Bend those tired knees down low just goes to show that as many weeds as gardens grow he’s

never too old to pull them out make room for more.

© Eric R. Payne 2007

This book is dedicated to the tremendous sum of people and animals who have loaned themselves as characters in the past three years.

Along the Lines of Causerie

Chapter I A Whole Spectrum of Chalk

Journal Number 247 - Age 24

June 17th - 12:00 p.m. - Year 1 Sixteen footsteps condense themselves and swallow up the traffic (the traffic being me). Pine trees open their coats and release sparrows like music notes. A stereo guides the kids playing in the street, telling their feet to tell the rest of the world a little something about being carefree. I consider running them all over with my car because I have to get to work. The window rolled down, I would let loose my matured profanity if I weren't worried that it would kill Kingsbury street's childhood, which is somehow worse than killing children. My mouth stays shut. A young boy's voice shouts something and I see a baseball lob in an arch, landing on the hood of my car. I step out and the clatter cuts off. Frightened faces meet me. The pitcher says sorry. I throw the ball back and wave, telling them to continue. No sense in being upset. Warily their heads are turned with the corners of their eyes watching my parallel park against the curb. I shut my car off and sit in the dugout (a dusty sidewalk) next to a small girl who wears a baseball cap turned backward, dirty brown hair leaking through the back. At first she seems afraid but it doesn't take long for my silent presence to be forgotten. Grinning at the boy beside her, she spits onto the ground while he sticks out his tongue and pretends to gag. There's an ant who has found himself caught in her mouth's precipitation, legs kicking with the little girl laughing and me wondering what it feels like to be dying in an eight year old's spit. To my right I watch a boy draw a house in sky blue chalk on his sidewalk. Doesn't look half bad. I am guessing it is supposed to be a replica of the house across the street, complacent and two storied. An hour passes. Bare feet turn black on the bottom from running in calloused chases. Sweat in rivulets shining their faces. Ancient gloves turning their palms a sweet sour. Laughter and friendly rivalry. Batters shrugging their tiny shoulders. Outfielders yawning and waiting for grounders. One abused baseball in a battered hell. They ignore the clouds forming an umbrella above them. I worry of rain but say nothing. I feel silly and slightly suspicious amidst them, half expecting a parent to come out and shoo me away. My cell phone starts ringing from the seat of my baseball-

wounded car. My boss must be wondering where I am. I must be fired. The boy next to me has added stick figures to his powdery portrait. His family, I assume. Everything is the same sky blue. A whole spectrum of chalk rests next to him but for some reason he remains monochromatic. By two in the afternoon I am bored but have nothing else to do or write about. Parents gather on their porches, eyes rolling from the game to the sky, sometimes to me. The clouds have taken all the good humor out of daylight and turned it against us. I start to feel a mild sense of apathy swelling from the pitcher's mound of chalk. He's been pitching since early this morning and is still not any good at it. Roadways are stuck in rippling gray, traffic tightening the neighborhood pulse. Enormous pairs of rain clouds argue until they reach a downpour compromise. Bare feet disperse. Chalk sidewalks stream down the gutter. A skyless sky blue. And finally the last of the children leave the street before I can run them over. I get in my car and watch the scene fade into a wash of amber from the whispers of sunlight filtering through rain. It's nostalgic in the cinematic sense, like grainy sun-dried film that hasn't been played on screen for decades. The children come back out, shelved with raincoats like flowers in vases. Their boots shout splish splash and the puddles are making faces so they smash them in. Tip toeing the border of picture frames and clocks, someone warns them of slipping because stained glass knees are scraping and the clumsy kids are crying while the last in line finds himself growing up in a life that's just a snapshot. — June 17th - 4:34 p.m. - Year 1 Grade school is either a novelty or a novella. ---June 17th - 5:16 p.m. - Year 1 My door wakes under the light of the hallway and sighs in the shadow of my apartment. The contrast puts me at ease, as I've always had a bad feeling about fluorescence. I swing the door shut and open the shades. Between the lines of a thick notebook I place the bodies of children who play baseball in the sunlight and kill puddles in the rain.

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Envy snakes down my arm and into the pen but I write stolidly, just enough to remember. Recording brief accounts of each day has been a ritual for the past eight years (I can't remember much before that). It keeps my memory solid. The inside of my head is outside, my memory is tangible: a closet full of notebooks, a hard drive full of photos, a sketchbook full of drawings. Truth is, I'm not artistically inclined by nature but by necessity. The phone ringing uncoils my ink. I snap the phone loose and before it even reaches my ear I hear the perpetually enthusiastic voice of my publisher and editor, Elissa. My book's a real hit, she says. I should be receiving a pretty big check soon. I might as well quit my job since I hate it so much, she says. I laugh ironically. She goes on to repeat herself. I am not sure if she realizes she's being repetitive or if she's just assuming I forgot everything she said the first time around. I can't blame her. I am patient through the sentences and when I am not as excited as her she asks why. I explain and she smiles over the phone. The grin is right there in the palm of my hand, I'm afraid to drop her. Goddammit, Abe, you're going to make me rich, she says. Make us rich. Try and sound a little more cheery. I am, I tell her. I am. She goes on to talk about my new book and how she's going to market it. She wants to hear about my new story idea. I shift through my notebook and tell her. She says I need more ideas. I should go somewhere, find some more characters, more plot. ----June 18th - 12:00 p.m. - Year 1 The folds of my notebook are caught and stuck and my characters are real, really there. Bugs in and on the wood where I sit on the branch are taken aback, by surprise, my eyes watching with my hands writing. They might wonder what makes them so important, had they the minds to really wonder that sort of thing. And as I shift to let a line of ants pass, the branch takes them by surprise, sweeps over, one falls, then the rest, they probably die, and I'd apologize but I don't think I care. Having nothing better to write about, I'm sort of glad it happened. I have, as of today, at high noon, over fifty pages written about bugs and painting and that's maybe a novella in itself. My plot is about windmills that don't work and fireworks that work too well and a carnival with a pest control problem and an exterminator afraid of bugs and an artist who thinks he's insane but really is not, he'd only like to be. I don't have a romantic interest and my publisher refuses to publish my story until I create a love interest. She told me bugs don't count. I'm

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considering turning it into a children's book and making all of the characters bugs, just in spite, just because I want to. The problem is I don't think I have retained the spirited creative vigor to argue with Elissa that I had with my first novel. And there's been this horrendous writer's block the past month that I can't seem to force aside. So even if it does go against my aesthetic judgment, it would at least be the easier route. My protagonist could find himself a gorgeous girl and I could either end the story with a marriage or the girl dying. Evoking emotion is what I'm paid to do. I don't think all the ants died, they're squirming and probably angry. I wonder how long it took them to get up to this branch (I'm pretty high) and where exactly they were heading and why. I have no idea what they would want way up here where the birds are the keepers of. Unless they're suicidal, but there must be better ways to die and I don't think ants have the ability to contemplate the possible meaninglessness of their lives like humans can. The only reason I am here is because I'm bored with the ground and decided a new setting might help me with my writing as Elissa suggested. I'm not suicidal. And there's better ways to die, anyhow. Instead of writing I find myself serene and quiet. Appreciating the imagery instead of worrying about stories. Maybe this is the only thing really worth writing about. Sunshine and green leaves, the tangle of branches and mellow sky beyond. Not plot but just setting. As it nears sundown a man is shouting, underneath. Something along the lines of "what the hell are you doing in my tree?" Granted, it's not my tree. But he is my character. Now he is, anyway. Now that I have written him down. He wears plaid as plain as a lumberjack. He has no axe but he might as well be cutting down this tree. Enraged, his eyes are as wide as an infant's, except angry with over forty years of age. Silly, almost, all considering. I'm just sitting in his tree, I haven't done anything wrong. I wonder how he even noticed me. He keeps shouting and I don't think he even asked me to come down, now it's just profanity, and I swear to God this and swear to God that. I don't know what his purpose will be in my story but it's too late now not to include him. Finally he storms away, mentioning the first amendment and what he keeps in his desk drawer. I imagine him being the type that would carry a shotgun but somehow I don't see that fitting in a desk drawer. Of course, I can change that, I can make him whatever I want. He could be the kind of character who would chase his daughter's post coital boyfriend out of her room and through the window, heavily armed with what the constitution calls arms. Somewhat intimidated, I climb down the branches, struggling not to lose my grip. As I near the ground I find myself already starting to miss the tree, the yard, the birds. They made me feel almost at youth for once. Feet reaching the ground, I bid adieu.

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I vaguely wonder if the lumberjack will give chase as I walk down the road. Instead a cop pulls his car over. He gets out with a mildly amused expression on his face, his uniform pitch black, hands on his belt. He asks me if I have been sitting in anyone's tree lately. I tell him no. He asks to see what is in my hand. Of course, after reading the latest page in my notebook, he knows. Surprisingly he laughs. I guess I can be a witty writer sometimes. He gives me a strange look and asks for my name. I tell him, including my middle name. He studies my face and, luckily for me, it hits him. "Oh, the author? Didn't you write..." And so we travel the conversation of author and fan instead of delinquent and policeman. "Your style is really different in this notebook, but I enjoyed it." "Thanks." "You know, I had always wanted to be a writer..." A few more words and a handshake later he leaves. He didn't even give me a warning and now he's a character in my book. A bad employee, documented. He drives off and I head toward the beach, acquiescing to search for a love interest. Written down, the scene stays with me, projecting itself overhead as I hit the sunset like an ending, credits rolling down my silhouette (although we've just begun). -----June 18th - 4:15 p.m. - Year 1 Her voice ruptures in the seashell clatter of crab dance banter. I can't make it out clearly. Something along the lines of split cotton and sunshine chasing tongues past ocean spray. It cuts through bodies straight from the mouth of the shore as though she were of the shore itself, although I can't tell if her lips are moving. I come closer to find out. She's motionless and gorgeous and there's still this voice that I'm not sure if I'm actually hearing. I open my notebook, ready to capture her. I step over bare limbs and towels, castles and toenails, children and newspapers and bathers and sleepers. As I come closer her skin becomes grainy, eyes become seashells. I cross out the lines in my notebook and drop my hands. She's a sand sculpture. I don't know how I didn't notice. A burly man with a ruffled coat of body hair pats my back. He is tall and robust, beard filled with varying shades of brown that seem to spark in contagious laughter. "Nope, she ain't real, as you can see. Sorry." I can tell by his sandy hands and knowing eyes that he is the artist responsible. His sympathy seems routine. I suppose my mistake

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is not altogether uncommon. I talk to him of his art and his trickery. He tells me his name is Moses. Proud smiles frequent his bumblebee lips. His honeycomb eyes embrace mine. He asks me questions about myself and seems interested in the fact that I am a writer. We talk for another ten minutes before saying I need to get going before the sun is set and the beach emptied. But my search for another romantic figure is fruitless. The girls here are either too young or too old or profoundly uninteresting. I found more hope in the sand than in them. Once the moon starts to show her crescented cheek I decide there is no room for love interests on this beach, just qualms, and trudge up the sandy dunes toward the road. Wandering through the crowded parking lot (everyone leaving) I am gradually overwhelmed with not so unusual thoughts. I am thinking about how someone new forgets me every other second. I interrupt the lives of strangers and for those moments I am theirs and they are mine. Hundreds a week. We share a glance, maybe a quick exchange of words, and there is the face, and the tone of voice. And there is the wondering. The wonder of wondering. There are the split second fantasies, even. There are questions and awe. And whatever comes to mind is what will stay long enough for the complete short-term memory of a stranger. The someones we forget every other second, and will never remember having the knowledge of knowing through and through in those moments. It's all in a look, as some would say. Eyes are windows to the soul and all that. It's true if you want it to be. Depends on how you look when you're keeping secrets. How they look. The sand branches out onto the parking lot in webs and I am careful to watch my step. I concentrate on where I walk. I calm down. I sit on a bench next to a teenager with headphones. She doesn't notice me. I am grateful. Elissa's voice still rings in my ears. I know I need more characters but I don't know where to go. I take out my neglected cell phone and call Elissa, ask her. She tells me to go to family restaurants and eavesdrop, that would be a good start. Go around dinner time, she says. I guess I'll have to wait until tomorrow. ------June 19th - 4:48 p.m. - Year 1 Five and Saturday. This is Tilley's Family Restaurant’s busiest hour. Apparently. I am given a booth seat in the corner, the last one available.

