war. All the pilots, co-pilots, and bombardiers crowded into a Nissan hut where, on a large map, we were given the target. We would be running over a city called Kiel because that's where the Nazis built their U-Boats. The concrete bunkers were easy enough to locate, and we were told to expect moderate to heavy flak. Major Gillespie gave us this information as if it were a weather report, as if we might encounter hail or some other inconvenience on our way to work. There were trays of hard-boiled eggs for us to grab on our way out. Deering and I filled out pockets for the long haul ahead and talked about these impossible rumors of slave labor we'd heard. Was it really true? Were the Nazis forcing Jews to build U-Boats? We walked towards Rocinante and shrugged our shoulders. What could be done about it even it if were true? We were at war....c'esr la vie...v/Q had to suck it up and fly on.

"Boom!" he'd scream. "No more not-sees, boys!" That was another thing. He never called the people on the streets and hiding in the bomb shelters civilians or Germans. He called them notsees because he liked the play on words. "I'm a goddamn magician, boys! Now you see them, now you don't!" Miller was good at what he did. There was only one spot in the whole big sky where he could release his bombs accurately, and I never saw him miss that little trapdoor of air. Not once. I mean, the man knew his explosives like they were his own. He sometimes gave them names. Sometimes, back at base, while the rest of us were relaxing in our Nissan huts and listening to the BBC or playing blackjack or whatever, he was out in a hangar studying bombs. He looked at firing pins and detonation fuses and oiled gears. He knew all about racks and linkages and switches, and he especially knew about the electricity that pulsed from his thumb to the releasing pins. He considered survivability in relationship to blast radius and made up all these elaborate charts where he calculated what would happen to the human body at 25 feet or 50 feet or 100 feet. Shock waves, shrapnel, and fire could blast a person into fleshy confetti at 15 feet or, if they were standing a further away, maybe around a comer, it might only shatter the delicate bones that kept their inner ear ticking. Miller said he wanted to understand what was happening on the ground. He started to lose sleep. His firing thumb began to twitch on its own, like it was doing its own thing.

Second Lieutenant Miller kept to the ritual and inspected his bombs. The 500-pounders and 1000-pounders that morning looked normal, and there was nothing really odd about them. The scientists would later find this hard to believe, but I know it's true because I was there with Miller. I checked the bombs myself. "Looks good to me," he said. He gave me a limp salute and crawled into Rocinante with a full pack of gum. The other men got out their good luck charms, and some of them patted the Pegasus on the side of our plane. As each man entered the fuselage, Miller asked if anyone wanted a stick of gum. This was all pure ritual, and it made us feel that it was

One night I asked Miller if he was okay, if he needed anything. He looked at the stars and shook his head very slowly. He lit a cigarette and asked what it would be like to fall 35,000 feet.

63

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Patrick Hicks

Berkeley Fiction Review just another day at the office, just a training flight or an easy run up the coast. I got into my seat and moved the yoke in a circle to check the flaps. The cockpit smelled of grease and cold metal and, when the engines coughed to spewing smoky life, I looked at my reflection in the window. The whole plane shook like it was afraid. Soon, the whole bomb group lifted into the air, and we were over the English Channel. It was a vibrating and deafening environment up there. Cold, too. I'm from Minnesota so I know a few things about subzero temperature, but at 32,000 feet it's -40°. Spit froze in my oxygen mask. My blood turned to slush. Frostbite nibbled at my fingers. And then, just when I was beginning to lose feeling in my whole body and wishing for something to happen, the sky filled up with swastikas and bullets. Little fighter planes swarmed around our bomb group, and they opened up their machine guns—hot streaks of orange snapped through the air, invisible metal punched into engines and glass and bodies. That's when bad things began to happen, fast. The Irish Rose lost both wings and folded in on herself. A burst of yellow flame licked out from the cockpit, and I saw men jump out, fall like fleas, their parachutes bubbled with fire. When the King Bee was hit, there was a puff of debris but no fire at all; there was just an eruption of metal, and then a slow curling into the ground, like the whole plane had decided to take a nap. Meanwhile our waist gunners were shouting out the position of enemy planes. Three o'clock! Nine o'clock! Watch out for seven! I saw a man fall out of the Careful Virgin. His chute dribbled behind him like a weak exclamation point, and I swear to Christ he was reading a book. Maybe it was the Bible? All I know is that he was traveling at 120 miles per hour, and he'd hit the ground in seven minutes. I watched him for awhile and his chute never opened; he-just became smaller and smaller. "Target ahead," Miller said through static. His voice was calm and focused like all of this was perfectly normal. The B-17s ahead flew into clouds of black flak, and it made the air bumpy, like we were riding over rocks and potholes. Chunks of metal began to chink into Rocinante as if somebody was throwing a sack of holes at our plane. Up ahead, bombs began to fall, and I watched concussion rings blast out over Kiel's harbor. A thunderstorm of fire popped up from the ground, looking like a jagged line of fiery flowers, and I could tell that the boys ahead of us put their ordnance right in the pickle barrel. There wouldn't be much left for us to

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hit. I switched control of the plane over to Miller. "She's yours." He pressed his bubblegum against the crossbeam and hunched over his bomb site. I felt us move up and down as he adjusted our course heading. Up. Down. Steady. Up. Up. Steady. When the bombs were finally dropped, Rocinante lurched into the air, suddenly lighter, and Miller yelled that one word we all wanted to hear because it meant that we could fly home. "Boom!" he shouted. "Boom! Boom!" Now, what happened next became the subject of many debriefings and classified reports, but in spite of all that paperwork I still don't know how to properly explain it. There wasn't much left of Kiel when we unloaded our bombs. That's for sure. The harbor was on fire with these black oily clouds, and I could see the skeletons of buildings collapsing into themselves, but when our bombs hit the ground, the colors weren't right. Each of our bombs was a brilliant globe of light that swelled for a few seconds, and then winked out. It was like we dropped pearls of heat onto the ground. "What's that?" Miller shouted. He touched the nosecone with both hands and stopped chewing his gum. "What the hell's that?" Far below, amid the inferno the 71st Bomb Group had just created, there were puddles of tireless calm, like a stillness had pocked the burning ground. The buildings looked undamaged; destruction raged and cracked around them, but inside the little circles of our bomb blasts there was nothing but peace. There's really no other way to describe it: It looked like our B-17 had blasted the harbor with life, not with death. As we turned back towards England we said nothing to each other. Miller stared out the nosecone and didn't move. When we landed, he just sat there, thinking. He came to the conclusion that it was some kind of super weapon. After all, new technology came out of warfare all the time; didn't the last World War create submarines and tanks and flame-throwers and mustard gas? Maybe these bombs were some kind of military hocus-pocus? Major Gillespie ordered us into his office and closed the door. He talked in hushed tones and shook his head. Reports were written, Rocinante was studied, and Second Lieutenant Miller was interviewed alone. And then my co-pilot and I were taken for a long drive with Major Gillespie. 65


Patrick Hicks

Berkeley Fiction Review just another day at the office, just a training flight or an easy run up the coast. I got into my seat and moved the yoke in a circle to check the flaps. The cockpit smelled of grease and cold metal and, when the engines coughed to spewing smoky life, I looked at my reflection in the window. The whole plane shook like it was afraid. Soon, the whole bomb group lifted into the air, and we were over the English Channel. It was a vibrating and deafening environment up there. Cold, too. I'm from Minnesota so I know a few things about subzero temperature, but at 32,000 feet it's -40°. Spit froze in my oxygen mask. My blood turned to slush. Frostbite nibbled at my fingers. And then, just when I was beginning to lose feeling in my whole body and wishing for something to happen, the sky filled up with swastikas and bullets. Little fighter planes swarmed around our bomb group, and they opened up their machine guns—hot streaks of orange snapped through the air, invisible metal punched into engines and glass and bodies. That's when bad things began to happen, fast. The Irish Rose lost both wings and folded in on herself. A burst of yellow flame licked out from the cockpit, and I saw men jump out, fall like fleas, their parachutes bubbled with fire. When the King Bee was hit, there was a puff of debris but no fire at all; there was just an eruption of metal, and then a slow curling into the ground, like the whole plane had decided to take a nap. Meanwhile our waist gunners were shouting out the position of enemy planes. Three o'clock! Nine o'clock! Watch out for seven! I saw a man fall out of the Careful Virgin. His chute dribbled behind him like a weak exclamation point, and I swear to Christ he was reading a book. Maybe it was the Bible? All I know is that he was traveling at 120 miles per hour, and he'd hit the ground in seven minutes. I watched him for awhile and his chute never opened; he-just became smaller and smaller. "Target ahead," Miller said through static. His voice was calm and focused like all of this was perfectly normal. The B-17s ahead flew into clouds of black flak, and it made the air bumpy, like we were riding over rocks and potholes. Chunks of metal began to chink into Rocinante as if somebody was throwing a sack of holes at our plane. Up ahead, bombs began to fall, and I watched concussion rings blast out over Kiel's harbor. A thunderstorm of fire popped up from the ground, looking like a jagged line of fiery flowers, and I could tell that the boys ahead of us put their ordnance right in the pickle barrel. There wouldn't be much left for us to

64

hit. I switched control of the plane over to Miller. "She's yours." He pressed his bubblegum against the crossbeam and hunched over his bomb site. I felt us move up and down as he adjusted our course heading. Up. Down. Steady. Up. Up. Steady. When the bombs were finally dropped, Rocinante lurched into the air, suddenly lighter, and Miller yelled that one word we all wanted to hear because it meant that we could fly home. "Boom!" he shouted. "Boom! Boom!" Now, what happened next became the subject of many debriefings and classified reports, but in spite of all that paperwork I still don't know how to properly explain it. There wasn't much left of Kiel when we unloaded our bombs. That's for sure. The harbor was on fire with these black oily clouds, and I could see the skeletons of buildings collapsing into themselves, but when our bombs hit the ground, the colors weren't right. Each of our bombs was a brilliant globe of light that swelled for a few seconds, and then winked out. It was like we dropped pearls of heat onto the ground. "What's that?" Miller shouted. He touched the nosecone with both hands and stopped chewing his gum. "What the hell's that?" Far below, amid the inferno the 71st Bomb Group had just created, there were puddles of tireless calm, like a stillness had pocked the burning ground. The buildings looked undamaged; destruction raged and cracked around them, but inside the little circles of our bomb blasts there was nothing but peace. There's really no other way to describe it: It looked like our B-17 had blasted the harbor with life, not with death. As we turned back towards England we said nothing to each other. Miller stared out the nosecone and didn't move. When we landed, he just sat there, thinking. He came to the conclusion that it was some kind of super weapon. After all, new technology came out of warfare all the time; didn't the last World War create submarines and tanks and flame-throwers and mustard gas? Maybe these bombs were some kind of military hocus-pocus? Major Gillespie ordered us into his office and closed the door. He talked in hushed tones and shook his head. Reports were written, Rocinante was studied, and Second Lieutenant Miller was interviewed alone. And then my co-pilot and I were taken for a long drive with Major Gillespie. 65


Berkeley Fiction Review

Patrick Hicks Miller moved his bunk into the bomb hangar, and he started doing really crazy things like blessing 1000-pounders. He sprinkled water on their tailfins and made the sign of the cross over huge stacks of explosives. He slept with firing mechanisms like they were teddy bears, and I had to remind the guy to brush his teeth, finish the mutton on his plate, shave every day. I began to feel like his mother. A team of scientists was brought in from a place called Bletchley Park, and they studied Miller for a week; they gave him all these psychological tests, and then we were told to bomb some insignificant podunk village on the coast of Germany. This place had been scorched off the map two days earlier, but we didn't know this at the time because they wanted to see what would happen when we arrived with our explosives. Rocinante was the only B-17 that went on the mission, and we were under heavy fighter escort. Two scientists - we weren't told their names - j o i n e d the crew and filmed Miller at work. They watched him chew his gum, line up the scope, and drop a single bomb onto the charred houses. They heard him say "Boom", although with less enthusiasm then he usually did. When they saw the little globe of white, their mouths opened in shock. "It's true after all!" one of them shouted.

He motored through villages called Plumpton, Broomer's Comer, and Wisborough Green. Thatch roofs and leafy trees flicked by the windows. The sun was a dull white circle, and the air was hazy, full of pollen. We talked about home and then, after zigzagging down gritty roads that pinged rocks off the undercarriage of the car, Major Gillespie pulled into a field, turned off the engine and took out his pipe. He wanted to hear the whole story again, off the record, so Deering and I told him what we knew one more time. Gillespie nodded and tweaked his nose. He mentioned that spies in Kiel had managed to visit the bombsite. Their reports were full of these unbelievable accounts of buildings that had been reassembled from rubble, trees made whole again from splinters, anything scorched by fire unburned. "It's an impossible story, of course," Gillespie said, relighting his pipe. "They're saying that everything inside the blast radius of your bombs has been brought back to life. Some kind of slick propaganda, no doubt." "I don't follow, sir," Deering said. Gillespie stared out the window and cleared his throat. He went on to say that—according to the report, which he hardly believed—people had been brought back to life. Anyone who had been dead was now alive. It made Gillespie chuckle. "These are being called 'Lazarus Bombs' by the Germans. But look, I need both of you to ignore these fantastic reports and stay on target. We're at war so don't believe everything you hear... just get your job done, okay?"

This meant we were immediately grounded. What use were we to the war if our bombs healed Germany? We were quarantined in a comer of the base and forbidden to go anywhere: not to the Postal Exchange, not to the Doughnut Dugout, and especially not into the village of Farmer for a pint of beer. Our hut began to smell like leather and stale farts. Military Police were stationed outside our door, and, as the days leaked by, Miller got quieter and quieter. They gave us a radio and plenty of good food, but I hated watching the rest of the 71st lift into the hazy morning without us, especially when so many of these guys never came home. On a single run over Frankfurt, eight B- 17s fell into the earth. It was late in the afternoon when they began to return, and we counted everyone back, except for eight planes. Red Box and Glenda s Men and Pirate Ship were gone. So were Your Mississippi Pop and Eight Ball and Thumper. Omaha Joe and Yankee Clipper.

Over Hamburg and Cologne our bombs did exactly the same thing. Instead of fire there was a flash of white. Eveiything looked peaceful, untouched, fresh, like the Garden of Eden had bloomed to fife, and it didn't matter what bombs we used or what the weather was like or what city we were attacking. Rubble jumped up and reshaped itself into buildings, bridges knitted themselves back into form, fires crouched down into a harmless spark and puffed into nothingness. When we were flying back from Cologne, Miller asked about people being brought back to life. "Think that's true?" he asked chewing his gum. "Think my bombs are doing that?" "Don't be stupid," I said over the intercom. "Can't be true." But privately I wasn't so sure.

And where were we during all this? Stuck in a goddamn hut. In one day, eighty men disappeared—abracadabra, gone—that's eighty men who will never come home and have kids, and go to the ballpark, and brush their teeth, and open birthday presents, and grow old. Their lives were snipped, cut short, and I couldn't help but wonder how things 67

66 A


Berkeley Fiction Review

Patrick Hicks Miller moved his bunk into the bomb hangar, and he started doing really crazy things like blessing 1000-pounders. He sprinkled water on their tailfins and made the sign of the cross over huge stacks of explosives. He slept with firing mechanisms like they were teddy bears, and I had to remind the guy to brush his teeth, finish the mutton on his plate, shave every day. I began to feel like his mother. A team of scientists was brought in from a place called Bletchley Park, and they studied Miller for a week; they gave him all these psychological tests, and then we were told to bomb some insignificant podunk village on the coast of Germany. This place had been scorched off the map two days earlier, but we didn't know this at the time because they wanted to see what would happen when we arrived with our explosives. Rocinante was the only B-17 that went on the mission, and we were under heavy fighter escort. Two scientists - we weren't told their names - j o i n e d the crew and filmed Miller at work. They watched him chew his gum, line up the scope, and drop a single bomb onto the charred houses. They heard him say "Boom", although with less enthusiasm then he usually did. When they saw the little globe of white, their mouths opened in shock. "It's true after all!" one of them shouted.

He motored through villages called Plumpton, Broomer's Comer, and Wisborough Green. Thatch roofs and leafy trees flicked by the windows. The sun was a dull white circle, and the air was hazy, full of pollen. We talked about home and then, after zigzagging down gritty roads that pinged rocks off the undercarriage of the car, Major Gillespie pulled into a field, turned off the engine and took out his pipe. He wanted to hear the whole story again, off the record, so Deering and I told him what we knew one more time. Gillespie nodded and tweaked his nose. He mentioned that spies in Kiel had managed to visit the bombsite. Their reports were full of these unbelievable accounts of buildings that had been reassembled from rubble, trees made whole again from splinters, anything scorched by fire unburned. "It's an impossible story, of course," Gillespie said, relighting his pipe. "They're saying that everything inside the blast radius of your bombs has been brought back to life. Some kind of slick propaganda, no doubt." "I don't follow, sir," Deering said. Gillespie stared out the window and cleared his throat. He went on to say that—according to the report, which he hardly believed—people had been brought back to life. Anyone who had been dead was now alive. It made Gillespie chuckle. "These are being called 'Lazarus Bombs' by the Germans. But look, I need both of you to ignore these fantastic reports and stay on target. We're at war so don't believe everything you hear... just get your job done, okay?"

This meant we were immediately grounded. What use were we to the war if our bombs healed Germany? We were quarantined in a comer of the base and forbidden to go anywhere: not to the Postal Exchange, not to the Doughnut Dugout, and especially not into the village of Farmer for a pint of beer. Our hut began to smell like leather and stale farts. Military Police were stationed outside our door, and, as the days leaked by, Miller got quieter and quieter. They gave us a radio and plenty of good food, but I hated watching the rest of the 71st lift into the hazy morning without us, especially when so many of these guys never came home. On a single run over Frankfurt, eight B- 17s fell into the earth. It was late in the afternoon when they began to return, and we counted everyone back, except for eight planes. Red Box and Glenda s Men and Pirate Ship were gone. So were Your Mississippi Pop and Eight Ball and Thumper. Omaha Joe and Yankee Clipper.

Over Hamburg and Cologne our bombs did exactly the same thing. Instead of fire there was a flash of white. Eveiything looked peaceful, untouched, fresh, like the Garden of Eden had bloomed to fife, and it didn't matter what bombs we used or what the weather was like or what city we were attacking. Rubble jumped up and reshaped itself into buildings, bridges knitted themselves back into form, fires crouched down into a harmless spark and puffed into nothingness. When we were flying back from Cologne, Miller asked about people being brought back to life. "Think that's true?" he asked chewing his gum. "Think my bombs are doing that?" "Don't be stupid," I said over the intercom. "Can't be true." But privately I wasn't so sure.

And where were we during all this? Stuck in a goddamn hut. In one day, eighty men disappeared—abracadabra, gone—that's eighty men who will never come home and have kids, and go to the ballpark, and brush their teeth, and open birthday presents, and grow old. Their lives were snipped, cut short, and I couldn't help but wonder how things 67

66 A


Berkeley Fiction Review

Patrick Hicks were told to stand down, and we were ordered to make our run at 0300. Not even the pigeons would be awake then. So we flew over Big Ben and lined up our sights on the coal-stained dome of Saint Paul's Cathedral. It was cloudless, damp, and we had a full moon to guide us over the blind streets. Flares had been rigged up over the shattered docks of West India Quay, which was our primary target, and the Prime Minister was somewhere down there with thousands of others who could hear our heavy plane push through the night. When Miller flicked his thumb and let go of our single bomb, we banked up high into the moon. At first there was total silence, but then there was this low crack like thunder beneath ice. An explosion of color bulged into the night; it turned into a globe of burning daylight that shimmered with heat and, after several seconds, it flared into brilliant white like phosphorous. It was so bright that it illuminated our cockpit and cast weird shadows across the instrument panel. It flickered, and then vanished. It lasted almost twelve seconds. I know because I counted it off. One-mis sissippi, two-mississippi, three-mississippi four-mississippi, five-mississippi, six-mississippi, seven-mississippi, eight-mississippi, nine-mis sissippi, ten-mis sissippi, eleven-mississippi, twelve— It was a glorious sight, far more beautiful than during the day, because it was a giant pearl of wispy light that didn't hurt the eyes. It swelled up, did its thing, and went away. Even now, when I close my eyes I can sometimes see that ball of glistening energy over London. It was a scoop of light dropped onto the streets. Rocinante filled with cheers when it disappeared. We hooted and thumped the side of our plane. Deering shook my hand and we flew back to base. Champagne waited for us, and Dr Pearse patted everyone on the back, saying, "Good job, good job". Our tail-gunner yipped like a coyote, but, amid it all, Miller just stood outside in his flight suit and smoked a cigarette. He stared into the distance and didn't talk, didn't move, didn't do a goddamn thing.

might be different if we were up there with them. Maybe we couldn't have saved them from dying but the flak would have burst differently and the fighter planes would have banked around Rocinante if she were up with them. As I thought about all of this in the cruel calm of our hut, I stopped babying Second Lieutenant Miller. I began to hate the guy. After two weeks of music and darning socks, there was a knock on the door. A man in an expensive suit came in with a case of beer and a stack of chocolate. He introduced himself as Dr Pearse and he made polite noise about the weather. He knew our names and asked specific questions about our families, listed off our hometowns like he knew them personally, then he took a deep breath and smiled. "Gentlemen, we'd like you to bomb London." Everyone in the room snorted with laughter, we rocked back and forth on our cots and held our stomachs, took out our handkerchiefs and wiped our eyes. Bomb London? "Gentlemenl Almost 40,000 people have died in air raids since this war started," the man barked, and then he closed his eyes and composed himself. "Whole areas of the city, especially those around the East End, have been totally destroyed. Lives have been lost... good people are dead." He went on to mention how awful the Blitz was. Fires raged, water boiled inside fire hydrants, lead from old windowpanes trickled down buildings, bricks glowed yellow and then burst. The sky was so full of flame and smoke that people didn't even notice when morning came. There was no sunrise at all, like it never happened, and this went on night after night after night. "We'd like you to bomb London. Do you think it will work?" Everyone looked at Miller, who stared at his unlaced boots. He took in a sharp breath like he was going to speak, but he said nothing. Outside, a truck drove past, and we listened to it gear away. It seemed like the war itself was leaving us behind. After a long moment, Miller shrugged a shoulder. "Good," Dr Pearse smiled. "We'll let you know more about our plans tonight."

I put my arm around him and gave him a shake. "I don't get it," he said. "For twelve missions I drop straight-up explosives on people. How come this is happening to me?" I shrugged and turned him towards the party. "Stop thinking about it. Let's have a beer."

We were told the big man himself, Winston Churchill, would be watching us. He, his cigar, and a platoon of military others would be stationed on a rooftop across the river. Anti-aircraft guns and spotlights 68

69 4 .


Berkeley Fiction Review

Patrick Hicks were told to stand down, and we were ordered to make our run at 0300. Not even the pigeons would be awake then. So we flew over Big Ben and lined up our sights on the coal-stained dome of Saint Paul's Cathedral. It was cloudless, damp, and we had a full moon to guide us over the blind streets. Flares had been rigged up over the shattered docks of West India Quay, which was our primary target, and the Prime Minister was somewhere down there with thousands of others who could hear our heavy plane push through the night. When Miller flicked his thumb and let go of our single bomb, we banked up high into the moon. At first there was total silence, but then there was this low crack like thunder beneath ice. An explosion of color bulged into the night; it turned into a globe of burning daylight that shimmered with heat and, after several seconds, it flared into brilliant white like phosphorous. It was so bright that it illuminated our cockpit and cast weird shadows across the instrument panel. It flickered, and then vanished. It lasted almost twelve seconds. I know because I counted it off. One-mis sissippi, two-mississippi, three-mississippi four-mississippi, five-mississippi, six-mississippi, seven-mississippi, eight-mississippi, nine-mis sissippi, ten-mis sissippi, eleven-mississippi, twelve— It was a glorious sight, far more beautiful than during the day, because it was a giant pearl of wispy light that didn't hurt the eyes. It swelled up, did its thing, and went away. Even now, when I close my eyes I can sometimes see that ball of glistening energy over London. It was a scoop of light dropped onto the streets. Rocinante filled with cheers when it disappeared. We hooted and thumped the side of our plane. Deering shook my hand and we flew back to base. Champagne waited for us, and Dr Pearse patted everyone on the back, saying, "Good job, good job". Our tail-gunner yipped like a coyote, but, amid it all, Miller just stood outside in his flight suit and smoked a cigarette. He stared into the distance and didn't talk, didn't move, didn't do a goddamn thing.

might be different if we were up there with them. Maybe we couldn't have saved them from dying but the flak would have burst differently and the fighter planes would have banked around Rocinante if she were up with them. As I thought about all of this in the cruel calm of our hut, I stopped babying Second Lieutenant Miller. I began to hate the guy. After two weeks of music and darning socks, there was a knock on the door. A man in an expensive suit came in with a case of beer and a stack of chocolate. He introduced himself as Dr Pearse and he made polite noise about the weather. He knew our names and asked specific questions about our families, listed off our hometowns like he knew them personally, then he took a deep breath and smiled. "Gentlemen, we'd like you to bomb London." Everyone in the room snorted with laughter, we rocked back and forth on our cots and held our stomachs, took out our handkerchiefs and wiped our eyes. Bomb London? "Gentlemenl Almost 40,000 people have died in air raids since this war started," the man barked, and then he closed his eyes and composed himself. "Whole areas of the city, especially those around the East End, have been totally destroyed. Lives have been lost... good people are dead." He went on to mention how awful the Blitz was. Fires raged, water boiled inside fire hydrants, lead from old windowpanes trickled down buildings, bricks glowed yellow and then burst. The sky was so full of flame and smoke that people didn't even notice when morning came. There was no sunrise at all, like it never happened, and this went on night after night after night. "We'd like you to bomb London. Do you think it will work?" Everyone looked at Miller, who stared at his unlaced boots. He took in a sharp breath like he was going to speak, but he said nothing. Outside, a truck drove past, and we listened to it gear away. It seemed like the war itself was leaving us behind. After a long moment, Miller shrugged a shoulder. "Good," Dr Pearse smiled. "We'll let you know more about our plans tonight."

I put my arm around him and gave him a shake. "I don't get it," he said. "For twelve missions I drop straight-up explosives on people. How come this is happening to me?" I shrugged and turned him towards the party. "Stop thinking about it. Let's have a beer."

We were told the big man himself, Winston Churchill, would be watching us. He, his cigar, and a platoon of military others would be stationed on a rooftop across the river. Anti-aircraft guns and spotlights 68

69 4 .


Berkeley Fiction Review The next day, Gillespie and Pearse gathered us in a large office. We sat on desks and drank fresh coffee; we spooned in sugar and dribbled real cream into our mugs. Thick slabs of wheaten bread and pots of jam were on a sideboard. Rationing may have been taking place elsewhere in Great Britain, but it wasn't happening in that office. Apparently, men in trenchcoats had gone into West India Quay shortly after we dropped our bomb. They walked around with flashlights and found 219 people walking dazed through the streets, their bodies whole and undamaged. When they asked them what day of the week it was, one elderly lady crossed her arms and refused to believe it was 1943. "Impossible," she said. "Any fool knows it's November 9,1941." Hearing all this gave me the creeps. I touched my rosary and wondered where all these souls had been and what it meant that we had brought them back from wherever that was. I zipped my lips, though, and just sat there with my coffee. The trenchcoats also reported that bricks had reassembled themselves into buildings and that the smashed streets looked as if they had been newly cobbled. Birds nested in regrown trees, clothes were as good as new, and antiques, even ones that were hundreds of years old, looked as if they were bought yesterday. Books written in the 1800s were crisp, their leather covers fresh and perfect. Most amazing of all, no one was sick. Confused families and dock workers and firefighters and maids and journalists and bus drivers and children - they were all perfectly healthy. Even familiar problems like arthritis and polio and childhood scars had been erased. One middle-aged man who was badly wounded in the Great War of 1914-1918 ran down the street and wept. For the first time in three decades he was able to walk without pain. He danced and went looking for his children. "All of West India Quay has been quarantined," Dr Pearse said with crossed arms. "All of this gives us great hope." "Hope for what?" Miller asked. There was a sharp tone in his eyes. Gillespie and Pearse looked at each other and walked over to a map of North Africa. Pearse pointed at the coast and talked about battles that were being waged, then he talked about Rocinante bombing American troops and then, with a straight face, he said that he wanted us to fly over battlefields and drop 2000-pounders on the freshly dead. "Our boys will be healed, and we can put guns back into their hands." Pearse cocked his head to one side and squinted at the map. "Of course, 70

Patrick Hicks any Germans that were brought back would need to be eliminated. We could place machine guns here, here, and here." Miller stood up so quickly he knocked his coffee to the ground. The cup shattered. "This can't be used as a weapon. It's not a weapon." I found myself nodding in agreement, and when I looked at the rest of the crew everyone else raised their eyebrows in quiet support. Pearse took a deep breath. "Son, you love your country, don't you? You want this war over, right?" Miller gazed out the window, and I watched blood drain from his cheeks. He looked pale and clammy, like a jellyfish. "You'd be saving thousands of American lives. Think of those boys going home to their mothers and wives and girlfriends. Would they have a problem with what I ' m suggesting? I don't think so." Then Pearse pointed at the door, and his voice softened. "Let me show you something...please." We walked across the base to a hangar, and Pearse opened his arms like he was about to conduct an orchestra. Hundreds of explosives glinted behind him. It looked like a galaxy of brass. "Everything in here can be used to bring back the dead.. .all of it. Tell me how that's bad or wrong. Tell me why we shouldn't raise the dead." Miller didn't say anything but after a few minutes he went to a stack of 500-pounders. He put both hands on the bombs and closed his eyes like he was deep in thought. If the war hadn't interrupted his life he might have been a philosopher or artist, but certain paths were chosen and possibilities had been stripped away from him. All of us were denied access to selves that we might have become. A future me was killed in those war years, and sometimes I feel like I ' m still searching for the corpse of that young man I might have become, that young man who had no clue what hot steel did to human bodies. No bomb in the world can bring him back to life. My young self died in 1943 somewhere over the skies of Germany, and he's never coming back. Never. Maybe Miller was thinking about this, or maybe he was thinking about giving rifles to the dead over and over again and what that would mean. Maybe he was thinking about that beautiful bomb—the one that transformed chunks of wet tissue back into breathing, loving human beings—maybe he was thinking about that bomb becoming no different than any other weapon used in war. I don't know what he was thinking, but I know he stood there for a long time. A very long time.

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Berkeley Fiction Review The next day, Gillespie and Pearse gathered us in a large office. We sat on desks and drank fresh coffee; we spooned in sugar and dribbled real cream into our mugs. Thick slabs of wheaten bread and pots of jam were on a sideboard. Rationing may have been taking place elsewhere in Great Britain, but it wasn't happening in that office. Apparently, men in trenchcoats had gone into West India Quay shortly after we dropped our bomb. They walked around with flashlights and found 219 people walking dazed through the streets, their bodies whole and undamaged. When they asked them what day of the week it was, one elderly lady crossed her arms and refused to believe it was 1943. "Impossible," she said. "Any fool knows it's November 9,1941." Hearing all this gave me the creeps. I touched my rosary and wondered where all these souls had been and what it meant that we had brought them back from wherever that was. I zipped my lips, though, and just sat there with my coffee. The trenchcoats also reported that bricks had reassembled themselves into buildings and that the smashed streets looked as if they had been newly cobbled. Birds nested in regrown trees, clothes were as good as new, and antiques, even ones that were hundreds of years old, looked as if they were bought yesterday. Books written in the 1800s were crisp, their leather covers fresh and perfect. Most amazing of all, no one was sick. Confused families and dock workers and firefighters and maids and journalists and bus drivers and children - they were all perfectly healthy. Even familiar problems like arthritis and polio and childhood scars had been erased. One middle-aged man who was badly wounded in the Great War of 1914-1918 ran down the street and wept. For the first time in three decades he was able to walk without pain. He danced and went looking for his children. "All of West India Quay has been quarantined," Dr Pearse said with crossed arms. "All of this gives us great hope." "Hope for what?" Miller asked. There was a sharp tone in his eyes. Gillespie and Pearse looked at each other and walked over to a map of North Africa. Pearse pointed at the coast and talked about battles that were being waged, then he talked about Rocinante bombing American troops and then, with a straight face, he said that he wanted us to fly over battlefields and drop 2000-pounders on the freshly dead. "Our boys will be healed, and we can put guns back into their hands." Pearse cocked his head to one side and squinted at the map. "Of course, 70

Patrick Hicks any Germans that were brought back would need to be eliminated. We could place machine guns here, here, and here." Miller stood up so quickly he knocked his coffee to the ground. The cup shattered. "This can't be used as a weapon. It's not a weapon." I found myself nodding in agreement, and when I looked at the rest of the crew everyone else raised their eyebrows in quiet support. Pearse took a deep breath. "Son, you love your country, don't you? You want this war over, right?" Miller gazed out the window, and I watched blood drain from his cheeks. He looked pale and clammy, like a jellyfish. "You'd be saving thousands of American lives. Think of those boys going home to their mothers and wives and girlfriends. Would they have a problem with what I ' m suggesting? I don't think so." Then Pearse pointed at the door, and his voice softened. "Let me show you something...please." We walked across the base to a hangar, and Pearse opened his arms like he was about to conduct an orchestra. Hundreds of explosives glinted behind him. It looked like a galaxy of brass. "Everything in here can be used to bring back the dead.. .all of it. Tell me how that's bad or wrong. Tell me why we shouldn't raise the dead." Miller didn't say anything but after a few minutes he went to a stack of 500-pounders. He put both hands on the bombs and closed his eyes like he was deep in thought. If the war hadn't interrupted his life he might have been a philosopher or artist, but certain paths were chosen and possibilities had been stripped away from him. All of us were denied access to selves that we might have become. A future me was killed in those war years, and sometimes I feel like I ' m still searching for the corpse of that young man I might have become, that young man who had no clue what hot steel did to human bodies. No bomb in the world can bring him back to life. My young self died in 1943 somewhere over the skies of Germany, and he's never coming back. Never. Maybe Miller was thinking about this, or maybe he was thinking about giving rifles to the dead over and over again and what that would mean. Maybe he was thinking about that beautiful bomb—the one that transformed chunks of wet tissue back into breathing, loving human beings—maybe he was thinking about that bomb becoming no different than any other weapon used in war. I don't know what he was thinking, but I know he stood there for a long time. A very long time.

71


Berkeley Fiction Review When he spoke it was a whisper. "This can't be used as a weapon. I won't let you. It wouldn't be right." Pearse looked at the floor and then clapped his hands together with a false smile. "My boys... .how about we grill some salmon tonight, eh? Sound good? Have some beer, too?" We went back to our hut and played blackjack, but Miller stared out the window and smoked cigarette after cigarette. As the sun went down, he squinted at the horizon. He was smiling about something. He was missing the next morning. His pistol was on his cot; it was dismantled in pieces, and all the bullets were gone. The man just—poof— vanished. Now you see him, now you don't. We heard rumors that he was hidden by the government, or that he sneaked off in civvies clothes; someone said he went to Ireland. Another person swore that Miller was living in the area of London we bombed back to life. I can't vouch for any of these stories. I only know what happened next. A few days after he disappeared, I stood on the edge of a wheat field near our airbase. This grainy ocean rolled in the wind and I noticed footprints running through the thin stalks. I couldn't say why, but I just knew it was Miller. I thought about all that grain throbbing with life while men and women died by the thousands all around me. Starlings began to dip and rise overhead; they were a waltzing cloud of flight, and the whole sky was on fire. The sun looked like a bullet wound, and there I stood, a single man caught in so much destruction. I closed my eyes and felt air move in and out of my lungs, and, at that moment, I was just so happy to be alive. What would the world be like if life could be brought back so easily?

Patrick Hicks lucky bullet. The kid chewed bubblegum and put it on the crossbeam just like he was ordered to do. He looked through his bombsite and used his thumb to release thousands of pounds of explosives. "Boom!" he yelled. "Boom!" Flak burst around us, steel and brass stabbed the air, and I looked at the angry ground below. I hoped to see a blast of color and that familiar glowing pearl but our explosions were only full of fire, and destruction, and death. The kid began to cheer. He began to pound the side of our plane and yell for joy because all of his bombs landed right on target. He couldn't figure out why the rest of us were so disappointed, so empty, so silent.

