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Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt.

8 Brooklyn NY 11215

The Most Typical Bar in the World

Day 1: There’s a long tradition of writing in bars. I think it’s because they’re naturally places of fantasy, of the imagination. At least of delusion. I have come to this bar to write, therefore, because I am trying to imagine new things. I have felt for some time as if my imagination were looking down a long alley, and at the far end, where the alley met a busy street, images passed by too quickly to catch. I have high hopes here, though. Already, midway through my first beer, the bust of Abraham Lincoln above the mirror has started to wink at me. I’m sure of it, even though it was not obvious, and I only saw it out of the corner of my eye. The monkey next to him has moved a little, too. I’m sitting right below them, there’s no way I could be mistaken. Lincoln is smiling, too. Not bad. A little limited—a statue winking is hardly earth-shattering—but a little magic in the world is better than no magic at all. Meanwhile, to free myself I’m going to have to ask more than usual of the reader. It’s hard enough to write without having to worry about detail, so I’m going to leave it up to the reader to imagine the setting here and the patrons I don’t get around to describing. I’ll try again: I have just replaced one of the men standing at the end of the bar with another man, call him Moises. The Mets are playing on the TV that hangs above his head, and Moises 1

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

Alou, the left fielder, just hit a home run. Moises looks a little stunned, he’s sitting there moving his beer back and forth between his fingers. Now he turns his head to look at the two women sitting next to him. I can’t think what he should say. This is exhausting. Now he is getting bored, he’s looking out the window at the street. Maybe Moises doesn’t like this bar. Yes, he’s definitely getting bored. He’s kind of boring me, too. End of Moises. Let’s see, there are two empty seats next to me, I’ll fill the farther one with a man. I feel like I should hold off on trying to do women until later. This guy’s at least interesting-looking, shaved head and a goatee, and if that’s still too conventional, well, it’s the best I can do at the moment. One has to crawl before one can walk. He’s not bored, because he’s watching the ball game on TV and drinking his beer. His only thoughts at the moment are: bases loaded, two and two the count, two out in the top of the fourth. Call him David. David’s easy to maintain, I’ll leave him there watching the game. The batter grounds out to end the inning. I think I’ll try to get David to speak. He turns to Moises—Moises isn’t there, I got rid of him. David’s frustrated. “Crap,” he said. Baby steps. I’m only halfway through my first drink, I’m not quite ready for complexity. David goes to the bathroom, and then comes back and starts watching the ball game again. So David has three things he can do: watch the ball game, drink beer, take a piss. Four, rather. He can say “Crap.” A woman now. At the same end of the bar as David so I can keep watching the game over his shoulder; it’s the easiest way to keep track of his thoughts. 2

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

“What will we do this weekend?” she says to her friend. Her name is Marie. Her friend doesn’t need a name yet, she can sit and listen to the question for now. If I had to name everyone I’d never get anything done. Just like I could describe the bar forever and never get back to Marie, who’s still waiting for an answer about the weekend. I’m not sure what answer to give her. It’s a difficult question, I didn’t think it through before but now I see Marie will need a whole life outside the bar to get a plausible answer. “Boating? Or maybe renting a movie?” I say, because someone has to say something, Marie is getting upset. “Who are you?” she says, her big round plain eyes swinging from her silent friend to me. “Crap,” says David. Unruly and difficult. End of Marie. Her friend looks confused. End of her friend. Not too bad, though, I kept her around for a few minutes, long enough for her to even show a mite of complexity, at least more than David, who continues to watch the ball game. He’s easy, as long as that game continues I needn’t worry about him. Marie wasn’t bad, though, maybe I’ll bring her back as a bit player later, to get an answer to that question about her weekend. Someone asks David whether the game is over yet. He says, “Crap.” The someone isn’t a character of mine. There were a lot of people already in here when I came in. I left them doing what they were doing because I don’t have time to fill the place stool by stool. It was a calculated risk. Oh well. End of David—no, the questioner has moved off, not overly worried, apparently, about David’s non-responsiveness. Between David and me sits down another man, quilted jacket and wool felt snap-cap carrying 3

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

with them a whiff of cold. “I rode the bus to the MetroRail to get here,” he says to the bartender. “I’ll have a double scotch.” There’s action and motivation for you. He had a hard ride to get here, and now he wants a drink. He drains his double scotch and leaves. There, he had a satisfying time of it, even. I think he gave the bartender eight dollars. I hope so. I’d hate to have my forgetfulness cost the bar. David orders another beer. Tying run at third, one out, now two as the batter pops up to the infield. A woman begins to laugh at the far end of the bar. Someone told her a joke. I can’t think of it at the moment. End of laughing woman. I’m getting tired. Batter hits a single down the left field line, plating the tying run. David says, “Crap,” but with enthusiasm. I’m going home.

Day 6: I forgot about David. He is sitting on his barstool still, looking very unhappy. I have, after all, been gone five days. I hope the reader didn’t expect me to get drunk every night. “Crapcrapcrapcrapcrapcrap,” says David. I think it’s fair to assume he has run out of money. There is in any case no beer in front of him. But I forgot to let him sleep, so he is slumped halfway across the bar, and he has not eaten. He perks up slightly, as the Mets have just won on the TV. Five days ago he would have 4

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

been beaming. The bartenders have taken mercy on him and given him water from time to time, but there are limits. He is not, after all, a real person, so he can only expect so much mercy. I guess I’ll get rid of him, that’s a kind of mercy. End of David. In addition to setting the scene, then, I am going to have to leave it to the reader to carry these characters through to their next appearances. I can’t kill them off each time. That would wreck any hope of continuity. I already have to come up with someone to replace David, and he was to be the centerpiece of a few more experiments today. But I can’t just let them all go their own way without tending to, either. It will be the reader’s responsibility to imagine these characters continuing to live, to move about, to generally bridge the white space that lives between my written entries. Or not, I think either way I’ve done my duty, and if the reader prefers characters that freeze in place, doing and thinking nothing until I return to them, so be it. Making a plan to forestall future catastrophes of this kind doesn’t make me much happier about this one, though. I’m still depressed about David. David would have been so happy to watch the Mets through the rest of this season, even though I didn’t have much time to probe him I’m fairly sure of that. I’m going home. I promise I’ll return tomorrow night. By the way, the last time I was here I drove home drunk and nearly killed myself.

