The Opiate Spring 2020, Vol. 21
Your literary dose.
© The Opiate 2020 Cover art: “Pandemic Shopping in the 1980s” This magazine, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission. ISSN 2381-859X
“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.” -T.S. Eliot
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21
Editor-in-Chief Genna Rivieccio
Editor-at-Large Malik Crumpler
Armando Jaramillo Garcia
Contributing Writers: Fiction: Patrick Harrington, “Fox About Town” 10 Stephanie Parent, “The Blue Box” 12 Elizabeth Primamore, “Maybe She Loved Him” 14 Michael Tilley, “This Is How We Do It” 24 Eric D. Goodman, “No Time” 31 Marco Etheridge, “Let Them Not Say” 42 Katie Lazaro, “Taro” 45
Personal Essay: Allison M. Palmer, “Neighborly Intrusions: On the Art of Living Next Door” 49
Poetry: Tiffany Lee Brown, “How It Spreads” 54-55 Rufo Quintavalle, “The Salami Asylum” & “Shelf 15” 56-58 John Jack Jackie (Edward) Cooper, “Doppelgänger” & “Bonnie and Clyde” 59-60 Mary Shanley, “Billy Fingers” & “Two Horses” 61-63 John Tustin, “The Third Eye” 64 Nick Ingram, “Reconciliation With the Self Which Counts” 65-66
Peter Crowley, “Spring, 2020” & “Guillotine” 67-68
Criticism: Genna Rivieccio, “The Invisible Man Speaks to Us in Myriad Ways Now More Than Ever” 70
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21
It was Søren Kierkegaard who made the analogy between the apocalypse and a clown coming out to inform the audience that the theater they were in was on fire. The audience, assuming it was all part of the act, laughed along with the clown, feeling assured that, for all their wit and appreciation of such High Art entities as The Theater, they could not be fooled by his jest. This is much the same way it has gone in the midst of 2020’s apocalypse—and it is an apocalypse, for it marks the end of an era—with the gradual build of COVID-19’s (an all too sci-fi name that one could have imagined Wells or Ballard coming up with) wrath, and the hesitancy of many (ahem, Americans) to believe in it. And while the movies might have conditioned us to anticipate that the end of the world would come with a thunderous bang, T.S. Eliot had already explained the reality very succinctly long ago, in 1925’s “The Hollow Men.” And yet, the population at large must delude themselves into believing that the world as we know it has not already gone up in flames, ignoring that returning to “the way it used to be,” wouldn’t be possible even if government officials were willing to make it practicable. And, to be ultra frank, why would anyone want to return to this so-called form of “normalcy” anyway? Who are these fucking people, Warren G. Harding? There is no normalcy. And maybe the first part of realizing that stems from acknowledging that things were not “normal” before. We were all plodding along in a spit and glue simulation—Simulation Lite, if you will—before a pandemic lent the opportunity to completely decimate the veneer that we were living in any other manner than “post-human.” That term, incidentally, is how life in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine can be described as well... Wells just didn’t known it would happen much sooner than her originally predicted (with the Time Traveler going all the way to the year 802,701). Indeed, Wells in particular has come to bear a special significance to coronavirus’ fury, which is explored in the Criticism section of this issue. However, there are many other tailored to the theme of the moment (and likely the foreseeable future) works before we come to that. In fact, a true sign of the apocalypse might be that the fiction scene is more burgeoning than it has been in quite some time, offering an equitable ratio to the poetry. In between, we have, for the first time, a personal essay (in the past, the closest we’ve come to the genre has been deemed creative non-fiction) from Allison M. Palmer. A very apropos one, to be sure, for the topic, “Neighorly Intrusions: On the Art of Living Next Door” explores the importance of not being an unbearable a.k.a. obnoxiously loud neighbor. Something all too resonant in these self-isolation times when we are forced more and more to remain indoors along with the rest of the people who live in our building. People that might have been merely “vexing” before but have since transcended into the category of insufferable thanks to the protracted hours presently spent trying not to hear or see any signs of their barbarism (like The Smiths said, “Barbarism Begins At Home”). Patrick Harrington’s whimsical opener to the fiction portion also sets the tone for the numerous ways in which the world has changed in such a short time. Particularly for the animals who have been relishing a human-free existence that has allowed them the freedom to roam about the earth in ways they haven’t in centuries. Of course, like so much of the average news cycle, those items about Corona have proven to turn out their fair share of fake headlines (including the one about swans and dolphins “returning” to Venice). Though it would be nice to believe elephants really did get drunk on corn wine and pass out in a tea garden in Yunnan, China. Alas, they did not. It was just another in a series of futile attempts to try to brighten people’s spirits... you know, in the vain of celebrities awkwardly playing us music from their living rooms in the saddest example of a “benefit” since, well, ever (even the flaccid droning of “We Are the World” had more pizzazz to it). So yes, in between all
the doom and gloom—the unavoidable journalistic fetishizing of horror—there have been vague attempts at telling people, basically, “Buck up, don’t kill yourself” by way of these glimmers of a silver lining in animal triumph/the earth is repairing itself headlines. Again, just another prime example exhibiting that the ability to keep from mentally unraveling boils down to self-enforced naïveté. A quality some might say the main character in Elizabeth Primamore’s “Maybe She Loved Him” possesses as he willfully seems to ignore that the woman he’s enchanted with might have another angle in her pursuit of him. This story, incidentally, takes place during the other financial crisis everyone is comparing the Corona-inflicted one to (except this most recent will be far worse): that of 2008. Because yes, only twelve years needed to pass for a little bit of history to repeat itself. Especially for the millennials foolish enough to give a damn about being “on the level” in legitimacy in the first place when it can all so clearly turn to shit at any moment after years spent working for nothing. To that end, Michael Tilley’s “This Is How We Do It” offers an empathetic glimpse from the perspective of a recently widowed father who comes to rely on his newfound babysitter, Billy, for help. Of course, if Corona has taught us anything, it’s that relying on any form of stability is ill-advised. The only stasis in this life being constant change, after all. And when the inherent whimsy of youth is involved, one can forget about any constancy. On the other side of the spectrum with age-related matters is Marco Etheridge’s wonderfully moving “Let Them Not Say.” It is a narrative that, now more than ever, raises the hairs on one’s arm (what, don’t act like you don’t have hairy arms just because you’re not Italian like me). Not solely due to its setting within a retirement home, a stage that has served as the epicenter for many a COVID-19 outbreak, but because it highlights the sadness surrounding how hollowly—incompletely—one is viewed at the end of his or her life. It puts a strong spotlight on the cruel manner, both deliberate and indeliberate, that the aged are treated. All harkening back to the anti-”Boomer” sentiment that has been paraded for the past year, with the internet meme-verse going so far as to initially label Corona as “boomer remover.” For fuck’s sake, it’s like everyone forgot that their favorite president, Bill Clinton was a baby boomer. And one of the most radically progressive presidents ever to take office. In truth, the “hippie-dippy” boomers that came of age in the 1960s had and have far more gumption, courageousness and rebelliousness of spirit than a hundred Greta Fuckheads. It’s just that the wrong sect of them have ended up taking power in the present. Alas, I once more deviate from the subject at hand. But that’s the thing about these Editor’s Notes, all of my rants are interrelated. On that note, speaking of past generations being comprised of less lily-livered matter, Katie Lazaro’s “Taro” transports us into an epoch in which love was of that crazy variety: characterized by yearning and devotion. And decidedly surgical mask-free when leaning in for a proverbial Hollywood kiss. And yes, there are two other instances of “analog” affection manifest in our fiction roundup, namely Stephanie Parent’s S&M-tinged “The Blue Box” and Eric D. Goodman’s epic slow burn of a friendship betrayal, “No Time.” Each is a reminder of simpler times. Ones less concerned with such boring plights as, “How am I going to pay to live (without also incurring the flare-up of a deadly virus if I actually do manage to find work)?,” and more centered on the once more human-centric problem of, “Will I find true love before I die?” Yes, that age-old question for the poets. But even the poets seem less lovelorn in this edition, starting with Tiffany Lee Brown’s delightfully caustic “How It Spreads.” And no, it’s not about the insane ferocity with which Corona spreads, so much as the nonchalant, blasé fashion in which people offer
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21 their “thoughts and prayers” in times of crisis. As though that ever brought anyone back from the dead. For a one-two punch of Paris-based flavor comes the inimitable stylings of Rufo Quintavalle and John Jack Jackie (Edward) Cooper, both of whom have appeared online as well at theopiatemagazine. com. An entity you’ll want to come to rely on more often as the impossibility of print reaches an inescapable impasse. Rather the same way Billy Fingers’ drug addiction does in Mary Shanley’s poem of the same name. Followed by the equally as evocative of the fatal flaw that is addiction, “Two Horses.” John Tustin’s “The Third Eye” also offers insight into how, try as we might to put our best foot forward in adopting a glass half full outlook on things, the reality that’s hurled at us every day just doesn’t seem to want us to. Unless, of course, we’re dullards who do not know better (here’s looking at you, people protesting the lockdowns in America). They are of the exact breed who could do with a “reconciliation of the self,” as Nick Ingram might put it. To finish the job with the perfect axing poems for it is Peter Crowley (another repeat The Opiate offender) with “Spring, 2020” and “Guillotine.” Yes, will someone please bring the goddamn blade down on all of our heads since Corona is still doing a hack job of it? With that goddamn whimper Eliot was talking about. And, as a final homage to “Miss Rona” herself, I bring you a little parallel between him/her/they/ it and The Invisible Man. Voilà, there’s your spring issue loosely “celebrating” this, the Year of Our Flaccid Apocalypse during which we all hid inside and watched the world burn on the screens of our phones. Some of us (though not this The Crown-preferring queen) were even debased enough to watch Tiger King. Fewer, alas, seemed to be inclined to actually read a fucking book despite having all this newfound time on their hands. Hope you’re enjoying the twenty-first century’s best attempt at a plague, Genna Rivieccio Paris, France April 21, 2020 (Queen Elizabeth II’s ninety-fourth birthday)
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21
Fox About Town Patrick Harrington
pon going into town, the fox found something strange. There were no people in the street. Now, he’d never been to town before, so he couldn’t be sure if this wasn’t the norm, but he’d heard things to the contrary. The oh so contrary: noise, movement, crowd, surge, strange machines zooming and grinding, violence to all the senses. And flocks of stinking humans. And the concrete they seemed to love to pour everywhere, even up into the sky taller than the tallest tree. But now, calm. Quiet. Stillness. The concrete was there, would be for some while yet, but without the people, even the air felt cleaner, not so fresh as in the forest but not choking, either. The fox had roamed far from the comforts of his den for the one reason you might expect—love. Sure, food was and remained his almost singular motive, but this fox had a romantic streak. He had always dreamed of falling
in love. At first sight, head over tail, in one fell swoop, and while he had tried it on with some vixens and even a few other kinds of woodland critters, nothing ever stuck. The thing is you can’t be trying to fall in love and get anywhere. But that was exactly what the fox was doing, and here he was. Well, technically, at that very moment he was rummaging through a dumpster, heartily gnawing through a bucket of chicken bones. So some might say he was perfectly vulnerable to Cupid’s arrow. Just then a pigeon landed on the lip of the dumpster. Shuffling for a second, the fox rescued his snout from the bucket and turned to look up. He saw her and trumpets as good as sounded. She was stunningly white, so beautiful that some languages would call her a dove. She perched with a grace that was at once dignified and wholly carefree. He knew she had a coo that would wake angels. It was against his nature to love her, but he did.
Fox About Town - Patrick Harrington And judging by the look in her soft eyes, though she had never seen anything like him, she felt the same. In fact, just then her heart was fluttering in her little feathered chest. The fox smiled softly, not wanting his teeth to spook her. She hopped excitedly from foot to foot and bobbed her head, getting a good look at him
shook himself off. Free of trash, he looked back to her, tail alert, and as he did, she flew to the end of it and perched there, merging with the color, each an extension of the other. Then the two walked off like this down the street in the direction of the forest. You might think this mix of such opposites bound to go south, as
â&#x20AC;&#x153;But now, calm. Quiet. Stillness. The concrete was there, would be for some while yet, but without the people, even the air felt cleaner, not so fresh as in the forest but not choking, either.â&#x20AC;? for the first time. He was gentle and sleek, heather orange fur covering his body save for his little black boots, the white patch on his underside that crept from his belly to his chin, and the white tuft that sprang from the end of his tail like a hopeful cloud. She wanted to fly to him, wrap his muzzle in her wings, and peck his black nose with all the passion and delicacy owed a lover. Instead he jumped out of the dumpster onto the pavement and
many have before. A clever man once said, all men kill the thing they love. He was clever yes, but he was no fox.
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21
The Blue Box Stephanie Parent
ne of my first clients at the dungeon was Arthur, a doctor from Seattle who always arrived in an elegant suit with a pink or purple shirt underneath, carrying his duffle bag stuffed to the brim with secrets. Walking confidently up the dungeon staircase, he gave off a sexual, slightly dangerous air even as his beard and hint of a paunch made him seem like a kind father figure. Most clients wouldn’t be allowed to bring such a big bag, with such intriguing contents, into the session rooms—it certainly wasn’t a bag that would make it through airport security without severe scrutiny—but Arthur was a loved and trusted client at Medusa’s, for good reason. And judging by the look in her soft eyes, though she had never seen anything like him, she felt the same. In fact, just then her heart was fluttering in her little feathered chest. Once we were upstairs in the Venus room, Arthur began pulling items from that bag and laying them out on
the bondage bed, grinning over them like a mad scientist surveying his equipment. There were the toys I recognized, though most of Arthur’s had some twist to them: a paddle with studs that appeared capable of creating a permanent pattern in your flesh; a long flogger made of the same material as a Koosh ball. There were also more everyday items: a pack of pencils, clothespins, rubber bands. And elegant-looking boxes that might have come from some jewelry store, although I was sure they didn’t hold ordinary rings or bracelets inside. As soon as I’d pressed the intercom to begin the session, Arthur gripped my hair in one hand, my nipple in the other—I was still wearing my maid’s dress, he’d pulled my breast right out of it—and yanked my head up to face his. I tried to keep my eyes cast downward, my instinct, my default, but Arthur insisted: “Look at me. You’ve got beautiful eyes. What I’m doing to you is not so important—it’s your reaction I want to see.” That was the hard part. Not the pain, which I
The Blue Box - Stephanie Parent could have easily taken with no external reaction at all, but looking straight into the eyes of a dominant man. And Arthur was dominant, even if he smiled and laughed at the pain he inflicted. He wasn’t like Jason, the younger, good-looking client I’d developed a crush on, but still, internally, my body responded. Yielding, becoming pliable, mutable as smoke. Did Arthur see it in my eyes? I found out what the pencils were for: he laid them out on the
breathless on the bed, half-naked, half-destroyed—but smiling. Arthur’s box didn’t buzz. He opened it and showed me the contents: four tiny, innocuous-looking metal balls. “These are extremely painful,” he said, still grinning, and met my eyes again. I tried my best to hold his gaze, but I couldn’t keep myself from looking down to the safer parts of him: his beard with a few elegant sprinkles of gray, the similar hair escaping his now partially unbuttoned shirt. “But I think you can take it.”
Reducing an entire body and mind to one tiny point of pain. I wanted the balls off me, of course I did, but at the same time, I didn’t. I believed that enduring this pain would, somehow, prove my worth. I stopped gritting my teeth— that would only make it worse—and I thought: Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. When Arthur asked if I was ready to add the balls to my opposite nipple, I nodded. I didn’t trust myself to speak. I breathed in, I breathed out. I was a body, experiencing
floor and made me kneel on them, the wood pushing against my flesh, poking between the gaps of my fishnet stockings. I found out what the rubber bands were for: he slipped them around my wrists and snapped. He gripped my nipples, hard, and twisted; I gritted my teeth and gasped. He grabbed a few clothespins off the bed, looked at them, looked at me; he shook his head and put them back. Then he picked up one of those mysterious boxes, baby blue, made of some expensive-looking material with gold lettering embossed on top. It could almost have come from Tiffany’s, but instead it made me think of Belle de Jour, the scene where one of Severine’s clients brings in a strange buzzing box. All the viewer learns about the contents is that whatever’s inside, it leaves her
Maybe that comment should have spurred me to wrap some invisible armor around myself, to steel my outsides so that my insides wouldn’t be touched by the trial to come. But instead, I opened, softening all the tightness inside me, relinquishing all my defenses. That was how you welcomed pain. He placed one ball on each side of my left nipple, and let go. The little balls were magnets, and the force of their attraction caught my nipple in a vice. Their slight size was deceptive: a smaller surface created a more intense pinch, a greater discomfort. I would learn this lesson, as I spent more time at Medusa’s. Hair brushes were crueler than paddles, floggers with thin strands more intense than thick. Concentration was the key to sadism.
pain, giving in to it, submitting to it, witnessed by a man to whom I’d granted the power to decide. And all these things made me alive.