Around me the wheat flowed on the wind. Birds danced. The clouds darkened. It was all so...so beautiful, so delicate. The bombs that Miller touched were placed under lockdown. A week went by, then two weeks, and then this seventeen-year-old kid shows up in our hut. He knew zip about war but he was from Nebraska like Miller and he was fresh out of Bombardier School. They gave him a copy of Don Quixote and told him to chew bubblegum. Miller's bombs were hoisted into the belly of Rocinante and we were sent back to Kiel where it all started. No one told the kid a thing. I wore my rosary. The other guys had their rabbit's feet and horseshoes and locks of hair. Deering had his

72

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Berkeley Fiction Review When he spoke it was a whisper. "This can't be used as a weapon. I won't let you. It wouldn't be right." Pearse looked at the floor and then clapped his hands together with a false smile. "My boys... .how about we grill some salmon tonight, eh? Sound good? Have some beer, too?" We went back to our hut and played blackjack, but Miller stared out the window and smoked cigarette after cigarette. As the sun went down, he squinted at the horizon. He was smiling about something. He was missing the next morning. His pistol was on his cot; it was dismantled in pieces, and all the bullets were gone. The man just—poof— vanished. Now you see him, now you don't. We heard rumors that he was hidden by the government, or that he sneaked off in civvies clothes; someone said he went to Ireland. Another person swore that Miller was living in the area of London we bombed back to life. I can't vouch for any of these stories. I only know what happened next. A few days after he disappeared, I stood on the edge of a wheat field near our airbase. This grainy ocean rolled in the wind and I noticed footprints running through the thin stalks. I couldn't say why, but I just knew it was Miller. I thought about all that grain throbbing with life while men and women died by the thousands all around me. Starlings began to dip and rise overhead; they were a waltzing cloud of flight, and the whole sky was on fire. The sun looked like a bullet wound, and there I stood, a single man caught in so much destruction. I closed my eyes and felt air move in and out of my lungs, and, at that moment, I was just so happy to be alive. What would the world be like if life could be brought back so easily?

Patrick Hicks lucky bullet. The kid chewed bubblegum and put it on the crossbeam just like he was ordered to do. He looked through his bombsite and used his thumb to release thousands of pounds of explosives. "Boom!" he yelled. "Boom!" Flak burst around us, steel and brass stabbed the air, and I looked at the angry ground below. I hoped to see a blast of color and that familiar glowing pearl but our explosions were only full of fire, and destruction, and death. The kid began to cheer. He began to pound the side of our plane and yell for joy because all of his bombs landed right on target. He couldn't figure out why the rest of us were so disappointed, so empty, so silent.

Around me the wheat flowed on the wind. Birds danced. The clouds darkened. It was all so...so beautiful, so delicate. The bombs that Miller touched were placed under lockdown. A week went by, then two weeks, and then this seventeen-year-old kid shows up in our hut. He knew zip about war but he was from Nebraska like Miller and he was fresh out of Bombardier School. They gave him a copy of Don Quixote and told him to chew bubblegum. Miller's bombs were hoisted into the belly of Rocinante and we were sent back to Kiel where it all started. No one told the kid a thing. I wore my rosary. The other guys had their rabbit's feet and horseshoes and locks of hair. Deering had his

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73


Jim Bainbridge

Second

Place

Sudden

S P E C I A L

Fiction

S

O

Winner

A

P

JIM BAINBRIDGE

I was a girl of eight the summer Grandma Tran took me on a plane from my home in San Francisco to visit Uncle Phuong, who worked on a tea plantation south of Hanoi. Each day upon returning to the plantation's pension (Uncle said his house wasn't good enough for us), I asked Grandma for Vietnamese coins, which I carried down the hall to a soda machine. The fourth day, on my way back with my Pepsi, a stairwell door opened, and out stepped a man who grabbed me and pressed a cloth with a nauseating, sweet smell over my face. Smothering, I tried to scream.... The next thing I remember, headlights were coming closer. I was lying on the ground. The damp air smelled dirty. I felt woozy. A car stopped beside me. Grandma scooped me up in her arms. I hurt in places. I washed my face and hands repeatedly in our yellow-stained bathroom sink. Something was on them, I was certain, something I couldn't see. Uncle and Grandma, their faces like stones, watched me but didn't speak. The next morning, when I resumed washing, Grandma asked, "Would you like me to give you a bath? Late last night, Uncle went to our home village to get a very special soap." "What's special about it?" "Everyone says it cleans like nothing else can." Singing songs I'd never heard before, Grandma washed me every74

where with the jasmine-scented special soap, even in places where only Mom had ever washed me, places that now ached. "Ow," I said, just once. Grandma's lips quivered. "Sometimes, honey, if we get really dirty, it hurts a little to get completely clean." "Why did that man grab me?" Grandma leaned in and hugged me for a long time. "He wanted a little money. That's all. And now you're completely clean, and you can go back to being a happy, carefree little girl." We walked outside hand in hand into warm air redolent of green and joined Uncle under a large tree limb, where I was lifted onto a swing. My hands held tightly on to the rough hemp ropes. I moved out and up into the broad, deep daylight. Row upon row of tea bushes flowed into the distance, matting with mossy green the serrated horizon of hills, above which clouds curved in waves, like a giant fingerprint in the sky. Down over the contoured rows of leaves. Down over the moist earth that exuded the sweaty odor of field labor. Back and up into Grandma's hands. Then, down again, picking up speed, and out and up, the wind in my face, and just as I began to slow down, an urge arose, prompting me to let go, let go now, you're free to go - but I held more tightly on to the tethering ropes. Down, down again, back into Grandma's hands. "Would you like to go a little higher?" she asked. "Yes, please. But don't go away."

75


Jim Bainbridge

Second

Place

Sudden

S P E C I A L

Fiction

S

O

Winner

A

P

JIM BAINBRIDGE

I was a girl of eight the summer Grandma Tran took me on a plane from my home in San Francisco to visit Uncle Phuong, who worked on a tea plantation south of Hanoi. Each day upon returning to the plantation's pension (Uncle said his house wasn't good enough for us), I asked Grandma for Vietnamese coins, which I carried down the hall to a soda machine. The fourth day, on my way back with my Pepsi, a stairwell door opened, and out stepped a man who grabbed me and pressed a cloth with a nauseating, sweet smell over my face. Smothering, I tried to scream.... The next thing I remember, headlights were coming closer. I was lying on the ground. The damp air smelled dirty. I felt woozy. A car stopped beside me. Grandma scooped me up in her arms. I hurt in places. I washed my face and hands repeatedly in our yellow-stained bathroom sink. Something was on them, I was certain, something I couldn't see. Uncle and Grandma, their faces like stones, watched me but didn't speak. The next morning, when I resumed washing, Grandma asked, "Would you like me to give you a bath? Late last night, Uncle went to our home village to get a very special soap." "What's special about it?" "Everyone says it cleans like nothing else can." Singing songs I'd never heard before, Grandma washed me every74

where with the jasmine-scented special soap, even in places where only Mom had ever washed me, places that now ached. "Ow," I said, just once. Grandma's lips quivered. "Sometimes, honey, if we get really dirty, it hurts a little to get completely clean." "Why did that man grab me?" Grandma leaned in and hugged me for a long time. "He wanted a little money. That's all. And now you're completely clean, and you can go back to being a happy, carefree little girl." We walked outside hand in hand into warm air redolent of green and joined Uncle under a large tree limb, where I was lifted onto a swing. My hands held tightly on to the rough hemp ropes. I moved out and up into the broad, deep daylight. Row upon row of tea bushes flowed into the distance, matting with mossy green the serrated horizon of hills, above which clouds curved in waves, like a giant fingerprint in the sky. Down over the contoured rows of leaves. Down over the moist earth that exuded the sweaty odor of field labor. Back and up into Grandma's hands. Then, down again, picking up speed, and out and up, the wind in my face, and just as I began to slow down, an urge arose, prompting me to let go, let go now, you're free to go - but I held more tightly on to the tethering ropes. Down, down again, back into Grandma's hands. "Would you like to go a little higher?" she asked. "Yes, please. But don't go away."

75


Greg Pierce

S

E

A

H

A

W

K

S

GREG PIERCE

So I'm sitting on the beach next to my brother's wife, Mina, when I realize that the gray thing twenty feet away from us is not an old sneaker, it's a shark. I have to go make sure. It looks just like a great white, but it's only a foot long. It's gotta be fake, I think. Great whites don't come that small. There's no such thing as a small white. Even though it's got a halo of elated flies, I need more proof that the shark's not made of rubber so I roll it onto its side with my sneaker. It is, in fact, a shark. Gills and all. There's a chunk taken out of its body, just under its right fin, and its insides are a web of pink and white strings like a bloody game of Cat's Cradle. Its mouth is slightly open and the rows of tiny teeth remind me of the edges of spiral-bound notebook paper after they've been torn out. I get a funny feeling, suddenly, that the shark's not dead. Maybe he's faking it and this is his strategy and maybe I ' m about to lose my foot. I shudder and step away, trying not to make it look obvious in front of Mina (which is pronounced "Mee-na"). I yell over to her that she should come check it out but a wave of her hand tells me that a washed-up shark doesn't merit any exertion. I'm amazed at what people can get used to. To her, seeing a rotting shark on the beach is, to me, like seeing a flattened squirrel on the highway. I sit back down next to her. The sand feels more like dirt than sand, probably because high tide wasn't too long ago, poor shark. Mina and I look out to sea. A cloud is coming our way. Things are getting choppy. We're in Kamakura, Japan which is a couple of very quiet train rides 76

south of Tokyo. Mina and my brother Nick have lived here for almost three years - he studying art, she working in an eel restaurant and drawing pictures of fat women. I don't mean to imply that she's untalented, I just want her to branch out a little. I'd like to see some fruit and maybe a penis. Not that I'm switching sides or anything, I just like variety. "Are you getting cold?" I ask. "No. I have two sweaters today." She reaches into her sleeve like she's about to do some magic and pulls out a couple inches of her inner sweater. It's zebra-striped. "You are cold?" she asks. "I'm fine." I hug my knees. "What's over there?" I point to a shiny, resort-looking stack of glass on the far left bank. "I don't know. I should know it but I don't. I don't put attention to anything." She giggles and for the first time, I get a good look at the architecture of her crisscrossed teeth. I'm glad she doesn't cover them when she laughs, like most Japanese girls do. I find crooked teeth comforting, probably because they mean a person's not working too hard at being someone else. "Hm. Must be some kind of new hotel," I say, instantly annoyed at my need to put a cap on every conversation, like my mother. My brother Nick hasn't left his room for three weeks. I've been in Kamakura for almost four days now, sleeping on an inflatable mattress in his dining room and I haven't seen him yet. Mina leaves trays of rice and yogurt and green beans and sometimes fish outside his door. Then she goes to sleep on a futon in the living room. When she gets up in the middle of the night, the empty tray is outside Nick's door with a note that says, "Thank you, Mina" in Japanese. Up above us, the seahawks are circling. They look oily, even from down here. My calves ache because we've spent the entire day walking back and forth across Kamakura, seeing everything. That's what we did yesterday too. The day before that, I sat outside Nick's bedroom door and read Japanese comics (by "read" I mean "looked at the pictures") and waited for him to come out. He didn't. Somehow our staying in for another day seemed like it'd be giving him too much power so Mina and I saw the sites. She took me to see the big blue Buddha which I immediately recognized from Ozu films. I wanted to climb in and look up his neck but that part was closed for renovation. Then Mina took me to a

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GREG PIERCE

So I'm sitting on the beach next to my brother's wife, Mina, when I realize that the gray thing twenty feet away from us is not an old sneaker, it's a shark. I have to go make sure. It looks just like a great white, but it's only a foot long. It's gotta be fake, I think. Great whites don't come that small. There's no such thing as a small white. Even though it's got a halo of elated flies, I need more proof that the shark's not made of rubber so I roll it onto its side with my sneaker. It is, in fact, a shark. Gills and all. There's a chunk taken out of its body, just under its right fin, and its insides are a web of pink and white strings like a bloody game of Cat's Cradle. Its mouth is slightly open and the rows of tiny teeth remind me of the edges of spiral-bound notebook paper after they've been torn out. I get a funny feeling, suddenly, that the shark's not dead. Maybe he's faking it and this is his strategy and maybe I ' m about to lose my foot. I shudder and step away, trying not to make it look obvious in front of Mina (which is pronounced "Mee-na"). I yell over to her that she should come check it out but a wave of her hand tells me that a washed-up shark doesn't merit any exertion. I'm amazed at what people can get used to. To her, seeing a rotting shark on the beach is, to me, like seeing a flattened squirrel on the highway. I sit back down next to her. The sand feels more like dirt than sand, probably because high tide wasn't too long ago, poor shark. Mina and I look out to sea. A cloud is coming our way. Things are getting choppy. We're in Kamakura, Japan which is a couple of very quiet train rides 76

south of Tokyo. Mina and my brother Nick have lived here for almost three years - he studying art, she working in an eel restaurant and drawing pictures of fat women. I don't mean to imply that she's untalented, I just want her to branch out a little. I'd like to see some fruit and maybe a penis. Not that I'm switching sides or anything, I just like variety. "Are you getting cold?" I ask. "No. I have two sweaters today." She reaches into her sleeve like she's about to do some magic and pulls out a couple inches of her inner sweater. It's zebra-striped. "You are cold?" she asks. "I'm fine." I hug my knees. "What's over there?" I point to a shiny, resort-looking stack of glass on the far left bank. "I don't know. I should know it but I don't. I don't put attention to anything." She giggles and for the first time, I get a good look at the architecture of her crisscrossed teeth. I'm glad she doesn't cover them when she laughs, like most Japanese girls do. I find crooked teeth comforting, probably because they mean a person's not working too hard at being someone else. "Hm. Must be some kind of new hotel," I say, instantly annoyed at my need to put a cap on every conversation, like my mother. My brother Nick hasn't left his room for three weeks. I've been in Kamakura for almost four days now, sleeping on an inflatable mattress in his dining room and I haven't seen him yet. Mina leaves trays of rice and yogurt and green beans and sometimes fish outside his door. Then she goes to sleep on a futon in the living room. When she gets up in the middle of the night, the empty tray is outside Nick's door with a note that says, "Thank you, Mina" in Japanese. Up above us, the seahawks are circling. They look oily, even from down here. My calves ache because we've spent the entire day walking back and forth across Kamakura, seeing everything. That's what we did yesterday too. The day before that, I sat outside Nick's bedroom door and read Japanese comics (by "read" I mean "looked at the pictures") and waited for him to come out. He didn't. Somehow our staying in for another day seemed like it'd be giving him too much power so Mina and I saw the sites. She took me to see the big blue Buddha which I immediately recognized from Ozu films. I wanted to climb in and look up his neck but that part was closed for renovation. Then Mina took me to a

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Berkeley Fiction Review bamboo forest where she overheard one of the gardeners say that bamboo grows almost a foot a day. Afoot. Mina joked that we should stay there and watch a stalk until we could say we saw it grow. It took her a while to get the joke out, both because she was giggling and because it has some complicated verb forms in it. Then she took me to a Shinto shrine and we washed our pocket change in a little pool because supposedly that'll make us rich. All these places rang bells in my head because Nick told me about them when he first moved here. He was so gaga about all things Japanese that his daily accounts had eight times as many details as necessary. Even so, the sheer joy in his voice kept me hooked. He described everything so meticulously, in fact, that when I saw these things for myself, I had deja vu. It made me sad every time I walked through an exit gate, that Nick hadn't shown me whatever I'd just seen. When he was simultaneously falling in love with Mina and Japan, one of the first things Nick raved about was a sweet treat - a mushy, doughy patty filled with sweet bean paste and half a strawberry. Nick told me it was the greatest discovery of his life aside from the band Neutral Milk Hotel. I told Mina I wanted to find one and bring it back for Nick, even if I had to leave it on his tray and then go watch TV like some disgruntled nurse. She nodded and told me any bakery would have them. Nineteen bakeries later, just moments before we threw in the towel and went to the beach, we found it. I bought all six of their ee-chee-go-dye-foo-koos. I take one out of the bag. I push my thumb into it. It feels like someone's belly. "Be careful," Mina says, looking up at the sky. "They're stealers." I watch the birds circling—three of them. I consider telling Mina how I like her choice of words, given that stealers and seahawks are both American football teams. I decide not to. "My doctor, when I am grow up in Tokyo, has very bad scar that goes from his eye all the way down to his mouth." She traces the path down her face. "When I am very young I ask him how he get the scar and he told me he went to the beach in Kamakura and he's eating a sandwich, and a seahawk came from behind him without making a sound and takes the sandwich right out of his hand and the seahawk's..." She contorts her fingers until they look like tree roots. "Talons?" "Yes, talons, went krshhhhh." She retraces the path down her face. 78

Greg Pierce "He said he never hears a sound the whole time. I see the seahawks take everybody's food all the time. Even from the children." "I'll eat it really quick," I say. She looks worried. For Mina, looking worried means her ubiquitous half-smile vanishes for a second and then gets replaced by a half-smile that looks fake. I stuff half the bean cake into my mouth. It's essentially a trampoline for my teeth. It reminds me of when Nick and I dared each other to bite down on a gummy hand that came from a plastic bubble in a K-Mart dispenser. The bean paste filling is sickly sweet and gritty, and the half an ee-chee-go (I figured out that meant strawberry) has so little flavor, it might as well be an apple. Nick warned me that the first one would be hard to get through but the second one would be life-changing, like an Ozu film. I chew and chew and pray I won't choke, as I have no water left. Mina keeps her eyes on the sky, every so often shooting a glance behind her like she's running from the law. I stuff the rest of it in my mouth. "Kay, we're safe now," I say, through dough. "You like it?" "Um...it's pretty much the weirdest thing I've ever put in my mouth." She giggles. My mind flips through weird things I've put in my mouth to see whether or not I'm lying. I realize I'm having a lovely time here on the beach in Japan with Mina. She looks adorable, all bundled up, with little bits of clashing colors that only art students can get away with. I try, for a second, to imagine she's my girlfriend and here I am, living in Kamakura, working in a bike shop, which is what I do in Chicago. I try to forget about my brother for a minute and pretend this is what I've decided to do with my life, just to see how it feels. I let it sink in. It feels nice. I haven't had a girlfriend in almost five years. I imagine it's Sunday and here we are at the beach, my girlfriend-and I, and pretty soon we'll pick up some dinner, maybe sushi, and then we'll go home and watch a movie, maybe Ozu so we can point at the screen and say, "We were just there!" and then we'll make love and fall asleep on the futon and wake up the next morning, side by side. Yes, it feels nice. I'm paranoid, suddenly, that the thought is being transmitted and Mina's seeing it and getting freaked out. It's probably just my own deeply-ingrained, racist notion that Asian people may have mental powers that Westerners can't comprehend. I make myself think of bamboo. "Was Nick very sad when he's a little boy?" Mina asks. 79


Berkeley Fiction Review bamboo forest where she overheard one of the gardeners say that bamboo grows almost a foot a day. Afoot. Mina joked that we should stay there and watch a stalk until we could say we saw it grow. It took her a while to get the joke out, both because she was giggling and because it has some complicated verb forms in it. Then she took me to a Shinto shrine and we washed our pocket change in a little pool because supposedly that'll make us rich. All these places rang bells in my head because Nick told me about them when he first moved here. He was so gaga about all things Japanese that his daily accounts had eight times as many details as necessary. Even so, the sheer joy in his voice kept me hooked. He described everything so meticulously, in fact, that when I saw these things for myself, I had deja vu. It made me sad every time I walked through an exit gate, that Nick hadn't shown me whatever I'd just seen. When he was simultaneously falling in love with Mina and Japan, one of the first things Nick raved about was a sweet treat - a mushy, doughy patty filled with sweet bean paste and half a strawberry. Nick told me it was the greatest discovery of his life aside from the band Neutral Milk Hotel. I told Mina I wanted to find one and bring it back for Nick, even if I had to leave it on his tray and then go watch TV like some disgruntled nurse. She nodded and told me any bakery would have them. Nineteen bakeries later, just moments before we threw in the towel and went to the beach, we found it. I bought all six of their ee-chee-go-dye-foo-koos. I take one out of the bag. I push my thumb into it. It feels like someone's belly. "Be careful," Mina says, looking up at the sky. "They're stealers." I watch the birds circling—three of them. I consider telling Mina how I like her choice of words, given that stealers and seahawks are both American football teams. I decide not to. "My doctor, when I am grow up in Tokyo, has very bad scar that goes from his eye all the way down to his mouth." She traces the path down her face. "When I am very young I ask him how he get the scar and he told me he went to the beach in Kamakura and he's eating a sandwich, and a seahawk came from behind him without making a sound and takes the sandwich right out of his hand and the seahawk's..." She contorts her fingers until they look like tree roots. "Talons?" "Yes, talons, went krshhhhh." She retraces the path down her face. 78

Greg Pierce "He said he never hears a sound the whole time. I see the seahawks take everybody's food all the time. Even from the children." "I'll eat it really quick," I say. She looks worried. For Mina, looking worried means her ubiquitous half-smile vanishes for a second and then gets replaced by a half-smile that looks fake. I stuff half the bean cake into my mouth. It's essentially a trampoline for my teeth. It reminds me of when Nick and I dared each other to bite down on a gummy hand that came from a plastic bubble in a K-Mart dispenser. The bean paste filling is sickly sweet and gritty, and the half an ee-chee-go (I figured out that meant strawberry) has so little flavor, it might as well be an apple. Nick warned me that the first one would be hard to get through but the second one would be life-changing, like an Ozu film. I chew and chew and pray I won't choke, as I have no water left. Mina keeps her eyes on the sky, every so often shooting a glance behind her like she's running from the law. I stuff the rest of it in my mouth. "Kay, we're safe now," I say, through dough. "You like it?" "Um...it's pretty much the weirdest thing I've ever put in my mouth." She giggles. My mind flips through weird things I've put in my mouth to see whether or not I'm lying. I realize I'm having a lovely time here on the beach in Japan with Mina. She looks adorable, all bundled up, with little bits of clashing colors that only art students can get away with. I try, for a second, to imagine she's my girlfriend and here I am, living in Kamakura, working in a bike shop, which is what I do in Chicago. I try to forget about my brother for a minute and pretend this is what I've decided to do with my life, just to see how it feels. I let it sink in. It feels nice. I haven't had a girlfriend in almost five years. I imagine it's Sunday and here we are at the beach, my girlfriend-and I, and pretty soon we'll pick up some dinner, maybe sushi, and then we'll go home and watch a movie, maybe Ozu so we can point at the screen and say, "We were just there!" and then we'll make love and fall asleep on the futon and wake up the next morning, side by side. Yes, it feels nice. I'm paranoid, suddenly, that the thought is being transmitted and Mina's seeing it and getting freaked out. It's probably just my own deeply-ingrained, racist notion that Asian people may have mental powers that Westerners can't comprehend. I make myself think of bamboo. "Was Nick very sad when he's a little boy?" Mina asks. 79


Berkeley Fiction Review I don't know how to respond. I was a little boy too, only two years older than Nick. I remember him looking cute and seeming happy, or at least as happy as any of us who had a childhood. I start to feel guilt pangs for not having kept a closer eye on him. "I guess so," I say. "Never anything like this but.. .1 guess he did have some sad periods, when I think about it." When Nick stopped returning my calls three months ago, I assumed Mina had turned him against us. I'd only met her at their wedding and she seemed nice enough, though the way she clung to Nick throughout the reception made me nervous. It was as though she were saying, "If I release your arm, Nick, you'll float off into space and then what?" Given that, I was shocked to get her call, explaining what was happening and begging me to come help. In the water, this guy's got a contraption I've never seen before. It's about half the size of a surfboard and he's standing up on it, both feet together, facing front. He's got two ski poles that seem to have tiny skis on the bottoms. He's navigating his way through the choppy waves with such precision his upper body's barely moving. I can't figure out how he's doing it. "He is always here," Mina says, unimpressed. She brushes some sand off her outer sweater. "Maybe we should get going." I pick up my satchel, which is now full of sweets and comics and ticket stubs. It's olive green. I bought it at an Army Navy store and I wish I hadn't brought it to Japan because I feel funny, being an American and walking around Japan with anything remotely military. "Do you mind if we stop where I work?" Mina says. "It's on the way. I just want to remember my boss that I ' m coming for work tomorrow since I've been gone for three days." "No problem." We walk. I'm enjoying listening to Mina's sandals make a sort of reggae thwack against her heels. It's cooling off. Nick told me sometimes when the sun sets in Japan, it's a solid red ball, just like the flag. I told him I thought the flag was supposed to be the rising sun. He bit my head off and told me he'd seen plenty of Japanese suns at the beginning and end of the day and the setting sun always looks more like the flag. I didn't argue with him, even 80

Greg Pierce though I knew that since he's a night owl like me, he's probably never seen the rising sun. Sometimes you have to let little brothers win, just because they're little. Mina's eel restaurant is the size of my bathroom. There are two tables and each seats four, though at the moment they're seating zero. I can't imagine how the place stays in business. Mina tells me you have to make a reservation and then call an hour before you're coming because that's how long it takes for them to broil your eel. She says she's glad she doesn't work in one of those restaurants that keeps a barrel of live eels outside the front door because that's disgusting. On the wall, there's an ink drawing of three deer at the base of a snow-covered mountain. Their antlers look like calligraphy. Mina's boss comes out from behind the truncated curtain. She's a plump, smiley sixty-year-old woman with hands like an auto-mechanic's. She and Mina chatter furiously. I have a bad habit which is this: whenever I see a plump person working in a restaurant, I imagine them eating a mountain of whatever food the restaurant serves. I do it now, with her and eel, and it makes me feel sick. Mina gestures towards me. Her boss clasps her hands together. I bow a little and she bows back, twice as deep, then resumes chattering. After a ten-minute caboose-less train of words, Mina pries herself away from her boss with a series of steps towards the door and affectionate waves. Her boss thrusts an envelope of money into Mina's hand and then says something intense while pointing at me. Mina turns and says, "Keiko-san wants you to know that Quentin Tarantino comes in here two years ago and he says it is the best eel he ever tasted." I smile and try to make my eyebrows say, "Very impressive," but actually it depresses me because name-dropping seems so American to me, I hate to think it happens all over in the world. We say good-bye to Keiko-san and start the long trek up to the stack of cinder blocks Nick and Mina call home, to see whether the bat's come out of his cave. As we walk, I have the eerie sensation that I live here, that I've always lived here. I wonder if my mind, after three days of being in a new place, deals with the lingering disorientation by telling itself, "I'm home." There's no traffic so I'm walking next to Mina and our hands are swinging in sync. I have the urge to take her hand in mine and let them swing together all the way home. I don't do it, of course. I try to imagine what

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Berkeley Fiction Review I don't know how to respond. I was a little boy too, only two years older than Nick. I remember him looking cute and seeming happy, or at least as happy as any of us who had a childhood. I start to feel guilt pangs for not having kept a closer eye on him. "I guess so," I say. "Never anything like this but.. .1 guess he did have some sad periods, when I think about it." When Nick stopped returning my calls three months ago, I assumed Mina had turned him against us. I'd only met her at their wedding and she seemed nice enough, though the way she clung to Nick throughout the reception made me nervous. It was as though she were saying, "If I release your arm, Nick, you'll float off into space and then what?" Given that, I was shocked to get her call, explaining what was happening and begging me to come help. In the water, this guy's got a contraption I've never seen before. It's about half the size of a surfboard and he's standing up on it, both feet together, facing front. He's got two ski poles that seem to have tiny skis on the bottoms. He's navigating his way through the choppy waves with such precision his upper body's barely moving. I can't figure out how he's doing it. "He is always here," Mina says, unimpressed. She brushes some sand off her outer sweater. "Maybe we should get going." I pick up my satchel, which is now full of sweets and comics and ticket stubs. It's olive green. I bought it at an Army Navy store and I wish I hadn't brought it to Japan because I feel funny, being an American and walking around Japan with anything remotely military. "Do you mind if we stop where I work?" Mina says. "It's on the way. I just want to remember my boss that I ' m coming for work tomorrow since I've been gone for three days." "No problem." We walk. I'm enjoying listening to Mina's sandals make a sort of reggae thwack against her heels. It's cooling off. Nick told me sometimes when the sun sets in Japan, it's a solid red ball, just like the flag. I told him I thought the flag was supposed to be the rising sun. He bit my head off and told me he'd seen plenty of Japanese suns at the beginning and end of the day and the setting sun always looks more like the flag. I didn't argue with him, even 80

Greg Pierce though I knew that since he's a night owl like me, he's probably never seen the rising sun. Sometimes you have to let little brothers win, just because they're little. Mina's eel restaurant is the size of my bathroom. There are two tables and each seats four, though at the moment they're seating zero. I can't imagine how the place stays in business. Mina tells me you have to make a reservation and then call an hour before you're coming because that's how long it takes for them to broil your eel. She says she's glad she doesn't work in one of those restaurants that keeps a barrel of live eels outside the front door because that's disgusting. On the wall, there's an ink drawing of three deer at the base of a snow-covered mountain. Their antlers look like calligraphy. Mina's boss comes out from behind the truncated curtain. She's a plump, smiley sixty-year-old woman with hands like an auto-mechanic's. She and Mina chatter furiously. I have a bad habit which is this: whenever I see a plump person working in a restaurant, I imagine them eating a mountain of whatever food the restaurant serves. I do it now, with her and eel, and it makes me feel sick. Mina gestures towards me. Her boss clasps her hands together. I bow a little and she bows back, twice as deep, then resumes chattering. After a ten-minute caboose-less train of words, Mina pries herself away from her boss with a series of steps towards the door and affectionate waves. Her boss thrusts an envelope of money into Mina's hand and then says something intense while pointing at me. Mina turns and says, "Keiko-san wants you to know that Quentin Tarantino comes in here two years ago and he says it is the best eel he ever tasted." I smile and try to make my eyebrows say, "Very impressive," but actually it depresses me because name-dropping seems so American to me, I hate to think it happens all over in the world. We say good-bye to Keiko-san and start the long trek up to the stack of cinder blocks Nick and Mina call home, to see whether the bat's come out of his cave. As we walk, I have the eerie sensation that I live here, that I've always lived here. I wonder if my mind, after three days of being in a new place, deals with the lingering disorientation by telling itself, "I'm home." There's no traffic so I'm walking next to Mina and our hands are swinging in sync. I have the urge to take her hand in mine and let them swing together all the way home. I don't do it, of course. I try to imagine what

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Berkeley Fiction Review Nick's been doing all day. Probably sleeping or writing in his journal or jerking off. Who knows? I wonder what I'll do if we get home and he's dead. I think, "If we were back in Illinois, he'd have probably blown his brains out but since we're here in Japan, he's probably committed harikari." The thought makes my cheeks bum. I scold myself for turning my brother's despair into bad stand-up. It doesn't matter, I tell myself, as long as I haven't said it out loud. I hope he's not dead. We pass house after house of unintemipted concrete. I wonder why they couldn't have spent a few extra yen on some of those roofs that curve outwards, just so the neighborhood didn't look so much like a cellar. As we start up Nick and Mina's road, I get this pit in my stomach. I have no idea what we're about to find. I have a feeling it's something. I feel like a fucking moron for site-seeing instead of breaking down Nick's door and taking him to a hospital. How long was I gonna let this go on for? My return ticket's for six days from now so almost half my trip's over and I haven't done a thing for him. But at least I've seen half of Japan - fucking moron. With every step, I pray that Nick's not dead, even though I don't believe in God. I listen to the clickety-clack of Mina's sandals. She's humming quietly, just fragments of a pop song, I don't even think she knows she's doing it. She's ahead of me now and I'm watching her swing her arms and stuff the bottom of her outer sweater into her jacket. I have the nauseating realization that, truth be told, what I'd really like is to come home and find Nick still boarded up in his room, not dead, just still in there. Of course I don't want him to suffer but my legs hurt and my head hurts and all I really want is to do is cook dinner with Mina and eat it and sprawl out on the futon next to her and watch a movie and smell her coconut shampoo hair. Just for tonight. I am a cocksucker of a brother. We get to their house, number 277. They did their best to make the place look less like a bomb shelter but at the end of the day, it's a wellpainted bomb shelter. I wonder if I'll have a heart attack. Mina puts her key in the lock. Her hand's shaking. Her hand must've been shaking every time she opened this door for the past three weeks. She unlocks it, pushes it open, and we go in. There's Nick, sitting at the dining room table with his head down. Mina drops the key. I can't see Nick's eyes because of the angle of his head and because he's let his hair grow out stringy, blond hair I've always been jealous of. He's showered and put on the brown Gap shirt I gave him about a decade ago.

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Greg Pierce "Hey Nicky," I say. "Hey Jimmy," he says. He doesn't look up. Mina goes around behind him and puts her hand on his shoulder and rests her chin on his head. He doesn't move. She stays there for a minute and then goes into the kitchen to put tea water on. I reach into my satchel and pull out the bag of bean cakes and dump them onto the table, right where he's staring. "For you," I say. He takes one and examines it from every angle as though it were a fossil. He unwraps it and takes a bite. He chews. A tear rolls down his cheek and onto his chin and then falls onto the table. I pick up one of the remaining bean cakes, unwrap it, and take a bite. "You're right, Nicky," I say. "The second one's much better than the first. I had the first one about an hour ago." He nods. I sit down at the table and we chew in silence. Mina brings in the tea and pours three cups. It's clear tea that smells like fish and Rice Puffs. I know I'll hate it. We sit there in silence for a long time, afraid to take sips because it's too hot. Every once in a while, Nick inhales sharply like he's going to say something and Mina and I lean forward a little to encourage him and then he exhales and we both look back down at our tea. I want to ask him how he's feeling but I don't want to overwhelm him. I want to tell him about what Mina and I did all day but I don't want to make him feel sad or guilty. Mina's thinking all the same things, I can tell. Finally Nick clears his throat and says, "I think I should talk to someone." His voice sounds strange, like most of it's not working. Mina and I wait to see if he's going to follow that up with anything and when he doesn't, we both nod. Then Nick tilts his head towards me and says, "Sorry to u m . . . " And he just leaves it there. I say, "Don't worry about it, Nicky." I try to think through whether we can find an American psychiatrist in Kamakura or whether he should come back to Chicago with me but my brain can't do it right now. I'm just so relieved to see Nick out of his room. And, to be honest, I ' m relieved that I ' m relieved. Through their kitchen window, if you look between a concrete garage and a bamboo fence, you can just barely catch a glimpse of the sea. Mina says it looks like the sunset's going to be good tonight, thanks to all those clouds. She asks if we want to go up to the roof to watch it. I say "sure" and Nick thinks for about a minute and then nods. I help Mina unfasten the ladder from the wall and unfold it. We head up. Just above the tangle

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Berkeley Fiction Review Nick's been doing all day. Probably sleeping or writing in his journal or jerking off. Who knows? I wonder what I'll do if we get home and he's dead. I think, "If we were back in Illinois, he'd have probably blown his brains out but since we're here in Japan, he's probably committed harikari." The thought makes my cheeks bum. I scold myself for turning my brother's despair into bad stand-up. It doesn't matter, I tell myself, as long as I haven't said it out loud. I hope he's not dead. We pass house after house of unintemipted concrete. I wonder why they couldn't have spent a few extra yen on some of those roofs that curve outwards, just so the neighborhood didn't look so much like a cellar. As we start up Nick and Mina's road, I get this pit in my stomach. I have no idea what we're about to find. I have a feeling it's something. I feel like a fucking moron for site-seeing instead of breaking down Nick's door and taking him to a hospital. How long was I gonna let this go on for? My return ticket's for six days from now so almost half my trip's over and I haven't done a thing for him. But at least I've seen half of Japan - fucking moron. With every step, I pray that Nick's not dead, even though I don't believe in God. I listen to the clickety-clack of Mina's sandals. She's humming quietly, just fragments of a pop song, I don't even think she knows she's doing it. She's ahead of me now and I'm watching her swing her arms and stuff the bottom of her outer sweater into her jacket. I have the nauseating realization that, truth be told, what I'd really like is to come home and find Nick still boarded up in his room, not dead, just still in there. Of course I don't want him to suffer but my legs hurt and my head hurts and all I really want is to do is cook dinner with Mina and eat it and sprawl out on the futon next to her and watch a movie and smell her coconut shampoo hair. Just for tonight. I am a cocksucker of a brother. We get to their house, number 277. They did their best to make the place look less like a bomb shelter but at the end of the day, it's a wellpainted bomb shelter. I wonder if I'll have a heart attack. Mina puts her key in the lock. Her hand's shaking. Her hand must've been shaking every time she opened this door for the past three weeks. She unlocks it, pushes it open, and we go in. There's Nick, sitting at the dining room table with his head down. Mina drops the key. I can't see Nick's eyes because of the angle of his head and because he's let his hair grow out stringy, blond hair I've always been jealous of. He's showered and put on the brown Gap shirt I gave him about a decade ago.

