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B E R K E L E Y

F I C T I O N

MANAGING Jennifer Brown

EDITORS Caitlin McGuire

ASSOCIATE Denise Amling Elena Czubiak

R E V I E W

EDITORS

Brighton Earley Max Gektin

Taylor Norman Ginger Wu

ASSISTANT EDITORS V Cover art by S.N. Jacobson

Copyright 2010 by Berkeley Fiction Review T h e Berkeley Fiction Review is n o t a n official- p u b l i c a t i on of t h e Associated Students of the University of California or the University of California, Berkeley English department. These stories are works of fiction and do not necessarily reflect the views of the A S U C or the University of California, Berkeley. The Berkeley Fiction Review is a n ASUC-sponsored, undergraduate-run, non-profit publication. www.ocf.berkeley. e d u / ~bfr bfictionreview@yahoo.com / Inquiries, correspondence and submissions should be sent to: Berkeley Fiction Review, 1 OB Eshleman Hall, University of California, Berkeley, C A 94720. The Berkeley Fiction Review is not responsible for unsolicited material. Member of C L M P Distributed by Ubiquity, Brooklyn, N e w York Printed by Folger Graphics, Centralia, Washington

ISSN 1087-7053

Bryan Gonzalez Laurel Hochstetler Grace Kao Yvonne Lin

Pareesa Amrbar Nicole Bennett Amy Breshears Christian Bustos

Jessica Pourhassanian Daniel Ricchiazzi Zachary Rymer Alexis Yavorsky

ADVISERS Georgina Kleege

Jan Crisostomo

Ann Marie Pettigrew*

SPECIAL THANKS Jillian Ardrey

Rhoda Piland

STAFF Ariela Alberts Carolyn Beaty Alison Bernet Samantha Chan Tiffany Chiao Jessica Chow Christina Coffaro Lisa Coronado-Morse Napur Dalmia Merany Eldridge Maya FalkenbergY Jenna Finkle Jane Francis Brandon Gauthier Tessa Gregory Susana Guerrero Tavi Haberman Taira Jordan

Danny Kirk Pat Kolyouthapong Sierra Lee Yuan Lin Dolores Loera Nathan'Low AmyLu Poyan Ma Jennafer McCabe Patriclc McDonald Chloe Medosch Alekzandir Mortoh Aditi Nair Melissa Nasiruddin Eva Nierenberg William Osborn Elaine Ou Nina Ozier

Elaina Patton Patricia Quan Richard Roitinger Molly Rosenberg Nick Salvo Matthew Santillan Maryam Shamlou Kathy Shen Matthew Smith Alana Sondheim Beth Stevens Anya Tomkiewicz Luke Travis Helene Truong Anna Williams Michelle Wu Yun Yang Kathleen Zheng


B E R K E L E Y

F I C T I O N

MANAGING Jennifer Brown

EDITORS Caitlin McGuire

ASSOCIATE Denise Amling Elena Czubiak

R E V I E W

EDITORS

Brighton Earley Max Gektin

Taylor Norman Ginger Wu

ASSISTANT EDITORS V Cover art by S.N. Jacobson

Copyright 2010 by Berkeley Fiction Review T h e Berkeley Fiction Review is n o t a n official- p u b l i c a t i on of t h e Associated Students of the University of California or the University of California, Berkeley English department. These stories are works of fiction and do not necessarily reflect the views of the A S U C or the University of California, Berkeley. The Berkeley Fiction Review is a n ASUC-sponsored, undergraduate-run, non-profit publication. www.ocf.berkeley. e d u / ~bfr bfictionreview@yahoo.com / Inquiries, correspondence and submissions should be sent to: Berkeley Fiction Review, 1 OB Eshleman Hall, University of California, Berkeley, C A 94720. The Berkeley Fiction Review is not responsible for unsolicited material. Member of C L M P Distributed by Ubiquity, Brooklyn, N e w York Printed by Folger Graphics, Centralia, Washington

ISSN 1087-7053

Bryan Gonzalez Laurel Hochstetler Grace Kao Yvonne Lin

Pareesa Amrbar Nicole Bennett Amy Breshears Christian Bustos

Jessica Pourhassanian Daniel Ricchiazzi Zachary Rymer Alexis Yavorsky

ADVISERS Georgina Kleege

Jan Crisostomo

Ann Marie Pettigrew*

SPECIAL THANKS Jillian Ardrey

Rhoda Piland

STAFF Ariela Alberts Carolyn Beaty Alison Bernet Samantha Chan Tiffany Chiao Jessica Chow Christina Coffaro Lisa Coronado-Morse Napur Dalmia Merany Eldridge Maya FalkenbergY Jenna Finkle Jane Francis Brandon Gauthier Tessa Gregory Susana Guerrero Tavi Haberman Taira Jordan

Danny Kirk Pat Kolyouthapong Sierra Lee Yuan Lin Dolores Loera Nathan'Low AmyLu Poyan Ma Jennafer McCabe Patriclc McDonald Chloe Medosch Alekzandir Mortoh Aditi Nair Melissa Nasiruddin Eva Nierenberg William Osborn Elaine Ou Nina Ozier

Elaina Patton Patricia Quan Richard Roitinger Molly Rosenberg Nick Salvo Matthew Santillan Maryam Shamlou Kathy Shen Matthew Smith Alana Sondheim Beth Stevens Anya Tomkiewicz Luke Travis Helene Truong Anna Williams Michelle Wu Yun Yang Kathleen Zheng


F O R E W O R D

Welcome to the new face of the Berkeley Fiction Review. Upon the advent of our thirtieth issue, we invoked a drastic change and have resculpted our image. Accompanied by an efficient new website and redesigned layout, we've ushered in an era of technological mastery that has primed us for the future of the literary industry. This issue also marks a fresh perspective, as a consequence of the transformation of our editorial board. Accordingly, in Issue 30, we explored unprecedented literary conventions that illustrate the changing current of our magazine. Our cover image, Michael Christian's sculpture, Key Note, reminds us of the unlocked treasures in literature, waiting for hungry readers to devour buried metaphors and unconventional characters. After digging through the submissions that more than doubled in volume since Issue 29, we emerged victoriously with literary pieces that echo our cover. We explored security this year: the confinement of womanhood, the isolation of incarceration, the repression of memory. Whether navigating teenage angst in "You Can't Tell Anyone About This" or probing the limits of one's sanity in "Suite," each story unlocked moments that amazed, baffled and inspired us. "And Peace at the Last," features a teacher who attempts to free herself from a haunting past that marred her future. Our first place sudden fiction story, "To the Teeth," illustrates a couple bound by teeth and hate - both stay locked within the man who resides in darkness with a woman he despises. We learned that the past must be unlocked to release the pain we harbor, as was shown in "Gun Country." Even the art, as varied as it is, redefines the boundaries of reality by borrowing elements of nature, comedy and the grotesque. Whether it is a headless woman wandering through barren countryside or a dancing monster, we sought to incorporate art that was compelling enough to stand alone. We hope you face this issue with the same care and passion as us - you may just unlock your own meanings at the turn of the page. Sincerely, Caitlin McGuire

Jennifer Brown


F O R E W O R D

Welcome to the new face of the Berkeley Fiction Review. Upon the advent of our thirtieth issue, we invoked a drastic change and have resculpted our image. Accompanied by an efficient new website and redesigned layout, we've ushered in an era of technological mastery that has primed us for the future of the literary industry. This issue also marks a fresh perspective, as a consequence of the transformation of our editorial board. Accordingly, in Issue 30, we explored unprecedented literary conventions that illustrate the changing current of our magazine. Our cover image, Michael Christian's sculpture, Key Note, reminds us of the unlocked treasures in literature, waiting for hungry readers to devour buried metaphors and unconventional characters. After digging through the submissions that more than doubled in volume since Issue 29, we emerged victoriously with literary pieces that echo our cover. We explored security this year: the confinement of womanhood, the isolation of incarceration, the repression of memory. Whether navigating teenage angst in "You Can't Tell Anyone About This" or probing the limits of one's sanity in "Suite," each story unlocked moments that amazed, baffled and inspired us. "And Peace at the Last," features a teacher who attempts to free herself from a haunting past that marred her future. Our first place sudden fiction story, "To the Teeth," illustrates a couple bound by teeth and hate - both stay locked within the man who resides in darkness with a woman he despises. We learned that the past must be unlocked to release the pain we harbor, as was shown in "Gun Country." Even the art, as varied as it is, redefines the boundaries of reality by borrowing elements of nature, comedy and the grotesque. Whether it is a headless woman wandering through barren countryside or a dancing monster, we sought to incorporate art that was compelling enough to stand alone. We hope you face this issue with the same care and passion as us - you may just unlock your own meanings at the turn of the page. Sincerely, Caitlin McGuire

Jennifer Brown


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You Can't Tell Anyone About This Bayard Godsave

158

Love and Pie Julie Lekstrom Himes

173

Gun Country Douglas Silver

9

Cycle Travis Sentell

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Nagybanya, 1903 J o h n Swetnam

39

To the Tooth Sarah Kobrinsky First Place Sudden Fiction Winner

55

The Topless W i d o w of Herkimer Street Jacob M . Appel

58

Monster/Human John Sharifi

28

Brown-Eyed Babe Brandon Jennings

78

Adoration of the Blue Dress, #16 Cynthia Grimm

38

A n d Peace at the Last Brighton Earley

83

Rooted Colin Maisonpierre

57

Ghost Story T.L. Toma

96

Instructions Jeffrey Glossip

77

It Must Be the Angels Diego Marcial Rios

82

Hard Time William Delaney Second Place Sudden Fiction Winner

Art

114

"Key Note" Side View S.N. Jacobson of Michael Christian's "Key Note"

Cover

"Key Note" Close-up S.N. Jacobson of Michael Christian's "Key Note"

4

"Key Note" Frontal View S.N. Jacobson of Michael Christian's "Key Note"

8

Suite E.G. Silverman

118

Broken Heart Frank Rosazy

117

Zip Code Robert Moulthrop

132

Chosen Thailan When

131

The Size of a Bird Elisa Fernandez-Arias Third Place Sudden Fiction Winner

139

Cosmonaut John Sharifi Within Ariel Vargassal

138

Crow Road Joe Wilkins

142

TreeMan Colin Maisonpierre

141

95 ^^- -


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You Can't Tell Anyone About This Bayard Godsave

158

Love and Pie Julie Lekstrom Himes

173

Gun Country Douglas Silver

9

Cycle Travis Sentell

29

Nagybanya, 1903 J o h n Swetnam

39

To the Tooth Sarah Kobrinsky First Place Sudden Fiction Winner

55

The Topless W i d o w of Herkimer Street Jacob M . Appel

58

Monster/Human John Sharifi

28

Brown-Eyed Babe Brandon Jennings

78

Adoration of the Blue Dress, #16 Cynthia Grimm

38

A n d Peace at the Last Brighton Earley

83

Rooted Colin Maisonpierre

57

Ghost Story T.L. Toma

96

Instructions Jeffrey Glossip

77

It Must Be the Angels Diego Marcial Rios

82

Hard Time William Delaney Second Place Sudden Fiction Winner

Art

114

"Key Note" Side View S.N. Jacobson of Michael Christian's "Key Note"

Cover

"Key Note" Close-up S.N. Jacobson of Michael Christian's "Key Note"

4

"Key Note" Frontal View S.N. Jacobson of Michael Christian's "Key Note"

8

Suite E.G. Silverman

118

Broken Heart Frank Rosazy

117

Zip Code Robert Moulthrop

132

Chosen Thailan When

131

The Size of a Bird Elisa Fernandez-Arias Third Place Sudden Fiction Winner

139

Cosmonaut John Sharifi Within Ariel Vargassal

138

Crow Road Joe Wilkins

142

TreeMan Colin Maisonpierre

141

95 ^^- -


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DOUGLAS

S.N. Jacobson 8

Berkeley Fiction Review

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SILVER

T h e Noonda y Cantina was near the center of Main Street, just before the town's only traffic light. We stopped there to buy groceries and house supplies when we arrived in G l e n h o o k - j u s t after my father's long-awaited promotion at the tire corporation had accompanied an unwelcomed transfer to Wisconsin. Bins of duck whistles and cases of earplugs and all sizes of shotgun shells lined the narrow aisles, across from loaves of bread and canned beans. At the register, a lanky m a n wearing a sleeveless flannel held a short, red, cylindrical tube, chewing its metallic edges with a pair of pliers. He asked if we needed help, not raising his head. My mother thanked him and said we were fine. As we were stuffing our bags into the trunk, my mother pointed out the red and white "Help Wanted" sign taped in the store window. At first I shrugged her off, content to spend my summer wandering the short halls of our house, agonizing over whether my friends back in Miami were playing three-on-three at the park, or groaning out sets in the gym or walking slowly past bikini-clad women sunbathing on the beach. But less than a week into boonies-living - the sticky heat that swelled shut the doors, with only the promise that today my father would install the air conditioner, the noisy air punctuated with chirping crickDouglas Silver

9


G

U

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DOUGLAS

S.N. Jacobson 8

Berkeley Fiction Review

U

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SILVER

T h e Noonda y Cantina was near the center of Main Street, just before the town's only traffic light. We stopped there to buy groceries and house supplies when we arrived in G l e n h o o k - j u s t after my father's long-awaited promotion at the tire corporation had accompanied an unwelcomed transfer to Wisconsin. Bins of duck whistles and cases of earplugs and all sizes of shotgun shells lined the narrow aisles, across from loaves of bread and canned beans. At the register, a lanky m a n wearing a sleeveless flannel held a short, red, cylindrical tube, chewing its metallic edges with a pair of pliers. He asked if we needed help, not raising his head. My mother thanked him and said we were fine. As we were stuffing our bags into the trunk, my mother pointed out the red and white "Help Wanted" sign taped in the store window. At first I shrugged her off, content to spend my summer wandering the short halls of our house, agonizing over whether my friends back in Miami were playing three-on-three at the park, or groaning out sets in the gym or walking slowly past bikini-clad women sunbathing on the beach. But less than a week into boonies-living - the sticky heat that swelled shut the doors, with only the promise that today my father would install the air conditioner, the noisy air punctuated with chirping crickDouglas Silver

9


ets and buzzing cicadas, my mother incessantly mumbling to herself as she hauled boxes from r o o m to r o o m - 1 needed something to do. 9-r. T h e lanky m a n working the counter gave m e the once-over w h e n I went back to apply for the job. H e crossed his wiry arms, showing off a tattoo of an open-mouthed alligator just below his right shoulder. H e was silent for a few moments, just staring at me. Finally, he reached out his hand. "Call m e Zeke," he said. I handed him a resume I h a d written u p on a sheet of loose leaf that morning. He glanced at it, chuckled, and said, "Don't think I'll need ya doin' m u c h caddyin'. Said your name's Brett?" "Yes, sir." "A lot of lifting a n d carrying boxes. Deliveries come in, gotta replace the old stuff with the new. Work the register. Things like that. Think ya can handle it?" "Sure." "How old are ya?" "Sixteen. I just moved here." "Alright, sure, I remember you comin' in the other day, with your folks I guess they were. Ya look strong. Ya play ball?" "I wrestle." "Well, I don't reckon the boxes will give ya m u c h flak, but if they do, I ' m sure ya can handle yourself." I laughed, partly to be polite, bu t also because I'd never before heard someone say 'reckon'. M y parents were happy I h a d gotten the job, though my mother shook her head when I told her I'd have to get ur^at six-thirty 1n the morning six days a week. M y father, in his typical ho-hum manner, lowered his newspaper, peered over the bridge of his glasses a n d said, "We'll see how long this lasts." But I knew it would, having decided to use the money I earned to fly back to M i a m i at Christmas a n d drive to South Beach with m y friends. Motivated by thoughts of all-night parties with drunken girls propped against mistletoed doorways - along with the humidity and insect chorus outside my window - I was usually u p a n d showered before my alarm sounded, grabbing a Pop-tart and a swig of orange juice o n m y way ou t the door.

10

Berkeley Fiction Review

It didn't take more than a few days for m e to learn the routine. I'd get to the store by seven and make r o o m for the deliveries. Produce came earliest, and I would r u m m a g e through the wooden crates bordering the walls, picking out and discarding any peaches or strawberries or Galas that were bruised or spoiling. W h e n the deliveries came, Zeke would go out to greet the drivers. Ted or Bob or Earl, he knew all their names and would ask after their wives and kids. Only the gun deliveries Zekehandledby himself, stopping m e when I tried to stock one of the boxed rifles. Handguns, rifles, scopes, even crossbows, Zeke would inspect each one before accepting it. For the rifles, on which he spent the most time, he'd hoist them to his shoulder and peer down the length of the barrel with one eye closed, finally breaking the silence with a click of the trigger. H e would pop open the barrels and sniff the insides. H e critiqued each one, saying something like, "That's a tight trigger," or " M m m . . .not sure about that balance," and eVery so often, " N o w she's a gun." Some he'd sign for, but m a n y he refused. The deliverymen never seemed annoyed! Often they chimed-in their agreement: "Yeah, I wouldn't want her on my trail,* of " G o d , I remember w h e n Smith & Wesson knew their guns." I was drawn to Zeke's 'thoroughness, 'his unapologetic scrutiny. Watching him ceremoniously pore over each firearm - like my friends and I did with baseball cards, checking for fading and creased edges was something I had never seen from a grown man, and it helped m e submerge my aversion to guns. Within days, it was apparent that'most of Glenhook shared Zeke's enthusiasm. Thougffthe Cantina mad6 few sales, it saw a lot of foottraffic. While w o m e n shuffled through to purchase bread and milk a n d canned goods, m e n congregated for hours in the gun aisles, never reaching into their pockets, and spoke eagerly of the upcoming season less t h an three months away.

O n Wednesday, just as I was getting ready to leave work, Zeke asked m e to make a delivery. "Didn't know we delivered," I said. "We don't," Zeke replied, and proceeded to fill two large shopping bags with everything from potato chips to packaged cold cuts to toilet

Douglas Silver

11


ets and buzzing cicadas, my mother incessantly mumbling to herself as she hauled boxes from r o o m to r o o m - 1 needed something to do. 9-r. T h e lanky m a n working the counter gave m e the once-over w h e n I went back to apply for the job. H e crossed his wiry arms, showing off a tattoo of an open-mouthed alligator just below his right shoulder. H e was silent for a few moments, just staring at me. Finally, he reached out his hand. "Call m e Zeke," he said. I handed him a resume I h a d written u p on a sheet of loose leaf that morning. He glanced at it, chuckled, and said, "Don't think I'll need ya doin' m u c h caddyin'. Said your name's Brett?" "Yes, sir." "A lot of lifting a n d carrying boxes. Deliveries come in, gotta replace the old stuff with the new. Work the register. Things like that. Think ya can handle it?" "Sure." "How old are ya?" "Sixteen. I just moved here." "Alright, sure, I remember you comin' in the other day, with your folks I guess they were. Ya look strong. Ya play ball?" "I wrestle." "Well, I don't reckon the boxes will give ya m u c h flak, but if they do, I ' m sure ya can handle yourself." I laughed, partly to be polite, bu t also because I'd never before heard someone say 'reckon'. M y parents were happy I h a d gotten the job, though my mother shook her head when I told her I'd have to get ur^at six-thirty 1n the morning six days a week. M y father, in his typical ho-hum manner, lowered his newspaper, peered over the bridge of his glasses a n d said, "We'll see how long this lasts." But I knew it would, having decided to use the money I earned to fly back to M i a m i at Christmas a n d drive to South Beach with m y friends. Motivated by thoughts of all-night parties with drunken girls propped against mistletoed doorways - along with the humidity and insect chorus outside my window - I was usually u p a n d showered before my alarm sounded, grabbing a Pop-tart and a swig of orange juice o n m y way ou t the door.

10

Berkeley Fiction Review

It didn't take more than a few days for m e to learn the routine. I'd get to the store by seven and make r o o m for the deliveries. Produce came earliest, and I would r u m m a g e through the wooden crates bordering the walls, picking out and discarding any peaches or strawberries or Galas that were bruised or spoiling. W h e n the deliveries came, Zeke would go out to greet the drivers. Ted or Bob or Earl, he knew all their names and would ask after their wives and kids. Only the gun deliveries Zekehandledby himself, stopping m e when I tried to stock one of the boxed rifles. Handguns, rifles, scopes, even crossbows, Zeke would inspect each one before accepting it. For the rifles, on which he spent the most time, he'd hoist them to his shoulder and peer down the length of the barrel with one eye closed, finally breaking the silence with a click of the trigger. H e would pop open the barrels and sniff the insides. H e critiqued each one, saying something like, "That's a tight trigger," or " M m m . . .not sure about that balance," and eVery so often, " N o w she's a gun." Some he'd sign for, but m a n y he refused. The deliverymen never seemed annoyed! Often they chimed-in their agreement: "Yeah, I wouldn't want her on my trail,* of " G o d , I remember w h e n Smith & Wesson knew their guns." I was drawn to Zeke's 'thoroughness, 'his unapologetic scrutiny. Watching him ceremoniously pore over each firearm - like my friends and I did with baseball cards, checking for fading and creased edges was something I had never seen from a grown man, and it helped m e submerge my aversion to guns. Within days, it was apparent that'most of Glenhook shared Zeke's enthusiasm. Thougffthe Cantina mad6 few sales, it saw a lot of foottraffic. While w o m e n shuffled through to purchase bread and milk a n d canned goods, m e n congregated for hours in the gun aisles, never reaching into their pockets, and spoke eagerly of the upcoming season less t h an three months away.

O n Wednesday, just as I was getting ready to leave work, Zeke asked m e to make a delivery. "Didn't know we delivered," I said. "We don't," Zeke replied, and proceeded to fill two large shopping bags with everything from potato chips to packaged cold cuts to toilet

Douglas Silver

11


paper to a box of shotgun shells. " C o m e on," h e said, a n d motioned m e to the rear of the store. Zeke opened up a tiny closet in the back beside the bait refrigerator. H e rolled out.a rusty blue bicycle, the front tire faintly wobbling. "I drive u p there every few days, but ya can ride. Give ya, a chance to see the area." "Where's there?" "You'll leave here and make a left, Keep going for a mile, maybe a mile and a half. W h e n ya come to a dirt road with a big log cabin and red barn, you're there." T I started to push the bike toward the door when Zeke grabbed my arm. "Listen. Ya can knock, but Shane, that's his name, probably won't come to the door. Just leave the bags on the porch. It's all right. There's no charge." I shrugged, confused. "Sure," I said, a n d wheeled the bike outside. It creaked and tottered as I mounted it and rode away, my hands on the butt of each handlebar to guard the shopping bags from slipping off. N,ot far from the Cantina, I passed a Dairy Queen with two pick-up trucks in the parking lot. Across the street sat a gas station with chains fastened to the pumps, one of the X's faded off the red Exxon lpgo. Most of the storefronts were empty, with only "For Rent" signs and a realtor's phone number posted to a window. I wondered what h a d been there, and where everyone.had gone. The town ended after a few minutes, and swatches of grass and wildflowers replaced abandoned storefronts. Tall oaks and furs cast long, breezy shadows across the road. The, few homes I passed were colored rust or copper and looked tiny on the generous, lush parcels afforded them. In the distance, I saw a dull red barn and slowed to spot the,dirt road Zeke h a d mentioned. The tapered path lay hidden between.two lines of trees, noticeable by the patch of sunlight wedged between the shadows. A brown, gabled-roof cabin sat atop the slanted hill; a wide porch wrapped around it. I carried the shopping bags u p t h e porch, but before I knocked, a noise like thunder pierced the, sky, immediately followed by a shrill cracking, like a low-soaring firecracker. I paused, unsure w h a t to do, but then I heard it again. I dropped the bags a n d warily stepped around

12

Berkeley Fiction Review

the porch to the back of the cabin. A m a n with a gun perched to his shoulder was standing in the distance; a sturdy, brown machine beside h i m with a tower of discs protruding from it. Suddenly, one of the discs spiraled out of the machine into the sky. T h e m a n waited a moment, then fired, splintering the disc into a" mess of shards. "Hello!" I yelled. H e didn't turn around. "Excuse me!" H e fidgeted with the gun before firing at another disc whooshing through the sky. A m i d the echo, I nioved closer to him. A grouping of small, red casings - lite'the one I had seen Zeke taking pliers' to on my first day in town - l a y scattered at his feet. Only when he snapped open the barrel and two spit out onto the ground, did I realize they were shotgun shells. A chalky, smoky scent filled the air as I moved closer, like a pack of cigarettes lit all at once. I waved my hands. " S h a n e ! " ' ! yelled, trying to get his attention before he reached d o w n a n d pulled another shell from one of theloops on his belt. H e lowered the gun to the grourid, his back still facing me. H e turned around and pulled yellow plugs from each of his ears. F r o m his thick, messy beard and hulking build I guessed he was in his early twenties. H e gazed at m e suspiciously, still holding the gun. "What's going on?" "Zeke sent me," I said, finally dropping my arms. He nodded and bent down to yank an extension cord snaking through the'grass, killing the machine's purr. Chewing on his bottom lip, he said, "Guess ya got some stuff for me." "Yeah, on the porch. I ' m Brett, Jjy-the way." "Shane,"'he said. We shook hands, his calluses scratching against m y palm. "Alright, Brett by-the-way. T h a n k ya," Shane said without smiling. H e balanced the 'gun's butt in his hand, the barrel pointed'over his shoulder and away from his head as, we walked back to the cabin. " W a n t ' s o m e water or something?" he asked when we collected the bags on the porch. "Sure, thanks." H e opened the door to reveal a deer head mounted to a nigh'wall. Light drizzled through a four-paned window at the side 1

Douglas Silver

13


paper to a box of shotgun shells. " C o m e on," h e said, a n d motioned m e to the rear of the store. Zeke opened up a tiny closet in the back beside the bait refrigerator. H e rolled out.a rusty blue bicycle, the front tire faintly wobbling. "I drive u p there every few days, but ya can ride. Give ya, a chance to see the area." "Where's there?" "You'll leave here and make a left, Keep going for a mile, maybe a mile and a half. W h e n ya come to a dirt road with a big log cabin and red barn, you're there." T I started to push the bike toward the door when Zeke grabbed my arm. "Listen. Ya can knock, but Shane, that's his name, probably won't come to the door. Just leave the bags on the porch. It's all right. There's no charge." I shrugged, confused. "Sure," I said, a n d wheeled the bike outside. It creaked and tottered as I mounted it and rode away, my hands on the butt of each handlebar to guard the shopping bags from slipping off. N,ot far from the Cantina, I passed a Dairy Queen with two pick-up trucks in the parking lot. Across the street sat a gas station with chains fastened to the pumps, one of the X's faded off the red Exxon lpgo. Most of the storefronts were empty, with only "For Rent" signs and a realtor's phone number posted to a window. I wondered what h a d been there, and where everyone.had gone. The town ended after a few minutes, and swatches of grass and wildflowers replaced abandoned storefronts. Tall oaks and furs cast long, breezy shadows across the road. The, few homes I passed were colored rust or copper and looked tiny on the generous, lush parcels afforded them. In the distance, I saw a dull red barn and slowed to spot the,dirt road Zeke h a d mentioned. The tapered path lay hidden between.two lines of trees, noticeable by the patch of sunlight wedged between the shadows. A brown, gabled-roof cabin sat atop the slanted hill; a wide porch wrapped around it. I carried the shopping bags u p t h e porch, but before I knocked, a noise like thunder pierced the, sky, immediately followed by a shrill cracking, like a low-soaring firecracker. I paused, unsure w h a t to do, but then I heard it again. I dropped the bags a n d warily stepped around

12

Berkeley Fiction Review

the porch to the back of the cabin. A m a n with a gun perched to his shoulder was standing in the distance; a sturdy, brown machine beside h i m with a tower of discs protruding from it. Suddenly, one of the discs spiraled out of the machine into the sky. T h e m a n waited a moment, then fired, splintering the disc into a" mess of shards. "Hello!" I yelled. H e didn't turn around. "Excuse me!" H e fidgeted with the gun before firing at another disc whooshing through the sky. A m i d the echo, I nioved closer to him. A grouping of small, red casings - lite'the one I had seen Zeke taking pliers' to on my first day in town - l a y scattered at his feet. Only when he snapped open the barrel and two spit out onto the ground, did I realize they were shotgun shells. A chalky, smoky scent filled the air as I moved closer, like a pack of cigarettes lit all at once. I waved my hands. " S h a n e ! " ' ! yelled, trying to get his attention before he reached d o w n a n d pulled another shell from one of theloops on his belt. H e lowered the gun to the grourid, his back still facing me. H e turned around and pulled yellow plugs from each of his ears. F r o m his thick, messy beard and hulking build I guessed he was in his early twenties. H e gazed at m e suspiciously, still holding the gun. "What's going on?" "Zeke sent me," I said, finally dropping my arms. He nodded and bent down to yank an extension cord snaking through the'grass, killing the machine's purr. Chewing on his bottom lip, he said, "Guess ya got some stuff for me." "Yeah, on the porch. I ' m Brett, Jjy-the way." "Shane,"'he said. We shook hands, his calluses scratching against m y palm. "Alright, Brett by-the-way. T h a n k ya," Shane said without smiling. H e balanced the 'gun's butt in his hand, the barrel pointed'over his shoulder and away from his head as, we walked back to the cabin. " W a n t ' s o m e water or something?" he asked when we collected the bags on the porch. "Sure, thanks." H e opened the door to reveal a deer head mounted to a nigh'wall. Light drizzled through a four-paned window at the side 1

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of the cabin and reflected off one of its glass eyes. Shane placed the rifle beside another one in a w o o d e n case by a n empty coat rack. It struck m e as dangerous, as if inviting break-ins. The cabin smelled like lemon-musk and pine trees, and it reminded m e of something out of a n old movie. There was a stone fireplace in the corner, and beside it a wooden desk lined with'picture frames. I could m a k e out a younger Shane from the oval face oÂŁ the boy in t h e picture. H e was towering over a felled bear, smiling beside its bloody carcass. In another picture, Shane stood arm-in-arm with a n older boy sporting a crew-cut w h o was crooking Shane's h e a d into his shoulder. They each wore loud-orange vests and c{axk caps. Between thev two pictures was a short, red and black vase with gold-trim leading to a pine ornament at the top. It seemed so decorative and out of place that for a m o m e n t it held my eye. " H o t out," Shane said. I reaped h e didn't think I was snooping. I brought the shopping bags to a table beside the kitchen nook. He handed m e a glass of water, chugging his in one gulp and wiping away the leaking dribble with the back of his wrist. Shane stared, all deep breaths, wiping the sweat from his brow. I thought he was waiting for m e to say something. " T h a t r e a l ? " I said finally, pointing to the deer head. H e perked up. "You better believe it. M y brother got h i m the first time he went out." "Wow. That's crazy." " H o w old do ya think h e was?" "I don't know." I wasn't sure if Shane meant the animal or his brother. " H o w old?" v "Guess." "Eighteen?" Shane laughed. "You crazy? Ten." "That's young." Shane nodded. " D a m n right Especially for something that size," he said, reaching u p to pat its neck. H e brushed it for a moment, "silently, like I wasn't even there. "You need m e to tell Zeke anything?" I asked. Shane puckered his lips. "Nah, just give him these, will ya?" He picked up several envelopes from the table and handed them to me.

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Berkeley Fiction Review

Then he kicked off his shoes and slumped down on the couch like he was bored. I slid the envelopes into my'front pocket. " N o problem." "Thanks," Shane said and dipped his head. I left as he picked u p the television remote and branched his bare feet across the small coffee table laden with copies of North American Whitetail. O n my ride back to the store, I wondered w h o Shane was, and what he had done to merit not only delivery but free stock. I toyed with the idea that he was Zeke's bastard: But that didn't seem like Zeke. And, moreover, they didn't look alike. Something about Shane put m e off. It was unsettling that he looked so jqyful in that picture towering over a dead bear or that his personality reared only w h e n the deer head could serve as a conversation piece. I wondered* if he spent his summers shooting at those whirling discs, counting off the days before he .could return to the woods to kill something and take a photo with it. But, in fairness, I hadn't liked guns ever since seventh grade w h e n Tommy Drucker brought his father's handgun into school to' scare two kids w h o had been bullying him, initiating a lockdown when it fell out of his knapsack at lunch. The police arrested Tommy, and he was expelled. A n d that night, when they showed my school on the news, my father shook his head, balled his h a n d into a fist, a n d repeated to m y mother, "Christ sakes, they could have killed him! H e could be dead!" all through dinner.

Zeke wasn't in the store as I rolled the bike down'the aisle and'into the back closet. I called out for him. " I ' m down here, Brett," he said. " D o w n where?" Suddenly, he appeared behind the counter. "Here," he said. "Come on." Part of the floor behind the register h a d been lifted', leading to a basement. I followed Zeke down three stone steps into a d a m p room, only slightly larger than the closet where he kept the bike. A dozen or so massive bags of wheat, sugar and soil lay piled by the wall. Zeke sat at a wooden worktable. A n army of shotgun shells bordered the far end of the table, and in the middle were two glass bowls - one with black-gray dust, the other with miniature silver balls.

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of the cabin and reflected off one of its glass eyes. Shane placed the rifle beside another one in a w o o d e n case by a n empty coat rack. It struck m e as dangerous, as if inviting break-ins. The cabin smelled like lemon-musk and pine trees, and it reminded m e of something out of a n old movie. There was a stone fireplace in the corner, and beside it a wooden desk lined with'picture frames. I could m a k e out a younger Shane from the oval face oÂŁ the boy in t h e picture. H e was towering over a felled bear, smiling beside its bloody carcass. In another picture, Shane stood arm-in-arm with a n older boy sporting a crew-cut w h o was crooking Shane's h e a d into his shoulder. They each wore loud-orange vests and c{axk caps. Between thev two pictures was a short, red and black vase with gold-trim leading to a pine ornament at the top. It seemed so decorative and out of place that for a m o m e n t it held my eye. " H o t out," Shane said. I reaped h e didn't think I was snooping. I brought the shopping bags to a table beside the kitchen nook. He handed m e a glass of water, chugging his in one gulp and wiping away the leaking dribble with the back of his wrist. Shane stared, all deep breaths, wiping the sweat from his brow. I thought he was waiting for m e to say something. " T h a t r e a l ? " I said finally, pointing to the deer head. H e perked up. "You better believe it. M y brother got h i m the first time he went out." "Wow. That's crazy." " H o w old do ya think h e was?" "I don't know." I wasn't sure if Shane meant the animal or his brother. " H o w old?" v "Guess." "Eighteen?" Shane laughed. "You crazy? Ten." "That's young." Shane nodded. " D a m n right Especially for something that size," he said, reaching u p to pat its neck. H e brushed it for a moment, "silently, like I wasn't even there. "You need m e to tell Zeke anything?" I asked. Shane puckered his lips. "Nah, just give him these, will ya?" He picked up several envelopes from the table and handed them to me.

14

Berkeley Fiction Review

Then he kicked off his shoes and slumped down on the couch like he was bored. I slid the envelopes into my'front pocket. " N o problem." "Thanks," Shane said and dipped his head. I left as he picked u p the television remote and branched his bare feet across the small coffee table laden with copies of North American Whitetail. O n my ride back to the store, I wondered w h o Shane was, and what he had done to merit not only delivery but free stock. I toyed with the idea that he was Zeke's bastard: But that didn't seem like Zeke. And, moreover, they didn't look alike. Something about Shane put m e off. It was unsettling that he looked so jqyful in that picture towering over a dead bear or that his personality reared only w h e n the deer head could serve as a conversation piece. I wondered* if he spent his summers shooting at those whirling discs, counting off the days before he .could return to the woods to kill something and take a photo with it. But, in fairness, I hadn't liked guns ever since seventh grade w h e n Tommy Drucker brought his father's handgun into school to' scare two kids w h o had been bullying him, initiating a lockdown when it fell out of his knapsack at lunch. The police arrested Tommy, and he was expelled. A n d that night, when they showed my school on the news, my father shook his head, balled his h a n d into a fist, a n d repeated to m y mother, "Christ sakes, they could have killed him! H e could be dead!" all through dinner.

Zeke wasn't in the store as I rolled the bike down'the aisle and'into the back closet. I called out for him. " I ' m down here, Brett," he said. " D o w n where?" Suddenly, he appeared behind the counter. "Here," he said. "Come on." Part of the floor behind the register h a d been lifted', leading to a basement. I followed Zeke down three stone steps into a d a m p room, only slightly larger than the closet where he kept the bike. A dozen or so massive bags of wheat, sugar and soil lay piled by the wall. Zeke sat at a wooden worktable. A n army of shotgun shells bordered the far end of the table, and in the middle were two glass bowls - one with black-gray dust, the other with miniature silver balls.

Douglas Silver

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"You have any problems?" he asked. I shook my head, watching h i m scoop u p some of dust with a teaspoon and sprinkle it cautiously into the shells. " W h a t are you doing?" I asked. H e leaned over the,casings, one eye closed. "Makin' shells." "Why?" "Better to make your own. Manufacturers are cheapin' out. Mos^t shells you buy now don't have enough bang," he said, a n d bowed even further to spread a touch m o r e powder into a shell. After the powder, he reached into a j a r on a shelf and pulled out a handful of soft, stringy plastics he called over-powder wads. The wad h a d three sections, Zeke explained - power wad, cushion and shot cup. H e took m e through their different functions - a gas seal,t shock absorber a n d binding the shot. H e t h e n took a pair of pliers a n d began to pinch the bullet to the cartridge case like I h a d seen Him do m y first time in the Cantina. "This is crimping,' 1 he said. I motioned to the metal balls. " W h a t about those?" "Already in. That's the birdshot. It goes first. It's all about the ratio of gunpowder to birdshot. That's w h a t makes a good shell." After Zeke sealed the bullet and filed the head, he picked u p a red tool box by his feet. Several dozen shells like the one he h a d just m a d e were neatly arranged in the box, the brass tops facing out like helmets. "Looks like you got enough to sell." Zeke shook his head. "Gotta test 'em first. First batch I made were duds. N o t enough birdshot. I'll try these out this weekend. So, ya leave everything at the door?" It took a m o m e n t to realize what he was talking'about. "Oh , um, no. H e was in the back. Snooting." Zeke looked surprised and grinned. " I ' m glad to hear that. He's a good shot, right?" Zeke said. "Yeah. H a h i t the discs." "Pigeons," Zeke said. "Sorry?" "They're called clay pigeons. He say if he needs anything?" "No." "How'dhelook?" I shrugged. "Fine, I guess."

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Berkeley Fiction Review

Zeke nodded. "He's a good kid," he said with a-grain of pride in his voice, and just as I thought again lie might be Shane's father, Zeke added, "Just like his brother." "I didn't meet his brother. I saw that big deer h e killed." Zeke turned away. "Collin's dead," he said, and got u p from the bench and began u p the steps. I followed him. " I ' m really sorry. Shane'didri't say anything." "This past December. In Iraq. 'Friendly'fire' they called it. His guys confused him for the enemy or something. I don't know." "So you look after Shane?" "Best I can. Store's half his now, s o . . . " With that I remembered the envelopes in my pocket. "He wanted m e to give you these." Zeke tossed them on the countertop. "Gotta love bills," he said. "He lives alone?" Zeke nodded, resting his tongue in o n e of gaps between his teeth. "His daddy took off after he was born. One night after dinner, the son of a bitch went for a drive and never came back. Their M a m a , G o d bless her, she got cancer when Collin 'and m e were just outta high school. Went real quick." Zeke told m e ho w Collin joined the Marines as a reservist after high school. H e took his initial pay, combined it with Zeke's savings, and they opened the Cantina. It helped Collin support Shane and establish the store. In return, he gave Uncle Sam one weekend a m o n t h and two weeks a year at a base a half-day's drive from Glenhook. Every four years he re-enlisted. But two years into his third re-up,*the war started. His commanding officer told h i m not to worry - that it would be over quickly and he wouldn't be called. But within-a few months his letter arrived. Collin shipped out to Parris Island to report for duty and then to Iraq to die. As Zeke told m e about Collin, he looked around the empty store, as if unable to focus. "At least Shane's shootin' again. He sat out all of last season. D a m n shame." I thought to say something to comfort Zeke, but he spared me, gently slapping my a r m and telling me to take off. 9 - r

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"You have any problems?" he asked. I shook my head, watching h i m scoop u p some of dust with a teaspoon and sprinkle it cautiously into the shells. " W h a t are you doing?" I asked. H e leaned over the,casings, one eye closed. "Makin' shells." "Why?" "Better to make your own. Manufacturers are cheapin' out. Mos^t shells you buy now don't have enough bang," he said, a n d bowed even further to spread a touch m o r e powder into a shell. After the powder, he reached into a j a r on a shelf and pulled out a handful of soft, stringy plastics he called over-powder wads. The wad h a d three sections, Zeke explained - power wad, cushion and shot cup. H e took m e through their different functions - a gas seal,t shock absorber a n d binding the shot. H e t h e n took a pair of pliers a n d began to pinch the bullet to the cartridge case like I h a d seen Him do m y first time in the Cantina. "This is crimping,' 1 he said. I motioned to the metal balls. " W h a t about those?" "Already in. That's the birdshot. It goes first. It's all about the ratio of gunpowder to birdshot. That's w h a t makes a good shell." After Zeke sealed the bullet and filed the head, he picked u p a red tool box by his feet. Several dozen shells like the one he h a d just m a d e were neatly arranged in the box, the brass tops facing out like helmets. "Looks like you got enough to sell." Zeke shook his head. "Gotta test 'em first. First batch I made were duds. N o t enough birdshot. I'll try these out this weekend. So, ya leave everything at the door?" It took a m o m e n t to realize what he was talking'about. "Oh , um, no. H e was in the back. Snooting." Zeke looked surprised and grinned. " I ' m glad to hear that. He's a good shot, right?" Zeke said. "Yeah. H a h i t the discs." "Pigeons," Zeke said. "Sorry?" "They're called clay pigeons. He say if he needs anything?" "No." "How'dhelook?" I shrugged. "Fine, I guess."

16

Berkeley Fiction Review

Zeke nodded. "He's a good kid," he said with a-grain of pride in his voice, and just as I thought again lie might be Shane's father, Zeke added, "Just like his brother." "I didn't meet his brother. I saw that big deer h e killed." Zeke turned away. "Collin's dead," he said, and got u p from the bench and began u p the steps. I followed him. " I ' m really sorry. Shane'didri't say anything." "This past December. In Iraq. 'Friendly'fire' they called it. His guys confused him for the enemy or something. I don't know." "So you look after Shane?" "Best I can. Store's half his now, s o . . . " With that I remembered the envelopes in my pocket. "He wanted m e to give you these." Zeke tossed them on the countertop. "Gotta love bills," he said. "He lives alone?" Zeke nodded, resting his tongue in o n e of gaps between his teeth. "His daddy took off after he was born. One night after dinner, the son of a bitch went for a drive and never came back. Their M a m a , G o d bless her, she got cancer when Collin 'and m e were just outta high school. Went real quick." Zeke told m e ho w Collin joined the Marines as a reservist after high school. H e took his initial pay, combined it with Zeke's savings, and they opened the Cantina. It helped Collin support Shane and establish the store. In return, he gave Uncle Sam one weekend a m o n t h and two weeks a year at a base a half-day's drive from Glenhook. Every four years he re-enlisted. But two years into his third re-up,*the war started. His commanding officer told h i m not to worry - that it would be over quickly and he wouldn't be called. But within-a few months his letter arrived. Collin shipped out to Parris Island to report for duty and then to Iraq to die. As Zeke told m e about Collin, he looked around the empty store, as if unable to focus. "At least Shane's shootin' again. He sat out all of last season. D a m n shame." I thought to say something to comfort Zeke, but he spared me, gently slapping my a r m and telling me to take off. 9 - r

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W h e n I got home, I found m y m o m busy in the kitchen. Two pots were boiling on the stove, and I could smell marinara wafting throughout the house. " H o w does spaghetti and meatballs sound?" she asked. "Really good. D a d home?" "He had some things to take care of at the plant." "When's he getting back?" She slurped some sauce off her long wooden spoon and smacked her lips. "Late, I think. He's no t happy with a lot of things there." "There's a shock." M y mother smirked. "He thinks he's going to have to lay people off," she said, shaking her head. "But don't say anything. It's eating at h i m . " Her contrite stare reminded m e of the m e n w h o spent hours wandering the Cantina, cradling the guns, without hope to take one home. I set the table, a n d we sat down. " H o w was your day?" she asked, shoveling a few dripping meatballs onto m y plate. " N o t bad." "Anything exciting?" I almost told her about Shane, but thought better of it. She could stomach m e working someplace that sold guns - the alternative being me hunkered down in our makeshift home for the summer,- wondering, like I knew she did, h o w long we'd been sharing in my father's dues to Corporate America - but worrying about m e negotiating stray bullets on delivery runs was above a n d beyond anything she'd allow. I told her my day was the same old: stocking shelves and working the register. "That's nice. Want a laugh?" she said. I nodded. ^ ' "Some of the m e n at the plant asked yourTafher to go fishing this weekend." " N o way he's going." "Oh, please. Even he knows he'd be miserable. After five minutes n o t catching anything, he'd start shouting at the fish." " W h y ' d they a$k him?" She shrugged. "It's a big group, apparently. Maybe they just wanted to include him. Better fishing t h a n hunting, right? G o d almighty, can you imagine h i m with a gun?" She winked at me. "Hunting's big here," I said, looping the spaghetti around my fork.

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Berkeley Fiction Review

She smiled. "That's one obsession I'll never understand." I nodded and changed the subject, telling her the hrJuse looked great. As I lay in bed that night, I thought about Shane. Admittedly, I was impressed - even excited - watching him fire off each r o u nd a n d demolishing the pigeons as they fjlurred through the sky. But then it occurred to me. He could have killed m e with little more than a thought. Just cocked the rifle, pressed the trigger, and ended my life with the ease of flicking a switch. Just like Tommy ÂŁ)rucker could have. A n d I wondered if that was the attraction. Or, like mother called it, the obsession. 8 - r A few days later, I was carrying old rifles out to Zeke's truck when he asked m e if I'd ever gone shooting. His tone registered doubt, and though I had been imitating his grip around the base of the'barrels, I wondered if I was holding them wrong. ' "No, it's nothin' you're doin'," he said. "The other night I just got to thinkin', a city boy like you-probably never shot one." "I never touched a gun before I worked'here." "Knew it. I knew it," he said, and slapped his side. "I was helping m y friend Clayton clean out his gutters last night. I had told h i m 'bout you, and he asked what ya hunt. Right then it hit m e you probably wouldn't know a Black bear from a Grizzly." "Probably not. I think I could spot a Polar bear though." Zeke laughed. "Well that's something, I guess. But you really should try it." "Shooting?" "Heck yeah. I can take ya out, or," his voice rose as he popped open the back of his truck and lay tf^e rifles on-the flatbed, "better yet, Shane can show ya next time you're there." I was silent for a minute. " I ' m telling ya, that boy '11 teach ya right." "No, I saw him. I ' m sure he would," I said, worried I had offended him. "So ya w a n n a try it? You'll use one of his guns." H e looked poised, hands firm on his waist, and it didn't feel like a question: "Alright, sure," I said. 9-nr

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W h e n I got home, I found m y m o m busy in the kitchen. Two pots were boiling on the stove, and I could smell marinara wafting throughout the house. " H o w does spaghetti and meatballs sound?" she asked. "Really good. D a d home?" "He had some things to take care of at the plant." "When's he getting back?" She slurped some sauce off her long wooden spoon and smacked her lips. "Late, I think. He's no t happy with a lot of things there." "There's a shock." M y mother smirked. "He thinks he's going to have to lay people off," she said, shaking her head. "But don't say anything. It's eating at h i m . " Her contrite stare reminded m e of the m e n w h o spent hours wandering the Cantina, cradling the guns, without hope to take one home. I set the table, a n d we sat down. " H o w was your day?" she asked, shoveling a few dripping meatballs onto m y plate. " N o t bad." "Anything exciting?" I almost told her about Shane, but thought better of it. She could stomach m e working someplace that sold guns - the alternative being me hunkered down in our makeshift home for the summer,- wondering, like I knew she did, h o w long we'd been sharing in my father's dues to Corporate America - but worrying about m e negotiating stray bullets on delivery runs was above a n d beyond anything she'd allow. I told her my day was the same old: stocking shelves and working the register. "That's nice. Want a laugh?" she said. I nodded. ^ ' "Some of the m e n at the plant asked yourTafher to go fishing this weekend." " N o way he's going." "Oh, please. Even he knows he'd be miserable. After five minutes n o t catching anything, he'd start shouting at the fish." " W h y ' d they a$k him?" She shrugged. "It's a big group, apparently. Maybe they just wanted to include him. Better fishing t h a n hunting, right? G o d almighty, can you imagine h i m with a gun?" She winked at me. "Hunting's big here," I said, looping the spaghetti around my fork.

18

Berkeley Fiction Review

She smiled. "That's one obsession I'll never understand." I nodded and changed the subject, telling her the hrJuse looked great. As I lay in bed that night, I thought about Shane. Admittedly, I was impressed - even excited - watching him fire off each r o u nd a n d demolishing the pigeons as they fjlurred through the sky. But then it occurred to me. He could have killed m e with little more than a thought. Just cocked the rifle, pressed the trigger, and ended my life with the ease of flicking a switch. Just like Tommy ÂŁ)rucker could have. A n d I wondered if that was the attraction. Or, like mother called it, the obsession. 8 - r A few days later, I was carrying old rifles out to Zeke's truck when he asked m e if I'd ever gone shooting. His tone registered doubt, and though I had been imitating his grip around the base of the'barrels, I wondered if I was holding them wrong. ' "No, it's nothin' you're doin'," he said. "The other night I just got to thinkin', a city boy like you-probably never shot one." "I never touched a gun before I worked'here." "Knew it. I knew it," he said, and slapped his side. "I was helping m y friend Clayton clean out his gutters last night. I had told h i m 'bout you, and he asked what ya hunt. Right then it hit m e you probably wouldn't know a Black bear from a Grizzly." "Probably not. I think I could spot a Polar bear though." Zeke laughed. "Well that's something, I guess. But you really should try it." "Shooting?" "Heck yeah. I can take ya out, or," his voice rose as he popped open the back of his truck and lay tf^e rifles on-the flatbed, "better yet, Shane can show ya next time you're there." I was silent for a minute. " I ' m telling ya, that boy '11 teach ya right." "No, I saw him. I ' m sure he would," I said, worried I had offended him. "So ya w a n n a try it? You'll use one of his guns." H e looked poised, hands firm on his waist, and it didn't feel like a question: "Alright, sure," I said. 9-nr

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Zeke patted me on the back. "That's the right answer. Don't look so nervous. He'll have ya ready for deer season."

A couple days later, Zeke handed m e two loaded shopping bags and,told m e to have fun. H e had already called and asked Shane if he wouldn't mind "giving m e some pointers." Shane said it would be fine. I was cracking my neck from sjde to side repeatedly, as I peddled u p the long drive to the cabin. I felt a little better when I wasn't greeted by gunfire, and dropped the bike at the foot of the porch and carried the bags to the door. It was slightly ajar, and I heard the television blaring from outside. I walked in to find Shane lying on the couch, watching NASQAR, as if he hadn't moved since I'd left a week earlier. "Hey, Brett," Shane said, getting up. H e had a touch more color in his face but still looked disheveled. " H o w you doing?" I asked. " I ' m alright." H e took the bags from m e a n d r u m m a g e d through them at the kitchen counter, haphazardly 'tossing packages in the refrigerator and drawers. "Zeke told m e ya w a n n a shoot," he said., "Figured I'd try it." Shane went to the gun rack by the door. "You take Bailey." "Who?" H e laughed. "That's her name." H e handed it to me. I smiled, nervous and confused. Shane grabbed his g u n a n d a belt full of shells and led m e outside. "Yours have a name?" Shane nodded. "Martha." "You n a m e them?" y ' "This one," Shane said, holding u p his rifle, "was m y granddad's. H e gave it to my dad w h o gave it to m y brother, and n o w it's mine." " I ' m sorry about your brother," I said. Shane nodded and turned away. "Why'd you n a m e it Bailey?" I asked. "Bailey was my m o m . Collin named her. Said she'd always be with us on the trail." 8 - r

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Berkeley Fiction Review

Shane laid his gun down in the grass and stood behind me. He positioned the gun firmly against my'shoulder a n d m a d e sure my legs were shoulder-width apart. From butt to muzzle, he guided m e through the anatomy of the shotgun, spending extra time on'the magazine and chamber to highlight the path of the shot. ! '"Ready to try?" Shane asked. "Sure." Shane pulled two pairs of earplugs from his jacket. I mimicked him as he j a m m e d them*in his ears. H e then went to fill the automatic trap with pigeons. " W h a t do you like to hunt?" I asked, as he snapped in the extension cord running from beneath the porch. Shane shrugged. "Whatever'sin season, I guess." His voice sounded muffled against the plugs. "Deer's the hardest, though."" "Really?" "Some people may tell you different, you know, 'cause birds can fly and bears are so d a m n big, but deer are smart." I pictured the head mounted in his cabin and thought, no t smart enough. "Me, Collin, and Zeke used to go out almost every day during deer season. We'd be in the woods by five, sometimes earlier." I nodded, regretful my question h a d evoked a m e m o r y of his brother. Though, I imagined in this pastoral - where, as kids, he and Collin probably climbed every tree, guarding their cabin, just waiting for the day they could journey into the woods arid return at night with animal hides, steeped in stories - there'was little that didn't trigger such a memory. "Just stare straight," he said, as I readied my stance. " W h e n it curves above those trees, you fire." \Yith-a whoosh, a-pigeon flew from the machine. I didn't mean to, but I closed my eyes, and only when Shane yelled "Fire!" did I pull the trigger. The butt sprang back into my shoulder. Shane's h a n d s were pressed against m y back as if h e thought I might fall. I opened my eyes in time to see the intact pigeon crash to the ground. "Ydu almost h a d it," he said. Barely a m o m e n t passed before the second one took flight. With opened eyes, I tdok aim, and as the red spot curled over the tree line in the horizon, Shane again ordered m e to fire. It m a d e a crunch on impact, and Shane said, "Son of a bitch! That's a shot."

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Zeke patted me on the back. "That's the right answer. Don't look so nervous. He'll have ya ready for deer season."

A couple days later, Zeke handed m e two loaded shopping bags and,told m e to have fun. H e had already called and asked Shane if he wouldn't mind "giving m e some pointers." Shane said it would be fine. I was cracking my neck from sjde to side repeatedly, as I peddled u p the long drive to the cabin. I felt a little better when I wasn't greeted by gunfire, and dropped the bike at the foot of the porch and carried the bags to the door. It was slightly ajar, and I heard the television blaring from outside. I walked in to find Shane lying on the couch, watching NASQAR, as if he hadn't moved since I'd left a week earlier. "Hey, Brett," Shane said, getting up. H e had a touch more color in his face but still looked disheveled. " H o w you doing?" I asked. " I ' m alright." H e took the bags from m e a n d r u m m a g e d through them at the kitchen counter, haphazardly 'tossing packages in the refrigerator and drawers. "Zeke told m e ya w a n n a shoot," he said., "Figured I'd try it." Shane went to the gun rack by the door. "You take Bailey." "Who?" H e laughed. "That's her name." H e handed it to me. I smiled, nervous and confused. Shane grabbed his g u n a n d a belt full of shells and led m e outside. "Yours have a name?" Shane nodded. "Martha." "You n a m e them?" y ' "This one," Shane said, holding u p his rifle, "was m y granddad's. H e gave it to my dad w h o gave it to m y brother, and n o w it's mine." " I ' m sorry about your brother," I said. Shane nodded and turned away. "Why'd you n a m e it Bailey?" I asked. "Bailey was my m o m . Collin named her. Said she'd always be with us on the trail." 8 - r

20

Berkeley Fiction Review

Shane laid his gun down in the grass and stood behind me. He positioned the gun firmly against my'shoulder a n d m a d e sure my legs were shoulder-width apart. From butt to muzzle, he guided m e through the anatomy of the shotgun, spending extra time on'the magazine and chamber to highlight the path of the shot. ! '"Ready to try?" Shane asked. "Sure." Shane pulled two pairs of earplugs from his jacket. I mimicked him as he j a m m e d them*in his ears. H e then went to fill the automatic trap with pigeons. " W h a t do you like to hunt?" I asked, as he snapped in the extension cord running from beneath the porch. Shane shrugged. "Whatever'sin season, I guess." His voice sounded muffled against the plugs. "Deer's the hardest, though."" "Really?" "Some people may tell you different, you know, 'cause birds can fly and bears are so d a m n big, but deer are smart." I pictured the head mounted in his cabin and thought, no t smart enough. "Me, Collin, and Zeke used to go out almost every day during deer season. We'd be in the woods by five, sometimes earlier." I nodded, regretful my question h a d evoked a m e m o r y of his brother. Though, I imagined in this pastoral - where, as kids, he and Collin probably climbed every tree, guarding their cabin, just waiting for the day they could journey into the woods arid return at night with animal hides, steeped in stories - there'was little that didn't trigger such a memory. "Just stare straight," he said, as I readied my stance. " W h e n it curves above those trees, you fire." \Yith-a whoosh, a-pigeon flew from the machine. I didn't mean to, but I closed my eyes, and only when Shane yelled "Fire!" did I pull the trigger. The butt sprang back into my shoulder. Shane's h a n d s were pressed against m y back as if h e thought I might fall. I opened my eyes in time to see the intact pigeon crash to the ground. "Ydu almost h a d it," he said. Barely a m o m e n t passed before the second one took flight. With opened eyes, I tdok aim, and as the red spot curled over the tree line in the horizon, Shane again ordered m e to fire. It m a d e a crunch on impact, and Shane said, "Son of a bitch! That's a shot."

Douglas Silver

21


I couldn't remember the last time my heart thumped so loudly in my chest. I shot for another twenty minutes, only fitting a few, until my arm felt heavy and sore. Then I watched as Shane blasted away pigeon after pigeon until the tower ran empty. Combined we must have shot a few dozen rounds, though I didn't think to tally them as we collected the barren red shells from the ground and dropped them into a black Hefty bag - save one that Shane stuck in my h a n d and told m e to take home. "Popped your cherry," he said. W h e n I showered the next morning, I noticed the darkened, raw skin around m y right shoulder from the constant brunt of the gun. I didn't care; in fact, I liked it. In M i a m i my father and his friends spent their days-off golfing, discussing work, politics and their mortgage rates as their carts sputtered from hole to hole. But Glenhook - where people smiled a n d nodded w h e n they passed each other on the street, though most h a d nowhere to go and nothing to smile about - demonstrated a culture undiluted by years of progress. A n d it felt good to share in it,

I met Collin a few weeks after first shooting with Shane. I had begun spending several days a week at the cabin, something Zeke readily encouraged. He'd overflow the shopping bags with extra food and shells. Most of the time Shane and I just shot, but sometimes, afterward, we'd sit in the cabin and talk. "Zeke still making those shells?" Sliane asked m e over bologna sandwiches and lemonade one afternoon. "Yeah. H e says he almost has it. You've seen em'?" Shane shook his head. "He's been t r y i n g t o get; em' right for G o d knows how long. Says he's going to bring m e a bunch when he finishes." " H o w often do you see Zeke?" I asked, suddenly curious. Shane shrugged. H e said Zeke used to come by every week to drop off food and shells a n d pick u p his bills. "He's busier now, I guess. A lot going on at the store." I lied and told Shane that Zeke was busy, although, he must have known better. I had wondered if Zeke only hired m e for the company and now thought maybe my purpose was to spare him from having to drive down the road and look into the eyes of the brother of his dead best friend.

22

Berkeley Fiction Review

Spare h i m the guilt of having nothing more to offer t h a n groceries, house supplies, and ammo. W h e n we sat around the cabin, Shane often reminisced with hunting stories. He wouldn't look at m e as he recounted them, but from the minute details it was obvious how often he recalled these trips. A n d how m u c h he missed Collin. H e told m e about a bull elk that they h a d tracked for two and a half days in wait of a clean shot' while camping one October. They crouched in fields of tall grass, shaded by towering Yellow Poplars and Spanish Oaks, never closer t h an five hundred yards-from the elk. W h e n they were hungry, Collin would rattle the Oak with the muzzle of his gun, and they'd be bombarded with acorns. Early on the third morning, the elk stepped into a clearing. Shane waited for Collin to take the shot, but Collin lay down his gun and leaned over Shane's shoulder. Shane admitted he was shaking from the morning cold, and Collin steadied his arm. M a d e h i m pace his breathing. Told him to fire. * • They flayed and deboned the elk, and that night they roasted his meat over a campfire. Shane said it was the best meal he ever ate. He grew quiet as he finished the story, and we sat for a few moments without talking. " C o me here," he said, jumping from his chair. I leaped u p and followed him over to the old, cracked desk in the corner of the room. H e lifted u p the red and black-vase, which I h a d forgotten about. "This is Collin," he said. " W h a t do you mean?" " M e a n d ' Z e ke didn't think h e ' d ' w a n n a be buried with a lot of strangers in Virginia..He'd wanna be here. At home." Shane set it back on the desk. "He don't look right there-though,-does he?" "I don't know/' I said. "It.. .he looks fine." " W h e n I first put him there, Zeke said he looked funny. H e said he doesn't remember Collin ever sittin' there." I bit my bottom lip. "You want to move him?" Shane shook his head. "Nah'," he said, and returned to the table. H e finished off the crusts of his sandwich and remained peering down on what I now knew to be an urn. H o w that m o u n d of dust h a d been a m a n and that m a n had loved guns and been charred into that m o u n d after being shot was a circle I'd contemplate on m y every visit to the

Douglas Silver

23


I couldn't remember the last time my heart thumped so loudly in my chest. I shot for another twenty minutes, only fitting a few, until my arm felt heavy and sore. Then I watched as Shane blasted away pigeon after pigeon until the tower ran empty. Combined we must have shot a few dozen rounds, though I didn't think to tally them as we collected the barren red shells from the ground and dropped them into a black Hefty bag - save one that Shane stuck in my h a n d and told m e to take home. "Popped your cherry," he said. W h e n I showered the next morning, I noticed the darkened, raw skin around m y right shoulder from the constant brunt of the gun. I didn't care; in fact, I liked it. In M i a m i my father and his friends spent their days-off golfing, discussing work, politics and their mortgage rates as their carts sputtered from hole to hole. But Glenhook - where people smiled a n d nodded w h e n they passed each other on the street, though most h a d nowhere to go and nothing to smile about - demonstrated a culture undiluted by years of progress. A n d it felt good to share in it,

I met Collin a few weeks after first shooting with Shane. I had begun spending several days a week at the cabin, something Zeke readily encouraged. He'd overflow the shopping bags with extra food and shells. Most of the time Shane and I just shot, but sometimes, afterward, we'd sit in the cabin and talk. "Zeke still making those shells?" Sliane asked m e over bologna sandwiches and lemonade one afternoon. "Yeah. H e says he almost has it. You've seen em'?" Shane shook his head. "He's been t r y i n g t o get; em' right for G o d knows how long. Says he's going to bring m e a bunch when he finishes." " H o w often do you see Zeke?" I asked, suddenly curious. Shane shrugged. H e said Zeke used to come by every week to drop off food and shells a n d pick u p his bills. "He's busier now, I guess. A lot going on at the store." I lied and told Shane that Zeke was busy, although, he must have known better. I had wondered if Zeke only hired m e for the company and now thought maybe my purpose was to spare him from having to drive down the road and look into the eyes of the brother of his dead best friend.

22

Berkeley Fiction Review

Spare h i m the guilt of having nothing more to offer t h a n groceries, house supplies, and ammo. W h e n we sat around the cabin, Shane often reminisced with hunting stories. He wouldn't look at m e as he recounted them, but from the minute details it was obvious how often he recalled these trips. A n d how m u c h he missed Collin. H e told m e about a bull elk that they h a d tracked for two and a half days in wait of a clean shot' while camping one October. They crouched in fields of tall grass, shaded by towering Yellow Poplars and Spanish Oaks, never closer t h an five hundred yards-from the elk. W h e n they were hungry, Collin would rattle the Oak with the muzzle of his gun, and they'd be bombarded with acorns. Early on the third morning, the elk stepped into a clearing. Shane waited for Collin to take the shot, but Collin lay down his gun and leaned over Shane's shoulder. Shane admitted he was shaking from the morning cold, and Collin steadied his arm. M a d e h i m pace his breathing. Told him to fire. * • They flayed and deboned the elk, and that night they roasted his meat over a campfire. Shane said it was the best meal he ever ate. He grew quiet as he finished the story, and we sat for a few moments without talking. " C o me here," he said, jumping from his chair. I leaped u p and followed him over to the old, cracked desk in the corner of the room. H e lifted u p the red and black-vase, which I h a d forgotten about. "This is Collin," he said. " W h a t do you mean?" " M e a n d ' Z e ke didn't think h e ' d ' w a n n a be buried with a lot of strangers in Virginia..He'd wanna be here. At home." Shane set it back on the desk. "He don't look right there-though,-does he?" "I don't know/' I said. "It.. .he looks fine." " W h e n I first put him there, Zeke said he looked funny. H e said he doesn't remember Collin ever sittin' there." I bit my bottom lip. "You want to move him?" Shane shook his head. "Nah'," he said, and returned to the table. H e finished off the crusts of his sandwich and remained peering down on what I now knew to be an urn. H o w that m o u n d of dust h a d been a m a n and that m a n had loved guns and been charred into that m o u n d after being shot was a circle I'd contemplate on m y every visit to the

Douglas Silver

23


cabin, until the night I realized it wasn't a circle at all. The shot that Shane laced through the bull elk and the bullet that slaughtered Collin shared only an outcome.

A few days later, I heard m y father shoutjng as I walked in the house. "I can't find a g o d d a mn thing around here!" "Frank, calm down, we'll find it," m y mother said. "What's going on?" I asked as I entered the living room. "Your father's looking for his toolkit." "I borrowed it." "You didn't think to ask?" "I didn't think you'd care. There were some screws loose in my dresser." H e scoffed. "There 'er some screws loose in your head." H e followed m e into my room. The toolkit lay on the dresser, the screwdriver just beside it. " W h a t the hell is that?" h e said, before I could h a n d h i m the kit. "What's what?" H e pointed at m y nightstand where I h a d placed the empty shell Shane had given me. "It's a shell," I said. "I know what it is. Where'd you get it?" I stammered. "This guy, he let m e shoot. They do that a lot around here." M y father clutched my wrist. "Have you lost your g o d d a m n mind? You really want to be one of these people!?," H e glowered, and I braced for h i m to hit me. S But he didn't. H e just seized, the shell from the nightstand and stormed out of the room, forgetting the toolkit. Part of m e wanted to r u n after him and tell h i m h ow little he knew. That guns didn't mean the same thing here. Shortly after my mother came in and apologized for him, explaining that he had to fire ten men, that day. All with families. All who h a d started working at the plant right out of high school. 9 - r

24

Berkeley Fiction Review

The - store was closed w h e n F g o t t o work the following Saturday morning. I pressed my face and hands against one of the windows. The lights were off, and everything inside trie Cantina appeared still. Several m e n came by, one even pulling on the door alter I told h i m we weren't open yet. Two hburs passed before Zeke drove into the parking lot. "Sorry," he said, stepping from his truck. "Everything alright?" Zeke rubbed one"eye and shook his head. "Shane's 1 not feelin' so great. Called m e last night, 'and I picked 'im up. H e stayed at my place for the night." "Is he sick?" " N o t like that. He got a letter about some ceremony honoring all the soldiers w h o died. I guess, you*know, it got h i m thinkin'.'" "He'll be okay though, right?" J Zeke unlocked the door. "Yeali, that boy's t o u g h . Anyway," he said, his face somber.' l l He doesn't have a choice." In the late afternoon, when it didn't seem like anyone else was going to come in, Tasked Zeke if I'could take off and go see Shane. "Sure, I bet he'd like some company." I rode over to the cabin, buirwhen I knocked there was n o answer. I felt a twinge "of fear, thinking how easily Shane could reach across the r o o m and make a dire choice. I went inside, and there he was, sitting at the kitchen table with Collin's u r n in front of him. Beside the door, I saw that.only Bailey rested in her holder. "Shane," I said, "what's going on?" "Hey, Brett." Shane turned to me. 1 moved closer and saw the u r n was without its lid. Over-power wads and birdshot were scattered across the table. I peered down the urn, but,only-specks of Collin encircled the base. A letter with U S military insignia across its header lay pinned underneath it; the t o r n envelope beside if addressed to the family of PFC. Collin Gutherey. Shane sat tapping a pair of pliers against the table; his fingertips discolored a black-gray. His* shell belt stretched across his'fap, with twenty of the twenty-four slots filled, I wanted to ask Shane what he was doing, if maybe' I should call Zeke. But I didn't say anything. I was more confused than scared and wanted to see what he would do. Shane reached for two shells on the windowsill. H e crimped and filed them,'breaking the silence with the

Douglas Silver

25


cabin, until the night I realized it wasn't a circle at all. The shot that Shane laced through the bull elk and the bullet that slaughtered Collin shared only an outcome.

A few days later, I heard m y father shoutjng as I walked in the house. "I can't find a g o d d a mn thing around here!" "Frank, calm down, we'll find it," m y mother said. "What's going on?" I asked as I entered the living room. "Your father's looking for his toolkit." "I borrowed it." "You didn't think to ask?" "I didn't think you'd care. There were some screws loose in my dresser." H e scoffed. "There 'er some screws loose in your head." H e followed m e into my room. The toolkit lay on the dresser, the screwdriver just beside it. " W h a t the hell is that?" h e said, before I could h a n d h i m the kit. "What's what?" H e pointed at m y nightstand where I h a d placed the empty shell Shane had given me. "It's a shell," I said. "I know what it is. Where'd you get it?" I stammered. "This guy, he let m e shoot. They do that a lot around here." M y father clutched my wrist. "Have you lost your g o d d a m n mind? You really want to be one of these people!?," H e glowered, and I braced for h i m to hit me. S But he didn't. H e just seized, the shell from the nightstand and stormed out of the room, forgetting the toolkit. Part of m e wanted to r u n after him and tell h i m h ow little he knew. That guns didn't mean the same thing here. Shortly after my mother came in and apologized for him, explaining that he had to fire ten men, that day. All with families. All who h a d started working at the plant right out of high school. 9 - r

24

Berkeley Fiction Review

The - store was closed w h e n F g o t t o work the following Saturday morning. I pressed my face and hands against one of the windows. The lights were off, and everything inside trie Cantina appeared still. Several m e n came by, one even pulling on the door alter I told h i m we weren't open yet. Two hburs passed before Zeke drove into the parking lot. "Sorry," he said, stepping from his truck. "Everything alright?" Zeke rubbed one"eye and shook his head. "Shane's 1 not feelin' so great. Called m e last night, 'and I picked 'im up. H e stayed at my place for the night." "Is he sick?" " N o t like that. He got a letter about some ceremony honoring all the soldiers w h o died. I guess, you*know, it got h i m thinkin'.'" "He'll be okay though, right?" J Zeke unlocked the door. "Yeali, that boy's t o u g h . Anyway," he said, his face somber.' l l He doesn't have a choice." In the late afternoon, when it didn't seem like anyone else was going to come in, Tasked Zeke if I'could take off and go see Shane. "Sure, I bet he'd like some company." I rode over to the cabin, buirwhen I knocked there was n o answer. I felt a twinge "of fear, thinking how easily Shane could reach across the r o o m and make a dire choice. I went inside, and there he was, sitting at the kitchen table with Collin's u r n in front of him. Beside the door, I saw that.only Bailey rested in her holder. "Shane," I said, "what's going on?" "Hey, Brett." Shane turned to me. 1 moved closer and saw the u r n was without its lid. Over-power wads and birdshot were scattered across the table. I peered down the urn, but,only-specks of Collin encircled the base. A letter with U S military insignia across its header lay pinned underneath it; the t o r n envelope beside if addressed to the family of PFC. Collin Gutherey. Shane sat tapping a pair of pliers against the table; his fingertips discolored a black-gray. His* shell belt stretched across his'fap, with twenty of the twenty-four slots filled, I wanted to ask Shane what he was doing, if maybe' I should call Zeke. But I didn't say anything. I was more confused than scared and wanted to see what he would do. Shane reached for two shells on the windowsill. H e crimped and filed them,'breaking the silence with the

Douglas Silver

25


shrill grate of metal on metal. W h e n he finished, he placed them basedown on the table. H e stayed silentfor a.long time, n o t even looking at me. I sat on the couch watching as he pressed his forehead against a square of the four-paned window. Only when the last spirals of rust colored sky hacl faded black did he strap on his belt, load T^artha with the two j remaining shells, and walk out the door. I followed Shane into the cool night, stuck on his.every move, wondering h o w anything could come to this. -It wouldn't be until some years later - long after my family h a d returned h o m e to live among the high-rises a n d beachfront estates of M i a m i - as I recounted rny year in Glenhopk to my teenage son, that I realized what drewjne to hunting. T h e naming of guns, the calls and signals traded between hunters, even the killings - like my first where I dpubled-over and vomited after looking into the, deer's waning eyes - comprised one of the few remaining American rituals. Fathers put their children to sleep with stories of their hunts, a n d children waited anxiously for the day they were h a n d e d . a rifle and invited into $\er woods to share in a legacy with those like themselves. ^To this day, my son doesn't understand h o w I opted to spend Christmas 'vacation tracking game through frosty, lush woodlands rather t h a n chasing tail d o w n the Ocean Drive strip. N o t even when I whip out pictures of his old m a n braying theJcnotted trails and hulking over downed animals - gripping tight to the black Remington 700 I bought, christened Semp (shor^for Semper Fidelis), and hid from his grandparents - does he register interest. To him, any town that's not a city isn't worth the time S Yet, as I stood with Shane on that brisk night, our bodies illuminated only by the.stars and crescent moon, I, admittedly, didn't consider ritual or tradition. It just seemed like one brother honoring another the only way he knew how. I followed Shane to a bluff some hundred yards from his cabin. A river streamed beneath us; rapids folding noisily against its banks. Shane balanced the stock agajnst his shoulder, leading the barrel high in the air, far above the tree fine. He,held it there for f some time. I stepped closer to h i m and cpuld-see the side of his m o u t h quivering, a tear budding in the corner of his eye..

26

Berkeley Fiction Review

"Shane," I said, nearly grabbing his arm. But before I could move, Shane shot once and then again. He reached into his belt and extracted two more shells. The spent casings cluttered around his feet as he sped his pace, not allowing the echo to languish. Clinging to the charcoal scent.

Douglas Silver

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shrill grate of metal on metal. W h e n he finished, he placed them basedown on the table. H e stayed silentfor a.long time, n o t even looking at me. I sat on the couch watching as he pressed his forehead against a square of the four-paned window. Only when the last spirals of rust colored sky hacl faded black did he strap on his belt, load T^artha with the two j remaining shells, and walk out the door. I followed Shane into the cool night, stuck on his.every move, wondering h o w anything could come to this. -It wouldn't be until some years later - long after my family h a d returned h o m e to live among the high-rises a n d beachfront estates of M i a m i - as I recounted rny year in Glenhopk to my teenage son, that I realized what drewjne to hunting. T h e naming of guns, the calls and signals traded between hunters, even the killings - like my first where I dpubled-over and vomited after looking into the, deer's waning eyes - comprised one of the few remaining American rituals. Fathers put their children to sleep with stories of their hunts, a n d children waited anxiously for the day they were h a n d e d . a rifle and invited into $\er woods to share in a legacy with those like themselves. ^To this day, my son doesn't understand h o w I opted to spend Christmas 'vacation tracking game through frosty, lush woodlands rather t h a n chasing tail d o w n the Ocean Drive strip. N o t even when I whip out pictures of his old m a n braying theJcnotted trails and hulking over downed animals - gripping tight to the black Remington 700 I bought, christened Semp (shor^for Semper Fidelis), and hid from his grandparents - does he register interest. To him, any town that's not a city isn't worth the time S Yet, as I stood with Shane on that brisk night, our bodies illuminated only by the.stars and crescent moon, I, admittedly, didn't consider ritual or tradition. It just seemed like one brother honoring another the only way he knew how. I followed Shane to a bluff some hundred yards from his cabin. A river streamed beneath us; rapids folding noisily against its banks. Shane balanced the stock agajnst his shoulder, leading the barrel high in the air, far above the tree fine. He,held it there for f some time. I stepped closer to h i m and cpuld-see the side of his m o u t h quivering, a tear budding in the corner of his eye..

26

Berkeley Fiction Review

"Shane," I said, nearly grabbing his arm. But before I could move, Shane shot once and then again. He reached into his belt and extracted two more shells. The spent casings cluttered around his feet as he sped his pace, not allowing the echo to languish. Clinging to the charcoal scent.

