QUARTO The Literary Magazine of the School of General Studies Columbia University Volume 33 1997
Liisa Akkola Stephen Page Current and recent undergraduate creative writing students—including nondegree students and students enrolled in other divisions of Columbia University who are taking undergraduate creative writing courses—are encouraged to submit to Quarto. We welcome poetry, fiction, nonfiction, translations, and drama, including excerpts from longer works.
Christopher R. Smith COORDINATING EDITOR
Michael Polsney Each submission should be accompanied by a self-addressed stamped envelope. Please include your name, address, telephone number, and email address on your manuscript. Manuscripts may be submitted elsewhere while under consideration at Qiiario. Please notify us of acceptance by another publication. Address all submissions and correspondence to: Quarto 612 Lewisohn Hall 2970 Broadway Mail Code 4108 Columbia University New York, NY 10027
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For information on becoming a patron of Quarto, please call the office of the Creative Writing Center at (212) 854-3774. / - ^ C À —f Cover: Edward Lasala, Drive-hy Map to the Beulah-Reulah
Gwen lloyt SENIOR EDITORS
Roje Augustin Berta Lopez Rich McHugh Kelcey Nichols Aimee Taub EDITORS
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A R T DIRECTOR
Land, July 1996
Publication of Quarto 1997 would not have been possible without a generous grant from the General Studies Student Council. Copyright © Quarto, 1997 All rights are reserved and revert to authors and artists upon publication. ISSN 0735-6536
Elba Barnes Gina Bonilla Kathy Chang Elise Choukroun David Hamilton Gwen Hoyt Stephanie Klein Anne Murat Jason Nabi Matt Nelson Jennifer O'Keeffe Sue Reider FACULTY ADVISER
Leslie T. Sharpe DIRECTOR, CREATIVE W R I T I N G CENTER
Quarto Prize 1997 FOR LITERARY EXCELLENCE
Brooke Holmes Acosmos For Mv Sister
Ian Kahn My Great Grandfather Shadow Mountain Tobias and the Shark Queen
CONTENTS Western Vagaries Elizabeth Dowling 1 My Great Grandfather
Ian Kahn 8
Ian Kahn 9
Tobias and the Siiark Queen Flotsam
Ian Kahn IO Marta Rodriguez 11
The Diet Kathy Palagonia 12 When the Crab /r^ ^. n, Sandra Vazquez 21 Comes Out to Play E Molly McQuade 22 Safe
Benjamin Covelo 31
Kim White 34
ICim White 35
Kim White 36
Don't Sleep John Everett Bird 37 Bugs Benjamin Covcio 43 Late Prairie Night Benjamin Covelo 44 Girls in Pink Deborah Concannon 45 Shoes and Things Jamie Pearlberg 46 For My Sister
Brooke Holmes 58
Brooke Holmes 60
Spring Day Chin-Chin Yap 62 Speeding Molly McQuade 71 My Morning Routine Nancy Ross 74 This House Dan McHugh 76 June Craig Canapari 78 Speciman
Daniel Lehrer-Graiwer 80
Elizabeth Dowling At a pay phone outside the Chevron station on Western, I call my mother. Hello, she says, as if it were a question. 1 pause for a moment before saying, Mom, Mom, it's me. Anne, where are you? 1 hear her ask. A Chevrolet convertible pulls up to the pump behind me and I can feel the heat it releases. The backs of my legs are sticky with sweat. Peter is behind the wheel of the car, fiddling with the radio. His hair is messy from driving with the top down and all that beach air. A wami wind begins to blow, which signals the settling in of evening and 1 am reminded that Peter and 1 arc in Venice Beach and had wanted to make it all the way back to Los Angeles before evening. I'm at a pay phone, Mom, 1 just wanted to say hello. Our connection is fuzzy and thick with static. Mom, I say, how are you? I'm fine, but when do I get to see my darling daughter? Are you working? Have you quit smoking and are you drinking enough water? she asks. Behind me the Chevrolet has disappeared and Peter turns the engine on. He is pulling the car around to me as I say into the receiver, It's incredibly hot here, hotter than that heat wave we had at home a few years ago. I want to tell my mother that I am tired and sick from the heat and pollution, that I haven't been able to get rid of the cold I picked up months ago and how just this morning Peter and 1 had such a loud argument that one of our neighbors came to the side door to make sure I was all right. I want to tell her that I bumped into my first love at a party the other night and that he came over for dinner with his fiancĂŠe on Sunday and I actually cooked. I have not said what 1 wanted to at all. But there is a cowboy lingering to my left, presumably waiting to use the phone, and she will probably just tell me once again to come home, that I never should have left in the first place, so instead I tell my mother, everything is fine. But I have to run, I add, I just wanted to say hello. A recording of an ancient operator interrupts and I struggle to hear the sound of her voice. Above the rush of moving vehicles I say into the receiver, Mom, I can't hear you anymore. The line is so fuzzy with distance that I can barely make out her voice, so many miles away. Mom, I say again. Mom, I can't hear you, I am losing you. But there is only static, the cowboy swaying to and fro in his beat-up boots, and Peter is in the car behind me as I hang up the phone. There I was, nestled up in the mountains, laying low in the canyons, in the Technicolor city which sometimes seems little more than a movie screen
itself. The semi-urban wasteland of strip malls and landfdls, fast-food drivethrus and pawnshop storefronts, where used car lots and reptile shows, dog races and sleazy theaters stay open all night. There I was in that city, walk ing along the famous Boulevards daily, not realizing how long I had even been there, thinking. Things can change, things will change. But nothing was changing, each day was following the one before it almost identically. And still I thought. It can still happen. We are lying around the living room drinking our second and third Bloody Maiys and waiting for someone to arrive. I am sitting on my knees in front of the coffee table. Peter is in an armchair across from me and a friend of his is stumbling about the kitchen. Erie, who has known Peter since they were kids, is on the couch. For a few weeks now he has been staying on the futon, until he decides whether or not he wants to stay in California, he says. Whether or not you want to stay out West, Peter echoes. It is too hot to move and too hot to smoke but I light a cigarette. Peter and Eric are still talking about the guy from San Francisco who drove from LA to New York in forty-eight hours. When I look up from the match, Peter is watching me. His eyes are fixed in the stare that has gotten him part after part, his hair still damp from swimming this afternoon. He reaches for his glass and swallows what is left, mainly melted ice and Tabasco sauce that has settled. 1 am shak ing the ice cubes in my empty glass, wondering where we are going when these people arrive, but I don't feel like asking, so 1 don't. The TV is on in the background but although it is brand-new, there is already something wrong with it. All week it has been hissing randomly in tiny bursts of noise. 1 told Peter this morning 1 was waiting for it to explode. There is music com ing from downstairs, in an empty room. It is a solid baseline beat that thumps through the wall like an exaggerated heartbeat although it can not actually be that loud. I have finished the cigarette and am rearranging the ashes in an ashtray that reads. Hotel de Grande Classe, West Hollywood, California. I picked it up with Peter the other night off the hotel's bar while having drinks with his manager and agent. I am going to start a collection, I told Peter. I am going to begin collecting ashtrays as of tonight. I'll find them wherever we go and by the time I get home we'll have thousands. Peter smiled and slipped the ashtray into his pocket. The agent smiled too, but his was a funny curved smile, as if he was testing me and I was reading my lines correctly yet not saying them the way he had expected. As I noticed this, I remembered talking about agents and managers and directors with Peter at the aiφort in New York, how he said we wouldn't trust any of them because they all wanted something. Everyone wants some
thing, he said. Right now, Peter and Eric are fascinated by the speed at which this guy drove, all alone, all the way across the country and so fast, but we have been having the same conversation for weeks, months actually, and the air is too thick to go through it again. 1 stand up and the vodka goes straight to my head. I tiy to remember if I have eaten today and can not distinguish between any of the days which fell into this week. My mother would hate the way I have been eating, all rushed with no meat, too many drinks and not enough real food. Nicotine has no nutritional value, she warns. We have all been drinking too much, I think. It is Saturday, although that doesn't mean very much. Now that we are making some money, we seem to be doing less and less. I remember that I still have a check to cash and should probably do it sooner rather than later. Besides, i can postpone dinner; eventually, we always end up in the all-night diner on Wilshirc or at the counter of the deli somewhere on Robertson. 1 think about walking all the way down to the bot tom of Tracy Street and north up Hyperion, or over towards the bank on Fairfax and La Brea. But 1 have lost interest, since there seems to be no urgency at all. 1 say I am going to take a shower, before these people come to pick us up. Peter looks at me as I am standing, nods his head and smiles. I can feel that he is still watching mc as I cross the living room and close the door to the bathroom. From inside the shower 1 can still hear talk of the infamous journey and 1 consider suggesting we all drive home in a few weeks, at least for a little while. But this is the wrong time for either of us to leave, for any of us to leave, and I realize that. When I get out of the shower 1 put on a tank top and old jeans which Peter likes to tease me about, offering to replace them with a new pair without so many wom-down patches, but I remind him that he, out of all of us, should understand the comfort of familiarity. I walk back into the living room, pulling a comb through my wet hair. Your hair is getting so long, he says, running his fingers across my head. The people have arrived and are at the table passing the award statue Peter recently won between their hands. The way their hands are moving, 1 am reminded of a psychic 1 visited a few months ago while waiting for Peter to finish a screen lest; how she rolled sev eral cool stones between her palms, passed her long fingers over a crystal and predicted things. Peter does not believe in psychics or wishing stones or even crystals. He does not, in fact, believe in anything which he cannot touch. The people at our table were excited and proud for him, they say, when they saw us on TV. I recognize one of them as being someone I met a few months back at an industi-y party in an old movie theater. Although I am sure I have seen the second one too, I can no longer place him.
We end up going to a bar on Sunset Boulevard. There are probably ten of us as we arrive. People arc pouring out onto the sidewalk, waiting to go in or come out. At the door someone recognizes Peter from his tirst movie and we are ushered in through a back, entrance. There are men scattered about talking on cellular phones, right here on the street in the middle of the night, and I feel far from home. I notice that there is a pay phone outside the hotel across the street and out of something like impulse, or habit, 1 move towards it. But there are so many people milling about outside that if 1 left right then, I can't say for sure whether I'd find everyone again. There are bunches of photographers standing outside snapping pictures. This can't possibly be what they thought the infamous Sunset Strip would be. What is it they call this place? And then I remember; this is the Miracle Mile. You are a beautiful girl, Peter tells me. He is standing right up against me and I can feel his breathing as I look away because 1 don't want to be hear ing this. We are in the small town where I have been living, trying to relax and wind down from a wild year at home in New York and he is initiating something that 1 don't think should be happening. He knows this. Whether this is the reason he does it or not, I will not uncover. But things happen, I tell myself Things happen and they grow and they change and you deal with them. That is just what you do. It is the conundrum, the riddle where the solution itself lies therein and is a riddle of its own. And you know that, he continues. You have to know that you're a beautiful girl. That's why you can look away. Weeks from now he will contort his own sentence, until I have become his beautiful girl, which are the words he will whisper while brush ing strands of hair off my face. We'll be better, he whispers, and I recognize where his whisper comes from, how he is speaking to me with complete faith at this moment and something about what is happening sends a thread of false promise straight through me. It is the middle of the night but still wann outside where we are sitting and talking about things and I think to myself, you never really see things coming. One night when Peter is drunk and we are arguing he tells me that he can't do this anymore. I look at him and wait for him to say something else, some thing more, but that is it. I get into bed and turn so my back is facing him. I don't belong here. I can just go home, 1 think. I can wake up in the morning and call someone and they will drive me to the 3ΐφο« and I can fly back right then. At the aiφort in New York I can get a cab that will take me home. I can surprise my mother and tell her everything about what has happened and it will be all right. But a few minutes later he has his amis around my waist and is whispering, Angel, let's just go to sleep. That was the last I
heard and in the morning we didn't say anything about it. In a car moving south on Melrose, Eric is driving and talking to the man I still can't place. We are on our way to a cocktail party where we are sup posed to meet some people. Peter and I are in the backseat and he pulls me towards him, wrapping his arms around me and stroking my shoulder. He is looking at me again and I kiss him once on the cheek as he smiles. With the shadows the lights on the streets we are whizzing by cast on his face, he looks startlingly beautiful. It has been said that at times he looks very much like another actor, one whom would be almost exactly his age had he not died of a drug overdose. I rarely notice this. It has been said so often that its significance has waned, but sometimes I see it. I kiss him again, this time slower, because I am simultaneously thankful and happy that he is here with me in the land of the living. That was nice, he whispers. There are so many things which happen that would keep us apart, so many things which could keep us apart, but right now 1 think: I can't help it, 1 have something like faith in this man. We are on our way to the cocktail party, this one deeper into Hollywood, and the car is moving very fast. There is almost no one on the road tonight, I think. Hours later, we are standing outside a bar in West Hollywood not too far from Echo Park, which up until a year ago 1 had only witnessed in the movies, and a man Peter is arguing with pulls a gun on us. We are all here: Peter and I, Eric and a woman who does not live with us in Silverlake, but is the assistant and former lover of a big-time movie star and has her eye on Peter as the next big thing to hit Hollywood. At this point in the evening she will have bought me several glasses of white wine, trying, 1 would imagine, to lure Peter through me. This man threatens to take out his gun and then he does, slipping it out from beneath the waistband of his baggy chinos with such ease, such twisted grace, that the entire moment seems to stand still while we watch him. This is the first time I have ever seen a gun in real life and when he pulls it out, Peter grabs hold of my waist and pushes my body behind his, continuing to exchange words with the man. When the man finally puts the gun back in his pants and turns to walk away, it is complete luck that we were not all shot down on the sidewalk in West Hollywood late one night in the beginning of May. When my mother picks up the newspa per from the breakfast table at her home in New York the next morning, it is luck that prevents her from reading that her daughter was killed last night in Los Angeles. Tonight we have decided not to go out. Eveiyone has left for the evening and when we return from the flatlands of Venice Beach to the hills of
Silverlake, the tiny, rented house is empty. It is late when we get baek, sometime after midnight, and all the streets are eerily quiet and still. We are both here and returning to the house feels, for the first time, a little like homecoming. But we are both tired and worn thin. Tomorrow will be hotter than today or yesterday. When I first arrived here 1 was unsure of the sunshine and good weather. Every day seemed to remind me of where I was, how I should be doing more or less. There is nothing in the forecast which predicts anything but more heat and humidity, more sunshine. Welcome to Los Angeles, I realize. But tonight I need something simple: I just want to watch the sun rise on a savage new morning. 1 want to see what it looks like as the first rays of nonartificial light rise above the city, ready to loom once again over the flashing lights and billboards. Right now, we are sitting on the steps of the house, just outside the door which we never even lock. We are smoking cigarettes and I have finally gotten Peter to drink water as we watch the sun take its place high above the city of Hollywood. I am wondering why it is made to seem like all the great cities have degenerated into shadows of what they once were, as if there is no such thing as positive evolution. At this moment, the city lies beneath us like vast, open space, rolling like the last scene from a lost movie that was never shot. It is during the evenings when everything is all right. Once the sun has set over the low buildings and the dense heat has given way to shadows, it is in the evenings when I think, I have made some of the right decisions: perhaps 1 am not in such a strange place after all. Perhaps this will be more than all right. This is what keeps me in Los Angeles, the city that takes broken dreams and keeps them an ami's distance away, just close enough that they can be neither forgotten nor fulfilled. The City of Angels, which fools you into believing everything and anything can come true. Right now we are in this city, I am in this city, where home is thousands of freeways and cities and vast, open fields away and Peter and 1 are going to live together. He is going to pile scripts in the corner of the living room and keep walking down the hill to Ralph's supermarket on Hyperion and always pull the car up to me. I am going to stay in school part-time and fly to Arizona and New Mexico and even once to the Blue Ridge mountains in West Virginia for shoots part time. I am going to get used to eating dinner at counters at three o'clock in the morning and drinking Bloody Marys with Tabasco and too much vodka. I am going to get used to talking to my mother on staticy pay phones and always figuring in the time difference. We are going to live here, in this place where as if in a fable the sun never stops shining, where kids come every morning in flocks to become stars, trying hopelessly to immor-
talize themselves in flashbulbs and celluloid. Where normal jobs and ordinary salaries are as rare as anything, and every day, if there is nothing else, there is always that pressing hope of something that's on the brink of happening. Yet at the end of the day it seems everything that winds together is owed to luck, the beaming child of chance. Soon enough, my vagaries will taper off and I will be able to pass telephones on Sunset and Beveriy and Western and even our own kitchen table without thinking, I should go home. Soon enough, I am hoping, my mother's voice will not still echo in my head, trailing off across silk routes until fragments of the message reach me. Every heart has a different beat, she is saying. Every single one.
