The Opiate: Summer 2020, Vol. 22

Page 1

The Opiate

Summer 2020, Vol. 22

The Opiate

Your literary dose.

© The Opiate 2020 Cover art: Dan Bannino, “King Henry VIII” from his series, Still Diets Website: Instagram: @danbannino This magazine, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission. ISSN 2381-859X

“People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned.� -James Baldwin


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22

Editor-in-Chief Genna Rivieccio

Editor-at-Large Malik Crumpler

Editorial Advisor

Armando Jaramillo Garcia

Contributing Writers: Fiction: Nina Dunic, “Kin” 10 Chris Stanton, “Some Saturday Night” 16 Alexander Lowell, “My First Communist” 20 Khanh Ha, “Black Shoes” 36 Leanne Grabel, Husband: Chapters 1-7 39


Poetry: Joel Allegretti, “Child Rapists in Hell” 47-48 Edward L. Canavan, “Reclamation” & “Dare to Breathe” 49-50 Cameron Morse, “Backyard Elegy” 51 Amy Baskin, “Lilith Runs Into Adam and His Trophy Wife in the Diaper Aisle,” “Lilith Nurtures on the Playground,” “Lilith’s Daughter” & “Later, Lilith Runs Into Adam and Eve in the Incontinence Aisle” 52-55 John Grey, “Tanning” & “The Only Sign of Life” 56-57 Thomas Wells, “Remnants” 58

Susie Gharib, “Hyphenated Words” 59 Victor Marrero, “Joker” & “Way Out” 60-62 Sherri Levine, “Intensity” 63 Antonia Alexandra Klimenko, “Serious Moonlight” 64-65

Criticism: Genna Rivieccio, “Cops & the Pig That Built His House Out of Bricks” 67


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22

Editor’s Note

From a pandemic to pigs, 2020 has thus far decidedly been the year of the P. My least favorite letter in terms of the onomatopoeic tendencies it possesses, its disgusting non-sonority. In any event, it’s odd to think that the police as an institution might have continued to cling to their unchecked power were it not for one little asshole (whose name you ought to know by now, which doesn’t merit being uttered here) getting “buck wild,” to use the understatement of the century. That if one man hadn’t been the straw to break the camel’s back, the outrage and “no justice, no peace” sentiments of the Rodney King riots might never have come to roost in cities far and wide. Something about it all speaks to the determinist nature of everything. And the irony of a white man so staunch in his belief that his power was immovable that he actually ended up proving quite the opposite. Or so we’ll tell ourselves for now. For there is always the chance that mere placations are made, and one must wait for an entire generation to die out before the true changing of the guard. Granted, there’s something rather bittersweet about that fact. That radical change can only seem to come when the death of one body of individuals born in the same era is complete. So difficult is it to alter people’s way of thinking once they’ve been rooted in a certain way of life for so long. And, as time goes on, it has become apparent that there isn’t much room for “different” ways of thinking when the script is all there laid out for you, designed to ensure that you will not offend or say the wrong thing (lest you get fired full-stop--that is, if you’re one of the rare breeds still able to hold down a job in this century of fake labor). In this regard, it’s easy to understand where a protagonist like the one in Nina Dunic’s “Kin” is coming from. She can’t relate to much of anyone—not family, not faux friends-—as a preadolescent and beyond, for the narrative is told in a flash forward sort of structure. The one person she does feel a connection to, Kinn, is a result of his delicate spirit, his aura of innocence. When others around her turn more and more nefarious, he remains the same unbesmirched soul he always was. In this way, she is comforted by his presence enough to keep going through the motions of school. But when an unanticipated event occurs, she finds herself feeling emptier than ever before--still performing the expected acts of one’s existence (namely, getting a job that is highly monotonous and unsatisfying), but finding no fulfillment in any of it. Once again, she is reminded that Kinn was the only person who lent a remote sense of calm and stability to her life, even if their bond was sealed in silence throughout the time she knew him. In direct contrast to calm and stability, Chris Stanton’s “Some Saturday Night” is the perfect representation of chaos feeding on itself. For all William wanted was to enjoy the company of a girl he liked after moving to the swamplands of Louisiana from Texas. Of course, simple things are always too much to ask of the Fates, particularly when a girl lives with a possessive alcoholic that chases him out into the dead of night with a gun. And so the seemingly “simple” act of going back to her house after a movie turns into an evening of terror as he tries his best to navigate through the muddy, insectridden topography of a land he knows so little of apart from this highly precarious landscape. Alas, every time he thinks he might be in the clear, some unforeseen force of nature intervenes. Not unlike the experience of living through 2020 (which, though we’ve only gotten halfway through, somehow already feels like two years in six months).


It makes one yearn for more analog days, to be sure. Like, say, Paris in the 70s, which is the place and time Alexander Lowell’s “My First Communist” transpires. Detailing the events that led to Alex taking the risk on moving overseas, those who have experienced the expatriate life-—or even just

traveled alone--will empathize with the overwhelming feeling of loneliness that can overtake you when you’ve moved to a city and country where you don’t really know anyone. That even despite the giddy feeling that comes with having escaped your homeland, you still can’t quite solve the puzzle of how to be alone with yourself. Luckily--or perhaps unluckily--Alex has an encounter with a mysterious woman named Zahra, who is quick to inform him of one very important fact when they return to her apartment from the café: she’s a communist. To think, there was a time when that would scandalize rather than titillate an American. As things in her abode get progressively weirder, Alex grows increasingly impatient with his mercurial host--and yet, he has to wonder, as everyone in Paris does: could this be true love? The common thread between this story and the next, Khanh Ha’s “Black Shoes,” is the often inevitable need to work a service job in order to make ends meet. In this instance, our leading man is at the mercy of the paternal chastising of “old George,” the maître d’ of the restaurant he works at in Manhattan to make a bit of extra cash for school (soon to be a defunct or reinvented institution). While old George is “nice” enough, he keeps hounding our waiter with demands to wear black shoes while on the job, something that was never mentioned during the interview. Then again, because old George seems like the type who would be part of a mafia family, our black shoes-evader takes his instruction to heart--with his own special loophole to it. Loophole-navigating is also a skill one must learn to cultivate in a marriage, as Leanne Grabel shows us in the first seven chapters of her latest addition to The Opiate (after we serialized Brontosaurus, concluding in Vol. 20), Husband, which we look forward to publishing more of in the future (if there is one, that is). For those who make it in advance of the “the future”—a.k.a. the “great beyond”—we have plenty of, let’s say, spiritual images conjured in the poetry section. Take, for example, the commencing poem, “Child Rapists in Hell,” by Joel Allegretti. Invoking the power of Dante to effectively condemn, who else, child rapists (sometimes better known as Catholic priests), Allegretti’s vivid representation of hell is one you will not soon forget. To lighten the promise of eternal hellfire for select knaves, Edward L. Canavan’s “Reclamation“ offers perspective on the inherent interconnectedness of all things, even those entities that seem unlike one another—so it is that “the briar and the rose are all part of the same plan.” His second piece, “Dare to Breathe,” proposes a much needed angle on the collective viewpoint of the moment, with everyone so frantic to return to a “normal” that no longer exists. Canavan reminds us, “We [find] out where we are/once we let go of where we’ve been.” Cameron Morse’s “Backyard Elegy,” too, enlists a similar theme of letting go, with the symbol of an “old dog giving chase” to the same tired things eliciting the bittersweet feeling we’ve all known: continuing to go after something that doesn’t necessarily serve us any longer. Sort of the way God seemed to feel about Lilith in relation to Adam. So it is that Amy Baskin brings us back to the biblical with a quartet of poems centered on Lilith and some of her awkward encounters with Adam... and Eve. Though of course she has her own separate time from them, nurturing children, as the Original Woman is expected to do. For un certain summer feel, at least in title, look no further than John Grey’s “Tanning,” an eloquent allegory for the body’s ultimate return to the soil. A similarly sparse yet striking poem by Grey called “The Only Sign of Life” follows. In many ways, for those who have watched Dark, it will remind one instantly of the fictional (yet all too real) town of Winden, Germany.


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22 The notion of a hyper-intense form of reflection as a result of having the time to look back manifests again in Thomas Wells’ “Remnants.” Using the figure of Epimetheus (the Titan whose name can be translated to “hindsight”) to underscore the benefit of being able to start all over again, whether metaphorically or literally, with the knowledge of one’s past, Wells remarks, “In sobriety, I recall all my splinters and ruptures.” So do we all in this existence called self-quarantining. Allowing for plenty of hours to reflect on everything from systemic racism to the ruin of one’s love life, the effects of corona have been both general and broad, specific and niche. To contrast the mood again, Susie Gharib’s playful “Hyphenated Words” will surely appeal to every writer’s inner linguist as she takes us on a safari of wordplay by using primarily, how-could-you-not-haveguessed, hyphenated words. Among some of the hyphenated ones you might be familar with outside this poem are “money-grubbing,” which is what every institution is... even when the extraordinary circumstances of something like COVID-19 takes hold of people’s financial circumstances. To that end, Victor Marrero’s “Joker” details just how easy it is for one’s fortunes to change with the roll of Fate’s loaded dice. This motif transitions seamlessly into “Way Out,” Marrero’s exploration of humanity’s constant search for an evasion from the fact that, in life, there are “no backtracks. No side shows or detours.” It’s all one straight shot to death row... and 2020 has all the more intensified that unpleasant reality we so hate to acknowledge. Something in Sherri Levine’s visual poem (the first of its kind ever published in The Opiate) speaks to that sentiment as well. Her deeply moving image says more than quite a few prose poems, and is a lovely homage to her mother, who died earlier this year. Sherri has been kind enough to include the following eulogy to commemorate her passing: “Soon, I will enter your room and hold you in my arms, crawl into your skin. We can swim into the ocean, in the sparkling waves, our backs arched, somersaulting, tugging the tide, then letting go.” To round out the poetry is the always whimsical honorary Parisian Antonia Alexandra Klimenko with “Serious Moonlight.” A glorious homage to that luminous light that makes us all a little crazy at times as it pulls the tides this way and that way, along with our moods, Klimenko’s poetry could very well be adapted into a screenplay with lines that work like scenes, including, “Soon/who knows?/I may be driven to suicide!/The moon made me do it I’ll say/or why else would I marry a werewolf?” On a separate note, anyone worth their weight in camp propensities should see An American Werewolf in Paris. To keep in line with this issue’s cover, the criticism from yours truly, “Cops & the Pig That Built His House Out of Bricks,” reexamines the meaning of the classic fable, “The Three Little Pigs,” to fit within the modern lens of what is presently happening with the dismantling of the police as we’ve all (but, of course, mainly black people) come to know and disrespect it. But maybe, just maybe, if the concept of policing in America could be built on something not so effortlessly “blow downable” by protesters calling bullshit on the entire organization, well, then maybe effective change could really happen. So it is that we’ve come to the end. And the beginning at the same time. Ain’t that always the dichotomy? Sincerely,


Genna Rivieccio



The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22

Kin Nina Dunic



he was an angry and easily hurt child, face shut up like a fist, mouth snapped up tight. She was nine. She was taller than most kids, strong, with big arms and white legs. She was prone to a sore stomach, afraid to tell her mother and having to answer questions about it; she didn’t know how to describe it either. It didn’t seem to hurt all the time, but when she thought about it, it felt sore. Every day she walked to school through the damp, early morning grasses, soothed by how many quiet minutes she had alone between the loud, ugly interiors of her home and the crowded scenes at school. Most of the time, more than anything, she felt bored. She had nine stretches of sidewalk, four lengths of grass. The last length was the longest, across the undrawn soccer fields to get to the school. All along the way, lined by small townhouses. Standing and waiting with the others in gym class, she was too tall, looking down on all of their heads. Most girls fell into semi-formed circles, backs out, while the boys moved in and out of ragged assemblies, restless and loud. At recess she wandered with Ammia, whom she did not like


very much, except that she was reliably present, hovering by the doors and waiting to walk out together. Ammia was ordinary, inside and out. And she knew already that she was not like Ammia, she was not ordinary. She could see it in the way the other girls looked at her—their eyes changed. She was too tall, distracted by strange moods. The boys did not look at her and she did not look at them. Ammia’s hair was a black bowl around her slightly fat face. “There’s a new boy starting soon,” she said, plainly. “My brother said.” She was trying to hit a small ball against the ground so it bounced up against the building and returned to her, dutifully. She was trying to find a rhythm with it. She was also counting in her head, although she was beginning to suspect it was not fun anymore—but still she was counting, and liked ending on fives. Ammia was standing off to the side, watching. She was focused on the satisfying pop-pop of the rubber ball against the concrete ground and the brick wall —and the counting. Ending on a five, taking a short break. Ammia didn’t say anything else. A few days later, a thin boy stood at the front of class. She looked at him, alarmed.

Kin - Nina Dunic

1990 Kinn, that she could see, did not talk to anyone at school. Ever. Teachers asked questions of him and he quietly answered, but there was nothing else. She watched him, carefully, for months. She waited to catch him break from his game. She rarely saw him at recess—he went to a hiding spot somewhere, or maybe stayed in the school, she could not figure it out. Once in awhile he was outside, wandering around, looking at boys but not going to them. She wasn’t sure why she watched him. She examined the speck of it, carefully, not knowing what it meant. She would turn away, scratching her arm, looking at the rows of houses beyond the loose collection of trees. Then she would turn and look back. Kinn was slim and dark, with thin arms and legs; he had tight black hair and eyelashes that seemed to flick upward at the corners of his eyes. He was slight but moved slowly, like a much larger animal would. His neck like a deer. The other children streamed through the halls and fields, crowding and dispersing in noisy herds, chasing and laughing. He was a small thing at the edge of her vision at all times—apart, and unwounded by it. Mostly she was curious to watch him start talking, feeling she would notice something that was special. But he held still, and silent. She hadn’t been counting days, but eventually she realized she could recall his first day of school —the day and the month it was. It occurred to her while she was in class and she waited until she got home to count the days on a calendar, and then she kept the number in her mind, adding one as each day passed. It was her new game. When he finally spoke, it was on a five.

He walked over to some boys and they spoke to each other. She was too far away to hear what they said; she stood halfway across the field and froze as if a dark doom was approaching in the sky. “What is it?” Ammia said, pulling her juice box down from her mouth. She didn’t hear the question. She went home after school and put her bag down on the pile of shoes by the front door, kicking off her own, hurrying to be alone in her room. One of her brothers stopped in the hall, holding a bag of chips and chewing. His hair was lighter than everyone else’s in the family, blondish, spiky. He saw where her backpack fell, shouted, “Not on my fucking shoes!” and picked up a tissue box from a nearby side table. He whipped it at her. The box didn’t have enough weight to get close; turning gently in the air, it fell to the ground. Her mother, sitting in the adjoining room, said nothing. She moved her bag roughly, off the shoes, and went upstairs. She closed the door and crawled onto the bed, turning and lying on her back. Her blood was moving quickly and when she thought of Kinn it started to slow down. All this time, she could have spoken to him herself—and he would have spoken back. It was curious that she did not think of it before. Now she saw everything within this frame. The dead rabbit she found along the edges of backyards. The neighbour’s fat dogs, how it was funny at first, but not later. Her three brothers, mean and loud. She thought of what she could tell him, thinking of the words, choosing them, choosing them again. But in the days and weeks after, she did not speak to him. When he was around, she went into a black mood—grasping at something, becoming angry and silent. She found she could not. Kinn soon talked to the boys regularly. She watched, not having anything to count, from different parts of the school field.

