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Unremarkable People Without Touching Annabelle: A Love Story Pointer for Lost Time Harper's The Accident A Dream Ways I Could Be Living

Unremarkable People At first we used Adderall to study for tests but then we took it on the regular to stay out all night on the weekends. It is “The City that never Sleeps”, after all, and neither of us ever had the chance to experience it without having to take a late-night train ride home with all of the other Long Island locals, loud and drunk and comfortable in such a familiar environment far away from the crusty black men who charged you to hear their jokes on a street corner in transit to the next bar. We popped the Adderall mid-afternoon and stayed out till the sun came up at which point we’d go back to my studio apartment in Brooklyn and stay up even later. To talk together, naked. To talk together, naked, while one paced the room and the other sat on the bed, and the one who was pacing always led the conversation. What did we talk about. About art, creative contemporaries, sexuality, money, gentrification. “You’re a good example,” she’d say concerning the last subject. I’d agree. “I am, I am a good example,” and I’d feel that jolt of energy everyone gets when they finally get something off their chest and out to someone within hearing distance. “And what’s the point of living here, when I’m so far from campus? Outside of the grandeur? The historical weight of living in the town on the tip of every magazine’s tongue? And the fact that I can afford it? What’s the point?” Every conversation ended with us drowning in each other’s “Yeah”s and nods and excitable sweating, and bed often wouldn’t come until eight in the morning. The funny thing about the Adderall was that we’d always end up feeling tired, but we could always stay up if there was something worth pursuing. And the funny thing about so much conversation is to keep it going you sometimes have to dig in the deep dark recesses of your mind for topics of discussion normally kept secret. Masturbation. Nihilistic, self-destructive desires. Even our parents. She was my first love, but she was also part of a much bigger love that came with all the freedom and encouragement stemming from being a well-off college student who wanted to be an artist, a writer, a musician and runs into a mass of people who feel the same way instead of the one or two you hung onto in high school. We were young, handsome, and inexperienced, we were already at an advantage, but Adderall put us on an even higher level, manic conversations with strangers at bars, with professors at bars, students at bars, hometown friends on speakerphone at bars. Suddenly dazzled by our parents’ income and its ability to supply us with all of this shit - especially in comparison with our hourly wages at corporate bookstores and café chains. Suddenly dazzled by drugs that made life even more open than it already was! We were poets, I guess, on some level, but unlike most other poets, the guilt associated with our lifestyle still sat heavy and hard on our chests. We hated what we were part of. We hated everyone else who was part of it because we were certain they didn’t understand it as we did. “They make me sick,” she said, and I'd agree. “How can they walk around so certain of themselves?” “I give change to every homeless person I see,” I offered. “Me too!” “You ever see Midnight Cowboy? That party they go to? I always thought the people there were such self-absorbed pricks.” “Me too!” “We should do something about it.” “Yeah!” “Seriously.” “I know! Yeah!” etc. * It was four in the morning and we were walking down Union Avenue towards this bar right by the BQE. I tried to keep my hood from falling off during gusts of wind and my ears stung. She was in a much better state. Much more bundled up. Before I left I instructed her to let a lock of blond hair sneak out from underneath her winter cap. “You look prettier that way,” I told her. “It gives a sneak peek of the goods.” There were a lot of bars on Union Avenue, and all of them weren’t entirely dead. We walked by some places of more questionable volition and there were people outside on cell phones smoking cigarettes, having exciting conversations while swaying on drunk legs. The duffel bag was slung across my chest and it pressed tight to my back. Occasionally we’d walk by lanky young men or lanky young men with pretty young women. “We should just take one of them,” she said. “Just turn around and follow them.” I stopped and she stopped. “It’d probably work.” “I don’t see why it wouldn’t.” “Me neither.” I looked down the road, in the direction we’d been walking. Two blocks away from the BQE. “But let’s just stick to our guns tonight. I don’t want to change things now. It‘s too late.” “You’re right.” But we didn’t start moving again. We were standing in front of a 24-hour supermarket. “So you’re gonna be here?”

“I’ll be here. I’ll see you. Text me either way. We’ll be fine.” “I know.” “Nervous?” She smiled. “Yeah.” “Me too. But it will be fine. It will be worth it.” I wished her luck and walked inside the supermarket. It was clean, new, and well-lit. I saw that the coffee was off at a counter on the side but I passed it and took some time to weave in and out of the aisles, pretending to look for something, and then I headed back over to the coffee and poured myself a cup. I paid and stepped outside and paced the front of the supermarket and drank the coffee. There was a bench out front but it was too cold for sitting down. I drank the coffee, occasionally checked my phone, paced some more, kept my hand in my pocket while it kept holding the phone. No one is ever suspicious of someone who stands outside of the store whence they purchased their coffee to drink their coffee. We both agreed on that. Maybe thirty minutes passed when I got a text message: Leaving in 5. Powrs and manhatan. I looked up over to the bar and waited. My coffee had gone cold in that vicious weather so I tossed it. Then there they were. They stood outside the bar and talked a little. I started walking over. They started walking parallel to the BQE and I followed them, but then I took a right a block before Manhattan. At that point I increased my pace to get ahead of them. I walked fast and when I was two or three blocks before Powers I made a left and walked toward Manhattan and stopped right before Manhattan and waited and listened. I pulled the duffel bag up in front of me, unzipped it, and pulled out the bat. I waited. I sweated a little but I felt fine, I was excited. I took a step out and checked that they were the only ones on the street. They were. I pretended I was going in the wrong direction and went back to where I was waiting before. Then I heard them walk by. I saw them walk by. He was tall and had long black hair and a very thin disposition and talked very certain of himself and his head was up. He looked proud. I took the bat out in full and rushed up behind him and hit him on the right. It took the breath out of him and he fell to the ground. She screamed and ran off into the dark, down the quietest and least busy street. While he was on the ground I straddled him and held the bat sideways and pushed it against the base of his neck. He was still in shock with the pain, struggling with breathing. Not to mention he was frail. I found his wallet, phone, and keys. I pocketed them. “Stay down,” I directed, and lifted the bat up off his neck and slid it back in the duffel bag. He stayed put. I gave him one kick in the side, the same right side, and then sprinted down the direction from where I came and made a right. Once I turned onto the block I started walking. I sent a text: Where r u My hood had fallen off. I pulled it back up. The fabric hurt my ears. I was out of breath, too. But it was quiet. That made me feel better. I didn’t hear the guy. I knew it’d take him some time to make a report. I knew he'd never identify me. The phone was one of those flat-screen touch ones. Two blocks up I took it out and smashed the front and back of it on the sharp corner of a stoop until I was sure it was done for. I pocketed the smashed-up phone and found I had received a text: Back at place I responded: B there in ten I took a long convoluted way back. It was five thirty when I got home. She was drinking a beer and I smiled and we embraced like we hadn’t seen in each other in years. “How’d it go?” “Fine. We did good.”

I tossed his wallet and keys on the bed. “How much cash.” “I didn’t check actually.” I jumped onto the bed beside her belly down and looked through the wallet like a teenage girl through her diary. “Fifty dollars.” “Great.” “Do we want to know his full name?” “Oh.” She got up off the bed. “That’s a good question. Do you think he‘s okay?” “He’s fine. Maybe a bruised or broken rib. That just makes breathing suck for a while.” “He sings, though. He’s in a band.” “Really? I would have never guessed.” “Let’s hear his name.” I pulled out his ID. He had the same haircut. He looked stoned. “Jacob Grossman. From Pennsylvania.” “He said he lived in Philly for a while.” “That’s cool.” “Wanna get rid of everything?” We went downstairs and outside. There was a sewer grate right down the block. I tossed his wallet and phone and all his cards and his keys and held onto the money. “They don’t search sewers, right?” she asked. “If they did, that’d be really fucked up.” We went back upstairs. There was a beer for me in the fridge. I took it out and lifted it in the air. “To a job well done.” We drank. We were both pretty excited and elated. I stood there by the fridge and watched her fidget on the bed. I asked how she felt. “I feel good.” “I do, too.” “It worked so well.” “It did.” “But…” “Mm?” I asked while sipping my beer. “Let’s change the plan for next time. I don’t like the acting part. I want to be there when it happens.” “That’s fair.” “Next time let’s just do what I suggested. Just roam the outermost edges of the neighborhood for the most vulnerable guys we can find.” “I like that too. You’d have your mace and I’d have the bat.” “Yeah.” “I like that. That can definitely work. I’m really happy we’re doing this. I’m really happy we’re changing things in some weird way.” “Do you think it will be in the news?” ”It might. It was in a nice part of the neighborhood. You gave a false name?” She smiled. “Yeah.” “We’ll be fine.” “I’m glad we’re doing it, too,” she was nodding rapidly, emphatically, “but I want to be there. I want to be more of a participant. I don’t want to pretend I’m scared. Because I wasn’t scared when it happened. Even if we had messed it up and I ended up in his apartment, I could have maced him. But I want to be there and I want to do it with you. I’m tired of playing victim. I really am.” ”And that’s fair,” I assured her. “That’s very, very fair.”

Without Touching She always gets upset when he’s sick because she knows he’s done it on purpose. He’s good at it, too, he’s in bed or throwing up once or twice a week, so she’s upset often, but not so upset that she becomes emotionally distraught, more of the upset that causes her to scrunch up her mouth and tilt her head in a chastising manner before he makes a joke and she’s laughing the whole thing off. Every once in a while she’ll say “You know, I wish you’d take better care of yourself,” and he’ll lift his head from the wastebasket to say “You know I’ve been trying to,” and that’ll be it. That’ll be it because neither of them wants to fight. He goes to supermarkets and looks for expired stock no one’s taken off the shelves. Eats food out of public trash bins. Drinks from rain puddles. Sometimes, if he has the time to stand in one place and muster up the courage, he’ll eat unidentifiable objects from the sidewalks. And then he waits for it all to happen – fevers, nausea, delirium, cold sweats. He doesn’t always get sick. Sometimes nothing happens, sometimes he just gets a bad case of the runs. He doesn’t let her know about the failures. But when he finally does find himself in a state where he can’t get out of bed, he might look miserable and his eyes might be glazed over and his tongue might be coated, but he gives off a gloating glow, his voice might be hoarse, but there's a lilt of victory underneath. And she’ll come in and scrunch up her mouth and tilt her head in a chastising manner before he makes a joke and she’s laughing the whole thing off. He knows she knows and she knows he knows. Nothing’s being hidden. For the sake of each other, they don’t bring it up. It was revealed months before he started doing it. In a diner at one in the morning. When he said, You know, the only way you can get away with not doing anything these days is by getting sick. People think it’s out of your hands. People sympathize with you when you’re sick. It’s not truancy. It’s an honest breakdown of the body. And people get under the impression that if your body could function, you’d work, and you’d want to work. She laughed and told him he was crazy. He smacked his hand on the table in between them and some coffee spilled out of his mug. It’s the great deceiver, he exclaimed. Then came the first stomach virus. After a fresh batch of laundry is folded and put in the dressers he sneaks little notes into the pockets of her pants so that throughout the week she’ll find them and read them. You are worth so much. Look both ways before crossing the street. Is the sun out? If it isn’t, let’s hope it doesn’t stay that way for long! A stick figure drawing of the two of them playing soccer. She keeps them in a box under the bed. She doesn’t know if he knows and we don’t know if he knows, either, and none of this is mentioned, it doesn’t have to be mentioned.