“Concentration was the key to sadism.” Originally Magazine
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21
Maybe She Loved Him Elizabeth Primamore
hinking back, Giro recalled a shortish fellow strolling into the place. He had a thick neck that sunk into the overcoat that hung away from his middle. He wore a gray fedora toward the back of his head and removed it when he sat at the bar. No one had seen him before, not even Dominick, the owner, though the man could’ve passed for one of his friends. Giro had served him a pale lager on tap. He said his name was Hank and was passing through Belleville, saw the grand opening banner in red, white and blue draped above the front door, and when he drove up a little closer, a black Ferrari in the parking lot. Intrigued, he thought he’d stop in for a drink and check the place out. He liked to support small businesses, he said, especially in times like these. Baby Doll, a regular at the bar, had found this out. Since Hank claimed to like the atmosphere of the grill so much, he returned a few more times, until he didn’t. Shortly after, Hank left for the last time with a pretty, young Asian woman, Suyuan, who arrived for an after work breather. No one had seen her before, either. ***
On the weekends, Giro tended the bar in the front room at Lombardo’s Mediterranean Bar and Grill. Dominick Lombardo, a boyhood friend, owned the place. The room, large and unpretentious, with shaded windows, wooden bar stools, and dim lighting, was right there as you walked through the big brown double doors. The dining room was farther back, through a square opening, with prints from the Italian Renaissance on the walls, and side lamps. Early on weekends, no later than six, older couples and sometimes groups of senior women, came, ate and went. By eight o’clock, the place was filled with customers, sometimes two deep at the long and curved bar, and chatter filled the air, along with the clinking of glasses. Some customers watched the banner of the news cycle on the silent TV that hung high in the corner. When people were waiting for a table, they sat at the bar; or if they didn’t drink, on the window ledge; or if young, leaned against the wall and held hands under the dim lighting. In the background, Italian opera sounding through the speakers heightened the Mediterranean atmosphere. Ever since the grand opening two months ago, which drew in diners by offering a ten percent discount on
Maybe She Loved Him - Elizabeth Primamore dinner and a charming man behind the bar, the grill had taken off. Despite a shaky economy—it was 2011, after all, and the financial crisis was hardly over—the townspeople of Essex County somehow always had enough money for a meal out. Women of all ages, and even some men, were happy to see Giro. There was something in the way he carried himself, the tilt of his head, the soft grin, the focus of his dark eyes on the person he was speaking to, as if they were the only person in the room, that drew people to him. That he often felt jittery inside was something he kept to himself. In his youth Giro had been the brightest and best looking in his class, with his dark wavy hair; he was tall with square shoulders and biceps that must’ve driven the girls crazy. Now in his mid-forties, he was more mature, which only added to his appeal. Giro had easily maintained his optimism, but not the simple expectancy of youth. He had been married, and his former wife Colleen had walked out at the first sign of his troubles. These days Giro was a stranger in Belleville. In the late seventies he had gone to junior high with Dominick, before his family moved away. No one knew much about Giro, except that he drove a black, eye-catching Ferrari Scaglietti and lived in Upper Montclair. Over the years Giro had run into Dominick now and then. Once in the mall, Dominick had done Giro a great favor when he introduced him to Colleen Margaret Molloy, a blonde beauty and a senior at Mount St. Dominic High School in West Caldwell. They married after Giro graduated from college. He wasn’t happy that things hadn’t worked out, but he couldn’t blame Colleen for leaving him. Giro was the kind of guy who never forgot a favor so when Dominick contacted him out of the blue to ask him to help out behind the bar,
he didn’t hesitate. Dominick “knew everybody,” savory and unsavory, which made Giro feel the kind of connection with power he saw among gangsters in the movies. He enjoyed watching Dominick wheel and deal, but stayed on the periphery, where it was safe, as he had all through their friendship in junior high school. On this certain October Saturday night, the first frost had arrived. Not far from the bar on a table stood a pumpkin carved by the restaurant’s staff. The flame of its candle flickered every time the door opened. Sometimes one of the leaves under pine cones that decorated the pumpkin would float away and land on the bar. Giro pinned a yellow leaf in mid-air. “Nice catch,” said Baby Doll, a regular. “Think I’ll make the NFL?” Giro went around the bar to the display, nodding at customers, coming and going. Baby Doll tilted her head on her shoulder. “You could be my Tom Brady.” It was nice to see her smile. Baby Doll was about forty-five with reddish curly hair. Dark circles underscored her emerald eyes. Her mouth was covered with chapstick that left smudgy lip marks on the Collins glasses. A silk black shirt was tucked in denim jeans held up by a leather belt with a silver buffalo buckle. It seemed to him her cool look was a way for her to stay afloat during the worst time of her life. Baby Doll downed her third Tequila Sunrise, head thrown back, stringy neck in full view. Rumor had it that she had been sober for three years, but started drinking again when her house went into foreclosure from a bad loan. She worked hard at Tessie’s Hair Salon, on her feet eight hours a day—cutting, coloring, setting, at least two heads at a time—but was let go when the customers stopped coming. That evening, she discovered her
girlfriend was gone, after five years together. Giro knew that feeling. His wife had walked out on him, too, when the funds in the bank accounts started to dwindle. On Giro’s way back from returning the leaf to its rightful place, he looked at himself in the mirror. Grinning, he liked what he saw. This job was only temporary until something better came along. He pulled in his stomach and winked at Baby Doll, who was swaying out-oftime to Pavarotti’s Greatest Hits in the background. Tonight he was wearing black Lucky jeans and a white button-down shirt open at the neck, that seemed to blend well with the background of shelves of liquor. Since Dominick had requested he wear more casual attire to attract younger people, Giro left his Brooks Brothers suit, which he usually wore for work as an investment specialist, in the closet, though he did wear his brogan oxfords. Brown. Calfskin leather. He glanced at his fine shoes as a reminder, while he shook the tumbler with two hands. He knew quality. He was quality. He placed another Tequila Sunrise in front of Baby Doll. “Make me another—for later—pretty please.” But Giro was off bypassing an older man who had just sat next to her with a folded ten dollar bill between his fingers. “What? Not even a short one?” Baby Doll said, with her hand cupped to the side of her mouth, craning her neck toward the end of the bar. She turned to the stranger. “You’re lookin’ thirsty.” Before the man could respond, Giro was already there. “What can I get you, chief ?” “He won’t even make me a short one,” said Baby Doll to the man. “Anything pale ya got on tap. No bitter.” His manner was brusque. Giro was used to that.
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21 “American amber?” The man nodded. “Open tab?” Again he nodded. This guy was far from good looking. A pudgy face, deep-set blue eyes, a crooked nose, strong lower lip. Skin was as gray as a cat’s. “And a tall one for the lady.” But Baby Doll hoisted herself up, shoved her thumb behind the buffalo buckle, and addressed the small crowd. “No short one for little ol’ me?” She raised her glass and shouted to no one in particular. “That’ll be the day!” And then bobbed her head at the small group whose eyes were now on her. Plopping back down with a thud, she tossed her head back in raucous laughter. Giro slipped a coaster under the pint of lager, foam running over the sides. The stranger narrowed his small eyes on the tall glass as he reached for it, unmoved by Baby Doll’s performance. Amid resumed chatter, Giro laughed to himself as he kept moving, digging, pouring quick. Behind Baby Doll’s back, Dominick called her John Wayne, whose famous line in the movie The Searchers that was, though she probably didn’t know it. Sometimes when she got really sloshed, Dominick would take the keys away from her and drive her home. He was tough, but he had heart. Giro liked that about him. But most nights Baby Doll held her liquor well. She never slurred her words and always walked straight. She was just one of those people who liked to knock back a few. In Europe, no one would call her an alcoholic. Giro splashed some orange juice into the glass and slid it next to the Tequila Sunrise she was finishing up, which by now was watery with melting ice. “Thanks, darling. Hank here’s from Paterson, aintcha Hank?” “Yup.” He nodded once, eyes
straight ahead, steely calm. “Thought he’d stop by to support the local businesses. Made a U-turn to do it.” She turned to him. “Good of ya Hank, specially in these hard times. I lost my job, ya know.” Hank turned to her. “Sorry.” Baby Doll pointed at Giro. “That handsome boy there drives a Ferrari.” The stranger raised his eyebrows. “That so?” He lowered his foamy pint of beer on the bar. Giro watched the street door open and close, felt the chilly breeze that made the candle flicker, a leaf drop to the floor. He saw the parking lot now filling up, with a crack of moonlight along the roofs of the cars, including his. “Buona sera.” Dominick looking sleek in his black silk threepiece suit, greeted an older gentleman and his wife. The man was large, about six foot four, and wore an orange tie with a navy blue suit. His wife wore long glittery earrings with a matching bracelet and had an Eiffel Tower of blonde hair. He took his wife’s hand and they followed the owner. Scanning the bar, Dominick, brown menus at his side, glanced at Giro, who was shaking a martini, and gestured toward Hank and raised an eyebrow. Giro shrugged. Dominick and the couple disappeared into the dining room. Giro saw the smooth back of the pumpkin, reflected in the mirror. The candle seemed incandescent, and for a moment he felt terrified that people carved pumpkins—gutted them, cut out a face, the scary face of the jack o’ lantern with a strange light that flickered over bogs of bodies in the world. Some people lived for this all year long. And then a wave of sadness washed over him, he trembled, to think that the pumpkin would rot and be tossed in the trash, on the sidewalk possibly, with its face smashed in, light out. His own light had blown out
when he received his divorce papers, like that. Just like the housing market crash. The stock market. Like that. “Where the hell is my damn bailout?” Baby Doll said to no one in particular, her eyes turning from the TV in disgust. Hank finished his lager and set the glass on the bar. “I love cars. Them Ferraris. Don’t see ‘em too often around here. That really yours?” For a second Giro wondered why the guy wanted to know. It must’ve looked odd for a vehicle like that to be parked in the lot of an Italian restaurant in a town like Belleville where women with curlers in hair nets shopped for groceries and men over fifty don’t vote for women presidents. Then he figured, either the guy likes Ferraris or he thinks I’m in the mob. Either way, he had to admit to himself he liked telling people the car was his. “Yeah. It’s mine.” “How does a bartender afford a Ferrari?” “I’m a financial investment specialist. I’m an old friend of the owner. I help him out on the weekends.” That luck on a stock combined with some equity in his house planted that 2009 Scaglietti in his garage was Giro’s secret. “And we like it that way, Mr. Hanky Panky,” Baby Doll said. Hank ignored her, his eyes fastened on the bartender. “How’s business these days?” “I’ll tell you how business is,” Baby Doll chimed in, “my house is in foreclosure. I got zilch left in my savings. And to boot, I’m one of the nine million suckers who lost their job. And look at that. Look at that!” She pointed to the banner running across the TV: “The DOJ has decided that Countrywide’s cofounder Angelo Mozilo’s actions did not amount to criminal wrongdoing.’” She grabbed her drink and took a long swallow to wash away
Maybe She Loved Him - Elizabeth Primamore the damage of the news. “That’s how business is, Hanky. Now what kinda business you in?” Giro was so amused by her the fluttering of his stomach to his heart subsided; he turned his back to let his face break into a wide smile, the fire of the jack o’ lantern glinting in the mirror. When he saw orders from the kitchen on the computer screen, he reached for glasses from the shelf.
blouse deep into her black skirt that stretched over her huge middle, rolls of fat spilling over. It was a feminist look, Giro figured, women showing off their fat. He passed two vodka and sodas to her. “Thanks, darlin’,” she said. Giro smiled. “Lookin’ good.” While balancing the drinks on the tray, Tracy nudged Baby Doll’s
stiffened and the pint glass almost slipped to the floor. He had to move away. He picked up the two empty wine glasses left by a young couple. He slammed them into the wash basin. Colleen wanted that house. That English Tudor was nearly a million dollars. It was on half an acre, tall hedges, maple and pine trees in the backyard. Giro felt a little crazy buying a house for that much money,
“Suyuan turned to Baby Doll. ‘But
the stimulus was necessary. We couldn’t let the country plunge into another Depression.’” “Fished for fluke my whole life. Down in Point Pleasant. Too old for that now. The wife wanted to go back north, so I retired and bought a house in Glenridge. Near her sister.” Baby Doll pointed to Hank’s suit jacket. “You dress nice for a fisherman.” He glanced at the silent screen on which a tan Angelo Mozilo sat at his desk, doing paperwork. “Look at that slime,” Baby Doll said. “He charged me three hundred smackers to mow my lawn.” “Personally?” Baby Doll slammed her fist down hard on the bar. “I might be a dyke but I ain’t no crook!” Dominick’s sister, Tracy, stood at the end of the bar. Short and squatty, she had the habit of tucking her white
shoulder. “We love ya any ol’ way ya are,” she said, and went into the dining room. Baby Doll turned toward Giro. “How about another, handsome?” The tall glass of orange tonic with a burst was already there. A blast of laughter came from the curve of the bar and Giro looked over. Some heavily made up divorcees were flirting with Dominick. Giro went to serve a waiting couple, hoping Hank had forgotten his interest in his business by now. Dominick had broken away from the women to lead a party of six to their table. “This here American amber’s pretty good,” Hank said. “I’ll have another.” Giro pulled the lever. A sharp pain shot through his stomach. He
but everywhere he looked, people were being rewarded for buying houses for as much as they could possibly afford, and more. How could he be so— not again. He wasn’t going to blame himself again, though it always came back to that. He took deep breaths to diminish the pain in his stomach. At that moment, in Lombardo’s Mediterranean Bar and Grill, he didn’t know if he felt betrayed or just plain stupid. Blood droplets on the floor showed him how hard he had slammed the wine glasses into the basin. He put Band-Aids on the cuts and discarded the broken glass and blood-streaked napkin in the trash. “How’s the food?” “What’s that?” Giro said. “The food here. Any good?”
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21 Hank’s question caught Baby Doll’s ear. “You see the dining room full, dontcha mister?” “Veal scallopini is the chef ’s specialty,” said Giro. “It’s something how folks always find a dollar for a good meal.” Baby Doll turned around. “You don’t look like you’re starving, Mr. Hank. And in my business if they were all as bald as you, we’d all be starving. Ha!” Hank pointed. “Cut your finger?” “Just some broken glass.” Hank held his pint with two hands and stared at the foam. Giro settled a tab at the register. “You never said how your day job’s going. Times are rough.” Giro gave the man a tight smile. “I’m a conservative investor.” Hank stood up and shoved his arms through the sleeves of his coat. “Them Ferrari cars run about two hundred grand, don’t they? Maybe next time you could give me some stock tips. I’m getting tired of driving a used Toyota.” “Be glad to.” Baby Doll yanked Hank’s sleeve, pointed to the TV screen. “You think that any of these Wall Streeters will go to prison?” “Who knows what the government will do, ma’am?” He put on his hat and left. Giro gave him a three finger salute. He felt relieved. There was something oppressive in the man’s manner, his curiosity. Giro turned to a guy who had taken a seat. “What can I get you?” *** Two weeks had passed. With the door opening and closing, the light inside the pumpkin oscillated, and now it was flickering a lot. A pretty Asian woman in a gray wool coat sank onto a bar stool two seats from Baby Doll. One look at her and Giro almost
jumped out of his brogans. Was she alone? He pushed the thought out of his mind and wiped down the bar. “Nessun Dorma” started on the sound system. He turned the volume up a notch. Giro slipped inside the music, oblivious to the weekend drinkers with bills in their hands. He thought of when he first met Colleen. We are together, he would say to her. Me and you. Together. It didn’t work out, but he was no loser. Out of all the men she could’ve married—the Ivy League jock, the chandelier king, or the scion of the Kennedys, twenty times removed—she chose him, the striver. Opening bottles of beer, ringing up tabs, leaving dollar bills spread like a hand of playing cards on the bar, Giro felt a little drunk. But he hadn’t had a drop. The aria poured out of the speakers. It was the point everyone anticipates, even if they didn’t understand the lyrics. Giro paused, bottle poised over a glass. A customer or two stopped talking. The newcomer sat still. Even Baby Doll was transfixed. It was a precious few seconds of reprieve, relief from the bar, his wrecked marriage, finances— the possibility of the pure joy that love could inspire. Then the moment was over. But Baby Doll still swayed, eyes dreamy, determined not to let the moment go. “That Puccini,” she sighed. “Boy, can he sing!” Giro threw his head back and laughed. Some patrons chuckled, too. Leave it to Baby Doll to improve his mood. It felt good to laugh. Baby Doll laughed, too. “I say something funny?” “Pavarotti,” said the Asian. “Pavarotti is the singer. Puccini is the composer.” Baby Doll waved her away as if at a fly. “Who are you? The opera police?”
Giro dashed a fresh drink in front of her. “The lady was telling you that you got the composer and singer mixed up. This one’s on the house.” Baby Doll looked at the young woman. “Do you believe this guy?” “Yes, I do.” Giro studied the newcomer. Dark eyes. Red gloss on her lips. A simple white blouse, navy skirt, high brown boots. She sat with her legs together, hands on her lap. Just like a lady. With the aria over, Giro lowered the volume and turned to the woman. “What can I get you?” “A gin and tonic, please.” She said please. How nice. Giro reached for the Tanqueray. “House, please,” the woman said. “You don’t look like the house liquor type.” “What type is that?” “I don’t know, but not you. Haven’t seen you here before.” “I understand a woman can come here alone and not be bothered, you know. That’s what a friend told me.” “Your friend is right.” He made her a Tanqueray G and T, garnished it with a wedge of lime, added a straw and delivered it to her on a coaster. “I’m Suyuan.” “Welcome to my corner, Suyuan.” He bowed and kissed her extended hand. “Spare me,” Baby Doll muttered. “In Chinese, Suyuan means ‘long cherished wish,’” she said, pulling her hand back. “Your name?” “Giro. I was named after my father. I don’t know what it means in Italian. Much less Chinese.” She smiled. “Neither do I. So I assume you’re the oldest son?”
Maybe She Loved Him - Elizabeth Primamore “The oldest and the loneliest.” “An only child?” He nodded. “You?” “Youngest of three.” Giro had a sudden mental image of kissing her, slowly at first, then long and longer still, when a loud bang of dinner plates crashing to the floor jounced him from his fantasy. The volume of chatter dipped, and there was hand clapping. “Someone had an accident,” Baby Doll said. Tracy came from the dining room with red stains on her white blouse. “I skidded on a piece of pinecone someone’s shoe dragged into the dining room. Lost a whole plate of lasagna. Thank God it didn’t fall on nobody but me.” “You look like a murderer,” Baby Doll said. “You okay?” “Yep.” Tracy put in an order for another glass of white wine and took a red Giro had ready for her, then left. Dominick and a bus boy appeared carrying a brown plastic bag, broom and dust pan, hurrying into the dining room. “Someone had an accident,” Baby Doll said again, sadly. “Sure did.” *** Now nearly ten o’clock, the dinner crowd was thinning. The sound of keys in the ignition as cars pulled out of the parking lot was getting more frequent. Giro went to the window and eyed his shiny, sleek vehicle. Glad it was still his. Glad it was still there. He went to the Halloween display and picked up a few scattered dry leaves and bits of pinecone. Behind the bar, he threw the detritus into the trash and turned to Suyuan. “Sometimes the littlest things cause the biggest problems.” She raised her eyebrows in
agreement. He was pleased. “So what brings you here?” “I’m a graduate student at Rutgers and teaching fellow in English literature. My cousin lives here in Belleville. I’m from Flushing.” “Queens?” “Yeah, but I like New Jersey better. Less crowded. More space. Better-looking men.” She smiled. “Teaching is a good field to go into these days. One of my aunts was a teacher. Social studies. Lived on a good pension after my uncle died. The schools’ll be clamoring for you. I know I would be.” “Thanks for the vote of confidence. What about you? ” “I’m helping out the owner. That’s him over there.” Giro jutted his chin toward Dominick, who was escorting the couple out the door. “What do you do when you’re not behind the bar.” “I’m in finance.” “Finance. Wow. Meaning you’re—” “I’m a licensed financial planner. And real estate.” “An investor?” “I’ve done some speculating.” Speculators had extra cash, money to burn. He hoped she knew that. Baby Doll, fresh from the rest room, hoisted herself onto the bar stool. “You were affected by the crash?” the newcomer asked. Giro held up a hand. “One moment.” A solitary drinker, a serious guy with a thin moustache, was poking a twenty toward the bar. Giro served him a Dewar’s on the rocks but didn’t take the money. Baby Doll pointed at the silent TV screen, which showed a growing crowd in Zuccotti Park. “I’ll tell you about affected,” she said. “Me losing my house and all these shits from Wall
Street not going to prison. Instead we’re bailing these bastards out. First Bush, then Obama.” She raised her fist in the air. “Occupy Wall Street!” Suyuan turned to Baby Doll. “But the stimulus was necessary. We couldn’t let the country plunge into another Depression.” Baby Doll rebuffed her. “Nah, just let its ordinary tax paying soup line citizens plunge into hell. Same thing!” She shifted on the stool, hooked a slouchy boot on the rung. “I applied for a loan modification three times, but that shit bank kept telling me they never got my application. “Three times!” These young people do have a point,” Suyuan said. “You can’t win,” Baby Doll said. “You just can’t win.” “The banks suck,” Giro said. He dropped a lime wedge into the fizz of a highball glass. “I’m going to stay in my house till they carry me out,” Baby Doll said. “Screw these banks!” She knocked back the rest of her drink. “You can, you know,” Suyuan said. Baby Doll wiped her lips. “Huh?” “I have a friend who hasn’t paid her mortgage for five years and she’s still in her house.” Baby Doll looked at her in disbelief. “Nobody pays their mortgage anymore,” Suyuan said. “That’s not right,” Giro said. “That’s not how I was raised.” The front door closed behind the last of the diners filing out. The wind had died down. The jack o’ lantern’s light stayed steady. Suyuan’s head was down, thumbs moving fast on her iPhone. Did she have a boyfriend? Dominick swept up to the bar and stood between Baby Doll and Suyuan.