Ammia was drifting away from her, toward other girls, joining the edges of a group with a loud girl in the middle. She noticed it but did not follow her. Already the teacher was telling her mother she was different, and she was sensing that other people were noticing and distancing themselves. The empty space around her was growing.

1992 In seventh grade, Kinn stopped talking again. They had come back from the summer and assembled in restless packs in their same familiar hallways, moving to different rooms. She saw his delicate shoulders, long neck, his head set slightly forward and always looking in that direction, straight-gazed— she felt again, as she felt before, that he was older than everyone else. But unhurried. In those loud halls—quiet and potent. The summer had been a long, bland stretch of time that she did not count, until it was closer to the end. Five weeks left, four. She had spent some time in those months reorganizing her closet and refolding her clothes, then watching television into the evening. Her eldest brother was growing quieter, lost in thicker moods, sensing manhood in some of his peers and older boys in the neighbourhood. He ignored her. Her other brothers still sought her out for occasional lashes of cruelty and she avoided the living room, where they often languished in the heat. At night, she stood in the backyard with her small, brown dog wandering around the edge of the fence, sniffing, and waited for him to relieve himself. His name was Pancho. She studied the stars and thought they didn’t look real, or at least it didn’t seem possible. The summer had passed slowly. And now, standing in the hallway, lined up to enter a class, she saw the back of Kinn’s head—a short


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22 patch of grey hair dashed across it. Coming out of classes, slipping by in the halls, she studied him in her distracted, almost angry way—from eye corners, head thrown back as if she did not care. He did not appear at recess; she never knew where he went instead. He did not talk that year. She would never stop seeking him out and its meaning was revealing itself to her. She looked around at the pieces of her life and saw only ugly things. Her mother’s flat face and wide,

Kinn was, instead, a quiet thing. He did not seem to grow at all. The curve of his brow and cheekbone slipped into the gently upturned jaw, fell into that long neck. Her own big limbs, her own broad, flat face, her tall body—she could not even claim to be like him. Only to be able to see what he was. A delicate animal stepping into a clearing, looking around with ears softly turning. Late in the year, he was out at recess, walking along the edge of

the ground to save her head. She was still as big as them and she kicked at a knee, bending it in a direction that it was not supposed to bend, and the shouting turned into a long, horrific shriek that froze everything for three or four blind moments. Teachers were coming. She did not return to school for the rest of the year.

heavy build, that early betrayal as a child, slapped and pushed, foul moods, the blank stretches of time when she was ignored and alone. Her brothers and their mindless smashing of toys, their casual abuse, her filthy home. Sitting in the backyard while Pancho walked around the scrubby grass, letting small patio stones slip slowly through her fingers before picking up another handful. Inside the house, her mother roused herself to yell at one of her brothers—the effort was becoming rare—the smell of onions frying with salt. And school—crowded with all the other kids from crowded homes. Everyone loud, clamouring over each other, the humid closeness of them all, pressing up against the glass of her life. Everything else a calamity of noise and desperation.

the playground before it became the field, and some boys approached him, loping like ugly dogs. She guessed they would bother him. Two of them did—a remark, some laughter, and more words when he did not respond, then a shove. Like a glass falling and shattering on the ground, her mind split into a thousand directions and her body operated alone, swiftly standing and suddenly breaking across the field. She kicked one boy down from behind before either of them knew what was happening. He fell like a snapped branch. A second boy, in shock, flew back, his face deformed with fear. But two other boys, shouting, pushed her until she fell, and other children ran at them. The boys kicked at her while she, from the ground, kicked out at them. A shoe struck her jaw and she whipped her upper body off

building, near the two loading docks, by the picnic benches, and sat on the concrete stairs. On the leg of one of the picnic benches it was carved into the wood: only poor boys give good head She looked at it often because it was so many letters and not so poorly done. Someone had spent time. She pulled out a cigarette and lit it, replacing the lighter in her pocket. She tried to understand it— not as a vulgar thing, but as something to know about men. She had known poor boys, turning into young men in the clumps of housing where she grew up. Belonging, and not. Growing up aching and not knowing why, leaving school for work, putting all their money into a car, good shoes and smoking up. Getting lonely in the evenings. Does


She exited at the rear of the

“Most of the time, more than anything, she felt bored.”


Kin - Nina Dunic that type of man give better head? Boys in nice houses, sports and camps, bookshelves filled with things—they don’t get on their knees? She thought it might be true. She saw the words several times a day, smoking at the back of the building, once or twice before lunch, once or twice after. Of course it hadn’t been true for her. She tried a young man once but it was all wrong—he was not serious, she was too serious. Hurrying, he pulled down his pants to reveal red boxers covered in yellow smiley faces—she stopped everything and stared at them. Her pride stung her, a great wound in whatever she was attempting. She knew her body: out of the shower, pale and gleaming, this formidable thing. Her shoulders were set back, locked in defiance; she could run without tiring on legs of incredible power. That she should undress for the red boxers with yellow faces was pathetic. He was absurd, a peasant. It was over. Driving through her neighbourhood, she saw packs of young men in strip plazas, leaning on their cars, white shoes glowing, wolf heads hanging low on their shoulders. Watching her pass. Thousands in rims but still living at home—crashing with half-girlfriends in basement apartments. Living a life but waiting for something better. Stopped at red lights, she would turn and meet their eyes. She had dropped out of school in twelfth grade and went fulltime at a restaurant, first plating and then serving during the dinner rush. They moved her to the grill after a while, with a raise. But she was bored. She finished her GED over a summer and got a job with a good company in manufacturing, packing boxes and checking orders. Later, after a year of that, they promoted her to supervisor—the last supervisor got pregnant with her third child and wasn’t going to come back. She was

making good money now and barely twenty, checking orders from a desk and occasionally helping other teams. She had money, more than enough. She still liked to count sometimes, ticking things along her fingertips, up to five, then starting again. She went to work every day with a sense of duty despite the knowledge that it didn’t matter. But the truth was, she was bored—a final, quiet quality, settling within her bones. Kinn had died before she dropped out, late in eleventh grade. They had announced it solemnly at school: our classmate has passed away. There was a photo of him in a frame standing upright that the teacher had pulled from a wrinkled plastic bag at the bottom of her desk. The students listened at first but grew restless at the back. She heard talk, chatter about something else, in the desks behind her. A pen dropped to the floor. A chair scraped under the heavy lean of somebody picking it up. The teacher was talking. He had a condition and was in the hospital for much of that year; he’d had the condition his whole life. A girl muffled a sneeze. The teacher struggled to pronounce the medical term with three long words but said it was always fatal. Words blurred out. The talk behind her fell away as she seemed to be standing quite separate now, somewhere out of the room—a thickly silent place where she couldn’t remember anything else from that day. She remembered it was spring outside. It seemed Kinn had known all along. That fact stayed with her. She decided to think that everyone was dying, and everyone knew it, but most people pushed that to the back, and few people held it at the front. She never spoke of him, not once, to anybody, in all those years. Sometimes, she saw Kinn in others. She could see him in children when they were still young and wandering—delicate things before they started clamouring amongst

themselves. Once, she saw him in twin sisters sitting side by side on the bus, girls with long black hair in single braids, long necks with chins lifted. It was rare she saw children ten or eleven years old sitting quietly like that, hands resting in their laps, gazing out the windows with such calm consideration. It was rare she saw anyone. They stood up to leave the bus in such sweet and simple movements, careless and elegant—twins from a strange dream. Like a sign. And she remembered Kinn’s languid movements as he walked or slowly turned his head. A smooth, sensitive animal, vulnerable but without fear. All of her brothers had disappeared. They got jobs and left the house, sending her mother, on disability, some money sometimes. She stayed home with their mother and paid a small rent, though they mostly remained in different parts of the house. She was at the grocery store on a Wednesday night, buying heartburn pills for her mother and deciding to pick up a pack of cigarettes for herself to save the morning trip. A man was watching her. She looked at him for a few moments and felt a subtle movement beneath the ground, a shift in her understanding. A deep memory rose in her. It was Kinn’s elder brother. He was older, thicker, darker, with a heavy beard that was cropped close to his face. He was staring at her, recognizing her, recalling images. She looked back and did the same. He remembered her from school; the girl who got in trouble, who got mad, loner in the shadows. Got in a fight over Kinn. She could not remember anything about him but she saw the likeness and remembered his presence, distant, somewhere at the edge of things. She realized a few things, very quickly. He likely still lived in the area. He was curious about her. He would come back again and try to talk to her.


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22

2004 She was, ultimately, a shy thing. Easily wounded but strong-hearted, willing to defend herself. That was the part that no one understood about her and she barely understood about herself—how the anger was frustration, the mute wall she had built around herself, the height and distance that deprived her of air. But she was also saving herself. Without the wall, she would be exposed and bare, struck by so much blunt indifference like body blows. She could never handle people’s casual relationships, especially with important things. People let beauty and meaning pass them by. Everyone was dying but pretended they weren’t. Disinterest. Indifference. She took little offence of actual insult but felt brutalized by people who didn’t care— and there were so many. “Birchmount Park?” She had avoided the grocery store for almost six months but later trickled back, it being on her way home from work. She went on odd weeknights—Tuesdays, Mondays— rather than late in the week when most people went. The truth was, she was scared to see him again. That day, something had leapt out of her—a wild terror—and quietly immolated itself. It had rained in the early evening and the streets were still wet, glowing with pink and yellow strips of lights from cars. She felt young lately, simple-hearted. She was putting more money into her car, paying for cleanings and upgrading her sound system for the second time. She was going to the grocery store to get ice cream and got about halfway through an aisle before she recognized him, in profile, standing close to the end. He looked up and saw her. He asked about Birchmount Park, and she said yes. She looked at him without emotion; he was animated. “Yeah, I remember you,” he


said. “You’re Kinn’s brother?” she asked. He hesitated for a short moment. “Yeah,” he said. They talked for a few minutes and she could read the simple messages that showed in men’s faces when they were not prepared. Hello, hello, hello, hello. He seemed to grow taller as they spoke, smiling easily and warmly. But she already saw that he was not Kinn; he didn’t even understand how his brother was different, an elegant shadow on a cave wall. He was ordinary and—its primary characteristic—did not know it. Her own heart fell in slow, heavy thumps against her ribs, again and again, like a failing heartbeat. She forgot the ice cream and left the store after their chat ended. She went home, parking briskly in the narrow driveway between their small house and the multi-unit next door. When she went in the house, her mother rustled in the other room but did not speak or come out, so she did not say anything either. Her mother had started smoking again, she could smell fresh smoke. The walls in her home were darkly painted and she felt, as she always did, her whole life, that the house was suffocating. She went straight upstairs and into her own small living room, finding the bottle of rye and the shot glass on her shelf, taking one quick shot, and then a second. She felt better after that, more even. Kinn was dead and she had no recourse for that. Her predicament now was the life she had left—long, missing things most people did not even notice. She went back downstairs quietly and slipped into her mother’s bedroom, into the closet, rummaging briskly for the wooden box that had been there since she was a girl and first saw it, left behind from her mother’s old boyfriend—a small, black gun. She held her breath and checked—still loaded. She was moving quickly now,

less concerned with making noise and more focused on everything happening fast. She briefly thought of returning upstairs but instead sat on her mother’s bed and held up her left hand, pressing the barrel into her palm and, after quickly glancing up at the ceiling and then back down, shot straight through the middle of her hand. Pain tore through her mind, a jagged red crack split open behind her eyes. Her mouth opened but made no sound. Her lungs clawed for air. Her mother let out a sharp cry from the next room. Her hand was covered in blood. She lowered the gun and pressed it against her wrist, and shot again.

2006 She lost the hand. They told everyone it was an accident but two accidental shots did not make sense, so she was assigned a psychiatrist and the police took away the gun. It was alright, she was finished. She saw the psychiatrist. She already knew about the personality and learning disorder, she had seen a doctor in high school. She didn’t much feel like describing how she didn’t love anything or anyone, or the boredom, or being asexual, or a dead boy, and didn’t see how medication would change that. The doctor wanted to talk about her mother or brothers, but they did not interest her. She tried the pills anyway for six months to see if it would be different this time—and it wasn’t. She was able to keep her job with limited duties and pass a driving test. Within a year and a half, not so much had changed. She saw the doctor a couple more times after that. He was a thin man, old, with round glasses, and always wearing corduroy pants that were fading badly around the knee. She thought he was a doctor exactly as one would be described in a book. But he was nice and she didn’t mind talking

Kin - Nina Dunic about her dog with him; she seemed to have a lot of memories about the dog. She took two things from him and kept them close. He once called her “a protector”—it rang, painful, like a bell in her chest. And he had framed quotes on his wall. One of them said, “Learn to walk in the sweetness of the possession of your own soul.” That one rang for a long time, too. She was leaving the grocery store and there he was again, Kinn’s brother, looking after her. But now he did not come to talk to her. She struggled with her bags, slinging them onto her left forearm, missing its hand—the cashier looked away with colour rising in her face. She knew he was watching. She started to walk out of the store, slower than she needed to, making a fuss with the bags in the crook of her elbow, as if she struggled with it. She was showing him something. And she felt suddenly light.


