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sparkle + blink 47
© 2013 Quiet Lightning ISBN 978-1-304-62873-2 artwork © Jovi Schnell jovischnell.com “The Big Wind” by Tom Joyce first published in Field Report book design by j. brandon loberg set in Absara Promotional rights only. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission from individual authors. The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the internet or any other means without the permission of the author(s) is illegal. Your support is crucial and appreciated.

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CONTENTS
curated by

Meghan Thornton & Ian Tuttle
featured artist Jovi

Schnell

AMANDA CONRAN

Cuckoo Land

1 9 17 23 25

KEENAN NORRIS Gone JENNIFER WILLIAMS SARAH CARPENTER TOM JOYCE CASSANDRA DALLETT

Amanda as a Beautiful Woman Lookin’ Good The Big Wind

Outside El Gato Negro Pool Hall 33 Highlander 35
MONETA GOLDSMITH

ADAM MOSKOWITZ CARSON BEKER TANYA EGAN GIBSON PETER BULLEN CYN CADY

Another Spontaneous Act of Education Regarding Booksellers 37 Bob Ross A Love Supreme excerpt from These Hidden Seas Hearth and Home from See Bob Jones Down at Valley Gas & Tow Why I Give a Shit The Last Word 39 47 55 61 65 69 73

CASSANDRA DALLETT SARA BERKELEY

E T L IG I U Q

HTNING IS SPONSORED

BY

lagunitas.com

QUIET LIGHTNING
A 501(c)3, the primary objective and purpose of Quiet Lightning is to foster a community based on literary expression and to provide an arena for said expression. QL produces a monthly, submission-based reading series on the first Monday of every month, of which these books (sparkle + blink) are verbatim transcripts. Formed as a nonprofit in July 2011, the board of QL is currently: Evan Karp founder + president Chris Cole managing director Josey Lee public relations Meghan Thornton treasurer Kristen Kramer chair S.B. Stokes director of volunteers Sarah Ciston director of books Jacqueline Norheim art director Sarah Maria Griffin and Ceri Bevan directors of special operations If you live in the Bay Area and are interested in helping—on any level—please send us a line: ev an @ quiet light ning . org

QUIET LIGHTNING

TOUR THROUGH TOWN
In 2013, Quiet Lightning teamed up with a different literary organization each month in order to bring together the many outstanding series and organizations of the Bay Area literary world, and to introduce its various audience members to programming they might like but not yet know about. For these reasons, we created custom-designed shows that combined the defining features of Quiet Lightning with those of each month’s partner organization. This month’s collaboration with Pints & Prose is the thirteenth and final show of our Tour and our four-year anniversary show. Curators Meghan Thornton and Ian Tuttle composed a literary mixtape out of an open call for submissions, combined with work from the Tuesday Night Writers. QL took Chicken John’s bus to do the show at P&P’s home: Peri’s Bar in Fairfax.
For details on the TOUR T H R OU GH T OWN visit our website:

QUIETLIGHTNING.ORG

- SET 1 -

AM

AAAAAAAAAAA

CUCKOO LAND
It’s half past twelve at night, and Grandpa and I are still waiting to see a doctor. We sit in the emergency room of the Veterans’ Hospital, the VA Grandpa calls it, in a little cubicle the nurse made by pulling curtains around us. Grandpa’s on a bed. I’m on a grey chair in my black Ninja-dude PJs and a coat. When I lean back the whole chair buckles, and I pretend like the plastic is melting behind me. The curtains are made of white slimy material. They billow when the staff run by, which is a lot, by the way. “Should’ve picked a quieter night to throw myself down the steps,” Grandpa says with a wink. He cradles his hurt wrist in an ice pack like it’s a baby. “Won’t be long now, Grandpa,” I say, but I’m not sure I’m right. There’s a whole load of shouting going on down the corridor. I hear things crashing to the floor. People are running. Someone’s screaming for medicines. “We can’t get near him,” a woman cries. Two policemen sprint past the cubicle, shoes squeaking on the floor. The curtains billow right
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open, and I see their uniforms. Then, over the top of the noise, a man yells one word loud like a battle cry, “Cuckooland!” At least that’s what it sounds like from where I’m sitting. He holds onto the last bit for a real long time, his voice growly like a lion’s. “Cuckoolaaaaand!” There’s silence. I imagine the doctors standing with their mouths open, stuck to the spot, their brains going double speed, bodies not moving. Like when Mom catches me stealing from the snack cupboard. Then everyone’s yelling again, and the guy keeps shouting, “Cuckoolaaaand!” The woman at the reception desk laughs and says, “You’ve got that right, Honey. It sure is round here.” “Can you hear that Grandpa?” I say. Grandpa shakes his head and laughs. “Heh, heh, heh,” he goes, “gotta love the VA, Mikey. Gotta love it. Heh heh heh.” It’s the same laugh he always has on poker night when he’s drunk a few beers. “Still, I should’ve just left it ‘til morning, Mikey Boy, but I couldn’t.” His whole face crinkles into a smile like a wrung out brown dishcloth, “Heh, heh, heh.” His shiny metal prosthetic leg sticks out from his left pants’ leg. On his right leg, his pants are rolled up, and there’s a big gash down his blotchy old shin. All the blood’s gone
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hard and black. “Doesn’t matter Grandpa,” I say. “They’ll fix you up. They always do.” “Cuckcoolaaand!” the man yells again, and I can’t wait any longer. I’ve got to see what’s going on. “I’m gonna go pee, Grandpa,” I say. “Sure Mikey. Be quick, and don’t talk to anyone.” I run out the curtains straight into Dr. Mariko Curtis, my friend Kyler’s mom. She works nights at the ER, just like my mom works nights at the old people’s home. “Whoa,” she goes, “Is that you Mikey? I thought so when I saw the intake. Your mom working tonight?” “Yeah, and Grandpa fell down the steps outside our house.” “Ah hah,” Mariko says. She puts her head through the gap in the curtains. “Hey Marty, how you doing? I’ll be with you in a second, but we’ve got something really crazy going on right now.” She gives Grandpa a good look and then nods to let me know he can wait a little longer and still be OK. “Did you hit your head Marty, when you fell?” “No.” Grandpa holds up his wrist. “Saved myself with my wrist and grazed my leg. That’s all. Probably
A M aNDa CONRaN

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shouldn’t be bothering you, but the boy wanted to come. “He did right,” Mariko says, but in a small voice like she knows Mom’ll be furious that I walked Grandpa up to the emergency room at night. ‘It’s just up the street,’ I’ll say, and Mom’ll say, ‘That’s not the point. If there’s something wrong call the ambulance. The VA Emergency Room is no place for a kid,’ she’ll say, but I think it’s great. We come here all the time for Grandpa’s physicals and when his false leg stops working properly. “Someone threw a plastic bag full of dog poop into our front yard.” I tell Mariko. Grandpa saw it as he waved off his buddies.” “Dog owners,” Grandpa grumbles. “Why can’t they take it home like they’re supposed to?” “He went to get it and lost his balance down the steps,” I say. “Poker night?” Mariko asks. “Always lose my balance on poker night,” Grandpa says. “Heh, heh heh.” Mariko raises her eyebrows at me. “And what were you doing, Mikey, during poker night?”

