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DEUS EX MACHINA


DEUS EX MACHINA

Deus Ex Machina A SHORT STORY by

JAMES NAKAMURA


DEUS EX MACHINA

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here was a bit of peach drying on his cheek, big enough to cast a shadow, and Keira pinched it off with her fingers. Adam pulled away and raised his fingers to his cheek bone. “I think you took off some skin.” “You’re a mess.” Adam stopped walking and set the tail of his surfboard down onto the soft cushion on the toe of his slipper. “Something wrong?” Was something wrong? Keira struggled within the backlog of rhetorical quips she had been saving for this moment. For she had been having this argument in her head for quite some time, unbeknownst to Adam, whose obliviousness was beginning to wear thin. “You’re, a mess,” she repeated. “Did you eat all the peaches?” “Yes... I ate them,” Adam answered rudimentarily as if reading through a children’s book. 5


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“Mahalo.” He pushed a thumb over his jawbone and began walking again. They were strolling along Ala Moana Boulevard, and Adam had just crawled out of the ocean, his 6’2” tucked under his arm, and had just met Keira at the end of her 6 mile run. It was three in the afternoon. Above them the sky opened up and bled its most honest blue, then closed up again like a grey fist wringing out a drizzle. Droplets paraglided downward. One drop, faint, kissed her forearm. Then another. Cloud cover bloomed. A giant gray storm cloud slid over the mountain like a slug – a thick tongue of it. Slowly, the rain heartened. Waned. Heartened again. “The peaches. Gone in sixty.” He flatlined. “I’d take a California peach over a georgia peach anyday. But it looks like the latter lost the battle this year. Due colder temperatures, won’t be ready till mid may.” Aware that he was watching for a reaction, Keira turned her head away from him and scanned the series of bright, color-coded shopping bags cheerfully swinging in the hands of the Japanese tourists they were passing. “How was the surf?” she asked finally. “Off. But a sign of better times.” Weeks ago, he and his colleagues had forecasted a long fetch and long southern swell. 6


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“Better times” she repeated flavorlessly. Her calves ached. It was her first training day on the cusp of summer. The Marathon awaited at the end of what she hoped would be a 9 month burn of determination and willpower, a hope that had begun to evaporate like the perspiration off her skin. Her knees hurt. She felt like a drum barrel with stilts for legs. “What was that?” Adam asked again. “At least there was some sun today,” said Keira. She turned her head and surveyed the park and bit down hard on her molars. Adam cast her a sidelong look, then looked upward. The air was cool. His skin felt alive. He was starving. He was craving a hot dog. He wanted to grill something, to stand over open flame in Neolithic mode, picking off bits of charred flesh with his fingers and chasing them with mugfulls of Wailua Wheats. “There was some sun for a while,” he began. “But now it seems dark and foreboding.” He looked down at Keira and noticed that she was biting her lip. “Seems as though all of the sunshine from this morning disappeared. I’m sensing a shift in barometric pressure here. So what gives?” Keira paused and thought about this for a second. Adam’s, smug condescension was something she was forced to endure from time to time, but not 7


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today. Today, there was only one thread of patience left in her. Somehow, it had been keeping all of her moving parts in harmony; a single thread keeping the facade of complacency intact. She had always remained reticent in the midst of her own personal turmoil. She had always let things flutter about and settle on their own. She had always abhorred the outburst, having witnessed so many between her parents where each had a temper that lay as dormant as a room filled to the edges with land mines. This, however, was unacceptable. Hours ago, in that Zen moment of clarity in the sixth mile of her run, she had come to the conclusion that Adam had been cheating on her, and rather than going home and burying her head into a heap of 9th grade English papers, she had decided to end things. In the latter days of the relationship, Keira had become schooled on the art of lying and pattern recognition. In a casual line of questioning, she noticed Adam’s tabletop haphazardness would reverse itself into a mannered fastidiousness — setting items at precise right angles, aligning forks and spoons perfectly parallel from top to bottom, smoothing out napkins or turning the salt and pepper shakers so the top-most holes lined up to the west. 8