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22

Some Saturday Night Chris Stanton


illiam hoisted himself through the window in a hurry, scraping his knee on the sill. “Damn it,” he exclaimed. He did a half somersault and thudded in the grass outside. “Shhh,” Crystal whispered from above. She threw his shirt and his work boots on top of him. “Hey,” William began, “what about—” “Just run,” Crystal whispered. “He’ll hunt you down if he spots you!” Footsteps exploded through the one-story clapboard house and onto the screen porch, not ten feet away. William grabbed his shirt as the porch door slammed open. “Who the fuck is back here?!” a deep voice bellowed. William dashed across the yard in his underwear. He looked back for a split second at the man standing on the steps and saw a glint of gun metal in his hand. This is where it ends, William thought, trying to


pull on his shirt as he sprinted toward the garden in the darkening dusk. Me, shot through the heart, lying in a patch of green beans. “You better run,” the man yelled. “I seen your truck, I’ll find out where you live!” Beyond a row of dead tomato plants lay a tangled, marshy forest. The evening light was fading and there were probably water moccasins back there, but William knew he had no choice. BLAM! The first gunshot hit a pine tree a few feet away. Bark and dry needles exploded and fell to the damp ground. William changed his course and pushed deeper into the woods, zigzagging as he ran. “I served in Desert Storm,” the man yelled. “I can kill a man from a hundred and six yards away! With a single shot!” William scanned the forest desperately. He remembered Crystal saying something about Route 77 be-

Some Saturday Night - Chris Stanton ing on the other end of their property, through the forest and across the swamp. Maybe if he hustled, he could make it to the rural highway in one piece. The man was heading his way fast. Spotting a hollow cedar tree, William squeezed his way into the narrow opening. Holding his breath and praying a fervent, silent plea, he watched the man tromp across the wet pine needles toward him. “You’re around here somewhere, aren’t you?” the man muttered. He stopped just a few feet away, straining to see through the dusk. William closed his eyes, his heart thumping. The man was close enough that he could smell the Pabst Blue Ribbon on his breath. He squeezed tighter into the tree. A spider crawled inside his ear. “Never again,” the man said. “I can tell you that. And I’ll be waiting for you, so don’t even think of heading back this way.” He belched once and then stood there, scratching his ear. “Never trust you as far as I could throw you,” the man mumbled. William thought that for a moment that the man would never leave and that he would have to stay for weeks in the same awkward position inside the tree until the flesh peeled from his bones and just his skeleton remained. Swamp rats would nibble on the bones or kingfishers would take them in their beaks and build nests out of them, and that would be his legacy. After an endless interlude of waiting and breath-holding, the man finally stomped off. William waited an extra minute. Then he tried to shimmy out of the tree. He couldn’t budge. Come on, now. William was not a burly man by any means; he was muscular but ropy, like a ferret. He was used to crawl spaces and sewers thanks to countless

jobs that required him to inch his way along on his back. Pull. He sucked in a deep breath and yanked as hard as he could. The bark tore at the bare skin on the back of his thigh, and it was all he could do to keep from crying out in pain as he stumbled out of the tree. It was too dark to see if the spider on his head was a black widow, but William was so grateful to be free, he didn’t think twice about it. He just brushed it onto the ground. There was sap of some kind in his hair, and his legs stung painfully, but otherwise he felt intact. Creeping as quietly as he could through the undergrowth, his bare feet squishing in the damp ground, he made his way back toward Crystal’s house and peeked through the trees. The man sat on the top step of his back porch, picking at his teeth. A gun rested on the step next to him. Crystal was hollering at him out the window. Some Saturday night this is turning out to be. William didn’t like his chances against the man, who was built like a surly construction site foreman and was apparently an expert marksman, to boot. I could proceed with Plan A. Get myself through the woods to Route 77 and flag down some kindly motorist. Never mind the fact that I’m half-dressed. I’m good at making up stories to fit any occasion. I’ll think of something. William figured it couldn’t be too far. He’d keep an eye out for snakes as best he could. Besides, most snakes are more afraid of us than we are of them. He made a U-turn and pressed into the woods. Crickets and katydids and all manner of insects droned in his ears as he walked. A few times, he had to wade through trickling streams that wound their way through the kudzu. This definitely ain’t like Texas.

William was brand new to this part of the country. He’d been raised in dry scrub land, with nothing but oil derricks and football and tumbleweeds. Three months ago, he said goodbye to his dear Aunt Miriam, packed up his pickup and drove east across the swamps of Louisiana to where he was now. It hadn’t taken long for him to get a job as a bouncer at an adult entertainment venue called The Purple Parrot. It was in a tiny strip mall, between a DMV and a store that sold cardboard boxes. Crystal worked at the box store, so that’s where they’d met. William caught himself smiling. Their first date had been a double feature of the second and third Smokey and the Bandit movies at a rundown theater in the artsy section of town. She hadn’t complained when he’d quoted most of the lines under his breath, or when he’d kissed her in the front seat of his pickup truck before he dropped her off. That’s when William knew that he’d hooked a winner. He just positively loved the way he felt when he was with her. He stopped for a moment and realized that he had no idea where he was. Although the forest had thinned out into a swamp, he could barely see ten feet ahead of him and he had to hop his way between hummocks of grass to avoid wading through the ankle-deep water. Occasionally, he heard animals—muskrats, perhaps— snorting and grunting in the darkness. A bat darted across his field of vision. William followed its path across the night sky until he noticed a ball of reddish light hovering low above the ground, far off to his left. “Hello,” he called. “Who’s over there?” A breeze ruffled his hair. An owl hooted from the trees behind him. Then, the light began to move. Maybe it’s a car on a road. I


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22 must’ve hit the highway already. William stepped into the shallow swamp water, mosquitoes buzzing around his nose. He shivered in the deepening chill. He thought about what it would feel like later to curl up in his bed after a shower, preferably scalding hot. I’ll have a real tale to tell the ladies at The Purple Parrot. Maybe even my kids,

took all his strength to pull each foot free. He grasped for a vine in the darkness and hoisted himself onto a dry patch of cattails, his heart racing, the scratches on his legs burning like wasp stings. He listened intently for the sounds of cars, people, anything. But all he could hear was the drone of insects, a sonic curtain wrapped

Who would he call? Aunt Miriam was long asleep, he was sure, clear back in Texas. He’d made tentative friends with the weaselfaced man who lived in the apartment below his, but the guy was a long-haul trucker and was rarely ever home. The police? How could he explain the situation without— The light was back. It was

“William closed his eyes, his heart thumping. The man was close enough that he could smell the Pabst Blue Ribbon on his breath.” to illustrate absolutely what not to do. Ha. If I ever have kids. William splashed across the swamp toward the light, gasping as he hurtled over dead tree stumps and bushes. It appeared to be getting closer as he ran. Flecks of blue and purple were mixed in with the red glow. It made him think of a giant raspberry. Without warning, his right foot got tangled up in a strand of marsh grass and he toppled face first into a patch of mud. Cursing silently, he struggled to his feet. The mud was thick and it


around his head. William wondered for a moment whether he should turn back through the pines and find his way back to Crystal’s house. Perhaps the man had gone inside, or passed out drunk on the front steps. Maybe he could make a break for his pickup, parked three doors down the street. But which way was the forest? He couldn’t see a thing. His phone was in his pants pocket, and who knows where his pants were now? The man with the gun had probably burned them in his fireplace, in effigy.

deep green now, the color of a glass Christmas ornament. It glowed with a light that was reassuring and calm. The color of safety. William wiped the mud from his face. He took a cautious step into the water. The light hovered there, just above the ground. It was ten feet away, maybe twelve. “Are you playing a game?” William asked. “Because I don’t find it particularly funny.” The light waited. He took another few steps. The light grew closer; it seemed to

Some Saturday Night - Chris Stanton be pulsing, like a celestial heartbeat, drawing him toward it. William lunged forward in the darkness and tripped over a stump, sinking quickly up to his waist in another pool of mud. The more he struggled, the deeper he sank down in the frigid mire. He felt around for vines, something to pull himself out, but nothing was within reach. “Help!” William screamed, as it closed above his shoulders. “Jesus God, please help me!” Something flashed through his mind then: a late-night show on a travel channel about how to survive extreme situations. When in quicksand, flip onto your back and breathe normally. Once the surface has stopped moving, try to push yourself over to the side of the pool with short, controlled strokes. William tried to relax. He breathed through his mouth. He leaned back and let his body float to the surface. Imagining himself to be a feather being blown across the sky, he looked up into the scattered stars and strange constellations and willed himself to survive. The surface of the pool stilled and soon William was just floating there; a little boy sitting on an inner tube at the swimming hole. I’m doing it. I’m really doing it. Then the light approached. It hovered above him, its radiance blindingly bright, like he was tumbling headfirst into the sun. William thrashed and squirmed in the mud, struggling to get away. Soon the mire was pulling him down again, sucking him deep into— Please, God, no— The light hovered there another moment, then dimmed into nothingness. William had only a fleeting thought of Crystal, smiling next to him in the movie theater as she held his hand, before the darkness

closed around him and everything went black.


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22

My First Communist Alexander Lowell

Well, it’s an end-of-the-world kind of day, but give me life and I’ll fix the rest. -Virgilio Piñera

Paris, 1970


trategically located in front of the Brasserie Lipp, the wrought iron and hardwood Art Nouveau bench upon which I was sitting was by no means comfortable. But then neither was my state of mind. My thought and spirit had become so agitated that if someone had asked me how I could bear to sit for so long on such a spine-distorting piece of furniture (two of its five steel-like enameled seat slats were missing), I would not have been able to answer—nor for that matter comprehend the question. My mind was consumed at that moment with another, much more important point of mystery: was the sublime young woman now high-heeling her sultry body through the entrance of the St. Germain café (after having shot me a disarming smile and a conspicuous up-and-


down carnal assessment) on the game, or not? This was to me a crucial distinction as I had set out that day from my Les Halles apartment across the river with the sole purpose of finding and, perhaps soon thereafter, making love with an attractive woman despite the fact I had only yesterday been temporarily relieved of my job and I had a single one hundred franc note (twenty dollars) to my name. And now, after two frustrating hours of dismissive glares from females encountered along the avenue, none of whom had granted me the slightest chance to engage or even say hello, this amazing creature, this licentiously proportioned force of nature, had fired me a look from her kohl-rimmed, black satin eyes that produced in me a neural vibration from which forty years later I still have not entirely recovered. I had been living in Paris for three months, waitering in Mother Earth’s Lost & Found, a two-story bohemian café owned and loosely run by a suddenly flush American divorcée from San Francisco. I had come to France, home to most of my ancestors, on a whim and

My First Communist - Alexander Lowell as a means to recoil from the stultifying, insular life I had stupidly allowed myself to become embroiled in after marrying Helen, the duplicitous woman who was now my ex, and at the time of our union, several months pregnant with another man’s child. In a surprise phone call, choking back tears, she had ensnared

restlessness and frustration—at which point I said to myself: why waste time studying subjects in which I have no interest nor natural inclination (Chemistry, Calculus, Biology) when I can be writing immortal poems and for the price of a book or movie ticket enjoying the company of and learning from Céline, Cendrars, Nin, Morand,

my best efforts, borne not only of a lingering affection from the early days of our romance but also of 60s-era, anything-is-possible idealism, things didn’t go so well. A month after the al fresco, Unitarian-officiated wedding of self-composed vows referencing Gibran, cummings and Morrison (the Irish one) and ending with a

“In France, however, the nexus of carefree, extemporaneous romance (think Rimbaud, Chopin, Miller, Montherlant), any natural appeal I once possessed seemed to have evaporated into the ether.” me at a moment of weakness and misguided compassion (“I went to my family because I thought my father would help me, but he...he... called me a whore and kicked me into the street”), and asinine as it sounds, I perceived the situation as an opportunity to right the wrong of her betrayal—not to mention that my efforts to adjust to the middle-class values of American college life after an inglorious but ultimately liberating stint in the army had produced only

Barnes, Fellini, Godard, Truffaut or Bresson? Whereupon I packed my few possessions into a knapsack, strapped it onto the back of my Ducati 250 (bored out to almost 300) and cruised down the smooth blacktop country highways of the Carolinas and Georgia to Tallahassee, where Helen was finishing up a graduate degree in mollusks. When she answered my knock on her door at one a.m., surprised to see me, I said, “Fuck it. I’ll marry you.” And I did. But despite

backyard reception with seven kinds of homemade bread, cheeses from Vermont and Quebec, Freixenet and hash brownies, a baby was born and I found myself iron-bound to a full-time, second-shift printing plant job, crawling inside the steel bowels of a monolithic folding machine to disentangle stubborn agglomerations of static-fused paper, while in my spare time I renovated our rusticating rented bungalow twenty miles out of town and tried to grow vegetables in


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22 a deer- and squirrel-infested garden out back, the only respite being a bimonthly visit to the local seafood joint for baskets of batter-fried catfish and hush puppies, Helen having turned increasingly cold, uncaring and, most disconcertingly, unappreciative (though she did change some of the diapers)... At said printing plant, where instead of sharing the day’s two federally mandated twelve-minute breaks with my co-workers (swamp rats who had migrated to the city for work and whose conversations centered around spectator sports, guessing the bra sizes of various members of the female crew and recycled jokes from Hee Haw), I made the mistake of spending that precious time reading from a pocket edition of Leaves of Grass atop a crate next to my machine (I ate my lunch solo and smoked a bidi under a magnolia tree outside), not realizing I was inciting their ire, inflicting damage to their fragile egos and the herd mentality social mores of the region, so that at precisely three months into the job—just when I was getting the hang of my infernal machine and the day after I had intervened during the foreman’s assault on a young Mexican woman at the far end of the plant where the giant spools of paper were stored (he first having terrified her into a fragile state by tossing a dead rat into the middle of her work table)—I was called into the office, handed a narrow brown envelope and escorted outside. Figuring I might fare better in the more enlightened environs of Virginia, where I had family and where we could stay in my father’s drivewaybound camping trailer until money from the next job started coming in, we shifted north. Starting off at a car wash just to put food and dago red on the table, I graduated after two months to the more romantic position of hacking a taxi twelve hours a day while working weekends as bookkeeper for a construction company. But


despite the influx of hard cash (a local millionaire with too many DUIs tipped me exceedingly well twice a week when I drove him to and from his favorite boondocks moonshiner), things of the domestic went from bad to worse— the final triggering event being her declaration one Sunday following a near-frigid (on her part) unsuccessful attempt at lovemaking that she had no interest in participating in sexual intercourse ever again, in fact would prefer I didn’t touch her from now on, revealing as explanation (and it wasn’t bad as excuses went) that she had been raped by a septuagenarian landlord almost immediately after conceiving the baby more than a year ago and wanted nothing to do with men, period. Besides that, she had unbeknownst to me applied and been accepted for a teaching position (with free day care) in New Hampshire and would be starting in September, three months hence. I could come with her, she declared, or stay, she didn’t care either way, though I knew she would be happy to be free of me, having more than once of late expressed her incontrovertible hatred for my anarchic hippie attitude (as well as my person in general). “Your job,” she whined, “if you want to call it that, doesn’t even provide us health insurance”(a thing virtually unknown when I was growing up in self-reliant New England). Well, love doesn’t last, n’est-ce pas? Did I feel a fool? Was I going to waste another day of my, at twenty-one, relatively young life? I found a cheap charter flight to France, cashed my most recent bookkeeping paycheck (they still owed me for two weeks), collected my meager savings previously destined for buying a roomier car (probably a VW bus, the Ducati having been sold to finance the move north) and on the day of departure packed a bag while the wife was still sleeping. I left her a note wishing her good luck in all future

endeavors, then drove the construction company pickup to the airport, parking it safely if not legally on the access road. Once inside the terminal, to avoid criminal charges, I telegrammed my boss telling him where to find the truck—the money due me being more than sufficient to cover the cost of retrieving it and any consequential pain or suffering... I arrived in Strasbourg in the late morning of the next day then rode a bus into town with Jean-Luc, a Bread & Puppet Theater artist I had met and communed with on the plane, who promptly treated me to choucroute garnie with flinty chilled Alsatian wine at a bistro near the city’s central plaza and an overnight stay in his family home (my first experience with genuine Eurocentric generosity, as opposed to the agenda-driven American kind) and the next day started hitchhiking to Paris via Nancy and Metz. Arriving exhausted the next afternoon at the Place Vendôme but re-energized by the grandeur and beauty of the city (ah, Youth! Pass the bottle...), I managed within two hours to find a room through the American International Student Center (like Radio Free Europe, a CIA front), then downed with much delectation a pot of hot chocolate and two croissants and dropped horizontal until the next sunrise. A month of bliss later, having spent every morning scribbling sophomoric stream-ofconsciousness poetry, the afternoons viewing auteurish films (some with English subtitles, others with Arabic, Farsi or Russian, I didn’t care) at the Cinémathèque Française and the evenings walking miles through the breezy, warmly lit city, stopping every once a fountain to ponder the pedestrian parade and smoke a pungent, metaphysically stimulating Gauloise, I was suddenly knocked sideways by a seismic wave of Catholic guilt (mostly over the child) and the next morning found myself at the American