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21 “Another for the ladies,” he said. Suyuan shifted in her seat. “No, really I can’t—my cousin’s waiting—I’m terribly late as it is.” Her cousin. Giro brightened at the sound of the news no one else heard. “Of course you can. It’s on
“And watch out for her, she ain’t drivin’ at all. Right, cowgirl?” As if on cue, Baby Doll dug into her pocket. She held out a thick, silver key dangling on a chain attached to the Venus symbol. He pocketed the keys and nodded at the man with the thin mustache. They walked off. This round Giro poured for
Giro went to the refrigerator for a can of cola. “I’m sorry,” Suyuan said. “Are you?” Baby Doll smirked. The soda flowed into a tall misted glass. “I parked my little wreck next to a fancy sports car. Must be the Ferrari everybody is talking about,”
me.” “You heard the man” Baby Doll said. “If I can have a seltzer. No ice.” “Hit me again,” Baby Doll said, tapping her glass. Dominick went behind the bar. Giro handed him a white envelope, which he slipped inside his jacket. He turned to Suyuan and motioned toward Giro. “Watch out for this guy. He drives a Ferrari.” Then Dominick down-shifted to Baby Doll.
Baby Doll was strong enough to fell a mule. He slid the cocktail toward her. Baby Doll took a few quick sips. “Mmmmm. Good job, Tommy.” He approached Suyuan. “Seltzer and lemon or—?” “Could I change that to a Diet Coke? Would that be alright?” “A lady is allowed to change her mind.” “Yeah, that’s what my girlfriend said and now she’s gone, too,” Baby Doll chimed in.
Suyuan said. “That’s the one.” As she reached to take the chilled glass of cola from him, her fingertips brushed his hand. Giro thought he got an electric shock. She felt it, too. He knew she did. The “Employees Only” door opened. Dominick and the man came through. Dominick stopped by Baby Doll while the man went off without saying anything. “Time to go, cowgirl.” Baby Doll inched off her seat.
“Baby Doll downed her third Tequila Sunrise... Rumor had it that she had been sober for three years, but started drinking again when her house went into foreclosure from a bad loan.”
Maybe She Loved Him - Elizabeth Primamore Giro came out from behind the bar and guided her swaying arms into the holes of her jacket. Behind them Tracy held out and a brown paper bag. “She needs to eat something.” “Who does?” Baby Doll asked, bewildered. “I’ll take it.” Tracy placed the bag in the crook of Dominick’s arm and went back to the kitchen. He put his other arm around Baby Doll and they left. Giro sat next to Suyuan. He plunked his short glass next to hers, filled with cola, the slice of lemon floating on its side. He looked into her eyes. But she broke the look and reached for her pocket. Giro placed his hand on hers and, taking his cue, she drew her lips towards his. Just then Tracy broke through the kitchen doors. “Time to go. Did you lock—” She looked at them. “Forget it.” Tracy went to the front door and bolted it shut. “Thanks,” Giro said. “Don’t mention it.” She turned to Suyuan, who seemed to need reassurance. “We have a back door, hon.” “Is there anything leftover?” Giro asked. “Take Dominick’s. He forgot. It’s still warm or you can throw it in the microwave.” Tracy motioned toward Suyuan. “There’s plenty. Pasta and salad, too. Good night.” *** For the next couple of weeks Suyuan and Giro took rides in his Ferrari, ate veal scallopini, listened to Pavarotti. They spent many nights at his home. She was captivated by the house—the glittery chandelier his ex-wife insisted on, the library filled with rare books he never read, the Oriental-style garden around the built-in swimming pool. And she enjoyed taking long drives to nowhere
in particular as much as he did. “I’ve never ridden in such a fancy car before. This is so exciting,” she said. “They’re really expensive, aren’t they?” “Kinda.” Giro adjusted the rearview mirror, checked the screen, which showed plenty of space behind him. “You drag race?” “Some guys race them, but not me.” He swung the glistening Ferrari around toward the edge of the parking lot and turned. “It was a childhood dream to own one.” With Suyuan in his life, a feeling of lightness buoyed him with an intensity he hadn’t felt since he first met Colleen. He stopped asking himself the same old questions. Is there a future? For me? My business? The country? The world? And it wasn’t just his car, his house or his fine shoes that impressed her—Suyuan was genuinely interested in him, his thoughts, feelings, perspectives. They endlessly talked to each other, laughed in unison, grew in understanding. He fretted if he didn’t hear from her, saw nothing, heard no one else. But then a surge of joy would return to him when he checked his phone for the hundredth time in an hour, and there it was—her text, voicemail, a wave on Facebook. He couldn’t believe his luck. And it had happened because of a fluke. One night in a small town like Belleville, a young, beautiful woman walked into Lombardo’s Mediterranean Bar and Grill. One morning they were lying in bed, the sheets crumpled up around them. Sunlight streamed through the windows. “I feel fortunate to have a boyfriend who’s in finance,” she said, her head lying on his naked chest. Giro stroked her hair. “And I feel fortunate to have a woman who appreciates me.” Suyuan’s hair was so
smooth and sleek he wondered which shampoo she used. “Maybe when you have a little time...” Giro went on stroking her hair. “When I have a little time what?” “Oh, I’m saying—sorry—I wanted to ask you—would you be willing to give me some tips on investing?” “In?” “Whatever you think is good.” “If you tell me the shampoo you use.” “The dollar store brand. And one damn expensive conditioner.” Together they laughed. “Seriously, though,” she said. “How did you get all this?” “Besides my stock portfolio, it was real estate speculating that gave me the edge.” “Speculating. Meaning?” “I bought and sold about twenty houses.” “Twenty?” “At least.” He sat up. “You hungry?” “A little.” “Let’s talk at breakfast.” Giro swung his legs around to the side of the bed and reached for his shirt. He pulled the black polo over his plain boxers and gave her a quick kiss. “Meet you downstairs.” He went through the door and trotted down the steps. Suyuan reached for her handbag. Took out a box. And threw on a sweatshirt. The sun shone full force through the turning leaves of the large trees and across the backyard. Giro pulled the shade down halfway. “Still too bright?” Suyuan brought her elbows to the table and met his eyes. “I like the sun.” “And the sun likes you.” Giro turned off the jets under the percolating coffee and the whistling teapot. He poured a cup of
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21 tea for her, coffee for himself and sat across from her at the round table. “I’m the kind of guy who needs a cup of coffee before he can find his way to the refrigerator.” Suyuan blew on her tea, tipped a splash of milk in. “How’s your tea, okay? It’s Barry’s.” “Barry’s?” She brought the cup to her lips. “From Ireland.” His phone chirped. He glanced at it. It was an urgent text from a client. He would call her back later, when he was alone. He powered off. Suyuan held the cup in her hand. “This is nice. Different from Chinese tea, which you drink black.” “Right. After cold noodles. It’s the best.” “Look!” She pointed at the window. A squirrel ran across the grass and over the tarp of the pool. “He wants to go for a swim,” she said. “Hope he doesn’t drown. More tea?” “Please.” Giro lifted her cup and saucer and went to the stove. Steam was still rising from the teapot. He turned on the jet anyway and dug his hand inside the box of tea bags. “Last night Baby Doll was angrier than ever.” “I can understand.” “When she’s had too much— it’s Wall Street, Wall Street, Wall Street. She’s obsessed with it.” “In China my grandparents lost their house. Lost everything. Had to run for their lives.” “Really? Wow. I’m sorry. Communist, right?” “And war with Japan.” He shook his head as he turned and placed the cup in front of her. “Don’t get me wrong. I feel bad for her.” “You don’t get over things too easily like losing everything you
own. Your life savings. Your house. And nobody got punished for pushing bad loans. Instead they got rewarded. I don’t understand how that could happen.” “You’re not alone.” Giro took another sip of his coffee. “The financial system is so complicated most people don’t get how it all works. Even smart people. So they get away with it. Before the mess?” He wagged his thumb at himself. “Little ol’ me? Beat them at their own game. For my investment properties I had a couple of real nice loans out there. The kind my mortgage broker was only too happy to write down. Like I was making nine hundred grand a year when—” He stopped short. “You okay?” Suyuan’s hand dropped from under her sweatshirt. “A little itchy. Just some dry skin, that’s all.” “So, yeah—like I was making nine hundred grand a year when he knew I wasn’t. Two liar loans. That’s what they were called. Liar loans, get it? No documentation.” “I’ve heard of worse.” “Exactly. Nothing compared to those Wall Street assholes. So a small fry like me got away with a few things. Everybody was doing it.” He got to his feet. “And tapping into this house here?” “Okay, I’ve heard plenty.” “Paid for my car you love so much.” “Don’t say—” “Cash.” Suyuan stood up. “Be right back.” His eyes followed her as she turned and went. When she came back, she was wearing a white t-shirt. “You must be hungry. I know I am. How about some eggs and toast?” “Sounds good.” He opened the refrigerator door. “Now is a good time to buy. We could find you something nice and under market. You could live there,
rent it. Make a nice monthly income.” “Maybe I’m jumping the gun. I should finish school first. I only have ten thousand dollars anyway.” “I could lend you some money.” “No, I couldn’t ask you to do that. Your guy. Maybe I could use him?” “His company went bust. And everybody scattered like bugs.” “Isn’t that what Baby Doll was talking about? Countrywide?” “That’s the one. Butter on your toast?” “Dry for me.” At his kitchen counter he cracked eggs into a bowl, mixed them with a beater, cut up broccoli, cheese, mushrooms. The frying pan sizzled. The table was set. When the toaster popped the multi-grain bread, he served the eggs, spatula in hand. They ate. Went back to bed. Took a drive. The next Saturday, Giro was arrested. *** In the jail cell, Giro thought of the night before. After the kitchen closed, he had taken out a red velvet box containing a five-carat diamond ring. Baby Doll had said, “Awww, how romantic.” Suyuan trembled with excitement. “Will you marry me? What do you say?” She began to cry. “You’re under arrest.” The door swung open and Hank, two agents, and a local cop appeared. Hank slipped the cuffs on him. “A pretty agent in love is useless, isn’t she?” “What the hell is going on?” Baby Doll stared hard at Hank then Suyuan. “Who are you? Some Mata
Maybe She Loved Him - Elizabeth Primamore Hari bitch?” She slid off the stool and went for Suyuan, but a cop knocked Baby Doll down. Giro cried out, “Leave her alone!” Hank looked at Baby Doll. “Sorry lady, but when a man in a shit town like this drives a Ferrari I gotta wonder how he pays for it.” Baby Doll struggled to her feet. “So you’re a fraud! A liar! You’re one of them!” Her fist went for his jaw, but he caught it, laughed, pushed it away. “Have another drink, you old dyke.” “The law doesn’t want justice. The truth. Real criminals. All you bastards ever want is a guy to take the fall.” Hank shoved Giro through the door. “We’ll fight this,” Baby Doll said. “We’ll get you the best lawyer.” But Giro didn’t hear her. He was lost in the sound of Suyuan’s sobs. Maybe she loved him. Maybe she didn’t. When the door closed behind them, the jack o’ lantern went dark. Originally published in Sweet Tree Review, Fall 2019, Volume 4/Issue IV
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21
This Is How We Do It Michael Tilley
Hello…Karen Epstein gave me your number (our kids go to school together). She thought you might be interested in some steady babysitting work and recommended I reach out. Please let me know if you’d like to discuss. Looking forward to hearing from you! -David Connolly
itting splay-legged on a Prospect Park bench in the May sun, reading this message, Billy caught himself shaking his head in beaming wonderment, just like some weirdo, he suspected, who looked set to start squirting sappy tears—and he didn’t care a bit whether anybody noticed! Inside he’d gone light and bouncy, everything suddenly unknotted, and his heart ticked a few beats faster. He broke out humming. Tapping his phone on his thigh to the rhythm, admiring a girl in short shorts jogging by, Billy assessed his emotional state: the word “moved” jumped into his brain. Never mind that he’d sworn he was done taking care of kids: he needed money. The gig would be temporary, he told himself; the game plan hadn’t changed. Billy breathed deeply and drew up his shoulders, then puffed out his cheeks and loudly exhaled. “Things work out in the end,” his parents always said. They’d told Billy this as far back as he could remember, and still did, anytime he
had to hear it, even now when he was twenty-five. *** “I want to say up front that this is a fairly delicate situation. The kids are in sort of a tricky place at the moment. Their mom, she…” David glanced away and squinted one eye. “Well, a few months ago my wife was killed, and the kids have taken it very hard. They’re getting better, I think, but right now they’re still kind of...fragile.” The school playground was filling with parents and nannies and toddler siblings, all awaiting dismissal. A buzzy din of children’s chatter, cut occasionally by a teacher’s raised voice, floated out the windows of the three-story red brick building. Chalk drawings covered the playground’s surface and the bell of an idling ice cream truck tinkled. Billy and David sat at a stone table with an inlaid chess board, its painted black squares warm in the sun. “I’m really sorry,” said Billy—and before he could offer any further condolences, David waved him off in a way that made it clear he should move on. He paused a beat, letting his awkwardness subside, and then continued. “I’ve got experience with all types of kids, and I’ve never had any
This Is How We Do It - Michael Tilley issues. With kids who might be a little tough, or are going through something, I just try to put myself in their shoes and work with them. Patience, too: being patient is important. I’m sure it’ll be cool.” David nodded. He looked tired and pale and in need of a serious vacation, but it occurred to Billy that that probably wasn’t in the cards for him anytime soon. “What about your schedule? Can you give me Monday/ Wednesday/Friday, after school until I get home from work—about 6:30? The woman who’s been helping me out is willing to keep watching them Tuesdays and Thursdays, but she’s got her own kids and can’t handle the fiveday thing anymore.” “That should work,” said Billy. “I’m juggling a few gigs, but I’ve got flexibility.” Again David nodded, gazing off in thought. Billy’s phone vibrated in his hand but he refused to look at it. A little flock of bubbles drifted by skyward. Just then, a nearby metal door whined open, pouring out a river of screeching children who scattered in every direction. Immediately David stood and turned to the door. Face jutted slightly forward, gnawing his lower lip, he fidgeted his hands in the pockets of his suit pants and shifted his weight from foot to foot. He seemed to have forgotten all about Billy, who sat looking between David and the door while also stealing peeks, from under his baseball cap, at a cute girl picking up a few kids whose cleavage was outlandish. Finally, when the flow out the door had slowed to a trickle, walking into the sun came a pair of red-headed children, a girl of about eight and a boy around six, both extremely skinny, both wearing soccer jerseys, who simultaneously gave David discreet little waves and made a beeline for him.