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The high ceiling slants forest green into wood panel walls where a mild echo rumbles from the compression of voices. It sounds like the beach, where I just came from, except smothered in clothing and dry floors. My waiter comes and asks what I would like to drink. Chocolate milk. He briskly follows the current of steps into the kitchen, just behind me. He doesn't return to my table for another fifteen minutes, empty handed. He asks me what I would like to drink. Chocolate milk. I am trying to pick out voices, situations, characters, but the echo is sealing clarity, licking the walls and folding the forest green shut. It's like trying to hold an envelope up to the light, see the handwriting inside. I decide, forced with inaudibility, to just see. There's a whole language outside teeth and tongues. In the booth in front of me a little child is leaning over the edge of his seat. He's staring at the ground, playing games with his tiled shadow. His efforts go unnoticed by the floor, shadow stays glued to his motions. There is no shaking off a silhouette. He continues throwing his limbs, tensely waiting for his shadow to make a mistake. No luck. His efforts go unnoticed by his parents. He glances back at them, then continues. I can't hear what they are saying but it sounds above the language of children. As if I would know what they speak. He bends down close to the floor. He whispers. His efforts go unnoticed by his shadow. I can't hear what he is saying but it sounds below my language. Far to the right sits a heavyset man and his clunky wife. Both are charcoal colored and expensively clothed. They look frightfully prominent, especially in contrast to the casual nature and dress of all the other diners. The man has long dirty fingernails stabbing free from clean hands, eggplant lips sprouting from the roots of a dry mouth, a black and gray pinstripe suit flushed with the highway brights of a purple tie. My first thought is that he is an NFL lineman, or used to be. Gold bracelets and rings dance his wrists to their reflections on the table. His wife wears a green dress, ambrosial and fit like ironed seaweed, smiling. Laced up her middle-aged body, it stops at her cleavage, which is strewn with what appear to be warts. I find myself staring, counting, staring. These fleshy abnormalities become more plentiful as they reach her neck and face. They bleed her skin even darker than it already is, blur and bump, chew and ache. Chin raised, smile unforced, proud, she catches her husband's hand. His menu down, eyes fixed on her and obviously smitten, he begins his heartfelt monologue.

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At another table an elderly man has emptied his wallet onto the table. It was filled with coins that now stipple the table, the dirty plates, the unfolded napkins and their laps. The man and his grandchildren smirk and begin to count, after glancing at the check. A girl with soccer cleats and a jersey sits with her small legs dangling, chunks of grass falling like snow from a melting roof. She looks exhausted, embarrassed, bored, anxious. Her father pats her back and points at her menu but she is watching her own sigh instead. Blue crayoned picket fences and clouds and their bellies cover the placemat of a young boy waiting for someone to call him an artist. His stare tentatively peeks and lowers and then peaks, but everyone seems distracted except for me. Finally the air becomes less congested with conversation. Bodies scatter. I catch words straight from the mouths, slipping like letters inking out. At first it comes in glimpses. A man fresh out of his teens asks a girl if she still hates him. She says yes. He contemplates this for a moment before changing the subject. Another man just a little older says "I got hit by a car, then we got engaged, then she broke it off." I hear an old-time radio announcer's voice stretch from a wrinkled man eating Jello. He is with his warm family. He points toward his wife and says "I'd have cake instead but the boss won't let me anymore." A baby with curly brown hair and a chocolate milk moustache is compared to Charlie Chaplain. There's a family within perfect listening distance but they are all speaking a foreign language that I do not understand and sounds like running water. A sixteen year old girl with a valley dialect tells her friend how she was sexually harassed at work. She cries into her ranch dressing and no one says what they're thinking. A tall man comes lumbering in, his height and loud shoes attract wary eyes. This trench coat that looks like a skinned manta ray cloaks him, gives him aqua wings. He has winter eyes, tired and scratched. No teeth are visible when he opens his mouth to talk, and the hostess hurries him to a stool at the counter and forgets to ask him if he wants a drink. He takes off his cowboy hat and sets it on his lap. His spaghetti strained blonde hair reaches down to his shoulders. When a brave waiter finally attends to him, he orders a chicken salad and pours ketchup on it, declining the wide variety of customary dressings offered. He drains the entire bottle and asks for a second one, which he dips his remaining shards of processed chicken meat in. While finishing his unorthodox meal, a man who had apparently just finished a lengthy jog sits next to him. He is balding,

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overweight, and exudes an undeodarized armpit smell that from even here is a bit hard to stomach. He orders coffee, saying he doesn't have enough money for anything else, and then attempts to create conversation with the trench coat guy, unsuccessfully. His lips are sluggishly lisped, and everything he says is comical, although I seem to be the only one chuckling to myself. The trench coat character is unamused and anxiously awaiting his check, plate cleared, ketchup smeared dry in his throat. A baby cries and throws a crayon; the fan above us suddenly stops, starts turning backward, blowing the cold air down, cooling the top of our heads; an old woman knocks on the window to get the attention of someone inside, this person ignores her; a motorcycle revs in the parking lot; and the overweight guy in too tight running attire shivers while saying "hey I just got a feeling of deja vu, how 'bout you?" What's left from the conversations of Tilley's restaurant is too trite and I let it slip through the tiles. The people filter out. Out of the abundance of characters in my notebook I try and find a plot. I am surprised when the restaurant is still open, hours later. My chocolate milk dried, I order breakfast. With the better side of a sunny side up, I thank the waitress. She hurries her thanks and off she goes to wherever waitresses go when they are not waiting on me. I could remember her face forever (since I am writing it down), she might remember mine for an hour at most. Long enough to get the check, to pick up her tip that won't be worth it. When she comes back to refill my milk, I ask her how much she makes every week. She blinks and asks if I want more milk. I ask her if she likes her job. She blinks and stares. I say no thanks. She hurries off to wherever waitresses go when they are not waiting on me. I arrange my eggs into a smiley face but don't start eating. She comes back and asks if something is wrong with the food. I ask her if she noticed my egg yoke artwork. She asks if something is wrong with the food. I tell her it looks great and ask her if she likes eggs, too. She blinks and asks if I want more milk. I shake my head and she quickly leaves to wherever it is that she goes. I take out my notebook and lazily sketch her scorched tumbleweed hair, jean wrinkled forehead, pinched eyes, her stitched eyebrows and flower petal nose; banana lips, dusty keyboard teeth, her anchor chin and shipwreck throat; vase shoulders, boa constrictor arms swallowing chicken egg elbows, snail shell unwinding forearms to tendril grappled fingers and weed field nails; her ironically small breasts pouched like my sunny side eggs on

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her hot air balloon stomach cupping invisible ribs, wrinkled forehead jeans and feet that would be perfectly plain on anyone but her. She comes back and I have yet to eat. She glances at my drawing, no reaction on her face. Maybe she's used to getting drawn by strangers. I can imagine enough caricature artists have drooled over her for her to know what she is and be bored by it. I ask her if she was always so morose or if she was just having a bad day. So she blinks and then fixes her eyes on my glass, then back to my eyes, nudging her head to the side as if to ask the question that she was sick of asking. I shake my head and she walks off to wherever. I watch her walk this time, find no sign of slumping, no sign of pride, no sign of exasperation; no sign of life. On the opposite page from her picture I write "stale stepped." Not many words are needed for me to remember. She must get terrible tips. I wait half an hour, but she doesn't drop by to see if I need any more chocolate milk. In the meantime the lazy sketch turns into a detailed one, and I have done enough guesswork to bore my creative mind to death. I don’t know enough. Her stale steps are brought over to my cheerful voice. "Excuse me, Miss." "Yes?" "Can I have a refill?" She reaches for my cup. "But could I possibly have orange juice instead?" "Okay." "And would it be too much to ask for some crayons?" "Okay." I look at her, searching for any sign of amusement. "I need peach and orange and red and... what color exactly is your hair?" No response. "I guess... blonde... do you have any blonde crayons?" "No." "What do you think would be closest?" I clear my throat. "I guess yellow would suit your hair okay." "Okay." "And uh, I need a blue." "Okay. Anything else?" "No, no... I'm going to eat my eggs now." She leaves, comes back with crayons and chocolate milk, leaves again.

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I laugh. I keep waiting for her to become frustrated or amused or anything else but bored. She keeps surprising me. A couple words are scribbled, although nothing much new comes to mind. I color her picture and eat my eggs and drink my juice and wait for her to come back. Five minutes later she asks if I want anything else. I show her the picture and ask what she thinks. She asks if I want my check. I say I don't have any money with me, would it be alright if I paid with this drawing instead. She says she doesn't really care how I pay. "So,... you'll take this drawing as currency?" "Yes." "Are you sure your boss will be okay with that?" "I am the boss." I laugh, and look around the empty room. It is three in the morning. "So you're Tilley?" "Yes." "It's three in the morning." "Yes." "And... you chose to be here, at this time, waiting on tables?" "Yes." "I see. I would ask why but you probably wouldn't tell me, would you?" She holds out her hand, I give her the picture. She walks away. My artwork's never been worth money before. I jot down a couple more notes before realizing it isn't enough; I need that picture back. So I ask her for it. She asks why I need it. I tell her she is going to be a character in my story. I tell her I will remember her forever, she will forget me within the hour. She gives me the picture back and asks who her character will be. She looks sincere, curious; afraid. "Probably a catatonic, or a rock."

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Chapter II In Windchime Motion

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June 20th - 4:21 a.m. - Year 1 It's dim and my kitchen is blank. My head is muffled. I've spent a lot of time staring. There's no story in me. I have this empty hand, that I leave on the table, my own, I leave it there, open, and I imagine another hand holding it. Sometimes I sit here, hours at a time, my hand open, imagining. It's not that I'm lonely, I'm just alone. That's what I tell myself, sitting there, my hand open, empty. --June 20th - 1:33 p.m. - Year 1 At Elissa's suggestion, I am attending an open house at a college nearby to find some characters. I've been led around campus by two gracious smiling hosts who are senior students. From building to building, their mouths moving without stopping just like their feet. So far no one's caught my interest. We head toward the art building. I slip away from the group unnoticed. The school is huge and I am lost within minutes of deciding to traverse on my own. My footsteps resound down the empty hallways in tap dance succession. I check every open door for a sign of life. It is summer and so not full of students. Eventually I find a few artists tediously drawing in a hollowed out white room, gathered around a nude female model standing indifferent in the middle. There is a girl with a red bandanna and cloudy fingers who has my attention. She looks frustrated. Her smoky charcoal lines in chimney wisps, stuck to the frame of the model, unemotional, unattached. A beautiful shape in beckoning hands with crumbs like ash. But the lines are not structured in her way. Her page goes unfinished. She walks down the hall and out of my view. I listen carefully to where her footsteps lead. When they stop I begin walking cautiously toward them, not wanting her aware of me. I find her standing in a music room watching a frustrated pianist. He wears a white hat like a halo. His smoky melody in cigarette wisps, stuck to the frame of a