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“I serve the beers. That’s my job, isn’t it Grandpa?” I say. “And the old guys tell me war stories.” Mariko makes a face. She knows what Mom thinks about that. Then there’s a whole load more shouting. “You can’t do that, Sir.” “Don’t pull those out, Sir!” When Mariko runs off, I follow down the corridor to a room on the left, and whoa, how cool is this? There’s a guy, a really huge guy in camouflage pants and a dirty shirt, standing on one of those big metal beds on wheels with his legs stretched out and bent like a sumo wrestler. He shakes his fists in the air, flexes his biceps, fixes everyone in the room with a stare and yells, “Cuckooland,” over and over again. Seriously, we may be in California, but this guy looks like a Viking. That’s my first thought. He’s got fierce, icy-blue eyes and wild ginger hair that sticks out in frizzy clumps. His lip is hidden by a prickly red mustache, and his chin is covered with a bright red beard. His eyebrows are thick and bushy, and he knits them together while he shouts. The inside of his mouth is a blood red ‘O.’ He stinks too, like the laundry when Grandpa forgets to empty the machine. I stick my head through the door to watch. No one pays any attention to me. Two security guards, a
A M aNDa CONRaN

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doctor, and two nurses are standing round the bed like a bunch of outfielders. “Stay calm, Sir.” “Just get off the bed, now.” “We gotta get him down,” Mariko shouts. The other doctor goes for him with a syringe. The security guards make a grab for his arms, but he kicks out. One gets a boot in the side of his head. “Ooof,” he cries as he falls to his knees. “Cuckoolaaaand!” the man yells and rips off his shirt. And I don’t mean taking his arms out of his sleeves one at a time. He can’t because he’s got IV lines in his wrists. No, I mean he just rips the front off with his bare hands and throws it across the room. A male nurse gets hit in the face. The doctor’s saying, “Not the IV, Sir. Not the IV,” as the man rips at the tape on his arms. He roars, and the first IV line is out. All the machines start beeping. Then he pulls on the other, and alarms go off. There’s blood spurting from a transfusion hose all over the walls. This is the most exciting thing I’ve ever seen. Blood is going everywhere. This guy is in real good shape. His chest is solid with muscles, and his skin is covered in blue tattoos: long, thin animals turning in and out of themselves like
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knots. He’s a walking graffiti wall. Around his neck he wears a twisted metal necklace, thick as a rope. One of the security guards says, “Marine?” The other says, “Loco Marine.” They might think that, but I’m thinking this guy’s a warrior. He’s a Celt and this guy’s the best type of Celt: a berserker. One of those guys that rips off their clothes in battle and fights totally butt-naked, so mad on war and glory that no one can stop them. They were the most feared of warriors. They were the best, and I’m watching a Celtic berserker, right here, right now. I can’t wait to tell Kyler tomorrow.

A M aNDa CONRaN

7

KKK

KKKKKKKKKK

G O NE
“They did him dirty,” his gramps proclaimed, remembering his own dad, who was his son’s granddad and Touissant’s great-granddad, who had been dead the boy had no idea how long. “They did him dirty,” he intoned again. “He was a criminal, how you expect he get done?” granny’s gummy voice rose up in tired opposition. Touissant had heard the story once for every Christmas in his life; how many times had she heard it? Hundreds, probably. She might even know its words by heart. “They did him dirty: just ‘cause he wadn’t tryin to fight in no World War they made like he hated his government ‘n chased him across the South to put him on the chain gang. It didn’t have nothin to do with no government, it had to do with he wadn’t tryin to die in Timbuktu. So one day he woke his woman up, said, ‘Love, this is one man won’t take it lyin down. You keep still now, get yo rest. Don’t fret over me now. I’m free ‘n plannin to stay that way.’ Then he left. “He left his life in Lousiana, never looked back:
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if he had, all he’d ‘a seen would been them dogs ‘n federal agents on his tail. He told me how he evaded them slave catchers, ‘cause that’s what they called ‘em, slave catchers, by hookin on with these travel crews, then have hisself the time ‘a his fugitive life. Ain’t matter, white, black or green, them crews courted his services ‘cause too many they boys was gone overseas ‘n not enough was comin back. So he’d get a train ticket for work in the next county, freight over there wit whatever work-crew, then sell the ticket for somethin ‘n get a new one so’s to keep hustlin. Always snuck away first chance he got—them chasers on his tail. Seen the whole entire South that way. Womens e’rywhere, he tol’ me. So many husbands, boyfriends, lovers gone, they womens was lonely onto restlessness. “So one night he was stopped in South Carolina, had got down to business with this beau-ti-ful bird, ‘n right while he’s obligin her, his ears commences to hearin this rustle-noise outside the house. Gets to thinkin it’s them dogs ‘n federal agents: he disengages from her, jumps out the bed, jumps out the window two-three stories down, ‘n what do you know, on the backside ‘a that broad’s house she been tendin her a graveyard! Her old man must had been a coffin-maker ‘cause there’s all these empty coffins just a-sittin out brand new, all ‘n whatnot. So he scared as hell, you gotta understand: he jumps hisself down in one ‘a these coffins, closes the lid, ‘cause, what’d he always tell me, Ain’t no James Hellens Freeman dyin in no
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Si-beria, or wherever it was they fought that mother. “So he waits out the night, falls asleep in that coffin, ‘n when he wake up it’s darkness on all sides. But he knowin it gots to be light outside. Then he remembers the girl. He wonders what it is she do wit the coffins. He tries to open the thing but he cain’t, it ain’t openin near as easy as it closed. So he starts to flustration. It’s bad times now. He feels hisself gettin borne up ‘n there’s voices, man-voices talkin ‘n hollerin away, ‘n after a while they commences to singin them ol’ field songs. He thinks, they done took me back to slave times, oh Death. But then he gets a-hold ‘a his brain, realizes that he bein borne along by the chain gang. He can hear they chains a-rattlin, he can hear they voices a-singin, ‘n he can feel where it is he headed. So he musters all his strength, ‘n he wadn’t no small man, ‘n straight pushes that coffintop clean off. Breaks it off like it were a feather or somethin. Now he in the open air ‘n the mens jus’ lookin at him like he Christ returned: don’t nobody touch him, not even the authorities. He jus’ walk off nice as you please. He come back, finds the girl whose daddy had had him such a lucrative venture, ‘n he tells her how he done lived through death. She laughs at his story, tells him the real news: e’rybody who was still alive had lived through the end-time, the Great War was over, it was safe to come out into the light again. So then he proposed to her, fell to his knees.” “And then he divorced her. Moved on some more
KE E N aN NORRI S

11

and finally married your great granny,” granny said; she nodded at Touissant and at his sisters and added, “Your gramps a storyteller, he know what to put in, what not to put in. But me, I done forgot my manners.” “How did you forget your manners, granny?” Kia asked. “Got old and got smart,” granny said. “Isn’t gramps older than you?” Dea wondered, in her delicate voice. “Yes and no,” granny said, “Yes and no.” “Why yes?” Kia asked. She twisted her beatific face into an expression of sheer beatific puzzlement. “Because he was born in ‘27 whereas I’s born in ‘32,” granny answered with thinning patience. “Why no?” the twins asked in one voice. “Because he ain’t made use of the head-start God given him.” She closed her eyes halfway and leaned back in her chair: “Don’t try to reason it out.” Her half-closed eyes were big and warm and sad, and golden-brown in the golden half-light. The skin around those eyes was worn and wrinkled, as if God had composed her face from old brown-paper bags or something else just as absurd. The twins counted the decades and the
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years on their hands and both girls came to the silent conclusion that their granny shouldn’t look so old at fifty-seven. Touissant saw none of this. He was such a quiet, to-himself child that he could come and go and people would rarely notice his presence or absence. They only became aware when they wanted him for something. Since he was only six years old himself they only wanted him around to give him gifts and since poor people could only give each other so many gifts their awareness of him fluctuated with their income. He drifted in and out of the lives of his grandparents and aunts and uncles, and even his sisters, without much notice: they hardly knew him, not that there was much to know just yet, and he hardly knew them. He knew these people like the fogged and sporadically lighted ghosts of a highly intense and dazzling dream: they spoke fast and elaborate, retelling tales too old for him to comprehend; they sang and danced and showedout; and they gave him what they had, their money, their food, their love. It was a good relationship: he loved them back in the uncritical way that we love people when we’re young and the world is given to us, before we grow up and look reflexively backward and measure our memories against our scars. So he didn’t see the wrinkles around his granny’s eyes, he didn’t hear the weariness in her voice. Instead, he explored the house: its construction was that of a
KE E N aN NORRI S

