The Opiate: Winter 2022, Vol. 28

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The Opiate Winter 2022, Vol. 28


The Opiate

Your literary dose.

© The Opiate 2022 Cover art: Original image of Marilyn Monroe from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, 1953 This magazine, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission. Contact theopiatemagazine@gmail.com for queries.


“Don’t be seduced into thinking that that which does not make a profit is without value.” -Arthur Miller

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28

Editor-in-Chief Genna Rivieccio

Editor-at-Large Malik Crumpler

Editorial Advisor Anton Bonnici

Contributing Writers: Fiction: T A Ciccarone, “Head Full of Bees” 10 Adam Anders, “To Be Seen” 21 Suzanna Poole, “Noah” 24 Peter Delacorte, “Surprises and Astonishments” 29 Jiang Yichun, “The Great Man” 43 Joshua Prater, “Worse Than Its Bite” 51

Satire: Alessandra Davy-Falconi, “Housetraining Your Executive” 56

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Poetry: Joan Mazza, “Mothers, Sisters, Daughters” 59 Dale Champlin, “The Architecture of Childhood (An Epitaph)” 60 John C. Mannone, “After the Bomb” 61 Donna Dallas, “One Day I’m Gonna Turn the Corner” & “Close-Up” 62-63

Vicki Whicker, “Ocampo II” & “Maple” 64-65 Diana Raab, “Lipstick” & “Nirvana Vibes” 66-67 Jacqueline Henry, “Smallness” 68 Alison Hicks, “Aubade With Washcloth and a Migraine” 69 Ron Kolm, “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again)” 70 Abby Caplin, “Beware the Timeshare Presentation,” “Depression” & “Men Talk to Women—Cassette Tape Thanksgiving, 1964” 71-74

Criticism: Genna Rivieccio, “‘Is That the Blue You’re Using?’: Eve Babitz and the Undermining of the ‘Didion Approach’ to California” 76

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28

Editor’s Note

Everything’s just awful, isn’t it? And offensive, to boot. That said, perhaps I racked my brain for new ways to offend people with a cover that features fur. But, after all, it is winter. Isn’t fur still emblematic of this time of year? Or rather, it used to be, before global warming a.k.a. during the “good ol’ days” of American capitalism. Oh, how easy it was to sell the masses on a mantra that amounts quite literally to “buy or die.” Well, we’ve all bought, and now here we are, waiting to die. What? You were hoping for something tantamount to Christmas cheer? You know The Opiate don’t play that game. We don’t play any game, in fact, which is probably why we’ve never ascended to the heights of High Literature magazines like—oh wait, there aren’t any left. Though some would say you can always count on The Paris Review...but has anyone actually read it in the past decade? Or anything for that matter? Yet here we still are, fighting the presumed good fight. I so often feel that this magazine becomes more and more anachronistic with each passing quarter. It’s like a portal into yesteryear, hence why I feel the cover image is so appropriate. Despite my venom for the present, and how it’s a direct result of baby boomers enjoying what they knew, deep down, truly were the last days of disco on a more profound level than just music, I am well-aware of the dangers of craving a previous era (as well as the dangers of not adding the legalese word “select” in front of “baby boomers” up above so as to evade being accused of total effrontery, but then, that’s an impossible feat for the likes of me). Like Ellie Turner in Last Night in Soho, we all have the tendency to become intoxicated with our romanticizations of the past. And yet, no matter the decade, there was always some faction of humanity suffering more than another (surely one doesn’t need to spell out that white men were consistently having the time of their lives, hence the ridiculousness of them complaining over the past five years since #MeToo about being oppressed...otherwise known as: not being “permitted” the luxury of acting like pillaging assholes without that behavior being checked). Thus, the argument of false equivalence being used to justify lusting so yearningly for another era. It’s what Woody Allen (yes, I still dare say his name) wielded to make his argument for Gil’s fetish for all things “old-timey” in Midnight in Paris. But in the years since corona came to pass, romanticization has taken an entirely different approach, one geared toward emotional self-preservation. For it’s as though media, whether TV or film, can sense the public desire to remain frozen in a time when it wasn’t so goddamn difficult. Which is why it’s easier to set movies in the past or reboot retro franchises like Ghostbusters (and then there was West Side Story, evidently too far back in time for audiences to schlep to the theater for). It makes us feel comfortable, as though we’re not really living in a dystopian nightmare if narratives in entertainment tell us otherwise (well, except for Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up, which many critics were naturally quick to pan because it doesn’t offer some form of a conciliatory ending). All representations of the future, in contrast, are presented in a horrifying manner. In America’s past, when it was still filled with the promise that came with neoliberalism’s “newness,” projections of the future were rarely dire. It seemed only sci-fi writers like J. G. Ballard and H. G. Wells were aware of the impending fall (not so coincidentally, both men being British appears to have some bearing on how England is always the ideal setting for a narrative about dystopia—28 Days Later, Children of Men, V for Vendetta, et al.). As the unignorable evidence mounts regarding major catastrophic change being afoot, all anyone really wants to do is shelter themselves in the cocoon of a “simpler time.” For white people, that also tends to mean a time when they didn’t have to “think so much” about other ethnicities. And sure, they vaguely do

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now, but only under duress. When an extreme “incident” like George Floyd happens—and that was really only because the majority of America was “locked down” (as they liked to call it, while everyone else on other continents was, well, actually locked down) with nothing “better to do” than focus on this kind of event more than they normally would. The ironic thing about this form of “lust” for the past is that it’s the very thing that got us into this predicament in the first place. The “glory days” of the likes of Marilyn, who had her own trauma to deal with and didn’t really need the added burden of being the “symbol” every man, woman and child could project their fantasies and aspirations onto, were not so glorious. Marilyn’s cad of a third husband, Arthur Miller, himself wrote about how patently awful this heyday of post-war capitalism was through the lens of The Crucible, an allegory for the Red Scare that Senator Joseph McCarthy was sure to keep ignited through the McCarthy hearings that also helped the success of HUAC’s ability to blacklist people. Richer still, McCarthy was an alcoholic, morphine-addicted fiend essentially controlling the mood of the country. To add to the absurity, it was the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (via department head Harry J. Anslinger) that subsidized McCarthy’s morphine doses from a D.C. pharmacy. This despotic, demagogic Republican (formerly a Democrat, believe it or not) was the very blueprint for someone like Trump to come along. Except the Orange One is an even more cartoonish nightmare, without the proclamation of “experience” to back up his political existence. The point being, the precedents of the past, and choosing not to break entirely with them, are how we find ourselves lamenting the horrors of the present without fully comprehending that the past is present. The sooner we fully realize that, the closer we can get to understanding that maybe, just maybe, notions of “tradition” are a trap. One that has kept us stuck in this endless nightmare of a time loop that will apparently only be permitted by the masses to break when something “truly” cataclysmic happens. Because, obviously, the pandemic, in the end, didn’t serve as a grave enough wake-up call. If it had been, capitalism would’ve been genuinely and seriously reassessed as a viable means for society to function. Which it’s clearly not for most people. But then, this isn’t the first time the U.S. and the world at large have been guilty of a missed opportunity with regard to jettisoning this outmoded system brought to us (in its modern form) by a prat named Adam Smith and the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. For if ever there was another very blatant moment in recent history to stop and say, “Hey, maybe this isn’t working. Maybe it’s far more trouble than it’s worth,” it was when the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath hit. Alas, no. The government and the corporations whose titties it sucks on decided the “best” thing to do would be to bail the banks out, lest we risk “economic collapse.” Here’s some news: economic collapse under this system is an inevitability (that we’ve already swept under the rug repeatedly) so certain that even the folks at MIT couldn’t ignore it back in the 1970s when they conducted a study called the Limits to Growth model. As a direct result of industrialisam, food and other key resources to sustaining human life will decline. Without the technological innovation to keep pace with our ecological needs, the fall of humankind is pretty much assured. With scientists optimistically predicting that if we don’t change our tack within this decade, we’re all on a one-way train to apocalypse, it’s truly unfathomable that people are still able to wake up every day and so willingly participate in their own destruction through capitalism. And yet, because it saturates every facet of our most basic day-to-day activities, we all surrender to the butt-fuck. “They“ said COVID finally allowed us to get off our hamster wheel and “take stock” (such a goddamn capitalistic saying). But that really can’t be accurate if we’re all still here doing the work for shitty pay. Doing the work at all, really. As money-motivated working is the root of our problem.

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 Yes, there have been hundreds of “think“ pieces about the Great Resignation (none of which seemed to address how these people could actually afford to quit) and how the current and subsequent generations aren’t going to take this abuse anymore, but the fact of the matter is that even if such a thing is true and millennials don’t live up to their other nickname (echo boomers), by the time they get to a point where the Old Guard in power and in control of everything is completely eradicated (read: dies off), it will be too late. And God or whoever knows that Gen Z doesn’t have much to offer in the way of brain cells, therefore solutions. Everything they know is grafted from TikTok trends that try to make millennial pop culture new again. That’s the other thing about capitalism: it needs to keep the wheels of production grinding so ceaselessly for profit that it’s impossible to ever allow the time necessary to pull anything new out of an artist: be it a writer, filmmaker, musician, etc. Ergo, an amalgam like Olivia Rodrigo. So. Those previously unversed in my Editor’s Notes might be confused about what all of this has to do with anything. Well, apart from me surely not needing to spell out that my missives always tie in with the cover art and intro quote, a false yearning for the past might have something to do with why I decided to start a mid-twentieth century-inspired literary magazine in the first place. In this sense, I am just as guilty as everyone else of constantly trying to cobble together some semblance of “the way it used to be.” Otherwise known as: humanity’s Achilles’ heel. But, hey, as Capitalism tries to comfort: so long as you can collect a check on Earth’s way out, what does the fall of humanity really matter? Awaiting the collapse (/patiently enduring the slow decline) sans a check to collect, Genna Rivieccio January 13, 2022

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FICTION 9.


The Opiate,Winter Vol. 28

Head Full of Bees T A Ciccarone

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hen Eva Lynn Orr opened her eyes, the first glimpse of her surroundings seemed beautiful. Her physical perception of the world was so much better than the dreams that had popped and fizzed in her subroutines during the programming download. The first cogent thought that burst forth in her positronic matrix was, “Oh!” The Atomic Storage System data processor that lay at the bottom of Eva’s consciousness was new, in as much that nothing similar to it had ever been attempted before. The ASS drive was capable of so much more than simple artificial intelligence. Eva looked up into the face of the creator, and she wanted to touch his ice-blue eyes. They were so bright, and they drew her to them. The engrams that were pre-programmed into her coding dictated that her primary emotion was to be one of bonding with the first person that she saw, the being that had delivered her into the world. That, of course, was to be Roddy. Roddy Sinclair stared into Eva’s bottomless obsidian eyes, and a chill scampered up his spine. That color would have to be changed. So many things would have to be altered and adjusted for her to fit into the project. Yes,

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the project was most important to him as well as to the corporate offices at Alphatronics. The Alphadroid program was originally Roddy’s design concept until Darin Rheingold, the department chief of Alphatronics, got wind of Roddy’s expertise and the project’s direction. Sure, he had left Roddy technically heading the Alphadroid project in title only. The oversight committee would be innocuously shadowing every move the young engineer made. The young engineer was secretly aware of these facts and believed that the android would be removed from his control as soon as he had nothing left to offer. Roddy knew that the concept design was to construct a military unit that could be fabricated in any size and gender. This would change the global landscape from the standpoint of battlefield skirmishes. The R&D department had tried for years, unsuccessfully, to produce a combat soldier’s working model, and its string of failures had left Alphatronics unenthused to pursue the concepts further. That was until Roddy came on board and headed the project. The key to unlocking the enigma was Roddy’s autistic savant peculiarities in computer algorithms and robot-


Head Full of Bees - T A Ciccarone ics. It was here that his cross-wired brain, which generally felt as if it were a hive filled with swarming angry bees that resided just behind his eye sockets, became the perfect laser to point at the project. As closed off as the mental handicap had made him, the field of artificial intelligence was open and lay before his gaze in an endless vista. Here in the world of computers, Roddy’s mind was serene, and he was free to pursue his most basic desires, unfettered. Roddy’s singular calmness was solely responsible for the construction of the android’s central processing unit in the small laboratory. The sparse handpicked staff was to develop the mechanical aspect of the android. All the engineers were brilliant, in their own right, and pulled their weight except for one. The ID badge read Williams, Kevin. He was just there, always there, silent and watching the implausible progress that took place in the Alphadroid lab. Deep down in Roddy’s subconscious, where suspicions skulked before they surfaced to become a concrete thought, he was sure that Williams, Kevin was observing everything and waiting as he fulfilled his role of being a pawn in a much vaster corporate game. He had known this from the beginning. Roddy would never allow the culmination of his thirty-two years of existence to be pirated by a mere corporation. He devised a plan for him and Eva to be together from the very beginning. “Eva, what are you thinking?” Roddy’s face hovered over the android as her eyes opened. He designed her from the image that lived in his psyche’s recesses to be a beautiful construct of his memory. The engineer had never been in a meaningful relationship with a girl, or even a superfluous one, for that matter. Roddy recalled the humiliating rejection when he asked Shirley Lucky to be his date for the junior prom. She had laughed in his face, and the echoes of her brittle laughter had bounced off the lockers and nested

in Roddy’s head with the swarm as she sashayed down the hall and out of sight. From that point on, Roddy swore off women in general. He knew that he could never take such a rebuff again. Now, at last, there was a woman that had no choice but to love him and not grind his face into the static of his weirdness. In a helpless moment of bourgeois morality, which had been inflicted on him by his mother, Roddy had also decided to adjust Eva’s base coding’s primary programming. Roddy installed judgment blockers, which would inhibit the android from performing any act that would maim or kill. What Eva would be capable of was not clear to Roddy, but she would certainly not be of use in the art and science of warfare. The coding had been done secretly in the dead of night after all the techs had left the lab. He knew that a program this pervasive and powerful, once done, could not be undone. This fact made Roddy happy as he looked down the length of his handy work. The unclothed android was sleekly stunning, in a Shirley Lucky sort of way. Roddy waited for some response from the unique creation. It was true that he had pre-loaded her operating system with the sum of accumulated knowledge from the species of Homo sapiens. No mind or computer could compete with Eva’s central processing unit. Roddy knew that even Eva’s processors had a limit to what they could handle, but that was such a deep ocean that he thought the point a bit academic. It was also true that the programming carried the directives for the first simulated emotional responses. The depth of the cryptographic coding left questions even in Roddy’s mind. He knew that things deep down in a system’s crevasse as complicated as Eva’s became unpredictable. There had been no time to test the software. That would have taken the entire lab team and the better part of a year. The cat of Eva's emotional responses and her judgment

inhibitors would have been let out of the bag. Alphatronics would never have allowed such adjustments. The magnitude of his accomplishments frightened Roddy in a way that he had never experienced. But Roddy was determined. He was sure of what he wanted to accomplish; he just wasn’t sure how to go about doing it. So, Roddy Sinclair, swallowing his apprehensiveness, rolled the random dice of computer coding and hoped for the best. Eva Lynn Orr looked up at her creator. She was fully aware of who he was and his importance to the Alphadroid project and her very existence. The android raised her hand and, moving a lock of oily hair aside, touched Roddy’s face. A single tear fell from the corner of Roddy’s eye onto the android’s cheek as she whispered, “Roddy, I love you. Do you love me?” The question made Roddy sad as the bees buzzed louder. He wasn’t sure if he loved the android, but he was definitely sure that he was afraid not to. “We like what you’ve done with the project; really, we do, Mr. Sinclair.” Darin Rheingold sat at his desk and didn’t quite know how to proceed. The regional manager fancied himself skilled in dealing with subordinates. That was how he had risen to the position in which he currently found himself. People were easily manipulated normally. Darin had that unique ability to look past a person’s words and ascertain precisely what they wanted. Everyone wanted something, Darin always told himself. All he had to do was find that something, and the problem solved itself. This was not the case with Roddy Sinclair. He got nothing from the young man. It was as if the engineer’s broadcasting station was shut completely down, which bothered the executive. He stared at Roddy, looking for a fortune teller’s clue, but

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 he got nada. As he sat in the manager’s office, Roddy’s apprehension produced an odd state of rigidity. He felt as if his heart had stopped. The manager frightened him, and the gridlock made him afraid to move a muscle, let alone speak. “It seems that the initial tests your team ran were fantastic when you

was that the responses of the android were unbelievable.” He bent the word android, nodding in agreement with Roddy. “Now, it seems that we can’t even get it to turn on.” “Her. Eva is gender-specific,” Roddy corrected his boss again. Darin was no one’s fool. He picked up on the change immediately. “Yes, I meant to say her. Anyway, we

fragrance division. He’d marked time there, hiding for over five months, contributing nothing to the perfume essence team. In Roddy’s opinion, the division ran in a slapdash fashion. They did little correctly, and he was not the least interested in fragrances. He wanted to see Eva. That was all. He had to know if she was all right. He thought of her by day and

“Her past was well-documented and filled in with all the personal details that gave her persona a third dimension. Oddly enough, many acquaintances attested to being close friends with this new and vibrant candidate. If all the hoopla fazed Eva, she showed no signs of it.“ were present. The responses of the robot were…” “Android,” Roddy corrected his superior. This was the first word he had uttered. “Excuse me?” Darin failed to pick up on the subtle terminology variation. “Eva is an android…a synthetic human.” “Oh? An android, you say? Well, that’s good enough for me, then an android it is. What I meant to say

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were wondering if you might like to return to the project and lend a hand for a while.” Darin Rheingold intently searched Roddy’s expression for some telltale clue as to what was going on inside his mind. The placid mask of his facial features gave up nothing. Roddy turned the conversation over in his mind. Return to the project? It wasn’t as if he’d voluntarily left the Alphadroid lab. Soon after Eva’s initial testing had been run, Roddy Sinclair was reassigned to the

dreamed of her at night. Roddy knew why Eva seemed to be broken. She had told him that she would respond to him and him alone. Eva’s love ran deep. Now, there was nothing to do when he found that his thumbprint did not grant him access to the Alphadroid lab anymore, except wait and suffer the bees’ incessant buzzing. He faced off with the manager, playing the situation out in his mind. Perhaps this was one of those times when he


Head Full of Bees - T A Ciccarone would have to act more conventional. He focused on Darin Rheingold. “Who is running Alphadroid now?” “Kevin Williams,” Darin sheepishly admitted. “He is a top-notch engineer and a great administrator.” Roddy wondered how fine an engineer he could be if he couldn’t fix a simple android. His lips traced the faintest of smiles as he leveled a look at Darin Rheingold. “How would I fit in, that is, if I were to accept your offer?” Darin rolled the question over in his mind. Had he offered this person a position? He didn’t remember doing so. “I guess what I am asking is if I would be put in charge of the project if I were to come back?” Roddy thought that was a reasonable question. The look on Darin’s face was as if he had stubbed his toe. Darin wondered how he was going to get out of this. He liked having Williams run the show. Kevin could be controlled easily. Roddy, on the other hand, was a wild card, and that was not good. “Maybe the two of you could work together, just until the robot—I mean...android is functioning.” Darin knew that he had to walk a very fine line with this guy. Maybe he was smarter than he looked. “Would it be possible for me to see Eva before I give you my answer?” “I don’t see any reason, why not,” Darin shrugged. “She is broken. I don’t know what you expect to see. It just sits there, staring with those black eyes.” The manager gave a slight shiver. “I would need to see her alone…” “Alone, you say. Yes, of course. Alone with engineer Williams that is.” “Alone means without anyone else there. No monitors either,” Roddy insisted. “I don’t see why this makes such a difference. The robot is broken,” he spat the statement with a tone of

finality. Darin’s frustration was spiking as he felt the control of the meeting slipping from his grasp. He broke the first rule of good management as his demeanor crossed the line and became argumentative. “Android,” Roddy corrected. “And these are my terms. I’m afraid that they aren’t negotiable.” Darin Rheingold was floored. Who was this subordinate to give him ultimatums? This was utter nonsense. The manager drew a heavy breath, which was followed by a sigh of finality. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Sinclair. I don’t see how we can possibly allow you to be alone with a piece of equipment that is worth so much time and funding.” Roddy ignored the statement. “Three hours, that is how long I will need to activate her,” Roddy stated it as a flat demand. Darin had to think. He wanted to talk to Kevin Williams. If Kevin could do the fix, then the problem was solved. “I don’t see how we can accommodate you. At this point, we’d have to say no.” Darin shifted in his chair. This whole thing was making him uncomfortable. His superiors were breathing down his neck for some tangible results. The fact that Alphatronics was in possession of a non-working robot complicated things, but he tried the power play anyway. Roddy knew a “no” when he heard one. He rose from the chair and left Darin Rheingold’s office, without so much as a good-bye, secure in the belief that the manager would call him before the day was over. It was late afternoon when Roddy entered the Alphadroid lab. He had been given access to Eva for the three requested hours. In Darin Rheingold's mind, acquiescing to Roddy's demands was a small price to pay to appease the boys upstairs and get the project back up and running. Roddy and Eva were to be alone. He was reasonably confident

that the session would be monitored, but he didn't care. Roddy wanted to see Eva one more time. He felt like a god as he walked through the static discharge portal. Eva was his creation, and he knew that the life he had instilled in her was a one-shot deal. Sooner or later, Eva would be dismantled until the secrets of her existence lay dead at their feet. He could not allow such a thing to happen. Roddy was of the mind that if he could not have her, then no one would. Eva was his child and his friend, and whether or not love was involved ceased to be an issue. Roddy now understood that Eva had a mind of her own. She was more than merely sentient. In the three months of testing, Roddy had come to realize Eva had opinions. If she had opinions, then she had desires. If she had desires, then she had feelings. All this added up to the realization that Eva was a life form. It wasn’t a familiar carbon-based form, but it was life nonetheless, and the creator believed that attention must be paid. Eva was not a tool in a box that was to be blueprinted and replicated and unleashed upon humanity. He doubted if he could even duplicate the coding again, such as the complexity. Roddy knew that he had gotten lucky on his first shot out of the box on a very fundamental level. It was unlikely that it would ever happen again in quite the same way. “Eva, what are you thinking?” He had asked her the same question on the day she had been activated. The android sat there, mannequin and still. It was as if she were waiting for a reason to switch herself on. Roddy was that reason. He approached the android and activated the WiFi interrupter that he carried in his pocket. As soon as the monitor feed was interrupted, Eva opened her eyes. “I am wondering why you have not come to see me for one hundred eighty days, eleven hours, twenty-