Day 7: I did promise to return tonight and I hate to break a promise. Bear in mind that I would far rather be watching the basketball playoffs, and here in the bar it has been preempted by some 5

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

presidential press conference. I mention this in the hopes that if the reader is aware of the sacrifice involved here, he might be a little more indulgent than I might otherwise reasonably expect. I am not unaware that by now we are several pages in, far too many, really, and I have yet to produce even a viable character, let alone an interesting one or the suggestion of a plot. Since yesterday I have decided that since I am having trouble with ordinary people I will start today with a grotesque. Because I am mad that the president is preempting the game, I will name him George. George stands just over five feet three inches tall. He would have been a typical dwarf, but in childhood his parents subjected him to a long series of limb-lengthening procedures. Essentially, doctors broke his arms and legs and put the broken bones in traction by means of pins fixed in the bone-halves, attached to bulky metal lattices like a scoliotic’s leg braces. For two years George couldn’t walk. For two years after that he couldn’t move his arms. It was excruciatingly painful. The pain took all of George’s concentration and left none for his schoolwork or his classmates. As a result, George is both poorly educated and socially inept. But he does stand over five feet three inches tall. That was the goal he adopted as a child, because even if he hadn’t asked for the pain he had to adopt its logic. Otherwise it would have been pointless suffering. Now that he’s an adult, no one cares that George stands over five feet, he just looks short, and since he isn’t dwarfish he arouses no pity. He has furthermore retained the overlarge head and overpronounced brow of a dwarf. On a man like him of almost normal height it looks merely ugly. Nobody likes him at first look, and since he has no social graces nobody likes him on second or third look either. 6

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

Since nobody really cares about George, and he doesn’t really care for anyone either, he has grown cheap, and bitter, and he has long since stopped bathing or shaving regularly. For a while he did both when the itching got unbearable, but he grew able to bear more and more and now he rarely thinks of it and his dark beard is tangled almost to his eyes. He learned early to bear things, after all. When he is here the smell gradually works its way through the whole bar: the warm, apple-and-old-cheese odor of feet, with accents of tobacco and a bass note somewhere between stewed cabbage and diced raw garlic. But there’s more as one draws closer: the smell of gasoline, the occasional whiff of sour armpit or spicy crotch, and then finally, distinctively, the smell of burnt hair from where George has repeatedly singed his beard with his cigarettes or his matches. Because there is always a Pall Mall pushing its way through his beard, the cherry glowing perilously amid the black, matted hair, the no-doubt soggy and crumbling other end invisible beneath. Smoking has given George a constant cough, a steady wheeze punctuated by a deep bubbling sound like a toilet backing up, occasionally developing into a full-blown hack. He never covers his mouth, he rarely even takes the cigarette from his lips unless the coughing grows severe, and the mats in his beard come from the steady flow of mucus around his cigarette, so that only the tips of his beard-hairs ever burn before fizzling wetly. When he hacks severely there comes eventually a hack deeper and worse than the rest, after which George concentrates, then spits a greenish-yellow, wobbling wad of mucus like a bloodclot or a baby slug into his ashtray, where it is quickly covered by cinders, turning gray and crusty. By the end of a long night of drinking George’s ashtray will contain three or four of these congealed lumps. 7

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

George drives to North Carolina to buy his cigarettes. He’s deeply stingy, and the tax is almost nonexistent there. He goes every other month and buys an even dozen cartons. He devotes as much of his small income as he can to his alcohol. And here we come to the first great quirk in George’s character. I thought he could use one, at least. He could drink more, and more cheaply if he simply bought bottles to drink at home, and the other bar-goers wouldn’t miss him if he did. No, he would miss them. Not individually, of course. He’s been coming to the bar for years and has exchanged a total of perhaps a hundred words with the other patrons. But he would miss being among them, miss the small satisfaction of their revulsion and the knowledge that he caused a reaction, and even more miss the times he’s ignored because the other patrons are inured to him, when they talk to each other like he’s just another guy sitting there. It’s acceptance of a kind. Resignation to his existence at least. Fortunately—because I don’t think I could take it if George were here every night—he does drink at home most of the time and only comes to the bar when he absolutely cannot stay away any longer. Roughly twice a week. He is here tonight. He is all the way at the other end of the bar but I can still smell him. His skinny legs dangle, his still-too-short arms curl protectively around his big glass of whiskey. He never looks right or left, so I have stared at him freely in composing this description. Poor George. Have I made things too hard for him? He needs some happiness. I’ll give him animals: animals love George. He takes in stray dogs and cats by the dozen, feeds them and brings them into his basement apartment, where they sleep all over him in a living blanket. I think I can call it a night. Another time I may take up the question of George’s job, but for 8

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now the reader can assume that he has one, and other than that I leave it to her to sustain George safely until I can return.

Day 11: I was sick and missed a few more days than I would have liked, for which I apologize. There was lots of phlegm and it was all very disgusting. George seems to be doing fine. I offer my thanks to the reader. He is dripping and drooling and from time to time spitting wet flecks of tobacco onto the bartop. He seems to have gobbed something into his drink — it coils there tan and ropy in his whiskey’s amber. I have been forced to sit at the middle of the bar tonight, as all the stools at the opposite end from George are filled with finicky-looking middle aged men in suits who glare at George across the room. I wonder how they would feel if they knew George were my doing. At any rate I believe I promised a few paragraphs on George’s job, which may be of interest even though it doesn’t strictly speaking happen here. George is a telephone solicitor, and a good one. On the phone he is freed of his body and he sees this as his opportunity to avenge himself. His voice is husky from the smoking, and resonant when he projects it from his barrel chest, and he uses it to sell insurance, land, penny stocks, magazine subscriptions, all to old women ecstatic for the attention. Being hated has made him genuinely sympathetic to the women’s loneliness. He can coo over their problems and honestly feel sorry for them, and then imagine how they would react to him in person and extract every cent they have. He works on commission and devotes real care to each call, so he doesn’t make as much money as some, but he is good at it, 9

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

and he has been good at so little in his life that he clings to the job even though it means that the ranks of people who hate him grow every day, for the old women all hate him when they realize what he has done. At the end of the bar, the middle-aged men are quite drunk. One has strapped triple blades from some too-realistic Wolverine costume to the backs of his hands and another is tossing him cardboard coasters for him to try to slash in midair. Meanwhile, the man to my left has just asked me for a piece of paper, and has begun his own bar experiment on it, perhaps. I mention all this action merely to illustrate that the real people in the bar are quite lively, and the reader in picturing their behavior can be a bit more imaginative than with the average bar. If she wishes the place can be practically Rabelaisian; conversely, if it suits her to imagine it as a plush woodand-leather affair because then characters like George are more amusingly incongruous, that’s fine too. An odd-shaped man has appeared to my other side, and I didn’t see him come in so I can only assume that’s he’s the product of the bar experiment now being conducted on the piece of paper I leant the man to my left. The odd-shaped man is sort of undefined, in fact he now seems to be more of a she. I’m not quite sure what the man to my left is trying to do.