M Y GREAT GRANDFATHER
there he was on the old country road when his horse up and threw him into the gully of his final breaths. this down for the count preacher man had no ill will towards his steed, who had done the deed when a bee stung in and startled him, the horse was shocked into ditching him and now almost remorsefully, lovingly bent to him to lick the salt blood from his head wound, the preacher man reached up and felt the warmth of sunlight on his last friend's brow and said to him get, boy, we're free.
this is granite's greatest upthrust in my eye, ancient and at its topmost bare of all shrubbery, traveling, as it has upward and worn down, heavily, like a great pyramid, its peak hunched like labored shoulders, it is a slow breath, a face shot forth over a forest of spiraling pine and quivering aspen, having lived from the fiery center of imagination's misery into the vespertine spectacular of meteor showers or glistening for rainbows and giving both to the ovemiastering hawk and the lumbering black bear home and harvest. In the winter and in sunlight it shimmers and in black night it looms, with the wind across its crags draping, the trees of it creaking and whispering and swaying; and who should stand at its edge and fare it afoot would find no gate nor fence to its garden that time and it have not up and closed overhead into its cold depths and like a stone sea swallowed. its pitches are extreme enough that a man might remember to crawl on all fours and see not only its high peak, but its quilt of moss that softens thirstily for the rainstorm.
TOBIAS AND THE SHARK QUEKN
Marta Rodriguez Ian Kahn she was fat ripe pregnant and he was holding his breath in awe of her majesty's beauty. it looked to him as if she were sleeping and of her he was for no good reason unafraid. perhaps he knew she would let him touch her or perhaps he just did not realize as he hovered to her and was upon her. but sure as he was he reached out his hand and stroked softly down her back and her tail, she did not move, not even a tremble and could have been dreaming this man to be anything but what she saw when in a Hash she turned on him. when their eyes met the shock stopped them both dead in their wake, and the Shark Queen, for his gentleness as much as his courage, spared Tobias his life.
It's not that I don't remember. I had ajar of pencil shavings and a bag of cat fur. There were chewy puppets and chalk cut into rounds like carrots. There was a brother sometimes, and cats; loyal, patient Walter, sweet Beatrix, Henry who was orange, scratched me, and was hit by a car. There were fourteen stairsteps. 1 stood at the top as my mother came up crying, or stood at the top and flew to the bottom, or stood at the top and figured flight had been a dream, after the other dream when my cousins flew into chickens. I just don't think very often, about leaving and how I walked aiier, dedicating each step to a chunk of house. One step for the furnace grid, forty-two for its square holes, a step for each glass doorknob, some more for their scratches, each footfall preserving a house independent of grown-up owners, a permanent inch of wood floor whether crossed by sun or not, a ceiling regardless of light from the street, each structural beam regardless of mother or father. I could go milesâ€”a house is made up of molecules. And I think of this now by a pale Buddha in somebody's ivy, as lights fuzz over San Francisco Bay and I think that 1 don't think so often, as if I never needed refuge, as if it were never cold out, never New Year's Eve and nobody ever felt stretched and tethered to three-four sides of the globe and still walking. Behind me cars sink down around hills. Waterlogged reeds that stick to houses and each other, clumps that will dissolve in morning and spin wobbling onto freeways, into days.
γ^· Kathy Palagonia
Melanie. This does not comfort you. There isn't a lover on your hand. You open Lorraine's envelope:
Kathy Palagonia OK, so your thirtieth birthday is coming up. No big deal, you tell your self at Lorraine's birthday party, where she is given a cake shaped like a cof fin and an oversized birthday card that enumerates the slow decay of her body over the next thirty years starting with the expansion of her brain cav ity and ending with the extra hair on her toes. Everyone laughs at the goofy illustration of Lorraine with saggy boobs and a swollen head. This is only February; your birthday is in October. There's plenty of time. Plenty of time is what you've always had. Every birthday, every season, every New Year. Plenty of time to start the diet. Plenty of time to find a boyfriend. Meanwhile, you haven't dated in six years. Plenty of time to decide what to do with your life. But you are still a secretary for an ad agency that has stopped thinking of you as "up and coming." Plenty of time to buy a house. And you still live in a rented apartment with two other roommates. There is plenty of time to travel and see the world. Paris is not going to fall off the face of the earth. Rome will still be there. You've never been on a plane or a ship and have only been out of the state twice. Once was in summer camp up at Lake Candlewood. But you never count this because you came home after a week and a half covered with a rash they couldn't identify. You caught this from the girl who slept in the bunk above you who picked her nose and saved her used floss in Sucrets tins. The second time was when your family drove down to Florida to Aunt Gerri's funeral. It was a threeday blur of neon gas stations, wedged in the car between your brother, Frankie, drooling on your left shoulder, and your sister, Lucy, poking you in the ribs with her Etch-a-Sketch. Your legs stayed crossed the whole time because you hadn't peed since you left home because you can't make your self go in public toilets. You vowed you would never travel like that again in your life. You kept your promise. You haven't traveled at all. Lorraine hands you a sealed envelope as you leave her party. Read it for a laugh, she tells you. Nobody is home. The apartment is a tomb. There are zero messages on your answering machine. Who were you expecting to call? Everyone you know in your shrunken world was at the party tonight. You remember what your father told you once: "If you can count the number of true friends on one hand, consider yourself blessed." You count. Lorraine. Christine. Jack.
Angela, Remember Amy Polito's slumber party in the sixth grade? The one where we froze Denise Plump's bra and we ate all those S'mores and pizza and we all got sick and for the rest of the night we all took turns barfing into Hefties because we backed up the Politos' septic...God, I still can't look at marshmallows without getting nauseous. Anyhoo—I found those lists we wrote that night. Remember? About what we were going to do when we became "women"? It's good for a hoot. Here's yours: Your childish handwriting falters across the crinkled notebook paper. It is large print. You bubbled your b's and p's and made circles over your i"s: 1. Marry Donny Osmond in a double wedding with Lorraine and David Cassidy. Don't invite Denise (what a spaz). 2. Write a cool book like Are You There God it's Me Margaret or The Diary of Anne Frank, only better. 3. Become world-famous. 4. Open an animal shelter that's like a petting zoo. 5. Live in New York in the summer and Hollywood in the winter. 6. Feather your hair like Charlie's Angels. 7. Lose weight. The last one is written so small you almost miss it as it runs into your sig nature on the bottom: The Future Mrs. Angela Marie Esposito-Osmond. Lose weight. Your heart tightens a little. The naked little wish of your twelve-year-old self stings your eyes. Had you really been woiTying about it that long? You fold the paper in half How dumb. It really is silly. What a hoot. Lose weight. You have been over the 200-lb. mark for the past five years. You can't say how far over. It scares you to think about it. The only time you get near a scale is at the doctor's office. Barring a sucking chest wound, compound fracture, or a sudden brain henionhage, you do not see a doctor on a regular basis. You have stopped going for an annual pap smear. The exam is humiliating. The last time, two years ago, the doctor stuck his hand up your chafed thighs, and on the way back he pressed your ankle. "See,
when I press here, my finger makes a mark. You're retaining a lot of water. Common with morbid obesity. You need lo go on a diet, my dear. Lose some weight." You stopped Ustening after morbid obesity. Nobody had ever called you morbid anything. Morbid Obesity. As in Die Fat. You have fears; of being alone; of being unloved; of being undiscovered. You add this one to your little backpack; you put it in between the fear that you'll never be thin and the fear that a man will never fmd you desirable. When you got home from the doctor's office, you ate a whole bag of potato chips and half a pound of peanut M & M's. You decide you have postponed your life long enough. You will go on a diet. For what, the hundred and fiftieth time! You ignore this fat-girl voice. Your thin voice tells you that you can do it this time. You're worth it. You have the will power. You are beautiful and loved. This is the least you can do for yourself For your life. You will lose weight. You will get control. Everything will be yours for the taking. Fat chance. Shut up, you say. It is Monday. The traditional start of all your diets. Hundreds of Mondays. Hundreds of fresh starts. Hundreds of hopeful promises. You blink as you turn to your alarm clock. It is only 4:30 AM. You have "the 4:30s." This what you call them. Your shrink says these are "wakeful nightmares." You lie there and run through the litany of everything that is wrong in your life:
This drones on and on until your alami goes off at 6:00 AM. The weighin. You pull yourself out of bed and over to the scale. You bought this scale
only yesterday. You felt a sense of empowerment in making the fifty-dollar commitine'it- The weight of it pressing on your knees on the bus ride home didn't bother you. You have little ριΐφΐε circles at the tops of your dimpled knees. You step on to the scale and look down. The dial spins for a moment and stops. 264 lbs. You get off and get back on the scale again. 266 lbs. Ohmygod ohmygod. Well, what did you expect? You swallow hard and blink back a few tears. This is do-able. This is OK, your thin voice tells you. You knew it wouldn't be easy. You have a tough row to hoe. Mount Everest would he easier to climb, your fat girl voice yells. You ignore her and take a shower. Breakfast. A half a bowl of bran cereal. Three strawbemes. A half a cup of skim milk. You eat slowly and leave the milk on the bottom. You hate skim. It sits there like a gray puddle. An hour into work and you are starving. Your stomach has staged a rebel lion, gurgling for the past fifteen minutes. Natalie, the new temp, comes by your desk with a box of doughnuts. You say no thank you as casually as you can muster. "What, are you on a diet or something?" she inquires. You smile and say no thank you, again. You are staring at the chocolate frosted ones and swear that they arc smiling at you. You blink twice and look away. "They don't work, you know. Diets, I mean. You have to change your lifestyle. That's what 1 did. Lost ten pounds like that. And I've kept it off 1 never thought I'd be a size three and voilà, here I am," she says, stretching her arms out in a "ta-da" pose. You smile back up at her and wish you owned at gun. Not to kill her. Just to make her dance. You drink your water instead. Lunch. You meet up with Lorraine and Jack at McDonald's on 58th Street. You bring your Tupperwarc container of chopped lettuce and cucumbers and your water bottle. "There's this really cute guy that started working in Layout. He's a real sweetie. Not like the usual drones they hire," Jack says as soon as he sits down. Jack is always talking about cute guys. It starts to get to you that he talks more about men than you do. The Balsamic vinegar on your salad stings your chapped lips. "Is this love?" Lorraine asks. She is spreading ketchup all over her fries. You are finding it hard to concentrate on the conversation. You decide to only make eye contact. Do not look down. Do not look down.
You are fat You are ugly You have dark hair growing under your chin You have too many bills You don't make enough money You have defaulted on your college loan You have never been laid You are the only sibling that is single You are the spinster aunt You can't wear jeans You have forgotten what Middlemarch is about You don't read enough You are hopeless
"No. He's totally straight," Jack answers. "1 was thinking he'd be perfect for our little Angela." "Me?" you say, not disguising your shock. "Yeah, he's really sweet. Smart. And he's into 'Star Trek,' but not in that obsessive—lives in the basement of his mother's house and has never been with a woman way. He's really normal. And funny. God, he's always mak ing everyone laugh." "Come on, Angela. You love 'Star Trek.' And how many 'Star Trek' fans are there out there that arc single and don't live with their mother? I think this guy could be the one," Lorraine tells you. "Oh my God, you guys have already set this up, haven't you?" you start to whine. "Oh Christ, Lorraine. Now you've gone and scared her, OK, OK, so I may have told him a little bit about you," Jack says as he pats your hand in that motherly way that you like. "What does he look like?" It can't hurt to ask, you think. "He's cute. Lots of curly brown hair. Big dark eyes. Sweet smile. Nice teeth by the way. A real teddy bear," Jack says. "A teddy bear? He's fat," you say. "Strapping. I prefer to describe him as strapping. He is a big guy. But do you really want a shrimpy guy?" "So you're setting up the fat guy with the fat girl," you say, but you are not angry. You just want to get out of this. You can't date. You're not ready. You just started a diet for ehrissake. You can't date too. "Come on, Angela. Just talk to the guy. It'll be good practice for you," Lorraine says. She is always your cheerleader. She hung out with you on prom night. You parked her mother's Nova at the aiiport and you both watched the aiφlanes land all night. She helped save your hair after that perm made the back of your head go all orange. "Practice for what? I'm not a violinist. This isn't something you audition for." You are getting annoyed. Why don't they leave you alone? You are not someone to be fixed up, like a couch to be arranged with the right drape. "Listen, Miss Cranky Pants, I gave him your number—don't give me that look—you should just go out with him for a drink. It's not like you have to make a lifetime coimnitment," Jack says in his exasperated mommy tone. On the way back to the office, you stop at a newsstand and pick up a Baby Ruth and stick it in your bag. Dinner. A Lean Cuisine. Chicken Fiesta with a com medley. You over cook it because you don't read the instructions. You are ready to eat your
hand. You settle down on the couch and click on Peler Jennings describing Rwandan refugees dying of malnutrition in Red Cross camps. Wait, you remember that you read somewhere that you should never eat while watch ing television. It distracts you from the pleasure of eating and may cause you to overeat. You chew the chicken that is cold on one side, crispy on the other. You leave the corn medley; the red pimentos look too scary. He called. After you came back from your lunch with the matchinakcrs, you saw your phone light winking red. You could see it all the way from the threshold. His name is Derwin. He heard that you have all sixty-five episodes of the "Star Trek" series (the original) on tape, in order, with the commercials edited out. For this he has to meet you. You scribbled his number on the Post-It you are now holding in your hand. You didn't erase the phone message. He did sound kind of cute. Froin the sound of his voice you can't hear how fat he is. You can see his brown hair curling behind his ears and his droopy brown eyes. You wonder if he is thinking about your voice the same way. You pick up the phone and dial. You hang up when you hear him pick up. You dial and hang up, dial and hang up intemiittently over the next hour. You give up. If you actually talk now, he might think you are a stalker. You haven't talked to a inan, like a boyfriend, in so long. Is calling a guy even "in" now? Didn't Lorraine tell you that you have to make them call you? You decide to eat your Baby Ruth instead. This is easy. You are happy. You don't feel that hollowness anymore. Chocolate, peanuts, caramel and nougat. None of these reject you. They don't know you're fat. Day two. Breakfast. You skip it because of the Baby Ruth last night. You decide not to beat yourself up about it. Your thin voice tells you to pick your self up and move on. Your fat voice wants a bacon and cheese on a roll, cof fee light, extra sweet. He catches you by suφrise. The ringing phone sounds like an internal call, so you don't put on your I'm-a-happy-perky-secretary-how-can-I-helpyou-voice. Lorraine told you once that you have a tendency to sound curt and pissed olT. You didn't tell her that's because you usually arc. She tells you to practice putting a lilt in your voice. You still don't have a clue as to what that is. "Hi, this is Derwin. I work with Jack. I hope I'm not bothering you," he begins. "Oh, no. My sinuses are bothering me so I'm a little nasal," you say. Lilt, damn it. Lilt, you tell yourself. "So, I guess you got my message yesterday. So, 1 have to meet the woman
who taped—not bought -the entire 'Star Trek' series." "Yeah, just the original. I did it the last marathon that was on Channel 11," you say. "There is only the original. 1 don't bother with those spin-offs," he says. "Yeah, 1 have to agree with you. You notice how all the aliens are humanoid. They just vary the face prosthetics," you say. You are amazingly at ease. He has no idea your palms are sliding down the phone neck; your right leg is bumping the desk so hard it's making ripples in the water in the clear plastic jug. "You have strong feelings about this. 1 like that," he says. You think he is smiling on the other end. You are flirting. This almost makes you giggle. "Don't get me wrong. I'm not a convention Trckkie, " you say. "I haven't gone to any either. 1 think they actually have entrance exams for those things, now. The 'Star Trek' thing is huge. Totally out of control. 1 think it's a little excessive when you see 'Star Trek' toaster cozies. Is this really necessary in life?" You are laughing. You don't want to because you snort when you laugh. "So," you say instead. "So," he says back. "1 was thinking we could do more of this. Say with beers, face to face? What'ya say?" "Uh, 1 don't even know you," you stall. "How do 1 know you aren't a serial killer?" although you are more worried that he isii 't a serial killer. "I guess you don't. But didn't Jack tell you about me? You like .lack. 1 like Jack. There you go." He sounds perfectly reasonable. "What did Jack tell you about me?" you ask, although you really don't want to know this. You don't want to hear a lie your real self will destroy. "You are cute, great eyes, really smart—too smart for your job and that you are a 'Star Trek' fan. What more could a guy ask for?" Neither of you have mentioned the "t*' word. You agree to meet after work at McCann's on 56th. He'll be the dashing one at the bar with Spock ears, he tells you. You are so freaked out at lunch that you eat the cheese and the egg in your chef salad. What are you thinking? your fat girl voice asks. Fat guys can get thin girls. Fat girls get no one. You wait outside the bar at six. You have circled the block twice. The homeless guy on the corner asks if you are lost. You shake your head and decide that this will be a good anecdote for a party someday. You will finally have a blind date story to share. You will finally be able to talk about a man in your life. 18
OK, so Jack was being kind. Really kind. He is not strapping. He is huge. You figure he is over six feet tall and about 400 lbs. You can guess weight, give or take 10 lbs, on anyone over 20O lbs. You are always looking at other large women and wondering if they are fatter or thinner than you. He waves you over. Smiling. He isn't wearing the Spock ears. "Well, you decided to come," he says as he pulls out your stool. He remains standing. So do you. You do not dare negotiate the stool. "So this isn't so bad," he says and you know he is talking about the "f" word. You order a Kalhua and creme and then decide that it is too fattening. You order a Harp instead and drink it slowly. He does have a nice smile. Good teeth, not too much gum. "I was wearing the ears, but the bartender threatened to kick me out, " he says. "The bartender said, 'We don't have that kind ofthing in this bar.'" Jack says with a pretty good Irish accent. You smile. Now what. You made a list of conversation topics and can't remember any of them. "So, why are you in advertising?" he asks. "Darren on 'Bewitched' was my idol," you say. You have used this line before. But you think he can't tell. He laughs. "So I'm thinking to myself, if there is this great woman, who loves 'Star Trek,' she must be a woman of discernment. OK, I have to ask. Which is your favorite episode?" "It's 'The Trouble with Tribbles,' you answer. "I think we really get to see the dark side of Scotty." Good answer, you think. You are soaring. You talk for over two hours. He is from New Jersey originally. Like you, he is one of three—two sisters. He is funny. Veiy self-deprecating. You like his hands; he punctuates his sentences by touching your forearm. You haven't been touched in a while. He walks you to the subway; he's going to the West Side, you're going to the East. You hug him spontaneously and tell him you had a good time. He hugs you back. This is good. You are surprised at how good. He is solid and wann. You just want to keep standing like this holding him. He wants to go for dinner on Friday, he says. He'll call you tomorrow. You get home and find two messages. One from Jack. One from Lorraine. They want details. It is almost 9:30. You realize you haven't eaten dinner yet. You throw in a Healthy Choice entree. Turkey dinner with honey-glazed baby carrots. You eat half of it.