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Greg Pierce "Hey Nicky," I say. "Hey Jimmy," he says. He doesn't look up. Mina goes around behind him and puts her hand on his shoulder and rests her chin on his head. He doesn't move. She stays there for a minute and then goes into the kitchen to put tea water on. I reach into my satchel and pull out the bag of bean cakes and dump them onto the table, right where he's staring. "For you," I say. He takes one and examines it from every angle as though it were a fossil. He unwraps it and takes a bite. He chews. A tear rolls down his cheek and onto his chin and then falls onto the table. I pick up one of the remaining bean cakes, unwrap it, and take a bite. "You're right, Nicky," I say. "The second one's much better than the first. I had the first one about an hour ago." He nods. I sit down at the table and we chew in silence. Mina brings in the tea and pours three cups. It's clear tea that smells like fish and Rice Puffs. I know I'll hate it. We sit there in silence for a long time, afraid to take sips because it's too hot. Every once in a while, Nick inhales sharply like he's going to say something and Mina and I lean forward a little to encourage him and then he exhales and we both look back down at our tea. I want to ask him how he's feeling but I don't want to overwhelm him. I want to tell him about what Mina and I did all day but I don't want to make him feel sad or guilty. Mina's thinking all the same things, I can tell. Finally Nick clears his throat and says, "I think I should talk to someone." His voice sounds strange, like most of it's not working. Mina and I wait to see if he's going to follow that up with anything and when he doesn't, we both nod. Then Nick tilts his head towards me and says, "Sorry to u m . . . " And he just leaves it there. I say, "Don't worry about it, Nicky." I try to think through whether we can find an American psychiatrist in Kamakura or whether he should come back to Chicago with me but my brain can't do it right now. I'm just so relieved to see Nick out of his room. And, to be honest, I ' m relieved that I ' m relieved. Through their kitchen window, if you look between a concrete garage and a bamboo fence, you can just barely catch a glimpse of the sea. Mina says it looks like the sunset's going to be good tonight, thanks to all those clouds. She asks if we want to go up to the roof to watch it. I say "sure" and Nick thinks for about a minute and then nods. I help Mina unfasten the ladder from the wall and unfold it. We head up. Just above the tangle

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Berkeley Fiction Review of power lines and the tips of severed bamboo, there's the sea, and an inch above that, a blazing red-orange sun, just like the flag. I squint, hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the seahawks. I don't. Nick walks swiftly across the roof, puts his hands on the ledge, swings his leg over, and sits. I start after him but Mina puts her hand on my shoulder and says, "It's fine. It's always his favorite place for sitting." Nick hasn't even glanced at the sunset yet. I consider saying something like, "Whoa, Nicky, check that out!" But he knows it's there. He'll look if he wants to. His eyes are fixed on the living room window of the house across the street, where a TV we can't see is making fireworks against the walls. Nick's hair is tucked behind his ear and the sun's catching his face perfectly. From this angle, his eyes and the skin around them are the same as our father's, heavy and sunken, as though they've had enough of life's surprises. Mina goes over and sits next to him on the ledge, dangling her legs alongside his, resting her temple on his shoulder. A train comes and with it, a cool breeze that tells me it's time to go in. I wave, but they don't see my hand. I head downstairs to inflate my mattress and to peek in Nick's room and to wonder which of us will fall asleep tonight feeling the most alone.

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Berkeley Fiction Review of power lines and the tips of severed bamboo, there's the sea, and an inch above that, a blazing red-orange sun, just like the flag. I squint, hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the seahawks. I don't. Nick walks swiftly across the roof, puts his hands on the ledge, swings his leg over, and sits. I start after him but Mina puts her hand on my shoulder and says, "It's fine. It's always his favorite place for sitting." Nick hasn't even glanced at the sunset yet. I consider saying something like, "Whoa, Nicky, check that out!" But he knows it's there. He'll look if he wants to. His eyes are fixed on the living room window of the house across the street, where a TV we can't see is making fireworks against the walls. Nick's hair is tucked behind his ear and the sun's catching his face perfectly. From this angle, his eyes and the skin around them are the same as our father's, heavy and sunken, as though they've had enough of life's surprises. Mina goes over and sits next to him on the ledge, dangling her legs alongside his, resting her temple on his shoulder. A train comes and with it, a cool breeze that tells me it's time to go in. I wave, but they don't see my hand. I head downstairs to inflate my mattress and to peek in Nick's room and to wonder which of us will fall asleep tonight feeling the most alone.

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A little man lives inside my mouth, but he only comes out when I've had enough to drink. About the time I finish my third gin and tonic, I hear a knock on the back of my teeth. I open wide, and out pops Marvin, who's less than two inches tall and this offensive shade of orange. "Afternoon, Charlie," he says with a stiff bow and a salute. "How's it hanging?" I usually respond with "a little to the left," or some other witty retort. "Where to tonight?" Marvin always asks. "Tolliver's? The Pub? The Basement?" These are drinking establishments, and you can usually find me at one of them after five on any given day. I've been camped out at the Majestic Tavern since I got off work, waiting -f^Marvin and half-listening to regulars argue about politics and 1970's baseball stats and which is the more painful foot ailment: bunions or hammertoes. I'm restless and can't stop drumming my fingers on the bar top. Nick the bartender has threatened to beat me to a bloody pulp if I don't cut it out. "Marvin," I say when my little orange friend makes his appearance, "I've got news. Big news. I think you'd better sit down." Smoke drifts in the light that filters in through the Majestic's one grimy window as he casts around for something small enough to sit on. He finally marches down the bar to retrieve an abandoned olive, rolls it back to me, and balances gingerly on its round surface. "Well?" 86

"Guess who's coming back?" "Who?" "Go on, guess." Marvin shrugs his tiny shoulders. 'Charlie, I haven't the faintest idea." To stop their trembling, I lay both hands fiat on the bar. "Roman. Roman's coming back." Understandably, Marvin looks stunned. His open mouth moves softly like a fish sucking oxygen out of water. "When?" he finally asks. "In two days. He's been someplace up in Connecticut, someplace called Homewell." Marvin crosses one leg over the other and jiggles his little foot. "Homewell. You know what that place is, don't you?" I shake my head. "It's a treatment center. Roman's been in treatment. And you know what that means." I lift my left hand from the bar, and it shakes violently. "Nick!" I call. The doughy bartender extinguishes his cigarette and pushes up from his perch at the end of the bar. "Another G and T " Nick dunks a highball glass into the ice well and pours in gin, topping it off with a splash of tonic from the gun. "Why dontcha take it easy, Charlie?" he growls. "It's not even six." "Mind your own business," I say and gulp twice before turning back to Marvin. "I don't believe you about Roman. When we were in college he once drank an entire keg of beer on his own. He got so swollen, and you could hear the beer sloshing around inside him, but we still closed down the Pub that night, just the two of us." Marvin studies his tiny fingernails. "I know it's hard to accept, Charlie, but if Roman's been in Homewell, he's just like all the rest." I kill my cocktail and call for another. "You're wrong. Roman's the king. He's coming back, and we'll hang out every night. Hell, we'll probably get a place together. Me and Roman, roommates again after all this time." Nick stands in front of me, shaking his head. "I can't serve you any more today, Charlie. You'll have to move on." "No problem." I throw some bills down on the bar. A five lands on Marvin, covering him and his olive seat completely. Stmggling out from under the bill, he dusts himself off. "Really, 87


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A little man lives inside my mouth, but he only comes out when I've had enough to drink. About the time I finish my third gin and tonic, I hear a knock on the back of my teeth. I open wide, and out pops Marvin, who's less than two inches tall and this offensive shade of orange. "Afternoon, Charlie," he says with a stiff bow and a salute. "How's it hanging?" I usually respond with "a little to the left," or some other witty retort. "Where to tonight?" Marvin always asks. "Tolliver's? The Pub? The Basement?" These are drinking establishments, and you can usually find me at one of them after five on any given day. I've been camped out at the Majestic Tavern since I got off work, waiting -f^Marvin and half-listening to regulars argue about politics and 1970's baseball stats and which is the more painful foot ailment: bunions or hammertoes. I'm restless and can't stop drumming my fingers on the bar top. Nick the bartender has threatened to beat me to a bloody pulp if I don't cut it out. "Marvin," I say when my little orange friend makes his appearance, "I've got news. Big news. I think you'd better sit down." Smoke drifts in the light that filters in through the Majestic's one grimy window as he casts around for something small enough to sit on. He finally marches down the bar to retrieve an abandoned olive, rolls it back to me, and balances gingerly on its round surface. "Well?" 86

"Guess who's coming back?" "Who?" "Go on, guess." Marvin shrugs his tiny shoulders. 'Charlie, I haven't the faintest idea." To stop their trembling, I lay both hands fiat on the bar. "Roman. Roman's coming back." Understandably, Marvin looks stunned. His open mouth moves softly like a fish sucking oxygen out of water. "When?" he finally asks. "In two days. He's been someplace up in Connecticut, someplace called Homewell." Marvin crosses one leg over the other and jiggles his little foot. "Homewell. You know what that place is, don't you?" I shake my head. "It's a treatment center. Roman's been in treatment. And you know what that means." I lift my left hand from the bar, and it shakes violently. "Nick!" I call. The doughy bartender extinguishes his cigarette and pushes up from his perch at the end of the bar. "Another G and T " Nick dunks a highball glass into the ice well and pours in gin, topping it off with a splash of tonic from the gun. "Why dontcha take it easy, Charlie?" he growls. "It's not even six." "Mind your own business," I say and gulp twice before turning back to Marvin. "I don't believe you about Roman. When we were in college he once drank an entire keg of beer on his own. He got so swollen, and you could hear the beer sloshing around inside him, but we still closed down the Pub that night, just the two of us." Marvin studies his tiny fingernails. "I know it's hard to accept, Charlie, but if Roman's been in Homewell, he's just like all the rest." I kill my cocktail and call for another. "You're wrong. Roman's the king. He's coming back, and we'll hang out every night. Hell, we'll probably get a place together. Me and Roman, roommates again after all this time." Nick stands in front of me, shaking his head. "I can't serve you any more today, Charlie. You'll have to move on." "No problem." I throw some bills down on the bar. A five lands on Marvin, covering him and his olive seat completely. Stmggling out from under the bill, he dusts himself off. "Really, 87


Berkeley Fiction Review Charlie, there's no need to take it out on me. It's not my fault that Roman's no fun anymore." "You shut the hell up about Roman!" I shove my stool back and stand. Except for the low buzz of the television, the Majestic is silent. All the regulars are staring at me; even Gus has stopped whispering to his beer and shouting obscenities, Tourette's-style, to turn my way. "What's the matter?" Nick smiles. "Marvin giving you trouble?" "Show that little orange bastard who's boss!" Gus cries, shaking a gnarled fist. Breathing heavy, I look at Marvin. He blinks at me with his sweet face on, the one that always gets me. "Don't be mad, Charlie," he says. "You know I'm your friend. You know I only want what's best for you." I melt and nod, extending my left hand. Marvin hops into my palm, and I lift him to my open mouth. He steps from my finger to m y tongue, and I close my lips. "See you tomorrow," I say to Nick and the regulars and with a salute walk out the door. Much later that night I'm sitting on a stool at Tolliver's, and the place is jumping. Most kids at the college avoid Friday classes so they can start the weekend a night early like me and Roman and all the rest always did. I ' m talking to a guy who works at a fried chicken place, trying to pry the eleven secret herbs and spices out of him. "That's just a commercial, man," he keeps saying, but he's laughing, so I keep asking. In college I was in this comedy improv troupe and still consider myself quite witty, although in the last couple of years fewer and fewer people seem to get my jokes. Roman always thought I was hilarious, and I inform the fried chicken guy that he's corning back to town. I try to convey to him how special and important Roman is but get all tongue-tied,-then out of nowhere start crying. My new friend says he has somewhere to be and abruptly leaves me sitting there bawling. "Why don't you go home, sir? I think you've had enough." The bartender's new, and she says this like she's telling her 80-year-old grandfather to wipe the crust from the comers of his mouth. She hands me a cocktail napkin. I blow my nose and wipe my eyes. "How old do you think I am?" She shrugs. "Um, forty-three?" Ouch. I've moved on from G and T's to Budweisers and order another. She brings me the bottle, and I chug half the cold beer. I plunk down 88

Jennifer Fawkes three dollars—no tip—and, standing, say in what I believe is a haughty tone, "I'm thirty-five, but I've always been mature for my age." Realizing I've lost track of Marvin, I wander through the crowded bar looking for my little orange friend. He's probably over by the jukebox sliding in through the coin slot to mess with people's selections or sweet-talking some pretty college girls. I stop beside a table of kids sitting in a tight circle and smile, listening to this guy tell a story about a donkey show in Mexico. When he's finished I laugh louder than his friends, and they all turn to stare at me with curled lips and cold eyes. I ask if they've seen an orange man two inches high, and they snicker and elbow one another in the ribs. "That's the guy I was telling you about," one of them says. Undeterred, I cruise around asking people if they've seen Marvin until I spot him sitting on a high dusty shelf between a top hat and a stuffed leprechaun. I sidle up and lean against the shelf. "Whatcha up to, buddy?" Marvin sighs, his tiny chin in his hand. "Nothing much. Just thinking." "'Bout what?" "About what's going to happen when Roman comes back." I roll my eyes. "I thought we agreed not to talk about that anymore." "I know." Marvin stands and shuffles his feet. "It's just, well, I'm afraid he'll come back and convince you to change. Then you won't be any fun either. If that happens, we'll never see each other again. If that happens, Charlie, I'll die." I set my beer on the shelf and stick my hands in my pockets to hide their shaking. "That's never going to happen. I'll never be like the rest." "Charlie?" I look up at a man I know from somewhere. He's tall and dark and good-looking, and I try to find him inside my head. "It's Henry Franklin." Henry Franklin, this is a shock. He was in college with us, a huge loser, a gangly spaz me and Roman and all the rest used to make fun of. He lived on my floor freshman year, and it was rumored that he still wet his bed. "Henry Franklin, how's it hanging?" "Wow, Charlie, you l o o k . . . wow, it's been a long time." 89


Berkeley Fiction Review Charlie, there's no need to take it out on me. It's not my fault that Roman's no fun anymore." "You shut the hell up about Roman!" I shove my stool back and stand. Except for the low buzz of the television, the Majestic is silent. All the regulars are staring at me; even Gus has stopped whispering to his beer and shouting obscenities, Tourette's-style, to turn my way. "What's the matter?" Nick smiles. "Marvin giving you trouble?" "Show that little orange bastard who's boss!" Gus cries, shaking a gnarled fist. Breathing heavy, I look at Marvin. He blinks at me with his sweet face on, the one that always gets me. "Don't be mad, Charlie," he says. "You know I'm your friend. You know I only want what's best for you." I melt and nod, extending my left hand. Marvin hops into my palm, and I lift him to my open mouth. He steps from my finger to m y tongue, and I close my lips. "See you tomorrow," I say to Nick and the regulars and with a salute walk out the door. Much later that night I'm sitting on a stool at Tolliver's, and the place is jumping. Most kids at the college avoid Friday classes so they can start the weekend a night early like me and Roman and all the rest always did. I ' m talking to a guy who works at a fried chicken place, trying to pry the eleven secret herbs and spices out of him. "That's just a commercial, man," he keeps saying, but he's laughing, so I keep asking. In college I was in this comedy improv troupe and still consider myself quite witty, although in the last couple of years fewer and fewer people seem to get my jokes. Roman always thought I was hilarious, and I inform the fried chicken guy that he's corning back to town. I try to convey to him how special and important Roman is but get all tongue-tied,-then out of nowhere start crying. My new friend says he has somewhere to be and abruptly leaves me sitting there bawling. "Why don't you go home, sir? I think you've had enough." The bartender's new, and she says this like she's telling her 80-year-old grandfather to wipe the crust from the comers of his mouth. She hands me a cocktail napkin. I blow my nose and wipe my eyes. "How old do you think I am?" She shrugs. "Um, forty-three?" Ouch. I've moved on from G and T's to Budweisers and order another. She brings me the bottle, and I chug half the cold beer. I plunk down 88

Jennifer Fawkes three dollars—no tip—and, standing, say in what I believe is a haughty tone, "I'm thirty-five, but I've always been mature for my age." Realizing I've lost track of Marvin, I wander through the crowded bar looking for my little orange friend. He's probably over by the jukebox sliding in through the coin slot to mess with people's selections or sweet-talking some pretty college girls. I stop beside a table of kids sitting in a tight circle and smile, listening to this guy tell a story about a donkey show in Mexico. When he's finished I laugh louder than his friends, and they all turn to stare at me with curled lips and cold eyes. I ask if they've seen an orange man two inches high, and they snicker and elbow one another in the ribs. "That's the guy I was telling you about," one of them says. Undeterred, I cruise around asking people if they've seen Marvin until I spot him sitting on a high dusty shelf between a top hat and a stuffed leprechaun. I sidle up and lean against the shelf. "Whatcha up to, buddy?" Marvin sighs, his tiny chin in his hand. "Nothing much. Just thinking." "'Bout what?" "About what's going to happen when Roman comes back." I roll my eyes. "I thought we agreed not to talk about that anymore." "I know." Marvin stands and shuffles his feet. "It's just, well, I'm afraid he'll come back and convince you to change. Then you won't be any fun either. If that happens, we'll never see each other again. If that happens, Charlie, I'll die." I set my beer on the shelf and stick my hands in my pockets to hide their shaking. "That's never going to happen. I'll never be like the rest." "Charlie?" I look up at a man I know from somewhere. He's tall and dark and good-looking, and I try to find him inside my head. "It's Henry Franklin." Henry Franklin, this is a shock. He was in college with us, a huge loser, a gangly spaz me and Roman and all the rest used to make fun of. He lived on my floor freshman year, and it was rumored that he still wet his bed. "Henry Franklin, how's it hanging?" "Wow, Charlie, you l o o k . . . wow, it's been a long time." 89


Berkeley Fiction Review "Yeah," I say. "It sure has. Have you heard? Roman's coming back." Henry shakes his head. "Roman? No, Charlie, I moved out to the west coast ten years ago. I have a software business out there." I nod, grinning. "Good for you, good for you. Hey Henry," I say and lean close to his face. "You still sleep on rubber sheets?" His eyes travel over me, touching me everywhere like a pair of soft pitying hands. "You should take better care of yourself, Charlie. I've got to go now. Good seeing you." Marvin climbs from the shelf to my right shoulder. "The night's still young. Whereto?" "Onward and upward!" I cry. A table littered with glasses and bottles catches my eye, and I stand on a chair, then hop on the table. I dance wildly, running in place like the girl from Flashdance, a routine that used to crack up Roman and all the rest. People stand and move toward me, and I dance harder, then my foot slips. I crash down on the table, which topples over, and in a shower of glass I land on the floor with the table on top of me. The bouncer approaches to drag me out, hauling me toward the door. I'm cut but ignore the pain and look back over my shoulders, screaming for Marvin. "I can't leave without my friend!" I hear a psst! and look down to see a tiny face grinriing up at me from my pocket. The bouncer throws me face-down on the sidewalk, and the concrete scrapes my chin. Marvin slides out of my pocket and walks up to lean causally against my nose, a more obscene shade of orange than ever. "Well, Charlie," he says, "looks like we won't be going back to Tolliver's anytime soon." The next day it's hot out, but I wear long sleeves to hide the cuts on my arms. You can see some on my hands and a couple of scratches on my cheeks and a big sore on my chin where I hit the ground. I tell my boss I fell down some steps. This is probably the sixth time I've fallen down steps in the last year. "I'm sorry to hear that, Charlie," she says, cracking her gum and looking at me over the rims of her half-glasses. "You should try to be more careful." For about eight years I've worked for this garden supply catalog. All day I sit in a khaki partitioned cubicle talking to old ladies who need chrysanthemum seeds or garden clogs or potting soil. It's not my dream job, but it's decent, and it suits me fine. I make enough to pay for the room I rent at the Windsor Arms, this residential hotel downtown, and to keep

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Jennifer Fawkes myself in G and T's and Budweisers. I don't have a car, but I don't need one because everywhere I go is within walking distance of my place. I don't think too much about my dream job anymore because I try not to dwell on the negative. The truth of the matter is, I always wanted to be an actor. I was in the improv troupe in college, then did some plays at the local community theater. I was even an extra in a movie when I was twenty-six. Robin Williams was the star, and you can see me right behind him in several scenes. I have the movie on tape and watch it sometimes when I can't sleep. It's pretty cool to see myself on the screen. I 'm not very tall, but back then I was in decent shape and still had all my hair. "I'll take the zinnias. No, wait, the yellow roses. Or should I go with pink?" I've been on the phone with Esther Zimmerman for almost an hour. She orders from us once a week, and everyone wonders how one little old lady could possibly need all the stuff she gets. Her husband died two years ago, and I think she might order so often just to have someone to talk to. Most of my co-workers are college kids or recent grads who work part-time and get really annoyed by Esther, but I know what it's like to be lonely, so I always try to be as patient as I can. "It looks like you got some pink roses last month, Mrs. Zimmerman," I say. "Why don't you go with thQ zinnias?" "All right, Charlie. You're such a sweet boy. Have you found yourself a nice girl to settle down with?" My hands tremble on the keyboard. This always happens as it gets on toward quitting time. "Not yet, Mrs. Zimmerman." I split with my last girlfriend Shelly three years ago. We got into a huge fight one night at the Basement, and I came home to find her in bed with my friend Zeke, who'd been crashing on our couch. The three of us kept living together until Shelly and Zeke kicked me out of the apartment. They're married now with a kid and another on the way. By the time I get off the phone with Esther it's almost five, and the thirst I'm experiencing can only be quenched by one thing: the first G and T of the afternoon. I see it floating before me like some guy stranded in the desert: ice cubes swirling around catching the light like cold square prisms, tonic bubbles tickling my nose, a wedge of lime sticking on the rim of the glass like an upside-down, green smile. The sun pounds the top of my head as I leave work and make a beeline for the Majestic. I roll up my sleeves and practically jog the last block. As I greet the regulars, the smoky dim interior wraps itself around 91


Berkeley Fiction Review "Yeah," I say. "It sure has. Have you heard? Roman's coming back." Henry shakes his head. "Roman? No, Charlie, I moved out to the west coast ten years ago. I have a software business out there." I nod, grinning. "Good for you, good for you. Hey Henry," I say and lean close to his face. "You still sleep on rubber sheets?" His eyes travel over me, touching me everywhere like a pair of soft pitying hands. "You should take better care of yourself, Charlie. I've got to go now. Good seeing you." Marvin climbs from the shelf to my right shoulder. "The night's still young. Whereto?" "Onward and upward!" I cry. A table littered with glasses and bottles catches my eye, and I stand on a chair, then hop on the table. I dance wildly, running in place like the girl from Flashdance, a routine that used to crack up Roman and all the rest. People stand and move toward me, and I dance harder, then my foot slips. I crash down on the table, which topples over, and in a shower of glass I land on the floor with the table on top of me. The bouncer approaches to drag me out, hauling me toward the door. I'm cut but ignore the pain and look back over my shoulders, screaming for Marvin. "I can't leave without my friend!" I hear a psst! and look down to see a tiny face grinriing up at me from my pocket. The bouncer throws me face-down on the sidewalk, and the concrete scrapes my chin. Marvin slides out of my pocket and walks up to lean causally against my nose, a more obscene shade of orange than ever. "Well, Charlie," he says, "looks like we won't be going back to Tolliver's anytime soon." The next day it's hot out, but I wear long sleeves to hide the cuts on my arms. You can see some on my hands and a couple of scratches on my cheeks and a big sore on my chin where I hit the ground. I tell my boss I fell down some steps. This is probably the sixth time I've fallen down steps in the last year. "I'm sorry to hear that, Charlie," she says, cracking her gum and looking at me over the rims of her half-glasses. "You should try to be more careful." For about eight years I've worked for this garden supply catalog. All day I sit in a khaki partitioned cubicle talking to old ladies who need chrysanthemum seeds or garden clogs or potting soil. It's not my dream job, but it's decent, and it suits me fine. I make enough to pay for the room I rent at the Windsor Arms, this residential hotel downtown, and to keep

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Jennifer Fawkes myself in G and T's and Budweisers. I don't have a car, but I don't need one because everywhere I go is within walking distance of my place. I don't think too much about my dream job anymore because I try not to dwell on the negative. The truth of the matter is, I always wanted to be an actor. I was in the improv troupe in college, then did some plays at the local community theater. I was even an extra in a movie when I was twenty-six. Robin Williams was the star, and you can see me right behind him in several scenes. I have the movie on tape and watch it sometimes when I can't sleep. It's pretty cool to see myself on the screen. I 'm not very tall, but back then I was in decent shape and still had all my hair. "I'll take the zinnias. No, wait, the yellow roses. Or should I go with pink?" I've been on the phone with Esther Zimmerman for almost an hour. She orders from us once a week, and everyone wonders how one little old lady could possibly need all the stuff she gets. Her husband died two years ago, and I think she might order so often just to have someone to talk to. Most of my co-workers are college kids or recent grads who work part-time and get really annoyed by Esther, but I know what it's like to be lonely, so I always try to be as patient as I can. "It looks like you got some pink roses last month, Mrs. Zimmerman," I say. "Why don't you go with thQ zinnias?" "All right, Charlie. You're such a sweet boy. Have you found yourself a nice girl to settle down with?" My hands tremble on the keyboard. This always happens as it gets on toward quitting time. "Not yet, Mrs. Zimmerman." I split with my last girlfriend Shelly three years ago. We got into a huge fight one night at the Basement, and I came home to find her in bed with my friend Zeke, who'd been crashing on our couch. The three of us kept living together until Shelly and Zeke kicked me out of the apartment. They're married now with a kid and another on the way. By the time I get off the phone with Esther it's almost five, and the thirst I'm experiencing can only be quenched by one thing: the first G and T of the afternoon. I see it floating before me like some guy stranded in the desert: ice cubes swirling around catching the light like cold square prisms, tonic bubbles tickling my nose, a wedge of lime sticking on the rim of the glass like an upside-down, green smile. The sun pounds the top of my head as I leave work and make a beeline for the Majestic. I roll up my sleeves and practically jog the last block. As I greet the regulars, the smoky dim interior wraps itself around 91


Berkeley Fiction Review me like a cocoon. Nick the bartender sighs, putting out a cigarette and pushing up from his stool. "The usual, Charlie?" "Yessir," I reply. "One lovely, icy, refreshing G and T please." I ' m on cocktail number two, waiting for Marvin, when the door opens. I can tell from Nick's body language it's not a regular. Someone sits down beside me, and I smell perfume. I don't turn my head at first, but then a female voice says my name. It's Gabby, Roman's ex. She hung out with us in college but didn't start dating Roman until a few years after we graduated. She used to be all right, funny even, but after she hooked up with Roman she became this crazy pain in the ass. They were together until Roman left town six years ago to play a couple of gigs with his band in New York and never came back. After that, Gabby stopped hanging out and went to business school. Now she's some kind of broker or investment counselor or something. "Gabby," I say. "How's it hanging?" She turns up the comers of her mouth in this very sarcastic way and drops them immediately. "Can I buy you a drink?" I ask, terribly polite. "I didn't come here to drink. I've been looking for you, Charlie. We need to talk." I ' m surprised and nervous and irritated all at the same time. "What could you possibly want to talk to me about, Gabigail?" She always hated it when I called her that. "Roman," she says, all business. "He's coming back to town." I nod and kill my drink, gesturing to Nick for another. "Of that fact I am already aware." Her head snaps around abruptly. "Who toldyou?" Picking up the fresh glass, I stick out my pinky and take small, civilized sips for Gabby's benefit. "I ran into Nora the other night." Roman's little sister Nora waits tables at this place where I sometimes stop in for an early drink. "Why? Was it supposed to be a secret?" "Charlie." Gabby lays her hand on my arm and fixes me with a condescending look. It takes all my willpower not to jerk away. "We weren't going to tell you but realized that just wasn't practical. You and Roman are bound to run into each other." "Who's 'we?'" "Roman's friends. Patrick, Sean, Casey, Shelly, Zeke. All of us." 92

Jennifer Fawkes She says this like I ' m not Roman's best friend, like we didn't five together for ten years and share everything and have more fun than all the rest put together. My hand starts to shake, and I give up sipping my drink, emptying the glass in one gulp. "Roman worked hard to climb out of the dark hole he was living in, Charlie. Please don't try to drag him back down with you." "What do any of you know about me?" Placing my hands flat on the bar, I stare at my trembling fingers. "Shelly and Zeke told me what happened the last time they ran into you. What kind of person tries to kick a pregnant woman in the stomach?" I don't bother telling her I was doing my crane kick routine from The Karate Kid, something Zeke used to find particularly amusing. My foot may have come a little closer to Shelly than I intended, but from the way Zeke grabbed me by the throat and threw me up against a brick wall, you'd have thought I knocked her out. "I know you're in pain, Charlie, and I feel for you, we all do. We just can't stand to watch you destroy yourself anymore. Roman's asking for help, and he needs yours. Please, don't call him, don't try to see him. Just leave him alone." As she's talking, I gesture to Nick for another drink and hear a knock on the back of my teeth. I open my mouth, and Marvin leaps down to the bar top. He's glowing this obnoxious neon orange, so I know he's pissed. He stomps over to Gabby and attacks her forearm, kicking, punching, biting, clawing, but she takes no notice. She gathers up her things and leaves, acting like she can't feel Marvin. Like she can't even see him. I turn my hands over, and Marvin hops into my palm. "She's right about one thing," he says. "It's best for all concerned if you and Roman don't see each other." Nodding, I gulp my drink. The tonic bubbles tickle my nose, but I'm suddenly tired. I feel like I've run a marathon, that kind of deep-downto-the-bone-worn-out-weariness, and I find myself wondering what it might be like to fall asleep instead of passing out, to have someone to reach for in the night and a dog at the foot of the bed and a couple of kids asleep down the hall. "Do you think," I say and stop, then go on. "Do you think it's possible for people to change? I mean who they really are, way down deep inside?" Marvin doubles over, laughing hysterically until orange tears crawl 93


Berkeley Fiction Review me like a cocoon. Nick the bartender sighs, putting out a cigarette and pushing up from his stool. "The usual, Charlie?" "Yessir," I reply. "One lovely, icy, refreshing G and T please." I ' m on cocktail number two, waiting for Marvin, when the door opens. I can tell from Nick's body language it's not a regular. Someone sits down beside me, and I smell perfume. I don't turn my head at first, but then a female voice says my name. It's Gabby, Roman's ex. She hung out with us in college but didn't start dating Roman until a few years after we graduated. She used to be all right, funny even, but after she hooked up with Roman she became this crazy pain in the ass. They were together until Roman left town six years ago to play a couple of gigs with his band in New York and never came back. After that, Gabby stopped hanging out and went to business school. Now she's some kind of broker or investment counselor or something. "Gabby," I say. "How's it hanging?" She turns up the comers of her mouth in this very sarcastic way and drops them immediately. "Can I buy you a drink?" I ask, terribly polite. "I didn't come here to drink. I've been looking for you, Charlie. We need to talk." I ' m surprised and nervous and irritated all at the same time. "What could you possibly want to talk to me about, Gabigail?" She always hated it when I called her that. "Roman," she says, all business. "He's coming back to town." I nod and kill my drink, gesturing to Nick for another. "Of that fact I am already aware." Her head snaps around abruptly. "Who toldyou?" Picking up the fresh glass, I stick out my pinky and take small, civilized sips for Gabby's benefit. "I ran into Nora the other night." Roman's little sister Nora waits tables at this place where I sometimes stop in for an early drink. "Why? Was it supposed to be a secret?" "Charlie." Gabby lays her hand on my arm and fixes me with a condescending look. It takes all my willpower not to jerk away. "We weren't going to tell you but realized that just wasn't practical. You and Roman are bound to run into each other." "Who's 'we?'" "Roman's friends. Patrick, Sean, Casey, Shelly, Zeke. All of us." 92

Jennifer Fawkes She says this like I ' m not Roman's best friend, like we didn't five together for ten years and share everything and have more fun than all the rest put together. My hand starts to shake, and I give up sipping my drink, emptying the glass in one gulp. "Roman worked hard to climb out of the dark hole he was living in, Charlie. Please don't try to drag him back down with you." "What do any of you know about me?" Placing my hands flat on the bar, I stare at my trembling fingers. "Shelly and Zeke told me what happened the last time they ran into you. What kind of person tries to kick a pregnant woman in the stomach?" I don't bother telling her I was doing my crane kick routine from The Karate Kid, something Zeke used to find particularly amusing. My foot may have come a little closer to Shelly than I intended, but from the way Zeke grabbed me by the throat and threw me up against a brick wall, you'd have thought I knocked her out. "I know you're in pain, Charlie, and I feel for you, we all do. We just can't stand to watch you destroy yourself anymore. Roman's asking for help, and he needs yours. Please, don't call him, don't try to see him. Just leave him alone." As she's talking, I gesture to Nick for another drink and hear a knock on the back of my teeth. I open my mouth, and Marvin leaps down to the bar top. He's glowing this obnoxious neon orange, so I know he's pissed. He stomps over to Gabby and attacks her forearm, kicking, punching, biting, clawing, but she takes no notice. She gathers up her things and leaves, acting like she can't feel Marvin. Like she can't even see him. I turn my hands over, and Marvin hops into my palm. "She's right about one thing," he says. "It's best for all concerned if you and Roman don't see each other." Nodding, I gulp my drink. The tonic bubbles tickle my nose, but I'm suddenly tired. I feel like I've run a marathon, that kind of deep-downto-the-bone-worn-out-weariness, and I find myself wondering what it might be like to fall asleep instead of passing out, to have someone to reach for in the night and a dog at the foot of the bed and a couple of kids asleep down the hall. "Do you think," I say and stop, then go on. "Do you think it's possible for people to change? I mean who they really are, way down deep inside?" Marvin doubles over, laughing hysterically until orange tears crawl 93


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down his cheeks and splash into my palm. "Oh Charlie," he says. "You are the funniest person I know." Late the next night Marvin and I wander down to this brand new bar called The Bitter End. The band that's playing has been getting a lot of local press: five guys in their mid-twenties with scruffy hair and supertight pants. At one time I knew most of the musicians in town, but none of those guys play music anymore. They're all married with kids and real jobs. Three college girls abandon their seats at the bar to join the crowd thronged around the stage, shuffling to the dreamy droning sound that fills the place. I swoop in to grab a stool and order a Budweiser. Marvin does this funny little dance across the bar top in front of me, a kind of slow motion can-can with lots of fan kicks. He's been in rare form all night, cracking me up, keeping my mind off the fact that at this very moment, Roman's back in town. Sitting next to me is a woman who's closer to my age than most in the bar. She seems to be alone, and she's drinking a Budweiser. "If Budweiser's the king of beers, who's the queen?" I ask, expecting the patented dagger-eyed leave-me-alone look I've come to know so well, but she smiles and shrugs. "I don't know. Michelob Ultra?" I ' m taken aback. "Michelob Ultra is the answer we were looking for. We also would have accepted Miller Lite." She's cute with black-rimmed glasses and short dark hair. It turns out she was three years behind me in college and remembers me from the improv troupe. "You were really funny," she says. When I tell her about this screenplay I've been writing in my head about a superhero who derives his power from distilled juniper berries and quinine, she actually laughs. I offer to buy her a beer, but she shakes her head. "I had a rough week and wanted to get a little drunk, act like a kid again. But it's never quite the same, trying to go back, is it?" She stands and extends a hand. "It was good seeing you, Charlie. Maybe I'll bump into you again sometime."

work up a chuckle. I go to the bathroom, and when I come back, some guy's sitting in my seat. "Hey, buddy, I was sitting there." He turns around, and I almost fall down. It's Roman. His hair's streaked with grey, and he's got a big bushy beard. Moving like he's underwater, he pushes up from his stool, and I realize he's put on weight. There's this heavy air of exhaustion about him as he smiles his old crooked smile. "My God, Charlie," he says. "How the hell are you?" I can't be sure if he's really standing in front of me, or I've just dreamed him up. He holds his arms open, and I hug him, moving my hands up and down his back. He's real all right, solid flesh, and he still smells like Roman. The smell hits me so hard my eyes well up, and I cling to him too tightly. Pulling away, he tells me I look like hammered shit. I tug on his beard and call him Sasquatch. "I'm surprised to see you here, Roman." He runs a hand down his face and sighs. "I had to get out of the house. My parents are so far up my ass I can't sit down. They won't even let me go to the bathroom alone." He nods toward the stage. "I snuck out of there to catch a minute of my cousin's band. You remember little Sam? He's up there on bass." I squint at the tall skinny bass player. He bears no resemblance to the kid Roman and I used to babysit, until the night we decided it would be funny to let him drink a couple of beers. After that Sam wasn't allowed anywhere near us. We sit, and when the bartender comes by, I order two G and T's without even thinking. Roman stares at his like he's looking at the Holy Grail. - Twatch him, wanting him to pick it up so badly, and catch sight of Marvin on the back side of Roman's glass pushing it closer and closer to his hand. I start reminiscing about the time we liberated a bunch of goats from this place out in the country, then kept one in our dorm room for a month before we got caught, and about the naked party we threw in the last apartment we shared. On that occasion the police were called, and several of us spent the night in jail au naturel.