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In any case of deception, Adam fidgeted, looked down to the left side of the feet, avoided eye contact, and found things to occupy his hands. Any inquisition in which Adam would begin “making himself useful” around the house — rousing himself from the sofa to the kitchen, clearing out the refrigerator, washing the dishes, or engaging in the simple act of picking up after himself — all the while answering Keira’s conversational interrogation with an almost picaresque offhandedness was suspect. It was on this day that her most lurid suspicions had been stirred when she found a bracelet in the trunk of his car right before her run. It was a little jeweled charm bracelet with three thin bands and four little hearts – something that she would never possess. It was a thing from another world so far outside of her own that she would never had thought its owner so near a threat. “Sharks are always closer than you think,” Adam once said of the ocean. “They just stay just outside of the break. But they’re usually there.” And here it was. How long had it been there on the outskirts of her awareness? The little charm bracelet belonged to Nyoko, a petite Japanese, 25 year old, who gave Keira the impression of someone stealing from the world though her eyes. She had a voracious, vacuous stare that seemed to pull her forward through life — a 9


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creature with a skull that contained a black hole. “I think it’s Nyoko he’s been spending most of his time with,” said her friend Stacey who taught in the classroom next to hers one evening over a glass of shiraz and plate of crostini’s and fois gras. “That Japanese, redhead from San Diego. Who lost her parents in a car accident a few years ago. She went back home for a while but now she’s back. Remember her?” Keira admitted that she had. There was a brief friendship between Adam and Nyoko that she had been uncomfortable with, and an easy comradeship that extended itself to a flurry of phone calls at — according to the monthly statements that Adam was too lazy to sort through and discard — questionable hours. Although Keira had expressed her sympathies for her loss, secretly, she was relieved when she left. Nyoko feigned timidity but her actions were of a person self-assured. She knew what she wanted and did as she pleased, as if for her, time was not as dilated as it was for others. Keira had only learned of her return to Oahu after Adam had returned from his surf trip to the Mentawai Islands — a trip that he had been planning with his friends for months. Only, Nyoko was never listed as one of them and during their long distance phone calls. She was never mentioned. At the airport upon their return, it was a surprise to see her there. 10


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Adam had claimed that she had been a last minute addition to the crew of travelers; that she had been back for some time, but he had only found out about it on the trip when she rendezvoused with Miles K. on the fourth day. He knew her as the cousin of someone’s sister, or as the friend of a cousin, who had never surfed before but begged and begged to be included because she needed it. Yes. “Needed to get away. Needed to feel alive again,” he had said. Her words, or his? Keira wondered at the time. Adam had shrugged it off as if her presence had barely registered. When she had seen her at the airport however, although Keira could not have been positive, it seemed as if Nyoko had adapted to all of Adam’s mannerisms, diction and inflections. She used his sayings, and her voice followed the cadences of his own vernacular. Although it might had been a projection, there was something about their body language that troubled her. They ignored each other, but they never seemed oblivious. She saw it in the way Nyoko handed Adam his suitcase — he accepted it without once regarding her, eyes averted as if he were a sprinter accepting a baton. And when Nyoko turned away, Keira had seen a faint, furtive smile spread dreamily across her lips. She was tanned and seemed fulfilled, with 11


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stories of her own growth and oceanic awakening, settlinginto an air of calm that she had not exhibited before. At the airport, she hadn’t said much to Adam. There wasn’t even a goodbye between the two, but Keira had noticed the shimmering charm bracelet. It seemed incongruous to the rest of her earthy attire, and hung precariously off her wrist; either the last bit of an older self to be shed, or something new and tacked on. And, before she picked up her bags and threw them into the back seat of a Charlie’s cab, she threw a final glance at him, as if with her eyes alone she could ensnare whatever she wanted. *** “Hello?” Adam asked again. “How was the jog?” The bus roared by. “What do you care? A jog is a jog.” Adam stopped walking. “Whoa,” he said. “Please,” It was his way of halting an argument that he was anticipating but realized he was still ill prepared for. “Your mood’s changed since this morning.” “Well, I just don’t have the energy right now, I spent it all training,” she said and walked on. He hung back, head lowered and cocked to one side. He would pace about for a while, Keira 12