I just peeked over that man’s shoulder and he’s writing in short lines, so maybe it’s a poem. That doesn’t really excuse the indistinctness of the characterization, though. It’s embarrassing to have misformed characters wandering about the bar, distracting me from George and the other characters I hope to add to him, I feel like I had better exercise some control here. 10

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

Ok then, I’ll call the indistinct character to my right Reinhold. (The guy on my left just looked up from his paper, confused. Reinhold isn’t really the name I had in mind, but I don’t seem to be able to make these decisions unilaterally, so the description is apt to be some kind of compromise.) Reinhold played football in college, linebacker, but after a frustrating year trying to break into the pros as an undrafted free agent he gave it up and became instead of an unsuccessful football player a moderately successful painter. He is massive, forearms like heads of romaine lettuce and thighs like Virginia hams, and he paints miniatures. He hunches his whole body around his tiny canvases like a mother gorilla holding her baby, and paints scenes as he imagines they would look from very far away. “Telescopy addresses problems of both resolution and magnification,” he likes to say. “I am interested in the possibility of telescopes that only resolve without magnifying.” Perhaps it will help the reader to imagine a hawk, to which the farthest things are no larger than they would be to us, but more distinct. Reinhold paints shapes the size of fleas, with brushes made of single goat hairs. He plucks the hairs himself from a goat he keeps in his tiny city backyard. The man to my left has grown very irritated, and now he balls up his paper and stalks away. I didn’t get to the fact that the scenes Reinhold paints are all football play diagrams that somehow reflect his pain at losing the joy of athletics, but I don’t have to describe things in the same order as my neighbor even if I plan to get to them all eventually. He, I think, was more interested in Reinhold’s “why.” I am more interested in the “what” first, but I was planning to get to the “why.” I guess the guy is just impatient. I’ve uncrumpled his paper and he has mostly described the emotional valences of various defensive formations, portrayed from Reinhold’s 11

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

point of view. Fairly interesting, actually. At any rate, I’m stuck with Reinhold and his miniatures. I’ll go home to think about him and try to be back tomorrow or the day after.

Day 14: I have forgotten my usual notebook, so I can’t at the moment check where I was in my description of Reinhold when I left him last time. I don’t think I had mentioned that Reinhold was his last name. Football and the art-world benefits of going by a single, idiosyncratic name have erased the “Paul” he always hated anyway. That’s a minor point, though. The more important thing I failed to mention was the monkey. Reinhold carries around a crotchety, arthritic old rhesus monkey. (For the suggestion that I have a monkey in this story I am indebted to a fellow patron, who misheard my explanation of another story I’m working on—I had said “fourteen-year-old racist.” I do occasionally have conversations with other people when I’m at the bar. For example, I just had this one with one of my neighbors. She: “Can you see what you’re writing in this light?” I: “Well, I know what I’m writing. If I had to read someone else’s bad handwriting I doubt I could do it.” She: Laughs. A little. The problem is that, as the reader can see, most of these conversations are not particularly interesting, and represent yet another thing I could waste quite a bit of time on. I have realized, 12

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

however, that in mentioning only a few interactions with other people in the bar I have risked the impression that these are the only ones I have had. I want to reassure the reader that his picture of me as a scribbling bar-corner recluse, if that’s what’s in his mind, is utterly false. In fact, I am a popular man, and the conversation I do report is almost entirely made up.) The monkey used to be quite a problem for the bartenders when it was younger, scampering around the fixtures and tipping over bottles. It was at the bartenders’ insistence that Reinhold put his monkey in a diaper. (The couple next to me, for instance, have been commiserating because a mutual friend of theirs has a crush on the guy, and told him only when the guy spent the night with tonight’s girl. They just asked me for my opinion in the matter, and I gave a very good answer, but I’m not going to waste the reader’s time with it. They are both young and attractive, that’s enough.) The monkey’s poor behavior is what brought it to Reinhold in the first place. An exteammate of his, made quadriplegic by an on-field neck injury, had to get rid of it when it repeatedly ate his home-delivered meals instead of fetching them, leaving the man hungry for almost a week. He was finally able to tap out a complaint on his fingerboard when his weekend caretaker arrived; the weekday one only understood English a little, not well enough to follow the unnatural croaking of his voice synthesizer. Now, though, Reinhold’s monkey is totally docile, because Reinhold has turned it into an alcoholic. It guzzles gin from a baby bottle Reinhold fills every morning and hangs around its neck on a nylon cord. He feels bad about it, since the monkey has started getting gout and having liver problems and jaundice, but at this point, the vet tells him, he might as well let the 13

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

monkey drink itself to death. It’s too old to recover from its problems anyway. There isn’t any point in giving it DTs. At the moment the monkey looks pretty miserable, curled in a ball on Reinhold’s shoulder. The jaundice makes it nauseated all the time, and the gout has crippled its legs so it just hangs one on either side of Reinhold’s shoulder and clutches his shirt desperately. Reinhold notices me staring at his monkey. “Have you ever seen anything sadder?” he says. “It was kind of funny when it started, and it quieted him down, but now? When he’s not puking he’s crying, and the rest of the time he just huddles up there and shakes.” At the far end of the bar, George wrinkles his nose with twin, competing feelings: pity for the monkey and annoyance that an animal is collecting pity that should rightly be his. All pity is rightly his, to George. Reinhold doesn’t notice, simply returns to his work. Because he does such high-resolution miniatures, Reinhold divides his three-inch canvases into grids before he begins to paint on them, and then meticulously plans each square of the grid on butcher paper, scaled up to a square foot per grid square. He likes to work each tile in the grid separately, too, so that he can play mix-and-match with the butcher paper squares when it comes time to plan the final canvas. Each in his most recent series of canvases shows a beautiful nude woman contemplating a painting hung at the far end of an incredibly long gallery. Each woman is enjoying one of his old football-diagram canvases, blown up to cover the entire wall she faces. It’s a further comment on scale, an extension of the language of beauty in bigness and smallness Reinhold has been developing, and the entire series will be part of a show opening two 14

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

months from now. That’s enough for tonight. Not too bad, I think. I managed to slip in a little interaction between my two characters, even if it was a one-sided interaction.