Turning to watch her walk through the crowd, I feel a tug on my earlobe. "Forget about her. She's no fun," Marvin says. "She seemed like she might be fun to me." "No, Charlie, watch this. Look at me!" Marvin moonwalks across the bar, then does the robot and the centipede. He's good, but I can't even

Roman shakes his head. "I can't believe you remember that shit so clearly. It all feels so far away, like it happened to someone else." Dropping his hands to his lap, he turns on his stool to face me. "Gabby told me she came to see you. I guess you know I'm trying to change my life." I nod. "Marvin says you're no fun anymore."

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down his cheeks and splash into my palm. "Oh Charlie," he says. "You are the funniest person I know." Late the next night Marvin and I wander down to this brand new bar called The Bitter End. The band that's playing has been getting a lot of local press: five guys in their mid-twenties with scruffy hair and supertight pants. At one time I knew most of the musicians in town, but none of those guys play music anymore. They're all married with kids and real jobs. Three college girls abandon their seats at the bar to join the crowd thronged around the stage, shuffling to the dreamy droning sound that fills the place. I swoop in to grab a stool and order a Budweiser. Marvin does this funny little dance across the bar top in front of me, a kind of slow motion can-can with lots of fan kicks. He's been in rare form all night, cracking me up, keeping my mind off the fact that at this very moment, Roman's back in town. Sitting next to me is a woman who's closer to my age than most in the bar. She seems to be alone, and she's drinking a Budweiser. "If Budweiser's the king of beers, who's the queen?" I ask, expecting the patented dagger-eyed leave-me-alone look I've come to know so well, but she smiles and shrugs. "I don't know. Michelob Ultra?" I ' m taken aback. "Michelob Ultra is the answer we were looking for. We also would have accepted Miller Lite." She's cute with black-rimmed glasses and short dark hair. It turns out she was three years behind me in college and remembers me from the improv troupe. "You were really funny," she says. When I tell her about this screenplay I've been writing in my head about a superhero who derives his power from distilled juniper berries and quinine, she actually laughs. I offer to buy her a beer, but she shakes her head. "I had a rough week and wanted to get a little drunk, act like a kid again. But it's never quite the same, trying to go back, is it?" She stands and extends a hand. "It was good seeing you, Charlie. Maybe I'll bump into you again sometime."

work up a chuckle. I go to the bathroom, and when I come back, some guy's sitting in my seat. "Hey, buddy, I was sitting there." He turns around, and I almost fall down. It's Roman. His hair's streaked with grey, and he's got a big bushy beard. Moving like he's underwater, he pushes up from his stool, and I realize he's put on weight. There's this heavy air of exhaustion about him as he smiles his old crooked smile. "My God, Charlie," he says. "How the hell are you?" I can't be sure if he's really standing in front of me, or I've just dreamed him up. He holds his arms open, and I hug him, moving my hands up and down his back. He's real all right, solid flesh, and he still smells like Roman. The smell hits me so hard my eyes well up, and I cling to him too tightly. Pulling away, he tells me I look like hammered shit. I tug on his beard and call him Sasquatch. "I'm surprised to see you here, Roman." He runs a hand down his face and sighs. "I had to get out of the house. My parents are so far up my ass I can't sit down. They won't even let me go to the bathroom alone." He nods toward the stage. "I snuck out of there to catch a minute of my cousin's band. You remember little Sam? He's up there on bass." I squint at the tall skinny bass player. He bears no resemblance to the kid Roman and I used to babysit, until the night we decided it would be funny to let him drink a couple of beers. After that Sam wasn't allowed anywhere near us. We sit, and when the bartender comes by, I order two G and T's without even thinking. Roman stares at his like he's looking at the Holy Grail. - Twatch him, wanting him to pick it up so badly, and catch sight of Marvin on the back side of Roman's glass pushing it closer and closer to his hand. I start reminiscing about the time we liberated a bunch of goats from this place out in the country, then kept one in our dorm room for a month before we got caught, and about the naked party we threw in the last apartment we shared. On that occasion the police were called, and several of us spent the night in jail au naturel.

Turning to watch her walk through the crowd, I feel a tug on my earlobe. "Forget about her. She's no fun," Marvin says. "She seemed like she might be fun to me." "No, Charlie, watch this. Look at me!" Marvin moonwalks across the bar, then does the robot and the centipede. He's good, but I can't even

Roman shakes his head. "I can't believe you remember that shit so clearly. It all feels so far away, like it happened to someone else." Dropping his hands to his lap, he turns on his stool to face me. "Gabby told me she came to see you. I guess you know I'm trying to change my life." I nod. "Marvin says you're no fun anymore."

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Berkeley Fiction Review "Who?" Marvin's standing on Roman's right shoulder waving his arms wildly. "Where are my manners?" I say. "Marvin, this is Roman. Roman, that little orange guy on your shoulder is Marvin." Roman laughs just like he used to, a sound I've missed so much a knot forms in my throat. "God, it's good to see you," he says. "You haven't changed a bit." I sip my drink. It tastes bitter, and I wonder if something's wrong with the tonic. "Things got really bad for me, Charlie. I didn't talk to my own family for four years. It hit me one day that if I didn't do something, I was going to die." I lift my glass, and I can barely choke down a sip of my drink. There's definitely something wrong with it, and I consider complaining to the bartender. My hands start trembling out of nowhere. I place them flat on the bar. "Are you happy, Charlie?" Roman's dark eyes search my face. In a bright orange flash, Marvin skips over the bar top and throws himself across my hands, trying to hold them still. Something wells up inside me, something I know and hate: a feeling of unease, of dissatisfaction, of disappointment. The only way to fight this feeling is to drown it, but my hand's shaking too hard to pick up my drink. As I turn away from Roman to look around the Bitter End, the music swells, that farewell sound the last song of the night always has. "Yeah, Roman," I say without turning back. "I'm happy." He claps me hard on the back. "Then you're the luckiest man I know." Roman stands. "I'd better get out of here before I do something I'll regret." He takes my hand from the bar and pumps it up and down, taking no notice of its violent shaking. "Promise me you won't ever change." I nod. He smiles, then slides a hand in his pocket and slaps a fifty-dollar bill down on the bar. "Bet you thought you'd never see that again." Roman makes his bizarre sluggish way to the door and disappears through it. I remember lending him the fifty the morning he left for New York. It sits there all green and dog-eared and wrinkled. Looking at it I feel like a child or a dog, something inconsequential. "Son of a bitch," I say, shaking my head. "What do you think about 96

Jennifer Fawkes that, Marvin?" But I get no answer. Marvin's not on the bar top, and he's not messing with the top-shelf liquor bottles, and he's not dancing on the cash register. I search my pockets and look underneath the bar, scanning the floor. Abandoning the drinks and the fifty, I make my way around the room looking on shelves and under tables and among the cords and equipment on the now-empty stage. A flash of neon orange on the ground catches my eye. I dive for it but find myself clutching some guy's sneaker. The bar closes, and I still haven't found Marvin. I describe him to the bartender, explaining that I can't leave without my friend, but he just shrugs. "I don't know what to tell you," he says, "but you'd better grab that fifty before someone throws it in my tip jar." I start to tell him to keep it, then notice a tiny orange foot sticking out from under the bill. My vision blurs as I peel back the fifty to find what's left of Marvin. He looks like a piece of stepped-on chewing gum, or a flattened glob of silly putty. I scream at the bartender to call 911, but he just stands there looking at me like I'm crazy. I gently scoop the remains of my friend from the bar top, then fall to my knees. Lifting Marvin to my cheek, I hold him there until the bartender and a bouncer pick me up and carry me out the door. I sit shivering on the sidewalk, where they dumped me, for a long time. As my tears fall on Marvin's squashed body, I tell myself he's in a better place, a place where the good times never end, but it doesn't help. I feel hollow, like something essential has been cut out of me, something I'll never be able to replace. The sky's cloudy and starless, but as I wander through quiet, empty streets, lampposts and parking meters and street signs stand out with disturbing clarity. When I get home, I will lay Marvin out on the table and tell a few of his favorite jokes, maybe do some impressions. For his sake, I will force myself to laugh; I will pretend to have fun. When the time is right, I will place him on my tongue and lay him to rest inside me.

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Berkeley Fiction Review "Who?" Marvin's standing on Roman's right shoulder waving his arms wildly. "Where are my manners?" I say. "Marvin, this is Roman. Roman, that little orange guy on your shoulder is Marvin." Roman laughs just like he used to, a sound I've missed so much a knot forms in my throat. "God, it's good to see you," he says. "You haven't changed a bit." I sip my drink. It tastes bitter, and I wonder if something's wrong with the tonic. "Things got really bad for me, Charlie. I didn't talk to my own family for four years. It hit me one day that if I didn't do something, I was going to die." I lift my glass, and I can barely choke down a sip of my drink. There's definitely something wrong with it, and I consider complaining to the bartender. My hands start trembling out of nowhere. I place them flat on the bar. "Are you happy, Charlie?" Roman's dark eyes search my face. In a bright orange flash, Marvin skips over the bar top and throws himself across my hands, trying to hold them still. Something wells up inside me, something I know and hate: a feeling of unease, of dissatisfaction, of disappointment. The only way to fight this feeling is to drown it, but my hand's shaking too hard to pick up my drink. As I turn away from Roman to look around the Bitter End, the music swells, that farewell sound the last song of the night always has. "Yeah, Roman," I say without turning back. "I'm happy." He claps me hard on the back. "Then you're the luckiest man I know." Roman stands. "I'd better get out of here before I do something I'll regret." He takes my hand from the bar and pumps it up and down, taking no notice of its violent shaking. "Promise me you won't ever change." I nod. He smiles, then slides a hand in his pocket and slaps a fifty-dollar bill down on the bar. "Bet you thought you'd never see that again." Roman makes his bizarre sluggish way to the door and disappears through it. I remember lending him the fifty the morning he left for New York. It sits there all green and dog-eared and wrinkled. Looking at it I feel like a child or a dog, something inconsequential. "Son of a bitch," I say, shaking my head. "What do you think about 96

Jennifer Fawkes that, Marvin?" But I get no answer. Marvin's not on the bar top, and he's not messing with the top-shelf liquor bottles, and he's not dancing on the cash register. I search my pockets and look underneath the bar, scanning the floor. Abandoning the drinks and the fifty, I make my way around the room looking on shelves and under tables and among the cords and equipment on the now-empty stage. A flash of neon orange on the ground catches my eye. I dive for it but find myself clutching some guy's sneaker. The bar closes, and I still haven't found Marvin. I describe him to the bartender, explaining that I can't leave without my friend, but he just shrugs. "I don't know what to tell you," he says, "but you'd better grab that fifty before someone throws it in my tip jar." I start to tell him to keep it, then notice a tiny orange foot sticking out from under the bill. My vision blurs as I peel back the fifty to find what's left of Marvin. He looks like a piece of stepped-on chewing gum, or a flattened glob of silly putty. I scream at the bartender to call 911, but he just stands there looking at me like I'm crazy. I gently scoop the remains of my friend from the bar top, then fall to my knees. Lifting Marvin to my cheek, I hold him there until the bartender and a bouncer pick me up and carry me out the door. I sit shivering on the sidewalk, where they dumped me, for a long time. As my tears fall on Marvin's squashed body, I tell myself he's in a better place, a place where the good times never end, but it doesn't help. I feel hollow, like something essential has been cut out of me, something I'll never be able to replace. The sky's cloudy and starless, but as I wander through quiet, empty streets, lampposts and parking meters and street signs stand out with disturbing clarity. When I get home, I will lay Marvin out on the table and tell a few of his favorite jokes, maybe do some impressions. For his sake, I will force myself to laugh; I will pretend to have fun. When the time is right, I will place him on my tongue and lay him to rest inside me.

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RJ Carter Third

O

Place

F

Sudden

Fiction

Winner

P E C U L I A R I T I E S

AND C

O

O

K

I

E

S

RJ CARTER

Society itself needs to be more bizarre. I am not referring to the establishment of war, or the teenage rebellion of a Goth in the midst of suburbia, but instead to the little grey areas surrounding friendship. In my mind, the definition of a bizarre friendship is one formed between two bizarre people who happen to be so bizarrely opposite from each other that they could never, in any realistic sense, maintain the bizarre relationship that the two find themselves absorbed in. Now, I do not mean to insult all those relationships sustained between two friends that are not entirely bizarre, only to indicate and give particular notice to those relationships that are, by any definition of the word, weird. Rex Oliver always walked into the Mudhouse, the local town's premier coffee parlor and bike shop, at exactly 7:05 am in the morning. That alone did not make him bizarre. He always ordered a lemon poppyseed cookie and a regular black coffee with no milk. That still did not make him bizarre. What honestly and completely made him odd were the occurrences of 7:07-7:09 on Monday, March 29th of the year 2001 at the counter of the Mudhouse involving a certain Robyn Brooks. Poor Robyn was wandering past the Mudhouse when she saw a perfectly good lemon poppyseed cookie being handled to a man in a clean black suit and a striped tie. Her first thought was of the hideous first impression that the tie left. Her second was of the steam coming from the cookie. On any other day, she would have walked directly past without looking back. But she had not had dinner the previous night, and one

of the waitresses of the Mudhouse had left the window open. Some unknown force pulled that smell outside, and as Robyn caught her first waft of the underappreciated lemon poppyseed cookie, she felt her first pangs oflongingforit. So, despite the lack of shoes, the tattered clothes, and the standard lice that you would find with any homeless person, she walked through the door, flinching at the sound of the entrance bell. No one looked up, so she cautiously took her first ungraceful step forwards. No response. The seven steps that it took to make it to the counter did not last long for her. Her heart was beating quickly, forcing its way up into her throat and clutching meanly at her lungs. She held her breath and reached out. The unfortunate and fortunate Mr. Oliver was oblivious, and with a quick snatch she grabbed it, and she was gone. She would not have made it out of the door without Mr. Oliver's quick head shake to head off the rightfully concerned waiter. Mr. Oliver waved him over. "I'll have another cookie," he said in an unhurried, peaceful, and rather amused voice. "I'll have an oatmeal raisin this time." The odd thing was not Mr. Oliver's sudden deviation from his schedule (which he rarely did). It was not Robyn's longing for food or even Rex's granting of Robyn's wish. It was, instead, the idea that, for a brief moment this man became friends with that woman. The moment did not last very long; but in the willingness with which Mr. Oliver had helped Miss Brooks, they became friends for life, even if they will never recognize the other again. That, alone, is bizarre.

99


RJ Carter Third

O

Place

F

Sudden

Fiction

Winner

P E C U L I A R I T I E S

AND C

O

O

K

I

E

S

RJ CARTER

Society itself needs to be more bizarre. I am not referring to the establishment of war, or the teenage rebellion of a Goth in the midst of suburbia, but instead to the little grey areas surrounding friendship. In my mind, the definition of a bizarre friendship is one formed between two bizarre people who happen to be so bizarrely opposite from each other that they could never, in any realistic sense, maintain the bizarre relationship that the two find themselves absorbed in. Now, I do not mean to insult all those relationships sustained between two friends that are not entirely bizarre, only to indicate and give particular notice to those relationships that are, by any definition of the word, weird. Rex Oliver always walked into the Mudhouse, the local town's premier coffee parlor and bike shop, at exactly 7:05 am in the morning. That alone did not make him bizarre. He always ordered a lemon poppyseed cookie and a regular black coffee with no milk. That still did not make him bizarre. What honestly and completely made him odd were the occurrences of 7:07-7:09 on Monday, March 29th of the year 2001 at the counter of the Mudhouse involving a certain Robyn Brooks. Poor Robyn was wandering past the Mudhouse when she saw a perfectly good lemon poppyseed cookie being handled to a man in a clean black suit and a striped tie. Her first thought was of the hideous first impression that the tie left. Her second was of the steam coming from the cookie. On any other day, she would have walked directly past without looking back. But she had not had dinner the previous night, and one

of the waitresses of the Mudhouse had left the window open. Some unknown force pulled that smell outside, and as Robyn caught her first waft of the underappreciated lemon poppyseed cookie, she felt her first pangs oflongingforit. So, despite the lack of shoes, the tattered clothes, and the standard lice that you would find with any homeless person, she walked through the door, flinching at the sound of the entrance bell. No one looked up, so she cautiously took her first ungraceful step forwards. No response. The seven steps that it took to make it to the counter did not last long for her. Her heart was beating quickly, forcing its way up into her throat and clutching meanly at her lungs. She held her breath and reached out. The unfortunate and fortunate Mr. Oliver was oblivious, and with a quick snatch she grabbed it, and she was gone. She would not have made it out of the door without Mr. Oliver's quick head shake to head off the rightfully concerned waiter. Mr. Oliver waved him over. "I'll have another cookie," he said in an unhurried, peaceful, and rather amused voice. "I'll have an oatmeal raisin this time." The odd thing was not Mr. Oliver's sudden deviation from his schedule (which he rarely did). It was not Robyn's longing for food or even Rex's granting of Robyn's wish. It was, instead, the idea that, for a brief moment this man became friends with that woman. The moment did not last very long; but in the willingness with which Mr. Oliver had helped Miss Brooks, they became friends for life, even if they will never recognize the other again. That, alone, is bizarre.

99


Randy Schmidt

F O R T I F I E D

RANDY

SCHMIDT

$3.25 The 66 bus crossed Beacon Street on its way north toward Brighton. It teemed with beautiful people standing shoulder to shoulder, their clear skin and white teeth gleaming in the light of the late afternoon sun. A girl, probably a college student, had blonde hair that rested on her neck, each strand an equal length. She stared off through the windows listening to her headphones while holding onto the pole. A gentleman in a brown suit stood next to her. Crisp linen showed at the sleeves of his jacket. He held a copy of a fancy-looking book called "The Tao of Pooh," but was looking above the pages toward the blonde's breasts. A fetid stench, a combination of Mad Dog, body odor, and urine, wafted from the front of the bus, and the passengers began to stir. The people in the back who couldn't see anything through the throng might have thought we ran over something. The blonde and the ogler, however, knew it was me. I was being good, though. I wasn't raving, pestering, or snoring, all crimes that I had been guilty of in the past on this very route. The bottle of wine I had finished off that morning was sweating out of me, and my brain was clearer than it had been in days. Still, when I got on the bus a few stops earlier, a collective sigh mingled in the air with the exhaust fumes. At first they eyed my soiled red winter jacket, which I wore even though it was June. Then they gawked at my hair, which fell in thick, greasy clumps over my shiny and soot-stained forehead. Finally, the thousand-yard stench that surrounded me like an aura followed me

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onto the bus. The blonde moved her hand up to her face casually and kept it there, her fingers under her nose. Conversation in the front of the bus died while everyone concentrated on not vomiting. Eyes were kept to the floor, though occasionally a glance was stolen in my direction. I heard the whispers from the back, individuals asking their seatmates what in God's name was the cause of this abomination. The bus hissed to a stop. A group of people got up and inched their way to the door. I marveled at each one as they went by, their beauty so similar, yet so distinct. One could have been a television star. An older woman in the middle of the pack carried herself with such sophistication I thought she might be an important lawyer from downtown, or at least married to one. A striking young man brought up the end of the line, a pristine baby blue sweater clinging around his muscular neck. I wanted to kiss him. I wanted to kiss any of them. When the man got closer, his green eyes swirled toward me and narrowed. "You need a shower," he shouted, loud enough so everyone on the bus could hear. "Sure do!" I replied. My voice sounded ugly as it bounced off the metal walls. The man shook his head and stepped onto the sidewalk. The bus rumbled back into the street. All eyes were on me then, most of them narrowed. My right fist was clenched in my jacket around six quarters, fourteen dimes and seven nickels. That's all I needed for the night. As I waited for the driver to announce my stop, I closed my eyes and imagined that everyone else was doing the same. $0.00 The bottle of fortified, still wrapped in its brown shroud, clinked against the stone supports of the bench. I planned to spend my early evening watching the traffic on Commonwealth while I enjoyed my beverage. A crowd of young women sat on the stoop of the building across from me. The sun was near the horizon, and its gentle light was bathing the ladies in waves of orange. What did they call that? Beauty light? I kept my eyes on the illuminated women as I reached into my pocket to retrieve my wine. A half-bottle later, the sun was leaving, and the women with it. One of them walked toward me, hoisting a backpack over her shoulders. Her dark red hair flowed over her shoulders like lava. I capped my wine 101


Randy Schmidt

F O R T I F I E D

RANDY

SCHMIDT

$3.25 The 66 bus crossed Beacon Street on its way north toward Brighton. It teemed with beautiful people standing shoulder to shoulder, their clear skin and white teeth gleaming in the light of the late afternoon sun. A girl, probably a college student, had blonde hair that rested on her neck, each strand an equal length. She stared off through the windows listening to her headphones while holding onto the pole. A gentleman in a brown suit stood next to her. Crisp linen showed at the sleeves of his jacket. He held a copy of a fancy-looking book called "The Tao of Pooh," but was looking above the pages toward the blonde's breasts. A fetid stench, a combination of Mad Dog, body odor, and urine, wafted from the front of the bus, and the passengers began to stir. The people in the back who couldn't see anything through the throng might have thought we ran over something. The blonde and the ogler, however, knew it was me. I was being good, though. I wasn't raving, pestering, or snoring, all crimes that I had been guilty of in the past on this very route. The bottle of wine I had finished off that morning was sweating out of me, and my brain was clearer than it had been in days. Still, when I got on the bus a few stops earlier, a collective sigh mingled in the air with the exhaust fumes. At first they eyed my soiled red winter jacket, which I wore even though it was June. Then they gawked at my hair, which fell in thick, greasy clumps over my shiny and soot-stained forehead. Finally, the thousand-yard stench that surrounded me like an aura followed me

100

onto the bus. The blonde moved her hand up to her face casually and kept it there, her fingers under her nose. Conversation in the front of the bus died while everyone concentrated on not vomiting. Eyes were kept to the floor, though occasionally a glance was stolen in my direction. I heard the whispers from the back, individuals asking their seatmates what in God's name was the cause of this abomination. The bus hissed to a stop. A group of people got up and inched their way to the door. I marveled at each one as they went by, their beauty so similar, yet so distinct. One could have been a television star. An older woman in the middle of the pack carried herself with such sophistication I thought she might be an important lawyer from downtown, or at least married to one. A striking young man brought up the end of the line, a pristine baby blue sweater clinging around his muscular neck. I wanted to kiss him. I wanted to kiss any of them. When the man got closer, his green eyes swirled toward me and narrowed. "You need a shower," he shouted, loud enough so everyone on the bus could hear. "Sure do!" I replied. My voice sounded ugly as it bounced off the metal walls. The man shook his head and stepped onto the sidewalk. The bus rumbled back into the street. All eyes were on me then, most of them narrowed. My right fist was clenched in my jacket around six quarters, fourteen dimes and seven nickels. That's all I needed for the night. As I waited for the driver to announce my stop, I closed my eyes and imagined that everyone else was doing the same. $0.00 The bottle of fortified, still wrapped in its brown shroud, clinked against the stone supports of the bench. I planned to spend my early evening watching the traffic on Commonwealth while I enjoyed my beverage. A crowd of young women sat on the stoop of the building across from me. The sun was near the horizon, and its gentle light was bathing the ladies in waves of orange. What did they call that? Beauty light? I kept my eyes on the illuminated women as I reached into my pocket to retrieve my wine. A half-bottle later, the sun was leaving, and the women with it. One of them walked toward me, hoisting a backpack over her shoulders. Her dark red hair flowed over her shoulders like lava. I capped my wine 101


Berkeley Fiction Review and slipped it back into my coat. The girl came closer. Words of poetry bounced in my head. "A beautiful evening made even more beautiful," I said. She put her head down and kept walking. Her backpack had a patch that read "Newton South High School." My face heated up and my abdomen muscles clenched. I sunk back onto the bench and held my head in my hands. The wine was pleading with me to release it from its glass prison, so I complied with its request. After a few sips, I noticed something dark through the slats of the bench. I reached my hand through my legs, patted the ground for a few seconds, and came up with a wallet made of expensive leather. I looked over my shoulders. No one was watching, so I hunched over the wallet to block it from view and opened it. There were credit cards and some pictures. Even a driver's license for some bastard named Kenneth Holland from Sudbury. I entered the billfold slowly like a bear's den, and found seventeen twenty-dollar bills hibernating inside. My head cleared instantly, and I heard every car on the street, every footstep on the sidewalk, and every villain as they murmured in the shadows. $340.00 I walked briskly down the street, looking behind every few steps to make sure I wasn't being followed. Twelve blocks later, I was in a quieter section of the city. I stopped to catch my breath. Paul's Liquors was across the comer. Hillside Park, just down the road, was notorious for its lackadaisical police patrols. I envisioned a night of expensive booze enjoyed in luxury beneath Hillside's leafy oaks. My mouth began to water, so I headed to Paul's. A couple passed in front of me. The pretty woman clutched her man's arm when she saw me. The man looked like Kenneth Holland, or maybe his younger brother. The whole city is full of Kenneth Hollands, clean-cut, employed, a beautiful woman waiting for them at home. My fingers were tightly gripping the wallet in my pocket. Kenneth Holland had at least three hundred and forty dollars, and he sure as hell didn't get it by shooting back wine in the park. My head hurt. I needed a drink, but I couldn't open my hand around the wallet. I walked past Paul's, my teeth gouging into my lower lip. A little ways down the road opened up, and a Kmart sat beyond a large parking lot. An old man stood in the front of the store smiling as customers en102

Randy Schmidt tered. He placed a sticker on the nose of a toddler and mussed his hair. He reminded me of my father before his liver gave out. When the old man saw me he frowned, hitched up his pants, and held out an open palm. "Listen pal, we don't want any trouble," he said. "Why don't you beat it, alright?" I shuffled past him, keeping my head down. "I got money, I won't be long," I replied. The old man frowned again and walked away. The lights of Kmart were blinding. $254.75 I exited the store weighted down by two large bags. The first purchase of my windfall had netted me a shirt, a pair of jeans and a bag each of underwear and white tube socks. I also bought scissors, some cheap sneakers, an aerosol can of deodorant, and the biggest tub of aspirin I could find. A man like me seen carrying new bags attracts all sorts of the wrong attention, so I hurried my way down the road. After a mile of hauling the bags, I saw a small dingy motel with a blinking vacancy sign. The woman in the office put down her paperback when she saw me and slowly stood up. She sighed and dropped her shoulders. "Yes?" she asked. "I'm interested in a room," I said. "Cheapest you got. Don't matter none." She snorted and shook her head. "You got an ID?" she asked. I handed her Kenneth Holland's license and she glanced at it briefly. "$54.99 a night, plus tax," she said as she picked up her book and sat back-down. I slapped some crumpled up bills onto the counter and smiled. "Two nights. And I'll need extra soap," I said. $138.50 The first night at the motel, I took off all of my clothes: the winter jacket, the old fatigue pants that were stiff around the crotch, the yellowed tee shirt, boots and blackened socks. I couldn't remember the last time I was completely naked. It must have been years at that point. My body was a battlefield of neglect. Red rashes encircled large, open sores running from chest to my groin. I stepped into a hot shower and screamed as the water pricked into my skin like needles. I scrubbed at

103


Berkeley Fiction Review and slipped it back into my coat. The girl came closer. Words of poetry bounced in my head. "A beautiful evening made even more beautiful," I said. She put her head down and kept walking. Her backpack had a patch that read "Newton South High School." My face heated up and my abdomen muscles clenched. I sunk back onto the bench and held my head in my hands. The wine was pleading with me to release it from its glass prison, so I complied with its request. After a few sips, I noticed something dark through the slats of the bench. I reached my hand through my legs, patted the ground for a few seconds, and came up with a wallet made of expensive leather. I looked over my shoulders. No one was watching, so I hunched over the wallet to block it from view and opened it. There were credit cards and some pictures. Even a driver's license for some bastard named Kenneth Holland from Sudbury. I entered the billfold slowly like a bear's den, and found seventeen twenty-dollar bills hibernating inside. My head cleared instantly, and I heard every car on the street, every footstep on the sidewalk, and every villain as they murmured in the shadows. $340.00 I walked briskly down the street, looking behind every few steps to make sure I wasn't being followed. Twelve blocks later, I was in a quieter section of the city. I stopped to catch my breath. Paul's Liquors was across the comer. Hillside Park, just down the road, was notorious for its lackadaisical police patrols. I envisioned a night of expensive booze enjoyed in luxury beneath Hillside's leafy oaks. My mouth began to water, so I headed to Paul's. A couple passed in front of me. The pretty woman clutched her man's arm when she saw me. The man looked like Kenneth Holland, or maybe his younger brother. The whole city is full of Kenneth Hollands, clean-cut, employed, a beautiful woman waiting for them at home. My fingers were tightly gripping the wallet in my pocket. Kenneth Holland had at least three hundred and forty dollars, and he sure as hell didn't get it by shooting back wine in the park. My head hurt. I needed a drink, but I couldn't open my hand around the wallet. I walked past Paul's, my teeth gouging into my lower lip. A little ways down the road opened up, and a Kmart sat beyond a large parking lot. An old man stood in the front of the store smiling as customers en102

Randy Schmidt tered. He placed a sticker on the nose of a toddler and mussed his hair. He reminded me of my father before his liver gave out. When the old man saw me he frowned, hitched up his pants, and held out an open palm. "Listen pal, we don't want any trouble," he said. "Why don't you beat it, alright?" I shuffled past him, keeping my head down. "I got money, I won't be long," I replied. The old man frowned again and walked away. The lights of Kmart were blinding. $254.75 I exited the store weighted down by two large bags. The first purchase of my windfall had netted me a shirt, a pair of jeans and a bag each of underwear and white tube socks. I also bought scissors, some cheap sneakers, an aerosol can of deodorant, and the biggest tub of aspirin I could find. A man like me seen carrying new bags attracts all sorts of the wrong attention, so I hurried my way down the road. After a mile of hauling the bags, I saw a small dingy motel with a blinking vacancy sign. The woman in the office put down her paperback when she saw me and slowly stood up. She sighed and dropped her shoulders. "Yes?" she asked. "I'm interested in a room," I said. "Cheapest you got. Don't matter none." She snorted and shook her head. "You got an ID?" she asked. I handed her Kenneth Holland's license and she glanced at it briefly. "$54.99 a night, plus tax," she said as she picked up her book and sat back-down. I slapped some crumpled up bills onto the counter and smiled. "Two nights. And I'll need extra soap," I said. $138.50 The first night at the motel, I took off all of my clothes: the winter jacket, the old fatigue pants that were stiff around the crotch, the yellowed tee shirt, boots and blackened socks. I couldn't remember the last time I was completely naked. It must have been years at that point. My body was a battlefield of neglect. Red rashes encircled large, open sores running from chest to my groin. I stepped into a hot shower and screamed as the water pricked into my skin like needles. I scrubbed at

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Berkeley Fiction Review my body with a washcloth until my sores were bleeding freely. Droplets of darkened water joined cloudy pools in the bottom of the tub. Afterwards I cut my hair down to the scalp, sprayed on a massive amount of deodorant, took five aspirin, and spread out on the bed. Alcohol was steaming out of my pores, and I still reeked of the street. Sleep finally came, but it was troubled with vague distressing dreams and bouts of restlessness. The next day I took four more showers. Would I ever be as clean as I remembered being as a young man? I thought to myself. The pain lessened each time, and by the end of the day the sores were beginning to close. I changed into my new outfit. It felt crisp and made my skin tremble. The mirror revealed a man who had lived some years, yes, but he was a man, and a dog no longer. My old clothes were still a stinking mess on the floor, so I bagged them up and tossed them into the woods behind the motel. An entire pizza, a bag of cookies, and a box of wine later, I felt like I would be sick, A free bible was in the drawer in the nightstand, and I flipped through it until I became tired. Sleep was better the second night, twelve hours uninterrupted. $104.25 The morning sun was shining and small birds were making their songs in the trees above. The sidewalk seemed to give as I walked on it, like I was treading on a mattress. A dignified and handsome woman was reading a pamphlet as she sat on my favorite bench on Commonwealth. Her gray hair was tied in a ponytail and rested upon a printed purple dress. I sat down on the bench, but she kept her head down while she read. "Good morning," I said. There was no answer. She was much older than I thought. The shadows of her face ^were -deep crevasses playing with the sunlight. Her bony knuckles gripped the pamphlet. I turned my head to see what she was reading. Gold letters were scrawled underneath an erupting volcano asking "Are You Aware?" "Is that some sort of religious thing?" I asked. She slowly turned her head toward me. Dried blood was encrusted at the edges of her nostrils. "Of course!" she snarled through her teeth. She stood up and walked away quickly, turning her head back at me with a look of suspicion and paranoia. Her path led her through a group of people waiting for the bus to take them to work. They all faced the road, waiting for the bus, their arms dangling lifelessly at their sides. Their skin looked dull and their

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Randy Schmidt eyes tired. The woman weaved through the crowd, and eventually I lost her. $102.25 The subway rattled on its rails as it headed into the downtown. I sat on a plastic seat in the back of the car. Dark spots had mysteriously collected on the bottom of my pants. I couldn't remember stepping in a puddle. I thought about all of the germs in the city, first collecting as spots on my jeans, and then collecting as cancer in my brain. My shirt, except for some light sweat stains, looked good. Downtown would welcome me. The car was at capacity. I was lucky enough to have found a seat, but people stood all over me, packed in tight. Every bump caused a wave in the mass, causing elbows and asses to strike me repeatedly. The air was thick and sweltering. Body heat and steamy breath fogged up the windows. I imagined the car as some sort of swamp organism with searing air escaping through engorged nostrils. At the next stop, more people pushed their way into the car. A woman on the outside clawed at the throng. "I need to get on!" she shouted. The people in the car looked at her passively. A bell rang and the door started to close. She shrieked and held the door with one hand, trying to dig at an entrance with the other. "Get off the train, you bitch," sneered a sweaty, obese man who stood near the door. With one swipe of his tree trunk arm, the woman's head snapped backward and the car's door closed. The train moved on, and through the window I saw the woman lying motionless on the station floor, her hands covering her face. "I want to go north," I said, "As far into those northern woods as you can take me." "Well, some of our lines go well into Canada," the clerk said. The South Station bus terminal buzzed with travelers crisscrossing each other's paths. It was hard to hear the clerk, so I leaned in closer. "No Canada. I need to stay American," I replied. The clerk nodded and typed at her computer. "At noon we have a bus leaving for Presque Isle, Maine. Gets in at ten. Ninety-nine dollars," she said. I looked at the wrinkled bills in my hand. 105


Berkeley Fiction Review my body with a washcloth until my sores were bleeding freely. Droplets of darkened water joined cloudy pools in the bottom of the tub. Afterwards I cut my hair down to the scalp, sprayed on a massive amount of deodorant, took five aspirin, and spread out on the bed. Alcohol was steaming out of my pores, and I still reeked of the street. Sleep finally came, but it was troubled with vague distressing dreams and bouts of restlessness. The next day I took four more showers. Would I ever be as clean as I remembered being as a young man? I thought to myself. The pain lessened each time, and by the end of the day the sores were beginning to close. I changed into my new outfit. It felt crisp and made my skin tremble. The mirror revealed a man who had lived some years, yes, but he was a man, and a dog no longer. My old clothes were still a stinking mess on the floor, so I bagged them up and tossed them into the woods behind the motel. An entire pizza, a bag of cookies, and a box of wine later, I felt like I would be sick, A free bible was in the drawer in the nightstand, and I flipped through it until I became tired. Sleep was better the second night, twelve hours uninterrupted. $104.25 The morning sun was shining and small birds were making their songs in the trees above. The sidewalk seemed to give as I walked on it, like I was treading on a mattress. A dignified and handsome woman was reading a pamphlet as she sat on my favorite bench on Commonwealth. Her gray hair was tied in a ponytail and rested upon a printed purple dress. I sat down on the bench, but she kept her head down while she read. "Good morning," I said. There was no answer. She was much older than I thought. The shadows of her face ^were -deep crevasses playing with the sunlight. Her bony knuckles gripped the pamphlet. I turned my head to see what she was reading. Gold letters were scrawled underneath an erupting volcano asking "Are You Aware?" "Is that some sort of religious thing?" I asked. She slowly turned her head toward me. Dried blood was encrusted at the edges of her nostrils. "Of course!" she snarled through her teeth. She stood up and walked away quickly, turning her head back at me with a look of suspicion and paranoia. Her path led her through a group of people waiting for the bus to take them to work. They all faced the road, waiting for the bus, their arms dangling lifelessly at their sides. Their skin looked dull and their

104

Randy Schmidt eyes tired. The woman weaved through the crowd, and eventually I lost her. $102.25 The subway rattled on its rails as it headed into the downtown. I sat on a plastic seat in the back of the car. Dark spots had mysteriously collected on the bottom of my pants. I couldn't remember stepping in a puddle. I thought about all of the germs in the city, first collecting as spots on my jeans, and then collecting as cancer in my brain. My shirt, except for some light sweat stains, looked good. Downtown would welcome me. The car was at capacity. I was lucky enough to have found a seat, but people stood all over me, packed in tight. Every bump caused a wave in the mass, causing elbows and asses to strike me repeatedly. The air was thick and sweltering. Body heat and steamy breath fogged up the windows. I imagined the car as some sort of swamp organism with searing air escaping through engorged nostrils. At the next stop, more people pushed their way into the car. A woman on the outside clawed at the throng. "I need to get on!" she shouted. The people in the car looked at her passively. A bell rang and the door started to close. She shrieked and held the door with one hand, trying to dig at an entrance with the other. "Get off the train, you bitch," sneered a sweaty, obese man who stood near the door. With one swipe of his tree trunk arm, the woman's head snapped backward and the car's door closed. The train moved on, and through the window I saw the woman lying motionless on the station floor, her hands covering her face. "I want to go north," I said, "As far into those northern woods as you can take me." "Well, some of our lines go well into Canada," the clerk said. The South Station bus terminal buzzed with travelers crisscrossing each other's paths. It was hard to hear the clerk, so I leaned in closer. "No Canada. I need to stay American," I replied. The clerk nodded and typed at her computer. "At noon we have a bus leaving for Presque Isle, Maine. Gets in at ten. Ninety-nine dollars," she said. I looked at the wrinkled bills in my hand. 105


Berkeley Fiction Review "What's up there?" I asked. "I really don't know, sir," the clerk replied. I squeezed the money in my fist, and then finally released it onto the counter. $3.25 Beyond the highway were thick trees, miles of them. I leaned back into the soft plush seat and felt the mmbling vibrations of the bus's engine. An elderly woman had gotten on somewhere in New Hampshire and abruptly fell asleep in the seat across from me. When she awoke, she looked at me and smiled. "Long trip, eh?" I said. "Indeed it is," she said as she dug in her purse. She pulled out an old rosary and began to rub its worn beads while praying softly. I turned back to my window. The sun was giving up its last light as it dipped below the horizon. My hand was deep in my pocket, fingering the change I had left. Just enough for a bottle of fortified, and maybe more, if the country prices were right. The old woman's chants burrowed into my head. I closed my eyes and said a prayer of my own.