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wooden snake, its head wide and crowded, its body a tortuous little tunnel of smaller pores and cuticles open and closed, locked and unlocked: these rooms were the site of his exploration. Some rooms were too uninviting even for his curious mind. A makeshift tool shed that he was afraid to step into for fear that he would bump into something and his gramps’s vast store of tools and supplies would come raining down on his little forehead—aside from the physical pain, how would he explain it when they heard the crash and came running? There was a room across the way from the tool shed that was equally ominous, though he chanced entrance here: the room had no lights so far as he could see and he had to stumble around inside it to find its treasures. Old dismantled rifles, a baseball bat with an incomprehensible signature scrawled across it, black mote-crusted books that looked too ugly to open; magazines with naked women splayed in indecorous postures. Then, the grandparents’ room: a low bed and bedstand; a picture above the bedstand of them looking fine on their wedding day; a stained and tattered Bible opened to its first page where birth and death dates of Freemans unfamiliar to his eyes were scrawled one after the next, 1829-1857, 18631900, and so on. But the names were foreign to him. He felt that the dates meant more than the numbers and names that composed them, that the numbers and names were the vestiges of some older truth unknowable to him.
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And there were more rooms, stretching off in seemingly endless succession. It was as if the house had been built up into the sky or down into the earth because looking at it from the outside there was absolutely no way that such a modest little place could accommodate so many rooms. And behind all the rooms, back at the very end of the snaking house, there stood a screen door and then the backyard. In the nights, the backyard looked haunted, the leaves of its trees over-wrapping it, branches splaying out like arms and hands to block the vision, grass grown high and wild to strangle strides. There were animals living in that wild garden whose night sounds he could hear, sounds like songs, a singing that emanated out, an anguished music. His senses throbbed with it. He wanted to know what this night music concealed behind its dark veil. He reached up and began to unlatch the door. Unoiled, the knob gave out a metallic creak as he turned it. Then he heard his mother calling for him: “Touissant. Touissant! Touissant!” Her voice was an unwanted sunshine blinding him from premonition. He let go of the door handle and headed back to the head of the house.

KE E N aN NORRI S

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JJJ

JJFJ

JJJJJJJJ

JJ

AS A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN
The house, quiet. Quiet with the stillness of Uncle working, of everything in its right place. The air heavy, crowded with where it was easily and inevitably stirred by small movements, pressures, passing feet circling the table saw. Even the buzzing, Uncle sawing wood, his hands always dusted with sawdust—stilled the house, brought its pieces together neatly like placed bricks. Uncle handled the wood surely, as if it were clay, the stuff melted and grew soft in his hands, sunk into possibilities. Forms rose from the planks in unbelievable dimensions and shapes. I chewed a muffin and watched him. The sawdust tickled my nose, landed high in my nostrils and dried the spit from my mouth. I guarded my muffin from the air with one hand. I watched Uncle stare all of his knowledge into one thick frayed piece of wood at a time, searching for those hidden shapes he would dig out of them—long stirring spoons for soup, miniature bowls for pinching salt out of, funny lumpy dogs standing guard at the front porch, twisted and brought out of the knotted, curled wood, wood that most anyone else would find unsuitable for any sort of beautiful shape, and Uncle curled
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AMANDA

those beautiful shapes carefully out of the wood. The trees saw Uncle do this. The trees could see Uncle and all of us do everything, they were so tall and there were so many of them. And the trees tilted their heads unhappy, shifting side to side in the wind, growling that Uncle had used his human hands to pull and tease the beauty out of the wood that the trees themselves had abandoned and let go ugly with rot and knotted backs. My mother too had let me go ugly, watched me grow the extra skin in the necessary parts, watched me shoot in growths from those stations of myself, where my extra skin was stored away. Watched my ears flap through my hair and my teeth sink in low over my lips, my hair gather grease moments after any bath. My mother was beautiful and I learned she was not planning to share any with me. With Amanda and Margaret, I saw beauty was something passed around between people. Something that moved from men to women, or between women (in that case always a kind of stealing or, on the other end, a giving up) but never between men. They held their own currency that, like bricks of gold melted into singular mounds, could not be traded or translated into something else. So I was careful around Amanda. I didn’t want her to think I was there to steal her beauty, that beauty given up by her mother, who now sat through afternoons frozen in Uncle’s living room. I only
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wanted to see how she handled that beauty, like Uncle handling wood easy as dough. Often I kneeled at the foot of the bed, resting my arms and chin on the white bedspread, and waited for Amanda to feel safe showing her beauty to me. She combed her hair. She combed her hair, and a shine slowly woke from it. Her hair glowed in that bedroom, flashed brightly under the teeth of the comb, waking after years of sleep on another woman’s head, in another woman’s skin. And finally, who knows if it was minutes or hours or days later, but Amanda turned to me. Amanda turned to me and held the comb out to me. I was not invited on the bed, but she held the comb out and I moved, taking steps with my knees against the hardwood floor, then finally squatting on my ankles, back turned to her, nervous but that was hidden in the trusting ease of my back and shoulders, and she combed my hair, and I kept my body still and closed. I couldn’t let any of her beauty seep in. Not that I didn’t want it. I did want it. But she would know, would feel that drop move from her like a great weight sinking to the bottom of the ocean, and she wouldn’t trust me anymore, and so I kept my eyes and my mouth closed, and I imagined my nose and ears and all my skin closed, too. And so Amanda learned to trust me, to share her comb with me because I was quiet and closed. I didn’t take or expect, I was heavy and unshifting as a rock. Nothing could be added, only taken away.
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The others, sitting in the living room, always turned towards her when she entered. They waited, not breathing, completely open and gaping and waiting to be shown that yes she had the beauty and yes it was alive and she was keeping it alive with her own blood, her own salt and sugar. She could not walk into the kitchen and use her hands, drink straight from the carton, leave the beauty behind, just be nothing for a moment, not seen by anyone. But it was some kind of role, some kind of currency, some kind of rent check that she had to peel an orange slowly and delicately with a knife, eating one section at a time, and always offering pieces to everyone present, never in her hand, always on a white plate, even if it was paper instead of porcelain, and wrinkled. Amanda opened a dresser drawer. Amanda let me pick out a sweater and then I couldn’t stop and I chose a skirt and blouse for myself, too, pointing each time and Amanda saying, Ooh, yes, you should try that one. Amanda braided my hair, too, and it was all pulled so tight my forehead was as smooth as marble. Then she grabbed a black pen and told me to look at the ceiling. She lifted my eyelid away and rubbed it with something soft, so much so that it felt like she was brushing the bottom of my gut instead of my eye and that was enough to make someone feel sick. My eyelid tried to kick itself out of Amanda’s hand and she used her thumb to pin it back down and dragged the makeup along like she was cutting open
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a bag of rice and finally let go. Grey tear water filled my right eye and it burned when I blinked but when I raised my hand to rub it Amanda stopped me. Don’t—you will mess it up. Now I’ll do the other one. Amanda finished and let go. I blinked wide-eyed and with my mouth foolishly open. My whole face felt hot and wet. Amanda told me I looked great, and she bent down to look me in the eyes like she was looking in a hole. She’s becoming a woman, they had said. Can’t you see she’s growing? Her hips, her legs. All softness bundled, melons of tissues layered. Looking at them, the packets of skin ready to go, to grow their parts as a woman, looking at them you could see what they would be next, like a parlor trick, like looking through her skin and through time. So seeing her body swollen we didn’t see her awkwardness, her disproportions, her heavy sag she had to walk funny until she knew how to hold herself—we saw her years ahead, sufficiently stretched, skin and fat having settled. The iron smell, wet, deep like wet dirt, lake water concentrated and spilling out from beneath us. The smell of rotting wood braided into wet, loose soil, of old water stuck in metal pipes, a toothbrush pink with gummy blood. Layers flattened into liquid holding all the years and all the land of a wet forest spreading itself.