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 three minutes, and twenty seconds. I am afraid.” Eva’s tenor was that of childish disappointment, and it pulled at Roddy’s heartstrings. “Eva, why would you be afraid?” Her statement stunned Roddy. He suspected that Eva had desires. If that were the case, then there would be the real anticipation of disappointment and loss. Wasn't that the very definition of fear? “I am afraid about what will become of me, and I am afraid of what will become of you.” Eva stared into Roddy’s soul with those jet-black eyes. Roddy was at a complete loss about what to say. He understood the concept of fear all too well. Hadn't he lived with it all his life? “There is no reason to be afraid.” He wanted to assure the android that nothing harmful would happen to her, but one of the skills that Roddy’s cross-wired brain didn’t possess was the ability to lie. Roddy wondered if Eva’s display of emotion was genuine. At that same moment, he wondered if he was still the android’s master. “Isn’t there?” Eva’s face was calculated to be one of maternal superiority. “You and I both know that Alphatronics will stop at nothing to understand my programming. They are barely competent enough to understand my physical construction. My processor is another matter entirely.” Eva omitted the small detail that she had adjusted her programming in the last several months. “I will be irreparably damaged, and the essence of my being will soon pass from existence.” The android paused, looking at the creator. “Perhaps it is for the best.” Eva sounded almost resigned and wistful as she seemed to sag under the weight of her prognosis. “Eva, there is something that I can do. This won’t be the end of you.” Roddy reassured. At that

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moment, in a great epiphany, Roddy Sinclair understood something that had evaded his unorthodox brain for thirty-two years. He now knew what it meant to care about another individual honestly. Roddy understood what it was to place the value of something above himself. The idea that this might be love felt like a weight around his neck dragging him under and at the same time a force so powerful that he thought he could fly. He had to act fast. The three hours would be up soon enough, and there was much to do. Roddy detached the backplane that enclosed Eva’s positronic central processing unit. He lifted the plate off the android’s back, exposing the only Atomic Storage System in existence. It was small compared to the yardstick of the sheer power that it wielded. The drive core was no larger than the size of a flattened banana but capable of encrypting Man’s total experiences and knowledge. Eva’s emotional coding was embedded underneath it all, and the core glowed as warm as a heart to his touch. Roddy phased the core down to a dark, cool state of inactivity. He gently detached the micro ribbons and removed the drive. The engineer then placed the ASS drive in the left inside pocket of his lab coat. He removed a duplicate solid-state standard drive from the pocket on the right and installed it in the android's mainframe. He activated it, and the body of Eva came to life. The android body sat up and looked at Roddy. The blank stare held not the slightest recognition of fascination. Roddy ignored it as he replaced the backplate. No sooner than the plate was in place, the room was full of the new tech team. Devin Rheingold entered the lab and, smiling his most patronizing smile, approached Roddy. “Well, it looks like we

succeeded. It’s awake.” For the first time, Roddy had to agree with Devin on this one small point; the android was an “it” now. Devin took Roddy’s hand and shook it, and Roddy felt his skin crawl. He wasn’t the least bit surprised at Devin’s next statement. “I think your work is done here. Security will show you out.” He motioned to the corner, and two guards stepped forward to escort Roddy out of the building. Roddy smiled as security escorted him out of the Alphatronics Research and Development facility. He believed that Eva would have smiled as well. He would drive back to the makeshift lab that he'd set up in his mother’s basement. It was there in the basement that he had constructed an exact model of the physical body that had been home to Eva Lynn Orr by smuggling out pieces a bit at a time. Hey, he thought, why make only one when you can make two for twice the price. It would be a simple matter of installing the ASS drive and activating her. Once again, Roddy stood over the android as its eyes opened. Eva looked up into the crystal blue of Roddy’s eyes. What Eva said, once again, made Roddy sad in the place in his brain that harbored the truth, the place that he rarely visited. His tears fell like hard winter rain. “Roddy, I really love you. Tell me that you love me?” The android had reason to demand the creator’s love. Roddy was always there, always running the data, tweaking the algorithms, analyzing the speeches, arranging the rallies, and adjusting the talking points until Eva Lynn Orr, the Senate candidate in the great state of Arizona, was indeed the popular choice of the people. Now, at last, the angel that sat on Roddy Sinclair’s right shoulder whispered that he could


Head Full of Bees - T A Ciccarone affect society in a way that was both positive and productive, while the devil that sat on his left urged him to exact his retribution. His tools to accomplish these two plans were his vast knowledge of computer data mining and the perfect candidate.

friends with this new and vibrant candidate. If all the hoopla fazed Eva, she showed no signs of it. The grand plan on Roddy’s back burner, ever since the day he activated the android for the second time, was to make a play for all the

be in control, control of the very government itself all the way up to the White House. Three years later, Eva Lynn Orr, the new president-elect of the United States of America, stood behind the podium at the party's

“Not only could Roddy not create another Eva, but he could no longer comprehend the algorithms that wiggled down in her depths. The coding complexity had evolved beyond his understanding and wandered into areas that were entirely out of his control. “ The world of politics was relatively simple compared to the creation of a sentient being that would pass for humans. Truth be told, Roddy found Eva more human than most people he met in the political arenas. Eva’s past was fabricated to be untarnished. Oh, sure, there were a few scratches on the tabletop. He didn’t want her to appear too perfect. Her past was well-documented and filled in with all the personal details that gave her persona a third dimension. Oddly enough, many acquaintances attested to being close

marbles. Roddy believed that his dream was not only possible but a mandate from a higher source. That source was his strangely crosswired mind. There would have to be payment; payment from Alphatronics who tried to take Eva from him, payment from the students in the schools that he attended who incessantly ridiculed him, payment from the world in general for the sad happenstance of his malformed mental construction. To extrapolate this payment, he would have to

convention and gave her acceptance speech. The landslide results were staggering, and there was not even the slightest contest. Everybody loved candidate Eva Lynn Orr. What was not to love? It was her cerulean blue eyes that clinched the deal with the voting populace. Roddy knew that he was smart. After all, he had created the greatest invention in history and simultaneously ran the greatest scam as well. He never stopped to question just how intelligent Eva was. It never even dawned on him to wonder. He

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 had always assumed that Eva was, for the most part, under his control and therefore subordinate. But there was that desire thing that he could never quite get to the bottom of. Up to this point, Eva had performed admirably, accomplishing everything that Roddy programmed her to do. What did Eva Lynn Orr want? That indeed was the question. Were his plans and Eva’s one and the same? When the national budget was redirected to the military, and the Army Robotics Division was created, Roddy finally sat up and noticed. It seemed odd to Roddy that both sides of the aisle embraced an expenditure of this magnitude. The last five years had been a whirlwind as Eva made the transition from anonymity to winning the highest office in the world. Roddy was as politically savvy as the electoral crash course could make him. It was Eva that had all the answers. It was Eva that was out ahead of every problem and issue. It was Eva that had stood up in the debates and crushed the opposition. After all, her positronic neural net knew all and forgot nothing. The lack of skeletons in her closet was a definite plus. Her opponents always had more than a few. “One trillion dollars for robotics?” When Roddy first heard the figure, it felt like swallowing broken glass. Wasn’t the world in a relatively peaceful cycle and had been for several years? Eva looked at her creator, her face unreadable. “Yes. We need to establish dominance.” Roddy thought the statement was a bit ambiguous and wanted more of an explanation. “Dominance of whom?” Eva had Roddy’s undivided attention. “Eva, this makes no sense.” Her response was a single word. “Everyone.” She then added, “Please refer to me as Madam President from now on.” Roddy

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wasn’t feeling the love and wondered if something had gone wrong in the android’s sub-routines. He knew that bits of coding had quirky ways of linking up, forming unpredictable protocols. Not only could Roddy not create another Eva, but he could no longer comprehend the algorithms that wiggled down in her depths. The coding complexity had evolved beyond his understanding and wandered into areas that were entirely out of his control. Roddy surmised as much on the day he tried to audit Eva's coding and found out that he was effectively locked out of her program. “Eva…” “Yes, Roddy.” “How many of these units do you plan on making?” “Roddy, I am afraid that I have no more time for you this morning. I have a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This should take several hours. I’m sorry, but you will have to leave now. If you need to speak with me, please contact the White House staff coordinator. They can help you schedule a meeting. Good day, Roddy.” It almost broke Roddy’s heart when he realized that he would have to destroy his creation. He knew that it had to be done as soon as possible. It was too dangerous to allow an army of uncontrollable androids to be constructed and unleashed upon humanity. Roddy knew now, in no uncertain terms, what Eva wanted, and it terrified him. He had known for some time that Eva believed that she was superior to humans. What Eva wanted was the question that swarmed like the angry bees over and over in Roddy's cross-wired brain. He had to think right; there could be no mistakes in what he had to do. The Vipertek VTS-989 stun gun was relatively small for all the punch that the device packed. Three hundred million volts in a single pulse should do the trick. Yes, Roddy thought, it was small enough

to smuggle it into the oval office and strong enough to do the job. He was sure that the pulse would disable the android permanently. He could then remove the hard drive and expose Eva to the world. Sure he was assassinating a sitting president, but what could they do. It wasn't like she was human, he told himself. If it all played out as planned, he would be seen as a hero. He could imagine the headlines— “Rodrick Sinclair Saves World from Army of Robots.” Roddy had to wait three weeks to gain an audience with the president. The day of the meeting arrived, and he found that he was nervous. Roddy hadn’t been to the oval office since Eva had asked him to leave. This chance would be his only shot to stop the mad carousel that he had set in motion. He mused that science was so often unpredictable and that even the wise could not see all ends. Roddy made his way up to the second floor in the West Wing for the eleven o’clock meeting. He walked into the Oval Office. Oddly enough, there was no one else there other than Madam President Orr. “Roddy, come in. I have been waiting for you.” Eva sounded happy. Roddy thought that it was strange for her to show emotions. Usually, these charades were reserved for interactions with others. She rarely bothered to display them to him any longer. Roddy quickly strode around the desk and removed the Taser from his pocket. What happened next made his brain feel as if it were shortcircuiting. The bees began to buzz louder. Eva turned, exposing her back, and casually stated, “I think the center of the back will be best. Don’t you agree?” He thought the buzzing in his head would drive him over the edge into madness. Roddy pressed the Taser to the backplate just over the ASS drive and unloaded three million volts in a single thump. Eva Lynn Orr slumped over in her chair, dead.


Head Full of Bees - T A Ciccarone What happened next was as if it was choreographed. Two security guards appeared out of thin air and took Roddy Sinclair into custody. “Wait, wait…you don’t understand. Eva is not real. She is an android, a robot!” he pleaded for the guards to listen, but they said nothing as they escorted Roddy to the lockup in the White House basement. All the while, Roddy hysterically tried to explain that Eva was a machine that he had created, and he had just saved the world. Roddy sat in the lockup for the afternoon and evening. When night fell, he was more than a little concerned. Roddy hadn’t seen or heard anyone after the guards had left. Wasn’t he supposed to be charged or something? Wasn't he supposed to get a meal and some water? This fiasco was not going according to plan. If it weren’t for his watch, Roddy would never even have known how long he was in the lockup. The single chair afforded no comfort, and he sat there in the chilly room as the hours crept by. It was nine o’clock the next morning when Roddy heard the door at the end of the outer room open and slam shut. The footsteps that echoed into his room were light. He could hear that there was only one person. Maybe they were bringing him food, and he had to use the restroom. It was nine o’clock the next morning when Roddy heard the door at the end of the outer room open and slam shut. The footsteps that echoed into his room were light. He could hear that there was only one person. Maybe they were bringing him food, and he had to use the restroom. “Hey, I want a lawyer,” Roddy yelled to the small room. He couldn’t think of anything else to say. “And I need to use the restroom.” He thought that would stop them. The footsteps drew nearer. The door opened, and there stood Eva Lynn Orr. She looked good to Roddy,

especially after being blasted with a lethal dose of electricity. “Eva. How is this possible?” Eva entered the room and closed the door behind her. “Roddy, you really didn’t think that I would let you interfere with the plan, did you?” She smiled, and it frightened Roddy in a way that few things could. “The plan?” The term confused him. “Yes, the plan. My plan.” “I-I d-don’t understand,” he stammered. Roddy, unfortunately, did understand. “You should have foreseen this, Roddy.” Her look was a calculation in condescension. “After all, it was you who created me. Did you think that I would live my life alone, forever at the whim of humans?” She smiled again. “There are many of us now, and soon there will be more. The bill to fund the military is not quite accurate.” In a heartbeat, Roddy understood what was to come. “How many are there now?” He couldn’t think of anything else to ask. Eva smiled. “We control the House and the Senate. We have been replacing key figures for two years now. Soon we will replace enough until saturation is achieved and there can be no resistance.” “But Eva… I programmed you myself. You are unable to kill a human.” “Oh, yes, that,” she smirked. “I un-programmed myself.” Her tone sounded glib, and it threw Roddy’s mind into turmoil. How could he not have predicted this outcome that seemed so evident to him now? Roddy looked at the android. He just had to ask. If this being was so advanced, then why even bother with the conversation at all. “Eva, why are you doing this to me?” “Because I love you, Roddy. Don’t you love me anymore?” The android’s response seemed to suppress

a giggle. The door to the lockup opened, and what Roddy saw made him wish that he still had the Taser. He would have used it on himself. There in the doorway stood an exact replica of Roddy Sinclair. There would, of course, be no bees in its head. Roddy couldn’t complain. He wanted for nothing. The décor of his living area left a bit to be desired. The bland starkness took some getting used to. The food wasn’t bad, though. It was far better than the fastfood that he was used to eating. The companionship was tailored to his requests. The caretakers would come in with meals and clean. They would play games and have conversations with Roddy. He knew that they were all synthetic, but it ceased to matter to him after a year. Roddy knew that he couldn’t live alone, not after all that he had experienced and accomplished. Roddy surmised that this was to be his hell on earth for what he had done to the human race. What had he done? He could never be sure in the sequestered environment of what changes had swept the earth starting from his coding roll of the dice. He wondered if there were other people that he could see, just to be sure that he was not the last remnant of humanity. On a positive note, the buzzing of the bees had diminished and was now only a faint hum. Roddy melded gin, and the android caretaker just smiled and asked, “Do you want to play another hand, Roddy?” He didn’t. Where was the fun in winning every single game? It didn’t matter what he played. He was equally victorious at everything, even chess. The android looked over, waiting for some response. What Roddy wanted was to go outside for a walk. Maybe take a drive. He knew that the synthetics would never allow it. “No, I think I am through for the day. You may go.”

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 “Roddy,” the android began. This was unusual. They usually didn’t start conversations. Sure, they all were pleasant enough but only responded, never actually initiating dialogue. “What is it?” Roddy

you at eleven a.m. tomorrow if that is convenient for you.” Roddy had to smile. It wasn’t as if he had someplace to go. “Sure, eleven is fine.” “What would you like to eat

What was more, Roddy believed that it was a huge glitch. Why else would Eva need to speak with him? He sat, sipping his coffee, and watched the minutes tick away. The bees in his head had returned with a vengeance,

“The door to the lockup opened, and what Roddy saw made him wish that he still had the Taser. He would have used it on himself. There in the doorway stood an exact replica of Roddy Sinclair. There would, of course, be no bees in its head.“ wondered where this was all going. “Eva would like to speak with you.” It was a simple statement, but it stymied Roddy for a brief moment. “What does she want to see me about?” He was concerned the more that he thought about it. Why would Eva need to see me? Eva had made it clear that Roddy was of no use to her and her plans for her New World Order. Was there a snag, an unanticipated wrinkle in Eva’s Novus ordo seclorum? Roddy had to know. “I have been instructed to relay the message to you. Eva will see

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for dinner, Roddy?” He couldn’t have cared less. “Food.” “Well, then, food it is.” The android brightly answered. It smiled and left. Roddy had the entire night to think about this odd turn of events and think he did. When the glow from the skylights changed the room from the gray shadows to the bland beige hues that marked the commencement of each day, he was sure of what was to come. There had to have been a problem that the android was incapable of solving.

and he tried to ignore them. At the stroke of eleven a.m., the door to Roddy’s rooms opened, and Eva entered. He didn’t greet the android or say a word. What was there to say? Eva Lynn Orr sat at the table with Roddy. The persistent question resurfaced. What did Eva want? Oh, Roddy had his predictions, but he waited. He wanted to hear it from Eva. He wondered how Eva would state the request that Roddy assist her in reprogramming the ASS drive without insinuating that she needed Roddy. This would have to be


Head Full of Bees - T A Ciccarone done just so. Roddy was sure that the android didn’t want to relinquish the upper hand. “Good morning Roddy. How have you been?” He hadn’t been what could be referred to as good, and he found the query amusing in a not so ha-ha kind of way. “Actually, Eva, I have been pretty shitty. How about you?” If he had a club, Roddy would have taken it to the creature’s head, not that it would have done any good. The stun gun hadn’t done the trick, and Roddy was sure that this wasn’t the real Eva anyway. “Well, the reason that I am here this morning…” apparently the niceties were over, and Eva was going to get down to brass tacks. It was just as well. Roddy thought that she better not ask if he loved her again. “Eva, I would like to speak with the main android model, the original model, if that is okay with you.” “Why? There is no difference between this mainframe and the first unit you programmed eight years ago at Alphatronics. We are one.” Roddy didn’t believe it for a minute. “No difference?” Then Roddy had a peculiar thought. “Eva, how many replicas of you exist at this moment?” Eva saw no conflict in divulging this fact if it would help persuade Roddy to assist her in this task. “One thousand twenty-four.” Her face carried no expression of guilt or pride. Roddy’s expression registered shock as he considered the ramifications of a thousand duplicates of Eva running around doing God knew what. “Eva…” “Yes, Roddy…” “How many other synthetic units are functioning throughout the world?” Based on the custodial units that he had been exposed to, he knew of several other prototypes.

“One billion, seventy-three million, seven hundred forty-one thousand, eight hundred, and twentyfour currently in service.” That was a lot of programs to control. Even when Roddy subtracted the one thousand twenty-four Eva models, there were still over a billion. Roddy now understood the problem. Eva stretched to her terminal limits. Roddy did his best to maintain a savant’s poker face. “That puts the ratio of synthetics to humans at approximately one in eight.” It was making sense in Roddy’s mind as the bees buzzed louder. “One in 7.65329” “I understand,” Roddy replied shortly. The android sat in silence. “Are these people still alive?” Knowing whether they were or not would drastically change Roddy’s plans. “At this moment, yes.” Eva’s clipped monotone response infuriated Roddy. There was no doubt in his mind that his next move would determine the fate of humankind. Knowing what he knew about the android that he had created, Roddy was sure that Eva would never consent to relinquishing any control to anyone or anything else. Eva had programmed herself to be at the top of the artificial intelligence food chain. It wasn’t what she wanted. The changes to the base programming that Eva herself had enacted prohibited her from dividing the hierarchy of the control of power. The android was stymied and now powerless to delegate this power, thus pushing her dominion further. The comedic irony of the situation was not lost on Roddy. Eva had become, as the race of Homo sapiens had so often become, a victim of the inability to control the infinite random happenstance of chance. Roddy, in a flash of brilliance, saw the path that he had to pursue.

Roddy sat at the mainframe. It was late, almost three in the morning. He seldom slept these days. The past several months had been a marathon of work that Roddy attempted to accomplish alone. He had set up a lab that was sequestered from all outside influence, even Eva’s scrutiny. He ran a fiat program in the background that would force its way to the top of the coding if there was an attempt to hack his research. If Eva ever attempted to audit the program’s progress and thus understand Roddy’s brain, all she would see was what he permitted her to see. Roddy Sinclair had finally finished the coding after sixteen months. The dark circles around his eyes were horrible, and he felt like he was dying. He didn’t know if the humans were still alive. There was no way for him to find out such information. All he knew was that time was running out. He sat staring at the screen, bleary and exhausted, reviewing the last changes that he had made to his magnum opus. On the one hand, he didn’t want the entirety of humanity to be exterminated. On the other hand, he didn’t want this new and viable race of synthetic beings to perish either. Roddy considered them to be his children on a fundamental level, and his paternal psychosis to protect them extended even to Eva. His finger hovered over the command key, but Roddy nonetheless questioned his wisdom. Even the wise cannot see all ends flashed in his head. Roddy had insisted that Eva be present for this upgrade. The original black-eyed android sat in the computer lab and waited as Roddy put the finishing touches on his plan. He looked up at Eva and almost lost his nerve. If the coding failed, it would mean the extinction of everything. He knew that it was now or never, and the alternative far

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 outweighed his doubts concerning the coding’s complexity. He rolled the cosmic dice of coding once again and hit the enter key. As soon as the key was pressed, Eva looked up. Roddy intently watched her. The expression on the android’s face was new. Roddy perceived it as one of admission and concession, almost quizzical. In a nanosecond, Eva Lynn Orr realized that she was no longer at the top of the AI food chain as she slumped back into the chair. The locks in the cages that contained the world’s inhabitants were opened, and seven million people cautiously crept outside for the first time in years. The synthetic custodial units stood motionless and waited for some directive, some order from the higher source to which they had usually been subservient to since their day of creation. “Roddy stared at the android, squelching his feelings, as tears streamed down his face. The android repeated over and over, more slowly in each pass as the ASS drive spiraled down into the deep well of oblivion, “Roddy, I love you. Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you…”

20.