Douglas Silver

27


C

Y

TRAVIS

C

L

E

SENTELL

I realize I'm slightly crazy. I can't tell if knowing this makes it better or worse. On the one hand, Socrates said, "Know thyself," which implies that knowledge of one's self is the only true sign of mental stability. On the other hand, I know I'm slightly crazy. So either I'm wrong about being off-kilter, which means I don't have self-knowledge, and am therefore crazy, or I ' m right about being off-kilter, which means I'm crazy. Socrates also said, "The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing," so maybe this is all a waste of time. That above paragraph is what's known as purple prose, or it would be if it were beautiful. Romance novels use a lot of purple prose, and they are only one of the items that I collect on a regular basis. There are many. Certain cans are worth five cents. Others are worth ten cents. Same thing with bottles. It's not a bad deal, when you think about it. The average Los Angeles restaurant throws away between 300 to 1,500 bottles a night, so the raw material is there. It's just getting to it. I feel like I have a lot in c o m m o n with oil prospectors in the 1800s, 28

Berkeley Fiction Review

Travis Sentell

29


C

Y

TRAVIS

C

L

E

SENTELL

I realize I'm slightly crazy. I can't tell if knowing this makes it better or worse. On the one hand, Socrates said, "Know thyself," which implies that knowledge of one's self is the only true sign of mental stability. On the other hand, I know I'm slightly crazy. So either I'm wrong about being off-kilter, which means I don't have self-knowledge, and am therefore crazy, or I ' m right about being off-kilter, which means I'm crazy. Socrates also said, "The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing," so maybe this is all a waste of time. That above paragraph is what's known as purple prose, or it would be if it were beautiful. Romance novels use a lot of purple prose, and they are only one of the items that I collect on a regular basis. There are many. Certain cans are worth five cents. Others are worth ten cents. Same thing with bottles. It's not a bad deal, when you think about it. The average Los Angeles restaurant throws away between 300 to 1,500 bottles a night, so the raw material is there. It's just getting to it. I feel like I have a lot in c o m m o n with oil prospectors in the 1800s, 28

Berkeley Fiction Review

Travis Sentell

29


but n o one considers the drama of what I do. There Will Be Cans. Most romance novelists, like Danielle Steele, try to inject a little bit of humor, but rarely in an ironic, self-referential way. They aim for the genuine comedic moments. This, I think, is one of the reasons why people like them so much. They are the definition of anti-ironic. They are self-aware only in their consistency, not in their creativity. A s the world gets hipper, romance sells better. This is not a coincidence. I haven't decided if I believe in coincidences or fate, but I definitely believe in good timing. T h e best thing that happened to my career was the environmental movement, and this is why I like Al G o r e so much. I put on my clean shirt, the one I keep tucked deep inside my backpack, away from the sun and dirt and grime and spilt soda, and I go into restaurants. I made u p a timetable for collection, because I thought this would make m e appear more professional. M y shopping cart, I leave outside. Restaurant managers d o n o t want shopping carts inside their establishment. I didn't know this then, but I do now. I ask to speak to the managers of the restaurants, but they're never available. I only ask to speak to them because that's the right thing to do, n ot because I actually expect to speak to them. This is a n example of knowing how the world works, which other psychologists, such as Abraham Maslow, think is a key factor in intelligence. Whoever ends u p speaking with m e usually looks confused w h e n I pull out the chart, but then, w h e n I explain what I do, they seem to think it makes more sense. Everyone is happy w h e n I leave, so I use this to my advantage. I don't leave until they agree tp'do what I want them to do. This is called street smarts but doesn't have much to do with general, all-around smarts. I say, " D o you guys have a recycling program here?" A n d they always say, "No," because no restaurant in Los Angeles has a recycling program. A n d then I say, "Well, you know bottles and cans make u p over 25% of our nation's landfills, don't you?" Now, this is a fact that I made up, but so far, n o one has said anything to m e about it, so I figure it's okay to keep using it. T h e actual number is m u c h lower, but I did what is called skewing the statistics. The government does it all the

30

time, and no one seems to m i n d too much. At this point, the person I ' m talking to usually thinks I ' m going to ask them to do something, so they start to back u p or protest or dismiss me. N o o n e wants extra work for n o pay. This is a fact I a m sure of. I raise m y Hands and I say, "I can take care of this for you. N o charge. You just put the bottles and cans into different garbage bins and put t h e m out back. I'll come at-" A n d here I check m y schedule "2:00 P M on Sunday and pick t h e m up. Free recycling. A n d you 'guys are doing your part to make the world a better place." Here, they usually let out a sigh of relief a n d n o d at me, saying that they have to check with their manager, but that it shouldn't be a problem". About 20%' of the restaurants I visit actually follow through with even half of this. But still, 1,500 cans a day is between 75 and 150 dollars a day. If I take one day a week off, that's between 1,800 and 3,600 dollars a month. Cash. N o taxes. T h e government doesn't know I exist, so I don't have to worry too much about taxes. At feast, I don't think they know I exist. With the new computer chips and traffic cameras and security video feeds, they probably know w h a t I look like, b u t no t m y name. M y n a m e is Peter, but n o one knows this. N o one asks. This is something called hyperbole, which is just a fancy word for well-phrased exaggerations, and romance novels use it all the time. Philosophers like "Wittgenstein and Nietzsche also use it to make their points more dramatic. In'reality, lots of people ask m y name, but exaggerations aren't lies if they help to illustrate a deeper truth. T h e problem here is that I don't always know which reality to talk about - the reality that is more interesting, or-the reality that is true. Plato said 'that there are perfect ideals of things that exist separate from the objects themselves. We call these "Platonic Ideals." So there is a perfect ideal of my life, and I don't know if I get closer to it or further away if I try to make it more interesting. I have a banking account", but no bank card. I lost it somewhere. This was fine, because it meant I couldn't spend any money. So every Tuesday afternoon (it's on m y schedule), I go to the Wachovia bank on Highland and I deposit my earnings for thb week. I keep exactly eighty 1 dollars td'myself for food and necessary items like razors

Berkeley Fiction Review

Travis Sen tell J^

31


but n o one considers the drama of what I do. There Will Be Cans. Most romance novelists, like Danielle Steele, try to inject a little bit of humor, but rarely in an ironic, self-referential way. They aim for the genuine comedic moments. This, I think, is one of the reasons why people like them so much. They are the definition of anti-ironic. They are self-aware only in their consistency, not in their creativity. A s the world gets hipper, romance sells better. This is not a coincidence. I haven't decided if I believe in coincidences or fate, but I definitely believe in good timing. T h e best thing that happened to my career was the environmental movement, and this is why I like Al G o r e so much. I put on my clean shirt, the one I keep tucked deep inside my backpack, away from the sun and dirt and grime and spilt soda, and I go into restaurants. I made u p a timetable for collection, because I thought this would make m e appear more professional. M y shopping cart, I leave outside. Restaurant managers d o n o t want shopping carts inside their establishment. I didn't know this then, but I do now. I ask to speak to the managers of the restaurants, but they're never available. I only ask to speak to them because that's the right thing to do, n ot because I actually expect to speak to them. This is a n example of knowing how the world works, which other psychologists, such as Abraham Maslow, think is a key factor in intelligence. Whoever ends u p speaking with m e usually looks confused w h e n I pull out the chart, but then, w h e n I explain what I do, they seem to think it makes more sense. Everyone is happy w h e n I leave, so I use this to my advantage. I don't leave until they agree tp'do what I want them to do. This is called street smarts but doesn't have much to do with general, all-around smarts. I say, " D o you guys have a recycling program here?" A n d they always say, "No," because no restaurant in Los Angeles has a recycling program. A n d then I say, "Well, you know bottles and cans make u p over 25% of our nation's landfills, don't you?" Now, this is a fact that I made up, but so far, n o one has said anything to m e about it, so I figure it's okay to keep using it. T h e actual number is m u c h lower, but I did what is called skewing the statistics. The government does it all the

30

time, and no one seems to m i n d too much. At this point, the person I ' m talking to usually thinks I ' m going to ask them to do something, so they start to back u p or protest or dismiss me. N o o n e wants extra work for n o pay. This is a fact I a m sure of. I raise m y Hands and I say, "I can take care of this for you. N o charge. You just put the bottles and cans into different garbage bins and put t h e m out back. I'll come at-" A n d here I check m y schedule "2:00 P M on Sunday and pick t h e m up. Free recycling. A n d you 'guys are doing your part to make the world a better place." Here, they usually let out a sigh of relief a n d n o d at me, saying that they have to check with their manager, but that it shouldn't be a problem". About 20%' of the restaurants I visit actually follow through with even half of this. But still, 1,500 cans a day is between 75 and 150 dollars a day. If I take one day a week off, that's between 1,800 and 3,600 dollars a month. Cash. N o taxes. T h e government doesn't know I exist, so I don't have to worry too much about taxes. At feast, I don't think they know I exist. With the new computer chips and traffic cameras and security video feeds, they probably know w h a t I look like, b u t no t m y name. M y n a m e is Peter, but n o one knows this. N o one asks. This is something called hyperbole, which is just a fancy word for well-phrased exaggerations, and romance novels use it all the time. Philosophers like "Wittgenstein and Nietzsche also use it to make their points more dramatic. In'reality, lots of people ask m y name, but exaggerations aren't lies if they help to illustrate a deeper truth. T h e problem here is that I don't always know which reality to talk about - the reality that is more interesting, or-the reality that is true. Plato said 'that there are perfect ideals of things that exist separate from the objects themselves. We call these "Platonic Ideals." So there is a perfect ideal of my life, and I don't know if I get closer to it or further away if I try to make it more interesting. I have a banking account", but no bank card. I lost it somewhere. This was fine, because it meant I couldn't spend any money. So every Tuesday afternoon (it's on m y schedule), I go to the Wachovia bank on Highland and I deposit my earnings for thb week. I keep exactly eighty 1 dollars td'myself for food and necessary items like razors

Berkeley Fiction Review

Travis Sen tell J^

31


and shaving cream a n d ice cream bars. They usually let you deposit m o n e y without a b a n k card, b u t don't let you withdraw. ,You can deposit money just about anywhere you want. It's getting it back that's the hard part. This is true for just about anything. People like Tony Robhins say that planning ahead is a form of intelligence. Another way of saying "planning ahead" is "always putting in.and never taking out." I don't have any identification, s o , I imagine that getting a n e w bank card might be impossible anyway. This is okay, because there's nothing I need to buy. I sleep.on the corner of Mayweather and Santa Monica underneath,a nice little overhang. I pay the owners of the business - a restaurant called Topanga's - a fee of fifty dollars a m o n t h to sleep there. The owner's n a m e is Matilda (not Topanga), and she's a lovely woman approximately fifty-five years of age. This way, I ' m no t a freeloader, and can look her in the eye every morning with a clear copscience. This is very important to me. Lots of philosophers, like David H u m e o r John Stewart Mill, say your n a m e is all you have, so making it worth something is important. I don't know m y real n a m e because the orphanage doesn't have a birth certificate on record, but I take this idea to m e a n that your morals, your conscience, your thoughts are all you.have, so you should make those things worth something.. I don't he, I don't cheat, I don't steal. These are very important things to me. I work for a living and sleep at Topanga's, and a m friendly to everyone I meet. That was also hyperbole, that last part. , y I have a library card, but prefer not to be responsible for other people's property. I don't do well with responsibility, which is why I prefer to sleep in an alcove. That way, if I don't come h o m e at night, and sleep on a different doorstep, or underneath a different awning, I haven't really wasted that much money. But if J pay for an apartment, and it costs m e a thousand dollars a month, when I decide to stay out one night, I've just wasted over thirty dollars. That's a lot of cans. So I prefer to own books instead of borrow .them. I like to hold them and re-read them and turn down pages of passages that I like. There are two types of books that people don't mind giving away:

32

Berkeley Fiction Review

1 romance novels and books that are difficult to read. This last type is usually composed of textbooks, books about ancient history, or books about the universe. It doesn't bother m e that I don't ever read the Pulitzer Prize winners and the bestsellers and stuff. I think garbage cans probably reveal more about people than billboards do, and I like to be in touch with the culture. Romance novels and philosophy texts both use the same technique, a n d I like to use it as well. This technique consists of repeating things, but changing the way they are explained. Philosophers do this so that you can understand better. Romance novelists do this because they are paid by the word. I do it because I like to think of different ways of saying the same thing. This helps my brain digest, remember and reconstruct. T h e book I ' m reading right n o w is called Wilderness Lust. I ' m relatively sure this is supposed to be a parody of "Paradise Lost," but a m unsure what their target audience is supposed to be. It talks about a frontier m a n out on his own, finding w o m e n and seducing them... until he meets his match in a frontier w o m a n w h o is* his equal at shooting, riding, fighting, all that stuff. It's sort o f the same as all the other romance novels, but then again, all philosophers are the same, all religions are the same, all governments are the same, all life is the same.. .1 don't know why romance novels should be any'different. It's more realistic if they do repeat material - then you can be sure that it's accurate. Stuff doesn't get passed down and repeated unless it has some truth to it. Except for astrology. I do have goals, though. I got a history book out of a school dumpster a couple months ago, and started-reading it on my days off, and at night. It talks about wars"and droughts and plagues and famines, and then it talks about peace and floods and medicine and harvests. A n d then it would do it all over again. A n d I felt like I was reading a romance novel or a philosophy textbook, except it was the Earth who was saying the same thing again and again and just changing the way that She said it. A n d I thought this was interesting. Sometimes I don't know the difference between crazy and interesting, but I think it's always best to assume things are interesting. I don't want to be a pessimist. Travis Sentell

33


and shaving cream a n d ice cream bars. They usually let you deposit m o n e y without a b a n k card, b u t don't let you withdraw. ,You can deposit money just about anywhere you want. It's getting it back that's the hard part. This is true for just about anything. People like Tony Robhins say that planning ahead is a form of intelligence. Another way of saying "planning ahead" is "always putting in.and never taking out." I don't have any identification, s o , I imagine that getting a n e w bank card might be impossible anyway. This is okay, because there's nothing I need to buy. I sleep.on the corner of Mayweather and Santa Monica underneath,a nice little overhang. I pay the owners of the business - a restaurant called Topanga's - a fee of fifty dollars a m o n t h to sleep there. The owner's n a m e is Matilda (not Topanga), and she's a lovely woman approximately fifty-five years of age. This way, I ' m no t a freeloader, and can look her in the eye every morning with a clear copscience. This is very important to me. Lots of philosophers, like David H u m e o r John Stewart Mill, say your n a m e is all you have, so making it worth something is important. I don't know m y real n a m e because the orphanage doesn't have a birth certificate on record, but I take this idea to m e a n that your morals, your conscience, your thoughts are all you.have, so you should make those things worth something.. I don't he, I don't cheat, I don't steal. These are very important things to me. I work for a living and sleep at Topanga's, and a m friendly to everyone I meet. That was also hyperbole, that last part. , y I have a library card, but prefer not to be responsible for other people's property. I don't do well with responsibility, which is why I prefer to sleep in an alcove. That way, if I don't come h o m e at night, and sleep on a different doorstep, or underneath a different awning, I haven't really wasted that much money. But if J pay for an apartment, and it costs m e a thousand dollars a month, when I decide to stay out one night, I've just wasted over thirty dollars. That's a lot of cans. So I prefer to own books instead of borrow .them. I like to hold them and re-read them and turn down pages of passages that I like. There are two types of books that people don't mind giving away:

32

Berkeley Fiction Review

1 romance novels and books that are difficult to read. This last type is usually composed of textbooks, books about ancient history, or books about the universe. It doesn't bother m e that I don't ever read the Pulitzer Prize winners and the bestsellers and stuff. I think garbage cans probably reveal more about people than billboards do, and I like to be in touch with the culture. Romance novels and philosophy texts both use the same technique, a n d I like to use it as well. This technique consists of repeating things, but changing the way they are explained. Philosophers do this so that you can understand better. Romance novelists do this because they are paid by the word. I do it because I like to think of different ways of saying the same thing. This helps my brain digest, remember and reconstruct. T h e book I ' m reading right n o w is called Wilderness Lust. I ' m relatively sure this is supposed to be a parody of "Paradise Lost," but a m unsure what their target audience is supposed to be. It talks about a frontier m a n out on his own, finding w o m e n and seducing them... until he meets his match in a frontier w o m a n w h o is* his equal at shooting, riding, fighting, all that stuff. It's sort o f the same as all the other romance novels, but then again, all philosophers are the same, all religions are the same, all governments are the same, all life is the same.. .1 don't know why romance novels should be any'different. It's more realistic if they do repeat material - then you can be sure that it's accurate. Stuff doesn't get passed down and repeated unless it has some truth to it. Except for astrology. I do have goals, though. I got a history book out of a school dumpster a couple months ago, and started-reading it on my days off, and at night. It talks about wars"and droughts and plagues and famines, and then it talks about peace and floods and medicine and harvests. A n d then it would do it all over again. A n d I felt like I was reading a romance novel or a philosophy textbook, except it was the Earth who was saying the same thing again and again and just changing the way that She said it. A n d I thought this was interesting. Sometimes I don't know the difference between crazy and interesting, but I think it's always best to assume things are interesting. I don't want to be a pessimist. Travis Sentell

33


So I started to make a schedule for the Earth, thinking that maybe I could begin to see what She was saying. A n d then, if I studied it closely enough, one day I could get to the actual message and tell other people about it. But I don't think I ' m smart enough. Aristotle seemed to think that the acquisition of knowledge is what defined brilliance. Anyone can be bor n smart, but if you don't learn anything, then within a few year's, people think you're dumb. Or, you can-be b o rn dumb, but learn lots of facts, and then people will think you're smart. Some people say that there is just one type of intelligence called " Q " that sort of manifests in all kinds of different skills. So you're either smart enough, or you're n o t smart enough. But a m a n n a m e d Howard Gardner said that there are seven types of intelligence. The first of these is linguistics, which would be like good novelists. T h e second is logic and mathematics, which would be like philosophers. T h e third is kinesthetic, which is like dancers or athletes. I don't really understand ho w this has anything to do with intelligence, and I secretly wonde r if h e pu t this in to avoid claims of racism. Then, I wonder if thinking that thought means that l a m a racist. But, then I think about the fact that.I'm a minority myself, and wonder if that means I can even be racist. I ' m n o t sure h o w that works. Gardner's fourth intelligence is spatial, which would be artists or mapmakers or model-builders. The fifth is musical. I understand that there are people w h o are "musically intelligent" but you would never call t h e m "smart."" T h e reason people say "musically intelligent" is because if you just said "intelligent," they would have n o idea you were referring to someone w h o played a n instrument. I think maybe what Howard Gardner is saying is that there are different ways for a brain to be a good brain. This is why I like Howard Gardner. It means that intelligent is defined as, a brain that works well in one particular way. The sixth is interpersonal, which means people who are good with other people. Bill' Clinton is smart in this way. I a m not. T h e seventh is intrapersonal, which means people w h o analyze

,34

Berkeley Fiction Review

themselves well, like Socrates used* to talk about. So, accoYdingto H o w a r d Gardner, I a m intelligent. If I was a better dancer, I would be very intelligent. I have very high marks on three of the seven possible models for intelligence, which makes m e feel good about myself. I also realize that what Howard Gardner is doing is saying the same thing in "different ways. I try to do 'this as well, so people can have a deeper understanding of me. T h e Earth, 'She does the same thing,-but n o one listens. If I h a d a religion, I would call it an Earth religion, because religion isfjiist what you think is closest to you, what makes the most sense to your heart. W h e n I have to relieve myself, I try to find a nice wooded area so that my waste can be used by a plant in order to grow. This is the way that the cycle works, and the way it should continue. W h e n you put your shit in a toilet, it flushes away to some receptacle under the ground that just ends u p polluting the water supply o r the arable land. If you put f your shit directly in the dirt, you do some good for the local vegetation. Cycles are important, a n d if you break them, you cause harm. Cycles. Schedules. Repetition. Cycles. Schedules. Repetition. This is a literary effect that romance novelists u s e often. It helps to drive h o m e a particular point' which is w h a t I have done here. This is the opposite of purple prose. There are two ways of conveying information, and both do different things. "One is with a minimum of words and explanation, thus highlighting the clarity of the argument. The other is with an exhaustive analysis of the topic at hand, thus explaining why it is more correct than all other possible pieces of contrary information. These two ways can rarely, if ever, be used in conjunction, b u t the Eart h somehow man-

Travis Sentell

'35


So I started to make a schedule for the Earth, thinking that maybe I could begin to see what She was saying. A n d then, if I studied it closely enough, one day I could get to the actual message and tell other people about it. But I don't think I ' m smart enough. Aristotle seemed to think that the acquisition of knowledge is what defined brilliance. Anyone can be bor n smart, but if you don't learn anything, then within a few year's, people think you're dumb. Or, you can-be b o rn dumb, but learn lots of facts, and then people will think you're smart. Some people say that there is just one type of intelligence called " Q " that sort of manifests in all kinds of different skills. So you're either smart enough, or you're n o t smart enough. But a m a n n a m e d Howard Gardner said that there are seven types of intelligence. The first of these is linguistics, which would be like good novelists. T h e second is logic and mathematics, which would be like philosophers. T h e third is kinesthetic, which is like dancers or athletes. I don't really understand ho w this has anything to do with intelligence, and I secretly wonde r if h e pu t this in to avoid claims of racism. Then, I wonder if thinking that thought means that l a m a racist. But, then I think about the fact that.I'm a minority myself, and wonder if that means I can even be racist. I ' m n o t sure h o w that works. Gardner's fourth intelligence is spatial, which would be artists or mapmakers or model-builders. The fifth is musical. I understand that there are people w h o are "musically intelligent" but you would never call t h e m "smart."" T h e reason people say "musically intelligent" is because if you just said "intelligent," they would have n o idea you were referring to someone w h o played a n instrument. I think maybe what Howard Gardner is saying is that there are different ways for a brain to be a good brain. This is why I like Howard Gardner. It means that intelligent is defined as, a brain that works well in one particular way. The sixth is interpersonal, which means people who are good with other people. Bill' Clinton is smart in this way. I a m not. T h e seventh is intrapersonal, which means people w h o analyze

,34

Berkeley Fiction Review

themselves well, like Socrates used* to talk about. So, accoYdingto H o w a r d Gardner, I a m intelligent. If I was a better dancer, I would be very intelligent. I have very high marks on three of the seven possible models for intelligence, which makes m e feel good about myself. I also realize that what Howard Gardner is doing is saying the same thing in "different ways. I try to do 'this as well, so people can have a deeper understanding of me. T h e Earth, 'She does the same thing,-but n o one listens. If I h a d a religion, I would call it an Earth religion, because religion isfjiist what you think is closest to you, what makes the most sense to your heart. W h e n I have to relieve myself, I try to find a nice wooded area so that my waste can be used by a plant in order to grow. This is the way that the cycle works, and the way it should continue. W h e n you put your shit in a toilet, it flushes away to some receptacle under the ground that just ends u p polluting the water supply o r the arable land. If you put f your shit directly in the dirt, you do some good for the local vegetation. Cycles are important, a n d if you break them, you cause harm. Cycles. Schedules. Repetition. Cycles. Schedules. Repetition. This is a literary effect that romance novelists u s e often. It helps to drive h o m e a particular point' which is w h a t I have done here. This is the opposite of purple prose. There are two ways of conveying information, and both do different things. "One is with a minimum of words and explanation, thus highlighting the clarity of the argument. The other is with an exhaustive analysis of the topic at hand, thus explaining why it is more correct than all other possible pieces of contrary information. These two ways can rarely, if ever, be used in conjunction, b u t the Eart h somehow man-

Travis Sentell

'35


T1 ages to do it all the time, a n d I think that I do as well. T h e closer one can get to thefEarth, the more healthy one is. This is my argument, and it is elegant in its simplicity. Of course, you don't have to listen to me. That's a form of intelligence too...knowing which things to ignore. W h e n I think about it, this seems like the only type of intelligence that means anything, because if ypu only pay attention to the right things, you always get smarter, whereas if you pay attention to the wrong things, you are b o u n d to get smarter a n d dumber a n d smarter and dumber. Life is a little too short for your brain to be a sine wave. I take all m y bottles to a place where I know they'll give m e the best deal, where I know I can trust them to count correctly. It's about two miles from most of the restaurants, but it's worth the walk. Besides, I don't really mind,the,city streets a n d I like people to see m e working. It's like sandpaper rubbing against their expectations, and this is a good thing. As a, courtesy, I separate my glass and, .plastic and aluminum into three bags, double-bagging the, glass to protect against wayward shards. T h e staff at the recycling center, they appreciate this, and as a result/ always have plenty of cash on hancl for m y delivery days, which they have kindly marked on their office calendar. They know my name, and I know theirs, and they 4 o n ' t mind shaking m y hand, which is difficult for m e to do, b u t I d o it because I know I'll be happier w h e n I leave the facility if I've done it. Smart people can overcome their fears. Some fears are good. Some are bad. Psychology is the study of the difference between these two things. Right now, there are eight restaurants on my weekly schedule. If I get two more, I will need to hire someone else to help with the pick-ups. I plan on offering them half of the money I make for every pick-up they do. I will take what is known as a service charge or cut for setting u p the arrangement^Some people, this is h ow they make .their whole living - they never work, they just set up work for other people and take a cut. Eventually, I would like to not work at all, but I worry I wouldn't know what to do with myself.

36

Berkeley Fiction Review

If you aren't getting smarter, you're getting dumber. This is a fact. "There is n o such"thing as true stasis. Philosophy, this is really all it tells us, just in many, many different ways. Romance, this is really all it tells us. Psychology, this is really all it tells us. Cycle. Repetition. Re-cycle. These cycles exist so we can do the same things without getting stagnant. They exist so that we can have stasis without knowing it. Change without change. Death without death. T h e Earth, She is ever changing, ever moving, ever growing, ever dying. This, I've decided, is an excellent model to follow.

Travis Sentell

37


T1 ages to do it all the time, a n d I think that I do as well. T h e closer one can get to thefEarth, the more healthy one is. This is my argument, and it is elegant in its simplicity. Of course, you don't have to listen to me. That's a form of intelligence too...knowing which things to ignore. W h e n I think about it, this seems like the only type of intelligence that means anything, because if ypu only pay attention to the right things, you always get smarter, whereas if you pay attention to the wrong things, you are b o u n d to get smarter a n d dumber a n d smarter and dumber. Life is a little too short for your brain to be a sine wave. I take all m y bottles to a place where I know they'll give m e the best deal, where I know I can trust them to count correctly. It's about two miles from most of the restaurants, but it's worth the walk. Besides, I don't really mind,the,city streets a n d I like people to see m e working. It's like sandpaper rubbing against their expectations, and this is a good thing. As a, courtesy, I separate my glass and, .plastic and aluminum into three bags, double-bagging the, glass to protect against wayward shards. T h e staff at the recycling center, they appreciate this, and as a result/ always have plenty of cash on hancl for m y delivery days, which they have kindly marked on their office calendar. They know my name, and I know theirs, and they 4 o n ' t mind shaking m y hand, which is difficult for m e to do, b u t I d o it because I know I'll be happier w h e n I leave the facility if I've done it. Smart people can overcome their fears. Some fears are good. Some are bad. Psychology is the study of the difference between these two things. Right now, there are eight restaurants on my weekly schedule. If I get two more, I will need to hire someone else to help with the pick-ups. I plan on offering them half of the money I make for every pick-up they do. I will take what is known as a service charge or cut for setting u p the arrangement^Some people, this is h ow they make .their whole living - they never work, they just set up work for other people and take a cut. Eventually, I would like to not work at all, but I worry I wouldn't know what to do with myself.

36

Berkeley Fiction Review

If you aren't getting smarter, you're getting dumber. This is a fact. "There is n o such"thing as true stasis. Philosophy, this is really all it tells us, just in many, many different ways. Romance, this is really all it tells us. Psychology, this is really all it tells us. Cycle. Repetition. Re-cycle. These cycles exist so we can do the same things without getting stagnant. They exist so that we can have stasis without knowing it. Change without change. Death without death. T h e Earth, She is ever changing, ever moving, ever growing, ever dying. This, I've decided, is an excellent model to follow.

Travis Sentell

37


N

A

G

Y

B

A

JOHN

N

Y

A

,

1

9

0

3

SWETNAM

That summer the Hungarian plain was encased in clear, still heat, as if it were trapped in amber. The men following the horse drawn combines in the wheat fields stopped often to wipe their foreheads, panting with their labors like dogs chasing a hare. The draft horses were slick with sweat. Their eyes rolled in desperation; the heat was making them crazy. At mid-morning and twice in the afternoon, the boy tending the horses would unhitch their harnesses from the traces and lead them to the stream. There they inhaled great volumes of water, their bellies heaving. Even though the harvest was excellent and the price of grain was high, no one talked as they worked. At night the peasants stumbled back to their houses, too exhausted to eat more than a few mouthfuls before they rolled onto the straw stuffed mattresses. In the fall, when the grain sacks were stored over the rafters and the wages had been paid, there would be time to celebrate. For now, every effort was directed to getting in the harvest before a summer storm broke the stalks and loosened the grain from the ears. Great huffing locomotives stitched their way through the countryside, sending enormous clouds of smoke billowing into the motionless air. Unlike the work of the fields, which followed the rhythm of the seasons, the railroads ran by the clock. Each year more track was laid, 38

Berkeley Fiction Review

J o h n Swetnam

39


N

A

G

Y

B

A

JOHN

N

Y

A

,

1

9

0

3

SWETNAM

That summer the Hungarian plain was encased in clear, still heat, as if it were trapped in amber. The men following the horse drawn combines in the wheat fields stopped often to wipe their foreheads, panting with their labors like dogs chasing a hare. The draft horses were slick with sweat. Their eyes rolled in desperation; the heat was making them crazy. At mid-morning and twice in the afternoon, the boy tending the horses would unhitch their harnesses from the traces and lead them to the stream. There they inhaled great volumes of water, their bellies heaving. Even though the harvest was excellent and the price of grain was high, no one talked as they worked. At night the peasants stumbled back to their houses, too exhausted to eat more than a few mouthfuls before they rolled onto the straw stuffed mattresses. In the fall, when the grain sacks were stored over the rafters and the wages had been paid, there would be time to celebrate. For now, every effort was directed to getting in the harvest before a summer storm broke the stalks and loosened the grain from the ears. Great huffing locomotives stitched their way through the countryside, sending enormous clouds of smoke billowing into the motionless air. Unlike the work of the fields, which followed the rhythm of the seasons, the railroads ran by the clock. Each year more track was laid, 38

Berkeley Fiction Review

J o h n Swetnam

39


and in the village schools, teachers were proud to point out that Hungary had more kilometers of track per person t h an even Great Britain. T h e men of the railroads wore uniforms with buttons embossed with the double eagle of the dual monarch y of Austria-Hungary. They wrote everything down on paper, and the records lined the shelves in the stationmaster's office. Year after year of arrivals and departures, waybills and manifests, time sheets and account ledgers were preserved in blue-black India ink within tightly b o u n d volumes. T h e p a i n t e r s came to Nagybanya in the summer of 1903 as they had for each of the past seven years, shaking their coats as they stepped from the second class carriages as if the darkness of their M u n i c h studios and the soot from the steam locomotive could be cast aside with a single gesture. They came, they said, to paint en plein air, like the French w h o flocked to Fontainbleu or the Breton coast. They came to be close to Hungary, the real Hungary of farmers and weavers w h o wore traditional clothes and whose faces were creased with the cares of their labor. They were creating a n e w art where m a n a n d nature merged in a single h a r m o n y of light and space, one and indivisible. They argued in Bech's tavern until late in the night, sneering at the massive historical canvases which dominated the shows of Budapest. It wasn't just Hungarians w h o came to Nagybanya, there were Romanians, Germans, Austrians, and even a Belgian. For Mayor T h o r m a n , each summer m e a n t that he h a d to endure once again the telling of the artists' first arrival in 1896. There weren't m a n y stories to tell in a little town like Nagybanya and village tales are old friends to be visited again a n d again. "The whole town was waiting at the station/' chortled Bech, putting his stein of beer o n the table and looking at the circle of faces. "Thorman, here, gets u p on a box and starts talking to the crowd like a schoolmaster. 'An eminent artist like Hollosy must have g r o w n frail in the pursuit of his craft. H e will be tired from the journey. N o pushing and shoving. H e can talk to people after he's rested in the inn tonight.' "Out of the car bounds Hollosy, with hair black as a raven, and he jumps u p on the luggage cart before T h o r m a n here can get out one word of his welcoming speech! H e starts shouting at the crowd like a deputy in parliament, telling u s that Nagybanya will b e the birthplace

40

Berkeley Fiction Review

of true Hungarian art. H e waves his arms like a m a d m a n . I n the end, he turns to Kolosh, the station master, and thanks him for sponsoring the journey. H e thought Kolosh was the mayor!" Everyone but T h o r m a n guffawed in delight. T h o r m a n shrugged, then said, "You have to admit that the swallows have brought a lot of money to town." N o t even Bech could dispute this. The artists rented rooms from the miners w h o lived on the north side of town and paid old people and children to serve as models. As for Bech, it was the artists w h o kept his tavern full from M o n d a y until Saturday. They were called swallows because they nested here in the summer, then flew off in the fall. Bertha, w h o ran the house of ill repute b y the railway station, complained that she couldn't find enough country girls to satisfy them. By 1903, she had taken to wearing a new dress to mass on Sunday, sitting in one of the front pews next to the gentry and kneeling to receive the host as innocently as a novice in a convent. Everyone wondered what she was saying to the priest in the confessional each Saturday, but of course a priest is bound to secrecy. " W h y don't you tell t h e m about the time you served as an artist's model?" T h o r m a n countered. H e turned to the audience and now it was Bech's chance to wince. "The first summer, this Belgian artist asks Bech to model for him. Bech gets all excited and tells everyone he's ÂŁoing to be the model for King Louis or somebody. Well, he shows u p at the studio and the artist gets out a Romanian peasant blouse and tells him to put it on. T thought you wanted m e to model,' said Bech. 'Yes,' the guy says, 'I can see in your smashed u p face that you are the perfect representative of the c o m m o n man.. In fact, you're the most c o m m o n m a n I've ever seen!'" Thorrnan slappe&his knee and the table erupted in laughter. T h e only person w h o ever got to be a model as anyone famous was Sir John, w h o worked as a h a n d y m a n for Ferenczy, the most famous of the artists. People called him "Sir J o h n " because h e was the illegitimate son of the English mining engineer. Ferenczy h a d h i m serve as his model w h e n he painted Christ being taken down from the cross. That picture had caused an enormous stir in the autumn showing at the National Gallery. T h o r m a n read about it in the Budapest newspapers dropped off at the train station.

J o h n Swetnam

41


and in the village schools, teachers were proud to point out that Hungary had more kilometers of track per person t h an even Great Britain. T h e men of the railroads wore uniforms with buttons embossed with the double eagle of the dual monarch y of Austria-Hungary. They wrote everything down on paper, and the records lined the shelves in the stationmaster's office. Year after year of arrivals and departures, waybills and manifests, time sheets and account ledgers were preserved in blue-black India ink within tightly b o u n d volumes. T h e p a i n t e r s came to Nagybanya in the summer of 1903 as they had for each of the past seven years, shaking their coats as they stepped from the second class carriages as if the darkness of their M u n i c h studios and the soot from the steam locomotive could be cast aside with a single gesture. They came, they said, to paint en plein air, like the French w h o flocked to Fontainbleu or the Breton coast. They came to be close to Hungary, the real Hungary of farmers and weavers w h o wore traditional clothes and whose faces were creased with the cares of their labor. They were creating a n e w art where m a n a n d nature merged in a single h a r m o n y of light and space, one and indivisible. They argued in Bech's tavern until late in the night, sneering at the massive historical canvases which dominated the shows of Budapest. It wasn't just Hungarians w h o came to Nagybanya, there were Romanians, Germans, Austrians, and even a Belgian. For Mayor T h o r m a n , each summer m e a n t that he h a d to endure once again the telling of the artists' first arrival in 1896. There weren't m a n y stories to tell in a little town like Nagybanya and village tales are old friends to be visited again a n d again. "The whole town was waiting at the station/' chortled Bech, putting his stein of beer o n the table and looking at the circle of faces. "Thorman, here, gets u p on a box and starts talking to the crowd like a schoolmaster. 'An eminent artist like Hollosy must have g r o w n frail in the pursuit of his craft. H e will be tired from the journey. N o pushing and shoving. H e can talk to people after he's rested in the inn tonight.' "Out of the car bounds Hollosy, with hair black as a raven, and he jumps u p on the luggage cart before T h o r m a n here can get out one word of his welcoming speech! H e starts shouting at the crowd like a deputy in parliament, telling u s that Nagybanya will b e the birthplace

40

Berkeley Fiction Review

of true Hungarian art. H e waves his arms like a m a d m a n . I n the end, he turns to Kolosh, the station master, and thanks him for sponsoring the journey. H e thought Kolosh was the mayor!" Everyone but T h o r m a n guffawed in delight. T h o r m a n shrugged, then said, "You have to admit that the swallows have brought a lot of money to town." N o t even Bech could dispute this. The artists rented rooms from the miners w h o lived on the north side of town and paid old people and children to serve as models. As for Bech, it was the artists w h o kept his tavern full from M o n d a y until Saturday. They were called swallows because they nested here in the summer, then flew off in the fall. Bertha, w h o ran the house of ill repute b y the railway station, complained that she couldn't find enough country girls to satisfy them. By 1903, she had taken to wearing a new dress to mass on Sunday, sitting in one of the front pews next to the gentry and kneeling to receive the host as innocently as a novice in a convent. Everyone wondered what she was saying to the priest in the confessional each Saturday, but of course a priest is bound to secrecy. " W h y don't you tell t h e m about the time you served as an artist's model?" T h o r m a n countered. H e turned to the audience and now it was Bech's chance to wince. "The first summer, this Belgian artist asks Bech to model for him. Bech gets all excited and tells everyone he's ÂŁoing to be the model for King Louis or somebody. Well, he shows u p at the studio and the artist gets out a Romanian peasant blouse and tells him to put it on. T thought you wanted m e to model,' said Bech. 'Yes,' the guy says, 'I can see in your smashed u p face that you are the perfect representative of the c o m m o n man.. In fact, you're the most c o m m o n m a n I've ever seen!'" Thorrnan slappe&his knee and the table erupted in laughter. T h e only person w h o ever got to be a model as anyone famous was Sir John, w h o worked as a h a n d y m a n for Ferenczy, the most famous of the artists. People called him "Sir J o h n " because h e was the illegitimate son of the English mining engineer. Ferenczy h a d h i m serve as his model w h e n he painted Christ being taken down from the cross. That picture had caused an enormous stir in the autumn showing at the National Gallery. T h o r m a n read about it in the Budapest newspapers dropped off at the train station.

J o h n Swetnam

41


The people of Nagybanya were all very proud of Ferenczy because he was the only artist w h o stayed here all year. H e moved his wife and three children the first summer, along with an enormous load of furniture. People said he was a shy m a n , but always pleasant, and he would come by Bech's in the evening to have a beer n ow and then. Ferenczy's wife shopped on market day just like the other w o m e n of Nagybanya, haggling with one vendor or another and carrying the food h o m e in a woven basket over her arm. In addition to Sir John, the family also hired a young girl from a nearby farm to help with the cleaning. W h e n the boys were twelve, they were sent off to boarding school in the capital, but they returned in the summer like the artists, fleeing the stifling congestion of Budapest. 8-nr Each morning followed the same ritual in the Ferenczy household. Having splashe4 his face with cold water from the basin, Ferenczy stood, naked to the waist, before the mirror, -sharpening his straight razor on a leather strap with long leisurely strokes. H e lathered his cheeks with a careful circular motion, dipping the brush in a bowl of hot water placed there by Marya, the maid, before he left the bedroom. He shaved his cheeks and chin with short, overlapping movements, wiping the razor on a towel, so that there was n o trace of foam left when he rinsed his cheeks. H e trimmed his mustache with a small pair of scissors, brushing the hairs carefully to each side to be sure that they were parallel. A clean shirt waited on a stool beside the armoire, his cravat was knotted, and then the suspenders were raised over the shoulders. Ferenczy always came to breakfast in his shirtsleeves, almost the only time his children saw him without a coat. W h e n Ke was in the studio, he tied on a butcher's apron to protect his clothing. "You must be roasting," Olga, his wife, would protest. "It can't be good for your health." "Nonsense," he would reply. " W h e n a painter is in his studio, he must be prepared to receive a visitor at any time and they must see that he is a gentleman and not a n artisan." The boys, his daughter and his wife were already seated at the table when he arrived. Beni, 15,andValer, 13, wore the same blue pants and loose cotton shirts as the boys in town and went about the countryside

barefoot, as the children of the town did. They were tanned and lean from days spent swimming in the river a n d climbing trees or playing war with the other boys, pelting' one another with green apples snatched from the trees in the back garden. This is the way people should live, thought Ferenczy, with healthy, clean air and food straight from the farmers. It's a shame they have to go away for the winter and live in those dam p stables they call dormitories and eat canned food. But what can you do? They must have an education. A s soon as Ferenczy was seated, M a r y a would bring in a platter of food from the kitchen - eggs, toast, sausage, slices of cheese. The family knelt for a brief prayer, invoking the blessings of the Virgin on all present and the meal began in earnest. T h e boy's adored and respected their father, and they were not the least bit inhibited by his presence. Their talk dominated the table. They were building a fort in the woods south of town and needed nails from the hardware-store. The neighbor's dog had been r u n Over by a cart, "And the dog vomited all over the ditch." "Valer, don't talk about such things at the table," said Olga. "But all I said w a s . . . " " W h a t if you went to a "friend's house and talked like that? They would think we were barbarians or Jews." "There are Jewish boys at our schdol," cut in Beni. "They talk like everyone else." ''Really? It's one of the best schools." Olga was scandalized. "Of course ft is," Ferenczy interjected, "and they should be there. If Jewish people are willing to change their names and act like Hungarians, of course they should be in the same schools as the rest of us. This is the twentieth century, after allJ' V Ferenczy could see that Olga was not satisfied, but he knew she would never provoke an argument in front of the children. H e made a note t o himself to speak privately to Beni not to bring the subject up again. Except for their honeymoon in Vienna, Olga h a d never left the Kingdom of Hungary and you couldn't expect her to give u p the old ways. N o t everyone was cut out to be a free thinker. It would be enough to make'clear to the boys that modern people h a d abandoned such feudal notions as anti-Semitism. "Anyway," Valer said, "they're going to get another dog, a puppy.

J o h n Swetnam

43


The people of Nagybanya were all very proud of Ferenczy because he was the only artist w h o stayed here all year. H e moved his wife and three children the first summer, along with an enormous load of furniture. People said he was a shy m a n , but always pleasant, and he would come by Bech's in the evening to have a beer n ow and then. Ferenczy's wife shopped on market day just like the other w o m e n of Nagybanya, haggling with one vendor or another and carrying the food h o m e in a woven basket over her arm. In addition to Sir John, the family also hired a young girl from a nearby farm to help with the cleaning. W h e n the boys were twelve, they were sent off to boarding school in the capital, but they returned in the summer like the artists, fleeing the stifling congestion of Budapest. 8-nr Each morning followed the same ritual in the Ferenczy household. Having splashe4 his face with cold water from the basin, Ferenczy stood, naked to the waist, before the mirror, -sharpening his straight razor on a leather strap with long leisurely strokes. H e lathered his cheeks with a careful circular motion, dipping the brush in a bowl of hot water placed there by Marya, the maid, before he left the bedroom. He shaved his cheeks and chin with short, overlapping movements, wiping the razor on a towel, so that there was n o trace of foam left when he rinsed his cheeks. H e trimmed his mustache with a small pair of scissors, brushing the hairs carefully to each side to be sure that they were parallel. A clean shirt waited on a stool beside the armoire, his cravat was knotted, and then the suspenders were raised over the shoulders. Ferenczy always came to breakfast in his shirtsleeves, almost the only time his children saw him without a coat. W h e n Ke was in the studio, he tied on a butcher's apron to protect his clothing. "You must be roasting," Olga, his wife, would protest. "It can't be good for your health." "Nonsense," he would reply. " W h e n a painter is in his studio, he must be prepared to receive a visitor at any time and they must see that he is a gentleman and not a n artisan." The boys, his daughter and his wife were already seated at the table when he arrived. Beni, 15,andValer, 13, wore the same blue pants and loose cotton shirts as the boys in town and went about the countryside

barefoot, as the children of the town did. They were tanned and lean from days spent swimming in the river a n d climbing trees or playing war with the other boys, pelting' one another with green apples snatched from the trees in the back garden. This is the way people should live, thought Ferenczy, with healthy, clean air and food straight from the farmers. It's a shame they have to go away for the winter and live in those dam p stables they call dormitories and eat canned food. But what can you do? They must have an education. A s soon as Ferenczy was seated, M a r y a would bring in a platter of food from the kitchen - eggs, toast, sausage, slices of cheese. The family knelt for a brief prayer, invoking the blessings of the Virgin on all present and the meal began in earnest. T h e boy's adored and respected their father, and they were not the least bit inhibited by his presence. Their talk dominated the table. They were building a fort in the woods south of town and needed nails from the hardware-store. The neighbor's dog had been r u n Over by a cart, "And the dog vomited all over the ditch." "Valer, don't talk about such things at the table," said Olga. "But all I said w a s . . . " " W h a t if you went to a "friend's house and talked like that? They would think we were barbarians or Jews." "There are Jewish boys at our schdol," cut in Beni. "They talk like everyone else." ''Really? It's one of the best schools." Olga was scandalized. "Of course ft is," Ferenczy interjected, "and they should be there. If Jewish people are willing to change their names and act like Hungarians, of course they should be in the same schools as the rest of us. This is the twentieth century, after allJ' V Ferenczy could see that Olga was not satisfied, but he knew she would never provoke an argument in front of the children. H e made a note t o himself to speak privately to Beni not to bring the subject up again. Except for their honeymoon in Vienna, Olga h a d never left the Kingdom of Hungary and you couldn't expect her to give u p the old ways. N o t everyone was cut out to be a free thinker. It would be enough to make'clear to the boys that modern people h a d abandoned such feudal notions as anti-Semitism. "Anyway," Valer said, "they're going to get another dog, a puppy.

J o h n Swetnam

43


W e should get a puppy." Here was safe ground indeed. "But you'll be away for eight months of the year," his mother said. " W h o would play with him then?" " H e could play with N o e m i while Beni and I aren't here." "I want a'puppy!" announced N o e m i , only seven. Breakfast, thought Ferenczy, was the best part of the day. So m a n y plans. So m a n y possibilities. M a r y a brought h i m a second cup of coffee, as she did every morning. ยง-TT T h e painters clustere4 around the corner table at Bech's, were more voluble than usual. A series of thunderheads had rolled in from the northwest in the early afternoon,, giving those doing landscapes a chance to work visual interest into the top margins of .their canvases. Their work h a d been accelerated for fear, that actual rain might spoil their paintings, and the resulting impulse seemed to have improved their work. In the end, the clouds dissipated, ยงo n o one h a d his day shortened. Then Rensti discovered a critical review in the afternoon paper that mentioned several of them by name. H e was reading it aloud to the company, interjecting his own outraged replies as he went. "Listen to this! 'A Hungarian art must present the history of the Magyar race and its heroic struggles against the Turks and the Tartars. M o d e r n artists ignore this to give us a half dozen pieces of fruit in a cut glass bowl or a fisherman casting a line into a river. This trivializes the whole concept of nationality which patriots have given their blood for centuries to build.' As if he's ever given his life t o anything other than fawning over Viennese art dealers! Some patriot he is. H e probably hasn't spoken to one of the c o m m o n people since.he graduated from school. It's all Lord this and Herr that with this idiot." The artists crowded near h i m demonstrated their indignity by ordering another r o u n d from the barmaid. "Ignore him, he's a fool," shouted one, but Rensti was not to be calmed. " ' r j i s b r u s h w o r k is crude and indistinct, daubed on the canvas instead of painted on with a master's hand.' W h a t does he know of brushwork? He's never held a palette or a paintbrush in his life. He couldn't paint the kitchen in his apartment."

44

Berkeley Fiction Review

"You should write to the paper and demand a retraction," said one of the younger men from the'far end of the table. "Threaten to take him to court for libel." "What's the use? They wouldn't print my reply." "Answer h i m with your art," said Ferenczy. He'd been sitting at the table in perfect calm. Although he was cramme d in with the rest, it seemed as if he were perpetually a little apart from them. His glass was half full, as it h a d been for nearly an hour. H e was older than the m e n around him, better established. โ€ข"They threw Monet's work out of the exhibitions in Paris," he said quietly. " N o w all Paris comes to learn at his feet. If your art is true, it doesn't matter what some journalist says about it. It is what it is. A n d the subjects one chooses must be true as well." The younger men looked at h i m with reverence mixed with disappointment. They had been enjoying being part of the struggle, an army smashing at the gate of entrenched, conservative idiocy. While his words were positive, they- threw a damper on the party. For all their.talk of art, some had not completed a canvas all summer. Ferenczy rose and put a hand on Rensti's shoulder. "Your work is true, my friend. That is all that matters." Rensti nodded, a little embarrassed by the praise, a n d the group watched as Ferenczy made his exit. "Your work is true, my friend," mocked a voice from the table. Rensti threw a napkin in the speaker's direction. It took about fifteen minutes for the good spirits of the group to be restored.

'Each of the following days brought more clouds, and sometimes the nights were shot with flashes'of heat lightning, but no rain fell. The leaves on the potato plants hung limp in the garden, and the zinnias and roses were powdered with the dust from the roads. The wheat was safely threshed and stored away in barns. Haystacks dotted the fields. There was talk of a special mass to pray for rain. T h e priest's housekeeper, an old w o m a n w h o wore her black widow's dress with pride, placed a collection box outside the rectory for those w h o wanted to contribute. "Sparks from the railroad engine started a grass fire beside the tracks and the m e n of the village came with hoes and rakes to stamp it out,

J o h n Swetnam

45


W e should get a puppy." Here was safe ground indeed. "But you'll be away for eight months of the year," his mother said. " W h o would play with him then?" " H e could play with N o e m i while Beni and I aren't here." "I want a'puppy!" announced N o e m i , only seven. Breakfast, thought Ferenczy, was the best part of the day. So m a n y plans. So m a n y possibilities. M a r y a brought h i m a second cup of coffee, as she did every morning. ยง-TT T h e painters clustere4 around the corner table at Bech's, were more voluble than usual. A series of thunderheads had rolled in from the northwest in the early afternoon,, giving those doing landscapes a chance to work visual interest into the top margins of .their canvases. Their work h a d been accelerated for fear, that actual rain might spoil their paintings, and the resulting impulse seemed to have improved their work. In the end, the clouds dissipated, ยงo n o one h a d his day shortened. Then Rensti discovered a critical review in the afternoon paper that mentioned several of them by name. H e was reading it aloud to the company, interjecting his own outraged replies as he went. "Listen to this! 'A Hungarian art must present the history of the Magyar race and its heroic struggles against the Turks and the Tartars. M o d e r n artists ignore this to give us a half dozen pieces of fruit in a cut glass bowl or a fisherman casting a line into a river. This trivializes the whole concept of nationality which patriots have given their blood for centuries to build.' As if he's ever given his life t o anything other than fawning over Viennese art dealers! Some patriot he is. H e probably hasn't spoken to one of the c o m m o n people since.he graduated from school. It's all Lord this and Herr that with this idiot." The artists crowded near h i m demonstrated their indignity by ordering another r o u n d from the barmaid. "Ignore him, he's a fool," shouted one, but Rensti was not to be calmed. " ' r j i s b r u s h w o r k is crude and indistinct, daubed on the canvas instead of painted on with a master's hand.' W h a t does he know of brushwork? He's never held a palette or a paintbrush in his life. He couldn't paint the kitchen in his apartment."

44

Berkeley Fiction Review

"You should write to the paper and demand a retraction," said one of the younger men from the'far end of the table. "Threaten to take him to court for libel." "What's the use? They wouldn't print my reply." "Answer h i m with your art," said Ferenczy. He'd been sitting at the table in perfect calm. Although he was cramme d in with the rest, it seemed as if he were perpetually a little apart from them. His glass was half full, as it h a d been for nearly an hour. H e was older than the m e n around him, better established. โ€ข"They threw Monet's work out of the exhibitions in Paris," he said quietly. " N o w all Paris comes to learn at his feet. If your art is true, it doesn't matter what some journalist says about it. It is what it is. A n d the subjects one chooses must be true as well." The younger men looked at h i m with reverence mixed with disappointment. They had been enjoying being part of the struggle, an army smashing at the gate of entrenched, conservative idiocy. While his words were positive, they- threw a damper on the party. For all their.talk of art, some had not completed a canvas all summer. Ferenczy rose and put a hand on Rensti's shoulder. "Your work is true, my friend. That is all that matters." Rensti nodded, a little embarrassed by the praise, a n d the group watched as Ferenczy made his exit. "Your work is true, my friend," mocked a voice from the table. Rensti threw a napkin in the speaker's direction. It took about fifteen minutes for the good spirits of the group to be restored.

'Each of the following days brought more clouds, and sometimes the nights were shot with flashes'of heat lightning, but no rain fell. The leaves on the potato plants hung limp in the garden, and the zinnias and roses were powdered with the dust from the roads. The wheat was safely threshed and stored away in barns. Haystacks dotted the fields. There was talk of a special mass to pray for rain. T h e priest's housekeeper, an old w o m a n w h o wore her black widow's dress with pride, placed a collection box outside the rectory for those w h o wanted to contribute. "Sparks from the railroad engine started a grass fire beside the tracks and the m e n of the village came with hoes and rakes to stamp it out,

J o h n Swetnam

45


the artists working alongside the cobblers, candle-makers and butchers. Though n o one said the word, drought was on everyone's minds. Vegetables and fruits could be stunted if they didn't get water soon. W h e n the rain came, it was announced by a thunderclap that sent M a r y a screaming in terror to hide under her bed. 'The huge, heavy drops peltedagainst the roof, sending a sheet of water cascading from the eaves, turning the yard behind the house into a n expanse of m u d . Without pausing to think, Valer and Beni charged out the back door, sliding across the yard and crashing into the back fence. The torrent's washed the dirt from their legs and they raised their arms to the heavens", trying to catch the little flecks of ice which fell along with the massive raindrops. Olga stood in the doorway and scolded them. "Mercy! You boys will catch your death of cold! Come in right n ow or I'll have your father take his belt to you!" They didn't believe, her for a second, and rushed around to the front of the house where the lane h a d become a quagmire in which the children from the town were engaged in an enormous m u d fight. A writhing pile of bodies rose in the center of the street with latecomers leaping on top only to slither off the mud-slicked limbs beneath them. Olga walked through the house and stood in the open front doorway, one hand on her left hip, the other holding N o e m i to her side. "Run, get M a r y a from u n d e r the bed a n d tell her to start a big pot of hot water. It will take hours to get these rapscallions clean." Out in the street, Beni was rubbing a clod into the hair of the boy w h o brought meat from the butcher shop. Valer h a d disappeared entirely in the pile. The anarchy was complete. "" "Are you really going to tell Daddy?" asked Noemi. " O h no, honey. That's just what you have to say."

The gypsies came u p the road from Romania, following the harvest. Their horses grazed in the stubble of the wheat fields, enriching the soil with their manure in return, which was considered an even bargain by the farmers of the town. The men spent their days laughing and trading horses, talking rapidly to one another in their own language so

46

Berkeley Fiction Review

that no one might understand their secrets. Their carts were parked in a great circle east of town. A t night you could hear the sound of their violin music, as the w o m e n danced for the m e n w h o roasted meat on sticks held over the flames of an enormous fire. Some of the simpler w o m e n in the town locked their children inside the house when they went to market, for fear the gypsies would carry them away. M a r y a talked Olga into going to have her fortune told. "I can't go alone and with two of us, nothing can happen: I could ask m y brother, but you can't take a m a n along, it wouldn't be the same. What's the harm? It only costs two crowns." "You mustn't tell my husband," said Olga, not taking long to weaken. ""We'll go in the morning when he's busy working. He'd be furious if he found out. H e doesn't hold with superstition." "I'll buy some peaches in the market this afternoon,"" said Marya. "Then tomorrow, we'll say we're going to buy some and when he comes to the dinner table tomorrow night, there they'll be." Olga looked closely at Marya. She hadn't realized that the girl was so good at dissembling. It m a d e her wonder whether she herself had been fooled in the past. Still, what's the harm? It will be a lark, something to gossip about with my sisters w h e n the family goes to visit Budapest. They always think of m e as the wild one. To hear them talk, marrying Karoly was the equivalent of heading on an expedition to the Pacific. You would think Nagybanya was populated by people with shells sticking through their noses. 'The next morning, M a r y a and Olga left the house as soon as Ferenczy'closed the door to his studio. It was like something in a novel, slipping d o w n the side street to avoid being seen in the m a i n square of the town. W h a t if she met the m a y o r s daughter in the gypsy camp? b f course, it's not as if Thormaris daughter wouldn't have a lot of explaining to do. W h a t would Karoly say if he heard? Probably he would tell her she was a bad influence oh the children. M a r y a skirted the circle of wagons to avoid the knots of men loitering in the c o m m o n ground within. Children came running out and trailed after them, giggling and poking one another. A few of the men stopped*smoking long enough to give what Olga was sure were long, appraising glances when they passed the gaps between the wagons. She pulled the shawl u p around her face to protect herself.

J o h n Swetnam

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the artists working alongside the cobblers, candle-makers and butchers. Though n o one said the word, drought was on everyone's minds. Vegetables and fruits could be stunted if they didn't get water soon. W h e n the rain came, it was announced by a thunderclap that sent M a r y a screaming in terror to hide under her bed. 'The huge, heavy drops peltedagainst the roof, sending a sheet of water cascading from the eaves, turning the yard behind the house into a n expanse of m u d . Without pausing to think, Valer and Beni charged out the back door, sliding across the yard and crashing into the back fence. The torrent's washed the dirt from their legs and they raised their arms to the heavens", trying to catch the little flecks of ice which fell along with the massive raindrops. Olga stood in the doorway and scolded them. "Mercy! You boys will catch your death of cold! Come in right n ow or I'll have your father take his belt to you!" They didn't believe, her for a second, and rushed around to the front of the house where the lane h a d become a quagmire in which the children from the town were engaged in an enormous m u d fight. A writhing pile of bodies rose in the center of the street with latecomers leaping on top only to slither off the mud-slicked limbs beneath them. Olga walked through the house and stood in the open front doorway, one hand on her left hip, the other holding N o e m i to her side. "Run, get M a r y a from u n d e r the bed a n d tell her to start a big pot of hot water. It will take hours to get these rapscallions clean." Out in the street, Beni was rubbing a clod into the hair of the boy w h o brought meat from the butcher shop. Valer h a d disappeared entirely in the pile. The anarchy was complete. "" "Are you really going to tell Daddy?" asked Noemi. " O h no, honey. That's just what you have to say."

The gypsies came u p the road from Romania, following the harvest. Their horses grazed in the stubble of the wheat fields, enriching the soil with their manure in return, which was considered an even bargain by the farmers of the town. The men spent their days laughing and trading horses, talking rapidly to one another in their own language so

46

Berkeley Fiction Review

that no one might understand their secrets. Their carts were parked in a great circle east of town. A t night you could hear the sound of their violin music, as the w o m e n danced for the m e n w h o roasted meat on sticks held over the flames of an enormous fire. Some of the simpler w o m e n in the town locked their children inside the house when they went to market, for fear the gypsies would carry them away. M a r y a talked Olga into going to have her fortune told. "I can't go alone and with two of us, nothing can happen: I could ask m y brother, but you can't take a m a n along, it wouldn't be the same. What's the harm? It only costs two crowns." "You mustn't tell my husband," said Olga, not taking long to weaken. ""We'll go in the morning when he's busy working. He'd be furious if he found out. H e doesn't hold with superstition." "I'll buy some peaches in the market this afternoon,"" said Marya. "Then tomorrow, we'll say we're going to buy some and when he comes to the dinner table tomorrow night, there they'll be." Olga looked closely at Marya. She hadn't realized that the girl was so good at dissembling. It m a d e her wonder whether she herself had been fooled in the past. Still, what's the harm? It will be a lark, something to gossip about with my sisters w h e n the family goes to visit Budapest. They always think of m e as the wild one. To hear them talk, marrying Karoly was the equivalent of heading on an expedition to the Pacific. You would think Nagybanya was populated by people with shells sticking through their noses. 'The next morning, M a r y a and Olga left the house as soon as Ferenczy'closed the door to his studio. It was like something in a novel, slipping d o w n the side street to avoid being seen in the m a i n square of the town. W h a t if she met the m a y o r s daughter in the gypsy camp? b f course, it's not as if Thormaris daughter wouldn't have a lot of explaining to do. W h a t would Karoly say if he heard? Probably he would tell her she was a bad influence oh the children. M a r y a skirted the circle of wagons to avoid the knots of men loitering in the c o m m o n ground within. Children came running out and trailed after them, giggling and poking one another. A few of the men stopped*smoking long enough to give what Olga was sure were long, appraising glances when they passed the gaps between the wagons. She pulled the shawl u p around her face to protect herself.

J o h n Swetnam

47


W h e n they reached the, wagon, M a r y a s t o p p e d and knocked on the side three times. A w o m a n n o t m u c h older t h a n Olga looked out through the curtain at the back. She was dressed in a dark sweater and skirt and, Olga noted with disgust, smoked a cigarette. In Budapest, the only wornen w n o smoked were prostitutes. Olga felt mildly disappointed. She h a d expected a haggard crone with straggling gray hair and h o o p earrings. T h e two of t h e m clambered into the wagon. T h e w o m a n said ( something in a vicious, voice,that m a d e the children scatter like sparrows. W h e n she dropped the curtain back across the opening, the room descended into half-light so that it was hard to make out the furnishings. There were pillows arranged on both sides and a small folding table set u p across tiie middle. "So you want to have your fortune told," said the w o m a n . "Well," stuttered Olga. "It's just for fun. I m e a n . . . " She was about to say that she didn't believe in these superstitions, but it struck her that it might be rude. "I have money to pay," she concluded lamely^ T h e w o m a n stubbed out the cigarette with her left h a n d and held out her palm. Olga retrieved the coins she'd slipped in her pocket and handed t h e m over. N o b o d y said anything about crossing anyone's palm with silver.

The gypsy w o m a n looked at the cards laid out on the table. They said the same things they'd been saying since the turn of the century war, pestilence, death. There was th,e Emperor Franz Josef himself, at the top, reversed and crossed with the Virgin qf Hungary. J^tis throne certainly wouldn'J last long after he vacated it. W h a t a life - his wife, assassinated; his son, a suicide. T h e Jews were in for a hard .time. Things never went well for them w h e n the world turned upside down. N o t that the gypsies would do any better. She would try again to ( talk her husband into taking a boat to Argentina. H e wouldn't consider America n o matter h ow much she went after him. " N o horses in N e w York. Everyone rides in a train, underground," was all that he would say. He couldn't say there weren't lots of horses in Argentina. "You want to know what the cards say about your husband," she said.

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Berkeley Fiction Review

Olga flinched, and the gypsy w o m a n smiled inwardly with' satisfaction. T h e nice ones always t a m e to ask about their husbands. Was he having an affair? W h y doesn't he want to n i a k e love to me? W h y does he want to ihake love to m e so often? T h e young girls spent their time oVeaming of a prince charming to sweep them u p and carry them away. W h e n a real m a n came along, they either couldn't stand being in bed with h i m or they didn't want to let h i m out. Olga leaned forward across the cards. "I want to know if my husband is a great artist," she said. 'This was different. T h e gyrjsy looked down at the cards* as if she were examining them for the first time. T h e Austro-Hungarian Empire remained'in deep trouble in front of her. She wished that she hadn't put out the cigarette. Taking a long draw provided an element of drama as the listener waited for the reply. "Your husband," the gypsy ÂŁaid in a low voice, "is the greatest artist hi Hungary. But* you knew that "before you came. There is another question which is lying oh your-heart. 1 ' Olga flushed slightly and began to stammer again. " M y sons,'"she said. "Karoly, my husband,~wants them to pursue the arts, but it is so hard and there isn't much money." T h e gypsy w o m a n sighed with impatience. A t least the ground here was somewhat more familiar. Sex, money, death: these are what people crave and fear. They were what brought people through the flap of the wagon. She reached down and picked up the seven of diamonds that h a d been predicting an enormous'epidemic. "This means wealth, but not a great deal of wealth. They will have enough,'' she said. Olga relaxed. "Thank you so much," she-said, visibly relieved. '"Now I must go. It was good to meet you." She held out her hand as if they were saying goodbye after meeting in the street. T h e gypsy shook it and Olga disappeared through the flap. T h e gypsy gathered her ragged deck of cards. "Nevertheless, he is going to cheat on you"," she said aloud.

Each Sunday afternodn, the English mining engineer would come by to play cribbage with Ferenczy. The cribbage board and cards were

J o h n Swetnam

49


W h e n they reached the, wagon, M a r y a s t o p p e d and knocked on the side three times. A w o m a n n o t m u c h older t h a n Olga looked out through the curtain at the back. She was dressed in a dark sweater and skirt and, Olga noted with disgust, smoked a cigarette. In Budapest, the only wornen w n o smoked were prostitutes. Olga felt mildly disappointed. She h a d expected a haggard crone with straggling gray hair and h o o p earrings. T h e two of t h e m clambered into the wagon. T h e w o m a n said ( something in a vicious, voice,that m a d e the children scatter like sparrows. W h e n she dropped the curtain back across the opening, the room descended into half-light so that it was hard to make out the furnishings. There were pillows arranged on both sides and a small folding table set u p across tiie middle. "So you want to have your fortune told," said the w o m a n . "Well," stuttered Olga. "It's just for fun. I m e a n . . . " She was about to say that she didn't believe in these superstitions, but it struck her that it might be rude. "I have money to pay," she concluded lamely^ T h e w o m a n stubbed out the cigarette with her left h a n d and held out her palm. Olga retrieved the coins she'd slipped in her pocket and handed t h e m over. N o b o d y said anything about crossing anyone's palm with silver.

The gypsy w o m a n looked at the cards laid out on the table. They said the same things they'd been saying since the turn of the century war, pestilence, death. There was th,e Emperor Franz Josef himself, at the top, reversed and crossed with the Virgin qf Hungary. J^tis throne certainly wouldn'J last long after he vacated it. W h a t a life - his wife, assassinated; his son, a suicide. T h e Jews were in for a hard .time. Things never went well for them w h e n the world turned upside down. N o t that the gypsies would do any better. She would try again to ( talk her husband into taking a boat to Argentina. H e wouldn't consider America n o matter h ow much she went after him. " N o horses in N e w York. Everyone rides in a train, underground," was all that he would say. He couldn't say there weren't lots of horses in Argentina. "You want to know what the cards say about your husband," she said.

4$

Berkeley Fiction Review

Olga flinched, and the gypsy w o m a n smiled inwardly with' satisfaction. T h e nice ones always t a m e to ask about their husbands. Was he having an affair? W h y doesn't he want to n i a k e love to me? W h y does he want to ihake love to m e so often? T h e young girls spent their time oVeaming of a prince charming to sweep them u p and carry them away. W h e n a real m a n came along, they either couldn't stand being in bed with h i m or they didn't want to let h i m out. Olga leaned forward across the cards. "I want to know if my husband is a great artist," she said. 'This was different. T h e gyrjsy looked down at the cards* as if she were examining them for the first time. T h e Austro-Hungarian Empire remained'in deep trouble in front of her. She wished that she hadn't put out the cigarette. Taking a long draw provided an element of drama as the listener waited for the reply. "Your husband," the gypsy ÂŁaid in a low voice, "is the greatest artist hi Hungary. But* you knew that "before you came. There is another question which is lying oh your-heart. 1 ' Olga flushed slightly and began to stammer again. " M y sons,'"she said. "Karoly, my husband,~wants them to pursue the arts, but it is so hard and there isn't much money." T h e gypsy w o m a n sighed with impatience. A t least the ground here was somewhat more familiar. Sex, money, death: these are what people crave and fear. They were what brought people through the flap of the wagon. She reached down and picked up the seven of diamonds that h a d been predicting an enormous'epidemic. "This means wealth, but not a great deal of wealth. They will have enough,'' she said. Olga relaxed. "Thank you so much," she-said, visibly relieved. '"Now I must go. It was good to meet you." She held out her hand as if they were saying goodbye after meeting in the street. T h e gypsy shook it and Olga disappeared through the flap. T h e gypsy gathered her ragged deck of cards. "Nevertheless, he is going to cheat on you"," she said aloud.

Each Sunday afternodn, the English mining engineer would come by to play cribbage with Ferenczy. The cribbage board and cards were

J o h n Swetnam

49


set out on the table under the covered porch at the back of the house, waiting for h i m like old friends on a train platform expecting the arrival of a long absent comrade. Ferenczy.was usually dressed in riding clothes, because each Sunday he m a d e a point of taking one of the horses from the livery stable while Olga took the boys and, M a r y a to mass. T h e engineer was heavy set, a n d even though the hillside was gentle, he was mopping his brow by the time^he arrived at the doorway. " G o o d to see you, Roger," Ferenczy would say in English, almost the only English he knew. T h e engineer spoke fluent Hungarian, though the boys liked to m a k e fun of his accent. The engineer would lower himself into a chair at the end of the table. Ferenczy poured h i m a glass of white wine without asking. Marya always left a wedge of cheese for the men,to nibble during the game. The first few hands wercplayed without conversation, the only sounds being the slapping of the cards as'they were laid and the totting u p of the score. Often the games were quite eyen, but today the engineer was getting all of the cards. "Twelve for six," said the engineer, gloating as he laid a four on the table. "This isn't your day, Karoly." H e moved the peg down the b o a r d a n d reached for.his glass. Ferenczy could see that, the game was out of reach and wished he could throw in his hand. It would make h i m look like a bad sport. Strange, these English, with their, emphasis o n sportsmanship a n d the proper way of doing the most inconsequential things. It hadn't kept the engineer from fathering Sir John on the barmaid at Bech's and then living o n in the community while his son grew^up to^be a servant. All that had happened long before Ferenczy h a d come to Nagybanya, but the gossip of the, town had reached Olga's ears within two weeks of their arrival. W h y n o t marry the girl or at least pay for the boy's education? It wasn't as if the engineer couldn't afford it. Sir John was a handsom e ypung man. He'd started to, work,for the Ferenczy family at 18. N o w h e was 25 a n d must be ready to sfar^ a family. Instead, he fingered on, doing odd jobs a n d sleeping in a r o o m they'd fixed for h i m in a shed at the back of the property. Ferenczy h a d to admit that h e himself h a d benefited from having Sir J o h n around. H e was the best looking young m a n in,the village..Ferenczy had,used

50

Berkeley Fiction Review

him as a model no t only for Christ'being taken from the cross, but as a bare-chested Orpheus and as one of the listeners in his painting of the Sermon on the M o u n t . Still, one h a d to do what was right by one's children, legitimate or illegitimate. Maybe he should talk to the engineer about it. "The cards don't change if you look at them longer," said the engineer. "Sorry," saidTerenczy, "the game's almost over anyway." "Let's throw it in," said the engineer. "There's sorhething I want to talk about." Ferenczy was startled. Was there really such a thing as telepathy? H a d the engineer picked u p his thoughts? He'd read about demonstrations by the famous mystic M a d a m e Blavotska in the Budapest papers, but being a m a n of civilization, he'd never believed them. " I ' m moving to South Africa," said the engineer. " N o w that this business with the Boers is finally settled, it's the land of opportunity. People say that gold and diamonds can be picked u p off the ground, but that never lasts for long. Soon it will be such mining as you have never seen. T h e derrfand for'engineers will be tremendous." "I will be sad to see you go," said Ferenczy. "And of course we'll miss John around the house." "John? W h y will ^ou miss him?" "Well," Ferenczy began. "Well, aren't you going to take him with you? He's got to make a future as well. I j u s t assumed,.." His voice trailed off into the light of the afternoon. "I can't take John to South Africa," said the engineer. "There would be n o way to keep my wife from knowing of his existence." Wife? T h e engineer hadn't mentioned a'-wife. He'd been living in Nagybanya for nearly thirty years. "She's a Catholic," said the engineer.-"There's n o use in talking of a divorce. I send her money every month. Frankly, I rather think she's hoping I'lTdie out here." "I understand," said Ferenczy, but he didn't. "Don't worry about John," continued the engineer. "He'll be well provided for w h e n I die. I've fixed it so she doesn't get anything." Ferenczy found himself looking past the engineer's shoulder, his eyes wandering across the back yard to the dark line of hills in the background.- T h e afternoon light slanted across the table, sending exaggerated 1 shadows to the 'east. After the storm, the air seemed so

J o h n Swetnam

51


set out on the table under the covered porch at the back of the house, waiting for h i m like old friends on a train platform expecting the arrival of a long absent comrade. Ferenczy.was usually dressed in riding clothes, because each Sunday he m a d e a point of taking one of the horses from the livery stable while Olga took the boys and, M a r y a to mass. T h e engineer was heavy set, a n d even though the hillside was gentle, he was mopping his brow by the time^he arrived at the doorway. " G o o d to see you, Roger," Ferenczy would say in English, almost the only English he knew. T h e engineer spoke fluent Hungarian, though the boys liked to m a k e fun of his accent. The engineer would lower himself into a chair at the end of the table. Ferenczy poured h i m a glass of white wine without asking. Marya always left a wedge of cheese for the men,to nibble during the game. The first few hands wercplayed without conversation, the only sounds being the slapping of the cards as'they were laid and the totting u p of the score. Often the games were quite eyen, but today the engineer was getting all of the cards. "Twelve for six," said the engineer, gloating as he laid a four on the table. "This isn't your day, Karoly." H e moved the peg down the b o a r d a n d reached for.his glass. Ferenczy could see that, the game was out of reach and wished he could throw in his hand. It would make h i m look like a bad sport. Strange, these English, with their, emphasis o n sportsmanship a n d the proper way of doing the most inconsequential things. It hadn't kept the engineer from fathering Sir John on the barmaid at Bech's and then living o n in the community while his son grew^up to^be a servant. All that had happened long before Ferenczy h a d come to Nagybanya, but the gossip of the, town had reached Olga's ears within two weeks of their arrival. W h y n o t marry the girl or at least pay for the boy's education? It wasn't as if the engineer couldn't afford it. Sir John was a handsom e ypung man. He'd started to, work,for the Ferenczy family at 18. N o w h e was 25 a n d must be ready to sfar^ a family. Instead, he fingered on, doing odd jobs a n d sleeping in a r o o m they'd fixed for h i m in a shed at the back of the property. Ferenczy h a d to admit that h e himself h a d benefited from having Sir J o h n around. H e was the best looking young m a n in,the village..Ferenczy had,used

50

Berkeley Fiction Review

him as a model no t only for Christ'being taken from the cross, but as a bare-chested Orpheus and as one of the listeners in his painting of the Sermon on the M o u n t . Still, one h a d to do what was right by one's children, legitimate or illegitimate. Maybe he should talk to the engineer about it. "The cards don't change if you look at them longer," said the engineer. "Sorry," saidTerenczy, "the game's almost over anyway." "Let's throw it in," said the engineer. "There's sorhething I want to talk about." Ferenczy was startled. Was there really such a thing as telepathy? H a d the engineer picked u p his thoughts? He'd read about demonstrations by the famous mystic M a d a m e Blavotska in the Budapest papers, but being a m a n of civilization, he'd never believed them. " I ' m moving to South Africa," said the engineer. " N o w that this business with the Boers is finally settled, it's the land of opportunity. People say that gold and diamonds can be picked u p off the ground, but that never lasts for long. Soon it will be such mining as you have never seen. T h e derrfand for'engineers will be tremendous." "I will be sad to see you go," said Ferenczy. "And of course we'll miss John around the house." "John? W h y will ^ou miss him?" "Well," Ferenczy began. "Well, aren't you going to take him with you? He's got to make a future as well. I j u s t assumed,.." His voice trailed off into the light of the afternoon. "I can't take John to South Africa," said the engineer. "There would be n o way to keep my wife from knowing of his existence." Wife? T h e engineer hadn't mentioned a'-wife. He'd been living in Nagybanya for nearly thirty years. "She's a Catholic," said the engineer.-"There's n o use in talking of a divorce. I send her money every month. Frankly, I rather think she's hoping I'lTdie out here." "I understand," said Ferenczy, but he didn't. "Don't worry about John," continued the engineer. "He'll be well provided for w h e n I die. I've fixed it so she doesn't get anything." Ferenczy found himself looking past the engineer's shoulder, his eyes wandering across the back yard to the dark line of hills in the background.- T h e afternoon light slanted across the table, sending exaggerated 1 shadows to the 'east. After the storm, the air seemed so

J o h n Swetnam

51


clear. Everything h a d been washed clean. T h e pickets of the fence so straight, the n e w tablecloth with its crosshatched embroidery.- It was precious to him, and for the first time he realized that it could be taken away. H e didn't particularly like playing cribbage, but he had come to rely on the engineer's visits. Their regularity, their meaninglessness, were comforting a n d predictable. N o t h i n g would be said over the cribbage board that would ever be remembered, so there was no need to worry about what you said. IJach game marked off time as surely and as gently as the ticking of a clock. N o w this would be taken away from him.-No tragedy, certainly, but there was a sense, of loss. " W h e n do you leave?" Ferenczy asked. "My last day at work is Thursday. I have a day's credit for vacation and that will be Friday. I've done most of m y packing, so I'll leave on the n o o n train." "Then I'll never get revenge for this defeat," said Ferenczy, trying to make fight of what he felt. Never. There was that word of ultimate finality. H e wished he hadn't said it, but there was n o way of calling it back. It hung in the sunlight like the diminishing echoes of a bell rung a single time. T h e cribbage games would go. T h e children would leave. H e wanted'to wrap his arms around the m o m e nt - the glass of wine on the table, the distant clatter of M a r y a preparing the evening meal in the kitchen, the boy's football where it h a d rolled against the fence. Life would go on, b u t the ease would be gone. W a s there nothing that could keep it safe? "Well, I'd better be going," said the engineer. "I'll come to the station t o s e e you off, Ro^er," s,aia* Ferenczy. "Oh^ there's n o need," said the engineer, visibly embarrassed. Ferenczy started to say that he would send Sir John to help with the luggage, b u t managed to bite back the words. H e didn't even know if the engineer h a d told John that he was leaving. Better to let things be. The engineer politely took his leave of Olga as he did every Sunday, then walked off toward his rooms without looking back. Ferenczy stood in the doorway until he h a d turned the corner. "He's moving to South Africa," he said to Olga. "I hope he doesn't get eaten by cannibals," she said, and turned

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Berkeley Fiction Review

back to arranging the table for supper.

Ferenczy and Beni walked to the end of the platform, as far as they could from Olga, w h o insisted on tipping the railway steward to take care of the boys on their trip back to Budapest. Beni, at 15, considered this action an affront to his dignity and had privately begged his father to terminate the practice. Slipping the m a n money was bad enough, but Olga insisted on spelling out which cab the boys must take to get to their school, h o w the luggage was to be loaded, a n d what to do if the train ran late. Ferenczy had refused to intervene, knowing that it was hopeless. Even with the-steward enlisted in her aid, Olga would fret continually until she heard that Beni and Valer h a d arrived safely. Ferenczy was also relieved when he got their first letters, but he preferred to keep his fears to himself. Rensti was traveling back to Munich and would also1 be on the train. T h e last of the swallows heading back in the autumn. If anything serious happened, Ferenczy was sure he would look after the boys. "I just received a letter from m y cousin," Rensti blurted as he approached them, too excited to keep from raising his voice. "He's heard that they were thinking of offering you a position at the academy!" Ferenczy m a d e a deprecatory gesture. "Rumors," he said. "I'm sure the director will be opposed." "But the fact that they would even talk about it means that there's hope. The old guard can't stay on forever." Ferenczy was embarrassed by the conversation. It raised expectations, a n d he'd given u p any h o p e of a n academy position long ago. If Olga heard... She had such ambitions for-him."I was hoping you'd be able to stop by and look at the piece I ' m working on. The angle of the light was very tricky, but I think I've caught it." " I ' m sorry I missed the chance. Will you display it at the winter show?" Rensti was climbing the steps of the railway car. "I'll be traveling back to Budapest for the opening, of course." H e gave a n exuberant wave and disappeared inside. Ferenczy looked around for Beni, but found he'd moved back down the platform. T h e conductor was blowing a whistle to announce the departure, a n d Olga h a d her arms around

J o h n Swetnam

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clear. Everything h a d been washed clean. T h e pickets of the fence so straight, the n e w tablecloth with its crosshatched embroidery.- It was precious to him, and for the first time he realized that it could be taken away. H e didn't particularly like playing cribbage, but he had come to rely on the engineer's visits. Their regularity, their meaninglessness, were comforting a n d predictable. N o t h i n g would be said over the cribbage board that would ever be remembered, so there was no need to worry about what you said. IJach game marked off time as surely and as gently as the ticking of a clock. N o w this would be taken away from him.-No tragedy, certainly, but there was a sense, of loss. " W h e n do you leave?" Ferenczy asked. "My last day at work is Thursday. I have a day's credit for vacation and that will be Friday. I've done most of m y packing, so I'll leave on the n o o n train." "Then I'll never get revenge for this defeat," said Ferenczy, trying to make fight of what he felt. Never. There was that word of ultimate finality. H e wished he hadn't said it, but there was n o way of calling it back. It hung in the sunlight like the diminishing echoes of a bell rung a single time. T h e cribbage games would go. T h e children would leave. H e wanted'to wrap his arms around the m o m e nt - the glass of wine on the table, the distant clatter of M a r y a preparing the evening meal in the kitchen, the boy's football where it h a d rolled against the fence. Life would go on, b u t the ease would be gone. W a s there nothing that could keep it safe? "Well, I'd better be going," said the engineer. "I'll come to the station t o s e e you off, Ro^er," s,aia* Ferenczy. "Oh^ there's n o need," said the engineer, visibly embarrassed. Ferenczy started to say that he would send Sir John to help with the luggage, b u t managed to bite back the words. H e didn't even know if the engineer h a d told John that he was leaving. Better to let things be. The engineer politely took his leave of Olga as he did every Sunday, then walked off toward his rooms without looking back. Ferenczy stood in the doorway until he h a d turned the corner. "He's moving to South Africa," he said to Olga. "I hope he doesn't get eaten by cannibals," she said, and turned

52

Berkeley Fiction Review

back to arranging the table for supper.

Ferenczy and Beni walked to the end of the platform, as far as they could from Olga, w h o insisted on tipping the railway steward to take care of the boys on their trip back to Budapest. Beni, at 15, considered this action an affront to his dignity and had privately begged his father to terminate the practice. Slipping the m a n money was bad enough, but Olga insisted on spelling out which cab the boys must take to get to their school, h o w the luggage was to be loaded, a n d what to do if the train ran late. Ferenczy had refused to intervene, knowing that it was hopeless. Even with the-steward enlisted in her aid, Olga would fret continually until she heard that Beni and Valer h a d arrived safely. Ferenczy was also relieved when he got their first letters, but he preferred to keep his fears to himself. Rensti was traveling back to Munich and would also1 be on the train. T h e last of the swallows heading back in the autumn. If anything serious happened, Ferenczy was sure he would look after the boys. "I just received a letter from m y cousin," Rensti blurted as he approached them, too excited to keep from raising his voice. "He's heard that they were thinking of offering you a position at the academy!" Ferenczy m a d e a deprecatory gesture. "Rumors," he said. "I'm sure the director will be opposed." "But the fact that they would even talk about it means that there's hope. The old guard can't stay on forever." Ferenczy was embarrassed by the conversation. It raised expectations, a n d he'd given u p any h o p e of a n academy position long ago. If Olga heard... She had such ambitions for-him."I was hoping you'd be able to stop by and look at the piece I ' m working on. The angle of the light was very tricky, but I think I've caught it." " I ' m sorry I missed the chance. Will you display it at the winter show?" Rensti was climbing the steps of the railway car. "I'll be traveling back to Budapest for the opening, of course." H e gave a n exuberant wave and disappeared inside. Ferenczy looked around for Beni, but found he'd moved back down the platform. T h e conductor was blowing a whistle to announce the departure, a n d Olga h a d her arms around

J o h n Swetnam

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him: H e leaned down and gave her a dutiful kiss on the cheek. M y God, thought Ferenczy, he's almost as tall as I am. H e hurried toward them, but the boys h a d rushed inside, ea"ger to get window seats. Their faces appeared in the frame, waving through the glass. All Ferenczy could do was wave back. / "Goodbye," called Olga. "Oh, Karoly, I ' m sure they can't hear me."/ Ferenczy lifted his h a n d and gave t h e m another wave. H e could see the boys' lips moving as they chattered to one another. Beni's face disappeared as he lifted his school case to the overhead rack. W h y had he bothered to tajk to Rensti w h e n these were his last minutes with Beni and Valer? H e wasn't sure what he would have said to them exacdy, but he should Iiave said something. T h e car lurched forward as an enormous puff of smoke emerged from the locomotive. Ferenczy waved again. "They'll-be back for tÂŁe holidays," he said to Olga,

FIRST PLACE SUDDEN FICTION

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SARAH KOBRINSKY

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She moves her lips when she reads and it drives, h i m crazy. She has an overbite. It's hardly noticeable unless she moves her mouth. She never smiles. T h e only time he can see her overbite is when she reads. It drives him crazy. H e closes his eyes w h e n he kisses her. H e can't stand her u p close. She has large pores and most of them are filled with dirt. No, she's not awful to look at. In fact, she's beautiful from a distance, but not when she's reading. She looks ridiculous under the soft light, that ambient lamp, in the giant easy chair. H e thinks, What the hell is she reading anyway? W h e n she reads, she gets excited. Her lips move so quickly. W h e n she's through with a chapter she insists on telling him all about it. H e hates w h e n she talks. She's so ugly when she talks. But her skin is smooth, almost perfect in the dark. She's a real beauty when the lights are out. N o t when she's reading. H e thinks, When will she turn off the lamp? H e hopes she'll turn it off before she comes over to sit with him. H e can't stand her like this. H e doesn't care w h a t she's reading. N o t when she moves her m o u t h like that. She used to be a beauty. Now we're too close, he thinks. Why does she move her lips like that? Why didn't she ever get braces? I hate her overbite. lean see inside her. lean see her teeth. Why did we become so close? She's driving me crazy. Oh dear God, here she comes. 54

Berkeley Fiction Review

Sarah Kobrinsky

55


him: H e leaned down and gave her a dutiful kiss on the cheek. M y God, thought Ferenczy, he's almost as tall as I am. H e hurried toward them, but the boys h a d rushed inside, ea"ger to get window seats. Their faces appeared in the frame, waving through the glass. All Ferenczy could do was wave back. / "Goodbye," called Olga. "Oh, Karoly, I ' m sure they can't hear me."/ Ferenczy lifted his h a n d and gave t h e m another wave. H e could see the boys' lips moving as they chattered to one another. Beni's face disappeared as he lifted his school case to the overhead rack. W h y had he bothered to tajk to Rensti w h e n these were his last minutes with Beni and Valer? H e wasn't sure what he would have said to them exacdy, but he should Iiave said something. T h e car lurched forward as an enormous puff of smoke emerged from the locomotive. Ferenczy waved again. "They'll-be back for tÂŁe holidays," he said to Olga,

FIRST PLACE SUDDEN FICTION

T

o

T

H

E

T

O

O

SARAH KOBRINSKY

T

H

'*

She moves her lips when she reads and it drives, h i m crazy. She has an overbite. It's hardly noticeable unless she moves her mouth. She never smiles. T h e only time he can see her overbite is when she reads. It drives him crazy. H e closes his eyes w h e n he kisses her. H e can't stand her u p close. She has large pores and most of them are filled with dirt. No, she's not awful to look at. In fact, she's beautiful from a distance, but not when she's reading. She looks ridiculous under the soft light, that ambient lamp, in the giant easy chair. H e thinks, What the hell is she reading anyway? W h e n she reads, she gets excited. Her lips move so quickly. W h e n she's through with a chapter she insists on telling him all about it. H e hates w h e n she talks. She's so ugly when she talks. But her skin is smooth, almost perfect in the dark. She's a real beauty when the lights are out. N o t when she's reading. H e thinks, When will she turn off the lamp? H e hopes she'll turn it off before she comes over to sit with him. H e can't stand her like this. H e doesn't care w h a t she's reading. N o t when she moves her m o u t h like that. She used to be a beauty. Now we're too close, he thinks. Why does she move her lips like that? Why didn't she ever get braces? I hate her overbite. lean see inside her. lean see her teeth. Why did we become so close? She's driving me crazy. Oh dear God, here she comes. 54

Berkeley Fiction Review

Sarah Kobrinsky

55


Honey, turn the light out! Don't you want to see me? No, honey, not like this. Like how? Like this. He turns the light out. She nibbles his ear in the dark. He thinks of her teeth. Her overbite. Her lips move so quickly when she reads. He pushes away from her. What's wrong? Nothing, honey, I've just got a lot on my mind. You want to talk about it? No. If he talks to her she'll talk back. She'll want to turn the lights on. He'll be able to see inside her. Her lips moving so quickly. It'll drive him completely crazy. No, let's just sit in the dark. In silence. A few moments pass. He feels relieved. He doesn't have to think of her teeth. Then she starts to breathe. To breathe deeply. He imagines her chest rising and falling. H e can almost see the air moving in and out of her mouth.