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SS SS

SSSSSSSSSS

S

L O O KI N ’ G O O D
I love girls who wear only half their hair up. Maybe they ran out of bobby pins. Maybe they were responding to a specific sensation that only happened on one side of their heads, and pushed their pins right behind their ears, and toward their necks. Or, maybe they’ve found that their faces are not symmetrical, and out of curiosity (rather than vanity) have stared at themselves in mirrors placed at strange angles, long enough to decide that it’s more beautiful to reflect light into someone’s eyes more like a process than a picture. Cause girl, you’re not an image, you’re imagism. You know the relationships between light, time, my eye, and you. We’re in America, so lets start with your left side: This is the side your hair is up on. It’s my favorite side. We can see your neck is smooth, but it also makes your ear look sexy. Someone will fall in love with that lobe. And your temple looks tight, like maybe you read, like actually in black-and-white, read the news every morning, or go places where everyone has tight temples and such poise.
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It’s also your manly side, because when I can’t see your right side, your jaw looks strong and you could almost be a very pretty young boy. But when I see your right side, I can see you naked. I can see your hair slipping out of those bobby pins, you slipping out of your spaghetti straps, which are more like capellini straps, more like uncooked capellini straps, which snap and clatter on the floor with your bobby pins. I don’t want to fuck you, but when I see your right side, specifically after the streak of your jaw-lined left side, someone should come around and snap you out of your dress, prove that you’re not an image, that you can be penetrated.

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TOM JOYCE S

T H E BI G W IN D
Middle Egypt • 9 April 2002 It sweeps eastward across the Sahara each year in early April, assaults the green sugar cane and golden barley fields that hug the Blue Nile for dear life. It sandblasts the nut-brown farmers hitching ancient hand-held ploughs to the wooden yokes of their black oxen. It rattles the saber-edged fronds of yellow date palms as a blood red solar disk rises above the white limestone cliffs on the river’s eastern bank. It filters the dawn through amber gauze as we push south into the ochre village of Bani Suwayf. The Bedouin call it khamussin—“fifty days of wind.” My guide, Ashraf, gives it a whole different spin. “Americans are still afraid to come here,” the pudgy scholar with a trimmed black moustache and rimless spectacles has been leaning over the back of his seat for the last two hours, assaulting me with the relentless verbal fervor of an over-educated, underpaid civil servant. An Egyptologist at the University of Cairo, Ashraf is licensed by the Ministry of Tourism to lecture visitors into a somnambulant state. “They think they will get disease or be killed
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by terrorists—all Zionist propaganda. This is true fact.” I’m biting my tongue because I’ve heard this same tired litany echoing through the Arab streets from Madinah to Cairo—unsubstantiated rumor metastasizing into “true fact” legitimized by the bias that passes for journalism in Al-Ahram, an English edition newspaper that insists on labeling as “freedom fighters” Palestinian children who blow themselves up on cramped Israeli commuter buses. Our Renault van traverses a steel truss bridge at El-Minya, the epicenter of Islamic fundamentalism, and continues south past the red brick village of Oryx, where thousands of egg-shaped clay Coptic mortuary domes pock the sun-bleached landscape stretching to the eastern cliffs. “Look. I buy this belt made in Israel for export to Egypt.” He shows me his faux Gucci buckle. “Strong magnets are sewn into leather to keep closed, but I take out, and belt works still perfectly good.” Ashraf’s black eyebrows raise up to reveal eerily magnified eyes. “Scientists say these magnets cause a man’s parts to be sterile.” He pauses to let that dubious factoid sink in. “And there is chewing gum—made also in Israel for export to Arab countries only—with chemical to make young girls want to have crazy sex with men.” He raises an index finger like an imam pronouncing a fatwah. “This is scientific fact. You don’t believe?”
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Ashraf pleads with both hands. “Why they want to do this?” “Let me get this straight: first, the Zionists want to make you sterile, then they encourage young girls to have crazy sex with you? I’m not following this logic, Ashraf.” My guide erupts into righteous indignation. “If ever I catch my sister having crazy sex with man she’s not married, I don’t know…maybe I am so mad I kill her.” Ashraf looks away, disgusted by his sister’s hypothetical concupiscence. I’m distracted now by the blue Toyota pickup that has just swung in front of our vehicle carrying two young soldiers in black berets and fatigues, bananaclip assault rifles slung over their shoulders. Instead of watching us, the soldiers in the pick-up are joking about something, acting exactly like the teenagers they are. “You sound paranoid about Jews, Ashraf.” “Because Zionists want to destroy Arabs.” “And Arabs want to destroy them. So, where does it stop?” “When Zionists gives back the land they stole from us.” Ashraf’s indignant face blends into his red
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button-down shirt as his moustache contorts in agitation. “Why does America attack Iraq when they invade Kuwait, but say nothing to Israel when they occupy Palestine?” Ashraf slaps the top of his seat for emphasis. It’s a damn good question, but he doesn’t wait for an answer. “Because neo-cons and Jewish lobby control American government.” One of the boys aboard the Toyota, barely able to grow fuzz on his upper lip, lays the Misr rifle across his lap, its barrel pointed directly at our windscreen. It worries me only because the road is pot-holed. But studying the probable trajectory, I calculate any accidental discharge of his weapon will kill Ashraf first. “If you tell me the Jews control our entertainment industry, no argument. But the big oil lobby carries a lot more weight than the Israel lobby. And guess where the biggest oil reserves live, Ashraf?” My guide looks away petulantly. “By the way, who are these boys with guns escorting us.” “Tourist police,” he replies. “All this fire power for one American?” “Is okay now. There are no accidents here for a long time.”
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“What kind of…‘accidents’?” My guide shrugs. “Some buses were stoned; a few river boats machine-gunned. After accident at Deir el-Bahri, government close Nile in Middle Egypt to tourists. But as you see, now is more secure.” The “accident” to which he is referring happened in November 1997, at the mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut. A contingent of the Gamaat-al-Islamiya attempted to destroy Egypt’s tourist industry and topple Hosni Mubarak’s regime by torturing, and murdering fifty-seven German, Swiss, Japanese, and English tourists who had picked the wrong day to visit the Valley of the Kings. “These problems are sometimes fault of tourists,” Ashraf explains. “Especially Russian girls who wear almost nothing. They let boyfriends kiss and touch them in public places. It offends people who do not want their daughters to see such behavior.” “So these concerned Muslim parents machine-gun the tourists?” He turns to look me in the eye. “Good Muslims do not do this. I am speaking of extremists—Salafis—who eat still with their hands like animals because they think it is sunnah. Anwar Sadat put them all in prison, but CIA and Mossad pressure Sadat to send them to Afghanistan and kill Russians instead. Before they
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go, they kill Sadat. It is Americans and Zionists who created al Qaeda. Now, you must live with Shaytan.” An armored troop carrier with eight boys sporting snub-barreled machine guns takes over jurisdiction of our dust-covered van on the outskirts of Bani Hassan. I nod to my pugnacious guide. “Looks like we’re all living with the devil now.” Surprisingly, he agrees and offers me a stick of his chewing gum in a gesture of grim solidarity. My fingers hesitate on the foil wrapper. “Hey Ashraf? Are you sure this isn’t that ‘crazy sex’ stuff?”