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cadence, unemotional, unattached. A beautiful sound in beckoning hands on wooden keys. But his fingers are not structured in his way. His song goes unfinished. The artist sits down next to the musician on his bench. He smiles and she holds out her hand, "I'm Laura." He shakes it and tells her his name. James. She tells him she has been watching him, and thought his song beautiful. He says thanks but he thought it trite and uninspired. They converse along the lines of artistry and invention, passion and singularity. They leave half an hour later, him with encouragement, her still without. What she didn't know was that someone had been watching her, too. And thought her art beautiful. ---June 22nd - 2:19 p.m. - Year 1 Moses the sand sculptor and I have become friends. I look forward everyday to meeting him at the beach and having pseudophilosophical-half-sarcastic conversations about art and life and characters. He is jovial and full of color and helps me keep myself out of my own head by putting myself in someone else's. Today we are spending the summer day together eavesdropping for characters. I snatch them up in hurried sketches and words. Sometimes a talkative couple of girls will sunbathe near us and I will copy down entire conversations. Because of them I have become an expert on tanning lotion and the art of finding the right bra and what it means when a boyfriend doesn't respond to an email right away even when you know he's at his computer. I also listened to a teenager who was worried about performing fellatio on her boyfriend again because of a previous bad experience and how her friend reassured her. "It's not so bad once you get used to it." Then there were the boys saying things about girls' "racks" and "cabooses" and the surrounding girls whispering "I think that guy is checking you out." Conversations start to repeat themselves. Moses is yawning, laying in the sand and stretching out his arms. He's wearing a plain white shirt and khaki shorts and musty brown sandals. He looks like a deflated sailboat laid out on shore, the sails ruffled out with parachute arms. He says there's no characters left but maybe I could go to a church with him tomorrow, it has an abundance of interesting people. It could be better than this beach. Surprised he attends church, I ask him if he's religious. He says no, but they give him coffee and food and are

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nice to him so he goes once in a while. He makes a pillow out of his palms and closes his eyes. I lay down and do the same. We talk about the shore and art and writing. He tells me of his inspirations: Barlach, Mueck, Ghiberti, Agasias, Remington. Although Remington focused too much on painting when sculpture was his real talent, Moses says. I tell him of my inspirations: West, Breton, Vonnegut, Irving, and then I stop myself short. It's too intimate to admit them. I worry they will become too visible in my writing if I speak their names. Moses already knows of my self conscious nature and laughs when I pause. "It's okay, Abe, everyone has to learn from someone." I nod and watch the clouds above us like used tissues crumpled and thrown in water, passing downstream. The breath of the sun blankets my skin and I wonder how Moses can stand the heat, black body hair covering the exposed skin of his arms and legs and coughing up from under the neck of his shirt toward his throat. I ask him if it bothers him. He says he's used to it. The sun has tanned him leather boot brown and thickened his hair a black bear roar. A practically mythological Greek being, living on a beach, creating stories out of sand, immune to the weather and indifferent to the opinions of society. I admire him although I wouldn't want to verbally admitted it. We fall asleep in the sand and wake up with sunburns being cooled by moonlight. The ocean sounds the same except further away and the crowd of voices has dwindled to two. I can see the bruised edges of their silhouettes, I can hear their skin rustling. They argue momentarily and then a woman's voice raises in volume, "the stars are weeping, why aren't you watching?" ----June 23rd - 10:29 a.m. - Year 1 The church is full of charismatic souls. They greet me with enthusiasm, one of the larger men embraces me. I feel overwhelmed and small and so stark white in the middle of the congregating coal and caramel bodies forming around me. Moses smiles in his knowing way, watching my uneasy handshakes and answers to questions. "What do you do?" "Where are you from?" "Are you married?" "What brought you to our church today?" "How's your relationship with Jesus?" I am about ready to jump ship when Moses reminds me of the character opportunities. He tells me to wait until the service starts and then I can open my notebook and there will be real things to write about.

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I recognize one of the members from Tilley's restaurant. The one who looked like an NFL lineman and had the wife full of warts. I shake his hand and his wife's, neither show any sign of recognition. I breathe a sigh of relief. What if they knew I held their characters in my nervous hand? What if they knew this scene itself I would someday hold in my nervous hand? Everything suddenly seems filmed, the more I think about it. Every motion moving twice, two present tense moments, the camera lens and the camera, the director and the actors, these voices voicing their collective vocal, everything closing in and vibrating under skin and out and whatever I am thinking gets tangled in so many so close thoughts projecting verbally and physically through a gesture or an out of place extra, the author making an unscheduled appearance--"Abe? Let's go into the sanctuary." "The what?..." Moses leads me into a room full of plush seats under a high ceiling with a stage full of instruments and people bearing anticipating smiles. The walls are creamy gold and the ceiling is toothache white. We move in near one of the last rows of chairs and watch everyone filter in. The pastor finds the pulpit and waits for our mouths to quiet. The lights subtly dim. Enthusiastically he begins speaking, although I am paying attention to the color of his voice and movements instead of what he says. The crowd of people remain standing and soon start singing. A chorus of vocals from the stage and all around me. I try and write but I can barely focus. These vibrations throw me off. Picking out a character is almost impossible, everyone seems a part of each other. The only character seems to be the church itself. If I didn't feel so stretched out and out of place I would be able to better appreciate the beauty of it. The vocal textures of molding clay, colored wet and smooth, the hum of hues pitching in curves and wings, rising toward the walls and bathed back down. This body of people, soaked in their own sound. Moses sings along and claps, encouraging me to join. I shake my head and keep trying to write. A pulse of palms pushes the congested air. My notebook vaguely trembles. When the singing stops we all sit - like one huge bottom onto one huge seat - and the pastor comes back up. That color in his voice, that particular cadence, at first startling as he gestures his passions but soon smoothed out into an almost lulling background noise. I borrow a bible from the bottom of the seat in front of me and skim through it. All those things I've heard of but never read for myself.

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There's an index that summarizes all the key points of its historical plot. The aums of psalms, the oohs and ahhs of collective wrongs, Solomon's smart aleck lips, all the thunder of rhyme and wonder, sixty six chapters without any answers. When the pastor finishes talking I close the pages between their leather lips, feeling like I've just shuffled through the naked organs of an opened body. It is silent and I am ready to stand up and leave but the body of this church is not moving. The pastor hangs his head low. He gently says "anyone who wishes to hear from our Lord, anyone who needs healing, anyone who needs the touch of God in their life is welcome to come up here for prayer. Elders, join me please." A limb of the church's body detaches itself and stands in front of the pulpit. The pastor waits. Little pieces break out of their chairs, and the pastor begins laying his hands on them, praying. Moses nudges me, "watch this". As if I am not already watching. The people he prays for sometimes fall into the arms of the surrounding elders. Passed out? "Slain by the holy spirit," Moses clarifies. And the pastor will shout unintelligible words. "Speaking in tongues" Moses whispers again. The people still in their seats have their hands raised toward whoever is being prayed for. Little brushes and rainbows of warmth seem to arch from their hearts and out their fingertips. Something unsettling but beautiful in the air. "Let's go up," Moses suggests. Before I can argue he lifts me up by my arm and ushers me toward the mass of prayers, trying not to laugh at me as I walk beside him with a lowered gaze. We reach the line of people and the pastor eventually comes to me after slaying half his congregation. He asks me my name. "It's Abe." "Abe, you're not a believer, are you?" "No." He stares into my eyes. The whites of his are a musty cream color. His irises hold circles of overlapping textures, mountaintops crumbling into forests. His brow settles into a stair of frowns. "You've never seen God, then." "No." "I have not either. Do you know why I still believe?" "Why?" He smiles. His shoulders lift and he pulls me in with his strong arms in a tight embrace. Embarrassed, I leave my arms at my sides. He is hugging me too close to even hug back. I feel my ribs push up into my lungs. A warmth travels down my body. He lets go abruptly

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and puts his hands to the side of my face. I feel a comfort extend from his extended arms. The elders place their hands on my back, and he starts to pray, still cupping my cheeks in rosy peach palms. I don't understand a word. I don't feel anything except the deafening sound of what I assume to be some form of undeserved but genuine love. He eventually lets go of me. I know I will be chagrined later, in retrospect. I know I will never come back, I know this will not change anything, but for the moment, momentarily, I feel happy. The pastor moves to Moses who he is obviously familiar with. They share a chuckle and a hug before the pastor starts praying. The sounds of the room start to return to the canals of my waxy ears. There has risen a spontaneous wash of worshiping songs, not one song in particular but all in an uncanny synchronization. The man to my left is hunched over and his singing voice is weary as he tries to follow along. He waves his hands through the hallelujahs and creases his knees like Psalms. "If there is a God," he says, "if there is a God, take me." -----June 23rd - 12:32 p.m. - Year 1 "What did you think of the church?" "It was nice, I think. But I'm starting to come down." "I know what you mean. It's a shame that feeling doesn't last." ------June 23rd - 11:13 p.m. - Year 1 This restaurant is dimming. I've been staring at the same couple since seven. They haven't eaten the food they've ordered. Something is wrong but they're barely talking and so I cannot tell what it is. The girl is pale and her hair keeps getting tangled in her blurry eyelashes. She lets it. She is just staring at the table. He is just wondering what she's thinking. She coughs out her dignity into her soup. She watches it float to the bottom and then swirls it back up with her spoon. He holds her hand tight over the table until the waitress announces that they are closing. I shut my notebook without a story. --------

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June 245h - 11:43 a.m. - Year 1 I'm walking home under the arch of trees, mellowed by sunlight. I take a couple of photos, entranced with the shadows and the green. An angel in her wishful thinking is feeling her way through my heart. She is wearing something like a road map for a robe. I would undress her if I could drive that far. But I have no soundtrack for the trip. I have not listened long enough to any song to know the words (but sometimes my head is singing). The maybe in me is making me crazy. Don't swoon me, Setting, don't be the goddamn literary darling of my life. Keep your robe tight, keep out of my eyes. I mean no offense, but I cannot embrace you and lick your throat. I can not lay on your warm breast and kiss your nose. I can not make you mine when you are no one's to be had. So why have you picked me for a romantic interest? --------June 25th - 1:22 p.m. - Year 1 "Setting isn't going to sell any books, you know." "But I think it would make a good story, a man in love with setting, with road maps, with traveling, instead of an actual person. Technically it is a love interest, isn't it?" "No. And that idea would never sell. Forget about it, move on to less abstract things, please." "But I can't help that I'm in love." "Oh stop that, Abe, you've never been in love with anything." "Hahaha." ---------June 26th - 7:35 a.m. - Year 1 Groans in green aches, the trees unwind their limbs with sighs outside my window. This cat is walking from shade to shade, he's sitting under the birds with his claws upturned like lures. Maybe today the young ones will learn to fly, he's thinking and hoping. -----------

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June 26th - 11:12 a.m. - Year 1 I am taking one of the only buses that drive through town, waiting through dozens of stops and hoping to find a character or maybe even a story. There is nothing or no one interesting, except for the old man who talks to his reflection. He sits close and smiles. He affectionately gazes into the smug and furry face of himself. With a grunt he will sometimes find something offensive (bad breath, maybe?) and quickly shuffle away from the window, giving his reflection a cold shoulder, which his reflection is also doing, which he resents, but not enough to remove himself entirely from that seat, which contains his reflection, which would look just a little bit different in any other sheet of glass in the world, which he knows, and which keeps him coming back because he is so attached to this particular sheet of glass which holds this particular reflection of his whenever he happens to be looking at it. A lady dressed in a pink sort of suit and frilly hat sits across from me. She must be over fifty, but has the fashion sense of a young woman's glossy magazine. A girl sits on the seat with her. Granddaughter? She is shorter than my waist and wrapped in a dress, dandelion and blue. As the bus bumps along the woman answers the girl's persistent questions. "Who's that?" "Him?" "Yes." "I don't know. It's impolite to stare, you know." "What is he writing?" "Heavens, I haven't the faintest idea." "What's a fain test?" "It's just an expression." "Oh." "Are you excited about seeing your mother?" "Yes! Will she like my present?" "I'm sure she'll adore it." "What's a door?" "It means love." "Oh." "Get ready Emily." "For what?" "For what I told you about. Watch the middle, here. When we turn." "Why?"