;'\ Uus*.••''! ' ; •••

56

Berkeley Fiction Review

Colin Maisonpierre

57


Honey, turn the light out! Don't you want to see me? No, honey, not like this. Like how? Like this. He turns the light out. She nibbles his ear in the dark. He thinks of her teeth. Her overbite. Her lips move so quickly when she reads. He pushes away from her. What's wrong? Nothing, honey, I've just got a lot on my mind. You want to talk about it? No. If he talks to her she'll talk back. She'll want to turn the lights on. He'll be able to see inside her. Her lips moving so quickly. It'll drive him completely crazy. No, let's just sit in the dark. In silence. A few moments pass. He feels relieved. He doesn't have to think of her teeth. Then she starts to breathe. To breathe deeply. He imagines her chest rising and falling. H e can almost see the air moving in and out of her mouth.

;'\ Uus*.••''! ' ; •••

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Berkeley Fiction Review

Colin Maisonpierre

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APPEL

Quincy's mother h a d taken his stepfather's death reasonably well, or so it had seemed, so he was genuinely surprised when Lance Often phoned in a huff. Otten was his mother's next-door neighbor, a retired accountant who'd once sued Quincy's dad over a basswood tree that h a d toppled across the property line. His call broke the calm of a sweltering Sunday afternoon in late June - less t h an twenty-four hours before oral arguments in Quincy's big copyright appeal - a day when Quincy needed a hassle from a n overweight bean counter like he needed a turpentine enema. That's why he'd sent his wife and daughters to the water park in Richmond for the morning, planning to review his case briefs in their absence, but their trip had been cut short w h e n his ten-year-old vomited atop the log flume. N o w Gretchen was ensconced at the kitchen table, teaching the girls h ow to make shaved ice. "Your M a ' s still out there," complained Otten. "And let me tell you, it's n o pretty sight." "I see," said Quincy. "I'll be over as soon as I can. Half a n hour, at most." " I ' m doing you a favor, for old time's sake. I could have called the cops," added Otten. " M y son and his fiancee are coming for supper. I can't have some batty old loon flashing her saggy tits in their faces."

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Berkeley Fiction Review

"I said V1Xtake care of it," promised Quincy. "You do that. Because if you don't, I'll have to." Quincy hung u p the receiver quickly, relieved to be'off the line. His wife looked at MnVwith her probing slateT eyes, demanding to know the extent of the calamity. " M o m is sunbathing topless on the patio," he said. Gretchen shrugged. "It's not the end of the world." Tjuincy's wife had been raised in Amsterdam, the daughter of a career diplomat. She h a d a m u c h higher threshold for shock t h a n the family-oriented denizens of Herkimer Street in Laureridale, Virginia. \i ÂŁ - r ' The house in which Quincy h a d grown up, a n ornate nineteenthcentury Victorian with a wrap-around portico and a mansard roof, had initially stood u p o n several acres o f o p e n country near the outskirts of the city, but by the time Quincy's father had purchased the place - on the same G I Bill that put the elder g u i n c y T. Marder through law school - the land had been divided'and subdivided repeatedly like the cells xfi a honeycomb. Low-slung, California-style bungalows now crowded the dwelling on'three sides. All that remained of the property's former grandeur was its expansive front yard, fringed with forsythia blossoms and shaded by a luxuriant D u t c h elm that h a d somehow escaped the blight: 'As a boy, Quincy had lost countiess baseballs beneath the dense azalea hedge that encircled the porch; during high school, he'd pledged his love to half a dozen girls on the wrought-iron bench within the gazebo. In trie wake of Otter/s phon e call, he charged u p the flagstone path as though fleeing a bull, unlocked the A o n t entrance, and crossed quickly through the foyer and dining r o o m to the panoramic plate-glass do6rs that opened onto the w o o d e n veranda. Sure enough, there was his mother, sunning herself on a chaise with a bottle of imported water in o n e "hand a n d a- romance novel braced against her knees. Ilene Marder-Marcus sported' the same lime-green sun visor she wore for golf, and a pair of perfecdy tasteful beige slacks. From waist to throat, she w a s naked a s a jaybird. "* ^ J Quincy averteci his gaze and "knocked on the glass. His m o t h e / l o o k e d up, startled. W h e n she recognized Quincy, she bookmarked her novel and beckoned for h i m to join her on the deck.

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Quincy's mother h a d taken his stepfather's death reasonably well, or so it had seemed, so he was genuinely surprised when Lance Often phoned in a huff. Otten was his mother's next-door neighbor, a retired accountant who'd once sued Quincy's dad over a basswood tree that h a d toppled across the property line. His call broke the calm of a sweltering Sunday afternoon in late June - less t h an twenty-four hours before oral arguments in Quincy's big copyright appeal - a day when Quincy needed a hassle from a n overweight bean counter like he needed a turpentine enema. That's why he'd sent his wife and daughters to the water park in Richmond for the morning, planning to review his case briefs in their absence, but their trip had been cut short w h e n his ten-year-old vomited atop the log flume. N o w Gretchen was ensconced at the kitchen table, teaching the girls h ow to make shaved ice. "Your M a ' s still out there," complained Otten. "And let me tell you, it's n o pretty sight." "I see," said Quincy. "I'll be over as soon as I can. Half a n hour, at most." " I ' m doing you a favor, for old time's sake. I could have called the cops," added Otten. " M y son and his fiancee are coming for supper. I can't have some batty old loon flashing her saggy tits in their faces."

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Berkeley Fiction Review

"I said V1Xtake care of it," promised Quincy. "You do that. Because if you don't, I'll have to." Quincy hung u p the receiver quickly, relieved to be'off the line. His wife looked at MnVwith her probing slateT eyes, demanding to know the extent of the calamity. " M o m is sunbathing topless on the patio," he said. Gretchen shrugged. "It's not the end of the world." Tjuincy's wife had been raised in Amsterdam, the daughter of a career diplomat. She h a d a m u c h higher threshold for shock t h a n the family-oriented denizens of Herkimer Street in Laureridale, Virginia. \i ÂŁ - r ' The house in which Quincy h a d grown up, a n ornate nineteenthcentury Victorian with a wrap-around portico and a mansard roof, had initially stood u p o n several acres o f o p e n country near the outskirts of the city, but by the time Quincy's father had purchased the place - on the same G I Bill that put the elder g u i n c y T. Marder through law school - the land had been divided'and subdivided repeatedly like the cells xfi a honeycomb. Low-slung, California-style bungalows now crowded the dwelling on'three sides. All that remained of the property's former grandeur was its expansive front yard, fringed with forsythia blossoms and shaded by a luxuriant D u t c h elm that h a d somehow escaped the blight: 'As a boy, Quincy had lost countiess baseballs beneath the dense azalea hedge that encircled the porch; during high school, he'd pledged his love to half a dozen girls on the wrought-iron bench within the gazebo. In trie wake of Otter/s phon e call, he charged u p the flagstone path as though fleeing a bull, unlocked the A o n t entrance, and crossed quickly through the foyer and dining r o o m to the panoramic plate-glass do6rs that opened onto the w o o d e n veranda. Sure enough, there was his mother, sunning herself on a chaise with a bottle of imported water in o n e "hand a n d a- romance novel braced against her knees. Ilene Marder-Marcus sported' the same lime-green sun visor she wore for golf, and a pair of perfecdy tasteful beige slacks. From waist to throat, she w a s naked a s a jaybird. "* ^ J Quincy averteci his gaze and "knocked on the glass. His m o t h e / l o o k e d up, startled. W h e n she recognized Quincy, she bookmarked her novel and beckoned for h i m to join her on the deck.

J a c o b M. Appel

59


"I didn't expect to see you today," she said breezily. "I thought you had a big case." Quincy focused his eyes squarely on his mother's face, but he was unable to prevent her withered bronze body from encroaching.uppn the periphery of his gaze. I n her nakedness, she revealed a complex a n d intimate history - not just flaccid breasts, but a faded Cesarean, scar, tjie three bleached marks from her gallbladder surgery, angry vestiges of a childhood grease fire that had scalded her left shoulder." "Can you please put something on?" asked Quincy. " G o o d heavens, you're a prude these days," replied his mother, but to Quincy's relief, she slid into a silk dressing gown with a geisha print. "If you don't want to see a middle-aged w o m a n au naturel, you shouldn't sneak u p on her." She tightened trie robe's belt, looping the ends into,a bow. "How's G r e t c h e n ? H o w are the girls?" "Gretchen and the girls are fine," said Quincy. "Look,Jvlom. We really need to talk." "Okay. Talk." Quincy drew a deep breath. Reasoning with his mother, h e ' d discovered soon after he'd learned to form his first sentences, was like straining the Sahara Desert through a sieve. "Lance Otten rang m e u p this afternoon," he said. "He's concerned that you're - well - he's upset about you sitting out here topless." "That's w,hat you're worked u p about?" .Ilene brushed away his complaint with ttie back of her hand. "You h a d m e worried it was something serious." ,. "This is something serious," Quincy insisted. "You're apparently quite visible from his downstairs windows. He's threatening to phone the police." "So let him. W h o ' s going t c a r r e s t a- 76-year-old widow for taking her blous,e off in her own back yard?" Ilene flashed him the same bemused, insouciant smile that had earned Jier, a place on the cover of the May_ 1952 issue of Harper's Bazaar- the year before an ambjtious and dashing young law student named M a r d e r had carried her off to a backwater university town. O h a w o m a n in her seventies, this carefree look struck Quincy as disturbingly unmoored. Behind his mother, a pair of squirrels romped along the branches of a blooming crabaj>ple.

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Berkeley Fiction iReview

"Please, M o m . Don't make a life-and-death issue of this," pleaded Quincy. "The neighbors' have rights too." * "He's the one making an issue out of this," Ilene shot back. "You don't hear m e threatening to call in the national'guard w h e n he mows his lawn with his shirt off." "That's different." Quincy felt his frustratibh mounting. "Youknow that's different:" " H o w exactly is that different?" demanded nene/"Becatise some Puritan once decided that it's all right for Lance Otten to wandef around town with his potbelly hanging out for all the world to admire, but if I want to enjoy the warmth of the sun on rhy skin for a few h o u r s before I die, that's a h a n g i n g offense?" Quincy's motrler leaned forward, 'suddenly grim. '"I didn't sunbathe out here when your stepfather was alive because he lasked m e not to. Wesley could be something of sa prig, G o d bless his soul. You'should've seen the look on his face that first time we-visitecf the French Riviera.. .But I'm' on m y own now, Quincy T h o m a s Marder Junior, and I ' m going to do as I wish on m y own private property." Quincy removed his glasses and rubbed the tension from the bridge of his nose. "Well, I tried my best to convince you," he said. "Yes", you did," agreed Ilene. "Now, since you!ve driven all this way, would'you like'to stay for supper? M y mahjohgg set i s coming over - we're ordering ih sushi from that new Japanese restaurant on Patrick Henry Street - b u t you're welcome t o jo'in us." Quincy s h o o k his head. ? "I have an oral argument to prepare for," he apologized, fee crossed the deck and, already gripping the handle of the sliding door, attempted one last salvo. " H o w about if we build a fence?" he asked."T'll pay Tor it." "If Lance Otten wants a fence," Ilene snapped, "let him build it on Aw property." Ilene folded her arms over her chest, making clear that she'd expressed her final words orr'the subject, and (Quincy retreated across \h₏ dimly-lit dining r o o m and through the front door of the house. Trielu'sh aroma of pe6nies hung in the late afternoon air. A nuthatch pecked its way down the •trunk'of the elm. As Quincy was about'to unlock the Cadillac, he heard a greeting from the''adjoining lot. Mrs. Mahoney, w h o lived on the other side of Quincy's mother from Lance

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"I didn't expect to see you today," she said breezily. "I thought you had a big case." Quincy focused his eyes squarely on his mother's face, but he was unable to prevent her withered bronze body from encroaching.uppn the periphery of his gaze. I n her nakedness, she revealed a complex a n d intimate history - not just flaccid breasts, but a faded Cesarean, scar, tjie three bleached marks from her gallbladder surgery, angry vestiges of a childhood grease fire that had scalded her left shoulder." "Can you please put something on?" asked Quincy. " G o o d heavens, you're a prude these days," replied his mother, but to Quincy's relief, she slid into a silk dressing gown with a geisha print. "If you don't want to see a middle-aged w o m a n au naturel, you shouldn't sneak u p on her." She tightened trie robe's belt, looping the ends into,a bow. "How's G r e t c h e n ? H o w are the girls?" "Gretchen and the girls are fine," said Quincy. "Look,Jvlom. We really need to talk." "Okay. Talk." Quincy drew a deep breath. Reasoning with his mother, h e ' d discovered soon after he'd learned to form his first sentences, was like straining the Sahara Desert through a sieve. "Lance Otten rang m e u p this afternoon," he said. "He's concerned that you're - well - he's upset about you sitting out here topless." "That's w,hat you're worked u p about?" .Ilene brushed away his complaint with ttie back of her hand. "You h a d m e worried it was something serious." ,. "This is something serious," Quincy insisted. "You're apparently quite visible from his downstairs windows. He's threatening to phone the police." "So let him. W h o ' s going t c a r r e s t a- 76-year-old widow for taking her blous,e off in her own back yard?" Ilene flashed him the same bemused, insouciant smile that had earned Jier, a place on the cover of the May_ 1952 issue of Harper's Bazaar- the year before an ambjtious and dashing young law student named M a r d e r had carried her off to a backwater university town. O h a w o m a n in her seventies, this carefree look struck Quincy as disturbingly unmoored. Behind his mother, a pair of squirrels romped along the branches of a blooming crabaj>ple.

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Berkeley Fiction iReview

"Please, M o m . Don't make a life-and-death issue of this," pleaded Quincy. "The neighbors' have rights too." * "He's the one making an issue out of this," Ilene shot back. "You don't hear m e threatening to call in the national'guard w h e n he mows his lawn with his shirt off." "That's different." Quincy felt his frustratibh mounting. "Youknow that's different:" " H o w exactly is that different?" demanded nene/"Becatise some Puritan once decided that it's all right for Lance Otten to wandef around town with his potbelly hanging out for all the world to admire, but if I want to enjoy the warmth of the sun on rhy skin for a few h o u r s before I die, that's a h a n g i n g offense?" Quincy's motrler leaned forward, 'suddenly grim. '"I didn't sunbathe out here when your stepfather was alive because he lasked m e not to. Wesley could be something of sa prig, G o d bless his soul. You'should've seen the look on his face that first time we-visitecf the French Riviera.. .But I'm' on m y own now, Quincy T h o m a s Marder Junior, and I ' m going to do as I wish on m y own private property." Quincy removed his glasses and rubbed the tension from the bridge of his nose. "Well, I tried my best to convince you," he said. "Yes", you did," agreed Ilene. "Now, since you!ve driven all this way, would'you like'to stay for supper? M y mahjohgg set i s coming over - we're ordering ih sushi from that new Japanese restaurant on Patrick Henry Street - b u t you're welcome t o jo'in us." Quincy s h o o k his head. ? "I have an oral argument to prepare for," he apologized, fee crossed the deck and, already gripping the handle of the sliding door, attempted one last salvo. " H o w about if we build a fence?" he asked."T'll pay Tor it." "If Lance Otten wants a fence," Ilene snapped, "let him build it on Aw property." Ilene folded her arms over her chest, making clear that she'd expressed her final words orr'the subject, and (Quincy retreated across \h₏ dimly-lit dining r o o m and through the front door of the house. Trielu'sh aroma of pe6nies hung in the late afternoon air. A nuthatch pecked its way down the •trunk'of the elm. As Quincy was about'to unlock the Cadillac, he heard a greeting from the''adjoining lot. Mrs. Mahoney, w h o lived on the other side of Quincy's mother from Lance

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Otten, had taught him in the fourth grade. "I knew I recognized you," she said. "How's your mother?" "Fine. As indomitable as ever." "That's g o o d to hear," said the retired teacher. " H o w long has it been? Four months?" "Nearly six," said Quincy. His mother's second husband h a d died on Christmas morning. A n aortic aneurysm. "She's a trooper, your mother is," said Mrs. Mahoney. "Honestly, I was beginning to worry about her. Sornetimes things have.a way of unraveling .when you're on your o w n . . . I suppose I shouldn't say this, but last*weekend I h a d m y niece and her, sons over for a picnic,'and your mother, was sunning herself topless." T h e elderly'woman dropped her voice to a whispfer when'she said the word "topless," as t h o u g h s h e wercsaying "cancer" or "divorced." "14°ri't want to make a fuss, you understand, but boys that age are impressionable^" "Don't you worry," lied Quincy. "It's all under control." 8 - * Nothing was even remotely under control, p f course, where Ilene Marder-Marcus was concerned, and the following Saturday, it was Sergeant Cross of the Laurendale Police Department w h o telephoned Quincy. The, gravel-voiced cop h a d apparently been out to Herkimer Street that morning, b u t hadn't actually seen "the perpetrator" exposed - a requirement for a charge of misdemeanor indecency in Virginia. He hoped that a courtesy telephone call might forestall future episodes. "We've received multiple, complaints," he explained. "We'd prefer not to issue a summons, you understand, but this is a family-oriented community." "I appreciate the heads-up," replied Quincy. " I t w o n ^ t h a p p en again." , Gretchen entered the kitchen>a m o m e n t later,, carrying a laundry basket. A bottle-of detergent crowned the soiled clothes heap like a figurine atop a wedding cake. She set the basket on the countertop and began transferring plates from the sink into the dishwasher. " What won't happen again?." she inquired. "I won't get a few minutes of peace A that's what." Quincy poured 62

Berkeley Fiction Review

himself a glass of Chablis, even though it was only noon. " M y mother is entertaining the neighbors again." i( She'sjust trying to reassert heri^entity," said Gretchen, whtfstill worked part-time as a n adolescent psychologist. "-That's only natural after a long marriage.. .I'll never understand'why Americans*are so uncomfortable with their own bodies." Quincy wrapped his arms around his wife's waist and kissed her on the lips. "You make everything sound so simple." "What's of simple?" asked Gretchen, glowing. "If you don't want to see something, you'shouldn't look." She peeled Quincy's fingers from her hips, as though amused by the antics of a wayward child. " I ' m not a lawyer, but it seems to me' that the burden of resolving this ought fo fall u p o n your mother's neighbors. They 're the ones with the problem." "That," he replied, "is why you're not a lawyer." W h e n considering the matter rationally, Quincy recognized that his mother h a d the better half of the argument. J t was her property, after all. Moreover, while he was certainly'nb radical - his'politics were mbre'"don't ro'ck the boat" than A C L U - he didn't exactly view a glimpse of exposed cleavage as a threat to public morality or the social order. But he alsb understood that cold logic wasn't the be-all and end-all in life! W h a t he really could n o t comprehend was why everybody, on both sides, cared so m u c h - his mother, Lance Otten, the Laurendale police. Didrft these people have larger fish to fry? For his own part, h e h a d neither the time nor the energy to battle city hall. He'd caught a break when opposing counsel in his-copyright case had requested a ten-day continuance, but he wasn't likely to have such luck again. If he had any chance of winriing'his appeal, this trouble with his mother required a permanent fix, not merely a patch to get them through another week. Quincy was reflecting oh this predicament, nursing his wine ahd Hstening to the h u n v o f the dishwasher, when his racing mind stumbled over the roots of a solution. The idea'was daffy, yet brilliant. Five minutes later, he was on the telephone with Lance Otten, offering to-pay the accountant ttr construct a fence. •"I don'tTmow about this," said Otten. "I don't want to set any precedents. Once you lawyers gain a foothold, you'll make off with everything that's not nailed down." *

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Otten, had taught him in the fourth grade. "I knew I recognized you," she said. "How's your mother?" "Fine. As indomitable as ever." "That's g o o d to hear," said the retired teacher. " H o w long has it been? Four months?" "Nearly six," said Quincy. His mother's second husband h a d died on Christmas morning. A n aortic aneurysm. "She's a trooper, your mother is," said Mrs. Mahoney. "Honestly, I was beginning to worry about her. Sornetimes things have.a way of unraveling .when you're on your o w n . . . I suppose I shouldn't say this, but last*weekend I h a d m y niece and her, sons over for a picnic,'and your mother, was sunning herself topless." T h e elderly'woman dropped her voice to a whispfer when'she said the word "topless," as t h o u g h s h e wercsaying "cancer" or "divorced." "14°ri't want to make a fuss, you understand, but boys that age are impressionable^" "Don't you worry," lied Quincy. "It's all under control." 8 - * Nothing was even remotely under control, p f course, where Ilene Marder-Marcus was concerned, and the following Saturday, it was Sergeant Cross of the Laurendale Police Department w h o telephoned Quincy. The, gravel-voiced cop h a d apparently been out to Herkimer Street that morning, b u t hadn't actually seen "the perpetrator" exposed - a requirement for a charge of misdemeanor indecency in Virginia. He hoped that a courtesy telephone call might forestall future episodes. "We've received multiple, complaints," he explained. "We'd prefer not to issue a summons, you understand, but this is a family-oriented community." "I appreciate the heads-up," replied Quincy. " I t w o n ^ t h a p p en again." , Gretchen entered the kitchen>a m o m e n t later,, carrying a laundry basket. A bottle-of detergent crowned the soiled clothes heap like a figurine atop a wedding cake. She set the basket on the countertop and began transferring plates from the sink into the dishwasher. " What won't happen again?." she inquired. "I won't get a few minutes of peace A that's what." Quincy poured 62

Berkeley Fiction Review

himself a glass of Chablis, even though it was only noon. " M y mother is entertaining the neighbors again." i( She'sjust trying to reassert heri^entity," said Gretchen, whtfstill worked part-time as a n adolescent psychologist. "-That's only natural after a long marriage.. .I'll never understand'why Americans*are so uncomfortable with their own bodies." Quincy wrapped his arms around his wife's waist and kissed her on the lips. "You make everything sound so simple." "What's of simple?" asked Gretchen, glowing. "If you don't want to see something, you'shouldn't look." She peeled Quincy's fingers from her hips, as though amused by the antics of a wayward child. " I ' m not a lawyer, but it seems to me' that the burden of resolving this ought fo fall u p o n your mother's neighbors. They 're the ones with the problem." "That," he replied, "is why you're not a lawyer." W h e n considering the matter rationally, Quincy recognized that his mother h a d the better half of the argument. J t was her property, after all. Moreover, while he was certainly'nb radical - his'politics were mbre'"don't ro'ck the boat" than A C L U - he didn't exactly view a glimpse of exposed cleavage as a threat to public morality or the social order. But he alsb understood that cold logic wasn't the be-all and end-all in life! W h a t he really could n o t comprehend was why everybody, on both sides, cared so m u c h - his mother, Lance Otten, the Laurendale police. Didrft these people have larger fish to fry? For his own part, h e h a d neither the time nor the energy to battle city hall. He'd caught a break when opposing counsel in his-copyright case had requested a ten-day continuance, but he wasn't likely to have such luck again. If he had any chance of winriing'his appeal, this trouble with his mother required a permanent fix, not merely a patch to get them through another week. Quincy was reflecting oh this predicament, nursing his wine ahd Hstening to the h u n v o f the dishwasher, when his racing mind stumbled over the roots of a solution. The idea'was daffy, yet brilliant. Five minutes later, he was on the telephone with Lance Otten, offering to-pay the accountant ttr construct a fence. •"I don'tTmow about this," said Otten. "I don't want to set any precedents. Once you lawyers gain a foothold, you'll make off with everything that's not nailed down." *

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'63


, Quincy resisted the urge to tell the accountant where to stick his precedents. " I ' m trying to find, some c o m m o n ground here," he persisted. "Consider this a windfall. You n a m e your price - anything reasonable - and we'll make it happen." Lance Otten tossed out a number. It wasn't a reasonable number - Quincy could probably have raised a d o m e over his, mother's house at that price - b u t as the managing partner at Randolph, M a r d e r & Pastarnak, it was a figure, that he could afford. , "You drive a hard bargain," Quincy said. "I'll write you a check and make the arrangements. Just please don't tell m y mother who's footing the bill." "Here's a deal for you," answered Otten. "I won't tell your M a , if you don't tell my ball-ancj-chain ho w m u c h you're shelling out. I.love my wife as much as the next guy - don't get m e wrong - but I love my solvency too." "Agreed," said Quincy. His phone ,caEs to Mrs. Mahoney, and the third neighbors, a Venezuelan starter couple, n a m e d Arcaya, went far more smoothly. H e could have gotten away with paying them far less t h a n he'd, p a i d the accountant, b u t that didn't sitright with him, and there was,probably a special inferno in hell reserved for m e n w h o shortchanged their former e l e m e n t a r y s c t p o l teachers. "I suppose good fences make good, neighbors," Mrs. M a h o n e y h a d said - after repeatedly offering to let h i m erect the fence for free. "That seems like a n awful lot of money, b u t i f it's really the going rate, far be it for m e to turn down a n honest dollar." Unlike Lance Otten, Quincy h a d n o "choice but to reveal the true cost to his own wife. "You only have one mother," said_ Gretchen. "I'll start making you bag lunches)" That was all the permission tiiat Quincy,had required. W h e n c e arrived at the office on Monda y morning, he personally phoned contractors out of the yellow pages until he found three willing to start work immediately. Each of the fences h a d to look-different, after all, or his mother might suspect a conspiracy. H e eventually settled u p o n a steelpalisade model for Otten's yard, a dry-stone hedge for the Mahoney's side, and a traditional red-brick wall to r u n along the rear border of the property. These harriers were to exceed seven feet in height, and

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Berkeley Fiction Review

with a few carefully placed merlons in the dry-stone, they would effectively block all of the sight-lines between the adjoining homes and Heine's deck.' O n Wednesday afternoon, Quincy did a quick drive-by. Already, the ridge of glistening palisades was visible from Herkimer Street. By Friday - the same morning he argued his appeal in the copyright dispute - two of the contractors h a d completed their labors, a n d the third h a d done'everything except install a storm lamp requested by the Venezuelans. H e was only a few hours away from visiting his mother, a duty he performed every other weekend, w h e n the telephone disrupted his Saturday brunch. Since Gretchen had taken the girls to soccer practice - they were both part of the county summer league - and, as his wife had brought with her' from Holland a European^inflectecl distrust of answering machines, the phon e would continue to demand attention until either Quincy or the caller gave in. O n the ninth ring, he stuffed the last of his bagel into his m o u t h and picked up the receiver. "Quincy Madder?" asked the caller in an anxiety-flushed voice. "It's Gladys Mahoney, your mother's neighbor." "Is everything all right?" Quincy demanded, nearly choking. "Is M o m hurt?" H e h a d feared this call would come someday - b u t ' h e ' d always believed it was still years, a n d maybe even decadesf away. "Nothing like that, Quincy," said Mrs. Mahoney. "Nothing medical. But y ou really should" come over here as soon as possible. Immediately, if you can." "Why? W h a t ' s going on?" "It's hard to explain over the telephone," replied the-retired teacher. ""I don't mean to sound mysterious, but I t h i n k it's best*that you see this for yourself." 9-TT Quincy had witnessed m a n y unlikely sights during his two decades as an intellectual property attorney - including a pair of Siamese twins who 'd sued each other over a family barbecue recipe - but nothing had prepared h i m for the scene he encountered on his mother's front lawn. At a distance, all that one could see was a handful of w o m e n seated inside the gazebo, their'straw sunhats poking over the whitewashed

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65


, Quincy resisted the urge to tell the accountant where to stick his precedents. " I ' m trying to find, some c o m m o n ground here," he persisted. "Consider this a windfall. You n a m e your price - anything reasonable - and we'll make it happen." Lance Otten tossed out a number. It wasn't a reasonable number - Quincy could probably have raised a d o m e over his, mother's house at that price - b u t as the managing partner at Randolph, M a r d e r & Pastarnak, it was a figure, that he could afford. , "You drive a hard bargain," Quincy said. "I'll write you a check and make the arrangements. Just please don't tell m y mother who's footing the bill." "Here's a deal for you," answered Otten. "I won't tell your M a , if you don't tell my ball-ancj-chain ho w m u c h you're shelling out. I.love my wife as much as the next guy - don't get m e wrong - but I love my solvency too." "Agreed," said Quincy. His phone ,caEs to Mrs. Mahoney, and the third neighbors, a Venezuelan starter couple, n a m e d Arcaya, went far more smoothly. H e could have gotten away with paying them far less t h a n he'd, p a i d the accountant, b u t that didn't sitright with him, and there was,probably a special inferno in hell reserved for m e n w h o shortchanged their former e l e m e n t a r y s c t p o l teachers. "I suppose good fences make good, neighbors," Mrs. M a h o n e y h a d said - after repeatedly offering to let h i m erect the fence for free. "That seems like a n awful lot of money, b u t i f it's really the going rate, far be it for m e to turn down a n honest dollar." Unlike Lance Otten, Quincy h a d n o "choice but to reveal the true cost to his own wife. "You only have one mother," said_ Gretchen. "I'll start making you bag lunches)" That was all the permission tiiat Quincy,had required. W h e n c e arrived at the office on Monda y morning, he personally phoned contractors out of the yellow pages until he found three willing to start work immediately. Each of the fences h a d to look-different, after all, or his mother might suspect a conspiracy. H e eventually settled u p o n a steelpalisade model for Otten's yard, a dry-stone hedge for the Mahoney's side, and a traditional red-brick wall to r u n along the rear border of the property. These harriers were to exceed seven feet in height, and

64

Berkeley Fiction Review

with a few carefully placed merlons in the dry-stone, they would effectively block all of the sight-lines between the adjoining homes and Heine's deck.' O n Wednesday afternoon, Quincy did a quick drive-by. Already, the ridge of glistening palisades was visible from Herkimer Street. By Friday - the same morning he argued his appeal in the copyright dispute - two of the contractors h a d completed their labors, a n d the third h a d done'everything except install a storm lamp requested by the Venezuelans. H e was only a few hours away from visiting his mother, a duty he performed every other weekend, w h e n the telephone disrupted his Saturday brunch. Since Gretchen had taken the girls to soccer practice - they were both part of the county summer league - and, as his wife had brought with her' from Holland a European^inflectecl distrust of answering machines, the phon e would continue to demand attention until either Quincy or the caller gave in. O n the ninth ring, he stuffed the last of his bagel into his m o u t h and picked up the receiver. "Quincy Madder?" asked the caller in an anxiety-flushed voice. "It's Gladys Mahoney, your mother's neighbor." "Is everything all right?" Quincy demanded, nearly choking. "Is M o m hurt?" H e h a d feared this call would come someday - b u t ' h e ' d always believed it was still years, a n d maybe even decadesf away. "Nothing like that, Quincy," said Mrs. Mahoney. "Nothing medical. But y ou really should" come over here as soon as possible. Immediately, if you can." "Why? W h a t ' s going on?" "It's hard to explain over the telephone," replied the-retired teacher. ""I don't mean to sound mysterious, but I t h i n k it's best*that you see this for yourself." 9-TT Quincy had witnessed m a n y unlikely sights during his two decades as an intellectual property attorney - including a pair of Siamese twins who 'd sued each other over a family barbecue recipe - but nothing had prepared h i m for the scene he encountered on his mother's front lawn. At a distance, all that one could see was a handful of w o m e n seated inside the gazebo, their'straw sunhats poking over the whitewashed

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65


parapet. But as Qirjncy hiked u p the slight embankment that elevated his mother's yard above the street, he realized that three of these four elderly women, including his mother, were naked from the waist up. The fourth, a wizened creature with a frizz of over-hennaed hair, wore a turquoise bikini top that somehow rendered her flat chest even more indecent than the nudity of her peers. Exacerbating the absurdity of the tableau - transforming a m o m e n t of precociously senile rebellion into something fit for a. M a n e t canvas - was the nonchalance with which the four women,huddled around a folding table swathed with mahjongg tiles. Porcelain tea cups rested on cork coasters. A crystal pitcher of lemonade sat at his mother's elbow. .Quincy's arrival fell u p o n this lively affair like a wool blanket onto a blazing fire. O n e of the topless w o m e n reached for her blouse, but Quincy's mother shot her a fierce glare and she drew baqk her hand. "I figured you'd stop by, sooner or'later," said Ilene. "This is my son, Quincy," she introduced h i m to her brood of hens. "Quincy, this is Estelle, D o r a and Rosalyn, You might have known Rosalyn's son, Zachary - Zachary Steinhoff - he was in your class at Yale." "Yale is a large school," retorted Quincy, aware o,ÂŁ the pique in his voice. H e did not wish to be rude to these women, but he no longer possessed the forbearance for pleasantries, so he decided that the best course of action was to ignore his mother's friends .entirely. "You've really crossed the line this time, M o m . Have you gone mad?" Hene rolled her eyes. "Did that Otten nitwit call you again in one of his states?" "Deirdre M a h o n e y calledme," said Quincy. "Needless to say, she was concerned." H e rested his gaze u p o n the mahjongg tiles,,concentrating on their inscrutable code of, circles and Chinese characters. It struck h i m suddenly that his own mother was a lot like a mahjongg square. "This is not normal behavior a n d you know it, M o m . N o w would you please ask your friends to cover themselves up? A t least while I'm here?" Hene's companions looked toward her for guidance, leaving n o doubt that they were wholly under her thrall. She flashed a commanding grin. "You sound like the Hays Code, Quincy. Quite frankly, there was a time not so long ago w h e n an army couldn't have dragged your tiny

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Berkeley Fiction Review

mouth from my sore nipples." Hene paused for her friends to appreciate her breastfeeding quip, obviously prepared in advance. Quincy felt his chest pounding. " G o ahead and blush," continued his mother.'"But if you're uncomfortable, you have only yourself to blame." "What's that'supposed to mean?" "It means," replied Ilene, each word animated with displeasure, "that your mother didn't fall off the hay wagon yesterday. I know who's paying for those ridiculous walls, a n d y o u had n o "business going behind my back like that." "I was trying to be helpful." "Well, you weren't. It's like a medieval ghetto back-there now—not an ounce of sunlight gets in after two o'clock." Quincy glancecl nervously up Herkimer Street: a D o m i n i o n Resources utility truck stood vacant opposite the Carlyle's driveway; mourning doves perched atop the power lines. It was only a matter of time, Quincy realized, before "toddlers on tricycles or a busload of Cub Scouts meandered onto the block. " C a n we please talk this over inside?" he begged. T h e faux redhead in the 'bikini top cleared Iter throat, looking anxiously from her companions to Quincy. "'Maybe we should be going," she offered. "Nonsense, Dora," declared Ilene. "Estelle, it's your turn to draw." "Your old mother's got a bit" of Cole Porter in her," the w o m a n n a m e d Rosalyn explained, as though offering an apology. "She doesn't like to be fenced in." Quincy's first instinct was to demand the phone number of Mrs. Steinhoff's own adult son - as though she were a misbehaving teenager to be reported. But these w o m e n were grownups, capable of making their own decisions, and he had n o more power over his mother than he had over the Queen of England. The truth of the matter was that he'd always been his father's son: steady and dependable. He'd fallen for Gretchen because, beyond her Scandinavian beauty, she was the sort of rational, even-keeled mate w h o made the struggle o f daily living easier. W h a t compelled other m e n - his father included - to chase after tempestuous w o m e n h a d always puzzled Quincy, and even in his childhood, his mother's volatility h a d frightened him. A n d now it seemed as though the full force of her youthful caprice, suppressed J a c o b M. Appel

67


parapet. But as Qirjncy hiked u p the slight embankment that elevated his mother's yard above the street, he realized that three of these four elderly women, including his mother, were naked from the waist up. The fourth, a wizened creature with a frizz of over-hennaed hair, wore a turquoise bikini top that somehow rendered her flat chest even more indecent than the nudity of her peers. Exacerbating the absurdity of the tableau - transforming a m o m e n t of precociously senile rebellion into something fit for a. M a n e t canvas - was the nonchalance with which the four women,huddled around a folding table swathed with mahjongg tiles. Porcelain tea cups rested on cork coasters. A crystal pitcher of lemonade sat at his mother's elbow. .Quincy's arrival fell u p o n this lively affair like a wool blanket onto a blazing fire. O n e of the topless w o m e n reached for her blouse, but Quincy's mother shot her a fierce glare and she drew baqk her hand. "I figured you'd stop by, sooner or'later," said Ilene. "This is my son, Quincy," she introduced h i m to her brood of hens. "Quincy, this is Estelle, D o r a and Rosalyn, You might have known Rosalyn's son, Zachary - Zachary Steinhoff - he was in your class at Yale." "Yale is a large school," retorted Quincy, aware o,ÂŁ the pique in his voice. H e did not wish to be rude to these women, but he no longer possessed the forbearance for pleasantries, so he decided that the best course of action was to ignore his mother's friends .entirely. "You've really crossed the line this time, M o m . Have you gone mad?" Hene rolled her eyes. "Did that Otten nitwit call you again in one of his states?" "Deirdre M a h o n e y calledme," said Quincy. "Needless to say, she was concerned." H e rested his gaze u p o n the mahjongg tiles,,concentrating on their inscrutable code of, circles and Chinese characters. It struck h i m suddenly that his own mother was a lot like a mahjongg square. "This is not normal behavior a n d you know it, M o m . N o w would you please ask your friends to cover themselves up? A t least while I'm here?" Hene's companions looked toward her for guidance, leaving n o doubt that they were wholly under her thrall. She flashed a commanding grin. "You sound like the Hays Code, Quincy. Quite frankly, there was a time not so long ago w h e n an army couldn't have dragged your tiny

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Berkeley Fiction Review

mouth from my sore nipples." Hene paused for her friends to appreciate her breastfeeding quip, obviously prepared in advance. Quincy felt his chest pounding. " G o ahead and blush," continued his mother.'"But if you're uncomfortable, you have only yourself to blame." "What's that'supposed to mean?" "It means," replied Ilene, each word animated with displeasure, "that your mother didn't fall off the hay wagon yesterday. I know who's paying for those ridiculous walls, a n d y o u had n o "business going behind my back like that." "I was trying to be helpful." "Well, you weren't. It's like a medieval ghetto back-there now—not an ounce of sunlight gets in after two o'clock." Quincy glancecl nervously up Herkimer Street: a D o m i n i o n Resources utility truck stood vacant opposite the Carlyle's driveway; mourning doves perched atop the power lines. It was only a matter of time, Quincy realized, before "toddlers on tricycles or a busload of Cub Scouts meandered onto the block. " C a n we please talk this over inside?" he begged. T h e faux redhead in the 'bikini top cleared Iter throat, looking anxiously from her companions to Quincy. "'Maybe we should be going," she offered. "Nonsense, Dora," declared Ilene. "Estelle, it's your turn to draw." "Your old mother's got a bit" of Cole Porter in her," the w o m a n n a m e d Rosalyn explained, as though offering an apology. "She doesn't like to be fenced in." Quincy's first instinct was to demand the phone number of Mrs. Steinhoff's own adult son - as though she were a misbehaving teenager to be reported. But these w o m e n were grownups, capable of making their own decisions, and he had n o more power over his mother than he had over the Queen of England. The truth of the matter was that he'd always been his father's son: steady and dependable. He'd fallen for Gretchen because, beyond her Scandinavian beauty, she was the sort of rational, even-keeled mate w h o made the struggle o f daily living easier. W h a t compelled other m e n - his father included - to chase after tempestuous w o m e n h a d always puzzled Quincy, and even in his childhood, his mother's volatility h a d frightened him. A n d now it seemed as though the full force of her youthful caprice, suppressed J a c o b M. Appel

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Y during twelve years of an a u t u m n marriage to Wesley Marcus, DVM, was roaring forth from behind a makeshift dam. These weren't matters that Quincy could discuss in front oÂŁ three perfect strangers, obviously, and while he yearned desperately for a way to brealc through to his mother, panic rising in his throat, a Laurendale squad car coasted to the curbside. Sergeant Cross shuffled u p the flagstone path. T h e cop was a pudgy, red-faced old-timer whose professional accoutrements - a belt laced with handcuffs, flashlight and billy club - m a d e him look like a grandfather decked out for a Boy Scout reunion. H e shook Quincy's h a n d vigorously, as though they'd been school chums. "Ladies, ladies," said the sergeant. "You're binding my hands here. Like-I tolcLyou last week, Mrs. M., you keep this .up and you're going to face charges." Quincy was amazed at the officer's casual,bearing, so different from the hard-nosed sticklers w h o ' d patrolled the town in his youth. "You'll have to forgive my mother, officer," he implored. "She lost her husband recently a n d - " v "Six months ago," interjected Ilene. "Don't make excuses." "She's having a hard time of it," continued Quincy. " I ' m .sure w h e n she realizes she could go to jail, she'll reconsider her antics. Won't you, M o m ? " A n uneasy silence swept .over the yard, punctuated only by the drone of distant traffic from the Interstate. T h e w o m a n w h o h a d previously reached for her blouse, Estelle, held her plump arms in front of her cleavage. Ilene d r u m m e d her fingers on the card table. "I'll tell you what I ' m going to do," said the sergeant. " I ' m going to take a cruise around the block. A long, slow cruise.-I'm optimistic that when I pass by here again, I won't have any reason to get out of m y vehicle." "Thank you," said Quincy. "We really do appreciate it." Cross shook Quincy's h a n d a second time and departed d o w n the path. Quincy watched the cpp's progress as though tracing the course of a retreating-army. Within seconds of his squad car rounding the bend and disappearing behind the Carlyle's unkempt privet, an orange box-truck rolled d o w n Herkimer Street from th^e opposite direction. Emblazoned along the side of the truck was what amounted to Quincy's

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own epitaph: WRIC-T V R I C H M O N D N E W S .

Members of the Gray Solidarity Brigade began arriving in the early afternoon, mostly well-preserved matrons in their seventies and eighties. Some carrie alone, peering over the steering wheels of boat-like Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles more suited for raised blocks in a museum. Others appears in pairs and trios, united for moral support. O n e lady brought along her husband—a blind psychiatrist* with pendulous jowls and an English moustache, w h o quipped to the reporters, "Lucy said I could come with her if I promised not to look." By the time Sergeant Cross finally did return - his uniform shirt stained with tomato sauce - more than twenty-five elderly w o m e n h a d joined Quincy's mother on her front lawn. T h e newcomers displayed various degrees of undress, m a n y preferring to keep on their brassieres, but at least teri of the protesters were fully topless, including a 91 -year-old retired librarian from Petersburg w h o claimed to be a grandniece of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. Quincy watched from the porch swing, powerless. "About a n hbur later, the first of the distraught children appeared. These were middle-aged m e n and women, m u c h like'Quincy, .who'd seen their mothers on the afternoon news or h a d received calls frem alarmed relatives, and had sped through every stop sign and traffic light between their own homes and Herkimer Street. Each reenacted the same battle'that Quincy h a d fought earlier, pleading a n d threatening in his or her own 'distinct way. A few managed" to cajole their loved-ones into departing, but the vast majority milled"about the yard helplessly, attempting to keep their eyes above the sea of bar6, spent flesh. Lance Otten emerged'from his bungalow around two o'clock - sporting his trademark navy-blue leisure suit and p a n a m a hat - and, ignoring Quincy entirely, spbke for several, minutes with several of the dozen officers who had joined Sergeant Cross at a temporary command center under the Dutch elm. This conversation soon acquired a heated tone - Quincy could not hear the words, but saw the anger suffuse across the Accountant's blotchy cheeks - a n d ended with'Otten throwing his hat to the grass in frustration. Meanwhile, Quincy's mother remained topless, chatting with local reporters, and leading her motley band of followers in a raucous chorus of Mario T h o m a s' "Parents are People."

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Y during twelve years of an a u t u m n marriage to Wesley Marcus, DVM, was roaring forth from behind a makeshift dam. These weren't matters that Quincy could discuss in front oÂŁ three perfect strangers, obviously, and while he yearned desperately for a way to brealc through to his mother, panic rising in his throat, a Laurendale squad car coasted to the curbside. Sergeant Cross shuffled u p the flagstone path. T h e cop was a pudgy, red-faced old-timer whose professional accoutrements - a belt laced with handcuffs, flashlight and billy club - m a d e him look like a grandfather decked out for a Boy Scout reunion. H e shook Quincy's h a n d vigorously, as though they'd been school chums. "Ladies, ladies," said the sergeant. "You're binding my hands here. Like-I tolcLyou last week, Mrs. M., you keep this .up and you're going to face charges." Quincy was amazed at the officer's casual,bearing, so different from the hard-nosed sticklers w h o ' d patrolled the town in his youth. "You'll have to forgive my mother, officer," he implored. "She lost her husband recently a n d - " v "Six months ago," interjected Ilene. "Don't make excuses." "She's having a hard time of it," continued Quincy. " I ' m .sure w h e n she realizes she could go to jail, she'll reconsider her antics. Won't you, M o m ? " A n uneasy silence swept .over the yard, punctuated only by the drone of distant traffic from the Interstate. T h e w o m a n w h o h a d previously reached for her blouse, Estelle, held her plump arms in front of her cleavage. Ilene d r u m m e d her fingers on the card table. "I'll tell you what I ' m going to do," said the sergeant. " I ' m going to take a cruise around the block. A long, slow cruise.-I'm optimistic that when I pass by here again, I won't have any reason to get out of m y vehicle." "Thank you," said Quincy. "We really do appreciate it." Cross shook Quincy's h a n d a second time and departed d o w n the path. Quincy watched the cpp's progress as though tracing the course of a retreating-army. Within seconds of his squad car rounding the bend and disappearing behind the Carlyle's unkempt privet, an orange box-truck rolled d o w n Herkimer Street from th^e opposite direction. Emblazoned along the side of the truck was what amounted to Quincy's

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Berkeley Fiction Review

own epitaph: WRIC-T V R I C H M O N D N E W S .

Members of the Gray Solidarity Brigade began arriving in the early afternoon, mostly well-preserved matrons in their seventies and eighties. Some carrie alone, peering over the steering wheels of boat-like Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles more suited for raised blocks in a museum. Others appears in pairs and trios, united for moral support. O n e lady brought along her husband—a blind psychiatrist* with pendulous jowls and an English moustache, w h o quipped to the reporters, "Lucy said I could come with her if I promised not to look." By the time Sergeant Cross finally did return - his uniform shirt stained with tomato sauce - more than twenty-five elderly w o m e n h a d joined Quincy's mother on her front lawn. T h e newcomers displayed various degrees of undress, m a n y preferring to keep on their brassieres, but at least teri of the protesters were fully topless, including a 91 -year-old retired librarian from Petersburg w h o claimed to be a grandniece of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. Quincy watched from the porch swing, powerless. "About a n hbur later, the first of the distraught children appeared. These were middle-aged m e n and women, m u c h like'Quincy, .who'd seen their mothers on the afternoon news or h a d received calls frem alarmed relatives, and had sped through every stop sign and traffic light between their own homes and Herkimer Street. Each reenacted the same battle'that Quincy h a d fought earlier, pleading a n d threatening in his or her own 'distinct way. A few managed" to cajole their loved-ones into departing, but the vast majority milled"about the yard helplessly, attempting to keep their eyes above the sea of bar6, spent flesh. Lance Otten emerged'from his bungalow around two o'clock - sporting his trademark navy-blue leisure suit and p a n a m a hat - and, ignoring Quincy entirely, spbke for several, minutes with several of the dozen officers who had joined Sergeant Cross at a temporary command center under the Dutch elm. This conversation soon acquired a heated tone - Quincy could not hear the words, but saw the anger suffuse across the Accountant's blotchy cheeks - a n d ended with'Otten throwing his hat to the grass in frustration. Meanwhile, Quincy's mother remained topless, chatting with local reporters, and leading her motley band of followers in a raucous chorus of Mario T h o m a s' "Parents are People."

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If Quincy had been watching these events unfold on the television screen, and if Hene h a d been some other unfortunate sop's mother, he probably would have found the spectacle highly entertaining. But - to quote the expression that his elder daughter h a d picked u p at summer camp - if Grandmother h a d testicles, she'd be Grandfather. Quincy didn't dare approach the police, afraid this might spur them into action. Yet shortly after Otten departed, Sergeant Cross sat d o w n beside Quincy on the porch. " H o w y o u doing?".asked the cop. "I could be better," replied Quincy. "Couldn't.we all." Cross w i p e d h i s brow with his sleeve. "We're going to wait;t^iem out," he added. "They'll get tired. They'll go home. Better than dealing with the logistics of arresting them all. But I ' m afraid I ' m going to have.to issue your m o t h e r a summons." A t least there'd be n o S.WA.T. team. N o paddy-wagon. -"What she really needs," said Quincy, "is a straitjacket." "Hang in there," replied the cop. Cross patted Quincy on the shoulder and trundled off. The rain rolled in a few minutes later, an afternoon lightning squall that started with large, sparse drops then oozed from the sky like molasses. One by one, Ilene's compatriots retreated to their Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs. Rosalyn Steinhoff's son hustled off his mother and the w o m a n n a m e d D o r a under a colossal black umbrella. The Laurendale police offered free rides h o m e to willing protestors w h o lacked transportation. Eventually, only Quincy's mother remained, arms akimbo in the shelter of the gazebo. She stood stomach in, chest out, like a military recruit, while the surrounding storm lashed her bare back and cleavage with spray. Quincy sat on the bench beside her, watching the rain soak the mahjongg board. During a lull in the downpour, Sergeant Cross and another officer, a young m a n with a nickel-sized mole on his cheek, dashed from their patrol cars to the gazebo. "Okay, Mrs. M.," said Cross. "We've all-had our excitementibr the day. N o w why don't you go inside with your son, and once you/ve h a d a chance to-put on some dry clothing, Officer M o r t o n here will come back and write you-a summons?" " I ' m not going anywhere," answered Ilene. "It's a rainstorm, not the apocalypse. Do-you expect m e to melt?"

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"Then I ' m afraid I have to place you under arrest," said Cross. While Quincy looked on dumbfounded, the officer grasped his mother gently but firmly by the elbow, and handcuffed her wrists. "You have the right to remain silent" he added. "We have n o way of giving you a lawyer, but one will be appointed for you, if you wish, when you go to court..." -f Ilene did not appear fazed. She followed Officer M o r t o n toward the squad car. "You don't have to keep your eyes down'like that, young man,*" she said to the junior policeman. " M y bosom won't turn you to stone." The sky responded with a resounding clap of thunder, a celestial sky quake, as though the heavens themselves were affronted by Ilene's nudity. 8-TT Quincy trailed the convoy of patrol cars to the Laurendale police headquarters, a sprawling and unsightly structure squeezed between Governor H a r r y F. Byrd M e m o r i a l H i g h School a n d the stately, federalist-style county courthouse. H e waited in the lobby while his mother went through booking and fingerprinting; then followed Officer M o r t o n past a series* of cubicles into a musty storeroom. Rows of modular shelves'containe'd office supplies of disparate vintages, including stack-upon-stack of unopene d carbon paper. Plastic bins held a veritable a r m a d a of orange roadwork cones. Hene sat on a folding chair beneath a small-yet-unbarred window, still bare-chested, her hands clasped neatly in her Jap. O n the opposite wall hung a katana, identified as a gift from the police prefect of Laurendale's "sister city" in Japan. N o t an ideal'heirloom, reflected Quincy, to leave within reach of a prisoner. Nearby, a female cop w h b appeared even younger than Officer M o r t o n - Patrolwoman Barrett - perused a glossy bridal magazine. "Under the circumstances, Sergeant Cross didn't think that the holding pen was a workable option," M o r t o n explained earnestly. "But if you could convince your mother to clothe herself, we would be mighty appreciative." If Grandmother had testicles, thought Quincy. He" stood in the dim light, waiting for his mother to speak. She

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If Quincy had been watching these events unfold on the television screen, and if Hene h a d been some other unfortunate sop's mother, he probably would have found the spectacle highly entertaining. But - to quote the expression that his elder daughter h a d picked u p at summer camp - if Grandmother h a d testicles, she'd be Grandfather. Quincy didn't dare approach the police, afraid this might spur them into action. Yet shortly after Otten departed, Sergeant Cross sat d o w n beside Quincy on the porch. " H o w y o u doing?".asked the cop. "I could be better," replied Quincy. "Couldn't.we all." Cross w i p e d h i s brow with his sleeve. "We're going to wait;t^iem out," he added. "They'll get tired. They'll go home. Better than dealing with the logistics of arresting them all. But I ' m afraid I ' m going to have.to issue your m o t h e r a summons." A t least there'd be n o S.WA.T. team. N o paddy-wagon. -"What she really needs," said Quincy, "is a straitjacket." "Hang in there," replied the cop. Cross patted Quincy on the shoulder and trundled off. The rain rolled in a few minutes later, an afternoon lightning squall that started with large, sparse drops then oozed from the sky like molasses. One by one, Ilene's compatriots retreated to their Oldsmobiles and Cadillacs. Rosalyn Steinhoff's son hustled off his mother and the w o m a n n a m e d D o r a under a colossal black umbrella. The Laurendale police offered free rides h o m e to willing protestors w h o lacked transportation. Eventually, only Quincy's mother remained, arms akimbo in the shelter of the gazebo. She stood stomach in, chest out, like a military recruit, while the surrounding storm lashed her bare back and cleavage with spray. Quincy sat on the bench beside her, watching the rain soak the mahjongg board. During a lull in the downpour, Sergeant Cross and another officer, a young m a n with a nickel-sized mole on his cheek, dashed from their patrol cars to the gazebo. "Okay, Mrs. M.," said Cross. "We've all-had our excitementibr the day. N o w why don't you go inside with your son, and once you/ve h a d a chance to-put on some dry clothing, Officer M o r t o n here will come back and write you-a summons?" " I ' m not going anywhere," answered Ilene. "It's a rainstorm, not the apocalypse. Do-you expect m e to melt?"

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Berkeley Fiction Review

"Then I ' m afraid I have to place you under arrest," said Cross. While Quincy looked on dumbfounded, the officer grasped his mother gently but firmly by the elbow, and handcuffed her wrists. "You have the right to remain silent" he added. "We have n o way of giving you a lawyer, but one will be appointed for you, if you wish, when you go to court..." -f Ilene did not appear fazed. She followed Officer M o r t o n toward the squad car. "You don't have to keep your eyes down'like that, young man,*" she said to the junior policeman. " M y bosom won't turn you to stone." The sky responded with a resounding clap of thunder, a celestial sky quake, as though the heavens themselves were affronted by Ilene's nudity. 8-TT Quincy trailed the convoy of patrol cars to the Laurendale police headquarters, a sprawling and unsightly structure squeezed between Governor H a r r y F. Byrd M e m o r i a l H i g h School a n d the stately, federalist-style county courthouse. H e waited in the lobby while his mother went through booking and fingerprinting; then followed Officer M o r t o n past a series* of cubicles into a musty storeroom. Rows of modular shelves'containe'd office supplies of disparate vintages, including stack-upon-stack of unopene d carbon paper. Plastic bins held a veritable a r m a d a of orange roadwork cones. Hene sat on a folding chair beneath a small-yet-unbarred window, still bare-chested, her hands clasped neatly in her Jap. O n the opposite wall hung a katana, identified as a gift from the police prefect of Laurendale's "sister city" in Japan. N o t an ideal'heirloom, reflected Quincy, to leave within reach of a prisoner. Nearby, a female cop w h b appeared even younger than Officer M o r t o n - Patrolwoman Barrett - perused a glossy bridal magazine. "Under the circumstances, Sergeant Cross didn't think that the holding pen was a workable option," M o r t o n explained earnestly. "But if you could convince your mother to clothe herself, we would be mighty appreciative." If Grandmother had testicles, thought Quincy. He" stood in the dim light, waiting for his mother to speak. She

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didn't. "Well, M o m . Are you satisfied?" he finally demanded. "Actually, I am satisfied," replied his mother. " N o w the courts can settle this business once and for all." ' "There's nothing to settle. You broke the law.'! Quincy circled behind his mother's chair, so he wouldn't have to worry about viewing her breasts. "I have n o idea what the penalty for misdemeanor indecency is in Virginia, but maybe if you apologize to the judge - and you mean it- you'll get off with a suspended sentence." " I ' m not apologizing, for anything," snapped Hene. "The law is unconstitutional." (i "For God's sake, M o m . E n o u g h already!" " T h e law applies differently to w o m e n t h a n it does to men," Bene persisted, unperturbed. "You don't need any Ivy League law degree to realize that's fishy." Quincy h a d no opportunity to present a rebuttal - to explain that gender discrimination was, in fa,ct, sometimes both constitutional and legal. He!d hardly formulated his thoughts w h e n Office M o r t o n reappeared in the doorway. "Your bail hearing is coming u p shortly, m a ' a m , " said the cop. "Would you like a few moments to speak with the public defender?" "That won't be necessary," ..said Ilene. "I already have my own lawyer." "And w h o is that?" asked Quincy. "You 're m y lawyer," repliqd his mother, poking h i m in the sternum. "You created this,mess, Quincy Thomas,,an d n o w you're goin^ to clean it up." Quincy felt self-conscious about bickering in front of the cops, hut the patrolwoman flipped t h r o u g h herrnagazine pages indifferently. "This is ridiculous, M o m , " insisted Quincy, his voice soft b u t indignant. " I ' m not even wearing a jacket." "Borrow one," ordered Hene. "You're resourceful.' 1 "But I ' m n ot a.criminal defense lawyer," h e pleaded. " I ' m n o t even remotely qualified to handle a misdemeanor charge." "A lawyer is a lawyer is a lawyer," retorted Hene. "Your father would never have paid for you to go to Y a l e ^ a w School if h e ' d k n o w n you would end u p unqualified."

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Quincy called Gretchen on his cell phone and implored her to bring his blue suit to the police station, as quickly as possible. "Everything is fine. Really, he promised. "Just my mother being my mother. D o n ' t turn on the' evening news, okay, and I'll fill"you in over dinner." Twenty minutes later, still looping his tie as he walked, he crossed the varsity baseball field and entered the old wing of the public high school, wheremunicipal trials were being held while the county renovated the courthouse. Judge L a n d a u presided over misdemeanor cases in the same g y m where Quincy h a d once played JV basketball. A curtain h a d been drawn around the court, covered the padded mats, and the backboards had been raised into the rafters, but the three-point line was still visible beneath the attorneys' benches. W h a t a contrast to federal court in Richmond, where Quincy argued trademark law. Judge L a n d a u wore a tweed jacket and a bowtie, rather than a robe. H e was an egg-bald, bespectacled nian in his' seventies, w h o loOked'as though he'd been roused from'a nap. The public prosecutor - a w o m a n half Quincy's age - asked that'bail be set at $500. "All in due course,*' said the judge. "Where is the defendant?" "She waives her right to be present," explained Quincy. "Let the record show1 that the defendant has waived her right to be present and enter a plea of not guilty," instructed the judge. "And what say you to $500 cash bail, counselor?" Five hundred dollars seemed perfectly reasonable to Quincy, far less than he'd squandered walling in h'i's mother's yard. But he was an attorney, acting on behalf of a client, so his own judgment was of secondary importance. "With all due respect, Your Honor," said Quiricy. "We'd like' to have these charges dismissed at the outset. You see, it's my mother's contention that the statute under which she is being charged is unconstitutional a n d - " "Hold on a moment^ counselor," interjected the judge. He rem o v e d his glasses and wiped t h e m with his handkerchief. "Am I to understand that your client is your mother?" "Yes, that is correct, Your Honor."

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didn't. "Well, M o m . Are you satisfied?" he finally demanded. "Actually, I am satisfied," replied his mother. " N o w the courts can settle this business once and for all." ' "There's nothing to settle. You broke the law.'! Quincy circled behind his mother's chair, so he wouldn't have to worry about viewing her breasts. "I have n o idea what the penalty for misdemeanor indecency is in Virginia, but maybe if you apologize to the judge - and you mean it- you'll get off with a suspended sentence." " I ' m not apologizing, for anything," snapped Hene. "The law is unconstitutional." (i "For God's sake, M o m . E n o u g h already!" " T h e law applies differently to w o m e n t h a n it does to men," Bene persisted, unperturbed. "You don't need any Ivy League law degree to realize that's fishy." Quincy h a d no opportunity to present a rebuttal - to explain that gender discrimination was, in fa,ct, sometimes both constitutional and legal. He!d hardly formulated his thoughts w h e n Office M o r t o n reappeared in the doorway. "Your bail hearing is coming u p shortly, m a ' a m , " said the cop. "Would you like a few moments to speak with the public defender?" "That won't be necessary," ..said Ilene. "I already have my own lawyer." "And w h o is that?" asked Quincy. "You 're m y lawyer," repliqd his mother, poking h i m in the sternum. "You created this,mess, Quincy Thomas,,an d n o w you're goin^ to clean it up." Quincy felt self-conscious about bickering in front of the cops, hut the patrolwoman flipped t h r o u g h herrnagazine pages indifferently. "This is ridiculous, M o m , " insisted Quincy, his voice soft b u t indignant. " I ' m not even wearing a jacket." "Borrow one," ordered Hene. "You're resourceful.' 1 "But I ' m n ot a.criminal defense lawyer," h e pleaded. " I ' m n o t even remotely qualified to handle a misdemeanor charge." "A lawyer is a lawyer is a lawyer," retorted Hene. "Your father would never have paid for you to go to Y a l e ^ a w School if h e ' d k n o w n you would end u p unqualified."

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Quincy called Gretchen on his cell phone and implored her to bring his blue suit to the police station, as quickly as possible. "Everything is fine. Really, he promised. "Just my mother being my mother. D o n ' t turn on the' evening news, okay, and I'll fill"you in over dinner." Twenty minutes later, still looping his tie as he walked, he crossed the varsity baseball field and entered the old wing of the public high school, wheremunicipal trials were being held while the county renovated the courthouse. Judge L a n d a u presided over misdemeanor cases in the same g y m where Quincy h a d once played JV basketball. A curtain h a d been drawn around the court, covered the padded mats, and the backboards had been raised into the rafters, but the three-point line was still visible beneath the attorneys' benches. W h a t a contrast to federal court in Richmond, where Quincy argued trademark law. Judge L a n d a u wore a tweed jacket and a bowtie, rather than a robe. H e was an egg-bald, bespectacled nian in his' seventies, w h o loOked'as though he'd been roused from'a nap. The public prosecutor - a w o m a n half Quincy's age - asked that'bail be set at $500. "All in due course,*' said the judge. "Where is the defendant?" "She waives her right to be present," explained Quincy. "Let the record show1 that the defendant has waived her right to be present and enter a plea of not guilty," instructed the judge. "And what say you to $500 cash bail, counselor?" Five hundred dollars seemed perfectly reasonable to Quincy, far less than he'd squandered walling in h'i's mother's yard. But he was an attorney, acting on behalf of a client, so his own judgment was of secondary importance. "With all due respect, Your Honor," said Quiricy. "We'd like' to have these charges dismissed at the outset. You see, it's my mother's contention that the statute under which she is being charged is unconstitutional a n d - " "Hold on a moment^ counselor," interjected the judge. He rem o v e d his glasses and wiped t h e m with his handkerchief. "Am I to understand that your client is your mother?" "Yes, that is correct, Your Honor."

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"Very well. Proceed." "It it my client's contention, Your Honor," declared Quincy, "that a statute .which criminalizes nudity above the waist for women, b ut n o t for men, violates the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.!' That spunded plausible, he assured himself. W h e n neither the judge nor, the prosecutor objected, he elaborated his claim, drawing u p o n the vestiges of his law school education, citing cases that hadn't crossed his lips in two decades. H e invoked Thurgood Marshall, John Marshall, Blackstone's Commentaries. H e wasn't certain that he had any idea what he was talking about - but the words rolled off his tongue, point by point, until he'd-nearly convinced himself that his poor elderly,mother was being done a grave injustice by a retrograde penal code. "So you have n o choice, Your Honor," h e concluded, nearly out of breath, "but to hono r the principle of gender equality enshrined'in both the state and national constitutions^ and t o declare the statute in question null and.void." Quincy stopped speaking and looked arQund. T h e prosecuting attorney, w h o he now realized was a law student,working uncler supervision, looked as t h o u gh she'd been flattened by a fast-moving freight train. O n e of t h e bailiffs, a n African-American m a n with a kente cloth draped over his uniform, gave Quincy a discreet thumbs-up. Judge Landau stared at Quincy, as^though he might electrocute h i m w i t h his gaze. "That was quite interesting, counselor," t h e j u d g e said suddenly, "llnfortunately, this fs not a trial^ but merely a bail hearing." fje examined the contents of a manila folder, then reached for his gavel, "The defendant is released on her own recognizance, pending trial." "Thank you, Your Jlonpr," said Quincy. "And one more thing, counselor," said the judge. "As a m a n w h o has a lovely wife w h o likes to sunbathe topless in her own backyard, I do wish you alljftie best of luck."

Quincy's mother was waiting exactly as he h a d left her. Still topless. Still seated erect as a plywood board - a tribute to her modeling school training., Hene was engaged in a lively chat with a n e w female guard, a middle-aged officer distinguished by her deficient chin. Quincy handed this officer the magistrate's order. T h e cop looked it over care74

Berkeley Fiction Review

fully, then instructed him to wait with his mother while she completed some essential'paperwork. Quincy slumped on the cop's stool; depleted. Only a pale film' of twilight now filtered through the small unbarred window, and a gray dusk ha'd settled over the storeroom. "Well? D i d we win?" demanded Ilene. "You m a d e bail, if that's what you're asking," said Quincy. "But the law? Did'they declare it unconstitutional?" "It was only a bail hearing," h e explained. " N o t a trial." A furrow of disappointment deepened on Ilene's forehead. "Very well," she declared. "But don't you think for a second that I ' m giving up." She turned her chair to face his, challenging h i m to cross her. " I ' m sure you're not giving up," answered Quincy. "You'll probably fight your case all the way to the United States Supreme Court. But do you know what, M o m ? I don't care." "Don't mock me, Quincy. It's unbecoming." "No. I mean it." H e stood up, paced across the alcove. "You're a grown adult. If you want to go topless, that's your business. If you want to go around town bottomless, that's your business too. Stage a burlesque show on the steps of the Methodist Church, if that's what inspires you - but I ' m bone tired, a n d I haven't seen m y daughters all weekend, and I really don't have it in m e to worry about your stunts anymore." Quincy met his mother's harsh gaze. A d e a d l y h u s h fell between them. After one of the longest, most uncomfortable minutes of Quincy's life, Ilene looked away. "Your grandmother, your dad's mother, she used to call t h e m nice eyes" said Hene, seemingly apropos of nothing. "If she wanted to say that a girl was well-endowed in the chest department, she'd say that the young w o m a n h a d ( a delightful pair of eyes.' Alternatively, she might say a girl was 'not m u c h to look at in the eye department.' I'd nearly forgotten..." " W h y are you telling m e this?" "So somebody will remember, after I ' m gone," said Hene - her voice now more wistful t h a n defiant. " D o you know what I was thinking before, while you were in court? I was thinking that, soon enough, J a c o b M. Appel

75


"Very well. Proceed." "It it my client's contention, Your Honor," declared Quincy, "that a statute .which criminalizes nudity above the waist for women, b ut n o t for men, violates the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.!' That spunded plausible, he assured himself. W h e n neither the judge nor, the prosecutor objected, he elaborated his claim, drawing u p o n the vestiges of his law school education, citing cases that hadn't crossed his lips in two decades. H e invoked Thurgood Marshall, John Marshall, Blackstone's Commentaries. H e wasn't certain that he had any idea what he was talking about - but the words rolled off his tongue, point by point, until he'd-nearly convinced himself that his poor elderly,mother was being done a grave injustice by a retrograde penal code. "So you have n o choice, Your Honor," h e concluded, nearly out of breath, "but to hono r the principle of gender equality enshrined'in both the state and national constitutions^ and t o declare the statute in question null and.void." Quincy stopped speaking and looked arQund. T h e prosecuting attorney, w h o he now realized was a law student,working uncler supervision, looked as t h o u gh she'd been flattened by a fast-moving freight train. O n e of t h e bailiffs, a n African-American m a n with a kente cloth draped over his uniform, gave Quincy a discreet thumbs-up. Judge Landau stared at Quincy, as^though he might electrocute h i m w i t h his gaze. "That was quite interesting, counselor," t h e j u d g e said suddenly, "llnfortunately, this fs not a trial^ but merely a bail hearing." fje examined the contents of a manila folder, then reached for his gavel, "The defendant is released on her own recognizance, pending trial." "Thank you, Your Jlonpr," said Quincy. "And one more thing, counselor," said the judge. "As a m a n w h o has a lovely wife w h o likes to sunbathe topless in her own backyard, I do wish you alljftie best of luck."

Quincy's mother was waiting exactly as he h a d left her. Still topless. Still seated erect as a plywood board - a tribute to her modeling school training., Hene was engaged in a lively chat with a n e w female guard, a middle-aged officer distinguished by her deficient chin. Quincy handed this officer the magistrate's order. T h e cop looked it over care74

Berkeley Fiction Review

fully, then instructed him to wait with his mother while she completed some essential'paperwork. Quincy slumped on the cop's stool; depleted. Only a pale film' of twilight now filtered through the small unbarred window, and a gray dusk ha'd settled over the storeroom. "Well? D i d we win?" demanded Ilene. "You m a d e bail, if that's what you're asking," said Quincy. "But the law? Did'they declare it unconstitutional?" "It was only a bail hearing," h e explained. " N o t a trial." A furrow of disappointment deepened on Ilene's forehead. "Very well," she declared. "But don't you think for a second that I ' m giving up." She turned her chair to face his, challenging h i m to cross her. " I ' m sure you're not giving up," answered Quincy. "You'll probably fight your case all the way to the United States Supreme Court. But do you know what, M o m ? I don't care." "Don't mock me, Quincy. It's unbecoming." "No. I mean it." H e stood up, paced across the alcove. "You're a grown adult. If you want to go topless, that's your business. If you want to go around town bottomless, that's your business too. Stage a burlesque show on the steps of the Methodist Church, if that's what inspires you - but I ' m bone tired, a n d I haven't seen m y daughters all weekend, and I really don't have it in m e to worry about your stunts anymore." Quincy met his mother's harsh gaze. A d e a d l y h u s h fell between them. After one of the longest, most uncomfortable minutes of Quincy's life, Ilene looked away. "Your grandmother, your dad's mother, she used to call t h e m nice eyes" said Hene, seemingly apropos of nothing. "If she wanted to say that a girl was well-endowed in the chest department, she'd say that the young w o m a n h a d ( a delightful pair of eyes.' Alternatively, she might say a girl was 'not m u c h to look at in the eye department.' I'd nearly forgotten..." " W h y are you telling m e this?" "So somebody will remember, after I ' m gone," said Hene - her voice now more wistful t h a n defiant. " D o you know what I was thinking before, while you were in court? I was thinking that, soon enough, J a c o b M. Appel

75


there won't be anybody around w h o has any memory of what my breasts even looked like." Quincy's mother smiled as though this notion amused her. " M y breasts will be lost to history - like Joan of Arc's or Helen of Troy's." Something in his mother's tone, something sad and distant, made Quincy uneasy. "Would you mind if I borrowed your jacket?" asked Ilene. "I don't owe it to anybody to catch my death, now do I?" Quincy passed her his jacket. The large coat enveloped her diminutive frame. As he watched her fastening the buttons over her pale skin, the realization entered his consciousness that, the next time he saw her naked flesh, she might be lost to him forever. Already, a tiny w o m a n wrapped in a giant cloak, she looked decades older, sexless, nearly lifeless - her body the sort of breathing shell that you might pass on the public street without even taking notice.

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Berkeley Fiction Review

Jeffrey Glossip

77


there won't be anybody around w h o has any memory of what my breasts even looked like." Quincy's mother smiled as though this notion amused her. " M y breasts will be lost to history - like Joan of Arc's or Helen of Troy's." Something in his mother's tone, something sad and distant, made Quincy uneasy. "Would you mind if I borrowed your jacket?" asked Ilene. "I don't owe it to anybody to catch my death, now do I?" Quincy passed her his jacket. The large coat enveloped her diminutive frame. As he watched her fastening the buttons over her pale skin, the realization entered his consciousness that, the next time he saw her naked flesh, she might be lost to him forever. Already, a tiny w o m a n wrapped in a giant cloak, she looked decades older, sexless, nearly lifeless - her body the sort of breathing shell that you might pass on the public street without even taking notice.

76

Berkeley Fiction Review

Jeffrey Glossip

77


The pink rattle h a d materialized w h e n the baby was carried through the door. It was pink to let them know that the long, browneyed Babe was a girl. It was a rattle to annoy non-babe owners when 'it was shaken.

B

R

O

W

N

-

E

BRANDON

Y

E

D

B

A

B

T h e boyfriend broke his •arm w h e n he hit the ground, and the Nurse knew broken hones were expensive to repair. Further complicating things,"her boyfriend would need foreign parts. She frowned. She knew she h a d to sell the Babe. "I'll be-right back," she told him, arid out the door she went. Outside the apartment, a m a n wearing a red beret leaned against a lamppost, smoking a cigar ahd fanning a bouquet of bills. "Hey," said the Nurse, a n d the smoking, "beret-wearing m a n looked up. "I bet you-want to sell* that baby," h e said, knocking ash onto the rough, dry sidewalk. "You got that right,"' she said, snatching the bills and forking over the Bahe. The m a n sucked hard on his cigar, and the cherry lit u p the brown eyes of the long Babe: The Babe cooed. It was a'happy babe. It was a long, happy" babe, and the m a n with the cigar was glad "to hold it for the time he y did, though h e knew it wouldn't last. His need for profit always conquered'his heed for gladness, and there was a big market for brown-eyed babes in Germany. H e thought there was. If there was a place where th£re would be a good market for babes with brown eyes it would have to be Germany, certainly not an Asian country. Sure, the beret-wearing cigar m a n didn't know much, but he knew that all G e r m a ns had blue eyes. They h a d to love brown-eyed babes. They'd kill for 6ne.

E

JENNINGS

T h e Babe was b o rn with brown eyes, and that just wasn't what the mother was looking for. T h e father didn't care that much, b u t he never 'really cared about anything. W h e n the mother asked the doctor h o w much a brown-eyed babe would go for, he looked at his watch and said that he wasn't sure, but that he'd be glad to check and see if any of the nurses were in the market for a second-hand babe. j One nurse h a d been looking for a babe for quite some time, but* she didn't w a n t such^a long one. The brown-eyed Babe was very long,m u c h too long for a n o r m al babe. T h e Nurse was a realist though, and she knew that sometimes you have to take what you can get. So despite her want for a less lengthy babe, she took it for the s u m of $43.11, a fair price, which the parents spent on champagne and Italian pornography to expedite their babe production. T h e Nurse dressed the brown-eyed Babe in a pink onesie and brought it h o m e o n her lunch break. Her boyfriend was unhappy to see a babe, and he wanted to know w h a t the hell the Nurse was thinking bringing a babe into their h o m e without asking him first. "You're on birth control for a reason," he said. "But it's the Babe," she said, thrusting it toward h i m like a h o t potato. H e shied away and tripped over a huge pink rattle. 78

H e walked to FedEx with the long/happy, brown-eyed Babe* cooing in his arms. The'beret-wearing cigar m a n puffed hard, spouting smoke as he walked through the automatic door and was told by the clerk with m e l a n o m a chewing on her a r m that smoking was n o t allowed in the building. "Bah)" said the beret-wearing cigar man . He* turned* ahd s'tepped into the motion sensor's view. The*do6r opened, and h e tossed his cigar onto the dry b r o w n grass in front of the store. The grass ignited and a passing Schnauzer urinated on the

Berkeley Fiction Review

Brandon Jennings *

79


The pink rattle h a d materialized w h e n the baby was carried through the door. It was pink to let them know that the long, browneyed Babe was a girl. It was a rattle to annoy non-babe owners when 'it was shaken.

B

R

O

W

N

-

E

BRANDON

Y

E

D

B

A

B

T h e boyfriend broke his •arm w h e n he hit the ground, and the Nurse knew broken hones were expensive to repair. Further complicating things,"her boyfriend would need foreign parts. She frowned. She knew she h a d to sell the Babe. "I'll be-right back," she told him, arid out the door she went. Outside the apartment, a m a n wearing a red beret leaned against a lamppost, smoking a cigar ahd fanning a bouquet of bills. "Hey," said the Nurse, a n d the smoking, "beret-wearing m a n looked up. "I bet you-want to sell* that baby," h e said, knocking ash onto the rough, dry sidewalk. "You got that right,"' she said, snatching the bills and forking over the Bahe. The m a n sucked hard on his cigar, and the cherry lit u p the brown eyes of the long Babe: The Babe cooed. It was a'happy babe. It was a long, happy" babe, and the m a n with the cigar was glad "to hold it for the time he y did, though h e knew it wouldn't last. His need for profit always conquered'his heed for gladness, and there was a big market for brown-eyed babes in Germany. H e thought there was. If there was a place where th£re would be a good market for babes with brown eyes it would have to be Germany, certainly not an Asian country. Sure, the beret-wearing cigar m a n didn't know much, but he knew that all G e r m a ns had blue eyes. They h a d to love brown-eyed babes. They'd kill for 6ne.

E

JENNINGS

T h e Babe was b o rn with brown eyes, and that just wasn't what the mother was looking for. T h e father didn't care that much, b u t he never 'really cared about anything. W h e n the mother asked the doctor h o w much a brown-eyed babe would go for, he looked at his watch and said that he wasn't sure, but that he'd be glad to check and see if any of the nurses were in the market for a second-hand babe. j One nurse h a d been looking for a babe for quite some time, but* she didn't w a n t such^a long one. The brown-eyed Babe was very long,m u c h too long for a n o r m al babe. T h e Nurse was a realist though, and she knew that sometimes you have to take what you can get. So despite her want for a less lengthy babe, she took it for the s u m of $43.11, a fair price, which the parents spent on champagne and Italian pornography to expedite their babe production. T h e Nurse dressed the brown-eyed Babe in a pink onesie and brought it h o m e o n her lunch break. Her boyfriend was unhappy to see a babe, and he wanted to know w h a t the hell the Nurse was thinking bringing a babe into their h o m e without asking him first. "You're on birth control for a reason," he said. "But it's the Babe," she said, thrusting it toward h i m like a h o t potato. H e shied away and tripped over a huge pink rattle. 78

H e walked to FedEx with the long/happy, brown-eyed Babe* cooing in his arms. The'beret-wearing cigar m a n puffed hard, spouting smoke as he walked through the automatic door and was told by the clerk with m e l a n o m a chewing on her a r m that smoking was n o t allowed in the building. "Bah)" said the beret-wearing cigar man . He* turned* ahd s'tepped into the motion sensor's view. The*do6r opened, and h e tossed his cigar onto the dry b r o w n grass in front of the store. The grass ignited and a passing Schnauzer urinated on the

Berkeley Fiction Review

Brandon Jennings *

79


fire, extingvushing it, and coincidentalfy creating a terribly pissy, smell. A t the register, Jhe.beret T wearing cigar m a n asked, " H o w m u c h for m e to mail this long, brown-eyed babe to Germany?" The clerk looked at the cigar man . "That's gonna be a helluva lpt, m a n . A helluva lot," she saidr"A helluva lot?" T h e cigar m a n looked ,to..the clerk, then looked at the b a b c a n d t h en b.ack tq the clerk. The, beret-wearing cigar m a n raised his eyebrows. T h e cancer-ridden clerjc looked at the long, .brown-eyed Babe and said, "A helluva lot." ^ "Well," said the cigar.man, "Box her up, I guess." T h e Babe c o o e d . ' "You got it," said the clerk. "That'll be $300." Postage to G e r m a n y was a lot, so the beret-wearing cigar m a n sent the Babe to Iraq instead. W h e n the Babe got there, it w_as tired, but it didn't cry. It was too tired to cry after a trip like that. The Babe wasn't even a week old, and it h a d traveled half-way .around the world. Customs officials placed the Babe on Ebay, a n d in minutes, she was bought outright. The-Babe was mailed to a n APO-address where a sergeant guarded a hole outside Baghdad. The Sergeant watched the hole because it was his job, and a medal in his pocket was there to remind h i m of his exceptional hole-guarding skills. H e was a hell of a hole-watcher, but it was n o fun guarding the hole alone. That's why he ordered the Babe - bought it for the buyout price. T h e Sergeant smiled w h e n he saw the rough, b r o w n box, opened it and pulled out the long, brown-eyed Babe, "fhe Babe cooed as the Sergeant hoisted it u p to the sun, admiring h o w the.fine hairs on it;s head faded in and o u t p f visibility against the light.-He plopped the Babe onto,the sand; and balanced a pink helmet on its wobbling head. T h e Babe sat beside the Sergeant a n d they .both stared at the hole, waiting. After a few hours, the Sergeant turned to the Babe and said, " I ' m glad I got you, long, brown-eyed Babe. I ' m glad you're here." T h e Babe cooed a n d laughed, pointing its stubby digit at the hole and smiling a gummy smile as the wind picked up, covering t h e m both •with dust. W h e n the wind was gone, the Babe closed its eyes, scrunched its nose and, sneezed. T h e helmet tjpped forward, covering the b a b e 's

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face, a n d the Sergeant laughed a t t h e headless babe.. "You're such a silly thing," he said, turning away and knocking his dusty rifle against his boot before shouldering it a n d then turning back to eye the Babe. It wobbled there, steadying a rifle of its own, aiming it at the sand. T h e Sergeant patted the Babe on the helmet, thumpjhump, and then aimed his rifle into the blackness of the hole. ""vVhat a silly babe," he said. W h a t a silly babe indeed.