You decide you need to start exercising. Your alann goes off at 5:00 AM and you take a walk around the block. There are mostly dog-walkers and delivery men up at this hour. The air is cool and you feel lighter than you have in weeks. You must be losing weight. That's it. You have finally done it your thin voice says. You have taken control. You are on your way. Breakfast. A Healthy Choice Handy Ham Omelet and black decaf. He calls at 9:00 on the dot. You think you have a lilt in your voice. It sounds great. Manny from the mailroom asks if you have a cold. You ignore him and keep lilting away. "Hey, there's a 'Star Trek' convention in town next month," he says. "How do you know that? I thought you didn't do conventions," you say playfully. "Yeah, well there's always a first time. Anyway, maybe we could go? It might be fun. There'll be a lot of people to mock," he says. You can't believe it. A month away. A date a month from now. He is actu ally planning to see you for a month. You have a boyfriend, you realize. A boyfriend. "Sure, why not," you say nonchalantly. You have unraveled a paper clip and reshaped it into a fishhook. You make plans for Friday and hang up. Plans. You have date plans. You are feeling so good you eat half the Danish that is left on the breakfast tray in the breakroom. You can Ί date him, the fat girl voice tells you. He can ì see you naked. That'll he the end of it. But he'll be naked too, you think. Besides there's plenty of time for you to lose weight. You're dieting now, you think, as you brush the Danish crumbs off your fingers. Plenty of time. You'll lose weight before you know it. Maybe he'll want to join you. You'll become this formerly fat couple, newly in love. You'll write about it and send it in to Oprah. She'll do a show on you and you'll get a makeover. Sure. Plenty of time, you say to yourself What are you rushing for? Rome wasn't built in a day. You have made an important decision. You celebrate by having the other half of the Danish.
WHEN THE CRAB COMES OUT TO PLAY
Sandra Vazquez Tonight like most nights the crab is hidden, too full of pride to intenningle. He waits for those nights when the moon like the tide offers a backdrop of mystery, longing, and memory. On those nights he is charming on those nights he is chatty on those nights he invites the sea urchins to play. The moon and the sea are but momentary scenery and once again the night becomes cold, blustery, a threatening oasis. The crab rarely moves forward, sidestepping, sidestepping, sidestepping, sidestepping . . . awaiting the moon and the great mother sea.
11 ,amyam»m — _ ^ ^ ^
r E Molly McQuade The boy across the street had earache. Perhaps we talked too much, or he had heard too much. One warm night we left the upstairs windows open and watched TV. During commercials we ate tangerines and crawled under beds, acting silly. A tangerine flew out the window, whizzing orange pulp. The next day, our mother said: no more tangerines. Then: no more TV. I retrieved the smashed tangerine from the rose bush; she locked the door of the television room. The cartoon stopped—life lost its slogan, its rind, its catapult. Instead, we had piano lessons, given by a swarthy man who oiled his hair and polished his buttocks before perfonning. From him we learned of the boy across the street, who liked to practice. We liked to imitate movie stars, though mother had banned them and Pop shaved off his mustache. We imitated our favorite colors, screaming yellow of hothouse canaries, bawling do-re-mi, bolting parsnips down our gutturals at supper. Our piano teacher cautioned us. He said we must prepare for a recital. Mother was excited and gave us all haircuts. She staked us out in the living room by neckties, so we could get used to the sophistication. The day came. Small, fat, dapper, and cologned, we entered the recital hall, huddled backstage, chewed our carnations, and slapped each other's backsides. Then the boy across the street joined us, an advertisement for illness and decorum. Earache. He wouldn't talk. We whispered so he could hear better. That didn't work, so we shouted. He cowered. He played "Spinning Jenny" with no mistake. We were brave and played badly. Mother smiled through her tears. We went home, jingling. The boy across the street disappeared again. After months, he resurfaced with a deep voice. He played Rachmaninoff then, and would not listen.
Janice L. Sugarman
'-"•ir-'-*'*riΐιπtBi m - ' " ^ ' " * —
Janice L. Sugarman The Duck and I July 1989
Edward Lasala Kelly Township
Janice L. Sugarman Mom and Dad in Bed January 1983
Edward Lasala Cooling-board
Benjamin Covelo He carried them as amulets, medallions with which to bribe Charon for a safe return. He kept one in his wallet, wrapped in gold foil, another in the pocket of his leather jacket, colored, he wouldn't know the hue until the moment he opened the package. In his dresser he kept a whole battery: ribbed for her pleasure, studded Rough Riders, lubed and unlubed, extrathick and extra-sensitive. Also there were rubber gloves and dental dams. James loved these protectors for themselves, for their inviolable strength against the wasting plague. These were better than the garlic and crucifixes of earlier catastrophes, old defenses which, because they worked by magic, did not really work at all. But these—and here he thrust his hand into his pocket to finger the slick plastic—these were better than magic. These were unimpeachable science, electronically tested, rolled and sealed. By night he had found himself a woman and returned with her to his apartment. This one he had discovered in a fashionable bar downtown, a place teeming with fresh young flesh, bohemian, bisexual, the heated meat most favored by the virus. In such places were found the best women, at once lovely and likely to be infected. With such creatures he could exercise his amulets to their fullest. This one, James observed, was attractive in the way of sharp young librarians, small and quiet and pointy-breasted. Now that he had her naked for him on the bed—he had gotten her there without the shared fluid of a kiss, he noted with satisfaction, had wooed her with the touch of skin on dry skin only—now that she was splayed and exposed, he could examine her in all her fetid riskiness. Her surface was a parchment, pulled tightly across ribs and over knees but hanging more loosely from uplifted thighs. Against that aridity stood out the tripartite wetnesses, oases for the pathogens; the livid liquid of her unshaved armpits, and the thicker slime of her reeking center trickling disease out of the lips and along the wiry hairs. Quietly he disrobed, then began with the rubber gloves, pulling them on each with an efficient snap and no words. She would accept this unexpected twist, he knew. He chose only women for whom deviations were trophies, picked them by their tattoos or their piercings, or this one by the ankh branded into her upper arm. Lying down next to her, tender as required, he dipped his shielded fingers into the hot pool, elicited the expected gasp. Encircling
her clitoris, pushing it in different directions, then sinlcing two encased fingers right into the hole itself, he made her shiver in the correct manner and was pleased at the quantity of deadly fluid he coaxed from her. Beginning the next phase, James removed the gloves, careful to avoid contact with the drying crust of her, then prepared himself for a deeper encounter. He stretched the dental dam against her hairy expulsive crotch, inspired by the way the rubber creases mimicked and enhanced the stretch marks on her inner thighs and on her breasts. Then he buried his face in the latex, nuzzling his nose against itâ€”he was safe now from the stench of herâ€”and licking the delicious rubber where her clit pressed it outward. It was like the men who believed they had set foot on the moon but had never touched it, only James knew that no airless exotic planet could rival the pleasure of the life-preserving cocoon. Skillfully he built her excitement, bringing her near but not past the point of orgasm and keeping her there for several minutes. He knew that in such a state she would be most pliant, completely under the control of the disease she carried. It would urge her to do anything to achieve the explosion, the currents of which the virus would ride to a new infection. "I'd like to tie your amis, if that's okay," he said. She nodded, frantic for further stimulation, and he pulled the vinyl cuffs from under the bed, affixing them to her wrists and then tying them tightly to the metal rods of the headboard. He smiled at her, happy with her immobility, and playfully he bit her nipples, although careful not to break the skin. She sucked in sharply, pulling at her restraints, which did not give way. He stood up next to her, running one hand along the pasty undangerous skin of her stomach and between her breasts, stroking himself with the other. She looked up at him hungrily, what he thought of as the carnivorous look, and he knew it was time. Tonight he chose studded, and tearing open the packet in a way he was sure would not damage the contents, he breathed in deeply, smelling the complicated blend of latex and lubricant and spermicide. He held the circle up to his nose, sniffed it, ignored the confusion and the first traces of fear on her face. The unrolling was perhaps his favorite part, the moment when he entered the protection of his love. Holding the tip tightly so as to avoid a bubble, he eased the ring down onto his shaft. The head of the condom was the same as any other, but once the first two inches were exposed he came to the studs, little dots of ornamental rubber. They were essentially pointless, he knew, didn't do a thing for the women, but they gave his penis the look of an armored thing, something like the samurai costumes that were meant to
enhance the image, not the practicality, of the warrior. He was inside it now, filling it up, the condom clinging to his most sensitive surfaces. This was what he loved, the feeling of closeness, the enveloping. He was ready now, prepared to face the plague and to laugh at its weakness. Oh, the disease would go on, but it would never harni the intelligent ones, those who knew how to protect themselves. He lowered himself onto her, positioning himself between her legs, and using his hand he guided the condom. It was in her now, in the heart of her sickness, and he was in the condom, fucking the condom that was fucking her disease. The disease couldn't get him because he wouldn't fuck it. He would fuck the rubber instead. She tugged at the ropes as the condom pounded into her, driven by his hips and his hardened protected penis. He saw in her anguished face the sickness all around him, felt through the condom the heat of the disease, and he knew he had to kiss her, to complete the circuit. Taking the dental dam, he turned the poisoned side toward her face, pulled it taught over her mouth and pressed his mouth against it, his tongue thrusting against the distentions of rubber that marked her tongue. He pulled it hard, held it tight, kissed it and kissed it. He would lick at the rubber and thrust into the condom and he would do it with all his strength and for as long as he could, forever if he could, because he could feci, smell, taste the glorious latex, and the disease could not get him.
She fell into the ocean and was swallowed up by the waves. Floating there in the briny stomach of the sea as an alien, a stranger, an irritant. Her skin began to form a shell which built upon itself. Layer after glowing layer. Until she was completely encased in a hardened, milky orb. She rolled along the bottom and came to rest in the coldest, darkest cavern, like a blind, sunken eye. Like a single perfect thought that remains unknown.
His pubic hair grew past his ankles. It stiffened and changed into fibrous vegetable vines with pickered velvet leaves. Clusters of yellow flowers became tiny orange tubers, which grew into oversized, fluted, bulbous squash. The harvest could not be removed without intense pain, so he dragged the heavy produce everywhere he went, the vines draped over his forearm like a bridal train, pumpkins bumping along on the ground.
.John Everett Bird
The sun came into her bedroom, filling it almost completely and there was little room for anything else. She crawled into the room on hands and knees and slid underneath the sun. Into the small space between floor, wall, and heavy-hung sphere, laying on her side with warm-golden liquid globe rest ing heavily on her shoulder, sinking into the valley between iliac crest and seventh rib, she was reclining, golden Atlas in the heat of the pale ochre light.
Dad told us, me and Evie, not to wander too far off into the woods around the cabin on account of marauders and looters and "God knows what else." He figured that after all the missiles hit, anyone left around would be crazy desperate without even the law to keep them in line. At least some of the per verts and criminals would be smart enough to get out of the cities and head for the mountains like we did. "People are just animals, really," he told me. "Without civilization, they're gonna go crazy and do horrible things." Dad said the President's crazy and the Russians arc crazy, too, but more than that, the President and the Russians are really "instruments of history and history is inevitable." So, it don't really matter if Dad voted for President Reagan, even though he's crazy, because when him and the Russians launch their missiles, it'll be inevitable. And nothing anyone ever did will matter anyways. Dad said he had a loi of time to think about histo ry after Lockheed fired him. He said, "We should all thank those ungrateful bastards. If they hadn't fired mc, 1 wouldn't have been able to save you and your sister from imminent annihilation. " The last time he told mc this, he was putting the decal of a red dot on the side of a model Japanese Zero. "I hope your mother and her new friend fig ure out what's coming before it comes and find some place to hide, .lames. " He was wearing his old Cal tee-shirt and his pajama bottoms. He held up the model aiφlane and spun the propeller I couldn't spin mine on the Corsair I made, because I'd glued the propeller in by accident. We've been hiding here a couple of weeks, making model Messerschmidts and Zeros, and drinking distilled water and eating canned food. Dad sold just about every thing he had to get this cabin and stock it with all the necessities. But the cabin's pretty old and doesn't have electricity or a phone or anything. The Jacuzzi's broke, just sitting there on the sun-deck covered with those dead pine-leaf things, floating around like little brown skeletons on top of the green water. Evie and me have to share the bedroom, which has her really sore. Dad has to sleep on the couch. Evie misses her friends and her job down at the mall. I miss my TV. Dad told Mom he was taking us camping on his weekend. "Maybe we should warn Mom about the missiles," I said. "I really wish your sister wouldn't dress like that," he said then. He was looking out the sliding glass
John Everett Bird
door. Evie was standing on tlie deck with her back to us, looking out at the woods or something, just leaning on the railing. She scratched her right calf with her left foot. I got embarrassed for her and went back to trying to put the decals on my Corsair. "She's a walking advertisemcul for marauders, dressed like that," he said. "1 don't understand it. Eve used to love making models." I couldn't get the bubbles under the decal to smooth out. "Here, gimme that," he said. Dad smoothed the decal out with a wet thumb. "See? Like that, son." He held it up. "And don't glue the propeller in next time." He handed it back and I sort of hated that plane just then. "James, I want you to promise me something." "What?" "1 want you to keep an eye on your sister I know she's older and all, but Eve's a little spoiled," he said. "That's your mother's fault." "How? I mean, how can I keep an eye on her?" "Just make sure she doesn't wander off or something. We both have to make sure she's safe. That's our job. OK?" "OK." "[ can count on you?" "Sure," I said. "Good, good." He held up the box for the Zero and compared the picture on the front with his aiiplane. "Looks just like the picture, doesn't it?" "Yeah," I said. "Maybe later, we'll shoot some more behind the cabin. You have to be prepared to defend the cabin in case anything happens to me."
chest, and the left side drooped down lower then the other side on account of the lighter in his pocket. I was thinking that they were gonna start a forest fire the way they were flicking around those cigarettes. He said something and Evie laughed again. She curled her fist in front of her mouth to cover her braces and started shaking so hard 1 was worried that she would throw up. Evie is such a spastic sometimes, 1 get embarrassed for her. When she wasn't laughing, she was looking at her feet, all coy, just tracing a half-circle in front of her. There was a band-aid on her leg. Hairy leaned into her and she laughed again, backing up. I moved closer so I could hear if Hairy was a marauder, but I made some noise while 1 was crawling and had to scrunch down low. Evie was looking around, her eyes squinting, ail suspicious. "It's nothin', just a rabbit," Hairy said. There was one of those pine-leaf skeletons hanging from my lip when I looked up again. Hairy was leaning into her again. "Whaddya say? I waited last night and you never showed." "I couldn't get away from my dad." "Then tonight, by the big rock. I'll bring some beer," he said. "C'mon, you owe me." She covered her mouth. "I danno. Maybe." "We can get fucked up." He was really leaning into her. I thought Evie was gonna fold over backwards. She backed up a little and stamped out her cigarette. "I dunno," she said. Her hands were searching for her back pockets. When she found them, she cocked her head at him. "Thanks for the smoke." She backed off and started walking away. "Around ten o'clock, " he said. "By the big rock."