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"You'll see, everything moves. It'll be the ride of a lifetime." "What's a lifetime?" The woman doesn't respond but turns her head away from the marble blue eyes of the curious girl. -----------June 26th - 2:41 p.m. - Year 1 And the clouds even, do not drop. Everything seems stuck up there, this cat must be thinking, while I watch him from my window, unable to write. ------------June 26th - 8:54 p.m. - Year 1 No rest or weary eyes for the gentle breaths or bleary booths in the restaurant scars and waitress hips scratched or kissed with not so silver silverware. She will pause and hate her night shift, she is young but she is stiff, her makeup is overdone and her lips look bloody from lipstick, she swears to herself when the man next to me doesn't leave a tip. She is so tired of the sounds of insomnia. She rests her head on the table next to me, where there is no money and the plate is empty. She starts to cry but her eyes are not wet. Looking over at me she says "you're going to leave me a tip, right?" -------------June 27th - 6:28 a.m. - Year 1 A breeze maybe, would bring something down. Something has to give, this cat must be thinking, while I watch him from my window again, unable to write, again. --------------June 30th - 6:28 a.m. - Year 1 All of these eavesdropped restaurants are running out of characters. I'm starting to see the same people over and over. And I can’t decide which notebook to write in. The one I use for story notes

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blends in with this one. Where do I draw the line between fiction and nonfiction? Another late night writing on a table and drinking chocolate milk, watching people and hoping for inspiration in the midst of repetition. My story ideas are stalling. I am losing interest. I call it a night and get into my car to drive home. Away a wash of watercolor orange floods the backseat from streetlights. The milky street closes its mouth. I come home with the imagery still streaking in the back of my eyes. My apartment is empty and unlit and lonely. There is a gap in my life now that I am without a story to write. ---------------July 1st - 7:11 a.m. - Year 1 In mandolin chirps the trees drop their birds. This cat is rewarded for his patience. ----------------July 2nd - 4:32 p.m. - Year 1 "Got anything for me, Abe?" "No, not yet. Sorry Elissa." "Have you been having any luck finding characters in restaurants?" "I did at first, not as much lately. Still trying. I think I'm going to get fat with all the food I've been eating." "That's fine, you're an author, not a model. You can be as unattractive as you want and it won't effect sales." "Good to know." -----------------July 5th - 12:18 p.m. - Year 1 I go to the beach where Moses is sculpting an octopus. I tell him I like it as he is kneeling down with his back to me, working. Moses says it's not any good, then greets me unhappily. I tell him to cheer up and sit down in the sand next to him. He gives up on the sculpture,

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digging his hands under the shore and leaving them there, his sign of defeat. It is not often Moses is so discouraged with his work. "What's wrong today, Moses?" "It's just not right. I don't know what's missing." "I couldn't tell you. I'm not much of an artist." We talk for a while, and I try to encourage him, although it is not my talent. He is usually the one who encourages me. A couple comes to stare at Moses' sculpture. The man lets go of his girlfriend's hand to put a couple dollars in the jar labeled I can't live from grains of sand alone. Moses says thanks, the man nods and walks away. Silence settles between us for a while before Moses asks me how I am doing. "Pretty well. Still not sure what to write about for my next story." "What about that idea with the crazy artist and the carnival and all that?" "I got bored with it." "That's too bad, I kind of liked it." "I'll come up with something better. I'm having trouble finding an alternative word for conversation, though. It's all I've been using when copying down whatever I eavesdrop." "The thesaurus had nothing good to offer?" "No, except for colloquy, but that just doesn't look right with any other words." "I didn't think it mattered what words looked like in prose, I thought that was just a poetry thing." "No it's a prose thing too." "You could try causerie." "Never heard that one before." "I think it's French. My old girlfriend used it when telling me I didn't talk to her enough. She grew up in Paris, or so she said." "How is it spelled?" He writes it in the sand. C A U S E R I E. I like how it looks but not how it sounds. Kozerie. Like a loud and bright bird. Or a clown. It would sound better if it were pronounced casherie. Like casual and cherry. "That might work." Moses shakes his mane and unravels his shoulders in a yawning stretch, his beard filled with frowns. He looks at his sculpture for a while, then notices a man walk by in a wetsuit. Suddenly struck with inspiration, he comes to life and begins sculpting. I ask him what

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he's doing. "I'm making coral and a scuba diver, something to give the setting a bit more life." And just as abruptly a story idea hits me, which I promptly begin writing down. Hours later Moses has finished his sculpture. The octopus is now being wrestled by a man in a scuba diving mask, coral branched around like clapping hands. ------------------July 5th - 7:15 p.m. - Year 1 I call Elissa with the good news that I have finally found a story to write. I read her the beginning and there is silence when I finish and I assume she is searching for the words to tell me she hates it but instead she tells me she likes it and is happy that there is a love interest. She thinks the religious metaphors will be profound. She thinks it will appeal to both adults and children alike. She thinks it could be groundbreaking. I don't know where this sudden enthusiasm is coming from. I am flattered and excited but skeptical. I tell her there is no love interest and there is no metaphor and it's not that good. She says we'll see what there will and won't be, what it will and won't be. As if she already knows something I don't. A few words later my phone is mute and back to its cradle. Since last night I've been struggling to find a place in my story for all the characters I've captured. There is so much room. My body heaves back into the armless rocking chair and I stare at the mosaic of clutter coughing across the coffee table. Split like a wooden fence my notebook waits for me to climb over and see all the noise that I've been missing. It's been a long day of climbing. Not seeing. I am calloused and splintered but still only hearing. Who knows what I'm missing. At least I have the characters in my story. No one else right now to keep me company. It's been a lifelong affliction, to befriend the imaginary instead of the real. As a child I could hardly remember anyone's name long enough to keep a friend. I filled journals full of mundane life details every week to make up for what I knew I would otherwise forget. I didn't have much time or motivation leftover to study. My father said I was like a teenage girl, writing diaries all the time. I put him in a short story as a bad tempered walrus for that (it won second place in a writing contest two years ago). No one believed how bad my memory was. My parents said I conveniently forgot things, my teachers said I was lazy, the few friends I had said that I was a bad friend. This is when I

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started to write less of my life and more of my imagination. Now, four years out of high school, I have yet to recover, to live a normal life. It's been this life embraced with fictional characters, imagination. The friendship of prose. On the living room shelf the teeth of my harmonica gloat in their one-key simplicity. They will be the abandon from my frustration. I pick them up and wet them like my own. The instrument swells in my mouth with its ribs in windchime motion, framing my white picket teeth. My breath becomes colors. The notes curl out into the air like the smoke of a cigarette. I can feel my lungs feel the sound. I can feel myself the closest to a musician I will ever be. In the back of my head I hear someone say breathe. I sigh in the key of C, waiting for inspiration, in whatever form. When nothing comes I give Nick Drake the speakers while a pink moon settles in outside and I wonder what my dreams would say if I could remember them. I wander into my bedroom and let the pillow find them. My eyes shut, I let the case keep them. -------------------July 6th - 7:02 a.m. - Year 1 I wake up to the roar of lawn mowers wishing they were sport cars and cats wishing they were lions. I go to the window and see my grumpy neighbor swearing with his lawnmower running across his yard, cats fleeing. Something not altogether unordinary. I close the blinds. I hear one of the cats whining as he drags himself up onto my porch. He is a stray and tired of the roars. We are familiar. He's the one who I sometimes watch from my window, who waits underneath trees for falling birds. I haven't named him because he's not mine and I don't think he would like the idea of possession. When I moved into this apartment eight months ago he followed me, somehow. Milk and warmth keep him coming back. It's been a while since he has come to see me. I slide the sliding glass door to the left. He stumbles in jetting red from a tail that's half there. He winces at me, green globes eclipsed with asking lids. I look out the window and see my neighbor on his lawnmower, gleeful. My eyes back to the cat, I have to laugh. Duct taped at the end, I take what's left of him and his tail to the closest veterinarian. Fill out papers, wait while the cat sleeps in my lap. The vet calls me in, barely glances at either of us. She has ripe plum lips she keeps pursed like a handbag in a subway. The face of a cliff under thunderstorms. She promptly stitches the cat's tail shut and

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then sheathes it in bandages. She tells me I should keep him here, he's not in good shape. I tell her that I can't afford it. "Then you should take good care of him and don't let him outside. Call if he gets worse. Bring him back in a couple weeks to get his stitches out." The idea of caring for this cat sends me into an unexpected euphoria. I take him home and trace his body with blankets and his whiskers with milk, for the first time pet his head, and then leave to find the neighbor with the lawnmower. He's outside kneed into his garden. Hearing me come, he turns his fat head and grins. I tell him to wipe it off. It widens. I am reminded of a toad under a tire. I tell him he got the wrong cat this time. He says the cat had it coming. Been in his garden. Along with the others. I say they always get in his garden because he doesn't build a fence. He just wants an excuse to chase something. He laughs, flops his limbs back to the flowers. I hand him the vet bill and walk back to see the cat. He's laying on his back, framed by the sun from the windows. Speckles of blood bloom in constellations on the floor because I forgot to clean it up. I take a photo and write about the cat and his tail in my notebook. He sleeps soundly while I write. He never wakes up. I find the man responsible. My grumpy neighbor. He tells me he ain't payin' the bill. I want to run his toad head over with my car. I tell him he will pay the bill and he will help me bury the goddamn nameless cat and he will say something nice about him before we pile on the dirt. He thinks I'm crazy. Maybe. With the threat of calling the police (bluffing that I could prove it was my cat) he agrees to pay half the bill and help me bury his victim. So that's what we do, wrapped in the blankets he died in, on the beach a few miles from where he lived. I prompt him to say something nice before he can go. My eyes must scare him. "The bastard was pretty quick." His Russian accent makes his words sound like they are being filtered through sandpaper. I guess that's the best I can get out of him. I nod, he leaves hurriedly. I tell the cat I love him and walk away, sullied sad in the sand. Finding Moses, he sees it already. I must have been dragging it from grave to shore. He asks me if I was burying somebody over there. Yeah. He asks who. I tell him it was my cat. He asks how long I've had him. Half an hour. Half an hour he was mine. He tells me I'm sweating from the eyes. Oh God. I wipe them and apologize. "What for, feeling?" I guess. "You can't be a writer all of the time, you know.

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It's okay to feel attached, to read your own life instead of write it." I guess. I sit down next to Moses and change the subject, ask him what he plans on sculpting today. A lion. I wait the sobs away before trusting myself to speak but then don't have anything to say. "You're gonna put that cat in your book, aren't you?" "Yes." He starts to gather the sand into a mane. He tells me I'm not the only one who takes characters from real life and makes them his own. "What color were the cat's eyes, Abe? If they were green I think some broken beer bottles will work alright."