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thought, and he’ll try to regain footing. Don’t over react, he was probably thinking. Maybe she doesn’t know. Maybe it’s something else. Like the mess I left behind at home. Or some stupid comment I made about her that made its way back. They would get home and he would start vacumming the floor, the busy idiot. Anything to avoid conversation. He would stall, she knew, and he would take a deep breath and start walking slowly, deliberating, she thought, composing stories, creating alternate fabrications with parallel plotlines and interchangeable friends that he would contort and fit into any line of questioning. He would employ the always miraculous deus ex machina just when the story’s situation was becoming too impossible to resolve from a creative standpoint, when there would be too many loose ends flitting about. Something contrived and miraculous would always happen. “And then... you won’t believe this,” he would say. “We found the car returned right where it was before... ” or “We saw this turtle walking along the grass dragging that exact necklace” or “This white dog appeared out of the darkness and led us to the house...” or “A bird flew right into the guy’s face...” These were a few of the more fanciful machinations he had deployed, and at first Keira had been taken in by these shimmering stories, wishing 13


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that she had been there to witness such whimsy, such life, but as time had passed, she began to realize that the people involved were never his close friends, never anyone she would encounter socially. They were called out from a deep bench of reserve players, cousins of friends, coworkers and old classmates. These stories served to distract rather than inform, and there was no way she could ever confirm such happenings. When she realized this, a quiet sadness crept in and continued burrowing inward, triggering a gravitational collapse, as Adam would have put it, and she kept falling and falling inward. *** An ambulance wailed along Piikoi, blasting its high mechanical croon and punctuating it with the hand-hit horn, blaring at the vehicles slow to kiss the sidewalk. She walked for half an hour before she reached Alohi Way. Her neighbor was taking a chainsaw to the splintering branches of dead, greying trunk of the tree in his yard. He nodded as she walked by and she managed a small smile. She walked up to her driveway and swatted at a black carpenter bee. Another two buzzed by her ears and she ducked to avoid them. They flew up, wove through the air and disappeared over the garage rooftop. She looked 14


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back at her neighbor and wondered of their nests were in that dying trunk. Adam came running up the driveway, sooner than expected. “Hey. I can’t figure it out,” he said, panting. “Have I done? Something? What’s wrong?” He was breathing hard and set his surfboard onto the zoysia grass. He immediately turned on the hose and started rinsing his board, making himself busy. “Wrong? What could be wrong?” she asked and unlocked the front door. In the middle of their small, single story house sat a car engine, gutted out of it’s chassis. It sat in front of the cappuccinocolored theater sofa, as if begging for a pane of glass to lay over it, making it into a dadaist coffee table for gear heads. An oil stain spread along the carpet like blood from a giant, mechanical, cronenbergian insect. The air was hot, and the smell of oil swirled in the eddy where the cool outside air met with warmth. “Is that a car engine?” Adam stepping up behind her. “Brilliant,” said Keira. She ran her hands through her hair and threw them back at her sides and said under breath “Who are you, Arthur Conrad Doyle?” “Did someone break in?” Keira whipped her eyes at him. “Oh why 15


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do you ask?” She pushed past Adam and stepped outside. She began breathing slowly, with deep and controlled breaths. Her hands were shaking. “Did we leave the door unlocked?” Adam asked. Keira clenched her eyelids and pressed her hands over them so hard they trembled and the darkness within them fluttered. Her heartbeat sent loud pulses to her eardrums. “I locked it before we left,” she said quietly. “And you just saw me unlock the door to get in.” The engine was old. Dirt and oil congealed along its rivets. Other loose wires and tubing lay splayed out, as if the engine had been plucked out of a car and just set down. Oil seeped deep into the carpeting. “Well fine. I’m asking all the obvious questions. Let your woman’s intuition figure this out.” “Woman’s intuition?” Keira asked. Her eyebrows arched. She leaned in carefully, “Now what in the world would a woman’s intuition have to do with this? Why would you bring that into play?” she asked, rounding out the words “woman’s intuition”, inflating their vowels. “Nothing,” Adam said. “All I can do is take things at face value. It’s you who possesses the knack 16


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to see beyond the data.” “So what do we have here, at face value?” She looked at him dead on. She was referring to herself. “Tell me,” she said calmly. “It’s...” he began running his hand through his hair as if suddenly aware of the sand and salt drying against his scalp. “Some kind of joke,” he speculated. “No,” said Keira, and sighed weakly. She turned back to the engine. “It’s some kind of Honda.” *** When the police arrived, Officer Morales asked all the questions and Officer Shinseki walked the perimeter and examined the doors and the locks. They took note of everything in the house and walked the grounds outside. They asked the neighbor with the chainsaw if there had been any suspicious activities and asked about any suspicious characters that had been seen lingering around the premises more than once. They checked their belongings and one of the officers had his notepad ready for a list of missing items, but there were none. Another officer drew a schematic of the home and drew an enigmatic tangle of lines to represent the engine right there in the middle of the living room. Another checked the windows. There was no sign of a break in. It took a small crew to get the engine out of the 17