The kids must have gotten their hair from their mother, thought Billy, because David’s was salt and pepper. “Hey, guys!” said David with newfound cheeriness, as the kids slung off their backpacks and dropped them on the ground. “Did you have a good day?” “Yes,” the girl murmured, leaning into her father, while the boy, who had red, chapped lips and was holding some Pokémon cards, just nodded. David patted each of them on the head. David introduced the children to Billy. The girl was named Clara and the boy James. Billy shook their hands and attempted to engage them. He had some initial success talking about soccer, which both liked, but it wasn’t long before the subject ran dry and, after that, nothing else he tried worked. The kids weren’t interested in discussing what they were learning. Asking about their after school routine appeared to stump them. A question regarding favorite foods was met with shrugs. At that point, David told Clara and James they could go play if they wanted, and after politely saying goodbye to Billy, together they moved off to the jungle gym, where they began climbing desultorily. Watching them, David returned to seeming oblivious of Billy’s presence. Suddenly, he slapped his thigh. “They might need a snack,” he said, and pulled a pair of Clif Bars from his briefcase. “I’ll be right back.” *** By the diminished standards of his current existence, David’s Monday couldn’t have started better: Clara woke up without a sore throat. At first it was hard to believe, given her condition the night before, and while making the kids breakfast and packing their lunches and brushing
their teeth, he’d braced for her to wince and start complaining again, forcing him to choose between sending her to school sick or missing another day of work. This complaint never came, though (and David, by not actually asking his daughter how she felt, intentionally never invited it), an absence which, along with the fact that Clara both looked okay and ate well that morning, allowed him to feel, as he watched the kids disappear into school, that he’d dodged a bullet. These days, the dodging of a bullet registered as a triumph, and even a twenty-minute delay on the Q train, mid-tunnel, could render his good mood only partially dissipated by the time he sat down at his computer. Stacked meetings took him from 9:15 to 11:30. All went fine, but on the way back to his office from the last one, David heard his name. Looking up, he saw Todd gesturing to him from behind a large oak desk framed by an expansive window wall. He entered his boss’s office. Four or five times bigger than his own, it was adorned with multiple stuffed birds, assorted family glamor shots and a framed college lacrosse jersey circa 1991. As David stood with his hands in his pockets in the center of the savanna between the desk and the door, Todd informed him that a meeting with a major client had just been set for 9:00 a.m. that Friday, in D.C.—and noted it’d be helpful to have David there. “Any chance you’ll be able to make this one?” said Todd. His eyebrows arched hopefully. Instantly David ran through the logistics in his head, and determined that pulling off the meeting was impossible. “Sure,” he said. “Absolutely.” Todd flashed a big, surprised smile. “Cool!” he said, and shot David a thumbs up. David returned to his office and started racking his brain for
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21 a plan. He felt he’d had no choice but to say yes to the meeting. It was in his mind that rejecting all travel since Catherine’s death, owing to not wanting to be away from his kids, was beginning to cause whispers. Todd was a good guy and the firm had been considerate the past few months, but they wouldn’t accommodate him forever. Business was business, and sympathy, not to mention fear of legal exposure, had an expiration date. 12:30 rolled around and still he’d come up with nothing; all he knew, beyond that he needed to be in Washington on Friday, was that he had to make it happen with a minimum of disruption to the kids. Thinking some fresh air might help matters, he decided to go for a walk and grab lunch. Because hitting the gym was another thing he’d not done lately, and he was developing a depressing little paunch and showing signs of jowls, as of a couple weeks ago this meant a trip to the salad bar. Twenty minutes later, he was back at his desk munching lemonspritzed kale, his child care worries replaced, momentarily, by rageful reflections on the asshole who’d run over Catherine as she biked to work, when his phone rang. He looked at who was calling and his heart sank. “Is this Clara’s dad?” said the Haitian-accented voice on the other end of the line. “Yes.” “This is the school nurse. Clara is complaining of a sore throat.” David sighed to himself. “Hmmm,” he said. “How bad is she?” “She seems okay. She has a slight fever but she’s alright.” David asked to have his daughter put on the phone. He heard her far off, small-sounding voice as she spoke to the nurse, and for a second he felt like crying. “Hi Daddy.” “Hi Baby,” said David in his most sympathetic tone. “You don’t feel
well, huh?” “No, not really,” said Clara, giving a cough that was possibly for effect. “Do you think you can make it through the day? School’s almost done. I can ask the nurse to give you some medicine.” “I guess so,” said his daughter, weakly. “I really don’t feel good, but I’ll try.” Then, before he could respond, her voice suddenly perked up, but with a faint undertone of panic: “Can Billy please still watch us today?” Over the weekend the kids had become increasingly excited about Billy starting as their babysitter; among other things, they were under the impression he would take them on his dog walking rounds. “Well, that was the plan,” said David. “But I can cancel with him and come home early if you want.” “No!” The instant David got off the phone with Clara, he called Billy about the situation. “All good,” said the babysitter after receiving final instructions, his words echoing in the stairwell of the walk-up where he was returning a beagle. “We’ll be fine. Don’t worry.” Hanging up, David put aside figuring out Friday, as well as his salad, and set himself the goal of leaving the office as early as possible. He shut the door, slipped on his headphones and pressed play on the Allman Brothers. Looking over his workload, he thought he could get safely out the door by 5:15... ...and at 5:15 he headed for the elevator, taking a roundabout route to avoid a gaggle of colleagues he was tired of turning down for drinks. True to form, the Q train to Brooklyn was slow, and David didn’t get home until almost 6:30, carrying a couple of pizzas and a six-pack. He found Billy and Clara on the floor playing Connect Four, James watching beside them; the Hamilton soundtrack
was on. The kids came over to give him a hug. “How are you feeling?” David asked Clara in his sympathetic voice. “Good,” she said softly. David looked at Billy, who’d gotten to his feet. “She seems okay to me,” assured the babysitter. “She’s been happy, hasn’t mentioned her throat.” He shrugged. “All good, I think.” Four minutes later, having given David his full report and highfived the kids goodbye, Billy was gone. It pleased David that things appeared to have gone well, and that Clara and James were enthusiastic about Billy, and that Billy sounded committed to the arrangement, and so his first beer was marked by a bit of a celebratory air, which evaporated the moment he popped the cap on his second, when the kids started bickering over whose slice had more sausage on it. The rest of the night with the kids was the same as any other: shower time, screen time, reading time, bed time. After Clara and James were asleep, David sat with the last of his six-pack on the couch in the still apartment. He thought about how to handle Washington, and he thought how it’d be smart to start socializing after work again, and he thought of how he needed to cut back on his drinking. Then he decided he didn’t want to think anymore. He knew he couldn’t stay awake for a movie, so he’d just look at his phone until he finished his beer and then try to fall asleep. *** Billy really wished Leanna were looking his way. The bicep of his left arm, stretched taut in bracing position as he bent gripping the lip of his avocado-laden rolling cart, had a pronounced vein running along its sinewy length, while its counterpart,
This Is How We Do It - Michael Tilley vein likewise engorged, rippled and swelled with every firm twist of his tejolote. He’d focused on his arms at the gym that afternoon, believed his snug Bobo’s Burritos staff t-shirt to be (in his mom’s lexicon) “flattering,” and felt sure Leanna would be impressed by what she saw. A week earlier they’d hooked up following post-work drinks, and he was hoping it’d happen again. “Can you make it a little smoother?” requested the diner at his elbow, an obese sangria-guzzler with a fringe of dyed black hair poking out from under his fishing hat, and Billy, grateful for a reason to keep flaunting his guns, happily obliged. Billy spent Tuesdays, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., preparing guacamole from scratch at the tableside of customers who, for this luxury, paid a 75% premium over the price of the dip in pre-made form. The work was mindless, and he’d discovered that the world was full of irritating guacamole aficionados, but he ate for free at Bobo’s and, once Downtown Brooklyn’s after work crowd rolled in, tips were good; plus, Leanna kept things interesting. Billy placed a molcajete of extra-smooth guacamole on the big man’s table and, not having another order to fill just then, wheeled his cart to its designated resting station and ducked behind a wall to check his phone. Waiting was a text from his roommate, Jeff, asking if he wanted to meet up for drinks later. Game for a few, he replied. Stepping back into the dining room, where “Despacito” had just come on, Billy found Leanna bustling in his direction. “Hey,” she said, shooting him a quick smile, and speed walked past to the bathroom. For the next two hours or so, the memory of that “Hey” and that smile and that sway-assed speed walk swirled around Billy’s brain, his anxious, shifting analysis of them
the running inner soundtrack to his happy hour handiwork. At points when his interpretation veered toward the pessimistic, throwing his standing with Leanna into doubt, his desire for her to watch him mashing avocados turned especially intense. By 9:00 p.m., as was typical for a Tuesday, Bobo’s had quieted down. Though every bar seat was commandeered by a regular who’d still be there at closing, wasted and pathetic, the eating scene had dwindled to a few drained, drinkcovered tables, occupied by people looking ready to hit the road. It was, for the floor staff, the night’s timekilling phase. Outside, one of the bus boys smoked as he leaned against a lamppost, while next to him squatted the other spraying the sidewalk with a hose. The waitress crew, huddled near the touch screen register, laughed hysterically at something on Leanna’s phone. Billy, sending unmet glances to his convulsing crush, with whom he’d still not had a chance to make any headway, busied himself reorganizing the unused avocadoes according to ripeness, ripest atop the pile. In the end, he only ever got a minute to talk alone with Leanna, and afterward wished he hadn’t. An art history major one year out of school, who interned on an unpaid basis at three galleries, Leanna had made a huge impression, during the soulbaring-under-the-influence segment of their hookup, by passionately describing her dream of a career in the fine arts. Ever since, Billy had been hell-bent on establishing himself with her as a similarly serious, motivated individual (which was not necessarily false, even if his specific ambition consisted of nothing but a vague desire to work in “the music business”). He envisioned doing this over a quiet drink in a dark bar, or perhaps on a stroll along the Promenade after work—settings
ideally suited to the purpose. But that night at Bobo’s, in the very last minutes of his shift, Billy’s eagerness got the better of him: having finally engaged Leanna by sidling up to her conversation with another waitress, he suddenly decided, as their coworker slipped off to the bathroom, to try to shape how she perceived him then and there. “I’m sooooo done,” he groaned out of left field with “La Bamba” blaring—and proceeded to express his total doneness with “the gig life,” and reveal, by way of proving it, that he’d spent several hours that day searching, extremely diligently, for jobs online. The chat to that point had been light and the shift in tone was jarring and the conditions were all wrong and the whole thing fell flat. Though polite, Leanna’s lack of interest in this sober discussion was obvious. Flustered, Billy scrambled awkwardly to redirect matters. As soon as the other waitress returned, he dropped away, claiming a need to use the bathroom himself. He slinked out of Bobo’s at 10:00 on the nose without mentioning to Leanna that he was grabbing a drink, as just a short while earlier he’d planned to do. Deflated, Billy took the 3 train to Franklin Avenue, then walked a few blocks to the bar where he was meeting Jeff, whom he found swiping through Tinder while drinking a 9.5% barrel-aged stout from Minnesota. They’d met sophomore year of college and lived together in Brooklyn since graduation. It’d been a good run, three apartments and a lot of fun, but Billy had a feeling they’d be going their separate ways when their lease was up. Grabbing the stool next to Jeff, he ordered an 8% double IPA made in Vermont. The Pixies were playing. An air hockey game was raging. Billy noticed multiple cute girls scattered about the bar. He took
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21 a drink and told Jeff the latest with Leanna. Jeff was adamant that what’d gone down at Bobo’s sounded like no big deal, and Billy felt better. Jeff sipped his newly arrived saison blond (7.75%) out of Missouri, lowering his chin to the bar to avoid spillage, then set down the pint glass and turned back to Billy. A sheen of beer showed along the
“Went fine, same old thing. But man”—he exhaled forcefully and wagged his head—“kids are tiring.” Billy took a sip and went on. “I’m happy to make the money, it’s okay for right now, but I really need to figure stuff out. This gig shit gets old.” Jeff remarked that at least he wasn’t about to become a lawyer, as
a poll he’d seen earlier. Before he could relay it, though, something else suddenly occurred to him. “Sorry, man, I forgot to ask: how’d your interview go?” Jeff, who worked in social media branding, chuckled. “Very, very well,” he said. “Great, actually.” There was a sparkle in his eye as he raised his Saison Blonde to his lips.
“...Billy was leading four dogs up Vanderbilt Avenue, musing on the abundance of dental floss picks lying discarded on the streets of New York. It was revolting.” mustache of his manicured chestnut beard. Highly atypically for their hirsute demographic, and owing to ridiculously feeble facial hair that left him no respectable alternative, Billy was, for his part, clean-shaven at all times. To soften the indignity of this grooming imperative, he often told himself it served to mark him as a nonconformist. “So, how’d it go with those kids?” said Jeff, wiping away the beer residue with his thumb. “You started with them yesterday, right?” Billy shrugged.
were several of their college friends, and they spent a satisfying minute expounding on the soul-slaying horrors of that profession until they were diverted by the sight, at the back of the bar, of a whiskered guy in a tautly fitting shirt and suspenders who, eyes burning behind his Warbys, had started clumsily jabbing a heavy bag emblazoned with the orange visage of a MAGA-hatted Trump. “Resistance boot camp,” said Jeff. Which reminded Billy of
“Yeah?” “Yep. They offered me the job...now I just need to decide if I want it. I guess I should see what I can get out of them!” “Congrats, man!” said Billy, forcing a smile from his tightened facial flesh. “Awesome!” *** 9 p.m. Wednesday, the following night, found David back on the couch, just short of drunk, trying to reconcile the possibility of needing
This Is How We Do It - Michael Tilley to draw on his wife’s life insurance payout. That afternoon, within ten minutes of finalizing somewhat complicated arrangements that’d lehim make Friday morning’s meeting in D.C. while still putting the kids to bed the night before, a sales rep had attempted to blow up his plan by asking him to instead arrive in Washington on Thursday, in time for a client dinner. Citing child care issues, David declined the request. This went over poorly, and now, there on the couch, his anxiety about his job security was acute. At the exact same moment that night, in Gowanus, Billy was sitting in the club where once a week he handled sound. Manipulating the mixer for an instrumental rendition of “Life on Mars?,” his thoughts were divided between the task at hand and financial matters. He didn’t know what to do about his brother’s bachelor party, and now, after estimating his cash flow over the next month, was debating paying for the trip to New Orleans by selling some of the stock he’d gotten from his grandma as a graduation gift.
stifled, choked-back quality to it—as if its source were trying to suppress it. For an instant, he thought it was coming from an animal out on the street. Without moving, Billy opened his eyes. In the darkness near the door stood David with his head bent, stroking the hair of James, whose arms were wrapped around his father’s waist; their melded, silhouetted form swayed a little. After a few seconds, David crouched and whispered something to James, then hugged him close and went to go: the moan became a sob, the boy clung harder, and David resumed stroking his son’s hair. Twice more Billy silently watched David try and fail to leave, but after the third futile attempt he got up off the couch, walked across the floor to take James’s hand and held it tightly as the boy’s father opened the door. In the sudden flash of light from the hallway a shell-shocked look showed on David’s face. Then the door shut and he was gone.
An hour later, David’s phone beeped: All good. He calmed down fast and is asleep. Don’t worry. Reading this, he felt a little better, but still awful. Awful enough, in fact, that staring out the dew-streaked terminal window at his plane, dawn breaking over Queens, he sensed he could cry. David wondered if this feeling was real, or if he was only being melodramatic. He glanced around the gate area, at a bunch of people who looked like himself, and just to be on the safe side, grabbed his bag and went to the bathroom.
Billy knocked softly, heard the shuffling approach of footsteps, and when the lock clicked and the door half-opened, slid into the dark apartment that smelled faintly of garlic. Everything was arranged, there was no need to talk, so he headed directly to the couch to try to sleep. It was 4 a.m. Friday. Resting his head on a throw pillow, Billy shut his eyes and listened to David riffling through papers, zippering his bag, grabbing his keys. In a moment would come the sound of him leaving, at which point he’d be free to wriggle toward comfort un-selfconsciously. Instead of this, though, the next thing Billy heard, right then, was the abrupt start of a long, uninterrupted moan with a slightly
*** “What’s that?” Billy looked up from tying James’ shoes and found the boy
pointing at his cheek. “It’s a zit,” said Clara. “Usually teenagers get them.” “A zit!” James giggled. “Come on, guys,” said Billy, getting to his feet. “Put on your backpacks and let’s go.” *** David checked his phone as soon as the all-clear pinged on the ground at Dulles, and discovered he had nothing from Billy. The plane continued taxiing to the terminal, and he went back to asking himself if, after Catherine was killed, they wouldn’t have been better off moving somewhere closer to family. *** A couple hours later, just as David’s meeting had gotten underway, Billy was leading four dogs up Vanderbilt Avenue, musing on the abundance of dental floss picks lying discarded on the streets of New York. It was revolting. He couldn’t recall ever seeing one on the ground back home in Phoenix, though of course people only drove there, so it was difficult to compare. *** Now back at the airport awaiting his flight home, David picked at a pre-packaged whole grain salad while scanning the results of a Google search for “best duane allman solos.” When a PA announcement referenced his departure gate, he lifted his head to hear it better. A willowy blonde in a low-cut sundress, roughly his age, was gliding past. David’s eye darted to her ring finger. This was okay, sufficiently trivial—but then he caught himself pondering online dating and, as he chewed a gristly bit of grilled chicken, guilt overswept him: Catherine was dead only six months...items she’d
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21 bought still sat in the cupboard...she’d taken pictures of the kids on the first day of that school year...she’d trick-ortreated with them that Halloween... *** Not long afterward, in Brooklyn, Billy and the kids were walking back to the apartment from the school playground, where they’d been all afternoon since dismissal, when, arriving at a corner, James suddenly froze, a terrified look on his face, and refused to cross the street. David having mentioned the potential for this sort of episode, a byproduct of Catherine’s accident, Billy was prepared. He led the children to a nearby tree guard, and there they sat talking and watching ants swarm a peach scrap, the three in a row with James in the middle, until five minutes passed and the boy was ready to go home. *** What are we going to eat for dinner? thought David in the back of his Uber. *** “Want a beer?” “No, thanks,” said Billy. It’d been a long day, and he’d never managed to get any sleep there that morning, and all he wanted to do was crash. David returned one bottle to the refrigerator, twisted the cap off the other, and took a sip. He slightly regretted his offer, worrying it was maybe inappropriate, but Billy didn’t seem fazed and so he put it out of his mind. “I can’t thank you enough for doing this,” said David. “You really bailed me out.” He raised his bottle in tribute. “I owe you.” “Not a problem,” said Billy, slinging his backpack over his shoulder.
“Glad I could help.” David handed Billy his first week’s pay, all that day’s overtime included, and Clara and James, at their father’s behest, turned momentarily from the TV to say goodbye to their babysitter. As Billy walked away to the stairwell, through the door he heard David ask: “So, are you guys okay with Chinese?” *** A month later, on the Monday of the third from last week of school, David arrived home earlier than usual and found no one there. Puzzled at first, he quickly remembered that the kids had swimming class on Mondays, and abandoned his half-typed text to Billy. He looked around the quiet apartment, much messier these days than when Catherine was alive, and decided to straighten up a little. Soon he was sweating. The air conditioners, it hit him, needed to be put in. As he bent to collect some Uno cards scattered on the carpet, he told himself he’d get it done that weekend. It wasn’t long until David heard the key turn in the lock. The door flew open and the kids burst in, running across the room to hug him, while Billy, trailing behind, hung their backpacks on wall hooks. Then James and Clara left to wash up in the bathroom and Billy gave David a rundown of the afternoon. At that point, normally, Billy would go. But now, as the kids came back and flopped onto the couch to watch a show, he just stood there looking ill at ease, like he wanted to say something. David had already thought through how to handle a raise request, and was prepared to pay another seven bucks an hour. “So, I feel really bad about this,” said Billy in a low voice, “but”— his eyes flashed to James and Clara,
who were transfixed by the TV—“I need to resign.” David grimaced, spluttered his lips, and then grimaced again. “I’m really sorry,” Billy went on. “The club’s main sound guy just quit, and they offered me all his nights, and I basically feel like I can’t pass it up. But my schedule’s going to be so crazy—like, crazy—that I don’t think I’ll be able to juggle everything.” David didn’t answer, but his eyes showed his wheels turning. “Sooooo... yeahhhhh...” Billy murmured awkwardly into the silence. Just then, from the couch, Clara piped up: “Daddy, can we have a snack?” And suddenly, before he went into the kitchen to get the kids Goldfish, David’s pained expression gave way to a wistful smile, and he patted Billy warmly on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about it, man,” he said. “I was young once, too.”
No Time Eric D. Goodman
ask how much longer we have to stay here. No answer. The jail cell is cold; not just the temperature, but the look and feel of gray cinder blocks and black bars. We’ve been here for hours, Will and I. I keep asking, but no one will answer me. A gruff voice from a dark corner within the cell makes itself known. “Maybe long enough for us to get comfortable.” I greet his smug smirk with a smile meant to convey confidence, grasping for appropriate words, words hard enough to keep him in place, soft enough not to provoke. Before I think of anything, another guttural reverberation fills the cell. I look at Will. “You gonna live?” I don’t expect an answer, just more vomiting. He’s spent the last couple of hours next to the toilet, tasting the evening’s champagne for a second time, mixed with milk, vodka, beer. Between spells, he lies back on the cement floor next to the toilet. He doesn’t seem to mind when others in the cell make use of it, stepping over him and sometimes on him. He’s still out of it. Will hasn’t been the same since he came back from
Russia. It’s as though the stern frigidness of that nation has enveloped him, like ice encrusting the branches of a hibernating birch. He went to the nation on a grant to teach an art workshop at a technical institute; he’s come back a melancholy soul, full of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. He’s purged his past compassion for the poor and homeless just as he now purges last night’s celebration. Another hour passes. Will raises his head above the bowl. It’s a reflex now and nothing comes out as he heaves, except regret and bile. He stands up at last and comes toward me. “How long’ve we been here, Rich?” “A few hours,” I answer. Will walks to the bars of the cell and begins making noise. “Hey! C’mon, man, give us a fucking break! Hey!” A cop reluctantly comes. I’ve been timidly asking the question for hours, but Will’s willingness to make a ruckus gets results. “When the hell can we walk, man?” “Not yet,” the officer grunts back. “Just relax. You’ll be outta here in no time.” “Shit,” Will sighs. But that’s not what he intends to do as he returns to the toilet in the corner of the cell.