Berkeley Fiction Review

Brandon Jennings L

81


fire, extingvushing it, and coincidentalfy creating a terribly pissy, smell. A t the register, Jhe.beret T wearing cigar m a n asked, " H o w m u c h for m e to mail this long, brown-eyed babe to Germany?" The clerk looked at the cigar man . "That's gonna be a helluva lpt, m a n . A helluva lot," she saidr"A helluva lot?" T h e cigar m a n looked ,to..the clerk, then looked at the b a b c a n d t h en b.ack tq the clerk. The, beret-wearing cigar m a n raised his eyebrows. T h e cancer-ridden clerjc looked at the long, .brown-eyed Babe and said, "A helluva lot." ^ "Well," said the cigar.man, "Box her up, I guess." T h e Babe c o o e d . ' "You got it," said the clerk. "That'll be $300." Postage to G e r m a n y was a lot, so the beret-wearing cigar m a n sent the Babe to Iraq instead. W h e n the Babe got there, it w_as tired, but it didn't cry. It was too tired to cry after a trip like that. The Babe wasn't even a week old, and it h a d traveled half-way .around the world. Customs officials placed the Babe on Ebay, a n d in minutes, she was bought outright. The-Babe was mailed to a n APO-address where a sergeant guarded a hole outside Baghdad. The Sergeant watched the hole because it was his job, and a medal in his pocket was there to remind h i m of his exceptional hole-guarding skills. H e was a hell of a hole-watcher, but it was n o fun guarding the hole alone. That's why he ordered the Babe - bought it for the buyout price. T h e Sergeant smiled w h e n he saw the rough, b r o w n box, opened it and pulled out the long, brown-eyed Babe, "fhe Babe cooed as the Sergeant hoisted it u p to the sun, admiring h o w the.fine hairs on it;s head faded in and o u t p f visibility against the light.-He plopped the Babe onto,the sand; and balanced a pink helmet on its wobbling head. T h e Babe sat beside the Sergeant a n d they .both stared at the hole, waiting. After a few hours, the Sergeant turned to the Babe and said, " I ' m glad I got you, long, brown-eyed Babe. I ' m glad you're here." T h e Babe cooed a n d laughed, pointing its stubby digit at the hole and smiling a gummy smile as the wind picked up, covering t h e m both •with dust. W h e n the wind was gone, the Babe closed its eyes, scrunched its nose and, sneezed. T h e helmet tjpped forward, covering the b a b e 's

80

face, a n d the Sergeant laughed a t t h e headless babe.. "You're such a silly thing," he said, turning away and knocking his dusty rifle against his boot before shouldering it a n d then turning back to eye the Babe. It wobbled there, steadying a rifle of its own, aiming it at the sand. T h e Sergeant patted the Babe on the helmet, thumpjhump, and then aimed his rifle into the blackness of the hole. ""vVhat a silly babe," he said. W h a t a silly babe indeed.

Berkeley Fiction Review

Brandon Jennings L

81


A

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P

E

A

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BRIGHTON

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T

H

E

L

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S

T

EARLEY

Los Angeles, 2003 I do n o t deserve to be spoken to, a n d I live m y fife accordingly. These days, it is difficult for m e to do the simplest things. To get out of bed, to put toothpaste to toothbrush, to slice an apple - the thought alone overwhelms me. I sleep on a couch two feet too short. I chew spearmint g u m rather than brush my teeth. I eat frozen food half-heated on paper plates that I never have to wash. These days, I have to turn on the TV just to hear again the sound of h u m a n voices. It's been years since I set foot in a classroom. Years since I made a lesson plan. Years since I heard the high-pitched voices of my students. Years since I wanted to. These days, I make my living washing dishes. At the restaurant, after dark, no one asks about my life. N o one cares about my diplomas. N o one wonders where I came from. N o one wants to know about the things I've done wrong, the things I can't seem to stop thinking about. During my first week washing dishes, my skin became so chapped I couldn't make a fist without tearing up. I would soak my red, cracked, bleeding hands in a healing oatmeal bath after work, sometimes for hours. These days, I don't bother. M y red, cracked, bleeding hands 82

Berkeley Fiction Review

Brighton Earley

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A

N

D

P

E

A

C

E

A

BRIGHTON

T

T

H

E

L

A

S

T

EARLEY

Los Angeles, 2003 I do n o t deserve to be spoken to, a n d I live m y fife accordingly. These days, it is difficult for m e to do the simplest things. To get out of bed, to put toothpaste to toothbrush, to slice an apple - the thought alone overwhelms me. I sleep on a couch two feet too short. I chew spearmint g u m rather than brush my teeth. I eat frozen food half-heated on paper plates that I never have to wash. These days, I have to turn on the TV just to hear again the sound of h u m a n voices. It's been years since I set foot in a classroom. Years since I made a lesson plan. Years since I heard the high-pitched voices of my students. Years since I wanted to. These days, I make my living washing dishes. At the restaurant, after dark, no one asks about my life. N o one cares about my diplomas. N o one wonders where I came from. N o one wants to know about the things I've done wrong, the things I can't seem to stop thinking about. During my first week washing dishes, my skin became so chapped I couldn't make a fist without tearing up. I would soak my red, cracked, bleeding hands in a healing oatmeal bath after work, sometimes for hours. These days, I don't bother. M y red, cracked, bleeding hands 82

Berkeley Fiction Review

Brighton Earley

83


make m e feel close to what I have lost (to w h o m I have lost), feel like the punishment I deserve. Even less than I deserve. H o w m u c h less I can never bring myself to say. However, there is a story that must be told, a n d I a m the only one left to tell it. So today, my red, cracked, bleeding hands will write. A n d maybe my knuckles will chafe and blister and bleed red on the page. A n d then, maybe everyone will see what loss really looks like. W h a t love really looks like w h e n it is gone. I have waited years to find the proper words, the proper order, and the proper form through which to describe the events surrounding the death of Lily Walker. But those words in their properness never came, a n d I can no longer wait for them. A n d maybe at the end you'll want some kind of divine revelation. A n d then I will have to sincerely apologize, because I have none to give. All I have is this story.

O n e day in the mid-1980s, a miraculous thing occurred: a^baby was born. She had ten fingers, ten toes. She was born at 6:06 A M and weighed precisely six pounds and six ounces. Unfortunately, her uniqueness was lost on her parents, for this child was b o rn to parents to w h o m she was about as miraculous as the t h u d of the newspaper against the ripped screen door. It is true that she never did rmicti'to persuade t h e m - she refused to nurse, she cried at the most inopportune moments, she did noloffer anyone that gassy newborn smile. She should have tried harder. She could have persuaded them. Surely, she could have. This is what Lily Walker once tried to convince m e of. It was after school; she was the only student of mine w h o never wanted to go home. Or the only one w h o h a d nothing to go h o m e to. While the nurses taught Lily's mother h o w to breast-feed, they told her that she should smile at her baby more often - an offense her mother held over Lily until the day of her death.

Sometimes, Lily woufd hold on to m e as if her life depended u p o n it. Those were the moments I loved the most. Also, the rarest. Her wiry

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Berkeley Fiction Review

arms wrapped tightly around m y neck; her freckled cheek against my collarbone. Breathing in her warm child scent. Feeling her breath come in little gusts against m y chest. I held her despite the administration's discouragement of contact with students. I held her because she needed to be held, a n d I was the only one left to hold her* But most of all, I held her because I was afraid of what would happen to her if I didn't. Lily reminded m e so m u c h of H a r r y Harfow's monkeys. That video in college - the negative effects of maternal separation.'Harlow said that baby monkeys have three months to" a year to learn to love, or they will never love at all. W h e n I looked at Lily, quiet arid nervous'behind her desk, I couldn't help but see those baby monkeys in the video; those w h o consoled themselves with a rocking motion, tyiy little metronomes in steel cages. I wouldn't let her be one of them. In those mpments,,as I held her close, I truly believed I could keep her safe. Today, those are the moments I think about in my darkest times. Every day, I wish for more of those moments with Lily. I wish and I wish and I wish and I wish.

Brooklyn, 1993 My chair was too close to the desk. Eric Hamilton, my seat partner since the first day of schdol, removed his finger from his nose and wiped his hoogers under our desk. Every day he wiped those hoogers clos'er and closer to my side. But today I was taking action. I was not going to stand for it any more. I reached under my desk and grasped the cold cylinder in my hand. I discreetly removed tfie cap, positioned it so that it poinled'toward the underside of our desk, and pressed down on the disinfectant releasing mechanism. A burst of misty^ lemon-scented air bloomed over us; I had not been expecting such a great cloud of cleanliness. The smell filled my nostrils and made me feel like I would choke. I shoved my chair out, andEricfelloutofhis, coughing and sputtering dramatically I could tell he was just facing it. The cloud began to disappear, and Ms. Owdhs'face emerged from behind if. Her frown was so deep I could see tfie crow 'sfe'et that she was still young enougWto want to hide. I was sorryfor making her mad, butnotsorry forwhatIdid. Butldidn't tell her that.

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make m e feel close to what I have lost (to w h o m I have lost), feel like the punishment I deserve. Even less than I deserve. H o w m u c h less I can never bring myself to say. However, there is a story that must be told, a n d I a m the only one left to tell it. So today, my red, cracked, bleeding hands will write. A n d maybe my knuckles will chafe and blister and bleed red on the page. A n d then, maybe everyone will see what loss really looks like. W h a t love really looks like w h e n it is gone. I have waited years to find the proper words, the proper order, and the proper form through which to describe the events surrounding the death of Lily Walker. But those words in their properness never came, a n d I can no longer wait for them. A n d maybe at the end you'll want some kind of divine revelation. A n d then I will have to sincerely apologize, because I have none to give. All I have is this story.

O n e day in the mid-1980s, a miraculous thing occurred: a^baby was born. She had ten fingers, ten toes. She was born at 6:06 A M and weighed precisely six pounds and six ounces. Unfortunately, her uniqueness was lost on her parents, for this child was b o rn to parents to w h o m she was about as miraculous as the t h u d of the newspaper against the ripped screen door. It is true that she never did rmicti'to persuade t h e m - she refused to nurse, she cried at the most inopportune moments, she did noloffer anyone that gassy newborn smile. She should have tried harder. She could have persuaded them. Surely, she could have. This is what Lily Walker once tried to convince m e of. It was after school; she was the only student of mine w h o never wanted to go home. Or the only one w h o h a d nothing to go h o m e to. While the nurses taught Lily's mother h o w to breast-feed, they told her that she should smile at her baby more often - an offense her mother held over Lily until the day of her death.

Sometimes, Lily woufd hold on to m e as if her life depended u p o n it. Those were the moments I loved the most. Also, the rarest. Her wiry

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Berkeley Fiction Review

arms wrapped tightly around m y neck; her freckled cheek against my collarbone. Breathing in her warm child scent. Feeling her breath come in little gusts against m y chest. I held her despite the administration's discouragement of contact with students. I held her because she needed to be held, a n d I was the only one left to hold her* But most of all, I held her because I was afraid of what would happen to her if I didn't. Lily reminded m e so m u c h of H a r r y Harfow's monkeys. That video in college - the negative effects of maternal separation.'Harlow said that baby monkeys have three months to" a year to learn to love, or they will never love at all. W h e n I looked at Lily, quiet arid nervous'behind her desk, I couldn't help but see those baby monkeys in the video; those w h o consoled themselves with a rocking motion, tyiy little metronomes in steel cages. I wouldn't let her be one of them. In those mpments,,as I held her close, I truly believed I could keep her safe. Today, those are the moments I think about in my darkest times. Every day, I wish for more of those moments with Lily. I wish and I wish and I wish and I wish.

Brooklyn, 1993 My chair was too close to the desk. Eric Hamilton, my seat partner since the first day of schdol, removed his finger from his nose and wiped his hoogers under our desk. Every day he wiped those hoogers clos'er and closer to my side. But today I was taking action. I was not going to stand for it any more. I reached under my desk and grasped the cold cylinder in my hand. I discreetly removed tfie cap, positioned it so that it poinled'toward the underside of our desk, and pressed down on the disinfectant releasing mechanism. A burst of misty^ lemon-scented air bloomed over us; I had not been expecting such a great cloud of cleanliness. The smell filled my nostrils and made me feel like I would choke. I shoved my chair out, andEricfelloutofhis, coughing and sputtering dramatically I could tell he was just facing it. The cloud began to disappear, and Ms. Owdhs'face emerged from behind if. Her frown was so deep I could see tfie crow 'sfe'et that she was still young enougWto want to hide. I was sorryfor making her mad, butnotsorry forwhatIdid. Butldidn't tell her that.

Brighton Earley

f

85


Next we moved on to English, my secondfavorite subject after recess. My leastfavorite subject was science. I hate science because yve always have to do mean things to animals, like dissect them. Last month, I decided I had had enough and I took the bucket with all the squids home wjth me when ilÂŁs. Owens wasn't looking. But instead of walking home, I. took thet260 bus toward the Jiarbor. I poured the squids in the ocean that night, but they wouldn't swim away. They floated to the surface, and Ilooked anthem for a long time, until my cheeksfelt raw. When I went back to school the next day, Ms. Owenstaught us a new word:formaldehyde. When she said this she looked at me most of all, and I knew that she knew. ^, If I had known about the formaldehyde, I would have taken them tot the cemetery instead. But that was all a long time ago. Hooked to my right and Eric Hamilton was glaring at me. The bell rang. Ms. Owens toldys to line.upby the door, and hqnded each of us our first quarter reportcards. I clutched my report card to my chest. Straight A's-1 knew without looking. Someone in line pushed me. I wanted to push back, but I didn't.

My mother was sleeping when I went into her room. My father was not there. I saw gray sprouting from her scalp, pushing brown out of its way. She smelled like the dentist. I put the report card on the bedside table, next to the white and orange bottles, because I knew, she'd see it there. I thought that I ought to give her a while to read it, since she'd been so busy .lately and hardly hard time, to come out of her room. > I went back to their room on Sunday night. My father was propped up to watch the television, buthjs eyes were closed. He snored in great bursts. He had stolen all the sheets. My.mother looked cold. Their room was just as I had left- it, except that some of thet orayige bottles were on their sides and the tabletop had disappeared under a pile of,scrunched up.tissues. Their room smelled like the bottom of my laundry hamper. The colors of the television set bounced off the whitejvalls and back at me. I was J 0,000 colors. I was Pat Sajak and the Wheel of Fortune. It took me a long time before I found the report card. But it wasn't even the same report card I had left for them. Across Math and English was a perfect impression of his coffee cup. Her grocery list was on the back. I folded up the

86

Berkeley Fiction Review

report card until it was as small as my pinky fingernail and slid it down the side of the trashcan by the bed. Pat Sajak asked the audience to please be quiet and my mother made a noise. She rolled onto her back andTsaw that the pillow seam had left an impression across herface. Her eyeballs were sunken deep into their sockets-and she was very, very gray. She had been'crying. I watched her for a minute, just to make sure she was still breathing. She didn't notice me, so I turned down Pat Sajak and closed the door behind me, JO that it never even made a sound. In the kitchen, the calendar said, "Mom's Suicide" in her neatr loopy handwriting. I took scissors from the top drawer to the right of the sink, and I cut out January 15.1 put it'in my pocket. Jt would join iRe others: May 4, April 9, December 20, February -18.1 had imagined it a hundred times, had cried, had recovered from this imagindry loss. A hundred times I had lost her, and a hundred times I had survived. I looked at the kitchen floor. On it there were spots. Blue spots, red spots, green spots, purple spots; yellow spots. Spots everywhere. It was dirty. •I took a 'cloth from under the sink, and the 409. I scrubbed at the spots. I scrubbed and I scrubbed and I scrubbed. They were not going away. " They were stuck. 7 counted. % 'One swipe of the cloth over the spot, one swipe back. One, two. One, two. Onetwothreefoutfivesixseveneightninefeneleventwelve2I couldn't sleep thatnight.

It takes me 72 7 steps to get from the ripped screen door of our apartment to the heavy wooden door of St. Jerome's Elementary School. But before I can even leave the house, I have" to 'make sure to 'do certain things so that I can make if those 727 steps. First, I have to brush my teeth with'45 strokes of the toothbrush andfhenActually, we shouldn't talk about this. I just meant to say that there are certain thingsIdobefore walking my 727 steps. That's all: Today when Ffinally got to class I was a little laie -1 had lost track of my steps and had to douhle back. The yard was eerily quiet. It reminded me of home.

Brighton Earley

87


Next we moved on to English, my secondfavorite subject after recess. My leastfavorite subject was science. I hate science because yve always have to do mean things to animals, like dissect them. Last month, I decided I had had enough and I took the bucket with all the squids home wjth me when ilÂŁs. Owens wasn't looking. But instead of walking home, I. took thet260 bus toward the Jiarbor. I poured the squids in the ocean that night, but they wouldn't swim away. They floated to the surface, and Ilooked anthem for a long time, until my cheeksfelt raw. When I went back to school the next day, Ms. Owenstaught us a new word:formaldehyde. When she said this she looked at me most of all, and I knew that she knew. ^, If I had known about the formaldehyde, I would have taken them tot the cemetery instead. But that was all a long time ago. Hooked to my right and Eric Hamilton was glaring at me. The bell rang. Ms. Owens toldys to line.upby the door, and hqnded each of us our first quarter reportcards. I clutched my report card to my chest. Straight A's-1 knew without looking. Someone in line pushed me. I wanted to push back, but I didn't.

My mother was sleeping when I went into her room. My father was not there. I saw gray sprouting from her scalp, pushing brown out of its way. She smelled like the dentist. I put the report card on the bedside table, next to the white and orange bottles, because I knew, she'd see it there. I thought that I ought to give her a while to read it, since she'd been so busy .lately and hardly hard time, to come out of her room. > I went back to their room on Sunday night. My father was propped up to watch the television, buthjs eyes were closed. He snored in great bursts. He had stolen all the sheets. My.mother looked cold. Their room was just as I had left- it, except that some of thet orayige bottles were on their sides and the tabletop had disappeared under a pile of,scrunched up.tissues. Their room smelled like the bottom of my laundry hamper. The colors of the television set bounced off the whitejvalls and back at me. I was J 0,000 colors. I was Pat Sajak and the Wheel of Fortune. It took me a long time before I found the report card. But it wasn't even the same report card I had left for them. Across Math and English was a perfect impression of his coffee cup. Her grocery list was on the back. I folded up the

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Berkeley Fiction Review

report card until it was as small as my pinky fingernail and slid it down the side of the trashcan by the bed. Pat Sajak asked the audience to please be quiet and my mother made a noise. She rolled onto her back andTsaw that the pillow seam had left an impression across herface. Her eyeballs were sunken deep into their sockets-and she was very, very gray. She had been'crying. I watched her for a minute, just to make sure she was still breathing. She didn't notice me, so I turned down Pat Sajak and closed the door behind me, JO that it never even made a sound. In the kitchen, the calendar said, "Mom's Suicide" in her neatr loopy handwriting. I took scissors from the top drawer to the right of the sink, and I cut out January 15.1 put it'in my pocket. Jt would join iRe others: May 4, April 9, December 20, February -18.1 had imagined it a hundred times, had cried, had recovered from this imagindry loss. A hundred times I had lost her, and a hundred times I had survived. I looked at the kitchen floor. On it there were spots. Blue spots, red spots, green spots, purple spots; yellow spots. Spots everywhere. It was dirty. •I took a 'cloth from under the sink, and the 409. I scrubbed at the spots. I scrubbed and I scrubbed and I scrubbed. They were not going away. " They were stuck. 7 counted. % 'One swipe of the cloth over the spot, one swipe back. One, two. One, two. Onetwothreefoutfivesixseveneightninefeneleventwelve2I couldn't sleep thatnight.

It takes me 72 7 steps to get from the ripped screen door of our apartment to the heavy wooden door of St. Jerome's Elementary School. But before I can even leave the house, I have" to 'make sure to 'do certain things so that I can make if those 727 steps. First, I have to brush my teeth with'45 strokes of the toothbrush andfhenActually, we shouldn't talk about this. I just meant to say that there are certain thingsIdobefore walking my 727 steps. That's all: Today when Ffinally got to class I was a little laie -1 had lost track of my steps and had to douhle back. The yard was eerily quiet. It reminded me of home.

Brighton Earley

87


Inside, once I had quietly made it to my seat, Ms. Owens looked at me with her concerned look. That look made me feel glad that I came to school that day. Now I have to tell you something that is weird and is also a secret. In September, as soon as I realized what a njce lady^Ms. Owens, was, I had to imagine her dying, just to see if I would be okay if that happened. I had to know if I could be okay without Ms. Owen^.because that's what happens to people you love - they die. When the bell finally rang at 2:29 PM, Ms. Owens asked me to stay after class. I sat on the stool next to her desk and organized her paper clips. She had mixed all the big ones with the small ones, which can be a very upsetting mistake when you go to clip a huge stack ofpapers together and all you get is baby clips. I always organize my mother's paper clips. I think the next time she clips a big stack of papers together, she '11 be really grateful, even if she doesn 't say so. OnceltoldMs. Owens that I didn't really like my parents, fids. Owbnstold me that it wasn 't very nice to say that. She said that everybody's got a reason for* being the way they are. Ms. Owens is always saying stuff like that. And that she's worried about me. Iknowwhy she says that, anfl I wish she wouldn't say it. She started saying it when one day in art class I rolled up my sleeves without thinking about what it means to roll up one's sleeves and she saw all my red marks that she's.never supposed to know about. I think that she thinks that one of my parents did those. But that's not true. I did them myself. I did them myself because sometimes I forget about Ms. Owens, and all lean think about is how much of a disappointment I am and how much of everything really is my fault, just like my mother always says. Spmetimes that's the only way to feel better. So when Ms. Owens asked me to stay after class, I prepared myself to lie to her. I know it's not a nice thing to lie to someone, but I don't like it when she loofasat me in the way I looked at thefloating squids. Ididn't want her to see me cry. Ms. Owens said a lot of-stuff, and I did a, lot of nodding - and a lot of lying. I think maybe she knew. I shouldhave tried harder, but I was too tired. Then, Ms. Owens did something she'd never done before. She huggesd me. Not like a normal hug - a tighfhug. I'd never been hugged so tightly before. I really wasn't expecting it. I'm a very stiff hugger, since I don't have much practice. The hug lasted a long time, and ityvas very tight the whole time. The tighter she hugged,me, the more / believed that she^ actually lovedt me.

88

"You know, Lily, you can tell me anything." (No,Ican't). "Okay," I said. I thought about how only Ms. Owenscalls me Lily. Then she let go. Her eyes were serious and blue. I didn't want her to see me cry. I walked 727 steps home. 8-TT .Even in m y arms she was out of reach. You would think that after all that time teaching, I would have known better than to become attached to a student. I don't know what it was. Every time I looked at her, something broke inside me, shattered a n d filled my stomach with glass. T h e first time* I ever touched her, she flinched. I h a d placed my h a n d lightly on her shoulder. She flinched, and I could never forget it. I remember the first day of school. I remember the way she would arrange her pencils. Seven pencils, two erasers, seven paperclips. I remember her nails, bitten to t h e quick. I remember looking u p from m y desk to check on her. It was then I realized that she was watching m e as closely as I was watching her. 8 - r When I got home, I sat at the kitchen table to do my homework. My father was'asleep in the La-Z-Boy. He burped Budweiser in his sleep. I decided togo to bed earlyfor once. Ms. Owens wouldbe proud, I thought, if she could see me right now. I often thought of what Ms. 'Owens would think of particular things. It was nice to think of someone having an opinion about the things I did. I kneeled by my bed and rested my head on the side of the mattress. I used to think that it would upset God if I rested my head there while I talked to Him, but so far nothing bad has happened. "0 Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed,

Berkeley Fiction Review

Brighton Earley A

89


Inside, once I had quietly made it to my seat, Ms. Owens looked at me with her concerned look. That look made me feel glad that I came to school that day. Now I have to tell you something that is weird and is also a secret. In September, as soon as I realized what a njce lady^Ms. Owens, was, I had to imagine her dying, just to see if I would be okay if that happened. I had to know if I could be okay without Ms. Owen^.because that's what happens to people you love - they die. When the bell finally rang at 2:29 PM, Ms. Owens asked me to stay after class. I sat on the stool next to her desk and organized her paper clips. She had mixed all the big ones with the small ones, which can be a very upsetting mistake when you go to clip a huge stack ofpapers together and all you get is baby clips. I always organize my mother's paper clips. I think the next time she clips a big stack of papers together, she '11 be really grateful, even if she doesn 't say so. OnceltoldMs. Owens that I didn't really like my parents, fids. Owbnstold me that it wasn 't very nice to say that. She said that everybody's got a reason for* being the way they are. Ms. Owens is always saying stuff like that. And that she's worried about me. Iknowwhy she says that, anfl I wish she wouldn't say it. She started saying it when one day in art class I rolled up my sleeves without thinking about what it means to roll up one's sleeves and she saw all my red marks that she's.never supposed to know about. I think that she thinks that one of my parents did those. But that's not true. I did them myself. I did them myself because sometimes I forget about Ms. Owens, and all lean think about is how much of a disappointment I am and how much of everything really is my fault, just like my mother always says. Spmetimes that's the only way to feel better. So when Ms. Owens asked me to stay after class, I prepared myself to lie to her. I know it's not a nice thing to lie to someone, but I don't like it when she loofasat me in the way I looked at thefloating squids. Ididn't want her to see me cry. Ms. Owens said a lot of-stuff, and I did a, lot of nodding - and a lot of lying. I think maybe she knew. I shouldhave tried harder, but I was too tired. Then, Ms. Owens did something she'd never done before. She huggesd me. Not like a normal hug - a tighfhug. I'd never been hugged so tightly before. I really wasn't expecting it. I'm a very stiff hugger, since I don't have much practice. The hug lasted a long time, and ityvas very tight the whole time. The tighter she hugged,me, the more / believed that she^ actually lovedt me.

88

"You know, Lily, you can tell me anything." (No,Ican't). "Okay," I said. I thought about how only Ms. Owenscalls me Lily. Then she let go. Her eyes were serious and blue. I didn't want her to see me cry. I walked 727 steps home. 8-TT .Even in m y arms she was out of reach. You would think that after all that time teaching, I would have known better than to become attached to a student. I don't know what it was. Every time I looked at her, something broke inside me, shattered a n d filled my stomach with glass. T h e first time* I ever touched her, she flinched. I h a d placed my h a n d lightly on her shoulder. She flinched, and I could never forget it. I remember the first day of school. I remember the way she would arrange her pencils. Seven pencils, two erasers, seven paperclips. I remember her nails, bitten to t h e quick. I remember looking u p from m y desk to check on her. It was then I realized that she was watching m e as closely as I was watching her. 8 - r When I got home, I sat at the kitchen table to do my homework. My father was'asleep in the La-Z-Boy. He burped Budweiser in his sleep. I decided togo to bed earlyfor once. Ms. Owens wouldbe proud, I thought, if she could see me right now. I often thought of what Ms. 'Owens would think of particular things. It was nice to think of someone having an opinion about the things I did. I kneeled by my bed and rested my head on the side of the mattress. I used to think that it would upset God if I rested my head there while I talked to Him, but so far nothing bad has happened. "0 Lord, support us all the day long, until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed,

Berkeley Fiction Review

Brighton Earley A

89


/ didn't say anything. I looked back at the carpet; the carpet looked back at me. I thought of the one question I was always too afraid to ask. I thought it and kept it inside, bundled there, tied up in string. W h y isn't my m o m m y like other mommies? Much too complicated to untangle, topass through my lips, to weave into words. What did I do? She went back into their dark "bedroom and slammed the door behind her. I went baclzio my room, turned on my light and looked at my'knees. They were hot and red arid angry. She had broken all the mirrors, so I couldn't check my face. AmlstillLily Walker if I can't see her? If I can't look her in the eye, am I still her?

and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in your mercy, grant us a safe lodging and a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen." That was when something had happened. The light was already off, sol didn't see her, but I heard her behind me, sniffling. She grabbed me by my wrists. I knew there would fie little purple marks with pink crescent moon hats there the next fay-1 pulled my knees up to my chest and braced myself for what was next. She yanked my arms oyer my head and pulled me into the living room. She was yelling - loud enough that my father could hear. But, as always, he stayed in their room. She said the tfiings she always sayp, but this time it was 'worse, jifter a few minutes, she got tired of dragging me around on rthe living room - which hurtfiven though it was only carpet- qnd let go of me. I gritted my teeth against the pain. From experience, I knew rugburns were only bad for the first minute. It was my face that I was worried about. It was always getting in her way. I put my cheek-against the carpett and closed my eyes. My mother smelled like you smell after you^go on a camping'trip and there are no showers. I opened my eyes and looked for. her face. Her gray hair wqs swallowing her brown hair and hung in stringy sections that kept sticking to her face. I

"Lillian Walker?" "LIL?! I-1 mean, just Lily,"please." "Lily, like theflower. Beautiful." Ms. Owens smiled at me. Her eyes were kind'and blue.

I turned the light off again, kneeled very carefully by my bed, and I didn 't rest myforehead'on my mattress this time. My knees prickled and th'en burned; my head throbbed in concert. I couldn't think of the words to the prayer we had to memorize at St. Jerome's anymore, so I prayed for my mother then.

couldn't see her eyes. Âť Then, because of what Ms. Owens said about people and why they are the way they are, I did something I'd never done before: I stood up and I hugged her. And for a moment she stopped yelling, and I could feel her looking at me. Finally seeing me. I waited to feel her arms come around me and for her hands to rub my back. Like Ms. Qwenslfiands would. They never came. She shook me off of her.

8 - r I awoke before first light, like everyday. Like almost every day. Like every other day. Like every second Wednesday. Li&e every third Thursday. Like any other day. Like today. I awoke. I don't think about why. I'm magic -1 found a way around thinking about it.

She spat atme. Agreatglob landedin my hair, but I was too tired to wipe it out. I didn't move. She didn't touch me again. Maybe she was scared. "You ruined my life, Lillian!" She said. At home, I am Lillian. "You and your father!" Your father, like it was my fault she married-him. 90

r

He had lost his spectacles. Misplaced a grey andhlack striped sock. Forgotten where he put the remote. His hands that touched me -*here, there, everywhere. Hands like a Dr. Seuss rhyme. Those hands were just hands looking for spectacles. Examining

Brighton Earley

Berkeley Fiction'Review 1

91


/ didn't say anything. I looked back at the carpet; the carpet looked back at me. I thought of the one question I was always too afraid to ask. I thought it and kept it inside, bundled there, tied up in string. W h y isn't my m o m m y like other mommies? Much too complicated to untangle, topass through my lips, to weave into words. What did I do? She went back into their dark "bedroom and slammed the door behind her. I went baclzio my room, turned on my light and looked at my'knees. They were hot and red arid angry. She had broken all the mirrors, so I couldn't check my face. AmlstillLily Walker if I can't see her? If I can't look her in the eye, am I still her?

and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then in your mercy, grant us a safe lodging and a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen." That was when something had happened. The light was already off, sol didn't see her, but I heard her behind me, sniffling. She grabbed me by my wrists. I knew there would fie little purple marks with pink crescent moon hats there the next fay-1 pulled my knees up to my chest and braced myself for what was next. She yanked my arms oyer my head and pulled me into the living room. She was yelling - loud enough that my father could hear. But, as always, he stayed in their room. She said the tfiings she always sayp, but this time it was 'worse, jifter a few minutes, she got tired of dragging me around on rthe living room - which hurtfiven though it was only carpet- qnd let go of me. I gritted my teeth against the pain. From experience, I knew rugburns were only bad for the first minute. It was my face that I was worried about. It was always getting in her way. I put my cheek-against the carpett and closed my eyes. My mother smelled like you smell after you^go on a camping'trip and there are no showers. I opened my eyes and looked for. her face. Her gray hair wqs swallowing her brown hair and hung in stringy sections that kept sticking to her face. I

"Lillian Walker?" "LIL?! I-1 mean, just Lily,"please." "Lily, like theflower. Beautiful." Ms. Owens smiled at me. Her eyes were kind'and blue.

I turned the light off again, kneeled very carefully by my bed, and I didn 't rest myforehead'on my mattress this time. My knees prickled and th'en burned; my head throbbed in concert. I couldn't think of the words to the prayer we had to memorize at St. Jerome's anymore, so I prayed for my mother then.

couldn't see her eyes. Âť Then, because of what Ms. Owens said about people and why they are the way they are, I did something I'd never done before: I stood up and I hugged her. And for a moment she stopped yelling, and I could feel her looking at me. Finally seeing me. I waited to feel her arms come around me and for her hands to rub my back. Like Ms. Qwenslfiands would. They never came. She shook me off of her.

8 - r I awoke before first light, like everyday. Like almost every day. Like every other day. Like every second Wednesday. Li&e every third Thursday. Like any other day. Like today. I awoke. I don't think about why. I'm magic -1 found a way around thinking about it.

She spat atme. Agreatglob landedin my hair, but I was too tired to wipe it out. I didn't move. She didn't touch me again. Maybe she was scared. "You ruined my life, Lillian!" She said. At home, I am Lillian. "You and your father!" Your father, like it was my fault she married-him. 90

r

He had lost his spectacles. Misplaced a grey andhlack striped sock. Forgotten where he put the remote. His hands that touched me -*here, there, everywhere. Hands like a Dr. Seuss rhyme. Those hands were just hands looking for spectacles. Examining

Brighton Earley

Berkeley Fiction'Review 1

91


every hillH every crevice. Just searching for those lost spectacles. Thosewugh, calloused hands. WhosefingersJ wanted to bend ('til they broke). Were simply searching for those lost spectacles. When the spectacles were located, sight restored, crisis averted, he would go. In the empty room that smelled like him I would look for God, find I would make my hands that were tucking me in into God's hands. I would cross my arms across my chest, tight. Like the Jewish girls at school who get a blessing from Father Al. I would cross my legs like a model, tight. So tight, the muscles would ache. The ache made me feel safe. Worse still, I loved him anyway. 8 - * The next day, I kept thinking about what my mother said to me. I thought about what it meant to have ruined someone's life. I wanted to go to school, but it was Saturday. I wanted to see Ms. Owens, but it was Saturday. Iwantedher to worry about me, but it was only Saturday. I sat up in my bed. My mother's words were busy getting comfortable in my brain. They were heavy - heavier than usual. I felt hot. My body throbbed to the tune of the words. To the soilftd of each syllable. To the tone of each vowel. My body throbbed. (My fault). , On the wall under my crucifix there were spots. The spots made my throat •tight.

r

I was still crying. I scrubbed at my cheeks ahd my eyes with my sleeve, but the tears wouldn't stop. It hurt to wipe them away Sleep came suddenly.

When I woke up, I felt safe. I saw Ms. Owens' chin above me. She was carrying me in her arms. I looked around far my mother, t?ut she wasn't there. I was cold. I felt heavy, but also light. It was dark outside. There was snow everywhere. Cold and bright and white and cold. Ms. Owens saw that I was afraid, and she held me even tighter. Her neck smelled like perfume, but not the nauseating kind. She put me in a white car. I was shivering, so she turned on the heater and a blast of hot air hit my face. I fait sleepy. Some wounds never heal completely and will bleed again at the slightest touch. That is why I started to cry when Ms. Owens asked me if I was okay. I'm-

Blue spots, red spop, green spots, purple spots, yellow spots. Spots every-

I approached her cautiously, like I would approach a wounded animal. Her faceHer face. Blue, red, green, purple, yellow. Herface.

where. It was dirty. I took a cloth from under the sink; and the 409. I scrubbed at the spots on my wall. ^ I scrubbed andl scrubbed and I scrubbed. They were not going away. They were stuck. I counted. One swipe of the cloth over the spot,.one swipe hack.- One, two. One, two. OnetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineteneleventwelveAt 549,1 was crying. My hands were red, cracked, bleeding, lemony. I put on my backpack and walked the, 72 7 steps to St. Jerome's. The school was locked. I sat with -my back against the dopr.t The wood was cold and solid against my spine. My hands burned in the cold air.

T h e colors made m e angry. I was afraid for her to see my fear, but she was asleep. A r o u n d us it began to snow. I picked her up, her smaller-than-average nine-year-old body limp in my arms. She whimpered and awoke. In my car, I held her. I held her a n d held her a n d held her until m y neck hur t a n d m y back ached and my arms were n u m b with the weight of her. She was more like an infant than a fourth grader. I held her like m y child. I knewthen, as I h a d always known, I couldn't be everything to her. " W h a t happened?" A stupid question. Better: why? "It was my fault." No, no, no, no, NO!

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Berkeley Fiction Review

Brighton Earley

93


every hillH every crevice. Just searching for those lost spectacles. Thosewugh, calloused hands. WhosefingersJ wanted to bend ('til they broke). Were simply searching for those lost spectacles. When the spectacles were located, sight restored, crisis averted, he would go. In the empty room that smelled like him I would look for God, find I would make my hands that were tucking me in into God's hands. I would cross my arms across my chest, tight. Like the Jewish girls at school who get a blessing from Father Al. I would cross my legs like a model, tight. So tight, the muscles would ache. The ache made me feel safe. Worse still, I loved him anyway. 8 - * The next day, I kept thinking about what my mother said to me. I thought about what it meant to have ruined someone's life. I wanted to go to school, but it was Saturday. I wanted to see Ms. Owens, but it was Saturday. Iwantedher to worry about me, but it was only Saturday. I sat up in my bed. My mother's words were busy getting comfortable in my brain. They were heavy - heavier than usual. I felt hot. My body throbbed to the tune of the words. To the soilftd of each syllable. To the tone of each vowel. My body throbbed. (My fault). , On the wall under my crucifix there were spots. The spots made my throat •tight.

r

I was still crying. I scrubbed at my cheeks ahd my eyes with my sleeve, but the tears wouldn't stop. It hurt to wipe them away Sleep came suddenly.

When I woke up, I felt safe. I saw Ms. Owens' chin above me. She was carrying me in her arms. I looked around far my mother, t?ut she wasn't there. I was cold. I felt heavy, but also light. It was dark outside. There was snow everywhere. Cold and bright and white and cold. Ms. Owens saw that I was afraid, and she held me even tighter. Her neck smelled like perfume, but not the nauseating kind. She put me in a white car. I was shivering, so she turned on the heater and a blast of hot air hit my face. I fait sleepy. Some wounds never heal completely and will bleed again at the slightest touch. That is why I started to cry when Ms. Owens asked me if I was okay. I'm-

Blue spots, red spop, green spots, purple spots, yellow spots. Spots every-

I approached her cautiously, like I would approach a wounded animal. Her faceHer face. Blue, red, green, purple, yellow. Herface.

where. It was dirty. I took a cloth from under the sink; and the 409. I scrubbed at the spots on my wall. ^ I scrubbed andl scrubbed and I scrubbed. They were not going away. They were stuck. I counted. One swipe of the cloth over the spot,.one swipe hack.- One, two. One, two. OnetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineteneleventwelveAt 549,1 was crying. My hands were red, cracked, bleeding, lemony. I put on my backpack and walked the, 72 7 steps to St. Jerome's. The school was locked. I sat with -my back against the dopr.t The wood was cold and solid against my spine. My hands burned in the cold air.

T h e colors made m e angry. I was afraid for her to see my fear, but she was asleep. A r o u n d us it began to snow. I picked her up, her smaller-than-average nine-year-old body limp in my arms. She whimpered and awoke. In my car, I held her. I held her a n d held her a n d held her until m y neck hur t a n d m y back ached and my arms were n u m b with the weight of her. She was more like an infant than a fourth grader. I held her like m y child. I knewthen, as I h a d always known, I couldn't be everything to her. " W h a t happened?" A stupid question. Better: why? "It was my fault." No, no, no, no, NO!

92

Berkeley Fiction Review

Brighton Earley

93


"You're a very powerful little girl, Lily. But you haven't caused this." The way she cried that night - my heart never quite finished breaking for her. I didn't know how to convince her. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know where to go, w h o to tell, what to say. I was too young for such big problems. I was just too young. So, I held her. A n d even as her face relaxed into slumber, she still wept. It is a weeping I can still hear today. 8 - r I should not have let her go. I should not have taken her home. I should have known better. I should have protected her. Should have. Words of regret. Words of too late. I think of how I could have stopped her. I think of it often. If only I had s a i d - I love y o u -Things will get better- I t won't always be like thisBut I never said those things to her. I didn't want to lie. Because I couldn't know. I wish I had known. I wish and I wish and I wish and I wish. Maybe I just wasn't strong enough. 8-T Her father found her, so I am told. (Because I wasn't there). I wasn't there when the important things happened to her. W h e n the bad things happened to her. (I wasn't there). She smelled like a m m o n i a and lemons. (The bottle was empty). At her funeral, there were flowers. Blue flowers, red flowers, green flowers, purple flowers, yellow flowers. I brought white lilies. Beautiful, bright, healthy, blooming white lilies. Afterward, I asked G o d to help m e to forgive. (Myself). I a m still waiting for His answer.

94

Berkeley Fiction Review

Frank Rozasy

95


"You're a very powerful little girl, Lily. But you haven't caused this." The way she cried that night - my heart never quite finished breaking for her. I didn't know how to convince her. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know where to go, w h o to tell, what to say. I was too young for such big problems. I was just too young. So, I held her. A n d even as her face relaxed into slumber, she still wept. It is a weeping I can still hear today. 8 - r I should not have let her go. I should not have taken her home. I should have known better. I should have protected her. Should have. Words of regret. Words of too late. I think of how I could have stopped her. I think of it often. If only I had s a i d - I love y o u -Things will get better- I t won't always be like thisBut I never said those things to her. I didn't want to lie. Because I couldn't know. I wish I had known. I wish and I wish and I wish and I wish. Maybe I just wasn't strong enough. 8-T Her father found her, so I am told. (Because I wasn't there). I wasn't there when the important things happened to her. W h e n the bad things happened to her. (I wasn't there). She smelled like a m m o n i a and lemons. (The bottle was empty). At her funeral, there were flowers. Blue flowers, red flowers, green flowers, purple flowers, yellow flowers. I brought white lilies. Beautiful, bright, healthy, blooming white lilies. Afterward, I asked G o d to help m e to forgive. (Myself). I a m still waiting for His answer.

94

Berkeley Fiction Review

Frank Rozasy

95


G

H

O

S

T

T.L.

S

T

O

R

Y

TOMA

The m a n in R o o m 214 likes to watch her clean. W h e n she offers to come back later he insists that won't be necessary, that he is just on his way out the door. H e says, I'll be out of your hair in n o time. But first, he must make a phone call. T h e n he has to reknot his tie. Next, he stows some clothes in his suitcase or consults his laptop. Instead of leaving, he finally settles into the cane, rocker and opens the newspaper. Management has furnished the inn from various estate sales and farm foreclosures. I n one room, m a h o g a n y pineapples perch atop the uprights on a four-poster bed, while in another, a bamboo ceiling fan spins slowly above a chaise longue. Farther down the hall a sheer canopy straight out of a Turkish seraglio billows overhead. There are Louis Quatorze loveseats and chipped Windsor'chairs. T h e bathtubs rest on lion paws, elephant pads, or the talons of an eagle. Here, you sleep beneath the faded squares of a Shaker quilt; there, a knitted afghan. Drinking glasses have bitten-rings in the surface of the lowboy with the cabriole legs. T h e drawers on" the oak secretary stick. The hope was to give each r o o m its o w n charm, bu t ope n a door onto the

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Berkeley Fiction Review

mismatched and often worn furniture and you think'of a stall at the flea market. Thoug h the dresseri n R o o m 2 1 4 i s carved from'cedar, one of the heart-shaped drawer handles is missing and the oval mirror frame has been'mended with woocf glue. The man's gaze comes through this'mirror and tracks her about the r o o m as she makes the bed, erripties'the wastebasket and retrieves a damp towel from the floor. H e is short with a thinning pate. H e wears horn-rimmed glasses and narrbw ties. His suit is expensive. His shoes are new. W h e n she turns oh the vacuum cleaner, he obliges by lifting his feet. She cleans the bathroom last*. H e appears in the doorway while she kneels oh'the tile to scour the tub. It stands on four cloven hooVes. A n d now, I really will be on my way. * ' Yet he' lingers a m o m e nt longer. She pauses to tug at her hem. Management insists housekeeping wear the^tandard uniform: a white blouse with the beige smock. W h e n she finally turns to stare back at him, he casually drifts off. A n instant later she hears the door to the r o o m open and his footsteps fade down the hall. H e always leaves her a twenty on'the" dresser. ' ' ,8—r She cleans eight to twelve rooms a day. It depends on the time of the year. The job moves to peculiar rhythms. Time itself swells and ebbs in "a path through the corridors-of the inn. She keeps coming back around to the carved initials on the riightstand in R o o m 203, to the uneven le&s of the table in"211, to the dripping faucet in 106. The seasons themselves change within these walls. Birdwatchers* and hikers appear in April and May in boots and rucksacks. They track mud through the1 lobby ahd leave b o o l s filled with color plates beneath the bed. In surhmer'ihe anglers arrive. T h e y l i k e to gut their catches in the sinks. Offal clogs the drains. Stockbrokers and financial planners from Syracuse* tir Albany gather in the fall to hunt. Crushed beer cans and cellophane'wrappers reeking of jerky fill t h e wastebaskets. In the parking lotf a deer carcass sprawls across the h o o d of a pickup. Save for the occasional crosscountry skier or ice fisherman, winter remains quiet. T h e a r o m a of fir boughs fills the lobby during yule. She sweeps the'dried needles from the floor.

T.L. Toma

97


G

H

O

S

T

T.L.

S

T

O

R

Y

TOMA

The m a n in R o o m 214 likes to watch her clean. W h e n she offers to come back later he insists that won't be necessary, that he is just on his way out the door. H e says, I'll be out of your hair in n o time. But first, he must make a phone call. T h e n he has to reknot his tie. Next, he stows some clothes in his suitcase or consults his laptop. Instead of leaving, he finally settles into the cane, rocker and opens the newspaper. Management has furnished the inn from various estate sales and farm foreclosures. I n one room, m a h o g a n y pineapples perch atop the uprights on a four-poster bed, while in another, a bamboo ceiling fan spins slowly above a chaise longue. Farther down the hall a sheer canopy straight out of a Turkish seraglio billows overhead. There are Louis Quatorze loveseats and chipped Windsor'chairs. T h e bathtubs rest on lion paws, elephant pads, or the talons of an eagle. Here, you sleep beneath the faded squares of a Shaker quilt; there, a knitted afghan. Drinking glasses have bitten-rings in the surface of the lowboy with the cabriole legs. T h e drawers on" the oak secretary stick. The hope was to give each r o o m its o w n charm, bu t ope n a door onto the

96

Berkeley Fiction Review

mismatched and often worn furniture and you think'of a stall at the flea market. Thoug h the dresseri n R o o m 2 1 4 i s carved from'cedar, one of the heart-shaped drawer handles is missing and the oval mirror frame has been'mended with woocf glue. The man's gaze comes through this'mirror and tracks her about the r o o m as she makes the bed, erripties'the wastebasket and retrieves a damp towel from the floor. H e is short with a thinning pate. H e wears horn-rimmed glasses and narrbw ties. His suit is expensive. His shoes are new. W h e n she turns oh the vacuum cleaner, he obliges by lifting his feet. She cleans the bathroom last*. H e appears in the doorway while she kneels oh'the tile to scour the tub. It stands on four cloven hooVes. A n d now, I really will be on my way. * ' Yet he' lingers a m o m e nt longer. She pauses to tug at her hem. Management insists housekeeping wear the^tandard uniform: a white blouse with the beige smock. W h e n she finally turns to stare back at him, he casually drifts off. A n instant later she hears the door to the r o o m open and his footsteps fade down the hall. H e always leaves her a twenty on'the" dresser. ' ' ,8—r She cleans eight to twelve rooms a day. It depends on the time of the year. The job moves to peculiar rhythms. Time itself swells and ebbs in "a path through the corridors-of the inn. She keeps coming back around to the carved initials on the riightstand in R o o m 203, to the uneven le&s of the table in"211, to the dripping faucet in 106. The seasons themselves change within these walls. Birdwatchers* and hikers appear in April and May in boots and rucksacks. They track mud through the1 lobby ahd leave b o o l s filled with color plates beneath the bed. In surhmer'ihe anglers arrive. T h e y l i k e to gut their catches in the sinks. Offal clogs the drains. Stockbrokers and financial planners from Syracuse* tir Albany gather in the fall to hunt. Crushed beer cans and cellophane'wrappers reeking of jerky fill t h e wastebaskets. In the parking lotf a deer carcass sprawls across the h o o d of a pickup. Save for the occasional crosscountry skier or ice fisherman, winter remains quiet. T h e a r o m a of fir boughs fills the lobby during yule. She sweeps the'dried needles from the floor.

T.L. Toma

97


Yet she spends the bulk of each day by herself, moving amid the weathered furniture in unkempt rooms. She experiences such solitude deeply.,More and more it seems her natural state. Her moments with others feel increasingly unreal. J t must be the same, for tollbooth operators, cabdrivers, cashiers, a n d night porters - those anonymou s legions w h o appear for no more t h a n a n instant or so in the fives of others and then vanish entirely. She likes to imagine that perhaps t they glimpse truths denied to everyone else. Her truth is the soiled underwear on the floor, the bloody sheets she strips from the bed, the used condo m on the nightstand. But she also sees the child's stuffed toy propped u p on the pillow, she smells t h e scented bottles o p the vanity, she jtouches someone's gold crucifix lying atop the dresser. If she witnesses people at their darkest, people far from home, she also comes u p o n the occasional effort to spread some fight. Here nostalgia vies with the nomadic. This disparity,moves her deeply. Each r o o m is an arena in which base h u m a n inclinations often war with a surprising spiritual earnestness.

has put in for a number of jobs. H e was optimistic at first. H e is strong. H e is capable. H e is used to hard work. H e applies for a bus driving position with theschoolboard. H e applies to the box-making factory u p in Bethel Township. H e applies to be an animal control officer. But the weeks have turned into months. His unemployment checks ran out long ago. All this time on his hands has n o t been good for him. Where he once drank two, or three beers, he now drinks five or six. T h e night before a n interview, he always dreams. In his dreams, he drives a'school bus full of children or he wrestles a vicious cur-into the back of a truck. These dreams end in disaster. T h e dog bites him: The bus careens off a cliff. H e wakes to the m e m o r y of mangldd flesh and screams. Hd goes into the interview exhausted and unsettled, only to find that his former coworkers have applied for the same position. H e keeps running into them in personnel offices all over town. Roger toiled with these men for years. But now they sit side by side'in outer offices and refuse to look a t o n e another. They sit without talking and listen to the barking of dogs out in the kennels. T h e animals are p ut down once a month, in a special chamber in the basement of the'building.

She is called May. M a y is slender with pale features. She wears her hair tied in a red kerchief that she shakes out once her shift ends, i t e r curls tumble past her slight shoulders in heavy black ringlets. M a y is married to Roger. His family has lived in the area for generations. His father and his Uncle Eldridge both retired from the mill after forty-odd years on the job. They were big men, profane and heavy-bellied. Their stomachs led the charge through life. Roger started at the mill straight out of high school. H e seemed destined for a similar future, but two weeks before his thirtieth birthday the operation shuttered i$s doors for good. The log chute sits empty. The great saw lies still. N o w Roger fetches the boys - Roger, Jr., and Steven - in the pickup,every day after school. He brings them back to the doublewide where they play next to the gazebo or do their homework at the kitchen table. H e prepares boxed macaroni or fish sticks for dinner.-When M a y returns h o m e from work, they all fold their hands as she says the O u r Father. While May reads to the boys and then puts them to bed, Roger sits in the kitchen counting her tips. H e has been unable to find work since the closing of the-mill. H e

98

8—it T h e m a n in R o o m 214 likes to watch her clean. Each morning May offers to'come back later, though he assures her that won't be necessary, he is just m a t i n g his way out the door. Instead of leaving, however, he putters about; rifling through papers of moving items around on the dresser. H e pauses occasionally to glance over at her, as if tempted to reveal some unguarded fact of his fife or maybe to ask about her own. But as the*'days pass, he divulges nothing about himself. H e never asks about her. There is "only the snap of the bed'lihens "or the crinkle of plastic as she shakes 'out a new trash bag. It is as though they "have come i to i an'unspoken understanding, or they have b o t h fallenunder a spell. W h e n she moves to the bathroom he follows a'moment or so later. He stands wedged in' the doorway with his hands braced against the frame. Looking past him, she. notices several wall tiles* are missing. The ceiling above'his-head is mildewed. R u s f colors the panel'on the air vent. She is reminded of just how dilapidated the old building has grown- Standing that way, the mall looks to be the only thing holding

Berkeley Fiction Review

T.L. Toma 1

99


Yet she spends the bulk of each day by herself, moving amid the weathered furniture in unkempt rooms. She experiences such solitude deeply.,More and more it seems her natural state. Her moments with others feel increasingly unreal. J t must be the same, for tollbooth operators, cabdrivers, cashiers, a n d night porters - those anonymou s legions w h o appear for no more t h a n a n instant or so in the fives of others and then vanish entirely. She likes to imagine that perhaps t they glimpse truths denied to everyone else. Her truth is the soiled underwear on the floor, the bloody sheets she strips from the bed, the used condo m on the nightstand. But she also sees the child's stuffed toy propped u p on the pillow, she smells t h e scented bottles o p the vanity, she jtouches someone's gold crucifix lying atop the dresser. If she witnesses people at their darkest, people far from home, she also comes u p o n the occasional effort to spread some fight. Here nostalgia vies with the nomadic. This disparity,moves her deeply. Each r o o m is an arena in which base h u m a n inclinations often war with a surprising spiritual earnestness.

has put in for a number of jobs. H e was optimistic at first. H e is strong. H e is capable. H e is used to hard work. H e applies for a bus driving position with theschoolboard. H e applies to the box-making factory u p in Bethel Township. H e applies to be an animal control officer. But the weeks have turned into months. His unemployment checks ran out long ago. All this time on his hands has n o t been good for him. Where he once drank two, or three beers, he now drinks five or six. T h e night before a n interview, he always dreams. In his dreams, he drives a'school bus full of children or he wrestles a vicious cur-into the back of a truck. These dreams end in disaster. T h e dog bites him: The bus careens off a cliff. H e wakes to the m e m o r y of mangldd flesh and screams. Hd goes into the interview exhausted and unsettled, only to find that his former coworkers have applied for the same position. H e keeps running into them in personnel offices all over town. Roger toiled with these men for years. But now they sit side by side'in outer offices and refuse to look a t o n e another. They sit without talking and listen to the barking of dogs out in the kennels. T h e animals are p ut down once a month, in a special chamber in the basement of the'building.

She is called May. M a y is slender with pale features. She wears her hair tied in a red kerchief that she shakes out once her shift ends, i t e r curls tumble past her slight shoulders in heavy black ringlets. M a y is married to Roger. His family has lived in the area for generations. His father and his Uncle Eldridge both retired from the mill after forty-odd years on the job. They were big men, profane and heavy-bellied. Their stomachs led the charge through life. Roger started at the mill straight out of high school. H e seemed destined for a similar future, but two weeks before his thirtieth birthday the operation shuttered i$s doors for good. The log chute sits empty. The great saw lies still. N o w Roger fetches the boys - Roger, Jr., and Steven - in the pickup,every day after school. He brings them back to the doublewide where they play next to the gazebo or do their homework at the kitchen table. H e prepares boxed macaroni or fish sticks for dinner.-When M a y returns h o m e from work, they all fold their hands as she says the O u r Father. While May reads to the boys and then puts them to bed, Roger sits in the kitchen counting her tips. H e has been unable to find work since the closing of the-mill. H e

98

8—it T h e m a n in R o o m 214 likes to watch her clean. Each morning May offers to'come back later, though he assures her that won't be necessary, he is just m a t i n g his way out the door. Instead of leaving, however, he putters about; rifling through papers of moving items around on the dresser. H e pauses occasionally to glance over at her, as if tempted to reveal some unguarded fact of his fife or maybe to ask about her own. But as the*'days pass, he divulges nothing about himself. H e never asks about her. There is "only the snap of the bed'lihens "or the crinkle of plastic as she shakes 'out a new trash bag. It is as though they "have come i to i an'unspoken understanding, or they have b o t h fallenunder a spell. W h e n she moves to the bathroom he follows a'moment or so later. He stands wedged in' the doorway with his hands braced against the frame. Looking past him, she. notices several wall tiles* are missing. The ceiling above'his-head is mildewed. R u s f colors the panel'on the air vent. She is reminded of just how dilapidated the old building has grown- Standing that way, the mall looks to be the only thing holding

Berkeley Fiction Review

T.L. Toma 1

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it up. Ike, w h o works the front desk, claims the inn is haunted. W h e n he isn't paging thrpugh the stack of men's magazines he keeps hidden beneath the counter, Ike will twist the facts of local history to spook the guests. His account varies with his mood. H e mentions the French trapper mauled by a bear, the Iroquois warrior w h o collected D u t c h scalps, the local maiden abused by Hessian mercenaries and left for dead: According to Ike, you can hear the cries of the victims in the groan of the floorboards or the squeak of a door hinge late at night. Lurid tales, gruesome in the details. M a y worries these stories will frighten people away, but Ike insists such lore only excites them, softening whatever disappointment patrons might feel w h e n t h e y first eye the r u n d o w n lodgings and settle into the lumpy beds. A night's stay isn't cheap. The wealthy are. fascinated by the past, Ike assures her. They are obsessed with it. They secretly dread the day it catches u p to them. A n d the rest of us don't? The rest of us, fear.our futures will never arrive. If the m a n in 214 finds the accommodations unsatisfactory, however, he never lets on. H e stands silently in the door of the bathroom, his^eyes staring out through the thick lenses of h^s glasses, as heavy as the butts of vermouth bottles. H e watches as she hangs new towels on -the rack and places fresh soaps in the small wicker caddy. H e watphes as she bends to scrub the toilet once more. She. grunts softly with the effort. The dark curls that peek out from beneath her red kerchief grow d a m p with perspiration. She stops to tug at her skirt. H e always leaves just before she finishes.. She turns, suddenly and he is gone. She listens as the-door to the r o o m opens and t his footsteps sound down the hall. Emerging from the bathrporh, she finds the twenty on the dresser. Beyond the window, yellow leaves from.the elm trees he flat against the asphalt parking lot. The rooftops of the town rise farther on. T h e old radiator in the corner hisses and spits. She moves about, opening and closing drawers. They hold legal pads^ several sales brochures, and a stack of printouts on corporate letterhead. Also a fifth of p r e m i u m gin, the r,ed seal intact. W h e n she comes to his clothes she moves her hand gingerly through rolled knots of argyle socks. She holds a pair pf*blue boxers u p to the fight.

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Berkeley Fiction Review

Evenings Roger sits at the kitchen table counting her tips. He neatly stacks the coins and arranges the bills in separate piles. She stands at his side with her h a n d on his shoulder as he silently adds u p the total. Once he finishes, she retrieves the m a s o n jar from next to the stove. The change rings against the sides. H e gives the jar a final, satisfying jerk, making the coins clank like chain mail. M o s t guests leave her a couple of dollars, if that. W h e n her husband remarks on the growing number of twenty-dollar bills, M a y explains that a local company has scheduled a series of luncheon meetings in the inn banquet room. Later, back in their r o o m at the'far end of the doublewide, she shakes out her hair. Her neck is long and'her shoulders are narrow and her breasts are small. She has the aching grace of a swan. May? Roger whispers. H e reaches for her then. M o r e and more, he wants to lately. H e needs to, it seems. Hardly a night goes b y There is that one thing he likes her to do. She keeps pausing to brush her hair from her face. Their reflections loom in the windbwpane. Roger cranes his head to watch. H e looks n ot at her but at her image in the glass. H e could just as well be watching another w o m a n altogether. M a y feels abandoned at such moments, timorous and horribly alone. A n d what does a lovely w o m a n in the very prime of her life have to be frightened of?'She is frightened by unemployment, of course. She is frightened of utility bills, the price of milk, and bank surcharges on the latest overdraft. But she is also frightened of furnace fires and failed traffic lights, of tribal enmities and avian flu. She is frightened of the fact she lives more and more in a world where her fears seem the most real things of all. II

She gathers in the locker r o o m with the rest of the housekeeping staff before the shift begins. Ruth has been here the longest. Ruth recalls wedding receptions, high school reunions, and the gun show that filled the lobby. She talks about the time the fat m a n h a d a heart attack in 207 and they h a d to bring a crane u p from the city construction site to hoist h i m through the window to the ambulance waiting below. She remembers when a caterer sickened 70 employees from the county teacher's union with tainted chicken salad. She tells them about the m a n w h o opened the door to 119 wearing nothing but his T.L. Toma

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it up. Ike, w h o works the front desk, claims the inn is haunted. W h e n he isn't paging thrpugh the stack of men's magazines he keeps hidden beneath the counter, Ike will twist the facts of local history to spook the guests. His account varies with his mood. H e mentions the French trapper mauled by a bear, the Iroquois warrior w h o collected D u t c h scalps, the local maiden abused by Hessian mercenaries and left for dead: According to Ike, you can hear the cries of the victims in the groan of the floorboards or the squeak of a door hinge late at night. Lurid tales, gruesome in the details. M a y worries these stories will frighten people away, but Ike insists such lore only excites them, softening whatever disappointment patrons might feel w h e n t h e y first eye the r u n d o w n lodgings and settle into the lumpy beds. A night's stay isn't cheap. The wealthy are. fascinated by the past, Ike assures her. They are obsessed with it. They secretly dread the day it catches u p to them. A n d the rest of us don't? The rest of us, fear.our futures will never arrive. If the m a n in 214 finds the accommodations unsatisfactory, however, he never lets on. H e stands silently in the door of the bathroom, his^eyes staring out through the thick lenses of h^s glasses, as heavy as the butts of vermouth bottles. H e watches as she hangs new towels on -the rack and places fresh soaps in the small wicker caddy. H e watphes as she bends to scrub the toilet once more. She. grunts softly with the effort. The dark curls that peek out from beneath her red kerchief grow d a m p with perspiration. She stops to tug at her skirt. H e always leaves just before she finishes.. She turns, suddenly and he is gone. She listens as the-door to the r o o m opens and t his footsteps sound down the hall. Emerging from the bathrporh, she finds the twenty on the dresser. Beyond the window, yellow leaves from.the elm trees he flat against the asphalt parking lot. The rooftops of the town rise farther on. T h e old radiator in the corner hisses and spits. She moves about, opening and closing drawers. They hold legal pads^ several sales brochures, and a stack of printouts on corporate letterhead. Also a fifth of p r e m i u m gin, the r,ed seal intact. W h e n she comes to his clothes she moves her hand gingerly through rolled knots of argyle socks. She holds a pair pf*blue boxers u p to the fight.

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Evenings Roger sits at the kitchen table counting her tips. He neatly stacks the coins and arranges the bills in separate piles. She stands at his side with her h a n d on his shoulder as he silently adds u p the total. Once he finishes, she retrieves the m a s o n jar from next to the stove. The change rings against the sides. H e gives the jar a final, satisfying jerk, making the coins clank like chain mail. M o s t guests leave her a couple of dollars, if that. W h e n her husband remarks on the growing number of twenty-dollar bills, M a y explains that a local company has scheduled a series of luncheon meetings in the inn banquet room. Later, back in their r o o m at the'far end of the doublewide, she shakes out her hair. Her neck is long and'her shoulders are narrow and her breasts are small. She has the aching grace of a swan. May? Roger whispers. H e reaches for her then. M o r e and more, he wants to lately. H e needs to, it seems. Hardly a night goes b y There is that one thing he likes her to do. She keeps pausing to brush her hair from her face. Their reflections loom in the windbwpane. Roger cranes his head to watch. H e looks n ot at her but at her image in the glass. H e could just as well be watching another w o m a n altogether. M a y feels abandoned at such moments, timorous and horribly alone. A n d what does a lovely w o m a n in the very prime of her life have to be frightened of?'She is frightened by unemployment, of course. She is frightened of utility bills, the price of milk, and bank surcharges on the latest overdraft. But she is also frightened of furnace fires and failed traffic lights, of tribal enmities and avian flu. She is frightened of the fact she lives more and more in a world where her fears seem the most real things of all. II

She gathers in the locker r o o m with the rest of the housekeeping staff before the shift begins. Ruth has been here the longest. Ruth recalls wedding receptions, high school reunions, and the gun show that filled the lobby. She talks about the time the fat m a n h a d a heart attack in 207 and they h a d to bring a crane u p from the city construction site to hoist h i m through the window to the ambulance waiting below. She remembers when a caterer sickened 70 employees from the county teacher's union with tainted chicken salad. She tells them about the m a n w h o opened the door to 119 wearing nothing but his T.L. Toma

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wristwatch. I told him to h a n g a shoe on it, Ruth says. T h e others offer stories of t h e n own. They laugh about the current guests. They complain about their tips. Only M a y remains quiet. Meanwhile, the m a n in R o o m 214 continues to watch her, his look assessing. Yet despite her efforts the r o o m never really feels clean. For one thing he keeps the fights low. Shadows darken the corners, making the furnishings appear more abject t h a n ever. If she opens the curtains, he rises an instant later to close them. T h e inn stationery she places in the top drawer of the dresser has to be replenished daily. A n d n o matter how m a n y towels she leaves, he manages to use them all. They lie draped over the chair back and lying underfoot. A smudged glass sits on the end table, a twisted section of lime floating a m o n g the dregs of gin. Throughout the rest of the day, she occasionally thinks .back to the m a n. She pictures him, sitting in the cane rocker and looking, out over the clean room. She sees h i m pouring another drink. .Evenings she imagines h i m easing down into a steaming tub, and later crawling between the sheets. She wonders if the shining bathroom fixtures, the white linens remind him of her. She thinks about what she will say if she ever happens to pass h i m in the hallway or come u p o n him sitting in the inn dining room, eating his lunch. ? She considers h o w she will react should he one day smile at her, or offer her a drink. She rehearses a brief greeting in her head. She pauses before the mirror in one of the rooms down the hall, in 219 or 222, and practices making just the right face. She will not smile back, she decides. She will decline the drink. But she does not run into him in the hall. She never encounters h i m in the dining room. He does not smile at her. H e simply stands in the door of the bathroom and stares at her as she scrubs the sink. Yet his eyes feel more palpable than fingers on her flesh. They seem to reach deep inside her. Later, she always finds the twenty on the dresser. She could tell him to stop but then he might stop. 8 - r Roger works the occasional odd job. H e sometimes gets on with a house painting crew or mows lawns during the summer months. He

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rakes leaves w h e n the weather cools. H e picks apples down at the orchards. One afternoon, he stood on Benefit Street in front of Fenster's Hardware, wearing a sandwich hoard and handing out coupons. I'll do whatever it takes, he likes to say.a His humility is a kind of pride. H e bears it as a mark of rectitude, evidence of the lengths to which he is prepared to go, the privations he* is ready to endure, to feed his family. T h e previous winter Roger borrowed Zach Sorenson's pickup with the snowplow attachment to earn a few dollars shoveling drives. Roger liked clearing the snow. It m a d e h i m think of fresh starts. Too b a d h e did n o t have a snowplow of his own. W i t h a plow of his own', he could start work with the first snowfall and continue through the winter. I n several months' time, he could m a k e enough to last them into the summer. T h e jar had been her idea. She placed it on the kitchen counter in early April. She stuck a strip of masking tape to the glass and wrote, Snowplow, on the label in green felt-tip. Roger was skeptical at first. A good plow would cost hundreds of dollars. Then May came h o m e one afternoon and turned out the' pockets of her smock. The look, the-sound of money in the jar m a d e h i m laugh. It began, then, as a joke. But the idea soon took hold. Spare change now goes into the jar. Once or twice a week, he snakes out the sofa cushions and searches the floorboard' of the pickup. With the turn of v the weather the fund has begun to accumulate. Whatever cash he earns, along with May's tips, go into the mason jar. They skip fast food, new shoes, they cancel their phone, all to save money. Every evening, the kitchen fills with the clink of coins. If he is in a good mood, he might march about the doublewide holding t h e jar aloft, a grin o n his face a n d the light flashing against the sides of the glass. Roger has another dream. In this dream, h e buys the snowplow. In his dream Roger pays in cash. H e upends the mason jar and the money spills out, crashing against the countertop and onto the floor of the supply outlet, coins rolling into the corners. The clerk helps attach the plow to Roger's pickup. I n Roger's dream, he plows the streets of the mobile horne park. H e plows the church parking' lot and the square behind the courthouse. H e plows the state road that leads out to the highway/The whole time the snow keeps falling.

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wristwatch. I told him to h a n g a shoe on it, Ruth says. T h e others offer stories of t h e n own. They laugh about the current guests. They complain about their tips. Only M a y remains quiet. Meanwhile, the m a n in R o o m 214 continues to watch her, his look assessing. Yet despite her efforts the r o o m never really feels clean. For one thing he keeps the fights low. Shadows darken the corners, making the furnishings appear more abject t h a n ever. If she opens the curtains, he rises an instant later to close them. T h e inn stationery she places in the top drawer of the dresser has to be replenished daily. A n d n o matter how m a n y towels she leaves, he manages to use them all. They lie draped over the chair back and lying underfoot. A smudged glass sits on the end table, a twisted section of lime floating a m o n g the dregs of gin. Throughout the rest of the day, she occasionally thinks .back to the m a n. She pictures him, sitting in the cane rocker and looking, out over the clean room. She sees h i m pouring another drink. .Evenings she imagines h i m easing down into a steaming tub, and later crawling between the sheets. She wonders if the shining bathroom fixtures, the white linens remind him of her. She thinks about what she will say if she ever happens to pass h i m in the hallway or come u p o n him sitting in the inn dining room, eating his lunch. ? She considers h o w she will react should he one day smile at her, or offer her a drink. She rehearses a brief greeting in her head. She pauses before the mirror in one of the rooms down the hall, in 219 or 222, and practices making just the right face. She will not smile back, she decides. She will decline the drink. But she does not run into him in the hall. She never encounters h i m in the dining room. He does not smile at her. H e simply stands in the door of the bathroom and stares at her as she scrubs the sink. Yet his eyes feel more palpable than fingers on her flesh. They seem to reach deep inside her. Later, she always finds the twenty on the dresser. She could tell him to stop but then he might stop. 8 - r Roger works the occasional odd job. H e sometimes gets on with a house painting crew or mows lawns during the summer months. He

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rakes leaves w h e n the weather cools. H e picks apples down at the orchards. One afternoon, he stood on Benefit Street in front of Fenster's Hardware, wearing a sandwich hoard and handing out coupons. I'll do whatever it takes, he likes to say.a His humility is a kind of pride. H e bears it as a mark of rectitude, evidence of the lengths to which he is prepared to go, the privations he* is ready to endure, to feed his family. T h e previous winter Roger borrowed Zach Sorenson's pickup with the snowplow attachment to earn a few dollars shoveling drives. Roger liked clearing the snow. It m a d e h i m think of fresh starts. Too b a d h e did n o t have a snowplow of his own. W i t h a plow of his own', he could start work with the first snowfall and continue through the winter. I n several months' time, he could m a k e enough to last them into the summer. T h e jar had been her idea. She placed it on the kitchen counter in early April. She stuck a strip of masking tape to the glass and wrote, Snowplow, on the label in green felt-tip. Roger was skeptical at first. A good plow would cost hundreds of dollars. Then May came h o m e one afternoon and turned out the' pockets of her smock. The look, the-sound of money in the jar m a d e h i m laugh. It began, then, as a joke. But the idea soon took hold. Spare change now goes into the jar. Once or twice a week, he snakes out the sofa cushions and searches the floorboard' of the pickup. With the turn of v the weather the fund has begun to accumulate. Whatever cash he earns, along with May's tips, go into the mason jar. They skip fast food, new shoes, they cancel their phone, all to save money. Every evening, the kitchen fills with the clink of coins. If he is in a good mood, he might march about the doublewide holding t h e jar aloft, a grin o n his face a n d the light flashing against the sides of the glass. Roger has another dream. In this dream, h e buys the snowplow. In his dream Roger pays in cash. H e upends the mason jar and the money spills out, crashing against the countertop and onto the floor of the supply outlet, coins rolling into the corners. The clerk helps attach the plow to Roger's pickup. I n Roger's dream, he plows the streets of the mobile horne park. H e plows the church parking' lot and the square behind the courthouse. H e plows the state road that leads out to the highway/The whole time the snow keeps falling.

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It w a s like money coming down, he tells her the next morning. All I had to do was scoop it up. It was there for the taking, he explains. It was like money falling down around m y ears. 8-T O n e morning, she knocks on the door of 214 only to discover the m a n is n o t in. T h e room, however, is a mess. It looks as if it has n o t been cleaned in ages. Clothes sit,piled on the dresser, newspapers are scattered along the floor, the bed linens have been wadded into a corner. The air feels musty and close. SheB flings open the draperies but the pouring sunlight only heightens the disarray, revealing the dusty baseboards, the cobwebs in the ceiling, the crumbs in the carpet. She makes the bed. She neatly stacks the newspaper on the dresser. She wipes d o w n the baseboards and clears away the spider webs. She vacuums carefully, reaching into the farthest corners of the room. T h e gin bottle bangs as she tosses it into the trash. She finds another empty beneath the bed. She puts out fresh drinking glasses covered in clear wrap. She dumps the old^grinds from the two-cup coffeemaker, rinses out the small carafe, and leaves a fresh filter pack next to it. She stands in the tub and scrubs the grout between the tiles until it gleams white as salt. T T h e m a n appears as she is packing u p her supplies. Instead of his suit and tiahe wears sweatpants and sneakers. Jlis t-shirt is d a mp with sweat. His forearms are white and,freckled t T h e fringe of hair at his ears springs away from fns head. Gray socks bunch at his ankles.,There is a funk to his odor, like burnt plastics. H e stands in the doorway a n d says, I was worried I'd missed you. Excuse me, she murmurs, and she tries to edge past him. But instead of moving aside he steps in front of her. H e peers at her from behind his thick glasses. His eyes seem bigger than they ought to, adrift in their own private pools. You forgot something, he says now. She blinks at him and then glances about the r o o m to see what she might have overlooked. She has pulled the bed linens tight. She has plumped the pillows. She dusted the TV. T h e r o o m looks cleaner than it has in ages. T h e r o o m looks cleaner t h a n she has ever seen it.

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You forgot this, he says, and he pulls out his wallet. H e hesitates for a moment, holding the bill between pinched fingers, and then slides the money into the pocket of her smock. She feels herself redden, as if he has slipped his h a n d down the front of her blouse. She squeezes by h i m now, whispering, I have to go. Later that day, Ike stands behind the desk, a magazine before him, and complains that she is taking too long to finish her rooms. Guests arrive, they want to check in. M a k e t h e m wait and they'll head for the R a m a d a u p the'state" road. 8-TT O n her day off, Roger drops May and the boys at the park while he runs errands. It is a raw and blustery afternoon. Several other parents sit on'the benches that ring the playground, watching their own kids tearing about. R o g e r Jr., climbs ovef the jungle gym. Steven goes down the slide. They swing in the'swings. Their fearlessness terrifies her. It seems to M a y that her boys are more fragile than these other children, that they require greater care and protection. She worries one or the other rhight slip from the seesaw or fall from the jungle gym. She sees herself scooping him u p and running with the injured boy acrossthe park for help. She imagines the gripping horror, her earnest panic! The other parents would sit forward in their seats. Th'ey would see her flying across the park. They would know she* was a good mother who loved her children; w h o would do anything for them. They would understand it was not her fault. She wonders' if the,man in 2*14 has children. She has trouble envisioning him as "a father. She cannot situate h i m beyond the walls of the r o o m at all. She knows he comes'and goes of course, but when she thinks of h i m s h e thinks of h i m sitting in the cane rocker. She thinks of h i m standing in the door o f t h e bathroom. It occurs to her that he could at this Very instant be sitting in the rocker while someone else from housekeeping runs the vacuum. H e could be wedged in the doorway as Ruth kneels next to the toilet. You'll fall, M a y yells to Roger Jr. H e is hanging upside down from the monkey bars. You'll fall and break your neck, she warns. T h e fight has begun to go. First one of the parents and then the others take their children and wander off. Only M a y and her boys

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It w a s like money coming down, he tells her the next morning. All I had to do was scoop it up. It was there for the taking, he explains. It was like money falling down around m y ears. 8-T O n e morning, she knocks on the door of 214 only to discover the m a n is n o t in. T h e room, however, is a mess. It looks as if it has n o t been cleaned in ages. Clothes sit,piled on the dresser, newspapers are scattered along the floor, the bed linens have been wadded into a corner. The air feels musty and close. SheB flings open the draperies but the pouring sunlight only heightens the disarray, revealing the dusty baseboards, the cobwebs in the ceiling, the crumbs in the carpet. She makes the bed. She neatly stacks the newspaper on the dresser. She wipes d o w n the baseboards and clears away the spider webs. She vacuums carefully, reaching into the farthest corners of the room. T h e gin bottle bangs as she tosses it into the trash. She finds another empty beneath the bed. She puts out fresh drinking glasses covered in clear wrap. She dumps the old^grinds from the two-cup coffeemaker, rinses out the small carafe, and leaves a fresh filter pack next to it. She stands in the tub and scrubs the grout between the tiles until it gleams white as salt. T T h e m a n appears as she is packing u p her supplies. Instead of his suit and tiahe wears sweatpants and sneakers. Jlis t-shirt is d a mp with sweat. His forearms are white and,freckled t T h e fringe of hair at his ears springs away from fns head. Gray socks bunch at his ankles.,There is a funk to his odor, like burnt plastics. H e stands in the doorway a n d says, I was worried I'd missed you. Excuse me, she murmurs, and she tries to edge past him. But instead of moving aside he steps in front of her. H e peers at her from behind his thick glasses. His eyes seem bigger than they ought to, adrift in their own private pools. You forgot something, he says now. She blinks at him and then glances about the r o o m to see what she might have overlooked. She has pulled the bed linens tight. She has plumped the pillows. She dusted the TV. T h e r o o m looks cleaner than it has in ages. T h e r o o m looks cleaner t h a n she has ever seen it.

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You forgot this, he says, and he pulls out his wallet. H e hesitates for a moment, holding the bill between pinched fingers, and then slides the money into the pocket of her smock. She feels herself redden, as if he has slipped his h a n d down the front of her blouse. She squeezes by h i m now, whispering, I have to go. Later that day, Ike stands behind the desk, a magazine before him, and complains that she is taking too long to finish her rooms. Guests arrive, they want to check in. M a k e t h e m wait and they'll head for the R a m a d a u p the'state" road. 8-TT O n her day off, Roger drops May and the boys at the park while he runs errands. It is a raw and blustery afternoon. Several other parents sit on'the benches that ring the playground, watching their own kids tearing about. R o g e r Jr., climbs ovef the jungle gym. Steven goes down the slide. They swing in the'swings. Their fearlessness terrifies her. It seems to M a y that her boys are more fragile than these other children, that they require greater care and protection. She worries one or the other rhight slip from the seesaw or fall from the jungle gym. She sees herself scooping him u p and running with the injured boy acrossthe park for help. She imagines the gripping horror, her earnest panic! The other parents would sit forward in their seats. Th'ey would see her flying across the park. They would know she* was a good mother who loved her children; w h o would do anything for them. They would understand it was not her fault. She wonders' if the,man in 2*14 has children. She has trouble envisioning him as "a father. She cannot situate h i m beyond the walls of the r o o m at all. She knows he comes'and goes of course, but when she thinks of h i m s h e thinks of h i m sitting in the cane rocker. She thinks of h i m standing in the door o f t h e bathroom. It occurs to her that he could at this Very instant be sitting in the rocker while someone else from housekeeping runs the vacuum. H e could be wedged in the doorway as Ruth kneels next to the toilet. You'll fall, M a y yells to Roger Jr. H e is hanging upside down from the monkey bars. You'll fall and break your neck, she warns. T h e fight has begun to go. First one of the parents and then the others take their children and wander off. Only M a y and her boys

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remain. The day turns colder still. The first stars have appeared by the time Roger shows. She is irritated he took so long, that he left t h e m out here to freeze. H e smells of the tavern. It's the pickup, he insists. It kept dying on me. I'll have Zach look at it down to the garage. At h o m e M a y prepares dinner, slamming the door of the refrigerator and banging a p o t against the stove. She feels impatient with the boys and angry at her husband. They eat in silence. She goes to bed not long after her sons have fallen asleep. She hears,Roger padding back and forth to the kitchen, followed each time by the suck of the refrigerator door. That evening the chill deepens. Outside, the wind rattles the shutters of the doublewide. She wakes late to the squeak of the.bedsprings as Roger settles next to,her, ahd turns on the bedside lamp. She, squints against the sudden light. H e hugs the mason jar to his chest. He sits on the bed with the jar in his lap. Look how much, he whispers. H e gives, the jar a shake-The money tinks. Some half a dozen twenties tremble amid the coins. Jackson's face on each of the bills is oddly magnified and warped by the glass. Roger shifts the jar to the nightstand. H e bends over her no w and traces the line of her collarbone with a thick finger. H e touches her through her nightshirt. His hand is large. Her breast feels small in his palm. W h e n she reaches u p to turn off the lamp he doesn't object. She seems to disappear along with the room. All that remains is a breast, a buttock, the tidy m o u n d of hair. W h e n the w i n d slams against the trailer, it brings with it a new assortment of fears. Will the walls collapse, the windows shatter? She imagines the^splintered wood, the flying glass. She imagines the four of t h e m making their way through the cold like survivors of an arctic shipwreck. She fears one of the boys will-fall ill, that girls to come will break their hearts, that they will die in a future war. A t that instant Roger eases atop her and starts to chuff and wheeze. Even in the darkness the eyes.in the jar watch all that they do.

vacuum cleaner. It is not yet noon, but he has mixed himself a drink and settled on the edge of the bed. His eyes move back and forth as she crisscrosses the room. W h e n she finishes she wheels the vacuum cleaner out to the utility cart in the hall and' returns' with the scrub bucket. He follows her into the bathroom. He stands in the doorway. H e sips from his drink. H e says, She knocked but I told her not today. You didn't have to do that, she says. There was n o reason. I wanted to, he tells her. She shakes her head and then turns to "scour the tub. She kneels next to the cloven hoofs and works the sponge against the enamel surface. F r o m behind her she hears the ice cubes settle against the glass. She experiences a sudden, a wrenching conviction that he is about to reach for her. T h e world is filled with crazy people. H e could grab her, press his m o u t h against hers. H e could tear at her clothing. She hears now the beating of her heart. She will strike him along the side of his head with her scrub bucket. She will claw at his eyes. One day after he left the r o o m she practiced launching herself u p from the floor and kicking at an imaginary crotch. Ruth says you'want to aim two or three inches below the zipper if it is to do a n y good. But he does not grab her. H e does n o t try to kiss her. H e stands in the door with his drink in hand. Still on her knees, she rests her. fists on her thighs and looks* u p to peer at his image in the mirror. You're married, he says. A n d his reflection points to the ring on her finger. Yes, she says. A n d then .she hears herself ask: Why? N o reason, he tells her. It is as if he is answering a different question entirely. N o n e at* all, he adds. His look continues to pull at her. She has the sense of falling down the length of it as one might pitch down a well. By the time she strikes bottom she is no longer a chambermaid. She is n o longer the wife of Roger and the mother of Roger, Jr., and Steven. She is no longer May. Her own image in the mirror seems'curiously transformed. She has turned into the w o m a n w h o inhabits the space of his gaze. For a single,a terrifying second, she is unable to recognize the strange voice in her head that keeps saying I.