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house. Before it was removed they took photographs and checked for any kind of finger prints and were flummoxed by the fact that there were no prints anywhere in the home or on hardware. Even if the perpetrators were wearing latex gloves, there should have been little smudges and markings, finger-sized smears in the oil or oily footprints on the carpet. But there were none. The officers all hoisted the engine, covered it with thick canvas as if it were an expired victim, and loaded it into the police van. They left their names and report number and left. On the brand new grey carpet was a slick oily indentation. The entire house was filling with the sweet sour mechanical stench of it. Keira was in the bedroom, folding her clothes, stuffing them into a small suitcase. She had knocked down all of the little framed photos of the two of them off the champaign chest that they had been handed down from Adam’s grandmother and packed only the photo of herself and her parents. “What are you doing?” Adam asked from the doorway. “Talk to me. What’s with the cold low?” Keira hoisted the suitcase up and pushed past him toward the living room. “Excuse me, please.” “We’ll buy new locks. We’ll buy bars for the windows. Or we can move. You don’t have to leave.” “I’m making things easier for you.” 18


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“What’s that mean?” “Oh you must be joking,” she said to herself. Adam was picking up photographs of himself – shirtless, younger and potbellied under an ironwood – off the floor and set them back onto the dresser. Jesus, was that him? He picked up a 4X6 of Keira in a knit cap overlooking the Pali and placed in on the dresser next to his. “Seriously,” he continued, moving slowly and predictably toward the kitchen. “I don’t know what you could be so angry about, and this break in may be compounding the situation, but...” Adam paused and then let out a gasp. “ Keira?” She walked out to the living room. The engine was back. It sat there in precisely the same location as it had been previously, fitting perfectly over the oil-soaked indentation it had made on the carpet earlier, old and oxidized. The clamps were nearly eaten through. More wiring and tubes. More oil. Adam ran outside and scanned the streets. He scanned the sidewalks for oil spots. “Did you hear anything? Did you see anything?” he asked Keira from outside. Keira stood in the hallway and leaned against the wall. “I always seem to miss these things when they happen,” she said with not a bit of wonderment. 19


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*** There was nothing more that she had wanted to do this weekend than to reorganize, reshuffle and redecorate their apartment. She had been looking forward to it. Opening up a new bottle of Pinesol was like uncorking a bottle of sauvignon blanc. She wanted to scrub the bathtub with Ajax, vacuum the dark subterranean dwellings under the sofa, swiff the uppermost plateaus the cupboards and refrigerator, happily making the edges and surfaces of her periphery gleam with harmonious domesticity, as she had every other weekend prior. It was a routine, an itch, a quiet pleasure. She took such pleasure in the act of it that she had considered it nearly sociopathic. It was a gift that such a productive and efficient act should stem from boredome. Many would have resorted to more destructive resources, but she had always preferred cleaning. After a long week of work, there was nothing more settling than quietly perfecting the hidden corners and pockets of the apartment. In better times, she would have preferred sinking back into the sofa with a glass of wine with Adam amongst the clutter of their living room, flipping through various furniture catalogs, discussing the possibilities for an Eames elephant, or the merits of a new Mondrian 20


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wall mirror for the bedroom. She wanted to rest her head in his lap and finally decide on the proper lighting for the right-side corner that sat darkened across the sofa, as if she were an anxious interior decorator confiding to her intimate therapist – maybe a tripod floor lamp, or a wall sconce would complete the picture and fill that emptiness. She wanted to go about alphabetizing her bookshelf, her pantry, her closet, her music collection, her spice rack. But all of that was over now. She wanted out. A home without dark corners and hidden secrets, is like a mind without darks corners and hidden secrets, she had once read. Uninhabitable. That might have been true when she was younger, but now she was in the basement, and it was too much to bear. When police returned, there was an air of skepticism and some halfheartedness to their procedure. Keira, resigned, let Adam do all the talking. “So you say you went into the bedroom for about 5 minutes and then came back and there it was. Identical. We still have the other one, it’s in the back of the van.” A long crease appeared in his brow. His skin was dirty, his pores large and oily. He was scarred along his forearm. When he looked up with his eyes, he revealed a large nevus on his left sclera. The, younger officer added “You know it took about 4 or 5 of us to get that thing out of here. 21