I was standing on the sun-deck watching Evie down at the foot of the incline. She was wearing one of Dad's shirts and it looked more like a dress on her. She was kind of kicking pine-cones around, all bored. She saw me watching her and gave me the bird. 1 looked away for a second and when I looked back again, she was gone. It took me awhile to fmd her, but she had finally stopped way off in the woods. She was talking to someone. From where I was on the ground, I heard her laugh. I looked up and could see him. He was older than Evie, like in his twenties, and had one of those mustaches that doesn't grow all the way in, but he probably thought it was pretty suave. He had long hair that looked like he'd forgot to wash it that morning. He gave her a cigarette and lit it, flicked the lighter shut, and dropped it back into the pocket of his flannel shirt. His shirt was unbuttoned halfway, so the whole world could see his
She was ahead of me for a while, weaving between trees, in and out of sight, until she wasn't ahead of me anymore. I couldn't sec her. 1 tried walking faster, but I started to lose my breath when Evie pushed me over from behind. My face landed in the dirt and she put her foot on my back, right between the shoulder blades, and pinned me to the ground. "James, you little fucker. You were spying on me." "I wasn't," I said, trying to pull my face out of the dirt. "Were too." She pushed me back down. "I ougtta kick your fat ass." "You're gonna start a forest fire smoking like that." "Shuddup. I ever catch you spying on nie again, I'll kill you. You got that?" She pushed me back down. I mean, she really leaned on me. I spit dirt
John Everett Bird
out of my mouth. "You're a spastic bitch. Evie." She practically stood on top of me. "Say you're sorry." "No," I said. "Say it." "Î›ÎŒ." She pulled her foot off of me and kicked me in the stomach instead. "Say you're sorry." She was standing over me with her fists on her hips. "Dad's gonna give it to you. Evie. 1 saw you talking to that guy. Dad said not to wander off" "You moron. He lives over in Truckee. There hasn't been any war. Dad's all wrong. No missiles, no Russians, no war. We're hiding out for nothing." She looked like she was gonna give me another kick, but she just said, "Don't spy on mc anymore." She walked away. 1 lay there for a little while thinking. Even before I got back to the cabin, 1 could hear Dad shooting cans on the other side of the cabin. It's like you don't really know how far away you are until you hear that sound. The shots sort of explode and then the woods swallow them up. Evie was on the sun-deck, over the incline, messing with the Coleman stove. The incline almost killed me, walking up it. "Lookit this," she said when I reached the deck. "Spaghetti-0's." Evie wasn't doing a very good job cooking. The Spaghetti-0's were sticking to the pan and burning. "Dad thinks Vm ten years old or something. Hasn't anyone ever filled him in about stir-fry?" She looked at me and went back to cooking. "I mean, Mom can be a helluva bitch, but at least she has real food at home. I shoulda bummed some more smokes back in the woods. I'm dyin' right now." The gun would fire like five or six in a row and you could hear the old Spaghetti-O and Ravioli cans clank like little tin bells and die. Then it would be quiet as Dad set the cans back up. Then the gun would fire again. Evie growled. "Christ, he's killing my nerves with that gun. I wish I hadda smoke." "You gonna go back out there tonight?" I asked. "What do you care?" she snapped. "I dunno, maybe. I dunno." She was quiet. "You think Mom's woiTied about us?" I asked. "No. You wanna hear something really stupid?" she asked. "What?"
She covered her mouth for a second and then dropped her hand. "I don't even miss Mom or Carl. 1 miss going to the mall. I think about this stupid dress I saw at Meny-Go-Round." The gun stopped tiring again. "You better wash your face before Dad sees you, James." 1 was washing my face and 1 could hear Dad talking in the front room. I sat down on top of the toilet with my face in a towel, and wailed there while Dad called my name. He knocked on the door. "Quit hiding, James," he said. The sun was already going down, 1 could see it behind the sliding glass door. Evie was sitting at the table, staring at her bowl of Spaghetti-0's, her face planted on her fist. She was poking at her food with her fork. Dad stood over her talking. "I told you about wandering in the woods. Eve. Your mother let you and your brother get out of hand. Let you run around and smart talk. She let James get too out of shape." He saw mc standing there. "What happened to your shirt?" "I fell down in the woods," I said. "You should know better than your sister what I said. What were you doing in the woods?" I mumbled. "Speak up, James." "1 was doing what you told me. I was watching Evie." He shook his head. "Alright, you two, get this straight. No more walking in the woods. 1 thought I could trust you enough not to hurt yourselves out there if you didn't wander too far." Dad looked at me. "Obviously, a nature walk is just too dangerous for you, James. I had hoped you could handle that at least." He looked back at Evie. "I'm really disappointed in you two." "Dad," I said. He looked at me. "Dad, in the woods. Evie was talking to someone. " He turned and looked at Evie, and right then, 1 felt kind of sick. "Who? Who were you talking to?" "No one," she yelled back. "Just no one." "You know what you've done? They've found us now. You know that?" Evie stood up. "Dad, we don't have to hide. We can go back to Mom and Carl's." "You can't go back. There's nothing left. Everything's gone." "Nothing's gone. I wanna go home. Dad." "Shut up," he said. "Shut up." His hands were shaking and he ran one through his hair "You have to
understand. Eve. There's nothing left to go back to." Evie had this look on her face. "And now they've found us." "Dad," she said. "We can never leave, now," he said. "I don't know what I'll do when they come here. I'd rather do it myself than let them get you." "Dad," she said, "I wanna go home, now." She was crying. "Wake up." It was Evie, but I wasn't asleep. I couldn't see her face, but I could sec the shape of her head in the nioonlight. "I should kill you," she whispered, "for opening your mouth. But I know you can't help it." "Where's Dad?" "Downstairs. He won't go to sleep. Look, I'm gonna try to get outta here." "How?" "I dunno. ' "You could meet that guy. At the big rock." "How'm I 'sposcd to get past Dad? What if I get there and he's not there? It's so dark, I can't see a thing out there." She was scaring me. She said, "Don't cry, James." "I'm not." She put her hand over my mouth. "No noise, James." Then she took her hand off my mouth. "Maybe Dad will be OK," I said. "James, promise something, will you?" "What?" "Don't sleep. Just don't fall asleep." "What if I can't help it?" "Promise me you won't sleep. Promise." "What if I can't help it?" I said. "Just promise me," she said.
When you're in nursery school, you're too young for gross-out. Like, bugs are the coolest thing, 'cause they're about your size and you can hang out with them. And they know almost as much as you, but in some ways they know more, 'cause they know all about being a bug, and you don't know shit, 'cause you're just a kid.
I fell asleep. I know I fell asleep because I heard voices down the incline, and that woke mc up. Evie's bed was empty and Dad and her were yelling down the incline. Did she get lost and come back? I looked out the window. They were at the edge of the trees and he wouldn't let go of her ami. She was trying to mn away, but he pulled her away from the trees. He hit her. She fell and he dragged her away from the trees, up the incline, back towards the cabin. Evie screamed and the woods swallowed up the sound.
LATE PRAIRIE NIGHT
GIRLS IN PINK
Benjamin Covelo The wide, cold circle of moon slips its wan embrace around star after fading star, denuding the jigsaw prairie with its pale light. Nothing moves among the curves of the raw earth except the scant dried grasses whipped endlessly by the wind. Nothing grows here that is not hardy and small, like the hidden cactus bulbs clinging low to the ground and the rattlesnakes that slide among them. But the emptiness is broken by a tiny human incursion, a homely green bus that has spilled its contents out onto these vast Badlands. The young travelers gather around the flicker of their struggling bonfire, talking loudly over the crying wind that chases them back and forth as they ti7 to avoid the blasts of smoke. Laughter and the clink of bottles rise up in tattered fashion, borne as truncated fragments along the crests and troughs of the passing air, beaten apart, so that a few yards from the campfire they are nothing but raw sound, the words ground away. As the night wears on, and the travelers grow quieter, the howling begins: from all around rises the mournful call of the prairie coyote, ephemeral and cold as jewels.
Our legs still spread wide In the interrogation room We count minutes that matter For girls in pink In the interrogation room Spemi still fresh For girls in pink And police inen who must know Spenn still fresh Bruises color themselves in nicely And police men who must know Mark the date and time virgins bleed Bmiscs color themselves in nicely But we must have asked for it Mark the date and time virgins bleed And we tell the incn what we know But we must have asked for it Because he smirks at every detail And we tell the men what wc know The knife that touched your throat Because he smirks at every detail You forget your last assailant The knife that touched your throat Clots like inenstrual blood in your heart You forget your last assailant As they probe for more Clots like incnstmal blood in your heart Girls in pink die again As they probe for more We count minutes that matter Girls in pink die again Our legs still spread wide
At the airport, Andy is met by his father. He notices the hooded Oxford sweatshirt his father is wearing, its gray hood standing over the stiff white collar of his dress shirt. His father's mix of suit pants and loafers with the college sweatshirt reminds Andy of a new immigrant coupling popular American clothes with his old world clothes, trying to fit into the culture with a naked artificiality. Trying to have his clothes make up for what he lacks in American instincts. His father is heavier and the sweatshirt stretches to cover both his stomach and the button-down. "It's so good to have you home," his father says, reaching for Andy's bag. "I have it." Andy hitches it over his shoulder They walk out to the parking lot. "We're planning on going out tonight, if you want," his father says. "Just the four of us. Whatever you want to do. Maybe a movie?" He keeps his eyes on the highway and his hands tight on the steering wheel. Andy nods. The new car is just like the last one: seats covered with dog hairs, half-open bags of rice-cakes on the floor, his mother's sunglasses on the dashboard, and the mileage around that 15,000 mark. When they pull up to the house, Andy gets out and waits while his father parks the car in the garage. The synthetic air in the car had made him nauseous. He isn't sure whether it was the air conditioner or his father's attempts to start conversation. As if his father was trying to breathe life into a relationship that barely survived hooked up to a telephone line. Andy leans against the goal-line tree on their front lawn to calm himself It forces him to think of his brother The goal-line tree they'd grown up with, played around like it was something that would never be separated from them, that would stay with them forever like the sweet smell of a little league baseball mitt; it reminds him of Jeremy. He thinks of winters, with the tree covered in snow, when he'd use it to catch his breath after dragging his younger brother halfway across the blanketed yard. Straight tackle in the slush, the deeper the better. Raw hands, frosted breath, scratched faces, and spit mixing every time they lined up. It still feels the same. The tree is still there. It's Jeremy that's gone. "Mom home?" Andy asks when his father comes out of the garage. "Are you kidding?" he says almost smiling. "She canceled a piano student in your honor."
"She's still teaching?" "Sure. Up to six students now." He wants to ask about Abigail, but holds back. She'll be different now. And even though they sent him pictures, he knows a roll of film is not going to prepare him. Pictures are just images, frozen or repeating, spinning around like a carousel horse, letting him see the same thing over and over again as often as he wants, but never giving him a different view. They don't show change or movement. They don't let him hear what her voice sounds like or feel her in his amis, how much she's grown. When he sees her it will be like riding that horse off the carousel into a park in full bloom. Everything will be new. "She's gonna love your beard," his father says. "She will?" "I think it'll give your mother a kick." "Oh, yeah. Right," Andy says reaching for his face. Inside, the framed Monet poster hanging on the wall where the family pictures used to be attracts his attention away from his mother standing in the hallway. "Come on, Andy," she says leaning her face up to his mouth, "I think after a year and a half I deserve a kiss." Andy lets her cheek brush against him briskly as if he's testing the temperature and afraid of getting burned. Her hair is a darker brown than it used to be, and the smell of moisturizer on her skin is stronger; it reminds him of his grandmother Abigail is on the staircase. She's holding an eight-pack of crayons and turning the pages of a Walt Disney coloring book. Her hair is long enough to put in a ponytail, and she's barefoot and wearing a dress instead of the baby romper that used to encompass her whole body. The way she's sitting on the landing of the staircase, crayons in hand, under the shadows of his parents and surrounded by the tall hallway walls, she seems to Andy like a miniature knight prepared for battle. When she was born, he didn't get to spend much time with her before he left for college. Besides, she was an object then, a new toy, not yet conscious enough to notice the timing of her birth and his departure. Now, Andy thinks, she must be getting to work on her responsibilities. All those shoes to fill. He walks up to his sister slowly, and watches her put the finishing touches on one of the pages. "What's that you got there, Abigail?" he asks, pointing to the coloring book. "I-I have crayons," she says, holding out the Crayola box to him. "Abigail," his mother says, "why don't you take Andy upstairs and show him your pictures."
SHOES AND THINGS
SHOES AND THINGS
"You have pictures?" Andy asks, mimicking his mother's tone. She nods her head up and down. "Will you show them to me? "Y-You can come to my room." "It's a deal." She takes his hand and leads him up the stairs one step at a time. He wonders what causes little kids to have stutters, or if it just happens. He wonders if his brother ever stuttered. And he wonders which room is hers because when he left, she was sleeping in a crib in his father's study. He wonders if she's taken over his room or if they actually put her in Jeremy's. "Don't make a mess, Abigail," their mother calls after them. When they get to his room, Andy dumps his bag on the floor. "Is this your room, Abigail?" He sees a toy chest in the comer next to the bed. "Th-This is my play-room." She leads him across the hall to the second bedroom. All signs of Jeremy are gone: no Guns 'n Roses posters, no baseball trophies, no bookshelves full of the complete, twenty-two volume series of Paul Daniels fantasy books. There is no stolen YIELD sign on the back of his door and there are no bundles of dirty sweatsocks growing out of the carpet. "Th-This is my room," Abigail tells him. And so it is. She tells him to sit down on the floor while she gets her pictures out. And when he does, she brings over her handful of drawings and drops them in front of him on the carpet. Andy takes one. A year and a half ago, he took a different piece of paper off this carpet. He picked it right up like he's doing now. Like it was any piece of paper. Like it was his sister's drawing. And now when it really is a drawing, all he sees is that torn piece of looseleaf He squints and blocks everything else out but it makes him feel heavy and tired. And the paper stays the same. It's still the same piece of paper. It's still the note from his brother. "Th-That's Banibi," his sister says, pointing to the next picture. He sees flashes of himself walking down the stairs with the authority of an older brother already in college, going to tell of his sibling's latest screwup, as if Jeremy had stuffed up the toilet or shaved the dog. He sees himself handing the note to his parents, his father's look of pain, physical pain, just the look he's supposed to have, because that would be the look he saw the concerned fathers on television have. Or maybe that was the look illustrated in the Father Manual on his bookshelf under disasters. And his mother's detennination; "Call the police," she said. He sees flashes of himself driving his father in circles through the suburb trying to guess where a suicidal sixteen-year-old would go. Of the one-minute intervals between his father's forced, consuming sighs that pounded into Andy and made him dig hard into
the steeringwheel, and had him begging silently for them to stop. He thinks of the eeriness of seeing squad car after squad car pass by in the dark, going into the same backalleys and empty parking lots of their nonnally peaceful neighborhood, thinking they are all looking for his brother. He feels his sister pulling at his sleeve. "Th-That's Bambi," she says again, forcing the next picture on him. Her touch gives him the chills, and for a second he thinks it is Jeremy nudging him, trying to get his attention. It is Jeremy's scent he smells in the room. He sees Jeremy sitting on the bed, working at his desk, opening the window and throwing down G.I. Joe figures. He sees him turning around and walking across the room to where Andy is, feels him breathing down his neck, and then watches as Jeremy raises his hands to Andy's chest, digs his nails in, and rakes them down the length of Andy's skin. "Come on, Abigail." Andy says, quickly standing up. "Let's go see when dinner is." He lifts her up in his sweaty hands and lets her picture fall to the floor.
In the kitchen, his mother notices Abigail is not wearing any shoes or socks. "You need something on your feet, Abigail," she says. "Go back upstairs." They all wait. Andy hears his father's stomach grumble. In a few minutes they hear softly spaced thumps marking his sister's descent on the stairs. Soon she walks into the room wearing a pair of Big Bird slippers and stops in front of her mother for inspection. "No, Abigail. You know we don't wear slippers at the dinner table," she says. "Go back up and come down dressed like a big girl." Abigail lowers her head. "Go on," her mother tells her. "Only big girls can eat at the table." Again she returns upstairs. Again they wait. Andy wonders how long this will go on. This time when she comes down, Abigail has on two white ankle socks. Her face is damp, and she's a little out of breath, like a puppy dog playing fetch, he thinks. "We can wait all night," his mother says. "l-I'm hungry," Abigail says. "So am I," says Andy. "This is ridiculous." "We'll eat as soon as Abigail finishes getting dressed." Abigail continues standing next to the table. "Shoes, Abigail. Big girls wear shoes," his mother says. Abigail goes back upstairs.
SHOES AND THINGS
Her eyes are red and she's biting down on her lip when she finally returns properly dressed. Dinners: "Jeremy," his mother would say, "get your elbows off the table, please." .lercmy would look to his left at Andy, and at Andy's elbows resting next to his plate. "Andy's beyond help. But there's still a chance for you," she would tell him. Jeremy would lower his arms. "Have you thought about the summer yet?" he would ask. Andy would know what was coming. He would have heard his parents talking about it the night before. "What do you want to know?" his father would say. "The camping trip. Can I go?" Andy would watch and see his father give his mother a look. She would say, "We don't think you're old enough to go off alone with your friends for two weeks." "I'm sixteen," Jeremy would say quietly. "Well, how do we know we can trust you?" Andy would think about the time Jeremy lost his plane ticket at an aiφort restaurant. Or when he had his bike stolen at school because he forgot to lock it up. Or when he swore at his eighth-grade English teacher because she accused him of cheating on his Scarlet Letter test. He would think about how all those things had happened when Jeremy was a kid. He would want to ask how they could trust him if they hadn't given him anything to trust him with in years. But Andy would know he'd have to fight for his own summer plans and he would not want to start off on their bad side. "How old are you, Abby?" he asks once she's finally settled at the kitchen table on the chair next to his. "l-I'm three." "Three years old. Wow. And when you sit at the table you have to be a big girl, right?" She smiles and nods, kicking her feet under the tabic at the same time. "So how big do you have to be, then? Do you have to be as big as a five-year-old? No? How about an cight-ycar-old? That's pretty big. Or maybe you have to be a real big girl, like a twelve-year-old, if you want to sit at the table. What do you think?" "Cut it out Andy," his mother tells him. "She knows perfectly well how a big girl behaves." Andy looks to his father, but his father gets up and walks across the kitchen to fill the water pitcher.