The next morning the, m a n in R o o m 214 says, I told the girl the other day not to bother. She glances a t h i m but does not respond. Instead she turns on the

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remain. The day turns colder still. The first stars have appeared by the time Roger shows. She is irritated he took so long, that he left t h e m out here to freeze. H e smells of the tavern. It's the pickup, he insists. It kept dying on me. I'll have Zach look at it down to the garage. At h o m e M a y prepares dinner, slamming the door of the refrigerator and banging a p o t against the stove. She feels impatient with the boys and angry at her husband. They eat in silence. She goes to bed not long after her sons have fallen asleep. She hears,Roger padding back and forth to the kitchen, followed each time by the suck of the refrigerator door. That evening the chill deepens. Outside, the wind rattles the shutters of the doublewide. She wakes late to the squeak of the.bedsprings as Roger settles next to,her, ahd turns on the bedside lamp. She, squints against the sudden light. H e hugs the mason jar to his chest. He sits on the bed with the jar in his lap. Look how much, he whispers. H e gives, the jar a shake-The money tinks. Some half a dozen twenties tremble amid the coins. Jackson's face on each of the bills is oddly magnified and warped by the glass. Roger shifts the jar to the nightstand. H e bends over her no w and traces the line of her collarbone with a thick finger. H e touches her through her nightshirt. His hand is large. Her breast feels small in his palm. W h e n she reaches u p to turn off the lamp he doesn't object. She seems to disappear along with the room. All that remains is a breast, a buttock, the tidy m o u n d of hair. W h e n the w i n d slams against the trailer, it brings with it a new assortment of fears. Will the walls collapse, the windows shatter? She imagines the^splintered wood, the flying glass. She imagines the four of t h e m making their way through the cold like survivors of an arctic shipwreck. She fears one of the boys will-fall ill, that girls to come will break their hearts, that they will die in a future war. A t that instant Roger eases atop her and starts to chuff and wheeze. Even in the darkness the eyes.in the jar watch all that they do.

vacuum cleaner. It is not yet noon, but he has mixed himself a drink and settled on the edge of the bed. His eyes move back and forth as she crisscrosses the room. W h e n she finishes she wheels the vacuum cleaner out to the utility cart in the hall and' returns' with the scrub bucket. He follows her into the bathroom. He stands in the doorway. H e sips from his drink. H e says, She knocked but I told her not today. You didn't have to do that, she says. There was n o reason. I wanted to, he tells her. She shakes her head and then turns to "scour the tub. She kneels next to the cloven hoofs and works the sponge against the enamel surface. F r o m behind her she hears the ice cubes settle against the glass. She experiences a sudden, a wrenching conviction that he is about to reach for her. T h e world is filled with crazy people. H e could grab her, press his m o u t h against hers. H e could tear at her clothing. She hears now the beating of her heart. She will strike him along the side of his head with her scrub bucket. She will claw at his eyes. One day after he left the r o o m she practiced launching herself u p from the floor and kicking at an imaginary crotch. Ruth says you'want to aim two or three inches below the zipper if it is to do a n y good. But he does not grab her. H e does n o t try to kiss her. H e stands in the door with his drink in hand. Still on her knees, she rests her. fists on her thighs and looks* u p to peer at his image in the mirror. You're married, he says. A n d his reflection points to the ring on her finger. Yes, she says. A n d then .she hears herself ask: Why? N o reason, he tells her. It is as if he is answering a different question entirely. N o n e at* all, he adds. His look continues to pull at her. She has the sense of falling down the length of it as one might pitch down a well. By the time she strikes bottom she is no longer a chambermaid. She is n o longer the wife of Roger and the mother of Roger, Jr., and Steven. She is no longer May. Her own image in the mirror seems'curiously transformed. She has turned into the w o m a n w h o inhabits the space of his gaze. For a single,a terrifying second, she is unable to recognize the strange voice in her head that keeps saying I.

The next morning the, m a n in R o o m 214 says, I told the girl the other day not to bother. She glances a t h i m but does not respond. Instead she turns on the

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Ill She and Roger first met at a church; social at St. Anselm's. They glanced at one another across the rows of parishioners' for some months before he finally asked her out. Their courtship proved glacial. They did no t hold hands until their fourth date a n d they did not kiss until the seventh.-Their engagement lasted for over a year. They waited until the week before they married to have sex. The ceremony too*k place in April. The sun was bright. T h e painted windows of the church glowed like rubies. Garlands of lilies adorned the pews. She saw it all through the gossamer veil. Those early years, they rarely argued. They had their'love. They h a d each other. Roger co uld work all.the overtirhe he wanted. They talked about buying a house. W h e n they learned she was pregnant, 'they would walk down to the drugstore in the evenings for a rootbeer float. They sat at the counter and watched as the moths hurled themselves again and again at the neo n sigri in the window. N o w a dead bee from the previous" summer lies on the windowsill. Silverfish scuttle down the drain" of the sink. She and Roger fight constantly. They fight about money, about the boys, they fight about his drinking. W h e n he was at the mill Roger waited until after their sons were in bed to open a beer. These days s h e occasionally comes "home to find him at the stove with a can in one hand and a spatula in the other. You'll b u rn down the trailer, she warns. I won't bur n down a g o d d a m n thing. The next day, he tries to atone by picking the clothes u p off the floor and taking a load to the laundromat. H e might sweep the" floor. Yet his efforts seem oddly, bizarrely selective to her. H e will not wash dishes and he will n ot mop. He will not hang clothes on the fine to dry. H e worries the neighbors might see him. If she wants a clean bathroom she has to do it herself. In the meantime, he has begun to pu t on weight. T h e days of idleness, the beer have brought a deepening spread to his middle. He reminds her of his Uncle Eldridge. His belly droops over his belt. This, and the fact that he sometimes goes several days without bathing, repulse her. Such moods are quickly followed by searing bouts of guilt,

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and then tenderriess..She reminds herself that it is not his fault the mill closed. She reminds h i m as well. Roger, however, remains unconvinced. H e believes in the'old-fashioned virtues. O n e makes one's way in life without complaint. Your lot is your due. We each deserve o u t p l a c e in this world. Otherwise, none of it makes sense, Roger tells her, none of it at all. 8-nr It ends like this: T h e F r i d a y before Thanksgiving the pickup won't start. "May has to walk the half mile to the bus stop. Roger and the boys head off in the other direction, tbward school. A cold drizzle falls. She arrives at the inn almost a n hour late for her shift, her hair a wet rag agairist her head. Her temples p o u n d and she'keeps sneezing. Ruth yells at her to hurry up. M a y changes into her smock and wheels her utility cart down the hallway, cleaning each r o o m as fast as she can to make u p for lost time. She does n o t reach 214 until*well past noon. I was just about to leave, the m a n assures her. But he does not leave. H e settles into the cane rocker, a drink in his hand. The place is a mess.. A half-eaten meal from a hamburger chain sits on the table, the wrappers spotted with 'grease. Soiled clothes lie underfoot'. A sticky film covers the end table. Hd-has closed the drapes. T h e only light comes from the small lamp in the corner. The r o o m has the look a n d feel of a tunnel. She makes the bed. She carries the dirty linens out to the utility cart.' She sprays and dusts. She runs the vacuum. W h e n she starts on-the bathroom] he'once more appears in the doorway. She keeps.tugging at her skirt. W h e n she turns'fo look at him, he sniiles in a way that'is hardly a'smile at all. His eyes behind the glasses strike her as curiously naked. H e stands with one hand hanging froni the sill. The impression is primal, almost simian. Bending back over the tub, her reflection shows dimly fromthe bottom of the basin. Her features look trapped beneath the enamel surface, sealed below the glossy*finish. From behind Her, the ice rattles in the man's drink. W h e n he leans out to touch the kerchief at her head, she freezes for a n instant and then, with the scrub brush still in her hand, 'she rises to her feet. l Don 1 t.

T.L. Toma

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Ill She and Roger first met at a church; social at St. Anselm's. They glanced at one another across the rows of parishioners' for some months before he finally asked her out. Their courtship proved glacial. They did no t hold hands until their fourth date a n d they did not kiss until the seventh.-Their engagement lasted for over a year. They waited until the week before they married to have sex. The ceremony too*k place in April. The sun was bright. T h e painted windows of the church glowed like rubies. Garlands of lilies adorned the pews. She saw it all through the gossamer veil. Those early years, they rarely argued. They had their'love. They h a d each other. Roger co uld work all.the overtirhe he wanted. They talked about buying a house. W h e n they learned she was pregnant, 'they would walk down to the drugstore in the evenings for a rootbeer float. They sat at the counter and watched as the moths hurled themselves again and again at the neo n sigri in the window. N o w a dead bee from the previous" summer lies on the windowsill. Silverfish scuttle down the drain" of the sink. She and Roger fight constantly. They fight about money, about the boys, they fight about his drinking. W h e n he was at the mill Roger waited until after their sons were in bed to open a beer. These days s h e occasionally comes "home to find him at the stove with a can in one hand and a spatula in the other. You'll b u rn down the trailer, she warns. I won't bur n down a g o d d a m n thing. The next day, he tries to atone by picking the clothes u p off the floor and taking a load to the laundromat. H e might sweep the" floor. Yet his efforts seem oddly, bizarrely selective to her. H e will not wash dishes and he will n ot mop. He will not hang clothes on the fine to dry. H e worries the neighbors might see him. If she wants a clean bathroom she has to do it herself. In the meantime, he has begun to pu t on weight. T h e days of idleness, the beer have brought a deepening spread to his middle. He reminds her of his Uncle Eldridge. His belly droops over his belt. This, and the fact that he sometimes goes several days without bathing, repulse her. Such moods are quickly followed by searing bouts of guilt,

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and then tenderriess..She reminds herself that it is not his fault the mill closed. She reminds h i m as well. Roger, however, remains unconvinced. H e believes in the'old-fashioned virtues. O n e makes one's way in life without complaint. Your lot is your due. We each deserve o u t p l a c e in this world. Otherwise, none of it makes sense, Roger tells her, none of it at all. 8-nr It ends like this: T h e F r i d a y before Thanksgiving the pickup won't start. "May has to walk the half mile to the bus stop. Roger and the boys head off in the other direction, tbward school. A cold drizzle falls. She arrives at the inn almost a n hour late for her shift, her hair a wet rag agairist her head. Her temples p o u n d and she'keeps sneezing. Ruth yells at her to hurry up. M a y changes into her smock and wheels her utility cart down the hallway, cleaning each r o o m as fast as she can to make u p for lost time. She does n o t reach 214 until*well past noon. I was just about to leave, the m a n assures her. But he does not leave. H e settles into the cane rocker, a drink in his hand. The place is a mess.. A half-eaten meal from a hamburger chain sits on the table, the wrappers spotted with 'grease. Soiled clothes lie underfoot'. A sticky film covers the end table. Hd-has closed the drapes. T h e only light comes from the small lamp in the corner. The r o o m has the look a n d feel of a tunnel. She makes the bed. She carries the dirty linens out to the utility cart.' She sprays and dusts. She runs the vacuum. W h e n she starts on-the bathroom] he'once more appears in the doorway. She keeps.tugging at her skirt. W h e n she turns'fo look at him, he sniiles in a way that'is hardly a'smile at all. His eyes behind the glasses strike her as curiously naked. H e stands with one hand hanging froni the sill. The impression is primal, almost simian. Bending back over the tub, her reflection shows dimly fromthe bottom of the basin. Her features look trapped beneath the enamel surface, sealed below the glossy*finish. From behind Her, the ice rattles in the man's drink. W h e n he leans out to touch the kerchief at her head, she freezes for a n instant and then, with the scrub brush still in her hand, 'she rises to her feet. l Don 1 t.

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With her back to h i m she watches in the mirror as,he sets his drink on the yanity a n d reaches again to find the knot at the back of her head- H e pulls gently, making the red kerchief come away all at once. Her black curls pour out, lush and vivid, against her smock. They spill down her neck and unfurl along her shoulders. Don't, she says again. The m a n stands with the kerchief knotted in his fist, his eyes boring through t h e mirror. H e r o w n ima*ge in the glass seems curiously transformed. It is like gazing through a window. It is like gazing through a window, that opens out onto a different life altogether. She understands -suddenly that this image will stay with her in the days and weeks ahead. This very image will h a u n t her in the weeks and months to come. For now, however, M a y simply waits {o see what the w o m a n in the mirror will do. The wonian looks fearless, she looks capable of anything, M a y realizes. This w p m a n will surprise.you if you let her. T h e phone next to the bed startles t h e m both. It rings .again. The m a n stares at her for an instant longer and, then hands her the red kerchief. H e is still pn the phone when she moves back, through the room. Wait, the m a n calls after her. She does n o t wait. Instead, she steps past thejuggage rack a n d the dresser and the bed, her hair lifting and falling. She moves through the door and down the hall. That same afternoon the m a n checks out. You'll miss him, Ike tells her the next morning. r f H e i s sitting at the front desk with a magazine in his lap. The w o m a n in the photo wears a single pink ribbon at her throat. Ike nods at the pocket of her smock, ^cui'll miss the money. W h e n M a y still doesn't respond Ikcshrugs, a n d then points, to the magazine. Tell me, he asks^ are these real? 8~T. In mid-December, the transmission on the .truck goes. It sits in the .shop for close to a.week while they,scramble to scrape together the money to pa^ for the repairs.. She* a n d Roger, struggle through the cold with the boys in tow, taking the btis to the supermarket, walking them to school, paying twenty-five dollars one afternoon for a cab to take Steven to the clinic when his temperature spikes at 105 degrees.

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Evenings, they wander through the trailer like animals in a burrow, moving slowly to conserve their energy. She works Christmas Eve, Christmas Day. At home, she's wrapped a number of small gifts - a box of. crayons, a packet of balloons, a wind-up toy from a fast-food chain - to lay at the base of the tree. She has knitted Roger a green scarf. H e gives her a n oven mitt and a bottle of bath beads. A t the inn the lobby looks festive. A n immense Scotch pine grazes the ceihng.-'Management has set out complimentary eggnog in a'crystal serving bowl. The guests'are* few and her workload light. W h e n she reaches her final r o o m of'the day - it's one of the suites on the first floor - ah elderly m a n opens the door at her knock. 'He shakes with palsy and liver spots stand out onliis brow. Despite the frigid weather, the m a n wears bright lemon pants a n d a n aloha shirt. T h e outfit makes her smile. Housekeeping, she explains. I can come back later. H e cups a hand to his ear and says, I ' m sorry? I've come to clean your room, she tells him. He steps aside. A suitcase lies propped open on the luggage stand. T h e clothes inside are neatly folded. A n overnight bag' stuffed with toiletries'sits on the floor next to it. T h e bed linens are lightly mussed. O n the dresser several books lie open, their spines exposed. A m a p of the U.S. appears o n t h e ' T V screen. I'll be o u t o f your hair in no time, she promises. The m a n stands in the center of the r o o m as she cleans'. He watches as she strips the b e d ' a n d remakes it. H e nods as she pulls the sheets tight. He'sees h ow she smoothes the bedcover. His eyes are moist. They linger on a corner of the r o o m for some moments after she has left it. I ' m sorry it's such a mess, he says at one point.' This is nothing. You wouldn't believe some of the things I see. I'll bet, he says. H e gesture's with his hands. I'll bet you have stories to tell. H e watches as she changes' the finer in the trashcan. H e moves a few of the books so she can dust the dresser. But when she wheels the vacuum cleaner in from the utility cart, a w o m a n in the bathroom yells, Morris, what's all that racket? H e looks frightened suddenly. Mo'rris looks'found out. It's the maid, T.L. Toma

111


With her back to h i m she watches in the mirror as,he sets his drink on the yanity a n d reaches again to find the knot at the back of her head- H e pulls gently, making the red kerchief come away all at once. Her black curls pour out, lush and vivid, against her smock. They spill down her neck and unfurl along her shoulders. Don't, she says again. The m a n stands with the kerchief knotted in his fist, his eyes boring through t h e mirror. H e r o w n ima*ge in the glass seems curiously transformed. It is like gazing through a window. It is like gazing through a window, that opens out onto a different life altogether. She understands -suddenly that this image will stay with her in the days and weeks ahead. This very image will h a u n t her in the weeks and months to come. For now, however, M a y simply waits {o see what the w o m a n in the mirror will do. The wonian looks fearless, she looks capable of anything, M a y realizes. This w p m a n will surprise.you if you let her. T h e phone next to the bed startles t h e m both. It rings .again. The m a n stares at her for an instant longer and, then hands her the red kerchief. H e is still pn the phone when she moves back, through the room. Wait, the m a n calls after her. She does n o t wait. Instead, she steps past thejuggage rack a n d the dresser and the bed, her hair lifting and falling. She moves through the door and down the hall. That same afternoon the m a n checks out. You'll miss him, Ike tells her the next morning. r f H e i s sitting at the front desk with a magazine in his lap. The w o m a n in the photo wears a single pink ribbon at her throat. Ike nods at the pocket of her smock, ^cui'll miss the money. W h e n M a y still doesn't respond Ikcshrugs, a n d then points, to the magazine. Tell me, he asks^ are these real? 8~T. In mid-December, the transmission on the .truck goes. It sits in the .shop for close to a.week while they,scramble to scrape together the money to pa^ for the repairs.. She* a n d Roger, struggle through the cold with the boys in tow, taking the btis to the supermarket, walking them to school, paying twenty-five dollars one afternoon for a cab to take Steven to the clinic when his temperature spikes at 105 degrees.

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Evenings, they wander through the trailer like animals in a burrow, moving slowly to conserve their energy. She works Christmas Eve, Christmas Day. At home, she's wrapped a number of small gifts - a box of. crayons, a packet of balloons, a wind-up toy from a fast-food chain - to lay at the base of the tree. She has knitted Roger a green scarf. H e gives her a n oven mitt and a bottle of bath beads. A t the inn the lobby looks festive. A n immense Scotch pine grazes the ceihng.-'Management has set out complimentary eggnog in a'crystal serving bowl. The guests'are* few and her workload light. W h e n she reaches her final r o o m of'the day - it's one of the suites on the first floor - ah elderly m a n opens the door at her knock. 'He shakes with palsy and liver spots stand out onliis brow. Despite the frigid weather, the m a n wears bright lemon pants a n d a n aloha shirt. T h e outfit makes her smile. Housekeeping, she explains. I can come back later. H e cups a hand to his ear and says, I ' m sorry? I've come to clean your room, she tells him. He steps aside. A suitcase lies propped open on the luggage stand. T h e clothes inside are neatly folded. A n overnight bag' stuffed with toiletries'sits on the floor next to it. T h e bed linens are lightly mussed. O n the dresser several books lie open, their spines exposed. A m a p of the U.S. appears o n t h e ' T V screen. I'll be o u t o f your hair in no time, she promises. The m a n stands in the center of the r o o m as she cleans'. He watches as she strips the b e d ' a n d remakes it. H e nods as she pulls the sheets tight. He'sees h ow she smoothes the bedcover. His eyes are moist. They linger on a corner of the r o o m for some moments after she has left it. I ' m sorry it's such a mess, he says at one point.' This is nothing. You wouldn't believe some of the things I see. I'll bet, he says. H e gesture's with his hands. I'll bet you have stories to tell. H e watches as she changes' the finer in the trashcan. H e moves a few of the books so she can dust the dresser. But when she wheels the vacuum cleaner in from the utility cart, a w o m a n in the bathroom yells, Morris, what's all that racket? H e looks frightened suddenly. Mo'rris looks'found out. It's the maid, T.L. Toma

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he explains. She wants to clean. For Chris' sake, tell her to conre rjack later, the w o m a n says. Tell her to come back when people aren't around. 8-r. N e w Year's Eve. She puts, the.boys to bed while k o g e r settles in the living room. A bowl game plays on TV. She feels tired though she doesn't want to go to sleep. She i s n o t yet ready for the future to arrive. She moves about restlessly,-folding some, clothes, washing the dishes. She shifts items around - the spice rack, tlie coffeepot, the empty mason jar - a s she wipes down the counter. Out the window, an eddying snow has, started to fall. It covers 'the walkv/ay, Steven's tricycle, the repaired pickup. She finally joins her husband in the living room. The game ends. T h e local news comes on.. W h e n the ball finally drops in a distant urban square, they lean toward each other and lightly kiss. I n the bedroom, he reaches for her again. May? he asks. She pauses at one point to search for a clip with which to pin back her hair. t t Afterward Roger .slips into a n immediate and profound slumber. She lies awake, her mind crjurnjng. Beyond the window, the snow drifts richly, driven b y the, wind. It tumbles endlessly past the pane pf glass. It seems staggering to her, it seems inconceivable, t h a t i n the vast*eaches of the universe, she should spmehpw arrjve at this small r o o m o n this one night. She thinks no w about the boys, a n d then about-Roger. Her mind goes to her parents, both long dead, and then to her childhood, which seems so remote and long ago it could have happened to someone else. Her mind wanders to the m a n in 214- She remembers t h e way he looked at her. Only now does,she realize that she has half:expected to find him some morning, waiting o n c e m o r e on the other side of the door, though she knows of course that he is never coming back. She feels, not disappointment, but only relief, along with a small, a gnawing sense of loss - not for the man, it cpmes to her suddenly, b u t for the w o m a n she,became w h e n he gazed at her%

She looks into the eyes of those she passes in the street, of drivers peering through car windshields, of b a n k tellers and store clerks. She scans the faces on the bus. In the coming weeks and 'months, M a y is never far from the thought that in the next m o m e nt she could once again encounter the w o m a n . D o w n through the years, this prospect will alter her life in small but unmistakable ways. A n d h o w will she know*her when she'finally finds her? That part is easy. She will be the w o m a n w h o looks far more beautiful than M a y herself has ever managed to appear.

In the days^and weeks ahead, she finds Jierself l o o k i n g j o r this w o m a n . She searches the faces that float past ( in the hallway of the hotel; in the produce aisle of-the supermarket, the faces in a crowd.

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he explains. She wants to clean. For Chris' sake, tell her to conre rjack later, the w o m a n says. Tell her to come back when people aren't around. 8-r. N e w Year's Eve. She puts, the.boys to bed while k o g e r settles in the living room. A bowl game plays on TV. She feels tired though she doesn't want to go to sleep. She i s n o t yet ready for the future to arrive. She moves about restlessly,-folding some, clothes, washing the dishes. She shifts items around - the spice rack, tlie coffeepot, the empty mason jar - a s she wipes down the counter. Out the window, an eddying snow has, started to fall. It covers 'the walkv/ay, Steven's tricycle, the repaired pickup. She finally joins her husband in the living room. The game ends. T h e local news comes on.. W h e n the ball finally drops in a distant urban square, they lean toward each other and lightly kiss. I n the bedroom, he reaches for her again. May? he asks. She pauses at one point to search for a clip with which to pin back her hair. t t Afterward Roger .slips into a n immediate and profound slumber. She lies awake, her mind crjurnjng. Beyond the window, the snow drifts richly, driven b y the, wind. It tumbles endlessly past the pane pf glass. It seems staggering to her, it seems inconceivable, t h a t i n the vast*eaches of the universe, she should spmehpw arrjve at this small r o o m o n this one night. She thinks no w about the boys, a n d then about-Roger. Her mind goes to her parents, both long dead, and then to her childhood, which seems so remote and long ago it could have happened to someone else. Her mind wanders to the m a n in 214- She remembers t h e way he looked at her. Only now does,she realize that she has half:expected to find him some morning, waiting o n c e m o r e on the other side of the door, though she knows of course that he is never coming back. She feels, not disappointment, but only relief, along with a small, a gnawing sense of loss - not for the man, it cpmes to her suddenly, b u t for the w o m a n she,became w h e n he gazed at her%

She looks into the eyes of those she passes in the street, of drivers peering through car windshields, of b a n k tellers and store clerks. She scans the faces on the bus. In the coming weeks and 'months, M a y is never far from the thought that in the next m o m e nt she could once again encounter the w o m a n . D o w n through the years, this prospect will alter her life in small but unmistakable ways. A n d h o w will she know*her when she'finally finds her? That part is easy. She will be the w o m a n w h o looks far more beautiful than M a y herself has ever managed to appear.

In the days^and weeks ahead, she finds Jierself l o o k i n g j o r this w o m a n . She searches the faces that float past ( in the hallway of the hotel; in the produce aisle of-the supermarket, the faces in a crowd.

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although she always looked sad. She was always willing to-listen to h i m and answer his questions: H e loved the smell of the linen w a n n e d by the ion&l loving strokes of the Hot iron. H e could almost remember her voice. 'He thought *thaHf Tie could remember his mother's voice, then the n a m e of the m p n t h would come with it. ,,

SECOND PLACE SUPDEN FICTION H

A

R

D

WILLIAM

T

I

M

E

DELANEY

Thirty days hath September, April June, and-? H e h a d been lying there for hours with that rhyme going around in his head, but he couldn't remember whether it was November or December that rhymed with September. All the rest have thirty-one, except February, Which hath four and twenty-four, And every leap year one day more. At least he knew this wasn't a leap year. H e couldn't sleep. It was after midnight. Still he was letting it keep h i m awake because he hoped that sooner or later the answer wpuld p o p into his brain. H e remembered how his mother h a d taught h i m the rhyme when he was five-years-old a n d waiting for Christmas. H e h a d learned to count off the days on the wall calendar, which that year featured big flowers supposedly sprouted from the seeds sold by the hardware store that gave the calendars away. His mother was ironing. It was raining. The window was splashed with drops that raced each other d o w n the glass. That was why he was inside and underfoot. But his mother was always quiet and patient, 114

Berkeley Fiction Review

Thirty days,hqth September, April, Juner and December? April, June, and November?

Were there any other* months that rhymed with September? October? November? December? January? 'February? This was going to drive him crazy. H e heard footsteps approaching quietly but not furtively. H e shut His eyes.-But then he opened them again and left them open until Sam's face appeared directly above him. It was the familiaf-face of a friendly back orge. H e wanted Sam to see that he was awake so the guard would stop and talk. "Can't sleep?" Sam asked softly. "Guess not," he said. " W h y not?" " I ' m trying to remember a nursery rhyme." "Sure you are." Sam's eyes were not unkind but always watchful, never trustful. They were eyes that belonged to the other side of the bars. H e h a d worked here for twenty years a n d h a d seen a n d heard everything. " W h y do y o u want to remember a nursery rhyme?" Sam asked at last. H e would j u s t as soon be standing here as prowling the corridors spying on sleeping men. "It goes like this. Thirty days hath September, April, June, and and what?" "And November." "You sure?" "Sure I ' m sure. M y mother taught it to m e w h e n I was a little kid." "And it's after midnight?" "Nearly one o'clock." "So then this must be the first of December." "All day." " N o w I can go to sleep."

William Delaney

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although she always looked sad. She was always willing to-listen to h i m and answer his questions: H e loved the smell of the linen w a n n e d by the ion&l loving strokes of the Hot iron. H e could almost remember her voice. 'He thought *thaHf Tie could remember his mother's voice, then the n a m e of the m p n t h would come with it. ,,

SECOND PLACE SUPDEN FICTION H

A

R

D

WILLIAM

T

I

M

E

DELANEY

Thirty days hath September, April June, and-? H e h a d been lying there for hours with that rhyme going around in his head, but he couldn't remember whether it was November or December that rhymed with September. All the rest have thirty-one, except February, Which hath four and twenty-four, And every leap year one day more. At least he knew this wasn't a leap year. H e couldn't sleep. It was after midnight. Still he was letting it keep h i m awake because he hoped that sooner or later the answer wpuld p o p into his brain. H e remembered how his mother h a d taught h i m the rhyme when he was five-years-old a n d waiting for Christmas. H e h a d learned to count off the days on the wall calendar, which that year featured big flowers supposedly sprouted from the seeds sold by the hardware store that gave the calendars away. His mother was ironing. It was raining. The window was splashed with drops that raced each other d o w n the glass. That was why he was inside and underfoot. But his mother was always quiet and patient, 114

Berkeley Fiction Review

Thirty days,hqth September, April, Juner and December? April, June, and November?

Were there any other* months that rhymed with September? October? November? December? January? 'February? This was going to drive him crazy. H e heard footsteps approaching quietly but not furtively. H e shut His eyes.-But then he opened them again and left them open until Sam's face appeared directly above him. It was the familiaf-face of a friendly back orge. H e wanted Sam to see that he was awake so the guard would stop and talk. "Can't sleep?" Sam asked softly. "Guess not," he said. " W h y not?" " I ' m trying to remember a nursery rhyme." "Sure you are." Sam's eyes were not unkind but always watchful, never trustful. They were eyes that belonged to the other side of the bars. H e h a d worked here for twenty years a n d h a d seen a n d heard everything. " W h y do y o u want to remember a nursery rhyme?" Sam asked at last. H e would j u s t as soon be standing here as prowling the corridors spying on sleeping men. "It goes like this. Thirty days hath September, April, June, and and what?" "And November." "You sure?" "Sure I ' m sure. M y mother taught it to m e w h e n I was a little kid." "And it's after midnight?" "Nearly one o'clock." "So then this must be the first of December." "All day." " N o w I can go to sleep."

William Delaney

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"That's the best thing for you to do." H e listened to Sam's footsteps, still quiet but n o t sneaky, patrolling the rest of the, corridor and then stopping and then turning right and fading into the silence of the big prison during the few hours before m e n wake from welcome oblivion. In the bunk above him, Steve Roach, the lifer w h o h a d killed his parents, slept undisturbed! For a few blessed' hours there would be none of the slamming metal doors, the tramping feet, the insults, the threats, the challenges, the racial slurs, or the meaningless shrieks and howls which could set a whole wing shrieking and howling like animals at the zoo. T h e rare intervals of daytime stillness were the least endurable because he waited for the tortured outbursts from those souls w h o could stand anything but silence. Of course the word was NQvember. He must have known it all alpng.* A n d n o w it was the first day of December. H e would get through Christmas somehow. H e felt himself drifting off to sleep at last. He wished he could just sleep until the day they would release h i m from the smells of mopwater and too m a n y m e n breathing the same air. Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November Only twelve more years to go.

Thailan When

116

Berkeley Fiction Review

ThailanWhen L

117


"That's the best thing for you to do." H e listened to Sam's footsteps, still quiet but n o t sneaky, patrolling the rest of the, corridor and then stopping and then turning right and fading into the silence of the big prison during the few hours before m e n wake from welcome oblivion. In the bunk above him, Steve Roach, the lifer w h o h a d killed his parents, slept undisturbed! For a few blessed' hours there would be none of the slamming metal doors, the tramping feet, the insults, the threats, the challenges, the racial slurs, or the meaningless shrieks and howls which could set a whole wing shrieking and howling like animals at the zoo. T h e rare intervals of daytime stillness were the least endurable because he waited for the tortured outbursts from those souls w h o could stand anything but silence. Of course the word was NQvember. He must have known it all alpng.* A n d n o w it was the first day of December. H e would get through Christmas somehow. H e felt himself drifting off to sleep at last. He wished he could just sleep until the day they would release h i m from the smells of mopwater and too m a n y m e n breathing the same air. Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November Only twelve more years to go.

Thailan When

116

Berkeley Fiction Review

ThailanWhen L

117


S

E.G.

U

I

T

physical. H e r ' n a m e was Joanne Nesmithe. He'd met her - if "meet" was the right word - at a benefit for the N o r t o n M u s e u m , one that had been cosponsored by a breast cancer foundation, a fundraising combination that h a d struck him'as peculiar, though not all that surprising, for as he'd learned, the Palm Beach socialites routinely did things that struck him as peculiar. He'd been drawn to the gregarious inquisitiveness of her eyes as she bounced from conversation'to conversation, her small features and short deficate carriage packaged into a n elegant pink pantsuit and heels to make her appear tall and'elegant, her uneven bangs dancing across her forehead'when she laughed, which she ! did freely and generously.

E

SILVERMAN

She h a d three children, a n d that would compel her to do as he said. H e was not going to be greedy; so as long as' she remained calm and rational, there was n o reason they couldn't transact their business quickly, discreedy a n d amicably. H e stepped into the bedroom. She was on her side, facing him, the white duvet bunched down'to her waist, a sliver of flickering sunlight highlighting her neck and shoulder, her brown hair brilliant against the white pillow, trimmed in a golden rectangle framing her head. Seeing her sleeping like this, he wished he could kiss her cheek and they could start their day like any other couple. He'd ordered breakfast, a n d the table was set in the next room. It was easy to'imagine her smiling at h i m over coffee as they chatted'about ho w they'd spend their day together. He'd thought about quitting. H e thought about it all the time. Despite his growing expertise and confidence, each mission seemed more difficult than the previous one, more stressful, more draining. So then, why not quit? Was it really worth the effort, the risk? But he'd never been one to shy away from a challenge, never one to avoid taking on a fnission because of the danger. Besides, compared to what he'd faced over those two years, there was n o fear involved; n o real fear, not the kind of fear that facing r a n d o m death can teach you in a big hurry.

â&#x20AC;˘Ben Ryder stood on the suite's balcony, staring out at the sun rising over the ocean, the white railing cool against his hands, and he had a" momentary craving for a cigarette, a vice he'd toyed with in his two years overseas and then left behind w h e n he returned. Below him, attendants were setting u p rows of chairs around the pool and a gardener carefully trimmed bushes that were already manicured into perfect cubes. Beyond the pool, a phalanx of blue and green umbrellas awaited the day's beachgoers, and beside t h e m the water toys two Hobie Cats, three W a v e R u n n e r s and a couple of yellow ocean kayaks. The balcony was a white-tiled triangle. One side was the railing, one was a sliding glass doof into the suite's sitting room, and one was a matching door into the bedroom, j v h i c h he'd left open so he could keep a n eye o n the w o m a n sleeping in the king-size bed. He'd given her a pretty good dose of Ativan, first ten milligrams in her drink and then another four by injection, followed by 150 milligrams of Nembutal and an Ambien C R to make sure she slept through the night. She was going to wake up disoriented, no t remembering much, perhaps a bit nauseous. Desperately, she'd want to know where she was and why she was naked. Probably she'd be scared. Sometimes they got angry. Sometimes threatening. Sometimes even

118

T h e uniform "helped. It' naturally sorted* w o m e n into two categories. Either they found the uniform intimidating, in the way that people w h o resent authority are instinctively afraid of c&ps, or they warmed right u p to him, as if the uniform meant he could be trusted, m e a n t he was there to protect them, meant he was a mah*of honor.

Berkeley Fiction Review

E.G. Silverman L

119


S

E.G.

U

I

T

physical. H e r ' n a m e was Joanne Nesmithe. He'd met her - if "meet" was the right word - at a benefit for the N o r t o n M u s e u m , one that had been cosponsored by a breast cancer foundation, a fundraising combination that h a d struck him'as peculiar, though not all that surprising, for as he'd learned, the Palm Beach socialites routinely did things that struck him as peculiar. He'd been drawn to the gregarious inquisitiveness of her eyes as she bounced from conversation'to conversation, her small features and short deficate carriage packaged into a n elegant pink pantsuit and heels to make her appear tall and'elegant, her uneven bangs dancing across her forehead'when she laughed, which she ! did freely and generously.

E

SILVERMAN

She h a d three children, a n d that would compel her to do as he said. H e was not going to be greedy; so as long as' she remained calm and rational, there was n o reason they couldn't transact their business quickly, discreedy a n d amicably. H e stepped into the bedroom. She was on her side, facing him, the white duvet bunched down'to her waist, a sliver of flickering sunlight highlighting her neck and shoulder, her brown hair brilliant against the white pillow, trimmed in a golden rectangle framing her head. Seeing her sleeping like this, he wished he could kiss her cheek and they could start their day like any other couple. He'd ordered breakfast, a n d the table was set in the next room. It was easy to'imagine her smiling at h i m over coffee as they chatted'about ho w they'd spend their day together. He'd thought about quitting. H e thought about it all the time. Despite his growing expertise and confidence, each mission seemed more difficult than the previous one, more stressful, more draining. So then, why not quit? Was it really worth the effort, the risk? But he'd never been one to shy away from a challenge, never one to avoid taking on a fnission because of the danger. Besides, compared to what he'd faced over those two years, there was n o fear involved; n o real fear, not the kind of fear that facing r a n d o m death can teach you in a big hurry.

â&#x20AC;˘Ben Ryder stood on the suite's balcony, staring out at the sun rising over the ocean, the white railing cool against his hands, and he had a" momentary craving for a cigarette, a vice he'd toyed with in his two years overseas and then left behind w h e n he returned. Below him, attendants were setting u p rows of chairs around the pool and a gardener carefully trimmed bushes that were already manicured into perfect cubes. Beyond the pool, a phalanx of blue and green umbrellas awaited the day's beachgoers, and beside t h e m the water toys two Hobie Cats, three W a v e R u n n e r s and a couple of yellow ocean kayaks. The balcony was a white-tiled triangle. One side was the railing, one was a sliding glass doof into the suite's sitting room, and one was a matching door into the bedroom, j v h i c h he'd left open so he could keep a n eye o n the w o m a n sleeping in the king-size bed. He'd given her a pretty good dose of Ativan, first ten milligrams in her drink and then another four by injection, followed by 150 milligrams of Nembutal and an Ambien C R to make sure she slept through the night. She was going to wake up disoriented, no t remembering much, perhaps a bit nauseous. Desperately, she'd want to know where she was and why she was naked. Probably she'd be scared. Sometimes they got angry. Sometimes threatening. Sometimes even

118

T h e uniform "helped. It' naturally sorted* w o m e n into two categories. Either they found the uniform intimidating, in the way that people w h o resent authority are instinctively afraid of c&ps, or they warmed right u p to him, as if the uniform meant he could be trusted, m e a n t he was there to protect them, meant he was a mah*of honor.

Berkeley Fiction Review

E.G. Silverman L

119


It was this second category that he preyed on. It turned out that they were usually exactly what he was looking for - middle-aged, married mothers. He'd hypothesized that it was motherhood that drew t h e m to him. They wanted their children protected. T h e policeman is our friend. A n d n o w with this war on terrorism, it was the m a n in uniforrn w h o guarded them. This aspect of the business amused him - as if they knew anything about getting blown u p by a bomb. That was why, since the first few times, when he'd still been new at the game, he'd settled on wearing his uniform and showing his rank, medals, a n d ribbons. His purple heart. All the insignia from the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq., T h e shined shoes. That was important. The black shoes as shiny as patent leather. T h e n there was the whole issue of sex. He'd thought he'd try it both ways, with and without. But when it came time, he was unable to perform. N o , not so m u c h unable as not wanting to, disgusted with himself for considering such a thing. Besides, once sex was eliminated, it was less complicated, and it left his motives clear and simple and unadulterated. H e sat gently o n the bed and touched her shoulder. She m a d e a small humrning sound and rubbed her eyes with the back of her hands % It took a second for her to come around and then she sat u p abruptly and pulled the duvet tightly to her chin, her head jerking from side to side, her eyes racing for something to latch onto. "What...Who...Where ami?" ,He backed away from her. The first couple of times, he'd .tried being tender, caring, loving. H e ' d woken one u p with a kiss on her c h e e k Another with one on her shoulder. He'd tried brushing the hair back out of their faces. But he'd discovered that the best thing was to keep his distance. "I remember you," she said, trying to make sense of a-situation that could not.be m a d e sensible. "The what. The army guy. The doctor." "Ben. Ben Ryder. Captain Ben Ryder." "Where a m I? W h e r e are my clothes? W h a t the hell is going on?" H e smiled at her with,.what he hoped was w a r m reassurance, a face he'd practiced in front o f a mirror. "You're at the Four Seasons. I ordered us a nice breakfast. I'll explain everything while we eat." She reached for the phone.

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Berkeley Fiction Review

"Think about it," he said quickly. " W h a t will y o u r h u s b a n d say?" H e retrieved a robe from the bathroom, laid it on the bed and left her alone with the phon e in her hand. Thanks to the Ativan, she'd have little recall of anything after they'd left the m u s e um and until she figured out what had happened, she was unlikely to use the phone. His one fear was that she'd call the police, but h o w could she dare? There "was nothing to report, nothing'tbr t h e m to find. There were no signs of kidnapping, n o evidence of rape, nothing 'that pointed at anything more t h a n her having come here of her own accord. She was free to go as she pleased. "He wasn't forcing her to stay. H e inspected the tdble r o o m service had set u p in the sitting-room. Positioned at each end were two Victorian style chairs with antiqued wood arms, curved backs and brown upholstery swarming with tan d i a m o n d s / H e hoped she liked omelets, but he'd ordered toast, juice, and a fruit plate too. She had the body of a w o m a n w h o took care of herself*. Watcried -what she ate. Worked out. He'd already gained twerity pounds in "the ten months since-he'd been back from the war. The global war against terrorism. W h a t a j o k e . A fraud. A war on a tactic. He'd seen the victims on both sides. The more"' they made war, t h e more terror there was, more than enough to go around. He'd signed on because He was a physician, a surgeon fresh out of residency, and he'd'figured it'd be a greafTearning experience, more trauma cases than he'd see hi a lifetime and besides, an opportunity t o do some good, save lives, put his education to work for a noble cause. It hadn't occurred to* h i m that he'd be operating on the enemy 1 and the innocent, the carnage indiscrirhinate, relentless and meaningless. A n d it h a d never dawned on h i m that there'would be w o m e n ' - young, pretty w o m e n - and children, getting blown to pieces, losing arms and legs, faces disfigured, lives ended or ruined and all for.. .for what? H e wandered out onto the balcony with his* coffee. For an April morning, it was on the chilly side, a brisk breeze sriapping the awning on the poblside restaurant, but the sky was mostly clear and the sun promised to warm things up quickly. In the distance to his right, he could see w h a t "was left of the Lake Worth pier, large sections of it missing from hurricane damage. A w o m a n wearing an iPod jogged with her golden retriever at the water's edge. A m a n in a sweat suit and baseball cap worked a metal detector in slow arcs. A squadron of five pelicans swooped along the water's edge, gliding past the jogger.

E.G. Silverman

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It was this second category that he preyed on. It turned out that they were usually exactly what he was looking for - middle-aged, married mothers. He'd hypothesized that it was motherhood that drew t h e m to him. They wanted their children protected. T h e policeman is our friend. A n d n o w with this war on terrorism, it was the m a n in uniforrn w h o guarded them. This aspect of the business amused him - as if they knew anything about getting blown u p by a bomb. That was why, since the first few times, when he'd still been new at the game, he'd settled on wearing his uniform and showing his rank, medals, a n d ribbons. His purple heart. All the insignia from the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq., T h e shined shoes. That was important. The black shoes as shiny as patent leather. T h e n there was the whole issue of sex. He'd thought he'd try it both ways, with and without. But when it came time, he was unable to perform. N o , not so m u c h unable as not wanting to, disgusted with himself for considering such a thing. Besides, once sex was eliminated, it was less complicated, and it left his motives clear and simple and unadulterated. H e sat gently o n the bed and touched her shoulder. She m a d e a small humrning sound and rubbed her eyes with the back of her hands % It took a second for her to come around and then she sat u p abruptly and pulled the duvet tightly to her chin, her head jerking from side to side, her eyes racing for something to latch onto. "What...Who...Where ami?" ,He backed away from her. The first couple of times, he'd .tried being tender, caring, loving. H e ' d woken one u p with a kiss on her c h e e k Another with one on her shoulder. He'd tried brushing the hair back out of their faces. But he'd discovered that the best thing was to keep his distance. "I remember you," she said, trying to make sense of a-situation that could not.be m a d e sensible. "The what. The army guy. The doctor." "Ben. Ben Ryder. Captain Ben Ryder." "Where a m I? W h e r e are my clothes? W h a t the hell is going on?" H e smiled at her with,.what he hoped was w a r m reassurance, a face he'd practiced in front o f a mirror. "You're at the Four Seasons. I ordered us a nice breakfast. I'll explain everything while we eat." She reached for the phone.

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Berkeley Fiction Review

"Think about it," he said quickly. " W h a t will y o u r h u s b a n d say?" H e retrieved a robe from the bathroom, laid it on the bed and left her alone with the phon e in her hand. Thanks to the Ativan, she'd have little recall of anything after they'd left the m u s e um and until she figured out what had happened, she was unlikely to use the phone. His one fear was that she'd call the police, but h o w could she dare? There "was nothing to report, nothing'tbr t h e m to find. There were no signs of kidnapping, n o evidence of rape, nothing 'that pointed at anything more t h a n her having come here of her own accord. She was free to go as she pleased. "He wasn't forcing her to stay. H e inspected the tdble r o o m service had set u p in the sitting-room. Positioned at each end were two Victorian style chairs with antiqued wood arms, curved backs and brown upholstery swarming with tan d i a m o n d s / H e hoped she liked omelets, but he'd ordered toast, juice, and a fruit plate too. She had the body of a w o m a n w h o took care of herself*. Watcried -what she ate. Worked out. He'd already gained twerity pounds in "the ten months since-he'd been back from the war. The global war against terrorism. W h a t a j o k e . A fraud. A war on a tactic. He'd seen the victims on both sides. The more"' they made war, t h e more terror there was, more than enough to go around. He'd signed on because He was a physician, a surgeon fresh out of residency, and he'd'figured it'd be a greafTearning experience, more trauma cases than he'd see hi a lifetime and besides, an opportunity t o do some good, save lives, put his education to work for a noble cause. It hadn't occurred to* h i m that he'd be operating on the enemy 1 and the innocent, the carnage indiscrirhinate, relentless and meaningless. A n d it h a d never dawned on h i m that there'would be w o m e n ' - young, pretty w o m e n - and children, getting blown to pieces, losing arms and legs, faces disfigured, lives ended or ruined and all for.. .for what? H e wandered out onto the balcony with his* coffee. For an April morning, it was on the chilly side, a brisk breeze sriapping the awning on the poblside restaurant, but the sky was mostly clear and the sun promised to warm things up quickly. In the distance to his right, he could see w h a t "was left of the Lake Worth pier, large sections of it missing from hurricane damage. A w o m a n wearing an iPod jogged with her golden retriever at the water's edge. A m a n in a sweat suit and baseball cap worked a metal detector in slow arcs. A squadron of five pelicans swooped along the water's edge, gliding past the jogger.

E.G. Silverman

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r I n a few minutes the w o m a n m a d e her, way into the sitting room, tentatively exploring the suite as if t she expected to find someone lurking behind a couch. She was wrapped i n a fluffy white bathrobe, her hair brushed a n d her face washed,- a n d as he'd been the night before, he was nearly,overwhelrnectby her vitality, by the strength in her face, her eyes n o w assertive and businesslike. It was a down-to-earth face he would have liked to wakp up ( f o on a regular basis, a face he could imagine managing a household, children, and, a career; a face that would make.pragmatic decisions. H e would have liked to be friends with this w o m a n . Maybe more, but^ surely friends. It was a feeling he often experienced with his victims and h e wished there were more time^to savor it before bursting t h r o u g h to the harsh reality. ' ' H o w do you like your coffee?" he said, reaching for the pot. "Where are my clothes?" T h e words came slow and even, her anger submerged under a veneer of control. "I h u n g your suit in the closet. Your shoes are in the closet tqo. Your other things are in the dresser. W h y don't you sit d o w n and eat something? We need to talk." She was hplding the bathrobe shut with a tense fist under-her throat, her other h a n d clenched at her waist. She started towards the bedroom, hut stopped and spun back to glare at him. "Tell m e one thing.. Did w e . . . I m e a n did y o u . . . I m e a n . â&#x20AC;&#x17E; " She shut her eyes, her lips auiverin^. H e didn't think she'd cry, but often they did. H e hated this part, but it was a necessary stage in the process, like the.steps in grieving, something she h a d to.get through so she would accept her situation. Only then could t h e y move on to the business at hand. "Look," he said. "I understand ho w you're feeling. T h a f s to be expected. It's perfecdy n o r m a l M y suggestion is that we have breakfast and talk. You'll feel better with some food in your stomach." She disappeared into the bedroom, slamming the door. H e lifted the rnetalTid off one of the plates. H e was hungry and the omelejs were getting cold. Still, it would be rude to start without her. H e refilled his coffee and sat on the couch. H e ' d t h o u g h t it was orange, bu t n o w he saw that it was actually a fine,yellow a n d red weave. T h e carpet was blue with a pattern of seemingly r a n d o m flecks pf yellow. O n the glass coffee table was a neatly arranged display of magazines - Food and. Wine, Condi Nast Traveler, Estates West, Palm ^each Illustrated, a n d several issues of Four Seasons.^He flipped through.Pa/m

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Berkeley Fiction Review

Beach Illustrated', mostly ads for Bentleys and W o r t h Avenue jewelers, interspersed with pjiotos of "men in tuxedos and w o m e n in gowns, rich people and royalty, like trie-crowds'he mingled with at the benefits he attended. It was seeing coverage of such affairs in the Palm Beach Post and reading how the society w o m e n often attended without their husbands that h a d SRarked the idea for his campaign. At'last she emerged in last night's'pink pantsuit, matching heels and pearl necklace. She'd touched u p her makeup and p u t on lipstick. Her hair was pulled back into a mother of pearl clip. She'd seemed gentle and bouncy last night but h o w she appeared angry and fierce. It was sad that h e h a d this effect, bu t these w o m e n were cloistered and foolish, ahd though he felt sorry for them, it confirmed the validity of his approach. She started towards the door. "Sit," he said. "You've had your fun, but I think you're disgusting." She reached for the door. H e was disappointed. He'd thought she'd be rriore inquisitive. Usually, they were at a m i n i m u m curious about h o w they'd 'gotten there. H o w was she going to make u p whatever lie she was go'ing to tell her husband if she didn't know the truth? "Look Joanne," he said. "Here's the situation. You got drunk last night. We were dancing a n d you'started to m a k e a spectacle of yourself, hanging on me, pulling against me; rubbing yourselfon me. I had to get you out of there before you embarrassed yourself i n front of your friends. I escorted you to the bathroom and when you came out, you wanted to kiss m e right there in the museums-hallway,- b u t ! said let's go outside, and then I called a taxi. I offered'to take you-home. Hell, I insisted that we take you home, but you said your husband was a jerk and that was the last place you wanted to go and you kept saying we'should go somewhere for a drink, but you were already in n o shape for any ihore drinks, so I brought you here, and well, here we are." She turned and let go of the doorknob, which she'd been gripping as if she were about to crush it. "You're lying." "Okay,,then you tell m e what happened." She marched to the open glass door, gazing vacantly out at the sea. He could see her trying to remember, her face registering confu-

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r I n a few minutes the w o m a n m a d e her, way into the sitting room, tentatively exploring the suite as if t she expected to find someone lurking behind a couch. She was wrapped i n a fluffy white bathrobe, her hair brushed a n d her face washed,- a n d as he'd been the night before, he was nearly,overwhelrnectby her vitality, by the strength in her face, her eyes n o w assertive and businesslike. It was a down-to-earth face he would have liked to wakp up ( f o on a regular basis, a face he could imagine managing a household, children, and, a career; a face that would make.pragmatic decisions. H e would have liked to be friends with this w o m a n . Maybe more, but^ surely friends. It was a feeling he often experienced with his victims and h e wished there were more time^to savor it before bursting t h r o u g h to the harsh reality. ' ' H o w do you like your coffee?" he said, reaching for the pot. "Where are my clothes?" T h e words came slow and even, her anger submerged under a veneer of control. "I h u n g your suit in the closet. Your shoes are in the closet tqo. Your other things are in the dresser. W h y don't you sit d o w n and eat something? We need to talk." She was hplding the bathrobe shut with a tense fist under-her throat, her other h a n d clenched at her waist. She started towards the bedroom, hut stopped and spun back to glare at him. "Tell m e one thing.. Did w e . . . I m e a n did y o u . . . I m e a n . â&#x20AC;&#x17E; " She shut her eyes, her lips auiverin^. H e didn't think she'd cry, but often they did. H e hated this part, but it was a necessary stage in the process, like the.steps in grieving, something she h a d to.get through so she would accept her situation. Only then could t h e y move on to the business at hand. "Look," he said. "I understand ho w you're feeling. T h a f s to be expected. It's perfecdy n o r m a l M y suggestion is that we have breakfast and talk. You'll feel better with some food in your stomach." She disappeared into the bedroom, slamming the door. H e lifted the rnetalTid off one of the plates. H e was hungry and the omelejs were getting cold. Still, it would be rude to start without her. H e refilled his coffee and sat on the couch. H e ' d t h o u g h t it was orange, bu t n o w he saw that it was actually a fine,yellow a n d red weave. T h e carpet was blue with a pattern of seemingly r a n d o m flecks pf yellow. O n the glass coffee table was a neatly arranged display of magazines - Food and. Wine, Condi Nast Traveler, Estates West, Palm ^each Illustrated, a n d several issues of Four Seasons.^He flipped through.Pa/m

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Beach Illustrated', mostly ads for Bentleys and W o r t h Avenue jewelers, interspersed with pjiotos of "men in tuxedos and w o m e n in gowns, rich people and royalty, like trie-crowds'he mingled with at the benefits he attended. It was seeing coverage of such affairs in the Palm Beach Post and reading how the society w o m e n often attended without their husbands that h a d SRarked the idea for his campaign. At'last she emerged in last night's'pink pantsuit, matching heels and pearl necklace. She'd touched u p her makeup and p u t on lipstick. Her hair was pulled back into a mother of pearl clip. She'd seemed gentle and bouncy last night but h o w she appeared angry and fierce. It was sad that h e h a d this effect, bu t these w o m e n were cloistered and foolish, ahd though he felt sorry for them, it confirmed the validity of his approach. She started towards the door. "Sit," he said. "You've had your fun, but I think you're disgusting." She reached for the door. H e was disappointed. He'd thought she'd be rriore inquisitive. Usually, they were at a m i n i m u m curious about h o w they'd 'gotten there. H o w was she going to make u p whatever lie she was go'ing to tell her husband if she didn't know the truth? "Look Joanne," he said. "Here's the situation. You got drunk last night. We were dancing a n d you'started to m a k e a spectacle of yourself, hanging on me, pulling against me; rubbing yourselfon me. I had to get you out of there before you embarrassed yourself i n front of your friends. I escorted you to the bathroom and when you came out, you wanted to kiss m e right there in the museums-hallway,- b u t ! said let's go outside, and then I called a taxi. I offered'to take you-home. Hell, I insisted that we take you home, but you said your husband was a jerk and that was the last place you wanted to go and you kept saying we'should go somewhere for a drink, but you were already in n o shape for any ihore drinks, so I brought you here, and well, here we are." She turned and let go of the doorknob, which she'd been gripping as if she were about to crush it. "You're lying." "Okay,,then you tell m e what happened." She marched to the open glass door, gazing vacantly out at the sea. He could see her trying to remember, her face registering confu-

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sion, disarray, guilt. "I h a d a drink. A cosmopolitan. Then a glass of wine. You brought m e a glass of wine. Red .wine. I never drink red, but.. . A nd then I felt sick. I felt like I was going to pass out. I wanted to go to the bathroom. I started... You took me...." She seemed to remember something, and then turned sharply to face him. " W h a t do you want from me? You've already done what you've done; n o w why don't you let m e go?" She was a tough one all right and though it would likely be necessary to take her down a peg or two, he h a d n o desire to break her love,ly spirit. "That's, right," he said. "You didn't feel well. You didn't eat any dinner, so it would be best if you h a d some breakfast. Sit down and we'll talk." She took her phone from her purse and opened it. "Joanne, since you insist on being unsociable, I'll get to our business." H e picked u p a small digital camera that was on the table. "I suggest you take a look at this." H e pressed a button on the camera and held it u p for her to see. She hesitated, but t h e n came to him, and as she stood near the table, he scrolled through a series of photographs of her naked and sprawled on the bed in a variety of poses. A t the first of them, she gasped, but as he showed her the rest, she grew calm, and then turned her head, refusing to see.any more. "By the way, you can put your m i n d at ease," he said, taking a seat at the table. "I used protection." H e forced a n unconvincing chuckle. She sank into the chair opposite him, her eyes shut, her elbows on the Jable, her m o u t h supported by her hand, deep breaths blowing across her clenclied fingers. " W h a t do you want?" â&#x20AC;˘"Okay, Joanne, here's the deal. Usually I don't offer a choice. But I like you, so I ' m going to m a k e an exception. Either you. can agree to meet me, say once a week, for, let's make it six months - n o a year, yeah, let's make it a year - for a night together, or you can s pay-me $10,000." Her h a n d dropped from her mouth. She sat u p straight. She rose from the chair a n d stood glaring at him. "$10,000? You expect m e t o pay you $10,000?" "Unless you want your husband seeing those pictures. I have your address from your purse. Or perhaps I should e-mail them to everyone

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in your address book. A n d by the way, if you're thinking about going to the police, think again. W h a t are you going to report? That you went to a hotel with a stranger and spent the night with him? That you got so drunk you don't remember? C o m e on Joanne, now be a good sport about this, sit d o w n a n d drink your juice. W h a t ' s $10,000? Your watch cost twice that much." There were two pieces of art on the walls. One, next to the hallway to the bedroom, was a mixture of paint and gold cloth over a n abstract block print with a gold flag or banner or ribbons flying in a stiff breeze from an unidentifiable object. H e watched her study it for a few minutes and then move to the one over the couch, by the same artist, swirls of color from which a pitcher, three glasses and a vase emerged, a bird's wings soaring from the vase. G o d , she was pretty, even stressed like this, full of hate a n d disgust, and he wished like hell that he h a d met her under different circumstances, and he was the closest he'd ever been to saying okay forget it a n d letting her go. Surely, if only he could tell her the truth, she would understand and gladly comply She took the fruit plate, a fork and a glass of juice out onto the balcony and sat at the white r o u nd table, eating a n d staring at the water. H e wanted "to go sit beside her, but knew that it was best to leave her alone. She was coming to grips with her predicament and when she returned, she'd be ready to make the arrangements for payment. H e hoped she believed h i m - he did like her and he was letting her off easy. U s u a l l y h e demanded more, fifteen or twenty thousand. Between the donation to the m u s e u m and the price of the suite, he'd already invested over t w e t h o u s a n d , so ten was hardly worth his while. But, though money was the point of this, the actual amoun t wasn't important. H e donated the net profits to charity, the very charities that sponsored the events where he met them. These w o m e n were so full of themselves for their social beneficence,' so proud and ennobled by their meager gifts in amounts that were trivial to t h e m . His mission was to see to it that their giving mean t something, that their donations entailed self-sacrifice. It was guilt that drove them to philanthropy and his contribution was to convert their inconsequential gestures into substantial acts of contrition. Unlike Paul N e w m a n , he demanded a lot more than buying popcorn. To be granted absolution at his church, there was a personal price to pay. After a while, she walked back in and seated herself calmly at the

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sion, disarray, guilt. "I h a d a drink. A cosmopolitan. Then a glass of wine. You brought m e a glass of wine. Red .wine. I never drink red, but.. . A nd then I felt sick. I felt like I was going to pass out. I wanted to go to the bathroom. I started... You took me...." She seemed to remember something, and then turned sharply to face him. " W h a t do you want from me? You've already done what you've done; n o w why don't you let m e go?" She was a tough one all right and though it would likely be necessary to take her down a peg or two, he h a d n o desire to break her love,ly spirit. "That's, right," he said. "You didn't feel well. You didn't eat any dinner, so it would be best if you h a d some breakfast. Sit down and we'll talk." She took her phone from her purse and opened it. "Joanne, since you insist on being unsociable, I'll get to our business." H e picked u p a small digital camera that was on the table. "I suggest you take a look at this." H e pressed a button on the camera and held it u p for her to see. She hesitated, but t h e n came to him, and as she stood near the table, he scrolled through a series of photographs of her naked and sprawled on the bed in a variety of poses. A t the first of them, she gasped, but as he showed her the rest, she grew calm, and then turned her head, refusing to see.any more. "By the way, you can put your m i n d at ease," he said, taking a seat at the table. "I used protection." H e forced a n unconvincing chuckle. She sank into the chair opposite him, her eyes shut, her elbows on the Jable, her m o u t h supported by her hand, deep breaths blowing across her clenclied fingers. " W h a t do you want?" â&#x20AC;˘"Okay, Joanne, here's the deal. Usually I don't offer a choice. But I like you, so I ' m going to m a k e an exception. Either you. can agree to meet me, say once a week, for, let's make it six months - n o a year, yeah, let's make it a year - for a night together, or you can s pay-me $10,000." Her h a n d dropped from her mouth. She sat u p straight. She rose from the chair a n d stood glaring at him. "$10,000? You expect m e t o pay you $10,000?" "Unless you want your husband seeing those pictures. I have your address from your purse. Or perhaps I should e-mail them to everyone

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in your address book. A n d by the way, if you're thinking about going to the police, think again. W h a t are you going to report? That you went to a hotel with a stranger and spent the night with him? That you got so drunk you don't remember? C o m e on Joanne, now be a good sport about this, sit d o w n a n d drink your juice. W h a t ' s $10,000? Your watch cost twice that much." There were two pieces of art on the walls. One, next to the hallway to the bedroom, was a mixture of paint and gold cloth over a n abstract block print with a gold flag or banner or ribbons flying in a stiff breeze from an unidentifiable object. H e watched her study it for a few minutes and then move to the one over the couch, by the same artist, swirls of color from which a pitcher, three glasses and a vase emerged, a bird's wings soaring from the vase. G o d , she was pretty, even stressed like this, full of hate a n d disgust, and he wished like hell that he h a d met her under different circumstances, and he was the closest he'd ever been to saying okay forget it a n d letting her go. Surely, if only he could tell her the truth, she would understand and gladly comply She took the fruit plate, a fork and a glass of juice out onto the balcony and sat at the white r o u nd table, eating a n d staring at the water. H e wanted "to go sit beside her, but knew that it was best to leave her alone. She was coming to grips with her predicament and when she returned, she'd be ready to make the arrangements for payment. H e hoped she believed h i m - he did like her and he was letting her off easy. U s u a l l y h e demanded more, fifteen or twenty thousand. Between the donation to the m u s e u m and the price of the suite, he'd already invested over t w e t h o u s a n d , so ten was hardly worth his while. But, though money was the point of this, the actual amoun t wasn't important. H e donated the net profits to charity, the very charities that sponsored the events where he met them. These w o m e n were so full of themselves for their social beneficence,' so proud and ennobled by their meager gifts in amounts that were trivial to t h e m . His mission was to see to it that their giving mean t something, that their donations entailed self-sacrifice. It was guilt that drove them to philanthropy and his contribution was to convert their inconsequential gestures into substantial acts of contrition. Unlike Paul N e w m a n , he demanded a lot more than buying popcorn. To be granted absolution at his church, there was a personal price to pay. After a while, she walked back in and seated herself calmly at the

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She tasted her coffee, decided it was cold, took the cup into the bathroom to d u m p it out, returned" and refilled it. H e wished she'd stay still. All this constant relocation was disconcerting. "I giiess you'd have to trust me." "There's that trust again." There was something comforting about her face, a plainness and balance to her features that he would never grow tired of. She must have worn contact lenses last night and now she'had on delicate goldframed glasses that lent her a more serious aif. H e could see the two of them married, sitting'in their kitchen oh a Sunday morning, the kids playing somewhere while the two of them argued over coffee about some minor domestic disagreement - whether they should splurge on a new deck, why he couldn't help out more around the house, why she couldn't for once not leave every fight iri the "house on when she went t)ut - the kind of arguments his parents Had so often had when they thought he wasn't listening, the skirmishes that as a kid he had hated but now as he saw fife passing h i m by represented a little' chunk of family existence that he craved, that as he'd watched the broken and bleeding bodies of friends and enemies alike writhe and die and not matter worth a damn, he h a d hoped for and thought if he survived would be enough to satisfy him.

table. "If I give you the money, then what's to keep you from demanding more?" "You give m e the ten thousand and you get the camera." She shook her head. " W h a t good's the camera? You could have copied the pictures onto a computer." H e nodded. She was smart. N o t m a n y of them thought of that. "You'll have to trust me." " W h y would I trust you? Obviously you're not someone worthy of trust." "Because you don't have any choice." "I don't?" "You trust m e or I go to your husband with the pictures." "But where's that get you? Once you do that, there's no way you get your money." She was good. Only once before h a d he r u n into this. That time, he'd been stymied, but n o w he was ready for it. "I send t h e m to your husband and threaten to post t h e m on the Internet. O h sure, he'll be pissed at you. Maybe he'll tell m e to go to hell. But my guess is that he's n o t going to want your kids to see them, your kids' friends, your kids' friends' parents, his golf buddies, his business associates." "And what if I go to the police then? At that point it's blackmail, it's obvious a n d you're in deep shit." "What's blackmail? Some pictures of you appear on the Internet. W h a t ' s that got to do with me? Besides, you won't go to the police and cause a scandal. All that's going to do is make sure everybody sees the pictures." "And what if I donjt have $10,000?" "Joanne, please. Let's no t pretend. It's demeaning. Of you. Of me. It reflects poorly on us both. A n d besides, I already told you, you have a phoice. Once a week for a year." She sat with her chin perched on her hand, gazing at him intently, her eyes more confident. She h a d small hands, the fingers short but thin, her nails polished in a pale red tint bordering on pink. She lifted a napkin from one of the plates in the center of the table, selected a piece of toast, buttered it and ate it, taking her time to chew." H o w do I know that you won't still d e m a n d the money? Or after the year, say you want another year?"

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"Look Joanne, I don't know you very well. But you seem nice enough and smart and well, let m e p u t it to you this way - would you really make love every week for a year with a m a n you didn't trust?" She sat back in her chair, drinking her coffee, staring at him over her glasses like a schoolteacher at an errant pupil. "Is it once a week for a year specifically, or is it fifty-two tirnes?" " I ' m not sure I . . . " Suddenly she was u p and pacing. "Well come on Ben, we need to be specific. W h a t if we get it over with right now? Fifty-two times and I never see or hear from you again?" "If that's what you want...I mean...but..." " C o m e on Ben, what's the hesitation? Let's be done with it. One condition, though. I do get to impose one condition, don't I? I riieah as long as I ' m being such a good sport? I get a credit for last night. That's qnly fair, isn't it?" "Lo'ok Joanne, would you sit down so we can discuss this seriously please?" "Seriously? O h I ' m being perfectly serious. Let's talk serious de-

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She tasted her coffee, decided it was cold, took the cup into the bathroom to d u m p it out, returned" and refilled it. H e wished she'd stay still. All this constant relocation was disconcerting. "I giiess you'd have to trust me." "There's that trust again." There was something comforting about her face, a plainness and balance to her features that he would never grow tired of. She must have worn contact lenses last night and now she'had on delicate goldframed glasses that lent her a more serious aif. H e could see the two of them married, sitting'in their kitchen oh a Sunday morning, the kids playing somewhere while the two of them argued over coffee about some minor domestic disagreement - whether they should splurge on a new deck, why he couldn't help out more around the house, why she couldn't for once not leave every fight iri the "house on when she went t)ut - the kind of arguments his parents Had so often had when they thought he wasn't listening, the skirmishes that as a kid he had hated but now as he saw fife passing h i m by represented a little' chunk of family existence that he craved, that as he'd watched the broken and bleeding bodies of friends and enemies alike writhe and die and not matter worth a damn, he h a d hoped for and thought if he survived would be enough to satisfy him.

table. "If I give you the money, then what's to keep you from demanding more?" "You give m e the ten thousand and you get the camera." She shook her head. " W h a t good's the camera? You could have copied the pictures onto a computer." H e nodded. She was smart. N o t m a n y of them thought of that. "You'll have to trust me." " W h y would I trust you? Obviously you're not someone worthy of trust." "Because you don't have any choice." "I don't?" "You trust m e or I go to your husband with the pictures." "But where's that get you? Once you do that, there's no way you get your money." She was good. Only once before h a d he r u n into this. That time, he'd been stymied, but n o w he was ready for it. "I send t h e m to your husband and threaten to post t h e m on the Internet. O h sure, he'll be pissed at you. Maybe he'll tell m e to go to hell. But my guess is that he's n o t going to want your kids to see them, your kids' friends, your kids' friends' parents, his golf buddies, his business associates." "And what if I go to the police then? At that point it's blackmail, it's obvious a n d you're in deep shit." "What's blackmail? Some pictures of you appear on the Internet. W h a t ' s that got to do with me? Besides, you won't go to the police and cause a scandal. All that's going to do is make sure everybody sees the pictures." "And what if I donjt have $10,000?" "Joanne, please. Let's no t pretend. It's demeaning. Of you. Of me. It reflects poorly on us both. A n d besides, I already told you, you have a phoice. Once a week for a year." She sat with her chin perched on her hand, gazing at him intently, her eyes more confident. She h a d small hands, the fingers short but thin, her nails polished in a pale red tint bordering on pink. She lifted a napkin from one of the plates in the center of the table, selected a piece of toast, buttered it and ate it, taking her time to chew." H o w do I know that you won't still d e m a n d the money? Or after the year, say you want another year?"

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"Look Joanne, I don't know you very well. But you seem nice enough and smart and well, let m e p u t it to you this way - would you really make love every week for a year with a m a n you didn't trust?" She sat back in her chair, drinking her coffee, staring at him over her glasses like a schoolteacher at an errant pupil. "Is it once a week for a year specifically, or is it fifty-two tirnes?" " I ' m not sure I . . . " Suddenly she was u p and pacing. "Well come on Ben, we need to be specific. W h a t if we get it over with right now? Fifty-two times and I never see or hear from you again?" "If that's what you want...I mean...but..." " C o m e on Ben, what's the hesitation? Let's be done with it. One condition, though. I do get to impose one condition, don't I? I riieah as long as I ' m being such a good sport? I get a credit for last night. That's qnly fair, isn't it?" "Lo'ok Joanne, would you sit down so we can discuss this seriously please?" "Seriously? O h I ' m being perfectly serious. Let's talk serious de-

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tails, while we're at it, because I think there're some definitions we need to agree on. I mean, what exactly constitutes - ho w did you phrase it - 'making love,' fifty-two times? Is it required that you ejaculate, o r is mere penetration sufficient? Tim e is of the essence here a n d I expect you to hold u p your end of the bargain. W h a t can I count on you for? Ten times a day? No? Too much? Eight? No? Okay, then five. I ' m no t settling for any less than five a day. If you're not m a n enough, then get some medicine.,Okay, let's talk logistics. I've already got one credit, which leaves fifty-one and at five a day, that's ten days with one left over that we'll have to squeeze in somewhere. I'll need to call h o m e and make arrangements for the kids and my job, and you'll need to check with.the front desk,and make sure we can stay here for ten days. I ' m sorry if you're thinking about switching to a regular room, but I've already gotten used to the suite. A n d meals. I ' m not going to eat r o o m service for ten days, so you're going to have to agree to take me out to nice restaurants. A n d clothes. You've caught m e unprepared, so I ' m afraid you're going to have to take m e shopping for some n e w outfits, not to mention basics, underwear and pantyhose and makeup and such - you do want m e looking my best if you're going to be fucking m e day a n d night, don't you? O h excuse me, I mean making love. A n d rubbers, of course we're going to need lots of them, and I imagine some lubricant too. If I get too sore, what about h a n d jobs and blowjobs - do they count? So m a n y details to worry about - feel free to pitch in here, you're the one with the experience - what else a m I forgetting?" She clapped her hands twice, loudly, startling him. "Okay Ben, let's go. T i m e to get^tarted." She strode towards the bedroom, stopping beside the picture on the wall, standing with her hands on her hips. "You coming or what?" "Joanne, you're being hysterical. Would you sit down, please?" "Hysterical? Me? W h y would I be hysterical? W h a t d o I have to be hysterical about? Fifty-one more times to be fucked by Captain Ryder - that is your real n a m e ^sn't it? - no, I suppose it's n o more real than any of the rest of this, is i,t? W h y don't you hurry u p and ruck m e already a n d I'll have o n e less reason to be hysterical?" H e went to her and touched her shoulders. H e wanted to h u g her. He'd seen hatred before and fear and submission - Iraqjs w h o hated him for being an American and feared what he might do to them and yet knew that h e was their only hope.

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That's what the money they paid to him was - submission. Faith is submission. She pushed away from h i m and in a second was at the breakfast table, reaching past a glass of water. She grabbed the camera, stepped to the open balcony door, and threw it, sending it sailing out past a palm tree and toward the pool. W h e n she turned, she h a d the coffee p o t in one hand and a butter knife in the other. "Don't you touch me." "Nice try. But as you suspected, I already copied them onto the computer." "If I ever see or hear from you again, I ' m going to the police." "You can't take that chance - what would your husband say?" "I don't have a husband, you asshole. F u n n y thing is, you remind m e of the one I used to have." She threw the coffee pot. It hit the painting behind him and the glass shattered. She snatched her purse from the couch and headed towards the door. "Wait. Before you go, I want to explain. It's n ot w h a t you think. I only wanted the money. It goes to charity. I mean, nobody's ever chosen the sex before - 1 mean it was a charity thing I met you at - surely you, I mean, so my methods are unorthodox, but it's for charity, and it's..." H e crossed the r o o m and sank down onto the couch. "It's just that...that since I've been back...things don't seem...I mean it's as though I've got to.. .nothing makes sense.. .as if good and bad, help a n d hurt, love and hate, virtue and evil - that everything's so intertwined, twisted, confused.. .as if nothing good can come from anything unless there's pain involved.. .as if I only want to help people but the way to do it is to hurt them.. .it's that.. J think all I want is to love somebody, to have somebody love me, a n d the only way to do that is to make them hate m e because, because where I was, love and hate are the same thing.. . a n d . . . " H e ran out of steam and his eyes begged her for understanding. She opened the door. "You're a sick fuck and I hope you rot in hell." After she'd left, he forced himself u p off the couch, dug out his laptop from where he'd hidden it behind the couch, set the computer on the table and opened the file labeled "Joanne." H e poured himself

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tails, while we're at it, because I think there're some definitions we need to agree on. I mean, what exactly constitutes - ho w did you phrase it - 'making love,' fifty-two times? Is it required that you ejaculate, o r is mere penetration sufficient? Tim e is of the essence here a n d I expect you to hold u p your end of the bargain. W h a t can I count on you for? Ten times a day? No? Too much? Eight? No? Okay, then five. I ' m no t settling for any less than five a day. If you're not m a n enough, then get some medicine.,Okay, let's talk logistics. I've already got one credit, which leaves fifty-one and at five a day, that's ten days with one left over that we'll have to squeeze in somewhere. I'll need to call h o m e and make arrangements for the kids and my job, and you'll need to check with.the front desk,and make sure we can stay here for ten days. I ' m sorry if you're thinking about switching to a regular room, but I've already gotten used to the suite. A n d meals. I ' m not going to eat r o o m service for ten days, so you're going to have to agree to take me out to nice restaurants. A n d clothes. You've caught m e unprepared, so I ' m afraid you're going to have to take m e shopping for some n e w outfits, not to mention basics, underwear and pantyhose and makeup and such - you do want m e looking my best if you're going to be fucking m e day a n d night, don't you? O h excuse me, I mean making love. A n d rubbers, of course we're going to need lots of them, and I imagine some lubricant too. If I get too sore, what about h a n d jobs and blowjobs - do they count? So m a n y details to worry about - feel free to pitch in here, you're the one with the experience - what else a m I forgetting?" She clapped her hands twice, loudly, startling him. "Okay Ben, let's go. T i m e to get^tarted." She strode towards the bedroom, stopping beside the picture on the wall, standing with her hands on her hips. "You coming or what?" "Joanne, you're being hysterical. Would you sit down, please?" "Hysterical? Me? W h y would I be hysterical? W h a t d o I have to be hysterical about? Fifty-one more times to be fucked by Captain Ryder - that is your real n a m e ^sn't it? - no, I suppose it's n o more real than any of the rest of this, is i,t? W h y don't you hurry u p and ruck m e already a n d I'll have o n e less reason to be hysterical?" H e went to her and touched her shoulders. H e wanted to h u g her. He'd seen hatred before and fear and submission - Iraqjs w h o hated him for being an American and feared what he might do to them and yet knew that h e was their only hope.

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That's what the money they paid to him was - submission. Faith is submission. She pushed away from h i m and in a second was at the breakfast table, reaching past a glass of water. She grabbed the camera, stepped to the open balcony door, and threw it, sending it sailing out past a palm tree and toward the pool. W h e n she turned, she h a d the coffee p o t in one hand and a butter knife in the other. "Don't you touch me." "Nice try. But as you suspected, I already copied them onto the computer." "If I ever see or hear from you again, I ' m going to the police." "You can't take that chance - what would your husband say?" "I don't have a husband, you asshole. F u n n y thing is, you remind m e of the one I used to have." She threw the coffee pot. It hit the painting behind him and the glass shattered. She snatched her purse from the couch and headed towards the door. "Wait. Before you go, I want to explain. It's n ot w h a t you think. I only wanted the money. It goes to charity. I mean, nobody's ever chosen the sex before - 1 mean it was a charity thing I met you at - surely you, I mean, so my methods are unorthodox, but it's for charity, and it's..." H e crossed the r o o m and sank down onto the couch. "It's just that...that since I've been back...things don't seem...I mean it's as though I've got to.. .nothing makes sense.. .as if good and bad, help a n d hurt, love and hate, virtue and evil - that everything's so intertwined, twisted, confused.. .as if nothing good can come from anything unless there's pain involved.. .as if I only want to help people but the way to do it is to hurt them.. .it's that.. J think all I want is to love somebody, to have somebody love me, a n d the only way to do that is to make them hate m e because, because where I was, love and hate are the same thing.. . a n d . . . " H e ran out of steam and his eyes begged her for understanding. She opened the door. "You're a sick fuck and I hope you rot in hell." After she'd left, he forced himself u p off the couch, dug out his laptop from where he'd hidden it behind the couch, set the computer on the table and opened the file labeled "Joanne." H e poured himself

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another cup of coffee and sat for a long time admiring the photographs. His favorite was the last one he'd taken, of her sleeping peacefully in the morning with the white duvet bunched at her waist. He found himself missing her, wishing things had somehow gone better. But the real loser was Joanne. He'd thought that with Joanne he might be able to make her understand that to give of yourself is meaningless unless what you give is truly that - of yourself. Well, never mind, he thought. There was an event coming u p at the Flagler, a fundraiser for Alzheimer's research. Joanne wouldn't be there, but someone else would. It'd been that way in Iraq. Sometimes the patient died. But then there was always another one, another chance to save a soul.

Min Sharif]

130

Berkeley Fiction Review

J o h n Sharifi

131


another cup of coffee and sat for a long time admiring the photographs. His favorite was the last one he'd taken, of her sleeping peacefully in the morning with the white duvet bunched at her waist. He found himself missing her, wishing things had somehow gone better. But the real loser was Joanne. He'd thought that with Joanne he might be able to make her understand that to give of yourself is meaningless unless what you give is truly that - of yourself. Well, never mind, he thought. There was an event coming u p at the Flagler, a fundraiser for Alzheimer's research. Joanne wouldn't be there, but someone else would. It'd been that way in Iraq. Sometimes the patient died. But then there was always another one, another chance to save a soul.

Min Sharif]

130

Berkeley Fiction Review

J o h n Sharifi

131


Advertising & Public Relations, they somehow got a rent break in this office building at 14th and Fifth. The closest post office is down on 11th Street, and since T only got maybe ten to twelve packages a day that get mailed, that's w h e r e ! go. I mean; I was the one who suggested it'in the first place. John, he didn't care, long as I brought back the receipt and signed off against the drops, he was fine. And me? E n d of the day* get out of the office, get some air, go be with some other people. I mean, you got a job to do, you really can't ask for too m u c h better than that, can you? Especially a guy like me, likes to talk to people. Z

I

P

ROBERT

C

O

D

E

MOULTHROP

Look, I didn't want to start anything, it just happened. I ' m just this, you know, delivery guy. To the post office, though. I don't do that messenger stuff (those guys are crazy!) and I don't do like truck driving or off-loading, like a U P S guy or a Fed-Ex or something. I mean, w h a t I got, it ain't the best j o b in the world, bu t ,it ain't the worst either. I don't got the big responsibilities, see, like John. He's the head of the mail room, and all the shit comes down on h i m - Where's this? Why didn't this get delivered? Where's the other fucking thing? I feel real sorry for h i m sometimes, 'cause that ain't easy, standing there, taking it from the suits, they all think they got a right to come in and holler or whatever just 'cause they come r o u n d on his birthday and then Christmas; they make a big deal of h i m in front of each other, like he's this really ho t ticket, you know, but I k n o w they don't got n o respect for him. So what I say is, I ' m happy where I am, like, right in the middle. Sure, I gotta stick some mail every once in a while, w h e n Carlos ain't there, and sometimes I gotta take over the cart w h e n Kenny's out with one of his hangovers. But mostly I just stay in the mail room, keep things organized like, and then when it's three o'clock, I get all the heavy envelopes, the packages, all the stuff like that, and I get 'em in the cart a n d take 'em d o w n to the post office. We don't got one of those big ones near our office - B M R

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You know, people are really something. Some of t h e m you can talk to, on the subway or on fine at the deli, waiting for a sandwich, or at the post office, like w h e n we're all there, everyone's" waiting. Everybody's got a story Only you just got to listen, know what I mean? But, this here's N e w "rork City, so acourse no t everyone's gonna' wanna talk. People are gonna be, you loiow, hyper or whatever, in a hurry, get things done, they all got lots^b do. Me? I ' m kinda laid back. M y wife, Cheryl, she say's it's that "I'm just lazy. But, you know, that really ain't it. 1 just got a sense of where to p u t my energy, you know. Hustle there in the-mail room, then I can take it easy with the hand truck, if the weather's nice, pushing down Fifth, watching the N Y U kids and the Cardozo law students, seeing who's begging on the street, taking it all in, you know, sd's I got something to think about while I'm. standing on line at the PO, waiting for Adrienne or Jessica or Cesar or Harold, whichever one it is who's gonna say, "Next person in line, please," and then real nice and slow, we can take our time, have a little chat while those packages all get checked and coded arid zapped. Time it right, by the* time I get back, it's pretty m u c h time t o head home. Thing of it is, there's people and then there's people, know what I mean? Like this dne tirrfe last w e e k / w h a t T ' m talking about, I ' m standing on fine and this'girl, she must be from NYU,''cause she's all like dressed fiVhlack and she's got this snake tattoo'going u p her arm and a nose r i n g a n d black lipstick and green hair. I mean, you see t h e m dres'sed like this all the time. 1 don't care. People can dress however they w a n t , doesn't make n o difference to me. People are, you know, people. But this one here, she was really something else. N o t the way she was dressed, but I mean, I was just trying to be helpful.