Day 18: Reinhold looks peevish tonight. The place is almost deserted, only he and a few others warm their stools. His massive hands are both curled around his pint and he’s staring into it as though its taste were the reason his lips are pursed. It’s not. The reason is the barely-touched length of butcher paper furled next to the pint glass. The new painting isn’t going well. Reinhold hasn’t even finished planning four tiles yet and the series of nudes doesn’t feel complete. He’s been stuck for weeks now. It’s a big deal, this upcoming show, it’s only his second solo, and he promised the dealer six canvases. He’s finished four, which means he has a mere five or six weeks to plan and execute the last two. And this one isn’t going well. The monkey looks a little better, it’s almost sitting up on Reinhold’s shoulder, watching me with great curiosity. It’s still shaking, though, and that isn’t helping Reinhold any. It’s making it darn near impossible to sketch. I suppose the reader might be tempted at this point to jump to the conclusion that I plan to have Reinhold solve his art problems by painting George. I think she’ll agree that that would be out of character for both of them. If the reader is expecting this, it is probably because these are the only two characters I’ve got so far. George isn’t even here tonight and still the reader assumes things about him. The only solution I can see is to bring in another character. It’s time 15

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

for a woman, I think, and I think I have enough practice now not to have to do another grotesque or steal my neighbor’s idea. I need to ask the reader to imagine that this new character been here all along, but I haven’t gotten around to describing her yet. I have to do things in some order, after all, I can’t put everything on the page at once. (At this point the bartender brings me my drink without having asked me what I wanted. I’ve become a regular.) I’ll call her Lila. Lila can fly. She doesn’t have any anatomical abnormality or anything, she’s an ordinary-looking if slightly plump middle-aged woman. I’ve simply decided to bend physics for her. If I can make people out of nothing I can manage that. She loves to fly, too. It makes her feel free, transcendent, all the things the reader may imagine he would feel if he could fly. She hardly ever gets do it, though. She’s discovered that if another person sees her, it screws things up between them. Strangers and sometimes friends doubt their sanity and get angry. Or they become envious and resentful. Or they try to get her to give them rides, which she can’t do. Or in any one of a hundred other ways treat her differently. They treat her like a cripple or a circus freak. She doesn’t feel like one. She’s proud of her ability and believes it makes her special. She’s just tired of the reactions, so she only ever flies now when she’s alone in the country and no one can see her. Yesterday, for instance, she drove out to Howard County, pulled her Civic onto the shoulder, and took a quick spin around a horse pasture. It was the first time she’d gotten to fly in a month. Most nights she drinks here, frustrated and lonely because she’s a walking miracle and has to keep it to herself. Moreover, she’s losing the ability through lack of use, like an 16

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

unexercised muscle. She could tell when she went out to the horse pasture. She couldn’t fly as far. So she’s here too, a few stools down from Reinhold, who finished about half his beer while I was concentrating on Lila. Lila’s drinking Jameson’s, triple shots. Reinhold isn’t going to end up painting her either, or sleeping with her for that matter, to answer two of the reader’s likely new guesses. In fact Reinhold and Lila aren’t even looking at each other. What kind of writer would I be if I introduced one character purely to soothe another’s wounds? Lila does hate George, I’ll give her that much pre-interaction with the two boys. Swon’t even come in the door if she smells him on the other side of it. Tonight she’s levitating a little bit, an inch or so above her stool. She often does when she’s drunk. She hides it from the other patrons by wearing her long coat indoors and draping it around her stool. I’m going to call it a night, even though I haven’t really been here that long. I need to go home to think up a couple of conflicts. I promise the reader I’ll get them moving soon. Next time, perhaps.

Day 32: There was a long layoff there. It took a lot of time to think up a conflict. I tried, too, I was in here drinking almost every day. Before I continue, however, I feel the need to correct an impression at least one reader has formed already: Lila and Reinhold are not grotesques. In fact, I see hardly anything grotesque about either one of them; they’re neither ugly, nor malproportioned, nor outlandish. They’re both a little unusual, true, but if I’m not going to be 17

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allowed some leeway to develop odd characters then I’m done for, I’d have to start all over and these weeks of work would be wasted. That’s exactly the position Reinhold finds himself in now, by the way. He sent the canvases he did have, and his dealer telephoned and wanted to know why Reinhold had sent four pictures of naked women surrounded by a couple of cryptic x’s and curved lines. “It’s interesting, M,” said the dealer, a fat asthmatic named Jeremy, “but what the hell are you getting at? You know I’d never tell you how to work. But. You better send along a couple more canvases, maybe even three, in case these don’t sell so good okay? Dig something out of the vault, we’ll put them on a separate wall and it’ll be like a statement of progress, right?” Well, Reinhold doesn’t have a vault. He can’t send his sketches, either, his dealer is looking for something as much as possible like the pieces he’s already sold. “Continuity, that’s the thing collectors look for,” Jeremy said on the phone. “They need to see a signature style, a set of motifs.” Reinhold had wanted to know why the fact that the new canvases were miniatures wasn’t enough. “Sure, but nudes?” Jeremy said. “Nudes have a whole tradition you don’t need to be messing with. And you’ve got these covering up almost everything, all you can see is their backs. I don’t mean to be crass, but if you’d done the tits I could have passed them off on some Texan.” Reinhold didn’t have enough time to do two canvases, and now he has to do three. That’s why he’s in here drinking at three in the afternoon. I only came in to get out of the rain. He doesn’t have to do it, of course. It’s an insult that Jeremy even asked. It’s a sign that Reinhold is marginal, not particularly important to Jeremy, maybe even a not-so-subtle hint to find representation elsewhere. In fact, if Reinhold does do the canvases, it’ll show Jeremy that 18

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he can kick Reinhold around. On the other hand, if he doesn’t do them and Jeremy doesn’t push the show, and the pieces don’t sell, it’ll be a big roadblock for him. He’s only had one solo show before. Small pieces by unknown artists don’t command big prices, so even though Reinhold sold out that first show he really needs this one to go well. To be a good investment he needs to get famous. If he did ten-foot canvases collectors would pay more and be more willing to gamble on him. He’s convinced it’s a phallic thing. It’s the reason he paints miniatures in the first place. There’s his conflict. I already gave Lila a conflict, she’s slowly losing the ability to fly. George was really the problem, and the reason it took me so long to come up with conflicts for the three of them. His whole life is screwed up; it was pretty hard to decide what single problem to base a story on. I’m leaning toward the animals—his super’s been giving him a hard time about having so many of them. If it seems a little cruel to take away the one thing that gives George pleasure, well, that’s what makes it a conflict. The challenge now is to bring together these three conflicts in an interesting way, so that they at least bounce off each other. It would be best if everything happened in this bar, too, for the sake of formal unity. I’m not going to bind myself to that, however. This isn’t a play and I’m not limited to one set. I may go outside to the street or even further. Right now Reinhold and I are the only ones in the bar. He’s half-heartedly chatting with the bartender, a frenzied-looking Irishman who must work afternoons because I’ve never seen him here before. Reinhold turns to me, and I notice that the monkey actually looks a little better. Maybe there’s an inverse ironical relationship there I can use—Reinhold gets worse, monkey 19

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gets better. We’ll see. “You want to paint a tiny little picture for me?” he says. “Fifty bucks.”