My First Communist - Alexander Lowell Express office wiring Helen the rest of my cash, enough to cover rent and food until September. An hour later, I found the waiter job at Mother Earth’s and became solvent once again. At work, I had met three young, gay-in-every-way New Yorkers who needed someone to mind the cat and plants in their Les Halles apartment while they islandhopped around the Aegean for half a year, but when August arrived I was temporarily unemployed as Mother Earth’s closed for the entire month. I hadn’t been aware of this

On that fateful morning in St. Germain I had decided, after failing to attract any feline interest, to break the negative spell by seeing a film (I knew two cinemas in the neighborhood with back doors sometimes left ajar by patrons taking a ganja break in the rear alley) though the film I opted for, a French/ Italian art production about a mostly silent but very erotic affair ending in rooftop suicide, was not a good choice given my already overwrought state of sexual distemper. I emerged more aroused and more determined than ever to find a woman, and

think about that now as I strode down the late summer avenues and connecting streets of the Quarter, nor did I think of the fact that I had never in my life pursued a girl. I was twenty-one and of the thirteen girls I had made love to (and let’s be clear about this, I didn’t fuck, or “have sex,” or “bang” someone...I made love) I had not chased after any of them—they had approached me with a respectful degree of aggression, which statement is not braggadocio, it’s merely the way it was (in fact, I did not become fully cognizant of this phenomenon until years later

quaint French custom and my money would not last until they reopened in thirty-one days. Despite my lack of funds, I was physically strong and, as I had been told more than once, highly presentable… and amenable to accepting any sort of honest labor. What’s more, I knew how to convince a potential employer that I was a diligent worker and would show up every day on time (a rarity now), which meant I wasn’t worried about finding work, the only limitation being that it couldn’t involve much speaking as my French was, for the moment, barely rudimentary.

after giving myself an imaginary but effective kick in the ass, I set off again on my romantic quest through the postcardesque streets of the Latin Quarter. I had never slept with someone I wasn’t in love with, though it wasn’t difficult for me (and didn’t take very long) once in the suffusing presence of a girl with whom I had felt from the first moment that spark of connection (which didn’t happen with just any girl—one out of a thousand, if that) to fall under the dizzying enchantment of her individual charms. But I didn’t

because I had never had occasion to consider or examine it). I was not teen idol handsome, but until now I had apparently possessed something that drew certain women to me without my having to make an effort, in fact most often without my having to even speak, which was perhaps part of the allure—“He’s the strong silent type. Still waters run deep and all that,” a former employer had once written in her letter of recommendation—and I suppose that clichéd statement was true, though my disinclination to talk much (to anybody) likely had more to do with a very strict father’s demand

“These days I was more interested in pursuing my own artistic ambitions than destroying the bourgeoisie.”


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22 for absolute quiet in and out of the house (“Silence is golden,” and “It’s far better to be silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt” being favorite oftstated, oft-imposed dictums) as well as the fact that I hated any kind of noise as it interfered with my thought processes and reading. Somehow I exuded the sense that—to use a phrase from those days—I “had it together,” and perhaps I did in many aspects, though I generally felt as lost in the cosmos as the next guy. After my army experience, which had included eight months of incarcerated hard labor and which should have imposed into my psyche at least a modicum of cynicism, I was still somewhat naïve, still had faith in the basic goodness of my fellow humans and hadn’t figured out much concerning the world at large, making, as I had, one major life mistake after another. Once I did meet and fall for a girl, I had no trouble knowing how to proceed as I had studied under excellent teachers—my three high school girlfriends, each imbued with the liquid fire of young passion and erotic imagination, had spoiled me for life; memories of our blissful lovemaking can send me into a fervid rapture even now. Here in France, however, the nexus of carefree, extemporaneous romance (think Rimbaud, Chopin, Miller, Montherlant), any natural appeal I once possessed seemed to have evaporated into the ether: the mere fact that I had to roam the streets in search of a liaison was evidence of this disturbing descent of fortune. Whatever confidence I had owned in the past (never an assertive, loud or dominating sort of confidence but a quiet resolve; let’s say a mildly assured sense of self) had been undermined if not entirely shattered by the twin letdowns of my wife leaving me (despite the fact that I was in most ways anxious for her to go) and the


albeit temporary loss of my job. I also had no knowledge or experience in the art of picking up women as I had never found it necessary. I possessed no instantly winning smile… on the contrary, what smile I may have displayed as a child had been beaten out of me as a result of my father’s anger (in front of the entire parish) at seeing his altar boy son silently laughing and grinning in derision at one or another vapidity being mouthed by the priest in his mid-liturgy lecture (an incongruous admixture of Jesuit logic and faithdependent myth), the belt-buckle beatings commencing instantly at my return home from mass; although, by then, I had already forgotten whatever it was that had caused my sneerful grins, and after the fourth punishment in two months (there were three priests and only one of them an idiot, so it wasn’t every week), I stopped smiling altogether. And strange as it may seem, it never occurred to me that in the art of spontaneous seduction a man’s smile is the proto-vital element: to be perceived as too serious to even crack a smile is tantamount to wearing a smallpox sign around your neck. Hence, the outright grimaces of repulsion I had received that morning, one after the other, caused my spirits to sink even lower, my demeanor to appear more dire, my aura of desperation more pronounced—especially after observing the come-on smiles being consistently generated by the two lilywhite British fops walking a few steps in front of me (older by five years, shorter by six inches, no shoulders to speak of, but with stylish haircuts and decidedly au courant threads, whereas I was dressed in basic Lee jeans, and the only clean top I could find that morning: an out-of-season white crew sweater that made a bona fide longhaired radical look like a frat boy from Minnesota). I had unwittingly assumed that once any woman met

me and started to know me, my unique individuality, whatever it was, would become obvious. The problem was, I couldn’t get to that first step of being met. One breath after having sent “yes we’re available” smiles to the two mod fops in front of me, the same women lasered “forget about it” glares at me. Needless to say, I was flummoxed, and by the time I reached the Lipp, close to the point of surrender, I was practically ready to turn around and head for home, where I had at least the comfort of books and music. Why was I so consistently striking out on a street teeming with idling, unaccompanied, attractive women? It never occurred to me that my appearance might bespeak a lack of expendable funds; for the Summer of Love generation, the question of how much money was in a man’s pocket was immaterial—his appeal was about other things, things of which I possessed, in my opinion, a goodly amount. Weak in spirit and body (I’d had nothing to eat since indulging in a paper cone of street pommes frites twenty-four hours ago), I came to rest on that hardwood ergonomically deranged bench staring into the crowd of happy pilgrims conversing and imbibing within the café, and it was then that I was jolted asunder when that extraordinary specimen of sensual womanhood focused her gaze on my physiognomy with a long onceover and a smile, as dazzling as it was assertive, that startled me into near paralysis. What had suddenly changed about my “at first glance” appearance, I wondered. In my discombobulated state I remembered an incident from my first week in Paris when, having just exited the Rodin Museum, I encountered a young lady of perhaps twenty who stepped next to me and with a mischievous turn of her mouth nodded at me and I, not lacking confidence at that point and being inspired by the art I had spent

My First Communist - Alexander Lowell a stimulating hour with, said hello, thinking I had seen her or someone resembling her a couple of rooms ahead of me at the gallery. “It’s wonderful, isn’t it?” I asked, inclining my head towards the museum. But she only continued to nod and pleasantly smile and I wondered if she knew much English though she was dressed like any one of the thousands of university students in that neighborhood with their obligatory backpacks freighted with books. A moment later, however, she was laughing for no discernible reason, and the next thing I knew we were sitting in a bistro booth becoming better acquainted. I sensed as I gazed into her welcoming eyes and complimented her on the lushness of her long, wavy dark brown hair, that in half an hour, if the process proceeded as usual, we would be kissing (starting off in the booth, then moving on to my place), despite the slight language barrier, when she said, again with that mischievous smile, “We go now? Five hundred francs?” and I fell back against the leather upholstery of the booth truly astonished until— laughing to myself at the situation (to think that I could be perceived as having the need to pay for sex!)—I told her it was nice to meet her and au revoir, because to my way of thinking, a man had to be quite desperate to hire a sex worker: he had to be physically off-putting, very old or a soldier in some foreign place without the possibility of encountering women in a normal way; but it also made me wonder if France was so different from the “free love” atmosphere I had left in America. I had been under the impression that the young French, especially after the student riots of ‘68, were much the same as my generation in America, not realizing how conservative French society was, how still very much centered around the family and all the baggage this entailed (in Bertolucci’s The Dreamers,

Matthew, the outsider American, is a free agent, but the brother and sister, despite their libertine poses, are still very much part of a nuclear family, and most of the film’s narrative takes place in the familial home), the ties to family and society in general still very much alive if not fully intact, whereas my cohorts in the States had strived to effect a clean break from the “straights,” even going so far as to physically remove ourselves from their midst by creating isolated communes in the countryside where we attempted to live a Thoreau-inspired, deliberate life, independent of the “establishment” (no electricity but wood for heat and cooking, kerosene lamps for light; hand-pumped well water, outhouses, home-cultivated food, etc.) while others—the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers, the May 19th Coalition—through violence tried to destroy the status quo (I had come very close to blowing up a draft board office with my brother who, through his job, had access to dynamite, but we aborted the plan at the last minute after spotting civilians living in an apartment above). But it seemed French youth had exorcised it from their systems with a few demonstrations and I was beginning to think I was truly in a different country, although, I had to admit, these days I was more interested in pursuing my own artistic ambitions than destroying the bourgeoisie. All this was running through my head as I debated once again the possibility that this dark-haired mystery woman was also a prostitute. Intuition told me that she wasn’t, but I decided to observe her a bit, thinking, based on her enticing getup and her air of careful breeding and sophistication, that if she was a prostitute, even a part-timer, she must be very expensive, and I had neither the desire nor the means to pursue her and should thus move on. My immediate problem was that, from my

position on the bench, I couldn’t see her face in detail, there being so much to-ing and fro-ing of waiters and patrons within the café. I needed to go inside and do a slow walk-through as if I were looking for someone I was scheduled to meet. Once inside, however, I realized that wandering among the tables for a minute or two would not allow me the chance to properly observe her actions. Was she tendering that smile and come-hither once-over to other men? And if so, was it to every male who passed through her range or just certain ones? I found an empty table a few feet from hers, sat down without looking her way, and when the waiter approached ordered a glass of panaché, an inexpensive quaff (half beer and half carbonated lemonade) that would establish my right to sit there long enough to sufficiently assess her game plan, if indeed she had one. As soon as the waiter went off to retrieve my order, I raised my head only to see that she was again looking directly into my eyes with an almost frightening intensity, causing me to flinch and turn away—to feel instantly like the world’s biggest coward (I who had never considered myself “unbrave” about anything)— and my embarrassment at this moment of weakness nearly caused me to exit before the waiter could deliver my drink, but I managed to stay in my seat, uncertain as to my next move. Should I look at her again so soon after ignobly diverting from her gaze (what power she had in those penetrating eyes!) or should I play it cool and try to observe peripherally her reaction to my lack of engagement and then… then what? I had no idea. Not only did I have no experience in picking up women, I was not aware, even secondhand, of the basic rules involved. But now she was looking elsewhere, assessing a young man who had left his table and was on his way


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22 to what must be the toilets at the rear of the café. Though I couldn’t see his face or how he had responded, she apparently wasn’t pleased as she frowned after he passed and, with a grimace of disdain, lit a cigarette. So I waited, nursed my drink and watched her for another ten minutes during which she did look around at the other men, most of whom were not alone, but did not pay anyone, even the men passing close to her table and giving her figure admiring glances (her dark-toned legs, crossed and jutting out to the side of her table as she rhythmically kicked one foot into the air, were a marvel in themselves), the serious attention she had paid me. Thus, I felt somewhat satisfied that she was not a streetwalker... or if she was, she was a most discriminating one. Once, twice, three times I made a move to rise from my chair and approach her, but in each instance lost my nerve, telling myself that the advantage of spontaneity was no longer there. I didn’t have the money to take her to lunch, even to a street cart. She was out of my league—me an ex-hippie, artist bum, and she a woman of refined tastes and, no doubt, lofty expectations. But in the next moment, with a sudden jolt of bravado, I thought: to hell with all that. What do I have to lose? At which point she stood up, shot me a wounding look that said, “I’m getting tired of this” and marched off towards the back—that pained look in her eye resubmerging me into a funk of confusion. What was her intent now? Should I follow her for a quick rendezvous in the bathroom? This was not the type of place for that—it was too busy, too public—and I didn’t think she was so reckless or uninhibited. I sat there fixed to my seat, searching desperately in my mind for an explanation for what she had just done and for what I should do to end the agony of uncertainty. Finally I


decided that as soon as she returned I would march straight to her table, sit across from her and tell her that I… but wait—now she was moving not back to her table (I hadn’t noticed that she had already left money there) but striding briskly towards me, slowing her step only when we were nearly face to face to shoot me a last withering glance that unmistakably said, “Quelle dommage! You’ve left it too long and missed your chance. Tant pis pour vous.” This was so clearly communicated I knew it meant now or never, but there was the matter of the check to pay and I had only a single one hundred franc note. I looked around for the waiter but couldn’t see him anywhere. Had he gone on break? I went directly to the cashier to pay for my half pint, but he wouldn’t comply and insisted I pay my server, who was now tending to customers outside. I ran out to the terrace and spotted him carrying a full tray on his way in. It seemed to take ten minutes for him to produce my check and for the cashier to hand over my change so that I was certain before I reached the sidewalk she’d be well out of sight. With a feeling of final defeat I looked up and down the avenue to see that, indeed, she was gone. Though the avenue was busy with tourists and local mortals, I knew purely from instinct I would not spot her exquisite form among them. What a moron I was! I had been able to stand up to sadistic guards in two army prisons as well as deranged life-sentenced murderers bent on slitting my throat, but I couldn’t conjure up the courage to approach a woman who had shown intense interest in me on a day when I was hornier than a one-eyed, threelegged billygoat in the middle of a pepper patch! With an ever-sinking feeling that I had blown the most propitious moment of my life, I started fleet-footing towards the metro station with the slim hope that she, being just

as frustrated, had decided to call it a day and go home—I might just be able to catch her before she passed through the turnstile to board a train. I had jogged only half a block when I felt a tingle on the back of my neck that prompted me to turn to my left and there she was, not twenty feet away, watching me out of the corner of her eye as she posed in front of a boutique window display. I stopped running and without giving my brain the chance to come up with any further excuse for deliberation, went straight toward her, and, although she continued with her pretense of studying the dresses adorning the mannequins, I lamely asked, “Excuse me, do you speak English?” “Yes, of course,” she said and immediately placed her hand firmly at the small of my back to steer me in a steady, forced-march advance through the onslaught of novelty-seeking pedestrians and away from the cluster of cafés. I was stupefied, but through the burning pressure of her hand on my back, her commanding presence and the close proximity to every part of her body (offering me a more direct and thus profound impression of her alarming beauty) I was literally swept off my feet. A moment later, as sometimes happens under the influence of certain psychotropic drugs, I was looking down at myself, inexplicably, miraculously twined with this Levantine Aphrodite, from several feet above. But where were we headed? I had no idea nor did I care as long as we continued our forward extemporaneous tango, linked at the hip as her silk-encased thighs brushed against mine with every step, her hand now sliding down my back and under the bottom edge of my sweater to move her roundly manicured nails along the flesh covering my spine and knead the dorsal muscles of my back, which sent