Jonathan Murphy

Annabelle: A Love Story One thing you should not forget is that Annabelle was a very considerate lady. She was such a considerate lady that when she turned eighty-five she decided that she would go food shopping everyday and buy only one evening’s worth of groceries. That way if she were to pass in her sleep there wouldn’t be any leftover milk for spoiling or any stale bread or wasted perishables in general. This is how considerate she was. Every day after she turned eighty-five she woke up at eight thirty in the morning, and to no one in particular she said ‘Good Morning,’ slowly slid out of bed, put on her slippers and shuffled into the bathroom. Her favorite song to sing in the shower was ‘It’s Only a Paper Moon’ but she never sang the words. Instead she used soft monosyllables like ‘bum’ and ‘ba’ and ‘da.’ She always kept singing until she was completely dried off and back in the bedroom. Then she put on a nice blouse and some nice khaki women’s pants. Annabelle didn’t put on the makeup because she wanted to look good; it was simply something she was used to. So after her clothes were on she sat in front of her vanity mirror and spent a good half hour rouging blushing and shading until she thought she looked 'presentable.' Richard had died ten years ago and was buried not ten minutes by car whence she lived but she did not have a car so she only went when her daughter Ellie stopped by to say hello. On those days, Ellie picked Annabelle up and Annabelle would sit in the passenger’s seat while her daughter talked business on her phone. They always went to a restaurant first for a late lunch and then the cemetery. Annabelle brought a flower to place on Richard’s grave, but she never had anything to say -- sometimes she started crying, and Ellie would walk her back to the car with her arm around her. Ellie always talked about things on the ride back. It was not her daughter's fault that she was barren, but Annabelle could not help take it personally. Her daughter wasn't aware of this – Annabelle never expressed her disappointment out loud -- but it was there, and this made it difficult for Annabelle to take interest in anything she said. Still, she tried her best to listen without letting the cruel uncompromising air of death pervade her thoughts. Anyway, after Annabelle made her face and put on her clothes, she went outside to get breakfast at Federico’s, a small diner only a short walk away. Every morning Federico saw her and said in an enthusiastic Spanish accent ‘’ey good to see you again’ and Annabelle smiled and asked him how he was without waiting for a response. She liked to sit at a booth and not the counter, and every morning she was served granola over yogurt over fruit in a white bowl with a cup of tea on the side, which she ate and drank at a very safe and even pace. Let me tell you what Annabelle looked like. It seems old ladies’ bodies either overcome the laws of gravity and expand, and very loose curves surround them, or they wither and shrink like a newspaper in fire. Annabelle’s body went through the latter, giving her an air of timid austerity that made people think she was no longer capable of love, a cranky and tight-lipped old lady. This story, however, should prove quite the contrary: I can only hope I love as she did if I reach her age. When breakfast was finished Annabelle walked three blocks down to the Senior Community Center. Sometimes on the walk she’d see one of her friends going to the same place and Annabelle would say hello Gladys or hello Mabel or hello Tony heading over to the center? To which they responded yes and then told Annabelle that it was too cold or too wet or too hot. And if it was hot out Annabelle, sometimes in mid conversation, crossed the street if it meant she could walk in the shade. But no one ever really minded and sometimes they even joined her. Her favorite game at the senior center was Scrabble and she liked especially to play against Roy, who had old sharp features no teeth and thick glasses. He was very good and very competitive but Annabelle was very good too, and Annabelle loved to hear him curse under his breath or even out loud when she made a move he didn’t like or expect. ‘You always bring out the best in me, Anne,’ Roy joked after a tough game. To which Annabelle smiled her tight compact smile and said ‘I guess I’m just that kind of girl,’ and Roy would laugh his wheezing laugh. Sometimes the staff would pull down a big screen over the eraserboard, and everyone would pull up chairs and watch old movies from their time, where the music was sparse and only played at really dramatic moments, the dialogue was crisp and clear and good, and there was always white noise blanketing the quiet moments until an actor spoke and pierced the static. After the movie the audience would split into little groups to converse. Annabelle rarely spoke but always listened, and Roy would

ask when they’d get to see some Jackie Chan movies in a loud voice that everyone heard. After that, lunchtime rolled around, and everyone left the senior center and went out to a delicatessen for lunch. Annabelle liked to order a tunafish sandwich with a bowl of matzah ball soup and a glass of hot water with lemon. Sometimes she sprinkled crackers into her soup if she was hungry enough, and sometimes she would order rice pudding for dessert. When lunch was finished, only a few people went back to the center. Annabelle did not. She liked to go back to her apartment. There she watched television until she was hungry, and that was when she went out to buy her groceries. Annabelle did not shop at a regular supermarket. She associated the supermarket with largescale purchases, for buying food that would last for more than one day. So instead she went to a convenience store across the street. All the workers at the store were Moroccan men -- middle aged, incomprehensible Moroccan men -- and Annabelle took no interest in them. She had tried to bring up conversation once, commenting on the high price of cold cuts, but the cashier only smiled and shrugged his shoulders. She didn’t purchase the same food every night excluding an orange and a quart of milk, which would complement her pasta or cold cuts or pre-made sandwich, whatever she decided on. And when she brought her items to the counter she and the clerk always nodded in an ever-consistent recognition of one another, a slightly more intimate bond than the one held with those who were not regulars. This is where the story really starts to pick up and where Annabelle's situation truly becomes one of a kind. It is easy to believe that there are many old ladies who frequent senior centers and convenience stores, but it is difficult to believe that what happens next is of regular occurrence. One day, Annabelle went into the convenience and was surprised, because at the counter was not another one of the Moroccan employees, but instead a young man who no doubt spoke English and was no doubt American. 'You're new here, aren't you?' she asked. The new young man nodded and said, 'Yes, just started tonight.' She didn't really think about it much again until she came to the counter to pay. 'You speak English?' 'Yes. I actually grew up a few blocks from here.' 'Really.' She put her basket on the counter and the young man began to ring them up. 'I'm so used to seeing workers here who don't speak a word of English. You're like a breath of fresh air!' The young man chuckled and said, 'A pleasure to be of service.' Then he took the groceries, bagged them up, and handed them to Annabelle. 'Here you go. Have a good night.' 'Yes, thank you. And you too.' Annabelle walked out of the store feeling different. And though the difference registered in her mind, though the change in employees made sense, the feelings she felt were too antiquated for her to realize that it was love, an intense and fiery passion for the young man at the register. Her days became different. Now when she said ‘Good Morning’ to no one in particular her voice sounded silly. In the shower she would start singing ‘It’s Only a Paper Moon’ but was surprised to find that it unconsciously turned into a ballad like ‘Lover Man’ or ‘I Waited for You’. At Federico’s she struggled to finish her granola over yogurt over fruit in a white bowl, and when the server went to take away her meal he’d see the bowl and comment: ‘Not so ’ungry today ’uh, Ann’belle?’ and she pretended not to hear. Playing Scrabble against Roy changed, too. His curses no longer amused her and she had difficulty concentrating. Roy noticed but was wary to say anything. ‘Not on your game today, are you, Annabelle?’ he’d ask after her third straight loss, and he’d get no response; and when they pulled down the screen over the eraserboard and played the movies at the center, Annabelle found herself crying when the lights came back on, and she decided she’d no longer go to the center on the days movies were played. And at night, in her dreams, the young man appeared, and she was young again, and he talked to her and touched her shoulder and put his hand between her legs, and she woke up confused and sad. Still, it took her a long time for her to realize what was happening. As an old lady, Annabelle had difficulty believing that she could still harbor such passionate feelings. She and all her friends experienced and welcomed the gradual death of red, exhaustive emotions such as rage and lust. For one

of them to ever come back not only seemed unnatural but unhealthy, as well. So now Annabelle’s favorite part of the day was going out to buy her daily rations from the convenience store in case she died in her sleep. The young man wasn’t there every night, but when he was Annabelle made conversation with him about the only things she could think of: the center, her daughter, the food she was buying. Sometimes she forgot there were people waiting behind her and he had to ask her to move to the side. She found herself sometimes staying there for a good ten minutes after she had paid, at which point the young man suggested she get home and get everything into the refrigerator. But, for the most part, the young man paid attention, nodded his head and expressed surprise while Annabelle talked, and Annabelle would walk out of the store like a school girl and spend the evening happy until the next day when she woke up from her dreams. ‘Hi mom.’ ‘Hi, Ellie.’ ‘I’ll be over in about fifteen minutes.’ ‘You’ll come up here?’ ‘Where do you want to eat?’ ‘Anywhere’s fine.’ ‘OK. I’ll see you soon.’ Annabelle put down the phone and sat at the edge of her bed, dressed up in a bright blue blouse and her lady’s khakis. By now her feelings for James, the young man at the convenience store, were clear. She had thought that this was in fact the case, but it was confirmed finally, one night, three weeks after she had first met him. Based on what was said earlier in the story -- what she sang while in the shower, I mean -- you could guess that Annabelle was a fan of jazz, and you would be right. She was not a fan of the later more experimental artists, but she simply loved hearing Johnny Hartman or Billie Holiday or even Nat King Cole sing. Well, it just so happened that James whistled to himself whenever there were breaks in the muzak, and it just so happened that one night that Annabelle heard him whistling one of her favorite standards. 'You know that song!' Annabelle exclaimed. 'Of course,' replied James. 'I love that stuff.' 'Oh, I do too!' 'You do?' 'Yes. Sarah Vaughn sings a great version of that.' 'I've only heard Coltrane do it.' 'You should find the Sarah Vaughn version. I love it.' And then Annabelle went on to tell James all about the old records she had that she wished she could listen to again and how she and Richard used to go out to jazz clubs at night and once they saw Dizzy Gillespie sitting by himself, drinking whiskey and milk, but were too afraid to approach him. She also told him how she sang songs like 'Lover Man' to Ellie when she was a baby, and how she loved singing 'It's Only a Paper Moon' in the shower. This was the first time Annabelle found herself telling James about something she got really excited about. 'You should come by one day and see all the records I have.' 'Maybe, if I can. I'm pretty busy.' 'Well, try and make time. I think you'd really appreciate it.' She took her bags and walked outside. And that's when it all became clear. Oh dear, she thought to herself. It's just as I feared. Since then she had not been to visit Richard's grave, but now Ellie was on her way and she didn’t know how to feel and couldn’t predict what she would feel when she finally stood in front of him. So she sat there thinking about it while the television softly broadcasted an afternoon talk show until the buzzer rang and she let her daughter in. ‘Hi mom,’ she smiled and kissed Annabelle on the cheek. ‘Hello, Ellie. How have you been?’ ‘I’ve been doing alright.’ She had brought up her attaché case with her. ‘All set to go?’ ‘Let me just run to the bathroom. Do you need to use it?’ ‘No I’m fine.’