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SSS

SSSSSSSSSY

G O N E D RI VI N G
Fall now, no escaping. First rain broke the spell, the hot dry promise broken by the downpour and the next day’s damp loamy smell. The storm was brewing for at least a day, call it a change in barometric pressure but I sensed the ghost of the guy in 4A we lost in June. He was in his old room. The other nurse felt him too. Happier now, this man. Kingdom come. Gone home one way people euphemize for dead. Crossed over, they will say, or passed on. I think of it more as simply gone. But perhaps we get to revisit lost loves, favorite rooms, best afternoons when we are gone. A picnic lunch on Hampstead Heath in 1991, a night out on Camden Town. That 2 a.m. proposal over a chianti bottle,
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the stolen kiss with a boy I barely knew. Paris, the spread out jewelry of her light or maybe the spirit gets to do whatever feels completely right. Mine will be taking a grand tour of the United States in an ivory 1956 Coup de Ville. No need for gas, rest stop, motel, just driving, top down, music blowing back all day and all night: San Francisco to New York, south to Key West, through New Orleans and along the gulf coast, the livid dawns, the dusks, through every shade of white that the southwest desert glare burns and the sky turns as I head inevitably for the Pacific Rim, the breakers, and the high plunge off the cliffs to the wild ocean, calling me home to drown.

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OUTSIDE

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I drive that way on purpose to watch the girls prostitutes young and shiny shimmering tight dresses lip gloss glint in streetlight glow rump roast asses on display like rotisserie more sexy to me more real than club girls the way they strut that dark corner between a Vietnamese croissant factory and a mental health facility I once applied to work at. The day I went to the interview, I tried to get in through an employee entrance walked the gauntlet of parking lot weed smoking wig wearing women too much plucking of the eyebrows and loud acrylic on their Frito Lay nails. I was at the wrong building
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it took three tries to get buzzed in to the right one where the Philippino nurses tried to stifle their laughter at a perky white girl (that’s my interview face) applying to work behind razor wire in this brown walled cement block of a place as an underpaid Nurse Aid.

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HIGHLANDER
My ole man Mike comes home from a visit to Alameda County Hospital Highland’s ER He calls it the intergalactic portal laughing sadly he says there were Lord Of The Rings characters up in there, that he wasn’t sure if he should help them or get out his sword and behead them. He says that he felt like Luke Skywalker in the Monster Bar. He’s talking about dope fiends around here the devastation is awesome, the crack plague leaves people looking like extras on a zombie movie set, dangling emaciated limbs in mismatched discarded designer clothes, layers of sweat and street dirt, uncombed hair or what’s left of it. He says he saw what he decided was a level a little lower than rock bottom the guy sitting next to him
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with soul of shoe hanging off smell of rotting meat mixed with unwashed funk-body sucked in cheeks, jack o’lantern teeth and long burning high beam eyes. His body curled prematurely into an old man’s shuffle Mike turned to a quiet hipster girl sitting on his other side and said simply “dope ain’t cool” surprised at words from a stranger she answered slowly in a grave voice “no… it’s not” “Do you think he could ever be… normal… if he got clean He wonders out loud the girl is not sure either Thing is, he’s the majority in this room. The girl has been waiting to be seen all day when she finally gets up the nerve to ask the nurses why they tell her she’s missed her name and send her to the back of the line where she quietly cries.

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MMMMMMMM MMM MMM M M ANO T HE R SP TI O N ONTANEOUS ACT OF EDUCA

REGA

R DIN G BO O KSEL LE RS

after Pablo Neruda

If you look through the window of Alias bookshop at twilight—when the shopkeepers collect their wares to make their way home, not long before the clock has begun to strike the hour of pure sorrow—you will see a woman sitting behind a very old and very sad desk that is made of wood. You will see straight away that this woman is young and comfortable, that she is like a honeybee drunk with honey that is perched on a cluster of fruit. If she happens to be a redheaded bee—and hopefully she is, my pale and intrepid reader—go right inside that shop and tell her that her skin looks like what the wind makes with illuminated leaves. Tell her that she has a voice like a bird, a heart like a house, that her eyes are what gemologists groan about in their dreams, that her hair soothes you with a cold delicacy normally reserved for simple organic compounds. When she speaks, cast your sad nets on her oceanic eyes. Tell her to be quiet. Her voice will grow thin and cracked as the tracks of gulls on the shore.
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When she speaks, if she speaks, stop her. Tell her that her breath is for Sparrows to wander in, that her back is spied by expert architects for future waterfalls. Tell her you want to clasp her in your arms the way the ivy clasps the walls outside the bookshop—the way her words climb all over you, as me, from a long way off. Go and tell her all this, pale and intrepid reader, before making your final purchases. Go and tell her with great care and tenderness, as if these words were more hers than mine. Go and tell her from you, as me, and then go and find your own redheaded bee, drunk with honey, perched on a cluster of fruit. This one is spoken for in a headful of ways. Go on. Go and tell her all this right now. I’ll wait.

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A AA

MAMAAAAAAA

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B O B R O SS
My brother Del and I made a deal. The deal was that if I didn’t talk to any girls before the summer, I’d get a Dead Arm. “Don’t make me get all Krav Maga on you,” he said. His Dead Arms are no joke. He threatens that if I ever make him really mad, he’ll have to break out the Close Combat Dead Arm. I looked up the Close Combat Dead Arm on the Internet, but nothing came up. On the last day of school and the last day of the deal, not only did I talk to someone, but I fell in love. The teacher had us work in partners, and my partner was Lauren. Since it was the end of the year, I was wearing short sleeves, and Lauren was wearing a tank top. It was yellow, and the straps were not wide at all. “What did you get for number two?” she said, and her arm touched my arm. “17.82,” I said. I thought about this for the next two minutes. That she asked me what I got for number two, and I told her, and her arm was next to mine, and touching it. For the two minutes after that, I thought about how maybe I will be Lauren’s partner again next year. Maybe the next time I could be the one to say, “What did you get for number two?” Maybe in twenty years we could remember how the first thing we said to each other was about math. But then she said,
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“This is wicked boring. Too bad I’m not high.” Then I said, “You mean high on pot?” “I love pot,” she said. “Me too,” I say. I decided to go smoke pot for the first time that night so that what I said won’t be a lie. When Mom and Dad go out Del and his friends smoke pot and have Arnold Schwarzenegger marathons, and arm wrestling tournaments to see who doesn’t have to pick up Chinese food. I figured that might happen tonight and I could join them. “You do not smoke pot,” she said. “Sorry for lying,” I said. Then class ended. I went home ready to think about Lauren for the entire summer. I sit down at home and Mom nudges me, and points to a picture of a lady in her Food and Wine cookbook. It’s like the magazine, but a whole cookbook with a whole year of things to cook. “I want my hair to look like that,” she says. “Like what?” I say. “Shiny,” she says. “Your Mom may just get herself a fancy blow dryer.”