My First Communist - Alexander Lowell a fresh jolt of electricity through my neck and into my increasingly lustaddled brain. I was about to write: imagine my state of mind, but in fact I no longer possessed a state of mind. I was accelerating into an ambulatory licentious trance, subliminally unnerved at the rapidity of its onset; I was entirely under her spell, her

Then suddenly she stopped and pulled her lips away (I assumed so we could make progress along the avenue which was now, it seemed, even busier with a chaos of tourists), and I had the sense, as I lingered in that well of fevered pleasure, that this first kiss had been a way of testing our sensory compatibility: if there was no immediate chemical congruity

had not yet touched the pavement from when she first caressed my back and piloted me away. Not only were all the cells of my body at the point of bursting from overstimulation, but my heart and mind were fully engaged in the most vigorous contexture of amatory and altruistic impulses. Every bone, every muscle, every ligament of my soul was telling

“‘But I must tell you first,’ (ah, here

it comes) . . . ‘I am communist. You should know this. Nothing is as important to me in my life, no matter what happens today between us.’” sensory control, and more than happy to be there, no longer capable of wondering or worrying about whether or not she was a professional. This was too real to be mere commercial artifice, and in the next moment all traces of the question dissolved as she kissed me full on the mouth (prostitutes never kiss, n’est-ce pas?) and we clutched in an ever-descending swoon, her hands dropping down to my derrière to massage my cheeks, turning my blood to molten fire.

then... But there certainly was, and as she pulled me into another almost violent kiss, such pleasure multiplied and expanded in rushes of increasing passion, ascending into one sustained shiver of lust, so that we had to either force our lips apart or start tearing off our clothes right there on the street. To say I was struck like a lightning charge by her beauty and her sexual power would be only approximating the full sensory effect. I had never fallen so quickly and so unequivocally for anyone. My feet

me I had found the love of my life. “Where are we going?” “To my apartment. You want to go with me, yes?” “Of course, but...” through the cacophony of sensations that now obscured my consciousness, my suspicions that perhaps she was a prostitute were again rising to the surface, though every articulated neuron of my being was asserting, No, this is real, this is a unique but not wholly unbelievable situation, a fortuitous instance of spontaneous


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22 attraction that I had experienced the like of before though not so profoundly and which could only be completed through the act of sex, yet... “But I must tell you first,” (ah, here it comes)... “I am communist. You should know this. Nothing is as important to me in my life, no matter what happens today between us.” “That’s...that’s good,” I countered, thinking this is going to be interesting. Here comes a whole new world. “I was living on a commune,” I added, “just before I moved here,” a fact I hoped qualified me as a comrade or, at the very least, a fellow traveler. “Yes,” was all she said, but I wasn’t sure she understood the reference. Though now it didn’t matter as she was tracing her fingertips up my back to the base of my neck and I was becoming with this simple gesture as aroused as I had ever been, my fired up, alarmed senses in a tumult of confusion and delight. The sidewalk was still crowded with people passing in either direction but they may as well have been ciphers. The world in its entirety consisted only of this marvelous woman and me, falling madly—not desperately—but deliberately, as if fated by the gods, in love. I was conjoined with her not only by her ever-vigilant hand on my tensile flesh but also by the dynamic of our undeniable metaphysical/physical connection. “What’s your name?” I asked as she nuzzled her head into my neck. “Zahra. And who are you?” “Alex.” And as if we had just sent a message to each other through live wire nerve endings, we stopped and swooned again into a long, pervading kiss that sent my head and heart into a whirl of analgesic oblivion. Within that whirl was contained all the surrounding beauty of the moment— the sun on the side of the Beaux-Arts architecture, on the leaves of the plane trees that lined the sidewalk, on the


facades of cafés and shopfronts; the music of the accordion that emanates from bistro interiors and pervades the atmosphere (as in every Parisian film, even when there is no accordion in sight), the happy, mad confusion of shapes, colors and sounds of the passing traffic and the flow of awestruck pedestrians streaming along the avenues, the blue sky and the billowing white clouds decorating it, the sudden realization that this was the life I was meant to lead (the phrase “I’m a lover not a fighter” came to my head), and it was part of the joyous, erotic flow that represented for me a return to the libertine days of my not-so-distant past that, having been married for the past couple of years, striving as I had to be a responsible provider, I had not had a chance to replicate (yes, there had been two brief incidents that had only served to make me hungrier: a frowsy-haired redhead had approached me with enthusiasm in a record shop and beginning with her stroking my hair and several tentative kisses, which action, upon reaching her gauzy, candle and incense apartment—doused in Indian prints for good measure—a few minutes later, quickly escalated into several hours of ravishment. The other involved a highly neurotic, raven-haired beauty who picked me up hitchhiking one night on her way home from her job in the local rope factory—my wife was visiting family with our car—and although the amatory gymnastics were inspiring, almost otherworldly at times, and performed to the accompaniment of Pink Floyd, she erupted finally as a howling, arm-flailing banshee the moment I turned on my side to sleep). And I had begun to wonder if a spontaneous encounter would ever befall me again, but now here I was in the middle of it once more but at a heightened level, because I was in Paris, the city of love and light, and I was with a transcendently exotic, sophisticated woman (no

mousy-haired, gypsy-robed, spaced out hippie chick was she, this woman was a goddess, closer in stature and classic features to the Venus Callipyge I had recently admired in the Louvre, a proud intelligent, worldly woman who had chosen me even after I had flubbed the initial approach), and now my confidence was fully restored, my knowledge that I was in peak condition, my limbs imbued with the effortless great strength of youth, my surety in my lovemaking skills re-established as she in turn was obviously lost in a fandango of passion herself and (it seemed) falling for me just as quickly and profoundly as I was falling for her… and then the unclinching of our locked embrace so that we could make progress to her apartment where we could consume each other in privacy and the quiet intimacy that can only take place along the soft contours of a bed. Thus far my role had been only to follow and to return the gestures and the passion that she initiated. We stopped and fell into an embrace and kissed intensely two or three more times until finally I was so lost in a fevered trance I didn’t know whether I was walking or being carried aloft, until I found myself being guided through the entrance of a large building and slowly climbing the stairs while we kissed and ravaged each other against the handrails. At one point, she became so insensate with lust she pushed me down onto the steps, mounted me and began grinding away while trying to unfasten my belt. Before I could stop her, however, there was a noise below, and she abruptly woke from her own trance and stood to gather herself and lead me in an almost normal way up another flight of stairs to the door of her apartment. Once inside, we began tearing away at each other again (I had my hand inside her blouse, she was gripping my erection through my trousers), and it was clear we

My First Communist - Alexander Lowell had at last embarked upon the final passage. I sensed an intensifying of her emotions—she seemed more deliberate in her kisses and caresses and we dove inwardly into an abyss of pleasure with even more abandon than on the street (we were in a safe haven now). But, again, as we neared a state of superhuman rapture, something startled her consciousness, and she abruptly pulled away as if yanked by an outside force to hold me at arm’s length and stare into my glazed-over eyes as if something was very wrong. “What happened?” I asked. “I’m sorry...” “About what?” “Nothing,” she assured as she grabbed me and dove in again with even more ferocity and drive. I followed suit with my own intensity and strength of emotion, happy once again and anxious with delight and anticipation about the next step. Yet just before ascending into that now familiar state of blissful stasis, she stopped again and pushed me away as if I had offended her. “I can’t.” “You can’t what? Continue? Of course you can. What’s wrong, Zahra? You’re wonderful. You’re driving me out of my—” “I can go... (she hesitated, trying to find the right words in a language she spoke masterfully but with major gaps in vocabulary)... and I can do everything, can feel everything, but I... I can never arrive.” In my state of ecstatic catatonia I could not fathom what she was trying to say. “You can’t arrive? Arrive at what? We’re already here. Let’s just continue. This is...” But as I put my arms around her, she moved away and held my hands instead. “Am I doing something wrong?” I asked. Though I couldn’t imagine, given the depths of pleasure

we had tasted, what it could be. “No. No, it’s me. I can never arrive. That’s the problem. Go sit down. I will make coffee.” Coffee? Was she mad? We were in the heat of the most intense lovemaking I’d ever experienced (without having yet removed our clothes) and she wanted to break for coffee? Besides that, I had absorbed from somewhere the perhaps spurious information that too much caffeine could impede a male’s sexual performance, and despite the fact that I had never experienced any disappointments in that area, I was so determined to succeed with Zahra (and in a spectacular, unparalleled way), that I was overly cautious about allowing any substance to enter my system that might jeopardize that in the slightest way. Just to keep the positive vibes flowing evenly, I said, “Sure. Okay,” but as I made to leave the kitchen and she turned to pull things from the cabinet, I looked at her slimly voluptuous body, the high heels jutting her derrière higher and at an invitingly accommodating angle, and I couldn’t resist grabbing her from behind, turning her around and against me and going in for another long, soulful kiss but, sure enough, she stepped away and said, “Wait. Let’s have some coffee first.” I stood there panting like a dog that has been promised a treat, but whose mistress, on the way to fetch it, has answered the telephone and sat down in the next room for an insipid, interminable chat. As Zahra busied herself in the kitchen, washing out some cups and monitoring the progress of the coffee, I, through the fog of dismembered lust and bedazzlement, observed details about her that did not in any way lessen my astonishment at how extraordinary she was, rather the opposite. Sometime between the last clutch of passion and now, she

had let her hair down and its clean sheen of animal vibrancy gave it an excited luster all its own. She sensed my studying gaze, but instead of expressing her pride, shot me a stern look—followed by a slim smile of indulgence—then commanded, “Go into the salon and play some music. I have the new Miles Davis.” I glanced in the direction to which she had nodded and like a still binge-woozy drunk waking in a strange bed I became aware of my new surroundings. In the salon off the kitchen there was a large sofa against windows overlooking the street, with an easy chair and various low tables and ottomans distributed about the room. To the left was a half-opened door revealing a queen-size bed covered in a white duvet, and to the left of that door was another smaller door that must have fronted the toilet. To the right of the sofa a component stereo system sat on a long black metal shelf with records stacked next to it. The walls were an off-white and with a rough stucco look that reminded me of photos I had seen of whitewashed houses in a Greek village. There was only a single picture on each wall, all of them having to do with radical politics (Che Guevara, The Tupamaros, Mao Tse Tung, Ho Chi Minh) while everywhere, even in the kitchen and hallway, were makeshift pine plank shelves overflowing with books. I stepped to the turntable and saw that the album at the front of the stack was Miles’ Bitches Brew, with its lurid, sensual cover done in the style of Hendrix’s Axis: Bold As Love (it is only now, upon reflection, that I realize how apt was her implied choice of music). I switched the system on, set the record on the turntable and the needle on the vinyl. I was looking through the rest of her albums, not recognizing half of them as the titles were in Arabic, when she clicked back into the room bearing a tray, set two straw-encased glass cups


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22 of coffee, plus cream and sugar, on the low table in front of the sofa and announced, “I will take a quick bath now. Sit here,” patting a place on the sofa, “and have your coffee.” It was not so much a suggestion as an order, part of the strategy she was perhaps making up as she went along, but a strategy nevertheless. I still had

Mother Earth’s (running up and down the stairs all day), was well-muscled and without fat, but despite the fact that I was already crazy about her, the authoritarian tone and perhaps unconscious habit of phrasing almost every statement in the command voice was beginning to have a dampening effect. Do this. Do that, with no softening

a gigolo, all of my previous sexual partners had remarked positively on my demeanor and physique. And like any red-blooded American boy, I bridled at being told every step of the way what to do. I knew quite well what to do and was anxious to proceed, because in spite of this little flaw of hers, I was becoming more and more

no desire for coffee and glanced at it with a face of disappointment, which she noticed, and quickly stepped to me so that we, for a moment, fell once again into a lambent kiss before she broke away and said, “I will not be late [instead of ‘long’]. Sit. Take off your jumper [which told me she had learned her English from the Brits]. It is hot here, no?” I had no compunction about taking off my sweater: my body, as a result of all the physical exertion involved in waiting on tables at

preliminary words (Why don’t you...You might like to... Would you like to..., etc.). I had had plenty of experience with spirited, take charge women, but their aggressiveness had been confined to their passion. They hadn’t bossed me around in this didactic, superior manner. They might be in control of the situation but in a non-intimidating way, manipulating me sweetly and coquettishly through action alone. Yes, she was stunningly beautiful in every way, but while I didn’t possess the irresistible faint-inducing face of

convinced that today’s meeting was fated and I was already seeing Zahra and myself as a couple dashing blindly into the future, whatever that entailed. Yes, she was perhaps three or four years older than me and might consider herself better educated, an intellectual, in fact—judging by the tenor of her book collection—but I was not without brains, had always done well in school until I discovered girls, even won an appointment to West Point based on army entrance exams (I told them no thank you). I was not,

“We thought we had worked through the bourgeois sentimentalities of jealousy and possession, which are on the same level as private ownership.”


My First Communist - Alexander Lowell in anyone’s estimation, an intellectual and I was aware that my speaking voice, with its remnants of a Massachusetts accent and its somewhat guttural tone, revealed my parentage as working class (though striving for the middle). But I was so taken with her, so resolutely committed to our obviously ordained bond, I was willing to attribute her slight arrogance and authoritarian manner to nervousness. The music now was extremely neurotic, catastrophically atonal with the various musicians playing in asymmetrical time signatures, which only added to my growing sense of disorientation and discomfort when ideally the background music should have been restful, languorous (Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, even earlier Miles Davis... like Kind of Blue). Instead, these sounds were unpeaceful, at times downright disturbing and very much a reflection of the on/off, start/stop manner she had exhibited since first commandeering me off the street— most especially since we had entered the apartment. I took a sip of coffee but was still determined to avoid it. I did not remove my sweater, partially because she had ordered me to and partially because I felt uncomfortable standing around waiting like a house pet while halfexposed. Once the lovemaking began in earnest, I would have no trouble removing or having her remove every scrap of clothing, which for me was a sacramental act in a sacred ritual. I looked around the apartment with altered vision and noticed a studied, homogenous sense of design. There were casual, lived-in aspects of the place but it was also obvious some care and thought had gone into choosing objects and furniture, and their arrangement within the four walls. When my perusal of the room circled back to where I was sitting, I saw a telephone on the end table of the sofa and noticed that printed on a slip of paper taped to its body was

the number. I quickly found a pen and wrote it on a receipt I found in my pocket. The gush of the water filling the bath had stopped and there was only quiet as the record had come to its neurotic end. If she was doing any splashing around it was muffled by the thick wooden door and the tangled synapses of my thoughts and emotions. It was odd, I thought, that she would take a bath when a shower would have been much quicker, but then I remembered that not all bathrooms in Europe had showers even though it would be easy to hook up a DIY attachment from the faucet to the wall above. Perhaps I would offer to install one for her, though I had the sense, without seeing any evidence of it, that someone else was living with her, most likely a man. Just as I was getting up to peek inside the bedroom for clues, the bathroom door opened and she, still glistening from the steam generated by the hot bath, stepped into the room and I nearly shouted in surprise. She was gloriously naked except for her three-inch high heels and a gold chain that hung around her waist, its angle of suspension accentuating the maddeningly enticing curve of her hips as she moved towards me like Salome approaching a spellbound Herod. “Take off your clothes,” she ordered, a little more softly this time as she bent to pick up her coffee, gazing with smiling eyes of seduction over the rim of the cup while she took a long sip, the fullness of her breasts swinging forward. I stood and pulled my sweater over my head then stepped to embrace all that shimmering, glimmering beauty. She accepted my mouth on her lips but kept me at enough distance to unbuckle my belt and pull down my jeans. It wasn’t until I had finished removing my shoes, socks and underwear that she melded into me and we began a slow consummation

that sent me once more to the peaks of sensory Parnassus until... quelle surprise, she broke from me anew (I was so far gone that I had forgotten about her previous stopping and starting). She gently pushed me back to the sofa and eased me down, sitting next to me with a frown on her face. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing. But I...” “Listen, I don’t have any, uh, protection with me. Do you— “That’s not it. Don’t worry about that.” “I like you very much, Zahra. I’m falling in—” She threw her hand over my mouth and shook her head no. “Am I doing something wrong?” I pleaded, breathless with impatience. “Something you don’t like?” “No, it’s... Yes, I like you, too. I think you are even... a little bit intelligent, non? And your body...” “A little bit, eh?” “Yes, I don’t like too... How do you say, brain?” “Brainy?” “But I don’t know if you are the right person for this... and... I must tell you something.” “Yes, you already told me. You’re a communist.” “No. I am with someone. We are not married, but we have been together for a long time. We went to school together. We are committed to each other, as we are to our beliefs, and everything is wonderful except... you understand?” “Except sex?” “Yes. He is the only man I have ever been with, and in the beginning it was alright because we had other things to concern ourselves with. We are from Palestine and were involved in many actions there for the Party. But, with the sex, I can never arrive.” “Arrive? I don’t...” The penny dropped finally and I understood. “You mean ‘come’? You don’t