"Have you been thinking about what you want to do tonight?" he asks Andy after dinner. "Anything you want." Anything he wants. All that his father wants is what Andy wants. "Whatever, Dad. You think of something." "Well, we could go to the movies. Why don't you get the paper and sec what's playing?" Andy sifts through the sections and pulls out the movie guide. "Hold on," his mother says, "It's already seven-thirty. It's too late for Abigail to go to the movies. If you want to do something with all four of us, it'll have to be something quick." "Oh, that's right," says his father. "1 forgot it was so late. We'll find some thing that all of us can do. Tomorrow we'll go to the movies, Andy. We can go just the two of us if you want." A father-son thing. He thought the ride home from the airport would have been enough. It's too much to be alone with him. It makes him ill to look at the man and see only faint scraps of what he used to be. His father. Now, a beaten man with a large white flag perpetually waving over him. And Andy feels guilty whenever he thinks like this, comparing his father to the lifeless bodies in an old-age home. Or weighing his lather's decision about life to his brother's. Lots of guilt. "Forget it, Dad. Why don't we just go out and get some ice cream or something." "Is that all right with you?" his father asks his mother. "Fine," she says. "That's much better." When they couldn't find his brother after two and a half hours, Andy drove his father home. His mother said nothing. Andy sat at the bottom of the staircase. There was nothing to do but wait. He wondered if his brother had really gone through with it. And he wondered how he'd done it. His par ents sat on the living room couch, opposite ends, staring out the window. He asked if they wanted him to go out looking again. "No," his mother said. "I'll go." She went to the kitchen and got the car keys. "Do you want me to come with you?" his father asked. "I don't care," she said. "It makes no difference. If you want to come, come." His father stayed on the couch. Andy watched his motionless figure. "Go with her," he wanted to say. "She's your wife," he wanted to say. "It's your son." But he didn't say any thing. If his father didn't know it already, it seemed hopeless to try and show him now. Andy let him sit there, by himself, in the dark.
SHOES AND THINGS
"Would you like chocolate or vanilla, Abigail?" his mother asks at Haagen-Daaz. The girl looks at all the tubs behind the refrigerated glass from the elevated view of her brother's arms. She points to coffee. "You won't like it," says his mother. "I-I want that." She points again. "You're not going to like it, Abigail." "l-I want that." "Fine. But if you don't like it you're not getting any more." His mother waits a minute to see if she'll change her mind. "Are you sure this is what you want?" Abigail says yes. His mother tightens her face and shakes her head before going up to the counter and ordering for Abigail, turning down the suggestion from the Haagen-Daaz girl to give her a taste first because Abigail had said that she wanted coffee so Abigail is going to get coffee. Why did it bother his mother? Andy wonders. She won't even give approval for an ice cream flavor. But Abigail eats the ice cream. It doesn't matter, Andy thinks. She already picked the wrong choice, and she'll pick a hell of a lot more wrong choices before she gets out of that house. It makes him want to pick her up and loin. He could take her back to school with him, let her make as many wrong choices as she wants. Maybe it'll make up for his.
He leans forward in his seat. "I go to class. 1 come home. I do work. I go out with my friends. That's what's going on in my life. Okay?" "That's all I'm asking."
"So what's been going on in your life?" his mother asks him in the car. Abigail has fallen asleep. "You hardly say anything on the phone." Andy takes a breath. "I've been in school," he says. "I know that," says his mother. "But what else are you doing? Do you have a girlfriend?" He wants to say yes just so she'll be satisfied. So she won't ask him to list all his friends and tell her what he's done every Saturday night for the past year and a half He thinks about when she found out he had a girlfriend junior year of high school. How she started out asking for his views on pre marital sex, and then she wanted to know Jennifer's views on premarital sex, and then Jennifer's parents'. How she stormed into his room six months later when they broke up, telling him how humiliated she was because she had to hear about it from Jennifer's mother. "Why do you want to know?" Andy asks her. "Is it so terrible to want to know what's going on in my son's life?"
"We missed you Thanksgiving." This time there is nothing to say. "I bet Abigail would like it a lot if you come home more often." "We'll see," Andy says. "Her birthday's next month." "I said we'll see." "Are we really that bad?" she asks. "No, Mother. Just leave it alone." It reminds him of the week of the funeral, after the phone call from the hospital, after the policeman in the emergency room explained how he'd come across their submerged Ford in a lake ten miles out of Danville, how he'd found Jeremy too late, and how sorry he was. That week when his mother came at him eveiy moming demanding peace of mind: "Andy, was growing up here really that awful?" "Andy, you're not suicidal, arc you?" "Andy, did you feel loved as a child?" "Andy, was I a good mother?" "Yes," she made him say. "You were fine. Mother. These things happen." They just happen. He was back in school as soon as he could get out of there, and it took this long before he'd agree to come home again. At a red light, the driver next to them flicks his cigarette onto their wind shield. "You jerk!" his mother yells at the guy as he pulls away, and his father turns the wipers on. A minute later she asks, "Did you know he was smoking marijuana?" "Mom?" "Did you know?" "What do you mean, did I know?" "1 mean, were you aware that your brother had a drug problem?" "What drug problem?" "He was smoking marijuana. That seems like a problem to me." Was he aware that his brother smoked pot a couple times? Yes. Was he aware that his brother got drunk every Friday night with his friends? Yes. Was he aware that his parents were literally driving his brother crazy? "What difference does it make?" "1 just want to know." "I didn't come home for this."
"W" Jamie Pearlberg
SHOES AND THINGS
"My apologies," she says. "But maybe if we'd known then . . ." but she doesn't finish the sentence. When Abigail gets put to bed, Andy sticks his head in her room and asks if he can have a goodnight kiss. His mother says make it quick because it's already late enough. She leaves saying, "Remember, Abigail, 1 don't want you staying up playing or we won't let you keep your dolls in bed anymore, okay?" When she's gone, Andy picks up his sister's Ernie doll that had fallen onto the floor and turns it over in his hands. "Can I have a goodnight kiss, Abby?" he asks, sitting down on the edge of her bed. "I-I'm sleeping now," his sister says and puts a finger to her lips. "Well, how 'bout Ernie then?" Andy asks lifting the doll up. "He has to have a goodnight kiss or he won't be able to fall asleep." Abigail closes her eyes. "He's gonna cry, Abby. You don't want to make him cry do you?" "I-I'm sleeping." Andy makes sobbing noises and shakes the Ernie doll so that its whole body is bent over and trembling. Soon, Abigail opens her eyes, lifts herself up and gives Ernie a kiss. She even pats Ernie on the hair and says, "A-All better." Andy doesn't ask for more. He kisses her on the forehead, says goodnight, and leaves the room. In the hallway, he can hear her light breath ing and he thinks how different it sounds from his brother's uneasy snoring.
"I should be getting up to bed soon anyway. I always wake your mother when Tcome in late." "Right." His father makes some last scrapes with his spoon and then goes to rinse it in the sink. "I'm really glad you're home, Andy," he says, and then turns and goes upstairs.
His father is sitting at the kitchen table, reading the paper and working on his ice cream. He had ordered an extra pint of Chocolate Chocolate Chip to take home. Andy sits down across from him with a cup of tea. He wonders what else his father does besides eat and read, maybe some TV, but really what else? His mother is upstairs already in bed and Andy suspects that may be why his father stays in the kitchen, though he knows his father would never admit it. When they were younger, his father used to take Andy and .leremy to the park, to the pool, to the museum. There used to be a picture of his brother and him in their pajamas, hair wet, just out of the bath, lying on top of their father in the hall listening to him read from a big picture book of The Hohhit. Andy wonders how often his father reads to Abigail. "Want some tea. Dad? " he asks to break the silence. His father looks up. He seems to need a second to realize that Andy has sat down. "Oh, thanks. I'm fine, though." "You sure?" Just being in his presence makes Andy uncomfortable and he makes a mental note to be careful not to get stuck in such a situafion again.
Andy gets ready for bed last. He's tired. Everyone else is asleep, the house dark. He goes to the bathroom; face needs to be washed, teeth need to be brushed. Wants to see himself in the minOr, see how he looks. How he looks behind the beard. The light in the bathroom is dim, only one bulb works. Einds the toothpaste and squeezes it onto his brush. He lifts the faucet handle up and feels the cold water coming out, sticks his toothbrush under neath, then runs it back and forth in his mouth. His brother lifts the other faucet handle up and brushes his teeth also. Andy wants to say to him. Something. Tell him it's all right. He can make it. Andy did. But his mouth is full of toothpaste. He spits, his brother swallows. They don't play football anymore, and no bedtime stories, that was before. Now they just brush their teeth. He wanted to spend more time, maybe in the summer, or winter break. He wanted to go running, his brother liked to run that summer, said he'd do a marathon by September, but he stopped, and Andy never started, too busy. Play him chess on the weekend? Okay. But not tonight. Take him lo a movie when too much time passes, instead. Talk on the phone? Nice idea. How about just a plain talk? Hold on, I need to rinse. But he's gone. Andy washes his face and gets up close to the mirror to look at himself. To look at all the little lines and curves of skin on his face, under his beard, to see what they say. To see if what he has written on him is what it says inside him. It's hard to make out anything. But if he squints. And concen trates. He can read. It says. Guilty. He pulls a razor out from underneath the sink, runs it under the faucet, and begins to take off his beard. In bed, he tries to sleep but can't. Maybe it's too hot—add on the extra blanket—too many thoughts, images: a funeral, suicide note, spit in the snow, a brother—maybe it's too cold — throw the blankets to the floor-how cold was it in the lake, Jeremy?—did you also throw your blanket? Enough! Cold, hot, he doesn't even know which is which and gives up, climbing out of bed. It's after three when he unplugs his clock. He sits down in his sister's room on the caφet and watches her sleep. Much deeper than in the car. Her bangs cling together in sweaty strands, her
SHOES AND THINGS
forehead damp. He wonders if she has a fever and puts his hand on her cheek. It's warm. As if her body senses the sickness in the room, the house. He can't let her stay here. It was too much for two boys growing up together. For one girl alone, it's not even a question. The images again: funeral, coffin, his brother, and now his sister. He has to get her out. That's why he came home, to take her away. He's leamed. But not now, she's sleeping. In the morning. He'll wait here until the morning when she wakes up. Only four hours. And then he'll take her away. It's nicer now. There's less pressure. Alone on the carpet with the moonlight coming in through the window are the first moments of peace he feels. That and his sister's hot breathing makes him feci warm. He sits across the room from her and holds her Ernie doll. Part of him says to sleep, but beneath that he feels the need to stay awake, as if it's a cleansing process, as if the act of surviving the night without leaving that room will heal him. Of what he's not sure, but it doesn't matter. He watches Abigail and wonders at how she never stirs. If he wasn't able to see her mouth and hear her breathing he'd think she was a doll herself The sky begins to lose its darkness and he feels more and more warm, spreading into his extremities, his head, his cheeks, his ears. His thighs feel the warmest, as if they're glowing. And then the day begins and he has made it and he feels dull and he feels like the rest of the world has become brighter. He sneaks back into his room before anyone wakes up.
Abigail leaves her snow pile and sits down next to him. The kids playing football draw her attention. She watches them throwing and chasing after the ball, their shouts barely carrying across the park to where Andy and Abigail are sitting. Andy's eyes are bluixed, and his head feels black, and from everywhere he is being buried. Like he has no control and he can't stop crying. When his cheeks are wet, real wet not damp, Abigail leans over and says, "I-l have pictures," and then leans back away from him. And they sit there: he crying, she watching, litde kids playing in the snow.
Andy tells his parents that they're going to the park. His mother makes sure Abigail wears a hat, gloves, boots, and wool tights. It might get cold later. In the car, Abigail asks if she can go on the slide. She says it's her favorite. He tells her it'll be the first thing they do when they're at the park. The rest of the ride, she's quiet. When they get there, Andy takes her to the slide and wipes the snow off He helps her up the ladder and holds her hand while she looks around the park. They have a clear view and can see kids playing football further down away from the jungle-gyms and swings where there aren't any trees to get in the way. He holds her tighter. When they slide, her hood gets pushed off and her hair blows back into his face, and she stands up at the bottom asking to go again. He takes her. Later, Abigail wanders off to lay out and play in the snow and he follows, sitting down a few feet away. He thinks about his brother. How gone he is. He begins to cry.
I don't remember him speaking, (though you claiin it is your first memory,)
F O R M Y SISTER
Brooke Holmes Ringed by fire that summer, we swallowed its gifts like philtres, love-capsules: you licked ash off wind furred by cinders with your flickering cricket tongue, 1 let brushfires blister in my straggling straw hair; smoke curled and clung to our seat like cottonwood scatterings bristling to kindle flame anew: we were radiant, then annealed in autumn's brisk chill, when the hills stopped smoldering beneath the first frost; we posed against walls like tin moldings. When light struck, we cradled it in our skin
just the surge of heat before the screen clicked like the latch of a musicbox; the dragonfly that slipped in; the bloated clumps of syllables that he left circling his absence like posthumous crown; distant howls filtered through the insect static to clot with your cries like clammy fingertips twining with outreached hands at a seance, hands that withdraw when light floods the shrine yet remember that palpable pressure of what is lost and never want to touch again.
and stiffly tumed away uncharred, though still soothed when the sky slid the sun off its back and stretched out lusterless, crepuscular. In August though, the cat was still feverish, lolling on tile criss-crossed with spidery ruptures, eyes like parched seaweed and hooded with snarled fur; in our mother's amis your bald head throbbed like an obscenely bright Easter egg, across your bare stomach the sliver of whited cicatrix flushed the same awful pink.
they could no longer see how the sun feathered through the bony shmbs in the cleanly cut patterns of winter; they could no longer hear the thin
Brooke Holmes First, the fields flooded, the mountains consumed the mirrors, their peaked heights reaching deep into the earth; it was startling, bent over the cold sheen of the flood sheets, to see the way our DoppelgĂ¤ngers swam up to face us, our twins, never bom to breathe air, still suspended in warm waters. Meanwhile the surface was alive with staccati. Their bodies bore the punctures, the concentric echoesâ€” their skin wore everything, everything that impacted it, it was like when we glimpse ourselves in the mirror and suddenly, briefly, our body is a crowded scroll of touches and wounds. It happens when anguish is at its most literal. And then the image dissolves into the unstained surface. When the wind let go, skimming low along the ground, their bodies wrinkled as if the skin was being pushed back from a torn hole. We squatted to drink: it was a sill of sorts. Their bodies quivered, then shuddered with the wind once more. We cannot really protect ourselves sometimes.
plangent exhalation of the train like the sigh of the river confined to its bed. Then the whistle began to distend in the wind, the river spread itself shallow and wide; it was akin to the chaos of bleeding. The stomi barreled through the soft thingsâ€”leaves and petals, penitent seedlings. They are never prepared for this, the violence of spring: it strikes the altricial, the barely shaped, that which has not yet leamed a language of resistance, that which becomes involved in a language of the broken fonn: for example, the birch with its limbs bent at the elbow (and then imagine the palms outspreading like one just robbed); for example, the fragmenting reflection; for example, this aftermath of tulips, a color like the tiny bulbs of plum-blood upwelling from a deeply slivered cut. Last year by late spring they had overrun this field, picture of perfect, toughened health, balancing raindrops like the women with their jugs. Yet here they are now, aligned like so many young children, heads lolling on the snapped stalks . . .