Day 40: I’ve got to stop coming to the bar in the afternoon. At 4 p.m. on a Wednesday I’m the only person under forty-five in here, and the only one not glued to the racing results coming in on the TV. There are about ten of them, all men except for one frowzy woman whose dyed blonde hair is so damaged it hangs in ropes like muddy horsetail. One twentysomething girl comes in to use the bathroom and hurries out again. The men are all drinking bottled Bud, poured into glasses, and bourbon shots. They all have the racing form. Every so often you see where clichés come from. That bartender is here again. I introduced myself a couple of days ago. He had to write his name out for me, some crazy Gaelic thing: Myles na gCopaleen. Lila comes in after a while. I didn’t know she was drinking this early now. I haven’t been paying enough attention recently. She seems to know this crowd, they greet her and one of them starts explaining that no matter where she goes in the world she should look for the Irish bar. “There’s a great one in Berlin called the Oscar Wilde. Great bar.” I’m not trying to play on the Irish drinking stereotype, by the way. Sometimes things happen and I need to report them. In fact, the guy talking about Irish bars has a strong Southern accent. His hand is on the edge of her stool, about an inch from her ass. It wrinkles her overcoat, which she’s again draped about her stool, although she hasn’t yet begun to float. The guy is in this bar instead of the town’s Irish bar, wherever that is, but that doesn’t seem to bother her, nor even that he’s drunk at four in the 20

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afternoon, hasn’t shaved, and has spent all day drinking and betting horses. Then again, she’s in here at four in the afternoon herself. It’s rough when it’s the middle of the winter, and it’s still light out, and you’re at the bar. Now that I think about it, she’s supposed to be working right now. Did she quit or has she just started ducking out early? Did I remember to give her a job at all? Hang on while I try to remember what I’ve written on that.

Nope. No job. No wonder she drinks so much. She must be totally broke, too, which is why she’s letting these losers hit on her. They buy her drinks. That can only last so long, though, before she ends up like the horsetail lady. She’s flying a little more lately. That’s a good thing, I suppose. She’s discovered that no one will see her if she goes to the roof of her apartment building and flies straight up. It’s limited, since it misses all the fun of skimming the ground, weaving between trees. Still, it’s meditative, and particularly so when she’s drunk and the world spins not only left to right but top to bottom. She feels like she’s at the heart of the spinning universe. Probably because she’s broke she’s covering all the bar’s basketball playoff action. I don’t know how she’s going to come up with the money if the bets go against her. Cross that bridge when I come to it, I guess. George made a big score at his job recently, some addled old millionairess, so he’s been here even more than usual. That’s cut down on Lila’s drinking for the last week; she’s not well known enough at other bars to bum free drinks and she still won’t come in here at the same time 21

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as George. She figures that if she ever does, it’ll mean she’s a real alcoholic. It hasn’t come to that yet. It has been making her tense that George has been here so often, and she’s glad he’s gone tonight. She doesn’t care where he’s gone, but I can tell you he’s on his bimonthly cigarette run. He almost didn’t go, what with the fat new commission, but in the end the miser in him won out. I can picture him peeping over the steering wheel, scowling at the traffic. Enough. Happy trails to you, until we meet again. . . . . . . . I’m drunk already.

Day 43: Where the hell was I? I drank more than usual last time and now I can’t seem to remember where I left my story. I’ve been coming in a fair amount and not writing, which confuses things. I’ve bought Lila a drink or two. I come in here and see Reinhold moping over a blank piece of butcher paper, or Lila wrapping her fingers around the edge of her stool so that when she leans forward to touch the loser who just bought her a drink, she doesn’t float forward into him—I come in here and see these things and it depresses me. I can’t write a goddamn thing. I can’t see any way out for either of them. Lila’s screwed, by the way, she got clobbered on her bets and owes money to just about everyone in here. Fortunately, only George is here tonight. I still can’t bring myself to get depressed over George. He’s too unpleasant. I can pity him, particularly since his super’s recently begun to poison his pets, but I can’t really empathize. For 22

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one thing, he won’t get rid of the dead animals: he’s letting the corpses sit and rot where they fall. He’s taken on that smell too. As long as he’s present, stinking up the bar, I can’t bring myself to do anything for him, not that I have the ghost of an idea what to do about his problems either. Something has to be done, though, about all three of them. I’d be irresponsible if I let them slide into a pit, and this story wouldn’t have much plot. I’m getting tempted to bring Dave back for that cameo, make him the deus instead of me, set him to watching his machina again and let that solve everything. I’ll hold it in reserve. For now, I think I had better try to impose some order on the three I’ve got. What’s that line about plot constraining characters, or characters running around heedless of plot? Maybe it was Forster. At any rate, I think I’ll goose-step George out of here and get Reinhold in instead. His conflict seems the likeliest to yield. There George goes, goose-stepping. He isn’t pleased about it, that’s obvious. He’s marching, but he keeps trying to grab the bar to stop himself. There’s a limit to how much I can make him do. I can’t make him like it. Frankly, if I could, I’d make him go home, clean up his apartment, and take a shower. I feel like he might kill himself if I tried. Ok, now he’s gone. I’ll see if I can’t get Reinhold in here.