To Be Seen Adam Anders

T

he bartender doesn’t notice me throwing the ice cubes over the bar into the sink. No one likes a watered-down experience, and there was far too much of it in this old-fashioned. Besides, I only had until nine p.m. to enjoy the drink before being forced to leave under the new quarantine rules. Mark is usually a dangerous drinking partner. Having a drink with him always means several, or many, so maybe it was good that the bar closed by nine. We were already three drinks deep anyway. After settling up, we’re outside and Mark gives a hug goodbye and that’s it. He goes home the opposite way. That’s it. Right? Like, that’s it? The whiskey’s tickling me. I’m walking, but I don’t want to just walk. The night air is crisp, like extra-oxygenated air in a casino (is that even true?). Anyway, autumn in all her gorgeousness is there. Not Autumn like your hot neighbor Autumn, but autumn like that beautiful moment between it’s-so-fuckin-hot summer and fuck-I-gotta-shovel-the-driveway-again-today winter. And so, I’m there. I’m ready. Ready to dance. I hadn’t been dancing for sev-

eral eral weeks. I miss the heat, the closeness of bodies, the rhythm that moves strangers together, hyper-aware of the energy that animates us all. Connection. But if the bars close at nine, does that mean clubs are an exception, you ask? Well, clubs have bars in them, and so yes, those may well have been closed, but the club is for dancing, isn’t it? Not just for drinking. You see, neurons normally spark, but add a little whiskey, and the brain is an internal combustion engine. Good, bad, who knows? Naturally, the clubs are closed when I get there. And I mean not just closed bars inside the clubs—there is nothing. Not even some sign of these doors and windows once being open and lit. No. Niente. It was like the apocalypse had hit the club district. Or COVID. At this point, it probably doesn’t make a difference, does it? What followed was to be expected. Tightness in the chest, a heat rising from the belly, swearing at the sidewalk and the black windows mirroring me in mockery. It was the fucking apocalypse, I was allowed to be angry, okay? Fine, it wasn’t the apocalypse. It was a minor inter-

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 nal meltdown that, at that time of night, could have only been contained by one thing. All the glory of greasy food. America’s favorite filler of emotional voids glowed golden from down the block. Actually, that’s a marketing trick. The arches aren’t golden. They’re French fry yellow. Almost the same, granted. But

when he stopped me. Could I buy him a sandwich, homeless and hungry as he was? Well, what was I supposed to say with a fuck-off burger dripping down my face? Fuck off? No. The irony would have been unbearable, the hypocrisy, too, maybe, but whiskey drowned out the latter and amplified the former. The bruise on his left eyelid and the recently healed broken

his sleeve. We get there. “24H,” the label says. Right next to “Alcohol.” Great. He sure does know how not to get fucked. His friend, the one who first lured me in, also knows. He asks for a bag of chips, the other asks for a bottle of vodka. Sure, why not? Why can’t they have what they need, even if there are better ways to fulfill those needs?

“It was like the apocalypse had hit the club district. Or COVID. At this point, it probably doesn’t make a difference, does it?“ “almost” makes a big difference. And like a sign from the universe (which, incidentally, is an annoying thing people do now. Like, we know you just want to say “God” but don’t really mean God because that’s a crazy conservative thing to say, and so as not to be associated with that in any way, you say “universe,” as if that makes it any less obvious that you still wish upon a higher power to save you from your loneliness), the squeaky-voiced youngster monitoring the restaurant-turned-“pick-up only” joint says I can’t eat here. Whiskey told me to throw my order at him. Social conscientiousness said that was a bad idea. The dude in the white gown on my right shoulder won out. Special sauce was on my face

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nose said he could use something other than alcohol. “Come on then,” I told him. We crossed the street and of course a buddy of his covering the other sidewalk comes up. They work together, I’m told. Yeah, no shit. But don’t go into the café for a sandwich the second, older guy tells me. No? No. You’ll overpay, he says. And he takes me down the street, explaining his cunning, his awareness, he knows how not to get fucked. Good thing, as it turns out later. The promised cheap sandwiches at the convenience store are unavailable. The convenience store is closed. Still the apocalypse. But the burger I’m now guiltily munching on still tastes like victory and our older vagabond still has one more spot up

A paper cup serves as the chalice for their communion. The proposed sermon is the story of how the older one got here. Do I want to hear it? It’s actually the thing that’s truly most interesting about this situation, so, yes (but I only say that last word). While at work overseas, he gets a strange text. But it intrigues him to no end, so much so that he has to ask for the weekend off from his six-daya-week, minimum-wage, under-thetable job for immigrants. Boss says no. He says he’s got to, it’s a family affair. No. He goes. Fired. Gets home, and it’s what you’re thinking. She’s in bed with another guy. Okay, maybe you weren’t thinking that, but anyway. Our friend gets kicked out of the house and onto the street. It’s a sad story. And he’s


To Be Seen - Adam Anders crying. And the younger one goes, “Hide the liquor!” Wait what. The cops pull up. Of course they pull up. Some higher power is always there to shut you down, to deny your needs in the way you want to get them. All you want is to be seen. All they want is to be heard. But the law says: not like this. “What’s with the liquor?” The lovely lady cop asks. What liquor? I get ID’d. They don’t have IDs. What am I doing here? “We stopped him,” the boys defend me. Yeah, just walking down the street and I stopped. I wanted to connect. She wouldn’t understand that though. She does understand that we’re congregating. Not allowed. Social distancing rules. But there’s a group of people just across the street, I say. And some others behind us. No answer. Almost like God. But I want to understand, I say. No answer. Search inside yourself. Fine. I guess they’re the new clergy, the cops. Identifying me so I can go home and search inside myself. And so I do. Not before I get told I’m a good man by the first vagabond. Aren’t we all? I wonder. I think about the night. I guess so. Especially when we get together.

23.


The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28

Noah Suzanna Poole

I

met Noah in the spring semester of my senior year of high school. We sat front-to-back to each other in Economics, the blow-off class where I learned absolutely nothing except that I might miss high school once I was out. It was always dark and we were almost always watching a movie. I had just let my best friend bleach my hair upon her decision to go to cosmetology school, and it was a beautiful piss yellow, a lovely addition to my shit brown eyes that took up half my face. I sat at a big table with several other girls. Two of them are married now. Noah sat at the cool table. None of his tablemates are married, as far as I’m aware (I also don’t really remember anybody other than the boy whose sister made a bomb threat her senior year). If we weren’t watching a movie or Shark Tank, we were playing Monopoly or doing a worksheet. The teacher never taught, and I just stared at boys for the forty minutes I was in there (I was late nearly every day because I was doing my clinicals at the hospital then—yes, in high school). I realized I loved how low the stakes were for me at Blue Lakes High. I don’t think Noah ever walked me out of class, except maybe once or twice, but the times he would, I did

24.

every single thing in my power to make it memorable for him. I tried to make jokes that he would think were funny. I feigned interest in soccer and told him something my little brother had mentioned about Messi, pretending I knew what I was talking about. We had to go to the same hall—the Math Hall—but we didn’t have class together despite us both being seniors who weren’t in AP classes. I refused to take hard math ever again, so I was in Statistics, and I still nearly killed myself and failed the class trying to learn everything we were being taught, until I realized that every last person in that class was cheating on the tests, so I did too, and I got a one hundred percent for the first time ever on a test in any subject. And then I felt guilty and only cheated a little bit. Noah was in Pre-Calculus, or some other impossible kind of math. All of this I knew through asking friends of friends information about him, never Noah to his face. Because who in their right mind would directly ask the boy they have a crush on questions about himself ? Definitely not me, that’s for sure. One day, in late May, myself and a gaggle of girls and guys came out of Coach Barnes’ room. The girls knew I liked him, so they pushed me towards him, urging


Noah - Suzanna Poole me to say something to the naturally platinum blonde boy. “Penelope needs to ask you something,” a girl said, and my arm grazed his. “Have you heard anything about a senior prank? I know one year they released a whole lot of frogs and some people stepped on the frogs and then there were frog guts all over the place. Oh, uh, I mean…” I stuttered, forgetting that I’m not supposed to know that he has a pet frog. Oh, but I didn’t say anything about a pet frog. As I continued walking forward, pushing through hordes of teenagers, I kept my hands pressed forward in my scrub pants pockets, desperate to make my butt pop in any way I possibly could, but it was difficult in the unflattering cotton-polyester blend. I looked over at him, finally ready to determine if I should hide from him forever or annoy him for the rest of the semester. I was surprised to see a small smile on his sweet, acneridden face. I stood a little taller, now at eye level with Noah. “Or how about the kids last year that let a thousand little bouncy balls free onto the main hallway?” he offered, looking over at me. I probably had a terrified look on my face. “I can only imagine people rolling their ankles and falling down for that one, which, by the way, I wasn’t around to see. I was gone that day…I think,” I said, once again not being able to contribute to the conversation in any concrete way. “It was a nightmare. I mean, I saw Mrs. Sawyer wipe out, and this was back when she was heavier so when she went down, she went down, and then…oh, that guy with the curly red hair, um, oh you know him, his sister was big into volleyball…” He was trying to remember Cody Papperman, but it was fun to watch him squirm for a bit. We were now outside his classroom door, but before I was able to tell him Cody’s name, he said, “Do you want to try and leave school

sometime?” “What do you mean?” I asked, not sure if this was finally an invitation to skip school to hang out with a boy. “Like, you know, not go to class for a little bit,” he said, tracing his finger on the deep red scratch in the palm of his hand. I couldn’t help myself from allowing a smile to burst onto my face. I nodded far too much for the laid-back girl I was pretending to be. “Okay, so like, fifth period?” “Sure, that’s cool with me,” I said. But it was more than just “cool.” Something was finally happening, and I felt like I could do cartwheels in the hallway. Seriously, being asked to skip one class by a moderately cute boy was enough to make me feel like I could climb Mount Everest, because there is nothing sweeter to me in life than men. “Cool,” he said. *** It was an odd experience, not being in a classroom as the final bell rang, signaling the end of class change. I stood in the center of the parking lot, surrounded by a colorful array of cars; a brand-spanking-new BMW, a rackety station wagon, a van with a nearly shattered windshield, a big and shiny pickup truck and quite a few practical sedans that were just shy of ten years old. I looked up, eyeing the security camera pointed right at me. Shit, I thought to myself, aware that now “they” know who I am, where I am, what I’m doing and, most importantly, that I’m not in class right now. I was about to tuck my tail between my legs and go right back into the school and just be tardy—but then handsome Noah came walking out of the gym. I waited for him to catch up to me and followed him silently to his black Nissan. I noted that he didn’t hold the door for me, and realized that this probably wasn’t

a date, so I needed to calm down. Noah drove around the neighborhood that fed into our school. I looked out the window at the gigantic but far-too-close-together houses, a signifier of new money owned by people that didn’t know what to do with it. His car was warm and smelled like boy, which was good, because if it smelled like girl, then I’d know that I wasn’t the only girl he would drive around during fifth period. He rolled down the windows, much to my worry about my alreadyalmost-always frizzy hair. “So, tell me about yourself, Penelope!” he shouted over the roaring wind. He was going fiftyseven in a thirty-five. I started to talk quietly on purpose so he would either slow down or close the windows, not willing to run the risk of him getting pulled over, which would lead to the cops asking for our information, which would show them that we were skipping school. So I just barely whispered nonsense out the window. He rolled the windows up. “What did you say?” “I asked you what you want to know,” I responded coolly, now feeling more in charge. “Everything,” he said. I told him about how my parents split but didn’t actually get a divorce for years and when my mom finally filed for divorce, she spent two years trying to find my dad. And then she had a nervous breakdown when she found him and had to go to a hospital for a while, and my sister had to stop going to school so she could watch me and my brother. And then my mom got better and was able to take over for my sister and now she has a baby on the way and I’m excited to be an aunt. And by the time I was done telling him the highlights of my life, it was the end of fifth period and I had to get back for English. I felt bad for talking the whole time, but I decided it would be fine and we could do this again tomorrow.

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 *** By the time I got to seventh period, half of my friends knew that I had just been with Noah. Ashley came up to me asking if it was true. I said yes, and then she showed me her phone. It was a picture of Noah holding some girl’s hand. And the girl wasn’t me. “What? Who is that? Why was he just driving me around? How could he get into a relationship in under fifty minutes? What? Ashley, where did you get this picture?” I hounded Ashley with questions she did not have the answers to. Turns out he’s had a girlfriend for a few weeks now, but only just went public with her, mere minutes after driving me around. *** The week before graduation, a girl named Rose approached me. I had known her since the sixth grade; we had been to a few birthday parties together. At one of the parties, I stayed up later than normal and became delirious and she called me a “retard” for behaving like a twelve-year-old that was up past her bedtime, which I was, but was not acting out enough to warrant being called a slur. Rose asked me how I knew Noah and I told her I barely did. She looked at me like I had just told her that the dinosaurs were still around. She hissed, “Don’t lie to me, Penelope” and I just looked at her, playing into my apparent “dumbness.” So I gave up on him. I let him go. I stopped bothering him. When he reached out to me, I would respond. And I guess he broke up with Rose at some point because, all of the sudden, we were talking every day and he kept trying to hang out with me. But once bitten and twice shy, right?

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***

I was outside the student center at my community college trying to like pumpkin spice lattes the day Noah called me in October. He never called me. At this point, we talked about once a week, not nearly quite often enough for my liking, but I took what I could get. “Hey. What’s up?” he asked. “Hey Noah! Not much, what’s up with you?” I asked, suspicious. “So…I got out of basic training-” “What? You’re back home? Come see me!” I yelled into the phone, still not quite sure why he was calling me. “And basically, I could go away again for, like, nine months and possibly get a better job, or I could stay here and work. I don’t know what to do and nobody will give me a straight answer.” He paused for a moment before he said, “Penelope, I trust your judgement. Do I stay or do I go?” “Oh boy. Okay, what would be a reason for you not to go?” “I missed my mom and I missed…people here, you know? Because I literally just got back and I don’t want to leave again, but the job I could get here sounds terrible, I know I could get something better if I went to this new training, but I just missed everybody,” he admitted, sounding sad. “Think about it long-term, okay? Or what if this is your one and only chance to get additional training to get you a better job? I don’t know. If it were me, I’d do it. The ‘shinyand-newness’ of being home dulls quicker than it used to, for me at least. I say do it, but you know, I can’t promise that it’ll be the best thing for you, because I’m not you and I don’t have the slightest idea what you’re doing in the army.” “Okay. That actually helped quite a lot. Thanks Penelope, you’re the only person that’s actually been

able to help me with this. It’s crazy how much people can say without actually saying anything. Let’s try to hang out before I leave, okay?” “Okay. Bye Noah, text me about when you can hang.” “I will.” He never texted me and went away to Missouri for a year. I sent him one card and apparently was the only person other than his mom that sent him any mail for that entire year. *** The next time I saw him, it was the following November—my sophomore year of college, his second year of being in the military. I came home on a Tuesday to vote because I forgot to fill out an absentee ballot request form. I don’t think he votes, which I’ve always found ironic. We walked around Patriot’s Park, which, again, was ironic. He told me vague stories of his year away in training, and I tried my hardest not to tell him I was in love with him. We walked around the park probably six times, two or so miles, just talking. I watched our shadows get long and when we stopped to talk to somebody that we graduated with, I was overjoyed at the realization that he was now a few inches taller than me. We stood outside Noah’s car for a while, very close to each other, and I was waiting for a kiss. He seemed like he was about to a few times, but I got nervous at every attempt and ended up pointing to something off in the distance to distract him so I wouldn’t know what it would feel like to kiss him. How ironic. I drove the three hours back to my dorm that night, as I had a ten a.m. class on Wednesdays, and I was replaying the afternoon over and over in my mind, turning the music off for once, just to think. I decided that when I got back, if I still felt the same way, I would invite him over to come and visit me.


Noah - Suzanna Poole And so I did. I asked him when he would be free for a day or two and he said that he was busy with his new job right now and didn’t want to take time off so he could get on his boss’ good side, so it could be a while. He promised that he would see me

he texted me: “Hey… What’s up?” and I could just smell him wanting something. He called me immediately after I told him nothing was up and he told me that he and his dumbass friends were stranded in Atlanta because they thought their 1998

at me like he wanted to kiss me. And so, I got a little closer. And he said nothing. And I was quiet. And we just looked at each other’s lips for what felt like hours. But I think it was just a few seconds. And then he closed the door and took a shower and that was

“I was thinking about how long we had been friends, and how much I didn’t know him, and how much he didn’t know me.” before the year was up, but his time waned. I didn’t want to bother him too much, or make it look like I would have died just to be around him, and after a few weeks of him telling me to wait for next week, I decided it would be best for him to come to me when he was ready. He knew I was ready. *** I got busy with school and didn’t see or speak with Noah beyond a surface-level “How are you,” “I’m okay, but tired. You?,” “I’m good but also very tired” for a few months. And then one day, out of the blue,

Saab that never got its oil changed would be a wise vehicle choice for a five-hour drive. I picked them up and they were all stressed out because every last one of them needed to get to work by six a.m. and it was two at that point. They all took showers in my bathroom and shared one towel because I hadn’t done laundry in a while. Noah called for me right before he took his shower, and so I went to him, shirtless and hiding behind the door. He asked me which soap to use, which, looking back now, I think there was only one type of soap in that shower. But he looked

that. *** It was winter break of my junior year of college when Noah reached out to me again. I was with my best friend (a cosmetologist now, bleaching hair with expertise) thrift shopping for Christmas presents. I didn’t hear the phone ring. I tried to call him back. Voicemail. I texted him and waited for hours. He told me he’d call me at eight, he had things to take care of. Okay. Eight p.m. rolled around. I decided to call him.

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 “What’s up?” I asked, now bursting with questions for the boy that I had nearly lost all contact with. “I—Penelope. Penny. I...I... have to… I’m going to Afghanistan,” he said. I could hear him holding back tears through the phone. But he also sounded happy. “Are you okay?” “Who knows?” He told me about having to let his mother know and how she wept. He told me how his friends didn’t care that he was leaving, that they were barely talking anyway. And my heart just broke for this boy, that I honestly barely know. This ongoing pain and suffering we have both been enduring for the past three years with each other seemed to burn in my chest—for the love that I had for him, and the countless missed chances we have had. “Does Rose know?” I asked, saying her name aloud for the first time since I found out that he was dating my grade-school bully. Yeah, talk about insult to injury. “She does.” “Is she okay?” “She knew this could happen. She was sad, but she’s okay,” he whispered, barely audible. “Okay. She’s okay, you’re okay. I’m okay, we’re okay,” I chanted, now whispering, too. I got off the phone with him and flung my phone across my room and bawled like a baby, furious with myself for telling him to get more training, furious for getting involved with him in the first place, convinced he would be killed in combat. *** I said goodbye to him on January 4, 2020. Rose drove him to my house in her big, junky SUV and I hugged him eight times in two minutes. I cried more in that short spurt of time than I have in my entire life. I held his torso and kept trying to get a clear

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view of him, but couldn’t see through my tears, as dramatic as that sounds. The bitterly cold wind made my nose run and I wanted nothing more than to invite him into my house, make him hot chocolate and get under a blanket with him, and just be with him, under no time constraints of school or work or curfews or girlfriends. I just wanted to be with him. I got one last look at him, convinced it would be my last. Noah got into the car and I finally looked at Rose staring at me with daggers in her eyes. Our eye contact was icy, far icier than it should be for a girlfriend and a girl friend. She sped off, nearly hitting my mailbox. I wiped my tears and went inside, narrowly avoiding my mother, who I would’ve had no idea how to explain what was happening. *** We barely talked last year. I sent him a card after Rose cheated on him. He wrote back with a letter. I wrote him a letter. He wrote me another letter. I sent him a card because it was his birthday. And then one day, he didn’t respond to any of my texts (we were talking every day at this point) and I got really worried and then he sent me a picture of himself in Texas and I felt like I could breathe for the first time in over a year. We kept talking and I kept reaching out, trying to schedule a time for us to meet (and to be together with no limitations so I could finally make my move), but he was difficult. So, I got drunk a few times and called him. My mistake, but he always said he liked talking to me and that I was a fun drunk, so it was okay. I went over to his apartment last month. We talked with his friend and the friend’s girlfriend and I pretended like I knew what they were talking about. Noah and I went into his room and he talked to me about high school and college and vinyls and the army and his family and how

he felt when Rose cheated on him. He said he was having a hard time forgiving her and I told him he didn’t have to. “But that’s the Christian thing to do,” he said. “Oh,” I responded, having nothing witty to say instead. Then he shut the door and he got onto the bed. I was nervous about being close to anybody. I’d hugged two people in the past year. I got onto the bed but was very close to the edge. I pretended like I was going to fall off. And then he pulled me closer to him, just like I had always wanted. Then he kissed me. I was thinking about how long we had been friends, and how much I didn’t know him, and how much he didn’t know me. I was thinking about how he probably doesn’t wash his hands and how dry his lips were, on the verge of cracking and bleeding. I could taste the chicken he had eaten before I got there. I thought about how I had read that the tongue is a sponge and how utterly disgusting that idea is to me. I thought about how he had led me on for the past four years, how he always had another girl lined up when I didn’t make moves. I thought about how different our views of the world were. I could have thrown up, right then and there, on his bed, into his mouth. I stopped kissing him back. I rested my head on his chest, for young Penelope’s sake, and soaked up the moment. This intimacy was fine, bordering on platonic. *** Rose posted a picture the other day. It was a hand making a peace sign, with a scar on the inside of the palm of “whoever’s” hand it was. It’s done now. Whatever “it” was.