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Lot of lifting and directing, yeah? It’s not the most... stealthy process.” Their police radios shredded the tension with apoplectic bursts of urgent static and code. “You say you heard nothing?” asked the third officer, who had been walking the perimeter outside. “Nothing,” answered Adam. The officer sighed wearily. Another police car rolled up outside and parked along the sidewalk — a superfluous clone. The day was filled with clones, Keira thought. Clone engines and clone officers being spit out of the ether. Soon there would be a hundred officers walking in and out with car engines. “Okay. We’ll take it out of here,” said the officer. “We’ll run it through, although this ones on the previous engine are exactly the same. You’re in trouble if this is some joke,” he said and looked Adam directly in the eyes to show him he wasn’t to be toyed with. “Call us if anything happens.” “I appreciate that.” “Just sit tight. I can recommend some home security companies. Call if there are any other disturbances.” The officers hoisted and grunted, and instructed those with their backs to the door where to go and what to watch out for. They lifted the engine into the back of the van and they were gone. 22


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Outside, a dog was barking. Birds twittered. A car drove past. The mango tree rustled and someone was beating a carpet. Adam looked at Keira, the fury in her eyes had somewhat abated, but he could tell it was more from shock and bafflement than anything else. She knew. She knew everything that had been happening, and it was over. The engine was incidental. “You okay?” Adam asked. She looked up at him, turned and walked toward the bedroom. *** Life was good. Was. They had just moved in together, and almost immediately fell into a favorable routine. They went to bed at midnight and woke up at six. They went for morning runs. They ate healthily — only organic. They went swimming on Thursdays and went to dinners and movies on Fridays. They had begun a collection of monographs from famous photographers. Keira was learning how to use a camera. Adam was teaching her how to surf. She had just gotten a job as an English Teacher at Henry J. Kaiser High School. Adam had been working as a researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They had just gotten 23


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a new flatscreen television but rarely tunred it on. As weeks passed, they began purging their home of the old to replace with the new. They replaced their old dining table with a new walnut veneered round top and an entirely new dinnerware set. Things were heading in a good direction. The day before this was just like the day before that, like two mirrors facing each other with their recursive reflections receding into the past. Keira would go for a run while Adam took his shortboard out. They would both met up at the harbor, at the terminus of her circuit and drove along the shore, through Waikiki, right up to Diamond head to watch the wind surfers from a distance, crisscrossing along the water as if indifferent to the ocean. They flew in spite of the churning sea’s sluggish waves, and rode right over them, through the break and through that foamy whitewash straight toward the horizon. A few paragliders circled overhead. Parasurfers bounded out of the water like bungee jumpers, and road the wind before coming back down. Close to the horizon the melee of windsurfers and surfers looked like the gleaming iridescent wings of giant, post modern insects preying on slow moving ants. “I’d want to try that someday,” she had said, watching the parasurfer ride up the face of the wave, and with a gust of wind, take off into the sky. Adam 24


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made her promises “I know someone. I can get it for us and we can give it a shot next weekend.” And things were good. In the bedroom, now, she felt like vomiting as uncertainty swept over her. “ Keira?” Adam said from the doorway. She was crouched on the floor, reaching under the bed. “I don’t want to talk to you. There’s nothing you can say.” She pulled out a small suitcase and began packing her items. Adam slumped onto the sofa and buried his thumbs into his temples. “And what would I say? You haven’t even told me what it is that’s upsetting you. Is a simple discussion that out of bounds? I think I deserve at least that.” “Don’t talk to me about what you deserve,” she said. “Look. I know, alright. I know everything. Your life is a lottery of easy way outs and quick fixes. Not this time.” She found the yellow flats she had been looking for and threw them into the suitcase. “It’s a good thing this happened early, before we got any deeper. Before we got too entrenched in any kind of life that would demand a discussion out of consideration for anything else beyond us. No. Thank god. Right now, as it is, it’s just you and me and I say no words are necessary. Here, I don’t feel any need to navigate through any sort of bullshit.” 25