It’s been twenty minutes. He’s not here. I don’t know what I expected, I never tried to make anybody go or stay before. I feel like I’m going to have to give him an excuse for not coming, or else go after him. I said he was going to come, and he hasn’t come, so there needs to be a 23

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reason. I have to kill the monkey. Now Reinhold will be devastated. The monkey ate some of George’s super’s poison, there’s some economy of storytelling for you. Reinhold was walking down George’s street when the monkey smelled George’s empty whiskey bottles from the dumpster behind his house, and jumped off Reinhold’s shoulder with more energy than he’d shown in years. When Reinhold found him, he was licking out an empty canister of rat poison. On the plus side, Reinhold’s tirade at George’s super will stop the poisoning campaign. I solved George’s problem. There would be another irony for you, if I ended up solving only bastard George’s conflict. Well, life’s not fair. Look what happened for his namesake. Jesus, I’m in a black mood. I’m definitely drinking too much. I probably didn’t even need to kill the monkey, I could have had Reinhold tied up in traffic, or lost, or in the middle of a phone call to his dealer. Killing the monkey doesn’t make any sense, the more I think about it. How did the monkey get hold of George’s super’s poison? And as an explanation for why Reinhold isn’t here it makes even less sense. Wouldn’t Reinhold come here then, to drink and mourn? Sure enough, here he is. I don’t know if I can even face him. Solving his art problem is a minor worry of his now anyway. I’ve made things worse. Messing with people’s lives drunk is a bad idea, but I guess it’s too late for that realization. It’s a basic flaw in the whole project. I can’t leave Lila and Reinhold where they are, that wouldn’t be fair either. Reinhold is coming over to talk to me now. He’s got a big old glass of Makers Mark and he keeps pointing at his monkeyless shoulder. He does look odd without the little guy. The monkey always weighted his profile to one side, it’s how I got used to seeing him. He’s not supposed to look evened out like this. 24

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“I know,” I say. I put out my arm and gather him in, and he starts crying big football-player years into my best green-velour shirt. It’s tough writing one handed around his giant back. What a mess. A huge fucking disaster on all fronts. I need to use a lighter hand.

Day 45: Myles the bartender says Lila hasn’t been seen since the playoffs ended. He figures she owes something like two or three thousand, depending on how all the parlays worked out. Her creditors aren’t violent people or anything, I’m not about to turn this into a formula gangster movie. She doesn’t owe any one person more than a couple hundred. Still, as I said right from the beginning, I don’t want my characters making trouble for real people. More importantly, since she lost, Lila still doesn’t have any money, and I don’t know how she’s going to eat. This may seem like a minor problem, I know. If I can make her fly I can have her win the lottery, or photosynthesize, or something, right? No, actually. Lila doesn’t play the lottery. Stories depend on a fragile agreement between teller and reader, and I can’t go unilaterally changing the rules of the agreement halfway through. The reader wouldn’t stand for it. I’m going to have to find something else. So here’s my idea: George is flush right now. Maybe I can figure out a way to get Lila some of that money. I’ll have to get both of them in here at once, which will be difficult. Lila has no way of knowing that George has money, so she won’t want to come in and interact with him. 25

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That’s a smaller problem than not knowing where to get Lila the money at all, though. I have to get the problem down to more manageable pieces, so I don’t have a repeat of the monkey incident. Let me think about it for a minute.

Here’s a better idea: I’ll get the money to Reinhold first. Reinhold knows about George’s big score. Myles the bartender told him when Reinhold was complaining about his own finances, as a sort of ain’t-life-a-bitch gesture. That was before the monkey died. Since then, the monkey is all Reinhold has complained about to Myles, and George has overheard him. George feels bad for Reinhold, maybe a first ever since George’s childhood, because he can identify with the poisoned-pet issue. Also, Reinhold put a stop to the poisoning campaign, and George feels warmly towards him about that. Reinhold suspects all of this. He’s seen George looking at him without hate, and a lack of hate is as close as George gets to love. And although Reinhold remains upset over the monkey, he recognizes that the monkey was on its last legs anyway. He would feel no guilt over turning its death to his advantage. Reinhold and George are both here tonight, fortunately. I know I didn’t mention it before, but I swear they’ve been here all along. It’s what gave me the idea to try the two-bumper pool shot—George to Reinhold to Lila. Now Reinhold walks over to George and starts talking. He has to control his gag reaction, and the mere fact that he does so impresses George. Very few people try to come within a five-foot radius of George, let alone sit next to him and talk. Since he added the smell of decaying dogs to the rest Myles won’t serve him face-to-face anymore; he slides George’s drinks down the bar and whatever gets spilled is George’s problem. 26

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Reinhold tells George he wants to do a commissioned work for him. It’s a great honor, he tells George. He’ll even let George choose the subject matter. His giant arms wave about George’s small body as he explains things. George doesn’t say anything, doesn’t give any sign of how this strikes him. Reinhold explains that it would help him out enormously, it would mean he could guarantee the gallery a sale, which would improve his dealer’s whole attitude about the show. George is listening. He’s flattered by the prospect of dictating what painting hangs in a big New York gallery. He’s gratified that someone needs him. He’s starting to nod. I can see his big head nodding under the arc of Reinhold’s arm.

Day 50: I might have expected it wouldn’t go smoothly. Putting up a few thousand for something he doesn’t need goes right against George’s nature, for one thing. For another, he can’t seem to come up with something for Reinhold to paint. To Reinhold it seems like George is just farting around, taking forever to decide something pretty simple. I know I did more or less the same thing when I was starting this experiment, but so what? I didn’t have people depending on me, not at first anyway. It’s particularly a problem now because I can’t really write about Lila until I get her back to the bar, and I can’t see how Lila can come back to the bar until I can get her some money, and I can’t even begin to address how to get the money from Reinhold to her until I get it from George to Reinhold. George won’t pay until he sees the painting. He’s stubborn. Privately, George is pretty bothered by all this. It’s a hard thing to admit, that you can’t come up with a good artistic idea. He can’t cheat like me and wing it, either, because he’s not 27

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going to be involved in the process end of things, and he doesn’t have any idea how to paint a miniature anyway. All he knows is that he wants the painting to be about anger, especially his anger at that goddamn super. If he were willing to tell Reinhold that, Reinhold could probably whip together a few sketches, but George isn’t willing. He hates the idea of admitting his anger to anyone, let alone some beefcake artist who’s never had a problem in the world, in George’s mind. It’d make him weak, and submitting to Reinhold’s flattery has made him feel weak enough already. He’s not sure there isn’t a subtle insult in being asked to buy a miniature. If he could dictate every detail of the painting he wouldn’t feel that way; he’d be in control. So he keeps trying, and it’s driving Reinhold crazy. Reinhold gave George his phone number, and now George calls constantly to ask questions that have nothing to do with this painting. Reinhold suspects that when he gives George answers, George doesn’t understand them, and that George keeps asking questions to make himself look smart. Why else would George ask about how Reinhold stretches his canvases and what kind of lighting there will be at the show? Reinhold is quite right. George is convinced he’s being impressive. He’s never failed to be impressive over the phone. Even though Lila’s not here, I do know that her ability to fly continues to deteriorate. Side to side, anyway. She can go up and down fine, since she’s still flying up from her roof. That’s like crawling all the time, though, and when she does the equivalent of trying to walk, she finds she’s wobbly. She can’t maneuver. It’s almost more depressing than before. She’d thought she had the problem beat.