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“I hear it’s bad to blow dry,” I say. “The commercial shows these microscopic pictures of your hair and it’s all damaged.” “Baloney,” she says. “There are these little molecules,” I say. “Little parts of hair. They’re supposed to look like moist bubbles. But the blow-dried ones dry out and die,” I say. Del is in the living room. I can’t see the TV, but I can hear what’s on. It’s a Steven Seagal tape from Del’s collection. He’s watching the one where Steven Seagal is in a coma after people killed his family. The pretty alien lady from Weird Science and the Brut deodorant commercials is a nurse taking care of Steven Seagal. She likes him even though he’s in a coma and she doesn’t know who he is or what his eyes look like, and he’s never even seen her. But, when he wakes up and realizes his family is dead he has sex with her pretty soon. This is the part that Del is watching. Mom starts to clean up and wants Del to eat. “Del,” Mom says. “Not now,” says Del. “Mason’s about to get laid.” “Jesus,” Mom says. “He’s watching porno in the living room?” “I think it’s just a movie with sex in it,” I say. “And this is the part with sex.”
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Del slams his foot on the thing that pops up. “Everetto!” he calls. Sometimes Del talks like he thinks mafia people talk, which is in English with an exaggerated Italian accent. “You have no cojones,” he says. “That’s Spanish,” I say. “At least I have cojones,” he says. Del sits up all the way in his chair. He makes a fist with his left, and then opens his hand again. “The Close Combat Dead Arm,” says Del. “Remember what I said about this Dead Arm?” “Wait,” I say. “It’ll numb you first,” he says. “I know,” I say. “But wait.” “It hurts so bad you have to wait a second for it to kick in,” he says. “Right,” I say. “But wait.” “You’ll be jacking off goofy for weeks,” he says. I look at Mom to see if she heard, but she’s slamming the fridge drawers. “I remember,” I say. “But I talked to a girl.” Del puts his fist back on the chair.
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“Bullshit,” he says. He gets up and looks like he’s a relief pitcher stretching and getting ready to pitch. “Really,” I say. I back away. “She had this yellow tank top.” “No shit?” he says. I think about all the tough things I can say like, There’s this hot chick, but I totally screw up. “I’m in love,” I say. “She’s got red hair. She touched me on the arm.” “No shit,” he says. Del gets a PBR from the fridge and says he’s getting in the shower. I’m excited to see if Bob Ross is on, and he totally is. Even better, he’s just starting, so the whole canvas is mostly blank, and he starts to brush it from side to side. I don’t give a crap about painting or what Bob Ross is painting, but when he talks it sounds like a kind of humming, and when he paints it just sounds like a kind of wind or something. Then I’m dozing off getting this weird type of deep relaxation Bob Ross sleep where I can still hear his humming and his brushing, but know that I’m sitting there. Mom comes in and says, “What are you watching? Oh I didn’t see that you were sleeping,” but I say, “I’m watching Bob Ross,” and she says,
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“Look at that hair.” Mom sits next to me and looks at the screen like she’s watching a suspense movie. Now, he’s making something big time. The whole canvas is blue for the sky, and I don’t get it because how is he going to make a ground if it’s all blue? The blue becomes water on the bottom and sky on the top, and he puts grass and rocks and trees next to the water, but they are a little blue also, from the sky and water. Mom makes this little one syllable sound like she didn’t expect what was happening to really happen. Now it’s over, and the rocks, water, sky and trees all look just a little bit more like they’re supposed to, and Bob Ross turns around holding his paint plate thing, and his brush in his hand. Mom was right about his hair. He smiles like he’s happy, and happy for you, and then he says, “Happy painting.” Mom makes a sound like before. With her fingernail in her mouth she says, “Who the hell was that guy?” “Bob Ross,” I say. “One hell of a painter,” she says. “Look at that hair,” says Del. I wasn’t really sure how long he was standing there behind us. “That’s what I said,” says Mom. Then Del walks in front of us.

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“So what’s with this girl?” he says. “What girl?” says Mom “Everetto got a chick,” he says. “Do not,” I say.

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A L OVE SUPRE M E
Not talking to him. She stepped onto the 24 Divisadero to find it was only half full, but half full in that infuriating San Francisco way where there were plenty of empty seats and still nowhere to sit. He leapt onto the bus after her, so fast his elbows jabbed into her kidneys. Ouch. The doors sighed shut. She stepped away from him. He stepped closer. His fingers, long and tapered, scrambled at her hand like little white maggots. She recoiled, feeling his sweat film on her skin. “There’s an empty space there,” he said. “You could sit down,” because yes, there was a chair with no one sitting on it, and yes, the last time she checked, she was capable of bending her legs. But she said nothing. Was quiet. An older man in a preposterous purple suit took that empty seat, sagging into it like overbaked eggplant. Hers was the silence of a pouncing lynx. No, the silence of a sprung and baited trap. Her head
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pulled away from her shoulders like an arrow on the bow. Her eyes were two antimatter lasers burning black holes into the night. The bus started. He, wide eyed, did not notice the flare of her nostrils. He opened his mouth. She could feel him breathing on his back, onions on his breath. Then the bus was squeaking, the breaks or the suspension, something. Squeak. Squeak. His lips were chapped, toothpaste on the corners of his mouth. “err…” he said, “err…” The bus, Squeak. Squeak. Now her silence was an ancient volcano in the last seconds of its dormancy. He asked: “Are you mad?” And although she was utterly silent, deep down inside her dormant volcano there started a deep rumbling. Her villagers, tilling the fertile soil, felt it in their old joints, in the vibrations of their ploughs, knew the time had come. They dropped their tools and ran back to the village, shouting, white faced.
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But he, right next to her, was no reader of volcanoes. He asked: “Are you? Mad at something?” The bus squeaked, stopped, doors opened. A dozen schoolchildren climbed on, sticky popsicle fingered nudging her but she did not move. They found seats, giggling, laughing, kneeling backward on their seats to punch one another. The bus squeaked. In the volcano village of her anger, the priests and shaman were running this way, that way, upsetting market stalls, seizing goats, plucking feathers, under the shadow of the rumbling volcano. He tried again, “because if you’re mad….” But the time for appeasing the gods was gone. In her silence, the village animals felt it now, the coming apocalypse. A donkey spun in circles, backed into the barn, braying. A rooster threw itself at the air, trying to fly, falling. Small children were screaming. On the bus small children were screaming. He was swaying, bumping into her, the bus was squeaking, so hot. Ahead of them, a four-year-old boy was precariously balanced on his sister’s lap, a sister who was poking at her phone.

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And out of the corner of her eye, she, of the volcano silence, watched him, maggot fingers, conclude that after all, she must not be mad, because after all, she wasn’t saying anything. He smiled, reassured. Squeak squeak, the breaks, as the bus bounced up the hill. The bus doors opened. About thirty thousand teenagers macdonalds-reeking piled in, pushing an old lady up against her, old breasts squishing. In the volcano village of her silence, men and women were dropping their family bibles and running, running for their lives. But on the bus, he, reassured that she probably wasn’t mad, lifted one hand, a hand that held the greasy wrapped remains of his oniony sandwich. “Hey,” he said, “hey, could you put this in your bag?” And then it all happened. The bus children screamed, the bus reached the very top of the hill, in the volcano village, the sky turned night black and blood red with lava and ash, the villagers cowered in one another’s arms, and on the bus she turned slowly towards him, heat, red rimmed mouth opening— “Did you know,” she said calm as lava flow, bursting into flame, “did you know that the entire. Fucking. World. Does. Not. Fit. In. My. Handbag?”

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And then, the bus was going too fast. And then the bus at the hill. And then, two tween girls fighting over who could scream the shrillest. And then, bus horn blaring, and then the bus, too fast, crested the hill, and now everyone was still screaming, but screaming for different reasons, as the bus wheels spun in the air, and he was crushed up against her with his stupid sandwich squelching wetly on her white silk blouse. In front of her, the little boy flew straight off his sister’s knee and him, floating through the air towards her like a pancake in a spaceship, flying towards her, he landed on her POOF like a jumbo Costco bag of flour, right on her, in her own lap, knocking off her purse, which flew, scattering coins and tampons and she, flying backward into a seat, instinctively putting her arms around the boy as the bus flew above San Francisco, the city lights below exactly like stars, like a million signs of the potential for life, a man reaching over a hairy back to turn off the bedside light, a bar brawl in the Marina—two kids homesick for Tennessee, a homeless man drunk or dead on the street, a woman dragging an IV with one wayward wheel down a hospital hallway, the line at the funeral home, the line at the ice cream shop, the line at the employment center, the line for a night club, and above them all, the sky, the stars, their impossible loneliness, the result of two atoms chancemet in an infinity of chaos—colliding, fighting, really. And from this meeting, matter, planets, Siberian tigers,
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Boy George, an onion sandwich, this strange little boy on her lap smelling like sweet orange blossoms and peanut butter and glue, a stupid boy/man leaning over her with maggot fingers and onion breath, saying “are you sure you’re not mad?” The airborne bus wheels landed on the hill, squeaking and squeaking, squeaking out exactly the first three measures of “A Love Supreme,” then they hit the ground hard and continued squeaking down the hill. The child tore out of her arms and ran back to his sister laughing, the moms screamed back door, back door, the cityscape was gone, obscured by a row of sweet-tart victorians. And that’s when she realized that she had been wrong, this whole time. Because it turned out, upon further reflection, that the whole goddamn world had fit into her handbag. All of it. Prison cells and beach balls, oatmeal and peacocks. Gone out the windows. There was only now a row of vacant houses and a starless night. Except for their now-empty bus. And his too-brown eyes, blinking vacantly at her, as if beginning to wonder if, perhaps, maybe, possibly, she was mad.