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Chapter III Between the Covers

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July 8th - 6:08 p.m. - Year 1 This is my fifth round of character hunting at Restaurants this week (and it's only Wednesday). As if there were nowhere else to go. I don't know. It seems like I've already seen everything else in this town there is to see. I'm at a comfortable place called Pirate's Cove. Not as amusing as it sounds. Families and barflies. Bar and restaurant. Beer and burgers. Drunks and kids. All segregated by an invisible line, the only middle ground a pair of pool tables. The indifference of the contrast by both groups is almost comical. French accented lips pull my eyes. This stork of a girl repeats a question I can not decipher in her bright bird words. I ask her, again, please. She's playing the role of puzzled foreigner but I don't know if it's on purpose and I hope she's not asking for directions somewhere because I am not good with those. I notice a notebook in her hand, like the one I hold open except smaller. Waitress. Picking out a few words, I can gather what she had probably asked me. I tell her I'll just have a water, I'm starting to get sick of drinking milk. Sensing the tone of a joke she forces a laugh and rapidly sets off to wherever waitresses go when they are not waiting on me. She comes back with milk. Of course. Can't be mad. She places the glass down. It is thicker than her shaky arm. She puts her hands to her waist to calm them. Her hips cut out like a kite. Am I ready to order, she asks with a vibrating cherry tone trying to be casual. I tell her I'll try the crab cake. She asks what I would like with that. I tell her. She repeats the order and asks if it is correct. She leaves in the middle of my reply. Forced smile as sharp as her hips. Hips as sharp as her mellifluous accent. I let it linger in my mind before a buoyant southern voice bobs ashore, splashes itself over the table. A large woman with a face ten years younger than her body leans her hand on the table. "She's new, so I apologize for her sake. She'd do it herself but I don't think she could articulate that so well. You know." Yes, I know. "I sympathize with her, must be hard being a waitress and hardly knowing the language of your customers."

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She smiles. "Yeah, guess she's from France, fancy that? Going to school here. She's real sweet, hard worker too. She’ll do fine here, just needs some time." I bet. "So, I take it you're a tourist? Never seen you around." "No I live pretty near here, just don't eat out much. Well, not until lately." She laughs again (I don't know why) and sits down. Right across from me. Asks me what I'm having. I tell her. She says it's pretty good; I say I'm glad to hear that. The sweltering contrast between this sultry accent and the last is making my head spin, but I listen. "You see, I hired her because I had to get rid of my last waitress a week ago and this is when it starts to get busy. The tourists start to come in like the tide brings blue medusas in Spring." Blue medusas? My head fills with bizarre ancient Greek imagery. "Velella Velella. By-the-wind-sailor." My blank stare. "Jelly fish." Oh. "Never seen them?" "Don't think so." "Dear Lord. Are you sure you ain't a tourist? They're like umbrellas caught out of grasp. Cover the beach like fallen stars. Like blueberries blown from branches. Yeah, like that. Hard to miss. You go to the beach don't you?" "Not so much until recently." "Well you should go more often. Anyway, I lost my last waitress because of my son, Eddie. He dates these girls, brings them to me so I can give them a job waiting on tables, breaks up with them, and then complains that he doesn't want to see them around anymore, so I have to fire them." I'm not sure whether it is appropriate to laugh but I do anyway. She grins. "Yeah, he's at the age where I should just throw him out of the house but I can't bring myself to do it. His father was never around so I can't blame him for the way he is, I guess." Still sitting across from me she asks what it is I am doing here all alone, anyway. She can tell I didn't come just to eat. I don't know how she knows. I tell her I'm looking for character ideas for my story. She says that's wonderful, and asks if she'll be in it. I tell her she most certainly will be, and I thank her for talking to me, the last restaurant owner I talked to was dull as a rock. "Oh, Tilley, yeah, she told me about that. Said to look out for a smart ass writer."

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She winks and stands up to leave just in time to see that the waitress has brought me the wrong meal. She sends her back, waves to me, and off she goes to wherever. I stare at my milk, thinking about jellyfish. A grade school kid walks over to me and flips open a velcro wallet. There's nothing inside. He folds it back up and tells me that he's a cop and I'm under arrest. I laugh and ask him what for. --July 8th - 7:32 p.m. - Year 1 Crab cake settles in my stomach on the beach while I ask Moses what we're waiting for. He told me half an hour ago he had a surprise for me but refuses to say what it is. "Here," Moses says while pointing to a beautiful girl, about my age. She's the same as the one from the sand with the seashell eyes except now her eyes are the same as everyone else's. I shake her hand and tell her she looked good as sand. There is a brief surge of anticipation. I didn't know Moses modeled that sculpture after a real person. I find myself suddenly wishing for a love interest. But then she giggles. Says something unintelligible. I see a dull mind as blunt on her face as her beauty. She passes by after a few words and I turn to Moses. "I'm glad I never put her in my story." Moses cocks his head and asks me who was Rue modeled after, if not her. I tell him I do not know, now that I think about it. He shrugs, watches the girl leave and then continues his sculpture. It's of a giant moon crescent being tickled by a girl. The moon's eyes are squinted, his lips curved, his armless body helpless against her, although he doesn't appear to be particularly bothered. Moses asks if I feel better about the cat. "It's been a couple of days, I've been occupying my mind alright. The character hunt has been fairly successful, I've got enough ideas to fill some pages, snowball the plot. And I guess..." I stop mid-sentence and look behind me. "Stop thinking about her," he says. ---July 9th - 5:07 p.m. - Year 1

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After the usual routine of visiting Restaurants and then Moses, I go home, already feeling a bit stifled. Routine is catching up with me, hasn't before. My imagination is starting to look lifeless. Still, I do what I can with my story, forcing a new chapter and wanting to scribble it out half the time. I have just finished when I hear some children screaming. I go to the window and open it in time to hear the neighbor who killed my cat proclaim loudly "next time I catch you in my garden I will bury you in it!" Some kids scatter and he stands there waving a shovel. I go out there to talk to him. "You can't just say that to kids," I tell him. He shrugs me off and goes back to his garden, filling a hole. "They tore some of my plants right out of the ground." Dirt is sprayed on the grass from gaping holes. Plants crumpled with their roots instead of petals reaching for sunlight. The garden is incredible, regardless. His relatively small home has been next to the apartment complex I live in since I moved here and somehow it never found its way into my notebook or my camera. He turns his toad head and grumbles "what the hell are you still doing here, Abe?" I tell him I'm just admiring his garden. He goes back to repairing the uprooted plants. A long bug like a slab of rock flies onto his back. I move to swat it and he yells at me without moving. "Let it be." I let it. "It's a rare type of insect." "The thing on your back?" "Yeah. Normally you could only find them around India but I've been keeping them alive here." "What is it?" "It's called a wandering violin. A type of praying mantis." I stare at it, hunched on his back, perfectly still, the size of my hand, jagged edged, a collar of shell cupping its head, long antennas like dusty eyebrows, baseball mitt forearms extending into crescents, stick thin body with violin stringed legs, leafy bug flesh highlighting certain appendages like a satellite’s mouth. My neighbor tells me they catch ladybugs midair and crack them open like walnuts, they can grow up to ten centimeters, they are relatively social which is unusual for mantids, they got their name because of their violin shaped prothorax, et cetera. I feel like I'm talking to an encyclopedia. I ask what the purpose is of sustaining all these rare creatures and plants. He tells me how he chooses a bug he likes at random and kills it by placing the poor thing in an airtight bottle lined with blottingpaper saturated in benzine and then coats their shell in acrylic resin to

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preserve it and then places the lifeless bug in his collection which he has kept for over three years now. He continues profuse with details and absent of commas. He looks at my notebook and asks if I am conducting some goddamn interview or something. I say sure and ask to see his collection. He smiles and welcomes me inside (our past quarrels are abruptly settled) and shows me a frozen world of bugs, domed by a bowl of glass instead of sky. Shelved between plants, tip toeing the border of their world, some strung from invisible line on the invisible ceiling, stained glass winged or raincoat backed; all dead in the shell of a snapshot. They are woven underneath and inbetween fake plants and their leaves. Flowers. A miniature version of his garden. My grumpy neighbor watches my awe, which is genuine. After it sinks in he tells me that he shows this to everyone he can. It's like his trophy case, his sport car, his sixty seven inch TV set. Except this actually means something, he says, those Russian vowels accenting American dreams. "And I'm not that cliché bad neighbor like in the movies and books, it's just that cats and kids kill my bugs and this collection is one of the only things I love." I don't have the heart to tell him that's exactly what makes him cliché. ----July 10th - 1:21 p.m. - Year 1 Moses and I finish a small lunch together, discussing the differences between manta rays and sting rays, which Moses is somehow knowledgeable of, as he seems knowledgeable of just about every obscure topic we might chance upon. "Manta rays got these bug-like jaws, these menacing expressions. Stingrays look more like some placid pancake with a stinger. But stingrays are the ones that sting, thus the name." "So stingrays are the ones you have to look out for." "Yeah but they're not scary looking. Manta rays can be something like twenty feet long." "Like a giant underwater parachute." "With jaws!" "Sounds terrifying." "Absolutely. I sculpted one once, scared little kids more than sharks did."

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A stumbling man interrupts our causerie. He holds a freshly purchased bottle of liquor and smiles unabashed, pointing toward the drink and saying he's celebrating his birthday with Jack Daniels today. We share a collective chuckle at that which is not so funny. "Don't I know you from AA?" Moses asks. The man looks Moses over and says, "you're that Zeus guy, yeah?" "Zeus?" "Me and the guys would call you that, being Greek and like seven feet tall or whatever you are." "Hahaha. I take it the meetings never sobered you up." "No man, no way. I'd rather be drunk and happy than sober and fucking suicidal." "Fair enough." The guy makes a clumsy attempt at a handshake and tells Moses he must get going and begin the celebration, have a good one, et cetera. "Funny guy," I say, after he is behind us. "He is, and there's plenty more where he came from." "Where?" AA, he tells me. More good characters than I could hope to find anywhere else. He convinces me to come with him, tonight, explaining how to wear the expressions and tell the tales of a "sullenly sober son of a bitch." Apparently he attended these meetings regularly before he started compulsively sand sculpting instead of drinking, and is familiar with the AA lingo. The building they meet in looks like a warehouse painted an unsettling chalk white. Sad faces fill the hollow room, a podium with a microphone at the far end, centered. Moses is greeted with enthusiasm identical to the congregation of his church. People ask him how he's doing out in the world and if he's stayed clean. He says pretty clean, and winks. No one laughs. It takes a while for us all to settle into the plastic cushioned chairs, squeaking briefly with the weight of our settled butts, so that we can be ruthlessly subjected to speech after speech, all about the struggle to remain sober in the face of daily temptation. The nodding heads and eager facial expressions are almost cultish. I'm not really compelled by moody stories of suffering and half-resilience, so the characters bore me. Moses senses my lack of interest and tells me I'll find characters once I have the opportunity to talk to these wide-eyed substance addicts myself.