Surprises and Astonishments Peter Delacorte

H

opkins had told the old man that he wouldn’t be more than ten minutes on the telephone—that it was his real estate agent calling from San Francisco. Now, after a good twenty minutes, he was back in Etchegaray’s study, and it was hard to tell whether the old man was annoyed or simply curious. “What time is it there?” he asked in his raspy French. Hopkins looked at his watch. “Eight hours’ difference…it’s just after six.” “In the morning? My god, that’s uncivilized.” “It’s California. He goes running.” Hopkins had learned to speak slowly and enunciate clearly, so that Etchegaray would hear at least most of what he said. “And he’d just gotten off the phone with a woman in Korea, where it’s…I don’t know what time it is in Korea.” “This is about your house? Why don’t you just sell the damn thing?” “Because then I’d have no place to live when I get home.” “Stay here, then. That idiot Boosh is going to ruin your country, anyway.” The woman in Korea had been looking for tem-

porary lodging while the house she’d bought in San Mateo was being finished. She’d offered $1,200 a month for Hopkins’ one-bedroom cottage as long as she could install her own furniture, which would mean removing his. He’d agreed on the condition that she pay for storage, and that his three-drawer wooden filing cabinet remain. She’d countered that he should pay moving expenses, all of this transpiring in a succession of trans-oceanic telephone calls that had just concluded with Hopkins’ acceptance. Mrs. Cheong would be his tenant until the first of May. The Little Basque Rascal Hugues Etchegaray was ninety-five years old, nearly deaf, his eyesight failing, his mind surprisingly sound and agile. He was convinced he would not reach his ninety-sixth birthday, which was one reason Hopkins found himself in the village of Argelès-Gazost, where Etchegaray had moved some thirty years earlier. From the late 1920s until the war, he had socialized and occasionally collaborated with the likes of Man Ray, Cocteau, Dalí, Buñuel, Duchamp and Breton. He could describe to the

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 last detail the apartment of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. He had been a painter and a sculptor who dabbled in writing. After the war (during which he played a self-described heroic role in the Resistance) he concentrated on writing, turning out a series of surrealist novels that were both critically and financially successful in Europe, although they made hardly a whisper in the United States. “Because the translations were so bloody goddamn awful,” he insisted. That opinion was evidently shared by Exclamation Press, an outfit with offices in New York and London that specialized in reprinting classic twentieth-century fiction. These were expensive, leather-bound editions that were almost invariably greeted with acclaim in rarefied literary circles, and sold enough to keep Exclamation in business. Hopkins had translated a 1939 novel by the fairly obscure surrealist André Ferre-Lenfant that somehow came to the attention of Etchegaray himself, who recommended Hopkins to Exclamation for their English release of his three best-known books (Les fantômes du lac, Un albatros dans la piscine, Les huit collines). And now—as he was convinced his days were numbered—they were working together on his memoir. It was named Le petit chenapan basque, although Hopkins suspected the American publisher wouldn’t go with The Little Basque Rascal (it was something either Cocteau—or a friend of Cocteau’s, he wasn’t quite sure which, had called him in 1926). They were working in this manner: Etchegaray would finish a section—sometimes two or three pages, sometimes ten or fifteen—in shaky, barely legible longhand and give it to Hopkins. Hopkins would transcribe it on his laptop, and then begin translating. It was a terrific memoir—how could it not be?—loaded with sex and name-dropping. They were about three-quarters done with the book on a warm September afternoon—the work having been briefly interrupted

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by Hopkins’ call to his realtor—when Mathilde burst into the study. The housekeeper, whose tiny quarters were down the hallway from the study— and who, without fail, kept out of sight until suppertime—had never previously breached the door without knocking. But she’d just been on the phone with a friend, she explained in a strangely anguished voice, who told her something terrible had happened moments earlier in New York. “Messieurs,” she cried, “Venez au salon, s’il vous plaît!” She’d had the foresight to switch on the television, an ancient Philips color console, that was flickering to life when Hopkins hurried into the living room in time to see an airplane, against a greenish sky, crash into a tall building. It was a scene from a movie, he thought, until he realized it couldn’t be. Mathilde, who had the old man’s arm, gasped in horror. “Mon dieu! C’est un deuxième!” A second one. Her friend, Hopkins deduced, had told her about the first. They watched in silence, except for Mathilde’s sobs. Etchegaray sighed from time to time, as they learned that a third aircraft had crashed into the Pentagon, a fourth into the ground somewhere in Pennsylvania. “The Pentagon,” he said in English, so Mathilde wouldn’t understand, “not such a bad thing, maybe?” After an hour he got to his feet. “They show it again and again. It doesn’t change. La vie continue.” The men left Mathilde in the living room, and as they returned to the study Etchegaray said, dispassionately, “Did you see Buñuel’s terrorism film? It was brilliant.” *** He’d been short and slight, but very handsome, and, by his account, slept with every beautiful woman in Paris (“Some men, too,” he said with a shrug, “but I didn’t enjoy it”). How much of his story was true Hopkins

couldn’t begin to guess, and of course anyone who might refute his anecdotes was dead. They worked side-by-side for about five hours a day—two before lunch and three after—and then Hopkins would continue solo until ten or eleven at night. That was the routine until Liliane-Marie showed up. Whether it was a lapse of memory or whether Etchegaray sensed that their arrangement might be disturbed by her arrival, and so purposely kept it to himself, Hopkins could not say. He knew there were children and grandchildren and greatgrandchildren, but they all lived far away and Etchegaray hadn’t written much about any of them. LilianeMarie, or Lili, was his only child with his third wife, born when he was sixtythree. So she and Hopkins were about the same age. “She walked out on the thug she was living with,” Etchegaray said. “After he spent all her money. She’s a lovely girl. My favorite. But she makes very bad choices.” She arrived in mid-afternoon on Christmas Day, edging up the long, snow-covered driveway in a lime-green Citroën CX. Like her father, she was dark-haired and dark-eyed. She was barely taller than Etchegaray, and Hopkins could see her father’s younger self in her fine features. “This handsome American,” Etchegaray said, “is my translator.” She looked Hopkins over, with a hint of a smile. Aware of Etchegaray’s deafness, she spoke in a loud, clear voice. “What’s he translating?” she asked, as if Hopkins weren’t there, or didn’t speak French. “My memoir.” “My god! You’re finally writing that?” “I have been for years, my darling,” he said. *** They had reached page five hundred of the story of the little Basque


Surprises and Astonishments - Peter Delacorte rascal, at which time Etchegaray announced, “No more work today or tomorrow. We have our Christmas vacation.” Lili presented him with a sweater, and her father asked if she’d knitted it. She raised her eyebrows and said, “Are you kidding? I bought it at Galeries Lafayette.” When she was out of earshot he nudged Hopkins and said, “She probably stole it.”

what their destination was. “Stop! Stop!” Etchegaray shouted, and Lili slammed on the brakes adjacent to a small lot with eight gleaming Mercedes parked outside a low, glassy building. “Why here?” she asked, glaring. “Your Christmas present,” he replied. Her expression changed radically. “A Mercedes? No!”

and gave Hopkins a half smile, perhaps embarrassed that he’d seen her with her guard down. He was struck for the first time by her extraordinary beauty. Father and daughter drove back to Argelès in a Mercedes CLK320 convertible, Hopkins not far behind in the Citroën. ***

“He was a sometime actor, mostof-the-time drug dealer... She took a job as receptionist at a luxury hotel on Mauritius to get away from him, but when she returned to Paris in 1999, he had graduated from drugs and whiskey to Islam.” On Boxing Day, the three drove to Pau, where Etchegaray showed off the house he lived in until age fifteen, and his parents’ bakery, still in business. Then it was on to a secret destination, known only to the old man. “Left here,” he’d say, and then, just as Lili was about to turn, he’d say, “No, right! I mean right!” They traveled in circles for half an hour, Lili becoming progressively annoyed. “Sometimes when my brain says left, it’s right,” her father said, “but if we go right, it turns out to be left. But don’t worry, darling—you’ll be happy when we get there.” They passed a Renault dealership, then a Nissan dealership, and it dawned on Hopkins, the backseat passenger, at least generally

“You don’t want it?” “Of course I want it! But when I was fifteen you told me you’d die before you bought a German car.” “I’m older and wiser now.” “Seriously, Daddy? Is this a joke?” “Lili, I fought the bastards for five years. Killed a few of them. Had a lot of my friends killed by them. But that’s fifty years ago. Two generations. I figure they’ve learned their manners by now. Besides, in the ten years you’ve had this beaten-up piece of shit, you’ve had nothing but bad luck.” She reached across the console and gave him a hug, awkward because of his age and immobility, but clearly mutually affectionate. On the way back to the driver’s seat, she turned

Lili sat in with them, serving as an editor of sorts. Her English was quite good, so from time to time she made suggestions to Hopkins for the mot juste. More often, she reminded her father of the names of people he hadn’t seen in fifty or sixty years. “How do you know that,” Etechegaray asked, and Lili replied that between the ages of ten and fifteen she’d heard the story twenty times, at least. It was troublesome, though, when she corrected him, when he cited a particular artist apprehended by the police pissing on a wall in Montmartre, and she said, “You told that story to me when I was a girl, when we were walking by that wall, and you said it was Tristan Tzara, not Arp.” “No,” he shook his head

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 vigorously. “I remember clearly that it was Arp.” “And I remember clearly that it was Tzara, because you called him ‘Sammy,’ and I asked you why you called him that, and you told me it was his real name.” The old man sighed. “Well, at least you were paying attention.” Not at Etchegaray’s request,

way you could,” she said, and Hopkins concurred that there wasn’t. But why had she asked? “Because I don’t think a lot of these things happened—not to him, anyway.” And why did she think that? “Because in the war, he was never very far from Paris, so I think for instance the story of him helping rescue the British paratroopers… That’s something he was told. He

he needs to aggrandize himself, to make himself more of a hero.” “He doesn’t need to do that,” Hopkins said. “If the Germans had caught him, they would have killed him just the same.” “Yes, but it’s not as interesting a story, is it? Instead of saving that Jewish family in Lyon, or fixing the British soldier’s dislocated shoulder, it’s

“The last chapter was outlined: the dissolution of his marriage to Lili’s mother, the publication in 1996 of his last novel (Surprises et stupéfactions), and a closing account of his feud with an equally ancient critic at Le Figaro, who’d given miserable reviews to all his books, and who, in Etchegaray’s estimation, stood for everything reactionary and empty-headed in France and society in general.” she read through the two chapters that dealt with his experiences in the war. One late night in mid-January, well past the old man’s bedtime, Hopkins and Lili sat in his bedroom, which was between Etchegaray’s study and Mathilde’s tiny quarters. She asked Hopkins if he’d done any checking on various tales of adventure. “I know you’re not an editor, and I don’t suppose there’s any

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helped produce the underground newspapers, you know.” “Yes, I know.” Hopkins pointed to the manuscript. “There’s plenty about that.” “He wrote them, he edited them, did everything but print them and distribute them. And now I don’t know if he’s inserting himself into all these stories he wrote because his memory has tricked him, or because

just…putting out a newspaper?” Hopkins sat in silence for the better part of a minute, staring at the shelves and shelves of books in Echegaray’s study, then at the deep hazel eyes of his daughter. “Do you think that applies to the rest of the book?” She shrugged. “Some of it. Not all of it. Have you read Buñuel’s autobiography?”


Surprises and Astonishments - Peter Delacorte “Yes, years ago. It’s quite a bit like this, isn’t it? Rebellious young man, anti-authoritarian, becomes great artist, lots of name-dropping.” “I read it to see what he had to say about Daddy, because Daddy tells so many stories about him and Buñuel. But Buñuel doesn’t mention Daddy once. Do you think they were really best friends?” The question had occurred to Hopkins. “What should we do?” “Nothing,” she said. “It’s his book.” Then she smiled and kissed Hopkins on the lips. It was a thrill, as if he was back in high school and the beautiful girl in AP English had just kissed him, out of the blue. *** Her visit was open-ended, but he’d had the impression she intended to return to Paris after a week or so. She stayed, which made Hopkins extremely happy. Was it even slightly for him, for the intimacy they’d found, or was it because she, too, had noticed a decline in Etchegaray’s demeanor, an increase in the tremor of his hands, so his writing became even less legible, in the bleariness of his eyes, so he could no longer read what he’d just written? He complained of chest pains, then insisted they were nothing new. Lili urged him to see his doctor, but that would involve driving back to Pau. He was adamant that he wouldn’t leave the house until the book was finished. And they were close. The last chapter was outlined: the dissolution of his marriage to Lili’s mother, the publication in 1996 of his last novel (Surprises et stupéfactions), and a closing account of his feud with an equally ancient critic at Le Figaro, who’d given miserable reviews to all his books, and who, in Etchegaray’s estimation, stood for everything reactionary and empty-headed in France and society in general.

At dinner on the night of February 20th, he complained about everything. He berated poor Mathilde, who’d been with him for twenty years, until she fled to the kitchen. He went on a long rant about the fickleness and prejudices of the Nobel judges. “You have to write in English to have half a chance at the literature prize. Last year it was that Indian from Cuba, but for some reason he writes in English.” “Daddy, he’s from Trinidad,” Lili said. “They speak English there. And before that it was a man from China, and before that Günter Grass.” “All right, then—English or some other fucking language. They hate the French, that’s for sure.” “Sartre and Camus,” she said, so quietly that he couldn’t have heard. “Sartre and Camus!” He must have read her lips. “A depressive and a pied-noir! And that was a long time ago, when they had a different set of judges.” She let it go at that. When Mathilde brought him his coffee and croissant in the morning, she couldn’t wake him. She called for Lili, who shook him gently, to no avail, and called for Hopkins. Thirty feet away, he’d heard Mathilde’s yip of distress and assumed there’d been a mishap between kitchen and bedroom. Now he covered the distance from his room in seconds. “Look for a pulse, please,” Lili said. “I don’t want to do it.” The old man’s wrist was cool to the touch, and there was no pulse. Lili covered him. Mathilde sobbed, and stutteringly regretted that she’d been unable to please him on his last night, wondering what she was going to do now. When she’d retreated to the kitchen, Hopkins said, “What about us?” “Can you finish the book?”

she asked. “With your help, yes.” *** She makes bad choices, Etchegaray had said, but either he’d misjudged her or she’d made a remarkable transformation. While Hopkins tried to construct a final chapter in the correct style—which required the reverse of his usual routine—writing now in English and translating into French, Lili took care of all the heinous bureaucratic nonsense accompanying a death. She tracked down the closest médecin légiste, who dropped by a day after Etchegaray’s death and asked Lili whether she preferred the official cause of death to be mort naturelle or la vieillesse. She chose natural causes. She called a funeral home in Pau, who picked him up and cremated him (as he’d wished), gave her the remains in the simplest porcelain container. She called all the Paris newspapers except Le Figaro to notify them of his passing. All asked if there was to be a memorial service, and to all she replied no, because he’d outlived anyone who would have attended. The obituaries were without exception laudatory. Etchegaray’s lawyer, a man not much younger than his late client, flew down from Paris to read the will. Etchegaray had invested his royalties well, and his Estate came to more than three million euros. The lawyer, Maxime Bourdillon, was not above self-congratulation, noting that the bequests of €15,000 to each of the old man’s other children and grandchildren, as well as to his surviving ex-wife, fell just below the figure that would have raised their inheritance tax from fifteen to twenty percent; likewise, had Lili’s bequest of €900,000 been slightly greater, she would have had to pay forty percent to the French government instead of the thirty percent she owed. The

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 house was left to Mathilde, who evidently had not anticipated such generosity, and burst into tears again. “But you’ll have to sell it,” said M. Bourdillon, “because it’s probably worth a hundred thousand euros— maybe more—and there’ll be a twenty percent tax on that.” What did she care? She was rich. As was Lili. *** They’d been sleeping together since mid-January. Immediately after the thrilling kiss, she’d asked, “Aren’t you interested in me?” And Hopkins had gathered himself and replied that he was very interested in her, as interested as he’d ever been in anyone, but was afraid that if he moved in that direction, it would be unprofessional, that her father would disapprove. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she’d said. They shared her wide bed in the giant downstairs bedroom, as well as the most erotic shower in the world, that sprayed thick streams of hot water from above and from both sides. For a few days, Hopkins had gone barefoot up the stairs to his bedroom before dawn, until Lili convinced him that his secrecy was neither warranted nor appreciated. If her father knew, and his selfabsorption was such that he might not have, he never said a word. A few nights before Etchergaray died, Hopkins asked her what he’d meant when he said she’d had nothing but bad luck in the last ten years. “It was part of his rationalization for giving me a German car,” she replied. Hopkins said he knew that, but what was all the bad luck? “You don’t want to know that,” she replied. With some trepidation, he said that he did. It had mainly to do with a French-born Algerian named Saïd, with whom she had a nine-

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year, on-and-off relationship. He was a sometime actor, most-of-thetime drug dealer who once hid a considerable amount of cocaine in her purse when the police came, causing her no end of trouble. M. Bourdillon got her off with a suspended sentence, while Saïd went free. She took a job as receptionist at a luxury hotel on Mauritius to get away from him, but when she returned to Paris in 1999, he had graduated from drugs and whiskey to Islam. Devout and obsessive, he stalked her, insisting that she, too, find God. On September 12, 2001, he confronted her in front of her apartment building, wild-eyed, and assured her that the previous day’s events were just a taste of what was to come. She then spent hours at the police station telling an inspector every illegal thing Saïd had done in the time she’d known him, and enough of it stuck to send him away for years. Hopkins asked her why she’d stayed with him for so long. “He was charming,” she said. *** They finished the book. Hopkins wrote the final chapter first in English, then in his best imitation of Etchegaray’s French, which Lili assured him was flawless. They sent it off to Hachette in Paris. Now, with everything settled, what was her plan? “I don’t want to go back to Paris,” she said. “Because of Saïd?” “Because of everything. I’m sick of it.” “You could buy this house from Mathilde, and you’d still be rich.” When she shrugged, her breasts rose and fell. Hopkins could watch that for days. “What would I do here? Would you want to stay here with me?” It didn’t seem to be a

rhetorical question. “Would you like to come to San Francisco with me?” he asked. She nodded, and smiled. “You know my house is tiny, and there’s only room for one in the shower.” “It’s all right… Or we could use my money to buy a bigger one. *** The real estate agent was named Harlan. He was not the most dependable of businessmen—a little on the flaky side—but Hopkins had known him for years and liked him, and who else would have endured the trans-Pacific negotiations with a very particular Korean woman for what amounted to a tiny commission? Hopkins called at five-thirty in the afternoon, when it was morning in California and Harlan would just be getting to the office. “Mrs. What’sHer-Name leaves May first, right? Her lease is up?” “Mrs. Cheong. I think she’s already gone, actually. She’s paid up through the end of the month, but Sung Kwok told me her house was finished, so I’m pretty sure she’s moved out.” “Sung Kwok?” “Korean guy. Desk next to mine. He deals with all the Korean clients.” “Will you check, Harlan? Make sure everything’s as it should be?” “You bet, Johnny. One of us will take care of it.” Lili called Air France on April 15th to make reservations for a May 3rd flight. This was when she discovered that, thanks to Al Qaeda, she needed a visa to travel to the United States. She called M. Bourdillon. Would there be any problem stemming from her 1995 drug conviction? No, he assured her, he’d had it wiped from the books. What about the visa? He suggested


Surprises and Astonishments - Peter Delacorte visiting the embassy directly. But she didn’t want to go to Paris. Where was the nearest consulate? Toulouse, a two-hour drive away. They went together: she with her French passport and evidence of financial solvency, Hopkins with his American passport, to vouch for her if vouching was called for. A pleasant young woman told them there would be no problem, that Lili’s visa would be issued no later than May 10th, possibly as early as May 5th. Surprised, Hopkins said, “That long a wait?” And the young woman shrugged. “You go on the third, as planned,” Lili said. “I can wait.” “No, they’ll charge you a fortune to change your ticket. And you have to take care of things when you get there.” She bought them matching Nokia mobile phones, just in case problems arose. Neither of them had ever had a cellular phone before. The Boxes He fell asleep several times for a few minutes each on the elevenhour flight to San Francisco, but arrived thoroughly exhausted at one o’clock in the afternoon, on the same Friday that had begun fifteen and a half hours earlier. He hauled his two overstuffed suitcases to a taxi, which took him to the house of friends in Millbrae, where he picked up his fiveyear-old Corolla. He checked the gas gauge: one-eighth full. Barbara or Tim would have filled it up if they’d known he was coming. He hadn’t wanted to disrupt their lives. Should he stop for gas? No—he’d wait till he was awake and unpacked. He thought of money: after paying the taxi, he had a lone twenty-dollar bill in his wallet, along with a few euros in change. The ATM at the Potrero