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22 have an orgasm?” “Yes, we’ve had this problem for some time and have talked a lot about what to do. And in the end we decided I should... try it with another man.” “I see.” So I’m just the guinea pig, I smiled to myself with some resentment. I felt a bit stupid, and didn’t have the maturity or the sangfroid to simply laugh it off and get on with the job at hand. “I have gone out to try this a few times, but I didn’t find anyone.” “So I’m the first? Lucky me.” “Don’t be that way. Okay. I can see this was a mistake. You were not the right kind of—” I was glad she didn’t finish the sentence because I was still so caught up in the unstoppable, whirlwind of falling in love (watching her ridiculously generous lips move as she spoke, being stirred by the transporting intensity in her eyes), I was willing to forget the premise for our situation and I was convinced by the force of my own feelings for her and the passion she had shown me that I could succeed in making her fall in love with me (much like, I suppose, the foolish man who thinks he is so special in the eyes of his regular prostitute that he can save her from her life of debauchery, in fact make her want to give it all up to become his devoted wife). I gently clutched the back of her head and pulled her in for a kiss with an implied message of “just shut up.” And this time she did not stop. She did not limit herself at a certain point in her expressions of desire, so that a moment later, like two inebriated winos, we had a difficult time maneuvering our way to the bed. Once on the mattress, however, as if with the realization there could be no turning back, she hesitated in her fervor (but silently and only for a second) before I slid down her body and began caressing her labia with my lips and tongue. She tensed when I


focused on her clitoris (and the notion flashed through my head that perhaps her boyfriend had never done such, meaning this could be the key to...), but a moment later she relaxed as tentative moans that soon grew more flagrant and louder emerged from her throat. She made no gesture for me to stop or to reciprocate my gestures with fellatio, so when it seemed she had reached a fever pitch—my fingers massaging her G-spot, my tongue relentlessly aggravating her clitoris and her hips bucking up as if ready for climax—I rose up on my knees and entered her and began slowly thrusting while simultaneously exerting pressure from my pelvis onto her vulva. We were a good fit, I remember thinking. She was not a large woman and I was a man of normal proportions so there was sufficient soft friction in the process. I began kissing her again, alternating between her mouth, neck and breasts, but she did not respond, and when I looked at her face for a clue, I saw that she had a worried, anxious expression: her eyes, rather than making contact with mine, were darting around the bed and the room as if trying to reorient herself to the environment—or as if wondering what she was doing here in this particular place with me, a place she had shared solely with her longtime boyfriend. But after the long and tantalizing build-up of the last hour, beginning from the moment in front of the Lipp when her eyes had darted burningly at me, I was finding it difficult to delay my own climax, so I started to turn onto my back so I might pull her on top, thinking this position, in which she could better control the pressure on her clitoris, would facilitate her orgasm, but she resisted, and when I said, “You get on top,” she shook her head and looked away. Though her response to my continued thrusts did not stop, they seemed diminished in enthusiasm as if she were ready to wind down to a gradual end. I pulled

my hands down from her breasts and slid them under her buttocks to clinch them as I raised up a bit to grind more purposefully against her wet clitoris, but she suddenly said, “I don’t... I can’t... No, I don’t think this is going to...” but I was already in the final phase—at a point ideally when she should have been gathering all her senses to peak at the same moment— and it was (as Van says) too late to stop now. Enough of this neurotic teasing, dithering and vacillation— this blowing hot and cold then hot again. She had picked me up off the street; she had led me here to her apartment, making love all the way; she had paraded in front of me in the most enticing, arousing way possible; she had stripped me of my clothes and pulled me into her bed and now, just at the high point of the process, she was telling me it wasn’t going to work? Internally and without conscious effort I told myself, to hell with it, I’m going to finish as best as I can under the circumstances and with five more deep and powerful thrusts (thinking perhaps this final ramming action would help bring her to climax), I exploded in long bursts inside her. I held her for a few moments, kissing her face and neck with no response from her until she pushed me to the side, got up from the bed without a word and escaped into the bathroom. She didn’t seem angry that I had gone ahead and finished despite her protestation, just disappointed, and indeed, given the circumstances, I couldn’t feel guilty. I got dressed, sat on the couch and drank the cold coffee. I was spent but not happily; I knew it had not gone as she or I had hoped, but was that down to me alone? What might I have done differently? Should I have been more assertive, less malleable, less willing to be manipulated by her will? I had never experienced unsatisfactory lovemaking before, but then, as I said, I was not

My First Communist - Alexander Lowell one to go out and pick up women just for sex. And for me, sex without love is a diminished undergoing altogether as the shared affection is not only an enhancement, but it transfigures the joys of the sensual into a journey towards a purer absolute. I had been falling heavily for Zahra as I had thought she had with me, until she revealed her agenda. But even then, I was willing to put that aside and try to win her heart anyway. It might take some work, but wasn’t it true that love could develop over time if it wasn’t there immediately? And this was where my thoughts were knocking about when she emerged from the bathroom dressed again in the clothes she was wearing when I met her. But before she could sit next to me, the phone on the end table rang and she answered it. She spoke in French but I could tell it was her boyfriend, and though I didn’t understand every word, I knew enough of the language to comprehend that she was revealing to him all that she had done and how it had not been a success. She was silent for a long time after that, though I could hear his voice asking questions and becoming more agitated as she declined to answer them. Finally she began to cry and, agreeing to something he suggested, she hung up. I moved closer to her. “Is everything all right?” She looked at me with something akin to contempt. “No, it’s not all right. What do you think? It’s a disaster!” She had tears in her eyes and now I felt some guilt, not because I had finished what she had so aggressively started, but simply because I had played a role in her failed attempt to solve her problem. Nonetheless, in addition to the empathy that her tears provoked, I felt closer to her and compelled to somehow correct the situation. Perhaps she should consider breaking off with him for a while. After

all, according to her, they had agreed on the plan, and now that she had so boldly and determinedly carried it through, why was he causing her grief over it? I didn’t know what words he had used to provoke such dismay and, as it was more obvious every second, despair, but it seemed to me the height of injustice. We had shared such passion up until the final moments, how could it have been only play-acting on her part? How could she have sent me into such a whirl of erotic and emotional inundation if there was no genuine connection between us? The power of the feeling I had for her had not lessened. In fact, despite her demeaning insult, intentional or not, that I was “a little bit intelligent,” I was growing more emotionally attached to her with every moment spent in her presence. I tried to embrace her, perhaps subconsciously hoping to rekindle the passion, which might this time produce a successful outcome for both of us, but she pushed me off gently, not as if I were an intruder but as if the moment was not quite right, and she announced that she was out of cigarettes and asked me if I would, while she tried to pull herself together and change into normal clothes, go down to a shop in the neighborhood to buy some. I was surprised and somehow glad to do it as it meant our tryst, if I could call it that, was not quite over. Might she consider while I was gone that we should try again, or that she should at least regard me in a different light? She handed me some cash and I listened to her instructions about where to find the tabac with a mind that was still occluded with lust, love and confusion (I had never been in a similar situation before), but I went with a renewed sense of purpose and optimism—anxious to accomplish my errand quickly and return to her kisses,

her scent, her astonishing presence and beauty—down the stairs, out the door then, according to her directions, right then left, then along the street until the second right and... but with all that was going around my head, and with the cells of my body still electrified by the ecstasy of the last hour, I failed to pay attention to my direction of movement. I stopped and looked back, thinking I had missed a turn; I looked ahead for a shop that looked anything like a tabac but spied only a restaurant, a flower shop and a bakery but no place to buy cigarettes. The proprietor of the bakery told me to turn at the next corner and halfway down the street to turn left into an alley and, at the end of it, right and I would see the tabac. Moments later, I found it and purchased the cigarettes but when I exited the shop, retraced my steps up the alley and turned to go back the way I thought I had come, I understood that I wouldn’t be able to remember how I had arrived at this point. I felt the beginning of panic, but I had always had an excellent sense of direction and felt confident that although I might make a wrong turn or two, I would be able to find my way back to her building. The only thing I could remember about the apartment block she lived on was the lettering of the concierge’s door inside the foyer. After twenty minutes of trying this building and that, I had to admit to myself I was well and truly lost. I saw one building halfway up the block that seemed to look familiar, and when I went to the front door and looked inside and saw the same lettering on the concierge’s door, I was overjoyed. But the vigilant concierge came out immediately as I entered the foyer and when I told her I was visiting Zahra, she said there was no woman by that name among her tenants. I checked another building whose sign was the same and then another and each concierge said there was no Palestinian woman there, and


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22 I realized they all used identical signs, just as most of the building address numbers were of the same style and color. In every direction I saw the same type of large red brick apartment building. How could I have been so stupid as to not note the address of the building before I walked away from it? And what would Zahra be thinking now? I had been gone nearly fortyfive minutes! She had given me a large note to buy the cigarettes. Would she think I had, like a resentful heel, run off with her money? I was aching to be back with her and try to work out the little problem she had—or at least further advance my case with her. I looked desperately up and down the street until I noticed a post office box on the corner. Remembering that the front of the one near her building was painted over with graffiti, I ran to inspect it. “Alex! What are you doing? Alex!” I looked up and saw Zahra leaning out the window four stories up and two buildings away. Her expression was full of annoyance, but I was never so happy to see anyone’s face. I raced to the building and flew up the stairs as the concierge was just returning home from shopping. Zahra was waiting at her door. “Where have you been? What the hell were you doing? I have to go and—” “I got lost. I was in such a daze when we came here together I didn’t pay attention to which building you were in. They all look the same.” “Okay. It’s alright. Just sit for a minute. I have to make a phone call then go meet my boyfriend at the station.” “Did you talk again? Is everything—” “Yes, we talked, but it’s not okay. I don’t know what will happen, but you have to go. This was a mistake. A big mistake.”


“Don’t say that.” “I wish I had never...” “It wasn’t a mistake for me. I feel very... I want to see you again.” “What!” “Maybe tomorrow? We can meet at the same place, the same time of day.” “No. This is ridiculous. I can’t see you again. Why would I do such a thing?” We were on the street by now and walking side by side but in no way together as we had been before. She was holding herself with her arms across her chest as if she were cold. When I tried to put my arm around her or take her hand, she shrugged me off with a pained look. After we had walked three more blocks in this manner she stopped at the corner of a square across from which I could see the train station. I turned her to face me and it was obvious she had been crying again. “Are you okay?” “I’m not good but it will be better, I think. We are both committed to the struggle and—” “I’d like to see you again.” “That’s not a good idea.” “But we... I mean, I know you felt what I felt. We can’t just...” “It was nothing. What happened between us today, it was nothing.” “I don’t believe you,” I said, holding her head so I could look into her eyes. I took a chance and kissed her. For a brief moment, despite what she had said, I felt that passion from her again. Then she pulled away, smoothed back her hair and said: “Goodbye. You’re a very nice man, but... we won’t see each other again.” *** Later that evening, around six o’clock, already lovesick and wallowing in darkness, I broke down (after fighting the urge for several hours) and

dialed her number. I didn’t have much hope that she would change her mind but I was worried about her. Who knew how her boyfriend would react when he was back in the apartment, the place where, that very afternoon, she had made love with another man. She answered on the third ring. “Zahra?” “Who is this?” “It’s Alex. I’m sorry to bother you. I was worried about you and...” “I don’t understand. How did you get this number?” “It’s written on your phone. I’m sorry. I thought we’d be seeing each other again, so I—” “You shouldn’t have called.” “I just want to know that you aren’t in any danger.” “Danger? No. We are not barbarians. But things are not good. We discussed this, Fahid and I, for a long time. We consulted our Party’s Moral Code, even talked to the leader of our group here in Paris. “And what did he say?” (not that I was going to give any weight to this, but I wanted to keep her on the line). “He told us he was proud of our personal bravery in challenging in a pragmatic way the feudal conventions of male/female relations.” “I agree. You did nothing wrong.” Her speech had turned woodenly formalistic, I noticed, but then the expressions had been composed via committee and learned rotely. “We thought we had worked through the bourgeois sentimentalities of jealousy and possession, which are on the same level as private ownership. In fact, we were excited about the whole process, looking forward to the discussion and analysis that would follow once I had actually succeeded in finding someone and achieving my... our... goal of arriving... of solving the problem. We felt happy and clear

My First Communist - Alexander Lowell in mind about the correctness of this action, this solution to a simple physical obstacle. But now...” “Yes?” “I don’t know. There is a process we must go through, a selfcriticism session to see where Fahid and I failed to follow the... But I don’t think you know about this. I’ve been told that communists in America are less disciplined. But today, what happened today, I think it is the worst day of my life. So for now, it’s better that you don’t call me again.” “For now? Listen, maybe things will change and you—” “No, I... I’m sorry. Don’t think it was entirely your fault. I think maybe you were not the right sort of... man for this.” “But I feel very close to you, Zahra. You can’t tell me that you didn’t feel the passion between—” “Yes but what is that? How is it useful to me? Especially if it didn’t... if I didn’t accomplish my objective.” “We could try again. I think I know what to do now. I—” “No. You are a very nice man, but... We won’t see each other again. Goodbye. Please don’t call me.” As I replaced the receiver on its hook I felt defeated all over again— and profoundly dispirited. Don’t think it was entirely your fault, she had said. How was any of her failure “to arrive” my fault? What else could I have done? We had no trouble in all the desire that came before she pulled me into bed, but once there, once naked and engaged in the final act... Was it because it was the same bed she slept in (and consistently failed in) with her boyfriend? What if I had insisted on making love right there on the sofa and, most importantly, had not allowed her to boss me around, in fact, to have refused to follow her commands no matter how minor or agreeable? Yes, that might be it, I decided. Probably what she needed was for the man to

take charge completely, to control the action of the entire encounter, not in a brutal way but in a firm confident manner: No, I don’t want coffee! I should have said. Take off your blouse and come over here. A bath? No, I need to taste you as you are, especially after that long walk in the heat. Keep your shoes on. Turn around. I want to see you stride across the room naked like that... But then again, maybe not. All I could be certain about was that I had fallen for her, and hard. We had been eager participants (at least it seemed to me) in the most natural of inter-human endeavors— the phenomenon of magnetic attraction—and to suddenly stop that process now because of a minor setback constituted a crime against nature. I spent the rest of the night smoking a formidable chunk of opium hash I found in a spice jar—the image of her face and body in front of me almost constant—until I nodded out on the floor. The next morning I went out early and found a part-time job cleaning the kitchen and washing dishes at a different café, just around the corner on Montorgueil, and I worked at it like a whipped coolie until three that afternoon. I was paid at the end of the shift from the waiters’ tips, plus a few francs from the boss, so I bought some pork chops and a bottle of plonk on the way home to try to appease my shattered psyche. At six o’clock, with most of the Algerian wine consumed and a belly on the way to contentment, I was startled by the ringing of the telephone—startled because only once since I had been staying here had anyone called and it was for one of the departed guys now trawling for fresh fish in the Aegean. Should I bother to answer it? Was taking messages one of my responsibilities as a house sitter? I picked it up after what must

have been the tenth ring. “Hallo,” I tried to give it a foreign inflection. Might as well have some fun, I thought, as in my maudlin, cynical state I didn’t care who I might offend. “Is this Alex?” It was a man’s voice. The only man I knew in France was Jean-Luc and he didn’t have this number. It must be one of the boys, calling long distance to check on the cat. “Yes. Who is this?” “I am Fahid, Zahra’s... man.” I didn’t immediately make the connection. Zahra’s boyfriend? Christ! I was in no mood for entertaining the misplaced ire and threats of a jealous idiot who— “Are you still there?” “Yes, I’m here, but...” “I’m sorry to bother you...” I heard no anger in his voice. In fact there was an almost pleading tone as he continued. “Zahra and I have been talking, trying to find a... Well, listen, this is not easy, but would you be available for a couple of hours this evening? Say about eight?”