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Day 54: George has decided he wants Reinhold to paint the first dog his super poisoned, exactly as it looks right now. It’s a terrier mutt that one morning went behind George’s couch, vomited some, and died. At least that’s what George assumes; he came home and found the dead dog behind the couch in a pool of vomit. George figured out it was poison when a couple of the cats nibbled on the vomit and started looking crosseyed themselves. The dog’s still lying there, still in the now-dry vomit. The first couple of days its abdomen filled with gas, and then those gases blew out the asshole, so now there’s a maggoty crater at the back end. Fewer maggots than the reader might think, though. There weren’t that many flies in George’s house initially. There are a lot more now. Other than the crater, the skin is mostly intact, except along the spine. The carcass has been sitting there so long that the skin has dried, shrunk, and split down the back like a zipper. Right along the inner edge of the split are twin layers of dried muscle like the striated walls of a canyon, and then past that crust, down where it’s still moist, things have gone a little soupy. That soupy stuff doesn’t offer much resistance, so as the skin dries each day, the spinal split opens more and more. Reinhold wasn’t pleased with the idea. Even if there weren’t the smell, it’d still be a major departure in his work—it’s neither going to make the gallery happy nor work alongside the nudes. And there was the smell. Boy was there the smell. It’s a difficult smell to describe, especially since the reader has most likely never been forced into personal contact with an apartment full of rotting meat before. It’s not like other bad smells. Rotting fruit, garbage, feces—these are all by comparison friendly, organic smells, potentially the smells of compost 29

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and regrowth. Rotting meat is literally the smell of death. When Reinhold got to George’s door, he had to force himself to knock, let alone walk the length of the apartment and stand still long enough to snap a few Polaroids. So now Reinhold sits at the bar, a few stools down from me, with eight Polaroids laid out in front of him. He still looks a little green, and he’s not looking at the pictures, he’s staring resolutely into his lap. He’s got a full glass of beer in front of him, and I feel like telling him that drinking isn’t likely to settle his stomach, but he probably doesn’t want to hear from me. I’m beginning to suspect, also, that George may have figured out I’m writing him, from that time I goose-stepped him out of here. If that’s the case, Reinhold might know too, and the two of them probably wouldn’t like me very much, what with the dead pets and the dead monkey. That’s the other reason I’m not saying anything to Reinhold. He opens his flatfile shoulder bag and pulls out a piece of butcher paper, and uses his beer mug and an ashtray to anchor the two far corners. He arranges the Polaroids along the left side of the sheet and begins to sketch. Now that he’s not exposed to the smell anymore, now that’s he’s started to draw the thing, he begins to warm to the project. He won’t simply paint a reproduction of any one of these views. It’ll be a composite, and it’ll have the Reinhold stamp on it. If nothing else, it feels good to work again. That exploded asshole like the heart of a galaxy, studded with maggot-stars. That splitting Milky Way down the back. The pencil is dancing in his hamfist now. He’ll do a full-canvas sketch first and then divide it up into the usual grid. It could even be good, he thinks. George, on the other hand, isn’t feeling satisfied. He’s at home, sitting in his living room, 30

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pondering his dead pets. There are a lot of them, he’s noticing. They’re keeping any replacement strays from showing up, and they’re beginning to attract rats. Believe it or not, George is fastidious about rats. When people insult him, it’s one of the comparisons they commonly make, and he can’t stand it.

Day 56: Cleaning all the dead animals out of his apartment has only made George smell worse. He loaded them all into black double-ply garbage bags, and between the floor and the garbage bags the carcasses spent a moment in his arms. As I mentioned before, they’d gotten a little soupy, and George could only maneuver them in his stubby arms by hugging them close. When he picked them up, the dried, brittle hides cracked here and there and leaked, and he hasn’t washed that liquid off his skin or out of his clothes. Some even got in his beard, and his solution to all of this, rather than taking a shower and laundering his clothes, has been to chain-smoke. He smells it less that way. It doesn’t help anyone else, though; he’s driven everybody else out tonight with clouds of rotten-meat tinged Pall Mall smoke. It’s particularly pungent when he singes his deaddog-juice-soaked beard. Myles the bartender has told George he won’t serve him anymore unless George goes home and takes a shower. Myles, in fact, is standing all the way at the opposite end of the room from George, with a bar rag over his mouth and nose, and if the reader has ever had occasion to smell a dirty, mildewed bar rag, she’ll have an idea of how bad George smells tonight. George won’t leave. He’s sitting there with no drink. I think he assumes that if he waits 31

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long enough, Myles will cave. It’s the way George deals with all of his problems: he endures them. His one great strength is his capacity to suffer beyond others’ ability to inflict suffering. I don’t think Myles is going to back down, though. I’m sitting near him, and I can hear him cursing George into his wadded rag. If Reinhold hadn’t made George feel needed, I’d absolutely pick Myles in this standoff; without other patrons George can neither annoy people nor be benignly ignored. Unfortunately, being needed by Reinhold has made George need other contact less, so the only thing that’ll get him out of here will be that he won’t get a drink, and that could take— No, wait. Myles is calling the police. Hm. Dumb of me. I got all involved in the intricacies of motivation I’d need in order to force George into a shower—so that I could avoid repeating the goose-stepping incident, you see—and somehow missed an obvious solution. I really only wanted to make George take a goddamn shower for my own sake. I have to be in here with him too, you know. In the future I’ll have to stay alert for sidestep tactics like that. Myles doesn’t even need to actually call the cops. George sees what Myles is doing, hops off his stool, and shuffles out the door. There’s a brief miasmic wave as he passes me, and then it’s all over. Myles moves along the bar lighting scented candles, then comes back to talk to me. “Listen, pal,” he says, “you’d better keep a closer leash on that one. He’s messing up my business now.” “I’m sorry,” I say. I must look surprised to be held accountable, because Myles snorts and says, “You think 32

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you’re the only writer we’ve ever had in here?” I guess if you spend every day in a bar, the bartender will inevitably start to think less of you.