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Berkeley Fiction Review "What's up there?" I asked. "I really don't know, sir," the clerk replied. I squeezed the money in my fist, and then finally released it onto the counter. $3.25 Beyond the highway were thick trees, miles of them. I leaned back into the soft plush seat and felt the mmbling vibrations of the bus's engine. An elderly woman had gotten on somewhere in New Hampshire and abruptly fell asleep in the seat across from me. When she awoke, she looked at me and smiled. "Long trip, eh?" I said. "Indeed it is," she said as she dug in her purse. She pulled out an old rosary and began to rub its worn beads while praying softly. I turned back to my window. The sun was giving up its last light as it dipped below the horizon. My hand was deep in my pocket, fingering the change I had left. Just enough for a bottle of fortified, and maybe more, if the country prices were right. The old woman's chants burrowed into my head. I closed my eyes and said a prayer of my own.

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ToddWhaley

I C E

C

R

E

A

M

TODD WHALEY

On the night I was jumped, Simone, my girlfriend of a year, sat at her desk by the window overlooking South Philly and the thick yellow band of Broad Street twelve stories below. Absently, she twisted her hair into a kinky, auburn rope over one shoulder—fingering it, twirling it—until she noticed me watching, then she stopped and peered over the rims of her oblong reading glasses. "You're still here?" she asked sarcastically. Her textbook remained open on her lap. I sighed and stretched lengthwise across her futon. Here, in her studio apartment, a full mile from the University of Pennsylvania campus, there was no need to think about roommates, about sirens screaming past my first floor window or about stolen food from the refrigerator. Her place, somewhat reluctantly for her, had become my_pwh. "You really want me to go, don't you?" 'Tom, come on, I gotta get up early. And it's getting late. This isn't the safest neighborhood at night." I sat up. Her legs—long and bent at the knee—ended in a pair of ragged, white shorts, and I stared at the milk chocolate skin and thought of my hand between them, advancing slowly upwards, across the frayed cotton to where the zipper snagged my fingers. I thought of her eyes closing, her mouth opening, her hair falling loosely down her back. Even with finals a week away, it was the only thing on my mind. "I could stay here," I said, knowing the answer already. "I'll be good, 108

I promise." She frowned. "No, you won't." She was right; I wouldn't. As a result I'd have to walk across Broad Street, along Spruce where the streetlamps had become obstructed with tree branches, through Rittenhouse Square to Fitler Square where the shuttle would take me across the Schuylkill River to campus. I never understood why she lived so far from her classes in an area dominated by such a dangerous contingent, in a building where the only person separating her from potential violence was a scrawny, sweaty doorman who smiled as I came and went. Because the rent's cheap, she had told me once when I asked. Plus I can be black if I want. And she could. With a black mother and a white father, she had often been mistaken for Pilipino, for Mexican, for Puerto Rican. No one, including me, could figure her out easily. "Alright, fine, I'll go." I stuffed my books into my backpack, and as I fell with the elevator— eleven, nine, seven, five—I still felt the ghost of her kiss on my mouth, the light smear of lip gloss and hint of tea with honey, and her breasts pressing against me, loose, underneath her t-shirt. Sighing, I rubbed the back of my neck as if there was something I had forgotten to do. Just after Broad where the lights from the theaters faded and the Brownstones encroached upon the sidewalks, I saw him: a thin AfricanAmerican boy no more than sixteen, his hands deep into his pockets, with oversized jeans, a brisk walk, and his chin lowered so I couldn't see his face. Unidentifiable. Only when he lifted his head to look at me—a squint in his eye when he passed—did I realize I was in trouble. I dropped to my hands and knees even before I knew what had happened, before I knew that the pressure on the back of my head was a blow with something sharp—keys, I thought, _wedged- between his knuckles like sharp teeth—and before I understood that the moisture on my neck wasn't water but something thicker. Blood. My own. Within seconds, he rifled through my pockets, pulled the backpack off my shoulder and scampered off toward the south, into the dark, while I remained frozen in place. At once, eveiything around me moved in a sort of slow motion. The thin stream of red that circled my neck and dropped soundlessly onto the pavement, creating a burst of red beside my thumb. Another beside it. My breath, drifting in and out, and the tlirumming of my heart beating in

109


ToddWhaley

I C E

C

R

E

A

M

TODD WHALEY

On the night I was jumped, Simone, my girlfriend of a year, sat at her desk by the window overlooking South Philly and the thick yellow band of Broad Street twelve stories below. Absently, she twisted her hair into a kinky, auburn rope over one shoulder—fingering it, twirling it—until she noticed me watching, then she stopped and peered over the rims of her oblong reading glasses. "You're still here?" she asked sarcastically. Her textbook remained open on her lap. I sighed and stretched lengthwise across her futon. Here, in her studio apartment, a full mile from the University of Pennsylvania campus, there was no need to think about roommates, about sirens screaming past my first floor window or about stolen food from the refrigerator. Her place, somewhat reluctantly for her, had become my_pwh. "You really want me to go, don't you?" 'Tom, come on, I gotta get up early. And it's getting late. This isn't the safest neighborhood at night." I sat up. Her legs—long and bent at the knee—ended in a pair of ragged, white shorts, and I stared at the milk chocolate skin and thought of my hand between them, advancing slowly upwards, across the frayed cotton to where the zipper snagged my fingers. I thought of her eyes closing, her mouth opening, her hair falling loosely down her back. Even with finals a week away, it was the only thing on my mind. "I could stay here," I said, knowing the answer already. "I'll be good, 108

I promise." She frowned. "No, you won't." She was right; I wouldn't. As a result I'd have to walk across Broad Street, along Spruce where the streetlamps had become obstructed with tree branches, through Rittenhouse Square to Fitler Square where the shuttle would take me across the Schuylkill River to campus. I never understood why she lived so far from her classes in an area dominated by such a dangerous contingent, in a building where the only person separating her from potential violence was a scrawny, sweaty doorman who smiled as I came and went. Because the rent's cheap, she had told me once when I asked. Plus I can be black if I want. And she could. With a black mother and a white father, she had often been mistaken for Pilipino, for Mexican, for Puerto Rican. No one, including me, could figure her out easily. "Alright, fine, I'll go." I stuffed my books into my backpack, and as I fell with the elevator— eleven, nine, seven, five—I still felt the ghost of her kiss on my mouth, the light smear of lip gloss and hint of tea with honey, and her breasts pressing against me, loose, underneath her t-shirt. Sighing, I rubbed the back of my neck as if there was something I had forgotten to do. Just after Broad where the lights from the theaters faded and the Brownstones encroached upon the sidewalks, I saw him: a thin AfricanAmerican boy no more than sixteen, his hands deep into his pockets, with oversized jeans, a brisk walk, and his chin lowered so I couldn't see his face. Unidentifiable. Only when he lifted his head to look at me—a squint in his eye when he passed—did I realize I was in trouble. I dropped to my hands and knees even before I knew what had happened, before I knew that the pressure on the back of my head was a blow with something sharp—keys, I thought, _wedged- between his knuckles like sharp teeth—and before I understood that the moisture on my neck wasn't water but something thicker. Blood. My own. Within seconds, he rifled through my pockets, pulled the backpack off my shoulder and scampered off toward the south, into the dark, while I remained frozen in place. At once, eveiything around me moved in a sort of slow motion. The thin stream of red that circled my neck and dropped soundlessly onto the pavement, creating a burst of red beside my thumb. Another beside it. My breath, drifting in and out, and the tlirumming of my heart beating in

109


Berkeley Fiction Review my neck. I sat back on my heels. Somewhere behind me, I heard the whine of brakes and an idling car engine. Then an opening door. When I turned my head to the side, I noticed two yellow bulbs of light against the bumper of a parked car, but instead of turning around further, I felt along my neck where blood soaked into my shirt collar like a wick and stained my fingertips an iridescent, uniform red. A pair of jeans, the deepest blue, with tattered cuffs that bunched around the ankles, stepped forward and stood directly in front of me. Suddenly I felt myself being lifted and led along the sidewalk to the back seat of a rusty Crown Victoria where I sat sideways, my feet flat on the pavement and the remnants of bright lights throbbing in my head. Like a pain I could see. "Hey, boss, you okay?" I looked up, but it didn't register. Towering over me, a man scratched his head. He smelled of summer humidity and unwashed cotton, and his t-shirt—heather-pink, with a cartoon image of a disco dancer with one finger pointing to the sky—strained around his sagging breasts. By no means was he fat, although he couldn't qualify as muscular either. Bulbous, pieced together in sections, part man and part ant. Even more curious was the way his pale skin—blotchy in places, like cow hide— contrasted sharply with a white afro and wide nose. "I saw the whole thing, I did. Sitting right over there in my car, waiting for the light. Know the kid too. Curtis Johnson, lives up on TwentyFifth." The air conditioner engaged with a click underneath the hood. "What'd he get, boss?" he asked, looking around. "He take anything?" Everything had happened so fast. "My wallet," I said. "And my cell phone. It was in my backpack." His fists clenched, and he stood up straight. I tried to look up, but raising my head sent sudden, sharp, white flashes through my skull. "Goddamn. He ain't right, that boy. His mom don't pay no attention, working shifts and all that. She don't see what I see. She don't see the streets raising that boy." When he began to take off his shirt, when he yanked it over his head like he was molting a fresh layer of pink skin, I got a good look at his chest, brown in patches and accentuated with swirling, creamy hairs be110

Todd Whaley tween a pair of lopsided breasts. He wasn't black, not white either, not even albino, but a mixture of all three: a black man with a pigment deficiency. He looked as if his skin had been stripped in places, leaving him raw. He pressed his sweaty t-shirt against the back of my head. "You're like ice cream," I said, suddenly wondering what possessed me to say what was on my mind. He didn't get angry but did what I figured was his equivalent of laughing: his lumpy lips formed a smile. "I'll take you to the hospital," he said, closing the car door when I leaned against the spongy back seat, "but first we're gonna get your shit back." He maneuvered his body behind the wheel, and the car, surprisingly smooth and smelling of stale ash and evergreen air fresheners, reversed onto Broad and its wide, dark avenue of silent theaters and quiet music halls—it was a Monday night, long past midnight—then he spun the wheel, and the headlights wandered across the facade of the Wilma Theater before he made a quick left onto Walnut. He seemed to be going out of his way to confuse me. "You in the wrong place at the wrong time, boss," he said. His eyes watched me from the mirror. "Name's Dionne." "Tom," I said, closing my eyes. My entire head was beginning to throb, and I wondered if it was visible to others, like a pulsing balloon. "You know, I'm okay. I can walk." He accelerated through the first light. Through the open window, colorful storefronts passed me by, from the flower shop that always appeared closed, to ING Investments, to Le Bee Fin on the comer of Sixteenth Street, but at the next light—Seventeenth, along the edge of Rittenhouse Square where I had spent many pleasant Sunday afternoons during the summer on the grass with a newspaper and a cup of coffee—Dionne hung a left and drove south, away from the lights and lively action and into the dark. His car slinked to Lombard, where it turned again. This time, the cars we passed were unoccupied and a solitary black. Even the rowhouses remained dark, closed-up, quiet, with only faint traces of lamps hidden behind blinds. After the AT&T Building where Lombard doglegged left, we crossed over South Street and into unfamiliar territory. I removed the shirt from my neck. There was scarcely any blood on it. I probed with my fingers. The bleeding had stopped. Oddly enough, until the moment when I realized I would be fine, that maybe all I needed 111


Berkeley Fiction Review my neck. I sat back on my heels. Somewhere behind me, I heard the whine of brakes and an idling car engine. Then an opening door. When I turned my head to the side, I noticed two yellow bulbs of light against the bumper of a parked car, but instead of turning around further, I felt along my neck where blood soaked into my shirt collar like a wick and stained my fingertips an iridescent, uniform red. A pair of jeans, the deepest blue, with tattered cuffs that bunched around the ankles, stepped forward and stood directly in front of me. Suddenly I felt myself being lifted and led along the sidewalk to the back seat of a rusty Crown Victoria where I sat sideways, my feet flat on the pavement and the remnants of bright lights throbbing in my head. Like a pain I could see. "Hey, boss, you okay?" I looked up, but it didn't register. Towering over me, a man scratched his head. He smelled of summer humidity and unwashed cotton, and his t-shirt—heather-pink, with a cartoon image of a disco dancer with one finger pointing to the sky—strained around his sagging breasts. By no means was he fat, although he couldn't qualify as muscular either. Bulbous, pieced together in sections, part man and part ant. Even more curious was the way his pale skin—blotchy in places, like cow hide— contrasted sharply with a white afro and wide nose. "I saw the whole thing, I did. Sitting right over there in my car, waiting for the light. Know the kid too. Curtis Johnson, lives up on TwentyFifth." The air conditioner engaged with a click underneath the hood. "What'd he get, boss?" he asked, looking around. "He take anything?" Everything had happened so fast. "My wallet," I said. "And my cell phone. It was in my backpack." His fists clenched, and he stood up straight. I tried to look up, but raising my head sent sudden, sharp, white flashes through my skull. "Goddamn. He ain't right, that boy. His mom don't pay no attention, working shifts and all that. She don't see what I see. She don't see the streets raising that boy." When he began to take off his shirt, when he yanked it over his head like he was molting a fresh layer of pink skin, I got a good look at his chest, brown in patches and accentuated with swirling, creamy hairs be110

Todd Whaley tween a pair of lopsided breasts. He wasn't black, not white either, not even albino, but a mixture of all three: a black man with a pigment deficiency. He looked as if his skin had been stripped in places, leaving him raw. He pressed his sweaty t-shirt against the back of my head. "You're like ice cream," I said, suddenly wondering what possessed me to say what was on my mind. He didn't get angry but did what I figured was his equivalent of laughing: his lumpy lips formed a smile. "I'll take you to the hospital," he said, closing the car door when I leaned against the spongy back seat, "but first we're gonna get your shit back." He maneuvered his body behind the wheel, and the car, surprisingly smooth and smelling of stale ash and evergreen air fresheners, reversed onto Broad and its wide, dark avenue of silent theaters and quiet music halls—it was a Monday night, long past midnight—then he spun the wheel, and the headlights wandered across the facade of the Wilma Theater before he made a quick left onto Walnut. He seemed to be going out of his way to confuse me. "You in the wrong place at the wrong time, boss," he said. His eyes watched me from the mirror. "Name's Dionne." "Tom," I said, closing my eyes. My entire head was beginning to throb, and I wondered if it was visible to others, like a pulsing balloon. "You know, I'm okay. I can walk." He accelerated through the first light. Through the open window, colorful storefronts passed me by, from the flower shop that always appeared closed, to ING Investments, to Le Bee Fin on the comer of Sixteenth Street, but at the next light—Seventeenth, along the edge of Rittenhouse Square where I had spent many pleasant Sunday afternoons during the summer on the grass with a newspaper and a cup of coffee—Dionne hung a left and drove south, away from the lights and lively action and into the dark. His car slinked to Lombard, where it turned again. This time, the cars we passed were unoccupied and a solitary black. Even the rowhouses remained dark, closed-up, quiet, with only faint traces of lamps hidden behind blinds. After the AT&T Building where Lombard doglegged left, we crossed over South Street and into unfamiliar territory. I removed the shirt from my neck. There was scarcely any blood on it. I probed with my fingers. The bleeding had stopped. Oddly enough, until the moment when I realized I would be fine, that maybe all I needed 111


Berkeley Fiction Review was a shower and some bandages, I hadn't thought of my bigger, more immediate, problem: being driven against my will by a man I had never met into the deep, dark heart of South Philly. After three turns, I was lost. Dionne drove slowly along an angled street I never knew existed, past smaller, squat houses where televisions glowed blue from bedroom windows and the parked cars resembled his own Crown Vic—rust-holed, dented, squarish. I was just about to ask him where he was taking me when he eased the wheel to the curb and nudged the transmission into park. The engine died and, with it, the rattling noise, replaced immediately by a thrumming helicopter overhead. Somewhere in the distance, I could detect the faint whir of Interstate 76 on the far side of the river and, from a nearby house, the clatter of pans, a sink, and conversation. A man strolled by, wearing a long coat despite the summer heat, and lit a cigarette. Dionne didn't move. ' W h a t are we doing?" "Jus' wait," he said. "He be coming back this way, I know. That's Curtis' house there. You tell me if that's the kid who jumped you, and I'll get your shit back." I could have popped the door, ran away into the dark—he didn't look like he could catch me—and found my way back to Simone's, but, since I had that option, I decided to tough it out, stay put, and do just the opposite of what I had been trained to do in all the years since moving to Philadelphia. I decided to trust another person, just this once. I leaned back against the seat. Maybe his smile—pink-lipped and wide—convinced me. Maybe I felt a certain amount of pity for someone forced to go through life mottled, like a goldfish, someone who had to endure the taunts of classmates, the stares of people on the sidewalk, and the shocked surprise of those who didn't understand that the chemistry was the same even if the formula wasn't. Or maybe I was impressed that such an existence hadn't hardened him beyond repair. He was reaching out, in a way, to me. So I sat, waiting, and the blood at the base of my neck thickened into a black crust. He turned halfway around, a smile across his face. "Ice cream," he said. "I like that. That's some funny shit." "Like Fudge Marble," I said, feeling the need to explain myself. "Ha! That's what I ' m talkin' about. Fudge Marble, yeah. That's what I'll tell the ladies: I'm soft and sweet, brown and creamy. Call me 112

ToddWhaley Tee'." "We all scream for ice cream." He laughed now, laughed hard, with a sound that began deep in his belly and migrated up through his lungs to his throat. I laughed too. Then we settled down and, while we waited, quizzed each other about our backgrounds. As it turned out, Dionne lived on this same block—"the one with the green awning, just up there," he said, pointing, although I could pick it out from the others—and had for over twenty years. When I said I had moved to Philly from Ohio and attended graduate school at Perm, he simply nodded his meaty head that was stained across his neck and cheek with pigment, like mud, and scratched under his arm absently, as though such places were foreign to him, distant and irrelevant. He wasn't listening. He was waiting for something to happen. While we talked, I studied his scalp, mesmerized at the way the streetlight on the opposite curb penetrated the yellow fuzz of his hair and revealed other irregularities on his scalp—an angry scar that snaked toward his ear, a fist-sized splattering of brown, a bald spot, widening from the top of his head like a polar ice cap. It made me think of Simone and her mixed heritage, how she had blended smoothly into a mixture of both her parents and become someone unidentifiable. She was lucky. To those who didn't know her, she was not white, not black; she was both. And neither. Purgatory, she had called it once. Unable to fit in anywhere. That was, until graduate school when she became white, thanks to me. Race by association. Dionne, however, was black through and through, except on the outside. I wondered if his Purgatory was the same or a little closer to Hell. Suddenly, Dionne slumped in his seat. "Curtis, you little bitch," Dionne muttered, and I looked away from his scalp. Across the street, a high-school-age boy stepped from the curb between a pair of parked cars and yanked his baggy jeans higher around his waist. We were in a part of the city where cars seldom traveled, where the crickets—actual crickets, I couldn't remember the last time I had heard one—chirped happily in the weeds of the adjacent vacant lot, but still, out of habit probably, the boy looked both ways while cutting diagonally across the street. When I recognized his angular chin and the sappy, vacant look in his eyes, my stomach swelled with fear. "That him?" Dionne asked. 113


Berkeley Fiction Review was a shower and some bandages, I hadn't thought of my bigger, more immediate, problem: being driven against my will by a man I had never met into the deep, dark heart of South Philly. After three turns, I was lost. Dionne drove slowly along an angled street I never knew existed, past smaller, squat houses where televisions glowed blue from bedroom windows and the parked cars resembled his own Crown Vic—rust-holed, dented, squarish. I was just about to ask him where he was taking me when he eased the wheel to the curb and nudged the transmission into park. The engine died and, with it, the rattling noise, replaced immediately by a thrumming helicopter overhead. Somewhere in the distance, I could detect the faint whir of Interstate 76 on the far side of the river and, from a nearby house, the clatter of pans, a sink, and conversation. A man strolled by, wearing a long coat despite the summer heat, and lit a cigarette. Dionne didn't move. ' W h a t are we doing?" "Jus' wait," he said. "He be coming back this way, I know. That's Curtis' house there. You tell me if that's the kid who jumped you, and I'll get your shit back." I could have popped the door, ran away into the dark—he didn't look like he could catch me—and found my way back to Simone's, but, since I had that option, I decided to tough it out, stay put, and do just the opposite of what I had been trained to do in all the years since moving to Philadelphia. I decided to trust another person, just this once. I leaned back against the seat. Maybe his smile—pink-lipped and wide—convinced me. Maybe I felt a certain amount of pity for someone forced to go through life mottled, like a goldfish, someone who had to endure the taunts of classmates, the stares of people on the sidewalk, and the shocked surprise of those who didn't understand that the chemistry was the same even if the formula wasn't. Or maybe I was impressed that such an existence hadn't hardened him beyond repair. He was reaching out, in a way, to me. So I sat, waiting, and the blood at the base of my neck thickened into a black crust. He turned halfway around, a smile across his face. "Ice cream," he said. "I like that. That's some funny shit." "Like Fudge Marble," I said, feeling the need to explain myself. "Ha! That's what I ' m talkin' about. Fudge Marble, yeah. That's what I'll tell the ladies: I'm soft and sweet, brown and creamy. Call me 112

ToddWhaley Tee'." "We all scream for ice cream." He laughed now, laughed hard, with a sound that began deep in his belly and migrated up through his lungs to his throat. I laughed too. Then we settled down and, while we waited, quizzed each other about our backgrounds. As it turned out, Dionne lived on this same block—"the one with the green awning, just up there," he said, pointing, although I could pick it out from the others—and had for over twenty years. When I said I had moved to Philly from Ohio and attended graduate school at Perm, he simply nodded his meaty head that was stained across his neck and cheek with pigment, like mud, and scratched under his arm absently, as though such places were foreign to him, distant and irrelevant. He wasn't listening. He was waiting for something to happen. While we talked, I studied his scalp, mesmerized at the way the streetlight on the opposite curb penetrated the yellow fuzz of his hair and revealed other irregularities on his scalp—an angry scar that snaked toward his ear, a fist-sized splattering of brown, a bald spot, widening from the top of his head like a polar ice cap. It made me think of Simone and her mixed heritage, how she had blended smoothly into a mixture of both her parents and become someone unidentifiable. She was lucky. To those who didn't know her, she was not white, not black; she was both. And neither. Purgatory, she had called it once. Unable to fit in anywhere. That was, until graduate school when she became white, thanks to me. Race by association. Dionne, however, was black through and through, except on the outside. I wondered if his Purgatory was the same or a little closer to Hell. Suddenly, Dionne slumped in his seat. "Curtis, you little bitch," Dionne muttered, and I looked away from his scalp. Across the street, a high-school-age boy stepped from the curb between a pair of parked cars and yanked his baggy jeans higher around his waist. We were in a part of the city where cars seldom traveled, where the crickets—actual crickets, I couldn't remember the last time I had heard one—chirped happily in the weeds of the adjacent vacant lot, but still, out of habit probably, the boy looked both ways while cutting diagonally across the street. When I recognized his angular chin and the sappy, vacant look in his eyes, my stomach swelled with fear. "That him?" Dionne asked. 113


Berkeley Fiction Review "That's him. He's already ditched my backpack." "Stay here." Shaking the car with his movements, Dionne popped the handle and straggled to his feet. Even from behind, while he walked away from me and toward the young boy who panicked when he saw him approaching, Dionne seemed threatening—a lumbering bear walking upright, spotted and smeared. Curtis immediately began to run. With intense satisfaction, I leaned forward over the seatback separating the front of the car from the back, watching as the boy ran to the front door of the house, dug frantically into his pants pockets for the key, found it—along with a pack of cigarettes that came tumbling out—and fumbled with locating the correct one before Dionne, still walking, reached him. "What do you want, man?" the boy yelled. The door opened and swallowed him inside. As it closed, Dionne reached the top step and caught the closing door with two opposite-colored hands, preventing it from latching, and grunted while he leaned with his weight and forced the door inward. With a final, muffled cry from inside the house, the door gave way, and Dionne stood up straight. Calmly he stepped through the doorway. I lost sight of him and could only see the soft, golden light from a lamp reflecting off the white wall and open door. That was when I truly feared for my safety. Now that my wits had begun to return and my body, slowly, calmed, I thought carefully about my situation. I was sitting inside a stranger's car, I was in a part of the city I didn't know, and he would be back. And, now, I had seen what he was capable of. I reached for the door handle. Fuck it, they could both have my wallet. But before I could open the door, Dionne emerged from the house, stepping casually down the brick steps to the sidewalk and crossing menacingly through the buttery cone of the streetlight. Behind him, Curtis' head popped from the open door. "I hate you! You're a freak!" "Get back inside before I whip your ass again, boy!" Dionne bellowed over his shoulder. "You should know better than that, you fool! Your momma didn't grow up like that; our daddy would have beat our ass. You wanna live your life like some sort of gangbanger, fine, but not while I'm around."

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ToddWhaley Dark shadows washed across his shoulders as he returned to the car. His sockets became black holes and the stain across his cheek, instead of a blemish on the surface, gave the appearance of being deeper, denser somehow, as though the flesh underneath, as well as the bone at his very core, was a different color than the rest of him. Until that moment, I had never in my life seen another human being look so sad. "Here," he said, standing outside my car window. I could smell his dense sweat. "Make sure it's all there." He passed my wallet through the window, followed by my cell phone. After thumbing through my inventory of cards—one from the video store, another from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania explaining that, if I had one, I could operate a motor vehicle—everything seemed intact. The cash was gone. Sixty some-odd dollars. I turned m y cell phone over, noticing the new gouges in its shell, and wondered if it could have somehow been compromised, decoded, a critical number taken, my name somewhere on a stranger's answering machine. It didn't feel like my own anymore. "Yeah," I said. "It's all there." "Alright." As he settled into his seat behind the wheel—struggling in reverse from how he stood up—Dionne wiped his brow with his forearm. His back was glistening, his shoulders and neck. Straight ahead through the windshield, the door where Curtis had disappeared was now closed, and if I didn't know better, I might have thought nothing had ever happened there. It was quiet again. A yellow pickup rolled past with a dog perched in the bed. Canned laughter from a television fluttered from a nearby window like confetti. "I been following him all night, that boy. We gotta take care of our own. Can't always expect them to know the difference between right or wrong unless it's taught, you know what I'm saying?" I did. Dionne started the engine. "Where to, boss? Doctor?" "No, I think I'll live. It stopped bleeding. How about Broad and Spruce?" I wanted to see Simone again. I wanted to meet her at her door, smell the sweet perfumes on her skin from the lotions she always seemed to wear, feel her fingers walking along the cut, saying that everything was fine, that everything would work out. I wanted to lie in her arms—diagonally, the way we always slept for some reason—listening to the car

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Berkeley Fiction Review "That's him. He's already ditched my backpack." "Stay here." Shaking the car with his movements, Dionne popped the handle and straggled to his feet. Even from behind, while he walked away from me and toward the young boy who panicked when he saw him approaching, Dionne seemed threatening—a lumbering bear walking upright, spotted and smeared. Curtis immediately began to run. With intense satisfaction, I leaned forward over the seatback separating the front of the car from the back, watching as the boy ran to the front door of the house, dug frantically into his pants pockets for the key, found it—along with a pack of cigarettes that came tumbling out—and fumbled with locating the correct one before Dionne, still walking, reached him. "What do you want, man?" the boy yelled. The door opened and swallowed him inside. As it closed, Dionne reached the top step and caught the closing door with two opposite-colored hands, preventing it from latching, and grunted while he leaned with his weight and forced the door inward. With a final, muffled cry from inside the house, the door gave way, and Dionne stood up straight. Calmly he stepped through the doorway. I lost sight of him and could only see the soft, golden light from a lamp reflecting off the white wall and open door. That was when I truly feared for my safety. Now that my wits had begun to return and my body, slowly, calmed, I thought carefully about my situation. I was sitting inside a stranger's car, I was in a part of the city I didn't know, and he would be back. And, now, I had seen what he was capable of. I reached for the door handle. Fuck it, they could both have my wallet. But before I could open the door, Dionne emerged from the house, stepping casually down the brick steps to the sidewalk and crossing menacingly through the buttery cone of the streetlight. Behind him, Curtis' head popped from the open door. "I hate you! You're a freak!" "Get back inside before I whip your ass again, boy!" Dionne bellowed over his shoulder. "You should know better than that, you fool! Your momma didn't grow up like that; our daddy would have beat our ass. You wanna live your life like some sort of gangbanger, fine, but not while I'm around."

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ToddWhaley Dark shadows washed across his shoulders as he returned to the car. His sockets became black holes and the stain across his cheek, instead of a blemish on the surface, gave the appearance of being deeper, denser somehow, as though the flesh underneath, as well as the bone at his very core, was a different color than the rest of him. Until that moment, I had never in my life seen another human being look so sad. "Here," he said, standing outside my car window. I could smell his dense sweat. "Make sure it's all there." He passed my wallet through the window, followed by my cell phone. After thumbing through my inventory of cards—one from the video store, another from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania explaining that, if I had one, I could operate a motor vehicle—everything seemed intact. The cash was gone. Sixty some-odd dollars. I turned m y cell phone over, noticing the new gouges in its shell, and wondered if it could have somehow been compromised, decoded, a critical number taken, my name somewhere on a stranger's answering machine. It didn't feel like my own anymore. "Yeah," I said. "It's all there." "Alright." As he settled into his seat behind the wheel—struggling in reverse from how he stood up—Dionne wiped his brow with his forearm. His back was glistening, his shoulders and neck. Straight ahead through the windshield, the door where Curtis had disappeared was now closed, and if I didn't know better, I might have thought nothing had ever happened there. It was quiet again. A yellow pickup rolled past with a dog perched in the bed. Canned laughter from a television fluttered from a nearby window like confetti. "I been following him all night, that boy. We gotta take care of our own. Can't always expect them to know the difference between right or wrong unless it's taught, you know what I'm saying?" I did. Dionne started the engine. "Where to, boss? Doctor?" "No, I think I'll live. It stopped bleeding. How about Broad and Spruce?" I wanted to see Simone again. I wanted to meet her at her door, smell the sweet perfumes on her skin from the lotions she always seemed to wear, feel her fingers walking along the cut, saying that everything was fine, that everything would work out. I wanted to lie in her arms—diagonally, the way we always slept for some reason—listening to the car

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^F Berkeley Fiction Review horns and truck motors of the traffic far below, to dream and wake when she stirred from sleep to run a hand through my hair. I had to know that I had done right by her. "Alright," was all Dionne had to say before he spun the wheel. The Crown Vic began to move, and streetlights passed overhead like shooting stars, painting my blood-streaked fingers and bare arms with a dizzying whirl of yellow. He drove east to Broad, then north, and I felt I was in the backseat of a cab. At Walnut he slowed and overshot the turn, pulling to the side beside the Wilma Theater and wedging the transmission into park. He said nothing. I climbed out, a little unsteady on my feet, and looked down at him through the open window where his arm rested on the door. From this angle, Dionne looked like a pink-eyed troll. "Thanks " I said, not knowing what else to say. "If there's anything else I can do—" "And what exactly could you do for me?" I didn't have an answer. Throwing the car into gear, Dionne pulled away from the curb with a sputter from the tailpipe and joined a collection of taxis heading north toward city hall where each one followed the other to the right, around the circle, and down some other road like giant platelets in an open-air artery. I wandered toward Thirteenth Street, past the small cafe where I had met Simone the summer before as we both waited for the restroom to become available. She wore wide, rectangular reading glasses, I remembered, not because she needed to but because she was convinced they helped her focus. I smiled at the thought of it. At her building, I rang her apartment, number 12B, and rose with the eleyafor, floor by floor by floor, repeating in my head that I was fine, would always be, but would never truly know until Simone answered the door, sleepy from bed, and let me know for sure.

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Problem: So there's this girl. Isn't there always? But reaily, this time - there's this girl. You saw her. Now you want her. That is a simple thing—you have wanted many women, even before you knew what it might entail. There was the one in junior high with the electric, dark eyes and the Violent Femmes always playing in her Walkman; there was the Cara, in high school, who drew tiny hearts on her knuckles during gym class; there was the week you spent holed up in a motel in Tennessee with the English girl-her name has escaped you - something from the bible, maybe Ruth - but you remember her lean, strong thighs. You loved how she dissected her vowels with a clipped schoolmistress authority. You have had many, many girls. You don't like to brag. So many that their life stories have blended into one long stepfather, one failed stint at junior college, one tattoo they loved and one they regretted. You can almost remember a name, or the last four digits of a phone number. Their salty skin filled your mouth, your hands. You loved every one of them for an hour. This new girl - with her, there is a more complex want. Sure, sex, plenty of that, but you think about after, and everything that comes along with a woman one is serious about: talking, plans, fights and then making up in bed, under a lazy ceiling fan. Toothbrushes bought in pairs. Babies and barbeque and arguments about curtains and lawn mowing and trash.

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^F Berkeley Fiction Review horns and truck motors of the traffic far below, to dream and wake when she stirred from sleep to run a hand through my hair. I had to know that I had done right by her. "Alright," was all Dionne had to say before he spun the wheel. The Crown Vic began to move, and streetlights passed overhead like shooting stars, painting my blood-streaked fingers and bare arms with a dizzying whirl of yellow. He drove east to Broad, then north, and I felt I was in the backseat of a cab. At Walnut he slowed and overshot the turn, pulling to the side beside the Wilma Theater and wedging the transmission into park. He said nothing. I climbed out, a little unsteady on my feet, and looked down at him through the open window where his arm rested on the door. From this angle, Dionne looked like a pink-eyed troll. "Thanks " I said, not knowing what else to say. "If there's anything else I can do—" "And what exactly could you do for me?" I didn't have an answer. Throwing the car into gear, Dionne pulled away from the curb with a sputter from the tailpipe and joined a collection of taxis heading north toward city hall where each one followed the other to the right, around the circle, and down some other road like giant platelets in an open-air artery. I wandered toward Thirteenth Street, past the small cafe where I had met Simone the summer before as we both waited for the restroom to become available. She wore wide, rectangular reading glasses, I remembered, not because she needed to but because she was convinced they helped her focus. I smiled at the thought of it. At her building, I rang her apartment, number 12B, and rose with the eleyafor, floor by floor by floor, repeating in my head that I was fine, would always be, but would never truly know until Simone answered the door, sleepy from bed, and let me know for sure.