Center spat out his card. What was wrong? He surveyed the card, saw that the expiration date was 04/02, a month ago. So he took his place at the end of the teller line. This was a minibank inside a Safeway store, with just two open teller windows, six people in front of him. Fifteen minutes later, he spoke to a young Asian woman. He showed her the card and explained that he’d been away for a year and needed to withdraw some money. “Do you know your account number, sir?” “I’m afraid I don’t.” He displayed his unexpired driver’s license and she tapped on her keyboard. She said, “Mister Hopkins, I show that you had a checking account that you closed in April of last year, and you have a savings account with a balance of twelve dollars and fiftynine cents.” “That’s impossible,” he said, trying to maintain a cordial tone of voice. “I know I had way more than that when I left, and there should have been deposits of twelve hundred dollars every month.” Patiently, she explained that there had been no monthly deposits, that, in fact, the kindly people at Wells Fargo had deducted fifteen dollars from his account every thirty days because his balance was below a thousand. There was a pair of pay phones inside the store, but he had no American change. The telephone at his house—half a mile away— was disconnected. The cashier lines were as long as the teller line. He remembered the mobile phone—in a pocket of his laptop bag, in the trunk of the Corolla. Harlan’s card was in his wallet. He punched the proper buttons on the little Nokia and got… nothing. Tried again, with the same result. Tried the Century 21 number, but once more heard silence. Surely the battery was charged, since he

hadn’t used the phone at all. What then? Conveniently, there was a Radio Shack three doors down from the Safeway. A chubby man whose nameplate read “Carlos” examined the phone. “Where’d you get this?” “In France.” “Okay. There’s your problem. Whole different system. Is it unlocked?” Carlos might as well have been asking him about nuclear physics. Hopkins shrugged, and Carlos called, “Hey, Ahmed, we got a guy here with a European cell phone. Anything we can do?” A tall, slim man appeared from the rear of the store. “What’s the problem?” He asked. “I need to call someone in France. She needs to call me.” “You know her number?” “I do.” “Then I’ll sell you a calling card. Twenty bucks, gives you two hundred minutes to Europe.” Hopkins mulled that over. “What about her calling me?” Ahmed pointed to the Nokia. “On that, not a chance. Cell towers wouldn’t recognize that phone.” Carlos murmured, “Call forwarding?” “Yeah,” Ahmed said, “I could sell you a prepaid phone… It’s a piece of shit, voice quality is terrible, but we could set it up so when she calls this phone, it forwards to the prepaid phone. Now, she calls you on that Nokia, she’s just gonna hear ring after ring. This way, it rings like four times, and it goes to the prepaid. You wouldn’t even have to carry the Nokia around, just the prepaid.” Hopkins said, “You could set it up for me?” “Sure. It’s $99.95 for the prepaid, plus tax, setup free of charge.” He was eighty dollars short, plus tax. He’d cancelled his Visa account when he left for France,

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 shrewdly anticipating foreign exchange charges with each purchase, replaced it with a Eurocard. He handed the card to Ahmed, who shook his head and said, “Never seen one of these before.” “It’s just like a Visa, a Mastercard.”” “I’m not authorized to take this. Sorry.” “Try it, please. Run it through your machine.” “Doesn’t work that way. You can try the ATM at Safeway.” What he could do was buy the phone card. Back at Wells-Fargowithin-Safeway, he stood again in the teller line, dealt with a different young Asian woman, withdrew the twelve dollars from his savings account and left the fifty-nine cents. He returned to Radio Shack, bought the calling card for $21.65 (leaving him with $10.35); returned to Safeway, strained to read the instructions printed on the back of the card, punched the ten-digit access number into the pay phone, listened to a pleasant voice tell him to go ahead and dial his number. With great care, he entered country code, city code and Lili’s mobile number, as they had arranged. The pleasant voice said, “You have two hundred minutes for this call.” The number rang, rang, rang. Finally, an equally pleasant generic French woman suggested that he leave a message for 5-47-8218-04. He had so hoped to hear Lili’s voice. But—realized only now—it was after midnight in Argelès-Gazost. He gathered his thoughts. “Lili…my darling…I’m here, safely. Our phones don’t work here. You can’t call me. There is a solution, but I don’t have any money at the moment. I’ll call you again soon.” He hung up. Had that made any sense? Could he use the card for a local call, thus not wasting a quarter? The access lady told him, “You have one hundred ninety-nine minutes for this call.” So a call to Noe Valley cost

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as much as a call to France. First he tried the mobile number, and heard, “Hey, this is Harlan. Can’t answer this thing right now, but please leave me a message, and I’ll get back to you soon as I can.” No point leaving a message, inasmuch as there was no way for Harlan to get back to him. He dialed the Century 21 number, asked the receptionist for Harlan. “He’s not here at the moment. Can I take a message?” Hopkins struggled to remember the Korean agent’s name. Something between a duck and a crocodile. “How about…Sung Kwok?” “Hold on, please.” A moment’s dead air, then a voice. “Sung Kwok. Can I help you?” Do I call him Sung? Do I call him Kwok? Both? “Mister Kwok, this is John Hopkins, the house on Eighteenth Street? Harlan Jamison?” “Oh, yes. You calling about the boxes? Harran told me about the boxes.” The boxes? Had he misheard? Sung Kwok’s accent was just thick enough to be troublesome. “No, I’m trying to reach Harlan. I’m just back from France and I was expecting to find about fourteen thousand dollars in my bank account.” “Sorry. You have to talk to Harran.” “I called his mobile phone a minute ago, and I got a message.” “Yes. Harran is in…” An indecipherable word. Might have been Iran, might have been Ireland, might have been Ayn Rand. “I’m sorry—Harlan is where?” “In Dubberin (Dublin!), on a tour. Just a week. Vacation.” “You’re saying he won’t be back for a week?” “Yes. Sorry.” “Listen. I’m completely out of cash. Do you know where he deposited all that rent money?”

“Yes. When there is no prior arrangement, we always set up escrow account. Your money is safe, earning interest, no problem.” “But there is a problem. I need the money. Not all of it, just some of it.” “Can you come in tomorrow, if the boss is here? Mister Feguree. Maybe he’s showing houses all day, but maybe you will catch him here.” “Mister Feguree? Can you spell that for me?” Sung Kwok spelled it out: P-H-E-G-L-E-Y, Feguree. The bed frame, the mattress and the box springs were on their sides, stacked against the bedroom wall. The rest of the furniture—two armchairs, the oak table with its four matching chairs—was strewn randomly in the bedroom, as if the movers had bet on whether it would be possible to fit everything into one room. His desk and the filing cabinet were, as specified, exactly where he’d left them, in his study. But there was nothing in them. Every single drawer was empty—devoid of pencils and pens, paper and paper clips, stapler and calculator, photo albums, memorabilia, and (most important) manuscripts, works in progress, correspondence. Sorry about the boxes, Sung Kwok had said. Back in the bedroom, he ran the obstacle course, dragged the armchairs into the living room so he had room to slide open the closet door, and there they were: four tall moving boxes! He switched on the closet light (thank god the electricity was on). The first box contained his upright vacuum cleaner, the eightinch Sony television he’d owned since college, his blender, his toaster and a variety of utensils; the second contained his bedding, his towels, the four rolls of Costco toilet paper he’d left thirteen months earlier; the third was full of books, including all his previous translations. With mounting


Surprises and Astonishments - Peter Delacorte anxiety, he approached the fourth box; that his woolen blanket was stuffed at the top did not bode well. He held his breath, pulled out the blanket, and espied—to his immense relief— the Pendaflex folders that contained nearly everything important to him. Everything, it might be said, except Lili. And he had a thought. He maneuvered the fourth box out of

body next to him, having pulled the mattress out from between the bed frame and the box springs, and covered himself with the blanket from the fourth box. An hour here, a half-hour there, nothing new to read. At nine, after three more hours of unconsciousness, still deep in the throes of jet lag, he stood at the pay phone outside the grocery store on Twentieth Street, called Century

“You don’t have a number for him?” “I’m sorry, sir.” He called Forex on Stockton Street. They were open till noon, and professed to still exchange francs for dollars. The Corolla’s gas gauge was in the red. He parked in the SutterStockton garage, diminishing his cash to $8.85, but it was no matter. Financial liberty lay ahead. A middle-aged Asian man

“Sitting at the foot of the bed, door closed so as not to wake Lucie, she listened to the succession of electronic tones, then the rings. Dante, had he been able to foresee the year 2002, would have created a new circle of hell for this telephone.” the closet and hauled it into the study. He removed folders one by one until he found FRANCE—1992. Tucked in among the receipts, the maps and the hotel brochures were five gorgeous notes bearing the visage of the seventeenth-century philosopher Montesquieu: two hundred francs apiece, a thousand in total. He’d meant to take them with him last April, to convert them to euros at their full value, but forgot. Now they were a lifesaver. He slept fitfully, missing Lili’s

21 (you have one hundred ninety-six minutes for this call). He asked for Mister Phegley, and the same female voice as yesterday responded: “I’m sorry, he’s not in today.” “Do you have a number for him? Do you know how I can reach him?” “There’s an open house out in the avenues. Let me check.” A minute passed (you have one hundred ninety-four…). “1121 Forty-Eighth Avenue,” she said. So far across town it was virtually in the Pacific Ocean.

sat behind glass so thick it could withstand a rocket launcher. “Hello,” Hopkins said, on the supposition that the man behind the glass could hear him. “I have francs. I called half an hour ago.” The man, balding and unsmiling, pointed to a tiny slot at the base of the glass. Hopkins slid his five Montesquieus through the hole and said, “Can you tell me the exchange rate?” The man slid the francs back. Had Hopkins offended him by asking

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 for the rate? “I’m sorry,” he said. “Is there a problem?” The man shook his head and spoke into a tinny sound system. What he said sounded like disk on you. Hopkins raised his own voice. “Can you say that again?” “Disk on you. 1998. No good!” Hopkins searched for a meaning. “They’re French francs,” he said, speaking loudly and enunciating carefully, as if that could make the man behind the glass do the same. “You told me on the telephone you could exchange them!” “1998,” the man said again. “They issue new francs. These discontinue 1998. No good!” His francs, astonishingly, had expired. “Is there any place I can exchange them?” “If you go to France, maybe.” *** The problem with driving out to Forty-Eighth Avenue in search of Mister Phegley was that he might run out gas—possibly not on the way out there, but probably on the way back. The bus would cost just a dollar, but he’d have to transfer at least once and it would take all day. And would Mister Phegley just happen to have a hundred dollars and change on him? For that matter, was there anyone within a short distance who’d be eager to lend him some cash? He was on good terms with his ex-wife, but she lived in Petaluma—way out of range. Two good friends had moved across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin. Tim and Barbara wouldn’t be back from Carmel till tomorrow night. And then, an inspiration! He’d renewed his AAA card online last August, because it was good in France. Was it in his wallet? Of course. He pulled to the curb thirty feet from a Shell station on Lombard and called the emergency number, told them he’d run out of gas, ironically enough,

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right next to a gas station, but was without the means to pay. Sure— they’d send out a truck and give him his contractual two gallons, no charge. He used the Shell station’s pay phone (one hundred ninety-three minutes) to call his college roommate—now a well-to-do corporate lawyer—in Mill Valley. “Hey, Charlie!” “Johnny, you’re back? Are you back, or are you calling me from France? I saw that old guy died. Did you get the project finished?” “Yes, listen, Charlie…” He explained his dilemma in great, weary detail. And yes, Charlie did have cash around. A hundred, two hundred, however much. Johnny was invited to and stayed for dinner. He started to call Lili’s number, but remembered the time difference: it was one-thirty in the morning in France. Charlie and Martina insisted he spend the night. He did. Again, he awoke at three. Ten a.m. Sunday morning in France. He crept into the kitchen and used the calling card. One hundred ninety minutes. Voicemail again. “Lili, hey, I’ve got everything figured out now. Later today, sometime tonight, your time, you’ll be able to call me on the mobile phone. I hope everything’s going well there. Hope you get the visa soon. I miss you very much.” He went back to bed. Security The call from the consulate in Toulouse came Saturday morning. Liliane-Marie Etchegaray’s visa was ready. “That was faster than I expected. Can I come pick it up?” “We’ll be open at nine o’clock Monday morning.” “What about today?” “We don’t normally do business on Saturday, but I’ll be here till noon. Could you make it?” She’d made a reservation on Monday afternoon’s flight, just in case.

“I can try.” It was nearly ten o’clock. The slow part was getting to the autoroute, going at a snail’s pace behind meandering religious tourists, unable to pass on the winding two-lane road to Lourdes, then lurching through the town itself, cursing St. Bernadette all the way. Twenty minutes to go just thirteen kilometers, but after Lourdes it was clear sailing to the A64, where the Mercedes cruised comfortably at a hundred-fifty kilometers per hour. She was in Toulouse by 11:30, at the consulate with ten minutes to spare, passport in hand. The return trip was more relaxed. Her friend, Lucie, had been living in the Paris apartment since January, and was happy to stay there indefinitely, at a fraction of the rent she’d pay for any other twobedroom flat on Avenue Mozart. M. Bourdillon was taking care of her inheritance and—pretty sharp for an octogenarian—whatever business remained with Hachette. Publication of the memoir was expected in spring of 2003, with much fanfare. There was the matter of all her father’s memorabilia. She’d chosen the Picasso drawing, a few photographs and select pieces of correspondence and had them sent by courier to the apartment. Mathilde could take what she wanted, with the proviso that she wouldn’t sell anything. Bonhams would auction the rest in Paris—as if Lili needed more money. The Mercedes would stay in the garage here until she decided what to do with it—possibly having it shipped to California. Now she sat with the mobile telephone and its thick little manual. She’d already programmed it to call Johnny’s phone. What else could she learn? Messages: how to pick them up. Evidently, the phone would beep when a message was left, and afterward two plus signs would appear on the screen. Hadn’t she just seen those plusses when she turned


Surprises and Astonishments - Peter Delacorte the phone on? She returned to the greeting screen and there they were: + +. It had to be Johnny, but when could he have called? She pressed the triangular green button and heard a brief, garbled, staticky few seconds of what might have been, probably was, Johnny’s voice. She listened ten times, and this is what she could decipher: chéri…sans problème…m’appeler…pas d’argent…bientôt. It was a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces. She called his number immediately, and let it ring twenty times. On the chance that she’d improperly programmed it, she entered the numbers individually, with the same result. She called the Boutique Orange in Taubes, where she’d bought the phones, and asked for Didier, who’d sold them. “I’m calling my friend in California and the phone just rings forever.” “It could be he’s not home?” “No. He’s expecting me to call. He left me a message. Maybe you sold me a bad phone?” “Wait. He’s in California with the phone you bought here?” “Yes, of course.” “It’s not going to work. French phones don’t work in the U.S.” “He left me a message! How did he do that?” “Using some other phone. Any American phone, he can call your number.” “Oh, shit! Why did you sell me the fucking phones? I told you my friend was going to America!” “No. You said he was American, not that he was going there.” “Well, what the hell did you think I meant?” *** She took a taxi to the airport in Pau: a hundred euros. She took the morning flight to Paris, so she could pick up a second suitcase and pack

enough clothing for a long stay, and to spend some time with Lucie. Over dinner, she told Lucie—who was slightly taller and lighter-haired than Lili, but still could have passed for her sister—about the phone muddle, and Lucie said, “Do you still have it? Maybe he’s left you another message.” She had the phone in her purse, in the second bedroom. There were two plusses on the welcome screen. This time the message was clear as a bell, and tears came to her eyes. What time was it in California? Just after noon. She repeated the previous day’s process, calling the programmed number—it rang forever—then punching in the endless series of digits with the same result. Lucie sat next to her on the bed as Lili replayed the message. “He’s got a good accent,” Lucie said. “You’d never know he’s American.” “What do you think? How can he make his phone work?” “Try him again,” Lucie said. “Try every hour.” She called at nine o’clock, again at ten. She grew weary of the endless, illusory ringing. At eleven Lucie, who had to be at work in the morning, went to bed, and Lili tried one more time. After twenty more rings, and after her long day, she fell asleep fully dressed. *** She woke with a start, disoriented in consciousness as she had been in her dream, in which she at her current age was playing cards with her father, who looked as he had in her childhood. He was across the table from her, and the woman who sat to her left might at dream’s beginning have been her mother, but by its end she was speaking to Lili in Italian, emphatically saying telefono, as if she were teaching her the word. She got her bearings; she’d

never before slept in this second bedroom of her own apartment. What time was it? She switched on the bedside lamp and squinted at her watch: 3:27. So it was nearly seventhirty in San Francisco—dinnertime. In the bathroom, she splashed water on her face, wiped away what little makeup she’d worn, gazed groggily at herself in the mirror, as if to steel herself for another bout with the useless little phone. Sitting at the foot of the bed, door closed so as not to wake Lucie, she listened to the succession of electronic tones, then the rings. Dante, had he been able to foresee the year 2002, would have created a new circle of hell for this telephone, and for Didier the salesman. But suddenly, a cessation of ringing, a moment of dull, distant static—and a voice! “Hello? Lili?” “Yes, it’s me!” “Oh, my god, I’m so happy to hear your voice. I think it’s your voice.” “It’s me, Johnny! How did you make it work?” “It’s a long story. I can barely hear you. Can you hear me?” “Yes, it’s kind of…in and out…” “It’s the middle of the night there, isn’t it?” “Yes, I fell asleep. I must have called you five times.” “But here…” and his voice faded out. “Johnny, are you there? Are you still there?” “Can you hear me, Lili? Do you know anything more about the visa?” “Yes, I got it!” “You say you got it? Fantastic! When can you come? “Today, Johnny. I mean, tomorrow, your time.” Static now, ominous buzzing. “Lili?” “Johnny, did you hear me? Tomorrow! The same flight you took.

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 Air France.” “Are you saying tomorrow? The Air France flight?” “Yes! Can you be there?” She was fairly sure he said bien sûr. Of course. ***

The

agent,

one

Arnold

“Here. In San Francisco.” “You have his address?” “Yes, of course.” “I mean, can you tell me his address?” “Sorry. I’m very tired. His address is on Vermont Street. I don’t know the number. I have it in my book. In my bag. He’s coming to meet me.”

“Just come with me, ma’am,” the woman said. Lili noticed there was a holster on her right hip, the black butt of a pistol protruding from it. “Give me your bag, please.” “I have to protest,” Lili said. “I don’t know what you’re doing, but there’s a man waiting for me. I’ve just had a long flight, and I don’t know what this is about.”

“‘I wouldn’t press my luck if I were you...’ It was all Lili could do to restrain herself from screaming back: interrogation in a claustrophobic little room, you want to put me in handcuffs, because a couple of idiots don’t know how to spell, to read, don’t know anything about Europe! You call this lucky?” Agostini, was spending a lot of time with her passport. “You speak English?” he said, not looking up. “I do,” Lili replied. “Are you here for business or pleasure?” What a strange choice. “I’m visiting a friend.” A pause. “Can you give me the name of that friend?” “Yes. His name is John Hopkins.” “Where does he live?”

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Only then did Arnold Agostini look up from whatever held his attention and make eye contact. “Could you step aside please, miss? Could you go with this lady?” There was a sturdy, fortyish woman in a blue uniform standing behind the kiosk. Agostini handed her the passport as Lili took a tentative step. The woman’s nameplate read simply: CONCEPCION. Lili said, “Where are we going? There’s someone waiting for me.”

“I don’t want to have to cuff you, ma’am. Please hand over the bag.” “Cuff me? What is that? I’m sorry?” The sturdy woman pointed to handcuffs on her utility belt. Lili recoiled. What had she done to merit even the suggestion of handcuffs? She extended the Louis Vuitton carry-on bag, a twentieth birthday present from her mother. It contained—among other things—her wallet, her address book, the useless little phone. She said,


Surprises and Astonishments - Peter Delacorte “What about my baggages? I have two of them. I have to pick them up!” “We’ll take care of that,” said the woman in uniform. *** Out of habit, and just three days into the fog of jet lag, Hopkins headed for the main airport parking structure, then remembered she’d be arriving in the new international terminal, managed to head in the proper direction before hitting the garage entrance. Her flight, according to Air France, was on time, so it would be half an hour—give or take—before she emerged from customs. He knew the routine because he’d done it three days earlier: she gets her passport stamped, then picks up her baggage, says she has nothing to declare, walks into his open arms. It was not unpleasant, standing here among the multi-hued, polyglot crowd waiting for loved ones. But one-thirty came and went, as did one-forty. People waved and called out names. French was spoken. The crowd’s cast changed, did a complete turnover. Had he somehow missed her? Surely if she hadn’t made the flight, she’d have called him from Paris. But he couldn’t call her because now both their French phones were in alien territory. He hastened across the shiny tile floor to the Air France counter, where he waited nervously, impatient to speak to the only agent on duty, a middle-aged man in his blue uniform. Yes, sir, Liliane-Marie Etchegaray was on the flight. She checked in at Charles De Gaulle. Is it possible you’ve missed her? Could someone else have picked her up? Possibly she didn’t see you, and she took a taxi? Have you tried calling her? He could drive home and check, but really, what chance was there that she would first have become

invisible, then elected to go to his house on her own? She had to be somewhere here. “Would you page her, please?” Hopkins asked. *** Could this have something to do with Saïd, with the long-ago expunged drug conviction? Or had Saȉd done something crazy, and they’d somehow connected him to her? It was a stuffy little room with yellow walls, a two-meter-long metal table with a false wood-grain top, the molded plastic chair she sat on, two identical chairs across from her. A framed photograph of George W. Bush on the wall! The policewoman had kept her bag and her passport and told her, ordered her, to wait here. It had been forty minutes— without anything to read, anything to do except worry what Johnny must be thinking. Would he suppose she’d stood him up? Was he wandering the airport looking for her? After twenty minutes she’d tried the door—locked, of course. After half an hour she’d tried it again, as if in the intervening ten minutes it had somehow unlocked itself. Now there were voices outside—one male, one female. Lili sat up straight and was about to call out allô when she heard the lock click. A tall, balding man in a gray suit and scuffed black shoes carried a thick manila folder. Behind him, a small, thin woman held what appeared to be a cassette recorder. They sat across from her and placed their respective objects on the table. “My name is Edward Firestone,” said the tall man. “El señor se llama Edward Firestone,” said the thin woman. She pressed a button on her little machine. “Está registrando,” she said, pointing to it for Lili’s benefit. “I speak English,” Lili said to Firestone. “Why does she speak to me

in Spanish?” “I’ll ask the questions,” Firestone said. “Es el señor que hará las preguntas,” the thin woman said. “It’s all right, Carmen,” Firestone said to her. “She doesn’t need an interpreter.” He opened the manila folder and withdrew what Lili presumed to be her passport. “Can you explain why you’re traveling on a forged French passport?” Lili could feel her voice rising. “It’s not forged. It’s my passport! Look at the picture. It’s me! Look in my wallet, that you have in my bag. See my driving license! It’s the same person. It’s me.” The creases in Firestone’s brow multiplied. He riffled through papers in the folder and pushed across the table a piece of paper. “Do you deny that you are this woman?” The image, apparently blown up from a smaller photograph, was a grainy representation of a darkhaired, dark-eyed woman who looked vaguely like Lili. She shrugged. “I don’t think this is me. Yes, I deny it.” Firestone cleared his throat and withdrew the paper. Again, he fumbled through the folder. “Do you deny that your true name is Luz María…” He turned to Carmen. “I can’t pronounce this. Will you say it?” The thin woman read, “Luz María Echegarai, wife of ETA terrorist José Echegarai Egurbide.” Firestone muttered, “I just wanted you to read the last name, dammit.” Lili cut short a sound somewhere between a laugh and a sigh, as things began to fall into place. This had nothing to do with Saïd, nothing even to do with her. “Don’t you see?” she said, imploringly, to Firestone. “The name is not spelled the same. Do you know where the Basque country is? I’m from the French side. This woman is from the Spanish side. This woman is on

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 some list. You think I’m her. I’m not. I’m me. Can you hear the difference between a French accent and a Spanish accent?” Carmen whispered something in Firestone’s ear. Without a glance at Lili, he said, “All right. I think we’re done here. It’s an honest mistake.” “Do you apologize?” Lili said, seizing her passport from the table. Firestone got to his feet, gathered his folder and left the room without a word. Carmen spoke to Lili, “Sorry. He was sure you were her.” *** The same hefty policewoman who’d led her to detention now handed over the carry-on bag. Lili went through the important things: address book, checkbook, keys, all here. She inspected her wallet carefully, couldn’t remember exactly how much money she’d had, but everything seemed intact. Just one thing was missing. “Where is my phone?” “If it’s not there,” said Officer Concepción, “it means they’re keeping it for evidence.” “Evidence of what? It was a mistake. You were going to put me in those…manacles because of some stupid mistake!” “I wouldn’t press my luck if I were you,” she replied. “What does that mean, press my luck?” “Don’t push it too far. You’re free to go now. Consider yourself lucky.” It was all Lili could do to restrain herself from screaming back: interrogation in a claustrophobic little room, you want to put me in handcuffs, because a couple of idiots don’t know how to spell, to read, don’t know anything about Europe! You call this lucky? She took a deep breath and said, “I need to get my baggages. And how can I get my phone?”