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Everyone is talkative after the meeting ends. Personally introspective and vaguely desperate. Cups of coffee are perpetually poured. Caffeine is the new drug of choice, I guess. More people then I would have ever expected talk about God, and how they thought these drugs would lead to Him, or something like Him. Blowing lines with the disciples, smoking pot with the birds, doing shots with angels. I can't help but be repelled. They are talking to me in hopes of sympathy and moreover empathy but I have none of either to offer. Beckoning toward the back door when I catch the attention of Moses, he says I should talk to at least one last person before we leave. He points toward a lanky looking fellow in the corner. His name is Lawrence. "I wanted nothing more than to devote my life to God, and through that relationship help others. What better way than the priesthood? My whole life this was my passion (after I became intrigued with paintings of Jesus' crucifixion I saw in the local art gallery) and my parents were not even Catholic. They were Jewish. They more or less abandoned me when I entered the Catholic church. But I was happy, doing what I wanted. After seven long years at a seminary and finally becoming a priest, I had assumed I would at last develop the close relationship with Jesus I was always seeking. It didn't quite work out that way. I didn't feel him the way other priests seemed to. I wanted a real friendship, to be able to talk to him like I am talking to you now. So one Sunday I took the bottle of wine we used for communion to my apartment, and I poured myself a glass, and another glass for Jesus. I know it sounds crazy but just listen. He drank wine in the Bible with his friends, I figured this would be an acceptable way to invite him into my home; leaving an empty chair for him like my parents always left an empty chair for Elijah. And I could feel him there at the table, as I was praying. I asked him to talk to me, because there was a shadow over the seat, there was creaking in the floor, there was the weight of his elbows on the table. I knew he was there. I know it. He simply said this to me: 'the kingdom of heaven is a vineyard, if you taste it too soon it will be bitter.' I waited for more, I drank, I encouraged him to drink, gesturing toward the full glass by his chair, his warning going right over my head. As the night went on the alcohol warmed my praying hands and blurred my words. The chair went empty again, the shadow lifted, I drank his glass and most of the bottle. I started doing this nightly. Not long after that my habits became known to the Church and I was excommunicated. My parents wouldn't take me back and the empty chair at my table remains empty and my God now is sobriety,

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and the relentless pursuit of it. I don't have the endurance left to believe in anything else." He looks at me and then hangs his head. What do I say to that? Nothing. I wait a bit, wondering if there is more to his story; realize there is not. So I find Moses and get the hell out of there. I feel the night air lift and my lungs open. Bits of stars and clouds above, sparks in dollops of dust. "Happy people are lot more interesting than sad ones," I tell Moses. "Agreed." The skull looking warehouse of struggling addicts dims out behind us. Moses takes a last look, returns his eyes to mine. "Are you ever going to find room for all these characters you've met and are still going to meet?" "I don't know. I'll probably just lump them all together in my children's book. Give each character the hint of depth, of being novels behind the surface. Then maybe after I get this excess of character sketches out of my system, I'll find a real story to make out of one or two of them. But right now, there's just too many to choose from." Moses nods, his hairy hands half hidden in torn jean pockets. We walk in silence for a while, both of us mulling over who knows what. Some bar lights rise over the hill of sidewalk, a fluorescent green, like fireflies in tubes of glass. Moses stares in that way moths tentatively settle on a lit lampshade. "All that talk about beer is making me thirsty for a Guinness." -----July 11th - 3:01 p.m. - Year 1 Sometimes when my wiper blades don't work my windshield is a canvas. Like now. The rain will stipple whatever's in front of me and I will be reminded of Monet but then recall that he did not paint streetlights. I will think I have something he never had, and it may be artificial light but it's nice fallen by the fingers of Summer's. I would write about it, but what can I really say? Where's the story. I come home without inspiration. I glance at my small library to see if I might have something that will help. Between the bookshelf and my window a spider web has formed like a roof. Early in the morning, if I am awake, the sun lights it up in firework dust and skeleton branches and snow pearl white. Its creator has nothing to catch except my

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collection of literature which isn't the best. I feel sorry, for him, or her. As if it makes any difference to my eyes. The top row of my books are stuck; it's a good thing I've already read them all. I wonder if this spider knows what it has done, what words it has frozen between the covers. And I'm still waiting for it to show itself, but it never comes. As I clear out the shelves beneath the roof of uninspiring books, I am confronted with the possibility that I am running out of words. These books with all the same faces, what use do I have for them? I want a sentence with wings, a plot with sky. I wonder if what's killing these authors is what's killing me. We both need the words of others to fill our heads, but no one's said their say and our lives have nothing to be said. I'm mute, have been even though I'm content. Maybe complacency is killing literature, maybe normalcy is a spider web. Maybe that's why Monet attempted suicide; the ponds from his brush all started to look the same. I sit down in my small living room, turn on the CD player, pick up my harmonica. I think about everything else Elissa told me. How I need to start going to new places. I may have sat in restaurants everywhere, but only everywhere around here. There's not enough variety. That's why she's inviting me to where she lives. The city. Boxed in by people. I am sick of the thought, but going tomorrow.

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Chapter IV Of Skin and Scent and Plagiarism and Noise

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July 12th - 2:47 p.m. - Year 1 I don't have a stage to wear. The city's unironed and some of its legs are on stilts. Faucets flood the people out at five o'clock. Vibrant is the word for them that comes to mind that would describe them the best. Each one has a libretto written high school style on their arms in case they forget, a cheat sheet as it were, in blue inked pen, while decorations are in place with the backstage hands on cue, the setting following under their feet. Their own stage in stride. Even the windows play them back, slow motion gazes to make sure everyone and everything's in place. And the music will either turn your ears against you or turn you to adorn theirs. I like to watch, or hear, and maybe I'd join. But I don't have a stage to wear. Elissa has hers and she flaunts it subconsciously. She follows with balance as I stumble along. She leads me through the crowd that leaks itself all over me. A stream of skin and scent and plagiarism and noise. Some on the street are kind enough to keep their feet to themselves, some dance drunk and clap their hands, and the piles of pigeons part down the middle, and their feathers drop like music notes over the drunkard's drunk limbs, and even the Wall Street smart ass with his newspaper and briefcase can see the aesthetic angle in that. Elissa talks to me while I fight just to stay focused on walking, my mind racing with characters. She is trying to tell me how to free my imagination but still find structure. Then she is showing me famous landmarks, sculptures, shops. I'm nodding nodding nodding, too overwhelmed to take it in or write it down. We finally escape into Elissa's apartment but everything still seems there. I sit down in a black leather chair and she says it's fine, it's fine. Calm down. I did not realize I was not calm. I say. She shakes her head, pours water in a coffee mug, hands it to me. Because I won't drink coffee, she says, and that's the only other drink she has. I can still hear the songs of the passing city, the stages surrounding the bodies. And I am almost blind but my hearing has never been better. You hear that, I ask. Sure sure, everyday. What's routine for us is everything opposite. I keep thinking about it, what's routine. The word pours itself through my head all day.

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Sick of the word. Routine. Bitter and drought. Elissa tells me again, calm down. She closes the window and pulls the blinds. Just like that it quiets. One by one thousands of faces flood out, I see the gray living room, the white kitchen, Elissa. She sits down across from me. Red dress smoothed to her thighs like a cherry popsicle, her black blouse low and hugging her chest with a wrap design that meets at her cleavage, accents it, and then leaves the rest for my imagination. She's slightly overweight but wears it well. Caramel hair collects in syrupy wisps along her head and meets her shoulders with a raised sigh. There's something in her movements and facial expressions that makes her more attractive than she should be. Her eyes smooth out the wrinkles in me. Not so much lust as awe makes me stare. She is not at all the person on the phone, the contracts, the business. I almost forgot what she was like, it's been so long since we last saw one another. I write all this down in my notebook while she watches me. I forgot how strange you are, she says. I laugh and ask her what we will do tonight. I am looking forward to this. Just being here with her suddenly brings me to life. All is cheery. We're going to a party, and I am going to introduce you to people, she says. People who already know who I am, but I have never met. Not so cheery. Why can't we just talk, I ask? I am so comfortable here, I won't be comfortable there. She asks what it is that I would want to talk about? We already talk regularly on the phone. More than just a publisher and author would. "Besides, you need to learn how to be social." I start to shrug off my good mood. She warns me about being glum. All of a sudden. A man dressed in black and white swings into view. He asks who I am, his voice sullen. I sit there watching him, I am a spectrum of color sullied in their shades of gray. Like a photo in a newspaper. What's wrong with him, he asks. Elissa hushes him, he laughs. She laughs. I try to laugh. She leads him into the room he came from. The bedroom? She whispers. He is loud, his laughter visits me. Applauding my presence in his home in the mocking way that laughter does. Then it cuts off. I stand up. I feel tangled and spread. I'm trying to gather a realistic proximity but I can't seem to find where I am, I feel everywhere in the room at once. Elissa walks back in, asks me if I'm feeling alright. "He's just being an asshole." I ask her

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who he is. She says he is her boyfriend. I ask her questions about him, she says to stop asking so many questions. Her boyfriend comes back out of the bedroom looking somewhat chastised. He sort of half salutes me, his eyes barely meeting mine, and finds the cushion of the couch with the cushion of his rear end. His back to us. Elissa stares at his hair for a moment before looking back to me and asking what I would like to drink. The television turns on and we come to the kitchen. A net of sound close knits us together from the living room and muffles the sound of clinking glass and footsteps and chair legs. Settled down - water for me and coffee for her - colloquy, no, causerie plushes our lips. I am uninterested. This is what we say through phones. She continues while I am aware only of the colors of her voice and the television. It is like being a sunfish swimming for the net instead of the lure. I feel stretched out and uncomfortable again. Her boyfriend's ear is perched from the living room at an obvious angle. Elissa's voice has stopped short of a sentence that I wasn't paying attention to. She points out the fact that I am not listening. That's always the sort of sentence that will fall on deaf ears and wake them. I tell her that I am not interested in business talk. There's plenty of time for that every other time. She agrees, surprisingly. "It's about time we go the party anyway, I might as well be on time for a change." When we arrive Elissa is consumed by greetings. As am I. It is another apartment, this one much more colorful than Elissa's. An artist's home and an artist's company. Elissa introduces me to fans, to interested financiers, to other writers, artists, photographers. More names than I'll ever remember. I sit in a chair with their voices. Elissa does the talking. Immersed in my environment, I occasionally ask the owner of the home about the artwork on the walls or the furniture or the books. Plush and green and thick and swirl and stop and go and shimmer and chalk and water and flower and orange and flow. His answers come gleefully and quick. I feel that cheery feeling swelling around us. The art of conversation suddenly makes perfect sense. Hasn't before. I see that these people are not maybe what I had expected. Not everyone is their assumed stereotype. The owner of the house tells me to come visit him sometime, we'll share thoughts on books and writing and he'll show me around the city. A couple similar offers were made the more conversations I had.

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Adam -- a smiling figure with a lion's mane of dreadlocks -- has my attention. He's sincerely telling someone about the bottles of rum in his house on the east side of the city. He says he moved out because he was tired of being an alcoholic, but the west side is full of weed instead of rum and now he can't leave, he can't find another side to the city, he can only move horizontally. The someone listening to him nods his head, says art is more fulfilling than drugs. And he starts to lecture Adam, who lowers his frizzy mane and sighs. Another person has engaged me in conversation. His name is Frank and he is a literature fanatic. He's telling me all about himself in hurried words, trying to fit the map from inside him into the narrow frame of his lips. I don't know where our conversation is going. A few others join in as we discuss J.D. Salinger, and of course, The Catcher in the Rye. Everyone gives their respective opinions, I say I didn't find it particularly entertaining or enlightening. Elissa tells me -- defending her own opinion with condescending tones wetting her lips -- that it's because I don't remember my childhood. A few people chuckle, probably unaware that it is the truth. Frank frowns and says I should read A Perfect Day for Bananafish from Nine Stories. His eyes brighten baby blue and he says that it's the sort of story that leaves you thinking "I should do that." We leave a few hours later, go to a bar, since the party didn't have any alcohol, Elissa tells me. Heeling with lapdog faces, people stoop from stools to counter. Glasses filled, smiles half there, the air a streaky cirrus of cigarette laughter. They shake their haunches dry and down another. We walk by them and to the back of the room which is brighter, the faces younger, the drinking heartier. The youth and their prospective future drink side by side without apparent concern. We sit down with three friends of Elissa's who had waved her over. I don't think she planned on seeing them here. She hurriedly introduces me and orders a drink for both of us. After a couple sips I end up giving her mine. A conversation very different from the one at the party begins. Two girls give me lusty looks that I don't know how to return and then ask me uncomfortable questions. I try to humor them but I only have a writer's hand and not a writer's tongue. My wit escapes me. I can't tell if they're mocking me or flirting. It doesn't take long before they are bored with me and talk to the only other guy at the