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Problem: So there's this girl. Isn't there always? But reaily, this time - there's this girl. You saw her. Now you want her. That is a simple thing—you have wanted many women, even before you knew what it might entail. There was the one in junior high with the electric, dark eyes and the Violent Femmes always playing in her Walkman; there was the Cara, in high school, who drew tiny hearts on her knuckles during gym class; there was the week you spent holed up in a motel in Tennessee with the English girl-her name has escaped you - something from the bible, maybe Ruth - but you remember her lean, strong thighs. You loved how she dissected her vowels with a clipped schoolmistress authority. You have had many, many girls. You don't like to brag. So many that their life stories have blended into one long stepfather, one failed stint at junior college, one tattoo they loved and one they regretted. You can almost remember a name, or the last four digits of a phone number. Their salty skin filled your mouth, your hands. You loved every one of them for an hour. This new girl - with her, there is a more complex want. Sure, sex, plenty of that, but you think about after, and everything that comes along with a woman one is serious about: talking, plans, fights and then making up in bed, under a lazy ceiling fan. Toothbrushes bought in pairs. Babies and barbeque and arguments about curtains and lawn mowing and trash.

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Berkeley Fiction Review Insurance, lots of insurance. Everyone waits for these things. You know, this story should be very short. In fact, there shouldn't be a story at all. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love, and then goes into debt for something sparkly. But there are obstacles. You have problems. You wonder if you could carry her over the threshold. You wonder if her stockings would hang over the shower rod like the sails from some vast and wonderful boat. The first problem is that you're afraid of what other people might think. It always comes down to people - what they can do for you, and what they keep you from. Why should you care? Well, people, they like you. In your tiny world of swing dancing and rockabilly and retro-forever, you are known. You have dated pretty women with slim hips and arms like drinking straws. You are known for your own good looks. You wear fedoras and bowling shirts and manage to look rakish, not stupid. People expect a lot from you. You are fun at parties, and one of your exgirlfriends was on the cover of a tattoo magazine, or something. The second problem, or really it's only a problem because there is a first one, is this: the girl is a fat girl. She is big, ponderous. Enormous. Is fat the wrong word? You worry about that. Girls do not like to be told they are fat. They cry and then they jog and eat salads, or slink around the house in oversized sweatshirts. But this girl is always dressed impeccably, like Marlene Dietrich or sometimes in 40s-style suits, fitted to her wide body without shame. She does not seem to mind. She puts herself out and up center, an oversized jewel. Perhaps it is better to say that she is huge and wonderful. Her waistline is wider than the span of your hands, the span of your arms. There is infinite possibility in her. You have never slept with a fat girl, but you imagine her flesh as smooth, maybe full of air,-like the bubble wrap you liked to pop when you were little. Here is the thing you can't say, because it's not said: you want the fat girl. You think about her all the time. She has thick, blond hair like sculpted margarine, swept up into a pompadour like your grandmother's used to be, like you saw in the pictures she kept on her mantle. Though she was thin, with cheekbones like commas, your grandmother's looks always made you hungry. Her hair had looked like buttercream icing, and though her red lips were set and serious from the war, you had wanted to lick her face. She looked delicious. You admired the car she leaned against, and the music you imagined pouring out into the night as she 118

Laurah Norton Raines drove down some quiet road. You always liked old-fashioned things, music, everything. So does the fat girl. You have that in common. This fat girl is like your grandmother reincarnated-broad and bursting, but this time all buttercream. The first time you see her, she is bathed in stage lights, although she is not performing. Her wide hip is planted firmly against the edge of the riser where the performers move and jump, throwing around guitars and a stand-up-bass like it weighs nothing at all. The fat girl takes up a lot of space, and she is unapologetic. Most big girls try to shrink, tucking themselves into comers, hovering apologetically at the back of pictures like icebergs. This fat girl is sure of the space, and isn't afraid to take what she needs. She nods her head along to the drums, tapping one candle-thick finger against the crook of her arm. It is fall, and in your light mechanic's jacket, you begin to sweat. She is luminescent. You memorize every detail, from her pearl brooch to the clutch of Lucite berries at her throat. She has lips the color of cherries, and wears old-fashioned seamed stockings, the tan line creeping up her meaty calves and under a pencil skirt, or a swing dress. The fat girl has style. The fat girl knows what's what. You want to bury your face in her stiff frosting hair, you want to grab hold of her ponderous hips, you want — but. You are not supposed to love this fat girl. She is not chubby, she is not zaftig, and she is not pleasingly plump. She is fat, fat, fat. She is the new world. She is round everything: breasts, butt, stomach, eyes - everything like universes, like planets. You want to orbit her. Her body reminds you of something that you cannot quite place, but have always wanted. This is something you can't admit, not to yourself, in the dirty bathroom mirror, and probably not your friends, even after six rounds of tallboy PBRs. Travis, Rob, Jake - especially Jake—all of them. They would not understand, and that makes you nervous. Their greased-up hair is so black that it reflects your eyes back at you. Even you can see the desperation. Smoke cigarettes, take shots of Jaeger. But don't get too drunk. You might slip. If you say the wrong thing, and you won't be invited to car shows, to concerts, to truckstop strip clubs. Keep going to bars with your slicked-up hair, your friends a gang of pony boys, really, and laugh as they ogle tiny women in tight blouses—skim-milk pinups, you think but don't say. They look like all the girls you've ever known, all ribs and too much mascara. When one smiles at you, she seems to disappear into nothing.

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Berkeley Fiction Review Insurance, lots of insurance. Everyone waits for these things. You know, this story should be very short. In fact, there shouldn't be a story at all. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love, and then goes into debt for something sparkly. But there are obstacles. You have problems. You wonder if you could carry her over the threshold. You wonder if her stockings would hang over the shower rod like the sails from some vast and wonderful boat. The first problem is that you're afraid of what other people might think. It always comes down to people - what they can do for you, and what they keep you from. Why should you care? Well, people, they like you. In your tiny world of swing dancing and rockabilly and retro-forever, you are known. You have dated pretty women with slim hips and arms like drinking straws. You are known for your own good looks. You wear fedoras and bowling shirts and manage to look rakish, not stupid. People expect a lot from you. You are fun at parties, and one of your exgirlfriends was on the cover of a tattoo magazine, or something. The second problem, or really it's only a problem because there is a first one, is this: the girl is a fat girl. She is big, ponderous. Enormous. Is fat the wrong word? You worry about that. Girls do not like to be told they are fat. They cry and then they jog and eat salads, or slink around the house in oversized sweatshirts. But this girl is always dressed impeccably, like Marlene Dietrich or sometimes in 40s-style suits, fitted to her wide body without shame. She does not seem to mind. She puts herself out and up center, an oversized jewel. Perhaps it is better to say that she is huge and wonderful. Her waistline is wider than the span of your hands, the span of your arms. There is infinite possibility in her. You have never slept with a fat girl, but you imagine her flesh as smooth, maybe full of air,-like the bubble wrap you liked to pop when you were little. Here is the thing you can't say, because it's not said: you want the fat girl. You think about her all the time. She has thick, blond hair like sculpted margarine, swept up into a pompadour like your grandmother's used to be, like you saw in the pictures she kept on her mantle. Though she was thin, with cheekbones like commas, your grandmother's looks always made you hungry. Her hair had looked like buttercream icing, and though her red lips were set and serious from the war, you had wanted to lick her face. She looked delicious. You admired the car she leaned against, and the music you imagined pouring out into the night as she 118

Laurah Norton Raines drove down some quiet road. You always liked old-fashioned things, music, everything. So does the fat girl. You have that in common. This fat girl is like your grandmother reincarnated-broad and bursting, but this time all buttercream. The first time you see her, she is bathed in stage lights, although she is not performing. Her wide hip is planted firmly against the edge of the riser where the performers move and jump, throwing around guitars and a stand-up-bass like it weighs nothing at all. The fat girl takes up a lot of space, and she is unapologetic. Most big girls try to shrink, tucking themselves into comers, hovering apologetically at the back of pictures like icebergs. This fat girl is sure of the space, and isn't afraid to take what she needs. She nods her head along to the drums, tapping one candle-thick finger against the crook of her arm. It is fall, and in your light mechanic's jacket, you begin to sweat. She is luminescent. You memorize every detail, from her pearl brooch to the clutch of Lucite berries at her throat. She has lips the color of cherries, and wears old-fashioned seamed stockings, the tan line creeping up her meaty calves and under a pencil skirt, or a swing dress. The fat girl has style. The fat girl knows what's what. You want to bury your face in her stiff frosting hair, you want to grab hold of her ponderous hips, you want — but. You are not supposed to love this fat girl. She is not chubby, she is not zaftig, and she is not pleasingly plump. She is fat, fat, fat. She is the new world. She is round everything: breasts, butt, stomach, eyes - everything like universes, like planets. You want to orbit her. Her body reminds you of something that you cannot quite place, but have always wanted. This is something you can't admit, not to yourself, in the dirty bathroom mirror, and probably not your friends, even after six rounds of tallboy PBRs. Travis, Rob, Jake - especially Jake—all of them. They would not understand, and that makes you nervous. Their greased-up hair is so black that it reflects your eyes back at you. Even you can see the desperation. Smoke cigarettes, take shots of Jaeger. But don't get too drunk. You might slip. If you say the wrong thing, and you won't be invited to car shows, to concerts, to truckstop strip clubs. Keep going to bars with your slicked-up hair, your friends a gang of pony boys, really, and laugh as they ogle tiny women in tight blouses—skim-milk pinups, you think but don't say. They look like all the girls you've ever known, all ribs and too much mascara. When one smiles at you, she seems to disappear into nothing.

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will, too - eventually. And if they don't, you don't need them. You will have her. You two will go to revival theatres and have picnics. You will comb flea markets for antique chairs, for Formica table sets, for a claw foot bathtub. She will fill up your life until it bursts. So now you will be brave; your first problem is solved. But in order to have the fat girl, you must find her first.

Try to behave normally, like you did before you saw her at the Three Bad Jacks show, saw her pressed up close to the stage, singing along with the band like she knew she was beautiful - like she wasn't fat at all. You'd stood at the bar, watching her watching them, the broad curves of her body half-lit, half-shadow. She carried a tiny purse, so small it was silly, really, what could fit into it? You imagined her at home in a big pink bathrobe, painting her fingernails scarlet, switching side-to-side like Mae West. She would know how to cook a steak. She would sing Wanda Jackson as she did the dishes, her hair tied up in a no-nonsense bandana, barefoot, with ruby toenails. She would wear old-fashioned underwear, with straps and garters. She would know how to swing dance. She would smile when you came in from work and you would wrap your arms around her as far as you could, smelling all of her goodness, taking in everything and having more left over.

Problem: Atlanta is a big city, but not too big; there are only so many bars, so many car shows, so many places that people like you and her might go. But you can't find her. You've been out every night this week, even without your friends, cruising the city in your Nova, stopping at the Star Bar, the Clermont Lounge, Aces - even the honky tanks on the edge of the city that serve beer in mason jars. She has disappeared, an iceberg passed into shadow. You go to see bands you don't even like, on the off chance she might be there. You dress up so very carefully, in white T-shirts and Levi shrink-to-fit, you cuff them just so, and still, nothing. Did you imagine her? You begin to worry. Your friends call you and say What's your deal, John, we haven't seen you and We hear you 've been out every night by yourself Jake leaves you this message, with bar-noise in the background: Are you too good for us? Start turning off your phone. You don't need the distraction.

How long has it been? Three weeks? People begin to notice that something is different. Your friends ask what's with you, where are you. ? You want to ask them do they know her, who is she, where can I find her, does she want to marry me? Instead, you buy everyone a beer, and they get distracted, talk about engines. Go home alone. Late at night, think of her. The fat girl. The moon. Pretend your callused hand is hers. Cry out into your pillow, and wonder when you'll see her again. At work at the garage, fiddle with old cars and drink Mountain Dew from cans. Eat the lunch you packed yourself—ham on wheat, an apple, store-bought cookies. If you had her, she would've done this for you: cut the sandwich in triangles, polished the fruit, and home-baked something delicious that crumbled when you touched it. She would have written a note on the napkin in wide, sloping script: / love u! Wish you had a pinup picture of her to hang up in the shop, next-to the Pennzoil calendar. She'd be looking over one round shoulder, smiling small and coy, a bra strip slipped down and waiting to be thumbed up. She'd be winking, her hair drifting down over her back in a buttery waterfall that fell into your waiting hands.

The search goes on for weeks. Sometimes, you're out so late that you barely make it to work. You are put on probation and watched carefully; they think you are on drugs. You feel like you are, and you know you look like you are, too. Dark circles skim your eyes like pudding skin. You're losing weight. You ask bartenders, bass players, and burlesque dancers. Nobody knows her. They squint against cigarette smoke and say, buttercream? Begin to, out of desperation,Took for a replacement. Find a big woman in Bettie bangs or blue high heels and buy her a drink. It is not the same. They are as vapid as the skim-milk ones, all hairspray and predatory eyes. Soon, you realize no one else will do. You begin to give up. Months pass. You answer your friends' calls again, because you don't know what else to do. Tell them there was a girl. Leave it at that.

This can only go on for so long. You can only take so many showers, do so many pushups, watch so many Elvis movies on AMC. You begin to lose sleep over this, and make mistakes at work. Your sandwiches are dry and tasteless. Your friends are boring. You begin to wonder why you ever cared what they thought at all. If you can love the fat girl, and find her beautiful, then everyone else

Problem: The last problem is the worst. And here it is: 121

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will, too - eventually. And if they don't, you don't need them. You will have her. You two will go to revival theatres and have picnics. You will comb flea markets for antique chairs, for Formica table sets, for a claw foot bathtub. She will fill up your life until it bursts. So now you will be brave; your first problem is solved. But in order to have the fat girl, you must find her first.

Try to behave normally, like you did before you saw her at the Three Bad Jacks show, saw her pressed up close to the stage, singing along with the band like she knew she was beautiful - like she wasn't fat at all. You'd stood at the bar, watching her watching them, the broad curves of her body half-lit, half-shadow. She carried a tiny purse, so small it was silly, really, what could fit into it? You imagined her at home in a big pink bathrobe, painting her fingernails scarlet, switching side-to-side like Mae West. She would know how to cook a steak. She would sing Wanda Jackson as she did the dishes, her hair tied up in a no-nonsense bandana, barefoot, with ruby toenails. She would wear old-fashioned underwear, with straps and garters. She would know how to swing dance. She would smile when you came in from work and you would wrap your arms around her as far as you could, smelling all of her goodness, taking in everything and having more left over.

Problem: Atlanta is a big city, but not too big; there are only so many bars, so many car shows, so many places that people like you and her might go. But you can't find her. You've been out every night this week, even without your friends, cruising the city in your Nova, stopping at the Star Bar, the Clermont Lounge, Aces - even the honky tanks on the edge of the city that serve beer in mason jars. She has disappeared, an iceberg passed into shadow. You go to see bands you don't even like, on the off chance she might be there. You dress up so very carefully, in white T-shirts and Levi shrink-to-fit, you cuff them just so, and still, nothing. Did you imagine her? You begin to worry. Your friends call you and say What's your deal, John, we haven't seen you and We hear you 've been out every night by yourself Jake leaves you this message, with bar-noise in the background: Are you too good for us? Start turning off your phone. You don't need the distraction.

How long has it been? Three weeks? People begin to notice that something is different. Your friends ask what's with you, where are you. ? You want to ask them do they know her, who is she, where can I find her, does she want to marry me? Instead, you buy everyone a beer, and they get distracted, talk about engines. Go home alone. Late at night, think of her. The fat girl. The moon. Pretend your callused hand is hers. Cry out into your pillow, and wonder when you'll see her again. At work at the garage, fiddle with old cars and drink Mountain Dew from cans. Eat the lunch you packed yourself—ham on wheat, an apple, store-bought cookies. If you had her, she would've done this for you: cut the sandwich in triangles, polished the fruit, and home-baked something delicious that crumbled when you touched it. She would have written a note on the napkin in wide, sloping script: / love u! Wish you had a pinup picture of her to hang up in the shop, next-to the Pennzoil calendar. She'd be looking over one round shoulder, smiling small and coy, a bra strip slipped down and waiting to be thumbed up. She'd be winking, her hair drifting down over her back in a buttery waterfall that fell into your waiting hands.

The search goes on for weeks. Sometimes, you're out so late that you barely make it to work. You are put on probation and watched carefully; they think you are on drugs. You feel like you are, and you know you look like you are, too. Dark circles skim your eyes like pudding skin. You're losing weight. You ask bartenders, bass players, and burlesque dancers. Nobody knows her. They squint against cigarette smoke and say, buttercream? Begin to, out of desperation,Took for a replacement. Find a big woman in Bettie bangs or blue high heels and buy her a drink. It is not the same. They are as vapid as the skim-milk ones, all hairspray and predatory eyes. Soon, you realize no one else will do. You begin to give up. Months pass. You answer your friends' calls again, because you don't know what else to do. Tell them there was a girl. Leave it at that.

This can only go on for so long. You can only take so many showers, do so many pushups, watch so many Elvis movies on AMC. You begin to lose sleep over this, and make mistakes at work. Your sandwiches are dry and tasteless. Your friends are boring. You begin to wonder why you ever cared what they thought at all. If you can love the fat girl, and find her beautiful, then everyone else

Problem: The last problem is the worst. And here it is: 121

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Berkeley Fiction Review When you finally stop looking for her, you find her. It has been six months; it is winter, now, or what passes for it in the South. But there are complications. There is this girl you're kind of seeing. The girl you are kind of seeing is blondish and fattish, though not nearly enough of either, and her breasts are large and heavy enough that your friends haven't commented. She has small wishes and small complaints - her cell phone that never works, she wants tickets to see Mike N e s s - that you might come meet her mother, soon. She gives half-hearted blowjobs, and when you try to grasp her hair with your fingers, she says Don t. She's just had it set. It was hard to find stylists who would set rolls, she says, they all just want to chop at her hair until she looks like she's had an accident with a weed eater, and you say fine, but you mean whatever. She is not sculpted margarine. Everything about her is / Can t Believe It's Not Butter. You take this one to dinner, to shows, to bed, you listen to her work stories, but you know you're just killing time until you can find the fat girl. And then, one night, there she is. You finally see her. Things don't go as planned. It is a Friday, and the weekend is a clean sheet gathered up before you, waiting to be rumpled. Your plans include a few shows, and maybe working on your car. You'd practically forgotten about the fat girl. It had been so long when you drove downtown, parked, pulled cash out of the ATM - you'd forgotten to get nervous, to wonder if you'd see her circling the stage like a giant, gorgeous planet. So when you pay Terry, the door guy at the Star Bar, and get your hand stamped, you're thinking about a shot of Jaeger and when the next band will play, and whether you will always have to pay for your semi-girlfriend, who is clinging to you like a sea anemone. When does chivalry dissipate into reality? You hope it will be soon. She likes to eat at the Vortex twice a week, and you're getting tired of watching your paychecks rum into hamburgers and tater-tots with ranch on the side. The club is cool and dark, but you're used to it. Your eyes acclimate quickly. You sweep your head from left to right, spotting a few of your friends at the bar, and a few other people you only pretend to like gathered at the photobooth that never quite works. The pictures come out eventually, but they are always smudged - like ghost fingers have pre-remembered them. One band is leaving the stage, and another is loading on 122

Laurah Norton Raines equipment. Their stand-up basses, white T-shirts, and oil-slicked pompadours are interchangeable. Everyone here is, including you. You are suddenly conscious of the terrible affect of it all, hundreds of people tapped into a decade the rest of the world has forgotten. Of the girl, breathing hot and heavy in your ear. "Whiskey sour" she says. "Get me a whiskey sour." Her breath is spoilt and common. You say fine, though she is sour enough, and looking at the throng of people crowded around the bar like a blood clot, you know it will take a while. The club is dark and smoky and it takes you a long time to get near the line. There are people to say hello to and people who want to shake your hand, slap your back, saying how's it going, Brother, like they're flicking Hulk Hogan or something You are well-liked, so you say it back. At the bar, you have to inch up like a thief, ducking in against arms and under shoulders, holding twenty dollars between your fingers like a cigarette. You finally spot a hole by the far end, and you dive in so quickly, barely managing to knock your hip against the bar-top. You manage to get one elbow in against each of the bodies next to you, thrusting your money into the air high enough for Adrian to see you. He is at the other end, leaned over a black-eyed girl so far that it seems that he might join her on the other side. It is too loud to order mixed drinks. You will just point to the beer. You are suddenly bumped to one side like a tugboat. A massive arm comes down against the bar, in and of itself titanic, settling among discarded napkins and straws, and you are distracted for a moment by the thick hand, the cherry-red nails. You are afraid to look up, because you know whom you will see: the fat girl. "Hey, Daisy," says Adrian, the bartender, a smile curling up on one side of his mouth. He slings a bar towel down and plays at cleaning the surface. "The usual?" "Please," the fat girl said, and her voice is so lovely, soft but determined, like a children's librarian, or maybe a stage actor at home. She is in a cream-colored dress covered in brown polka dots, tiny ones that look like pinpricks, like stars, and she has gardenias in her margarine hair. Adrian pours vodka, then ginger ale, and drops in a handful of cherries, so many that the glass looks like a universe done over in red. You can tell that he loves the fat girl, too. You decide that you hate him.

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Berkeley Fiction Review When you finally stop looking for her, you find her. It has been six months; it is winter, now, or what passes for it in the South. But there are complications. There is this girl you're kind of seeing. The girl you are kind of seeing is blondish and fattish, though not nearly enough of either, and her breasts are large and heavy enough that your friends haven't commented. She has small wishes and small complaints - her cell phone that never works, she wants tickets to see Mike N e s s - that you might come meet her mother, soon. She gives half-hearted blowjobs, and when you try to grasp her hair with your fingers, she says Don t. She's just had it set. It was hard to find stylists who would set rolls, she says, they all just want to chop at her hair until she looks like she's had an accident with a weed eater, and you say fine, but you mean whatever. She is not sculpted margarine. Everything about her is / Can t Believe It's Not Butter. You take this one to dinner, to shows, to bed, you listen to her work stories, but you know you're just killing time until you can find the fat girl. And then, one night, there she is. You finally see her. Things don't go as planned. It is a Friday, and the weekend is a clean sheet gathered up before you, waiting to be rumpled. Your plans include a few shows, and maybe working on your car. You'd practically forgotten about the fat girl. It had been so long when you drove downtown, parked, pulled cash out of the ATM - you'd forgotten to get nervous, to wonder if you'd see her circling the stage like a giant, gorgeous planet. So when you pay Terry, the door guy at the Star Bar, and get your hand stamped, you're thinking about a shot of Jaeger and when the next band will play, and whether you will always have to pay for your semi-girlfriend, who is clinging to you like a sea anemone. When does chivalry dissipate into reality? You hope it will be soon. She likes to eat at the Vortex twice a week, and you're getting tired of watching your paychecks rum into hamburgers and tater-tots with ranch on the side. The club is cool and dark, but you're used to it. Your eyes acclimate quickly. You sweep your head from left to right, spotting a few of your friends at the bar, and a few other people you only pretend to like gathered at the photobooth that never quite works. The pictures come out eventually, but they are always smudged - like ghost fingers have pre-remembered them. One band is leaving the stage, and another is loading on 122

Laurah Norton Raines equipment. Their stand-up basses, white T-shirts, and oil-slicked pompadours are interchangeable. Everyone here is, including you. You are suddenly conscious of the terrible affect of it all, hundreds of people tapped into a decade the rest of the world has forgotten. Of the girl, breathing hot and heavy in your ear. "Whiskey sour" she says. "Get me a whiskey sour." Her breath is spoilt and common. You say fine, though she is sour enough, and looking at the throng of people crowded around the bar like a blood clot, you know it will take a while. The club is dark and smoky and it takes you a long time to get near the line. There are people to say hello to and people who want to shake your hand, slap your back, saying how's it going, Brother, like they're flicking Hulk Hogan or something You are well-liked, so you say it back. At the bar, you have to inch up like a thief, ducking in against arms and under shoulders, holding twenty dollars between your fingers like a cigarette. You finally spot a hole by the far end, and you dive in so quickly, barely managing to knock your hip against the bar-top. You manage to get one elbow in against each of the bodies next to you, thrusting your money into the air high enough for Adrian to see you. He is at the other end, leaned over a black-eyed girl so far that it seems that he might join her on the other side. It is too loud to order mixed drinks. You will just point to the beer. You are suddenly bumped to one side like a tugboat. A massive arm comes down against the bar, in and of itself titanic, settling among discarded napkins and straws, and you are distracted for a moment by the thick hand, the cherry-red nails. You are afraid to look up, because you know whom you will see: the fat girl. "Hey, Daisy," says Adrian, the bartender, a smile curling up on one side of his mouth. He slings a bar towel down and plays at cleaning the surface. "The usual?" "Please," the fat girl said, and her voice is so lovely, soft but determined, like a children's librarian, or maybe a stage actor at home. She is in a cream-colored dress covered in brown polka dots, tiny ones that look like pinpricks, like stars, and she has gardenias in her margarine hair. Adrian pours vodka, then ginger ale, and drops in a handful of cherries, so many that the glass looks like a universe done over in red. You can tell that he loves the fat girl, too. You decide that you hate him.

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Berkeley Fiction Review

say the right things. "I don't think I've ever been that drunk."

The fat girl thanks him when he says it's on the house, her chin wobbling like a Jell-O mold that hasn't quite set. You want to gather it up in your hands and say thank you, say but my God you are precious. Instead, you swallow your spit. Your start to sweat. You can feel the armpits of your vintage shirt moisten. You will never get the stains out. You know that you must ask the fat girl on a date, and you must do it now. If you miss your chance, you might not see her again. You will not care if people stare at you. You will close your eyes and smell everything the world is made of and you will reach out your hand.

This is the correct answer. You hit the right tone of nonchalance tinged with distaste. Jake's shoulders relax, just a little - and maybe he is a little disappointed, too. He wanted to give you more shit. "Yeah, right, man." Jake withdraws his arm. The heat of his armpit presses against your neck for a moment, then is gone. "Riiiiight." He half-smiles, half-sneers, and then lopes off to bother your friend Todd, to make fun of his lost job or something. You and your traitorous mouth are left alone. You feel the heat of blood rush into your ears, and you hope you're not blushing, but you know you probably are. Why didn't you say what you meant? Why do you care what he thinks? The band has struck up something lively, and people begin to move. You stand there, scanning the crowd, almost ashamed to find her face among them - and then when you don't see her, you panic. Has she melted? Dripped down into a puddle of buttercream, heated by your shame? But no. She is there, to the right of the bass player, with a ring of people around her like she is a prom queen. And she is not alone. A tall, thin guy in a cowboy hat is spinning the fat girl, they are dancing, he is spinning her and she seems to rise up into the air like a top, like a angel on the Christmas tree, and you see her laughing, smiling. Her face is the moon. Her mouth is a red smear and she is spinning, spinning, spinning. You find yourself pulled in closer, closer. Your body is orbiting hers. You drift towards her, brushing in against the crowd. Your friend Travis puts an arm out, but he cannot catch you. You reach the front of the stage, and as she twirls past, her great cream skirt sweeps your calves like a shaken bed sheet. She sees you. She looks right at you. There is something - pity? - that flashes. She spins away. You reach out your hand, and you say, "I'm ready. I love you." But no one can hear. The music is so loud that it shakes the courage into you. The fat girl moves gracefully in her brown kitten heels, her toenails like glossy cranberries, her skin white and smooth and full. So many men are watching her, you realize, those with girls and those by themselves, slack-jawed, beer bottles clutched loosely in their hands. And in their eyes is everything you felt: appreciation. Adoration. A future. They see it all in the fat girl.

Someone shoves you, not hard enough to hurt, and an arm goes around your neck. Your friend. Jake, has a beer pressed to his lips and so much grease in his hair that it looks like it is a liquid, a frothing wave of black pompadour. Jake is your friend because you are friends with everybody, but you don't like him all that much. He smells like cat piss and he says things, jokes that aren't really jokes at all - the kind of thing a man might have to fight over if it came from the mouth of a stranger. But he is in a band, and he also works on cars, and you pretend with him because you are always so worried about what people think. "What up, bud," Jake says. He balances a lit cigarette right next to your ear. "Watcha looking at? You're standing here alone like you shit yourself." You gaze at the fat girl. She is drifting up closer to the stage. The continents of the crowd divide. If she gets too far, you will lose your nerve. You will "You're looking at ihefat girl," Jake breathes in your ear. "That big fucking fat girl, aren't you, bro?" In his voice you hear all the disgust that made you pause all those months ago, when you'd realized that you weren't to want her, not when so many almost-Bettie Pages decorated the scene like cherry blossoms, waiting to be plucked. In Jake's eyes, the fat girl is a worst-case scenario, a joke. The fat girl has moved up to the front of the stage, the lights turning her hair into liquid white-gold. Her beautiful, enormous face is glowing. The people around her are glancing at her, shifting their bodies so they can see her. You cannot see their mouths. Are they admiring, or they disgusted? Why do you care? You are so tired of seeing. You are going to tell him to fuck himself. "No. What? The fat girl?" You say the word and it is ugly, heavy. "I ain't that drunk." The lies come frothing from your mouth like spilt beer. You have said them automatically, because you have trained yourself to

You sink to your knees, among the cigarette butts and spilled beer,

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Berkeley Fiction Review

say the right things. "I don't think I've ever been that drunk."

The fat girl thanks him when he says it's on the house, her chin wobbling like a Jell-O mold that hasn't quite set. You want to gather it up in your hands and say thank you, say but my God you are precious. Instead, you swallow your spit. Your start to sweat. You can feel the armpits of your vintage shirt moisten. You will never get the stains out. You know that you must ask the fat girl on a date, and you must do it now. If you miss your chance, you might not see her again. You will not care if people stare at you. You will close your eyes and smell everything the world is made of and you will reach out your hand.

This is the correct answer. You hit the right tone of nonchalance tinged with distaste. Jake's shoulders relax, just a little - and maybe he is a little disappointed, too. He wanted to give you more shit. "Yeah, right, man." Jake withdraws his arm. The heat of his armpit presses against your neck for a moment, then is gone. "Riiiiight." He half-smiles, half-sneers, and then lopes off to bother your friend Todd, to make fun of his lost job or something. You and your traitorous mouth are left alone. You feel the heat of blood rush into your ears, and you hope you're not blushing, but you know you probably are. Why didn't you say what you meant? Why do you care what he thinks? The band has struck up something lively, and people begin to move. You stand there, scanning the crowd, almost ashamed to find her face among them - and then when you don't see her, you panic. Has she melted? Dripped down into a puddle of buttercream, heated by your shame? But no. She is there, to the right of the bass player, with a ring of people around her like she is a prom queen. And she is not alone. A tall, thin guy in a cowboy hat is spinning the fat girl, they are dancing, he is spinning her and she seems to rise up into the air like a top, like a angel on the Christmas tree, and you see her laughing, smiling. Her face is the moon. Her mouth is a red smear and she is spinning, spinning, spinning. You find yourself pulled in closer, closer. Your body is orbiting hers. You drift towards her, brushing in against the crowd. Your friend Travis puts an arm out, but he cannot catch you. You reach the front of the stage, and as she twirls past, her great cream skirt sweeps your calves like a shaken bed sheet. She sees you. She looks right at you. There is something - pity? - that flashes. She spins away. You reach out your hand, and you say, "I'm ready. I love you." But no one can hear. The music is so loud that it shakes the courage into you. The fat girl moves gracefully in her brown kitten heels, her toenails like glossy cranberries, her skin white and smooth and full. So many men are watching her, you realize, those with girls and those by themselves, slack-jawed, beer bottles clutched loosely in their hands. And in their eyes is everything you felt: appreciation. Adoration. A future. They see it all in the fat girl.

Someone shoves you, not hard enough to hurt, and an arm goes around your neck. Your friend. Jake, has a beer pressed to his lips and so much grease in his hair that it looks like it is a liquid, a frothing wave of black pompadour. Jake is your friend because you are friends with everybody, but you don't like him all that much. He smells like cat piss and he says things, jokes that aren't really jokes at all - the kind of thing a man might have to fight over if it came from the mouth of a stranger. But he is in a band, and he also works on cars, and you pretend with him because you are always so worried about what people think. "What up, bud," Jake says. He balances a lit cigarette right next to your ear. "Watcha looking at? You're standing here alone like you shit yourself." You gaze at the fat girl. She is drifting up closer to the stage. The continents of the crowd divide. If she gets too far, you will lose your nerve. You will "You're looking at ihefat girl," Jake breathes in your ear. "That big fucking fat girl, aren't you, bro?" In his voice you hear all the disgust that made you pause all those months ago, when you'd realized that you weren't to want her, not when so many almost-Bettie Pages decorated the scene like cherry blossoms, waiting to be plucked. In Jake's eyes, the fat girl is a worst-case scenario, a joke. The fat girl has moved up to the front of the stage, the lights turning her hair into liquid white-gold. Her beautiful, enormous face is glowing. The people around her are glancing at her, shifting their bodies so they can see her. You cannot see their mouths. Are they admiring, or they disgusted? Why do you care? You are so tired of seeing. You are going to tell him to fuck himself. "No. What? The fat girl?" You say the word and it is ugly, heavy. "I ain't that drunk." The lies come frothing from your mouth like spilt beer. You have said them automatically, because you have trained yourself to

You sink to your knees, among the cigarette butts and spilled beer,

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Berkeley Fiction Review and you don't care if you look stupid, because the fat girl is spinning faster, and faster, and faster. She is the center of the room, a rising orb, and around her everyone is pale nothing. Ever since you saw her, you began to understand what a person might conceivably be, what you might be. But when you gave up your chance, you ceased to deserve her. And that, you realize, is the real problem with the fat girl. She is out of your league, your solar system, and not the other way around. Your friends are talking loudly, saying you have had too much to drink, though you haven't had anything, but that is what they need to say to fill in the awkward space around your actions. They lift you up and off the floor, talking about a beer can you slipped on that wasn't there, a puddle, anything. People stare. You are brushed off, moved to the side, and your girlfriend is yelling in your ear what the fuck is this shit and the problem with this one is she was never the one you wanted, and never could be, and you realize, finally, that there have been so many girls, so many, but no women. The fat girl is done dancing and she is at the bar with the cowboy, and she is laughing, laughing, laughing. His arm is draped over her shoulder as far as he can manage, but he cannot contain her. Spelled out in her spit curls are the things that you will not have: talking, plans, fights and then making up in bed, under a lazy ceiling fan. Toothbrushes bought in pairs. Babies and barbeque and arguments about curtains and lawn mowing and trash. Insurance, lots of insurance. She will have all of it, with someone more deserving. Your jeans are soaked with beer. From across the bar, you can see Jake, and he is laughing, laughing, laughing. You want to go home. Alone. But your girlfriend has vacuum-sealed herself-to you, and you know you will stay with her, marry her even, because she is there and she is easy, and maybe you won't think of the fat girl too often. Maybe you will only see her in your dreams, spinning like a top, like a moon, filling up the sky with all the other things you were too afraid to take.

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MARTIN SLAG

one On this day, a weird-looking woman arrived in the city by train. She carried no luggage. The only things this woman owned were the clothes on her back and whatever objects happened to be thrashing around in her belly at the time. What made this woman look weird, incidentally, was that her nose was big and her stomach was slightly distended and her legs were way too short in relation to the length of her face, and also her nose was off-kilter, and one of her eyes was lazy. The woman stepped off the train and waved good-bye to the conductor. She saw the quiet city lights and the fluorescent ocean fog, the broken cobble-streets and the silver bridges in the distance, and remarked, to no one in particular, upon the magic of modem transportation. She borrowed some chalk from two girls playing hopscotch, drew an octopus on the sidewalk, and brought the world to life. two Once upon a time there was a very pretty village that sat at the tip of a westward-pointing peninsula like a bell on an elf's curly slipper. In this place there weren't any kidnappings or televisions or churches or cantankerous old people or art historians or abortion clinics or movie theaters showing violent action movies. There were only good, honest,

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Berkeley Fiction Review and you don't care if you look stupid, because the fat girl is spinning faster, and faster, and faster. She is the center of the room, a rising orb, and around her everyone is pale nothing. Ever since you saw her, you began to understand what a person might conceivably be, what you might be. But when you gave up your chance, you ceased to deserve her. And that, you realize, is the real problem with the fat girl. She is out of your league, your solar system, and not the other way around. Your friends are talking loudly, saying you have had too much to drink, though you haven't had anything, but that is what they need to say to fill in the awkward space around your actions. They lift you up and off the floor, talking about a beer can you slipped on that wasn't there, a puddle, anything. People stare. You are brushed off, moved to the side, and your girlfriend is yelling in your ear what the fuck is this shit and the problem with this one is she was never the one you wanted, and never could be, and you realize, finally, that there have been so many girls, so many, but no women. The fat girl is done dancing and she is at the bar with the cowboy, and she is laughing, laughing, laughing. His arm is draped over her shoulder as far as he can manage, but he cannot contain her. Spelled out in her spit curls are the things that you will not have: talking, plans, fights and then making up in bed, under a lazy ceiling fan. Toothbrushes bought in pairs. Babies and barbeque and arguments about curtains and lawn mowing and trash. Insurance, lots of insurance. She will have all of it, with someone more deserving. Your jeans are soaked with beer. From across the bar, you can see Jake, and he is laughing, laughing, laughing. You want to go home. Alone. But your girlfriend has vacuum-sealed herself-to you, and you know you will stay with her, marry her even, because she is there and she is easy, and maybe you won't think of the fat girl too often. Maybe you will only see her in your dreams, spinning like a top, like a moon, filling up the sky with all the other things you were too afraid to take.