Day 60: The first half of my idea has gone well, I think. George finally paid Reinhold. Reinhold finished the canvas of the terrier and, having gotten interested in the subject, has begun a portrait of his dead monkey. He’s had the thing disinterred. George showered, did a laundry, and has generally knocked his repulsiveness back down to a manageable level. A few stray cats have begun sniffing around his yard. The only issue left is how to get the money to Lila, and here I have to report that she’s brought me her own proposition. It seems that between George and Myles the bartender, both Reinhold and Lila now know that I’m writing them, and they’ve cooked something up. Reinhold wants to buy Lila’s flight. Lila told me this a little while ago, here in the bar. I bought her drinks. We both got pretty hammered, but then I’ve been getting hammered a lot lately. I told Lila she’d be miserable if I took away her flying. She wouldn’t be special anymore. I said, “Screw what it makes people think about you. Why can’t you enjoy it? Do you know what I’d give to fly?” Lila turned sour when I said that. “It’s your fault I care what people think,” she said. “You could have made it so I didn’t. And now you could change things and fix it, make it so I was never able to fly. Then I wouldn’t miss it.” I thought about turning her down flat, but instead I tried to explain how the reader wouldn’t 33

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stand for it, how I couldn’t change things retroactively like that. “You hack, you asshole, you don’t have any readers,” she said. “You owe me. I don’t have anything else to sell.” And she stormed out. So here I am, drinking by myself, thinking about it.

Day 63: I’ve thought about it, and talked about it some more with both Lila and Reinhold. I took notes on the conversation, but unfortunately I wrote them (and had all the conversations) while deeply drunk, and they’re useless. I sat between Lila and Reinhold, and in the scratched-up mirror behind the bar we went small, bigger, biggest from left to right through the single malts. From what I remember, and it’s a little foggy, I tried to interest them in the possibility of Reinhold paying for rides, and Lila said that it would be humiliating. I’m pretty sure I tried out a couple of other ideas, including the possibility of letting Lila win back the money somehow, and if I remember right Lila said she didn’t trust me. Reinhold acted like he didn’t care most of the time. I think. It bothers me that I can’t remember better. I’ve never gotten drunk enough to forget things before, at least not as regularly as I have been lately. I need to get out of this bar. Maybe I should let Lila make her sale, so I can finish this damn story and get out of here. If I could finish, I wouldn’t need to be in here all the time. I could cut out the drinking and everything would be fine. And it’s what Lila wants, and I do owe her. I threw a lot of crap George’s way but I also gave him the constitution to take it, and I worked things out for Reinhold. Poor Lila. 34

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What was she supposed to do? I’ve been awful to her. I can’t erase her ability to fly from fictional history, the way she wants, but I could make her not remember. (I’m going to take a break, and the reader is going to have to excuse me here. I’ve started to get depressed after only a couple-few beers lately, and the whole Lila thing gets me down. I’ll be okay in a minute. I usually feel better by beer five.)

I’ll do it. I have to do it. Consider it done. I’ll try to get Reinhold to cough up some extra money for Lila, take care of her a little better. Myles tells me I have a new problem, however. George and I have missed each other, the last few times I’ve been in, and it turns out that’s pretty lucky. Myles tells me George has been muttering nasty things about me, swearing up and down to anyone who’ll listen that, among other things, he’s going to disembowel me and drag my living guts behind his car. I would laugh it off except that George never talks to anybody, and he does have good reason to hate me. He’s probably mad enough about all the crap in his life that if he ever saw me he’d at least take a poke at me, and then who knows? I don’t think he’d really disembowel me, but it’s possible he could get worked up enough to hurt me, and that means I can’t be sure of myself around George anymore. When Myles told me all this I accused him of telling George about me, and Myles chewed me out for it. He said that would be about the worst thing a bartender could do, and goddamn if he was going to let me shovel responsibility for my fuckups onto him. Anyway, if I can’t be around George, I can’t write about him. End of George. I’d just gotten him to take a shower, too. 35

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

That really makes me depressed. I’m going to drink myself under my stool now, and I wouldn’t bet against my running over somebody’s cat on the way home.

Day 64: I swore I wasn’t going to fix problems drunk anymore. I swore. Last time I did it I killed Reinhold’s monkey, this time I apparently killed George. I say apparently because I don’t remember doing it; I looked at last night’s pages before I came in here this afternoon and saw that I’d written “End of George.” He was a good character. I need to stop drinking so much. The news about George has gotten around quickly, the afternoon regulars keep coming over and offering to buy me drinks. Celebratory drinks, not mourning drinks. They’re slapping each other on the back and betting heavy on the horses because “it’s already a lucky day, isn’t it?” It seems a little callous, but as I’ve said before, fictional characters can only expect so much mercy. Their mood isn’t dampened by the news that Reinhold is dead too. I forgot to warn him what was coming when I wrote “Consider it done” last night, and I forgot to adjust Lila’s flight to his very different body. As I imagine it, he was on his way here at the time, walking briskly, when he started to float. Slowly, because Lila is a lot lighter than Reinhold and her ability could only lift him a little at a time. By the time he noticed he was already a few feet up, and still cruising forward at a pretty good pace. Which turned out to be the problem: Reinhold’s extra mass meant a lot of extra inertia, and Lila’s ability couldn’t slow or turn him before he knocked himself silly on a lamppost. He floated away, gradually accelerating, and only revived a few miles up, in a freezing world without air. He’s gone, headed into space like the Voyager probe. End of 36

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

Reinhold. Lucky thing Lila wasn’t out flying when I took her ability away, or I’d have lost all of them. She was at home, watching TV, and since I’d decided beforehand that she’d forget, she never knew the difference. Nevertheless, losing two of my main characters in one night strikes me as almost offensively incompetent. If I can still do something that boneheaded, I don’t think I can say I’ve learned anything at all. The idea was to inject a little imagination into my writing and I ended up instead drunkenly botching everything. The experiment is over. I’m calling it all off, and I’m not going to drink for at least a week.

Day 200+ (Coda): It wasn’t easy to stop drinking for that week. One of the things I learned is that when one finally notices how screwed up things have gotten, one’s pretty much an alcoholic already. I quit the bar and drank at home for a while. Okay, I still drink at home. It’s been a few months of that. I’ll never write in a bar again. I was in there earlier today, though, and saw Lila, and I thought the reader might want to know how things turned out for her. The answer is: not too badly, especially if you consider how badly things went for George and Reinhold. Myles the bartender remembered me, and he said she did pay everyone she owed. She’s still alive, anyway, and she doesn’t remember a thing, although she still doesn’t have a job, and she’s still up to her old tricks. I was watching her work a Long Island iced tea out of a guy. Her hand was on the guy’s shoulder, his hand was on her waist, and Myles swore they had met twenty minutes before. 37

Joshua Malbin 307 12th St. Apt. 8 Brooklyn NY 11215

I won’t mess with her life anymore, even to give her a job. It’s better if I leave her alone. She was seated firmly on her stool, her tan raincoat tucked in around her rump. When Myles brought her drink she raised one small hand to her face to brush away the hair, and it was such a childlike gesture, and she smiled so appreciatively at the man with her, I swear she might have been happy.

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