They went to a Mexican place that Ellie had heard good things about and Ellie told Annabelle all about her business and how it was flourishing. She was very energetic the entire meal, her curly cloudy hair bobbing as she ate. ‘We’ve been doing really well, ma, knock on wood. We’re thinking of opening more stores. We’ve even been in talks with some big guns. Maybe with the money I could help you get a new place to stay.’ ‘Oh don’t be silly, Ellie. I love my place.’ ‘Well maybe we could get you someone to help you clean around the house.’ ‘Please. I’m fine.’ ‘I’m just saying we can afford it now.’ The drapes hung low into the center of the restaurant windows. Thin rays of sun peeked through onto their table. Annabelle could not finish her enchiladas but said she very much liked the soup. ‘Well,’ said Ellie, getting up, ‘are you ready to head out?’ ‘Sure.’ She looked at Annabelle’s plate. ‘Was it not good?’ ‘Oh it was fine. I just wasn’t very hungry.’ It was a very hot day and on the ride to the cemetery Ellie kept the air conditioning on full blast while she received intermittent calls from coworkers asking her questions and she calmly sometimes slightly piqued responded with more specific questions and finally with answers. And sometimes after the phone call she’d shake her head in disbelief and mutter something under her breath and then go to back to concentrating on the road. All the while Annabelle looked out the passenger window. The cemetery was small and hilly. They got out of the car and were struck by a thick damp wall of heat. ‘We probably shouldn’t stay too long,' said Ellie. 'I can’t believe I forgot to bring water.’ They walked for a while, passing giant looming tombstones crowned with crosses and angels, before coming to Richard: a simple plot embedded in the grass with his name and the years he was born and passed. Ellie remained on the path and let Annabelle walk up alone with a flower. She stood there for a while, waiting for something to happen. She waited for guilt or regret or closure or fear. Instead, she felt nothing, indifference to the entire situation. Thoughts like He's been dead twenty years, and Who cares what he would think it's been so long, kept creeping into her head, even when she tried pretending they weren't there. But she had to at least try and make peace. It would be wrong not to. She was certain of that. So, knowing that saying it out loud would sound silly, poor Annabelle closed her eyes and thought I'm sorry, I really am, as hard as she could. It was better than nothing. She bent over, lightly tossed the flower onto the grave, and then walked back up to Ellie. On their walk up to Annabelle's apartment James came by in the opposite direction. Annabelle smiled and said hello. ‘Hi, Anne. It sure is hot outside.’ ‘It really is. This is my daughter, Ellie.’ They shook hands. ‘Pleased to meet you.’ ‘Likewise.’ ‘Off to work today?’ ‘Yep. Should I be expecting you tonight?’ ‘Yes, I think so.’ ‘Well, I’ve got to run. It was nice meeting you, see you tonight!’ James trudged on, and Annabelle could not stop smiling. ‘Who was that?’ ‘He works at the store where I shop.’ ‘He seems like a nice boy.’ ‘He’s studying at college,’ Annabelle said significantly. 'He's going to be a doctor.' Annabelle did stop by later that night, and for the first time since she had met James there was no one else working, he was alone at the register. There were no other customers, either. The muzak floated through the store while he studied a textbook. The coincidence of having made peace with Richard and finding James at work alone convinced Annabelle that this was her opportunity to do something more than make simple conversation. There he was, the young man who loved the music she loved, the sweet, charming young man who always listened and treated her well, and now it was the two of them alone for the first time.

Annabelle moved quickly through her normal motions. When she was picking an orange she imagined him nibbling her ear; when she was looking for the freshest milk she imagined herself with her hand down his pants; and when she was choosing the soup she wanted she heard him telling her it was ok, that he’d be careful, that he’d take care of her. She felt like a completely new person. She brought the groceries up to the counter. ‘You know, you are a very handsome young man,’ she started. ‘I bet you have a girlfriend.’ James blushed. ‘I don’t. I’m way too busy.’ ‘Well you’re a very attractive young man. You should.’ ‘Thank you.’ There was a pause. James continued scanning and bagging her groceries when Annabelle all of a sudden felt herself putting her hand on top of one his delicately and saying in a lower, softer voice, ‘You deserve so much. You know that, right?’ James looked at her hand on his, then up at her, confused. Then he shook. His smile faltered. His blush became one of anger and disgust. Something had gone wrong. He pulled his hand quickly and kept working. ‘No,’ he said. ‘Don’t ever do that again.’ All of Annabelle’s confidence, all her strength, right then and there, it shattered, it burned, it disintegrated, it fell apart, it dissipated. It was like she had been punched in the stomach and couldn’t find her voice. The muzak kept playing and James kept shaking his head. She imagined was how much he hated her now. She had acted selfishly, she had treated him badly, she had stepped out of place. ‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.’ Still, his head kept shaking. ‘Never again.’ He was angry. He handed her the bags and she hurried out of the store. And it is not too difficult to imagine what happened to Annabelle that night when she went back to her apartment.

Pointer They stood naked in front of a mirror. They looked into their reflection as if it were an audience, postured as if they were in front of an audience. He had a full erection and his hands were behind his back. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he announced, “what you are about to witness is physical intercourse between two healthy, young adults, one male and one female. It ought to be a fine example, one you ought to derive a lot out of as an observer, since these two specimens have already been intimate together quite often and are able to predict and complement each other’s idiosyncrasies. In other words: at least one mutual orgasm ought to be achieved, preventing problems afterwards that could potentially sully the relationship in the long run. I’d like to thank you all for coming out tonight. With me, as always,” he said, turning his erection to her as if it were a pointer and leaning up so that its head was looking up at hers, “is my lovely partner, Danita.” Danita curtsied, her arrowhead of a bush dropping down with her. For that moment he watched her instead of the mirror. “And, of course,” he said, recovering, taking his erection and pressing it to his stomach, “I am Dr. Wendelson Elcott.” Danita muffled a laugh. He punched her in the arm. Then he pivoted his waist as far as he could behind him while keeping his eyes on the mirror. “Behind us is the bed where the coitus will occur.” He turned his waist back, went onto his tiptoes, and arched back as far as he could, so that it was pointing as straight up to the ceiling as it could. “As you can see―” he stumbled backwards but composed himself before continuing―“As you can see, there will be ample lighting during the performance, allowing you to see exactly what will be going on throughout intercourse. We hope to perform in at least three different positions before finishing, giving you three different perspectives of everything that’s happening. You ought to have ample time to watch Danita or myself as insular performers, as well as observe the two of us together, in whatever order you prefer. Basically, though, you will be witnessing this,” he pointed down to his member and then turned his waist to Danita, his erection lightly slapping the upper part of her hip, “the erectionus tinyus―“ Danita jumped out of character. “Oh, stop. It’s not that small.” He frowned. “Stay in character.” “Fine.” “The erectionus tinyus will go,” he said while thrusting slowly and lightly in the direction of Danita, “in and out of her cuntus tightus repeatedly, at various paces and lengths, until I pull out and expel my semen on her stomach. This will not be done for any reason other than show, so I hope you all appreciate the unusual finale. Afterwards, Danita will go to the bathroom (he pointed to the bathroom) to clean herself off while I wipe my erectionus tinyus with tissues that will be thrown out in the wastebasket next to the bed. The session will have ended at this point, but rest assured that we will snuggle together afterwards, then watch some television, and then maybe have a lazier, faster intercourse session again. Are there any questions?” They stood in front of the mirror and stared. “Then we’ll begin.” They turned around and walked to the bed. “You’re a nut,” said Danita. “Stay in character,” said Wendelson.

Steve DeFino

for Lost Time 1. It was set up so that every Thursday evening, every Thursday evening at seven o’clock, Rupert received his phone call from Tricia. If he had to be elsewhere any given week he told her when they were finished so they knew not to call him. “I’m going to miss you, baby,” she’d coo. “I know. It’ll be alright.” If he had friends to talk to about it, he’d say that the thing he found funniest about it was his job. He ran through the conversation hundreds of times. It’d be him and three handsome well-kept men in a sporty bar with AC/DC playing at a tolerable volume in the background. They’d all be sitting in a booth with hefty mugs of beer in front of them. “See,” he’d say in between eyeing the attractive women who eyed him as well, “I work on the phone all week. I’m the guy who talks to the customers who have complaints about the products we sell. So, I mean, you’d think I hate the phone.” He’d chuckle, and then lean far back into his seat. “But I don’t hate the phone! Honest to God I don’t. Because every week I make sure I’m there for the call, and I’ve never gotten bored of it.” Then he’d sip from his beer and listen to his friends’ incredulous responses. But he didn’t have friends. He was married for a while, had his own friends prior to marriage, made friends with his wife’s friends, actually had a pretty impressive portfolio of friends; but then she left him, and he dug himself into a deep hole for two or three years while those relationships he developed kept moving and marrying and distancing and inevitably disappearing. When he reemerged, he was skinny, balding, ugly, tall, thirty-five years old, with watery eyes, overbite buckteeth, and heavy wrinkles in the forehead. He started to walk with a hunch and his mouth formed the habit of gaping on its own. Every night, after showering, he looked at his reflection in a full-body mirror and registered all these physical characteristics, pointed them out and refused to pretend they weren’t there, and every night he concluded that people didn’t want to talk to him, so he didn’t try to talk to anyone, either. He went to work and did his job well. It was on the phone with angry customers that he shined, because the one physical quality of his he liked and he knew other people liked was his voice. No matter how forlorn he looked or how much of a hunch he had when he walked or how little he smiled or how little hair he had his voice was always unnaturally cheerful. It would only take two minutes on the phone with a customer before they were placated, and they understood that mistakes could happen, and they were telling Rupert to have a nice day, and hanging up when they were sure the conversation was over. At home he liked to read the newspaper and sometimes watch television, but very often he got cabin fever and went outside for a walk. He spent these walks rolling over his old marriage and remembering its slow, gradual collapse. How she wouldn’t look him in the eye anymore. How conversation became a chore and her attitude towards him curt. How he felt the tension but convinced himself that it was nothing. And then she finally telling him she had met someone else, that they had been seeing each other for a few months, and then later while being consoled, how friends’ faces had a flash of confusion when he told them “Only a few months,” revealing more than he ever wanted to know. They were thoughts he could not avoid; once one came, the others followed immediately after, haunting and pestering. On the nights when these memories were much too much, he listened to warm maternal music like Erik Satie, masturbated, and cried himself to sleep. He decided to make the first call after he began growing bored of the pornography he normally used. It was not something he normally would consider doing, but he had money to throw around, and he was lonely. These people did it for a living, he told himself. Every day they do this for hours on end. They’re used to it. No, not even used to it; this is not prostitution or pornography we’re talking about. They simply don’t mind. Calling them up gives them business anyway, they need people like me (ugh, “like me”). Besides, you could use the conversation. These thoughts repeated through his head until he was fully convinced and dialed the number while sitting in the living room of the house where he and his wife used to live together (he won most of the settlement after the divorce; his passive nature drove the judge to pity (“Never before have I met a man display such a low amount of self-worth”)). He told them his credit card information and they asked him to hold momentarily. Then a voice came on, her name was Lorna, but when Lorna asked what he was wearing he felt uncomfortable and hung up. A minute later he redialed, gave his information again, and was put on the line a second time. “I’m sorry. It was just all very sudden. I’m