The myopia of struggling: no one could remember when the rain began here;
τ SPRING DAY
Chin-Chin Yap This is the difference between a full jar and overflowing poetry: Our pretty Amherst boy (once earnest before Pound) awakes from an odalisque, a burnished chamber, red sky. There are cracks on the cream paint of his walls which splintered in winter when he went to Cape Town with the family and left the heater to steam the lonely room. lie owns this room for the spring tenn, two suitcases, sheaves of billet-doux packed at the end of a shelf after Crane, Donne and Hardy, and a lot of shoes for a man. (But he desires an escaping chronology, the live act of words in the dream of life.) Why should he answer to God if he pleases our eye so? What can slow death bequeath but the papery flesh? So he is moved. So our Amherst boy rises; he enters the bathroom and stands contemptuously on white tile—sink or tub?—before cutting down his arms with his razor
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James Starace Untitled 1995
James Starace John O'Connell, New York 1994
Molly McQuade They started out wanting him to eat an avocado. Tom hesitated. He was only eight years old. Lacie and Kurt were twenty-two and not easily persuaded. They were confident weekend house guests. They crowded round him, breathing their febrile breaths, shaking their strange, rebellious joints. "Avocado is so deep, Tom. You've got to try it." Tom smiled shyly, and retreated before Lacie. Her long thigh leaned against the tabletop, waiting. "He's too young for avocados," Kurt suggested. "How old were you when you first ate one?" she demanded. "It's the maturity that matters, not the age." They peered at Tom, measuring his nervousness. "I like to play the piano," he finally offered. "Forget it," giggled Lacie to her beau. "Let's just eat the avocado ourselves." When they went swimming, they unzipped most of their skin until a pale, ingratiating membrane was left. Tom watched them chase each other to the shore; he walked sedately with the adults. He watched them push each other into the water and come up spouting and clutching. His parents watched, sighing sociably at each step, and Tom lurked behind them, clasping his hands. He tried to disregard the minnows nibbling his toes. He held on to the armor of his father's leg. "Can you swim?" Lacie knelt wetly before him. "Yes," he admitted. "Can you float? "Can you dive? "Can you do a handstand?" He didn't think so. "Can you do a bellywop?" She loomed eagerly in front of him, the straps of her blue brassiere stretching with each breath, her anxious, fi'iendly face heaving. Tom wanted to be able to, but no, he couldn't. After swimming, the grown-ups had a fight. They cast angry looks at
Lacie and Kurt, who were silent and chamiingly naked in their sopping bathing suits. They smiled and murmured and held hands. Tom accompanied his father to the guest house to retrieve firewood. As they entered, Kurt groaned in his sleep on the guest house bed. Lacie and he lay under the big matrimonial quilt. They didn't wake, although Tom's father dropped a load of firewood. It scattered over the floor; Tom picked it up while his father glared at Kurt and Lacie. His calves were stiff and irate as he stalked out the door. Outside, his father told him: those two arc going to get themselves in trouble. But they didn't. They appeared at supper, sauntering, sleepy. Their flesh yawned and sighed, soft. Lacie and Kurt nibbled string beans. Each action was a reference to private movements under the guest house quilt. The sheets had left deep creases in Lacie's arms. Tom was afraid they would ask him, Could he sleep? He thought he could; his mother tucked him in every night. But his sleep wasn't like theirs; they wouldn't believe in his. They would not say he always slept in the same way. They would want to enter his bedroom and to change it, to divest it of everything he had given it, to empty it of everything but themselves. He decided not to say a word. After supper, they suddenly woke. They hit a badminton birdie back and forth on the lawn. Then Lacie became the birdie. She swooped and danced, and landed in a wriggling heap at Tom's feet. "What do you like best in the whole world?" she asked. "You," he said. Lacie's wet, enameled eyes reflected the batting birdie. "I tell you what," she whispered, "let's go for a drive." Tom sat in the front seat, while Lacie fumbled eagerly with the ignition key. "Just going for a spin!" she called gaily to Kurt and the adults, who were playing a stately game of croquet. Kurt aimed meticulously, and flashed a smile. Tom heard the sharp crack of his mallet as they drove off. "Show mc the town," demanded Lacie. "Where shall we go?" "We could go to Howard Johnsons," Tom suggested. "They have good ice cream." The mobility of her arms at the steering wheel was amazing. All the other drivers stared as Lacie turned into Hallowell Avenue. With a deft white twist of her arm, she turned on the radio. They sailed straight toward a bam.
"Whoops," she giggled. "Poor cows." Tom watched them chewing by the roadside, heavily knotting themselves to earth. Their breath lagged under the weight of habit. Lacie honked the horn at an old farmwife. "Hey, lady!" she called, "Fly high!" and surged ahead. "That was Mrs. Henessy," said Tom. "Poor Mrs. Henessy," said Lacie. They had triple-scoop frutti-tutti ice cream cones. Tom soiled dribbles on the car seat, but Lacie sucked hers clean and said nothing. Her lips were smooth and strawberry-colored. She watched Tom as his cone caved in. "Oh, you," she laughed, helping him with a napkin. She bent close and Tom could suddenly smell the sea at sunset, nervously making changes. The softness of the heat and distant waves. "Now we're going back," she announced. "But we're going a fun way. We're going to speed like astronauts back to earth. All set?" He thought he was. They climbed rapidly out of town and back among the farms. Lacie's animation increased. Flushed, her face glittered in the windshield, as seagulls whirled overhead. The car ripped so fast that it became water; air tore liquefied through the window. Tom's breath was yanked away. He gasped. The cows snapped past. Cherry trees tipped into the sky and poured their blossoms up. Speed forced Tom's head back; he could see only the sky. Lacie laughed delightedly at his dismay. When he got out, he could not walk straightâ€”he would not keep equilibrium.
Nancy Ross I run from room to room. "I'm going to get you. I'm going to get you." And when I've got you, I tickle your small, naked body.
M Y MORNING ROUTINE
Nancy Ross At 8:00 am, by request 1 am cooking a nitratefree hot dog.
This is what I do. Every day is put away, stored, vaguely obscuring the day before.
I cut it lengthwise like my mother showed me and then in small pieces.
So I can't remember last week or last month except that you were sick. You clung to me didn't talk only when asked if you wanted applesauce said faintly, "yes."
I put it on the 101 Dalmatians plate. On my hands and knees, with a green sponge, I make mounds of damp Cheerios. I lay down the train tracks, like it shows on the box, building a bridge and two tunnels. In the bath, I put the plastic turtle on top of the tap and say, "Where's the baby turtle?"
Dan McHugh This house is worn with my memories of Jimmy, the way he would walk so softly in this kitchen and say, "Mom, are you all right?" His voice is here in this kitchen now, oozing from our old, creaky wooden floors and creaky wooden cabinets and that refrigerator where he loved to find the leftover spaghetti. 1 miss him. 1 miss the times that I would call across the house to his room, knowing that he would be late for dinner. We would all sit here, the flames on the stove still warming the pots, Elizabeth and Michael restless and eager. "Mom," they would say, "let's just eat. You know he's going to be late." I never really knew what .Hmmy was doing in his room until now. His treatment center counselors loved to tell me that I knew all along, but 1 really didn't. 1 cleaned his room. I saw everything there was to see, his saxophone sitting quietly on its stand and the picture of his girlfriend Maria perched on the dresser. 1 saw the clothes in his closet, the desk that was usually bare. I don't know how 1 could have missed the little signs that everyone talks about. This house is small and quiet to most people. Friends often tell me that it's a great place to live, off in a comer of town, so peaceful and secluded. It's so peaceful, they say, and the yard and the dogs and the silence. They always mention the silence, but this house isn't silent. A mother can hear things and see things in this house that no one else can hear. I can hear his footsteps at three in the morning, the gravel rustling in the driveway, the front door scraping the carpet in the front hall, his bedsprings. I can see his face in our wooden walls, and 1 can see it in Michael's and Elizabeth's eyes when they say that they just don't understand. Jimmy told me everything one night, the large parties he threw, the hash that he stored under our basement couch. He had been home from treatment for a week, and he was sitting against the dining room table in the dark. When I spotted him, I walked up for a closer look, nervous that 1 would scare him off. He wasn't scared off this time, though. He just sat there, calm and beautiful. He stood and lit a candle on the table so we could sec each other's faces, and when he lit the candle, my heart thumped so loud that I thought he might hear it. I loved him so much that night, the way he didn't hold back, the way he held my hand when the stories about his drugs and his
depression were hard for mc to hear. That night has made his death seem real to mc. The way Jimmy sat there, propped against the dining room table in the dark. When he lit that candle, it seemed almost unnatural for him. It was awkward, seeing him light that candle. "Mom," he said with a trembling voice, "this is new for me. You know I'm not much of a talker." Now, sometimes, when Michael and Elizabeth are with their friends or off at school, I turn off all the lights in the house. I walk through Michael's bedroom and run my hand across his bed, and then I do the same in Elizabeth's room. I sit in the family room and stare at the dark television and the old, worn couch and the tall windows that face the backyard. 1 open the front door and listen to the neighbors' dogs barking in the distance. I walk into the front yard, pull off my shoes, and let the grass sneak up between my toes. Then, when I have the courage, I walk into Jimmy's room. I stretch out on his carpet and stare at his ceiling, 1 run my fingers over his saxophone and over his mirror and over his clothes that still hang in his closet. There is nothing quiet about this house now. In the dark late at night, or when the sun's coming into my bedroom, or when I sit in this kitchen and rest my head back. Jimmy's memory is here. It surfaces every time Michael puts on a T-shirt or when Elizabeth tums to mc and says, "I think I'm going to grow my hair long." Jimmy's memory is here all the time, and it is strongest in the dark, when I'm all alone. It is those times, and even now, that I can try to see things the way Jimmy did. 1 can submerge myself in this house and into the darkest, scariest parts of my mind. I ignore the phone, the noises outside, the hum from the refrigerator, and I wonder to myself, "Is this what Jimmy was thinking?" Jimmy lived most of his life for that lifestyle. He was good at it, the drugs, the late nights, the arrests. He could walk through a room and block out everything, but then if you asked him what had happened, he could tell you. He never wanted to tell you, though. He just wanted to let things alone, to be off by himself When Jimmy graduated from the treatment center, his counselor pulled me aside and said, "You know, the chances for recovery are slim." Jimmy already knew this. He saw the size of the hole he dug. He saw the hole even before he went to treatment, and he looked at it, and looked at it, and for the next two months he looked at that hole. I understand now, and I'm not mad anymore about what he did. I'm not mad anymore.
Even now, dog days bark like sirens over our parched holidays, and the cicadas knowingly poke seventeen-year-old antennae out our ears.
Craig Canapari June's edge pitches and yaws towards us with a hint of gasohnc and the luffing of white laundry, hung in the yard.
Summer's candleflame deconstructs a page of the calendar; it decays to ash in our reddened fingertips.
In our towers on our lawns riding our mowers we strive to ignore the month that looms like a ship above us.
The finest minds water their lawns with the sea, and eat their azaleas; no sprinkler shot will put out the fire.
People once believed in a flat world, with an edge White sails, in the distance, would flutter downward into the abyssâ€” (The sails would beat like giant moth wings, fanning the sea into whitecaps like hot knives.)
Daniel Lehrer-Graiwer On a frosty and cloudless morning in December, Leon Mislock downed a glass of lea, patted his mastiff on the head (his wife, Anna, had already left early in the morning, telling him, as he lay under warm covers, that she had been paged to assist with a surgery), and left his apartment. Almost from the start, everything went wrong. It was eight in the morning and, when the elevator brightly hinged and the brass doors gleamed open, Leon passed smoothly through. The doorman was in his place, prepared to give his customary upward nod of acknowl edgment. Because Leon's father (who, towards the end of his life had lived just down the hall in an equally large and beautiful suite) had been a Russian aristocrat and one of the candy tycoons of the city, Leon was treated with special deference within the confmes of the building. The day was shockingly cold. Leon exited the lobby coughing. He shook his large head in suφrise and with a little gasp, pulled the shawl tighter. This sort of day, as Leon often said, was excellent for the constitution, and he now clapped his gloved hands together with a muffled bang and set off. He glanced expectantly about as he trotted toward the station. Shame. Not a girl in sight. No satisfying sway of hips in front as he shadowed some stranger at a respectable distance. No merciless line of undeφants through a busi nesswoman's skirt. No, nothing for you this morning, Leon chuckled to him self And then, as he crossed West 66th Street, glancing left and right, he noticed a dull pain pulsing in his neck. It simultaneously became obvious that the street was empty. Leon stopped. Blue cars, red buildings, bare steely trees—colors are pure in winter—but not a single person. In fact he was sur prised to remember that he had apparently not seen a single squirrel, pigeon, or sparrow, on awning, branch, or bench. A minute later, he was still weigh ing whether this was true or merely mnemonic distortion. As if to settle the matter, Leon stopped in his tracks for a moment and listened intently. The vague underhum of the city, at least, was still reassuringly in its place. He glanced at his watch, as if to assure himself that this was indeed a Monday morning, inwardly shrugged, and descended into the station. In the subway the train's life current failed, leaving Leon standing in the still darkness, slightly swaying against the hand guard, overpowered by the smell of an invisible bum, and trying to dismiss the electric buzz that was
advancing up his neck and into his skull. "Indigestion," he reflected for a moment. "Impossible. Slept on the pillow wrong again . . . The cold of course. Yes, that must be it." Soon the train whirred out of its daze, the lights flickered on. There was no bum, only a small, well-dressed old lady, and this was far worse. Leon was so embarrassed for her, for his assumption, for the miserable situations implied by a respectable old lady with terrible odor, that he coughed slightly, saying "pardon me," for no reason at all. The old lady never heard him, because just as the words ripened on his tongue, the con ductor began to explain the delay in an indecipherable but undeniably apolo getic quack. At Canal, Leon ascended from the station. He turned right on Mercer, tripping over an anomaly in the sidewalk, and as he turned in mid-step to look over his shoulder, still could not make it out, because the sidewalk and rising buildings now began to liquefy. Odd. He shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut. When he opened them the world again conformed to physical laws. As he walked, Leon pondered (calmly, calmly) the mysteries of cau sation. In front of a narrow brownstone which had once been a lunatic asylum, two workers on flanking ladders were affixing bronze letters which read "Etymological Instit . . ." By Leon's feet were a jumble of large neon tubes which until today fomied the former sign which had stated in cursive fluo rescence THE NEW YORK MUSEUM OF ENTOMOLOGY. Leon nudged the tub ing with a scornful shoe, and, glancing up, with a sudden shift in expression to pre-sneeze, he cried "You've misspelled it!" The two men turned, regard ed him for a few beats like he was a lunatic, and turned back to their work. After an awkward few seconds Leon strode between them into the Institute. The door swung open with force. He crossed the wide empty space that had been the exhibition room, and took the stairs to the second floor three at a time. He swept by cubicles, papers rustling in his wake. At the far end of the second floor, beyond the partitions where employees hunched over spiders and beetles, was the solid wood paneling of his office. Just before he reached his door, an aπΉ thrust forth in front of him, and an accompanying voice said, "Here's the anisoptera sample you requested, Dr. Mislock." Leon looked at this man intently. Thin. Beard. Bulging eyes. It was no use. He realized with minor horror, that he had again forgotten his name. "Thank you..." he said. "Felix," the man said sadly. "Sorry. Thank you, Dr. Felix." Leon took from him a long box in which rested a rare dragonfly held in
place by an almost invisible pin through the abdomen. He cupped the box carefully in both hands and, with eyes fixed on his outstretched hands, walked into his office. One anticipates a room covered with display cases of iridescent insects. This was not at all the case. The walls were covered only with complex charts and graphs. Leon, a fine scientist, of course knew better than to hang actual specimens from one's walls where the delicate colors and patterns quickly faded in the sun. All of his insects were kept in cool dark drawers, and so it distressed Leon immensely to suddenly see a fat feminine back hunched and quivering over the massive treasure cabinets of the opposite wall. "Hey!" Leon shouted. Even before the echo had died, he realized that this was his new secretary. She almost dropped the drawer she was fiddling with. She was so frightened, Leon had to toss the box onto his desk, leap to the other side of the room (very agile for a man his size), make a heroic save of the toppling drawer, and tenderly slip the thing back into its slot. She had almost destroyed some irreplaceable specimens. "Listen," he said, as he put the thing away, "I don't want to be rude, but you really must leave these drawers alone. They are never to be cleaned, opened, or touched. Understand?" The secretary flushed bright red, and nodded earnestly, jowl flesh trembling. Dr. Mislock was an imposing man, taking after a maternal Russian grandfather who had been equally harmless. He had inherited the same enormous bony hands, and they, too, usually dangled harmlessly at his sides. The same height, the same slow, heavy frame, the same bulky head, and thin receding gray hair combed back. The same similarly exaggerated features: large nose, sagging chin covered with grayish bristles, a high, high forehead, a subtle scowl, and very Russian black eyebrows spidering over mild eyes . . . All of which, in a typical sort of irony, reflected the reverse of his character. "What's your name?" Leon asked his new secretary in a forgiving voice. She mumbled a response. What? Telson, Tilson, Tennyson, something . . . Oh what did it really matter, after all? "Well, I'm glad to have you here," Leon said. "If you want to help me with something, the workers out front have misspelled entomological." She did not move. Instead she pressed a hand to a furrowed brow. "Don't be rough on them," he added. Leon hated causing scenes, hated the dull discomfort, like the sensation
of an unemptied bladder, of confrontation. He had only managed to fire one employee. This man had been the quack who had ordered the fluorescent signs, and created the flashy entomological exhibits, all of which compromised the integrity of the collection. He had fired this man only after painful minutes of hemming and hawing in his office, pottering around the room, waving his arms about with hopeless sighs, and finally in almost angry embarrassment, shouting the bad news to the man. His secretary still had not moved. Leon pretended to examine the dragonfly for almost a minute, but the peripheral shadow of the woman finally became quietly unbearable. "Yes?" he said. "Just one thing," she whispered. "What was that word they've misspelled and how do you spell it?" Leon wrote the infomiation on a scrap of paper, marvelously his scrawl, only betrayed by the smallest tremor of frustration on the crossing of a I, handed it to her with a thin grin, and took a deep breath as she left the room. Finally, he was alone. Finally, all the frustrations of the morning would dissolve. He sat at his enormous wood desk and put the dragonfly under a specialized magnifying glass. He peered into the eyepiece. A gray blur. He adjusted the eyepiece. Nothing. Strange. And then he fell from his chair, a sudden roar ainning through his brain. The dragonfly was knocked from the table by the spastic sweep of the hand. His own glasses flew from the bridge of his nose to the opposite wall. For what seemed an indistinct period of time, he lay crouched in a fetal position, clutching his head. The room was a myopic mist. Leon eventually managed some control over his body, and in the midst of a mild breakdown from fright, fumbled for the phone, which after three blind gropings fell to the floor with a resounding gong. He would call his wife. His wife was a doctor. His wife would be in the office. His wife had been in the office for a long time. His wife would make everything better. Carefully, he felt across the number pad and dialed. A voice answered, sounding a great distance away. Leon asked for Mrs. Anna Mislock (minus the title because she was actually a nurse). The metallic voice infomied him that Mrs. Mislock had not shown up for work. "That's impossible," Leon moaned. "She told me this morning . . ."