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table, who seems familiar with their game. Half an hour later they leave together. It's just me and Elissa. She starts to talk about her boyfriend. "You know how when you asked if I loved him I said yes? I lied, Abe." She explains to me how love works, sometimes. You date because you are worried there is no one else, because you're comfortable with who you are with, because apathy is a spiderweb. Because you're too old to bother starting over again. I try to convince her thirty three isn't that old but she doesn't listen and I don't know what I'm talking about anyway. Steadily, a fresh drink in her hand as soon as she runs out, she tells me she's not a drunk. An older woman who looks like a mosquito in amber makes her motion to the bathroom. She brushes against Elissa, apologizes, keeps going, stumbling through the restroom door. Elissa gets quiet. Gradually the youth flush out of the bar and the old settle in. Their cirrus air leaks around us. I feel the breezy colors of the evening dull into a burnt sienna. But we stay. I have no time for objections because Elissa has not stopped talking since she started drinking. "Abe, I wouldn't be anywhere in this business if it weren't for you. I'd probably be bankrupt. I know I'm not all that nice, and I'm more critical than any review you've ever had, but you understand, just doing my job. It's not like we can let things get personal, anyway. You know." I nod my jaw into my stomach, it drops, I am disappointed. "Jesus Abe, don't take everything so personally." A walnut rolls onto the table. We look up to see the face of a man past his sixties. The wrinkles curve up his cheeks with the youthful abandon of untied shoelaces. When Elissa pays no attention to his offering he sits back down across from us, alone, and picks up a paperback in one hand and a drink in the other. Unfazed, I suppose. I ask her if she's going to do anything with the walnut. Its shell kindles under the lamp above us with brindle grooves. She says she's not interested. I put it on the floor and crack it under my foot. Sand spills out along with a handwritten note. Like ants out of the bark of a hollow log. "When the dust settled, the bar was a wreck - bodies and chairs everywhere, but nobody ever again called St. Francis a sissy." A neatly drawn smiley face punctuates the sentence. I read it aloud to Elissa. "That's why I wasn't going to bother opening it," she says. I ask her if that has happened to her before. More or less, she yawns, and pushes her drink aside. I am amazed that characters like this exist in her every

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day and yet she is indifferent to it. I guess that's why she's a publisher and I'm an author. Another walnut rolls across the table. This one has a penny and another note. "A good kiss puts a flush in the cheeks. A great kiss melts the wax in your ears." Again punctuated with a smiley face. Elissa and I laugh, this time. The man meekly looks over and grins. On the ride home Elissa asks me if my visit with her gave me any ideas for my story. I say it gave me a few, but made me think about my own life more than anything. Shrugging, she says that's better than nothing, at least I started to grow the wings of a social butterfly. I tell her I hate metaphors but thanks anyway. We get out of my car and head to the door of her apartment building. I keep my hand between her shoulder blades because I feel her leaning back as we head up the stairs. Still she stumbles, I end up with my arms around her a couple times. She tells me to watch my hands. We finally reach her door and she walks straight to her bedroom. She calls me. I hesitate, look for her boyfriend. Just come in she says, "my boyfriend isn't even here tonight." So I walk in, she's laying on her bed with her limbs extended four corners wide. She asks me to take off her shoes for her. She thinks she'll vomit if she has to bend over. So I do what she asks. She wriggles out of her clothes, leaves her skirt at the foot of her bed like a deflated popsicle, her blouse on the floor. I nervously ask her what she's doing. Pulling up her blankets in a twist, weaving around her thighs and up her stomach, she waves me off. "Going to sleep, Abe. Don't worry, not even this drunk would I ever screw you. Oh, and, yeah. Nice to see you and all that. Let me know which people from the party you put in your story. I always thought Frank would make a great antagonist." I tell her she's the most articulate drunk I ever met. But she's either not listening or already asleep. I am not tired and anxious to go home, so at three in the morning, instead of sleeping on the couch, I drive with a sunrise chasing my taillights until dawn. By then the hot burst of colors from the sky have come to their apex, staining my rearview mirror and bullying their way into daylight. I pull over and take some photos. An hour from my apartment I am stopped in a snake of traffic, something somber in the air. I don't know why until I hear her voice. You are not, she said.

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Gravel is in her, as the little girl says this. Grappling her pink clothes. So is glass. The road's fingerprints. The paramedic looks down, shakes his head. Lifts his fingers off the little girl's mother's neck. She's dead, he says. "You are not." It is quiet, if you can believe a crowd of cars could be quiet. We're in a hurry but polite because of all the blood. I hear everything because it's so still and I am so close. Glitters of glass in waves settle against the lawn shore. The paramedic is holding the daughter's arms, the mother is holding her missing life. Silence is holding all three. A deafening torrent of wind rises, the tides gather again. No, not the wind. A voice. You are not. You are not. You are not. The car in front of me turns up its stereo. The others follow suit. Then me. I want the hell out of this. --July 13th - 2:41 p.m. - Year 1 I saw too much yesterday. My eyelids hold the images tight, unfold them when I blink. I have not slept. My notebook all of a sudden seems too small. I go to the store to buy more. I come back home and don't know where to start. I read back over what I have written so far for my children's book. I try to take the story further. The hearts of all my characters start beating again, I am looking them in the eyes and shaking their hands, sharing conversations. It helps calm me down, to visualize something purely of my imagination. I start to form my ideas into structured scenes. By noon I finally fall asleep for a few hours. Elissa calls me later in the day and apologizes, calling her conduct of the previous evening a bit unprofessional. She says she was having a rough week and hopes I understand. I understand. She asks me if I got home alright, I tell her yes. She asks if the city gave me any story ideas, I tell her it has. She says she has to go, her boyfriend just got home and he's angry with her. I tell her that's fine, go. I stop by the library, thinking about the short story Frank suggested I read. The one he said would leave you thinking "I should

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do that." I could use the inspiration. I find it in a book of short stories entitled Nine Stories, sit down at a table and open the cover. It is a swift and enjoyable read about a World War II veteran who is having a difficult time adjusting to civilian life. I am caught off guard with its ending, though, the last sentence of which is this: "Then he went over and sat down on the unoccupied twin bed, looked at the girl, aimed the pistol, and fired a bullet through his right temple." I close the book and laugh to myself, at Frank, not sure if I should be laughing. The sun setting, I look for Moses. There's nothing else to do. I've given up on restaurants and I've already seen the city and for today I've done enough writing. Moses is sitting in front of his sculpture. He sculpted an open book, the size of a person. There's actual words carved carefully inside. I recognize them as my own, from my novel, and I see a sculpture of myself, holding the sand pages spread open with my hand, other sand sculpted characters from my story surrounding me: the man with one leg who started a baseball league for the poor children of his neighborhood, the carpenter with a hump on his back, the woman whose skin was slate gray because of a nasal spray containing silver she sprayed up her nose too frequently as a child, the dermatologist who used a combination of bleach and various artificial pigmentations to restore her natural color and then fell in love with her. "Ahh, Abe, you survived the city!" Moses welcomes me and pats the sand, offering me a grainy seat. Just barely, I reply. His laughter comes in a gruff snort. I sit and thank him for the sculpture. He explains that he didn't know I would be home this early, and normally wouldn't risk coming off as overly sentimental. I just nod and watch everything around me, remembering why I moved here in the first place-- the setting. Blueberry red, a marigold, a marshmallow, an out of place perfectly placed line of causerie, an embrace, a palm beside a carousel, a circus performer on fire, a glove inside a ferris wheel, an eye, a note passed under a door, a novel all at once, a memory not so strong, you, a love so strong, a football ticket, an upside down photograph, a year ago, a lunch break, a sigh swung out the window of a car passing by, a blind spot in the review mirror, a so what, a passage in a sappy poem, a cliché that has an expanse beyond clichés, an eternity, a whimsically out of tune piano, a grandfather's garden full of dead turnips, a reason to write, a push come to shove, a reason to build a porch, an ironic

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calm, an in spite of, a storm, an erratic excuse for a turtle shell, a mistake of a mosaic, an inside of some giant turtle shell, a mouth over a plane, a highway unfurled, a pony tail let down, a coconut cracked open, a monochromatic let down, an illusion, a trail of shadows from birds, a sound like the closing notes of an orchestration, a canvas; the sky is. And the waves (what to say about an ocean's tongue that hasn't already been said?) rolling its vowels like salty cigarettes. I ask Moses if he ever gets sick of this, seeing it every night. He says of course not, people don't get sick of sunsets and oceans. Moses has a jar full of money and I suggest he buy a hotel room tonight for a change, since he usually sleeps at the homeless shelter a few miles away. I've offered my couch before but he has always refuses to let anyone else take care of him. He says he's not interested in hotels but would be glad to have company for dinner. The last place I want to be is a restaurant, but I agree, seeing his hungry grin. We go to Tilley's, my idea. I sit where I always sit. People give us a collective stare as we collapse into our seats. Him and his ocean licked clothes, me and my fame. I tell the waitress I'll have whatever Moses is having (that way if they get the order wrong it at least won't be my order). Moses gets steak and eggs and beer and two slices of cheesecake. I talk while he eats. I tell him how the city was overwhelming at first but I knew I could adapt to it if I wanted. I tell him how I learned the art of conversation. I tell him I am using the art of conversation right now. And I am glad I am learning things, growing. I feel different. Stable. He says it sounds like a good thing to him. I tell him about the accident. Something in me plummets. He says that's awful. It is. I've been trying to get the little girl's voice out of my head all day. You are not, you are not, you are not. Tilley comes by to say hello. "Put me in a story yet?" I tell her I haven't but I'm working on it. She asks for a copy when I'm finished. She says she'll take it for free as payment for the meal I never paid for. I laugh and tell her it's a deal. She goes off to wherever, Moses finishes his dinner, I make a weak attempt to finish mine. "How's Elissa?" "She seems kind of sad."

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"How come?" "You know how everyone is, not happy unless they're in love, or potentially so." And an overly lengthy conversation ensues, one in which I am mostly uninterested in writing down. Moses questions me about my past, I tell him that I don't remember much, just that I grew up in New Jersey and after graduating eventually moved out here to be near a nice ocean and how I never really had a girlfriend or even friends. He shelves our empty beer laced glasses like flowers in vases, places them at the side of the table. The scattered crumbs between us make faces so he shuffles them in a line with the palm of his hand, scoots them off the edge. I tell him about the kids playing baseball on Kingsbury street, how my own childhood was a snapshot shorter than their game. Everything I still miss. The books I read as a child are more real to me than my own life was. Maybe that's why I like writing so much. He doesn't respond, but continues to come up with questions, his curiosity humming in a honeycomb of facial hair. There's two women sitting at the table next to us, who have more of my attention than my verbal biography with Moses. They are fiercely whispering to each other, trying to keep their voices down. Rain is smearing its thousand headed face against the glass, as if it to keep a fast paced rhythm to their argument. It climaxes into a shout as the one woman stands up and says, "forget you, Leah, stay with the hurricane," and leaves. Leah remains solemnly with her coffee, which she finishes and then cries into, her wet eyelids clenched like teeth, elbows gripping the tabletop like fingertips. After her tear ducts are emptied and her coffee mug filled she leaves the restaurant, her umbrella sprouting its mushroom head in the parking lot, deep rain turning everything into a silhouette under water, the passing cars like harmless fish with flashlight eyes. She gets into her car and turns it on but doesn't drive anywhere. Moses and I talk about my current situation, how I feel stifled, in writing and in life. He says I need to live more than I write, in order to achieve happiness and let a natural current of creative writing issue forth. A colorful existence is what I should really be shooting for, he says. I tell him how I met Elissa, at a writing seminar in the city. Moses attempts a discussion of my opinion on religion (none) and ghosts (I refuse to talk about them). He asks about my parents (they're friendly but a bit secluded, my father a butcher, my mother a secretary at an

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elementary school) and what I used to do for a living (piecing together radio parts on an assembly line). Moses asks me if I am ever depressed. He says it sounds like I live a mundane existence and wonders what keeps me going. I want to tell him he's the one who is homeless, I'm the published author. He shouldn't be talking down to me. Instead I tell him I am not unhappy. He says he just realized he knows almost nothing about me, and that even after our conversation I seem static. "Honestly, I don't mean that to be offensive, but you're just an observer, you're a perspective. You're not a character." "I can't help that. Writing makes up everything for me." "This is my point. Everything's not about writing. And fiction does not add depth to anyone except imaginary characters, but fiction is all that you do and you are not imaginary" I get out my wallet. "I feel like we're repeating ourselves." "Well, you're a repetitive sort of person." "Are you antagonizing me on purpose?" "Why do you ask, are you looking for a new antagonist in your story?" I don't respond, just leave a tip and stand up to leave. "Where are you going, Abe?" I don't know. But I'm gone.