ready to do it now, I think.” “Oh, that’s fine, baby. There’s a first time for everything.” Rupert chuckled. “You sound hot. What’s your name?” “Rupert.” “Rupert?” “Yes—yeah.” “I like that name. Wanna know mine?” “Ok.” “I’m Tricia.” “Hi, Tricia.” “Want to know how wet I am right now?” “Yeah, sure. Ok.” * It did not take long for an attachment to develop between him and Tricia -- every Thursday he sat by the phone in a comfortable chair, reading the newspaper, until the operator called and told him he would be connected momentarily. The first few times he prepared lubricant, tissues and a garbage pail near his seat, but eventually he chose to let the mess land where it may and savor the moment and not worry about cleaning up until he was jolted back to his house and his room and his job. What surprised him the most about his lasting relationship with Tricia was the fact that she was never sick and she never left her job for something else. It was a regular topic of conversation: before they started he’d tell her he couldn’t believe she was still around, and afterwards he’d tell her she must be a smart girl, and she could easily find a new place to work, to which she replied “Oh, don’t worry, sweety. It’s an easy living.” He started thinking about her often, daily. He wondered what she looked like -- probably fat, no doubt; but maybe with a pretty face and a good sense of humor and an all around agreeable aura -- and what she liked to do in her spare time, was she a student, did she have a boyfriend, married, did she have more than one job, did she think he was a creep (probably), did she think of him outside of work (of course not, what a stupid question), did she watch movies, television, read, write, draw, sing, dance, what were her favorite foods, albums, movies, how many people she’s slept with, how often, when she lost her virginity, if she had family, did they know what she did for a living, and so on and so forth. He found the memories of his wife not coming to him as often, and reflected on this, as well: how fickle things are, I lose interest in her once I find someone else, and on top of that, it’s not even like it’s someone else, just a phone sex operator, for Christ’s sake. The whole thing made him feel insincere, casting aside his wife for another woman he barely knew, but it only bothered him so much. Rupert only talked after he came. He still couldn’t entirely wrap his head around the concept of phone sex, so he never was completely engaged during the sessions. For the most part he was quiet and she talked. But afterwards, he found himself talking to her as if she were in bed beside him. “You really brighten up my weeks, Tricia.” “Aww, that’s really sweet.” “Honestly, though. I haven’t been with a woman in such a long time… hell I haven’t talked to a woman in months.” “I’m sure you could find someone if you tried.” “I doubt it.” “I bet there are millions of women out there who would love to be with you.” “I don’t think so.” “How can you be so sure?” “It’s complicated.” “It always is, isn’t it?” “I guess, I guess so.” “Well, cheer up, ok? For me?” “Ok.” “Believe me, you’ll be ok.”

“I believe you.” “This session lasted for eighteen minutes. Thirty-six dollars will be charged to your account.” He never asked about her, he didn’t want to overstep any boundaries in their relationship, but he still wondered about her and contemplated asking her out for a cup of coffee, getting her real number and seeing a movie together, and, like most thoughts that seem ridiculous at first, with time they became feasible and possible, so that after sessions there’d be lingering silences where Rupert found himself struggling to ask her if she’d like to meet up sometime. And then finally he did. “Tricia, listen--” “mm?” “This is probably gonna sound ridiculous, I mean I’m sure this has happened to you already before more than once so feel free to stop me at anytime… but I dunno, I mean, I thought we always got along alright, on the phone that is, but you just sound like a great person, like I think about you all the time -- not like dirty thoughts, but just about you -- and I’d really, really like to know you better. Like maybe if you’d like to meet up sometime, grab some coffee… and I mean like I said I completely understand if you say no, and I completely understand if you don’t want to do this with me anymore because I don’t think I’d feel right doing this with you either, because it’d probably just be awkward. But I mean we could exchange numbers or something, or I could give you my number and you could call if you feel like it, but I mean, Jesus I don‘t know, you‘re all I have right now, as pathetic as that sounds, and considering I could‘ve easily just‘ve had this happen with someone else who works where you work, but Idunno, if you wouldn’t mind, say whatever you feel, don‘t worry about it. I just thought I'd try.” Rupert’s leg voice and hand shook as he said this over the line, and they remained shaking afterwards while waiting for Tricia to respond. He desperately wanted to vomit, there was what felt like an endless silence, and he wondered if he would go back to thinking about his wife if this didn’t work. Then Tricia gave a very pragmatic response: “How do you even know if we live near each other?” “I don't. You're right. I don't. Where do you live?” “Here.” “Where?” “Here.” “Oh, I actually live around There, too. Like 15 minutes away. We could meet up in the town. I mean if that's ok.” There was a pause. Her voice came back and it whispered, "My number is This. My real name is Cathy. I'm free almost any night of the week. Just give me a ring."

2. Of course her name wasn't Tricia. When she started they recommended she create an alias. She had always liked the name Tricia and always said that she wanted to name her child Tricia. It was the first thing that came to mind. But naturally, after deciding her alias, there were conflicting feelings about it, Tricia, both gorgeous sex bomb and future first born, whore and child, and of course she could have changed it but she didn't. At twenty years old on a late Friday night she was living at home when her parents came down stairs after hearing an unfamiliar voice in the house, and when they walked into the kitchen Cathy was there, leaning over the counter while a lanky unshaven man stood beside her with his hands in his pockets. Cathy's parents asked where she had been and she told them, Cathy introduced her parents to Randy and they all said how do you do, and then when Cathy said goodbye to her parents her parents realized she had been staying in the same leaning position the whole time, and asked why she wouldn't move, then forced her to move, and there were lines on the counter. The drugs were just for fun, she only did them if someone offered them to her, but her parents were worried she was going to hurt herself. Cathy's parents did not get angry. They were very understanding people. Her father, a short man with wide dewy eyes but a strong disposition, spoke at and attended seminars, and he liked going through things step by step, because he knew losing his patience would be detrimental and not helpful. He owned a lot of books that had affably smiling middle-aged men in unimposing suits sitting on the edge of counters with their hands lightly held together in their laps; and their bodies covered the left side of the cover while the title covered the other half, in raised purple print, always involving words like How and What and Why and Better and Good. Her mother didn't have a job but went out a lot, and whenever she felt frustrated Cathy’s father sat her down with a concerned look and talked to her in a murmuring voice and then always at the end they had a very platonic and cathartic hug. So instead of expressing anger they expressed concern when they saw the lines, and that night Cathy's father sat down with her and talked to her, he explained how he used to do lots of recreational drugs when he was young too, and how they ended up doing more bad than good. He told her of waking up in ditches not knowing how he got there and friends' suicide attempts and overdosing, and he explained that he didn't want to see her go down the same path. When her father finished talking Cathy said “Fine, dad. Whatever.” and went up to bed. She heard her parents in their bedroom talking about her, but she couldn't make out what they were saying. She wanted to call Randy and talk to him but she decided it would be better if she didn't. The next morning, they called her down from her room, they had her sit at the kitchen table, and they told her they had talked about it, and decided that they wanted her to go to rehab, or at least undergo randomly issued drug tests. They thought it would be best for her. But Cathy wanted to live her own fucking life. So she packed her things and moved in with Anthony on the other side of town. Cathy was blonde with blue eyes. She was overweight and had a very naïve smile. She dreamed of falling in love with a great guy who would tell her how pretty she was, who would talk to her clever and fast and witty, who would kiss her in the rain, or late at night in an empty parking lot. She and her girlfriends liked to get together and watch television shows where the characters embodied everything they wanted to have in their lives, and they'd sit and chew popcorn and admire the young, handsome doctors and detectives, and imagine that they were there, too. Her first job was at a convenience store over in the town's strip mall. Not a lot of customers came in, so Cathy found herself with a lot of free time. She would try on sunglasses and read the tabloids, and sometimes, if she liked them enough, she'd buy herself the tabloid or pair of sunglasses. She loved buying things. Over her life span she had managed to accumulate somewhere along the lines of seventy pairs of shoes, stacked up in her closet, some never touched since being purchased. Buying things felt reassuring to her, knowing that she owned it and that she had complete control over it. There was a solidarity there that no other aspect of life could achieve. But Cathy didn't find the job fun enough. Her coworkers were friendly and counted her register for her, but they spoke little or broken English, and a lot of them had bad hygiene. Three months after she started she quit. Anthony couldn't believe it when she told him. “Are you joking? Why'd you quit?” “I didn't like the job.” “But you need to make money! Do you have any idea what you're gonna to do now?” “Well, Idunno, I was sorta thinking of being a bartender. I think I'd be good at it.”

“You're an idiot. You have to take classes for bartending. Don't you know that?” Cathy took offense and stuck her chin up. “So? I could do it.” She decided that when she could afford it, she would move out and Anthony would regret ever talking to her like that. But job prospects were looking grim. She couldn't afford bartending lessons, and when she tried to persuade restaurant managers to let her work the bar by smiling and touching their arms, they offered her a job as a waitress, which she declined because she knew that bartending was better. She started looking into the classifieds and saw that there were many jobs where all you had to do was talk to people on the phone, which sounded really easy. The first one she took was for a computer company. Her job was to talk to customers who had problems with their purchases. This job lasted fifteen minutes, when one of the first customers she talked to shouted at her and called her a moron, and she started crying, and her manager pulled her aside and told her it would be ok, and to take the rest of the day off, and when she came back the next day they sat her down and told her they didn't think she was fit for the job. After that that she stumbled on the Vivid Fantasiez phone line. She brought it up to Anthony. “You know, it'd probably be easy.” “Yeah, I don't see why you shouldn't do it.” “I mean, it's not like it's actually prostitution.” “I know. I wouldn't let you do something like prostitution.” “Besides I have plenty of practice faking it with you.” “Faking it?” “You know, like pretending to have an orgasm.” “You've never faked with me. Most of the times you don't even come when we're together. What are you talking about?” Cathy frowned. “Well, obviously you can't take a joke.” And with Anthony's approval Cathy got her job there, working 12 in the afternoon to 8 in the evening every weekday, calling herself Tricia. Though the men who called weren't mean like the customers who called at the last job, it still took Cathy a while to get used to certain characteristics that the callers had. Some of them cursed and shouted into the receiver, some of them breathed heavily and sounded dangerously obese, some wanted her to pretend to be very young, and others spoke quietly and apologized when they were finished. She also learned how to treat certain kinds of customers in certain kinds of ways – some she directed while others directed her. At first she was worried that the job would make her feel dirty and she was apprehensive about bringing it up to her friends. But when she finally did start working, she didn't feel dirty at all. Instead it felt empowering. The men on the phone called her so that she could supply them with something others could not supply. She saw it as a dependency. It was her responsibility to keep them contained and safe in their own little worlds of intimacy without ever hurting them. She kept them from getting hurt. But what was better was that these were men who wanted her, and Cathy couldn't help but smile quietly to herself when a session was finished, and she was responsible for bringing a man to such levels of pleasure with only her voice. And soon she was sitting with her friends in a restaurant booth or in a living room telling them all about her job, and all the weirdos she met, and she giggled so that everyone else giggled too, and everyone was amused with Cathy's job and not disgusted. The voice, the one responsible for so much in so many lives, was not perfect. Among friends it could whine and wheeze and lose control, and her laugh would sometimes jut and jab achingly out around her. It was not enough to provoke any jeers among her friends, but they would all – Cathy too – agree that it was not the most pleasant voice to hear, it could be better. But this was not a concern at Cathy's job because Cathy never needed to laugh or whine or wheeze. She always kept her voice soft and sensual, her mouth louder than her words, and by the time that it got anywhere near to whining or wheezing, the men were too wrapped up to mind. She was making good money and soon she had enough to move out but she didn't want to tell Anthony she was leaving until the last moment. She was still upset over what he had said, and she knew that this would be the only way to really get back at him, and leave him begging her to come back. She managed to keep it quiet until she started packing up her things. “What's going on?” asked Anthony. “Where are you going?” And Cathy said in a very matter-of-fact tone that she was moving out, that ever since she found