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21 Sitting in the cell with Will, I’ve got time to mull over the changes in him, time to remember him before and after the trip. I hated to see my best friend go away for a year, but he couldn’t pass up such an opportunity, even though opportunities have always come easily for him.
He continued playing his video game in the living room of my apartment, his second home. “Kate?” he asked. “What about her?” “The girl’s ready to marry you, man! How can you just leave her behind for a year?” “Rich, I can leave her behind
He lost his final man and put down the control. He fixed his eyes on me and looked ready to strike me down, just as he had the enemies on the screen. “Not yet,” he insisted. “But I’ll be offshore in no time.” ***
“The homeless are the freest of the free spirits! They answer to no one. We should hone that rebel spirit, encourage them to express it, to share it with the masses.” *** “What about Kate?” I asked him the evening he told me he’d been approved and he was going to Russia. I couldn’t believe he’d gotten a grant to teach an experimental art workshop on the other side of the world. But with Will, the unbelievable happened. I still couldn’t fathom how he’d set us up in our current positions, overseeing a federally-funded art program for the homeless. Will had all the luck, good fortune falling into his lap like a slot machine paying out.
easy,” he said. “Kate’ll always be here. I’m not ready for marriage anyway. Hell, I’ve got another ten or fifteen years of bachelorhood in me. I think it’s time to move on, play the field— an entirely new field. I’m not ready to be weighed down by a woman.” “I don’t know, I’d jump at the chance. Kate, I mean. She’s a catch.” Will smiled. “Go for it, Rich. I’ll be gone for awhile. Knock yourself out.” He continued shooting away at the virtual enemy. “Not like I won’t be fooling around. Russian girls are hot.” I smirked. “I might take you up on that.”
I met Will early in college. Both into liberal arts, I leaned toward social work and he studied sociology. I worked hard and managed to answer test questions and master material; he ambled through by bullshitting on essay questions and overwriting term papers. I graduated with honors, he barely passed. “But a diploma’s a diploma,” he said. “Why waste your time on grades? You’ve got to focus on the people. That’s where you make an impression.” He did make an impression, and I was lured in by his easy conversation and free spirit. We
No Time - Eric D. Goodman became fast friends, and by our third year of college, we were roommates. It was after we’d moved ahead to graduate school that we met Kate. Like most of our friends, Kate was drawn to Will first. She was a sophomore, and we met her at an undergrad party. Will had taught me the virtues of undergrad parties where fresh students thirsty for upperclassmen friends provided free booze, and fresh girls had yet to be jaded by the onslaught of college jocks. Kate noticed Will working the room, moving from girl to girl, sizing up his prospects, but not yet striking, holding back and considering his best move. I could see that it was obvious to Kate what he was after. When Will was between flirty conversations and he and I stood together talking with beers in hand, Kate approached us. “You guys working on social degrees?” she asked. “Or social disease?” We laughed. Will ventured, “A little of both, I suppose. With hopes of attaining one, but not the other.” Turns out, Will attained neither one. As I focused on my studies and my thesis, Will distracted himself with parties and socials, rubbed elbows with professors and researchers. He let his classes and studies slide and ended up dropping out all together. I got my Master’s, but Will got the endorsement of the academic community. He managed to secure some grant money for a social psychology research project that involved telling people they would grow old alone, just to measure their reactions. In most cases, Will shared with us, the subject was initially disappointed, but quickly hid their feelings with rationalization. “That’s probably true,” they’d say. “I’ve always been a loner. I have friends and all, but I like to be alone.” I don’t like to be alone. And I didn’t want to be alone that night when we met Kate. I wanted to be with
her. She wasn’t cover girl beautiful or supermodel thin, but she was pretty, and real, and she had personality. Kate also had an interest in the social sciences, but her major was economics. When Kate broke away from us to get another wine cooler, I nudged Will. “Let me have this one.” He smiled. “No way, my friend. This girl’s mine.” “You’ve already talked to half a dozen other girls,” I insisted. “Take one of them to the sack.” I realized after I started talking that all I was doing was solidifying his interest in Kate. Had I not spoken, maybe he would have gone with one of the bubblier freshmen girls. “They’re just sleepers.” He was quick with one-liners. “This one’s a keeper.” Kate returned to us with a fresh, pink wine cooler in hand. She placed the tip in her mouth and drank. “So, what are you talking about now? Socioeconomic issues among college students?” The girl was hot. “We were just talking about blowing this joint,” Will said. “Hit a club.” The three of us went together. We danced in a threesome, easy to do in the bunch of bopping bodies on the dance floor. But after the dancing, after the greasy breakfast at the 24hour diner, after conversation and soft music and another round of shots back at the apartment, it was Will who escorted Kate to his bedroom. “That’s okay,” I rationalized. “I like to be alone sometimes.” *** You’re never really alone when you’re a friend of Will’s. He makes you feel like the most important person in the world when he’s talking to you. And being his best friend does have benefits. For example, he got me the best job a social worker interested in art could hope for.
About a year before he’d been selected to go to Russia, helping the homeless had been Will’s passion. Will got it in his head to start an art program for the homeless, to help them find themselves and express their independent spirits through painting and sculpture. “Don’t you think we should teach them to get work, make money and support themselves?” I’d asked. “What, and turn themselves into wage slaves just like everyone else?” Will had come back. “That’s crazy. The homeless are the freest of the free spirits! They answer to no one. We should hone that rebel spirit, encourage them to express it, to share it with the masses. We could even try to get the American Visionary Art Museum to display their work.” “I don’t know.” And I didn’t. But Will had a will of iron, and he convinced me. More importantly, he convinced the money holders. The first few months we got by with contributions and a state grant. But four months in, we got a hefty grant from the federal government, sealing our positions and our project. When he left for Russia, we were too far along on the project to abandon it. So when he did abandon it, I kept it going. Picking up the pieces he drops is just a part of being Will’s friend. Usually it feels more like an inheritance than a hindrance. It’s not like I’m a scavenger or anything like that. I have standards and my own interests. I work hard and try to earn what I keep. But Will’s cup overflows so abundantly that just being around him seems to reap benefits. Even the homeless consider themselves lucky after working on their art in Will’s presence. They ask about him from time to time. When’s the boss coming back? I’m the one who’s always done the bulk of the work, the one who’s been here full-time for the past six months. But Will’s still the boss. He created it, put it in motion. I guess he deserves the credit.
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21 *** Kate and I took Will to the airport. She knew he wasn’t only leaving America for a year; he was leaving her for good. It was the easy way out. It was easier to move away than it was to just call it off. He’d just read Washington Square, by Henry James, and that made it all the easier. It was all the justification he needed. Will kissed Kate, or rather, she kissed him. Passion animated her, radiated through her flesh, rose the soft hairs on her forearms and the back of her neck, even raised me a little as I stood by. No part of Will stirred, save his desire to be off and away. He returned the kiss, then moved over to give me a hug. “Take care of my stuff.” He winked. “Don’t get hooked by one of those sly Russian supermodels,” I warned. Will laughed. “You know me better than that!” Kate and I watched Will board the plane, all smiles. He bounced out of sight. We stayed and watched the 747 cross the runway of Dulles International Airport. Later, as I drove Kate home, we watched an airliner fly above and imagined it was his plane. Kate and I did a lot of imagining in the coming months. She confided in me and I was open to her suspicions, probably even fed them with my own desire to give her the more devoted mate she deserved. Me. I dropped hints that she should consider a more serious relationship, that she should look for something deeper than what Will had to offer. I never straight out told her she should leave him—he was my friend—but I wanted her to, and she’d be a fool if she didn’t know it. “He’s not coming back,” she said one evening. We sat together on the sofa watching a documentary about mail order brides from the
Philippines. I turned from the television screen and waded into her moist, brown eyes. “Of course he’s coming back.” “I mean to me. I knew it before he even left. He’s screwing around over there right now. He’s wanted to whore around all along, but couldn’t do it around here, around me. I see the way he drools over women when they walk by, the way he flirts— right in front of me. He’s crossed the room at too many parties to mingle with other girls. But now that he’s on the other side of the world, without my prying eyes, he’s having a field day.” I looked down at her hands; they rubbed together in her lovely lap. “Or more like field practice. He’ll come back accustomed to screwing around. Russia’s his brothel. He won’t be a onewoman man anymore. Won’t even be able to pretend he is anymore.” What could I say? Before I could think of anything, she continued. “He’ll come back and shack up with me for a few weeks. After he’s had me again and found somewhere else to go, he’ll leave again. Chalk it up to ‘we’ve changed, Kate’ and dump me.” Kate fell silent. She cried quietly, embarrassed. I took her in my arms, held her against my chest. As she took in a deep breath of air, I could feel her nipples harden slightly, pressing against my chest through our thin shirts. I focused on them, wanted them to be bare against my skin. The television program stole the silence this moment required. “The newly arrived brides are willing to do practically anything for their western husbands,” the narrator opined. “They’re more like slaves than wives, devoted to...” “Maybe you should beat him to the punch, Kate.” Something I’d never been able to do myself. Kate sniffed. “If I had any sense I would. It’s just a matter of time anyway.” I rubbed my hand through
her soft, brown hair as she rested her head on my shoulder, encouraging those nipples to remain hardened, to remain close. “I’m here for you,” I said. “Whatever happens, I’ll be here for you.” And I would be. We’d been friends for a long time, we were close. But I wanted to be closer. I wanted to be inside her. One might say I took advantage of Kate in her time of grief. I don’t see it that way. She needed comforts from me and I wanted comforts from her. That night, we made our transaction. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen her voluptuous body in full; Will, Kate and I had been close friends long enough that I’d walked in on them more than once. But this lonely night after Will’s departure was the first time she bared all for me, the first time she discovered what I had to offer. After making love, as I drifted off to sleep with her, still teary-eyed, cuddled against my chest, I wondered whether she may have chosen me over Will in another situation. Whether we could have been a happy couple had Will opted for one of the freshmen at that party years ago. We had fallen into a deep sleep when the phone rang in the middle of the night. We both jumped. I’d wanted an gentler waking from this night of subtle seduction, an easing into our new relationship. Kate and I sat up in bed and looked at each other with stark expressions. She covered her naked body with the sheets as I picked up the bedside telephone. “Hello?” “Hey Rich!” “Will?” I looked at the alarm clock’s red glow and grumbled. “Do you know it’s four in the morning?” “Not for me, it’s not! It’s noon here! Beautiful day—got a date with a beautiful woman this afternoon. And —get this—I got another date with another chick tonight! Man, you’ve gotta get over here sometime!” “I’m happy here, thanks.” I looked at Kate, but she averted her
No Time - Eric D. Goodman gaze. Understanding washed down her face like warm water. She stood. I watched her firm ass as she padded to the bathroom and closed the door. “And how’s school going over there?” I asked. “Your classes?” “Classes?” He mocked the very idea. Who’s got time for classes with so many hot asses?!” “So you haven’t had your fill of Russian women yet?” “Not by a long shot,” he said and laughed. “These soviet girls sizzle!” An expensive silence filled the line for a moment. “Say hi to Kate for me.” “I will,” I said, and then I hung up and did. *** Sometimes a person has exactly what they’ve always wanted right in front of them, and they don’t even know until it reaches out and grabs them. There are moments that change everything, redefine desire and contentedness. Goals that, when reached, tame a person’s hopes and fears forever. But not for me and Kate. That night together was nice, but it just didn’t feel right. Perhaps she was too hung up on Will even though she knew they were over. Perhaps I had built the moment in my mind too much, having coveted my best friend’s girl since before she was my best friend’s girl. Or maybe Kate and I had just become such close friends that the brother-sister feeling had wedged between us. If it was the latter, it didn’t stop us from sleeping together from time to time. But the expected firework show was little more than the fizzle of a sparkler. “Maybe it wasn’t ever really me you wanted,” Kate said. “Maybe you just wanted what Will had.” “What, are you a shrink or an economist?” We both laughed. “No, I was interested in you before Will even
made his move.” “But think back,” she said. “Did you want me because you already knew Will did?” “I don’t get you.” “Look, Will wasn’t exactly born with a gold spoon in his mouth. But he’s got a Midas touch. We all know that things come easy for him. It would be natural to want to earn what he gets so easily.” “I don’t want to be Will,” I assured her. “But I’ll tell you what I do want. I want you to get over him.” I took her hands in mine and planted a kiss on her forehead. “It’ll be a lot easier for you to let go now, after these months apart, than it will after you’ve gotten back together. You and Will are both my best friends. But don’t let him back in.” “I’ll try to just be friends.” We held each other long and hard. The three of us would always be friends, I knew. Then, I dipped down to do something I’d never do to my other good friend. I kissed her. *** I went alone when it was time to pick up Will at the airport. Kate didn’t want to face him, not yet. She and I weren’t serious. Casual sex, close friends, but nothing that would make a good marriage, if there’s still such a thing in this day and age. Will’s steps were heavy as he trudged, as if through snow, out of the hallway and into the terminal. He faced the ground before him, an expressionless zombie. In response to my “Will call,” he looked my way. He cracked a smile, but not his usual carefree one. “Welcome home!” I embraced him. “It’s good to see you,” he said as though it weren’t. “Car’s this way,” I directed. I took two of his four bags. “What’s up?”
“I don’t know.” He appeared to be still in the clouds, not yet here and no longer there. “I’ve got a lot to tell you.” “We’ve got plenty of time,” I said. It’d take us an hour to get back home to Baltimore. “How about we stop at Brick Oven Pizza?” “All right,” he said without the excitement I’d expected. “Fell’s Point? Maybe after we eat, a few drinks at the Wharf Rat?” “Just what I had in mind,” I said with a smile. During our drive, Will told me all about the art program in Russia, how all of the students studied English and wanted to practice, so he never needed to crack his EnglishRussian phrase book. Over hot pizza, he told me about his hot escapades, one after another. In the smoky bar, over a round of ale, he lit up a Russian cigarette. I examined the soft, paper package. “You never smoked so much before.” “A lot has changed,” he said. Then, like the cigarette, he lit up and the smoke of sadness lifted temporarily from him. “I met someone.” “Someone? Like what, a girl?” I took one of the strange sticks from the package. “You won’t believe it. I still don’t. I met the girl.” “Are you saying Mr. I’mNot-Getting-Married-Until-Forty has fallen in love?” He laughed, taking the cigarette from my hand and then pressing it here and there to construct a sort of filtering system. “Yes.” “Well,” I said as he handed the unusually-shaped cigarette back to me, “that is news! This calls for another round!” “It all happened so fast, but it all felt so right, you know? These things happen when you least expect it.”
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21 “Love is nobody’s slave,” I said as I lit the Russian cigarette. “We belong to it, when it beckons.” “How do I say this... ?” “What?” I smoked the strong, harsh cigarette and quickly chased the smoke with my beer. “Are you engaged or something? Just come out with it.” “Rich, I’m married.” My mouth fell open. The conversations continued around us. The music played a love song from the seventies. At the table next to us, a woman sang along, Don’t imagine you’re too familiar, and I don’t see you anymore, and her giggling companions backed up with, I’ll take you just the way you are. The waitress darted to our table, en route to another. “Two more?” For a moment longer, I just stared at Will, mouth wide open, foreign cigarette between my fingers. “Married?” It was a barely audible whisper. “Yes,” Will answered. The waitress darted away to the next table, taking the “yes” as her own. “I...ummm...I mean...” “Her name’s Oxanna.” This was the brightest I’d seen him since his return. “She’s beautiful, and charming. You’ll love her!” “I told you to be careful,” I reminded. “I was. I didn’t fall for the first girl to come my way, believe me. But when Oxanna came, I was, I don’t know...sure. You know? I just knew.” “You’re sure about this?” “I’ve never been surer of anything in my life.” Our English-style ales came, fresh from the cask. Here we were, drinking English ale, smoking Russian cigarettes and talking about his foreign bride. In the stark light of the airport and the afternoon’s sunshine, he’d appeared a darkened stranger. Now, in this dark barroom, he glimmered. “Well then, to your marriage.” I lifted my mug to meet his.
“Thanks,” he said. We took hearty gulps, then sat listening to the barroom noise for awhile. “Seen much of Kate?” “Yeah,” I said. “Quite a bit of her.” “Maybe you can flower the path a little? Ease her into it? I’ll tell her, but maybe you can prepare her?” I smiled. “It’s the least I can do.” He lit another cigarette; the second half of mine remained unlit in the ashtray where I’d left it. “Oxanna?” “Oxanna,” he sang and seemed to brighten still. “Is she on her way over here?” When he finished drawing on his cigarette, it wasn’t just that orange tip that dimmed. He darkened, took on the same disposition that had greeted me at the airport, wearing the sadness like a dark Russian overcoat. “Not yet,” he said. “After we got married, I thought she’d just get to come right over. I mean, wife of an American citizen and all. But we went to the embassy, I took her in and they said she couldn’t come.” He sighed. “But she’s my wife, I yelled, and they threatened to throw us out. We filled out some paperwork to get the process started. I asked how long it would take, and they just said, “Don’t worry, she’ll be able to join you in no time.’” *** Kate did her thing when I told her, a warm fall of tears trickling down her face. “You knew it was coming,” I said. “You told me yourself. You’d already let him go.” “I know,” she cried. “But I always hoped it was just pity talk. That I’d be wrong. I still harbored hope.” I hugged her and knew full well it was a hug that would lead to nothing more. Not this time. She needed comfort more than she needed me, and I was sorry to have to give it, sorrier still that she was as upset as she
was. Those months were especially hard for me. I’m used to being a social worker at work, but not in all of my off hours too. With Kate’s tears on my mind, I spent my days with the homeless, helping them express themselves through art. I spent my free time consoling Will on his distance from Oxanna, comforting Kate on her loss of Will. Will never actually came out and told Kate himself. She already knew, and I let him know that she did. And I let him know about us, about Kate and me. Will and Kate spent no more time alone; it was always me and Kate or me and Will or the three of us together, me as the buffer between them. We maintained our wall of friendship. But I was the mortar crushed between their jagged bricks. Kate and I could both see that Russia had hardened Will, made him cold. He wasn’t the light and easy guy he’d once been. He still liked to drink, but now instead of dancing and laughing, he drank with a stone face, hunched over a collection of glasses and unfiltered cigarettes. He no longer painted or worked on his urban sculptures; now he spent his free time buried in immigration paperwork. What little free time he did have, he spent making overpriced phone calls to Oxanna and his friends abroad. He carried serious books around with him—the works of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gorky and Solzhenitsyn. Will no longer seemed interested in helping those around him. He’d pass panhandlers in the street and tell them to go to work or to get on welfare. He’d point them to any dumpsters in view, to restaurants and tell them to get something there. “The poor in America are rich. They can get food, if they’re desperate enough. In Russia, the poor are really poor. The homeless here don’t know how good they have it.” One morning, as Will trudged through a ream of immigration
No Time - Eric D. Goodman documents, I invited him to come back to work. The budget was tight, but I had pleaded with my program’s fund manager and was able to squeeze out just enough to hire Will again instead of taking on a few extra artists. “You want back in on the project?” I asked. “They’ve agreed to hire you.”