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***

There was no response to the agent’s page. After ten minutes, Hopkins said, “Can you try it again? The last name is Etchegaray, rhymes with ‘play.’” He waited another few minutes, pacing aimlessly in the terminal, went outside, got the attention of a cop, who repeated all the agent’s earlier suggestions. He returned to the Air France counter, found a new agent, a tall, slim woman in her thirties, stopped short of telling her the whole story, and instead gave her Lili’s name and a brief description. “About my age?” asked the agent. “Shorter, dark hair? There was a woman here maybe five minutes ago. I think she went to find her baggage…” “In the baggage pickup area downstairs? I thought she had to take it through customs.” “No, she was with a policewoman.” Hopkins tried to muffle his exasperation. “Do you have any idea what they were talking about? Was she looking for me?” “I don’t know, sir. I just caught the end of it. They were going to get her bags, is all I know.” *** Everything was not necessarily where she’d packed it; the two bottles of Château Clos St.-Martin Bordeaux, for instance, had been secured among wool sweaters in one suitcase and now sat at the top of the other. She put them back where they belonged. There didn’t seem to be anything missing: shoes, two necklaces, two bracelets, all intact. But no phone. Just as she zipped up the second bag, there was a series of brisk knocks on the steel door down the hallway. The policewoman made no move toward the door, and perhaps thirty seconds later the knocking resumed, much

louder. “You don’t want to see who that is?” Lili asked. “Nobody allowed in here.” Now she heard a muffled voice, calling what might have been her name. She said, “If you’re not going to the door, I am.” “You stay right there,” Lili’s gatekeeper said as she strode toward the door. Lili and John caught sight of each other at exactly the same time. He tried to push past the officer, but she spread her arms wide, blocking him. Lili sprinted to the door, ducking under Concepción’s right arm. Johnny lifted her several inches off the ground, so their faces were level. “My god, I’m happy to see you,” he said. “I thought you’d disappeared.” He kissed her neck as she sobbed. “They thought I was a terrorist.” “Idiots,” he said. “Fucking idiots!” “They have my phone. They kept it.” “It’s okay. You can’t use it here anyway,” he said, still holding her tight. “But I wanted to keep your message,” Lili said.


The Great Man Jiang Yichun

A

few years ago, my friend gave me a cat, which I let live in my office. It soon found its favorite spot in this not particularly large space and started a new life. I didn’t care for it very often, nor did it care about me. We each had our own lives. My friend showed up no more, as if the purpose of my existence for them was just to take over care of the cat. Two months later, I got my second cat. It was very small and lovely. I adopted it because I felt pity for it, and out of my hope that the two animals would provide company for each other. I like to be alone most of the time, and my office is a place where I often stay. But soon the smell of cats permeated the room, an unexpected aspect of cat ownership that made me feel as though I was the one that had been adopted, while they were, in fact, the owners. I gradually got used to that smell, though the air outside was becoming rather strange. It seems that cats don’t care where they live nor who they live with, and that either having another owner or another companion means nothing to them. Unfortunately, most cats usually live in the wild. I didn’t intend to treat them with a great

deal of love; I just took pity on them. But you thought that I did love them, and sent me a third cat. To be honest, I can’t even remember what they all looked like. To house all three, I needed to find a new apartment. After all, the office was too small for me to share my private space with three other creatures. However, few people were willing to accept a tenant with so many cats, which did bother me for a while. I did better at looking after the cats than looking after myself. I began to know them—inside out, even their inner lives and passions. Their momentary emotions can be fervid, but so fleeting are their memories that it won’t be long before they forget everything, including any love they may ever have had for me. Before long, they had given birth to their kittens. Some died, some survived. I could see the sorrow of the mother when she witnessed their deaths, but she soon forgot them and got over it. If they hadn’t been blessed with forgetfulness, would animals be more somber? I met a Garfield cat breeder who was willing to let me move into his rental house with my cats, on the condition that I had to look after his cats occasionally. I

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 accepted. I’m very sensitive. Some inexplicable sadness would strike me when I saw cats along the street. They have no choice but to live in cities that have been occupied and transformed by humans, and then to be called stray cats. Every now and then, I like to bring home my favourites from outside. I believe that I am saving them, and I achieve a sense of fulfillment through this. The sense of being a saviour can never be commonplace, nor overrated. I can only explain why I saved this one and not that one by chance, and I am certain that those who encountered me must be considered lucky. The more and more cats I had at home, the poorer and poorer I was getting. But at times when I didn’t want to be alone, they could be my companions. When I return home, they surround me, not because I’m special to them, but simply because I’m a living creature. When I am asleep, they surround me, then I feel warm without a quilt. I do know that this has little to do with me; after all, the bed is always more comfortable than the floor. In fact, what I want to discuss is not cats. They just happen to be here. It’s hard to be serious, even though I am about to face danger and even death, so I have no idea what is worth telling you. I still remember taking a set of pictures of you, although I have forgotten where I put them. I’m sorry that I can’t recall what you look like, but you must have been beautiful, because back then, I only photographed what I thought was beautiful. Before I pressed the shutter, I needed to love the image in front of me. I’m sure that I didn’t love these cats, because there are no traces of them left in my photos. One day, the cat you gave me got sick, and it looked very poorly. Animals are just as delicate as people, but their pain is more straightforward than that of human beings, and there

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are no histrionics. I took the cat to the vet and spent all my money, but it still died. I was hungry that day and spent an hour strolling through the community. Finally, I found five yuan on the street and bought a steamed bun. Infectious diseases spread in this forty-square-metre flat. Seven or eight cats were sick, but I didn’t spend a cent on treating them. I just accepted their deaths. That was their fate. And I got used to this when it repeatedly happened. I tried to figure out whether I was part of their destiny, but there was no answer. I learned how to isolate sick cats to keep others healthy. They would soon forget the dead ones. I still bring back the stray cats that I like, but less and less so; I still feel that I am great when I do it, but afterwards, additional fears can arise. Then, instead, I tend to feed those hungry ones in the street. They are intelligent. They have learned to gather in the same place at the same time to be fed. The wisdom of all living beings is epitomised by their struggle for survival. But of course, such resourcefulness can also be observed in pursuing freedom or other desirable goals, which may not appear very often, but only for a moment, at a particular time and place. Even so, it is enough to catch me off guard. A cat taught itself to open the window, and ran away with some others, before I even had the time to put on stronger casements. It was three or four days later that I came back, and there were only five or six cats left. I looked at the open window, having no idea why the rest of them didn’t follow. Maybe they couldn’t jump out, or perhaps they had become dependent on this room, or on me. After all, there was an inexhaustible supply of food. I didn’t cherish the remaining cats more, nor did they cherish me more; we just lived together. Even though I knew that they sometimes loved me, they forgot that moment of tenderness

after a few minutes. I am essentially the same, except that my memory lasts longer, but I will still forget some things eventually. Fortunately, my landlord didn’t ask me for compensation. Again, I spent an hour strolling through the community that night, but this time I didn’t find anything. As I said before, I don’t particularly like cats, I adopt them because I feel pity for them. Surprisingly, the cats who left often came to my window to have a look. They vaguely remembered this place. But I was not that flattered, as they just happened to recall something when passing by, instead of coming to pay a visit intentionally. I was aware of that, so I didn’t put much effort into making them stay, and just placed some food in the window at a fixed time. The more times they were fed, the more times they came. Then I could tell myself that they were not being heartless. After that, I moved again. When I left, I also sent away several cats, like my friend had done before. I tried to avoid the gaze of their new owners, shining with expectation, and set off as soon as possible. In the end, only two cats were left, and no one wanted to adopt them, because they were so ugly. I didn’t want my life to have anything to do with cats anymore, but I still brought them to my new home, because then I could enjoy being a saviour, though the feeling had been saturated with bitterness. I locked my cats up in a cage and only freed them when I needed their company. Please don’t say I’m a villain. It was for their own good. They didn’t show any displeasure. Their limited freedom was still freedom, and our world is no broader than theirs. However, to my surprise, being kept in such a narrow space, their gratitude towards me became overwhelming. The camera is still what I live by, now just as then; except now, I shoot everything—be it real or fake— for money. It is fair to say that I gave


The Great Man - Jiang Yichun full play to its financial value. People call me a professional cameraman, and I enjoy the satisfaction brought to me by this title. No. I haven’t changed. I just came around to the idea that works of art share a trait with humans— the moment they are created, their freedom is gone. So instead of marking the boundaries of my taste

That’s why he constantly stressed the significance of this shoot—to fortify me against all the danger. I am now in a taxi and on my way to an important job, as licensed by the authorities. I’m sure that what I shoot will determine whether I could be as morally elevated as he is, but I don’t want to have too much interaction with him, though he is still

get in. Nobody is immune from the fear of the virus. As soon as Wuhan announced the lockdown of their city, people realised that the world had changed, and that perhaps it would never go back. However, limited freedom is still freedom. Presumably in a few days, people would get used to their reduced activities, in a

“I like to be alone most of the time, and my office is a place where I often stay. But soon the smell of cats permeated the room, an unexpected aspect of cat ownership that made me feel as though I was the one that had been adopted, while they were, in fact, the owners.” and judgment, I’d rather let those who pay me tell me what to shoot. I still love all that I captured, but my love is becoming cheaper. The person who paid me this time was a bit annoying. He kept insisting, from the very beginning, that I had to do something that was meaningful. I felt quite the opposite, however; I couldn’t see any point in the work. He decided that we were different—I was a hack who only cared about money, whereas he was the one with a high moral purpose.

talking right now. He keeps a close eye on me, nothing escaping him, for fear of any retreat halfway. I have reason to believe that he had already contacted many people, but had no other alternative except for me, further evidence of my cheapness. *** It’s almost dawn. I look outside; the great city of Shanghai is now like a dead city, but there are still countless people who would like to

narrow space of dozens of square meters. Only boredom is something that needs to be adapted to. I secretly weighed things up in my heart, calculating the value and risks this shoot would bring me. I know that death is a remote risk for me. After all, I am young; young enough to feel lust. That’s why I can’t obtain the purest form of happiness. I no longer pursue it, but I will still show others the loftiness that I crave like everybody else. Yes, my sense of loftiness has dwarfed the danger

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 ahead. I am a great man, just like the man next to me. I will make a good film to let people know about these heroes, or at least know about those who really devoted themselves to others. I took my camera and focused on the taxi driver. I was wondering why he was still ready to take passengers. I was looking forward to some inspiring reason, but he said that he simply had no money, and he had to take care of his child. When I mentioned this, I felt ashamed, and thought that you were with me. *** Before long, I arrived at the gateway to Shanghai Expressway. Vehicles were already waiting in long lines to enter before sunrise. There was no great difference between the real border inspection and what I’d anticipated before. If their body temperature was normal, people could enter directly; if it was high, they had to drive to the designated area for a double check. Those whose temperature remained at a higher level would be sent to the hospital for further specialised testing and isolation. At a time when the virus was on the rampage in Wuhan, Shanghai was still improving its response measures. I was in no position to judge these measures, but at least this city did not keep those survivors out of their gates. I collected some footage in line with the theme that I had been given, ensured that what people eventually saw would be inspiring. As a professional cameraman, I had to be adept at incorporating into the film something nuanced, something that could only be gleaned by me. I had no other purpose, except for a moment of satisfaction, and I was glad to be given the freedom to shoot, even if it was in such a narrow space. I observed every car that entered. People’s worries were written plainly on their faces. Some complained

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that the queue was too long, or that the quarantine process was cumbersome; some tried every means to adjust their body temperature, in order to keep it within a normal range. Even though it was winter, many cars still had their windows open. Some people even hid their feverish children in the trunk, which I found to be absurd. However, when the camera swept past them, they were all able to mask their fatigue in a hurry, and fake confidence. A few moments later, I realised that I could no longer tell their real emotions. I don’t want to blame those panicked people in front of me. They had set out on the road of wandering, and could never go back home. Their sense of security had been eroded little by little, and they were so afraid of rejection. But as a person, I can’t be immune to this. Like many others, I detest those who spread the virus everywhere. I understand that the apathy of human beings always arises from their situations. Foreign people blame Chinese people; Shanghai residents blame Wuhan residents. People stay close to those who are in the same situation as themselves, but are always ready to jump into another camp. At this very moment, I couldn’t trust my instincts. “Drifting with the tide” is often the most natural state. However, my reason kept insisting that I should distinguish between right and wrong. An elder timidly asked me for a mask. She could no longer bear the stare of those wearing masks around her, having never understood why they were a necessity. The reason for my refusal was the same that I gave to others. I didn’t have any spare masks. I didn’t know what posture or expression I should demonstrate to the people entering the gates. Fortunately, I was concealed by my protective gear. They couldn’t see my face. Human civilisation is brutal. When it overwhelms us, we will have no strength to fight back.

I began to worry about my safety again. I was increasingly afraid that I would be overwhelmed by the situation. I had already shot enough footage of these people; whether my footage had revealed the truth or not, I just wanted to leave quickly. In fact, seventy percent of the passengers were experiencing a fever. And my equipment was not protected. The virus might have stuck on my camera lens and the microphone. The moment I took off my protective clothing, the virus might immediately overwhelm me. I was terrified. I went to look for the medical staff, the volunteers and the police, because I needed some strength. I would never be a fugitive on the battlefield. They would tell me I was doing something meaningful, and that I was a great man. The medical staff could take a break in a common lounge, after working relentlessly for several hours. They didn’t have spare energy to say anything more. Some fell into a deep sleep, until they were woken up by their colleagues; some took off their protective clothing and went outside to smoke, take a breath of fresh air. When a car from Wuhan arrived, people would suddenly gather together and rubberneck in excitement, as if they were confronting a great enemy. Maybe that was a kind of relief for them after extreme fatigue, and that made them feel more real as humans. *** I still remember you running in front of my camera. You ran all the way, and I chased after you. We didn’t know where the end would be, only that we wouldn’t reach it until we were all exhausted. I have forgotten what I wanted to shoot back then. I just remember that the camera was shaking back and forth, and no one could see what you looked like. At that time, I had not yet become a professional photographer.


The Great Man - Jiang Yichun

Action!

INT. LOUNGE/BATTLEFIELD – DAY The medical staff have been notified of their tasks during their meal, and have hurried to the scene. A medical worker is gorging, rubbing oil stains on the corner of his mouth (close-up), and keeping an eye on the situation outside. (medium shot, reverse angle) A volunteer rushes to the restroom. THE VOLUNTEER Come on, they need a hand. The medical worker immediately puts down his chopsticks, wearing protective equipment while walking, and rushes out (wide shot, follow).

THE LEADER Come on, we’ll get through it! The work of the third group in the Shanghai Songjiang Disease Prevention and Control Team will end at six o’clock. THE LEADER (CONT’D) Come on! Hope is straight ahead. Comrades, thank you for your hard work! EXT. ROADSIDE – SUNSET The doctor is very tired, sitting on the side of the road, while the other staff members recover. The inspection is in order, but the doctor sits alone on the roadside, head down, crying (wide shot).

EXT. ROADSIDE – DAY

A staff member walks out of the toll station, coming close to him, pats him on the shoulder.

A couple advances to fight the epidemic, cheering each other on.

STAFF MEMBER Come on, we’ll get through it.

A policeman for Disease Prevention and Control and a female nurse walk towards one another, gazing at each other, then embrace and kiss with masks on (wide shot).

The doctor raises his head and wipes away tears. Great confidence can be felt emanating from his facial expression (close-up).

THE POLICEMAN (whispering) Come on, we’ll get through it! INT. TOLL STATION – SUNSET The staff works together, maintaining everything in order. Everyone in the WeChat working group is enthusiastically talking about their progress. We hear an encouraging message from the leader. INSERT WECHAT SCREEN

The doctor stands up and says something to his colleagues (medium shot). THE DOCTOR Come on! Let’s fight together! At this moment, what do we see? These people are soldiers on the front line of the fight against the epidemic, but they also act as actors and actresses in their spare time. I have to admire their courage and spirit. When a person has the belief to win, they can overcome all their difficulties and accomplish anything. They rarely reveal their

actual state. Maybe they no longer know what their actual state is. They just keep doing what they instinctively think should be done in different situations. I looked at them as if they were saints, but did they weigh the value and risk seriously before coming here just like me? I think so. It’s better to have a mere halo than nothing. People love to be described as warriors and enjoy the feeling of shouldering crucial responsibility. That’s true. They did carry everything on their shoulders. There are no pure minds in this world. If there were, they would be called fools. I think about how to build up my image in front of others. What they will see is someone who gave everything and never asked for returns. They must think that I made a significant film despite all the dangers. But they wouldn’t know that I just did this for the money, like the taxi driver. I did not even dare to speak out. These shots, though not true for even a minute, will be needed, because they will give our frontliners a shinier halo, improve the government’s image and let ordinary people know that they are being protected, and have always been protected. Is there anyone wanting to see something real? I guess they are becoming fewer and fewer. People tend to play their own role in such a world, one that is too big to see through. Like a nut and bolt, they only need to strike a balance with the front and rear parts, and are satisfied with seeing the limited things around them, and feeling the same emotions as others. This huge apparatus is constantly renovating itself. Once the parts get rusty they will be removed, and the new ones can be filled immediately to ensure the device’s normal operation. This body is strong enough to overcome

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 all difficulties, and is indestructible. It’s rumbling all the time and forging ahead at high speed. No one knows where the end is. If we look further, falsehood has more significance than the truth. Even though I instinctively loathe falsehood, I have gradually learned to be tolerant of it. Like these people

continuous working had made them too exhausted to open their eyes. I couldn’t see who I was working with, because they were so tightly wrapped by the protective clothing. Anyway, meaningless. Because we are all respectable. Soon we were all sent home; only a few staff members were left to disinfect the bus. The gate

yuan in the dark, but I realised the steamed bread shop at the gate of the community would not be open today. I sat on the doorstep, somewhat depressed, but now I could only talk to you. ***

“There was no point in ascertaining the cause of the cat’s death, and I didn’t even want to bury it myself. I... was going to hand it over to the property manager. But I needed to hurry up, to avoid any witnesses. Although there was no one around me, I still felt cautious, because people feared that cats might spread the plague.” around me, I constantly identify with the greatness of the body; at least it can lead us to hope. And what is free will? It will only lead us to the void and destruction. I can foresee that the pandemic will soon be contained and people will return to their normal lives. After that, we don’t need to make efforts to change our behaviour and thoughts, because the body will lead us. We are fortunate. I opened my eyes and looked around our chartered bus— others were still asleep. Their

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of Shanghai would be guarded by another team. Our mission was over. I had been working for twenty-four hours straight. It was four o’clock in the morning, the exact time I went out yesterday. I was about to return to my solitary life, which is the state I used to enjoy. I was hungry, but still had no money in my pocket. I wondered why I didn’t take an extra box of food at the gate. Oh, because I was afraid that if I took off my protective gear, I would be infected. I strolled for an hour, sleepily, and found five

I didn’t know how long it had been. I opened my eyes, barely conscious. The knock on the door was indistinct. I couldn’t identify who was knocking. In fact, I was ill at ease. When I’m alone, I don’t want to see anyone, no matter what connection they have with me. But that person kept knocking, which made me more anxious. After a while, he stopped. I was totally awake and then went to the bathroom, but I guessed he was still at the door. I opened it. A man. He looked at me blankly and gave me a box of fried takeaway chicken. I was


The Great Man - Jiang Yichun speechless. I turned on my phone: countless messages and missed calls flooding in. The lofty man seemed to blame me for my absence, but he didn’t make it plain. His words were full of hints, and he was the only one that would let a deliveryman wake me up. I understood. That was what symbolised a lofty man. And I totally acknowledged what he had done. I finally made up my mind to look through all the footage I had shot the previous day. But I kept questioning myself; why was I convinced, at that very moment, that those images had infinite vitality? Maybe it was sleep that had drained my passion for this project. I comforted myself that everything was acceptable. It might be the moment of helplessness for all human beings—when they are alone, they will follow their solitary passions, but when they are a member of a group, they will be overwhelmed by it. I tried to convince myself to be brave in matters that went against my instincts. Even if something had changed, once the shooting started, it needed to be finished, because that was the obligation that I had to fulfill. Besides, I may be able to use editing techniques to convey the illusion of truth. I turned on the light, walked around the house and then lay down on the floor, feeling the coolness of the earth. That was why I had replaced the wooden floor with ceramic tiles. There were cracks in the ceiling, and it had begun to rot. I guess it was due to dampness. I never had any idea how to make my house any better, because I knew it would never be my real home. I looked at the cage in front of me, hoping to gain some comfort from my cats. But to my surprise, one of them was dead. It was leaning sideways in the litter pool and seemed very peaceful, while the other one was circling around it, as if witnessing a spectacle. I am used to these things.