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22

Black Shoes Khanh Ha


ressed in a navy blue suit, a white shirt and a pale yellow tie, old George looked prim, immaculate. He reminded me of Ed McMahon without hair. I bet a dime that he could see himself if he looked down at his polished black shoes. At the oak lectern at the end of a long hallway elegantly tiled in muted red, where mirror reflections of iris and carnation and gladiolus leaned out of tall vases in gilded walls, old George stood hunched, bespectacled, reading a reservation book. Five steps below was the dining hall, white with tablecloths, dotted with cherry blossom pink napkins and bright with summer flowers in crystal urns. Flowers everywhere. Done inspecting each name for the evening reservations, old George folded his reading glasses, tucked them away in the top pocket of his jacket, where the tip of a pastel blue kerchief peeked out. Around that time I would arrive for my evening shift.


Old George beckoned me with his forefinger to come closer to him. He dropped his gaze at my feet. “Black shoes,” he said. “Tie and black shoes.” I wore a tie. To keep my job. “No tie, no job,” he told me on my first day as I reported to work in this New York City restaurant’s cocktail bar. He said nothing then about black shoes. “Okay, George,” I said. “Okay, then,” he said. He grinned. Unhumorous. His gaze trailed my footsteps. I felt it on the back of my neck as I skipped the stair steps three at a time up to the dressing room. The following evening and the next, I came in when the bar was already packed with a happy hour crowd. Facing the opened windows for a rare summer breeze, Big Lynn was swaying over the piano. You could hear the sound of the piano from across Third Avenue. Down in the dining hall, alone in a corner and away from the waiters who were folding napkins and cleaning

Black Shoes - Khanh Ha wine glasses, old George was eating before the dining hall opened. He sat, head bent, a pink napkin tucked over his tie. You could see his shiny pate against the last glimmer of sun. During the evening I slunk in and out of the bar to get supplies. I kept myself out of old George’s sight. Sometimes, out of nowhere Dr. Mancini, the owner, would

dinette for special occasions. When you entered it, you could see your reflections everywhere in wall-length mirrors. I found out that was the owner’s favorite spot where he’d sit in the dim lights observing everyone below, old George included. Which meant he must have seen and heard old George chastise me about attire etiquette. But since we met, he’d never

come down from his upstairs office and sit in the dinette by himself and, if I came out of the bar suddenly, I could see him avert his gaze in the wall mirror, like a spy who got caught. Sitting up there, he was a little god, the wall mirrors his eyes, and I was one of the mortals he kept a watch on. He had soft hands. I felt them on my shoulders many times.

walk into the bar and stand next to me, watching the boisterous crowd, enjoying himself in a piano melody. We talked. The Italian owner was a medical doctor who quit his profession for the restaurant business. This upscale establishment had a sister one several blocks down on Third Avenue. That one was painted all yellow like a ripe banana. Young people frequented it. But this restaurant where I worked cost a fortune for a family dinner. Across the hall from the bar and five steps up was a private

bothered me about my appearance, never glanced down at my brown Hush Puppies. Occasionally he’d entertain his guests in the dinette where voices were mere murmurs and the air smelled of fragrant candles. He must be part of the mafia family, I thought. Once, in the bar, he asked me a question. The music and people’s voices were so loud he leaned his head against mine and spoke into my ear. He smelled like a woman with perfumed earlobes. Usually in the late afternoon he’d

Old George left me alone after those moments. What didn’t leave me was his stare. Every time I came to work, he’d turn from the lectern and eye my feet. He must’ve hated those brown Hush Puppies by his forced grin and a feigned unconcern. But that didn’t last long. One afternoon, after watching me in the bar for a while, old George came in, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Don’t you have any money to buy yourself a new pair of black shoes?” His words dripped into

“‘No tie, no job,’ he told me on my first day as I reported to work in this New York City restaurant’s cocktail bar. He said nothing then about black shoes.”


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22 my ears, soft and loving. Preacher George said, “Dr. Mancini told me you’re saving money to go back to college. So, here.” He took out his wallet, lifted a twenty-dollar bill and put it in my jacket pocket. Then he patted me on the back. “I want to see you wear black shoes tomorrow.” I got home late. Tired, I loosened my tie and hung it on the wall. First the tie, now the shoes. “No tie, no job,” old George had said on my first day. “How about bow ties?” I said casually. “Ties,” he said, barely moving his lips, “not bow ties.” I hated wearing ties. Now I had to. But when I was going back to school after the summer, I’d never need a tie again. Why should I bother learning how to make a tie? After I said that to my sister, kindly she made me a tie. Each day after work I simply loosened the tie just enough to work it off my neck and free it from my head. The following day I reversed the procedures before leaving home for work. I didn’t need a new pair of black shoes either—not when I returned to school. The next morning, with old George’s bribery money, I went out and bought a can of black-shoe polish. Back at my sister’s place I cleaned my Hush Puppies and then put on a good coat of polish. Then with a piece of clean cloth, I wiped off the excess of black polish and let the shoes dry. That afternoon old George saw me coming in and immediately dropped his gaze at my feet. I greeted him as he smiled. “It wasn’t hard to do what I asked,” he said. “Was it?” “No,” I said, “not at all.” A few days later I was caught in a heavy rain on my way to work. I ducked in under a shop’s overhang. The rain didn’t let up. You’re gonna be late. I grabbed a newspaper from a sidewalk trash bin and covered my head and hurried up the street. I got to the restaurant wet from my legs down. I looked down, saw that all the black


polish had been washed off my shoes. Just before I disappeared through the door to the upstairs dressing room, old George called out to me, “Hey, you!” I stopped, looked back. From the lectern, he crooked his finger to beckon me to come nearer. Oh, if a crocodile could snap off his finger for that gesture! “Yeah?” I said, hearing the wet sounds of my shoes on the tiled floor. “Are you going to change into black shoes when you come down?” “Ah... I didn’t come from my place to work... And I was late. So I just came directly here.” Old George nodded. And nodded. Like he finally understood my deep statement. Then he pushed his glasses back on his nose bridge, turned to his alter ego, the lectern, bent, and read the names in the reservation book like nothing had happened. That night, after work, I stayed up, cleaned my shoes and then put on a thick coat of black polish. In the morning I applied a second coat and then waxed my shoes. The shoe polish hung in the air, in my nostrils. I scrubbed my stained fingers at the sink. The smell clung to my skin. Damn you, George. But the shoe polish stayed on afterward, rain or shine. Old George still looked down at my feet occasionally. Was that the man’s habit or his eternal mistrust in human beings? Perhaps I was some kind of enigma that caused disturbances to his orderly world. After that summer I returned to school. The following summer before going back to New York City I bought a pair of oxford shoes in shiny black. I also bought two ties. The first day I came to work the owner greeted me with a big hug in the sunny hall. He smelled like lily of the valley. From the bar, Big Lynn was playing the piano and the same old lady cashier blew me a kiss.

“You look good,” the owner said. “Real good.” “You too, Dr. Mancini,” I said. “I’m glad you’re back. We’ve been so busy.” “I’m glad to be back. Looks like no one has ever left.” “None. Especially when it’s a good place.” “Let me go upstairs and say hi to the boys.” “I want you to join my family for dinner tonight. Take a break around then.” “My honor. Thank you, Dr. Mancini.” I turned to the door that led to the stairs. Then I stopped and looked back at the owner. “Where is George?” Dr. Mancini removed his glasses and nibbled at the temple tip. “George isn’t here anymore.” “Retired?” “He killed himself.” “Killed... why?” “I wish I knew.” “How did he... well... oh well.” I went up the stuffy stairs. An odor of sweat hung in the air like ammonia. Old George. Killed himself. That didn’t make any sense. Didn’t seem right. No, that did not seem right. I kept climbing up the stairs, the heels of my shoes clacking on the wooden steps. The black leather of my shoes shone under the ceiling lights. Good old George. How could that ever happen to him?

Chapter 1: Compare An Orange Leanne Grabel

Sometimes I sit on the couch (brown leather with round brass studs) with my husband (hereinafter called him and he). He sits couch right. I sit couch left (yes I do feel a pelt of shame for the staidness). I get up and grab an orange from the fruit bowl in the kitchen. I come back and peel. I plop the two largest sections in my mouth. Juices squirt out of my mouth like whiskers. O. Oranges. The fruit of my youth. I think maybe I should ask him if he wants some. Then I ask him, “Do you want some?” And before he answers I give him three sections. See? I used to be stingy. But I’ve grown. Yes? I’m heading for generous? I’m learning from him.


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22

Chapter 2: Epiphany, Almost Leanne Grabel “You settle upon the/knobs on the dresser/drawer, you decide that the secret is/there.” -Charles Bukowski

I feel an epiphany coming on. Like I’m about to turn my head and stare by accident at a paper clip or a fried egg. And I’ll know something. Like a light is going to fall upon a crotchety old shadow. Right around the corner. I’ll feel a small feline warmth in my shoulders. And behind my ears. There will be a shuffling in my brain. As if a chair moved. I’m going to open my mouth and gulp a new air I’ve been needing. It might smell like butter or caramel. It might happen any minute. I’ll find a billfold full of fifties and antidotes. I’m going to take it. Wouldn’t you? And I’ll tell him. At first I didn’t think I would. But I would. And he’ll say “What??” And I’ll get irritated that he isn’t more enthusiastic.


Husband - Leanne Grabel

Chapter 3: Floater Leanne Grabel

I have a floater in my eye. It’s about the size of a five-letter word in a 12-point font. Like anger or rebel or peach. I only notice it when I’m bored with what I’m reading. It’s those words that come from the chin I don’t like. Detached at the throat. Then sometimes my floater darts about like a gnat and hides language so masterful a truth is revealed. And I miss it. Sometimes my floater seems the same of my husband as I sit on the couch and glance right. Sometimes there’s a book on the cushion. There’s Charles Simic. Poetry is the cat chorus outside our window. Or three mismatched shoes it says. This sounds sage and annoying. I want to ask Simic if the poet’s message has changed. From revelry to warning. From hallelujahs to despair. I see Simic’s shoes. Shoes are easy. A blue flip flop. Red high-top. And a dirty brown boot about the size of a toaster oven. The boot is scratched at the toe. The scratches look like language. Varied and even. I can’t tell what it says though. Floater.


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22

Chapter 4: Not Invited to the Party

Thirty-six years ago Sunday I had coffee with him. And I missed his train of thought but loved his driving motivation. Me. It was me. Now we sit like hassocks. Tattered. Innocent. Our anger so worn down we think it’s a muscle spasm. A lot of the china is chipped. Even the company saucers. Did he party without me?


Husband - Leanne Grabel

Chapter 5: The Unbearable Lightness of Marriage

Sometimes. When I wake up in the morning. After battling the worst night demons. The chaff of their dark messages like sharp crumbs in my bed. My pillows pummeled and heavy like the weight of the world. And I hear him giggling like a hyena at the silly banter of the morning newscasters. Who treat us like babies. While biting into pastel macarons. I want to grab a rolling pin and pound him on the head. Like Blondie pounded Dagwood. Until it looked like she’d just made a cherry pie (kidding).


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22

Chapter 6: Oy Leanne Grabel

He slogs in hangdog. I hang in slogdog. He keens left. In one slab. I scuttle jerkily. Elbows first. Both of us secretly sniff for smells. Now almost unfamiliar. I pretend to see something unusual out the big picture window. I do this for hours. We sit on the couch. No one asks what. No one asks why. The marriage feels stucco. Hard. Rough. I fear tenderness will stay the delay. He fears change like a stroke. I start sidling out the door. I hear MISTAKE in my head. Loud like a headache. Yet I can’t tell who’s talking. I can’t tell which mistake. The night enwraps with dank heat. Nobody knows what to do.


Husband - Leanne Grabel

Chapter 7: Sobbing and Shitting Leanne Grabel

When Bailey died he sobbed in my arms. He sobbed with his entire body. He was bobbing and shaking. I had never seen him do this before. In thirty-six years I’d only seen tears run down his face a handful of times. It was usually after a movie about a self-destructive genius. Like Jean-Michel Basquiat or Miles Davis. When Bailey died he shook and shivered and made animal sounds. I only made animal sounds sometimes after he left for work. I know my husband keeps secrets. I’m glad. For instance, I’ve never seen him shit. Not really. Just a glimpse or two by mistake. I’m glad. Being intimate with my husband’s shitting is not proof of a good marriage. Is it? The quintessential intimacy? I hope not. And since we’re talking about it. I’m not an ass-wiping wife. I’m just not. I don’t think I can do it. It’s not a requirement. Is it?




Child Rapists in Hell Joel Allegretti After Hieronymus Bosch Dante assigned them to none of his circles, yet they’re captives of the Pit, too; hidden from the other harrowed souls. Divine Justice knows even the heretics and the simoniacs want nothing to do with the likes of them. Case History Fr. John Geoghan, Archdiocese of Boston; thirty years, six parishes, one-hundred-fifty boys. The pope defrocked him; the state imprisoned him; an inmate strangled him. His ordination and savage death win him no clemency in the afterlife. John lies face down in an apple orchard, a young man again; trim, nude, famished. The fruit trees entice, but he’s grown roots; from his nipples, his navel, his ball sack. Above him hovers a naked demon with a swimmer’s body and a fawn’s head, its boner porn-film length; razor blades enclose the shaft.