What the bureaucrats failed to mention was that an approved visa did not give her permission to come to him. Next, the American Embassy in Moscow had to schedule medical tests, background checks for criminal activity, and to determine whether she was “acceptable” as an immigrant to the United States. Then, an interview at the embassy would be scheduled
known each other less than a year and yet you married him? Yes, I did. The months of weaving through the paperwork had sharpened her, straightened her so that she shot through this test like a svelte arrow through a big apple. She got her U.S. visa and immediately rushed to a pay phone to call Will. “So you’re coming? You’re
“Not now. I’ve got too many things to worry about.” The cost of living wasn’t one of them because I’d allowed him to sponge off me since returning. “You’ve been at it for months now. Are you about done?” He looked up, a headache showing through his distant eyes. “Not yet,” he sighed. “But they say she should be approved for an immigration visa in no time.”
for her. Every week—sometimes four or five times a week—Will called Oxanna to ask whether the interview had been scheduled. The repeated “nyet” came to him time after time. Finally, after months of waiting, she said, “Da.” By Russian standards, her visit to the American Embassy went well. She was there for four hours, waiting in line after line, being frisked by this guard and that, answering question after seemingly irrelevant question. What’s your husband’s favorite color? Maroon. His favorite cologne? Joop. His favorite food? Pizza. You’ve
on your way?” He cheered, his excitement so loud and clear it could’ve traveled to her without the use of phone lines. “Da,” she said at last. “I coming.”
“‘Love is nobody’s slave,’ I said as I lit the Russian cigarette. ‘We belong to it, when it beckons.’”
*** She was. Will’s petition for an “Alien Relative Visa” was approved.
*** Will regained his old persona, his carefree glee, his free spirit. He skipped and jumped and danced rings around me as I stared and smiled. “She’s coming! She’s coming! She’s coming!” I couldn’t help but laugh at him. “This calls for a celebration,” I
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21 proposed. “To the Wharf Rat?” “No, no! Something more, I think. Somewhere classy. The Thirteenth Floor...Red Maple...” He thought for a moment. “No, Tusk Lounge!” We celebrated our asses off. We started with a shot of vodka, to set the mood. I suggested Absolut, but he insisted on authentic Russian vodka: Stolichnaya. After a shot, we had vodka martinis. He brought a fresh pack of those Russian cigarettes— Peperosa—and I wondered how many packs he’d actually brought back with him. He requested pathetically sappy love songs: “Operator,” “She Loves Me,” “Woman,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “You Are My Everything,” “Just the Way You Are.” We felt good from the start, but as time went on, we felt better and better. We danced to the music on the floor and on our stools. We drank martini after martini with shots of vodka and Black and White Russians in between. When someone at the bar asked what we were so happy about— and Will was happy to share—the guy bought a bottle of champagne for toasting in exchange for some Russian cigs. Will was soaring. Then, the red fabric fluttered. “Damn commies,” grunted a gruff voice. Will looked in the direction it was coming from. The brute sat at the bar with as many tattoos on his arms as drinks in his belly. I caught Will’s attention and whispered for him to let it go. No one was going to spoil our good time. “Another drink,” I said. I ordered another round of martinis. The voice was loud enough to bruise our goodwill toast. “Last thing we need is more dirty foreigners over here. Better to send the bastards back home, all of ‘em!” Will turned toward the brute. “Excuse me?” The strong liquor and
the stronger euphoria of his coming bride had pumped him up; he was oblivious to how small he stood next to this rough bigot. The tattooed barfly made his sentiment perfectly clear. “I said to hell with foreigners.” “No, to hell with you!” Will yelled back. He’d worn his passion this evening like a fur coat, and now he strutted the catwalk before a PETA audience in a Russian sable. The fight broke out and there was little we could do but fight it. The bouncer asked the three of us to leave before much damage was done. “We didn’t do a thing,” Will pleaded. “We’re just sitting here trying to have a good time and this asshole comes up and starts talking shit.” His pleading didn’t help matters: we were kicked out. The yelling match in the street brought along some cops who happened to be in the vicinity. They saved us from finishing out the fight with Bluto, but all that had transpired was still enough to put a damper on our festivities. Will ranted as we stormed down the sidewalk, toward the parking garage. We hopped in the car. He started the ignition and shot out of the space, speeding around the bend toward the exit. Barely looking, he swerved out into the street and proceeded to grumble and yell as he sped us along Charles Street. We didn’t get far. We saw the flashing lights and then heard the siren. The mood suddenly changed from rage to regret. Will became a wellmannered gentleman. The window slid down to reveal the same officer who’d confronted us in the street. “Yes, ossifer?” After the sobriety tests, after the questions, the computer checks, the radio conversation, we were escorted to the back of the cruiser. Will cleared his throat and gently asked, “Can we be on our way now? “No,” the cop snorted. “Not
yet. We’ll take you somewhere to sleep this off. We’ll be at the station in no time.”
So here we are in this cold, impersonal cell. Will hovers above the toilet but nothing comes out. He seems to be done, dehydrated. He comes over to sit next to me. “We’re still here,” he moans. “Looks that way.” As dawn breaks and the shifts change, so does the situation. I’m allowed to leave; they just threw me in the can to sober up. I was just a drunken passenger; Will is the drunk driver. Kate comes to pick me up. “You’re leavin’ me here?” Desperation radiates from Will and I’m afraid the cellmates can feel the warm rays. “We’ll bail you out,” I say. “Sure,” Kate says with a tinge of sarcasm. “We just have to come up with the money.” Will panics. “Rich, surely you’ve got some cash tucked away! You’re a saver.” “Will, I’ve been paying all our bills! I barely have two cents to rub together.” “What about you, Kate? You’ve got enough saved up.” Kate looks coldly at him. “No. I’ve started saving for my future.” *** I get the call I’ve been expecting. “Will is there? Will, please?” Her voice is gentle, but somehow abundant, resonant. Her intensity draws me in. “Oxanna?” “Da, eto Oxanna. Yes. Will? It is you?”
No Time - Eric D. Goodman “No, I’m afraid Will’s not here.” I’d been out of the cell for a couple days, but Will was going to be in for six months. This wasn’t his first DUI. We never managed to bail him out, even before his day in court. I didn’t have any extra cash. I suspect Kate did, but I didn’t blame her for not coughing it up. Will had left her in her icy cell with only the arms of a man she didn’t want to comfort her. Now it’s Will’s turn. The cops had laughed at him when he wanted to make his one call an international one. “You want to call where?” The officers rolled with laughter. “Long distance is okay. But not that long, buddy.” So he called me instead. “I’ll let her know,” I promised. “Carefully,” Will pleaded. I could feel his worry, fearing what his wife would think to hear her long distance newlywed was spending their honeymoon in the slammer. “I’ll be gentle.” Here I was playing social worker in my private life again. Picking up Will’s pieces. Now, Oxanna’s voice cracks. “Not...here?” “There was a bit of a misunderstanding. He’s going to be tied up for a few months. Six months.” “Tied up?” I try to be as direct as I can. “We were celebrating your victory, your coming to America to be with him. Will had too much vodka. Now he’s in jail.” “Will is...fine?” I want to chuckle; her accent is cute. “Will’s fine.” “Will to help order air-oplane ticket. Can he to order ticket?” She sounds desperate. “I think it’s best for you to wait until he gets out. In six months.” “I cannot to do that! I need to come now!” Is she eager to be reunited with her husband, or to get to America? “I’m afraid Will can’t help
you right now.” “Is you Will’s friend, Rich?” she asks. I tell her that I am. When she asks me to buy her tickets, I tell her that I can’t. “But it’ll be okay. Will’s going to be out soon.” “All is okay,” she says, more to calm herself than to inform me. “I to buy tickets here and to call back.” She is crying when she hangs up. When I visit Will, he’s devastated. “Tell her I’ll take care of it when I get out. Tell her I promise.” Kate’s over for dinner at my place when the next international call comes. At least, we think it’s long distance. Oxanna has a big surprise. Not only has she already purchased her tickets—she’s calling from America! “Are you at the airport? Dulles?” “Da. It is so. Will to come take me?” “Will can’t come right now. It’s Rich and Kate. We’ll take care of you.” I convince Kate to pick her up, but it isn’t easy. “Hell no! I’m not picking up his mail order slut!” “Put yourself in her shoes. She came here, to a strange country, all alone, probably still expecting to be greeted by her husband. And now, she’s stranded in a place she doesn’t know with no one to help her. She needs a friend.” “What’s wrong with you?” “I’m a man. She’s going to be intimidated enough around here. She needs a girlfriend. Show her how to be an American girl,” I tease. Kate scoffs. But she sighs and grabs her car keys. She’s not happy with the situation, but she agrees it’s more appropriate for a female friend to greet her instead of a man she’s never met, a man whose last time with her husband was spent in jail, a man who seduced his last girlfriend.
We make arrangements for me to meet them at Kate’s apartment. When they arrive I’m already here waiting to greet them. I’m stunned by her beauty: wavy blonde hair, perfectly made up face with high, full cheek bones, long legs made longer by the stiletto heels. She looks more like someone coming from a magazine shoot than an international flight. “You are Rich?” she asks as though it’s a question she’s been trained to ask of any American. “It’s my name, anyway,” I answer and take her soft, manicured hand in greeting. “Let’s have a drink,” Kate suggests. She looks frazzled. “Chi,” Oxanna says, and then corrects herself. “Tea. I have Russian cookies.” Kate was thinking of something a little stronger, but she goes along. Oxanna is surprised to find no kettle on the stovetop. Kate fills our cups with tap water and puts them in the microwave as our visitor rummages through her tightly-packed duffle bag in search of a cookie tin. The three of us get to know one another over tea and cookies. We explain Will’s situation in more detail, slowly, carefully. She’s surprised that her beloved could be in the gulag for so long. It is decided that as he serves out his sentence, she’ll stay with Kate. We’ll take her to see Will tomorrow. *** It ends up taking us a few days, but we get around to taking Oxanna to visit Will. At the prison, Kate and I keep our distance as Oxanna and Will peer at each other through a stained window, dirty telephone pieces caressing the sides of their faces where they’d rather each other’s hands be. I watch them, but try to look like I’m not paying attention. Of course, Kate and I
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21 can only hear Oxanna’s side of the conversation. “Will, I so miss about you. Come to home. Break out, like in Hollywood.” Kate coughs and lures my eyes away from the foreigner. “What a friggin’ ditz!” I smile at Kate. “She doesn’t mean that literally. She’s not that dense.” “Damn, Rich, the bitch is driving me crazy! Whistling tea kettle on the hour, practicing her English out loud, hours in the mirror doing her hair and make up—dressing and undressing! I don’t know how long I can stand it.” “It can’t be that bad.” “You don’t have to live with her, Rich. Believe me, there’s not a whole lot more than meets the eye.” I look at Oxanna. “Perhaps that’s enough.” Kate’s scowl tells me this wasn’t the right thing to say. Oxanna’s beauty is more than skindeep. When she’s not talking with us, trying to learn new words and phrases by getting to know us, she’s got her nose in one of her English-Russian dictionaries or English workbooks. Language barrier aside, Oxanna is probably smarter than Will. But Kate’s feelings are understandable. This is the bitch who took Will away from her; a most unlikely houseguest. I look back to Oxanna, sandwiched between my gaze and Will’s. “I’m happy so to be here in America. But I want to be with you more than want to be here.” There’s a pause, and I don’t need to hear Will to know what Oxanna’s hearing through the earpiece. She responds, “I wish you to come home with me. Next time I bring hammer and sickle and break window between us.” Kate rolls her eyes and lets out a loud sigh. “Give it a rest, Bimbo-ski.” “It’s got to be hard for her,” I say to Kate. “Not as hard as it is for him.”
Kate seems to take a sadistic comfort in this. Being used up and thrown out has hardened her to his charm. “It won’t be long,” I assure. “You’re doing the right thing. I’d offer my couch if it were appropriate, if I were a woman. She’s got nowhere else to go.” Oxanna kisses the air before the window, making moist sounds into the phone’s mouthpiece as she does. Kate glares at the act. “She may end up on the street before Will does.” *** Kate really is a good woman and she tries to do the right thing. But I can’t blame her when she politely tells Oxanna that she can’t stay with her any longer. Oxanna ends up on my doorstep by the end of her second week in America, a cab running at the edge of the curb and honking me over. I pay her fare, take her giant duffle bag and invite her in. “She is not good woman, I think,” Oxanna tells me, standing in the living room. “She say I bad, that I take her man. She say I am not real love. She don’t understand me!” “It’s okay,” I assure her. “She’s just upset because she used to love Will. Probably still does, deep down.” “I am real love,” Oxanna insists, tears in her eyes. “I come here for Will. I need my man, but now he is slave in gulag! I am real love, really!” “I believe you,” I say to her, although I’m not even quite sure what it is I’m supposed to be believing. I can see she’s a real woman with the need for a real man. I can see it all too well. I place her bags along the edge of a wall, under the painting of a nude maid, a gift from one of my homeless artists. “Now I come to America, have no home, no place.” She dabs her tears with her soft, manicured fingertips. “I give up all for real love.” “You’re welcome to stay here
for as long as you’d like.” I step closer to her until we’re only inches from one another. I can see that she needs the comfort of a man’s embrace, the security of strong arms to hold her, to soothe her, to protect her and let her feel that everything is going to work out. Who am I to get in the way of her needs? I reach out reluctantly, but she’s vulnerable and ready to be consoled. She buries her wet face on my shoulder and cries out loud. I place my arms around her and hold her tight, squeezing her like a swaddled babe, my hands pressing firmly on the open portion of her upper back. I can feel that she’s not wearing a bra. In moments, her crying ceases. She pulls away and looks at me with her deep, crystal eyes. She offers an embarrassed smile, then snuggles back into my embrace with a sigh. Is it possible that this lovely woman could settle for me? That she’d actually prefer me, an employed contributor to society, a helper of the homeless, a social worker, to the alternative of the unemployed, temporarily homeless, smooth criminal she married and is separated from by the law? Dare I even consider it, allowing the transaction? Initiating it? It wouldn’t be the first time I picked up what Will let fall to the wayside. I pull her far enough away to look at her, holding her by her delicate white arms. She is lovely; I can see why Will fell for her, how it happened. It’s happening to me now. Tears well in her eyes and I bring her back into my arms, press her heaving breast against my chest, feel the supple skin of her open back. I can have her, I’m sure. Would it be wrong to take her if she’s willing? To allow her to have me if she’s the one who initiates? It’s not like I haven’t done it before. I’ve made a career of picking up after Will. If it wasn’t for him, maybe Kate and I would have been a couple.
No Time - Eric D. Goodman This is my chance to set things right, to take what he took from Kate and me. Will’s always gone after what he wants. Why not me? At this moment, there’s nothing I want more than Oxanna in my arms. Perhaps not yet, not now, but in a few weeks, after she’s gotten to know me better, lived with me for awhile. It wouldn’t be right to make a move now, not so soon. There are still five months to go before her husband—my best friend—is scheduled for release, and that’s more time than she’s spent with Will. She’ll know me better than she knows her own husband by the time he’s out. There’s no telling what can happen in five months. After all, people fall in and out of love in no time.
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21
Let Them Not Say Marco Etheridge
he orderly wheels your chair around a corner, the rubber tires squealing against stained linoleum, and the sound reminds you of small creatures dying in a trap. Behind you, the big Dominican is moving like a dancer, footsteps sure and swift. Manuel Garcia is a good man, gentle most of the time, but you know he has troubles of his own. The corridor opens and you see the atrium in a wash of filtered sunshine and in it an irregular ring of wheelchairs. Six chairs are occupied by bodies almost as old as yours. They face the vague center of an uncompleted circle. There is a gap, space for a seventh wheelchair to close the circle. Señor Garcia wheels you into place, locks the brake, pats your shoulder. “There you go Mr. James. I’ll check back with you later, okay?” Another pat on the shoulder. He slips away to a spot behind two potted palms, hidden and yet not hidden, and you see the two women
waiting behind the green fronds. They will steal a moment of peace out of the supervisor’s view. You hope that they are quiet, these three. You don’t mind their laughter, which is good and strong. But you don’t want to hear their words, the bits of gossip that you hate. You beg them not to say the words, or you beg that you do not hear them. Let the voices remain a muted mumble. But no, you catch the snippets, the loose threads of their talk. “That one, she once lived in Africa. Many years.” “No, is that true?” “The nurse told me...” “Did you know he was un guitarrista? He played the jazz; almost famous. I read it in his chart.” “The other, he rode a motorcycle.” “It is hard to believe.” “Yes, I know. Now he has trouble staying in his chair.” “What about yours?” “Not much; a veteran, no family.”