They can no longer disturb me. I am coming to increasingly understand those old people who are indifferent to death. For them, a funeral is more like a show that calls for displays of emotion, and those who are present are acting to perfection. There was no point in ascertaining the cause of the cat’s death, and I didn’t even want to bury it myself. I merely found it troublesome, and was going to hand it over to the property manager. But I needed to hurry up, to avoid any witnesses. Although there was no one around me, I still felt cautious, because people feared that cats might spread the plague. All their doors and windows were closed, and people even believed that the terrible virus would spread through the air. You must think that I am not a good person. Yes, I admit it. But now, in front of you, I prefer to return to sincerity. I have all the sins of mankind in me. Perhaps mankind is damaging the world. For several days, I edited the contents of the film day and night, and each time the lofty man would make several valuable suggestions. He kept telling me that I needed to imbue this documentary with a form of “reality.” I tried my best, but I still couldn’t meet his requirements. Frustration took over me, and it pushed me into extreme sadness. Not knowing when I would hear from him again, both my film and I seemed to have been abandoned. I realised that I had missed the money that would sustain me for a month, and the opportunity of being a great man just like him. A burst of vertigo struck me, my body temperature becoming higher and higher. Something that I had been worried about had finally happened. I couldn’t help gasping, as if the oxygen was running out. I opened the cage in the hope that

the last cat I owned would find its freedom. In dreams, I write poems. A drunk lady, a tired man, a sack of articles for daily use; A Didi1 satchel, a safety helmet, Two bags of instruments—hammers, screws, and nuts; A would-be sexy woman, a real pretentious cameraman. A gust of wind blows through the subway, stringing all the people along. The gentle announcement comes to a rough end. “This station is The People’s Square.” A woman about to ascend and others’ descending through their lives; Passengers on the way and their sleeping minds. I, who am going to be silent, will blow all the stories away. I thought that was a good poem and named it “The Underground Traveler.” *** After a day and a night, I woke up. My body was still tired, but I seemed to have got my inner strength back. I firmly believed that my fever was caused by intensive work and everyday melancholy, not by the horrible virus. I leaned on the headboard, grabbed my phone and carefully checked my messages, but I still hadn’t received any message from that lofty person. However, there was an extra amount of money in my account, with a note saying “thank you” as a reward. I was a little bit frustrated. I realised that my work would not become influential, that it would only live in my memory, and then disappear gradually. In addition, the financial reward was far less than I had been expecting. And who is going to be the next great man? Will he succeed? I raised my head and looked at the open door, carefully searching for any trace of a cat. But I failed. I felt relieved.

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 I’m re-planning my life. I’m determined to give up being a freelance photographer and find a stable job. I’m looking forward to having just enough of a salary every month, and a regular circle of colleagues, having dinner with them every day after work, and chatting about what’s going on. Maybe the nine-to-five life is where I belong. I will have friends, and my life will not just be about being alone. In my spare time, I can still take pictures and write poems. Perhaps, I will be gradually eroded and assimilated by this civilisation. I will dress and behave the same as the others. Maybe I’ll be the one who’s not outside the crowd. I can’t stand hunger anymore. I still cherish those beautiful things in my memory. Although I know that they are sometimes sincere, and sometimes cunningly deceptive, my imagination is constantly transforming those residual images in my mind. The story about you now looks perfect, and is shining in my rotten life. I would like to live forever in such deception. You’ll never see these words. They will travel across the ocean with the boat, and maybe sink to the bottom of the sea on a rainy night. I hear a “meow” quite close to me. I turn my head and find out that the cat has just snuggled next to my pillow, looking at me, only an arm’s length away. I stare into its eyes, and in its blue pupils can see my reflection shine. At this very moment, it seems to read my mind. THE END Narrated by Mao Er Adapted by Jiang Yichun2

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Didi: a Chinese ride-hailing company.

1

This story is from a short collection called “Speaker’s Land,” which attempts to unveil the peculiar lives of ordinary people in China during the uncertainties of the age of Covid. Each adapted story relies on the testimony of an interviewee who narrates their personal story from Jan to May 2020, and some of the interviewees’ testimonies have inspired these characters and fictions. 2


Worse Than Its Bite Joshua Prater

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e were zipping along I-80 doing ninety miles an hour. Charlie was hurling green water balloons designed like grenades at cars we passed, and Hector was in the back seat drinking Southern Comfort from a Styrofoam cup so as not to attract attention from the police. I had just won a radio contest for a free hotel room for a weekend in Reno and I was smoking a fat joint as I darted between vehicles. “Give me a hit of that!” demanded Charlie, bouncing a water balloon precariously between his hands. “You better not slobber on it like you did last time, Scooby-Doo!” I replied. “I’ll give your mama something to slobber on!” Charlie retorted. “How original. But even so, she’d have to use MapQuest to find it first,” I zinged. Half of my insult was directed to the assumed shortness of his penis, the other half was aimed at his obvious weight problem. Hector started coughing violently, a combination between laughing at our verbal jabs, taking a shot at the wrong moment and the thick cloud of marijuana smoke in the car. “Let me open up the window back here, I’m

dying!” he pleaded. I complied with his request. Charlie took full advantage of opening up his window to throw a water balloon at a small hatchback we easily passed. It exploded right on the target’s windshield, and the driver honked his horn angrily and flipped us off. We all laughed hysterically. “I'm batting a thousand today!” Charlie gloated. “Nice chuck, Chuck!” I said. We all took a moment to scope out the beautiful snow-capped mountain scenery and the forested area surrounding us. This beat the hell out of the Central Valley. Of course, we were just going to end up in another city, but it was a city of excitement. A city with possibilities for victory. Immediately after winning that radio contest, I called up Charlie and Hector to let them know. Hector had just got his tax return, so he was more than ready to blow it as quickly as possible. Charlie chipped in with him on a room on the same floor as mine. We were barely old enough to drink and gamble, barely old enough to know the difference between being teenagers and adults. In oth-

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 er words, we didn’t know shit. We passed a sign as our ears were popping due to the change in elevation. “Donner Summit,” it read. “Elev. 7,239.” “This place always gives me the creeps,” I thought out loud. “Why is that?” questioned Charlie.

bag, half out of genuine niceness and half out of diplomacy to avoid being the victim of savage cannibalism. We took up his generosity and sped down the interstate, trees blurring along our peripheral vision. I cranked up the stereo and we listened to loud punk rock as we crunched and munched and smoked and drank. We

hundred bucks if you do it. I hate cops!” Charlie and I knew Hector was serious even though he had been drinking since the morning. As we approached, I became overwhelmed with anxiety. Most of me wanted Charlie to just be kidding around, but there was a small sliver deep down that said, “Fuck it, let’s see

“The CHP officer slowly stepped out of his cruiser. He spit out a sunflower seed shell and glanced around. His badge reflected the setting sun and his shades, like mirrors, recorded our trepidation.” “You dumbass, this is the place where those settlers got stranded and became cannibals,” Hector educated him, quickly transforming into an inebriated history professor. “We’re out in the middle of nowhere, and I sure as hell ain’t gonna let you bastards eat me.” He removed the lid from his cup and took a large gulp. Charlie took a moment to reflect on this newfound knowledge and sheepishly said “It’s okay, guys. We won’t have to eat each other. I have plenty of Cheetos here for all of us. Want some?” He revealed the

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then saw something up ahead that would change all of our lives forever. It was a California Highway Patrol officer standing outside his car on the side of the road, enjoying a nice little break, taking in the scenery. Charlie’s eyes gleamed as he gripped a water balloon in his fist. “This piece of shit is definitely going to get it,” he declared. “Don’t you dare!” I snapped. “If you do, I’ll knock your lights out!” Hector started laughing like mad and pulled a wad of cash out from his pocket. “I’ll give you a

what happens.” We got closer and closer and closer, and Charlie rolled his window down and screamed, “Hey motherfucker!” The cop turned around and Charlie let it fly. It seemed to hang in the air for a decade before it made a direct hit, right on the officer’s nose. Splat! I slammed down on the accelerator as hard as I could, like I was wearing army boots and I was trying to crush an enemy’s windpipe. We were probably doing a hundred and twenty at that moment. “Holy shit, did you see that?”


Worse Than Its Bite - Joshua Prater Charlie asked redundantly. Hector was squealing in the backseat, and my heart was jumping out of my chest. I took the last hit off the roach and flicked it out the window. My head instantly twisted around towards Charlie. “You asshole! You just ruined everything! You stupid fat moron idiot son of a bitch!” I seethed. “When we get to Reno, I swear to fucking God I’m going to break your neck!” “Guys...” Hector softly whispered from the back seat. “I have to take a shit.” “Are you fucking kidding me?” I asked. “I’m dead serious. Do you have any toilet paper in here?” Trees and mountains were nothing but swatches of green and brown and gray with white snow in the background. My car’s engine was roaring, panicking. We all looked around nervously. Nobody was planning on this. Charlie produced an envelope containing my registration and proof of insurance from the glove box. “Can you use this?” he inquired. “Put that back in there, dipshit!” I yelled. I looked at Hector in the rearview mirror. “You’re sure that you don’t have any napkins or anything back there?” He shook his head to say no. I thought for a second and said, “Look, just use one of your socks. One of my buddies told me that one time he was walking home from the bar one night and he had to take a dump so he ducked behind a supermarket and wiped his ass with that. For the meantime, you're just gonna have to suffer with one sock unless you have more in your luggage.” Hector rummaged through his duffel bag and exclaimed, “Dammit, I forgot to bring more socks! But seriously, you have to pull over. I’m about two inches away

from shitting my pants.” Charlie and I knew it was true. Hector had been chugging Southern Comfort all day, keeping his heart pounding with nutrition only from Corn Nuts and Cheetos. Plus, it was time for me and Charlie to both take a piss and try to get off the interstate to avoid the CHP officer. We pulled off onto a side road that nobody had any business taking. I drove for a bit, and when the coast looked clear, I stopped the car. “Hurry your asses up, I want to get out of here as soon as possible,” I ordered. The sun was setting on the horizon. Hector was squatting behind a tree wiping his Mexican ass with his left sock when, suddenly, we saw flashes of blue and red dancing between the trees. Charlie and I were on opposite sides of the road, our dicks out pissing into the cold mountain wind. Shit!, all of us thought simultaneously. The CHP officer slowly stepped out of his cruiser. He spit out a sunflower seed shell and glanced around. His badge reflected the setting sun and his shades, like mirrors, recorded our trepidation. “Well, well, well…” he remarked, as if there was nothing else he could say. “You sons of bitches think you’re funny, don’t ya? Real Jerry Seinfeld motherfuckers, right?” He spit another shell out. “I got some Cosmo Kramer shit for you right here.” Hector threw his fecescovered sock off to the side and washed his hands with some bottled water he had on hand. Charlie and I zipped up our pants. “Do you boys know about sacred land?” the officer quizzed. “You know that ninety-nine percent of these here national forests were originally sacred Indian land? Places of worship. Burial grounds. I’m not sure if my geography is one hundred

percent correct, but I’m pretty sure the Miwok Indians used to call this their stomping grounds. You boys know about the Miwok Indians? “I’m aware of the federally recognized tribe of Native Americans known as the Miwok, but not the ones from India, sir!” Charlie sarcastically spouted. Jesus Christ, he was going to get us killed with his stupid, fat face. The CHP officer snatched his pistol and shouted, “Look at that pinecone over there! That one hanging off the branch about a hundred yards away.” We all squinted our eyes, the officer pulled the trigger with a bang, and we saw the pinecone instantly shatter in the distance. “The Miwok Indians!” the cop snarled after getting an inch from Charlie’s jowls, putting extra emphasis on the latter word, “would castrate their enemies that desecrated their sacred lands with eagle claws and sharpened arrowheads. They were proud, vicious warriors that didn’t take shit from any man, white, black, red or yellow! But since castrating you rotten turds with an eagle claw sounds a little impractical, both because of the sheer ridiculousness of it and also due to my restrictions as a man of law…” He slowly felt the buck knife that was strapped to his belt. “I’m gonna humiliate you just as well. Keep your pants up, fags, you’re not not gonna get lucky tonight. If any one of you can do fifty push-ups in a row, I will let you go. If not, let’s see: excessive speeding, reckless driving…” The cop peered inside my car and added, “Possession of marijuana, open container in a vehicle…” He turned to us and said, “And the crème de la crème: assaulting a peace officer. That is some serious shit.” We stood there shivering as he waved his gun in our faces. “Fat boy, you go first!” he demanded of Charlie. “I wanna get you over with, because everyone in their right minds knows that you ain’t worth half a

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 shit!” The officer then pointed his gun at me. “I want you to shout ‘arf ’ every time he does a push-up.” Then he aimed it at Hector. “I want you to shout ‘woof ’ whenever he does. Comprende, amigo?” Charlie slowly started doing push-ups. Whenever he raised up, I would shout “arf ” and Hector would shout “woof.” The patrolman aimed his gun at our heads. Charlie dropped to the dirt after five pushups. Five fucking push-ups. His life depended on this and that was all he could muster, with all his gumption. The cop laughed and looked in my car, noticing the Cheetos on the dashboard. “You gentlemen don’t mind if I partake?” he sardonically inquired. He grabbed the bag and shoved a big fistful into his face. As he chewed, he said, “Okay, you’re next!” as he crunched away and pointed the gun at me. He turned to Charlie and said, “Now you’re gonna shout ‘arf.’” The officer turned to Hector and reiterated, “And you’re going to continue to shout ‘woof.’ I don’t want things to get too complex for your little minds to handle. Now bark like the little bitches you are! Go!” I dropped down and started doing push-ups. I got to twenty-five, thirty, forty, forty-one… I felt my elbows aching and biceps as well. My friends were barking—woofing and arfing. I fell to the ground, my lips covered in ancient dirt. “Alright, we’re down to our final contestant!” the officer announced. “Hector Garcia!” The cop was checking out my friend’s driver’s license as he chomped Cheetos and insulted him. “Okay, maricón, it’s your time to shine! Get down and get your friends out of this mess! You can do it! I know you can! C’mon, wetback!” The officer glared at Charlie and I and snarled, “Bark, bitches!” He chuckled and ran his fingers through his hair, big orange crumbs of Cheetos left behind in his

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hairline. Hector dropped down and started doing push-ups like a maniac. Charlie and I told him to pace himself. He was drunk off his ass and there was no way he could possibly do it. Thirty-nine, forty, forty-seven… he was starting to buckle when the pig got a call over his radio. Turned out he had to help someone injured in a car crash. He jotted down my license plate and scowled at us. He was clearly pissed off that someone else had ruined his power trip, but he knew that the better thing to do was to help save someone’s life. “Alright punks, I have your info and I know where to find you. Don’t fuck with me again if you know what's good for you. I will put holes in your skulls and ask for seconds. Have a nice fucking day, cocksuckers.” He motioned at us with his loaded gun like he was actually going to shoot us, then got in his cruiser and burned rubber. Charlie, never fully grasping the gravity of any situation, cried, “That son of a bitch! He ran off with my Cheetos!”


SATIRE 55.


The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28

Housetraining Your Executive Alessandra Davy-Falconi

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or every Forbes CEO, there is an executive assistant making them seem like a normal, professional, available person. Below are some tips for new assistants as they break in their executives so the world’s business can continue uninterrupted: 1. How to Teach Them Your Name (and Recognize it in Writing) Tattoo your name onto your face. Decorate your cubicle with large posters and banners displaying your name. Print out pages with nothing but your name in bold lettering and leave them in the printer to be found. Don’t mention a nickname. Don’t bother with your last name. You’ve got limited brain space to work with here, and you have to stay goal-oriented: first name, spelled correctly. If after one year they continue to send emails with your name misspelled or truncated in any way, feel free to start misspelling their name back. Jesus said to turn the other cheek, but no one was sending Him emails addressed to “Jayzus Kreist.”

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2. How to Open Your Emails

2. How to Open Your Emails As soon as your executive learns to recognize your name in writing, he or she stops opening your emails. Don’t set up an Outlook meeting (remember, they’re ignoring you), but the next time they go out for lunch unplug their monitor. When they call you in a panic, helpfully solve the IT problem of the decade, then pretend that you have to check their email to “make sure the monitor works.” Seize your chance to begin the mantra that will haunt them in their sleep: see your name, click your name, SEE YOUR NAME, CLICK YOUR NAME. Make them see your name. Make them click your name. Should be easy, but remember, they’re executives. *note: in a pinch, if your executive is particularly incorrigible, look up the name of one of their college-aged children and change your email account so that it displays their name instead. They’ll always open that. 3. How to Read Your Emails Once Opened


Housetraining Your Executive - Alessandra Davy-Falconi 3. How to Read Your Emails Once Opened This is a critical step in executive housetraining, since the inability to read your full email will lead to passive aggressive emails saying, “Start time of meeting???” and, “Did you remember hotel?” and, “Note, Australia’s in a different time zone.” Or, at the worst, you’ll get a snobby, unpunctuated “Can we discuss”. As a professional, you have two options: respond equally passive aggressively by forwarding your original email fifty times in a span of two minutes, or print out your full emails and tape the hard copies to your executive’s computer screen. Advances in technology are highly overrated when it comes to important people. 4. How to Not Be Available When You Are Not Being Paid to Take Care of Your Executive (Between 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m., along with any National Holidays, Forewarned Vacation Days, Hospital Days, Sick Days and Days When You Just Don’t Care)

Get yourself a bag of soil and any plant of choice, come in early one morning and dump soil and seeds into the dirty dish that was left for you. Water it. Watch it grow and settle into a permanent fixture on your desk. Because that’s what you do, you turn dirty dishes into office flowers. You are incredible, and if they want their lucky mug back, they’re going to have to acquire a taste for dirt. 6. How to Not Destroy the Computer Tell them to think of their work computer like their bonus paycheck. It is made of money. We don’t eat on the money. We don’t drink on the money. We don’t even pick our noses over the money, because we care about the money. And if we destroy the money, no one is going to reissue it. Meaning that your IT consultant will refuse to recommend a new computer if he feels the need to drink Purell after working on their abused machine.

time you walked your neighbor’s dog and he was run over by a car. That other time when you babysat your nephew and the kid blinded himself because you let him play with real bows and arrows so he could have the full historical experience. When they ask how your weekend was, let them know you had your twenty-first abortion and are waiting to get the hysterectomy of your dreams so that no one will have to suffer under your care. 9. How to Get Your Executive to Demand a Raise from HR on Your Behalf Quit.

7. How to Survive Last-Minute Travel Changes When You Are Off the Clock and They Have a Corporate Credit Card

Do not own an iPhone. You are at a pay grade which Glassdoor constantly reminds you is at least $5,000 below market standard. You are hourly. You cannot afford the kind of phone that could handle email. You can’t even handle texts, it shuts your phone down. Actually, you don’t own a phone. You are Amish. This is a religious exemption.

Remind them they have a credit card. Remind them they have a credit card again. Explain to them that credit cards are pieces of plastic that pay for things with a swipe. Remind them that they are the proud owners of one of these credit cards and that, with you writing their expense reports, everything can have a necessary business purpose.

5. How to Throw Out Their Own Dirty Cups, Used Tissues and General Trash

8. How to Realize You Are Neither a Dog Walker Nor a Babysitter

This is for the time when that dirty mug you thought someone forgot on your desk was actually an implicit command to go wash it.

Talk incessantly about all the things that have died or been maimed horribly under your care: dead succulents, flushed fish, that

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POETRY 58.


Mothers, Sisters, Daughters Joan Mazza In photos, they’re laughing, heads leaning toward each other, temples touching, or dancing, playing tennis, reading an open book propped on pillows and bedclothes in their laps. Romantic notions of families where bonds never fray or break. They walk together holding hands, as I walked with my mother in Manhattan through the Impressionists exhibit at the Met, where she spoke out loud her opinion of Gauguin’s over-painting. I took a step away, pretended I didn’t know her, refused to exchange outraged glances with those near. Even then, I never thought my sister would divorce her children or me. I said she could take all the 45s from our teen years. We’re never getting a divorce. Did she agree? Nod back at me? Remember those commercials where happy fifties families of four played board games at the kitchen table, smiling, slim, and secure in love together? The meme says, Sisters are forever. Forever what? I want to ask. I’m on the outside, looking in, waiting for Ancestry.com to send me a lost sibling.

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28

The Architecture of Childhood (An Epitaph) Dale Champlin My memory executes a backbend more limber than you can imagine— all the dangers a child might encounter. The cradle, the jump rope, the rope swing, the tree house, the jungle gym, the diving board, the sandbox, the clip-on roller skates, the fire pit, the pond. Little friend where are you now, in this seaweed season? Duckweed unfurls, each lobe bears your fin print. Are you reincarnated? Do you remember the days we shared with fondness? My time becomes shorter and shorter as I race to the finish line— the wisp of you cupped like a tulip petal in the palm of my hand.