her new job she could afford a new, better place. Then she looked at him fearlessly because she knew she had cut him deep. “Well, Jesus, Cat. Were you ever planning on telling me this?” “I guess I've been so busy that I forgot to tell you.” “That's pretty forgetful.” Anthony started helping her stack the boxes. “Did you find someone to take your place?” “What?” “Someone to move in for the rest of the lease. Because I mean if you didn't -- are you just going to pay for this place until the lease is up?” “I'm not going to pay for anything if I'm not living here.” Anthony stared at her. “You have to. It's in the contract.” “I don't care. I'm not living here anymore.” So Anthony got angry and silent, and he shook his head a lot and kept looking down and whenever he did speak it was to curse Cathy. “You stupid stubborn bitch. You have no idea what you're doing.” Cathy was happy Anthony was upset. Everything was finally going her way, both in her personal and professional life. It was a very good time. * Her new place was an apartment two blocks down, a bit closer to the town and her job. She had more space than she and Anthony had combined in her old apartment. The bedroom was her favorite part. The walls were painted sienna and the lighting was sparse and she felt so much like an adult when she first stepped in knowing that it was hers. She brought orange pillows and white sheets laced with a dark red so that the room was like a dormant volcano. The only problem Cathy faced after moving in was that the apartment was missing pieces of furniture. There were a bed a frame and a dresser and a stand for a television set, but there was no kitchen table and there were no chairs or couches. The chairs were not a problem – she picked up some folding chairs at a home furnishings store – but the kitchen table and couch were not so easy. They were big and she didn't know how to make such big purchases or move such big objects and she had no interest in learning. She had always been in places where everything big had already been tenants for a very long time, as if they had been there forever and no one ever thought of asking where they got those big things or how they had moved them in. Cathy had never seen big things not be where they were supposed to be. This was a new and jarring situation and she needed help. She couldn't ask for Anthony's help because she wanted to prove that she could live without him, it was a power balance thing, but by then the tension between her and her parents had worn off, and she decided she was at least comfortable with asking for their help, even if they turned her down. She decided to call them after work that day. Her parents were ecstatic to hear from her. They had been planning on getting a new kitchen table and couch for a while, so they offered she come over and they would help her move the old ones in. The next day when she went over her mother and father were all smiles and hugs, laughter and questions. Cathy lied and told them she had found a job at a telemarketing agency. It made her parents so happy to hear she was doing so well on her own. “Cathy,” her father said, smiling brightly and shaking his head, “you've done fantastic work. Living alone takes a lot of responsibility. And I mean I'll be honest I wasn't sure if you were going to make it, I was worried, but God knows I was rooting for you too, your mother and I. And... gosh, I mean I'm proud of you, Cathy, I really am. You really made it!” So the couch and kitchen table were brought to Cathy’s apartment and her father put them where Cathy asked him to put them and when it was all finished Cathy’s parents insisted that she take three hundred dollars. Everything for Cathy kept going up. * Scheduling weekly meetings with customers was not something done regularly at the Vivid Fantasiez phone line. Throughout one shift an employee might have two scheduled callings but never

more than that. No one enjoyed making these calls because the people who scheduled weekly calls never were ashamed of what they were doing. Shame was the employee’s only upper hand they had on their customers. Cathy had been working there five months and she had her couch and kitchen table when she took the phone call from Rupert. They talked after they were finished because he had wanted to. He explained how much better this made him feel, that it was his first time and how nervous he had been. And before Cathy knew what she was saying she had told him about the weekly scheduling opportunity that would save him money. And before Cathy knew what was happening Rupert had signed up for Thursday evenings and had requested Cathy specifically for his sessions. Scheduling weekly meetings was unusual but requesting a specific operator was even more unusual. Those who were requested had a tendency to quit shortly after. The idea of developing a relationship with any of the people who called was not a savory prospect. Also, the idea of having to cater to a certain person every week, a person with a name and an address and a job, made many of the girls feel uncomfortable. Her coworkers teased her. “Looks like you got a new admirer, Cathy.” To which she would give a little bitter smile. “Shut up, you guys!” Over the weeks, Cathy learned a lot about Rupert. He told her about his marriage and how he lived alone and how much he liked a performer called Eric Sachie and how she should listen to him, the Gymnepidies. Then he also told her about his job and joked about how you'd think he would try and get away from the phone as often as possible and he also pointed out how she worked on the phone and how he thought it was a funny coincidence. Sometimes he forgot he had already told her certain things so that they would be repeated, and at those times Cathy allowed herself to stop paying attention and simply gave short soft responses whenever she heard his voice linger and finally stop. What struck Cathy the most about Rupert was his voice. It was smooth and complaisant and simply put pretty. She mentioned this to him often and he chuckled and said it was the only part of him that was actually any good. But with his voice being the only part that Cathy knew about, she had difficulty believing that this was true, and she imagined him being timid and adorable, a sensitive songwriter or poet who had a very romantic view of the world who had been hurt once and needed someone to rekindle his passion for everything and anything. Over the weeks Cathy believed this more and more. Poor Rupert, she thought. He needs a friend. And over the weeks with Cathy staying on the job even after taking the responsibility of a specific caller, her coworkers became confused. “How do you deal with it, Cathy? Doesn't it creep you out?” To which Cathy shrugged her shoulders a little. “It's really not that bad, you know.” That was the most she ever said. * So now Cathy had her job and her apartment and her kitchen table and her couch and she invited her friends over sometimes and they'd make margaritas and watch television and Cathy was very happy with herself. She continued telling her friends about the weird calls she would get from certain men -- how one started crying in the middle of it, humiliated, how one wanted to pretend he had dialed the wrong number and she was a hot and horny stranger who forced him to stay on the line – but she did not bring up Rupert. And when Cathy agreed to meet with Rupert at a coffee place one night, she told everyone she had a date with a guy named Darryl who she met at a bar, and she went out to a record store and picked up a copy of Gymnepidies.

3. Everyone who lived in the town loved the town and the center of the town, where all the stores were, had broad sidewalks and pretty dogwood trees sprinkled all around and in the daytime, on a nice spring day, people walked outside with their significant others or dogs, getting ice cream at the locally owned creamery or shopping for new clothes or antiques. This was what the town was like on a nice spring day, but when they met winter was still turning to spring, it was cool and cloudy, and anyone who was out was out because they had to and not because they wanted to. Rupert arrived a half-hour early and ordered a cup of coffee. He wore his nice sweater and got a haircut the day before. There were a few younger girls sitting in the back away from where he sat and they talked and laughed loudly. Jazz music was playing. Cathy walked in and they locked eyes. “Are you...?” “Rupert, right?” “Yeah. Cathy?” They smiled and shook hands. Cathy carried a big brown bag and a big winter coat, both of which she put down by the table where Rupert sat. “It's so crappy out! I'm gonna get myself a hot chocolate.” “Ok.” Cathy went to order and Rupert stayed at the table. She came back with a large mug with whipped cream floating at the top. She took a sip. “Oh, my God, it's so good!” “It looks good.” “Do you want to try it?” “Sure. Oh, wow. That is good.” “Yeah, I know!” “Perfect for this kind of weather.” “Uh-huh. So,” she prompted, “do I look like you imagined?” “Yeah, I guess... sort of. I don't know. I didn't really picture you any specific way.” “Really? That's so weird! How did you do that? I know as soon as I hear about someone, but I, like, haven't met them, I come up with a picture for them. Like I can't help it, you know?” “Yeah. Idunno. I mean I sort of had like an image the first time I talked to you, but I didn't really stick with it, I guess.” “Oh, ok. That makes sense.” There was a burst of laughter from one of the girls in the back of the store. Cathy's eyes slid over to the noise. Rupert's back was to them but he made a half-hearted attempt to turn around. “So what about me? Do I look like how you imagined?” She squinted her eyes a little. “Yeah. Yeah, basically.” “So,” he chuckled, “is that a good or bad thing?” “Oh, it's good, don't worry!” “Ok. Just making sure.” “Really though. You should give yourself more credit.” “Maybe.” “You could find a girl easy. I’ve dated much uglier.” “Oh…” Cathy’s eyes blew up and she shot out her left hand to touch Rupert’s arm. “Oh! Oh Rupert I didn’t mean it like at that. Not at all.” Rupert’s eyes were down to the floor. He let out a gasp of a laugh. “Oh don’t worry it’s fine I understood what you meant. Don’t worry about it.” She was concerned. Her mouth was drooped open in a concerned rictus. Her eyes were sad for Rupert, and when Rupert looked up and saw how she looked, it was the first time in years anyone had ever looked at him that way, and it was too much for him. She could throw that entire hot chocolate in his face as long as she kept that look. “Are you sure?” she asked. “Yeah.” He smiled. “Besides, by now, anyone can say anything about me and I’d take it as a compliment.”

Cathy laughed a vacant laugh and scooped up some of the whipped cream and ate it. Rupert’s eyes shot back down to the table. “So, Cathy… what's it like…” one of his hands started making little waves in front of him. “Yeah?” “…where you…” “What?” She smiled playfully. “Where I what?” “…at your job?” “Oh. It's not that bad. It pays pretty well, and, I mean, it's really easy.” “But I mean you must get some weird people on the line, and I mean doing – that – all day --” Cathy paid attention. Her eyes were wide, her lips were set, and she nodded encouragingly. “—it must be kind of weird, right?” “Sort of. You get used to it, you know? And, I mean, to be honest, it's kinda nice having all that attention.” “Really?” “Yeah.” “Doesn't everyone who calls just want to get off, though?” “Basically.” Rupert pushed back from the table a bit. “I don't think I could ever do it. I think I'd feel too much like an object.” “Well, it never feels like that.” “Well that's good.” “Yeah. Believe me it's not that big a deal.” “Alright. I just couldn't imagine --” “Why?” “Idunno.” He leaned back farther. “I'm sorry, it's not my place to say what works and what doesn't.” Then he fell back at his normal sitting position. A quiet, older couple came in and walked by. “What a day!” said the old man to the cashier. “So,” Cathy resumed, “how long have you been working at your job? Don't you want to do something else?” “I guess I'd like to. But I mean my job is easy, the pay is good enough, and I do a good job.” “But what would you do if you had the chance? What's your dream job, or like life?” “I guess I'd just like to be able to stay at home and not have to have a job. Just live and not really do much other than watch tv or listen to music.” “By yourself?” “No, I'd probably want to have a companion to spend time with, now that you mention it.” Cathy grinned. “A 'companion'?” “Well, a girl, I mean.” “Shut up, Liz! Really?” shouted one of the girls in the back. “I guess I'm kind of simple when it comes to what I want. What about you?” “Sort of the same thing.” Cathy's eyes lit up. “Oh! I meant to tell you, I listened to that musician you told me about.” “Satie? Did you like him?” “I thought it was good. It's not normally what I listen to, but it was just, like, really calming music.” “You listened to the Gymnopedies, right?” “Yeah.” “That's what I like about it, too. I find it so comforting and so... warm, I guess.” “Well, I liked it.” “I'm glad you did.” “Do you sing by any chance?” “Sing?” “Yeah.” “No, not really.” “Well you have a really nice voice, so I thought maybe you sang, too.” “Nah. I can't keep a tune.”