"Sir?" the little voice became impatient. "She's not here, sir." "This is her husband! She's there. I tell you she's there!" Leon croaked. "She's not." And with that, there were a series of sputtering clicks and then the finality of the dial tone.
Damned secretaries! Now what? He did not want to cause a scene with the employees. That would look bad, bad, pathetically bad. The renowned Dr. Mislock curled on the floor with the now undoubtedly crushed dragon fly stuck perhaps to the bottom of his shoe. No, no. After a few failed attempts, he managed to dial Dr Alexander's number. A breathless female voice answered. A breathless familiar female voice told him to hold for a moment. What voice was that? Dr. Alexander greeted him brightly. A sud den spotlighted face blazed in Leon's mind and he said, "John, your secre tary sounds just like my wife." There was a fit of coughing on the other end of the line. Leon told Dr. Alexander about his attack and the earlier symptoms and said he would stop by soon. Dr. Alexander ended with some personal con versation, most of which Leon could not decipher—something about the theater? Leon lay back on the floor. Again, the pain receded into the back ground. He would wait for his vision to clarify and then he would leave for the day. Over the desk intercom, his secretary's voice crackled, "I've taken care of those workers. Doctor Mislock. They've redone that sign." Fine. You're a real go-getter, dear. Had he just said that or only thought it? Where was Anna anyhow? He could not order his thoughts just yet. The ceiling and walls gradually separated from the general mist. The stucco began to make itself apparent. Dr. John Alexander's secretary really had sounded strangely like his wife. Leon finally stood up, fingertips lightly resting on the desk. The room trembled. No, it was a ticking eyelid. Leon pressed his hand against his closed left eye, saw a rain of fluorescence floating against the darkness of his inner lid, retrieved his glasses, and stepped uncertainly out of the office, down the stairs, and out of the building. There were no flanking ladders, no workers. He raised his eyes. The sign remained unchanged, but this was unimportant at the moment. He hailed a cab, reached for and missed the door on the first attempt. His left hand was still pressed against his left eye. He poked it on the second attempt, got it on the third, and took the taxi to Beth Israel Hospital. The taxi rolled to a stop directly in front of the destination. And then, to the accompaniment of the whining brakes of the slowing car, Leon stared out of the car window. From behind the gray film of the pane and the dust of his glasses, raising a hand in recognition, he saw with one eye—with one glittering eye—he saw everything. Leon, a few minutes later, sat with his head in his hands, elbows on his knees, on a bench by the front lawn of the hospital. To a passerby he would
have seemed deep in thought, or perhaps trying to sleep, and only the slight est shaking of his broad back betrayed that he was in fact weeping. His cheeks were wet, and his nose clogged, and he dug his nails into his fore head. He saw a squirrel approach through waves of grass, stop directly in front of him, stand on its back legs and regard him with a little grin. "Your life is a joke," it said. "Your wife is having an affair." A damsel fly buzzed by, mm-hmm-ing in agreement, and for an instant Leon recognized that this was impossible given the time of year because the particular species had not yet pupated. Leon extended his hand to the squirrel with a sob. The squirrel ran across the lawn. Now Leon saw again those deadly moments through the blur of tears, felt the delightful (unbearable now to recall that grin of greeting) suφrise of see ing his wife walking toward the cab in a bright red dress. Again, he saw his own palm rising in front of his face, and again he saw that she did not see him. He saw that stranger, whose face he could not conjure properly, in a white coat and tails (a pianist, he had thought), suddenly run from behind, grabbing her around the waist, twirling her, and kissing her deeply, one casu al hand resting on her breast. Then the stranger made eye contact with him and an "o" sprouted on the man's parting lips. Leon again saw himself jab bering crazily through the closed cab window (unheard), struggling violent ly with the ever elusive door handle, the two disappearing suddenly before his eyes in an emerging crowd of young children on a field trip, himself squawking again and again, "Open this door!", the cabby watching him curi ously, and then finally flinging the door open and stumbling out and onto the bench where he now sat, where he could not catch his breath, and a final far cical note, the cabby approaching from behind, asking for his seven dollars in a surly voice, the interminable struggle lo make out the blurry bills in his wallet, Leon had always carelessly accepted the foundational stability of his own life: that his wife loved only him, that he was the director of the American Entomological Institute, that he was human, that his mother and father were dead, that even if his wife was often inexplicably forced to leave or arrive late, she would always be vaguely his . . .he had never presumed to ques tion all this. The possibility of infidelity was as remote as the existence of African bushmen and ethnic cleansing and a world without insects, and, in short, Leon finally somehow managed to wander despite the conflicting swarm of thoughts into Dr. Alexander's office, thinking that if only he could clear his head, everything would be alright. Dr. Alexander gave a wry smile as Leon walked through the door, passed
a folder to his nurse, and escorted tottering Leon, with grip on his elbow, into the back office. John Alexander was a good-looking man. He struck one as being irresolvedly Scandinavian: a long, bronzed face, cold eyes, and pale eyelashes which looked to Leon as if moths had alighted on the eyelids. He helped Leon into a chair, "Leon, you look terrible," he said. He hung his white coat on the door and sat languidly on the other side of the desk. Doctor Alexander started spinning a little pencil between his fingers. "Oh John," Leon said softly, and then he dissolved into tears again, and bowed his head. "Anna . . ." he managed and could get no further. "There, there," said Dr. Alexander. "Come on, Leon, what's this all about?" Leon was silent. "Look, we've known each other a long time Leon. Talk to me." Leon took a deep breath, "I saw Anna with another man, just before 1 came in." The doctor raised an eyebrow and twirled his pencil. "Oh come on." "No. I have nofing," Leon honked, "nofmg .. . When I get home, I'll find out everything." "I think you may have been seeing things," the doctor laughed tightly. "Let's check you out." He undid Leon's shirt as if he were a child, placing an icy stethoscope to his chest. "Very fast," he mumiured. He looked in his eyes with a lighted instrument and drew his breath in sharply. He asked Leon about the symptoms of the morning and ran a battery of reflex tests on him, and finally led the dazed man into a series of rooms, conducting x-rays and cat-scans. Two hours later, he again sat opposite Leon, and told him that he would have to wait for results, that he had noticed some disturbing problems with the left eye in particular. "You probably saw a woman who struck you as Anna," he explained. "Your eyesight is impaired. Your heart rate is very fast. You've probably been working too hard . . ." Leon clasped his hands on the desk. "I know what I saw." "At your age, old boy," Alexander continued, "you can't work yourself like you're still twenty." "Perhaps," Leon said, mainly because he could not bear rejecting his friend's reasoning. He stood up abruptly. "I will go now." Doctor Alexander walked him to the doorway, arm now around his shoulder, and with a final squeeze, mentioned offhand: "Oh right, I almost forgot, Anna called me about a half hour before you arrived. She said her surgery had been canceled this morning because she had to go to a last-minute staff meeting at another hospital. She got a nies-
sage that you called, and she asked me if I had spoken to you. 1 told her how you were feeling." A swell of relief passed through Leon (coupled, however, with the unpleasant feeling that this explanation was somehow too mathematically precise). Ilis voice cracked, "You're a good friend, John." "I know. I suggest you take the day off. 1 ' 11 see you at the theater tomorrow night." The lone secretary in the office approached the doctor with a fat stack of papers, saying, "Dr. Lecker says this is urgent, Dr. Alexander " "Her voice," Leon thought wildly, "is not at all like my wife's." He immediately recanted the line of this logic, guilty for its conclusion. Still, he detached himself from his friend with squeamish haste, and left the office at a trot. As Leon grew smaller down the hall, the doctor yelled out, "Put all this crap out of your head, Leon!" After watching him disappear around the comer, Dr. Alexander returned to his office deep in thought (imitation of a man retracing his steps to retrieve a lost coin). He closed the door. He put Leon's x-rays and cat scans on his light desk and stared at them for a lew minutes. Something between a smile and a frown grew on his wooden face. Then he called Anna Mislock. Nervously, Leon returned home and waited for his wife. His mastiff, Noel, licked his hand, suffusing the room with the odor of fish. He positioned a living room chair so that he would be facing her when she walked in. He waited for almost an hour, pacing, taking two drinks of vodka, intermittently pecking out the window to see if her car had parked below, humming to appear nonchalant to God knows who, and trying with all his might to remember any other discrepancies of the past few months. He remembered a few odd phone callsâ€”dial tones the moment he answered, a bouquet of dried flowers in her sock drawer that he could not remember having boughtâ€”he rolled further back in his memory, and further, could find nothing more, and finally fell asleep in the chair. His dream was remarkably fluid: a series of stained-glass images suffused with intense light; a pencil was suspended in a void, twirling. A brilliant scarlet dress fluttered. A pale moth vaguely blinking. A mouth parted in recognition. A white coat on a door peg. Bui these images were somehow too literary, and as he awoke, Leon suspected that he had just invented them. Leon rubbed his eyes. It was dark. It was dark enough so that it must have been somewhere past nine o'clock. Good God, had he slept that long? He felt he had needed it. He felt better. In the bedroom there was a shifting of fabric, as if someone were undress-
"Open the window!" Leon cried. "For God's sake open the window!" "The window is open," the voice said again, now very clear, and as proof he heard the unmistakable swish of the curtains closing and opening. Leon fumbled in his pockets and removed a dancing matchbook. He tore a match and lit it. He smelled the sulfur, heard the sizzle, but only saw the dimmest glint, as if seeing a glass sparkle from across an utterly dark room. "Open the window," Leon gasped. "Would you please open the window?" The darkness seemed to spin around him, and squinting into it, he thought he could catch the small luminescence of the window, like a microscopic imprint in the darkness, which orbited around him twice, and Leon realized that he was falling towards the floor. "This is impossible. It can't be. This is
ing. The sound disappeared and then something rustled in front of him, inkily darker than the darkness of the room. "Noel?" he called out. Unseen Noel licked his dangling hand. It was not her. The noise was subtly not animallike anyhow. It had the quiet purpose of a human. He jerked his gaze towards where a soft rustle indicated that someone had sat down. "Anna?" "How are you, darling?" she said. The position of her voice was somewhat confusing. It seemed to be coming from above him, rather than in front of him. "I'm fine," Leon lied. "When did you get home?" "Just now." "Where were you?" "At a meeting. Didn't John tell you?" she asked. How the hell did she know that? "And where have you been so late?" "So late?" she echoed. By some sleight of moonlight, or passing headlight, Leon suddenly caught a clear glimpse of color from where she was sitting, which quickly faded back into darkness. A glimmer of scarlet fabric. She was wearing a scarlet dress. "Ah," Leon said through chattering teeth. "But you have made a mistake, dear." There was no response, so he blundered on. "The two of you must have towed the party line together in mock deceit once or twice already. But there are a few inconsistencies. How, for example, did you just know what John told me?" he demanded. There was a half-amused sigh, "1 told him to tell you that, Leon." "And what about the red dress. I am certain that I saw a red dress just like the one you own, the one you're wearing right now." "I am not wearing a red dress," she answered. "Turn on the light," Leon ordered. There was a painflil pause. "The light is on," she whispered. "Nonsense. Turn on the lamp nearest you." She did not move, and in fury, Leon stood up and tripped over the dog, and cursing, made his way to the wall. He brushed his hand over the wall until he feU the switch. He flipped the switch. Nothing happened. "Power outage," he said through clenched teeth. "Leon, what the hell are you doing? It's three o'clock in the afternoon." Anna's voice was muffled by the gloam, as if trying to pass through a thick wall.
He collapsed, his head bounced against the parquet. He felt Anna's hand caressing his face, a faint voice of distress, and an enormous space which seemed to expand in his chest, then recede, and then expand even vaster than before. Some time later (his dream had been fittingly black), Leon woke up on the floor where he had fallen. A pillow had been wedged under his head, a blanket over his body, his shoes had been removed. He waited for a long time before he dared to open his eyes. The apartment snapped into view. Eyesight had been restored. The apartment was filled with a winti^ gray light. The clattering of cutlery to his right signaled that his wife was eating breakfast. "She left me on the floor," he thought. He thought further, and further, and followed a delicate line of logic to an uncertain and dark destination. "I still can't see, Anna," he said thickly. Everything from her anns down was blocked by the table, and with the visible implements she was busily buttering and devouring an enormous muffin. "Well, you mustn't get too excited," she answered. The mastiff whined, resting her head on Leon's sore leg (the dog, contrary to Leon, had had a great night, sleeping on the floor, for the first and last time, with her master). "There will be ups and downs, but we'll get through this together, dear," she continued. "John is going to explain what's wrong with you tonight." That was a strange sentence when he thought about it. Leon rolled onto his side. "So precise about it, darling? Is that because you know what's wrong with me?" "Of course not," she said, and he swore he saw her pink tongue slowly emerging in mockery.