Let Them Not Say - Marco Etheridge Their words grate against your spine and you try not to hear them. These orderlies discover what no one else cares about, the salient past of warehoused lives stored in dusty files; stamped, sealed, forgotten. They gossip, share tidbits of a patient’s life as an anecdote to be disbelieved. Their words are not meant to hurt, yet they carry a sharp sting. You push against the hurt of the words. Let them not say these things or let them say more. The image is fractured; the story incomplete. He played. She lived. He was. You want to shout the rest of it or beg them to tell the whole of it. Yes, she once lived in Africa, this woman sitting across from you. She fell in love with Tangier, from where on a clear morning she could see the Occident across a narrow sea. She wandered the shadowed passages of the medina, seeking the ghosts that haunt the low doorways. In the clear, warm evenings, she would gather with other outcast lovers amongst the broken slabs and junipers of the Jewish cemetery. The Mediterranean glittered below them, and behind them the Kasbah glowed pink and white and blue in the gloaming. Together, they drank wine and smoked hashish; laughing and mourning, mourning and laughing. When some years had passed, the woman left Tangier. She did not cross the narrow sea, did not return to the shores of Spain. Her path led from the Occident to the Orient and she followed it. And she wrote poems of that time, poems that were simple and beautiful and true. Her poems were published in small presses, read by some, forgotten, yet the words are still alive somewhere, still beautiful and true. You hear the quiet laughter of the orderlies hidden but not
hidden. You ignore the sound of it, try to concentrate on that which must be remembered. In the wheelchair beside yours sits a man, lean and long of limb. His right hand is a gnarled claw that rests in his lap. Un guitarrista, yes, one that played the jazz, until the stroke took his hand, the right side of his body, and most of his speech. This man did not play the jazz; he was married to the jazz. Almost famous, which is to say unknown, unless you read the fine print on the cardboard sleeves of fifty or more old record albums. He was faithful, this man slumped next to you. He never cheated on the music. He played when the clubs were grimy dives. He played when the records didn’t sell, when the royalties paid for less than nothing. And when they took his cabaret card, he joined the jazz diaspora, crossed the Atlantic Ocean to a city that did not care about cabaret cards. Being married to his music left him no wife, no children to care for him when the stroke took his hand and the rest of it. You look across the irregular circle. The poet who lived in Tangier is speaking to the man on her left. You see him nod his head, the big head of what was once a big man. His hands are gripping the armrest of the wheelchair and you see his knuckles going white, as if the weight of his nodding head will drag him from his chair. This man is the other, he who rode a motorcycle across the Rocky Mountains, over the Sierras, across the Mojave Desert. He rode many thousands of miles, season after season. At night, he camped in the high mountain forests, or the rocks of the desert. He sat beside a fire, alone with the stars and the moon. In the morning, he repacked his gear and rode on. There came a summer
evening, alone on a dirt road in Montana, when he stopped his motorcycle and shut off the engine. He did not know why he stopped. The light was failing, and he needed to make camp, yet he stood beside his bike and removed his helmet. He was in a place of wide marshlands and the setting sun bathed the mirror-still waters in a gentle glow. Music rose above him, or from beneath him, as if a pipe organ were playing in a distant cathedral. He could not tell if the sound came from the earth or the sky; two tones, rising and falling, repeating, growing louder. Then he saw the trumpeter swans, a wide phalanx of them, white against the evening sky. Their great wings carved through the still air and reverberated a thrumming music from the darkling sky; the pulsing tones washed over the earth as the creatures flew above him. Then the huge birds were gone, and their music faded after them. He mounted his motorcycle and rode away. In later years, he tried to speak of the music of the swans, but his words failed him. He could not describe the sound in a way that allowed others to hear it, so he ceased to speak of it. The orderlies peek out from their refuge, keeping an eye out for the prowling supervisor. You hear the buzz of their voices, but not their words. You do not want to hear their words. And what would they say of you? You, who did not ride a motorcycle or smoke hashish or play jazz? Manuel Garcia’s words: “Not much; a veteran, no family.” Let them not say these things. Let them say this: you survived, even when the survival caused more pain than surrender. You survived the Chosin Reservoir, outnumbered fourto-one, you and the other Chosin
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21 Few. You endured Korea, made it home to a new son already a toddler, your sweetheart wife a mother. You outlasted the blacklists and kept your honor intact. Then came another war and you survived your son as a soldier and he, in turn, survived, for a time. The cancer took your wife who was your sweetheart and left
The broken guitarist leans toward you, a crooked half-smile on his face. You listen to his slurred words, a quiet obscenity couched in an almost secret code that from long practice you understand. You laugh and it is good to laugh. Both of you, old veteran and old guitarist, lean forward to hear the murmuring voices of the poet and the
“Let them not say these things or let them say more. The image is fractured; the story incomplete. He played. She lived. He was. You want to shout the rest of it or beg them to tell the whole of it.” you only a short three decades of memories. Two more decades passed and the cancer came for your son. You outlived them all. It was recorded in their obituaries: “Loving Wife, survived by…”; “Beloved Son, survived by…” and here you are still. No, you do not want them to say these things. Better that they say nothing, nothing about the surviving, nothing about any of it. Let it fade as those other things have faded: the forgotten poem unread, the jazz chord unheard, the song of swan wings that refuses to be translated into words.
biker, to share in the words that are of now rather than then.
Taro Katie Lazaro
e doesn’t hear the click. A yellow-white flash! The saturated earth explodes under his foot. Fire and metal course through the photographer’s left leg, bursting him into the air. A landmine, he realises. His mutilated body hits the ground. Bloody fragments of muscle and bone mark the distance between Capa and his shattered limb. Shock numbs him. A thousand portraits of taut necks, twisted jaws and wet eyes; he knows what agony looks like. He knows he is lucky. Not as lucky as those who get a bullet in the head but luckier than some. His thoughts turn to her: Taro had been thrown into the mud too. Her body mangled, like his now. He knew what it meant when he saw his leg go up in flames. Had she realised her fate when the tank slammed into her car? That was ‘37. It’s ‘54 now. Seventeen years since she’d been crushed to death, smashed glass glistening in her ginger hair. Was her face pulled with horror? Did she think of him? How silly, what a sugary cliché, so Hollywood— he’d spent too many post-war years on film sets. Of course
she did not think of him. At her funeral, he had overheard that her last words were, “Did they take care of my camera?” His body rattles from surrounding mortar explosions, shaking him into consciousness. He hears the rolling of tanks and infantry orders from French lieutenants; the grains of noise in his death scene. Through the sticky, Vietnamese mud, his fingers wrap around his camera. Capa sweats profusely; salty rivers run down his neck. His apertures widen and the greens, blues and browns of the jungle that surround him become hazy orbs of light. A pond of deep red occupies the cavity in his chest, secondary damage from the blast. Heavy blood loss becomes his hallucinogen. One who was always so close to the action, he is now far away; from medics, from colleagues, from friend and foe. His nostrils fill with the memory of Gerta’s citric skin, stained from the stop baths. The many times he had grabbed Taro, pulling her out of the path of bullets, shrapnel or a sniper’s crosshairs. Those hot and heavy months in Spain, where death was just a click away. He thinks of the makeshift dark rooms, where
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21 they made love as photographs of pain and rubble drip-dried around them. Photographs that they sold not as Gerta Pohorylle and Endre Friedmann— too female, too Jewish, too poor— but together as the invented Robert Capa; male, American and rich. But
over there, to take photographs of her?”—she looks down at the camera in his hand, turns back to her friend and with cigarette still in mouth shouts, “Eh, Ruth, look! He indeed has a camera, maybe he’s not trying to rape you!”—back to Endre, points to
the mangled vehicles, intensifying the sweltering Spanish summer. His words of warning before he left whisper to her now. He had begged her to be careful, almost chastising her for taking too many risks. But if you’re not close enough,
war took its toll. She started to sell her photographs under a new name, Taro; he kept Capa. She remained in Spain; he went back to Paris. She stayed too long; he got too close. He can’t breathe; he can’t get air into his lungs. He’s unable to swallow. His lips move but no words come, his body quivers, and life becomes a negative. Le photographe est mort. Endre feels the warm breeze of Paris in spring. He’s back there, in a Montparnasse park, clutching his camera to his chest nervously as a small but determined woman marches towards him. “Hi, I’m Gerta. You wanted to meet up with my friend, the blonde
his camera—“So, how does this thing work?”
the pictures won’t be good enough. People need to understand, to see the brutal reality of war—limbs torn from torso, screams wrenched from the mothers of dead children, men and women with guns crouched in terror and determination. They must stop the advance, they must stop the fascists. Fast footsteps approach and shouts of, “It’s the little blonde, the little blonde! Taro, Taro!” Gasps and then silence. Things don’t look good, she understands. Her eyes focus on the crisp blue sky above. Her mind skips over Spanish clouds and lands on a fat, black caterpillar bent in a crescent over the top of a camera’s viewfinder. His
“He knows he is lucky. Not as lucky as those who get a bullet in the head but luckier than some.”
*** Taro braces for impact. The tank hurtles towards the car—there is no hope of escape. Everything reduces from vision to sound: the crunch of metal and bone, the popping of glass exploding and the thud of her body finally hitting the dirt. It hurts; it hurts to breathe, like blades scraping down the bones of her rib cage. There’s a sharp, twisting pain in her abdomen, causing her mouth to hang open in a silent scream. The heat smacks her; smoke streams from
Taro - Katie Lazaro eyebrows had always intrigued her; the way he could command them into the perfect angle to match that “come to bed with me” grin. He would smooth over to one side his large wave of thick black hair, like ink mixed with freshly churned cream. She would wink and they both would laugh. “Ca—, ca—,” she tries to speak, as soldiers and civilians awkwardly move her body onto a stretcher. Capa, camera. Camera, Capa. The two swirl and knot, interlaced in her. Their invention but his to possess. She had told him no, that’s why he left. He had proposed and she declined. She didn’t want to be Mrs. Capa or Mrs. Friedmann; she wanted to be Taro. Iron is the first thing she smells when she comes round from the anesthetic. She can feel the layers of blood under her nostrils and cheeks. Her eyes flick between light and dark. She’s in a strange bed, in a strange room. Everything is sepia; tired walls that once were white, a faded pink ceiling that peels in horror. Snippets of life before Spain frame her thoughts: sharing cigarettes on the terrace of a cafe; him studying the elongated movements of her mouth as she taught him more sophisticated French; his index fingers and thumbs forming a rectangle over her eye, in imitation of the view from a camera. The time between each breath stretches and she feels the fight slip away. No strength to move or cry, all resistance gone. The world fades to grey, compresses to dots. Le photographe est mort. They stand in a Parisian park. She doesn’t think he looked like a rapist or a fascist, not with that nose or that colouring; no Aryan poster boy this one.
“Nice to meet you, Gerta, I’m Endre. And yeah, I can show you how camera works”—the eyebrow shoots up and slowly the grin appears —“but it’ll cost you.”
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21
PERSONAL ESSAY 48.
Neighborly Intrusions: On the Art of Living Next Door Allison M. Palmer
e smiled and made a bit of small talk, on the day my neighbors moved across town to a swanky new development, leaving their somewhat outdated residence behind. From the beginning, ours had been a strained acquaintance, living in close proximity, socializing at first, eventually feuding, and then merely observing awkward politeness. With their legions of relatives and dinner party guests—some of whom would turn their heads and dart away upon seeing me—it turned out to be an odd situation, one which brought to mind the ageold relationship that exists between neighbors, those with whom we live near not by choice but by circumstance. More than anything, routine is the heart of neighborly life. I recall how the fragrance of rosemary and lemon verbena would, in the early evening, drift across the walkway that connected our homes, as my next door neighbor tended her roses and fussed over tomato plants. I always looked forward to seeing her there. With a tired smile, she would push locks of gray-blonde hair out of her eyes, and we would chat about the adventures of our day. We learned quite a bit about each other, there, amid fresh
bags of potting soil, as twilight filtered through herbs and flowers—perhaps a bit too much. And herein lies the crux; in the absence of a long association—countless dinners, much laughter and conversation, shared values and common concerns—neighbors are merely acquaintances and not friends. Such was the case for the two of us. Although pleasant occasions, the moments of our interaction always seemed strained, as if an element of true connection were somehow missing. Perhaps the memory of our feud remained an issue. Her husband and I once had a yelling match after he’d been drinking, as she stood by in disgruntled silence, rhinestone earrings glinting in the night. We had been on our way to dinner, an event that turned out to be our last shared outing. Despite reconciliation and a handshake—mano a mano—the memory remained with us over the months that followed. Thereafter, I felt like I was intruding on the wife’s solitude, whenever I returned from work and approached the winding walkway, as she carefully selected herbs for their evening meal. But perhaps she was interrupting my quiet time, as well. Beyond this, we simply maintained an awkward politeness, to the best of our ability, as do so many
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21 other people who live in close proximity by happenstance. There are indeed so many oddities of suburban culture. What we expect from those who live next door is no more than courtesy and restrained politeness, as we leave for the day and return in the evening. Although we don’t always object to those who live alongside us, most people would prefer slightly more space and a bit less togetherness, fewer instances of hearing each other in the night— when solitude would be preferable. With that in mind, we must observe certain unspoken cues, namely those reminding us to depart after only a few moments of conversation; pass politely without too much chatter. The key is to remain pleasant but not too friendly, since we are not actually friends, and time is a precious commodity. However, there are situations that promote neighborly togetherness, upholding the importance of community connections. I once had a charming, older colleague who had grown up in the Argentine countryside. I would often visit his office to exchange recipes and hear about his plans to move to Madagascar after retirement. He was quite the raconteur. Out of the blue one morning, with a sip of espresso and a smile beneath his white mustache, he reflected on life in our corner of the world. To someone from a rural background, our associations are quite distant by comparison, since we don’t need to share resources or assist each other in running homesteads. In his estimation, we are too independent, so the presence of others can easily become an annoyance rather than a comfort. Perhaps a notable exception comes—for those of us who live in Southern California—during wildfire seasons and periodic winter floods, when the elements rise against us. Other than that, we maintain our households and pass each other, as garage doors close and people
disappear into the confines of their own, separate domains. Anything beyond a nod or a quick greeting could be invasive, curtailing the dinner hour, or distracting us from the hypnotic light of our smartphones. But what about occasions of need, times when neighbors become an asset rather than a liability? I think back fondly on wisdom learned from my Argentine colleague. After a shot of coffee, he once told a story that I recall to this day, an inspiring tale of the neighborly arts. At the age of eight, he contracted smallpox. With that, his grandmother led an expedition of family members and neighbors into the countryside to gather healing herbs. Knowing what to seek, and how to distill the plants into a bath—and a very pungent tea—was a community affair, one which resulted in a young boy’s full recovery, sans any form of alarming. Even after half a century, sharing the story left him visibly touched, softened by the memory of his redoubtable grandmother. Such is the power of neighborly connections. Of course, there are less advantageous aspects of community life, as well. Nosy neighbors are a prime example. The same grandmotherly helper, who brings chicken soup and tea, might also linger at her kitchen window to glimpse our activities, smirking over salacious appearances, or whispering about our relationships...in short, speculating about things which ought to be met with a dignified silence. Although a hindrance, gossip has long been part of neighborly life. Perhaps the same network of caring individuals can, under certain conditions, degenerate into a sneering and judgmental mob, people one hopes to avoid at all costs. When this occurs, the best response is to step away and consider the old adage, “Good fences make good neighbors.” In the neighborly realm, appropriate distance is essential, and
circumstances are everything. In the dead of night, as flames advance from an adjacent hillside, or intruders lurk at the windowsill, heroic neighbors are a blessing. However, when the same people rev their motorcycles at midnight, and allow their dogs to sully our porch, boundaries become the main consideration, without which the neighbor can become an irritant, an obstacle to our enjoyment of home life. In other words, we need our peace and quiet. And this leads us to an interesting segue, regarding the innate need we have for the absence of noise. For a moment, let’s digress to consider the idea of communal life, and how it relates to the need for quiet time. Silence: A Social History of One of the Least Understood Elements of Our Lives is an amazing book by Jane Brox, a study that explores one of our most profound needs. She begins with the history of our nation’s penitentiary system and the work of Benjamin Rush. Here, we learn a bit about the philosophy of imprisonment, and how communities of forced togetherness were once viewed. Indeed, the concept of piety, community, and social reform were deeply intertwined. Moreover, they were conditions that created the potential for instructive silence. Not only had the idea of the penitentiary been decades in the making, but it had unfolded in the rapidly shifting world of the industrial age and the first years of the American Republic. As much as it was specific to the Quaker roots of Philadelphia and Benjamin Rush, it was also the culmination of decades of Enlightenment debates that spanned Europe and America, and it involved concepts of justice, punishment and reform that were sometimes complementary, sometimes competing (p. 12). From Rush, we find an old image of our nation’s punitive life, reminding us that men and women of previous centuries were rehabilitated according to religious philosophy, and silence was often a part of that process. Going further, we can ask an important
Neighborly Intrusions... - Allison M. Palmer ethical question regarding the use of solitude for punishment and correction: when someone violates the laws of society, and is granted a new home in confinement, is the ensuing silence helpful or destructive?
overview of neighborly life, and its characteristics, this notion offers much to consider. And, in so doing, it raises another important question: what do we, as human beings, truly need in relation to our neighbors?
of time either like an imposition, or as a reprieve from daily life, a space reserved for contemplation, prisons and monasteries both playing a role. Silence, although not something we usually consider in relation to
With this in mind, we note that solitary confinement has much more to do with punishment than therapy; contemplative quiet can easily become tortuous. At any rate, Brox goes on to discuss theories of rehabilitation that Rush and his contemporaries embraced. Overall, our predecessors believed that isolation and silence must be cultivated to reform human behavior, hence the concept of correction. In reference to our
Silence As Necessity There are times when communal situations become a part of life, whether by force or by choice. In such instances, long periods of silence and boredom help to define the relationships that exist between neighbors. And these elements are powerful. In the rich narrative of her book, Brox illustrates that silence— deliberate, extended periods of quiet—can hang over the passage
neighbors, is an essential element; without it, neighborly life would simply be unbearable. Whether alone, or surrounded by others, silence lends peace to our existence. We could even argue that quiet time is more important—and harder to find— when surrounded by others. And silence is undeniably fragile, subject to the whims of loud engines and screaming children. In its best form, it can restore the weary to a state
“From the beginning, ours had been a strained acquaintance, living in close proximity, socializing at first, eventually feuding, and then merely observing awkward politeness.”
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21 of equilibrium, aid contemplatives in their spiritual studies and help to rehabilitate criminals, at least in theory. In returning to our original topic, we reconsider neighborly life and the universal need for quiet. If punitive silence presents a number of complex ethical issues, the refreshing quietness of home life is simple, and the need for it is universal. Even the most enthusiastic socialite or ardent partier requires a bit of sleep, from time to time. Therefore, home is not only a place where the undeserving abide, as famously noted by Mark Twain, but it stands as a space where the healing and contemplative aspects of silence can thrive. With this in mind, the art of living next door requires one to be thoughtful as well as outspoken, respecting the needs of others while defending one’s own quiet spaces. In the suburbs, quite a few households have this practice largely perfected, although it comes at a fairly steep price: too much distance. Suburban Silence Growing up in Altadena, California, during the 1970s and 80s, I recall chatting with neighbors only on rare occasions, those moments of transition, during which time my mother would quickly open our garage door, drive in and hasten into the house to cook a meatloaf. And our neighbors observed a similar routine. Suburban seclusion had become the norm by that time, a lifestyle supported by the emerging built environment. Without a doubt, mid-century ranch houses, very much part of the Southern California vernacular, create neighborly distance. Once people began to flee crowded cities, they also abandoned the old social customs. Block parties, and the habit of dropping in on neighbors unannounced, were holdovers from the old urban neighborhoods, traditions that disappeared as the postwar suburbs flourished. To my mind, this loss of community was a sad
hallmark of mid-century American life. But what about the present era? Today’s planned neighborhoods, with their amenities and common spaces, are still lacking; they are not as warm and familial as the old urban enclaves that began to disperse by the late 1940s. In this regard, it’s important to note that people once lived in multigenerational neighborhoods, alongside close relatives, for their entire lives. Perhaps this makes all the difference. Although planned communities create the circumstances for neighborly relations, they generally do so without tangible family connections. All things considered, the art of living next door to people, who may or may not share our ideas regarding space, silence and self-expression, requires equal measures of respect and patience; we must honor the needs of others while, at the same time, defending our own boundaries. Yes, being a good neighbor is far more of an art than an exacting social science. When the eccentric people across the way departed, and the atmosphere quieted from their festivities, I truly began to miss them. Just yesterday, the leasing company cleared the front of their unit of its vegetation. Where once my neighbor’s herbs and yellow flowers had grown, and the fragrance of her cooking mingled with the night air, a patch of dirt now sits in peaceful solitude.