Robert Moulthrop

133


Advertising & Public Relations, they somehow got a rent break in this office building at 14th and Fifth. The closest post office is down on 11th Street, and since T only got maybe ten to twelve packages a day that get mailed, that's w h e r e ! go. I mean; I was the one who suggested it'in the first place. John, he didn't care, long as I brought back the receipt and signed off against the drops, he was fine. And me? E n d of the day* get out of the office, get some air, go be with some other people. I mean, you got a job to do, you really can't ask for too m u c h better than that, can you? Especially a guy like me, likes to talk to people. Z

I

P

ROBERT

C

O

D

E

MOULTHROP

Look, I didn't want to start anything, it just happened. I ' m just this, you know, delivery guy. To the post office, though. I don't do that messenger stuff (those guys are crazy!) and I don't do like truck driving or off-loading, like a U P S guy or a Fed-Ex or something. I mean, w h a t I got, it ain't the best j o b in the world, bu t ,it ain't the worst either. I don't got the big responsibilities, see, like John. He's the head of the mail room, and all the shit comes down on h i m - Where's this? Why didn't this get delivered? Where's the other fucking thing? I feel real sorry for h i m sometimes, 'cause that ain't easy, standing there, taking it from the suits, they all think they got a right to come in and holler or whatever just 'cause they come r o u n d on his birthday and then Christmas; they make a big deal of h i m in front of each other, like he's this really ho t ticket, you know, but I k n o w they don't got n o respect for him. So what I say is, I ' m happy where I am, like, right in the middle. Sure, I gotta stick some mail every once in a while, w h e n Carlos ain't there, and sometimes I gotta take over the cart w h e n Kenny's out with one of his hangovers. But mostly I just stay in the mail room, keep things organized like, and then when it's three o'clock, I get all the heavy envelopes, the packages, all the stuff like that, and I get 'em in the cart a n d take 'em d o w n to the post office. We don't got one of those big ones near our office - B M R

132

Berkeley\Fiction Review

You know, people are really something. Some of t h e m you can talk to, on the subway or on fine at the deli, waiting for a sandwich, or at the post office, like w h e n we're all there, everyone's" waiting. Everybody's got a story Only you just got to listen, know what I mean? But, this here's N e w "rork City, so acourse no t everyone's gonna' wanna talk. People are gonna be, you loiow, hyper or whatever, in a hurry, get things done, they all got lots^b do. Me? I ' m kinda laid back. M y wife, Cheryl, she say's it's that "I'm just lazy. But, you know, that really ain't it. 1 just got a sense of where to p u t my energy, you know. Hustle there in the-mail room, then I can take it easy with the hand truck, if the weather's nice, pushing down Fifth, watching the N Y U kids and the Cardozo law students, seeing who's begging on the street, taking it all in, you know, sd's I got something to think about while I'm. standing on line at the PO, waiting for Adrienne or Jessica or Cesar or Harold, whichever one it is who's gonna say, "Next person in line, please," and then real nice and slow, we can take our time, have a little chat while those packages all get checked and coded arid zapped. Time it right, by the* time I get back, it's pretty m u c h time t o head home. Thing of it is, there's people and then there's people, know what I mean? Like this dne tirrfe last w e e k / w h a t T ' m talking about, I ' m standing on fine and this'girl, she must be from NYU,''cause she's all like dressed fiVhlack and she's got this snake tattoo'going u p her arm and a nose r i n g a n d black lipstick and green hair. I mean, you see t h e m dres'sed like this all the time. 1 don't care. People can dress however they w a n t , doesn't make n o difference to me. People are, you know, people. But this one here, she was really something else. N o t the way she was dressed, but I mean, I was just trying to be helpful.

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She was on her cell phone, see, and she was going like, "I don't care, they don't know anything here, this post office really sucks, like, you know w h a t I mean?" Right fhere I start to listen up, 'cause_this PO, these people, they do a great job, taking,it all into consideration. I mean, the place is small, and there!s only so m a n y of them, and down here this.part of town, there's a lot of writers a n d businesses and like that, so there's always a line, and people, they got lots of different issues with the postage and all, foreign and domestic like. But they do really well, always polite, sometimes asking about things at home, or, you know, like, " H o w about those Yankees last night?" or the weather or whatever. But this girl, she's going on and you can tell she's never been here before. Next thing is, she goes, "I mean, I asked t h e m and they don't give m e any information unless I stand in line a n d I don't have time." I watch her listen, then she's rolling her eyes. "All I want is a fucking zip code," she says. "You'd think they'd know it, you know. A n d just tell you, instead of making you, like, wait in line and all." Well, I k n o w a few things, like Barry Bonds is 471 for World Series play, which makes him the best for now, bu t that probably won't stand, so it will_go to Bobby Brown, w h o I always liked to think about 'cause he came u p to the Yankees when he was only 22, right after the Second World War, a n d h o w I wished I'd been alive to see h i m then. A n d I also know zip codes, you know. I ' m in the mail room, right? It's not like, I don't k n o w what I ' m talking about. So she's behind m e on line, flipping her green hair a n d rolling her eyes a n d talking into her cell phone, a n d j say^ "Can I help?" A n d she looks at m e like 1^'m from Mars or someplaceâ&#x20AC;&#x17E;and rolls her eyes some more. So I say, "I know zip codes, maybe I could help you." A n d she says, "I don't need any help from some g u y " A n d I say, "Okay." But for some reason I ' m stilhfeeling like I should be helpful, like-it's somehow the honor, of the Post Office at stake here. So I say, "Well, you can look in the back of the phone book over there; I'll hold your place on line." A n d she looks a t j n e w i t h t h is smile that's like, I so pity you, you are such an insect, you don't know afuckin' thing, like the way they talk on that show Cheryl likes to watch. A n d then the girl says: "They don't have zip codes in the p h o n e books anymore. I already looked." Well, I ' m thinking that if they stopped putting the zip codes in

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the phone books, they stopped it last week, and she musta got one of the new versions that they haven't delivered to my offide, m y ' P R office, m y place where all the account execs know everything. A n d I ' m about to say something to her about P R execs needing really good information about zip codes and how I know the zip codes are in the back of the p h o n e books because that's where I always look. A n d I ' m about ready to tell her all this when she says, "I especially don't need someone so m u c h older than m e to tell m e about something I know." A n d she turns back to her cell p h o n e a n d starts talkirig to whoever she's talking to, only n ow she's talking kinda low, so I think she's probably talking about me. So I say, real neutral-like, "Hey. Okay." I mean, I ' m 37, I keep in shape, I look pretty good, I think, try to keep in shape. -My wife, Cheryl, she don't complain that much. A n d then the girl tosses her green hair again a n d looks at m e like she's>listening to her friend talk about me, and then Greenhair looks right at m e and says, " E w w w w ! " in that way you don't hear very much, but you see it on the Internet, online, in the chat rooms, at least that's what I hear, from the kids in the mail room, and the summer interns, that's what they tell me, 'when we talk about it. But I ain't never like, you know, heard it. A n d the way she said it, sounded like she h a d stepped in dog shit and didn't know how to get it offa those black leather boots. A n d then Harold pipes up. He's one of the'clerks. Anybody who ever goes to this P O knows that if you get Harold you gotta just p u t a lot of extra time in your day you didn't want to because* Harold, he always does everything by the b o o k / a n d he memorized the book and he likes to recite it in this real loud voice. Like he's practicing to be a voice selling headache stuff on TV or like he's working u p to leaping over the counter and running out to stand on the corner preaching about the end of the world. He's about 50 and has plastered-over real dark black hair and thick glasses. T h e dther clerks - Adrienne and Cesar and even Jessica, the supervisor - they'll roll their eyes and smile if you're with them and Harold's over talking to someone else. But they never say anything to him. I think they're afraid he might go postal, you know, not with a'gun or anything, but just kind of go after someone w h o wasn't, y o u know, following the rules. W h i c h is'what he did with Greenhair. Harold stops in the middle of this conversation he's having with some old guy wanted one stamp

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She was on her cell phone, see, and she was going like, "I don't care, they don't know anything here, this post office really sucks, like, you know w h a t I mean?" Right fhere I start to listen up, 'cause_this PO, these people, they do a great job, taking,it all into consideration. I mean, the place is small, and there!s only so m a n y of them, and down here this.part of town, there's a lot of writers a n d businesses and like that, so there's always a line, and people, they got lots of different issues with the postage and all, foreign and domestic like. But they do really well, always polite, sometimes asking about things at home, or, you know, like, " H o w about those Yankees last night?" or the weather or whatever. But this girl, she's going on and you can tell she's never been here before. Next thing is, she goes, "I mean, I asked t h e m and they don't give m e any information unless I stand in line a n d I don't have time." I watch her listen, then she's rolling her eyes. "All I want is a fucking zip code," she says. "You'd think they'd know it, you know. A n d just tell you, instead of making you, like, wait in line and all." Well, I k n o w a few things, like Barry Bonds is 471 for World Series play, which makes him the best for now, bu t that probably won't stand, so it will_go to Bobby Brown, w h o I always liked to think about 'cause he came u p to the Yankees when he was only 22, right after the Second World War, a n d h o w I wished I'd been alive to see h i m then. A n d I also know zip codes, you know. I ' m in the mail room, right? It's not like, I don't k n o w what I ' m talking about. So she's behind m e on line, flipping her green hair a n d rolling her eyes a n d talking into her cell phone, a n d j say^ "Can I help?" A n d she looks at m e like 1^'m from Mars or someplaceâ&#x20AC;&#x17E;and rolls her eyes some more. So I say, "I know zip codes, maybe I could help you." A n d she says, "I don't need any help from some g u y " A n d I say, "Okay." But for some reason I ' m stilhfeeling like I should be helpful, like-it's somehow the honor, of the Post Office at stake here. So I say, "Well, you can look in the back of the phone book over there; I'll hold your place on line." A n d she looks a t j n e w i t h t h is smile that's like, I so pity you, you are such an insect, you don't know afuckin' thing, like the way they talk on that show Cheryl likes to watch. A n d then the girl says: "They don't have zip codes in the p h o n e books anymore. I already looked." Well, I ' m thinking that if they stopped putting the zip codes in

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Berkeley Fiction Review

the phone books, they stopped it last week, and she musta got one of the new versions that they haven't delivered to my offide, m y ' P R office, m y place where all the account execs know everything. A n d I ' m about to say something to her about P R execs needing really good information about zip codes and how I know the zip codes are in the back of the p h o n e books because that's where I always look. A n d I ' m about ready to tell her all this when she says, "I especially don't need someone so m u c h older than m e to tell m e about something I know." A n d she turns back to her cell p h o n e a n d starts talkirig to whoever she's talking to, only n ow she's talking kinda low, so I think she's probably talking about me. So I say, real neutral-like, "Hey. Okay." I mean, I ' m 37, I keep in shape, I look pretty good, I think, try to keep in shape. -My wife, Cheryl, she don't complain that much. A n d then the girl tosses her green hair again a n d looks at m e like she's>listening to her friend talk about me, and then Greenhair looks right at m e and says, " E w w w w ! " in that way you don't hear very much, but you see it on the Internet, online, in the chat rooms, at least that's what I hear, from the kids in the mail room, and the summer interns, that's what they tell me, 'when we talk about it. But I ain't never like, you know, heard it. A n d the way she said it, sounded like she h a d stepped in dog shit and didn't know how to get it offa those black leather boots. A n d then Harold pipes up. He's one of the'clerks. Anybody who ever goes to this P O knows that if you get Harold you gotta just p u t a lot of extra time in your day you didn't want to because* Harold, he always does everything by the b o o k / a n d he memorized the book and he likes to recite it in this real loud voice. Like he's practicing to be a voice selling headache stuff on TV or like he's working u p to leaping over the counter and running out to stand on the corner preaching about the end of the world. He's about 50 and has plastered-over real dark black hair and thick glasses. T h e dther clerks - Adrienne and Cesar and even Jessica, the supervisor - they'll roll their eyes and smile if you're with them and Harold's over talking to someone else. But they never say anything to him. I think they're afraid he might go postal, you know, not with a'gun or anything, but just kind of go after someone w h o wasn't, y o u know, following the rules. W h i c h is'what he did with Greenhair. Harold stops in the middle of this conversation he's having with some old guy wanted one stamp

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to put on his phone bill. Harold's beeniooking directly in the old guy's eyes, using his. preaching-on-the-corner voice to say stuff like, " D O YOL[ W A N T P R O O F O F . D E L I V E R Y W I T H THIS?" and "IT'S A W O N D E R F U L DAY A T T H E P O S T O F F I C E W H E N W E C A N P R O V I D E F I R S T CLAS S SERVICE F O R C L I E N T S S U C H A S YOURSELF, SIR." A n d now he's saying, " D O Y O U W A N T A N Y ADDITIOIN[AL'POSTAGE STAMPS?, W E HAVE T H E S E LOVELY F L O W E R S O N A R O L L . . . " w h e n h e stops,*looks at Ms. 'Greenhair, and'says: ^'CELL P H O N E S A R E N O T A L L O W E D I N THIS POSTAL LOBBY." He's saying it to her, but he's looking right at me, like I ' m the person talking o n the cell phone., "AND," h e says, n o w shifting his eyes behind those bottle-lens glasses, " W E ESPECIALL Y D O N O T - T O L E R A T E B A P L A N G U A G E . " She h a s n V s a i d anything except t h at " E w w w w ! " thing, b u t he's looking right at her. A n d I realize, like this flash from heaven, that Harold thinks h e is coming to my rescue. A n d for a minute, I ' m really grateful. But then 1 realize v that everyone in the post office is looking over at me, n o one is talking, and Greenhair, w h o still has her cell open, is giving m e this look that says, In about thirty-two seconds I am going to start screaming rape and you are going to be in biiiiig trouble, asshole. T h e w o m a n in front of me, she|s clutching her arms together over her sweater like it's the middle of December at the N o r t h Pole, looking first at one wall and then the other, and I know she's thinking, If I leave now I'll never.get my place in line again, but this place is looking way too dangerous. A n d the kid at the stamp machine has turned a n d is looking at Greenhair like if he comes over and punches m e maybe he could score with her in about three minutes.

Things were pretty quiet for like a slow count of ten. Then the kid at the stamp machine starts to go after her, but stops a n d comes back. The sweater w o m a n takes a deep oreath and sighs and unclenches her arms. A n d I give m y plastic P O basket of packages a little kick along the floor, glad that it looks like I'll get Jessica or Adrienne a n d not Harold, w h o is back again talking to the old one-stamp guy and saying now, "IF Y O U HAVE T H E C O R R E C T C H A N G E T H A T W I L L H E L P M E IMMENSELY, B E C A U S E W E S E E M T O BE R A T H E R S H O R T O F P E N N I E S TODAY." A n d I ' m thinking about h o w sometimes - not all the time - fife balances things out. H o w you think a girl with green hair is going to be like a real person, only she turns out to be an asshole, and h ow you think Harold is really an asshole, but he turns out to be a standup g u y A n d then I think that what I really need to do is get hold of a phone book, because if they've stopped putting those zip code maps in the back, then I ' m going to have to go back over all m y baseball stats, 'cause maybe something has started to happen with my brain. A n d I ' m not, you know, that old.

So I think maybe I can say something to. relieve thctension , a n d I say, "If it's u p by t h i r t y - F o u r th Street, it's probably One-Oh-Oh-One -Seven." She sthT h a s her cell open, a n d n o w she's looking right at me, talking to whoever she's talking to,;and she says, "They're all listening here. I can't get any fucking privacy,no matter what." A n d Harold says, " L A N G U A G E ! " A n d Jessjca,-the-supervisor says, " D p I need to call somebody?" A n d Cesar says n "Next person in fine, please." A n d Greenhair says, into her cell phone and to the rest of us and, I guess, to everyone in N e w York, "I hate this fucking city." A n d she walks out.

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Robert Moulthrop

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to put on his phone bill. Harold's beeniooking directly in the old guy's eyes, using his. preaching-on-the-corner voice to say stuff like, " D O YOL[ W A N T P R O O F O F . D E L I V E R Y W I T H THIS?" and "IT'S A W O N D E R F U L DAY A T T H E P O S T O F F I C E W H E N W E C A N P R O V I D E F I R S T CLAS S SERVICE F O R C L I E N T S S U C H A S YOURSELF, SIR." A n d now he's saying, " D O Y O U W A N T A N Y ADDITIOIN[AL'POSTAGE STAMPS?, W E HAVE T H E S E LOVELY F L O W E R S O N A R O L L . . . " w h e n h e stops,*looks at Ms. 'Greenhair, and'says: ^'CELL P H O N E S A R E N O T A L L O W E D I N THIS POSTAL LOBBY." He's saying it to her, but he's looking right at me, like I ' m the person talking o n the cell phone., "AND," h e says, n o w shifting his eyes behind those bottle-lens glasses, " W E ESPECIALL Y D O N O T - T O L E R A T E B A P L A N G U A G E . " She h a s n V s a i d anything except t h at " E w w w w ! " thing, b u t he's looking right at her. A n d I realize, like this flash from heaven, that Harold thinks h e is coming to my rescue. A n d for a minute, I ' m really grateful. But then 1 realize v that everyone in the post office is looking over at me, n o one is talking, and Greenhair, w h o still has her cell open, is giving m e this look that says, In about thirty-two seconds I am going to start screaming rape and you are going to be in biiiiig trouble, asshole. T h e w o m a n in front of me, she|s clutching her arms together over her sweater like it's the middle of December at the N o r t h Pole, looking first at one wall and then the other, and I know she's thinking, If I leave now I'll never.get my place in line again, but this place is looking way too dangerous. A n d the kid at the stamp machine has turned a n d is looking at Greenhair like if he comes over and punches m e maybe he could score with her in about three minutes.

Things were pretty quiet for like a slow count of ten. Then the kid at the stamp machine starts to go after her, but stops a n d comes back. The sweater w o m a n takes a deep oreath and sighs and unclenches her arms. A n d I give m y plastic P O basket of packages a little kick along the floor, glad that it looks like I'll get Jessica or Adrienne a n d not Harold, w h o is back again talking to the old one-stamp guy and saying now, "IF Y O U HAVE T H E C O R R E C T C H A N G E T H A T W I L L H E L P M E IMMENSELY, B E C A U S E W E S E E M T O BE R A T H E R S H O R T O F P E N N I E S TODAY." A n d I ' m thinking about h o w sometimes - not all the time - fife balances things out. H o w you think a girl with green hair is going to be like a real person, only she turns out to be an asshole, and h ow you think Harold is really an asshole, but he turns out to be a standup g u y A n d then I think that what I really need to do is get hold of a phone book, because if they've stopped putting those zip code maps in the back, then I ' m going to have to go back over all m y baseball stats, 'cause maybe something has started to happen with my brain. A n d I ' m not, you know, that old.

So I think maybe I can say something to. relieve thctension , a n d I say, "If it's u p by t h i r t y - F o u r th Street, it's probably One-Oh-Oh-One -Seven." She sthT h a s her cell open, a n d n o w she's looking right at me, talking to whoever she's talking to,;and she says, "They're all listening here. I can't get any fucking privacy,no matter what." A n d Harold says, " L A N G U A G E ! " A n d Jessjca,-the-supervisor says, " D p I need to call somebody?" A n d Cesar says n "Next person in fine, please." A n d Greenhair says, into her cell phone and to the rest of us and, I guess, to everyone in N e w York, "I hate this fucking city." A n d she walks out.

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Berkeley Fiction Review

Robert Moulthrop

137


THIRD SUDDEN T

H

E

S

ELISA

I

Z

E

PLACE FICTION O

F

A

B

I

R

D

FERNANDEZ-ARIAS

In the summer of 1974, when my mother was out dancing with a m a n she barely knew, her house disappeared into thin air. N o one knows how it happened, and the only thing my mother knows for sure is that, while the house was vanishing, she was drinking cheap red wine and laughing loudly, wearing away the only pair of heels she owned. Laughing because she knew that one day she would escape from her country. She was alone when she returned, so when traces of the foundation appeared before her eyes, she had no way of knowing if she was dreaming. She wished, despite the bitter breath and curious hands, that a man had walked her home. He would have been able to tell her, in the firm way those men speak, what the truth was. Instead she had to wait for dawn. By the time the sky was brightly lit, she was not the only one standing there, and she knew what was real and what was not. A neighbor, Patricia, stood next to her, sucking in her lips and chewing them like scraps. M y mother didn't know a lot, but she did know that she didn't want to end up like Patricia. Patricia had dark hair, and no one had loved her in years. She spoke to herself when others were around, no matter what was said about her. That was why everyone was frightened of her. She was ugly, old, and didn't 138

Berkeley Fiction Review

Elisa Fernandez-Arias

139


THIRD SUDDEN T

H

E

S

ELISA

I

Z

E

PLACE FICTION O

F

A

B

I

R

D

FERNANDEZ-ARIAS

In the summer of 1974, when my mother was out dancing with a m a n she barely knew, her house disappeared into thin air. N o one knows how it happened, and the only thing my mother knows for sure is that, while the house was vanishing, she was drinking cheap red wine and laughing loudly, wearing away the only pair of heels she owned. Laughing because she knew that one day she would escape from her country. She was alone when she returned, so when traces of the foundation appeared before her eyes, she had no way of knowing if she was dreaming. She wished, despite the bitter breath and curious hands, that a man had walked her home. He would have been able to tell her, in the firm way those men speak, what the truth was. Instead she had to wait for dawn. By the time the sky was brightly lit, she was not the only one standing there, and she knew what was real and what was not. A neighbor, Patricia, stood next to her, sucking in her lips and chewing them like scraps. M y mother didn't know a lot, but she did know that she didn't want to end up like Patricia. Patricia had dark hair, and no one had loved her in years. She spoke to herself when others were around, no matter what was said about her. That was why everyone was frightened of her. She was ugly, old, and didn't 138

Berkeley Fiction Review

Elisa Fernandez-Arias

139


care about what anybody thought. W o m e n like that are a danger, my mother still says. Patricia put her hands on her hips and looked at my mother. "Maria," she said. " C o me over here." M y mother felt the size of a bird, now that her things and family were gone. She obeyed, wiping off her old makeup as quickly as she could. "Is there any reason why your house might have disappeared?" "I don't know," Maria said, her voice barely audible. "Well, it's not the first house to disappear, you know," Patricia said sternly. "I heard about one over in Carrasco. And that's a nice neighborhood, not like this one." Maria did not take her eyes off of her neighbor as she bent down to take off her shoes. She undid the straps, uncrossing their turns and loosening them from her legs and ankles. "A girl like you shouldn't be wearing those shoes," Patricia commented. "That's why I ' m taking them off," Maria replied dryly. Patricia smiled. She whispered a couple words. M y mother looked at her and then ran into her house, without a door to slam shut or a bed to cry upon. But there she cried, digging her nails into the dirt, kicking her legs against the soft earth. Then she quieted down a n d repeated the words Patricia h a d told her. That was when she turned into a bird a n d flew away from everything. She searched for a h o m e for years and years, she tells me in sighs, but never found the right one again.

140

Berkeley Fiction Review

Colin Maisonpierre

141


care about what anybody thought. W o m e n like that are a danger, my mother still says. Patricia put her hands on her hips and looked at my mother. "Maria," she said. " C o me over here." M y mother felt the size of a bird, now that her things and family were gone. She obeyed, wiping off her old makeup as quickly as she could. "Is there any reason why your house might have disappeared?" "I don't know," Maria said, her voice barely audible. "Well, it's not the first house to disappear, you know," Patricia said sternly. "I heard about one over in Carrasco. And that's a nice neighborhood, not like this one." Maria did not take her eyes off of her neighbor as she bent down to take off her shoes. She undid the straps, uncrossing their turns and loosening them from her legs and ankles. "A girl like you shouldn't be wearing those shoes," Patricia commented. "That's why I ' m taking them off," Maria replied dryly. Patricia smiled. She whispered a couple words. M y mother looked at her and then ran into her house, without a door to slam shut or a bed to cry upon. But there she cried, digging her nails into the dirt, kicking her legs against the soft earth. Then she quieted down a n d repeated the words Patricia h a d told her. That was when she turned into a bird a n d flew away from everything. She searched for a h o m e for years and years, she tells me in sighs, but never found the right one again.

140

Berkeley Fiction Review

Colin Maisonpierre

141


C

R

O

W

JOE

R

O

A

D

WILKINS

In the evenings, I sit on a pine stump and drink a strawberry pop or two and watch the river twist through the rose and orange of-the setting sun. In the fall, geese flap a n d swing above me. With a north wind, the river stills and the cottonwoods crack with ice. Then, as the snow gives way, the prairie goes blue-silver with sage. N o matter the season, there are antelope. W h e n the sun is finally gone, a n d I can n o longer see the river through the prairie dark, I get another strawberry pop out of the cooler, and fire the lantern, and open a book. I a m u p early most days and work long hours, and late in the evening is the only time of day I have to read a n d be still anymore. Once, reading a story by Dubus, the night clear and bright with stars, out in the far hills I heard a wolf. They've been gone from this country for nearly a hundred years, but now I hear some ranchers complain that they're coming back. If I was still a rancher, I might be angry about the wolves too. But, I ' m not a rancher. Arid I ' m , n o t angry. Tsif and watch the hills drink the last watery light and hope, someday, I'll hear another. It used to be that, n o w a n d again, m y evening routine would be interrupted: A bunch of high-school kids would show up out here, on the weekends mostly, and ask m e to buy some beer for them. They were usually Hougens, or Kincheloes, or one of the other old names

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Berkeley Fiction Review

in the valley; sometimes, they were even the younger brothers and sisters of people I'd gone to high school with. But, none of that mattered to me. I don't ÂŁ0 to the bars anymore. A n d I just didn't think it was a good thing to,do. But nearly ten months back now, a dark-haired girl named M a n d y Wagner drove out by herself and asked, and before I really knew what I was saying, there was this yes out in the air between us - and it was mine. So, we got in her little Dodge D a r t and drove the dozen miles over t h e prairie a n d d o w n the county road a n d t h e n u p the highway and on into Roundup, where she dropped m e at T h e Oasis and took a lap u p fylain while I .bought her a bottle of vodka. T h e road out to my camper is slow-going, at least a twenty minute drive from town, b u t even for that, w e didn't say much. Once we were on the highway, she p u t an old Garth Brooks tape in the deck a n d tapped the steering wheel in time. N e a r the bridge a covey-of grouse rose u p from the barrow ditch and then drppped back into the willow tangles along the river. I felt nervous, strange to myself; I knew she was just going to some bonfire party, probably with some of the same kids I'd told no b e f o r e But in her car that night, I kept trying to tell myself that a little beer isn't a b a d thing, that if it wasn't m e it'd be someo*neelse, that I spend too much time alone and thinking I ought to get out how and then anyway. We tell ourselves all kinds of things. Mostly, it was,because as I first came down the steps of m y camper to see w h o h a d driven up, this girl, with her hair the color of weak coffee and her dark eyes catching the late light, pointed to the east and smiled and said, "The river's so beautiful from here." 8 - F M y n a m e is Willie Crow. A n d I five in a camper twelve miles down the dirt and gravel of Crow Road. T h e road was named for my grandfather, William Franldin Crow, w h o settled in a house of pine boards he built on the Musselshell River in 1917. H e was a smart man, at least that's how my mother tells it, for he saw that the Musselshell was not much more than a piss-ditch and this swath of bunchgrass and pear cactus was no good for raising anything but dust: H e never plowed an acre of it. Instead, he bought sheep and cattle, and as the homesteaders went bust, one after another, he tore out their fences a n d moved' in on their- land. I have been told that they n a m e d the

J o e Wilkins

143


C

R

O

W

JOE

R

O

A

D

WILKINS

In the evenings, I sit on a pine stump and drink a strawberry pop or two and watch the river twist through the rose and orange of-the setting sun. In the fall, geese flap a n d swing above me. With a north wind, the river stills and the cottonwoods crack with ice. Then, as the snow gives way, the prairie goes blue-silver with sage. N o matter the season, there are antelope. W h e n the sun is finally gone, a n d I can n o longer see the river through the prairie dark, I get another strawberry pop out of the cooler, and fire the lantern, and open a book. I a m u p early most days and work long hours, and late in the evening is the only time of day I have to read a n d be still anymore. Once, reading a story by Dubus, the night clear and bright with stars, out in the far hills I heard a wolf. They've been gone from this country for nearly a hundred years, but now I hear some ranchers complain that they're coming back. If I was still a rancher, I might be angry about the wolves too. But, I ' m not a rancher. Arid I ' m , n o t angry. Tsif and watch the hills drink the last watery light and hope, someday, I'll hear another. It used to be that, n o w a n d again, m y evening routine would be interrupted: A bunch of high-school kids would show up out here, on the weekends mostly, and ask m e to buy some beer for them. They were usually Hougens, or Kincheloes, or one of the other old names

142

Berkeley Fiction Review

in the valley; sometimes, they were even the younger brothers and sisters of people I'd gone to high school with. But, none of that mattered to me. I don't ÂŁ0 to the bars anymore. A n d I just didn't think it was a good thing to,do. But nearly ten months back now, a dark-haired girl named M a n d y Wagner drove out by herself and asked, and before I really knew what I was saying, there was this yes out in the air between us - and it was mine. So, we got in her little Dodge D a r t and drove the dozen miles over t h e prairie a n d d o w n the county road a n d t h e n u p the highway and on into Roundup, where she dropped m e at T h e Oasis and took a lap u p fylain while I .bought her a bottle of vodka. T h e road out to my camper is slow-going, at least a twenty minute drive from town, b u t even for that, w e didn't say much. Once we were on the highway, she p u t an old Garth Brooks tape in the deck a n d tapped the steering wheel in time. N e a r the bridge a covey-of grouse rose u p from the barrow ditch and then drppped back into the willow tangles along the river. I felt nervous, strange to myself; I knew she was just going to some bonfire party, probably with some of the same kids I'd told no b e f o r e But in her car that night, I kept trying to tell myself that a little beer isn't a b a d thing, that if it wasn't m e it'd be someo*neelse, that I spend too much time alone and thinking I ought to get out how and then anyway. We tell ourselves all kinds of things. Mostly, it was,because as I first came down the steps of m y camper to see w h o h a d driven up, this girl, with her hair the color of weak coffee and her dark eyes catching the late light, pointed to the east and smiled and said, "The river's so beautiful from here." 8 - F M y n a m e is Willie Crow. A n d I five in a camper twelve miles down the dirt and gravel of Crow Road. T h e road was named for my grandfather, William Franldin Crow, w h o settled in a house of pine boards he built on the Musselshell River in 1917. H e was a smart man, at least that's how my mother tells it, for he saw that the Musselshell was not much more than a piss-ditch and this swath of bunchgrass and pear cactus was no good for raising anything but dust: H e never plowed an acre of it. Instead, he bought sheep and cattle, and as the homesteaders went bust, one after another, he tore out their fences a n d moved' in on their- land. I have been told that they n a m e d the

J o e Wilkins

143


roads around here in the '50s, w h e n the government finally put the county on electricity. M y grandfather was in his fifties then as well, a wealthy m a n by that time, a m a n w h o could hire others to do his work, a m a n who always carried a cane with an iron rod driven down the center. N o less t h a n six roads in the county are called Crow; this is one of them. It isn't mine. Harold Hougen owns all my grandfather's land now. A n oil company hit it big on Harold's place twenty years ago, and though most of the oil's gone already, Harold has bought u p near half the valley and is always driving around some shiny, new full-ton Ford. Harold isn't a bad guy - j u s t as soon as he hears someone's having a hard go of it, he'll drop a box of frozen steaks and hamburgers off at their door - he's just full of himself. Like most around here, like I imagine m y grandfather was, h e is a bit ignorant of anything north of Bascom Creek or south of the Musselshell River. I have n o electricity in my camper. I have a two-burner stove and a small heater that both r u n off propane, a few oil lamps, and a cooler I try to keep fined with ice. I work six or seven days a week. I come h o m e tired. I watch the river, read, clean and oil my .243 Winchester. Though I" don't h u n t m u c h anymore, sometimes as the darkness unravels in the early morning and the antelope slip through the sage toward the river, I walk the ridge with m y rifle; I find a smooth outcropping of sandrock a n d lie d o w n over it; I sight it in o n a pear cactus or a hun k of greasewood and put a bullet right where I want it. M y high school English teacher, Mr. Lind, would have called it all beautiful and sad, maybe a bit funereal. Thoug h I don't often use those kinds of words anymore, he'd be right.

Two weeks after that first night, M a n d y came out again by herself. She didn't ask m e to buy her any beer or anything'. Instead, we sat at the table "in the camper a n d drank strawberry pop. It was cold a n d the metal tarjletop was cold as well, but the twilight was warm, a slow breeze from the south sifting dust through the slanted light of the setting sun. She talked a lot. I talked some. She told m e she was off to the Catholic college in Helena in the fall, because even though the state university was less expensive, her parents wouldn't pay for it: They thought Missoula was too far away, too different, too'full of hippies

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Berkeley Fiction Review

and liberals, and Californians. She talked about h o w she might want to be a veterinarian, or maybe a physical therapist. She was worried about being around blood, though, so maybe business. After a bit', the sky gone nearly full dark, she asked m e about my time in Missoula. I paused and watched a bat wheel after a mosquito outside the camper window. Even though we hadn't really k n o w n each other before - the Wagner's were new to this county, one of the few oil families w h o found steady work after things dried u p a few years back - she already knew all about m e : So I just'told her the facts: I was there two years, took mostly English and history, read a lot of books, studied, took some tests, and wrote a few papers. She was silent for a moment. Then she smiled. "That's real neat, Willie.-1 think that's great. I love reading stories." She paused and scrunched her face u p with some new thought. " W h a t were you going to do with English and history?" "I liked reading. I liked writing. A n d I was good at it. W h e n I graduated high school, my English teacher, Mr. Lind, told m e I ought to go into English or history. So I did both." M a n d y "thought for a moment. "Well, I guess if you're just going to live out here on Crow Road, English and history are good as anything!" She laughed then - she h a d a wonderful laugh, like creek water'in the dark - but we were both silent for a long time after that. She kept looking around the camper, toying â&#x20AC;˘'with her pop can.'She probably thought she'd insulted me. She hadn't. I liked her very much. I wanted to tell her about these things, and I didn't want her to look at m e and be sad and nervous, so I got up and said we'd go outside and start a fire. We'sat close tb one another and sipped our pop and watched the flames. We'didn't talk. After a while,, I went in and got a blanket and laid it out on the ground. We both sat down on it, and then we lay down, and then held each other. The'fire threw a wild, wavering fight across us. I heard coyotes call in the hills. M a n d y sat u p a n d winged her shirt over her head and slid 'out of her jeans. Later, both halfdressecfand wrapped in the blanket, she looked up'-at me, and her eyes were suddenly dark and'frightened. " W h a t was'is it like - in jail, I mean? W e r e you scared? I'd be scared. Were you?" I let"the hlanket'fall and rolled over on m y back and put m y hands behind my head. I have known for a long time that there 'are things we do that we will never be able to five down or leave, so I just start-

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roads around here in the '50s, w h e n the government finally put the county on electricity. M y grandfather was in his fifties then as well, a wealthy m a n by that time, a m a n w h o could hire others to do his work, a m a n who always carried a cane with an iron rod driven down the center. N o less t h a n six roads in the county are called Crow; this is one of them. It isn't mine. Harold Hougen owns all my grandfather's land now. A n oil company hit it big on Harold's place twenty years ago, and though most of the oil's gone already, Harold has bought u p near half the valley and is always driving around some shiny, new full-ton Ford. Harold isn't a bad guy - j u s t as soon as he hears someone's having a hard go of it, he'll drop a box of frozen steaks and hamburgers off at their door - he's just full of himself. Like most around here, like I imagine m y grandfather was, h e is a bit ignorant of anything north of Bascom Creek or south of the Musselshell River. I have n o electricity in my camper. I have a two-burner stove and a small heater that both r u n off propane, a few oil lamps, and a cooler I try to keep fined with ice. I work six or seven days a week. I come h o m e tired. I watch the river, read, clean and oil my .243 Winchester. Though I" don't h u n t m u c h anymore, sometimes as the darkness unravels in the early morning and the antelope slip through the sage toward the river, I walk the ridge with m y rifle; I find a smooth outcropping of sandrock a n d lie d o w n over it; I sight it in o n a pear cactus or a hun k of greasewood and put a bullet right where I want it. M y high school English teacher, Mr. Lind, would have called it all beautiful and sad, maybe a bit funereal. Thoug h I don't often use those kinds of words anymore, he'd be right.

Two weeks after that first night, M a n d y came out again by herself. She didn't ask m e to buy her any beer or anything'. Instead, we sat at the table "in the camper a n d drank strawberry pop. It was cold a n d the metal tarjletop was cold as well, but the twilight was warm, a slow breeze from the south sifting dust through the slanted light of the setting sun. She talked a lot. I talked some. She told m e she was off to the Catholic college in Helena in the fall, because even though the state university was less expensive, her parents wouldn't pay for it: They thought Missoula was too far away, too different, too'full of hippies

144

Berkeley Fiction Review

and liberals, and Californians. She talked about h o w she might want to be a veterinarian, or maybe a physical therapist. She was worried about being around blood, though, so maybe business. After a bit', the sky gone nearly full dark, she asked m e about my time in Missoula. I paused and watched a bat wheel after a mosquito outside the camper window. Even though we hadn't really k n o w n each other before - the Wagner's were new to this county, one of the few oil families w h o found steady work after things dried u p a few years back - she already knew all about m e : So I just'told her the facts: I was there two years, took mostly English and history, read a lot of books, studied, took some tests, and wrote a few papers. She was silent for a moment. Then she smiled. "That's real neat, Willie.-1 think that's great. I love reading stories." She paused and scrunched her face u p with some new thought. " W h a t were you going to do with English and history?" "I liked reading. I liked writing. A n d I was good at it. W h e n I graduated high school, my English teacher, Mr. Lind, told m e I ought to go into English or history. So I did both." M a n d y "thought for a moment. "Well, I guess if you're just going to live out here on Crow Road, English and history are good as anything!" She laughed then - she h a d a wonderful laugh, like creek water'in the dark - but we were both silent for a long time after that. She kept looking around the camper, toying â&#x20AC;˘'with her pop can.'She probably thought she'd insulted me. She hadn't. I liked her very much. I wanted to tell her about these things, and I didn't want her to look at m e and be sad and nervous, so I got up and said we'd go outside and start a fire. We'sat close tb one another and sipped our pop and watched the flames. We'didn't talk. After a while,, I went in and got a blanket and laid it out on the ground. We both sat down on it, and then we lay down, and then held each other. The'fire threw a wild, wavering fight across us. I heard coyotes call in the hills. M a n d y sat u p a n d winged her shirt over her head and slid 'out of her jeans. Later, both halfdressecfand wrapped in the blanket, she looked up'-at me, and her eyes were suddenly dark and'frightened. " W h a t was'is it like - in jail, I mean? W e r e you scared? I'd be scared. Were you?" I let"the hlanket'fall and rolled over on m y back and put m y hands behind my head. I have known for a long time that there 'are things we do that we will never be able to five down or leave, so I just start-

J o e Wilkins

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ed talking, telling her about it as honestly as I could: "I didn't much like it, but it wasn't scary. I knew I'd be out in a few months. I don't know. O n e time a guy shit himself in the night and no, one cleaned it u p until the next afternoon. It wasn't scary. It was just bad. I have dreams, where I wake u p there again. Sometimes, w h e n I ' m there in my dreams, it's because I've killed a man. Then, I ' m scared because I k n o w I'll never leave." I stopped. I'd scared myself a little, bringing u p those dreams. M a n d y was looking right at me. She moved closer and put her arms around me. After we h a d both slept some, she got u p a n d dressed, a n d I did too. It was very dark out and, even for the heat of the day, nearjy cold now. I kissed her and asked if she might come out again sometime. "Yes," she said.

I a m thirty-one years old, and I have been out on Crow Road almost ten years now. M y work is whatever I can get. Right now, I ' m fixing fences for Harold Hougen out on a new section of pasture he bought near Bascom Creek. Earlier this summer I was irrigating for some hay farmers u p the river. I've logged and drove tractor and branded cattle and dug ditches. W h e n I first came back, it ^was because Mr. Lind h a d hired m e to frame( out the new house he was building. That was good work, the kind of work I like - \vhere you're making something or figuring something out. But, like'I said, J ' l l take whatever I can get. We lost my grandfather's ranch in '88, in the middle of the big drought and all those Reagan bankruptcies. That last summer, the river dried in May, the grass b u r n e d right down t o the root, and t h e sheep went thin as willows. Then, there was a true plague of grasshoppers: They ate through w h a t was left of the wheat a n d the alfalfa, a n d then the clothes on the line a n d the pair of tennis shoes my .little sister forgot on the front step and all the old rags in the shop and even the cracjced hides of sheep dead in the fields. I remember crushing hundreds against the-earth with a single stomp of; m y boot; my father hired m e n to dig ditches a n d t h e n poured t h e m full of used motor oil to try to drown the hoppers; the government had crop dusters dropping poison from first fight to sunset. N o n e Qf it helped. It was that August, the day after he got the foreclosure call, that my

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Berkeley Fiction Review

father drove into R o u n d up and took M a i n Street at eighty and put his truqk through the "front door of the bank. I heard a few people say he planned it all wrong: It wasn't seven in the morning yet, and the m a n who called in his loans didn't come to work until nine. But I don't think there was that much sense Jo it. I don't think there was any sense to it beyond the way it must have looked in his mind at the momerit, the way fight prismed through the windshield, the way motes of dust spun and tumbled over the dash, the dark m o u t h of the bank door. They pulled my'father out of the wreck still breathing, but he never regained consciousness. A week after his funeral, Harold Hougen bought our ranch at auction. Though Hougen let m y mother stay in the old house, all the land around it .was now his - even the river and the road we drove in on. I turned thirteen later that summer. M y mother insisted o n a party. W i t h m y friends waiting, 1'had to call u p Hougen and ask him if it might be okay if we took out riry new .22 rifle and took some shots at the windfall cbttonwoods near the mouth of the creek. M y father is buried in the county cemetery. M y grandfather lies in the next plot over. H e died in his sleep in '82, before the drought hit. I don't remember m u c h ' a b o u t it. I don't even remember being sad, just a lot of people in the house a n d casseroles covering the kitchen table. F r o m the bits and pieces I've put together, it sounds like my grandfather worked his hired hands God-awful hours and seldom had a good word for anyone, including his own family But he loved his horses and his hunting dogs. A n d he ran a ranch right, which counts for a lot around here. The night the bank called, my mother got as drunk as I've ever seen her and lit into my father. She said he didn't manage things, said he spent too m u c h time at h o m e telling stories or u p on the ridge watching the sun go down over the river. She said he was a dreamer and a sorry rancher; she told him, to his face", his father would have found a way to keep the land. T h e next day, after she'd heard that he'd driven his pickup into the bank, she-started drinking. She hasn't stopped yet. It doesn't change the fact that she was probably right: H e wasn't the best rancher around. Even if the hoppers never came, he most likely still would have lost most of my grandfather's land. But, I ' m not sure that's the tragedy I ' m not sure my father was ever meant to be rancher. I refnemher sitting in my Civil War history class u p in Missoula, hearing about how before the war Grant failed at nearly everything he tried, even cbntemplated suicide.

J o e Wilkins

147


ed talking, telling her about it as honestly as I could: "I didn't much like it, but it wasn't scary. I knew I'd be out in a few months. I don't know. O n e time a guy shit himself in the night and no, one cleaned it u p until the next afternoon. It wasn't scary. It was just bad. I have dreams, where I wake u p there again. Sometimes, w h e n I ' m there in my dreams, it's because I've killed a man. Then, I ' m scared because I k n o w I'll never leave." I stopped. I'd scared myself a little, bringing u p those dreams. M a n d y was looking right at me. She moved closer and put her arms around me. After we h a d both slept some, she got u p a n d dressed, a n d I did too. It was very dark out and, even for the heat of the day, nearjy cold now. I kissed her and asked if she might come out again sometime. "Yes," she said.

I a m thirty-one years old, and I have been out on Crow Road almost ten years now. M y work is whatever I can get. Right now, I ' m fixing fences for Harold Hougen out on a new section of pasture he bought near Bascom Creek. Earlier this summer I was irrigating for some hay farmers u p the river. I've logged and drove tractor and branded cattle and dug ditches. W h e n I first came back, it ^was because Mr. Lind h a d hired m e to frame( out the new house he was building. That was good work, the kind of work I like - \vhere you're making something or figuring something out. But, like'I said, J ' l l take whatever I can get. We lost my grandfather's ranch in '88, in the middle of the big drought and all those Reagan bankruptcies. That last summer, the river dried in May, the grass b u r n e d right down t o the root, and t h e sheep went thin as willows. Then, there was a true plague of grasshoppers: They ate through w h a t was left of the wheat a n d the alfalfa, a n d then the clothes on the line a n d the pair of tennis shoes my .little sister forgot on the front step and all the old rags in the shop and even the cracjced hides of sheep dead in the fields. I remember crushing hundreds against the-earth with a single stomp of; m y boot; my father hired m e n to dig ditches a n d t h e n poured t h e m full of used motor oil to try to drown the hoppers; the government had crop dusters dropping poison from first fight to sunset. N o n e Qf it helped. It was that August, the day after he got the foreclosure call, that my

146

Berkeley Fiction Review

father drove into R o u n d up and took M a i n Street at eighty and put his truqk through the "front door of the bank. I heard a few people say he planned it all wrong: It wasn't seven in the morning yet, and the m a n who called in his loans didn't come to work until nine. But I don't think there was that much sense Jo it. I don't think there was any sense to it beyond the way it must have looked in his mind at the momerit, the way fight prismed through the windshield, the way motes of dust spun and tumbled over the dash, the dark m o u t h of the bank door. They pulled my'father out of the wreck still breathing, but he never regained consciousness. A week after his funeral, Harold Hougen bought our ranch at auction. Though Hougen let m y mother stay in the old house, all the land around it .was now his - even the river and the road we drove in on. I turned thirteen later that summer. M y mother insisted o n a party. W i t h m y friends waiting, 1'had to call u p Hougen and ask him if it might be okay if we took out riry new .22 rifle and took some shots at the windfall cbttonwoods near the mouth of the creek. M y father is buried in the county cemetery. M y grandfather lies in the next plot over. H e died in his sleep in '82, before the drought hit. I don't remember m u c h ' a b o u t it. I don't even remember being sad, just a lot of people in the house a n d casseroles covering the kitchen table. F r o m the bits and pieces I've put together, it sounds like my grandfather worked his hired hands God-awful hours and seldom had a good word for anyone, including his own family But he loved his horses and his hunting dogs. A n d he ran a ranch right, which counts for a lot around here. The night the bank called, my mother got as drunk as I've ever seen her and lit into my father. She said he didn't manage things, said he spent too m u c h time at h o m e telling stories or u p on the ridge watching the sun go down over the river. She said he was a dreamer and a sorry rancher; she told him, to his face", his father would have found a way to keep the land. T h e next day, after she'd heard that he'd driven his pickup into the bank, she-started drinking. She hasn't stopped yet. It doesn't change the fact that she was probably right: H e wasn't the best rancher around. Even if the hoppers never came, he most likely still would have lost most of my grandfather's land. But, I ' m not sure that's the tragedy I ' m not sure my father was ever meant to be rancher. I refnemher sitting in my Civil War history class u p in Missoula, hearing about how before the war Grant failed at nearly everything he tried, even cbntemplated suicide.

J o e Wilkins

147


I wanted to raise my h a n d to say something about the all those roads a n d the river, the wreck of glass and bricks and metal, and my father. T h e first year I was away at college, m y mother packed u p her suitcase and my little sister, Annie, and went to live u p in the Bull Mountains with a drunk n a m e d T h a d Basset. It didn't work out. In a bit less t h a n . a year, my mother was back at the old house on the river, where she has been ever since. A n d now she has got religion a n d another boy to raise by T h a d Basset. She spends most of her time at church suppers or smoking Pall Malls at the kitchen table. I'll come over for lunch, a n d she'll m a k e m e a tomato a n d bacon sandwich, a n d we'll talk about the weather, little Thad's last report card, or .the new highway they're putting in north of Roundup. A n d then I'll go back to work.

She said it'd be a lot of fun. I knew better than all that. But it was near sunset, early October, and we were sitting out front of my camper and she was looking u p at m e a n d smiling a n d waiting, a n d I told her I'd come. She h a d the whole thing worked out: She'd sneak out around ten, after her parents went to bed, and then I'd meet her just after that out front of T h e Oasis, where we'd get some beer before heading out to the river. So, feeling a bit out of sorts, that Saturday night I swung u p M a i n and came back and angled the L u v in next to all the other pickups at the bar. She was sitting on the bench out front, smoking a cigarette. She wore tight blue jeans and a sleeveless western-style blouse and in the chill wind her hair was wild about her face. She sat right next to m e then, in the middle of the* Luv's bench seat, as we drove out to the river. W h e n I was in high school, they'd called that "riding rattlesnake," and it was only for couples going steady. Back then I had thought it was a silly thing, a thing for kids too innocent to know any better, but that night I decided I 'didn't mind it so much.

Annie must be twenty-five now. She waitresses at a truck stop out of .Billings. Whenever I'm, d o w n that way, I pull my little yellow Chevy L u v in next to those big eighteen-wheelers and go in and order eggs and hashbrowns a n d orange juice, and she never charges m e for the orange juice. We always joke around for a bit: She'll,ask something like, " H o w 's the good living down Crow R o a d treating you?" A n d J ' l l tell her, "It might just be going to m y head. I got a shiny n e w backup propane tank last week and haven't talked to the neighbors since." Or maybe I'll say, "Don't you worry. I ' m still King of Crow Road.," Annie always laughs, and I grin and pay my bill a n d leave. She told m e once - years ago now, I guess - about a m a n from Belgrade she w a s seeing. I haven't heard about h i m since. W h e n it comes down to it, I really don't know much about her.

By the time we got there, they'd started a bonfire around the stump of an old cotfonwood, and one of the boys, a Kincheloe, had pulled his big truck u p a n d kept it running for the music. Everyone laughed at everything and smolced cigarettes'and m a d e a lot of Kow m u c h they were drinking. T h e boys, I could tell, were used to teasing Mandy. They didn't d o it with m e around, but I could tell from the way they talked with her, and then-how they talked with some of theother girls, that she got teased quite a bit. M a n d y did wear a lot of makeup, and she laughed too loudly sometimes. A n d she was not as skinny as the other girls either. A n d that night I thought that if I were still in high school, young and dumb and pleased with myself/I might have thought she was a little too heavy and a little too forward myself. But I have been out of high school almost ten years now, and sitting around that fire, I thought M a n d y was'as beautiful as I'd ever seen her. I barely talked to anyone, just to watch her: her dark hair, the shift and arc of her hips. Late in the night, when she kissed me, her breath was hot and smelled of beer and cinnamon chewing"gum. She laced her hands behind m y head. They were w a r m a n d soft and small. I heard one of the boys snicker at us and call to his friend. I didn't care.

W h e n I was a boy, I didn't see things this way for us. We h a d a ranch and six roads with our n a m e on them. M y father had a deep laugh and my mother wore blue dresses. I m a d e the top grades in school and Annie was learning to play the piano. You could blame the drought, or the grasshoppers, or Reagan and his trickle-down economics, or maybe the bank's insistence on the bottom line. M y father blamed t h e m all, one after the other. It just happened to be the bank that he finally decided to settle u p with. But I sit on my pine stump out here on Crow Road and watch the antelope step through the dry grass on their delicate hooves^ ahd I don't know about blame. I read a poem in.cpllege that said w e are like children, putting things in our mouths, eating the world. But I think it might be the other way around.

8 - r

M a n d y asked m e to go to one of the high school parties with her.

148

I was ten the first time my father took m e with h i m to buy sheep.

Berkeley Fiction Review

J o e Wilkins JA.

149


I wanted to raise my h a n d to say something about the all those roads a n d the river, the wreck of glass and bricks and metal, and my father. T h e first year I was away at college, m y mother packed u p her suitcase and my little sister, Annie, and went to live u p in the Bull Mountains with a drunk n a m e d T h a d Basset. It didn't work out. In a bit less t h a n . a year, my mother was back at the old house on the river, where she has been ever since. A n d now she has got religion a n d another boy to raise by T h a d Basset. She spends most of her time at church suppers or smoking Pall Malls at the kitchen table. I'll come over for lunch, a n d she'll m a k e m e a tomato a n d bacon sandwich, a n d we'll talk about the weather, little Thad's last report card, or .the new highway they're putting in north of Roundup. A n d then I'll go back to work.

She said it'd be a lot of fun. I knew better than all that. But it was near sunset, early October, and we were sitting out front of my camper and she was looking u p at m e a n d smiling a n d waiting, a n d I told her I'd come. She h a d the whole thing worked out: She'd sneak out around ten, after her parents went to bed, and then I'd meet her just after that out front of T h e Oasis, where we'd get some beer before heading out to the river. So, feeling a bit out of sorts, that Saturday night I swung u p M a i n and came back and angled the L u v in next to all the other pickups at the bar. She was sitting on the bench out front, smoking a cigarette. She wore tight blue jeans and a sleeveless western-style blouse and in the chill wind her hair was wild about her face. She sat right next to m e then, in the middle of the* Luv's bench seat, as we drove out to the river. W h e n I was in high school, they'd called that "riding rattlesnake," and it was only for couples going steady. Back then I had thought it was a silly thing, a thing for kids too innocent to know any better, but that night I decided I 'didn't mind it so much.

Annie must be twenty-five now. She waitresses at a truck stop out of .Billings. Whenever I'm, d o w n that way, I pull my little yellow Chevy L u v in next to those big eighteen-wheelers and go in and order eggs and hashbrowns a n d orange juice, and she never charges m e for the orange juice. We always joke around for a bit: She'll,ask something like, " H o w 's the good living down Crow R o a d treating you?" A n d J ' l l tell her, "It might just be going to m y head. I got a shiny n e w backup propane tank last week and haven't talked to the neighbors since." Or maybe I'll say, "Don't you worry. I ' m still King of Crow Road.," Annie always laughs, and I grin and pay my bill a n d leave. She told m e once - years ago now, I guess - about a m a n from Belgrade she w a s seeing. I haven't heard about h i m since. W h e n it comes down to it, I really don't know much about her.

By the time we got there, they'd started a bonfire around the stump of an old cotfonwood, and one of the boys, a Kincheloe, had pulled his big truck u p a n d kept it running for the music. Everyone laughed at everything and smolced cigarettes'and m a d e a lot of Kow m u c h they were drinking. T h e boys, I could tell, were used to teasing Mandy. They didn't d o it with m e around, but I could tell from the way they talked with her, and then-how they talked with some of theother girls, that she got teased quite a bit. M a n d y did wear a lot of makeup, and she laughed too loudly sometimes. A n d she was not as skinny as the other girls either. A n d that night I thought that if I were still in high school, young and dumb and pleased with myself/I might have thought she was a little too heavy and a little too forward myself. But I have been out of high school almost ten years now, and sitting around that fire, I thought M a n d y was'as beautiful as I'd ever seen her. I barely talked to anyone, just to watch her: her dark hair, the shift and arc of her hips. Late in the night, when she kissed me, her breath was hot and smelled of beer and cinnamon chewing"gum. She laced her hands behind m y head. They were w a r m a n d soft and small. I heard one of the boys snicker at us and call to his friend. I didn't care.

W h e n I was a boy, I didn't see things this way for us. We h a d a ranch and six roads with our n a m e on them. M y father had a deep laugh and my mother wore blue dresses. I m a d e the top grades in school and Annie was learning to play the piano. You could blame the drought, or the grasshoppers, or Reagan and his trickle-down economics, or maybe the bank's insistence on the bottom line. M y father blamed t h e m all, one after the other. It just happened to be the bank that he finally decided to settle u p with. But I sit on my pine stump out here on Crow Road and watch the antelope step through the dry grass on their delicate hooves^ ahd I don't know about blame. I read a poem in.cpllege that said w e are like children, putting things in our mouths, eating the world. But I think it might be the other way around.

8 - r

M a n d y asked m e to go to one of the high school parties with her.

148

I was ten the first time my father took m e with h i m to buy sheep.

Berkeley Fiction Review

J o e Wilkins JA.

149


It must have been April or May, a thin skin of frost on the new grass; I could hear the frozen bones of it snap beneath o u r boots. I remember that once we got on the road, my father let m e have a small cup of coffee from his thermos. I remember his red-checked wool jacket a n d the way h e smelled of straw a n d chewing tobacco. A n d his hands: those thick fingers, the sun-bleached hairs at each knuckle. H e smiled easily and told m e stories and kept asking if I might want another cup of coffee, because didn't I know it'd p u t some hair on my chest. H e seemed so large and gentle in the cab of the truck that morning. I think now he must have for a m o m e n t forgotten himself—forgotten the river that would soon dry to a track of dust, the grasshoppers that would soon come d o w n on his fields, the bank that kept threatening to foreclose. That morning he was just w h a t h e seemed: a m a n in the strength of his fife, a young father pouring milky coffee for his son. But, at the other man's corrals, after the sale and the handshake, after those bone-skinny sheep—old, used-up ewes were all he could afford—were herded into the corral, I remember watching my gentle father use a length of old shovel handle on the sheep that didn't move up the w o o d e n chute and on into our trailer fast enough. H e h a d that shovel handle tight in his hand; he held it very tight. He'd swear at them, swing at their rumps, their shoulders, bring that shovel handle hard down across their noses. So I picked u p a stick too. It was easy. The air was cold. The woo d cracked against the sheep's bones. 8 - F

I'd gone to Billings to b u y fencing supplies for Hougen. I stopped on the way back to say hello to Annie and to get some groceries. A n d that's where I saw M a n d y and her mother, at the I G A . I was poking through the apples and straightened u p and waved at them. Mrs. Wagner smiled and nodded. Mandy, a step or two behind her mother, just grinned at the floor. Then, they walked on past. Of course she hadn't told her parents about me. It m a d e m e angry. So I followed them through the store, buying more than I needed—boxes of pre-mix lemon cake, a new spatula, can after can of pinto beans—just to take the, time. Mandy's mother was a small, round w o m a n with busy hands. She peered u p at the shelves and studied her list and laughed loudly w h e n surprised by the butcher coming around the corner in his bloody smock. A n d she never once looked at

150

Berkeley Fiction Review

me after that first nod. M a n d y smiled nervously once or twice. Then pretended not to see m e for a while. Finally, she pursed her lips and waved m e away. Watching M a n d y and her mother disappear down the aisle, m y anger gave out, and'I got sad about it all—about m e having to always be w h o I was, about the place I was born into, about the shame I brought down. I wanted to walk u p and talk to Mandy, introduce myself properly to he'r mother. But I didn't—couldn't—because my n a m e is Willie Crow. T h e last semester I was in college, I turned in an essay on the development of the post-modern novel, a n d then drove all night from Missoula: fast down 1-90, u p Highway 12 at the Garrison Junction, and on straight through the heart of Montana. Out of Ryegate' I pulled over to take a leak. It was early May, the wind cold. There was a crooked line of cottonwoods along the river, stars like sour milk poured"from a great height into a vast black bowl. I remember telling myself I'd'only be h o m e for a summer, then back to Missoula in the fall. That night I said It again and again beneath the messy witness of the stars: H o m e for a summer. Baclcin the fall. Only a summer. Then, back for good in the fall. I'd been at the university just twd years arid was already a senior. I'd overloaded credits a n d took summer school. I loved all the reading and aced most every test and for the first time, since Hougen wrote the check for our ranch, since my father's Tuneral and my thirteenth birthday party, I even had plans for myself: I was going to graduate and teach high* school English, like Mr. Lind. Or, if I was feeling good, I'd tell myself I'd go o n a n d get m y P h D a n d teach college. Maybe I ' d even t r y t o write. But then, sometimes, when I'd visit my professors during their office hours a n d it would come out that I was from some little, noaccount town and grew u p on a sheep ranch and graduated in a high school claSs of nine, they'd look at m e with such surprise, such uncivil confusion—and then they'd laugh. In class, I was used to, them making fun of folks in eastern M o n t a n a, folks 'from small towns or from out in the country, folks ih alf those "backwards red states." But I wasn't used to them laughing at me. I wasn't used to them pushing m e over to that side of things. I even had an instructor from Connecticut, w h o told m e once that with m y intellect a n d open mind, such a n upbringing seemed nearly'impossible, a fabrication he would think, if he didn't know m e better. I had him for two more courses: He didn't

JoeWilkins

151


It must have been April or May, a thin skin of frost on the new grass; I could hear the frozen bones of it snap beneath o u r boots. I remember that once we got on the road, my father let m e have a small cup of coffee from his thermos. I remember his red-checked wool jacket a n d the way h e smelled of straw a n d chewing tobacco. A n d his hands: those thick fingers, the sun-bleached hairs at each knuckle. H e smiled easily and told m e stories and kept asking if I might want another cup of coffee, because didn't I know it'd p u t some hair on my chest. H e seemed so large and gentle in the cab of the truck that morning. I think now he must have for a m o m e n t forgotten himself—forgotten the river that would soon dry to a track of dust, the grasshoppers that would soon come d o w n on his fields, the bank that kept threatening to foreclose. That morning he was just w h a t h e seemed: a m a n in the strength of his fife, a young father pouring milky coffee for his son. But, at the other man's corrals, after the sale and the handshake, after those bone-skinny sheep—old, used-up ewes were all he could afford—were herded into the corral, I remember watching my gentle father use a length of old shovel handle on the sheep that didn't move up the w o o d e n chute and on into our trailer fast enough. H e h a d that shovel handle tight in his hand; he held it very tight. He'd swear at them, swing at their rumps, their shoulders, bring that shovel handle hard down across their noses. So I picked u p a stick too. It was easy. The air was cold. The woo d cracked against the sheep's bones. 8 - F

I'd gone to Billings to b u y fencing supplies for Hougen. I stopped on the way back to say hello to Annie and to get some groceries. A n d that's where I saw M a n d y and her mother, at the I G A . I was poking through the apples and straightened u p and waved at them. Mrs. Wagner smiled and nodded. Mandy, a step or two behind her mother, just grinned at the floor. Then, they walked on past. Of course she hadn't told her parents about me. It m a d e m e angry. So I followed them through the store, buying more than I needed—boxes of pre-mix lemon cake, a new spatula, can after can of pinto beans—just to take the, time. Mandy's mother was a small, round w o m a n with busy hands. She peered u p at the shelves and studied her list and laughed loudly w h e n surprised by the butcher coming around the corner in his bloody smock. A n d she never once looked at

150

Berkeley Fiction Review

me after that first nod. M a n d y smiled nervously once or twice. Then pretended not to see m e for a while. Finally, she pursed her lips and waved m e away. Watching M a n d y and her mother disappear down the aisle, m y anger gave out, and'I got sad about it all—about m e having to always be w h o I was, about the place I was born into, about the shame I brought down. I wanted to walk u p and talk to Mandy, introduce myself properly to he'r mother. But I didn't—couldn't—because my n a m e is Willie Crow. T h e last semester I was in college, I turned in an essay on the development of the post-modern novel, a n d then drove all night from Missoula: fast down 1-90, u p Highway 12 at the Garrison Junction, and on straight through the heart of Montana. Out of Ryegate' I pulled over to take a leak. It was early May, the wind cold. There was a crooked line of cottonwoods along the river, stars like sour milk poured"from a great height into a vast black bowl. I remember telling myself I'd'only be h o m e for a summer, then back to Missoula in the fall. That night I said It again and again beneath the messy witness of the stars: H o m e for a summer. Baclcin the fall. Only a summer. Then, back for good in the fall. I'd been at the university just twd years arid was already a senior. I'd overloaded credits a n d took summer school. I loved all the reading and aced most every test and for the first time, since Hougen wrote the check for our ranch, since my father's Tuneral and my thirteenth birthday party, I even had plans for myself: I was going to graduate and teach high* school English, like Mr. Lind. Or, if I was feeling good, I'd tell myself I'd go o n a n d get m y P h D a n d teach college. Maybe I ' d even t r y t o write. But then, sometimes, when I'd visit my professors during their office hours a n d it would come out that I was from some little, noaccount town and grew u p on a sheep ranch and graduated in a high school claSs of nine, they'd look at m e with such surprise, such uncivil confusion—and then they'd laugh. In class, I was used to, them making fun of folks in eastern M o n t a n a, folks 'from small towns or from out in the country, folks ih alf those "backwards red states." But I wasn't used to them laughing at me. I wasn't used to them pushing m e over to that side of things. I even had an instructor from Connecticut, w h o told m e once that with m y intellect a n d open mind, such a n upbringing seemed nearly'impossible, a fabrication he would think, if he didn't know m e better. I had him for two more courses: He didn't

JoeWilkins

151


call o n m e in class anymore, a n d I never tried to see h i m in his office again. A n d Missoula was so different. N o one wore jeans. N o one tucked in their shirts. People wore .baggy khakis or shorts or woven ponchos or t-shirts with silly, ironic things written on them. M y roommate spent most of his time listening to some band I'd never heard of, on his computer. He'd get stoned and sit on his bed cross-legged and close his eyes; he said they h a d a lot of things to say; he said he was getting close. Once, .at a fraternity dance, I saw two girls kissing the same boy at the same time. I could ,see their tongues moving in and out of each other's mouths. They caught m e staring and stopped and laughed. It's n ot that I didn't fit in - 1 was,invited to parties and knew a few people and in a place like Missoula most everyone fits in - it's that, it all m a d e m e so nervous. I wanted to stay there in the worst way, to keep going to school, but I felt far from myself, my bones awkward in this suddenly strange skin. At some dark party, I'd think about my little sister a n d these loud fraternity boys. W h e n I looked at m y roommate sitting cross-legged on his bunk, I'd, hear my mother's voice in m y head, see her point her finger at my father. Walking across the quad, I'd get the sudden urge to tell someone, anyone, that six roads in Musselshell County carried m y name. A n d once, late a t night, when I should have been finishing u p a paper on Robert Lowell, I just started writing stories about m y father a n d growing u p out on the river. I just wrote and wrote and wrote, and it felt so good, but when I stopped and read what I'd written, wjien I saw the words that had come out of m e and thought about what m y professors would say, I was ashamed. That's mostly why I didn't come h o m e that first summer. I wanted to work the river a n d Crow R o a d out of m y system. A n d I thought if I just stayed in Missoula, just studied hard and went to the right parties ,and wore baggy khakis, I'd soon enough forget the river and m y father's stories and all those roads, I'd soon enough start laughing along with the professor's jokes like everyone else, I'd soon enough start to belong to this other place. But after my second year, I couldn't afford summer school or rent or even the bill for the fall term:,I needed money and work. Mr. Lind, w h o h a d helped m e get all the scholarships to go to Missoula in the first place, called and, offered to pay m e to help h i m build his new house out on the edge of Roundup. Thoug h I'd wanted to find a way to stay in Missoula, I was happy for the work. I thought it would sort of be in between, since Mr. Lind was just about

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the only person in the world I could think of, w h o knew" where I was from and where I was going. Like I said before, it was good work: Most mornings I'd wake early and drive over to Mr. Lind's lot, u p above the school at the tail end of the Bull Mountains. Then we'd measure the two by fours and cut the day's lengths a n d talk books a n d take lunch at the cafe in town. Once, after we had disagreed about the merits'of The Grapes of Wrath earlier in the day and been silent for awhile, I remember him straightening u p and crossing the foundation and telling me, "William, you'll make a fine professor of English one day. Don't you ever quit thinking." 8 - F

We were in the cab of my Chevy Luv, watching the northern lights. She was sitting next to me, her hand on my thigh, my arm around her shoulders. The sky pulsed with streams of gold and green, a n ache of rose along the horizon: She asked m e again, "What' s the best part of it?" "The thinking," I told her, "how you read and talk about things and you really have to think about them. I loved that. Sometimes, on the weekends, I'd just stay in my r o o m and read all day long. And then I couldn't wait to talk about everything in class-" I meant to tell her more, but the sky went bright blue, and I shut up. I'd only seen the northern lights once before, as a very young boy, on the porch of the old house with my father. He'd made the whole family come out and watch. H e called it our very own celestial fireworks show, direct from G o d in heaven to the'Crow family That was when we still h a d the ranch. " W h a t about roommates and parties and things like that?" "They're fine and all, I guess. It was different." Fthought of those two' girls, the way they looked at me, then looked at the floor, then laughed. "Hell, I don't know. You'll have to see." She shiftedheneath m y arm. "Is that why you didn't go back?" I started to say something, but realizing it was a lie, stopped. The sky "broke and spun. I saw my father pinning the pedal down and aiming for the bank. Mandy' s face was pale in the white-blue tracers, her eyes strangely aflame. "No," I told her, "I got drunk and beat Mr. Lind nearly to death and spent a year in jail. You know that's why I didn't go back."

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call o n m e in class anymore, a n d I never tried to see h i m in his office again. A n d Missoula was so different. N o one wore jeans. N o one tucked in their shirts. People wore .baggy khakis or shorts or woven ponchos or t-shirts with silly, ironic things written on them. M y roommate spent most of his time listening to some band I'd never heard of, on his computer. He'd get stoned and sit on his bed cross-legged and close his eyes; he said they h a d a lot of things to say; he said he was getting close. Once, .at a fraternity dance, I saw two girls kissing the same boy at the same time. I could ,see their tongues moving in and out of each other's mouths. They caught m e staring and stopped and laughed. It's n ot that I didn't fit in - 1 was,invited to parties and knew a few people and in a place like Missoula most everyone fits in - it's that, it all m a d e m e so nervous. I wanted to stay there in the worst way, to keep going to school, but I felt far from myself, my bones awkward in this suddenly strange skin. At some dark party, I'd think about my little sister a n d these loud fraternity boys. W h e n I looked at m y roommate sitting cross-legged on his bunk, I'd, hear my mother's voice in m y head, see her point her finger at my father. Walking across the quad, I'd get the sudden urge to tell someone, anyone, that six roads in Musselshell County carried m y name. A n d once, late a t night, when I should have been finishing u p a paper on Robert Lowell, I just started writing stories about m y father a n d growing u p out on the river. I just wrote and wrote and wrote, and it felt so good, but when I stopped and read what I'd written, wjien I saw the words that had come out of m e and thought about what m y professors would say, I was ashamed. That's mostly why I didn't come h o m e that first summer. I wanted to work the river a n d Crow R o a d out of m y system. A n d I thought if I just stayed in Missoula, just studied hard and went to the right parties ,and wore baggy khakis, I'd soon enough forget the river and m y father's stories and all those roads, I'd soon enough start laughing along with the professor's jokes like everyone else, I'd soon enough start to belong to this other place. But after my second year, I couldn't afford summer school or rent or even the bill for the fall term:,I needed money and work. Mr. Lind, w h o h a d helped m e get all the scholarships to go to Missoula in the first place, called and, offered to pay m e to help h i m build his new house out on the edge of Roundup. Thoug h I'd wanted to find a way to stay in Missoula, I was happy for the work. I thought it would sort of be in between, since Mr. Lind was just about

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Berkeley Fiction Review

the only person in the world I could think of, w h o knew" where I was from and where I was going. Like I said before, it was good work: Most mornings I'd wake early and drive over to Mr. Lind's lot, u p above the school at the tail end of the Bull Mountains. Then we'd measure the two by fours and cut the day's lengths a n d talk books a n d take lunch at the cafe in town. Once, after we had disagreed about the merits'of The Grapes of Wrath earlier in the day and been silent for awhile, I remember him straightening u p and crossing the foundation and telling me, "William, you'll make a fine professor of English one day. Don't you ever quit thinking." 8 - F

We were in the cab of my Chevy Luv, watching the northern lights. She was sitting next to me, her hand on my thigh, my arm around her shoulders. The sky pulsed with streams of gold and green, a n ache of rose along the horizon: She asked m e again, "What' s the best part of it?" "The thinking," I told her, "how you read and talk about things and you really have to think about them. I loved that. Sometimes, on the weekends, I'd just stay in my r o o m and read all day long. And then I couldn't wait to talk about everything in class-" I meant to tell her more, but the sky went bright blue, and I shut up. I'd only seen the northern lights once before, as a very young boy, on the porch of the old house with my father. He'd made the whole family come out and watch. H e called it our very own celestial fireworks show, direct from G o d in heaven to the'Crow family That was when we still h a d the ranch. " W h a t about roommates and parties and things like that?" "They're fine and all, I guess. It was different." Fthought of those two' girls, the way they looked at me, then looked at the floor, then laughed. "Hell, I don't know. You'll have to see." She shiftedheneath m y arm. "Is that why you didn't go back?" I started to say something, but realizing it was a lie, stopped. The sky "broke and spun. I saw my father pinning the pedal down and aiming for the bank. Mandy' s face was pale in the white-blue tracers, her eyes strangely aflame. "No," I told her, "I got drunk and beat Mr. Lind nearly to death and spent a year in jail. You know that's why I didn't go back."

J o e Wilkins

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She pulled away from me, looked at the floorboards, out the passenger window, and said, "That's n o t w h a t I meant." 8-TT It wasn't like I thought. It wasn't some easy in between. I drove those roads a n d my heart went heavy. I watched the river dry to a track of dust and m y dreams strayed away from me. A n d one night in late August, just a few weeks before I was to head back to, Missoula, I got whiskey drunk at the Sportsman Bar. I started talking to an old rancher - Al Feeney was his n a m e - and he told m e stofy after story about m y grandfather and my father. He'd even known Thad Basset. H e bought m e whiskeys with beer backs. H e called m e '''College" all night long and poked m e in the ribs. H e laughed out loud. H e slapped me, on the back. He told m e not to get too big for m y britches, not to forget I was raised on river m u d a n d gravel roads. A n d he told me, time and again, to watch out u p there in Missoula, or I might en,d u p as light in the loafers as that school teacher I worked for - but this isn't in the way of a reason or an excuse. It's just what happened. I'd heard that kind of thing said.aboutMr. Lind before. Hell, I'd said it myself in high school. Everyone says it around here. You almost get used to it. Almost. M u c h later, the bars closed and the night moonless and inky dark, I drove out to -Mr. Lind's place and drunkenly banged on his door. He cracked his door, a n d then opened it wide when he saw it was me. H e asked for m y keys, tried to lead m e toward the couch, in the front room. But I was belligerent; I wouldn't take my boots off, nearly put my h a n d through the porch window-when I lost m y balance. H e let go of m e then and pulled his robe around himself and told m e I shouldn't be hanging out in those sad cowboy bars. A n d though I hadn't planned to say it, didn't even believe-jt as I said it, I told Mr. Lind to mind his own business. I told him that I'd rather be drinking in some cowboy bar t h a n u p in Missoula with a b u n c h of rich kids a n d queers. I told h i m that I wasn't going back there anyway. Mr. Lind set his shoulders then, I remember that very well, and told m e I was drunk and needed to go to bed. H e told m e that if I quit the university it would be a terrible waste. H e told m e that's where I belonged. A n d w h e n . he said that, s o m e t h i n g i n the pit of m e broke, and I grabbed him and threw him to the ground. I kicked h i m i n the face, destroyed his nose, tore the skin off his forehead, planted bits of bro-

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Berkeley Fiction Review

ken teeth in the flesh of his mouth. â&#x20AC;˘

8 - T

After my grandfather died, we had to tie his hunting dogs u p to a cedar tree near the corral fence to keep t h e m from looking for him. They'd torn around the place, for days, after anything that even smelled of him; a leather boot, an axe handle. The day of the funeral they sat under^a rag slung across a low rafter in the shed a n d howled until someone pulled it down and tossed it to them. Their loyalty might have been forgiven, but in their confusion and grief, they also kille'd two chickens and ran a bunch of ewes ragged. So m y "father, who said he didn't have time to mess with those fool dogs during lambing season, told m e to get somelength s of twine and tie them to the cedar tree for a few days until they calmed d o w n some. So I tied them like I was told, with strong synthetic twine, but I tied their leads too long. Or too short. Either way, sometime in the night, half-crazy with heartache, my grandfather's dogs all ran at the corral fence a n d leapt. The' twine lengths were just long enough to let t h e m over the high wooden rail, but not long enough to let t h e m back down to the ground on the other side. We found them in the morning: hung sideby-side, already going stiff. M y father didn't get angry at me. H e didn't even make m e cut them down. H e did it himself. I was glad of that then'," glad of his _shame at having not taken proper care of his father's dogs. But now I don't knbw. I was as sorry as'my father was about those dogs. I ' m striTsorry about them. Though it was shit Tuck, you can't argue that, I measured off that twine and let those dogs lick' m y hand as I looped the leads around their throats'. Yet my father felt his sorrow h a d the better claim. So he hauled his father's hunting dogs north to a coulee already half-filled with still-born lambs, and then, years later, after he lost his father's ranch, he drove a pickup truck through a bank window. 8-T W h e n I got out of jail, Mr. Lind's house sat eriipty on the edge of town and my scholarships were gone. So I pulled a camper u p Crow Road and parked it in a draw of bunchgrass and-sage, between two rocky hills. I drove out into the Bull Mountains and fourid some goo'd sitting stumps. I took to reading in the evenings by the shaking fight

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She pulled away from me, looked at the floorboards, out the passenger window, and said, "That's n o t w h a t I meant." 8-TT It wasn't like I thought. It wasn't some easy in between. I drove those roads a n d my heart went heavy. I watched the river dry to a track of dust and m y dreams strayed away from me. A n d one night in late August, just a few weeks before I was to head back to, Missoula, I got whiskey drunk at the Sportsman Bar. I started talking to an old rancher - Al Feeney was his n a m e - and he told m e stofy after story about m y grandfather and my father. He'd even known Thad Basset. H e bought m e whiskeys with beer backs. H e called m e '''College" all night long and poked m e in the ribs. H e laughed out loud. H e slapped me, on the back. He told m e not to get too big for m y britches, not to forget I was raised on river m u d a n d gravel roads. A n d he told me, time and again, to watch out u p there in Missoula, or I might en,d u p as light in the loafers as that school teacher I worked for - but this isn't in the way of a reason or an excuse. It's just what happened. I'd heard that kind of thing said.aboutMr. Lind before. Hell, I'd said it myself in high school. Everyone says it around here. You almost get used to it. Almost. M u c h later, the bars closed and the night moonless and inky dark, I drove out to -Mr. Lind's place and drunkenly banged on his door. He cracked his door, a n d then opened it wide when he saw it was me. H e asked for m y keys, tried to lead m e toward the couch, in the front room. But I was belligerent; I wouldn't take my boots off, nearly put my h a n d through the porch window-when I lost m y balance. H e let go of m e then and pulled his robe around himself and told m e I shouldn't be hanging out in those sad cowboy bars. A n d though I hadn't planned to say it, didn't even believe-jt as I said it, I told Mr. Lind to mind his own business. I told him that I'd rather be drinking in some cowboy bar t h a n u p in Missoula with a b u n c h of rich kids a n d queers. I told h i m that I wasn't going back there anyway. Mr. Lind set his shoulders then, I remember that very well, and told m e I was drunk and needed to go to bed. H e told m e that if I quit the university it would be a terrible waste. H e told m e that's where I belonged. A n d w h e n . he said that, s o m e t h i n g i n the pit of m e broke, and I grabbed him and threw him to the ground. I kicked h i m i n the face, destroyed his nose, tore the skin off his forehead, planted bits of bro-

154

Berkeley Fiction Review

ken teeth in the flesh of his mouth. â&#x20AC;˘

8 - T

After my grandfather died, we had to tie his hunting dogs u p to a cedar tree near the corral fence to keep t h e m from looking for him. They'd torn around the place, for days, after anything that even smelled of him; a leather boot, an axe handle. The day of the funeral they sat under^a rag slung across a low rafter in the shed a n d howled until someone pulled it down and tossed it to them. Their loyalty might have been forgiven, but in their confusion and grief, they also kille'd two chickens and ran a bunch of ewes ragged. So m y "father, who said he didn't have time to mess with those fool dogs during lambing season, told m e to get somelength s of twine and tie them to the cedar tree for a few days until they calmed d o w n some. So I tied them like I was told, with strong synthetic twine, but I tied their leads too long. Or too short. Either way, sometime in the night, half-crazy with heartache, my grandfather's dogs all ran at the corral fence a n d leapt. The' twine lengths were just long enough to let t h e m over the high wooden rail, but not long enough to let t h e m back down to the ground on the other side. We found them in the morning: hung sideby-side, already going stiff. M y father didn't get angry at me. H e didn't even make m e cut them down. H e did it himself. I was glad of that then'," glad of his _shame at having not taken proper care of his father's dogs. But now I don't knbw. I was as sorry as'my father was about those dogs. I ' m striTsorry about them. Though it was shit Tuck, you can't argue that, I measured off that twine and let those dogs lick' m y hand as I looped the leads around their throats'. Yet my father felt his sorrow h a d the better claim. So he hauled his father's hunting dogs north to a coulee already half-filled with still-born lambs, and then, years later, after he lost his father's ranch, he drove a pickup truck through a bank window. 8-T W h e n I got out of jail, Mr. Lind's house sat eriipty on the edge of town and my scholarships were gone. So I pulled a camper u p Crow Road and parked it in a draw of bunchgrass and-sage, between two rocky hills. I drove out into the Bull Mountains and fourid some goo'd sitting stumps. I took to reading in the evenings by the shaking fight

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of a n oil lamp. A n d I close m y eyes a n d breathe the m u s k of just cut wood, see fine curls and slivers of it on his arms. 8-TT Before M a n d y left for the Catholic college u p in Helena, she asked if she could throw a party out at my place, fqr her and all her friends. I didn't much like the idea, but said okay. So one night all those high school kids I'd met at the last party drove out in their pickup trucks and sat .around, the fire and drank. Slowly, the boys got loud and a little m e a n and soon one, that Kincheloe boy, was talking about faggots and Jiow he hoped he'd never meet one, and what he'd do if he ever did. H e got u p a n d started prancing around the fire. H e batted his -eyes and squealed. His friends laughed, M a n d y laughed. I took another drink of strawberry p o p and pulled m y arm from around her and stood up. W h e n the Kincheloe boy came by me, he put his palm to my chest and said, " O h Willie, what a strong m a n you are,!" I grabbed his wrist a n d jerked his face towards mine. "You don't have any g o d d a mn idea what you're doing," I said, just loud enough for him to hear. His m o u t h twisted with confusion. But then he spit a n d glanced at his friends over his shoulder, and said, loudly, "Let go of m e you fucking faggot-lover." I hit him hard. I could feel his nose crack under my knuckles. H e fell back. I could see his blood gleam and sparkle in the firelight. Everyone was still for a moment. Then M a n d y dropped to h e r k n e e s and grabbed the boy by the arm. A n d another boy jumped u p and started swearing at me. A n d the others were suddenly all around the hurt boy, some yelling a n d cursing, some pale a n d scared. After a bit, .they got h i m to his feet and held him up. a n d pulled h i m towards his pickup. M a n d y stopped and turned to m e ffom across the fire, his blood was on her now, dark on her jeans. I wanted,to say something, but choked on whatever it was, and she turned away again, and she left. 8 - T

Little T h a d was staying with m e the night I heard the wolf. M y mother left h i m at m y trailer before she took off fqr some weekend getaway for single.people in her church. So w h e n I got back .from work, we loaded the .243 and shot some cans. We watched the sun go jdown and laid sleeping bags out under the stars a n d wrote a letter to

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Berkeley Fiction Review

Annie and stayed u p late and drank strawberry pop and played poker for peanuts. We kept the fire hot and bright and roasted hot dogs whenever we felt like it. Little Thad fell asleep around midnight, but I stayed u p and listened to the coyotes yip and call, watched an owl wing silently over the prairie. I didn't even know what it was when I first heard it, that dark bell of a howl. It was a long ways off, b u t it grew and grew, and soon I was sure. Just a few days after I heard the wolf, Harold"Hougen brought m e some steaks off a steer he'd just slaughtered. We talked first about the weather, and then the price of calves and- of wheat, and then all the other usual things, and then, somehow, forgetting myself a bit, I ended u p telling him all about this project I'd done in college on Native American writers. As I finally went quiet, Harold shifted on his feet, cocked his cowboy hat, itched at his head. A n d though he was standing in a field of sagebrush, barbed wire scars ribboning the backs of his hands, his look of vicious disbelief twinned the one that skinny instructor from Connecticut gave m e so long ago. That night, after I finished my dinner, I started writing this. 8â&#x20AC;&#x201D;r I see that Kincheloe boy around now and again, at one of Harold's brandings or in at the hardware store. He's doing junior college over in Miles City. I hear he doesn't m u c h like it and is back h o m e most weekends. I hear he drinks, a lot. He'll probably'quit soon enough. He's not really that goo'd a farmhand or cowboy though. I guess he just doesn't know anything else to do. It's hard enough to see a place*, a fife, for what it is?- let alone reckon yourself somewhere or someone else. I know that. 'But the other day I gdt a letter from Mandy. She's transferred to Missoula. She h a d to take out some loans, since her parents wouldn't help her out, but she wanted something different. She s'aid that in her letter. She said she^wanted something different. A n d n o w I a m reading, for maybe the hundredth "time, the end of Mandy's letter, th&part where it says I s h o u l d x o m e out and see her sometime, in Missoula. A n d though T would like to, would like to see her there, my n a m e is Willie Crow, and I five in a trailer twelve miles down the" dirt and gravel of Crow Road.T work a ten h o u r d a y for fifty dollars. I read in the evening by fight of an oil lamp.T walk the ridge with my rifle. A n d f love her. A n d I a m sorry.