"I'm going now," she said. "Going?" Leon said in disbelief. "But I can't." "What a baby," she scolded him. "You'll be fine. Here's the portable phone, put it in your pocket, here's a glass of water, and here," she paused, shrugged, and continued, "is the remote control. You'll be fine." Leon knew that he really would be fine, and so said nothing. Still, he had never noticed how pitiless his wife was. He tested the waters. "You know, there's really no point for me to go to the theater with you and .John tonight." "Oh, come on, it'll be good to get out." But the voice was monotone, and making a very small effort to convince him. "Alright," he said. "You've convinced me." He enjoyed the child-like thrill of this game. He watched her unsuspecting face drop in disappoint ment. "Great." Anna approached and gave him a light peck on his domed fore head. "Γ11 see you later, my big, fuzzy bear." "Yes, yes," he said. "But before you go, would you mind telling me again how you knew that John would tell me my condition tonight?" She paused, and then laughed and unbuttoned her blouse. "You don't need eyes for this," she whispered suggestively, and straddled him. Leon was forced to agree with this logic, but also quietly added that a secret sight, an ostensible blindness, was far more interesting. His wife, mounted above him and secure in the knowledge that she was unseen, looked for the first time anthropomorphic. She bared her little teeth, curled her lips in pleasure, tossed her head. And Leon was so delighted by this sud den wannth and energy, so transported, that for a while he forgot his doubts in the stupid canine bliss and gratitude of an orgasm. She walked into the bedroom and he heard her turn on the sink. Then she walked back into his line of sight, and, in the frame of the door, picked up the phone and held it to her ear. "What are you doing?" he called out curi ously. Through the doorway, she stared straight at him. Cupping a hand to her mouth, she yelled, ".lust washing up!" turned her back to him, talked for a few minutes into the phone, hung up, kissed him again, and was gone. Leon sat up and stared at the sofa. A brilliant scarlet throw pillow regard ed him blankly. No. Not blankly. It smiled. Glimmer of scarlet last night. Was it her dress after all? He stood up and went into the bedroom, walked into her closet and fiipped the switch. The bulb blazed forth. He could not remember the last time he had been in her closet. He filed through the dress-
es, skirts, shirts . . . there were a number of outfits which he did not recog nize, and he frowned at the haughty shimmer of a blue blouse, the sashay of a scarf patterned with swallow tails against a green field, both of which somehow seemed particularly suspicious. The main thing was that there was no sudden emergence, like the flash of the bull fighter's cape, of sinister red. He could not find a red dress. Perhaps everything was alright. He paged through the dresses again. There was no red dress at all. Leon had a sudden amusing idea. He went to his own closet, pulled a cashmere v-neck on, buttoned his shirt to the top, used one of his wife's scarves as a cravat, switched to a pair of dark wool trousers, slipped into a professorial jacket, and clapped a dark fedora on his head. Then he found his father's old ivory-topped walking stick and put on his veiy round, dark sun glasses. He sauntered to the mirror and admired himself. What a success. He perfectly aped the memory of a blind elderly cousin, a Lithuanian with a few loose marbles rattling around upstairs. A man he had seen a few times at family gatherings when he was a child. He forgot the cousin's name, but he remembered clearly how the old man had once pulled him into a quiet cor ridor of some relative's house, and claimed, without cracking a smile, that Leon could hide anywhere from the end of the hall to the door, and he would sniff him out in ten seconds. Initially, Leon was terrified, but he puffed him self up and agreed. The old man's face lit up. He hunched over, covered his ears, and started counting. Leon removed his shoes and tip-toed to the door. He hid directly in front of it. The old man then spun around, sniffed deeply, and, bobbing like a bird, made his way down the creaking hall. He did not walk like a blind man, but like a purposeful animal, and his spectacles seemed to fix keenly on Leon. Leon remembered the shiver of wonderful terror, and how the little man had come even closer and then, just when Leon was about to close his eyes in delicious fright, the old fraud had boldly stepped into the coat rack, which ticked back and forth like a dying metronome, and said to it in the voice of a mad scientist, "I told you 1 would get you!" h gave Leon no small pleasure to impersonate this particular relation. But only a short time later, he failed to see the infinitely more pleasurable irony of the situation, when, as he looked through his wife's drawers, an apoca lyptic darkness crept in from his periphery, an ever-shrinking circle of sight, until he really could not see anything. He was left in the now amusingly appropriate outfit, leaning against the cabinet he had been searching. His heart was beating crazily, and he began to sweat. And just when he thought he would faint from fright, the optical nerve, again without any prcliminar-
ies, decided to flip on. He lay down on the bed, massaging and soothing his unpredictable eyes, and consoled himself with the thought that some new optical laser surgery would fix this. He stared into the uniform whiteness of the pillow, and no longer felt he was playing the blind man. Nothing else of interest happened that day. In the evening, sitting in the taxi next to his wife, Leon smiled in the dark. It had been so funny when she walked in and saw him comfortably walking from the bedroom to the kitchen in his somber outfit and with his stick. She had stood by the door in astonishment, keys tinkling before she told him that his confidence was impressive. "Well," he had said, "my other senses are improving quickly." "Time to go," she added, "and do you really need to play the caricature tonight?" Yes, 1 do, he had thought. When they arrived at the theater, Leon could not help laughing. His wife grabbed his ami and insistently attempted to guide him. He admired the con trast of her white glove against the black of his coat, Leon felt oddly like Moses, watching from behind his dark glasses, as a dim crowd of pedestri ans moved out of his path with alternating wide eyes, gracious chivalry, and dancelike steps. When he bought the tickets, the clerk yelled the price three times as if he were deaf. And as he walked in, he gave a few superfluous taptaps of the walking stick to make the act more realistic. He glided through the hallway of the theater and stopped in front of Dr. Alexander. He sniffed the air deeply and raised his hand stiffly, mimicking a grope, and poked Dr, Alexander in the cuff. "How in the name of God?" his wife whispered. "I smelled him. He has a strange odor, haven't you noticed? And I heard him asking an usher where the seats were, from across the hall I heard him and," Leon sang, snapping his fingers like a conjurer, "1 got him!" "Bravo!" said Dr. Alexander, casting a curious look which pierced Leon's glasses. Leon immediately regretted his trick. "Shall we see the play?" Leon asked. "You go ahead, Anna," Dr. Alexander said mournfully. "Leon and I need to have a little talk." Her bright lips curved in a smile. Dr. Alexander shook his head angrily, and Anna blew a kiss ("Who is she aiming at?" Leon won dered), and walked through the aiiy arch into the auditorium. "Let's walk," Dr. Alexander said again. The two men walked down the hall. Leon was taking no chances this time. His gait slowed to the painful shuffle more representative of a newly blind man, tapped his stick vigor-
ously against the stone floor, and even bumped into a column at one point for effect. The doctor led him down a minor receding hallway into the relative quiet of the cloak room, where the two sat beside each other at a highly polished table. Their torsos folded over themselves in the reflection of the tabletop: a face card king and a face card knave. "I've found the problem. You may want to sit down, ' he told the already seated Leon, "1 examined the x-rays and cat-scans yesterday. I already sent them in for a second opinion," He let his hand linger on Leon's knee as he spoke, "There is," he continued, "a small tumor in your brain, which is just now beginning to push against your optic nerve. This is what has been caus ing the spells of blindness. We think it's operable . . . It is operable," Incredibly, Leon exhaled a deep sigh of relief "Operable, .lohn. You're sure. Operable?" "We need to operate quickly." Doctor Alexander ran his hand through his golden hair, "The tumor is growing fast, beginning to press, invade . . . areas necessary for , . . smooth sailing, as they say." "Of course," Leon said, and in his immediate contentment, forgot what he was supposed to be, clasped his friend's hand with assurity, and with a choked sob, pumped it vigorously. "You haven't told Anna?" Bells chimed a falsetto scale, signaling the inevitable beginning of the show. "Told Anna? Of course not." Dr. Alexander rocked one crossed leg over the other. Λ pause. A false start. And then he spoke. "One last thing, Leon. I've made out a prescription for you." From thin air he produced a little orange bottle tilled with silvery pills and held it out on his palm. "You may see things, hear things, which are not real. This is not unusual as the tumor engulfs small but necessary areas. Such attacks are not imminent, Leon, but they are dangerous, and there are cases of these sorts of things affecting a patient's sanity very suddenly. Take this. These pills are very strong, and very important. You must take these until the surgeiy. One a day will do the trick nicely. They'll prevent any . . . interfer ence." The bottle lay on his palm for a few long moments. Dr. Alexander looked from the bottle to Leon, Leon to bottle, the bottle to Leon. Silver pills? In the name of tact Leon finally pocketed them. Now again came the unbearably slow walk back down the hall and up the
stairs to their private balcony. When they opened the door it was already dark, doubly so for Leon, and the play had begun. Anna pressed an angt^ finger to her lips, and Leon strategically attempted to maneuver Anna to the farthest seat so that he could sit between her and John. She glared at him, shook her head, and refused to budge, so he sat to her left, concealing his anger with a yawn. Dr. Alexander sat to her right and leaned on the balcony, gazing at the glowing stage below. Anna said she was cold, shivered, and spread her coat over her lap. Leon watched the play, resting his heavy head against his palm, resting against his elbow, resting on the balcony's balustrade. It was garbage. Leon leafed through the program. A combination play and ballet. Playllet? Ballplay? Leon mused. He despised the ballet. A group of what seemed to be huge white billiard balls rolled onto the stage. A naked black man emerged from each ball, and then they all ran across the stage. An old queen (in drag) strode onto the stage and fell to the ground in complex contortions. The black men swarmed over him and dragged him away. His ghost (because it was powdered white) came back and gave a long soliloquy. The doctor was leaning over his wife, whispering merrily to the two of them his interpretation of the first act ("the triumph of the irrational . . . the locust is born into adulthood straight from the egg to swarm down and destroy all fertility, that is the old queen . . .). "Idiot," Leon thought. "Locusts are bom from the egg into the nymph stage, only then to maturity." Anna, however, was enthralled, intennittently nodding in concert with Dr. Alexander at some nonsense. She jabbed Leon in the ribs, the little fool, when he asked her why such long silences from the stage, and why the speeches that made no sense. By the second act, Leon's head began to nod. Anna's eyelids also began to slit, her breathing grew heavy. "She is so sleepy," Leon smiled. But sitting absolutely still and straight, Leon glanced at his wife out of the corner of his eye, and it dawned on him slowly that the jacket on his wife's lap was quivering. He turned his head subtly. The jacket was quivering and Dr. Alexander's hand could not be made out in the darkness. The jacket moved as if a small animal were underneath. He focused everything (eyes, ears, heart, brain) on the velvety darkness of her lap, and saw, sketchily at first, but then very clearly, a long pale hand, a doctor's hand, a pianist's hand even, grasping his wife's inner thigh. With calm intent, Leon reached for that hand. With his brutal paw he clamped the hand in a vice, and quietly planning to break it, jerked it towards him as hard as he could. With a roar, he snatched the hand, and
insanely, magically, the little leathery claw detached from its owner's arm as if it had been a sheet of paper, crumpled in Leon's fist. He opened his fist in confusion. Dr Alexander's hand had transformed into his wife's white glove. The entire audience was looking at him. His wife gaped, aghast. She must have mistaken that roar and swipe for another spasm. Dr. Alexander shook his head, and motioned for Leon to follow him. Leon stared down at the jacket again. "It moved," he murmured despairingly. Just outside the booth. Dr. Alexander called over an usher, told her to take Leon to the bathroom, and told Leon to take a pill immediately. Across the hall, down the stairs, the pretty young girl, with infinite pity, led lumbering Leon to the bathroom, indicating with a kind touch on his elbow that she would be waiting outside. In the bathroom his reflection regarded him darkly. Leon thaist his hand deep into his pocket, rattled the little bottle and pulled it out. The cap was unscrewed, the bottle tilted, and one oblong silver pill rolled out onto his hand. If a man had been using the bathroom at that moment, he would have felt a little chill run down his spine at the sight of a funereal blind man, standing in front of the mirror as if at attention, holding an apparently empty palm geometrically level with his nose. Leon was actually looking with some interest at the pill in his hand, rethinking the day before, and this day, and this night, struggling to remember the most minute slips (while jacket, exchanged glances, discrepancies, seduction, wriggling jacket, a secretary's voice . . .). And he saw spilling before him a logic so insidious that he could never speak it out loud, but so alluringly right that he refused to abandon it. Leon walked across the bathroom, barged into an empty stall, and with a one-sided smile, clever Leon tipped his hand and watched the pills trickle, trickle in single file into the yawning mouth of the toilet bowl. He flushed them down, pocketed the empty bottle, and feeling very triumphant, was escorted back to his scat. The girl pushed the balcony door It swung open noiselessly. A shaft of diagonal light suffused with dust pierced the dusk of the booth, and Anna and Dr. Alexander were lit by an absurdly exact spotlight for an instant before the door closed. On a very private stage, Dr Alexander was hunched over his wife's neck. Something was preventing his violent attempts to detach himself Leon stumbled to his scat without a word and sat down. Anna shook her head no and raised an explanatory hand to Leon, and then rolling her eyes, remembered that she was safe. "You missed the best part," she said softly. On the stage, a midget was now flapping about to a frenetic polka. Dr Alexander was, to the same
rhythm, still struggling desperately over his wife's neck (Leon noticed at this point that the doctor's sleeve was caught in the rear zipper of his wife's dress). The sleeve was finally pulled free with a tearing of fabric. For ten minutes Leon contained himself "Take me home," he finally groaned. "I have to go home right now!" She was about to protest, but her eyes widened as she saw his jaw muscle invol untarily jerking back and forth, and in fright, she took her sick husband home without any argument. Leon had a night of tense dreams. He walked into his own house to see Dr. Alexander sitting in his easy chair and his wife's head bobbing up and down in his lap. Dr. Alexander smiled, his face consisting only of upturned teeth, and said to him, "Leon. You are not allowed to think this sort ofthing. You arc not allowed to dream this. Close your eyes. Go back to sleep . . . Go." Leon awoke at the opening of the last sentence, sweating, and made his way into the kitchen where Dr Alexander was, in fact, cupping Anna's seemingly dismembered but still talkative head in his hands and bringing the head again to his bare groin. Leon brought out a gun, conveniently within reach in the waistband of his pajamas, and squeezed the trigger. The bullets plopped to the ground harmlessly and Leon blushed as Dr. Alexander set the head on the counter, grabbed Leon, put him in bed, and told him more force fully this time that the dream was strictly forbidden and that he must go to sleep. He kissed him goodnight on the forehead and tucked him in. On the third take Leon woke up in a stilted but decidedly real bedroom. It was a freezing Wednesday, late in the afternoon already. He had slept a very long time. The sky was a spotless azure, the sun was beginning to red den, and the city was so clear that Leon, standing before the living room window, felt as if he were gazing onto one of those Northern Renaissance paintings in which detail, miraculously, does not fade with distance. His wife had been very meek and apologetic before she left, but Leon had only rolled onto his side and waited for her to go. And now he felt not quite right, like he was looking at everything from the wrong side of a mirror. But actu ally, when he thought about it, the sensation was very pleasurable, and Leon felt that his mind had never been so cunning, so penetrating. The paper was on the kitchen table. Picking it up and paging through it, Leon discovered that he could not make out the words. The letters danced before his eyes prettily and reflected themselves as if written on water, and when he squinted, one headline undulated and then resolved, LEON. THEY ARE TRYING TO KILL YOU! Very concerned, Leon tried to read the corre-
sponding article and, after a great struggle, found to no great suφrise a detailed summary of a complicated conspiracy and confidence scheme on the part of his wife and the doctor to operate on him needlessly, incapacitate him, and live happily ever after on his money. Noel trotted up to him and told him that he looked much better today and Leon nodded in agreement, patted the dog on the head, and thanked her. A week later, his Lithuanian cousin visited him and they sat opposite one another (somehow both were able to see) and had a long chat, Leon paced around the room and told him about butterflies, dragonflies, damsel flies, and mind flies, and in mid-ges ture he stared at his watch and noted with amusement that it was still four o'clock on Wednesday afternoon. He decided to call John because now he understood everything. He dialed four or five times and nothing happened. On the fifth or sixth try, John answered and spoke rapidly. "Please, don't hang up this time, Leon," he said. "You've got to listen to me. You must take one of those pills immediately. Do you hear me? Leon?" "This time?" Leon laughed. "This is the first time I've called you." "Leon. Leon, you've called me four times already. Now go to the bath room. Understand? Go now. Take one of the pills," "I don't think so. Of course, I have no tmnor I got rid of those steel beads months ago. And you can forget the surgery. I know everything, Dr. Moth," Leon barked and destroyed him by placidly hanging up the phone. With John out of the way, things were looking up. Ah, they had responded promptly to his phone call. Good. John and Anna crowded into the room. Weeping, they walked up to him. John removed a dagger from his pocket, shrieked, "Forgive me, old friend!" and buried it to the hilt in his smug, soft belly. Anna collapsed at his knees begging forgiveness. "I love only you," she cried. Leon stretched forth his hand to her bowed head in priestly benediction, touched only the tabletop, and regarded the empty apartment with a strange sigh. He concentrated on an invisible but specific point in front of him, and then, with a professional's flick of the wrist, Leon grabbed an empty glass from the table, turned it upside down, and clapped it down with a rap. He peered into its depths and in boyish rapture watched the little buzzing bee fly Bomhyiiidae diptera stun itself again and again in confusion against the astounding walls of the glass.
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CONTRIBUTORS Authors John Everett Bird is a LiteratureAVriting major and currently an editor for The Observer, the journal of the School of General Studies. He grew up in San Jose, California. Craig Canapari is a graduate of Yale University, where he studied with Wayne Koestenbaum and John Hollander. This fall he begins medical studies at the University of Connecticut, after spending two years doing stroke research. Deborah Concannon was raised in Massapequa, New York. She graduated from the Literature-Writing Program at Columbia University in 1997. Besides poetry, she also writes short stories and is currently working on her first novel. Benjamin Covelo graduated from Columbia College in 1997. He has published articles in Link Magazine, The Marin (County, CA) Independent Journal, and The Columbia Observer, and has just sold an article to Sex Life Magazine. Elizabeth Bowling was bom and raised in New York. She is a Barnard junior and Sociology major. "Western Vagaries" is her first piece of published fiction. She moved to Los Angeles in August 1995 and drove home one year later.
Edward Lasala Communicant
Brooke Holmes is a junior at Columbia College, studying Russian and Ancient Greek as a Comparative Literature major. She has previously been published in the Columbia Review and the Salt Hill Journal, and has work forthcoming in the Allegheny Review. She was recently awarded a Bucknell Fellowship as well as a Beinecke Scholarship for graduate work. Ian Kahn graduated from the Writing Program in 1997. He was bom and raised in Aspen, Colorado. He lived and studied in California and New Orleans before coming to Columbia.
Daniel Lehrer-Graiwer graduated from Columbia College in 1997. He is often mistaken for Jeremy Lehrer-Graiwer, his identical twin. This is his first published work, Dan McHugh is pursuing a Master's degree at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He graduated from Columbia University in 1996.
Artists Edward Lasala was born in New Haven where he studied the course of passing grays over gunmetal. Since then, he has held a variety of temporary positions and practiced a number of unskilled professions across the country. Aaron Sinift loves overseas travel, painting, drawing, and collecting odd printed images. He has printed several collections of artwork and is plotting a new project to be printed in India. He currently lives in New York.
Molly McQuade was out of town. Kathy Palagonia has been a student at the Writing Center since 1994. This is her first published piece. She hopes one day that Patagonia, Inc. will find her and indeed, tell her there was a typo on her birth certificate and she is the heir to the largest Polar fleece clothing company in the world. Jamie Pcarlberg is a graduate of Columbia College. He was bom and raised in Southfield, Michigan and would like to thank those at the Writing Program for all their help. In his spare time he acts, directs and juggles knives. Marta Rodriguez will graduate from Barnard in 1998. Her interests include writing, photography and trapeze. She is from Oakland, California. Nancy Ross is a graduate student at NYU. She studied for two years at the School of General Studies. At Columbia she studied poetry with Colette Inez. Sandra Vazquez, a General Studies graduate, eagerly awaits news from various excavations around the world as well as Graduate School acceptance to the Bank Street School of Education.
James Starace has been taking photographs for seven years. He is working on a long-term project photographing New York's subway nnisicians, and his recent work was featured in the New York Times. He is also pursuing an acting career and can be seen in the Tim Roth movie. No Way Home. He lives in Manhattan. Janice L. Sugarman graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 1983 as a photography major, specializing in editorial, environmental, and documentary portraits. Her work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Billboard, and Cover magazine. Her photography has been exhibited at the Gallery Eclectic, the Ethical Culture School, and the Trinity School, where she also taught photography. Her work was exhibited at the Severoceske Museum in LibĂŠrĂŠe, Bohemia, and the Naproskovo Museum, Prague, Czechoslovakia, as part of the Professional Women Photographers group show, "All Americans." Recent work includes cover photography for the latest Baby Jane Dexter CD as well as for Adele Wilcox's book. Self and Soul (Rodale Press, 1997). Janice warmly thanks Quarto, which has featured her photography for three consecutive years.
Kim White is a graduate of the University of Michigan and a student in the Writing Program. The three poems feattired here are included in Scratching for Something, a 1997 Quarto book that she completed with the help of Alan Ziegler. Chin-Chin Yap is an English major at Columbia College who plans to spend her summer in Beijing acquiring a passable Mandarin accent.
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