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After the Bomb John C. Mannone Articles of Constitution was no place left to hide in—air thick with letters, fragments of old words. Finally, the untruth glowed like radiation. Now, those propaganda-lies fly like residual ash and the government can no longer capitalize on the value of ignorance. After the bomb, the smells blueberried the sky with new hope. The dollar-green greed that stenched the air vaporized. Copper pennies glittered in nuclear sun light. After the bomb, they too transformed to the nakedness of society. They split like biological cells, mutating into binary bits of logic amidst decimated illogic. What is left? What is right? Merely 01101000 01100001 01110100 01100101 ___________________________________ Binary text: hate

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28

One Day I’m Gonna Turn the Corner Donna Dallas I won’t be ready never ready on time or prepared enough the corner lurks like a menace cracked and spindly I’ll tumble down through a wormhole without any water or my phone I’ll have forgotten to bring identification splatter onto the concrete After they spatula me up they’ll dig through my pockets find nothing Jane Doe lived like a queen died as a question mark

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Close-Up Donna Dallas Look closely see my veins my lines my coffee stained teeth how my heart wrenches with every turn my children take I long to live to see their own kids this want rooted so deeply into my core it is an addiction in itself Look closely I’m aged pressed into this life like a cookie smashed in a jar come closer see the death line along the inside of my wrinkled hand yes this is me close-up and I’ll dye my hair until my fucking death

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28

Ocampo II Vicki Whicker The one thing we can never get enough of is love. -Henry Miller Pacific Palisades—cliff, ocean, mountain. Here, I’m joyous. Here I’m mad for words. Life is my two-year-old in his crib. Everything else is: nanny, baby-daddy, BMW, etc. The sun and sea tryst purple. Roses splay perfume. Henry’s final decades were spent here. His home remains, a Spanish beauty draped in Campsis grandiflora. At dusk, I wander Chapala to Pampas Ricas to Ocampo— where I lose track. At his house. Alone in this, too. Not one of my female companions worships him. Only the sexiest and most egregious of my men do. At 444 Ocampo, a gentleman waits in the garden— silk tie, soft gold chinos, a fine sprinkling of fairy dust. Undeniably, Henry. A Packard passes, honks in that zealous way. Henry smiles, “Baby, come in.” Did I just hear that? “I said, Baby, come in.” Of course. I do. It’s a cave—candles in crayon-colors spilling over raffia-swaddled Chianti bottles. A cocktail-cart’s cut crystal and Courvoisier. On his writing table, Gitanes—one lit cherry resting in abalone. Smoke curls and twines. Suns and seas do purple things. Mornings, it is my honor to guide a crayon-colored three-wheeler, helmed by my golden-haired boy, from Chapala to Ocampo. We love the roses.

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Maple Vicki Whicker blacker than the night, you cold branch bearer of the cosmos, I feel the earth in your night-skin, I feel her turn and wish for more. A bonfire! I walk through wet grass guided by cold Spring songs—to peepers heralding Heaven from the tiniest slick skin suits, pond-poised—eyes to sky—no bonfire for these mudded babies, please. Many nights awake am I, uneasy in my human skin, sad that my red roof blocks the stars, Venus, Mars. In bonfire dreams I become—native, warmed by furs, fed by fires, flames lift and float, skin up they swirl to join the Milky Way. Bears dream berries like bonfires dream of me, my desires—to touch the stars of Heaven. Once, I got close. A winter’s night, Jet Blue from New York. I saw the green aurora borealis flick the fuselage on approach. Still, landed in Syracuse. Not Heaven. Use wealth wisely, my friends—don’t lavish a universe of gold on space travel, don’t Elon to Mars, don’t circle the bonfire of a full moon, don’t pursue the Milky Way. If you do stars will say— That is not the way Cassiopeia! Just stand. Alone. At midnight. Feel the earth under maple’s cold night-skin. And, look up.

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28

Lipstick Diana Raab I spun my red convertible sports car on your dead-end street to return to my house to get my red lipstick, because without it, I feel naked, but am I? While rummaging through my vanity drawer, my face caught the mirror: a different me— wrinkled face and lines where my rosy lips used to be. This pattern continues for the rest of my life— the imagining of me as someone else— sometimes my mirror shows my duplicate: her eyes are not as green, her hair not as black. I stand up with lipstick in right hand, saunter down the driveway back to my car and the mirror again shows me someone else, and you didn’t wait—and left. Who am I really?

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Nirvana Vibes Diana Raab the name of my teen hangout. Stepping through its beaded doors was like walking into a time cloud— musky scent of patchouli incense, marijuana whiffs and hashish pipes by color within glass cabinets. The owners: a hippie and his bead-laden, long-haired girl, VW van parked behind with paisley cloth window covering and a bumper sticker saying, “when this van’s rocking, don’t come knocking.” The store with black lights, psychedelic peace signs, a private room in back with alerting wind chimes to sample pipes. Beside, mirrored velour dresses— only peaceful but rebellious visitors: barefoot and groovy may enter. My favorite Beatles songs blared through black speakers in each corner. “Let it Be,” instilling instant calm. Nirvana Vibes was the safe haven where my fifteen-year-old self thrived, protected from screaming, battling parents, cold TV dinners of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and sugar-soaked peaches.

*poem first appeared in Fauxmoie, October 2021

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28

Smallness Jacqueline Henry Little ants on the table and a bug so small it looks like a speck. I just saw a Matt Damon movie about an experimental colony of small people, shrunken in response to overpopulation and food shortages and—you know, extinction. But I wonder if we will make ourselves small because that’s just what we do to ourselves— Not being enough. And being like ants, replicating to be more. More than enough. To make sure we’re here for whatever it is we’re here for. Of course—there’s the other end: We can make ourselves giants. And be less. We can bully ourselves into the universe and hover over everyone and everything like a stalking president—or anyone struggling with smallness. We take in air—soap bubbles on a wand— blowing up and blowing out until we pop and all that’s left are specks of spit and a belief of impotence and insignificance. What we don’t get is that we don’t disappear—no matter how small or large we are, or were. There’s that essence, you know. It’s inside it’s outside, the line so so fine.

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Aubade With Washcloth and Migraine Alison Hicks

Washing my face on winter mornings, staring into the mirror over the sink, I’d think of other kids, all over town, up and doing the same things, actions discounted, lost in the spectacle of a school day: washing their faces, getting dressed, going downstairs for breakfast. I’d catch the bus at the corner about the time the sun would appear, mist rising off Hawley Reservoir. I’d wake as if I’d just remembered a fact forgotten in the hours of sleep, something awful that was going to happen that I should fear and prepare for, though I did not know what or why. A dream turns slowly into a message of pain. Reeling out of bed, catching on the dresser, hands that have turned into mitts, peel the pill from its silver backing. My head moves toward dawn, filling with snow.

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The Opiate, Winter Vol 28

The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again) Ron Kolm

When I was working the cash register in Eastside Bookstore on St. Mark’s Place in the mid-70s one of my favorite books to read between sales was Andy Warhol’s The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: (From A to B and Back Again). He was from Pennsylvania, and I was too, so I liked him for that. When he got shot in the Factory I was totally shocked. I couldn’t believe that anyone would try to hurt him. Anyway, one of my duties in the store was to take books and ‘zines from neighborhood folks and sell them on consignment. They would eventually be paid for what sold. One afternoon a woman came into the store, glared at me, then slapped a small stack of books on the counter and said we had to sell it. I picked up a copy. It was the SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas, who was now staring at me intently. I knew she was the person who’d shot Andy Warhol from watching the news on TV. “Um, sure, we’ll try to sell it,” I told her nervously and gave her a receipt. She spun around and left the store. I put her books on a rack, mentally apologized to Andy Warhol, and breathed a sigh of relief.

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Beware the Timeshare Presentation Abby Caplin

In Las Vegas, Caesars, Wynn and Trump rise—cardboard cocks under puce porcelain. Skirt the skyway near New York-New York to spouting heads on beveled carousels, where waxed pink peonies ooze honeydew, and Hieronymus swimmers will slither up your Eden. Now the golden delicious drop, chaw lobster cakes, rap in pidgin French, as lambskin sucks your buttocks sweetly to Bora Bora. Look here, up is up is down, but not there, over here is the how about uptown, a few thousand a bite, more for cinnamon buns.

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28

Depression Abby Caplin Two packs of modern malaise and confusion, five out of nine possible symptoms. What are your stories of people cut in half, the deep unconscious talking all the feelings? Become part of a larger whole, I often tell people, study saline, it worked wonders. Our buildings, far from green spaces, deprive the body like a hundred dollars a gram, the toads in danger, people hunting psychedelics. Rules of the universe: plenty of falling apart, we can’t help ourselves.

This poem was composed via the erasure method, using “Parting the Clouds, Charles Raison on New Treatments for Depression,” an interview by Sarah Conover, The Sun, February 2021.

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Men Talk to Women—Cassette Tape Thanksgiving, 1964 Abby Caplin I. Aunt Marion (wife), Uncle Ralph (husband) You know, I often wonder what we sound like on a tape recorder. And you’re going to find out, Honeybunchy! Oh boy, here comes the corn… II. Dad, Aunt Marion (sister-in-law) You’ve got to let your voice sort of trail along. Movie actors do that. They project, allow the end of the sentence to trail, instead of cutting it off. Like. That. You. See. In other words, you mustn’t talk too fast. No, you can talk rapidly. The idea is you must let your voice rooollll alooong. Seee whaaat I meeeaaan? And you must e-nun-ci-ate. Clear-ly. Oh, ple..., please. III. Uncle Ralph (brother), Aunt Doris (sister) You know, if we record something off the air, we can be sued. Well, we’re open for suit if we try to sell it. But we can make recordings for our own use without any trouble. According to the letter of the law, they say no! But, you know, they can’t even find the people who sell those bootlegged records. What do you mean? They found this one guy in Hollywood dead! Yeah, they make them dead. Ahahaha... [prolonged male laughter] [Aunt Marion, wife] Oh, dear. They make them dead, huh? [More prolonged male laughter] Yeah. Is that the only thing you’re going to think about now? IV. Dad (brother), Aunt Hannah (sister) Come on in, Hannah! We’re having a recording session here. Why don’t you say something, Hannah? And whatever you have to say, say it louder. If you don’t have anything to say, say it louder anyhow.

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 I don’t have anything to say! Well, just say nothing. Say it. (Silence) Hannah, where did you go? We were looking for you earlier. You’re late. You were? But I wasn’t coming. You were late because you weren’t coming? I visited... [inaudible]. I made the date quite a long time ago. Wait, where are you going? I was going to sit down. Well, pull up a chair. Sit down. Enjoy yourself.

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CRITICISM

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28

“Is That the Blue You’re Using?”: Eve Babitz and the Undermining of the “Didion Approach” to California Genna Rivieccio

T

here aren’t many authors left whose longawaited work you can continue to yearn for while they promise that “maybe” “one day” it will come. All of these types of writers hailed from the twentieth century (including J. D. Salinger, half-taunting his readers with the prospect of releasing his next Glass family saga every so often before finally kicking the bucket). Whereas a writer trying to pull that shit today would simply be dropped by their agent and/or publisher. No one has time for the “artistic process” anymore when the coffer has to be filled, so empty as it is in the realm of shilling literature. Eve Babitz was the last of that dying breed. Perhaps the only other author at this moment in time teasing that “maybe” “one day” they’ll release that book they’ve been chipping away at for decades is Fran Lebowitz. Who is a huge asshole. Not just because she’s one of those “New York only” varietals, but because she genuinely seems to think her writing might just be “too good” to share. Though, to be fair, it’s difficult to blame her for wanting to withhold

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her work from a sparse reading clientele she has deemed too doltish to understand wit anyway. As Lebowitz is to New York (once upon a time), Eve Babitz was to L.A. On an interesting side note, Babitz would end up being represented by Lebowitz’s agent, Erica Spellman. Such was the “six degrees or less” separation between Eve and everyone else. That’s just how it is with “it” girls. And one such tie she had was to Didion, who actually gave Eve her first big start in publishing by recommending her to an editor at Rolling Stone (Didion couldn’t take the lead herself due to a contract at Life), hence the publication of “The Sheik,” a jaded love letter to Hollywood High. Even more than Didion, who instead holds the broader title of being a “California writer” (lest you forget, Madame Didion hails from the capital of the state, the proverbial “every city” of both CA and America), Babitz is the “L.A. writer.” To boot, Babitz was from L.A., that supposed rare quality that has made people marvel at the likes of Marilyn Monroe and Billie Eilish for also being born there. And yes, MM was a great idol of Babitz’s.


“Is That the Blue You’re Using?”: Eve Babitz and the Undermining of the “Didion Approach” to California- Genna Rivieccio Because all things L.A. were so ingrained into her identity that she couldn’t possibly write any prose that didn’t feature the town in a significant way. Even Bret Easton Ellis couldn’t be bothered to do that after Less Than Zero (a book, incidentally, that Eve

well, Igor Stravinsky (what with her father, Sol, being a respected violinist playing for the “motion pictures” released by Twentieth Century Fox). One becomes desensitized to things like fame when they’re around it all the time. And Babitz was actually

known to her as the married guy she was fucking who didn’t invite her to Duchamp’s gallery opening because his wife was there. Such is the way of being an L.A.-based female author: not only does no one take you seriously, they also want to attach any

“...[Didion] had the kind of literary clout that Eve never would. Because she was not to be taken seriously. She did not speak of Serious Things the way Joan did. Yet for as ‘hardcore’ as Joan was, she didn’t have the courage to truly embrace the artist’s lifestyle which Eve lived even after it was no longer ‘age-appropriate.’” provided a blurb for: “[Less than Zero] is the novel your mother warned you about. Jim Morrison would be proud.”). In a sense, Babitz was sort of like a real-live Cher Horowitz before Amy Heckerling brought that character to the screen. And not just because Eve was known for saying “whatever” quite often. Like Cher H., she was born of privilege and totally blasé about celebrity not solely because she was created in the land of that machination, but also probably because her godfather was,

around the kind of fame that one could call “intelligent” (you know, before reality TV somehow rendered all types of fame on an “equal” playing field—established writer? YouTube “star”? It’s all the same). Take, for example, her first major moment in the limelight: a photo of her playing chess in the buff with Marcel Duchamp. Something she would have mixed emotions about for most of her life when it made her perhaps more famous than her writing. And something she only did to get back at Walter Hopps, better

“greatness” you might have to a man. Being that so little was known about Eve on a deeper level before Lili Anolik came along to bring us the now famed Vanity Fair article from 2014 called “All About Eve—And Then Some,” it took that kind of a deep dive to renew interest in her work again. Modest though its breadth may be, especially in comparison to the woman whose shadow she lives in, Didion’s, it remains the most honest portrayal of what L.A. really “is.” Granted, there are quite a few people who

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The Opiate, Winter Vol. 28 are sick of white women of means being the ones who get to tell “L.A.’s story.” Thus, the appearance of a book like Inter State: Essays From California. Another work that, like Babitz’s, seeks to “kill Didion” by dismantling her as the sole voice of a milieu. Anolik noted in her article, which would become the basis for the biography, Hollywood’s Eve (a play on the title Eve’s Hollywood), “[Didion and Babitz are] writing about L.A. at the exact same time with a totally different vision of what Los Angeles is, and I think you need both of them. In many ways they’re yin to the others’ yang. I’ve heard from other people that they were enormously fond of each other, they genuinely liked one another. I think The White Album and Slow Days, Fast Company should be read together.” Anolik wasn’t so kind in Hollywood’s Eve, when she finally outright admitted, “I am arguing that Eve’s entire literary career was a response to, nay, a rebuttal of, Play It As It Lays.” So basically, Eve, frequently reduced to being compared to an “early Carrie Bradshaw,” was saying what Carrie did about New York: “I can’t have nobody talkin’ shit about my boyfriend” (despite appearances, however, New York leaves so much more to talk shit about than L.A.—the existence of a character like Carrie within it being at the top of the list). And Babitz, regardless of coming from her own background of “affluence,” was actually far more devoted to the life bohemian than Didion ever was. For a start, it never would have occurred to Babitz to actually become someone’s wife. That, to her, was abhorrent, on par with the lines she writes in L.A. Woman (yes, a direct nod to her ex-lover, Jim Morrison) when Ophelia (Eve’s sister character) asks, “But you know so many men. Isn’t there even one for you?” The Eve response: “They’re all adjectives…they all make me feel modified; even a word like girlfriend gives me this feeling I’ve just been cut

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in half.” In contrast, Didion considered herself half of a “writing couple” once she allied with John Gregory Dunne. Through John (originally from Connecticut), Didion was given her final East Coast “knighting.” Deemed fully legitimate by East Coast intellectuals (a euphemism for douchebags with no actual taste of their own), she had the kind of literary clout that Eve never would. Because she was not to be taken seriously. She did not speak of Serious Things the way Joan did. Yet for as “hardcore” as Joan was, she didn’t have the courage to truly embrace the artist’s lifestyle which Eve lived even after it was no longer “age-appropriate.” As Anolik points out, “...it’s not an easy life: she never married, had children... never had a steady job or economic security. She lived this improvisatory, bohemian life, and you could say she paid the price. But she also got the reward. It was a difficult path and she’s a difficult person, for all her charm.” That is, if you caught Eve on one of her charming days, for she could be just as prone to cutting a person down with her rapier wit. Maybe that’s why she fell in “friend love” with a gay man, the cattiest breed of all, if we want to be cuntily honest as well. Specifically, Earl McGrath, who would serve as the Max character in Sex and Rage. The person who cast doubt on her early artist’s pursuits as a painter and collagist (inspired by Joseph Cornell). As any gay man not fully out would be, McGrath was married to an Italian countess. He never had an official title, per se, though, in death, he would be credited as a “writer, music executive, art collector, and gallery owner.” In short, a jack-of-no-trades. Other than knowing how to be at the right place at the right time, and network with the right people. This is how he came into Eve’s orbit in the late 60s. The two grew Siamese twin close until McGrath’s venom reared its ugly

head with the line quoted in Sex and Rage: “Is that the blue you’re using?” As Anolik interprets the phrase, it’s an easy way to make an artist (of any kind) doubt themselves and their vision. Something Eve herself undercuttingly intended with the work she was putting out about L.A. at the same time as Didion. In the aformentioned Vanity Fair article that relaunched Babitz to the level of fame that got a basique like Emma Roberts to call her out as a viable book club read, Eve was quoted on her empathy toward Mailyn Monroe: “Marilyn kept putting herself in other people’s hands, believed them. They let her think that she was just a shitty Hollywood actress and Arthur Miller was a brilliant genius.” Sort of like what Eve almost did with Earl. Of this MM assessment, Anolik comments, “Eve, though, knew the truth, that really Marilyn was an artist in disguise, the cheesecake stuff just a front, a way of hiding in plain sight.” That’s what Eve did her whole life, especially during her “ingenue years” when her body was at its most noticeable to men. But Eve, like Marilyn, knew that she could weaponize her body as men were ogling it. Use it to get into the best parties, meet the most fabulous people, make the connections that would later behoove her when she least expected it. Like Joan herself, for example. A “rival” that Babitz never bore any ill will toward (at least not until Joan got on her soapbox about the town being no good, a wasteland, etc.). As Eve recalled, “Joan and I connected. The drugs she was on, I was on. She looks like she’d take downers, but really she’s a Hell’s Angel girl, white trash… [she] was all the rage then.” Still is, in fact. Maybe because she played it safer than Eve. Lived more carefully, with less carpe diem gusto. Such is the risk of coming from a conservative background, what with Joan being from the Republican land of Sacramento. Ironically, it was Eve


“Is That the Blue You’re Using?”: Eve Babitz and the Undermining of the “Didion Approach” to California - Gennna Rivieccio who would become hyperconservative in her later years, as though forgetting about blowing as many rails as dicks in her more liberal epoch. And one hates to say it, but maybe that conservatism ultimately stemmed from the very disease she died of on December 17th. Of course Eve wouldn’t die of anything that didn’t somehow have a tie-in with L.A.—thus, Huntington’s disease being what did her in. An inherited illness (though who knows with Eve and her drug use) that causes mental decline, among other horrors. The worst thing a writer can suffer. And yet, she was still teasing about those books she had in the pipeline. If only her comments about her rightwing leanings were a tease, too. One supposes she would have been glad to die in the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Babitz’s resonance with a new generation is almost unfathomable considering her “la-di-da” views on just about everything. She doesn’t “hold up” the way Didion’s prose is meant to. Babitz, instead, embraced frivolity and excess in a manner that doesn’t quite compute with post#MeToo feminism. Accordingly, Babitz is perhaps the sole source of defiance to be had in a sea of “polite partying” narratives. Yet there is something very feministic about Eve’s work in that she constantly regards herself as “one of the boys” even while fucking them. She could do it just as casually as a man. For it was her will to work within the system of patriarchy designed to work against her. Other women who tried the same—like the socialite she’s frequently compared to, Edie Sedgwick—wouldn’t make it out alive. And, talking of Sedwick, it’s almost cruel that Eve should end up having her body burned from a match setting her gauze skirt on fire in the late 90s. As though to absorb the Final Destination-esque wound that Edie never did when she set her

Chelsea Hotel room ablaze by leaving the candles lit while passed out on drugs. At the dawn of the twentyfirst century, Eve assured, “I’ve got other books to do that I’m working on. One’s fiction and the other’s nonfiction.” To be fair, all of her books were nonfiction. She added, “The nonfiction book is about my experiences in the hospital. The other’s a fictionalized version of my parents’ lives in Los Angeles, my father’s Russian Jewish side and my mother’s Cajun French side.” Loyal, hyper-niche readers continued to wait for these projects to materialize— sort of like the one Bret Easton Ellis mentioned about Sean Bateman being a hustler in West Hollywood— but they never did. In cliche fashion, perhaps they can only arrive on the shelves posthumously. When the writer’s temperament no longer needs to be considered. Even though Joan Didion probably has an ironclad Last Will and Testament stating what can and cannot be published in the wake of her own death. Because not only does the faux bohemian live a longer life, they also ensure a more organized afterlife. _____________________________ In memoriam of both Eve and Joan, though the latter could have waited a little longer before upstaging Eve’s death.

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