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of a n oil lamp. A n d I close m y eyes a n d breathe the m u s k of just cut wood, see fine curls and slivers of it on his arms. 8-TT Before M a n d y left for the Catholic college u p in Helena, she asked if she could throw a party out at my place, fqr her and all her friends. I didn't much like the idea, but said okay. So one night all those high school kids I'd met at the last party drove out in their pickup trucks and sat .around, the fire and drank. Slowly, the boys got loud and a little m e a n and soon one, that Kincheloe boy, was talking about faggots and Jiow he hoped he'd never meet one, and what he'd do if he ever did. H e got u p a n d started prancing around the fire. H e batted his -eyes and squealed. His friends laughed, M a n d y laughed. I took another drink of strawberry p o p and pulled m y arm from around her and stood up. W h e n the Kincheloe boy came by me, he put his palm to my chest and said, " O h Willie, what a strong m a n you are,!" I grabbed his wrist a n d jerked his face towards mine. "You don't have any g o d d a mn idea what you're doing," I said, just loud enough for him to hear. His m o u t h twisted with confusion. But then he spit a n d glanced at his friends over his shoulder, and said, loudly, "Let go of m e you fucking faggot-lover." I hit him hard. I could feel his nose crack under my knuckles. H e fell back. I could see his blood gleam and sparkle in the firelight. Everyone was still for a moment. Then M a n d y dropped to h e r k n e e s and grabbed the boy by the arm. A n d another boy jumped u p and started swearing at me. A n d the others were suddenly all around the hurt boy, some yelling a n d cursing, some pale a n d scared. After a bit, .they got h i m to his feet and held him up. a n d pulled h i m towards his pickup. M a n d y stopped and turned to m e ffom across the fire, his blood was on her now, dark on her jeans. I wanted,to say something, but choked on whatever it was, and she turned away again, and she left. 8 - T

Little T h a d was staying with m e the night I heard the wolf. M y mother left h i m at m y trailer before she took off fqr some weekend getaway for single.people in her church. So w h e n I got back .from work, we loaded the .243 and shot some cans. We watched the sun go jdown and laid sleeping bags out under the stars a n d wrote a letter to

156

Berkeley Fiction Review

Annie and stayed u p late and drank strawberry pop and played poker for peanuts. We kept the fire hot and bright and roasted hot dogs whenever we felt like it. Little Thad fell asleep around midnight, but I stayed u p and listened to the coyotes yip and call, watched an owl wing silently over the prairie. I didn't even know what it was when I first heard it, that dark bell of a howl. It was a long ways off, b u t it grew and grew, and soon I was sure. Just a few days after I heard the wolf, Harold"Hougen brought m e some steaks off a steer he'd just slaughtered. We talked first about the weather, and then the price of calves and- of wheat, and then all the other usual things, and then, somehow, forgetting myself a bit, I ended u p telling him all about this project I'd done in college on Native American writers. As I finally went quiet, Harold shifted on his feet, cocked his cowboy hat, itched at his head. A n d though he was standing in a field of sagebrush, barbed wire scars ribboning the backs of his hands, his look of vicious disbelief twinned the one that skinny instructor from Connecticut gave m e so long ago. That night, after I finished my dinner, I started writing this. 8â&#x20AC;&#x201D;r I see that Kincheloe boy around now and again, at one of Harold's brandings or in at the hardware store. He's doing junior college over in Miles City. I hear he doesn't m u c h like it and is back h o m e most weekends. I hear he drinks, a lot. He'll probably'quit soon enough. He's not really that goo'd a farmhand or cowboy though. I guess he just doesn't know anything else to do. It's hard enough to see a place*, a fife, for what it is?- let alone reckon yourself somewhere or someone else. I know that. 'But the other day I gdt a letter from Mandy. She's transferred to Missoula. She h a d to take out some loans, since her parents wouldn't help her out, but she wanted something different. She s'aid that in her letter. She said she^wanted something different. A n d n o w I a m reading, for maybe the hundredth "time, the end of Mandy's letter, th&part where it says I s h o u l d x o m e out and see her sometime, in Missoula. A n d though T would like to, would like to see her there, my n a m e is Willie Crow, and I five in a trailer twelve miles down the" dirt and gravel of Crow Road.T work a ten h o u r d a y for fifty dollars. I read in the evening by fight of an oil lamp.T walk the ridge with my rifle. A n d f love her. A n d I a m sorry.

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or confuse'd around her like I a m around other girls, which is probably why we got along so well. A n d that's probably why, when she told m e her parents were going to be out of town for the weekend and that'l should come over on Friday night, I didn't think anything of it, not until the last possible moment, until I h a d pretty m u c h stepped off the bus and all the street lights were flickering o n u p a n d d o w n her street, and I ' m like, Wait a minuteY

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GODSAVE

Joanie Zazo's house is always u n d e r construction. She lives on Lake Drive, which runs along the shore of Lake Michigan and is at the edge of this cliff, so all the houses have really spectacular views. They have this gated drive and all these statues and fountains on the front l a w n - and>I don't mean'garden gnomes or those colored-globecrystal-ball looking things, I m e a n real marble statues that look like they were shipped o v e r b o r n Italy or Greece or wherever they make statues like t h a t - a n d after she buzzed m e through.it seemed like forever before I m a d e it ajl the way u p her driveway. I could see her there waiting for me, standing in one of the big, pperi double-doors, ,the light from the entranceway framing heriike--a postcard or an*alb u m cover. Âť Joanie dresses like a p u n k - that is, she pays serious money so that her clothes look like they, were pulled out qf a dumpster -f but she has this long, fine, straight blonde hair like she probably h a d when she was a little kid. I mean, Joanie is beautiful. Really.,If you saw Joanie and then you saw m e you'd be li^e, How do yoq even know a girl like that? Joanie was in my second period study hall, and I don't know, I guess I'd never thought that I'd h a d a, shot with her or anything, which m a d e it so there wasn't any real pressure, sp I wasn't nervous

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"Are you cpming in, Lowell?" she said, standing in the doorway, a n d m e still standing out on the lawn like an idiot. It drove m e nuts. W h e n a cute - ' n o , beautiful- girl says your n a m e like that, that's just the greatest thing. It's like they acknowledge you. You exist. You're somehow a part of their reality. Anyway, her place was truly amazing. They had this huge living room, like an auditorium or something - okay, maybe 1 not that big, but still - a n d you had to step down into it. TheyTiad all this leather furniture, a n d art o n the walls that actually 'looked like art, instead of something y o u r . m o m might have picked u p at a flea market-somewhere. I was blown away. I mean, you're in this place and you're looking out this huge window that's so big it even takes u p your peripheral vision, and Lake Michigan is'stretched out all across it, and you can see the lights from all these boats or whatever dotting the dark horizon, and it's like a house from a movie or something. But then you notice that there's a re-run of Full House, or something like that, playing on the television, or there's a copy of that day's Journal Sentinel on the coffee table, the same paper you know is sitting next to your dad's chair at h o m e - all smudged and folded wrong and j a m m e d in the magazine rack - and it makes you realize all at once that people actually live here. "The kitchen was just as impressive, like something out of a professional cooking magazine: two refrigerators," three kind's of ovens, this sausage grinder-type "device that looked like it came'from the future and all of it was stainless steel. I noticed that, sitting.on the counter top, next to the s i n k - this was one of those island things, and I was on one side and Joanie was on the other - there was an open bottle of Old Crow. Like a gracious hostess Joanie offered me some. "You want it with Coke?" she asked. "Or do you take it straight?" She said this la^t part with kind of a half-smile, like a couple kids, you know, like her and me, would never take it straight, not really.

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or confuse'd around her like I a m around other girls, which is probably why we got along so well. A n d that's probably why, when she told m e her parents were going to be out of town for the weekend and that'l should come over on Friday night, I didn't think anything of it, not until the last possible moment, until I h a d pretty m u c h stepped off the bus and all the street lights were flickering o n u p a n d d o w n her street, and I ' m like, Wait a minuteY

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GODSAVE

Joanie Zazo's house is always u n d e r construction. She lives on Lake Drive, which runs along the shore of Lake Michigan and is at the edge of this cliff, so all the houses have really spectacular views. They have this gated drive and all these statues and fountains on the front l a w n - and>I don't mean'garden gnomes or those colored-globecrystal-ball looking things, I m e a n real marble statues that look like they were shipped o v e r b o r n Italy or Greece or wherever they make statues like t h a t - a n d after she buzzed m e through.it seemed like forever before I m a d e it ajl the way u p her driveway. I could see her there waiting for me, standing in one of the big, pperi double-doors, ,the light from the entranceway framing heriike--a postcard or an*alb u m cover. Âť Joanie dresses like a p u n k - that is, she pays serious money so that her clothes look like they, were pulled out qf a dumpster -f but she has this long, fine, straight blonde hair like she probably h a d when she was a little kid. I mean, Joanie is beautiful. Really.,If you saw Joanie and then you saw m e you'd be li^e, How do yoq even know a girl like that? Joanie was in my second period study hall, and I don't know, I guess I'd never thought that I'd h a d a, shot with her or anything, which m a d e it so there wasn't any real pressure, sp I wasn't nervous

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Berkeley Fiction Review

"Are you cpming in, Lowell?" she said, standing in the doorway, a n d m e still standing out on the lawn like an idiot. It drove m e nuts. W h e n a cute - ' n o , beautiful- girl says your n a m e like that, that's just the greatest thing. It's like they acknowledge you. You exist. You're somehow a part of their reality. Anyway, her place was truly amazing. They had this huge living room, like an auditorium or something - okay, maybe 1 not that big, but still - a n d you had to step down into it. TheyTiad all this leather furniture, a n d art o n the walls that actually 'looked like art, instead of something y o u r . m o m might have picked u p at a flea market-somewhere. I was blown away. I mean, you're in this place and you're looking out this huge window that's so big it even takes u p your peripheral vision, and Lake Michigan is'stretched out all across it, and you can see the lights from all these boats or whatever dotting the dark horizon, and it's like a house from a movie or something. But then you notice that there's a re-run of Full House, or something like that, playing on the television, or there's a copy of that day's Journal Sentinel on the coffee table, the same paper you know is sitting next to your dad's chair at h o m e - all smudged and folded wrong and j a m m e d in the magazine rack - and it makes you realize all at once that people actually live here. "The kitchen was just as impressive, like something out of a professional cooking magazine: two refrigerators," three kind's of ovens, this sausage grinder-type "device that looked like it came'from the future and all of it was stainless steel. I noticed that, sitting.on the counter top, next to the s i n k - this was one of those island things, and I was on one side and Joanie was on the other - there was an open bottle of Old Crow. Like a gracious hostess Joanie offered me some. "You want it with Coke?" she asked. "Or do you take it straight?" She said this la^t part with kind of a half-smile, like a couple kids, you know, like her and me, would never take it straight, not really.

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"With Coke's fine," I said. We sipped our drinks and smiled awkwardly at one another and looked around the room. "So, what do your-,parents do anyway?," I said. She drank and cleared her throat. " M y m o m works for a bank," she said. "And my dad's Daniel Zazo." "The guy on TV?" "Yeah," she said. " N o shit," I said. You see his commercials all the time, this skinny guy wearing these big, goofy-looking glasses a n d a bowtie, a n d he's shouting at you: I sue drunks! No fee unless you win! A n d I'd wondered about that. I mean, Zazo isn't a n a m e you hear very often. I'd even seen one of his TV spots once a n d wondered if he and Joanie were somehow related. But then I thought, Nah. It was probably more comm o n than I'd realized. Just because J h a d n ' t heard it too m a n y times didn't m e a n it wasn't c o m m o n. "So is he like that in real life?" I asked, even though I knew she must get that question all the time. "It's an act," she said. "But, you know, sometimes he can be a dick. I don't know." " W h a t do you mean? Li^e how?" "Like, he's always, getting on m e about grades a n d school a n d stuff. I'll only pay for a state school Joanie" she said, changing her voice so that she sounded more like, I ' m guessing, her father. "Anything beyond that you '11 have to get on scholarship." I took another sip of my drink. She'd m a d e it strong, and my face â&#x20AC;˘was already getting hot. "That's how rich people stay rich," she continued - she did stuff like that, she'd make these statements every n o w and again about how things are, as if they couldn't really be any. way else. "I worked at Twinwood Oaks^over the summer, you know, the country club, bussing tables and stuff? They tip like nine percent." "Shit," I said. " W h a t a bunch of assholes." T h e n it was quiet. I'd finished m y first drink a n d helped myself to a second. "This is boring," Joanie said then. "I don't want to stay here all night. Let's do something." For a whole host of reasons I didn't want to, leave her house just then, or ever. "I have some pot," I told her. I thought this would make me seem exotic, you know, introducing the straight rich girl to drugs, a n d that we'd stick around a n d get high together, a n d then maybe

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things would lead to - well, I didn't really know because things had never really led m e there yet, with anybody. But Joanie only shrugged and crinkled u p her mouth, like pot was too blase or something. "I say we go for a walk," she said. She opened the refrigerator behind her and pulled out two twenty ounce bottles of Pepsi, cracked one and began pouring'it down the sink. She poured until there was barely enough left to fill the crown at the bottom, then she began pouring whiskey into it. T h e way the liquor clung and streamed down the sides, you couldn't tell if it was actually making it inside or dribbling out and down the outside instead. Once she'd filled the first one, she repeated the whole thing with the second, and then licked the spilled-over whiskey from her fingertips. "You ready?" she asked. "Sure," I said. "I'll just be a second, then. Wait here." Then she disappeared down the hall, leaving m e in the kitchen all by myself. I thought about Joanie's neighborhood", how they had their own police force that was different froth the one that looked after the rest of the city. I don't know, I guess m y neighborhood is one of those neighborhoods that people are always calling blue collar. You know: the houses all kind of look alike, but somehow they don't seem to quite go together. A n d our house is pretty big for what it is, and it's just the three of us now, and it's two stories, which, even though it seems small sometimes, is actually a lot of room'. W h e n Joanie came back I was looking at one of the paintings in the living room. It had a lamp mounted right on it, this little brass lamp all its own. " I ' m sorry I took so long," she said'. "I had to put on m y makeup." I hadn't even noticed, and I nevereverf let it occur to m e that she might have done it for my sake. " C o m e on," she said. "Let's get out of this fucking house." 8-TT We kept to Lake Drive, following it past the little park a couple blocks from Joanie's place, past all these huge houses on either side. Every once in a while Joanie would point one out and tell m e a story about the strange families inside. Like the lady w h o was doing all this community service for swiping thousands of dollars worth of

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"With Coke's fine," I said. We sipped our drinks and smiled awkwardly at one another and looked around the room. "So, what do your-,parents do anyway?," I said. She drank and cleared her throat. " M y m o m works for a bank," she said. "And my dad's Daniel Zazo." "The guy on TV?" "Yeah," she said. " N o shit," I said. You see his commercials all the time, this skinny guy wearing these big, goofy-looking glasses a n d a bowtie, a n d he's shouting at you: I sue drunks! No fee unless you win! A n d I'd wondered about that. I mean, Zazo isn't a n a m e you hear very often. I'd even seen one of his TV spots once a n d wondered if he and Joanie were somehow related. But then I thought, Nah. It was probably more comm o n than I'd realized. Just because J h a d n ' t heard it too m a n y times didn't m e a n it wasn't c o m m o n. "So is he like that in real life?" I asked, even though I knew she must get that question all the time. "It's an act," she said. "But, you know, sometimes he can be a dick. I don't know." " W h a t do you mean? Li^e how?" "Like, he's always, getting on m e about grades a n d school a n d stuff. I'll only pay for a state school Joanie" she said, changing her voice so that she sounded more like, I ' m guessing, her father. "Anything beyond that you '11 have to get on scholarship." I took another sip of my drink. She'd m a d e it strong, and my face â&#x20AC;˘was already getting hot. "That's how rich people stay rich," she continued - she did stuff like that, she'd make these statements every n o w and again about how things are, as if they couldn't really be any. way else. "I worked at Twinwood Oaks^over the summer, you know, the country club, bussing tables and stuff? They tip like nine percent." "Shit," I said. " W h a t a bunch of assholes." T h e n it was quiet. I'd finished m y first drink a n d helped myself to a second. "This is boring," Joanie said then. "I don't want to stay here all night. Let's do something." For a whole host of reasons I didn't want to, leave her house just then, or ever. "I have some pot," I told her. I thought this would make me seem exotic, you know, introducing the straight rich girl to drugs, a n d that we'd stick around a n d get high together, a n d then maybe

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things would lead to - well, I didn't really know because things had never really led m e there yet, with anybody. But Joanie only shrugged and crinkled u p her mouth, like pot was too blase or something. "I say we go for a walk," she said. She opened the refrigerator behind her and pulled out two twenty ounce bottles of Pepsi, cracked one and began pouring'it down the sink. She poured until there was barely enough left to fill the crown at the bottom, then she began pouring whiskey into it. T h e way the liquor clung and streamed down the sides, you couldn't tell if it was actually making it inside or dribbling out and down the outside instead. Once she'd filled the first one, she repeated the whole thing with the second, and then licked the spilled-over whiskey from her fingertips. "You ready?" she asked. "Sure," I said. "I'll just be a second, then. Wait here." Then she disappeared down the hall, leaving m e in the kitchen all by myself. I thought about Joanie's neighborhood", how they had their own police force that was different froth the one that looked after the rest of the city. I don't know, I guess m y neighborhood is one of those neighborhoods that people are always calling blue collar. You know: the houses all kind of look alike, but somehow they don't seem to quite go together. A n d our house is pretty big for what it is, and it's just the three of us now, and it's two stories, which, even though it seems small sometimes, is actually a lot of room'. W h e n Joanie came back I was looking at one of the paintings in the living room. It had a lamp mounted right on it, this little brass lamp all its own. " I ' m sorry I took so long," she said'. "I had to put on m y makeup." I hadn't even noticed, and I nevereverf let it occur to m e that she might have done it for my sake. " C o m e on," she said. "Let's get out of this fucking house." 8-TT We kept to Lake Drive, following it past the little park a couple blocks from Joanie's place, past all these huge houses on either side. Every once in a while Joanie would point one out and tell m e a story about the strange families inside. Like the lady w h o was doing all this community service for swiping thousands of dollars worth of

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prescription pain-killers from the free clinic where she did volunteer work, or the twin brothers who, a couple summers ago, threw this way-crazy mescaline sex orgy on the beach while their parents were away in France. Fucking rich people. Even their scandals are spectacular. We talked about music and television and school, and she asked me if it bothered m e at all ( that all the teachers and everyone else h a d been taking an active interest in m e lately. I just shrugged. "It's n o big deal I guess," I said, and we followed the sidewalk as it curved gently westward, away from the lake, until we found ourselves in this little commercial strip where the buildings are all m a d e u p with frilly trim and fake cobblestones so that, I guess, you're supposed to forget where you are and think you're in some kind of-New England coastal community. We walked around for a while without saying anything, ^past the organic produce store, past the Oriental rug outlet, past-a real cleanlooking Starbucks with all these happy-with-themselves people sitting out front. We walked past this cheesy Hallmark store place that looked like ftmight be getting ready to close u p for the night. "Can we go in here Lowell?" she said. "Please." "In here?" I said. "Why?" "Oh, come on," she said. "You can buy m e something nice." T h e store gave off this sticky kind of light, and one whole side of it was totally ripped up. These two girls from our school were moving stuff around over there, on the ripped up side, redecorating or something, getting ready for Thanksgiving or Christmas. There was this creepy old lady behind the counter. She h a d a rigid kind of fear about her, like she'd been living her whole life as one kind of person - a good person, or a rich person, or somethingjike that - and knew any minute she would be discovered as a fraud. Joanie and I threaded u p and down the aisles, laughing at all the goofy stuff they h a d there: the sad clowns, the porcelain children with enormous eyes, all the plaque-type things they had with all these un-funny sayings about golf on them. And on the seventh day God made golf. A bad day on the links still beats a good day at the office. Golf Widow. We were looking at this, rack of clearance Halloween stuff when Joanie asked m e if the old lady behind the counter was watching us. I turned to look. "I don't think so," I said and turned back. Joanie h a d her back to me, she was bent over a little bit, and she was trying to get this cartoony, witch-shaped candle

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to stay u p under her jacket. " W h a t the fuck are you doing?" I said. "I k n o w I know," she said. "Shut up." She was laughing and struggling with the candle. " W h a t do you want with something like that anyway?" I couldn't see the old lady anywhere, but the store h a d those fisheye mirrors in the corners that m a d e everything look all strange and confusing, and it was like I could sense or feel her gaze in them. "I don't know. Shut up. J u s t - " she said. And then she straightened herself up, trying to conceal the lump under her jacket in the crook of her elbow. "Okay, let's go," she said. W h e n you're in a situation like that you begin to understand all that stuff that they talk about in physics or whatever, all that stuff about relative motion and all that, because it's like, all of a sudden ybu're no longer moving, you're completely still, and your surroundings are moving, and the chintz-cluttered shelves are crawling past you like giant alien millipedes, bristling with polyurethane Garfields and plush Snoopy dolls. We got to within five feet of leaving when we heard the old lady's voice from behind us. "Oh, Miss," she said. "Young lady?" We didn't do anything. We just stood there. "Oh, Miss. Could you come here a second?" A n d I couldn't believe it, but Joanie actually turned around. "Yes?" she said, all mock-innocent and everything. "Miss, can 1 see what you have in your jacket?" "No," Joanie said. "You can't." I didn't even know refusal was an option. " I ' m sorry?" T h e old lady said. "No, you can't look in my jacket. I happen to know that you have n o right to look in my jacket." The two girls from our school had stopped working, and now they stood there staring at us. "Miss," the old lady said. "If you don't show m e what you have in your jacket I will be forced to call the police." It really seemed like she was enjoying this, fucking with us, fucking with Joanie. "Then call the police," Joanie said. "Excuse me?" T h e old lady cocked her head towards us, as if the problem wasn't that she couldn't believe what she'd heard, but that she hadn't really heard Joanie correctly at all.

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prescription pain-killers from the free clinic where she did volunteer work, or the twin brothers who, a couple summers ago, threw this way-crazy mescaline sex orgy on the beach while their parents were away in France. Fucking rich people. Even their scandals are spectacular. We talked about music and television and school, and she asked me if it bothered m e at all ( that all the teachers and everyone else h a d been taking an active interest in m e lately. I just shrugged. "It's n o big deal I guess," I said, and we followed the sidewalk as it curved gently westward, away from the lake, until we found ourselves in this little commercial strip where the buildings are all m a d e u p with frilly trim and fake cobblestones so that, I guess, you're supposed to forget where you are and think you're in some kind of-New England coastal community. We walked around for a while without saying anything, ^past the organic produce store, past the Oriental rug outlet, past-a real cleanlooking Starbucks with all these happy-with-themselves people sitting out front. We walked past this cheesy Hallmark store place that looked like ftmight be getting ready to close u p for the night. "Can we go in here Lowell?" she said. "Please." "In here?" I said. "Why?" "Oh, come on," she said. "You can buy m e something nice." T h e store gave off this sticky kind of light, and one whole side of it was totally ripped up. These two girls from our school were moving stuff around over there, on the ripped up side, redecorating or something, getting ready for Thanksgiving or Christmas. There was this creepy old lady behind the counter. She h a d a rigid kind of fear about her, like she'd been living her whole life as one kind of person - a good person, or a rich person, or somethingjike that - and knew any minute she would be discovered as a fraud. Joanie and I threaded u p and down the aisles, laughing at all the goofy stuff they h a d there: the sad clowns, the porcelain children with enormous eyes, all the plaque-type things they had with all these un-funny sayings about golf on them. And on the seventh day God made golf. A bad day on the links still beats a good day at the office. Golf Widow. We were looking at this, rack of clearance Halloween stuff when Joanie asked m e if the old lady behind the counter was watching us. I turned to look. "I don't think so," I said and turned back. Joanie h a d her back to me, she was bent over a little bit, and she was trying to get this cartoony, witch-shaped candle

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to stay u p under her jacket. " W h a t the fuck are you doing?" I said. "I k n o w I know," she said. "Shut up." She was laughing and struggling with the candle. " W h a t do you want with something like that anyway?" I couldn't see the old lady anywhere, but the store h a d those fisheye mirrors in the corners that m a d e everything look all strange and confusing, and it was like I could sense or feel her gaze in them. "I don't know. Shut up. J u s t - " she said. And then she straightened herself up, trying to conceal the lump under her jacket in the crook of her elbow. "Okay, let's go," she said. W h e n you're in a situation like that you begin to understand all that stuff that they talk about in physics or whatever, all that stuff about relative motion and all that, because it's like, all of a sudden ybu're no longer moving, you're completely still, and your surroundings are moving, and the chintz-cluttered shelves are crawling past you like giant alien millipedes, bristling with polyurethane Garfields and plush Snoopy dolls. We got to within five feet of leaving when we heard the old lady's voice from behind us. "Oh, Miss," she said. "Young lady?" We didn't do anything. We just stood there. "Oh, Miss. Could you come here a second?" A n d I couldn't believe it, but Joanie actually turned around. "Yes?" she said, all mock-innocent and everything. "Miss, can 1 see what you have in your jacket?" "No," Joanie said. "You can't." I didn't even know refusal was an option. " I ' m sorry?" T h e old lady said. "No, you can't look in my jacket. I happen to know that you have n o right to look in my jacket." The two girls from our school had stopped working, and now they stood there staring at us. "Miss," the old lady said. "If you don't show m e what you have in your jacket I will be forced to call the police." It really seemed like she was enjoying this, fucking with us, fucking with Joanie. "Then call the police," Joanie said. "Excuse me?" T h e old lady cocked her head towards us, as if the problem wasn't that she couldn't believe what she'd heard, but that she hadn't really heard Joanie correctly at all.

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"Call. The fucking. Police." Joanie said it like it was a command, like this ( lady was the help or something. I'll admit it, I was trembling now, and n o matter how hard I tried I couldn't stop it. I have this rule, where I don't do anything that will in any way attract my parents' attention - it's just sort of easier that way, you know, if they forget I ' m there - and being brought h o m e in a squad car would have been in serious viqlation of that rule. "Angela. Brooke," the old lady said. "Would one of you please get the police department on the phone?" The two of them, Brooke a n d Angela, stood there and looked at each other for a while, like neither one wanted to be a narc in front of the other, or in front of us. T h e n the one, Brooke I think, went back to this closet-type r o o m and picked u p the phone. Joanie and the old lady h a d locked eyes and it seemed like neither of them was going to move. "Give m e what you have in your jacket and you can go," the old lady said. She was creeping towards Joanie now, all slow, with her hands u p in front of her, the way you see people doing on TV or in the movies. "We can go anyway," Joanie said, a n d turned to me. " C o m e on, Lowell." T h e old lady lunged at Joanie then and grabbed hold of her forearm. " O h n o you don't," she said. A n d what happened next I can hardly believe - 1 couldn't really believe it as I was w.atching it happen, a n d it's almost harder to believe it n ow as I ' m telling you this - as the old lady grabbed hold of Joanie, Joanie turned and snatched her arm back, and right as she did that, she laid this open-hand slap across the old lacty's face, like the whole thing was just a reflex or instinct. ^ ^ Crack. Like that. Crack. But as she's doing that, as she's swinging out at the old lady, her a r m is n o longer holding the candle u p under her jacket, so it falls out a n d clunks on the floor and kind of rolls around, in this curved and elliptical path, then comes to a stop with everyone in the store looking down at it. Just staring at it there o n the floor. It was real quiet then. T h e old lady had brought her hand up to her face, like she was totally shocked by the whole thing, and this red splotch was starting to b l o om o n her cheek. But Joanie just stood there, stone-still, staring at the old lady with her m o u t h set rigid and

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her eyes burning, like she h a d this incredible dignity about her, a dignity bordering on insanity. Now, all of this was pretty fucked up, b u t it was w h a t Joanie did next that really blew m e away: First, she smoothed ou t the sleeve of her jacket where it had wrinkled a bit under the old lady's grasp; next she walked over to where the candle was sitting tipped over on its side; then, all graceful and everything, she picked the thing up off the floor. She stood and looked the old lady right in the face, looked right at the other girl from our school, Angela, w h o was still standing in shock like the rest of us, and in plain view of us all, she put the candle back u p under her jacket. Then she turned around, set her shoulders, and walked out, slowly, steadily, like she wasn't even drunk anymore. Once we were outside we were just sprinting d o w n the sidewalk, pumping our arms like mad. Joanie was a g o o d ten feet ahead, and at one point she looked back at m e with these wild eyes then cut quick to the other side of the street, n o t caring one way or the other about cars or buses or anything like that. I followed her as she cut across parking lots and down alleyways and through people's back yards, skirting pools and privacy hedges and swingsets, and at one point I seriously caught my hip on some stupid bird bath thing that ended up crashing to the ground a n d totally breaking in two. We jogged and jogged till we were back by that little park, a few blocks from Joanie's house. Joanie stopped at the top of these stairs or steps that led to the beach below, and looked around, like she was growing impatient with me. " C o m e on, Lowell," she said. " D o w n here." 8-TT T h e stairs were woo d and they zigzagged down the face of this cliff that must have been close to a hundred yards high. " C o m e on," she said, and we^ran all the way down, taking the steps two or three at a time, back and forth, and back and forth, for like forever until we got to the beach. Joanie was o u t of breath, bent over, her hands on her knees, and she was starting to laugh. M y throat was all phlegmy and parched at the same time. " W h a t the fuck," I said. " W h a t the fuck were you thinking?" "What?" she said. "We m a d e it. N o worries."

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"Call. The fucking. Police." Joanie said it like it was a command, like this ( lady was the help or something. I'll admit it, I was trembling now, and n o matter how hard I tried I couldn't stop it. I have this rule, where I don't do anything that will in any way attract my parents' attention - it's just sort of easier that way, you know, if they forget I ' m there - and being brought h o m e in a squad car would have been in serious viqlation of that rule. "Angela. Brooke," the old lady said. "Would one of you please get the police department on the phone?" The two of them, Brooke a n d Angela, stood there and looked at each other for a while, like neither one wanted to be a narc in front of the other, or in front of us. T h e n the one, Brooke I think, went back to this closet-type r o o m and picked u p the phone. Joanie and the old lady h a d locked eyes and it seemed like neither of them was going to move. "Give m e what you have in your jacket and you can go," the old lady said. She was creeping towards Joanie now, all slow, with her hands u p in front of her, the way you see people doing on TV or in the movies. "We can go anyway," Joanie said, a n d turned to me. " C o m e on, Lowell." T h e old lady lunged at Joanie then and grabbed hold of her forearm. " O h n o you don't," she said. A n d what happened next I can hardly believe - 1 couldn't really believe it as I was w.atching it happen, a n d it's almost harder to believe it n ow as I ' m telling you this - as the old lady grabbed hold of Joanie, Joanie turned and snatched her arm back, and right as she did that, she laid this open-hand slap across the old lacty's face, like the whole thing was just a reflex or instinct. ^ ^ Crack. Like that. Crack. But as she's doing that, as she's swinging out at the old lady, her a r m is n o longer holding the candle u p under her jacket, so it falls out a n d clunks on the floor and kind of rolls around, in this curved and elliptical path, then comes to a stop with everyone in the store looking down at it. Just staring at it there o n the floor. It was real quiet then. T h e old lady had brought her hand up to her face, like she was totally shocked by the whole thing, and this red splotch was starting to b l o om o n her cheek. But Joanie just stood there, stone-still, staring at the old lady with her m o u t h set rigid and

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her eyes burning, like she h a d this incredible dignity about her, a dignity bordering on insanity. Now, all of this was pretty fucked up, b u t it was w h a t Joanie did next that really blew m e away: First, she smoothed ou t the sleeve of her jacket where it had wrinkled a bit under the old lady's grasp; next she walked over to where the candle was sitting tipped over on its side; then, all graceful and everything, she picked the thing up off the floor. She stood and looked the old lady right in the face, looked right at the other girl from our school, Angela, w h o was still standing in shock like the rest of us, and in plain view of us all, she put the candle back u p under her jacket. Then she turned around, set her shoulders, and walked out, slowly, steadily, like she wasn't even drunk anymore. Once we were outside we were just sprinting d o w n the sidewalk, pumping our arms like mad. Joanie was a g o o d ten feet ahead, and at one point she looked back at m e with these wild eyes then cut quick to the other side of the street, n o t caring one way or the other about cars or buses or anything like that. I followed her as she cut across parking lots and down alleyways and through people's back yards, skirting pools and privacy hedges and swingsets, and at one point I seriously caught my hip on some stupid bird bath thing that ended up crashing to the ground a n d totally breaking in two. We jogged and jogged till we were back by that little park, a few blocks from Joanie's house. Joanie stopped at the top of these stairs or steps that led to the beach below, and looked around, like she was growing impatient with me. " C o m e on, Lowell," she said. " D o w n here." 8-TT T h e stairs were woo d and they zigzagged down the face of this cliff that must have been close to a hundred yards high. " C o m e on," she said, and we^ran all the way down, taking the steps two or three at a time, back and forth, and back and forth, for like forever until we got to the beach. Joanie was o u t of breath, bent over, her hands on her knees, and she was starting to laugh. M y throat was all phlegmy and parched at the same time. " W h a t the fuck," I said. " W h a t the fuck were you thinking?" "What?" she said. "We m a d e it. N o worries."

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" N o worries! Joanie, those two girls, fucking Angela and whatever-the-fuck's-her-name. They totally recognized us. You can be such a bitch sometimes, you know." "Oh, come on," she said. "Relax a little bit, will you, Lowell?" I sat down on this log. It was dark there, on the beach, and it's weird, because when you're there, you're like as far as you can get from the city without really leaving it. I could see all these gulls out on the water, and they were sleeping and sort of bobbing on the waves, but in the dark like that they looked blurry, like white smudges on tjlack paper. "Sure, why should you worry?" I said - and listening to myself, even then, I could tell I was whining. "Your dad's a lawyer." "Is that what this is about?" she said. "Seriously?" I didn't say anything. It felt good to be pissed at her right then. "I don't think you have to worry about anything like that Lowell," she said. " I ' m the shoplifter here. You're just some kid w h o was tagging along. Okay? Lowell?" "You're drunk," I said. "And you didn't do anything." I could hear the lake lapping gently against the shore somewhere out in the dark. Joanie h a d taken a seat next to m e on the log,~and she was rustling around in her pocket. Even though I was totally pissed off at her at that point, I found myself running through all these scenarios in my head where the two of us ended u p having sex. I looked over. She h a d a lighter out and she was trying to light the wick on her jusj-stolen witch-candle thing, but the flame wouldn't catqh. T h e flint would spark and leave these star-shaped after-images on my retinas, or whatever they are, that would fade away just as she clicked the lighter again. After a while I cupped my hands around the fighter and the flame caught, and the wick caught, and-it flickered in the breeze and then steadied. She held, the candle in front of my face and sort of waved it around a little bit, like the witch was supposed to be flying, or levitating. "Oooopooh," she said. "Oooooh," in this mock-scary voice. "Ooooooh," she was saying. Laughing. "Ooooooh , Lowell," she said. "Loooowelll." "That's so stupid," I said, laughing a little, though I was trying not to. " I ' m not stuuuupid Loooooowellll," she said. I looked at her and she kind of smiled at me. " I ' m sorry," she said.

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D o w n the beach there was a canoe or dinghy leaning against an abandoned lifeguard station and in the dark it looked like a beached porpoise or manatee. Joanie put the candle at her feet and shored the sides up with sand, then she sat there for a while not saying anything, just looking at the candle, getting lost in its flame. "Didn't you say you had some pot?" she said. "Yeah," I said. She dug around in her jacket pocket again and then held these four huge pills out to me. "I'll trade you." " W h a t are they?" I asked. "I don't know. Some kind of pain-killer or muscle-relaxer. They've got a n a m e I can't even pronounce. Xano-something. Phano-something. I don't know. M y dad h a d to take them when he hurt his back." She handed two of them to m e and I turned them over in my hand. They were powdery blue and big'like they were a joke or a cartoon. "I don't have anything to wash'them down with," I said. "That's okay," she told me. "You can take them dry." A n d she showed m e how you can tilt your head and stick your fingers way back by the curve of your tongue and drop them and swallow hard and sort of massage your throat so that they go down'easy. That's how she did it anyway. I almost gagged and cut my throat u p pretty bad. After that, I rolled a joint and we smoked it. " W h e n your brother was sick," Joanie said, blowing softly on the burnt-down roach she held between her slender fingers. "My parents h a d m e bring this check into school. For that collection and everything." "Yeah?" I said. "Thanks." "Yeah, well," she said. "It didn't really do any good." I didn't say anything. "But, you know, I guess it was-nice'of "them'and everything that they did that, but I mean, part of m e thinks that they were doing it for these totally selfish reasons. Like, after they gave all that money, your m o m sent us this card thanking them for their generosity and all that, and they put it u p on the refrigerator. Where everyone can see it. Like, Look at us and the totally nice thing we did. i don't know. M y parents are fucked up." "Well-," I said. "People like to feel good I guess." "I can still remember that thermometer thing they h a d in the library. H o w they kept filling in more and more at first. A n d everyone

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" N o worries! Joanie, those two girls, fucking Angela and whatever-the-fuck's-her-name. They totally recognized us. You can be such a bitch sometimes, you know." "Oh, come on," she said. "Relax a little bit, will you, Lowell?" I sat down on this log. It was dark there, on the beach, and it's weird, because when you're there, you're like as far as you can get from the city without really leaving it. I could see all these gulls out on the water, and they were sleeping and sort of bobbing on the waves, but in the dark like that they looked blurry, like white smudges on tjlack paper. "Sure, why should you worry?" I said - and listening to myself, even then, I could tell I was whining. "Your dad's a lawyer." "Is that what this is about?" she said. "Seriously?" I didn't say anything. It felt good to be pissed at her right then. "I don't think you have to worry about anything like that Lowell," she said. " I ' m the shoplifter here. You're just some kid w h o was tagging along. Okay? Lowell?" "You're drunk," I said. "And you didn't do anything." I could hear the lake lapping gently against the shore somewhere out in the dark. Joanie h a d taken a seat next to m e on the log,~and she was rustling around in her pocket. Even though I was totally pissed off at her at that point, I found myself running through all these scenarios in my head where the two of us ended u p having sex. I looked over. She h a d a lighter out and she was trying to light the wick on her jusj-stolen witch-candle thing, but the flame wouldn't catqh. T h e flint would spark and leave these star-shaped after-images on my retinas, or whatever they are, that would fade away just as she clicked the lighter again. After a while I cupped my hands around the fighter and the flame caught, and the wick caught, and-it flickered in the breeze and then steadied. She held, the candle in front of my face and sort of waved it around a little bit, like the witch was supposed to be flying, or levitating. "Oooopooh," she said. "Oooooh," in this mock-scary voice. "Ooooooh," she was saying. Laughing. "Ooooooh , Lowell," she said. "Loooowelll." "That's so stupid," I said, laughing a little, though I was trying not to. " I ' m not stuuuupid Loooooowellll," she said. I looked at her and she kind of smiled at me. " I ' m sorry," she said.

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D o w n the beach there was a canoe or dinghy leaning against an abandoned lifeguard station and in the dark it looked like a beached porpoise or manatee. Joanie put the candle at her feet and shored the sides up with sand, then she sat there for a while not saying anything, just looking at the candle, getting lost in its flame. "Didn't you say you had some pot?" she said. "Yeah," I said. She dug around in her jacket pocket again and then held these four huge pills out to me. "I'll trade you." " W h a t are they?" I asked. "I don't know. Some kind of pain-killer or muscle-relaxer. They've got a n a m e I can't even pronounce. Xano-something. Phano-something. I don't know. M y dad h a d to take them when he hurt his back." She handed two of them to m e and I turned them over in my hand. They were powdery blue and big'like they were a joke or a cartoon. "I don't have anything to wash'them down with," I said. "That's okay," she told me. "You can take them dry." A n d she showed m e how you can tilt your head and stick your fingers way back by the curve of your tongue and drop them and swallow hard and sort of massage your throat so that they go down'easy. That's how she did it anyway. I almost gagged and cut my throat u p pretty bad. After that, I rolled a joint and we smoked it. " W h e n your brother was sick," Joanie said, blowing softly on the burnt-down roach she held between her slender fingers. "My parents h a d m e bring this check into school. For that collection and everything." "Yeah?" I said. "Thanks." "Yeah, well," she said. "It didn't really do any good." I didn't say anything. "But, you know, I guess it was-nice'of "them'and everything that they did that, but I mean, part of m e thinks that they were doing it for these totally selfish reasons. Like, after they gave all that money, your m o m sent us this card thanking them for their generosity and all that, and they put it u p on the refrigerator. Where everyone can see it. Like, Look at us and the totally nice thing we did. i don't know. M y parents are fucked up." "Well-," I said. "People like to feel good I guess." "I can still remember that thermometer thing they h a d in the library. H o w they kept filling in more and more at first. A n d everyone

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was so excited for a-few weeks, but then it just sort of stalled. You went by and it was like it was stuck there, half way up. That always made m e sad." "Yeah," I said. I started to feel like something was unfolding inside me, like one of those time-lapse films of flowers blooming, and everything started to glow aroun d the edges and at the same time it all became far away. "My brother died too," Joanie said. "A few years ago." "Yeah?" I didn't know w h a t else to say. I knew there wasn't really anything to say. "Yeah," she said. "In Honduras." " W h a t was your brother doing in Honduras?" "I don't know. Building houses. Getting high. You know. The good fucking Samaritan. H e went there through his school and decided he was never coming back. H e was always talking all about like, rejecting America and embracing some^ kind of pure form of existence or something. I don't know. That's what he would say. H e was all excited because he was living in this shitty neighborhood, across the street from this brothel or something, and he'd pay these hooker ladies to talk to h i m in Spanish." " H o w old was he?" "He was a lot older than me. A lot older." "So, did he get-shot or something?" "No. Car accident," she said. " M y dad went down there for a while. H e was convinced it was somebody's fault, but it wasn't anyone's fault." "Wow," I said. "Yeah," Joanie said. I wanted to put m y a r m around her,s!?ut,I'was too high - or at least that's what I tell myself when I look back on it - and I couldn't figure out if that was the right, or the totally wrong thing to do. So I d i d n ' t d o anything. After a while Joanie wiped her, nose on the sleeve of her jacket. "I don't want to talk about this anyway," she said. She got up, a bit unsteady at first, but then she skipped away in the direction of the lake. She skipped, you know, like she was a little kid or something, but you could tell it was kind of a n act, like she was trying to give m e the impression - more like she was trying to give herself the impression that she was okay with everything. u

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I watched her kneel down at the water's edge and r u n her open hands across the surface, and then sort of slap at it with them, and then submerge t h e m to her wrists. She let her h a i r fall forward so that the water wetted the ends. I just sat and watched her, her hair fallen over her face like a curtain or a veil and gently swishing around her as these tiny waves came in and went oack out again. I went and stood over her. "Joanie," I said. I put my liand on her shoulder. "Joanie."

Joanie was babbling all these nonsense words as I lugged tier like dead-weight u p the stairs and down the two blocks to her house. I still remember how her body curved into the crook'of my arm, how her ribs felt like a bird's, like I might accidentally break them. I had to shake her a bit finally, so tllat she could de-activate the alarm on her front dpor. "I think I ' m kind of fucked ,up," f sbe said as she poked at the keypad. I managed to get her to her r o o m and into her bed, and Lwas about to leave when she said my name. "Lowell," she said. "Yeah," I said, quietly, almost forgetting that the two of us were entirely alone in that house. "Are you leaving?" She said. She still hadn't opened her eyes. "Yeah," I said. "I've got to go." " I ' m sorry if you: didn't have a good time with me." "No," I said. "That's not it at all. Curfew, you know. M y parents..." Joanie rocked side to side on her bed, like she was trying to turn over but didn't have the strength. "I can't sleep like this," she said. "You have.to help me'out of my clothes." She tried to pull her socks off r b u r l i e r "thumbs kept slipping free from the elastic. "Here," I said. "Hold on." I slid her socks off and she gave m e this drunken smile. Her feet were small arid kind of pudgy - no, not pudgy, just smooth. N o t like a guy's feet/no t like my feet, all bony and angular and stuff. I could hear her opening the zipper on her jeans. " N o w my pants," she said. She laid back down, and her back ? was arched, and she was pushing her jeans off her hips. It was'hard for m e to breathe. "Help me" she said, kind of pleading but kind of giggling at the same time.

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was so excited for a-few weeks, but then it just sort of stalled. You went by and it was like it was stuck there, half way up. That always made m e sad." "Yeah," I said. I started to feel like something was unfolding inside me, like one of those time-lapse films of flowers blooming, and everything started to glow aroun d the edges and at the same time it all became far away. "My brother died too," Joanie said. "A few years ago." "Yeah?" I didn't know w h a t else to say. I knew there wasn't really anything to say. "Yeah," she said. "In Honduras." " W h a t was your brother doing in Honduras?" "I don't know. Building houses. Getting high. You know. The good fucking Samaritan. H e went there through his school and decided he was never coming back. H e was always talking all about like, rejecting America and embracing some^ kind of pure form of existence or something. I don't know. That's what he would say. H e was all excited because he was living in this shitty neighborhood, across the street from this brothel or something, and he'd pay these hooker ladies to talk to h i m in Spanish." " H o w old was he?" "He was a lot older than me. A lot older." "So, did he get-shot or something?" "No. Car accident," she said. " M y dad went down there for a while. H e was convinced it was somebody's fault, but it wasn't anyone's fault." "Wow," I said. "Yeah," Joanie said. I wanted to put m y a r m around her,s!?ut,I'was too high - or at least that's what I tell myself when I look back on it - and I couldn't figure out if that was the right, or the totally wrong thing to do. So I d i d n ' t d o anything. After a while Joanie wiped her, nose on the sleeve of her jacket. "I don't want to talk about this anyway," she said. She got up, a bit unsteady at first, but then she skipped away in the direction of the lake. She skipped, you know, like she was a little kid or something, but you could tell it was kind of a n act, like she was trying to give m e the impression - more like she was trying to give herself the impression that she was okay with everything. u

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I watched her kneel down at the water's edge and r u n her open hands across the surface, and then sort of slap at it with them, and then submerge t h e m to her wrists. She let her h a i r fall forward so that the water wetted the ends. I just sat and watched her, her hair fallen over her face like a curtain or a veil and gently swishing around her as these tiny waves came in and went oack out again. I went and stood over her. "Joanie," I said. I put my liand on her shoulder. "Joanie."

Joanie was babbling all these nonsense words as I lugged tier like dead-weight u p the stairs and down the two blocks to her house. I still remember how her body curved into the crook'of my arm, how her ribs felt like a bird's, like I might accidentally break them. I had to shake her a bit finally, so tllat she could de-activate the alarm on her front dpor. "I think I ' m kind of fucked ,up," f sbe said as she poked at the keypad. I managed to get her to her r o o m and into her bed, and Lwas about to leave when she said my name. "Lowell," she said. "Yeah," I said, quietly, almost forgetting that the two of us were entirely alone in that house. "Are you leaving?" She said. She still hadn't opened her eyes. "Yeah," I said. "I've got to go." " I ' m sorry if you: didn't have a good time with me." "No," I said. "That's not it at all. Curfew, you know. M y parents..." Joanie rocked side to side on her bed, like she was trying to turn over but didn't have the strength. "I can't sleep like this," she said. "You have.to help me'out of my clothes." She tried to pull her socks off r b u r l i e r "thumbs kept slipping free from the elastic. "Here," I said. "Hold on." I slid her socks off and she gave m e this drunken smile. Her feet were small arid kind of pudgy - no, not pudgy, just smooth. N o t like a guy's feet/no t like my feet, all bony and angular and stuff. I could hear her opening the zipper on her jeans. " N o w my pants," she said. She laid back down, and her back ? was arched, and she was pushing her jeans off her hips. It was'hard for m e to breathe. "Help me" she said, kind of pleading but kind of giggling at the same time.

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So I pulled her jeans off..My fingers grazed the smooth skin at the side of her knee a n d it was like I was blind for a second. Her legs'were thin a n d curved, a n d i h e y kind of shone. Her skin shone, but n ot like it was oily or greasy or something, more like it was,clean, so clean you could bounce light off it. " I ' m gonna sit u p now," she said, a n d swung her naked legs off the bed, throwing her body u p towards m e at the same time. " N o w m y shirt," she said, but she didn't move. She was just there, leaning against me, her h e a d kind of irr m y shoulder. " D o you want to kiss me?" she asked. "Yes," I said. She lifted her face to me. Her eyes were clqsed a n d the way she smiled I could just barely see the white of her upper teeth. I think I pressed too hard at first, but somehow, with just her lips, she corrected me, a n d there was this whooshing s o u n d in my ears. After, a while she asked m e if I wanted to lie dpwn and I did, so we fell back on her bed, and we kissed and kind of awkwardly fooled around for a while. A t some point it all started to seem totally natural, like we'd done this a thousand times before, like it was something we'd been born to do or something. A n d then I found myself between her legs - 1 still h a d m y clothes o n though - a n d w e were w h a t people call dry-humping, jwhich makes it sound ridiculous and unimportant, but I don't know what else to call it. She h a d her hands up under my shirt a n d she was digging her nails into my -skin a n d m y stomach felt like it was folding in half. Suddenly I felt like I understood how someone could become a n y m p h o or heroin addict. A n d I pushed myself u p a n d kind of looked down, at her a n d she was making these moaning sounds and she h a d her eyes shut. A n d then she sort of said something. A n d I thought she was being aU sweet and tender or whatever, so I kind of grinned, a n d in this way-lame a n d mushy voice, I go, "Yes? Yes, Joanie? W h a t is it?" A n d she goes, "It's all my fault, Lowell." Whenever m y little brother creeps, into m y head, despite everything I ' m doing to keep h i m out, it's not the grueso^ne stuff I see, it's not the jaundiced skin, or distended eyes, or mealy gums, or the bag he h a d on his hip. N o , it's h i m w h e n h e was younger, a n d land of normal, and he's wearing his favorite shirt, this yellow thing with green sleeves and the number fourteen on it. "What?" I said. A n d she got all, aggressive. She p u t her h a n d

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u p behind my head and she grabbed hold of m y ear, and pulled me down on top of her. " C o m e on, Lowell," she said. " C o m e on." A n d she pushed m e over so that she was half on top of me and half next to me, burying her face in my neck and she's going, " C o m e on, Lowell. C o m e on." A n d I ' m like, "Hold on." But she wouldn't stop. She had her tongue in my ear and m y stomach did that folding thing again. She got a hold of my belt, and she was struggling with the buckle. "Tell me it's m y fault, Lowell,"'she said. A n d I pushed her away. "Stop," I said. "Just stop it." "Tell me it's my fault, Lowell," she said. Pleaded is what she did. "Joanie," I said. "Stop it." I wanted so bad to go through with it, you know. I closed my eyes, let her touch my face. I felt her kissing me. "I watcfryou sometimes, Lowell. You're so angry and you l don't really even know it: You're just like me," she said. "Just tell m e it's my fault." I pushed her away-from m e like she was diseased, or I was. "You don't fucking know me," I said. "Lowell," she said. "Shut the fuck up," I said. "Shut the fuck up. Shut the fuck up. Shut the fuck up." A n d there was this sharp ring as my words bounced off the walls of her room. Joanie rolled over then and curled up, her back to me. Once again, I wanted to put my a r m around her, but I didn't know ho w she'd interpret it, or react to it or whatever, so I didn't do anything. I just laid there, staring at her ceiling. Joanie's r o o m was small, at least small compared to the rest of the house. It was a typical girl's room. It was clean, and h a d all these posters on the walls for bands and stuff - most of them I'd never eyen-heardof - and pictures cut out of magazines, and everything was hung perfectly straight, and there was that just-right amount of space between everything, like she'd really thought about it, like every time she put u p a new poster or picture she had to take everything down and put it back u p again so that it was perfect. She h a d this bookcase filled with books that I've heard of but that, you know, you're not supposed to read until college. She h a d this portable record player, and all these LPs that were older than she was, and I noticed she h a d all these pictures of this guy that I ' m assuming was her brother. He looked like a Kennedy. H e looked like he prob-

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So I pulled her jeans off..My fingers grazed the smooth skin at the side of her knee a n d it was like I was blind for a second. Her legs'were thin a n d curved, a n d i h e y kind of shone. Her skin shone, but n ot like it was oily or greasy or something, more like it was,clean, so clean you could bounce light off it. " I ' m gonna sit u p now," she said, a n d swung her naked legs off the bed, throwing her body u p towards m e at the same time. " N o w m y shirt," she said, but she didn't move. She was just there, leaning against me, her h e a d kind of irr m y shoulder. " D o you want to kiss me?" she asked. "Yes," I said. She lifted her face to me. Her eyes were clqsed a n d the way she smiled I could just barely see the white of her upper teeth. I think I pressed too hard at first, but somehow, with just her lips, she corrected me, a n d there was this whooshing s o u n d in my ears. After, a while she asked m e if I wanted to lie dpwn and I did, so we fell back on her bed, and we kissed and kind of awkwardly fooled around for a while. A t some point it all started to seem totally natural, like we'd done this a thousand times before, like it was something we'd been born to do or something. A n d then I found myself between her legs - 1 still h a d m y clothes o n though - a n d w e were w h a t people call dry-humping, jwhich makes it sound ridiculous and unimportant, but I don't know what else to call it. She h a d her hands up under my shirt a n d she was digging her nails into my -skin a n d m y stomach felt like it was folding in half. Suddenly I felt like I understood how someone could become a n y m p h o or heroin addict. A n d I pushed myself u p a n d kind of looked down, at her a n d she was making these moaning sounds and she h a d her eyes shut. A n d then she sort of said something. A n d I thought she was being aU sweet and tender or whatever, so I kind of grinned, a n d in this way-lame a n d mushy voice, I go, "Yes? Yes, Joanie? W h a t is it?" A n d she goes, "It's all my fault, Lowell." Whenever m y little brother creeps, into m y head, despite everything I ' m doing to keep h i m out, it's not the grueso^ne stuff I see, it's not the jaundiced skin, or distended eyes, or mealy gums, or the bag he h a d on his hip. N o , it's h i m w h e n h e was younger, a n d land of normal, and he's wearing his favorite shirt, this yellow thing with green sleeves and the number fourteen on it. "What?" I said. A n d she got all, aggressive. She p u t her h a n d

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u p behind my head and she grabbed hold of m y ear, and pulled me down on top of her. " C o m e on, Lowell," she said. " C o m e on." A n d she pushed m e over so that she was half on top of me and half next to me, burying her face in my neck and she's going, " C o m e on, Lowell. C o m e on." A n d I ' m like, "Hold on." But she wouldn't stop. She had her tongue in my ear and m y stomach did that folding thing again. She got a hold of my belt, and she was struggling with the buckle. "Tell me it's m y fault, Lowell,"'she said. A n d I pushed her away. "Stop," I said. "Just stop it." "Tell me it's my fault, Lowell," she said. Pleaded is what she did. "Joanie," I said. "Stop it." I wanted so bad to go through with it, you know. I closed my eyes, let her touch my face. I felt her kissing me. "I watcfryou sometimes, Lowell. You're so angry and you l don't really even know it: You're just like me," she said. "Just tell m e it's my fault." I pushed her away-from m e like she was diseased, or I was. "You don't fucking know me," I said. "Lowell," she said. "Shut the fuck up," I said. "Shut the fuck up. Shut the fuck up. Shut the fuck up." A n d there was this sharp ring as my words bounced off the walls of her room. Joanie rolled over then and curled up, her back to me. Once again, I wanted to put my a r m around her, but I didn't know ho w she'd interpret it, or react to it or whatever, so I didn't do anything. I just laid there, staring at her ceiling. Joanie's r o o m was small, at least small compared to the rest of the house. It was a typical girl's room. It was clean, and h a d all these posters on the walls for bands and stuff - most of them I'd never eyen-heardof - and pictures cut out of magazines, and everything was hung perfectly straight, and there was that just-right amount of space between everything, like she'd really thought about it, like every time she put u p a new poster or picture she had to take everything down and put it back u p again so that it was perfect. She h a d this bookcase filled with books that I've heard of but that, you know, you're not supposed to read until college. She h a d this portable record player, and all these LPs that were older than she was, and I noticed she h a d all these pictures of this guy that I ' m assuming was her brother. He looked like a Kennedy. H e looked like he prob-

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ably played soccer, and always dated really good looking girls, and was really nice to everyone even though h e -was richer and smarter and better looking than they were.. W h e n I finally got u p to go she was asleep. I looked at her for a while and tried n o t to think about those things people say. Her face was buried in the pillow, and her cheeks were, Hushed a n d puffy, a n d she was letting out these muffled snoring -noises. I passed m y fingers through her hair a few times andjieaned over and kissed her on the fold of her ear. H e r face smelled like moisturizer soap. I was real buzzed on the ride home, and I remember,looking at all the other people on the b u s , - all the crazy old ladies,.the skate punks, the college students - a n d it was like I expected to see something there, something new, something symbolic, something that, showed m e that the world h a d somehow changed, or that I had. But there was nothing like that. A n d I thought about Monday, a n d school, a n d how I'd have to see her again. Joanie. It would take forever before I would admit it, even to myself, bu t everything she'd said about m e was true. For just a second there, it was like she'd been looking right into me. You know? A n d you can't be around someone like that. You just can't.

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F A B L E

JULIE LEKSTROM' HIMES

W h e n the time of'her confinement drew near, her husband's father carried the bassinet in from the egg"house, wiped its spindle rungs with a felt chamois, and set it near the pregnant woman's bedside. Sturdy and worn, it had cradled her five sons and the eight generations before them; three generations ago, during the crossing from Sweden, its rockers had been nailed to the decking of the ship's hold in order to keep the newly bor n great-grandfather from being thrown to his death during the November Atlantic storms. H e was the only baby to survive that voyage. Births, though common, were not considered commonplace a n d the cradle was thought to provide a lucky start. Yet, when her day of labor,ended and She swaddled a daughter in a blanket of boiled wool, she kept her child by her side in her bed, threaded through the crook of her arm. She feared her husband would try to steal the infant while she slept and drown her in the well. "She will be the end of our seed," he pleaded with his wife. "You would sacrifice the rest of us for this one?" "Lines end and lines begin," his wife replied. Her husband shook his head in sad frustration. '"She will never marry," he said. Even with that pronouncement, he stroked the baby's head tenderly; W h o would want her, knowing _172

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ably played soccer, and always dated really good looking girls, and was really nice to everyone even though h e -was richer and smarter and better looking than they were.. W h e n I finally got u p to go she was asleep. I looked at her for a while and tried n o t to think about those things people say. Her face was buried in the pillow, and her cheeks were, Hushed a n d puffy, a n d she was letting out these muffled snoring -noises. I passed m y fingers through her hair a few times andjieaned over and kissed her on the fold of her ear. H e r face smelled like moisturizer soap. I was real buzzed on the ride home, and I remember,looking at all the other people on the b u s , - all the crazy old ladies,.the skate punks, the college students - a n d it was like I expected to see something there, something new, something symbolic, something that, showed m e that the world h a d somehow changed, or that I had. But there was nothing like that. A n d I thought about Monday, a n d school, a n d how I'd have to see her again. Joanie. It would take forever before I would admit it, even to myself, bu t everything she'd said about m e was true. For just a second there, it was like she'd been looking right into me. You know? A n d you can't be around someone like that. You just can't.

L

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N

O

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A M E R I C A N

P

I

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F A B L E

JULIE LEKSTROM' HIMES

W h e n the time of'her confinement drew near, her husband's father carried the bassinet in from the egg"house, wiped its spindle rungs with a felt chamois, and set it near the pregnant woman's bedside. Sturdy and worn, it had cradled her five sons and the eight generations before them; three generations ago, during the crossing from Sweden, its rockers had been nailed to the decking of the ship's hold in order to keep the newly bor n great-grandfather from being thrown to his death during the November Atlantic storms. H e was the only baby to survive that voyage. Births, though common, were not considered commonplace a n d the cradle was thought to provide a lucky start. Yet, when her day of labor,ended and She swaddled a daughter in a blanket of boiled wool, she kept her child by her side in her bed, threaded through the crook of her arm. She feared her husband would try to steal the infant while she slept and drown her in the well. "She will be the end of our seed," he pleaded with his wife. "You would sacrifice the rest of us for this one?" "Lines end and lines begin," his wife replied. Her husband shook his head in sad frustration. '"She will never marry," he said. Even with that pronouncement, he stroked the baby's head tenderly; W h o would want her, knowing _172

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what could happen. "We will call her Sofie," said the w o m a n . "And she will find her way." Eleven generations earlier, so it was said, a daughter bor n amongst a wealth of sons lost her mind and poisoned the entire family with a meal of Amanita phalloides. Only one brother survived. A t her trial, the magistrate of the town concluded that the mixing of their family's "tendencies" with the vapors of femininity was n o different than compounding saltpeter, charcoal a n d sulfur. She was condemned to death. Two generations later, another daughter was b o rn w h o one day thickened the blood sausage with the root of belladonna, rendering their dinner table a pantomime of mute horror. All but her nearest brother died. Three generations later, a daughter was b o rn w h o mixed rat poison in with the baking yeast then watched with unblinking patience as her parents, her nine brothers, and a great-aunt ate the daily bread she prepared for them until their teeth fell out and they bled from their eyes. Since then, six generations h a d been b o r n a n d passed without a daughter amongst t h e m and this was seen as a blessing from God . Eighteen years went by and Sofie grew into the most lovely girl any could remember. Conversations would pause as she passed on the sidewalk of the town. Occasionally one would hear, "I knew a girl once from Bemidji w h o was more beautiful-" or sometimes it was Crookston or Brainerd, but then the speaker would stop and u p o n careful reflection, would decide that, no, their memory h a d deceived t h e m and they'd struggle to recall what their conversation h a d been about. W h e n her parents brought her to the Lutheran church for Sunday service, the minister would look down u p o n her from his pulpit and stumble through his sermon, shufflingjhe words into strange and new meanings that left the old farmers scratching their thinning scalps and the younger ones talking for days, trying to decipher his lines for hidden truths. T h e older w o m e n in the town watched all this and knew better. They tightened their arms across their bosoms and clucked over their coffee cups, marveling at the missteps her parents h a d m a d e in raising their accursed daughter and secretly waiting for the second shoe to drop. Missteps they may have been, but her parents did their best. W h e n she was young, they sent h er to school with the other children, but she both frightened and amazed the teachers with her unblinking stare

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and prickly questions, so her parents kept her home and educated her as best they could. Alvarado, Minnesota circa 1905 suffered from a dearth of books and her mother scoured the stalls at flea markets and the carts of passing peddlers, bringing h o m e anything with a binding. Hunched over on the top step of their front porch, or on the corner stool in the kitchen, Sofie read t h e m all, running her fingertips over the print as if to capture every crumb. She told her parents about the manifest a n d latent content of Freudian dreams and about Schiaparelli's channels on Mars. She spoke about the elemental basis of matter, the discoveries of radium and polonium in Paris, and how to calculate atomic mass from Avogadro's number. She paged through her copy of Mendel's Experiments with Plant Hybrids until the words began to blur, and planted peas and tomato and cucumber to understand the segregation of attributes and t h e dominance and recessiveness of inherited traits. Her parents listened and recognized their daughter's singularity with both exhilaration and dismay that they could make such a thing. At the same time, they were grateful she seemed to show some interest in gardening. One spring afternoon, when Sofie was not quite thirteen, she and her mother were stopped by old Miss Arlette Johansson outside of the Farmer's Co-op store in town. Like most of her age a n d time, Arlette was an ample w o m a n with meaty wrists that regularly wrestled large m o u n d s of dough and freshly killed fowl. She wore her 'to town' hat adorned with a cluster of artificial fruit and was unexpectedly chatty. She asked after the family. W i t h all of the rains that spring, were the Armundsson's down in M o o r h e a d affected by the flooding? Sofie's mother, Rebecca, assured her they were fine and thanked her for her concern. In truth, her sister-in-law and family had spent three days a n d nights perched o n the roof of their farmhouse surrounded by baskets of hardtack and pots of water, 'alongside her grandmother's kubbestol from the old Norwegian homestead that she refused to leave to the moldy waters. But everyone knew it did n o good to talk of such things. Arlette leaned in closer. H a d she heard about the n e w minister's wife? Just moved to 'town and first thing calls u p to the Co-op to inquire about a new iron. Arlette rolled her eyes. Her family was from Edina, don't you know; she'd probably never ironed a garment in her life. Their new minister was going to have a few scorched shirts to hide Under his coat. N o wonder he w a s rail-thin. Arlette shook her head over the mysteries of life that would cause a poor Lutheran

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what could happen. "We will call her Sofie," said the w o m a n . "And she will find her way." Eleven generations earlier, so it was said, a daughter bor n amongst a wealth of sons lost her mind and poisoned the entire family with a meal of Amanita phalloides. Only one brother survived. A t her trial, the magistrate of the town concluded that the mixing of their family's "tendencies" with the vapors of femininity was n o different than compounding saltpeter, charcoal a n d sulfur. She was condemned to death. Two generations later, another daughter was b o rn w h o one day thickened the blood sausage with the root of belladonna, rendering their dinner table a pantomime of mute horror. All but her nearest brother died. Three generations later, a daughter was b o rn w h o mixed rat poison in with the baking yeast then watched with unblinking patience as her parents, her nine brothers, and a great-aunt ate the daily bread she prepared for them until their teeth fell out and they bled from their eyes. Since then, six generations h a d been b o r n a n d passed without a daughter amongst t h e m and this was seen as a blessing from God . Eighteen years went by and Sofie grew into the most lovely girl any could remember. Conversations would pause as she passed on the sidewalk of the town. Occasionally one would hear, "I knew a girl once from Bemidji w h o was more beautiful-" or sometimes it was Crookston or Brainerd, but then the speaker would stop and u p o n careful reflection, would decide that, no, their memory h a d deceived t h e m and they'd struggle to recall what their conversation h a d been about. W h e n her parents brought her to the Lutheran church for Sunday service, the minister would look down u p o n her from his pulpit and stumble through his sermon, shufflingjhe words into strange and new meanings that left the old farmers scratching their thinning scalps and the younger ones talking for days, trying to decipher his lines for hidden truths. T h e older w o m e n in the town watched all this and knew better. They tightened their arms across their bosoms and clucked over their coffee cups, marveling at the missteps her parents h a d m a d e in raising their accursed daughter and secretly waiting for the second shoe to drop. Missteps they may have been, but her parents did their best. W h e n she was young, they sent h er to school with the other children, but she both frightened and amazed the teachers with her unblinking stare

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and prickly questions, so her parents kept her home and educated her as best they could. Alvarado, Minnesota circa 1905 suffered from a dearth of books and her mother scoured the stalls at flea markets and the carts of passing peddlers, bringing h o m e anything with a binding. Hunched over on the top step of their front porch, or on the corner stool in the kitchen, Sofie read t h e m all, running her fingertips over the print as if to capture every crumb. She told her parents about the manifest a n d latent content of Freudian dreams and about Schiaparelli's channels on Mars. She spoke about the elemental basis of matter, the discoveries of radium and polonium in Paris, and how to calculate atomic mass from Avogadro's number. She paged through her copy of Mendel's Experiments with Plant Hybrids until the words began to blur, and planted peas and tomato and cucumber to understand the segregation of attributes and t h e dominance and recessiveness of inherited traits. Her parents listened and recognized their daughter's singularity with both exhilaration and dismay that they could make such a thing. At the same time, they were grateful she seemed to show some interest in gardening. One spring afternoon, when Sofie was not quite thirteen, she and her mother were stopped by old Miss Arlette Johansson outside of the Farmer's Co-op store in town. Like most of her age a n d time, Arlette was an ample w o m a n with meaty wrists that regularly wrestled large m o u n d s of dough and freshly killed fowl. She wore her 'to town' hat adorned with a cluster of artificial fruit and was unexpectedly chatty. She asked after the family. W i t h all of the rains that spring, were the Armundsson's down in M o o r h e a d affected by the flooding? Sofie's mother, Rebecca, assured her they were fine and thanked her for her concern. In truth, her sister-in-law and family had spent three days a n d nights perched o n the roof of their farmhouse surrounded by baskets of hardtack and pots of water, 'alongside her grandmother's kubbestol from the old Norwegian homestead that she refused to leave to the moldy waters. But everyone knew it did n o good to talk of such things. Arlette leaned in closer. H a d she heard about the n e w minister's wife? Just moved to 'town and first thing calls u p to the Co-op to inquire about a new iron. Arlette rolled her eyes. Her family was from Edina, don't you know; she'd probably never ironed a garment in her life. Their new minister was going to have a few scorched shirts to hide Under his coat. N o wonder he w a s rail-thin. Arlette shook her head over the mysteries of life that would cause a poor Lutheran

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minister to marry a well-to-do girl from Edina. N o doubt it was a love match, but then what did that say about this man-of-the-cloth. Then again, h e was Lutheran. Arlette sniffed; she hailed from the Covenant Church where such things didn't happen. "Perhaps her iron was lost in the move," said Rebecca. Sofie was only half-listening. She tapped a stray dandelion b u d that h a d grown u p between the planking of the sidewalk with the toe of her shoe. She wondered about the aerodynamic properties of dandelion fluff. Arlette stepped back and changed the subject. "I trust your Easter was nice," she said. " M y niece's daughter, Inge's oldest - don't you k n o w - she made the entire Easter meal this year. I ' m certain there were twenty of us there. The entire meal. She can't be any older than you," she said as she drilled a sausage-shaped finger into Sofie's ribca^e.

9-nr Later that evening, Sofie went out to her garden, set back from her mother's kitchen garden. She heard her mother in the house with her father, " - t o listen to her talk. Of course she acts like her family owns this town," went her mother, then her father's genial, "Well I suppose everybody's entitled to an opinion, even a Johansson." She knew her mother's look in return and heard her father's, "Although I 'spose it never h u rt a body to keep some opinions to herself." Someone closed the door and the voices disappeared. Sofie sat in the dirt among the young peas and tomatoes. She touched their resolute stocks. She n o w understood why plants h a d evolved without arms and hands, for if they had any, they'd certainly rip themselves from their own roots and topple over to desiccate and die, before living a life trapped within a cubic foot of earth. She knew of her curse as well as the rest, the w o m e n w h o shook their heads with their mean knowledge, the boys-who cast their eyes from hers, the girls who teased. She didn't believe in curses but she did believe that boys inherited farms and businesses, threshers and real estate, while girls inherited pickle dishes and lace patterns. Boys were sent to universities and trained to become doctors and lawyers and statesmen, while girls hoped to marry them. Boys were allowed to traverse the wilds of Africa, the glaciers of Antarctica, the monotonous swells of oceans below bi-winged planes. Sofie knew what happened to smart girls. She didn't believe in the curse, b u t she understood. She thought of her bloodline and those doomed females before her. She sensed the friction of their blood as it pushed "through their veins like a n itch under the skin; the skin they couldn't escape. T h e world they reached to touch as it was passed over their heads and handed to their brothers. The world they could only-watch: She didn't believe, but she understood.

Sofie jumped back. "Well, that's n o surprise," said Rebecca. " N o doubt she's inherited your culinary talents." Arlette continued to look Sofie u p a n d down. "You're getting to be quite a big girl, now. You must be a great help to your mother in the kitchen." They all knew where this was going. "Sofie is a great help - laundry, sewing, cleaning. A n d she has a wonderful garden. I think she might show some of her produce at the fair this summer," said Rebecca. "Rebecca, if you don't mind my saying so, you do her no favors by letting her grow u p a perfect heathen." Of course she minded. Lacking in certain domestic skills was not the same as being a perfect heathen. But everyone knew it did n o good to talk of such things., "I mean, really. It's as if you take that old family curse seriously." Rebecca gave a terse 'of course not,' and suggested they get.back to their shopping. " W h y little Irene can r u n circles around your Sofie." Irene was Inge's oldest. "Irene is as dull as a doorknob." A n d m e a n to boot. This came from Sofie. t Arlette considered the girl, t h e n leveled her pronouncement. "If G o d had intended for you to be clever, He'd have m a d e you a boy."

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For her it would be different though. There'd be no m a d frustration played out in poisoned pastries. She'd find her place; the one she'd imagined so m a n y times. It occupied a drafty, leaky shed set in the' sparse grass of the backyard of the Paris Municipal School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry, where Marie and Pierre Curie slaved over barrels of pitchblende, grinding uraninite ore to a sooty dust, extracting the soupy mixture with acids a n d bases into precious fractions of radium, uranium, polonium, and bismuth. She'd beg of

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minister to marry a well-to-do girl from Edina. N o doubt it was a love match, but then what did that say about this man-of-the-cloth. Then again, h e was Lutheran. Arlette sniffed; she hailed from the Covenant Church where such things didn't happen. "Perhaps her iron was lost in the move," said Rebecca. Sofie was only half-listening. She tapped a stray dandelion b u d that h a d grown u p between the planking of the sidewalk with the toe of her shoe. She wondered about the aerodynamic properties of dandelion fluff. Arlette stepped back and changed the subject. "I trust your Easter was nice," she said. " M y niece's daughter, Inge's oldest - don't you k n o w - she made the entire Easter meal this year. I ' m certain there were twenty of us there. The entire meal. She can't be any older than you," she said as she drilled a sausage-shaped finger into Sofie's ribca^e.

9-nr Later that evening, Sofie went out to her garden, set back from her mother's kitchen garden. She heard her mother in the house with her father, " - t o listen to her talk. Of course she acts like her family owns this town," went her mother, then her father's genial, "Well I suppose everybody's entitled to an opinion, even a Johansson." She knew her mother's look in return and heard her father's, "Although I 'spose it never h u rt a body to keep some opinions to herself." Someone closed the door and the voices disappeared. Sofie sat in the dirt among the young peas and tomatoes. She touched their resolute stocks. She n o w understood why plants h a d evolved without arms and hands, for if they had any, they'd certainly rip themselves from their own roots and topple over to desiccate and die, before living a life trapped within a cubic foot of earth. She knew of her curse as well as the rest, the w o m e n w h o shook their heads with their mean knowledge, the boys-who cast their eyes from hers, the girls who teased. She didn't believe in curses but she did believe that boys inherited farms and businesses, threshers and real estate, while girls inherited pickle dishes and lace patterns. Boys were sent to universities and trained to become doctors and lawyers and statesmen, while girls hoped to marry them. Boys were allowed to traverse the wilds of Africa, the glaciers of Antarctica, the monotonous swells of oceans below bi-winged planes. Sofie knew what happened to smart girls. She didn't believe in the curse, b u t she understood. She thought of her bloodline and those doomed females before her. She sensed the friction of their blood as it pushed "through their veins like a n itch under the skin; the skin they couldn't escape. T h e world they reached to touch as it was passed over their heads and handed to their brothers. The world they could only-watch: She didn't believe, but she understood.

Sofie jumped back. "Well, that's n o surprise," said Rebecca. " N o doubt she's inherited your culinary talents." Arlette continued to look Sofie u p a n d down. "You're getting to be quite a big girl, now. You must be a great help to your mother in the kitchen." They all knew where this was going. "Sofie is a great help - laundry, sewing, cleaning. A n d she has a wonderful garden. I think she might show some of her produce at the fair this summer," said Rebecca. "Rebecca, if you don't mind my saying so, you do her no favors by letting her grow u p a perfect heathen." Of course she minded. Lacking in certain domestic skills was not the same as being a perfect heathen. But everyone knew it did n o good to talk of such things., "I mean, really. It's as if you take that old family curse seriously." Rebecca gave a terse 'of course not,' and suggested they get.back to their shopping. " W h y little Irene can r u n circles around your Sofie." Irene was Inge's oldest. "Irene is as dull as a doorknob." A n d m e a n to boot. This came from Sofie. t Arlette considered the girl, t h e n leveled her pronouncement. "If G o d had intended for you to be clever, He'd have m a d e you a boy."

176

For her it would be different though. There'd be no m a d frustration played out in poisoned pastries. She'd find her place; the one she'd imagined so m a n y times. It occupied a drafty, leaky shed set in the' sparse grass of the backyard of the Paris Municipal School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry, where Marie and Pierre Curie slaved over barrels of pitchblende, grinding uraninite ore to a sooty dust, extracting the soupy mixture with acids a n d bases into precious fractions of radium, uranium, polonium, and bismuth. She'd beg of

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them in a stuttering French to let her sweep their floors, to rinse their hand-blown flasks of bluish glass in distilled water. They'd become accustomed to her, discuss their disappointments and challenges with her - the dam p air that affected the electrometer, the floating coal dust that cpntaminated their beloved mixtures. She'd make their n o o n meals for t h e m so they could work without pause, croissants filled with pickled cod, leeks and strange mustards. They'd teach her thenmethods and debate theories of 'radioactivity.' They'd help her pass her entrance exams for the University. Someday, she'd add her own element to the Periodic Table. M a d a m e would take her in. M a d a m e would understand. T h e male-only French Academy of Sciences h a d ushered in her Pierre in 1905, then shut its doors on the w o m a n with w h o m he'd shared the Nobel Prize two years earlier. T h e only w o m a n .who'd win it again in less than ten years. T h e w o m a n with the ideas. M a d a m e would understand.

! V

Sofie laid back on the plowed-soil. She heard the movements of earthworms below her. She remembered old Arlette's words. It wasn't so long ago that Sofie would have thrown thern right back at her. But things were different; she saw her future with new focus and she shivered. Lately, her fantasies of scientific diligence, inquiry and discovery, once potent and fearless, seemed to thin, particularly at night, in the quiet of the household. There, through the flimsy fabric, she saw instead herself, failing to escape, growing old in this house, alone. She'd lose her way moving from r o o m to room. Her hair, gray and frayed, would fly out from her head in some strange demented crown. Children would both fear and heckle her. Some nephew's resenting wife would bring her meals once a day, take up her laundry once a week. Then one day, she'd disappear, leaving only the dust that refracted sunlight as it floated through the air^thc'dust that contaminates a scientist's reagents. It would be as, if she'd never existed. Her mother hadn't yet come to look for her. Perhaps she'd felt all this more keenly than Sofie h a d realized. Sofie could imagine her mother, at that moment, in her bedroom, standing before the-mirror over the bureau in the dim light, removing her hat, staring at herself in the rare, forgiving glow as lines emptied of shadow a n d she saw again the face of a young girl, so like the face of her only daughter. It occurred to Sofie that her mother didn't have her dreams to carry her through day after day; she h a d only Arlette's dismal realities. Her mother called to her. It was time for supper. Her voice was a

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touchstone. Sofie felt the new fear; it stole her breath. " M a m a , " she called softly, as a child lost in some desperate moment. There was n o path from Alvarado to Paris. H o w would she find her way? The young leafy plants trembled green above her in the fight breeze, tapping against the deep blue of sky. Sofie imagined floating away, her mother's voice growing faint as she evaporated into the cushion of blue. 8-TT O n a particular day in June, a young m a n stepped* down from the passenger car of the.SOO line onto the depot platform, satchel in hand. Sofie, now eighteen, stood nearby, chatting with the conductor. She'd befriended the conductors on the lines that passed through thentown. During their stops they'd let her walk through the passenger cars in search for newspapers left behind by travelers. She looked for any news, even famine or war; any opportunity that might carry her away, but newspapers were rare. She saw the young m a n across the platform. There h a d been a boy once, in his place stood a young man. The conductor nodded towards the dark-haired man. "I believe that's the Johansson boy. Finished with school, no doubt. Back to make a n a m e for himself." "Here?" said Sofie. H e was dressed in a black suit, noticeably oversized, which gave h i m a bookish quality. H e looked like h e might be going to a wedding or a funeral. His hair was unkempt, not asÂŤif he didn't care, but rather as if he couldn't quite manage it. H e held a paper folded under his arm. It was the Minneapolis Journal. The m a n approached them and held out his hand to the conductor. "It's good to see you, Mike," he.said. The conductor smiled. "It's been a while, Harry." They shook hands. Would he remember*her? "Are you done with your paper?" she asked. H e stared at her a n d after a moment, she decided that he must have forgotten the question. "I'd like it, if you are finished," she said. "Your paper?" H e paused. " W h y do you want it?"