“Oh. Alright. I told you you have a nice voice before, right?” “Yeah. Thanks again, though!” The music stopped, the girls in the back were still talking excitedly, and Rupert let go of his coffee cup and put his hands palm down again on the table in front of him. “So, what else...” He took one hand and ran it over his head. “Sorry, Cathy. It's been such a long time. I'm not the best at keeping up a conversation.” “Don't worry! You're doing fine so far.” “Oh! I can't believe I didn't think of this earlier. What do you do in your spare time? All I know about you is your job.” “I'm kind of boring. Most nights I just watch tv with my friends. I am a nut about Lost. Do you watch it?” “No.” “Oh, my God it's so good. You should totally watch it. I'm, like, hooked. I have the first season on DVD. I can let you borrow it.” “On DVD?” “Yeah.” “But didn't you already see them all?” “Yeah.” “So why do you need them on DVD?” “Well, I mean, just in case I want to watch them again. And Idunno, I just sort of like having things, you know what I mean?” “Sort of.” “Like, I'm not gonna lie, but I love buying stuff.” “Really.” “You should see my closet. I have so many shoes! It's kind of crazy.” Rupert looked down. “That sounds pretty crazy.” “But I mean I'm sure you have some sort of weird habit like that too, don't you?” “Well, I mean there's the phone calls.” Cathy laughed. “Oh! Oh, my God I forgot about that, I'm sorry.” “Don't worry about it, Cathy, it's no big deal.” Cathy took another sip from the mug. “Mm! It's getting cold fast. I'm gonna have to drink a lot faster.” “So where do you live?” “Over at this apartment complex like five minutes outside of town. It's really nice there. I used to live at this place with my boyfriend but then I left.” “Are you guys still together?” Cathy smiled. “No. I left him as soon as I could afford to.” “Oh?” "Yeah, he was such a loser. The first black guy I dated and he'll probably be the last! He just used to shout at me all the time and call me stupid and I don't really need that, you know? I was just staying with him because I needed a place. When I left he acted like I couldn't find someone else. What is he, stupid? He doesn't think I'm pretty enough to find another guy? Yeah, but I played his game and then totally just ditched him." “Wow.” Rupert stood up. “Excuse me, I just have to run to the bathroom.” He walked to the back, past the giggling girls, his eyes averted, and walked into the bathroom. It was a single toilet and there were minor marks of graffiti on the walls. Rupert lowered the seat and put toilet paper down on it. Then, without lowering his pants, he sat down, his elbows on his thighs, his head in his hands, and stayed there for about three minutes.

Jonathan Murphy

Harper's I brought the first copy in a bookstore. It had an article on the diplomatic misfires of the current administration, that's what piqued my interest, but the Notebook and Readings sections were what really impressed me. I found myself laughing out loud while reading excerpts of memoirs by oblivious third-world diplomats and transcripts of conversations between doctors and their heavily drugged patients. So I bought it and read the rest at home, leaving it on the coffee table for Allie. She mentioned it later that night. “Hey, I read that magazine on the coffee table.” “Oh, Harper's? I picked it up today on a whim. I really liked it. What'd you think?” “It was pretty great.” “I know! I can't believe I never picked it up earlier.” We got a subscription. It was a lot cheaper than buying them at newsstands every month. But when we got our first issue in the mail, we realized we'd have to share the magazine. If Allie had it I asked her when she'd be finished, and I’d have to wait and pretend I didn’t mind, but if she left it on the kitchen counter while taking a shower I picked it up before she got out, and when she did get out, and she found me curled up on the couch with my nose buried in those revealing, enlightening pages, she put on a pout. “Hey, I was reading that.” I looked up and pretended I didn't know. “Oh, I'm sorry, honey. Can I just finish this article? Is that ok?” Of course she had to say yes, and I read two more articles than I promised before giving it back. And, of course, she did the same to me. We decided to get another subscription to avoid that recurring situation in the future. Now two copies of the issue, one addressed to her and one to me, came every month. We had an unspoken agreement that we could only read from our personally addressed copy, and if one didn't show up at the same time as the other, well, tough noogies. After I had to wait twice, watching her curled up on the couch while I pretended to watch tv, I started printing out the new issues online, article by article – with the subscription came free access to its electronic archive – and stapling them together, issue by issue. Allie was impressed. “That's not a bad idea,” she commented. So she started printing out all the back issues we had never read before our subscriptions. I was allowed to read those when she was finished. Soon, we had the entire library printed out and stocked in our one-bedroom apartment – the printed copies were stacked stapled and filed in bookshelves, next to our couch and our nightstands, and when we finished with our personal subscriptions, they were strategically placed all over the apartment, so if friends stopped by they could see them, hopefully mention them in conversation, and we'd have the opportunity to rave about the magazine and suggest that they read it, too. I didn't give her any notice when I started buying the actual printed copies of back issues. One day she came home, and there, next to her new issue that had that great article on France's social infrastructure, was an issue dated March, 1985. I was washing dishes in the kitchen. “Tom, where'd you get this?” “What?” “This issue of Harper's. The one from 1985.” I walked in, drying off my hands with a dish towel. “Oh. They sell back issues online.” “We have this issue printed out, though. I remember printing it and reading it.” “I know,” I said, “but I feel a little dishonest about just printing them out. Besides, the experience of holding the actual magazine is so much more, Idunno, esoteric. Like having your favorite album on vinyl.” She looked down at the magazine, defeated. “Yeah, I guess you're right.” I walked back into the kitchen. “I'll let you know when I'm finished reading it.” “Alright.” I went back to the dishes with a renewed energy and whistled to myself a little Hungarian folk tune. “Hey, Tom?” she called from the other room. “Yeah?” I called back.

“I think I'm gonna start getting plastic sleeves for the magazines. You know – to keep them in good shape.” I almost dropped a plate, I was so shocked I didn't think of it myself. “That's a good idea, honey.” We started running out of space. Once the bookshelves filled up we started more stacks by the couch, and once the stacks started blocking doorways we consolidated our clothes and put them in our now-empty dresser drawers. Once that space filled up, we were in trouble – for us to make even more space, we agreed to get rid of some books, give them to libraries or stores. The problem was the only books we ever held onto were the books we could not live without – if after having finished a novel we were not brimming with excitement over what we had just read, it was always given away, out of our hands forever. What remained were our very very favorites. We stood in front of the remaining four shelves holding our favorite volumes from the past and present – reread and weathered copies with dog ears and broken spines, and newer ones we hoped would go through the same, intimate process -- and we realized that we couldn't part with our babies, couldn't choose one from the other, they all meant too much. So we decided we would be judges of each other’s collections. Her first choice was Pere Goriot. “Really, Allie?” “Yeah. Idunno. I never really cared for it.” “It's beautifully written!” She looked at me. “You've never been to Paris. You don't know French. Can you really say it’s ‘beautifully written’?” I frowned and pulled out The Bell Jar. “But I grew up with that book!” “Yeah, and I was in high school once, too.” The assault on our books became an indirect assault on each other. Next she pulled out USA (“It takes up so much space. And besides, I bet you can't even tell me what the deal is with those News Reels at the beginning of every chapter.”) and then I did Anna Karenina (“I never knew Tolstoy was such a pussy until I read this.”) and then she pulled out I Am the Cheese (“You wanna talk high school? How about middle school?”) so I took out Matilda (“You're a whore.”), and the next thing I knew she was pulling down all my books, tossing them down with tangible contempt, so I started taking hers and intentionally throwing them on the ground with all my might, glowering at her for a brief second after every hardcover smacked against the hardwood floor. Finally all the books were expelled. We were breathing heavily, our hands on our hips, since that had been the most physical activity we had had outside of sex in a while. We looked at each other sheepishly. “I'm sorry.” “Me too.” “That was childish.” “Yeah.” Then we looked down at all the books. “You know,” she started, “I can't remember the last time I sat down with a good book.” “Me neither,” I admitted. “And I don't like the idea of us nitpicking each other's reading choices. Especially after this.” “Yeah.” “Are you thinking what I'm thinking?” I looked at her and smiled. I could tell we were on the same page. “Yes, definitely.” We packed all the books into one big box and brought them over to the public library. Now we had all those empty shelves and there'd be no need to worry about space for a while. And when we sit side by side on our couch, reminiscing about the days of yore, we make sure never bring up that fight, the day when Harper's magazine almost tore us apart.

The Accident One night a man and a woman who believed they were very much in love stepped out of their apartment to get some food at a diner. It was a dark and chilly night, so they walked on the sidewalk that took them to the main road in town in each other’s arms. The woman nuzzled her head into the space between the man’s cheek bone and shoulder; he didn’t mind because the white hat she wore kept his neck warm. So they remained in that position, very comfortable and satisfied. As they came closer to the intersecting road, the man and woman saw lights flickering in the distance, and both at the same time wondered what was going on. When they got there, a crowd of people were in a semi-circle surrounding something. The man and woman saw the cop cars and the red flares warning people to stay away, but they could not see what they were supposed to stay away from. The woman asked another man near them what had happened. “Some kid was on his bike,” he said. “He got hit by a truck.” “Oh, my God. Is he alright?” “It didn’t look good. They’re putting him on the gurney right now, I think.” “Oh, my God. I can’t believe it. When did this happen?” “I’d say about fifteen minutes ago. The cops got here pretty fast, fortunately. But I don’t know if it’ll be any help.” “Oh, my God.” She blinked twice and her mouth remained open. “Thank you.” “No problem,” the man replied. Then he turned around. The diner was warm inside. They got a seat by the window so they could see the road where the cars passed by. When the waitress approached them and asked what they wanted, both ordered a cup of coffee. The fluorescent lighting always made the inside irregularly bright. That’s why they liked eating there. When the waitress came back with the two cups of coffee, she asked them if they were sure they didn’t want anything else. Maybe a dessert? The man looked at the woman. “No,” said the woman. “We’re fine. Thanks.” The waitress closed up her little pad and walked away, and the man took a sip of his coffee. The woman put milk and sugar in hers. “Are you sure you don’t want anything to eat?” the man asked. “You said you were hungry when we left.” “I know, honey.” Her eyes were down on the table. “Then why don’t you want anything?” “I don’t know. I guess I’m just not hungry anymore.” She took a sip of her coffee and looked over at the deep, dark road. “Do you think he’s alright?” “I think so. The ambulance arrived pretty fast and they didn’t seem to act too panicked or anything. I wouldn’t worry about it too much.” “I know I shouldn’t,” she said, finally looking at him, “but it’s just so terrible.” He grimaced. “I know what you mean.” “I mean, why do such bad things have to happen? That poor kid. It just doesn’t seem fair.” “It isn’t.” “I know,” she said, leaning back. “It just makes me frustrated.” Each cup of coffee had only been touched once. The man excused himself to go to the bathroom. All the other tables were unoccupied except for one where five boys sat and talked loudly. “Holy shit, man, you are so shot.” “Shut the fuck up.” “You look like a fucking chink. We should call you Rob Li Kim or something like that.” All the boys at the table laughed, and the man watched them as he walked to the back, smiling, but they never made eye contact. When he came back out, one of the boys was asking the waitress whether or not they could get some honey mustard while the others ate silently. He wondered what they had done that night.