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MARTIN SLAG

one On this day, a weird-looking woman arrived in the city by train. She carried no luggage. The only things this woman owned were the clothes on her back and whatever objects happened to be thrashing around in her belly at the time. What made this woman look weird, incidentally, was that her nose was big and her stomach was slightly distended and her legs were way too short in relation to the length of her face, and also her nose was off-kilter, and one of her eyes was lazy. The woman stepped off the train and waved good-bye to the conductor. She saw the quiet city lights and the fluorescent ocean fog, the broken cobble-streets and the silver bridges in the distance, and remarked, to no one in particular, upon the magic of modem transportation. She borrowed some chalk from two girls playing hopscotch, drew an octopus on the sidewalk, and brought the world to life. two Once upon a time there was a very pretty village that sat at the tip of a westward-pointing peninsula like a bell on an elf's curly slipper. In this place there weren't any kidnappings or televisions or churches or cantankerous old people or art historians or abortion clinics or movie theaters showing violent action movies. There were only good, honest,

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hard-working, well-meaning people, and lots and lots of lemons. Lemon trees sprouted up in the oddest of places, their branches blooming with so many lemons that when the summer draft blew, the air for hundreds of miles was filled with a strong citrus smell. People in this far-away place used more lemons than just about anyone else in the world. They ate lemon chicken and lemon-flavored fudge. They put lemon-wedges in their beers. Their clothes were dyed with crushed lemon rinds. Their medicines were all derived from lemon extract. And yet there were still more lemons than anyone knew what to do with. You could pluck ten thousand of them, right off the trees, and no one would ever cry: "Thief!"

quite the coward, as she did most of her prowling while the other animals were at their most unguarded — as they slept and drifted and daydreamed — as they flirted with each other and played. And so the shark herself had a great deal of trouble sleeping, for fear of being caught off-guard in a similar manner. The shark, then, drowsy with the added weight of the long-toothed Monk seal, fell asleep for just a moment, and in that moment, the shark swam straight into the mouth of a great old fucking blue whale! Blue whales, unfortunately, are not accustomed to swallowing whole live sharks. Bloated and disoriented, the whale wandered into a bad patch of ocean, which, it so happened, was being patrolled by a boat full of broad-smiling pirates. With a giant anchor made of iron, the pirates tried to hook the whale who had eaten the killer shark who had eaten the long-toothed Monk seal who had eaten the fat Picasso pufferfish who had gotten away from his ranks. It would seem these pirates were a crass and crazy and uneducated lot, for they had never bothered to learn that the Ocean loves its whales more than anything else in the world — more than seahorses and surf bums and manatees and mermaids and pelicans and porpoises and tortoises and grampuses and octopuses; more than icebergs and oil rigs and rocks; more than you or I or any brainless shark; more than any crab or crustacean you can even think of — and that the Pacific Ocean, in particular, has a very babyish temper, and will make you puke up your own ghost if you should ever try to rob it of one of its precious blue whales.

three Somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a fat Picasso pufferfish decided to play hooky. And in that moment, the fat Picasso pufferfish was eaten by a long-toothed Monk seal. The long-toothed Monk seal lived on a rock a few miles off the coast of the volcanic island of Tigo, a word which meant, to the native inhabitants of that island, "Place of Rain and Rock and Other Precious Things." The long-toothed seal made his living sopping up sunrays and ducking underwater for large gulps of pufferfish and triggerfish and seahorses and shrimp, and up until this point, this was a good and plentiful business, and things had been very nice and good and dandy for this seal. The seal had had his rock and his fish and his tanning routine, and he was at peace with the order of things. When the Sun cast its glow upon the rock at a certain angle, the rock's surface would glisten like sand-washed glass, reflecting the seal's image for hundreds of miles into the. sky. People who were riding in helicopters and manning F-14s could look amusedly down at the seal, if there were no clouds, and give cheers and wave.

And so the Ocean came alive with jealousy and rage, twisting itself into a terrifying whirlpool, and the pirates, with all their iron hooks and serrated swords and wooden wheels and barbecued black flags and blood-stained Macintosh monitors, could not wrest their ship from the terrifying wrath of the Ocean, and were thrown, furious and weeping, to the bottom of the Ocean's belly. After a while, the Ocean gave up on its tantrum. The waves evened out, and everything went back to normal. "Ahh," said the Ocean, appeased. "Those unlawful whale poachers really hit the spot." Everything is hungry, you see.

On this day, however, the Sun's authority was mighty apparent to the long-toothed seal, making the rock feel hot against his belly. For most of the day, the seal was forced to seek comfort underwater, and by the time the Sun began its slow descent over the horizon, the seal had been eaten up by an evildoing shark. Presumably, this shark was evil because she prowled about the reefs with her million teeth and poky black eyes, looking for puffy aquatic mammals to feed on and never quite getting her fill. This shark was also 128

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hard-working, well-meaning people, and lots and lots of lemons. Lemon trees sprouted up in the oddest of places, their branches blooming with so many lemons that when the summer draft blew, the air for hundreds of miles was filled with a strong citrus smell. People in this far-away place used more lemons than just about anyone else in the world. They ate lemon chicken and lemon-flavored fudge. They put lemon-wedges in their beers. Their clothes were dyed with crushed lemon rinds. Their medicines were all derived from lemon extract. And yet there were still more lemons than anyone knew what to do with. You could pluck ten thousand of them, right off the trees, and no one would ever cry: "Thief!"

quite the coward, as she did most of her prowling while the other animals were at their most unguarded — as they slept and drifted and daydreamed — as they flirted with each other and played. And so the shark herself had a great deal of trouble sleeping, for fear of being caught off-guard in a similar manner. The shark, then, drowsy with the added weight of the long-toothed Monk seal, fell asleep for just a moment, and in that moment, the shark swam straight into the mouth of a great old fucking blue whale! Blue whales, unfortunately, are not accustomed to swallowing whole live sharks. Bloated and disoriented, the whale wandered into a bad patch of ocean, which, it so happened, was being patrolled by a boat full of broad-smiling pirates. With a giant anchor made of iron, the pirates tried to hook the whale who had eaten the killer shark who had eaten the long-toothed Monk seal who had eaten the fat Picasso pufferfish who had gotten away from his ranks. It would seem these pirates were a crass and crazy and uneducated lot, for they had never bothered to learn that the Ocean loves its whales more than anything else in the world — more than seahorses and surf bums and manatees and mermaids and pelicans and porpoises and tortoises and grampuses and octopuses; more than icebergs and oil rigs and rocks; more than you or I or any brainless shark; more than any crab or crustacean you can even think of — and that the Pacific Ocean, in particular, has a very babyish temper, and will make you puke up your own ghost if you should ever try to rob it of one of its precious blue whales.

three Somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a fat Picasso pufferfish decided to play hooky. And in that moment, the fat Picasso pufferfish was eaten by a long-toothed Monk seal. The long-toothed Monk seal lived on a rock a few miles off the coast of the volcanic island of Tigo, a word which meant, to the native inhabitants of that island, "Place of Rain and Rock and Other Precious Things." The long-toothed seal made his living sopping up sunrays and ducking underwater for large gulps of pufferfish and triggerfish and seahorses and shrimp, and up until this point, this was a good and plentiful business, and things had been very nice and good and dandy for this seal. The seal had had his rock and his fish and his tanning routine, and he was at peace with the order of things. When the Sun cast its glow upon the rock at a certain angle, the rock's surface would glisten like sand-washed glass, reflecting the seal's image for hundreds of miles into the. sky. People who were riding in helicopters and manning F-14s could look amusedly down at the seal, if there were no clouds, and give cheers and wave.

And so the Ocean came alive with jealousy and rage, twisting itself into a terrifying whirlpool, and the pirates, with all their iron hooks and serrated swords and wooden wheels and barbecued black flags and blood-stained Macintosh monitors, could not wrest their ship from the terrifying wrath of the Ocean, and were thrown, furious and weeping, to the bottom of the Ocean's belly. After a while, the Ocean gave up on its tantrum. The waves evened out, and everything went back to normal. "Ahh," said the Ocean, appeased. "Those unlawful whale poachers really hit the spot." Everything is hungry, you see.

On this day, however, the Sun's authority was mighty apparent to the long-toothed seal, making the rock feel hot against his belly. For most of the day, the seal was forced to seek comfort underwater, and by the time the Sun began its slow descent over the horizon, the seal had been eaten up by an evildoing shark. Presumably, this shark was evil because she prowled about the reefs with her million teeth and poky black eyes, looking for puffy aquatic mammals to feed on and never quite getting her fill. This shark was also 128

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Berkeley Fiction Review four In a quiet field in snowy Denmark, a dandelion enjoyed the moonlight. In northern Australia, a wildfire engulfed the melodious crabgrass plains. In the redwood forests of sleepy California, a peaceful culture of fungus hugged the crumbly crest of a green tree trunk and felt safe. Meanwhile in Egypt, a mischievous Arab boy got his pant leg caught in the chain of his bicycle, and crashed safely into a dried-fig merchant. Somewhere near the coastline of wonderful Maine, a peregrine falcon went in for the kill. The day was enlivened by events, big and small. five There occurred many sports and games on this day. All across the world, youthful people could be seen dripping with sweat and growling profanities and doing dipsy-doodles on the surfaces of frozen-over ponds and digging their cleats into wet, fresh-cut grass. On network TV in Japan, a baseball game of great consequence was broadcast, free of deodorant commercials. In Chicago, a banker who was under investigation for wire fraud was overheard begging his computer for one more game of Free Cell. In the former Yugoslavia, two groups of men had an argument over a basketball court. The two groups of men spent so much time arguing over this rectangular plot of asphalt that by the time they were ready to play, the sky had closed up, and the surface of the court had been ruined by a thin accumulation of charcoal-colored snow. In France, people went to discotheques and spoke in French and got into fistfights and danced with each other. On a trash-strewn porch in Happy Valley, beer pong happened as promised. Paintballs exploded against the side of a truck in Alabama. She beat her dad at checkers. Latino kids listened to Social Distortion and threw dice on the top of an upturned bucket; in a couple of minutes, they'd all be shot dead. A group of brawny Englishmen with egg-like heads played a spirited game of rugby on a field sodden with mud and blood and rain. When that game ended, the team who had won began to behave in a most hoity-toity fashion. They refused to line up and shake hands and 130

Martin Slag receive the other team's excuses. Some of them even lowered their shorts down to their ankles, exposing their naked rear ends. They stuck their fingers in their ears and ran around in angry circles; they pointed their fingers and teased. But the men who had lost were not at all sad about the outcome of their game; in fact, they put their arms around each other and went out and drank big pitchers filled with beer and openly celebrated their defeat. six On this day, a boy whose skin was the color of baked beans escaped from his family activities to go climb a tree. This tree grew taller than anything else in all the land, and only the boy knew how to climb it. Plump, purple-skinned fruits dangled from the top of the tree; to the boy, these were the best-tasting fruits in the world, as they could not be found anywhere but at the top of this very tree, to his knowledge. This boy was very lucky, for he lived in the midst of some of the world's most unusual-looking animals, who were always doing funny things. Today, for instance, he was noshing on one of his purple-skinned fruits and watching the elephants feed each other from his secret place atop the tree. But halfway through the fruit, the boy became bored, and tossed the fruit carelessly over his shoulder, without even watching it fall to the ground. Then the best part of the fruit was eaten by fire ants and field mice. In other countries, like India and Iraq, no one got to look at any animals. The streets were dirty, and everyone was angry and depressed. Give a person who lives in one of these countries an apple or a mango or a lime, and he will think it's the best thing he's ever tasted. It would make a person happy and satisfied for weeks, just to take a single bite out of such an exquisite fruit. In my opinion, that little boy with the baked-bean skin took his tall tree and his elephants and his family activities for granted. seven At this time, there was a very important and popular invention used by people who lived in nations of great wealth and opportunity. This invention was basically a big, electric-powered box, with a front made out 131


Berkeley Fiction Review four In a quiet field in snowy Denmark, a dandelion enjoyed the moonlight. In northern Australia, a wildfire engulfed the melodious crabgrass plains. In the redwood forests of sleepy California, a peaceful culture of fungus hugged the crumbly crest of a green tree trunk and felt safe. Meanwhile in Egypt, a mischievous Arab boy got his pant leg caught in the chain of his bicycle, and crashed safely into a dried-fig merchant. Somewhere near the coastline of wonderful Maine, a peregrine falcon went in for the kill. The day was enlivened by events, big and small. five There occurred many sports and games on this day. All across the world, youthful people could be seen dripping with sweat and growling profanities and doing dipsy-doodles on the surfaces of frozen-over ponds and digging their cleats into wet, fresh-cut grass. On network TV in Japan, a baseball game of great consequence was broadcast, free of deodorant commercials. In Chicago, a banker who was under investigation for wire fraud was overheard begging his computer for one more game of Free Cell. In the former Yugoslavia, two groups of men had an argument over a basketball court. The two groups of men spent so much time arguing over this rectangular plot of asphalt that by the time they were ready to play, the sky had closed up, and the surface of the court had been ruined by a thin accumulation of charcoal-colored snow. In France, people went to discotheques and spoke in French and got into fistfights and danced with each other. On a trash-strewn porch in Happy Valley, beer pong happened as promised. Paintballs exploded against the side of a truck in Alabama. She beat her dad at checkers. Latino kids listened to Social Distortion and threw dice on the top of an upturned bucket; in a couple of minutes, they'd all be shot dead. A group of brawny Englishmen with egg-like heads played a spirited game of rugby on a field sodden with mud and blood and rain. When that game ended, the team who had won began to behave in a most hoity-toity fashion. They refused to line up and shake hands and 130

Martin Slag receive the other team's excuses. Some of them even lowered their shorts down to their ankles, exposing their naked rear ends. They stuck their fingers in their ears and ran around in angry circles; they pointed their fingers and teased. But the men who had lost were not at all sad about the outcome of their game; in fact, they put their arms around each other and went out and drank big pitchers filled with beer and openly celebrated their defeat. six On this day, a boy whose skin was the color of baked beans escaped from his family activities to go climb a tree. This tree grew taller than anything else in all the land, and only the boy knew how to climb it. Plump, purple-skinned fruits dangled from the top of the tree; to the boy, these were the best-tasting fruits in the world, as they could not be found anywhere but at the top of this very tree, to his knowledge. This boy was very lucky, for he lived in the midst of some of the world's most unusual-looking animals, who were always doing funny things. Today, for instance, he was noshing on one of his purple-skinned fruits and watching the elephants feed each other from his secret place atop the tree. But halfway through the fruit, the boy became bored, and tossed the fruit carelessly over his shoulder, without even watching it fall to the ground. Then the best part of the fruit was eaten by fire ants and field mice. In other countries, like India and Iraq, no one got to look at any animals. The streets were dirty, and everyone was angry and depressed. Give a person who lives in one of these countries an apple or a mango or a lime, and he will think it's the best thing he's ever tasted. It would make a person happy and satisfied for weeks, just to take a single bite out of such an exquisite fruit. In my opinion, that little boy with the baked-bean skin took his tall tree and his elephants and his family activities for granted. seven At this time, there was a very important and popular invention used by people who lived in nations of great wealth and opportunity. This invention was basically a big, electric-powered box, with a front made out 131


Berkeley Fiction Review of glass. This invention was very popular and well liked among wealthy people because it made their lives free and easygoing. People who lived in poorer nations — where there was no freedom, electricity, or innovation — had never even heard of this invention. Therefore their lives were very hard. Do you want to know what this invention did? Well, I'll tell you. This invention sat on the floor and made loud clicking and whirring noises. People would place their wet undergarments into the big electric box, press a small button located somewhere near the top of the box, turn a dial, and the machine would carry on for forty-five minutes or so, making its curious clicking and whirring noises. When the machine finished doing what it did, it would produce a loud buzzing sound. People would then reach into the machine and fish out their undergarments to find that they were dry. They would press the warm, dry undergarments up against their cheeks, and themselves feel warm and dry. Now, the people who lived in poorer parts of the world did not own any electric-powered undergarment-drying boxes. Some of these people did not even own undergarments! When these people wanted to dry their warrior's costumes and prayer blankets and loincloths, they had to string these items along vines running from tree to tree, to dry out in the Sun. And if it rained on that day, their clothes would get wet all over again! Then whole tribes would be forced to go around naked, but it was OK, because everyone in neighboring villages would also be naked. In any event, these people could definitely have benefited from this invention, that is, if they cared to learn about it, which they did not. Thus these people were quite stupid, and their lives were very unproductive. eight On this day, a man named Herman Jones arose from bed and fixed himself a strapping drink. He went to the window, saw everything that was going on outside of his little apartment, and was afraid. Also on this day, an old woman woke up on the side of a busy street and realized that she was hungry. This woman stunk like the dickens, and no one wanted to look at her or be associated with her in any way. When 132

Martin Slag she asked people for money so that she could buy herself a cup of coffee and a plate of eggs, these people would just avert their eyes uncomfortably and keep right on trucking along. Sometimes they would spit on her and taunt her and send the police after her. Then the woman would be wet with spit and humiliated and annoyed by the police, on top of being hungry. One of the people who refused to make eye contact with the old hungry woman on this day was a middle-aged man with brown shoes and brown eyes and a little gold band on his left ring finger. He was just arriving at his workplace. He was five minutes early for work on this day, because he was always five minutes early for work. This man's job was to sit behind a big fruitwood desk with his shirt ironed and cleaned and buttoned up to the collar, talking to people about their money. Sometimes people did not have enough of their own money, and they would have to ask to borrow money from this man's boss. Sometimes the man agreed to lend them the money, and they would leave the man's desk feeling happy and hopeful. Other times, the man would refuse to lend out any money. Even if they were fundamentally decent people who needed his boss's money in a very big way, the man would send them away empty-handed. On these occasions, the man was prone to say things like "insufficient credit history," "wintry economic climate," and "unfavorable risk quotient." At the end of this particular workday, the man returned home to his wife and dogs and children, and ate supper. He had grilled ham-steaks, mashed potatoes, and steamed asparagus. The meat and potatoes were suitable, he supposed, but the asparagus had been cooked a bit too thoroughly. He felt very strongly about this. Yet he ate his entire portion of asparagus anyway and did not complain to his wife. Maybe he feared he would offend or embarrass her. You might say he lacked initiative. Or maybe he wanted to set a good example for his children, as even an idiot knows that asparagus is chock full of vitamin A. It's also possible that after an especially grueling workday the man simply wanted to avoid a confrontation with his ill-tempered, hypersensitive Gila monster of a wife. Precisely why the man did not complain about his soggy, stringy asparagus is unknown, and possibly unknowable. Child, do not judge the man with brown shoes and gold ring too harshly, for he truly hated his job and boss and life, and wished he could give everyone who came to see him however much money they desired. 133


Berkeley Fiction Review of glass. This invention was very popular and well liked among wealthy people because it made their lives free and easygoing. People who lived in poorer nations — where there was no freedom, electricity, or innovation — had never even heard of this invention. Therefore their lives were very hard. Do you want to know what this invention did? Well, I'll tell you. This invention sat on the floor and made loud clicking and whirring noises. People would place their wet undergarments into the big electric box, press a small button located somewhere near the top of the box, turn a dial, and the machine would carry on for forty-five minutes or so, making its curious clicking and whirring noises. When the machine finished doing what it did, it would produce a loud buzzing sound. People would then reach into the machine and fish out their undergarments to find that they were dry. They would press the warm, dry undergarments up against their cheeks, and themselves feel warm and dry. Now, the people who lived in poorer parts of the world did not own any electric-powered undergarment-drying boxes. Some of these people did not even own undergarments! When these people wanted to dry their warrior's costumes and prayer blankets and loincloths, they had to string these items along vines running from tree to tree, to dry out in the Sun. And if it rained on that day, their clothes would get wet all over again! Then whole tribes would be forced to go around naked, but it was OK, because everyone in neighboring villages would also be naked. In any event, these people could definitely have benefited from this invention, that is, if they cared to learn about it, which they did not. Thus these people were quite stupid, and their lives were very unproductive. eight On this day, a man named Herman Jones arose from bed and fixed himself a strapping drink. He went to the window, saw everything that was going on outside of his little apartment, and was afraid. Also on this day, an old woman woke up on the side of a busy street and realized that she was hungry. This woman stunk like the dickens, and no one wanted to look at her or be associated with her in any way. When 132

Martin Slag she asked people for money so that she could buy herself a cup of coffee and a plate of eggs, these people would just avert their eyes uncomfortably and keep right on trucking along. Sometimes they would spit on her and taunt her and send the police after her. Then the woman would be wet with spit and humiliated and annoyed by the police, on top of being hungry. One of the people who refused to make eye contact with the old hungry woman on this day was a middle-aged man with brown shoes and brown eyes and a little gold band on his left ring finger. He was just arriving at his workplace. He was five minutes early for work on this day, because he was always five minutes early for work. This man's job was to sit behind a big fruitwood desk with his shirt ironed and cleaned and buttoned up to the collar, talking to people about their money. Sometimes people did not have enough of their own money, and they would have to ask to borrow money from this man's boss. Sometimes the man agreed to lend them the money, and they would leave the man's desk feeling happy and hopeful. Other times, the man would refuse to lend out any money. Even if they were fundamentally decent people who needed his boss's money in a very big way, the man would send them away empty-handed. On these occasions, the man was prone to say things like "insufficient credit history," "wintry economic climate," and "unfavorable risk quotient." At the end of this particular workday, the man returned home to his wife and dogs and children, and ate supper. He had grilled ham-steaks, mashed potatoes, and steamed asparagus. The meat and potatoes were suitable, he supposed, but the asparagus had been cooked a bit too thoroughly. He felt very strongly about this. Yet he ate his entire portion of asparagus anyway and did not complain to his wife. Maybe he feared he would offend or embarrass her. You might say he lacked initiative. Or maybe he wanted to set a good example for his children, as even an idiot knows that asparagus is chock full of vitamin A. It's also possible that after an especially grueling workday the man simply wanted to avoid a confrontation with his ill-tempered, hypersensitive Gila monster of a wife. Precisely why the man did not complain about his soggy, stringy asparagus is unknown, and possibly unknowable. Child, do not judge the man with brown shoes and gold ring too harshly, for he truly hated his job and boss and life, and wished he could give everyone who came to see him however much money they desired. 133


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Berkeley Fiction Review But the man had no choice in the matter, because it wasn't his money to give. nine On this day, a young boy learned about a war that had been fought, many years ago, between his country and another country. This other country was very powerful. According to what the young boy learned on this day, this powerful country had dropped a very powerful bomb on the young boy's own country. The bomb had killed a lot of people, but it had burned and maimed even more people, and had ended up winning the war for the powerful country. Now everyone lived in constant fear and suspicion of this great country, wondering when it might unleash its mighty bombs once more. The young boy trusted that all of this information was true, and promised to never forget what he'd teamed on this day. This young boy, it rums out, had a superb memory. In fact, his memory was so good that children with lesser memories were extremely jealous of him. So these jealous, stupid children would waste their time chasing after the boy with sticks in their hands, instead of learning about history and bombs, and making their memories better. Fool child, I will tell you something else about this special boy. This boy had skinny legs and a big round belly, and when he ran away from the bullies his belly would bounce up and down in a comical fashion, and his skinny legs would kick up gravel and dirt. When he ran, he kicked his feet so wildly that he was literally kicking himself in the rear end! The meanest bully of all the bullies observed that the young boy ran like a deranged country goat. This made everyone laugh even more meanly at the boy. The bully then gave the boy a name that meant "runs like goat." Then all the other children started calling him "runs like goat," and they all kept laughing. They called him other names, too. But "runs like goat" was the one that stuck. ten There was a wild-eyed woman with hair like vines who lived in the forest in a house made out of recycled aluminum cans. 134

The woman had seven hungry brats who used bad language and stunk like bad potatoes and were always picking things off of their scalps and screaming about one thing or another. This caused the woman to feel very much as if she were living in a madhouse. Which in turn caused her to take little blue pills whenever things got too out of hand. The pills made her sleep a lot. On this day, the woman took one or two or four too many blue pills, and fell asleep without putting her newborn in its crib. The poopy newbom baby rolled around on the floor awhile, until finally it rolled out through the cat flap and onto the porch, down three rotting steps, and into the hot and drippy forest, where a mama grizzly found it. The mama bear looked down at the newborn baby and saw that it was crying. She decided to carry the baby to a brier of blackberries she knew about. There, she would chew the berries into a paste and feed them to the baby. Then she would bring the newborn home to her den and hold it close to her heart, until it fell asleep. But the mama grizzly had not accounted for her own magnificent strength, and when she took the newborn baby into her paw, the baby fell right to pieces, crumbling like a sugar cookie. Dawn broke; dusk fell. eleven On this day, in Afghanistan, a man who owned a prosperous business awoke to find that his best shepherding dog had been murdered. This dog and man were very well liked and respected among the people of this village, as they had won many wonderful praises in many local fairs where dog-shepherding competitions were held. Outraged and heartbroken, the Afghani businessman went down to the village marketplace duringits busiest hours, raising much to-do about the crime. He brought the dog's leash and tail and part of its foreleg to all the various trades-people, speculating out loud that the notorious White Werewolf was responsible for the atrocity. This werewolf was even more famous than the great shepherding dog who'd been killed, for he'd been terrorizing everyone in the village for longer than anyone could remember. Some people believed the monster was deaf in one ear, since the tracks he left in the dirt always tended to sway to the right. Others said he was more man than beast, the product of 135


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Berkeley Fiction Review But the man had no choice in the matter, because it wasn't his money to give. nine On this day, a young boy learned about a war that had been fought, many years ago, between his country and another country. This other country was very powerful. According to what the young boy learned on this day, this powerful country had dropped a very powerful bomb on the young boy's own country. The bomb had killed a lot of people, but it had burned and maimed even more people, and had ended up winning the war for the powerful country. Now everyone lived in constant fear and suspicion of this great country, wondering when it might unleash its mighty bombs once more. The young boy trusted that all of this information was true, and promised to never forget what he'd teamed on this day. This young boy, it rums out, had a superb memory. In fact, his memory was so good that children with lesser memories were extremely jealous of him. So these jealous, stupid children would waste their time chasing after the boy with sticks in their hands, instead of learning about history and bombs, and making their memories better. Fool child, I will tell you something else about this special boy. This boy had skinny legs and a big round belly, and when he ran away from the bullies his belly would bounce up and down in a comical fashion, and his skinny legs would kick up gravel and dirt. When he ran, he kicked his feet so wildly that he was literally kicking himself in the rear end! The meanest bully of all the bullies observed that the young boy ran like a deranged country goat. This made everyone laugh even more meanly at the boy. The bully then gave the boy a name that meant "runs like goat." Then all the other children started calling him "runs like goat," and they all kept laughing. They called him other names, too. But "runs like goat" was the one that stuck. ten There was a wild-eyed woman with hair like vines who lived in the forest in a house made out of recycled aluminum cans. 134

The woman had seven hungry brats who used bad language and stunk like bad potatoes and were always picking things off of their scalps and screaming about one thing or another. This caused the woman to feel very much as if she were living in a madhouse. Which in turn caused her to take little blue pills whenever things got too out of hand. The pills made her sleep a lot. On this day, the woman took one or two or four too many blue pills, and fell asleep without putting her newborn in its crib. The poopy newbom baby rolled around on the floor awhile, until finally it rolled out through the cat flap and onto the porch, down three rotting steps, and into the hot and drippy forest, where a mama grizzly found it. The mama bear looked down at the newborn baby and saw that it was crying. She decided to carry the baby to a brier of blackberries she knew about. There, she would chew the berries into a paste and feed them to the baby. Then she would bring the newborn home to her den and hold it close to her heart, until it fell asleep. But the mama grizzly had not accounted for her own magnificent strength, and when she took the newborn baby into her paw, the baby fell right to pieces, crumbling like a sugar cookie. Dawn broke; dusk fell. eleven On this day, in Afghanistan, a man who owned a prosperous business awoke to find that his best shepherding dog had been murdered. This dog and man were very well liked and respected among the people of this village, as they had won many wonderful praises in many local fairs where dog-shepherding competitions were held. Outraged and heartbroken, the Afghani businessman went down to the village marketplace duringits busiest hours, raising much to-do about the crime. He brought the dog's leash and tail and part of its foreleg to all the various trades-people, speculating out loud that the notorious White Werewolf was responsible for the atrocity. This werewolf was even more famous than the great shepherding dog who'd been killed, for he'd been terrorizing everyone in the village for longer than anyone could remember. Some people believed the monster was deaf in one ear, since the tracks he left in the dirt always tended to sway to the right. Others said he was more man than beast, the product of 135


w> Martin Slag

Berkeley Fiction Review fouled breeding. Still more people believed the White Werewolf was not human at all, but rather an evil god who could not be killed or bargained with or even seduced with worship, and, since great ignorance always sways in the direction of even greater cowardice, no one had ever dared to kill or to seduce the monster. Though no one knew much about the White Werewolf, one thing was sure: this werewolf had absolutely no sense of community. He'd shown a pretty lousy attitude, right from the start. They were a festive and patriotic folk in this land; they liked to find joy where they could, but inevitably the people and their rolling merchandise would have to find cover indoors, in bunkers sealed with tar and thick wood, listening for the werewolf's distinct barking sounds as he descended greatly from the snowy mountain summits, and ate their crops and dogs. Now the people had had enough. On this day they decided, once and for all, that something had to be done about this horrible half-wolf. Just before sundown, the Afghani businessman and a team of male recruits went into the mountains, armed with pitchforks and hoes that they'd wrapped in towels and cleverly set afire. They searched through snow and fog and darkness for the creature, chasing its footprints up the mountain. They cornered the monster on a cliff, pointed their fire at him, and forced him to fall into a nest of sharp, upward-pointing icicles. Then they looked down and saw that the monster was dead, and were happy and relieved to be done with the thing. Then night fell, and the mountain was occupied by an unlivable winter chill, and Fear came slowly creeping. Soon the men's torches were burned down to their hands, and strong torrents of sleet did not permit the men to create more fire. Their feet froze to the ground, their legs refused to move, and their hearts snuffed out, onejDy^ticking one. Their bodies became like porcelain; the hunched-over man-statues were shattered by a series of lightning bolts, and then the broken man-pieces were swept up by the wind and rained back onto the village in tasteless, colorless crystals. Wicked child! How dare you laugh at those men who died trying to protect their village from the great White Werewolf? It is a brave crime to dismiss such heroes from your heart, for one day, many days from now, you may find yourself going into the same icy mountains for the sake of your own children and pets. When that day arrives, do not be like the poor angry men who ran out of fire. Prepare yourself with plenty of pitchforks

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and lanterns and maps, for the path coming down the mountain is often more perished than the road traveled up. twelve Through all this, the gods were watching. They saw everything that happened on this little cappuccino-colored planet; they saw the men going into the mountains, and the baby being crashed by the bear, and the little boy climbing his tree, and the Arab boy crashing his bike, and the weird-looking woman getting off of the train; and it made their cheeks feel warm and dry; it made their stomachs full. I should say something now regarding these gods. They were everywhere. One god, the strictest but fairest of all the gods, was able to distill the whole range of acceptable human behavior into ten simple rules — rales which actually weren't too hard to follow, once you made the attempt. He had a lone son, who was murdered in a most gruesome and horrifying fashion — no, this god's son did not last very long in his father's strict-but-fair world. One god wanted nothing more than to sit cross-legged under a Banyan tree, thinking up head-scratching riddles. This god was nothing like the gods who lived in Greek times who had full heads of flaxen hair and cleanly-shaved chests; he lived a sedentary life and had a bit of a weight problem. One god had arms like tentacles. There were gods of war and gods of love; there were sea gods and mountain gods and moon gods. There were gods who valued virgins, gods who influenced the bank accounts of hip-hop artists, gods who were responsible for the losing of pets, and gods who rooted for the Perm State Nittany Lions. There were demigods and messengers of gods and pretenders of gods. There were so many gods that people had trouble choosing their favorites among them! People were always struggling to understand exactly what it was their gods desired. For instance, a mother who had lost her eldest son in a bar fight might ask her god what she might have done to prevent her boy from going out drinking that night with Gary and Sam. She might want to know what sacrifices she could make, in the future, so that her remaining sons would not kill themselves in a similar fashion. Or a man constructed entirely out of brown parts might consult his god before leaving his house with a gun in his pocket. Or a cop named Bill who worked in Detroit: asking god why his wife and mother and grandmother and aunt must all

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w> Martin Slag

Berkeley Fiction Review fouled breeding. Still more people believed the White Werewolf was not human at all, but rather an evil god who could not be killed or bargained with or even seduced with worship, and, since great ignorance always sways in the direction of even greater cowardice, no one had ever dared to kill or to seduce the monster. Though no one knew much about the White Werewolf, one thing was sure: this werewolf had absolutely no sense of community. He'd shown a pretty lousy attitude, right from the start. They were a festive and patriotic folk in this land; they liked to find joy where they could, but inevitably the people and their rolling merchandise would have to find cover indoors, in bunkers sealed with tar and thick wood, listening for the werewolf's distinct barking sounds as he descended greatly from the snowy mountain summits, and ate their crops and dogs. Now the people had had enough. On this day they decided, once and for all, that something had to be done about this horrible half-wolf. Just before sundown, the Afghani businessman and a team of male recruits went into the mountains, armed with pitchforks and hoes that they'd wrapped in towels and cleverly set afire. They searched through snow and fog and darkness for the creature, chasing its footprints up the mountain. They cornered the monster on a cliff, pointed their fire at him, and forced him to fall into a nest of sharp, upward-pointing icicles. Then they looked down and saw that the monster was dead, and were happy and relieved to be done with the thing. Then night fell, and the mountain was occupied by an unlivable winter chill, and Fear came slowly creeping. Soon the men's torches were burned down to their hands, and strong torrents of sleet did not permit the men to create more fire. Their feet froze to the ground, their legs refused to move, and their hearts snuffed out, onejDy^ticking one. Their bodies became like porcelain; the hunched-over man-statues were shattered by a series of lightning bolts, and then the broken man-pieces were swept up by the wind and rained back onto the village in tasteless, colorless crystals. Wicked child! How dare you laugh at those men who died trying to protect their village from the great White Werewolf? It is a brave crime to dismiss such heroes from your heart, for one day, many days from now, you may find yourself going into the same icy mountains for the sake of your own children and pets. When that day arrives, do not be like the poor angry men who ran out of fire. Prepare yourself with plenty of pitchforks

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and lanterns and maps, for the path coming down the mountain is often more perished than the road traveled up. twelve Through all this, the gods were watching. They saw everything that happened on this little cappuccino-colored planet; they saw the men going into the mountains, and the baby being crashed by the bear, and the little boy climbing his tree, and the Arab boy crashing his bike, and the weird-looking woman getting off of the train; and it made their cheeks feel warm and dry; it made their stomachs full. I should say something now regarding these gods. They were everywhere. One god, the strictest but fairest of all the gods, was able to distill the whole range of acceptable human behavior into ten simple rules — rales which actually weren't too hard to follow, once you made the attempt. He had a lone son, who was murdered in a most gruesome and horrifying fashion — no, this god's son did not last very long in his father's strict-but-fair world. One god wanted nothing more than to sit cross-legged under a Banyan tree, thinking up head-scratching riddles. This god was nothing like the gods who lived in Greek times who had full heads of flaxen hair and cleanly-shaved chests; he lived a sedentary life and had a bit of a weight problem. One god had arms like tentacles. There were gods of war and gods of love; there were sea gods and mountain gods and moon gods. There were gods who valued virgins, gods who influenced the bank accounts of hip-hop artists, gods who were responsible for the losing of pets, and gods who rooted for the Perm State Nittany Lions. There were demigods and messengers of gods and pretenders of gods. There were so many gods that people had trouble choosing their favorites among them! People were always struggling to understand exactly what it was their gods desired. For instance, a mother who had lost her eldest son in a bar fight might ask her god what she might have done to prevent her boy from going out drinking that night with Gary and Sam. She might want to know what sacrifices she could make, in the future, so that her remaining sons would not kill themselves in a similar fashion. Or a man constructed entirely out of brown parts might consult his god before leaving his house with a gun in his pocket. Or a cop named Bill who worked in Detroit: asking god why his wife and mother and grandmother and aunt must all

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Berkeley Fiction Review die of the same breast cancer. These were people who truly worshiped. Many, however, craved not interior peace but a kind of divine magic act, tailored exclusively to them; they demanded that their gods ride down on emerald-encrusted chariots, delivering liquids which would cure, and meats which would sate, and weapons which would smite — that sort of thing. When you got to the bottom of the Bible, or to the top of the Sistine Chapel, that was basically what you got. Do you see what I mean about us humans and our arrogance and art? Some people believed in their gods. Some people did not believe in any gods. Some people believed in a vague, omnipresent godlike entity, which was really just an abstract variation on these other, older gods with human features. Other people were not fully prepared to dismiss altogether the idea of a human-form god, and remained open to the possibility that there was indeed such a god, yet they weren't quite comfortable conceding this possibility unless the god in question appeared to them in person in a very real and definite and indisputable sense. Still there were some people who had no opinion on the matter, and these people kept mostly to themselves. It was all very terribly complicated. Child, if you believe in one of these gods, then you should pray to that god, for he is probably lonely. Neglect my ridiculous stories: Hell sent them. Close your eyes right this moment, draw the bedsheets up to your chin, and pray to whichever god you believe in, for some of the loneliest living things in this world are gods. thirteen On this day, two such people with no opinions regarding gods were driving around the American Southwest in a car with a broken radio. These people were vegetarians. This meant they objected to the killing of animals for any reason other than immediate self-preservation. This meant they wore shoes made out of rubber and canvas, and ate lots of vegetables. They loved all vegetables, even the really gross ones like eggplant and zucchini, but their favorite vegetable in the world, hands down, was the mushroom. The people in this car liked eating mushrooms so much that they talked about mushrooms all the time and drew lots of colorful pictures of mushrooms and stitched patches on their clothing in the shapes of mushrooms. These people were very kind and very silly and polygamous 138

Martin Slag and open-minded, and they loved everything and lived freely. But despite how silly they were, on this day they found themselves faced with a very serious situation. Their car, it seems, was a microcosm of the world in which they lived. It was running out of fuel. One of the freewheeling un-opinionated people traveling in the gasless car with the broken radio was a young woman with brown eyes and a rotund tummy. She had a head of hair like a rack of loosely spun rope. She was a challenging sort of beautiful; her nose was prominent, attuned to the changing winds of whatever terrain she happened to inhabit at the moment; and her eyes were always brilliant and happy and open. This young woman had an invisible baby girl living in her stomach. The baby girl was not actually invisible; she was about the size of an aspirin. The baby girl was very grateful for having such a warm, welcoming stomach to stay in, and naturally she assumed that she would be allowed to stay there forever, as all babies are infinitely selfish and stupid. What a hilarious surprise this invisible baby girl was in for! Driving the car with the broken radio, I should probably tell you, was a man of enormous height, with hands as big as cabbages. He, also, had a head of hair like a rack of loosely spun rope. This man's favorite hobby was to compose songs and stories about animals and undergarments and home appliances and buildings and bombs and the like. Himself, he could not carry a tune whatsoever, but the young woman with whom he traveled had a voice as perfect and as placid as a rainstorm in Hawaii, and the man was confident that if he could just get them both to California, he could make the woman famous, and himself rich. He could figure out a way to get the woman's voice inside the broken radio, and then the radio would work, and the two of them could travel in comfort. The man was the first to realize that their car was running on fumes. Promptly he veered off the highway, following a sign that read "Food & Gas." This happened at 6:45 in the morning, on Interstate Route 279, in an odd, faraway place called Nevada. The rest area was bustling with truck-drivers, bagel-bakers and other early-morning creatures. The man took his guitar and his silly songs and ideas around the parking lot, but no one would give him any money for them. Some people were really nasty about it. They called him a peace creep and told him to go climb a tree.