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How It Spreads Tiffany Lee Brown A prayer now for the baby fucked to death near Coos Bay. A prayer for the guy who did it. Three for the cops who accidentally beat him on his way to the car. Three more, now, one for the girlfriend, two for the wives, who held the big men in their arms when they cried. Four prayers for the EMTs who lifted the small body with shaking hands. One each for their two hearts, two to slide in their pockets, like stones. A prayer for the coroner, the mortician, the gal from Forensics. Seventeen for the other tweakers who know the guy, who might’ve used the word “friend.” A prayer so wide and radiant it refracts sunlight, casting miniature rainbows against walls and sidewalks. Children run through it with their arms outstretched. Streets and valleys, woods and trailer parks, trill to it with hymns and birdsong as it stretches over the bay to the ocean. A prayer that drenches the dammed, slow river and orangeish millponds, slaking the moist thirst of tiny tributaries clogged with mud.
A wave of prayers from a massive clan of hands, a wave so big the salmon ride it upstreamâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; over the bridge, past the dams, beyond the quarry, all the way to the old redd where their great-great-grandmothers lay. A prayer for every hand, however frail, that opens a newspaper or clicks a link. A prayer for each eye that takes it all in, and one for each sorry ear. He who has an ear, let him hear. Let us pray for the friend of the wife of the cop. Let us pray for her lips as they form the storyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s shape, over wine in a cabin on Soapstone Creek. Now let us pray for the poet who listens, who tucks the white marble between cheek and gum, rolls it against old canker sores, worries it with her tongue. Every listener and reader, too: a prayer for every one of you. You will need it to bless the mother, the one who left her baby there.
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The Salami Asylum Rufo Quintavalle In the salami asylum it’s electrodes a go-go and Château d’Yquem; it’s Thorazine spritzers, Betelgeuse, and a cardboard kidney dish of phlegm. In the salami asylum there’s a stick thin Austrian nurse who spends her time reminding you that things can always get worse. She takes away your power and keeps it safe with your will at the top of a crystalline tower on a five-and-a-half inch window sill. In the salami asylum the inmates are all doing life; there’s a donor who’s friends with the owner and got a cut rate for his wife. In the salami asylum you’ll revert to the mean or the norm; the food is the colour of entropy and the rooms are hermetically warm. In the salami asylum everything is swell; Pfizer sponsors loneliness and GlaxoSmithKline hell.
Shelf 15 Rufo Quintavalle The pure contralto sings in the organ loft To the pilgrims and agnostics queuing up To touch the sacred rock with the power They say, to heal ailments: grippe; autism; The body flux; mumps; shingles; sterility; Tennis elbow; wrist, shoulder or Achilles Tendinitis; lazy eye; leprosy; atrial flutter; Tachycardia; pentosuria; benign essential Tremor; renal calculi; Mad Cow Disease; Tourette and Townes-Brocks syndrome; Hyperglycemia; gangrene and cherubism. The prayer or the hope of all is the same: Heal me, clean me, make me whole. Not The way the operating block does, where What is removed drops horribly in a pail Trimming to enforce The myth of smoothness That there is a form That all forms strive Towards One True And immaculate. The dream is other To be both well and broken To live and live fully in The life That our bodies Allow us. To be without weakness? To be something less than dead. The streets are full Tonight, proud Troops have returned To their calm Towns in Kansas To a barely recognizable home To Kentucky To Iowa, to crowds that Tell them they Triumphed overseas That now their long trek Through the desert is over. Miserable, muddleheaded you! This is Only the beginning of chaos.
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21 To have killed To have maimed, to have made Another cease This will not pass like delirious fever It stays Suppurates; it is So. If the chaplain said Otherwise The chaplain lied. If the Farmer speaks of the fields Composting bone to humus The poet of the graveyard yew Pity them It is abject To count on the earth to redeem us To ask time To be A balsam And alchemical charm A means to make beauty of grief
Doppelgänger John Jack Jackie (Edward) Cooper How is it that I am better off without love? I revel incidentally in the term— without love—which makes me feel like Billy the Kid, whereas I once exonerated myself celebrating Bonnie and Clyde. Her sex should have no meaning? no difference—nor deference, either... just a numb inclination toward sacrifice, ceremony forsaking exchange: merely tentative significance. The body double, inverse doppelgänger, she who can neither participate nor refuse, only abide by the rules she herself must force to accept and yet disapproves, disproves, refutes and, finally, excepts. None of this has any bearing on the truth, of course, because there is no relation to the truth, and Truth has no witness. We are estranged, simply and with all complication inherent, both excluded.
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Bonnie and Clyde John Jack Jackie (Edward) Cooper Sunset brimmed the horizon— just enough to underscore the passing day— a continuous inscription of red written in blood and dipped from the heart’s core. We watched it breathless and loved the blue, the reef of clouds and sympathetic joy of being there, being there together, witness to the majesty, the aching knowing we were still alive, invincible in our happiness, unrepentant, grateful, too, for our sins, which had led us to this impasse, this gateway of forgiveness for our bliss.
Billy Fingers Mary Shanley Billy Fingers wore a black glove with the fingers cut off on his right hand. It was unusually street of him, in his cashmere coat, collar always turned up. Italian leather loafers. Billy was a flappy guy, like a newspaper, thin and full of stories. Today, he spoke about using drugs in a heroin salon; it was a cut above a shooting gallery, is what he said. Maybe there were a few chairs and a lamp hooked up to the electrical wiring in the building. Billy heard that if you are going to overdose from a shot of heroin, it will happen in the first minute after the injection. So, Billy would shoot up and then watch the second hand go around the sixty second cycle and when a minute passed, he felt that he was safe, and relaxed into a dreamy, dope nod. Billy Fingers never appeared to work. We were all curious as to what kind of racket he had going on. He was one slick cat, in his hand tailored suits and, always, the glove. Maria finally learned that Billyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s family owned an apartment building over on Jane Street and Billy managed three floors of the six. He jacked up the prices and lived large off the profits. Tomorrow, he is leaving for a trip to Italy. He wants to drive around Tuscany; taking in the world famous paintings, frescoes and sculpture. He enjoys the rolling hills and, no doubt, he eats the finest cuisine the countryside has to offer.
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21 How will he survive without his heroin salon? Billy is a savvy, street smart young man, who sniffs out the places in cities where a junkie can safely cop and get high. No worries for Billy Fingers until the day he overdosed and died. It happened more than a minute after he shot up. So much for junkie science.
Two Horses Mary Shanley She admitted to a close friendship with the infamous, literary outlaw, Lucien Carr, but she refused to discuss their relationship with anyone. She would only allow that she and Lucien discussed Platoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Phaedrus, an ancient piece of writing dating back to 370 B.C. In Platoâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Phaedrus, Socrates compares the life experience to that of a charioteer holding the reins of two winged horses: one ascends to higher aspects of our nature, the other drags us down to our baser elements. She both identified with this conflict and focused on keeping the righteous horse in the ascendant. But, because a human can only exert so much control over the horses of fate, it would only be a matter of time before her inevitable collapse into the darker realm. As the horse dragged her through the bottom rungs of this horrific dimension, she encountered spirits who were lost, who were screaming and begging for release, as they were enchained and hopeless. As a drug addict, she was familiar with this terrifying region of the underworld. Periodically, fires would break out, and as she stood next to the flames, she felt the horse ascending. She grabbed the reins, and rode ever upward; free from the shock and horror of the abyss she just witnessed. She re-doubled her resolve to guide the horse into the ascendant. The scariest part of her time in darkness was knowing she could remain there, but for the instincts of her righteous horse.
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The Third Eye John Tustin I drank and sang to the music playing. I sat in the dark watching a drop of rain As it slid down the window Until it was lost. I wrote everything down I could write With the sweat pouring down. I stared at my newborn daughter With all the love that exists within me. I saw my son sick, wished to relieve him By taking his sickness into myself And watched him get well with just the thought. I touched her body and her heart. I stared into the darkest and most beautiful eyes, Seeing a small world of us that sadly will never be. A world that could be But wonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t. With my two eyes I saw such hope But I saw no way. So I closed both eyes And did all I could To cleanse my mind of thought, Whispering Godâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s name in baffled monotony. Still, The third eye Did not open.
Reconciliation With the Self Which Counts Nick Ingram These days are penetrated with mortality, the sliding off into the elusive light: I reach a momentary epiphany where the facts seem to fade. Slowly the theme becomes a stuck record, the needle caught within the groove, puth, puth, puth, puth on the speaker–there was a time when I would welcome a new season. I think I’m suffering from RPF: Resting Poet Face. You often wonder why certain people write history in their own image–maybe the aim for this summer will be to remove the nihilism from life and live more freely. I dip the madeleine into the St. Clements knowing I am the one who will have to remember, now I am the only one left who can remember. This is being written through a system of poetry-wine-yoga: sometimes it is good just to sit and read a sweet novel–nothing more, nothing less. I am nothing other than a new genre: what is it about the writers I keep coming back to, those who add fuel to the fire, those who become an obsession-why these drivers even at this age? In the end it is the reconciliation with the self which counts, the coming together as a wholeness, the entwining of everything which makes us a fuller human being. This can only ever be a five act play of the self. Please don’t let me disappear into suburbia– all you want to do is taste this May as if it were your last. The need to write has always been rooted in the solid need to live life; to write is to live to the fullest of one’s soul and passion. The silence of my mind can only ever be good or bad for the soul–but, whatever it is, it is a new way of seeing.
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21 It’s the feeling which affects us most, these strange sways of emotions, keeping us in line, knocking us off kilter, sweeping us through life and change, and the burning of time. I begin to rewrite my entire project–the artist should always remain an individual. I was born never to bend: I was trying to sleep when the dawn chorus began. All you want is a new skin, and shed the old one like a reptile. All you want is a new way of feeling, and see in the world beyond the usual mundanity which embraces time and life. All you want in the end is the old sense of peace. Although other’s will try and take that entitlement–but all you want is a new skin. It is a strange week looking forwards.
Spring, 2020 Peter Crowley Spring raises its rabbit ears and goes blind. A blind beggar coughs lyrics through his shoes The passerby winces, hugging the sidewalk’s edge The arm is the repository site for depositing corona Side roads are golden, filtered from the many desolate people who choke up the bike path – side roads are the antithesis: post-nuclear Armageddon, noiseless vacancy, though, eerily, all the cars are home Spring raises its rabbit ears and goes blind. One morning in spring, when the yellow bird sings And how it sings, Yes, how it sings… It sings for the doctors who live in overcrowded hospitals for three weeks and if they get a private moment, cry to themselves, It sings for the nurses without N95 masks likely to contract corona but flinch not, It sings for the mailwoman delivering envelopes that 50 other hands have touched, and opening thousands of potentially diseased mailboxes It sings for the Amazon delivery driver who, on minimum wage, meets the virus at warehouse and homes, but has no health insurance Spring raises its rabbit ears and goes blind Just like that, the rabbit lost its vision And just like that, the lyric-coughing beggar fell to the ground, hitting his head on wet sidewalk And just like nothing, the sun became lazy, refusing to wake up in the morning And just like nothing, the cloud vomited thick phlegm And just like nothing, muscle ache turned to slight fever to full blown pneumonia and gasping for breath – ventilators hid in an eternally becoming state Through it all, will the yellow bird continue to sing?
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Guillotine Peter Crowley The guillotine is a fine instrument. It kept the populace and their rulers in check. Its sharp blade, an improvement upon the sword, in dropping mechanically onto the victim’s neck. And the contorted countenance head roll ensured a stomach pit conflagration. II. It would be fine to see this atavistic instrument reunited in time. For there are many herds of swine, waving hooves in befuddled stammer, that cause steel rain to fall on people’s brow. As the swine prance around their gate, they peer out, hurling cast iron spear at those who do not kneel, while the hillsides are red with blood. It would be fine if those who deliver mass death in spear-studded talking point knew of Louis XIV’s and his palace’s demise. To know that their ignorance will not be rewarded by stock options or re-election, but that a masked man will force them to kneel, with resting head on wooden lunette. And when the shimmering blade brusquely falls– Divorced are head from body, and ruler from ruled!
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The Invisible Man Speaks to Us in Myriad Ways Now More Than Ever Genna Rivieccio
s the “science fiction” genre becomes more real and less “far-fetched” in relation to our ever-ceaseless hurtling further into the twenty-first century, the work of H.G. Wells feels particularly more salient than ever. With the recent adaptation of one of his most famous works, 1897’s The Invisible Man, into a film (yet again), it bears noting that society at large sees the continued resonance of Wells’ chilling tale of a man who terrorized the population solely because he had the power to do so. While the Elisabeth Moss-starring 2020 adaptation might have repurposed the narrative for a more feminist slant, it is the core of the original tale in literary form that applies in so many ways to the horrifying nature of our world now. That the power of invisibility has been at the center of why coronavirus has brought the entire globe to a grinding halt is telling of just how insidious that which we cannot see truly is. That a hidden force of destruction can lurk among us with such ease and stealthiness, waiting
to pounce whenever it sees fit is the ultimate affirmation of our frailty. Our predisposition to being “taken out.” In the case of “mad scientist” Griffin (the name a fittingly menacing mononym), his intention to initiate a Reign of Terror, as he calls it, is not immediate, but begat of another personal desire. Something latent within him as a result of being albino: the need to fit in by blending in—a little too well via all-out camouflage. As time wears on and his obsession with the experiment mutates into seeking some other objective entirely, the madness sets in—the frenzy. And although Susan Sontag said we should never attribute illness with meaning, least of all feeling, one can’t help but compare that same frenzy to COVID-19. Its vehement and indefatigable infiltration into our lives and systems invisibly. On a more metaphorical level, this invisible twenty-first century villain has brought to the forefront how we treat one another as ominous specters, rather than
The Invisible Man Speaks To Us in Myriad Ways Now More Than Ever - Genna Rivieccio people. Going even beyond the fact that watching the pandemic unfold in real time has been a matter of “tracking numbers” as they rise and rise before occasionally falling and then rising again, the incorporeal treatment of one’s fellow human
Kemp (the one person he engages with genuinely in the book), “... in fact the whole fabric of a man except the red of his blood and the black pigment of hair, are all made up of transparent, coulourless tissue. So little suffices to make us visible
dystopian narratives, the milieu must be England), Griff’s strange appearance—famously rendered to screen in the 1933 version of the film—paired with his surly and reclusive nature, combine to make him stand out all the more in this
“That the power of invisibility has been at the center of why coronavirus has brought the entire globe to a grinding halt is telling of just how insidious that which we cannot see truly is.” being also comes in the form of viewing them only as a potential source of infection. Nothing more than just another disguised danger. And well-disguised indeed behind their various forms of personal protective equipment (never has the surgical mask been so vindicated as a must-have fashion accessory—the global equivalent of a partial burka). That Griffin describes the human makeup as a largely invisible entity to begin with is a testament to how literally and figuratively disposable we are. As Griffin explains it to a former classmate,
one to the other. For the most part the fibres of a living creature are no more opaque than water.” Unknowingly speaking a greater truth about how fundamentally invisible we are to each other, Griffin’s assessment applies to the manner we have come to view one another during this new era of fear and uncertainty, in which “the other” is anyone we don’t know or aren’t already quarantined with. In essence: trust nothing and no one you haven’t already identified. After landing in the small town of Iping (for as all slightly
sleepy West Sussex town despite wanting nothing more than to be invisible. And to work in peace on the testing in his room that will allow him to achieve such a feat (once again, often and early testing proves to be paramount to success). Instead he is met with the insouciant interruptions of Mrs. Hall, the wife of the innkeeper at the Coach and Horses who is initially excited about the arrival of a customer—regardless of how peculiar—during such an off season. Her Mother Hen sensibilities are quickly kiboshed by Griff’s brusque
The Opiate, Spring Vol. 21 comportment as he makes strange, inexplicable sounds in his room while also offering no personal information about himself. That, of course, is reserved solely for his eventual confession to Kemp, the acquaintance he knew in school, whose house he conveniently happens upon after being shot, exposing his presence in the house thanks to the loss of blood. On discussing the choice to make himself visible after so many years spent trying to do the opposite, he declares, “Finally I chose a mask of the better type, slightly grotesque but not more so than many human beings, dark glasses, greyish whiskers and a wig.” This feels vaguely like coronavirus’ line of reasoning (again, apologies to Sontag for this personification) as it chose to make itself more and more apparent to the world it had briefly remained concealed from before bursting very blatantly onto the scene. With the same bombast and “parody of performance” as Griff materializing in the streets of London dressed head to toe in stolen theater garb. Perhaps, like COVID-19 itself, the realization quickly set in that being camouflaged was not much fun without anyone around to understand his power—his pure genius. Yet, at the same time, being visible isn’t without its drawbacks either. Always cornered and condemned at every turn—causing each respective villain to wreak havoc all the more. So it is that, in one of the only moments of humanity revealed throughout his recounting, Griff admits, “The more I thought it over...the more I realised what a helpless absurdity an invisible man was—in a cold and dirty climate and a crowded civilised city. Before I made this mad experiment I had dreamt a thousand advantages. That afternoon it seemed all disappointment. I went over the heads of things a man reckons desirable. No doubt invisibility made
it possible to get them, but it made it impossible to enjoy them when they were got. Ambition—what is the good of pride of place when you cannot appear there? What is the good of the love of woman when her name must needs be Delilah? What was I to do? And for this I had become a wrapped-up mystery, a swathed and bandaged caricature of a man!” Corona, too, as it spreads— and continues to—without any hope of being mitigated, unless we all stay holed up in our abodes forever or a viable vaccine is found, might have had similar revelations were it sentient. Might have suddenly decided that its negative criticism was enough reason to lean into this whole nefarious knave reputation at full-tilt. Shit, even transfer itself back and forth between human and animal again to create a new strain. All the while remaining that most powerful of entities: invisible. Considering the inspiration for Wells’ premise stemmed from Plato’s Republic, the overarching theme speaks to the longstanding awareness on the part of humanity (at least those within it bearing an elevated consciousness) that the clout of being an unseen force can never be underestimated. Indeed, that was how some of the greatest triumphs in war were achieved. The element of “surprise” being the ability to go undetected. This, also, is wherein lies the dominance of Corona. A relentless superpower (no one ever said a superpower had to be wielded for “good”) that went undiscovered, or flatly ignored, long enough to gain an incredible upper hand. Thus, Glaucon in Book II of Republic brings up the tale of the Ring of Gyges in relation to the inutility of being a “just” man—particularly if the “just” man manages to gain profit through unjust means in a way that will still allow him to “give back” to the community, thereby
availing himself to any punishment from the gods. In Griffin’s mind, his so-called diabolicalness is little price for the public to pay based on the magnificent scientific contribution he’s made. Much as Corona has contributed his own new challenges and strides in forcing scientists to race against the clock to come up with a cure for something that should have been at least vaguely accomplished when SARS was unleashed. Not to mention the fact that the world should have already had some kind of greater plan in place for how to handle a pandemic—at the very least China, so habituated at this point to animal-spurred outbreaks. So yes, perhaps in Corona’s “mind,” being an invisible menace has only done the Earth a favor (that is also to say, in actuality, to boot, as Mother Nature has finally gotten a minute to breathe without the gross and unremitting virus that is humans). The fundamental difference between Griff and Corona, however, is that the latter got much farther in its Reign of Terror, not just at the local level, but worldwide. Hell, one could almost say Corona studied under the man the same way Thomas Marvel wanted to.