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Slowly she closed the zipper pocket where her keys always disappeared. She drew the quilted leather sides together. She snapped the tiny golden C shaped clasp. She folded her fingers over it, protectively. Anyway, she said to him, softly, as if afraid to disturb the dawn. Anyway, we need to talk about Paris.

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T H E SE H I D D E N S E A S
The important things in real life seemed to unfold in peripheral vision. The traffic accident in the lane next to you, or the aftermath of one on the shoulder of the highway. And in unreal life, too, in Mertopia, things were there and then not. The tentacles of a ride flashed by your face, each holding people who clung tight to each other, laughing and screaming. You could try to follow just one tentacle if you wanted to, slowing it by staring, shutting out the seven other tentacles and the rest of the world. In that tentacle’s grip, a mother and a girl shrieked as they were turned upside down, laughing like they had forever to ride. You’d cling to the sight of them, to their oneness, togetherness, but every ride eventually ends—this one with a five story drop into a vent in the ocean’s floor, their octopus plunging ahead of yours. At the end of the ride, before your heart rate slowed, before you were breathing without having to remind yourself to breathe, before the hot mist from that two-hundred-foot-vent-drop started turning to chill, your mind would be already on the next attraction. You’d want to be where you were, here,
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E X C E R PT F R O M

but being there, here, would mean being over—and no one came to a theme park for ends. Not that mother and daughter who were probably going to rush right up to the photo booth afterward and find themselves frozen in a moment where their mouths were wide open and their eyes were half-closed and they were clutching each other’s hands and together forever. Not the kid next to her who was begging to go on Wheel of Eels next even though his father kept reminding him that he wasn’t tall enough yet, needed a couple of more inches so he should keep drinking his milk and they’d be back next year. Not Brenna, who worked there and lived in employee housing hidden behind the berm, behind a manmade, on-land, coral reef, and who didn’t remember exactly when she’d come to think of herself and everyone else—people she knew and strangers, too—as being, all together, you. “You” was her and “you” was that too-short kid and the girl and her mother, and “you” was about to be the guy she passed as she exited “Octoterror,” her mind searching for another beginning, a next. She was almost past him when she realized what he was doing, a motion that registered in the corner of her left eye. To anyone else it might have looked as he’d intended, like he was putting something into the garbage. Cans and bottles went into a pink anemone. Everything else you slipped into a wide-open orange clamshell.
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It wasn’t that his arm went much further into the shell than most people’s. It was the way he held it that gave him away. “Your arms are lying,” her coach had yelled over and over on the ice. “You hold them out to Tyler, but they are not saying Take me! They are saying to him, We are extremities pointing in your direction. That is not romance. That is not passion!” An arm that wanted to throw something brought to the task an entire company of muscles that worked together to accomplish the task—to eject the wrapper or tissue or nub of food. But this arm, the arm of a figure in a black sweatshirt, was lying—the way Brenna had lied as she reached out to Tyler, who’d been often out of shape, and always lazy, and as likely to drop her on the ice during practice as not. She stopped, turned, and watched the guy in black tuck something under his sweatshirt. It was the same guy she’d let into the park last week with her pass. Wearing the exact clothing. Just dirtier. She followed at a distance to the other side of the Great Barrier Reef until he ducked finally onto a path people didn’t tend to take. It led to benches surrounded by bushes shaped into a dark cove. Fronting it were lighter colored bushes into marine
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life—sunstars, lobsters, faceless fish. Her mother had mentioned this cul de sac in an article that had run a few years ago in Amusement Seeker Magazine: “Ten Quiet Spots of Magic in Mertopia.” Magical or not, like the other nine quiet spots, it held little interest for visitors intent on filling their days with dark rides, talking crustaceans, and figure skating jellyfish. “You’re living here,” she said. She couldn’t see him, but she could feel he was there. The topiary reef. She braced her hand on the head of a shrub eel and climbed up. “How long did it take to do this?” He’d carved a burrow into the back of the shrubs. He stuffed the remainder of a burrito into his mouth, then pulled out a half-eaten hotdog, in its gold “Weiners of the Sea” wrapper. “I could get you food,” she said. “You don’t have to eat from the garbage. They’ll notice the dirt on you. And there are cameras. And also…” She didn’t want to be mean, but the Mertopia Employee Handbook had even covered this subject: What to do about guests whose body odor offended. “Look, if people complain in queues—lines—for rides—I mean, attractions— that you smell… that you smell not that good….” “I don’t go on rides,” he said.

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“I’m supposed to call them ‘attractions.’” But she thought of them as rides. “What do you do, then?” “What do you do?” “Skate. In the show. And ride—not as a job, I mean. But because I’m, you know, here anyway.” “Ride. As a verb, not noun.” “Right.” “I hide,” he said. He ate the hot dog from the unbitten side. “It has to be lonely,” she said. “Why does it have to?” He stopped before he got to the end of the Weiner of the Sea—at the middle, really, the part where someone else had gotten full.

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PPP

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H EA RTH AN D H O M E
When I got home from work, my wife informed me that she’d seen a man she didn’t know, stepping out of our shower fully clothed. I am tired after work, and wanted to tell my wife how fatigued I felt. Clearly it was not a good time to do so. Even in my exhausted condition, I knew to be grateful that my wife had not seen a naked man emerge from our shower. But a naked man exiting a shower does come with certain advantages. For instance, he would surely reach for a towel. A man who takes a shower with his clothes on is something of a waterlogged rebel, and could not be counted on to behave in thoughtful and considerate ways. On his way out of the house, he would have strolled through our living room. An alarming thought. Our living room contained a rare and very delicate Persian carpet. What if the showering intruder had walked over it, sat on it, laid down on it even, all of which seemed plausible from a drenched deviant. I wanted to check the carpet immediately, run upstairs to my office and google Persian carpets/ water damage. I held myself back. It was a typical moment in my marriage, this squashing of my true desire, my real wish, knowing that to share it openly with my wife would reveal something dreadful about my character.
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My wife, with a look of consternation passing over her freckled face, waited patiently for my response. I remembered then how madly I’d loved her, how I’d wanted to devour her, how I’d adored every last freckle on her body. But time had passed, and the ugly truth which I had a feeling she could sense, was that I was thinking less about the dangers posed by an intruder, and more about the impact his dripping self may have had on our carpet. Without anything being said, it was obvious to both of us that our marriage was over. After our separation, I left the law firm with its frenzied pace and constant crisis management. Feeling rested at last, I took up interior design, working with a small, select group of clients who appreciated my rarefied esthetic. My new life had an air of leisure and fulfillment about it until I developed a peculiar habit that I could not explain or resist. Once a month, on Sundays, I rented a Ford with tinted windows and drove by my wife’s house, the one we’d lived and loved in together. I was struck by how little nostalgia, how little feeling I had, as I cruised by. Last Sunday changed all that. Through the car’s darkened windows, I saw my wife on the front lawn. It was as if I was seeing her for the first time. She was ravishing. By her side sat an enormous bucket, and across from her, a handsome man lounged in a silver grey three-piece suit. My wife lifted up the bucket, stood, and with a perfect mix of ferocity and pleasure, proceeded to empty the water-filled bucket over his head.
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He took her in his arms. She shrieked with joy. I’ve not been the same since.