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“You still haven’t told me what’s bothering you,” Adam said angrily. Keira snapped her suitcase shut. “I need your other suitcase.” She began digging into her dresser. “With all the shit going on in the world. The quakes — geological, political, religious, the least one could do to is be a decent human being.” “Please, Keira,” Adam crooked his head back and stared at the ceiling. “You haven’t actually accused me of anything. You’re just packing. This morning, you were fine. I mean, where’s the gradient here? Could you tell me what changed?” “You sound like a cliche. You’ve become a cliche.” “ Keira. Come on. You’re not making sense.” “You’re run by a pathology I don’t want to play with.” “Fine. There’s no talking to you. This is a frog storm. A disturbance. It is what it is then.” “And stop talking to me in weather speak. If you say this is just a doldrum or emotional shift via katabatic wind, or some other flawed metaphor I’m going to stab you int he eye with a hydrometer.” “Plain english then... What is it?” “You’ve ruined us!” Adam held his hands out as if he were pleading to the heavens for rain “How so?” 26


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“That surfing trip!” Keira went hypothermic, as if emotionally, all human warmth had left her body. She shook. Her hands trembled and her teeth chattered. “Yes. Yes. Yes. But nothing happened.” “Nothing happened with who? I haven’t even mentioned any names.” “Because there’s no one!” Keira could not decide whether to cry or to laugh so she turned away and did both.

*** When the entire Honda appeared in the living room, it had taken up all of the floor space. He had closed his eyes for a second and listened to Keira quietly pack. He was waiting for an outburst. Tears. Anything. But she remained closed off. She would give him no emotion, he realized, and would simply leave, perhaps to her best friend, Sandra’s place. When he opened his eyes the car was there. “Oh my God!” he shouted. It was a 1995 Honda Accord, painted silver with a large dent on the bumper and along the driver’s side. A seashell necklace hung from it’s rear view mirror. The interior was black, although at one point it had been tan. The entire interior, dashboard and all was replaced. The front 27


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driver side window would slide down with the push of a hand, and Adam knew this. He placed his hand flat onto the glass and with slight pressure, slid the window downward. He pulled the lock up and opened the door and examined the flooring. Sand. Dried leaves. An empty beer can. “That’s my old car,” he muttered to himself. “My old, junked heap.” “The hell it is,” said Keira. She was looking at it from the hallway. She looked defeated. Weary. Resigned. She kicked a large duffle bag along the floor feeling like a bit player in one of his long, protracted stories. “No,” said Adam. “It is my car. You remember this. We were dating for two months when I shat this scrap into the junk yards. Actually, this is the state of my car exactly one day before it broke down for good. You know how I can tell? This dent right under the door handle. I was at Costco and this guy with a old red Mazda next to mine swung his door open. The next day, it broke down.” “It’s not your car,” Keira said. Her voice was raspy. She had quietly cried herself out. “Well explain the plates,” Adam said. His voice a self-assured beacon of rationality. “It’s a simulacrum.” “Great. What’s the depreciation on something 28


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like that?” “Quite a story,” she sniffled. “The story of our demise. There’s you. There’s the car. I’m taking the phantom car.” Keira squeezed in between the car and the wall and inched along to the driver’s side to tug on the latch that opened the trunk. She got out and collected her suitcase and duffle bag. She lifted the trunk and took a look inside. “Jesus. Are you serious?” “Don’t tell me there’s a dead body in there,” said Adam, trying desperately to grasp the situation. Keira sifted through a stash of used old plastic bags with trash. In them, there were empty plastic bottles, some old paper cups, empty rum bottles a bikini, wet underwear, which Keira had never owned, and a charm bracelet. It was the same charm bracelet that Nyoko had worn off the plane. It was wrapped in a purple tissue that smelled of lavender. “For Nyoko. A year ago. Before she even left. She wore it coming back.” She said, lifting the bracelet out of its wrapping. “Two months into our relationship...” she said. “No. Not Nyoko’s. Why? Why would you ask that?” “I saw her wear this. I saw her wear this off the plane at the airport. She was wearing it then. This car was junked before you went on the trip, so 29

Deus Ex Machina  

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