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them in a stuttering French to let her sweep their floors, to rinse their hand-blown flasks of bluish glass in distilled water. They'd become accustomed to her, discuss their disappointments and challenges with her - the dam p air that affected the electrometer, the floating coal dust that cpntaminated their beloved mixtures. She'd make their n o o n meals for t h e m so they could work without pause, croissants filled with pickled cod, leeks and strange mustards. They'd teach her thenmethods and debate theories of 'radioactivity.' They'd help her pass her entrance exams for the University. Someday, she'd add her own element to the Periodic Table. M a d a m e would take her in. M a d a m e would understand. T h e male-only French Academy of Sciences h a d ushered in her Pierre in 1905, then shut its doors on the w o m a n with w h o m he'd shared the Nobel Prize two years earlier. T h e only w o m a n .who'd win it again in less than ten years. T h e w o m a n with the ideas. M a d a m e would understand.

! V

Sofie laid back on the plowed-soil. She heard the movements of earthworms below her. She remembered old Arlette's words. It wasn't so long ago that Sofie would have thrown thern right back at her. But things were different; she saw her future with new focus and she shivered. Lately, her fantasies of scientific diligence, inquiry and discovery, once potent and fearless, seemed to thin, particularly at night, in the quiet of the household. There, through the flimsy fabric, she saw instead herself, failing to escape, growing old in this house, alone. She'd lose her way moving from r o o m to room. Her hair, gray and frayed, would fly out from her head in some strange demented crown. Children would both fear and heckle her. Some nephew's resenting wife would bring her meals once a day, take up her laundry once a week. Then one day, she'd disappear, leaving only the dust that refracted sunlight as it floated through the air^thc'dust that contaminates a scientist's reagents. It would be as, if she'd never existed. Her mother hadn't yet come to look for her. Perhaps she'd felt all this more keenly than Sofie h a d realized. Sofie could imagine her mother, at that moment, in her bedroom, standing before the-mirror over the bureau in the dim light, removing her hat, staring at herself in the rare, forgiving glow as lines emptied of shadow a n d she saw again the face of a young girl, so like the face of her only daughter. It occurred to Sofie that her mother didn't have her dreams to carry her through day after day; she h a d only Arlette's dismal realities. Her mother called to her. It was time for supper. Her voice was a

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touchstone. Sofie felt the new fear; it stole her breath. " M a m a , " she called softly, as a child lost in some desperate moment. There was n o path from Alvarado to Paris. H o w would she find her way? The young leafy plants trembled green above her in the fight breeze, tapping against the deep blue of sky. Sofie imagined floating away, her mother's voice growing faint as she evaporated into the cushion of blue. 8-TT O n a particular day in June, a young m a n stepped* down from the passenger car of the.SOO line onto the depot platform, satchel in hand. Sofie, now eighteen, stood nearby, chatting with the conductor. She'd befriended the conductors on the lines that passed through thentown. During their stops they'd let her walk through the passenger cars in search for newspapers left behind by travelers. She looked for any news, even famine or war; any opportunity that might carry her away, but newspapers were rare. She saw the young m a n across the platform. There h a d been a boy once, in his place stood a young man. The conductor nodded towards the dark-haired man. "I believe that's the Johansson boy. Finished with school, no doubt. Back to make a n a m e for himself." "Here?" said Sofie. H e was dressed in a black suit, noticeably oversized, which gave h i m a bookish quality. H e looked like h e might be going to a wedding or a funeral. His hair was unkempt, not asÂŤif he didn't care, but rather as if he couldn't quite manage it. H e held a paper folded under his arm. It was the Minneapolis Journal. The m a n approached them and held out his hand to the conductor. "It's good to see you, Mike," he.said. The conductor smiled. "It's been a while, Harry." They shook hands. Would he remember*her? "Are you done with your paper?" she asked. H e stared at her a n d after a moment, she decided that he must have forgotten the question. "I'd like it, if you are finished," she said. "Your paper?" H e paused. " W h y do you want it?"

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" I ' m looking for a job." "I've got a schedule,to keep," said the conductor. " G o o d to see you Harry. See you on my next run, Sofie." H e climbed into the front car as the train began to pull away. A light breeze moved across the platform. Sofie reached, towards the paper, ,her fingers outstretched. Harry stared at her intently. His arm, set against'the paper, did not move. "There are jobs in town," h e saijl " I ' m looking for a way to leave." , "I know you. You're the.Armundssons' youngest." H e smiled. " T h e family curse." H e r fingers, fluttered in the air. "It's just a newspaper," she-said. "Tomorrow, it will be trash." "I spent my summers here," he said, as if explaining himself. "With my great-aunt." H e nodded towards the town. " M y family is fromMankato." She didn't need to be reminded. There'd been only one boy. "I remember you," he said.-He smiled and leaned towards her. His words were soft, careful, as if he might frighten off the memory. "You weren't like the other girls." It was Rarely perceptible. Anyone watching might have thought he was only shifting under the weight of his bag, but she felt the air between them compress. Sofie dropped her arm. "Are you going to give m e your paper?" Her words h a d lost their urgency. t They gazed at each other. "No," he said thoughtfully. "No, I ' m not." H e turned and left the platform. There'd been a boy once. She'd J?een fpujteen and it.was summertime. 8-TT The laughter of the girls from the poplar grove near the bend of the creek could Jiave been the squawks of turkey hens and Sofie, sitting o n a large flat rock just beyond that bend, h a d lost her place in jier book for the third time that afternoon. -Âť Irene H a n s o n was the loudest. "If you peel the potato.in a basin of warm water with a tablespoon of salt, then plant it under a bush during a new moon, you can dig it u p a m o n t h later and the number

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of sprouts you count will \>e t h c n u m b e r of children you'll have." T h e other girls giggled. "It's true," said Irene. "I've tried i t " " H o w many did you count?" asked her friend Jasmine. Sofie could not hear her answer b u t the crescendo of giggles suggested that Irene would be bearing a laudable number. .Sofie left her book on the rock and followed the line of .the creek upstream towards the girls, staying hidden in the thicket urftil she was quite close. She crouched and watched. Irene's younger sister, Lily, suddenly joined them holding a small cloth bag. "Did you bring them?" asked Irene. "I could only find plums," said Lily. "Plums? Plums won't work. It has to be apples." "Plums might work,"' said Jasmine. " G o o n and-try it," said Adele. Irene seemed doubtful but pulled a plum from her sister's bag. Lily handed her a paring knife from the fold pf her skirt pocket. Irene pressed the blade of-the knife against the plum's flesh then paused. " N o w just peeling it won't work. You really have to imagine *The Day. Close your eyes a n d see yourself at the church. Imagine walking down the aisle."- She closed her eyes and slipped the blade through the plum skin. A single spiral of peel began to grow as she twirled the fruit in her hand. "Oh, don't cut yourself," said Lily. "Shh!" said Jasmine. Irene came to the end and opened her eyes. "There. N o w all you dd is toss it, just so," a n d she flipped the coil of skin behind her right shoulder. The girls turned arid bent over the ground where the peel had fallen. _ ,^-^~~ "It should form the initial of the m a n you will marry," said Irene. There was silence. "Maybe it has tb'be a n apple," said Jasmine. "It's worked before with a h apple," said Irene. " W h a t was the initial?" said'Jasmine. L "It was a ' J'," Lily said and began to giggle. Irene kicked'her. " H o w do you know if it's the first initial or the last?" said Jasmine. "Of course it's the last," said Irene. "'J' for Johansson," said Lily grinning.

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" I ' m looking for a job." "I've got a schedule,to keep," said the conductor. " G o o d to see you Harry. See you on my next run, Sofie." H e climbed into the front car as the train began to pull away. A light breeze moved across the platform. Sofie reached, towards the paper, ,her fingers outstretched. Harry stared at her intently. His arm, set against'the paper, did not move. "There are jobs in town," h e saijl " I ' m looking for a way to leave." , "I know you. You're the.Armundssons' youngest." H e smiled. " T h e family curse." H e r fingers, fluttered in the air. "It's just a newspaper," she-said. "Tomorrow, it will be trash." "I spent my summers here," he said, as if explaining himself. "With my great-aunt." H e nodded towards the town. " M y family is fromMankato." She didn't need to be reminded. There'd been only one boy. "I remember you," he said.-He smiled and leaned towards her. His words were soft, careful, as if he might frighten off the memory. "You weren't like the other girls." It was Rarely perceptible. Anyone watching might have thought he was only shifting under the weight of his bag, but she felt the air between them compress. Sofie dropped her arm. "Are you going to give m e your paper?" Her words h a d lost their urgency. t They gazed at each other. "No," he said thoughtfully. "No, I ' m not." H e turned and left the platform. There'd been a boy once. She'd J?een fpujteen and it.was summertime. 8-TT The laughter of the girls from the poplar grove near the bend of the creek could Jiave been the squawks of turkey hens and Sofie, sitting o n a large flat rock just beyond that bend, h a d lost her place in jier book for the third time that afternoon. -Âť Irene H a n s o n was the loudest. "If you peel the potato.in a basin of warm water with a tablespoon of salt, then plant it under a bush during a new moon, you can dig it u p a m o n t h later and the number

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of sprouts you count will \>e t h c n u m b e r of children you'll have." T h e other girls giggled. "It's true," said Irene. "I've tried i t " " H o w many did you count?" asked her friend Jasmine. Sofie could not hear her answer b u t the crescendo of giggles suggested that Irene would be bearing a laudable number. .Sofie left her book on the rock and followed the line of .the creek upstream towards the girls, staying hidden in the thicket urftil she was quite close. She crouched and watched. Irene's younger sister, Lily, suddenly joined them holding a small cloth bag. "Did you bring them?" asked Irene. "I could only find plums," said Lily. "Plums? Plums won't work. It has to be apples." "Plums might work,"' said Jasmine. " G o o n and-try it," said Adele. Irene seemed doubtful but pulled a plum from her sister's bag. Lily handed her a paring knife from the fold pf her skirt pocket. Irene pressed the blade of-the knife against the plum's flesh then paused. " N o w just peeling it won't work. You really have to imagine *The Day. Close your eyes a n d see yourself at the church. Imagine walking down the aisle."- She closed her eyes and slipped the blade through the plum skin. A single spiral of peel began to grow as she twirled the fruit in her hand. "Oh, don't cut yourself," said Lily. "Shh!" said Jasmine. Irene came to the end and opened her eyes. "There. N o w all you dd is toss it, just so," a n d she flipped the coil of skin behind her right shoulder. The girls turned arid bent over the ground where the peel had fallen. _ ,^-^~~ "It should form the initial of the m a n you will marry," said Irene. There was silence. "Maybe it has tb'be a n apple," said Jasmine. "It's worked before with a h apple," said Irene. " W h a t was the initial?" said'Jasmine. L "It was a ' J'," Lily said and began to giggle. Irene kicked'her. " H o w do you know if it's the first initial or the last?" said Jasmine. "Of course it's the last," said Irene. "'J' for Johansson," said Lily grinning.

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"Shut up," said Irene. Jasmine bent down again to inspect the plum peel lying on the ground. "This doesn't look at all like a 'J.'" "It only works with apples," Irene concluded. A brown and yellow striped snake slid over Sofie's toes and she jumped up. T h e four girls turned and stared at her. "Are you spying on us?" said Irene. , "I was o n my way home-'* began SofTe. "Likely story," said Adele. "She's spying on us," said Jasmine. "As if anything you did would be interesting," said Sofie, yet she felt cornered, a tree t r u nk at her back and the creek bed beyond, dropping six feet or more. T h e four girls took a step towards her. "But maybe Harry Johansson would find it interesting. Or more likely just incredibly stupid." Irene turne'd reel- " W h a t a little, pig you are ; " she said, stepping closer. "Following us around. Pretending you have friends w h e n you don't. Little'piggies don't have friends. Oink. Oink, oink, oink, oink!" Irene pressed the tip of her nose back with her finger-and leaned in close to Sofie. T h e other girls did the same and set u p a chorus of oinking and squawking. Sofie turned and scrambled u p the tree, scooting out p n a branch.that hung several feet over the girls' heads. The girls surrounded the tree. The teasing and names gathered strength below her. Sofie climbed higher. One of t h e m pushed against the trunk, then another tried. T h e leaves around her trembled. Sofie looked u p and saw a figure corning through the woods towards them- Irene followed her line of sight a n d saw h i m as well. She stepped back from the tree. A boy their age came into the clearing.<He-was tall, straight as a rod. H e carried a shovel and a pick ax over his shoulder. His face was still full as a youth, b u t his shoulders beneath his work shirt showed a hardening of adulthood. "What's going on?" he said. H e stared u p at,the tree. " H i Harry," said Irene. T h e qther girls stopped and turned. "What's Sofie doing in a tree?" he said. " O h nothing. It's jusf a game," said Irene. "Are you on your way to Aunt Arlette's?" Harry was still gazing at Sofie. " D o you need some help?" Sofie stared at h i m in alarm a n d scrambled u p to the next branch. *l 182

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"Hey, be careful," he stepped closer to the tree. "You're pretty high." Irene waved her off with her hand. "Sofie's fine. She's a regular monkey." The other girls laughed. "I m a d e apple dumplings this morning. Would you like m e to bring some by?" "I think she's stuck up there." He laid his tools on the ground and brushed past the girls. H e pulled himself u p to the first branch. Sofie watched him. "Are you okay?" he asked her. "Really, she's fine," said Irene. She seemed annoyed. Harry stood u p on the branch, one a r m wrapped around the trunk, and held out his hand. "Here. Take my hand. Put your foot there." H e nodded to the spot. T h e other girls watched the tableau from below Then slowly, Sofie leaned out to take it. "That's right," he said, encouraging. "Nice and slow You've almost got it." He was quite close to her; she could see the speckle of acne across his' cheeks, beneath that; the angular jaw, the pleasant measures of his face. N o wOnder he was considered the best catch around. N o wonder he and Irene were considered the perfect pair. ' "Please, Sofie. Please try." H e said her name, a n d startled, she looked into his eyes. She took a step into mid-air. ' He stared back at'her, as if in disbelief. "You're falling," he said. A n d she fell. Forward, in a slow roll. She landed on her back on the ground below. "Lily screamed. Harry jumped down from the tree branch' and clambered to her side. She opened her eyes. T h e othergirls circled around them, leaning over her, looking scared. "You better go get your folks, Irene. She may-have broken her leg." "Thank goodness you happened to come by. I don't know what "we would have d o n e - " "Just go get your folks. She doesn't look good." Sofie closed her eyes. " C ' m o n , " said Irene and the. four girls ran off in the direction of her father's farm.

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"Shut up," said Irene. Jasmine bent down again to inspect the plum peel lying on the ground. "This doesn't look at all like a 'J.'" "It only works with apples," Irene concluded. A brown and yellow striped snake slid over Sofie's toes and she jumped up. T h e four girls turned and stared at her. "Are you spying on us?" said Irene. , "I was o n my way home-'* began SofTe. "Likely story," said Adele. "She's spying on us," said Jasmine. "As if anything you did would be interesting," said Sofie, yet she felt cornered, a tree t r u nk at her back and the creek bed beyond, dropping six feet or more. T h e four girls took a step towards her. "But maybe Harry Johansson would find it interesting. Or more likely just incredibly stupid." Irene turne'd reel- " W h a t a little, pig you are ; " she said, stepping closer. "Following us around. Pretending you have friends w h e n you don't. Little'piggies don't have friends. Oink. Oink, oink, oink, oink!" Irene pressed the tip of her nose back with her finger-and leaned in close to Sofie. T h e other girls did the same and set u p a chorus of oinking and squawking. Sofie turned and scrambled u p the tree, scooting out p n a branch.that hung several feet over the girls' heads. The girls surrounded the tree. The teasing and names gathered strength below her. Sofie climbed higher. One of t h e m pushed against the trunk, then another tried. T h e leaves around her trembled. Sofie looked u p and saw a figure corning through the woods towards them- Irene followed her line of sight a n d saw h i m as well. She stepped back from the tree. A boy their age came into the clearing.<He-was tall, straight as a rod. H e carried a shovel and a pick ax over his shoulder. His face was still full as a youth, b u t his shoulders beneath his work shirt showed a hardening of adulthood. "What's going on?" he said. H e stared u p at,the tree. " H i Harry," said Irene. T h e qther girls stopped and turned. "What's Sofie doing in a tree?" he said. " O h nothing. It's jusf a game," said Irene. "Are you on your way to Aunt Arlette's?" Harry was still gazing at Sofie. " D o you need some help?" Sofie stared at h i m in alarm a n d scrambled u p to the next branch. *l 182

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"Hey, be careful," he stepped closer to the tree. "You're pretty high." Irene waved her off with her hand. "Sofie's fine. She's a regular monkey." The other girls laughed. "I m a d e apple dumplings this morning. Would you like m e to bring some by?" "I think she's stuck up there." He laid his tools on the ground and brushed past the girls. H e pulled himself u p to the first branch. Sofie watched him. "Are you okay?" he asked her. "Really, she's fine," said Irene. She seemed annoyed. Harry stood u p on the branch, one a r m wrapped around the trunk, and held out his hand. "Here. Take my hand. Put your foot there." H e nodded to the spot. T h e other girls watched the tableau from below Then slowly, Sofie leaned out to take it. "That's right," he said, encouraging. "Nice and slow You've almost got it." He was quite close to her; she could see the speckle of acne across his' cheeks, beneath that; the angular jaw, the pleasant measures of his face. N o wOnder he was considered the best catch around. N o wonder he and Irene were considered the perfect pair. ' "Please, Sofie. Please try." H e said her name, a n d startled, she looked into his eyes. She took a step into mid-air. ' He stared back at'her, as if in disbelief. "You're falling," he said. A n d she fell. Forward, in a slow roll. She landed on her back on the ground below. "Lily screamed. Harry jumped down from the tree branch' and clambered to her side. She opened her eyes. T h e othergirls circled around them, leaning over her, looking scared. "You better go get your folks, Irene. She may-have broken her leg." "Thank goodness you happened to come by. I don't know what "we would have d o n e - " "Just go get your folks. She doesn't look good." Sofie closed her eyes. " C ' m o n , " said Irene and the. four girls ran off in the direction of her father's farm.

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She opened her eyes again. H e was kneeling beside her, staring down at her. H e looked frightened. "Does it hurt anywhere?" he asked. She shook her, h e a d slowly. A rock poked into her back a n d she shifted. Pain shot u p through her .thigh and into her groin and back. She grimaced. She looked.at him. He^kept^taring at her. "Girls can be mean," he said. She nodded. " W h a t were you doing u p there?" â&#x20AC;&#x17E; She looked past him, beyond the tree branches, through thes leaves, at the small chunks of blue sky. She felt a tear hovering close. "I was trying to fly." Her voice wavered in its unexpected truthfulness. She blinked,back the tear. â&#x20AC;&#x17E;f He smiled. "I think you need more of a headwind." It was all too much. H e was laughing at her, too. Her leg was killing her. "You think I ' m strange," she said with faint accusation and a kind of desperation. With her words, his face became serious. Then, as if some small piece of the world h a d suddenly come into focus^ he smiled.. Later, she'd remember this transformation. "I think you're the smartest person in this town," he said. "Probably the smartest person I know. A body can have 4 conversation with you about something besides apple dumplings and the weather." H e grinned, realizing what he'd said. "I think you're going to, dp great things someday." H e paused a n d his voice softened. "I don't think I could ever get tired of talking to you." She stared at him. She couldn't move. A small piece of her own world h a d snapped into place. v. ^ In the distance, there were the voices of Irene and her father and the other girls. H e looked up, staring towards the fields beyond them. They'd be there in moments. Suddenly, he bent over and kissed her on the lips. It was a wet, sweet kiss; the kiss of a boy, like the soft interior of a plum. Then h e pulled away. H e stood u p a n d backed away from her. H e smiled and she frowned. "You shouldn't have done that," she said, "You kissed m e back." "I did not."

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"You know you did." She "tried to move. T h e pain stabbed her again and when she opened her eyes, Irene's father was bending over her. D o c Wallace called it a contusion, which Sofie explained to her mother was another word for a bad bruise. For several weeks she was laid u p at h o m e with ice packs - and the milky coffee her mother fed her. Reclining in her bed, she relived their conversation, and with each rendering, added turns and plot points, until there were paragraphs of conversation; a novella steeped in hidden wounds 1 and desires revealed1:* By the time she was about again, her imaginings had taken them to the altar and beyond, to their tiny flat with its bow-back bed, three stories above a sweaty Parisian alley that housed a boulangerie and a shady pharmacy that .sold opium and absinthe. But jt was the.end of the summer and Harry had gone h o m e to Mankato. Over the next few.years, he returned to Alvarado only rarely. His summers were.filled with school and travel* or so she heard from the Johansson chatter. Her imaginings faded, yet she glanced upon their one encounter from time to time. Their one real momen t that h u n g suspended, floating as a star, churning with its nuclear splendor for no one in particular, alone in the cold heavens.

That night, Sofie told her mother about the m a n at the train depot that day. "I did hear the Johansson boy was back in town," said Rebecca. "He's going to marry his cousin Irene and work for her father at the bank!" Earlier that week, Sofie h a d passed Irene on the street in front of the ^ost Office in town. "Have you discovered a new species of mold this week?" asked Irene, to the amusement of her entourage of friends. "Have you found someone desperate enough to marry you?" replied Sofie. T h e giggles changed to gasps yet a few twitters remained. Irene turned bright red,-her face flat and r o u n d with her small eyes bulging like spring potatoes bobbing from the top of a simmering stew. 8-TT

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She opened her eyes again. H e was kneeling beside her, staring down at her. H e looked frightened. "Does it hurt anywhere?" he asked. She shook her, h e a d slowly. A rock poked into her back a n d she shifted. Pain shot u p through her .thigh and into her groin and back. She grimaced. She looked.at him. He^kept^taring at her. "Girls can be mean," he said. She nodded. " W h a t were you doing u p there?" â&#x20AC;&#x17E; She looked past him, beyond the tree branches, through thes leaves, at the small chunks of blue sky. She felt a tear hovering close. "I was trying to fly." Her voice wavered in its unexpected truthfulness. She blinked,back the tear. â&#x20AC;&#x17E;f He smiled. "I think you need more of a headwind." It was all too much. H e was laughing at her, too. Her leg was killing her. "You think I ' m strange," she said with faint accusation and a kind of desperation. With her words, his face became serious. Then, as if some small piece of the world h a d suddenly come into focus^ he smiled.. Later, she'd remember this transformation. "I think you're the smartest person in this town," he said. "Probably the smartest person I know. A body can have 4 conversation with you about something besides apple dumplings and the weather." H e grinned, realizing what he'd said. "I think you're going to, dp great things someday." H e paused a n d his voice softened. "I don't think I could ever get tired of talking to you." She stared at him. She couldn't move. A small piece of her own world h a d snapped into place. v. ^ In the distance, there were the voices of Irene and her father and the other girls. H e looked up, staring towards the fields beyond them. They'd be there in moments. Suddenly, he bent over and kissed her on the lips. It was a wet, sweet kiss; the kiss of a boy, like the soft interior of a plum. Then h e pulled away. H e stood u p a n d backed away from her. H e smiled and she frowned. "You shouldn't have done that," she said, "You kissed m e back." "I did not."

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"You know you did." She "tried to move. T h e pain stabbed her again and when she opened her eyes, Irene's father was bending over her. D o c Wallace called it a contusion, which Sofie explained to her mother was another word for a bad bruise. For several weeks she was laid u p at h o m e with ice packs - and the milky coffee her mother fed her. Reclining in her bed, she relived their conversation, and with each rendering, added turns and plot points, until there were paragraphs of conversation; a novella steeped in hidden wounds 1 and desires revealed1:* By the time she was about again, her imaginings had taken them to the altar and beyond, to their tiny flat with its bow-back bed, three stories above a sweaty Parisian alley that housed a boulangerie and a shady pharmacy that .sold opium and absinthe. But jt was the.end of the summer and Harry had gone h o m e to Mankato. Over the next few.years, he returned to Alvarado only rarely. His summers were.filled with school and travel* or so she heard from the Johansson chatter. Her imaginings faded, yet she glanced upon their one encounter from time to time. Their one real momen t that h u n g suspended, floating as a star, churning with its nuclear splendor for no one in particular, alone in the cold heavens.

That night, Sofie told her mother about the m a n at the train depot that day. "I did hear the Johansson boy was back in town," said Rebecca. "He's going to marry his cousin Irene and work for her father at the bank!" Earlier that week, Sofie h a d passed Irene on the street in front of the ^ost Office in town. "Have you discovered a new species of mold this week?" asked Irene, to the amusement of her entourage of friends. "Have you found someone desperate enough to marry you?" replied Sofie. T h e giggles changed to gasps yet a few twitters remained. Irene turned bright red,-her face flat and r o u n d with her small eyes bulging like spring potatoes bobbing from the top of a simmering stew. 8-TT

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The next day was Sunday. Sofie sat with her parents and her brother Olaf that mornin g in their pew at the Alvarado Lutheran church, Olaf was the youngest of her brothers, only a year older than Sofie, and as yet unmarried, he still lived at home. The choir was singing the third verse of the opening h y m n w h e n someone sat down,in their pew next to Sofie. She looked over with surprise. It was Harry Johansson. H e stared straight ahead at the choir. In the pew behind t h e m sat the wife of the choir director, her eldest daughter and, next to her, the secretary of the Lutheran Church Ladies'Aid. Sofie heard their peep-like whispers. Olaf elbowed her. "Why's he here?" he whispered loudly, over the singing. " H o w would I know?" she whispered back. T h e singing h a d ended. T h e pastor intoned. "The first lesson is from Second Kings, Chapter 5, verses 1 to 14." Sofie leaned towards Harry. " W h y are you here?" she whispered. " W h y aren't you at the Covenant Church?" " M y family is Lutheran," he whispered back, his eyes still trained forward at the lesson's reader. Sofie's mother, sitting on the other side of Olaf, leaned forward and glanced at the couple. H a r r y turned and smiled at her and she nodded, smiling back. Sofie glared at the minister as he finished the reading. "I thought w h e n a Lutheran boy marries a Covenant Church girl, he goes to her church from then on," she hissed. "I haven't married a Covenant Church girl,*' he said. H e glanced at her, amused. The pastor continued, "The Second Lesson today comes from the letters of Paul to the Corinthians, Chapter 9, verses 24 to 27." Harry leaned close. "I hear you're stiU v plannmg to move to Paris and become a scientist." T h e choir director's daughter, behind them, giggled. Her mother shushed her. "I admire that," he said - rather too loudly, Sofie thought - and h e .sat back. Sofie glared at the top of the pew before her. "Would you please sit somewhere else?" she said. H e leaned close again. " D o you even know French?" "I can learn," she said, her voice.rising. H e nodded. "Of course." T h e pastor jumped in.

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"Please rise for the Gospel reading, Mark, Chapter 1, verses 40 to 45." T h e congregation rose to its feet. Sofie opened her bible and tried to ignore him. "May I read along with you?" he asked. "I left mine at home?' "No," she whispered. The pastor's wife looked over her shoulder. Glancing at the two of them, she smiled at Harry a n d nodded hello. Harry returned the nod a n a took hold of the binding of Sofie's bible and pulled it towards him. Sofie stared straight ahead. The pastor spoke the bible verses. "At least I want to do something with my life." she whispered. "And I admire you for t h a t - " he whispered back. "Though I don't hold my own ambitions more cheaply just because a smelly French city isn't my first choice of locales." H e paused as she tried to wrestle the bible from his hands. H e refused to release it and continued. " O n the other harid, I can speak French." Sofie dropped her side of the bible and crossed'her arms over her chest. The pastor told the congregation to be seated'and he began his sermon. The congregation resumed their seats. Olaf elbowed her again. "Move o v e r - you're practically on my.lap," he whispered. She shifted only slightly. Harry smelled faintly of soap. She stared at the pulpit, pretending to listen. Harry tilted his head towards hers. "Maybe I can help you." "You've been rio help whatsoever," she said. The pastor glared at them. Harry leaned in close to her ear and whispered. "I mean real help." She was quiet. His filmy words filled her ear. "My father's in-shipping. He-has* European customers. H e may know some'one who could help you get there - maybe find you a place to stay." Sofie turned to look at him, her chest swelling with hope, yet still fearful. " W h y would you do that?" she asked. The pastor's voice boomed over them. Harry smiled at her question and glanced back at the pastor. "Maybe," he said softly. "Maybe I want something from you." Sofie looked quickly to the front, her cheeks burning. W h a t could he possibly want? W h a t did she have to freely give to' him? But her

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The next day was Sunday. Sofie sat with her parents and her brother Olaf that mornin g in their pew at the Alvarado Lutheran church, Olaf was the youngest of her brothers, only a year older than Sofie, and as yet unmarried, he still lived at home. The choir was singing the third verse of the opening h y m n w h e n someone sat down,in their pew next to Sofie. She looked over with surprise. It was Harry Johansson. H e stared straight ahead at the choir. In the pew behind t h e m sat the wife of the choir director, her eldest daughter and, next to her, the secretary of the Lutheran Church Ladies'Aid. Sofie heard their peep-like whispers. Olaf elbowed her. "Why's he here?" he whispered loudly, over the singing. " H o w would I know?" she whispered back. T h e singing h a d ended. T h e pastor intoned. "The first lesson is from Second Kings, Chapter 5, verses 1 to 14." Sofie leaned towards Harry. " W h y are you here?" she whispered. " W h y aren't you at the Covenant Church?" " M y family is Lutheran," he whispered back, his eyes still trained forward at the lesson's reader. Sofie's mother, sitting on the other side of Olaf, leaned forward and glanced at the couple. H a r r y turned and smiled at her and she nodded, smiling back. Sofie glared at the minister as he finished the reading. "I thought w h e n a Lutheran boy marries a Covenant Church girl, he goes to her church from then on," she hissed. "I haven't married a Covenant Church girl,*' he said. H e glanced at her, amused. The pastor continued, "The Second Lesson today comes from the letters of Paul to the Corinthians, Chapter 9, verses 24 to 27." Harry leaned close. "I hear you're stiU v plannmg to move to Paris and become a scientist." T h e choir director's daughter, behind them, giggled. Her mother shushed her. "I admire that," he said - rather too loudly, Sofie thought - and h e .sat back. Sofie glared at the top of the pew before her. "Would you please sit somewhere else?" she said. H e leaned close again. " D o you even know French?" "I can learn," she said, her voice.rising. H e nodded. "Of course." T h e pastor jumped in.

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"Please rise for the Gospel reading, Mark, Chapter 1, verses 40 to 45." T h e congregation rose to its feet. Sofie opened her bible and tried to ignore him. "May I read along with you?" he asked. "I left mine at home?' "No," she whispered. The pastor's wife looked over her shoulder. Glancing at the two of them, she smiled at Harry a n d nodded hello. Harry returned the nod a n a took hold of the binding of Sofie's bible and pulled it towards him. Sofie stared straight ahead. The pastor spoke the bible verses. "At least I want to do something with my life." she whispered. "And I admire you for t h a t - " he whispered back. "Though I don't hold my own ambitions more cheaply just because a smelly French city isn't my first choice of locales." H e paused as she tried to wrestle the bible from his hands. H e refused to release it and continued. " O n the other harid, I can speak French." Sofie dropped her side of the bible and crossed'her arms over her chest. The pastor told the congregation to be seated'and he began his sermon. The congregation resumed their seats. Olaf elbowed her again. "Move o v e r - you're practically on my.lap," he whispered. She shifted only slightly. Harry smelled faintly of soap. She stared at the pulpit, pretending to listen. Harry tilted his head towards hers. "Maybe I can help you." "You've been rio help whatsoever," she said. The pastor glared at them. Harry leaned in close to her ear and whispered. "I mean real help." She was quiet. His filmy words filled her ear. "My father's in-shipping. He-has* European customers. H e may know some'one who could help you get there - maybe find you a place to stay." Sofie turned to look at him, her chest swelling with hope, yet still fearful. " W h y would you do that?" she asked. The pastor's voice boomed over them. Harry smiled at her question and glanced back at the pastor. "Maybe," he said softly. "Maybe I want something from you." Sofie looked quickly to the front, her cheeks burning. W h a t could he possibly want? W h a t did she have to freely give to' him? But her

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m i n d wandered in the clergy's tonal crests. Old faded notions rose to the fore. D i d not Marie have her Pierre, tender and devoted? Sofie h a d imagined their courtship, the older researcher calling on the younger student in her grim Parisian studio flat. His muted surprise at her Spartan surroundings. Marie never cooked; she couldn't bear to h part with a m o m e n t from her books, and there were no pots, n o mixing bowls, not even a ladle with which to apportion soup. W h e n Pierre saw this, he began to bring food to her everyday at the lab, enough for both a lunch and some to save for supper. H e fell into caring for her, worrying about the thickness of her clothes in their drafty wqrkspace, the condition of her soles on the Paris cobblestones. H e fell in love

The breeze rustled through the willow tree. "That doesn't sound so hard to learn," she said. "It's not." "You'd said you wanted something," she reminded him. He looked off, as if considering the question. l " Yes, I suppose if I ' m going to help you leave Alvarado forever, I ' m going to want something in return." Then he turned back to her. The word forever caught her. "I don't know what I might have that you could possibly want, 0 ' she began. "I want you to make m e a pie." "A pie?" She was taken aback. W h y a pie? "A pie is nothing." She was fairly certain Pierre would never have asked for one. " O h really? For Irene it would be nothing." Sofie turned to go, but he refused to release her hand. She stared at him. H e wanted'a pie. " D o you really think Paris is smelly?" she asked. He leaned in. "Does it matter at all what I think?" Sofie sighed. "It'd be easier for m e to grow you a blue tomato," she murmured. "A pie," he said. She thought of the curse. "But would you eat a pie I made?" He laughed. Yes, of course, he told her. "But - you know - the curse." H e took her face gently in his hands. The world was watching. "I will eat your pie," he said. She shdok her head. "I don't know the first thing about pie-making." "That's what my aunt has always said." She could hear his tender smile. "But I believe you can do anything."

with her. As they stood together for the closing hymn, .she noticed how the lyric's simple words filled with the rich reverberant basses of his singing voice; she noticed his excellent posture. After the service, H a r r y chatted with Sofie^and her mother outside on the church lawn. Her mother inquired after his family down in Mankato, and I^arry answered that all were doing well. "It is so nice to see you in church today - 1 hope we'll be seeing more of you?" said Rebecca, smiling. Sofie caught Olaf's gaze from the church steps where h e stood with a handful of other young men . H e grinned at her and raised his eyebrows. "Thank you, lfo$.t Armundsson, I hope so, too," said Harry. "Would it be all right if I spoke with Sofie for a moment^" Her mother said of course and he took her hand, leading her into the shade of the weeping willow that grew between the church yard and the parsonage. H e laced his fingers with hers. "I liked seeing you today," he said. N__^ ^ She smiled and looked,away, her cheeks warming again. Nearby, several church ladies pounced on her mother, chatting amicably and occasionally glancing in their direction. "Can you really speak French?" she asked. i H e nodded. He'd learned in school. "Say something." _. H e thought for a m o m e n t . "Vouyfites u n e belle fille." She smiled. " W h a t did you say?" "I asked you w h ^ t time it was." She nodded. T h e lingering church crowd nearby was dispersing.

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T h e next morning as her family ate breakfast together, Sofie announced she was going to make a pie. Olaf let out a low whistle. H e grinned at Sofie and winked. She glared at him. Her parents"became quiet. Her mother, w h o heard Sofie's news with her coffee cup mid-way to her lips, set it down without sipping. Her father turned to her brother'immediately. "You best get oh the road this morning. It's going to take you all day to gef down to Luke's

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m i n d wandered in the clergy's tonal crests. Old faded notions rose to the fore. D i d not Marie have her Pierre, tender and devoted? Sofie h a d imagined their courtship, the older researcher calling on the younger student in her grim Parisian studio flat. His muted surprise at her Spartan surroundings. Marie never cooked; she couldn't bear to h part with a m o m e n t from her books, and there were no pots, n o mixing bowls, not even a ladle with which to apportion soup. W h e n Pierre saw this, he began to bring food to her everyday at the lab, enough for both a lunch and some to save for supper. H e fell into caring for her, worrying about the thickness of her clothes in their drafty wqrkspace, the condition of her soles on the Paris cobblestones. H e fell in love

The breeze rustled through the willow tree. "That doesn't sound so hard to learn," she said. "It's not." "You'd said you wanted something," she reminded him. He looked off, as if considering the question. l " Yes, I suppose if I ' m going to help you leave Alvarado forever, I ' m going to want something in return." Then he turned back to her. The word forever caught her. "I don't know what I might have that you could possibly want, 0 ' she began. "I want you to make m e a pie." "A pie?" She was taken aback. W h y a pie? "A pie is nothing." She was fairly certain Pierre would never have asked for one. " O h really? For Irene it would be nothing." Sofie turned to go, but he refused to release her hand. She stared at him. H e wanted'a pie. " D o you really think Paris is smelly?" she asked. He leaned in. "Does it matter at all what I think?" Sofie sighed. "It'd be easier for m e to grow you a blue tomato," she murmured. "A pie," he said. She thought of the curse. "But would you eat a pie I made?" He laughed. Yes, of course, he told her. "But - you know - the curse." H e took her face gently in his hands. The world was watching. "I will eat your pie," he said. She shdok her head. "I don't know the first thing about pie-making." "That's what my aunt has always said." She could hear his tender smile. "But I believe you can do anything."

with her. As they stood together for the closing hymn, .she noticed how the lyric's simple words filled with the rich reverberant basses of his singing voice; she noticed his excellent posture. After the service, H a r r y chatted with Sofie^and her mother outside on the church lawn. Her mother inquired after his family down in Mankato, and I^arry answered that all were doing well. "It is so nice to see you in church today - 1 hope we'll be seeing more of you?" said Rebecca, smiling. Sofie caught Olaf's gaze from the church steps where h e stood with a handful of other young men . H e grinned at her and raised his eyebrows. "Thank you, lfo$.t Armundsson, I hope so, too," said Harry. "Would it be all right if I spoke with Sofie for a moment^" Her mother said of course and he took her hand, leading her into the shade of the weeping willow that grew between the church yard and the parsonage. H e laced his fingers with hers. "I liked seeing you today," he said. N__^ ^ She smiled and looked,away, her cheeks warming again. Nearby, several church ladies pounced on her mother, chatting amicably and occasionally glancing in their direction. "Can you really speak French?" she asked. i H e nodded. He'd learned in school. "Say something." _. H e thought for a m o m e n t . "Vouyfites u n e belle fille." She smiled. " W h a t did you say?" "I asked you w h ^ t time it was." She nodded. T h e lingering church crowd nearby was dispersing.

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T h e next morning as her family ate breakfast together, Sofie announced she was going to make a pie. Olaf let out a low whistle. H e grinned at Sofie and winked. She glared at him. Her parents"became quiet. Her mother, w h o heard Sofie's news with her coffee cup mid-way to her lips, set it down without sipping. Her father turned to her brother'immediately. "You best get oh the road this morning. It's going to take you all day to gef down to Luke's

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plate. He's been holding back on getting that seed in the ground 'til you get there." "I want a piece of that pie first," he said, grinning. "I want you o n the road this morning," said his father. Rebecca considered her coffee cup ; "It's going to be"fine," she said to her husband. She lifted the cup to her lips again and turned to her daughter. "We'll make it together. W h a t kind of pie do you have in mind? T h e strawberries are not yet ripe, I think." "I want to m a k e it myself," said Sofie. "Rhubarb. T h a t makes a nice pie. Inhere must be a b o o k on pie-making." Rebecca smiled into the rim of her cup. "They call it a cookbook," she said. "I k n o w a lovely recipe you can use." She glanced at her husband. "This is a good thing," she said to him. To Sofie, she smiled. " I ' m so happy - you're going to cook. This is wonderful." Sofie vaguely stared at her own coffee cup. Nobel Prizes were wonderful; pie was pie. After breakfast, Sofie followed her mother along the rows of tidy plantings to the back of the garden. A dozen or so plants with solid red stocks fanned forth from the ground, topped with large dark-green heart-shaped leaves. Rebecca knelt in the black soil and showed her how to separate the stocks a n d snap t h e m near t h e roots, leaving behind only a short nub. They gathered a bucketful, and Sofie carried it back to the kitchen; the leafy tops peered over the rim a n d trembled with each step. Her mother set her at the sink and showed heivhpw to peel and dice the stalks. Sofie scraped at t h e m energetically With every other scrape, the peeler became lodged and the stalks began to appear pockmarked. She caught the peeler on her thumb, then on her knuckle with the next swipe. Sofie,began to bleed a n d she considered h o w convenient it was that rhubarb was red. She switched to a chopping motion, gauging at the stems. Large flecks of rhubarb Uttered the sink and counters. Sofie wondered what evil person h a d invented the notion of a pie. She envisioned a croissant-shaped pastry with whole stalks of rhubarb poked in randomly. Outside a crowd of youngsters gathered beyond the kitchen window gaping at Sofie as she worked.

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Rebecca stood at the kitchen table, looking through her recipes. "Once you're done there, you can get to work on your pie crust." The crust was where a true cook's talent was seen. "It'll be nice to have a pie with supper tonight." Sofie h a d forgotten about the crust, which was certain to be an even greater tbrture. She dropped the peeler in the sink. "It's not for you," "she said. "It's for sorheone else." She'began to cry. She hated pie. Her mother went to the sink and saw the town's children congregating near the house. She went to the back door. " I ' m certain you children have chores to do," she said. "You get along h o m e now." A neighbor boy, tall and thin as a shock of corn, grinned at her with brown teeth. "Sofie's baking a pie," he said. "She's baking a pie for Harry Johansson." "Get on out of here," said Rebecca. "All of you." She shut the door. Sofie h a d sunk to the floor; holding a stalk of rhubarb in her hand. Tears ran down her face as she looked u p at her mother. Rebecca sat on a kitchen chair and stared thoughtfully at her daughter. "Are you crying about the pie?" she asked. Sofie shook her head. Rebecca paused. " D o you love him?" Sofie nodded. "He's in the way." She whacked the rhubarb stem against the cabinet door beside her. "Well," said Rebecca finally. "I always thought h e was' a nice boy." Her mother went to the cabinet for flour and shortening. ""In any case, be sure you only use the stalks in your pie a n d n o t the leaves." She turned back and loolced at her*daughter carefully. "Perhaps I should make the pie filling." Rhubarb leaves were poisonous. Sofie shook her head. This was her pie. Rising before her, she saw legions of pies, floating like stepping stones, disappearing into the mists of her future. So'fie staged at the large, heart-shape'd leaves that rose u p from the stalk in her hand. .They glistened and n o d d e d to her as if they longed to share some secret. That afternoon, shortly after the noon meal, Sofie - carrying the

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plate. He's been holding back on getting that seed in the ground 'til you get there." "I want a piece of that pie first," he said, grinning. "I want you o n the road this morning," said his father. Rebecca considered her coffee cup ; "It's going to be"fine," she said to her husband. She lifted the cup to her lips again and turned to her daughter. "We'll make it together. W h a t kind of pie do you have in mind? T h e strawberries are not yet ripe, I think." "I want to m a k e it myself," said Sofie. "Rhubarb. T h a t makes a nice pie. Inhere must be a b o o k on pie-making." Rebecca smiled into the rim of her cup. "They call it a cookbook," she said. "I k n o w a lovely recipe you can use." She glanced at her husband. "This is a good thing," she said to him. To Sofie, she smiled. " I ' m so happy - you're going to cook. This is wonderful." Sofie vaguely stared at her own coffee cup. Nobel Prizes were wonderful; pie was pie. After breakfast, Sofie followed her mother along the rows of tidy plantings to the back of the garden. A dozen or so plants with solid red stocks fanned forth from the ground, topped with large dark-green heart-shaped leaves. Rebecca knelt in the black soil and showed her how to separate the stocks a n d snap t h e m near t h e roots, leaving behind only a short nub. They gathered a bucketful, and Sofie carried it back to the kitchen; the leafy tops peered over the rim a n d trembled with each step. Her mother set her at the sink and showed heivhpw to peel and dice the stalks. Sofie scraped at t h e m energetically With every other scrape, the peeler became lodged and the stalks began to appear pockmarked. She caught the peeler on her thumb, then on her knuckle with the next swipe. Sofie,began to bleed a n d she considered h o w convenient it was that rhubarb was red. She switched to a chopping motion, gauging at the stems. Large flecks of rhubarb Uttered the sink and counters. Sofie wondered what evil person h a d invented the notion of a pie. She envisioned a croissant-shaped pastry with whole stalks of rhubarb poked in randomly. Outside a crowd of youngsters gathered beyond the kitchen window gaping at Sofie as she worked.

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Rebecca stood at the kitchen table, looking through her recipes. "Once you're done there, you can get to work on your pie crust." The crust was where a true cook's talent was seen. "It'll be nice to have a pie with supper tonight." Sofie h a d forgotten about the crust, which was certain to be an even greater tbrture. She dropped the peeler in the sink. "It's not for you," "she said. "It's for sorheone else." She'began to cry. She hated pie. Her mother went to the sink and saw the town's children congregating near the house. She went to the back door. " I ' m certain you children have chores to do," she said. "You get along h o m e now." A neighbor boy, tall and thin as a shock of corn, grinned at her with brown teeth. "Sofie's baking a pie," he said. "She's baking a pie for Harry Johansson." "Get on out of here," said Rebecca. "All of you." She shut the door. Sofie h a d sunk to the floor; holding a stalk of rhubarb in her hand. Tears ran down her face as she looked u p at her mother. Rebecca sat on a kitchen chair and stared thoughtfully at her daughter. "Are you crying about the pie?" she asked. Sofie shook her head. Rebecca paused. " D o you love him?" Sofie nodded. "He's in the way." She whacked the rhubarb stem against the cabinet door beside her. "Well," said Rebecca finally. "I always thought h e was' a nice boy." Her mother went to the cabinet for flour and shortening. ""In any case, be sure you only use the stalks in your pie a n d n o t the leaves." She turned back and loolced at her*daughter carefully. "Perhaps I should make the pie filling." Rhubarb leaves were poisonous. Sofie shook her head. This was her pie. Rising before her, she saw legions of pies, floating like stepping stones, disappearing into the mists of her future. So'fie staged at the large, heart-shape'd leaves that rose u p from the stalk in her hand. .They glistened and n o d d e d to her as if they longed to share some secret. That afternoon, shortly after the noon meal, Sofie - carrying the

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T pie - walked with her mother to the Johansson house. Neighbors peered out from doors a n d picture windows. A t the house, Rebecca rang the doorbell. Arlette answered. "Rebecca," said Arlette. "Arlette." T h e spinster stepped aside and ushered So'fie and her mother into her kitchen. It seemed the entire Johansson family was in attendance and the kitchen was crowded with uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces, spilling into the adjoining dining r o o m and parlor. Irene was there as well. Her face was red and blotchy and she sniffed loudly. Harry was seated at the kitchen table and he rose as they entered. "Mrs. Armundsson," he nodded to Sofie's mother. T h e n he turned to Sofie. "Sofie " he said with a smile. "We brought you a pie," announced Sofie's mother.. "I m a d e it," said Sofie. She looked only at Harry. She was pale, her voice barely a whisper. H e r face was lightly dusted in flour. She held the pie out to him. Her hands trembled arid the pie threatened to slip to the floor. , "We m a d e it together," said her mother. She looked around at the r o o m full of Johanssons. "I m a d e it myself," the girl whispered. H a r r y took the pie from her. "I'll have a piece now." H e did not move his eyes from her. Irene let u p a small sob a n d r a n from the room. T h e household was silent except for the sounds of her feet pounding u p the stairs and the slamming of a distant door. H a r r y set the pie pan on the table, drew a knife through it and N lifted out a wedge onto a plate. â&#x20AC;&#x201D;T h e only sound in the house.was the clock o n the kitchen wall. Arlette drew in a sharp breath. " D o n ' t - " she began. Harry picked u p the plate a n d fork a n d smiled at Sofie. Arlette spoke up. "Harry - don't - you don't have to eat that pie. Please." H a r r y took a forkful and bit into it. He smiled. "It's absolutely wonderful," he announced. He finished the piece in a matter of bites, then set down the plate. Suddenly, he turned pale and dropped into his chair. "I don't feel

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quite right," he said. The r o o m exploded in an uproar and H a r r y disappeared behind a wall of his relatives. Sofie let herself be pushed aside and leaned against the wall as the p a n d e m o n i um gathered strength. For as sad - or relieved - as she might have been i t that moment, her mind was lost in an overwhelming sense of incredulity. She stared at the family, the noise and the gesturing, as though standing aloft, bearing witness tb J a colossal tidal wave. Then, a m o m e n t later, she came to marvel at this spectacle, as if indeed, it belonged to her; as if .she h a a been the one to evoke that subterranean earthquake. 8-TT That night Harry became horribly ill. N o t quite "deathly" ill, as old D o c Wallace was "quick to point out to family members mining about the first floor of the old house. Later, though, when summoned back to the Johansson house, Miss Arlette answered his knock with a glare. "I suppose after he dies, it will be safe to call it 'deathly,' then," she said grimly. "The boy's not going to die," said the doctor, rernoving his hat and stepping through the doorway. "He's got the constitution of a horse." Sofie waited in the parlor of the Johansson house, in a corner, next to the china closet, perched on the edge of an embroidered ottoman, with the various family members in attendance. At one point Lily tried to send her home, but Arlette intervened. "I want to know where that one is, should the Sheriff need to find her," she said. After the doctor had left for the second time that night, Arlette went to prepare more coffee and Sofie crept u p to Harry's room. She found h i m alone. He, was lying on the beef, 'covered only in' a sheet. His hair was d a m p with perspiration a n d heads of moisture rose in clusters along his temples. His face was pale and his breaths shallow. Sofie sat on the chair next to his bed. H e opened his eyes. W h e n he saw her, he smiled. " I ' m so glad you're here," he said. " D o c says it's just a bad case of indigestion. H e thinks I ' m past the worst of it." Sofie squeezed her hands together. " I ' m so glad," she said. H e struggled to sit u p on his elbows, but turned white with the ef-

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T pie - walked with her mother to the Johansson house. Neighbors peered out from doors a n d picture windows. A t the house, Rebecca rang the doorbell. Arlette answered. "Rebecca," said Arlette. "Arlette." T h e spinster stepped aside and ushered So'fie and her mother into her kitchen. It seemed the entire Johansson family was in attendance and the kitchen was crowded with uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces, spilling into the adjoining dining r o o m and parlor. Irene was there as well. Her face was red and blotchy and she sniffed loudly. Harry was seated at the kitchen table and he rose as they entered. "Mrs. Armundsson," he nodded to Sofie's mother. T h e n he turned to Sofie. "Sofie " he said with a smile. "We brought you a pie," announced Sofie's mother.. "I m a d e it," said Sofie. She looked only at Harry. She was pale, her voice barely a whisper. H e r face was lightly dusted in flour. She held the pie out to him. Her hands trembled arid the pie threatened to slip to the floor. , "We m a d e it together," said her mother. She looked around at the r o o m full of Johanssons. "I m a d e it myself," the girl whispered. H a r r y took the pie from her. "I'll have a piece now." H e did not move his eyes from her. Irene let u p a small sob a n d r a n from the room. T h e household was silent except for the sounds of her feet pounding u p the stairs and the slamming of a distant door. H a r r y set the pie pan on the table, drew a knife through it and N lifted out a wedge onto a plate. â&#x20AC;&#x201D;T h e only sound in the house.was the clock o n the kitchen wall. Arlette drew in a sharp breath. " D o n ' t - " she began. Harry picked u p the plate a n d fork a n d smiled at Sofie. Arlette spoke up. "Harry - don't - you don't have to eat that pie. Please." H a r r y took a forkful and bit into it. He smiled. "It's absolutely wonderful," he announced. He finished the piece in a matter of bites, then set down the plate. Suddenly, he turned pale and dropped into his chair. "I don't feel

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quite right," he said. The r o o m exploded in an uproar and H a r r y disappeared behind a wall of his relatives. Sofie let herself be pushed aside and leaned against the wall as the p a n d e m o n i um gathered strength. For as sad - or relieved - as she might have been i t that moment, her mind was lost in an overwhelming sense of incredulity. She stared at the family, the noise and the gesturing, as though standing aloft, bearing witness tb J a colossal tidal wave. Then, a m o m e n t later, she came to marvel at this spectacle, as if indeed, it belonged to her; as if .she h a a been the one to evoke that subterranean earthquake. 8-TT That night Harry became horribly ill. N o t quite "deathly" ill, as old D o c Wallace was "quick to point out to family members mining about the first floor of the old house. Later, though, when summoned back to the Johansson house, Miss Arlette answered his knock with a glare. "I suppose after he dies, it will be safe to call it 'deathly,' then," she said grimly. "The boy's not going to die," said the doctor, rernoving his hat and stepping through the doorway. "He's got the constitution of a horse." Sofie waited in the parlor of the Johansson house, in a corner, next to the china closet, perched on the edge of an embroidered ottoman, with the various family members in attendance. At one point Lily tried to send her home, but Arlette intervened. "I want to know where that one is, should the Sheriff need to find her," she said. After the doctor had left for the second time that night, Arlette went to prepare more coffee and Sofie crept u p to Harry's room. She found h i m alone. He, was lying on the beef, 'covered only in' a sheet. His hair was d a m p with perspiration a n d heads of moisture rose in clusters along his temples. His face was pale and his breaths shallow. Sofie sat on the chair next to his bed. H e opened his eyes. W h e n he saw her, he smiled. " I ' m so glad you're here," he said. " D o c says it's just a bad case of indigestion. H e thinks I ' m past the worst of it." Sofie squeezed her hands together. " I ' m so glad," she said. H e struggled to sit u p on his elbows, but turned white with the ef-

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fort and fell back onto the sheet. H e stared at the ceiling. "You know, you think a lot, when you're sick like this. Your mind turns over and over. You think about what's really important." H e rolled over to look at Sofie. "We should get married as soon, as possible." H e stopped - the effort was great. ''We need to be together," he,went on. "You,must feel it, too. I'll talk to your father tomorrow if I can." H e paused. "I've;thought this through, and what makes the most, sense is for us to five here in Alvarado, here with A u n t Arlette."

long and hard o n the mouth. She felt h i m struggle beneath her. Then, as he began to relax, she stepped away. She'd remember his look, his grasping expression. Only now, finally, did she understand. She picked u p the paper and left and went h o m e that night to pack. There was no time to waste. The next morning, Sofie stood on the empty platform of the depot, her satchel beside her, "flanked by her mother and father. N o n e of them said a word. Sofie's mother blinked hard, her eyes red. The rails before them were empty and they stared past them, across a field of blue flax a n d beyond that, over fields of summer wheat, green a n d still. T h e morning was cool and tendrils of mist'rose u p from the earth in ghostly figures. They floated over the crop in a slow procession.

"Here?" Harrymodded. "She's got plenty of r o o m . We'll save our pennies and w h o knows, in a year or two, we'll have our own place,, right in town. You'll love A u n t Arlette. Besides," and he smiled. " W h e n our first baby comes along, I ' m sure you'll want"the help of another woman." Once again she, felt herself falling from the tree bough to the ground below. Her world, her dreams spun away from her. She .hit with a dull thud. "We're going to have a wonderful life, Sofie." She saw their wonderful life before her. "I poisoned the pie." "You poisoned the pie?" he repeated weakly. His smile disappeared. ( f She nodded. "I don't understand," h e said. They were both; silent. Then he spoke. "I don't understand. You could, have just not m a d e tlie pie." She stared at her hands. H e was right. "$ut f you wanted a piej' she suggested weakly. "So you poisoned it?" H e grimaced. Iriisoiew knowledge h a d a potency of its own. , Harry paused. "Will I die?" he asked. H e tried to sound casual. She shook her head. Rhubarh leaves weren't deadly. If she'd wanted to poison h i m it'd have been easy as pie. "You better go." H e turned his head away, towards the wall. Sofie nodded a n d stood up. "The newspaper's on the night stand. You can have it if you like." Sofie picked it up.-She stared at it and she realized. She let it drop. " O h Harry, I'-m so sorry!" H e turned to her, to her-voice, and she benfcdown and kissed him

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"Did you pack your hat?" her mother asked. Sofie nodded. "The one I m a d e for you last winter, the blue one?" She'nodded again. "I didn't see it in'your suitcase," said her mother. She wiped her eyes. "I'll findit; it's in the cedar chest. I'll send it to you." Sofie felt the wood beneath her feet tremble. There were footsteps on the planking behind them and they turned-. It was the county shefiff. H e held out'his h a n d to Sofie's father and they shook. The sheriff spoke first. "I guess there was some nonsense here last night about an attempted murder, but I don't know. All I ' m seeing is a severe case of indigestion." Sofie's father nodded. "Thanks, Vernon. We sure do appreciate that." The sheriff glanced at the baggage; "Someone taking a trip?" h e said. "Sofie's" headed down : to 5st.'Paul. %Ay oldest son's wife's got family down there that she can stay with-for'awhile. Guess she'll find out if she likes city-life." T h e sheriff nodded. *Safe travels, yodng lady." Sofie nodded. It was time. In the city, she'd get a^job. Then, eventually, she'd move on to N e w York, or London . Perhaps she'd make it to Paris. She'd find her own way.' Behind the sheriff, another figure had stepped onto the platform. It was Harry. He came to her, still pale and moving slowly. H e carried with him the remainder of the wretched pie in its tin. H e set it down on the

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fort and fell back onto the sheet. H e stared at the ceiling. "You know, you think a lot, when you're sick like this. Your mind turns over and over. You think about what's really important." H e rolled over to look at Sofie. "We should get married as soon, as possible." H e stopped - the effort was great. ''We need to be together," he,went on. "You,must feel it, too. I'll talk to your father tomorrow if I can." H e paused. "I've;thought this through, and what makes the most, sense is for us to five here in Alvarado, here with A u n t Arlette."

long and hard o n the mouth. She felt h i m struggle beneath her. Then, as he began to relax, she stepped away. She'd remember his look, his grasping expression. Only now, finally, did she understand. She picked u p the paper and left and went h o m e that night to pack. There was no time to waste. The next morning, Sofie stood on the empty platform of the depot, her satchel beside her, "flanked by her mother and father. N o n e of them said a word. Sofie's mother blinked hard, her eyes red. The rails before them were empty and they stared past them, across a field of blue flax a n d beyond that, over fields of summer wheat, green a n d still. T h e morning was cool and tendrils of mist'rose u p from the earth in ghostly figures. They floated over the crop in a slow procession.

"Here?" Harrymodded. "She's got plenty of r o o m . We'll save our pennies and w h o knows, in a year or two, we'll have our own place,, right in town. You'll love A u n t Arlette. Besides," and he smiled. " W h e n our first baby comes along, I ' m sure you'll want"the help of another woman." Once again she, felt herself falling from the tree bough to the ground below. Her world, her dreams spun away from her. She .hit with a dull thud. "We're going to have a wonderful life, Sofie." She saw their wonderful life before her. "I poisoned the pie." "You poisoned the pie?" he repeated weakly. His smile disappeared. ( f She nodded. "I don't understand," h e said. They were both; silent. Then he spoke. "I don't understand. You could, have just not m a d e tlie pie." She stared at her hands. H e was right. "$ut f you wanted a piej' she suggested weakly. "So you poisoned it?" H e grimaced. Iriisoiew knowledge h a d a potency of its own. , Harry paused. "Will I die?" he asked. H e tried to sound casual. She shook her head. Rhubarh leaves weren't deadly. If she'd wanted to poison h i m it'd have been easy as pie. "You better go." H e turned his head away, towards the wall. Sofie nodded a n d stood up. "The newspaper's on the night stand. You can have it if you like." Sofie picked it up.-She stared at it and she realized. She let it drop. " O h Harry, I'-m so sorry!" H e turned to her, to her-voice, and she benfcdown and kissed him

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"Did you pack your hat?" her mother asked. Sofie nodded. "The one I m a d e for you last winter, the blue one?" She'nodded again. "I didn't see it in'your suitcase," said her mother. She wiped her eyes. "I'll findit; it's in the cedar chest. I'll send it to you." Sofie felt the wood beneath her feet tremble. There were footsteps on the planking behind them and they turned-. It was the county shefiff. H e held out'his h a n d to Sofie's father and they shook. The sheriff spoke first. "I guess there was some nonsense here last night about an attempted murder, but I don't know. All I ' m seeing is a severe case of indigestion." Sofie's father nodded. "Thanks, Vernon. We sure do appreciate that." The sheriff glanced at the baggage; "Someone taking a trip?" h e said. "Sofie's" headed down : to 5st.'Paul. %Ay oldest son's wife's got family down there that she can stay with-for'awhile. Guess she'll find out if she likes city-life." T h e sheriff nodded. *Safe travels, yodng lady." Sofie nodded. It was time. In the city, she'd get a^job. Then, eventually, she'd move on to N e w York, or London . Perhaps she'd make it to Paris. She'd find her own way.' Behind the sheriff, another figure had stepped onto the platform. It was Harry. He came to her, still pale and moving slowly. H e carried with him the remainder of the wretched pie in its tin. H e set it down on the

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bench nearby. H e swayed before hen. H e looked terrible. "I thought you'd want your pie p a n back," h e said, not unkindly. Sofie dropped her head. "I a m sorry. I'm, so sorry for what I did to you." H e nodded. "I know. You were right. I did ask for pie." She looked up at him. "But you didn't ask for that." The bright morning sky stung her eyes. This was all too, much. Alvarado was such an impossible place. Where was the train? She though^to simply t u r n and run. Long strides put over the fields behind her, her wet skirt slapping at her legs, this, silly world disappearing behind her. .Harry looked like he was going to fall over. "Look - I ' m sorry, too," he said.."It was stupid. Pdon't want pie." H e took a step closer. His forehead was moist, his cheeks flushed. "Please .don't leave. I'd rather have you t h a n a lifetime of pies." Sofie shook her head. v Someday he'd want something., "Then maybe you'll want a cake. Or a pudding. Or a home-cooked meal." The truth in her wprds calmed her. " W h a t I a m certain you'll never want is a new derivation of Newtonia n physics, or a n .explanation for the self-organizing tendencies of matter." She stepped back. "It's better this.way. M a r r y Irene. You'lljive a longer life." f Harry stared at her. Then he turned t and nicked u p the pie. H e took the fork in his trembling h a n d a n d pushed it through the crusjt. "I know you're smart," -he said, glancing at her. "But why would you think you know-what I want?" The rhubarb in its sauce gleamed in the morning sun. He lifterl a savory piece from-the tin. H e glanced at it, then smiled at her, and put the fork in his mouth. They watched h i m in stunned surprise.Sofie'siajhe.r, held out his hands. "Son, wait - don't." But it was too late. His eyes never left hers. Herchewed a p d swallowed a n d went for another. Then, there, in that moment, they were far away, together again, alone under the tree that stood near the bend in the, creek'. She pulled the pie tin from his hands and let it drop to the ground. T "I love your pie," he croaked. H e choked on the last w,or<Js. His face turned blue and he coughed. She wrapped her arms around him. "From n o w o n I ' m doing^he cooking," h e told her.

Fortunately, in the end, D o c Wallace was right. Harry did have the constitution of a horse. They wed soon after and eventually moved to Paris. Sofie attendee! the University a n d later worked in the laboratory honoring the achievements of the Curies. Sofie gave birth to five children, all daughters, w h o went Qn to have daughters of they- own, who, h a d even more daughters still. They grew u p happy and loved, a n d became scientists a n d mothers, doctors a n d writers. All this was seen as a blessing from God . But alas, there was not a chef amon g them..

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bench nearby. H e swayed before hen. H e looked terrible. "I thought you'd want your pie p a n back," h e said, not unkindly. Sofie dropped her head. "I a m sorry. I'm, so sorry for what I did to you." H e nodded. "I know. You were right. I did ask for pie." She looked up at him. "But you didn't ask for that." The bright morning sky stung her eyes. This was all too, much. Alvarado was such an impossible place. Where was the train? She though^to simply t u r n and run. Long strides put over the fields behind her, her wet skirt slapping at her legs, this, silly world disappearing behind her. .Harry looked like he was going to fall over. "Look - I ' m sorry, too," he said.."It was stupid. Pdon't want pie." H e took a step closer. His forehead was moist, his cheeks flushed. "Please .don't leave. I'd rather have you t h a n a lifetime of pies." Sofie shook her head. v Someday he'd want something., "Then maybe you'll want a cake. Or a pudding. Or a home-cooked meal." The truth in her wprds calmed her. " W h a t I a m certain you'll never want is a new derivation of Newtonia n physics, or a n .explanation for the self-organizing tendencies of matter." She stepped back. "It's better this.way. M a r r y Irene. You'lljive a longer life." f Harry stared at her. Then he turned t and nicked u p the pie. H e took the fork in his trembling h a n d a n d pushed it through the crusjt. "I know you're smart," -he said, glancing at her. "But why would you think you know-what I want?" The rhubarb in its sauce gleamed in the morning sun. He lifterl a savory piece from-the tin. H e glanced at it, then smiled at her, and put the fork in his mouth. They watched h i m in stunned surprise.Sofie'siajhe.r, held out his hands. "Son, wait - don't." But it was too late. His eyes never left hers. Herchewed a p d swallowed a n d went for another. Then, there, in that moment, they were far away, together again, alone under the tree that stood near the bend in the, creek'. She pulled the pie tin from his hands and let it drop to the ground. T "I love your pie," he croaked. H e choked on the last w,or<Js. His face turned blue and he coughed. She wrapped her arms around him. "From n o w o n I ' m doing^he cooking," h e told her.

Fortunately, in the end, D o c Wallace was right. Harry did have the constitution of a horse. They wed soon after and eventually moved to Paris. Sofie attendee! the University a n d later worked in the laboratory honoring the achievements of the Curies. Sofie gave birth to five children, all daughters, w h o went Qn to have daughters of they- own, who, h a d even more daughters still. They grew u p happy and loved, a n d became scientists a n d mothers, doctors a n d writers. All this was seen as a blessing from God . But alas, there was not a chef amon g them..

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N O T E S

O

N

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

JACOB M . APPEL has published short stories in more than one hundred literary journals including Gettysburg Review, Missouri Review a n d Southwest Review. Jacob is a graduate of the M F A program in fiction at N e w York University, Harvard Law School and the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. H e currently practices medicine at the M o u n t Sinai Hospital in N e w York City. M o r e at www.jacobmappel.com. MICHAEL CHRISTIAN is a n Oakland-based artist, most noted for his playfully large, yet intimate, interactive sculptures. His pieces have been installed both locally and internationally. WILLIAM D E L A N E Y attended Berkeley High and University of California, Berkeley, but graduated with BA in English from University of California, Los Angeles in 1962. He has accumulated credits for articles and book and movie reviews, all under byline of Billl Delaney. H e is most proud of eighteen essays in The Explicator, accessible online. H e n o w writes full-time. B R I G H T O N EARLEY is a student at the University of California, Berkeley a n d a graduate of Immaculate H e a r t High School in Los Angeles. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor's degree in English with a minor in creative writing. This is her first published work. ELISA FERNANDEZ-ARIA S graduated from'Oberlin College in 2009 with a major in philosophy and comparative literature with a concentration in writing and translation. She has been published in The Broadkill Review. JEFFREY D. GLOSSIP is an artist and college instructor living in Emeryville, California. H e holds a bachelor's degree from University of Iowa, and a master's degree from San Francisco Art Institute. Glossip's work can be seen online at www.jglossip.com. BAYARD GODSAVE is an Assistant Professor of English at Camer-

on University in Oklahoma. His fiction has appeared in the Cream City Review^ Confrontation, Another Chicago Magazine, Bryant Literary Review and the Evansville Review. C Y N T H I A G R I M M is an artist, wife and mother living in Huntington Station, N e w York. Her work .has appeared in galleries in N e w York City, throughout Long Island and Virginia, and she is a founding member of T h e Artists in the Attic, helping the revitilization of Huntington Station by bringing the arts into the community. She is currently pursuing her Master's Degree in Art Education. -JULIE LEKSTROM HEMES is a physician and a researcher and lives in the Boston area. She was awarded the 2008 Florida Review Editor's Choice Award for short fiction. Her work has appeared in Shenandoah, Confrontation, Florida Review and elsewhere. B R A N D O N J E N N I N G S is an Iraq War Veteran from West Virginia. -He received his M F A in fiction from Bowling Green State University and is currently a P h D student at Western Michigan University where'he teaches creative writing and writes as much as he can himself. This is liis "first publication. S A R A H KOBRINSKY was bor n in Canada a n d reared in N o r t h Dakota. She lived in the U K for m a n y years and now fives in California. Her poems and stories have been published on both sides of the Atlantic. COLIN MAISONPIERRE was raised in the small town of Laurinburg, NC, and graduated with a BFA in Graphic Design from East Carolina University in Greenville, NC. He then relocated to San Francisco, and now works as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator all around the Bay Area. Colin is always down to take on creative projects of any kind. ROBERT MOULTHROP, author and playwright, lives and works in New York City, where he is a member of Paragraph. A New Jersey State Council oh the Arts grant recipient, his stories have lately appeared in Conjrontation;*Eclipse, Portland Review, Rio Grande Review,


N O T E S

O

N

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

JACOB M . APPEL has published short stories in more than one hundred literary journals including Gettysburg Review, Missouri Review a n d Southwest Review. Jacob is a graduate of the M F A program in fiction at N e w York University, Harvard Law School and the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. H e currently practices medicine at the M o u n t Sinai Hospital in N e w York City. M o r e at www.jacobmappel.com. MICHAEL CHRISTIAN is a n Oakland-based artist, most noted for his playfully large, yet intimate, interactive sculptures. His pieces have been installed both locally and internationally. WILLIAM D E L A N E Y attended Berkeley High and University of California, Berkeley, but graduated with BA in English from University of California, Los Angeles in 1962. He has accumulated credits for articles and book and movie reviews, all under byline of Billl Delaney. H e is most proud of eighteen essays in The Explicator, accessible online. H e n o w writes full-time. B R I G H T O N EARLEY is a student at the University of California, Berkeley a n d a graduate of Immaculate H e a r t High School in Los Angeles. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor's degree in English with a minor in creative writing. This is her first published work. ELISA FERNANDEZ-ARIA S graduated from'Oberlin College in 2009 with a major in philosophy and comparative literature with a concentration in writing and translation. She has been published in The Broadkill Review. JEFFREY D. GLOSSIP is an artist and college instructor living in Emeryville, California. H e holds a bachelor's degree from University of Iowa, and a master's degree from San Francisco Art Institute. Glossip's work can be seen online at www.jglossip.com. BAYARD GODSAVE is an Assistant Professor of English at Camer-

on University in Oklahoma. His fiction has appeared in the Cream City Review^ Confrontation, Another Chicago Magazine, Bryant Literary Review and the Evansville Review. C Y N T H I A G R I M M is an artist, wife and mother living in Huntington Station, N e w York. Her work .has appeared in galleries in N e w York City, throughout Long Island and Virginia, and she is a founding member of T h e Artists in the Attic, helping the revitilization of Huntington Station by bringing the arts into the community. She is currently pursuing her Master's Degree in Art Education. -JULIE LEKSTROM HEMES is a physician and a researcher and lives in the Boston area. She was awarded the 2008 Florida Review Editor's Choice Award for short fiction. Her work has appeared in Shenandoah, Confrontation, Florida Review and elsewhere. B R A N D O N J E N N I N G S is an Iraq War Veteran from West Virginia. -He received his M F A in fiction from Bowling Green State University and is currently a P h D student at Western Michigan University where'he teaches creative writing and writes as much as he can himself. This is liis "first publication. S A R A H KOBRINSKY was bor n in Canada a n d reared in N o r t h Dakota. She lived in the U K for m a n y years and now fives in California. Her poems and stories have been published on both sides of the Atlantic. COLIN MAISONPIERRE was raised in the small town of Laurinburg, NC, and graduated with a BFA in Graphic Design from East Carolina University in Greenville, NC. He then relocated to San Francisco, and now works as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator all around the Bay Area. Colin is always down to take on creative projects of any kind. ROBERT MOULTHROP, author and playwright, lives and works in New York City, where he is a member of Paragraph. A New Jersey State Council oh the Arts grant recipient, his stories have lately appeared in Conjrontation;*Eclipse, Portland Review, Rio Grande Review,


River Oak Review, Sou'Wester, The MacGujfin and Willard & Maple. DIEGO MARCIAL RIOS is a politically-charged artist who has been showing and publishing his art internationally for over 25 years. He has participated in over 395 exhibitions from Japan to Bulgaria. FRANK ROZASY's earliest memories are of drawing from books. The art he creates is influenced by his passions: the female form, jazz, Marilyn, nostalgia, the ocean and fantasy. Rozasy experiments With watercolors, acrylics, pastels, digital cameras, printers and computers, a n d his art has been described as "psychologically penetrating." S.N. JACOBSON was born in March 1955 in Manhattan, New York. He now lives within drinkin'g distance of the wine country and is wbrkfng on a number of projects, including commissioned work. TRAVIS SENTELL lives and writes in Los Angeles, California. His newest book, In the Shadow of Freedom, will be released in August 2010 by Atria Books. JOHN SHARIFI, born and raised in Southern California, holds a BFA from Laguna College of Art and Design. Jn general, the main thread that runs through his art tends to be contrasting themes and pr subject matter. His earlier works explore the juxtaposition between the geometric and the softness of biology. DOUGLAS SILVER'S fiction has been published in Our Stories and Word Riot, and has been a finalist in competitions by Narrative and Glimmer Train. This is his first print publication. \ _ ^ E.G. SILVERMAN'S fiction has appeared in Beloit Fiction Journal, Wisconsin Review, North Atlantic Review, Lullwater Review, Talking River, Fugue and m a n y other literary journals'. H e has written three novels, and is at work on another. H e fives in Skillman; NX J O H N S W E T N A M is emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Previous work has appeared in Proteus and Halcyon, as ,well as scholarly articles in the American Anthropologist, the Journal of Anthropological Research and Ethnology. H e is currently revising a novel set in Guatemala during the guerilla conflict.

T.L. T O M A has been published in Black Warrior Review, Cimarron Review, Fiction International and The Massachusetts Review. His novel, Border Dance, is published by Southern Methodist University Press. Toma lives in London . ARIEL VARGASยงAL was 1 b o rn into a.family of richly mixed culture. H e h a s a degree in Fine Arts from the University of Mexico, and now lives, and works in Los Angeles, CA. His first exhibition in the United States was in the international showcase at the Winter Olympics in 2002, and his work can be found at www.arielvargassal.com. T H A I L A N W H E N is a Vietnamese and Chinese artist born in Bangkok and raised in the Sierra Nevada foothijls. Her vibrating, geometric style interprets Northwest Coast Native totem animals using ballpoint pen and gold watercolor. Thailan's work has been shown in N e w York a n d San Francisco, and she currently resides in Oakland. She can be reached at dreamsandlife@gmail.com. JOE WILKINS' first full-length book of poems, Killing the Murnion Dogs, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press, and his stories, essays and poems have been published in the Georgia Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, the Sun, Slate and Orion. He is the 2009 recipient of the Richard J. Margolis Award of Blue Mountain Center. H e lives with his wife and son on the north Iowa prairie, where he teaches writing at Waldorf College.


River Oak Review, Sou'Wester, The MacGujfin and Willard & Maple. DIEGO MARCIAL RIOS is a politically-charged artist who has been showing and publishing his art internationally for over 25 years. He has participated in over 395 exhibitions from Japan to Bulgaria. FRANK ROZASY's earliest memories are of drawing from books. The art he creates is influenced by his passions: the female form, jazz, Marilyn, nostalgia, the ocean and fantasy. Rozasy experiments With watercolors, acrylics, pastels, digital cameras, printers and computers, a n d his art has been described as "psychologically penetrating." S.N. JACOBSON was born in March 1955 in Manhattan, New York. He now lives within drinkin'g distance of the wine country and is wbrkfng on a number of projects, including commissioned work. TRAVIS SENTELL lives and writes in Los Angeles, California. His newest book, In the Shadow of Freedom, will be released in August 2010 by Atria Books. JOHN SHARIFI, born and raised in Southern California, holds a BFA from Laguna College of Art and Design. Jn general, the main thread that runs through his art tends to be contrasting themes and pr subject matter. His earlier works explore the juxtaposition between the geometric and the softness of biology. DOUGLAS SILVER'S fiction has been published in Our Stories and Word Riot, and has been a finalist in competitions by Narrative and Glimmer Train. This is his first print publication. \ _ ^ E.G. SILVERMAN'S fiction has appeared in Beloit Fiction Journal, Wisconsin Review, North Atlantic Review, Lullwater Review, Talking River, Fugue and m a n y other literary journals'. H e has written three novels, and is at work on another. H e fives in Skillman; NX J O H N S W E T N A M is emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Previous work has appeared in Proteus and Halcyon, as ,well as scholarly articles in the American Anthropologist, the Journal of Anthropological Research and Ethnology. H e is currently revising a novel set in Guatemala during the guerilla conflict.

T.L. T O M A has been published in Black Warrior Review, Cimarron Review, Fiction International and The Massachusetts Review. His novel, Border Dance, is published by Southern Methodist University Press. Toma lives in London . ARIEL VARGASยงAL was 1 b o rn into a.family of richly mixed culture. H e h a s a degree in Fine Arts from the University of Mexico, and now lives, and works in Los Angeles, CA. His first exhibition in the United States was in the international showcase at the Winter Olympics in 2002, and his work can be found at www.arielvargassal.com. T H A I L A N W H E N is a Vietnamese and Chinese artist born in Bangkok and raised in the Sierra Nevada foothijls. Her vibrating, geometric style interprets Northwest Coast Native totem animals using ballpoint pen and gold watercolor. Thailan's work has been shown in N e w York a n d San Francisco, and she currently resides in Oakland. She can be reached at dreamsandlife@gmail.com. JOE WILKINS' first full-length book of poems, Killing the Murnion Dogs, is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press, and his stories, essays and poems have been published in the Georgia Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, the Sun, Slate and Orion. He is the 2009 recipient of the Richard J. Margolis Award of Blue Mountain Center. H e lives with his wife and son on the north Iowa prairie, where he teaches writing at Waldorf College.


t h e

m o d e r n

w r i t e r

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w i t n e s s

S u d d e n

F i c t i o n

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$200 Prize for First Place THE MAGAZN I E OF THE BLACK MOUNTAN I N I STT I UTE

VOI i MI; XMM 2010 $14

W i n n e r

First, Second, a n d T h i r d Place will b e publishe d in Issue 31

Guidelines: • $ 6 e n t r y fee + $ 4 e a c h a d d i t i o n a l e n t r y • M a k e check or m o n e y oder payable to B F R Sudden Fie • 1 0 0 0 w o r d s o r less • Typed, double-spaced • I n c l u d e a b r i e f c o v e r letter & S A S E for list o f w i n n e r s • Submissions will n o t be returne d

Send submissions Sudden Fiction Berkeley Fiction

to:

Contest Review

lOBEshlemanHall University of Berkeley, C A Witness blends the features of a literary and an issue-oriented magazine to highlight the role of the modern writer as witness to his or her times. Each issue includes fiction, poetry, memoir, and literary essays. BLACK MOUNTAIN INSTITUTE | UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, LAS VEGAS Submit online at witnessmagazine.org

California 94720-4500

D e a d l i n e is M a r c h

1, 2 0 1 1

W i n n e r s will be notified b y the e n d of April 2011


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$200 Prize for First Place THE MAGAZN I E OF THE BLACK MOUNTAN I N I STT I UTE

VOI i MI; XMM 2010 $14

W i n n e r

First, Second, a n d T h i r d Place will b e publishe d in Issue 31

Guidelines: • $ 6 e n t r y fee + $ 4 e a c h a d d i t i o n a l e n t r y • M a k e check or m o n e y oder payable to B F R Sudden Fie • 1 0 0 0 w o r d s o r less • Typed, double-spaced • I n c l u d e a b r i e f c o v e r letter & S A S E for list o f w i n n e r s • Submissions will n o t be returne d

Send submissions Sudden Fiction Berkeley Fiction

to:

Contest Review

lOBEshlemanHall University of Berkeley, C A Witness blends the features of a literary and an issue-oriented magazine to highlight the role of the modern writer as witness to his or her times. Each issue includes fiction, poetry, memoir, and literary essays. BLACK MOUNTAIN INSTITUTE | UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, LAS VEGAS Submit online at witnessmagazine.org

California 94720-4500

D e a d l i n e is M a r c h

1, 2 0 1 1

W i n n e r s will be notified b y the e n d of April 2011


Literature of P a l p a b l e

Q u a l i t y

n -SubmissioiEis: SeptÂŤ 15 - Dec. ieview Contest ($18 Entry Feel: December 1 - March 15

and publication awarded annuallv for unpublished viorks rf poetry, fiction, and creative nonfidion*

Recent Contributors Reprinted the Utne Reader & Best of the West

in 2009

Sec o u r w e b s i t e for s u b m i s s i o n guidelines , or send an SASE: Bellingham Review Mail S l o p 9 0 5 3 , W W U , B c l l i n g h a m . WA 9 8 2 2 5 w w w.w wu.edu/bhre view b e l l i n g h a m . r e v i e w e d W W I I i t In


Literature of P a l p a b l e

Q u a l i t y

n -SubmissioiEis: SeptÂŤ 15 - Dec. ieview Contest ($18 Entry Feel: December 1 - March 15

and publication awarded annuallv for unpublished viorks rf poetry, fiction, and creative nonfidion*

Recent Contributors Reprinted the Utne Reader & Best of the West

in 2009

Sec o u r w e b s i t e for s u b m i s s i o n guidelines , or send an SASE: Bellingham Review Mail S l o p 9 0 5 3 , W W U , B c l l i n g h a m . WA 9 8 2 2 5 w w w.w wu.edu/bhre view b e l l i n g h a m . r e v i e w e d W W I I i t In


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J a c o b M . Appel M i c h a e l Christian Brighton Earley Jeffrey Glossip

William D e l a n e y Elisa F e r n a n d e z - A r i a s

Bayard Godsave

Julie Lekstrom Himes Sarah Kobrinsky

S.N. Jacobson

Brandon Jennings

Colin M a i s o n p i e r r e

Robert Moulthrop

D i e g o M a r c i a l Rios Sentell

Cynthia Grimm

F r a n k Rozasy

J o h n Sharifi

E . G . Silverma n T.L. T o m a

D o u g l a s Silver J o h n Swetnam

Ariel Vargassal

Thailan W h e n

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Cover art by S.N. Jacobson

Profile for Berkeley Fiction Review

Berkeley Fiction Review, Volume 30  

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

Berkeley Fiction Review, Volume 30  

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

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