The woman had not moved since he had gone to the bathroom, except now her face was in her hands. The man sat back down across from her. “Are you alright?” She took her hands away from her face, sniffed her nose, and sighed. “I don’t know,” she said in a soft voice. “Should we go?” “Do you think we should?” “It’s up to you.” “Yeah. I think we should go.” “Alright.” They put money down on the table and walked down the same sidewalk they had walked up to get there. When they passed by the scene of the accident, there was no evidence of any sort of tragedy or disaster happening only an hour ago. It looked like a normal road – black asphalt and yellow lines – and cars drove over the spot the boy had lain without knowing a thing about what had happened. Back at the apartment, they undressed without speaking and got into bed. The man tried to caress the woman’s arm, but she did not respond, so he turned his back to her and fell asleep. When the woman was sure he was no longer awake, she got out of bed and turned on the television, looking for a news broadcast.

A Dream This is not something I’d normally do and I think you know that. I don’t like the idea of being so literal, but this was something that I felt really had a lot of meaning everybody could grasp, so I decided I’d write about it anyway. Then again maybe this is all a trick to get to you; maybe I never had this dream, and this is a ruse, so that people will sit around and argue its validity and the “unreliability” of me, the narrator. Well I promise you that the dream happened, but some parts might have been embellished – what parts I can’t tell you, I think that would ruin it; but if by chance we one day meet outside on a street in real life face to face, feel free to ask, and I’ll probably tell you everything you want to know, because I love talking to people, especially when it’s about myself, and if you are a close friend of mine, I’ll give you even more detail, because you’d understand and appreciate it more. So anyway, in this dream I’m in my home town, and this girl I know from high school, she’s driving me around town in her car. I don’t remember what we were driving around for, but I do remember there was a specific reason, because at some points she explains why she hasn’t dropped me off yet. We pass by a bunch of landmarks: the Waldbaum’s, the Wendy’s and Taco Bell that are right next to each other, the Starbucks, and this is how I can tell we are in my hometown. Let me give you a little background about my relationship with this girl. We didn’t really meet until the latter years of high school, and ever since we met, I’ve always thought there was this sort of sexual tension between us. Maybe I made it all up in my head, but I thought for the longest time that she and I should’ve gotten together, maybe even gone out and fallen in love -- she liked the same music as me, she was into writing, and she liked reading in general, so we had a lot in common. But our relationship never really went anywhere further than being friends. That was really all there was, and currently is, to it. But we’re in the car and she’s driving me around in this kind of SUV, what kind I don’t know, and another thing you should know is we are both drinking on the ride, passing a plastic water bottle filled with white wine back and forth, and we get drunk but not too drunk, just buzzed. At first I am a little concerned with her drinking and driving, but it doesn’t seem to bother her, so I don’t mind. Now, going back to the tension part, here we are, both a little drunk, riding around in this car, wrapped up in this supposed sexual tension, so we aren’t talking a lot, we don’t know what to say to each other, we’re both afraid of knowing what the other is thinking. So, to pass the time, I check to see if my fingernails are clean a bunch of times. I don’t look at them with an open palm turned away from me, but instead with the palm facing me and the nails curved down, because I had heard when I was very young that if you looked at them with an open palm turned away from you, that meant you were gay, and I mean I’m not a homophobe, but ever since I have always made sure not to look at them that way. And eventually she notices how much I’m checking my fingernails, so she playfully sticks out one of her hands to me in the same way so I can check hers, and I take this as an opportunity to put a move on her, so I turn my entire body toward her, and I take my right hand and gently grab hers in the air, not really holding it, but just grasping it, and I hold onto it with the side of my face against the passenger seat, looking at her. She knows I am looking at her, so she takes the hand she isn’t driving with and grabs my other hand and places it on her breast, and jokingly says “My boob” in a silly voice. I laugh, but I don’t grasp or fondle or squeeze, I just let my hand lay there lightly on top, and she lets go. Then she gets up and moves to the back of the car, but she doesn’t park or stop the car or anything beforehand, so I’m left there in the front with no one at the wheel. To be honest, I have a lot of dreams like this. I finally muster up the courage to kiss a girl, it ends up she feels the same way about me, and for the moment we are very happy, and then I wake up, depressed, knowing I’ll never be brave enough to do that in real life. So these dreams tend to make me very depressed, but one reason I’m telling you about this dream is afterwards, I didn’t wake up feeling depressed. I wasn’t elated or anything, but I wasn’t in a funk, either. Maybe because I feel there’s still hope for this one, I don’t know. All I know is that it happened that way, and because it happened that way it struck me differently. So now there’s no one at the wheel, she’s in the backseat, and of course I panic. I ask her, “What are you doing?” to which she replies “I don’t feel like driving anymore.” to which I say,

“But we’ll crash!” to which she says, “It’s ok. The car’s on cruise control.” which doesn’t really make sense to me, and whether it does actually make sense or not, I realize that if we don’t want to crash, I have to get to the wheel. But this is also the point it occurs to me that she stopped driving for another reason, one she didn’t want to make clear, but one she hoped I’d recognize, too. This is the point that the dream also takes a turn that my other dreams never take, because my dreams never have asked me to make difficult decisions like this one. The most major decision dreams like this ask from me is to make the first move. Come to think of it, there is probably more to why I wanted to write this all out and tell you about it, because, on further reflection, the whole thing was much more complicated than I thought it was. Anyway, at this point I look at the wheel, and then I look at her, splayed out all over the place, and I ask her if she’s sure, and she says she is, and I decide I am too, so I turn around and close in on her, and I let the car go, which is also about the time that I wake up.

Tiffany Cheng

Ways I Could Be Living The pool chairs at the motel he stayed were never occupied, neither normally was the pool, he found himself most days by himself with his laptop and no moving distractions to inflict any bother. He’d spend most of the day there. Like any other person he sometimes had to stand up and stretch to maintain his sanity, go to the bathroom or get a soda from the vending machine, but then afterwards he was back by the pool, protected by the surrounding sounds, his earbuds snug in their canals. Sometimes the manager stopped by to skim something out of the water and that was never a problem because he never really bothered him. He was Mediterranean looking with a black spread of shiny curly hair. If they made eye contact they’d exchange friendly smiles, sometimes he’d pull out his earbuds to say “Hello” out loud. They only actually talked once. “What do you do out here?” “Write.” “You’re a writer? What do you write?” “Fiction, mostly.” “Have you been published?” “No.” “Are you looking to be published.” “Yeah.” “Well,” the manager said while pulling the skimmer out, “from what I can tell you’re good at working hard. I hope to see you in a bookstore.” “Thanks. God willing.” If children or a family, if any actual patrons came out, he usually got up and the day was shot. Around 5 or so he got up from beside the pool and walked back to his room and put his laptop in a briefcase, locked it, slid it under the bed, and walked into town for something to eat. He didn’t bring his food back to his room but he spent no more than fifteen minutes at the diner. There was a good Mexican place that made very large burritos, and if he got one he ate half of it there and brought the other half back to his room and put it into his tiny wood paneled fridge. He sat in front of his bed, took out his phone and called his parents. “Hey, mom. How’s it going?… Oh, it’s alright out here….Nope, still no luck. I mean, I’d take a job at a food place or something if I didn’t think it would get in the way of finding a real job, but… yeah, exactly. If I’m going to do this, I’m doing it right, you know?… It’s nice here. I haven’t made any friends yet, really… I will, I’m sure, don’t worry… yeah… I know… I’m not coming back… I have about four hundred left, so I’m doing ok… really?… how much?” he walked over to the mirror and watched himself talk. “Well, thanks, mom, I really appreciate it. I really do…” he paced back and forth in front of the mirror and watched himself talk. “…Yeah, I don’t think I’m going out tonight. Might just stay in and get some reading or writing done, you know?…. Uh huh… mm… I know that. And I already told you--… well, I’m telling you again… Ok?… ok… I’ll talk to you later, mom, love you…” He hung up. He stood still, in front of his bed, and took a long stretch and sighed loudly, it almost sounded like a grunt. Then he took out his bottle of whiskey from under the bed and poured some of it into a paper cup with some water and took out his copy of War and Peace he owned for years but only started to read now and sat without taking his shoes off, his legs stretched on the bed, his back propped up and supported by pillows on the headrest, and read for two hours when he was too drunk to understand what he was reading. He tossed the book onto the floor. It made a loud thud. He kicked off his two shoes and they spun out onto the floor, too. He kicked the sheets underneath him and bunched them up. He took his socks off, bunched them up, and threw them hard at the mirror. “It’s just you and me, pal,” he said to the mirror, and then he took his not so empty cup of whiskey and water and threw that onto the floor, too. It was a quiet motel because it was in such a quaint and quiet city. The hallways were dampened and jaundiced with light. He walked with heavy feet and short jerky steps. 700 words today, he thought to himself. That’s not bad. It should be finished by tomorrow, which begs the question… he looked down and realized he was barefoot and turned back around. A love story? A play? There was the 9/11 one, that could be good. A short one? I guess it’d have to be. Unless we jumped to the past, learned their life stories. Or if we just stretched over three different

parts. How long did that all take? No more than an hour, I’m guessing, I can’t be too sure though. Well I’ll start that then. Maybe even start it tomorrow. If I get the short story finished quickly enough… When he went back into his room he discovered he had left the lights on, so he turned them off, but then he remembered why he came back and turned the lights back on. His bottle of whiskey was on the dresser in front of the mirror and his shoes rested nearby. He picked up his shoes, put them on the dresser, and grabbed the bottle and took a swig from the bottle and watched himself in the mirror. “Salud” he said out loud. Then he took his shoes and sat on the bed and put them on. The manager was behind the desk in the lobby, reading a book. He looked up when he walked in. “Out again?” “Yeah. You should come with.” “I can’t. I have to stay here.” “We can find some girls.” “I have a wife.” “Bring her, and the two of you can watch me get girls.” “Maybe another night.” “I hope so.” He paused. “Are you by any chance looking for help?” The manager became serious. “Are you interested?” “I might be. I could pick up some evening shifts for you, and you and your wife could go out.” “That might not be such a bad idea.” He grew excited. “Would you maybe pay me with room and board? I would do it for just that.” The manager thought about it some more. “Maybe. That might work out for all of us. And you’d be free to read and write on the job.” “What would the job entail?” “Not a lot. Checking people in and out. Cleaning the place every once in a while.” “Well, we’ll talk about it tomorrow then, maybe? Tomorrow morning or afternoon.” “Sure.” “Great. I really think this might be a great idea. But now I gotta get going. Will you still be here when I’m back?” “When do you plan on getting back?” “Not too late. Three the latest, I think.” The manager smiled. “I’ll be here.” “Would you like me to bring you back anything? Maybe some food?” “Tell you what,” said the manager. “When you’re heading back, you just give the motel a call, and I’ll let you know if I’m hungry.” “Ok. See you later.” “Have a good night.” He walked outside and stuck in his earbuds and waited for the bus. He would’ve walked if he wasn’t already drunk, a 20 minute walk did not sound all too appealing. He was listening to doo wop. There was a joke a friend had told him a few years ago that he thought about almost everyday. I hear plenty of wops, but where’s the doo? The bus pulled up. It was filled with unremarkable adults and one little kid who belonged to another unremarkable adult. The kid was coffee skinned and wore a pink dress and her hair had two braids. She was singing Old Macdonald. He turned off his music and listened but kept his earbuds in. “And on this farm he had a duck… “And on this farm he had a cow… “And on this farm he had a- he had a-…” She stopped. She hadn’t expected to stop. Her mother helped. “What else is on a farm?” “Uh… a…” “What about chickens?” “No!” “Chickens aren’t on a farm?” “No! I don’t like chickens.”

