to her as easily. In the “pro” column, she won’t second-guess the words that do. Which is slower: a clean mind prone to doubt, or an unrepentant mind slogged by neurotoxins? The third double comes as Emily’s female character stops talking because the author stops writing because the dialogue is stilted. No one says, “But I thought you wanted this, Andrew. What about all those talks we had in the beginning of things, before we got too intimate? So bored?” Emily admits she’s consumed too many poorly-translated French novels. Feeling les incompétents, she uses the first sip of her latest drink as a cover for scoping out the blonde, who’s standing at the center of the bar still like she doesn’t know what the stools are for. She’s also staring back. Feeling her eyes connect with the stranger’s eyes, Emily spits the syrupy-sharp out of her mouth and into the cup. The tattoo is a purple-black dragon, the work of a preoccupied artist. The dragon’s asymmetrical expression’s a cross between embarrassment and sleep deprivation. Emily imagines a tattoo artist whose lover left for good the night before, or whose beloved mother took a fatal spill down the basement steps. The artist should have stayed at home that day, but better a young woman’s chest tattoo than the coronation of a biker’s Prince Albert. A troubled mind leads to troubled lines. The dragon doesn’t work, but it’s redeemed by its canvas. She’s left the house in a slim-fitting black corset top and black slacks. She’d look ridiculous if she wasn’t gorgeous. You’ll believe a man can fly. She’s definitely looking the writer in the eye. The bartender’s behind the bar pretending to stock glasses to avoid more giggling and the only other patrons, two world-weary bearded men in stained overalls, are seated at a booth on the opposite side. There are no competing narratives. Emily sips what she spat. She’s never seen another woman her age at the bar alone on a midday weekday. To allay her embarrassment she looks down at the page. Nothing’s changed. Helen has no idea what to say to Andrew. Emily doesn’t know beans about what heterosexuals sound like arguing at four in the morning. The majority of Andrew’s quotation marks hem in key words and stretches of ink lines Emily traced along the line’s rule. She could just leave the gaps between the little marks empty, but she’d feel worse about it that way. Then she has to shut her notebook and look up: the stranger dressed like a character from a Brom painting assumes the stool beside hers and immediately leans in. She opens with, “Hi there.” Emily’s response is, “Hey.” She’s absolutely terrified. The gay vibe she’s getting is reassuring, but it’s what terrifies her most of all. The face above the dragon’s, by far the prettier of the two, pouts. “This place is boring.” The infantile cutesy voice should be a red flag. Babytalking strangers is a leading sign of Crazy.