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22 The devil mounts; the devil pounds. John’s screeches wallop the apples. Some fall and roll toward him; they halt an inch from his damned hands. The infernal tool shoots ammonia; the fiend pulls out, flees into the trees. The apples go back to their branches. John’s ass shits blood and burn. Another demon steps in; part wolf, part falcon, its dick a narwhal’s tusk.


Reclamation Edward L. Canavan static hum of still machinery far removed from anything of weight birds no burden for the trees faith in wings not branches as we come to discover the briar and the rose are all part of the same plan.


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22

Dare to Breathe Edward L. Canavan realms of abandonment scarred walls of solace redemption held in askance through a thousand darknesses the heart will find its light fires in the belly of emptiness casting shadows on the black sails of the psyche mapless and aged upon the lost roads of youth we find out where we are once we let go of where we’ve been.


Backyard Elegy Cameron Morse Below freezing, I trawl the backyard like an old man in a straw raincoat on river snow. My morning coffee glazes over with ice. Last winter’s long johns lost, I wear pajama bottoms below blue jeans the old dog imprints with his happy-to-see-me paws. After instigating an unrequited make out session, he wants to crawl up into my lap. I sit in the shadow of the house, in all that it has repressed, and weep. If the shadow of the king is the tyrant, the wind’s touch is like getting a massage from a dead lady on my first visit to the massage parlor with two hundred yuan burning like a California wildfire in my pocket. I could hear the clatter of Mahjong tiles, the blue jay’s cry presaging its long low flight across the lawn. Old dog giving chase, when will you learn to let things go?


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22

Lilith Runs Into Adam and His Trophy Wife in the Diaper Aisle Amy Baskin He looks embarrassed and says, “fancy meeting you here” It’s not fancy. I think to myself it’s a tired cliché playing out over a routine errand. He doesn’t acknowledge her. She’s stuck behind pushing the cart with her swollen belly. Blink twice if you need an intervention, sweetheart. This time, did you choose to have a child with him?


Lilith Nurtures on the Playground Amy Baskin Dads on their phones. Their kids running up to me like my own. People seldom say, “That man is unfit to parent.” “Play with me!” “Play with me!” No sign of interest from their fathers. Seed spreaders plugged into their digital dildos. Socially acceptable ways to abandon your own children in plain sight, their bodies physical proxies for love, engagement, involvement. I play. Push them all on the tire swing, help find lost toys embedded in bark chips, judge slide races. Would these men still unload their child-rearing duties upon me, a total stranger, if they knew I have paid to have Adam’s children slid out from within me?


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22

Lilith’s Daughter Amy Baskin Look. He told me to sit down so I walked out of class. I don’t care whether you call in my absence or not. I’m good. She drops her coat on the floor and takes flight upstairs shutting her door. Sit up, he would say to me. Now get down. On your knees. Wait ‘til I’m done. I left that garden lifetimes ago. The girl is not his. Her shoulders curve into wings like her father’s. Her skin takes on a jubilant sheen. I rub my knees. The imprint of tiny pebbles still tender, the meat of my palms stained red from clay, and sit back on the couch. Finish my coffee. Above me, she sings, pen in hand, as she sketches a world that agrees with her.


Later, Lilith Runs Into Adam and Eve in the Incontinence Aisle Amy Baskin There’s an expiration date on everyone. It’s not as though she’s a child anymore. She’s more similar to you now. She’s made of the same stuff as you, raised on your films, the same narratives. Had your Tiger Beat centerfold plastered to her bedroom closet door. When you tried to harness the power of a ten-ton city bus with its failed brakes and strained gas pedal, she would come at the thought of you, saving all those people for her. And she fantasized about being yours. She replayed this scene in her head, pinching her nipples, tongue out of mouth again and again. That day when you awoke and found her lying beside you unconscious, you saw the life leaking out of yourself and wanted her to contain it for you. But neither you nor she could imagine where the story could go from there. And now here you are together squinting and grasping your coupons shopping for plant-based dairy substitutes and Desitin and CBD cream she will massage on your lower back, right hip and phantom rib pain where your arthritis aches most evenings. The older you get, the more I realize you’re starting to look alike. And a decade difference means next to nothing when even she grabs for her readers on the bedstand each night to watch the latest Colbert clip with you. God, the passage of time makes my heart soften. I love you both.


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22

Tanning John Grey The body forever and forever, dreams of being the color of the soil.

For as long as the ocean ebbs and flows, it will coerce the sun to do the bidding of the skin, make an artwork of what’s bare, what’s visible to the sky. It’s the body’s great wish to imitate the bodies of those that come by that earthy hue naturally. Some bodies though would not put it in quite those terms.


The Only Sign of Life John Grey In the creeping brown stream behind the abandoned textile mill, chemical runoff curdles the current. No birds to be heard. No squirrels. No painted turtles. Not even a water rat. The sun’s a trespasser poking around in weeds and grass, climbing down from broken rooftop tiles to peer in at rusty machinery. Then something long and scaly glides close to the bank, head hidden underwater, all but for two red piercing eyes. The town is dying of competition from the south. And here comes the grim reaper, reptilian at last.


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22

Remnants Thomas Wells Looking back helplessly at every foible like Epimetheus. Born like a weed in the steamy morning, I was an aimless, crude creature spinning flamboyant cobwebs like a confident fool. I slathered prismatic patterns, grinning like a jester. Then, civilization impounded the measures of my dreams. I became an embarrassed, lying chowderhead concealing my crayons. I lacked language, locution or parlance. I sat absent, a prisoner in rote computation. My night dreams merged with daydreams. My solo island became a continent. I tried phoning out with phony phonetic fumbles but everyone could see. So I slipped away, deserting, fleeing, riding the rails in boxcars. My passage through nocturnal town and village untraceable, uncertain, preoccupied with the pigments of my polyscope. Later I reappeared, reconsidered and revised, replicating the decorations of acuity, imitating profundity like P.T. Barnum. My spectacle drew crowds until I was discovered. My retreat and retraction now heavy with fatigue, I know not the lens of my psyche. In sobriety, I recall all my splinters and ruptures. But my rearranged reissues of adornments will persist until I am expelled.


Hyphenated Words Susie Gharib He became obsessed with hyphenated words that depicted Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls, so now coinages permeate discourse, with a hyperbolic force. His loin-aching, mouth-wet, inordinate love has left him with no other option but to divulge his intention to seek the nuptial bed. He vows his gorgon-slaying arms will always enfold. His nectar-gathering, pulse-throbbing lips will never grow cold. His elixir-forming, breath-fresh kiss will ever be bold. His banshee-dispelling, ribs-warm breast will always uphold. His nymph-populated, head-clear thoughts will be my world.


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22

Joker Victor Marrero Freak permutations align at the table, a gambol of wagers steeped in anger and rancor and gall. Rogue demons pair, pledging straight answers to desperate prayers. Grand rewards. Poorhouse liberation. Securing the homestead for the true-blood progeny. In the final round, one riotous player draws an ominous hand, the wild card, one of a kind. The joker, rival mastermind, trumps what binds by code and self-restraint. His potent hand can break the house, take the dealer’s place, even raise the stakes to match his royal peers in wealth, in strength. Freedom shudders at a flawed gambler’s chance to win. The ground tremors. Fear shakes the earth. Tricks stack the deck as fortunes change hands in quick order. The upper hand lifts the arm, and arms the headlong jack, one-eyed, to seize as he sees: No more the well-born two-bit wannabe. I am a player. To bet, to bluff, to call or refuse to fold—all calls are mine. The long night watch is on. All eyes on mine. Each round churns my perverse suspense.


Way Out Victor Marrero 1 Captives all. We know we are caught, dying to get out even as we squirm in denial. Translucent husks and shells we don tell all. Still, we draw the art of the possible from clipboard graphs charting our bedside detours and dead ends. All escape routes clogged. Yet liberation carves out mercy trails through a mountain pass. Metes and bounds stake out the spot. An ominous X marks a pit dug in the petrified forest. Haggish revenants gather at a dry water hole to chant cracked-voice oracles. Fallen at random, strewn by arctic winds, odd bits and pieces of prophecy tell the tea leaves what to say. No surprises here. Our empty thoughts settle for dust. These worn postures and patterns, now stiff companions for life, spring-step no more, and now no less play an antic trick, rendering the paradox of our marble monuments less eccentric art than appears at first glance. 2 Dust gathers on mounds of dead letters stuffed in canvas bins at the back of the mailroom. That explains why the post did not arrive that day. Promises gone astray. Expectancies of things on the way. Hopes that once mattered most. All the remains lie buried there, en route. Originals unsorted. News undelivered, as matter goes when covenants grind to dust somewhere in transit from dawn to dusk. Dead letter or alive, the message ends the same. The clock no longer recalls the time when word of our day spread and commanded prime rate. Pride traveled far back then. The escape route hidden, our passage by post road hedged all around, from this point forward, a straight run one way grids our path. No backtracks. No side shows or detours. Our traffic circle closes in on itself from every direction.


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22 3 Aspirant vapors hissing like hot springs rising from a subterranean vault still escape from the profound indignities we feel deep inside our feverish selves. Unconsciously shelved, perhaps voluntarily crushed, ambitions we packed and put away with childhood things long ago, still sentient, still yearn to be. And somewhere in time a lone wolf-cry long stifled howls for release to the light of a full moon as our silenced voices proclaim out loud: There must be a way out.


Intensity Sherri Levine


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22

Serious Moonlight Antonia Alexandra Klimenko Every night I tell the story Every night I take my place among the stars among the quiet multitude that has glimpsed entire civilizations on the surface of her smile Every night I am possessed by the mystery— how she drives her silver chariot across the dark cloud of my mind— how you drive me too a little crazy Crazy with your convenient omissions why you disappeared in broad daylight the night before why the story that really matters is always the part you will leave out Crazy with your pale your obscure half-truths— your knowing full well you could never fully love me Already I begin to sleepwalk through your excuses through your demands through your every expectation interpretation interrogation to howl at the emptiness that raves between us to commit unspeakable acts of lunacy all under the magnetic gaze of your less than full comprehension Soon who knows? I may be driven to suicide! The moon made me do it I’ll say or why else would I marry a werewolf ? At my own trial of course I will campaign for a lighter sentence on grounds of insanity Name you as an accomplice— you now eclipsed by my absence


In light of a full confession during fertile lunar cycles they will attempt to restrain me in some prehistoric cell— I (the part of the story they leave out) just some silly female I some inconvenient bra-burning witch— some middle-age radical who obviously hates men who dares to defy them defy you defy gravity I Eternal Moon who will rise to your every occasion who will conceive these words born of light as light enters me as I enter darkness Afterwards they will try to tell you they will try to tell you Feminism too is a myth is but a moon-induced state Just her fertile imagination you will say just another phase she was going through Afterwards you will no doubt obsess over this for centuries in spite of yourself in spite of yourself Afterwards you will perhaps name a small crater after me




Cops & the Pig That Built His House Out of Bricks Genna Rivieccio


he fable known as “The Three Little Pigs” materialized in Western consciousness circa the 1840s (though the tale is believed to have been around for much longer), touting an underlying message about putting in the hard work necessary to build something lasting. And while the immediate association between a cop and a pig who builds his house out of bricks is that he is stubborn and stalwart in his ways–unwilling to let his “system” (a.k.a. his warped values)–be blown down by any amount of havoc, the truth is, cops at this moment need to do the work associated with with crafting an edifice made of bricks. Not symbolizing a staunchness in their methods of doubling down on violence and oppression, but rather, creating a new ideology built out of a genuine desire to “serve and protect” (as their mantra claims)–one that will endure, instead of being so readily toppled when the people gather long enough to huff and puff and blow their predisposition toward racism down.

And the people, indeed, are starting to find that if you pick at an emblematic house made of straw or sticks, it is bound to crumble soon enough–you just have to keep at it. Were the cops–so commonly rendered as pigs–of the world (and America in particular) more discerning in what they constructed their morals and ideals out of, it wouldn’t be so “easy” to pull their structure apart at the seams. There are so many holes in it to begin with, that it should come as no surprise to the little piggies when it all comes crashing down around them. That third pig, however, the one who took his time about choosing the materials he wanted to shape his domicile out of, feels safest because he knows it isn’t sprung from bullshit. That the story of the three little pigs begins with a mother sending her three children out into the world to “seek their fortunes” (as she also had “not enough food to feed them”–goddamn, then why you keep havin’ kids?) is somewhat telling of the fact that, as The Smiths said,


The Opiate, Summer Vol. 22 “Barbarism begins at home.” Behavior is learned from one’s parents, and it is the responsibility of everyone either foolish or narcissistic enough to have a child to at least possess the decency to teach their fuck trophies right from wrong. To

both real and metaphorical (perhaps best elucidated in Twin Peaks)–one that declares, “You’re not going to get the better of me. Or wear down my resolve or principles.” With the wolf representing not only those who can tirelessly

boiling pot below. The third pig puts the lid on, cooks the wolf and serves him up for dinner in a classic “eat or be eaten” example. The third pig is also left to carry the other two on his back as a result of their own prior lackadaisical behavior. It could be

“Behavior is learned from one’s parents, and it is the responsibility of everyone eitherfoolishornarcissistic enough to have a child to at least possess the decency to teach their fuck trophies right from wrong.” instill a sense of understanding that taking the shortcut in life so often comes at the expense of others one has been taught to believe are somehow “inferior” (see: pretty much any moment in history pertaining to the advancement of capitalism and the economy). Maybe the third pig was simply a classic case of nature winning out over nurture, for Big Mama Pig surely didn’t help him in comprehending that the “hard way” is the more rewarding one in the long run. Not just for oneself, but for those around them. Also setting an example against the forces of evil


“blow the house down” toward change, but also the combustibility of a flimsy sense of honor and duty, it is the conclusion of “The Three Little Pigs” that so often seems to be forgotten among the image of all that huffing and puffing (followed by the wolf ’s chasing of the two passive pigs into the third pig’s house–in this moment, there is an echo of the The Little Red Hen fable). For in the final act, the wolf becomes so determined to infiltrate the house now containing all three pigs that he ends up crawling through the chimney, Santa Claus-style, only to be met with a

said, in this instance, that the other two are the Derek Chauvins of the police force, giving any single cop that might actually put in the work to uphold the ethical implications of their job a bad name (and for the extreme cop haters, it’s easy to say ACAB but then how do you explain Frank Serpico?). It is laziness and a fear of being made uncomfortable that has kept humanity in this state for so long. Cops above all have found it too convenient to resort to the “joys” of stereotyping and violence, speaking to the lines, “The first little

pig was very lazy. He didn’t want to work at all and he built his house out of straw. The second little pig worked a little bit harder but he was somewhat lazy too and he built his house out of sticks.” But the time has come for the police to realize this is no longer what they can build their foundation on–insubstantial materials (read: scruples) that do not represent anything solid or worthy. At the same time, one looking at the fable from a different angle could posit that the cops as pigs allegory might mean that, ultimately, they end up just roasting their opposers by any homicidal means necessary.

Cops & the Pig That Built His House Out of Bricks - Genna Rivieccio



Turn static files into dynamic content formats.

Create a flipbook
Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.