“How about a horse?” The little girl shook her head and put her arms up on top of her head. “Well? What else, then?” The little girl’s arms fell back down and she sat forward and exclaimed “A giraffe!” “A giraffe?” asked her mother incredulously. “Yeah.” “I’ve never heard of a farm with a giraffe.” “I like giraffes,” the little girl explained. “Still, I’ve never heard of it.” “Well I like giraffes.” The mother shrugged. “Alright then.” The girl forgot she was supposed to sing. Her mother reminded her. “Old Mac-Donald had a farm! Ee-i ee-i o! And on that farm he had a giraffe! Ee-i ee-i o! With a…” she hesitated. “With a giraffe-raff here, anda giraffe-raff there, here a raff, there a raff, everywhere a raff-raff!” she slowed down for the finale “Old Macdonald had a farm! Ee! I! Ee! I! Ohhhhh!” He put his music back on. At the bar were two men and a lady. On tv was a baseball game. He sat at the other side of the bar and ordered a beer. The three adults on the other side were boisterous, they were laughing a lot. One of the men seemed to be the big joke maker. The other two listened and laughed. The bartender said hello. “How’s the writing going?” “Not bad.” “Have you been published anywhere yet?” “No, not yet.” “Don’t worry about it. You’ll get somewhere soon.” “I know.” “How old are you?” “Twenty-one.” The bartender made a face. “I’ve never heard of a twenty-one year old writer. That sounds impressive.” “Let’s hope so.” “You should write a book,” the bartender advised. “I’ve been considering writing a book. I have an idea.” “You could write a book and they’d make a movie out of it. That’s what seems to happen to books nowadays. You’d be rich.” “That’d be nice.” “And you’d mention me in your first book?” “I don’t see why not. Especially if I start a book because you told me to.” “It’s only fair.” “Yeah.” “You should do it.” “I’d have to do some research.” “What’s the idea?” “I don’t really want to say. It’s kind of inappropriate. I think when I write it it won’t come off as inappropriate, but as an intangible idea it sounds kind of inappropriate.” “I’ll have to read it, then.” “If I do it, I will gladly pass you a copy.” “Good. And you‘ll mention me.” “Of course. I’ll make sure there’s a bartender in the book, and when you read the book you’ll know it’s you.” One of the men at the other side was looking over to the bartender. It was obvious he was trying not to interrupt. The bartender took his tip off the bar and put it into a jar up on the liquor shelf. “Why don’t you put something on the jukebox?” He put on some Motown, Creedence, Barry White, and the Who in that order. He wasn’t in a

very eager drinking mood. That would come tomorrow, when he finished his story. He hoped there would be more people out then. Creedence came on, and the one who wasn’t making all the jokes started singing along. He didn’t like to look, but when he glanced quickly the man singing was behind the other man and woman with his arms around their shoulders. The woman kept repeating “You’re ridiculous, Lloyd” but Lloyd didn’t mind. He had made a promise to the bartender, and now he knew how he had to do it. There’d e a bartender alright but he’d be a big douche bag who wore a collared shirt with nothing underneath and served Red Bull and Vodkas all night, and when the protagonist went talk to him about the shitty music playing in the club the bartender would misunderstand him and nod his head enthusiastically and say Yeah, we do the play the hottest music, it’s sick. The Barry White was more incongruous than he expected. Lloyd and his two friends got up from the bar and started dancing. The woman, a lady whose age was starting to affect her, her crow’s feet, the parentheses around her smile, her fading chin, switched partners over and over. Lloyd and his friend spun her around and pulled her into their arms, and they all laughed tremendously. The bartender looked at over at him and said, “Good call” and he grinned. The Who came on. The three of them stopped dancing and stood there and switched between singing and talking. Then not-Lloyd shouted out, “Who’s putting this gold on?” and the young man turned around in his stool and lifted his drink up and smiled. Lloyd started walking towards him. While he walked towards him he clapped and said “You!” over and over. He gripped the young man by the shoulders. “You!” Lloyd said again. “You!” The young man laughed. “You got good taste in music! You know that?” “Hey, thanks.” Lloyd wrapped his arms around his shoulders and presented the young man to his two friends. “Does he got the best taste in music or what?” The young man blushed. “Oh, stop it.” The woman and not Lloyd walked over. They were both trying to talk to the young man at the same time and tell him how much they appreciated the music he put on the jukebox. The young man blushed and smiled and nodded. “Let me buy you a drink,” said Lloyd. “What do you drink.” “That all depends on what you drink.” Lloyd gave him a little shake. “Ah, you’re a good kid! How do you like vodka?” “I like vodka.” There was no need to motion the bartender. He was standing right next to them. Lloyd ordered the remaining bottle of vodka from the liquor shelf. Not Lloyd and the lady began to protest. “Lloyd, who do you think you’re drinking with?” “You’re gonna get him sick, Lloyd.” “Aw, he’ll be fine. He looks like a drinker, doesn’t he?” He looked at the young man. “You’re a drinker, right?” “Yeah.” “Well, you ever drink vodka straight out the bottle?” “Yeah.” “I knew it! And you know that -- after having drunk vodka out of a bottle -- that that’s the best way to drink it, right?” “God bless you, Lloyd.” Lloyd took a pull and passed it to the young man. The young man took an even deeper pull and passed it back. The young man started talking. “I think I heard your name before. Lloyd, right?” Lloyd nodded. “Well I’m You Twenty Years Ago.” Lloyd made a face. “That’s quite a name.” “Just call me I’m.” “Will do.” “Well, anyway, Lloyd, I was wondering if you’d like to try something I do when I drink with

my friends, but I don’t want you to think that I think I know more than you, I don’t want you to think I’m being condescending to an elder, so you interrupt me if you know about this. Have you ever heard of a shot circle?” “I have not, but I have a feeling I know where this is going.” Not Lloyd and the lady were listening too. I’m looked over to them. “You got me,” said Not Lloyd. “Alright,” started I’m, “I don’t know if I’d normally do this but I’m in a good mood tonight, I might have just figured out a way to keep living on my own for free tonight and your generosity has really put me in a mood, so I’m going to suggest we do a little shot circle. It’s a very simple game. Do you have shot glasses for us?” I’m asked the bartender. The bartender brought out four of them. “What about you?” The bartender shrugged. “Alright,” and brought out a fifth. I’m took the bottle. “Now this is a very simple game. We’ll have one cup of water. The chaser cup. We all fill our shot glasses with vodka. One of us takes the chaser, takes the shot, chases, and passes the chaser. The next person takes a shot, chases, and passes. Chase, shot, pass. While some of us are taking shots and chasing, the rest of us are refilling our shot glasses, and we keep going, until either we run out of booze or you choose to stop.” “What happens if you stop?” asked the lady. “Nothing. You stop whenever you feel like it. You start again whenever you feel like it.” “What’s the point of this game?” again asked the lady. I’m shrugged. “To get wasted, I guess.” The lady looked bothered. “Idunno if I can play this game.” “That’s fine. This game isn’t supposed to make anyone feel pressured. You can take no shots, you can take two shots, you can take twenty, whatever you feel comfortable with. What do you guys think?” Lloyd laughed. “This can only end badly, but I think it could be fun, too.” Not Lloyd was in too. The bartender was in. He hadn’t drank all night. “If I have an upper hand, I might as well.” The bartender locked the door to the bar and they all took a seat at one of the round tables by the jukebox with a pitcher of water a glass of water their shot glasses and the bottle of vodka standing alone in the center. The bartender looked at I’m. “Put something on.” “I’ll put on the Rolling Stones. Would someone please fill my glass?” “Sure.” He put on an entire Stones album. He also put on Unchained Melody to play when the album ended, but he didn’t mention that to anyone. He sat down. “Everyone ready?” “Yeah,” said Not Lloyd. He passed him the chaser. “You start.” I’m You Twenty Years Ago lifted his shot. “Cheers, everyone.” They took turns throwing up in the bathroom. Lloyd would go in and vomit, then Not Lloyd went in and vomited, then the bartender, and then I’m. Angela, the lady, was the only one who didn’t get sick. She only took two shots. When the vodka bottle was emptied they convinced the bartender to bring out a bottle of schnapps that hadn’t been touched in almost a year. They got halfway through that bottle when Lloyd grew sullen. “Not feeling too good, Lloyd?” asked Angelo, Not Lloyd. Lloyd shook his head. “Go puke, we’ll have a shot waiting for you.” Lloyd went to the bathroom and the other three continued taking shots. Angela looked piqued. Angelo put his hand on her shoulder. “Hey! Cheer up!” Angela kept her lips pursed tight. “You’re all acting like you’re in high school.” “Oh, come on, Angela, we’re all having a great time,” offered I’m. “Aren’t we?”

Angelo and the bartender nodded and lifted their glasses in salute. Then Unchained Melody came on, and Lloyd burst out of the bathroom, singing along. Before then they got to know each other better. They learned that I’m was a writer, and the bartender grew up in a house not just down the block, and that Lloyd, Angelo, and Angela were in town for a wedding, and Angelo and Angela were dating. Lloyd had never been married but Angelo and Angela had -- to other people, not each other -- and they had met online. Lloyd and Angelo were old friends. And it was one of their friends who was getting married. The bartender admitted he had never wanted anything out of life other than have a place of his own and a secure source of income. I’m admitted that he wanted to be famous and hoped writing would allow him to not do a 9 to 5 for the rest of his life. Lloyd played guitar for a classic rock band back in his hometown and asked I’m what the kids were listening to, and I’m admitted that was a tough question. Angelo asked what I’m wrote about, and I’m admitted that they wouldn’t like what he wrote about, and the bartender agreed, explaining that I’m once told him what he generally wrote about. And then, as already noted, Lloyd was the first to vomit. Then Angelo. Then I’m, and then the bartender. After they vomited they did two more rounds before they decided to end it. At one point Angelo tried to stand up and he just fell backwards onto the ground, and they all spent a long time laughing at him while he stayed on the ground, tears rolling down his cheeks. It was 3 AM when they called it a night. Lloyd gave I’m twenty dollars for a cab ride back to the motel. I’m thanked him, and they all shook hands and embraced and told each other how glad they were to have run into each other. I’m struggled to stay awake on the ride back. He remembered he was supposed to call the manager but decided against it since he wanted to get back to his room as soon as possible. He paid the cabbie and walked into the empty lobby. The manager had moved from behind the desk to the plush chair guests normally sat in. He was reading a book and listening to classical music. “How was your night?” asked the manager. I’m smiled wearily. “It was good. I met some great people. Sorry I never gave you a call, I just wanted to get back, it was a very long night.” “No problem. I understand.” “Well, I’m going to bed.” “Alright.” “We’ll talk about the position tomorrow, maybe?” “Sure.” “Great. Good night.” “Good night.” He hobbled to his room and rubbed his shoulder against the wall as he walked and then he found his room unlocked the door and barged in, but not before remembering to close and lock the door behind him. He turned on a light and stood in front of the mirror. He slapped himself in the face. He did it a few times, and each time he slapped himself harder. Then he put his index finger in his mouth and bit down hard but didn’t break skin. Then he closed his eyes and saw her face and moaned and started to cry, and he stumbled over to the bed and fell asleep atop the covers.

Book 2 of 5. All stories about love and relationships written by Thomas Simmons. Portrait by Noah Britton. Drawings by self-explanatory. For contact, please email

Book 2 - "Chuck Klosterman"  

This is the second book of short stories I self-published in January 2010

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