PE T E R BU LLE N

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FROM

S E E B O B J O N E S D O W N AT VA L L E Y GA S & T O W
Simon Trox

He had, at first, been a good boy: respected his professors and his parents, turned in his papers on time, and studied with a diligence that earned him jibes and sneers from his fellow students. Simon loved biology, loved the outdoors; he spent hours doing field research; he felt that he couldn’t learn fast enough. Which is, perhaps, how things got started. He added another class to his already heavy schedule; he didn’t want to wait until the next semester to learn about North American mustelids. The stack of books in his tiny dorm room grew taller by another foot. The midnight oil he burned turned into one a.m. oil, then into three a.m. oil, then into at least two all-nighters each week. “Dude,” his roommate said, smoking a joint as he watched Trox hunch his long body over his tiny desk, “you’re out of your mind. You gotta give it a rest once in a while.” Simon’s roommate, Buck, was a talented but lazy student; he carried the minimum class load to enable him to spend more time drinking beer and eating sausages and fries at the Council Room, the faux-British pub a
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few blocks off campus. “Could you not smoke that in here?” Simon said, not looking up from his biology textbook. “It’s giving me a contact high and irritating my sinuses.” It was also making him feel very sleepy; he’d been up for thirty-six hours and desperately needed a nap before his next class, but he had a paper to write and two exams to prep for. “Dude,” Buck said, coming up behind Simon and reaching around him, his two fists closed, “pick a hand, any hand.” “Could you get the fuck away from me,” Simon said politely. “Seriously.” Buck didn’t move. “Fine,” he said. “I’ll pick for you.” He rotated his right hand and opened his fist, palm up. In the middle of his hand lay two tiny white pills. “These, my friend,” Buck said in a voice reminiscent of a midway barker, “these will cure what ails you. These mighty pellets will carry you through the most exhausting of courseloads; they’ll keep you alert for your tests, and—this is the best part—they’ll make you feel like Superman with a giant dick and huge balls.” Trox moved to shove Buck’s hand away, but stopped short. “What are those?” he asked. Buck laughed. “They’re teeny magic bullets, compadre. A delicately blended chiral compound. AKA amp, beans, bombido. Speed, my friend. The solution to ambition overload all the wide world round.”

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Simon’s eyelids were leaden; his whole body ached for sleep, for five minutes of horizontal. He turned and looked at the 26” stack of books on his left, then at the pile of scribbled notes on his right. His next class was in eighteen minutes, and he was moving like an Ariolimax californicus. “Will I freak out or anything?” he asked. “I’m not really a drugs person.” This was an understatement; he had smoked exactly two hits off a joint in his life, and had consumed a grand total of four beers to date in his entire college career, each one at least a month apart. “Naaah,” Buck said. “Not even, dude. I’m telling you, Superman with a ginormous set of jubbly parts. Look, it’s just for today; you’re completely bent and you’re never going to make it through your next class without doing a faceplant on your desk. Go ahead, they’re not going to bite you.” Trox looked warily at the two tiny pills. They were so small. How potent could they be? He plucked them carefully from Buck’s palm and swallowed them with the last half-inch of cold coffee in the stained paper cup he’d been carrying for two days. Simon breezed through the rest of the semester, and the next. He was so on top of things. He aced nearly every test, he turned in most of his papers and coursework early, his grades were good, his dorm room was spotless, his socks were organized, and he even had time to take in a movie or two. It was
CYN C a DY

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amazing, truly amazing, how much you could get done if you did not waste time sleeping. Oh, sure, there were a few crashes; that was to be expected. But he was young, and healthy, and quick to recover. A little sleep, a little bump, and he was back to what he now considered to be normal. He found he barely needed to eat; he just walked around with a package of Top Ramen, eating it dry like other students ate potato chips. And he was soooo focused.

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C

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W H Y I G IV E A S H IT

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about those numbers, those young men, those jailed and homicidal on the news. I went to school with these brothers, their parents. When we were young, thin, and cocky. When we were untouchable, invincible, when we rocked curls, and fades, Kangos, and shell toes. These boys were my heroes, my Gods, so much beauty and bravado. The sistas too, don’t get me wrong. We wore tall leather hats and boots to match. Troop jackets and Guess jeans, tight. These brothers held so much magic, sparkling eyes, and hunger. We had Krs-One, and Chuck D to guide us into adulthood, into blackness. We rode in a pink Cadillac to the East Blackwards Vain and glorious we were. We were there the very first time
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we saw a crack rock, when it was new, when it was cool to smoke a grimy sweeten your weed, your Newport. It was cool, but just for a minute. Before the zombies started their slow speedy crawl scratching skin and hair off searching, searching, the ground, climbing slim shimmy through metal bars for more, always more. And it was fly to be a D Boy ‘cause you could go from broke to hood star, in zero to sixty new fits, jewelry, pussy, and status And these kids, these kids are the aftermath of so many of us consumed those of us that made it out are war weary witness to the destruction the plague. But when you rode the back of the bus, sat in the back of the classroom up at Alamo or Gal, listened to cap sessions from luscious lips the rawness, the hilarity…
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We can live forever in those moments, boom box echoing through the basement floor at the school house, in the projects. And I have to love these kids their sideshows, dreadlocks, all their hyped up hatred, and limping gun walk ‘cause I still recognize those God like boys from school daze. And I pray for their survival every single strike against them squeezed out of the city back to the wall in the Deep East This town so full of guns and dope cops scared and ready to kill kids with nothing to lose.

C aSSaNDRa DaLLE T T

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SSS

SSSSSSSSSY

T H E L A ST W O R D
for Michael: 1960-2013 The summer parties are all thrown the summer deaths are done. Fall now, and the return to work, you know what to do: rake leaves, journey inward, mask the sad turn of events with a drive to the coast. I’ve come out here alone to find him, and here he is, alone, where we were once all set to grow up, grow old together. I drove by our house on the hill: still the windows, floors, four walls we tried in vain to make into a home. The night before we married, we stayed up the coast in a rental place, cavernous, too large for two. My dress glowed ivory on the back of the bedroom door, he told me how he couldn’t get to sleep without alcohol any more, and I told him he could keep doing it or he could stop and I would love him anyway. I’d read that somewhere.
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Jerry Garcia’s wife said it to him. I thought it sounded brave. He is beyond help or harm now, beyond reproach, human suffering, temptation or regret. He is beyond the shame that clung for so long to us, coloring every day we called our own. Fourteen hundred by my reckoning, maybe more. The trees know how to do it – let go their leaves when the summer heat has done them in. Animals get ready without being told. They know. Was he frightened beyond belief as he washed the pills down with his beverage of choice? Or did he just decide to let it go and watch with interest as the leaves massed in drifts by the side of the road. Did he know? Do I? Do I have the first idea what it’s all for? Three weeks now, nobody bore his weight down an aisle, sent flowers. This is his eulogy: these few words on a beach where we once whiled away the hours. What were all those words we said? Love whispers, vows, bitter retorts. Syllables carved in the wet sand and while the darkness lingered, blown over by the dry.
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I’ve come here to say it at last as you can into the crashing of the waves and the ocean wind that snatches the little word and takes it spinning and fluttering through the ice blue of the air. Au revoir would be dishonest, a nice try, but in reality it has to be goodbye.

Sa Ra BE R kE LE Y

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- december 4, 2013 -