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Berkeley Fiction Review die of the same breast cancer. These were people who truly worshiped. Many, however, craved not interior peace but a kind of divine magic act, tailored exclusively to them; they demanded that their gods ride down on emerald-encrusted chariots, delivering liquids which would cure, and meats which would sate, and weapons which would smite — that sort of thing. When you got to the bottom of the Bible, or to the top of the Sistine Chapel, that was basically what you got. Do you see what I mean about us humans and our arrogance and art? Some people believed in their gods. Some people did not believe in any gods. Some people believed in a vague, omnipresent godlike entity, which was really just an abstract variation on these other, older gods with human features. Other people were not fully prepared to dismiss altogether the idea of a human-form god, and remained open to the possibility that there was indeed such a god, yet they weren't quite comfortable conceding this possibility unless the god in question appeared to them in person in a very real and definite and indisputable sense. Still there were some people who had no opinion on the matter, and these people kept mostly to themselves. It was all very terribly complicated. Child, if you believe in one of these gods, then you should pray to that god, for he is probably lonely. Neglect my ridiculous stories: Hell sent them. Close your eyes right this moment, draw the bedsheets up to your chin, and pray to whichever god you believe in, for some of the loneliest living things in this world are gods. thirteen On this day, two such people with no opinions regarding gods were driving around the American Southwest in a car with a broken radio. These people were vegetarians. This meant they objected to the killing of animals for any reason other than immediate self-preservation. This meant they wore shoes made out of rubber and canvas, and ate lots of vegetables. They loved all vegetables, even the really gross ones like eggplant and zucchini, but their favorite vegetable in the world, hands down, was the mushroom. The people in this car liked eating mushrooms so much that they talked about mushrooms all the time and drew lots of colorful pictures of mushrooms and stitched patches on their clothing in the shapes of mushrooms. These people were very kind and very silly and polygamous 138

Martin Slag and open-minded, and they loved everything and lived freely. But despite how silly they were, on this day they found themselves faced with a very serious situation. Their car, it seems, was a microcosm of the world in which they lived. It was running out of fuel. One of the freewheeling un-opinionated people traveling in the gasless car with the broken radio was a young woman with brown eyes and a rotund tummy. She had a head of hair like a rack of loosely spun rope. She was a challenging sort of beautiful; her nose was prominent, attuned to the changing winds of whatever terrain she happened to inhabit at the moment; and her eyes were always brilliant and happy and open. This young woman had an invisible baby girl living in her stomach. The baby girl was not actually invisible; she was about the size of an aspirin. The baby girl was very grateful for having such a warm, welcoming stomach to stay in, and naturally she assumed that she would be allowed to stay there forever, as all babies are infinitely selfish and stupid. What a hilarious surprise this invisible baby girl was in for! Driving the car with the broken radio, I should probably tell you, was a man of enormous height, with hands as big as cabbages. He, also, had a head of hair like a rack of loosely spun rope. This man's favorite hobby was to compose songs and stories about animals and undergarments and home appliances and buildings and bombs and the like. Himself, he could not carry a tune whatsoever, but the young woman with whom he traveled had a voice as perfect and as placid as a rainstorm in Hawaii, and the man was confident that if he could just get them both to California, he could make the woman famous, and himself rich. He could figure out a way to get the woman's voice inside the broken radio, and then the radio would work, and the two of them could travel in comfort. The man was the first to realize that their car was running on fumes. Promptly he veered off the highway, following a sign that read "Food & Gas." This happened at 6:45 in the morning, on Interstate Route 279, in an odd, faraway place called Nevada. The rest area was bustling with truck-drivers, bagel-bakers and other early-morning creatures. The man took his guitar and his silly songs and ideas around the parking lot, but no one would give him any money for them. Some people were really nasty about it. They called him a peace creep and told him to go climb a tree.

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Berkeley Fiction Review While the man begged for money, the woman went and sat on the grass. But just as she was settling in, she heard a low droning noise, emanating from somewhere above her. Then she felt something moving in her hair. She reached into her tangled brown tresses and ... Well... Two bees were playing piggyback in there. They had mistaken her hair for a hive! The woman did what any sane person would do in this situation. She jumped up, screamed, and ran around in circles, while screaming. People gathered around the woman and did not know what to do. It wasn't that they didn't want to help her; they just didn't want to risk angering the bees by interrupting them in the midst of their monkeyshines. They also didn't want to put themselves in danger, and there was always a chance that if they left the bees alone, the bees would fly away of their own free will. Soon the man came over to where the woman was screaming and running around in perfect 360-degree circles, and somehow he managed to make the woman stand still. Then the man did something that defied all sense of immediate self-preservation. Gently and meticulously, as if removing a pill of wool from the back of someone's sweater, he reached into the pile of hemp that sat atop of the woman's head and extracted the bees with his bare fingers, doing so with a single-mindedness that seemed to live someplace outside of the mind, if that makes any sense to a stupid kid like you. The people watched ~ fascinated ~ floored - flabbergasted — flummoxed - as the bees romped around on the palm of the man's hand, waiting with anxious eyes for the bees to sting him. But the man's heart was pure and good, and the bees did not sting him. The bees carried on with their monkeyshines, unmoved by this sudden change in venue or by stage fright. Then the man closed his hand into a weak fist over the bees, and now the people were sure the bees would sting him — but still they did not, and when he opened his fist -- hey presto — the bees were gone. Where did they go? How did he do it? Had the bees escaped unseen? Had they been absorbed by the man's body, somehow? Did they ever exist in the first place? A good and honorable magician never reveals his techniques, so we may never know. Clearly, this man was a sorcerer. Because the people were so impressed with this impromptu display of magic, they gave the young couple all the money they needed to get 140

Martin Slag themselves to golden California, forgetting all about their own destinations and returning home to tell their wives and wicked children exactly what they'd seen on this day. Only later, when the man and woman got back on the road, did the invisible baby girl make her presence known to the woman. The woman felt the little spasm of life inside her, and she turned to look at the man. That was her first inclination - to look at the man. Her second inclination was to suppress this first inclination. She felt she should give a name to the little spasm of life. She thought of many pretty names, names like Florence and Azure, names like Pippi and Allison and Emma, names like We-Ann and Gillette and Fratella and Magazine ... but none of these would do. She wanted to capture the essence of the spasm of life, but she feared she didn't have the talent. How to conjure up a name for such a thing, when no possible combination of letters and syllables and sounds could ever do it justice? And suddenly the name occurred to the woman, and her face changed, as a dog's or a cat's face will become visibly alarmed in the moments preceding an earthquake or tsunami or other natural disaster. Lemon Drop! It was the most beautiful name in the history of names, and now the woman had a third inclination - to share the name with the man. But then ... I don't know what then. I guess she was still in shock a little. I suppose she feared the man would take the name in his big cabbage hands and destroy it somehow. Make it invisible. So she kept it all inside her, and lived the rest of her life that way ~ with nothing but what was inside her. And so, to your inevitable skepticism, no one will be able to confirm this last part of the story for you, except for the woman, whose voice never made it to the insides of anyone's radio, and the little girl herself, who never got to be any bigger than a grapefruit, and is perhaps forever gone. She'd be around your age now. Maybe one day you'll meet her. On that day, you can say to her, "What is your name, little girl?" and she will tell you merrily that her name is Lemon Drop, and then you will know that I wasn't lying about her. This young woman with the bees making love in her hair was the most beautiful living thing in the whole spinning world.

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Berkeley Fiction Review While the man begged for money, the woman went and sat on the grass. But just as she was settling in, she heard a low droning noise, emanating from somewhere above her. Then she felt something moving in her hair. She reached into her tangled brown tresses and ... Well... Two bees were playing piggyback in there. They had mistaken her hair for a hive! The woman did what any sane person would do in this situation. She jumped up, screamed, and ran around in circles, while screaming. People gathered around the woman and did not know what to do. It wasn't that they didn't want to help her; they just didn't want to risk angering the bees by interrupting them in the midst of their monkeyshines. They also didn't want to put themselves in danger, and there was always a chance that if they left the bees alone, the bees would fly away of their own free will. Soon the man came over to where the woman was screaming and running around in perfect 360-degree circles, and somehow he managed to make the woman stand still. Then the man did something that defied all sense of immediate self-preservation. Gently and meticulously, as if removing a pill of wool from the back of someone's sweater, he reached into the pile of hemp that sat atop of the woman's head and extracted the bees with his bare fingers, doing so with a single-mindedness that seemed to live someplace outside of the mind, if that makes any sense to a stupid kid like you. The people watched ~ fascinated ~ floored - flabbergasted — flummoxed - as the bees romped around on the palm of the man's hand, waiting with anxious eyes for the bees to sting him. But the man's heart was pure and good, and the bees did not sting him. The bees carried on with their monkeyshines, unmoved by this sudden change in venue or by stage fright. Then the man closed his hand into a weak fist over the bees, and now the people were sure the bees would sting him — but still they did not, and when he opened his fist -- hey presto — the bees were gone. Where did they go? How did he do it? Had the bees escaped unseen? Had they been absorbed by the man's body, somehow? Did they ever exist in the first place? A good and honorable magician never reveals his techniques, so we may never know. Clearly, this man was a sorcerer. Because the people were so impressed with this impromptu display of magic, they gave the young couple all the money they needed to get 140

Martin Slag themselves to golden California, forgetting all about their own destinations and returning home to tell their wives and wicked children exactly what they'd seen on this day. Only later, when the man and woman got back on the road, did the invisible baby girl make her presence known to the woman. The woman felt the little spasm of life inside her, and she turned to look at the man. That was her first inclination - to look at the man. Her second inclination was to suppress this first inclination. She felt she should give a name to the little spasm of life. She thought of many pretty names, names like Florence and Azure, names like Pippi and Allison and Emma, names like We-Ann and Gillette and Fratella and Magazine ... but none of these would do. She wanted to capture the essence of the spasm of life, but she feared she didn't have the talent. How to conjure up a name for such a thing, when no possible combination of letters and syllables and sounds could ever do it justice? And suddenly the name occurred to the woman, and her face changed, as a dog's or a cat's face will become visibly alarmed in the moments preceding an earthquake or tsunami or other natural disaster. Lemon Drop! It was the most beautiful name in the history of names, and now the woman had a third inclination - to share the name with the man. But then ... I don't know what then. I guess she was still in shock a little. I suppose she feared the man would take the name in his big cabbage hands and destroy it somehow. Make it invisible. So she kept it all inside her, and lived the rest of her life that way ~ with nothing but what was inside her. And so, to your inevitable skepticism, no one will be able to confirm this last part of the story for you, except for the woman, whose voice never made it to the insides of anyone's radio, and the little girl herself, who never got to be any bigger than a grapefruit, and is perhaps forever gone. She'd be around your age now. Maybe one day you'll meet her. On that day, you can say to her, "What is your name, little girl?" and she will tell you merrily that her name is Lemon Drop, and then you will know that I wasn't lying about her. This young woman with the bees making love in her hair was the most beautiful living thing in the whole spinning world.

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Berkeley Fiction Review fourteen On this day, a baby pig was bom. Henry Shankpainter came awake to the sound of hounds baying out by the pigpen. Not bothering to dress, he ran outside to tend to his hog, to see if she'd survived the night. His eyes were shot, and his hips were rheumatic, so it took him awhile to get so far as the dried-up cobblestone well that blocked the gate to the unemployed stables — but so what? He was just another useless farmer with shot eyes and rheumatic hips, waiting for the bank to foreclose on his land. H e ' d been expecting it to happen for years, although it never did, and might never. He got the sense that they were afraid to remove him from his property, as they should be. It would not be overstating things to say that Henry Shankpainter had a touch of the crazies.

Martin Slag whole life, in fact - and he knew a loser when he saw one. Now, no one loved pigs more than old Henry Shankpainter, but even he couldn't understand why baby pigs had to be so damned cute. They were cuter than all other baby-things — cuter than puppies and bear cubs and baby seals and newborn babies with booties to match their bonnets. Why should a man's j o b be made so difficult by a thing so trifling and vacuous as cutenessl It was as if some evolutionary bylaw had taken effect, many many moons ago, for the express purpose of protecting the progeny of one of the few species that regularly ate its young. But that didn't make any sense — for what unknown and possibly unknowable Intelligence would concern itself with the welfare of baby pigs, would commit its energies to something so stupid, so pointless, so small - and why?

These days, old Henry Shankpainter's farm was the only thing keeping that little red engine in his chest churning blood. His wife was dead. His daughter was long dead. His son was not dead — in fact, Hank Jr. lived no farther away than a few turns of the road — but Hank Jr. had made a number of questionable life decisions which his father did not support, and so his father did not wish to have a relationship with him. Henry Shankpainter lived for his pigs. Sitting on his porch late at night, three-quarters drunk, he'd hack away at his little mandolin and invent songs and stories about them. Come Christmastime, he'd bake sugar cookies shaped like little pigglies. For dinner he ate pork chops; for dessert, pickled pigs' feet. Henry Shankpainter's favorite sandwich in the world was the ham sandwich. But enough talk about ham sandwiches. No one was thinking about ham sandwiches on this day. Old mama pig had just given birth. The crusty old farmer was in his slippers and robe, walking briskly out to the fenced-in sty where the sows were kept safe from the males. When he got there, he tightened the belt of his robe around his waist. He counted the litter of pigs at thirteen — a baker's dozen of pigs! Six healthy pigs were considered to be a success of a litter; here were at least ten good ones. Five were mottled and gray; two were a rosy pink color; one was black like tar; one was as white as a swan.

In any case, the pig was bom. This was not a matter of opinion or uncertainty or intellectual dispute. This actually happened. On this day, on Henry Shankpainter's farm, a baby pig was bom. Thirteen pigs, to be exact. It should also be made clear - for the benefit of wicked, big-nosed children like you, who insist on ruining my story - that there was nothing the least bit special about this pig, other than its diminutive size. This was not some magic pig. To my knowledge, this pig could not wiggle its ears or unfurl its tail or sing in a husky falsetto or dance the hoochy-coochy or say "Voulez-vous me dejeuner?" or do anything all that special. No one would ever pay money to see this pig up close. You silly, sarcastic child: Why should anyone go out of their way to visit a pig without talents? Only a lunatic or an idiot would write a book or a song or a story about this pig. Be careful not to give the pig too much credit: people work hard for their money these days, and can't afford to waste what little money they have on fool books about stubborn pigs who can't sing or dance and refuse to talk. People like to stayUbme and blink their eyes and watch things on DVD. They like doing things in private, these days, and they sure as hell don't like driving around the country in old cars and eating mushrooms and climbing trees and looking out of windows and feeling afraid. No one is inclined to travel halfway across the world to visit an old man's run-down farm just to see a bunch of common pigs.

One was a runt. Some farmers will take their time seeing if something will come of a runt, but Henry Shankpainter had been at this pig thing a long time - his

This pig was not attractive, intelligent, or even particularly lovable. It was simply the smallest pig in a litter of otherwise normal-sized pigs. Simple as that.

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Berkeley Fiction Review fourteen On this day, a baby pig was bom. Henry Shankpainter came awake to the sound of hounds baying out by the pigpen. Not bothering to dress, he ran outside to tend to his hog, to see if she'd survived the night. His eyes were shot, and his hips were rheumatic, so it took him awhile to get so far as the dried-up cobblestone well that blocked the gate to the unemployed stables — but so what? He was just another useless farmer with shot eyes and rheumatic hips, waiting for the bank to foreclose on his land. H e ' d been expecting it to happen for years, although it never did, and might never. He got the sense that they were afraid to remove him from his property, as they should be. It would not be overstating things to say that Henry Shankpainter had a touch of the crazies.

Martin Slag whole life, in fact - and he knew a loser when he saw one. Now, no one loved pigs more than old Henry Shankpainter, but even he couldn't understand why baby pigs had to be so damned cute. They were cuter than all other baby-things — cuter than puppies and bear cubs and baby seals and newborn babies with booties to match their bonnets. Why should a man's j o b be made so difficult by a thing so trifling and vacuous as cutenessl It was as if some evolutionary bylaw had taken effect, many many moons ago, for the express purpose of protecting the progeny of one of the few species that regularly ate its young. But that didn't make any sense — for what unknown and possibly unknowable Intelligence would concern itself with the welfare of baby pigs, would commit its energies to something so stupid, so pointless, so small - and why?

These days, old Henry Shankpainter's farm was the only thing keeping that little red engine in his chest churning blood. His wife was dead. His daughter was long dead. His son was not dead — in fact, Hank Jr. lived no farther away than a few turns of the road — but Hank Jr. had made a number of questionable life decisions which his father did not support, and so his father did not wish to have a relationship with him. Henry Shankpainter lived for his pigs. Sitting on his porch late at night, three-quarters drunk, he'd hack away at his little mandolin and invent songs and stories about them. Come Christmastime, he'd bake sugar cookies shaped like little pigglies. For dinner he ate pork chops; for dessert, pickled pigs' feet. Henry Shankpainter's favorite sandwich in the world was the ham sandwich. But enough talk about ham sandwiches. No one was thinking about ham sandwiches on this day. Old mama pig had just given birth. The crusty old farmer was in his slippers and robe, walking briskly out to the fenced-in sty where the sows were kept safe from the males. When he got there, he tightened the belt of his robe around his waist. He counted the litter of pigs at thirteen — a baker's dozen of pigs! Six healthy pigs were considered to be a success of a litter; here were at least ten good ones. Five were mottled and gray; two were a rosy pink color; one was black like tar; one was as white as a swan.

In any case, the pig was bom. This was not a matter of opinion or uncertainty or intellectual dispute. This actually happened. On this day, on Henry Shankpainter's farm, a baby pig was bom. Thirteen pigs, to be exact. It should also be made clear - for the benefit of wicked, big-nosed children like you, who insist on ruining my story - that there was nothing the least bit special about this pig, other than its diminutive size. This was not some magic pig. To my knowledge, this pig could not wiggle its ears or unfurl its tail or sing in a husky falsetto or dance the hoochy-coochy or say "Voulez-vous me dejeuner?" or do anything all that special. No one would ever pay money to see this pig up close. You silly, sarcastic child: Why should anyone go out of their way to visit a pig without talents? Only a lunatic or an idiot would write a book or a song or a story about this pig. Be careful not to give the pig too much credit: people work hard for their money these days, and can't afford to waste what little money they have on fool books about stubborn pigs who can't sing or dance and refuse to talk. People like to stayUbme and blink their eyes and watch things on DVD. They like doing things in private, these days, and they sure as hell don't like driving around the country in old cars and eating mushrooms and climbing trees and looking out of windows and feeling afraid. No one is inclined to travel halfway across the world to visit an old man's run-down farm just to see a bunch of common pigs.

One was a runt. Some farmers will take their time seeing if something will come of a runt, but Henry Shankpainter had been at this pig thing a long time - his

This pig was not attractive, intelligent, or even particularly lovable. It was simply the smallest pig in a litter of otherwise normal-sized pigs. Simple as that.

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Berkeley Fiction Review Old Henry Shankpainter took the pig away from its mother and carried the pig to the shed where he did all his best log splitting. The shed was a rudimentary edifice with horse-tack walls and a ceiling that was draped in cobwebs. The shed had been built on the slope of a hill where a great maple tree had once stood. The tree's stump had been left in the center of the bam, a makeshift but perfectly serviceable table on which Henry Shankpainter could beat things to hell with an ax. He threw the baby pig on the smooth, flat surface of the stump. Here is the thing about this: Henry Shankpainter was nothing if not a lover of pigs, but he was part of a generation of men who valued steak over sizzle, substance over slush; and men such as those who came from that little gold band of time had no practical use for pigs such as these. There was even a part of Henry Shankpainter that resented the pig, as if the pig were at fault not only for its own shortcomings, but for the shortcomings of the world, a world in which a man's property could be taken from him, at the end of the day, as easily as an infant is destroyed by a bear, a world in which the only son of an angry god could be foiled by the oldest trick in the book, could be overcome, as all good things are eventually overcome, by the greedy creativity of Man. He pondered the pig for a few more minutes and then he went to get his club. He didn't want to think about the greedy creativity of Man. He wanted only to be done with the thing, and to be happy and relieved to be done with the thing. But then the pig did something most unusual. It opened its tiny mooncrescent mouth. And made a little human sound. And brought the world to life. Anyway, he brained it. So goodnight.

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Berkeley Fiction Review Old Henry Shankpainter took the pig away from its mother and carried the pig to the shed where he did all his best log splitting. The shed was a rudimentary edifice with horse-tack walls and a ceiling that was draped in cobwebs. The shed had been built on the slope of a hill where a great maple tree had once stood. The tree's stump had been left in the center of the bam, a makeshift but perfectly serviceable table on which Henry Shankpainter could beat things to hell with an ax. He threw the baby pig on the smooth, flat surface of the stump. Here is the thing about this: Henry Shankpainter was nothing if not a lover of pigs, but he was part of a generation of men who valued steak over sizzle, substance over slush; and men such as those who came from that little gold band of time had no practical use for pigs such as these. There was even a part of Henry Shankpainter that resented the pig, as if the pig were at fault not only for its own shortcomings, but for the shortcomings of the world, a world in which a man's property could be taken from him, at the end of the day, as easily as an infant is destroyed by a bear, a world in which the only son of an angry god could be foiled by the oldest trick in the book, could be overcome, as all good things are eventually overcome, by the greedy creativity of Man. He pondered the pig for a few more minutes and then he went to get his club. He didn't want to think about the greedy creativity of Man. He wanted only to be done with the thing, and to be happy and relieved to be done with the thing. But then the pig did something most unusual. It opened its tiny mooncrescent mouth. And made a little human sound. And brought the world to life. Anyway, he brained it. So goodnight.

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Jim Bain bridge is a Co-Winner of the 2009 Third Wednesday poetry contest and was awarded Second Place in the 2008 Red Cedar Review Flash Fiction Contest. Other work has appeared or is forthcorning in LIT, Roanoke Review, Thin Air, Welter, Wisconsin Review, and Yomimono. Mark Broeske teaches English and Creative Writing at La Joya Community High School in Avondale, AZ. He would like to thank his wife, family, and friends for all of their love and support. This is his first publication, ever. Adam Carlin is a sculptor and illustrator based out of Oakland. His work currently deals with finding freedom and mapping where it may or may not exist. He deals with the present in hope that it will influence the future, and focuses on the future in hopes that it will influence the present, http ://www. AdamCarlin. com R .J. Carter is a student at Flagstaff High School in Flagstaff, AZ, after having moved from Chicago, IL. He is a member of the Flagstaff Snowsharks Swim team and wishes to attend college majoring in creative writing. This is his first published work. Jennifer Fawkes is an MFA candidate and Stipendiary Fellow in the Hollins University Creative Writing Program. She earned her BA from Columbia University. "No Fun Anymore" is her^first published story; Mark Fell in is a business development writer in New York City. He lives with his wife Nancy; they did not share a desk in high school. Michael Hatcher is a designer at an architectural firm in Seattle, WA. He is a graduate of the California Polytechnical State University San Luis Obispo's Architecture program and has been living and working in Seattle for two years. Ryan Hatcher is a Berkeley based freelance adventurer and photographer who finds his subjects simply by being in the right place at the right 146

time. His amazing luck and eye for color have been the basis for such collections as "Little Rhoda, Big World" and "Dogs I Would Like to Steal." Patrick Hicks is the author of several poetry collections, most recently Finding the Gossamer (Salmon Poetry, 2008). His work has appeared in scores of journals including, Ploughshares, Tar River Poetry, Glimmer Train, Natural Bridge, and Nimrod. He has been a Visiting Fellow at Oxford and he has won a variety of grants to support his work. Jessica Lambert was bom and raised in Colorado, formally educated at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia and is currently a bicoastal artist living in the Bay Area and Brooklyn, NY. BK Loren's work has been published in Orion Magazine, The Future of Nature (Milkweed), the Best American Spiritual Writing of 2004 (Houghton-Mifflin), and many more. She's won a number of fellowships and is the founder of the Integrative Writing Institute. Kelty Luber is a graphic artist, photographer, and web designer based in the Bay Area. She has a passion for art and design of all kinds, and is doing her best to bring a little more beauty and color into the world! You can see her current collages, design, and photos at www.steepstreet.com Joseph Milazzo is a Brooklyn based artist, musician and writer. His works typically delve into themes of science, religion and nihilism. He is currently co-authoring a poetry book as part of the Black Pig multimedia proj ect and is a contributing musician for the rock band A Family Plot. To learn more about the artist, please visit his website: www.gallery48.com Liz Moody is a 2009 Honors Graduate of UC Berkeley. She lives in the Bay Area and spent six years writing Out of My Mind, a syndicated lifestyle column. She is currently in the process of publishing her first novel, Diary of a Liar. Jessamyn Patterson is a 20 year old from Chicago. She works with oils and pencil, illustrating fever-dreams and nightmarish realities. She is a music fanatic and loves to create album art for musicians all over the world.

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Jim Bain bridge is a Co-Winner of the 2009 Third Wednesday poetry contest and was awarded Second Place in the 2008 Red Cedar Review Flash Fiction Contest. Other work has appeared or is forthcorning in LIT, Roanoke Review, Thin Air, Welter, Wisconsin Review, and Yomimono. Mark Broeske teaches English and Creative Writing at La Joya Community High School in Avondale, AZ. He would like to thank his wife, family, and friends for all of their love and support. This is his first publication, ever. Adam Carlin is a sculptor and illustrator based out of Oakland. His work currently deals with finding freedom and mapping where it may or may not exist. He deals with the present in hope that it will influence the future, and focuses on the future in hopes that it will influence the present, http ://www. AdamCarlin. com R .J. Carter is a student at Flagstaff High School in Flagstaff, AZ, after having moved from Chicago, IL. He is a member of the Flagstaff Snowsharks Swim team and wishes to attend college majoring in creative writing. This is his first published work. Jennifer Fawkes is an MFA candidate and Stipendiary Fellow in the Hollins University Creative Writing Program. She earned her BA from Columbia University. "No Fun Anymore" is her^first published story; Mark Fell in is a business development writer in New York City. He lives with his wife Nancy; they did not share a desk in high school. Michael Hatcher is a designer at an architectural firm in Seattle, WA. He is a graduate of the California Polytechnical State University San Luis Obispo's Architecture program and has been living and working in Seattle for two years. Ryan Hatcher is a Berkeley based freelance adventurer and photographer who finds his subjects simply by being in the right place at the right 146

time. His amazing luck and eye for color have been the basis for such collections as "Little Rhoda, Big World" and "Dogs I Would Like to Steal." Patrick Hicks is the author of several poetry collections, most recently Finding the Gossamer (Salmon Poetry, 2008). His work has appeared in scores of journals including, Ploughshares, Tar River Poetry, Glimmer Train, Natural Bridge, and Nimrod. He has been a Visiting Fellow at Oxford and he has won a variety of grants to support his work. Jessica Lambert was bom and raised in Colorado, formally educated at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia and is currently a bicoastal artist living in the Bay Area and Brooklyn, NY. BK Loren's work has been published in Orion Magazine, The Future of Nature (Milkweed), the Best American Spiritual Writing of 2004 (Houghton-Mifflin), and many more. She's won a number of fellowships and is the founder of the Integrative Writing Institute. Kelty Luber is a graphic artist, photographer, and web designer based in the Bay Area. She has a passion for art and design of all kinds, and is doing her best to bring a little more beauty and color into the world! You can see her current collages, design, and photos at www.steepstreet.com Joseph Milazzo is a Brooklyn based artist, musician and writer. His works typically delve into themes of science, religion and nihilism. He is currently co-authoring a poetry book as part of the Black Pig multimedia proj ect and is a contributing musician for the rock band A Family Plot. To learn more about the artist, please visit his website: www.gallery48.com Liz Moody is a 2009 Honors Graduate of UC Berkeley. She lives in the Bay Area and spent six years writing Out of My Mind, a syndicated lifestyle column. She is currently in the process of publishing her first novel, Diary of a Liar. Jessamyn Patterson is a 20 year old from Chicago. She works with oils and pencil, illustrating fever-dreams and nightmarish realities. She is a music fanatic and loves to create album art for musicians all over the world.

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Berkeley Fiction Review Greg Pierce grew up in Vermont and now lives in New York City. He also writes plays. He recently finished his novel, "The Ice Pick Job." Sam Pink is 25. He wrote a chapbook (YUM YUM I CAN'T WAIT TO DIE) and a full length book Q. AM GOING TO CLONE MYSELF THEN KILL THE CLONE AND EAT IT). He is debating whether or not it would be fun to put a wig on a pillow and hug it and be nice to it. He blogs at impersonalelectroniccommunication.com Aimee Pogson is currently an MFA student in fiction at Bowling Green State University. Her work has previously appeared in Lake Effect. Lau rah Norton Raines is founder and fiction/nonfiction editor of SUBLIT literary journal, and teaches at Georgia State University. Her most recent publications include stories in Fringe, Night Train, Post Road, Failbetter, and The Emerson Review. She is winner of both the seventh and eighth annual Creative Loafing fiction contest. She lives in Atlanta, GA. Sarah Rothberg recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a major in English and a minor in Creative Writing. Currently, she is working on a short bio, and also accepting unsolicited monetary donations. Randy Schmidt hails from Massachusetts and currently resides in New Jersey. He can be reached at randolph_schmidt@hotmail.com Martin Slag's debut novel, a political satire called "Battling Green Eyeshades," is out via Six Gallery Press. He lives and works in the South Side of Pittsburgh, which is a city in Western Pennsylvania. His culinary specialty is Italian Wedding Soup, and his website is www.martinslag. com. Todd Whaley, a 2008 Finalist for The Flannery O'Connor Award for Fiction, lives in Baltimore and works for an international architectural firm in Washington, DC. He has stories in a number of journals, including The Baltimore Review, Louisiana Literature, Fourth River, Pisgah Review, Soundings East, Quercus Review, REAL, Compass Rose, and others. He has been honored as a finalist in Glimmer Train Stories and nominated to the Best New American Voices. 148


Berkeley Fiction Review Greg Pierce grew up in Vermont and now lives in New York City. He also writes plays. He recently finished his novel, "The Ice Pick Job." Sam Pink is 25. He wrote a chapbook (YUM YUM I CAN'T WAIT TO DIE) and a full length book Q. AM GOING TO CLONE MYSELF THEN KILL THE CLONE AND EAT IT). He is debating whether or not it would be fun to put a wig on a pillow and hug it and be nice to it. He blogs at impersonalelectroniccommunication.com Aimee Pogson is currently an MFA student in fiction at Bowling Green State University. Her work has previously appeared in Lake Effect. Lau rah Norton Raines is founder and fiction/nonfiction editor of SUBLIT literary journal, and teaches at Georgia State University. Her most recent publications include stories in Fringe, Night Train, Post Road, Failbetter, and The Emerson Review. She is winner of both the seventh and eighth annual Creative Loafing fiction contest. She lives in Atlanta, GA. Sarah Rothberg recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a major in English and a minor in Creative Writing. Currently, she is working on a short bio, and also accepting unsolicited monetary donations. Randy Schmidt hails from Massachusetts and currently resides in New Jersey. He can be reached at randolph_schmidt@hotmail.com Martin Slag's debut novel, a political satire called "Battling Green Eyeshades," is out via Six Gallery Press. He lives and works in the South Side of Pittsburgh, which is a city in Western Pennsylvania. His culinary specialty is Italian Wedding Soup, and his website is www.martinslag. com. Todd Whaley, a 2008 Finalist for The Flannery O'Connor Award for Fiction, lives in Baltimore and works for an international architectural firm in Washington, DC. He has stories in a number of journals, including The Baltimore Review, Louisiana Literature, Fourth River, Pisgah Review, Soundings East, Quercus Review, REAL, Compass Rose, and others. He has been honored as a finalist in Glimmer Train Stories and nominated to the Best New American Voices. 148


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$ 2 0 0 Prize for First Place

Winner

First, Second, and Third Place will b e published in Issue 3 0

Guidelines: $ 6 entry fee + $ 4 e a c h additional entry M a k e check or m o n e y oder payable to B F R Sudden Fie 1000 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 l e t t e r & S A S E f o r list o f w i n n e r s Submissions will not b e returned First published in 1815, The North American Review is among the country's oldest literary magazines. As a writer, you can have a subscription to the North American Rew'ew at the reduced price of $18. The North American Review is located at the University of Northern Iowa and has published such well-known artists and writers as Walt Whitman, Louise Erdrich, Mark Twain, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Rita Dove.

Subscribe today and enjoy a 20% savings as well as contemporary literature at its best. Subscriptions $22.00 per year US

Send submissions Sudden Fiction Berkeley Fiction

Contest Revie w

l O B E s h l e m a n H a l l University of Berkeley, C A

California 94720-4500

D e a d l i n e is M a r c h E-mail nar@uni.edu Web http://webdelsol.com/ NorthAmReview/NAR

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Authors Jim Bainbria^e RJ Carter

Mark Broeske

Mark Fellin

Jennifer Fawkes

B K Loren

Patrick H i c k s * Liz M o o d y

Sam Pink

• Greg Pierce

A i m e e Pogson *

Laurah Norton Rairres

Randy Schmidt

Martin Slag

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A d ain *L

C a r Un * m b ert

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Cover Art by Kelty Luber

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