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Chapter V The Deep Blue You Would Find in the Back of Someone's Iris

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July 15th - 2:08 p.m. - Year 1 I hadn't heard about the storm until it happened. No one told me, and I don't watch TV. Apparently it wasn't supposed to be anywhere near as bad as it was, wasn't supposed to come so close to shore. I remember in eavesdropped conversation the occasional "well if the storm comes I might keep the dog inside". Things like that. No one seemed too worried about it. Our town hasn't really been affected by a hurricane or any other storm (besides a little flooding and mildly threatening winds) in over a decade. And because it didn't really hit until the middle of the night, our town was caught off guard in their nightgowns and slippers. I still do not understand how we could be so unaware. I was asleep when my landlord rattled my door, the same night I had eaten out with Moses. I opened it, half asleep, thinking maybe I was still dreaming. A tree limb was waving through my window. I asked him if he had come up to take care of it. He told me no, that was because of a hurricane and that I should leave, now. He was going to the homeless shelter since it had the best chance of holding up against the storm. So said the radio. He suggested I do the same. Then he disappeared into the hall. It took a moment to come to my senses, and after the novocaine of sleep lulled I wondered how I could have slept through the violence beating against my walls but awoken from a hand against my door. This was the first time in my life I considered the possibility of a caring God. So I gathered what I could; a raincoat that felt like skin, a couple of my most recent notebooks, my camera, random disks of photos and words, and my laptop. There wasn't room for anything else in my arms (how romantic sounding). I ran through the naked halls and down the stairs then pushed open the fire exit door where I was yanked from the building and into the storm without pause to appreciate the acute contrast. Outside I felt like I was in a wolf's roaring throat. A round howl, blankets of saliva, rummaging teeth. My humble town had been chewed upon. Trees bent over but did not let go of the ground, their roots holding on and screaming their soil out. The clouds were

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everywhere in puddles of smoky spines and hills. The ground felt fragile, being beaten by the wind and everything that crashed in heaps. Rain needled itself in sheets instead of drops, falling like a sawed down pine tree. Now it wasn't that everything appeared to be underwater, everything appeared to be in a perpetual wave. I would have screamed but the wind took all of my voice out. A couple steps into this and I knew I would not make it. The storm shoved and pulled, I gripped onto my possessions stronger than my legs gripped the ground, I continuously fell, rolled, struggled back up. This was all in a matter of seconds. Then a car slowed down beside me, a voice yelled. "Get in." I looked up and saw the pompous (even in a hurricane) shell of a Hummer. I got in. My landlord sat behind the wheel with an overcast concentration settling his brow down to the top of his nose. "What took you so long, Abe? I was almost ready to leave you alone. Did you think you could walk to the shelter?" I laughed, mirthful with adrenaline and inspiration. Rain puddles. I didn't bother to explain to him I wasn't aware he was planning to drive me. But I did tell him I used to make fun of his car and now I take it all back. He looked at me through the rearview mirror as I shivered in the backseat, "I don't know what the hell it is that you think is so funny." His vehicle trudged along, avoiding some trails of debris and trampling others. He didn't say another word, just drove. His hands were tense on the wheel, keeping it steady against the wind that playfully nudged it left and right. Every now and then I would see a patch of sunlight above, like the reflection of sunlight in water. I was hoping I hadn't already slept through most of the storm. My landlord parked by the door of the shelter and we struggled inside. We went to the basement (the first floor was empty and littered with broken glass and leaves). My landlord was afraid it would flood -"why the hell would anyone go to the basement during a hurricane?" -but there didn't really seem to be anywhere else to go. A group of people let us in. There were at least a hundred people jammed inside the dirt and pipe room. They stood in huddles, trying to dry in the damp surroundings. Some were so solemn and still it looked like they were sculpted straight out of the stone walls. We were greeted in short words by a thin man with a trembling smile, "pretty bad weather we got out there, eh?" he tried a laugh. I heartily encouraged him with my own (which was sincere), then shook off my rain coat and took out my notebook.

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I was ecstatic. Here was change, here was something out of routine, here was something worth writing about! I looked for Moses, first. I was apologetic without anyone to know. I was also full of stories, and already writing ideas down inbetween glancing around for my friend. I didn't see him, but I noticed Tilley, her hand on her chest, out of breath, tumbleweed hair glistening down her face. A coiffure of veins. I greeted her, asked her how she ended up here. She told me she was waiting on tables around eleven at night when she noticed a storm warning on the TV. A couple customers got up and left, she stayed for a while, and when no one else showed up for a while she decided to close up early. The TV was by then profuse with beeps and warnings dressed in red words, talking about changes and shifts in currents and all of a sudden this and all of a sudden that and gee wiz, we've never seen anything like this before. She said some of the town had already left the day before. The warnings then had been vague and only said that we should be careful. We're a small town, secluded, just shore, just sea, just us. We were forgotten. There was no one in charge, in the basement. The homeless and middle class and upper middle class and rich and whoever else. The bums, instead of staying together, mingled with everyone. We were so wet and dirty that it was difficult to tell the poor from the rest. But you could see people eyeing each other; wondering, even in the midst of this. People had lost houses, cars, pets, children. Wind dragged people sideways into trees, broke their ribs or backs; windows splashed and soaked into people's skin; a mother tripped in the wet street and dropped her baby who was carried like a sailboat into a storm sewer; a lightning bolt lit someone's boat on fire. And then there were the car accidents and fallen trees and crying. More stories were shared then I could keep up with. I began to take bits and pieces of conversations in shorthand, tie them all together. Then more bodies piled in. I continued writing. I felt as lucky as a fisherman who had accidentally stumbled upon a school of fish. Just as I finished a practically illegible copy of an eavesdropped conversation a man said excuse me and asked if I was the famous author from around here. He didn't mention my name. I said I probably was whom he was referring to. He asked if I was enjoying myself. How do you answer that? I said of course not. "Well you look like it. I've heard how you put people in your stories, take other people's lives and pretend they're fiction." "So?" "So I saw what

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you were writing." Okay? "This isn't some story, man. My kids are out there somewhere, I was looking for them before things got out of control..." I was writing down what he was saying, involuntarily. I realized what I was doing and stopped, just as he stopped. A crowd of wet people pushed between us and he let them. He glared at me. Something like thunder hummed deep inside the building. A couple people shouted. I raised my notebook and turned my head to listen to the sounds again. He talked just over the voices around us, telling me to go and fuck myself with my fucking pen. There were roars upstairs and no one knew what to do. Nervous looks. Something had happened. We were afraid that the roof had ripped off. We decided someone had to go up there and find out. No one wanted to go. There was an older man with harp string hair who said to his friend "we should just send one of these filthy bums up there, no one will care if anything happens to them." He was overheard. One of the filthy bums yelled at the harp haired man, he yelled back, others followed suit. Scattered in pinpoints throughout the mouths of the crowd was the voice of reason which seemed to get lost. I backed up so as to better see and hear everything. The contrast between the homeless and the homeowners became apparent. They segregated themselves into groups and glared, forgetting the noise above them, until it crashed down. Where the homeless had converged the ceiling above them fell like the collapsed lung of a drowning man, spilling streets of water and steps of mud and stars of concrete and bodies of wood. The homeowners fell back in gasps and then rushed up the stairs to escape the water that was quickly turning the dusty basement into a muddy pond. I stood where I had been standing, against the wall, writing hurriedly. The basement quickly emptied, except for the few bums who had not been crushed. They pleaded for me to help them get their friends out before they drowned. I came closer and saw under the blanket of rubble faces and limbs, a couple hands reaching out. It reminded me of a muddy sandbox filled with smothered bugs. I tried to help them get out, because I thought it would be quite the literary moment to save someone's life. Unfortunately I couldn't. And the few bums left trying to save their friends fled upstairs with the rest. I stood in the water that crept toward my knees, debris rushing past. I saw some fish, too. Or I thought I did. Everything was moving. I finally brought myself to the stairs and looked behind me, at the grave of drowned bums, wondering where my sympathy was.

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More rubble, miscellaneous piles of miscellaneous objects, blocked me from getting through to the first floor. There were enough crevices in the pile for me to be able to peek through and see what was happening in the room and just enough moon and lightning to write it. Parts in the roof and walls were missing. Glass swirled in the air from the blown out windows. Glittered like snowflakes. Pelted people with teeth. Everyone that could fit hid themselves under the bolted down cafeteria tables but still the glass swept into them. Some fell down the hole in the floor that led to the basement. All the slippery glass and rain and wind skidded people around by their heels and their knees and their elbows and their backs. Beneath me at the bottom of the stairs water continued to rise but not as quickly. Things went on like this - I, protected by debris, they, pelted by it - for maybe an hour. The constant roar of wind and shouts. Nothing new to write about, I simply struggled to keep myself still, held on to my belongings, trying not to get caught by the glass and debris that leaked through the barrier protecting me. Just when I was convinced it could not end, the wind abruptly dropped like the first leaf to break off a tree, something fell, someone asked if that was it, someone whimpered, someone bled. And then it came back. Like umbrellas caught out of a coughing grasp, like blueberries blown from a constellation of branches, jellyfish filled the room, pushing through the broken windows. The moon made them unearthly and shine with the luster of a supernova in spiral, the edges of their disk bodies fading from the deep blue you would find in the back of someone's iris to the green you would find in a recently vacuumed pool. At the top of their bodies stood a veiny translucent sail, which let the wind pull and push them in the colorful blurs of acrobatics. They were no larger than my hand, and managed to burst through every crack, every broken window, every space that would let them through. I was more or less safe on the stairs, free to watch. The starry chaos of glass and jellyfish reminded me of a blizzard. I felt naked without a jacket and scarf. I kept forgetting that the glass wasn't snow, the jellyfish weren't blown down Christmas lights. The sound of the wind was even more repetitive than before. Blue medusae stuck to everyone that was out there writhing in their monochromatic monotony. Their faces blue, their limbs, their breaths, the sting and the scream. What I saw seemed to be unbearable to them. Infinite. Even alive and hurting they might have believed they had died. If hell were blue. Maybe it was, maybe they were wondering why.

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When the storm stopped for good no one trusted the calm. What could blow through those windows next? Unfortunately for me and my story, nothing. Dawn came, revealing what had happened. The jellyfish floated lifeless, strewn everywhere. A carpet of blueberries and tentacles. Water up to my waist, up to their knees. Some people were dead. Smashed or maybe drowned or maybe scared to death. The survivors tentatively came out from under the tables or wherever else they had tried to hide under (sometimes each other) and called each other's names, or shifted through the jellyfish and the bodies, or vomited, or walked outside and quickly came back in, or stood in the wordless stand of awe. The cloud of sun breathed in all the spaces it could fit, a milky bronze and honey, a light that was too ironic to appreciate at the time. It had a hazy post-alarm clock kind of energy. I tried to push through the debris in front of me and get into the sun, but it would not budge. I was stuck on the stairs. Giving up, I slumped to my tired knees and searched for my belongings. Everything was gone except for my pen and a couple notebooks. The wet pages held smears and rips, but there was enough there. I heard someone swear about losing their cell phone. "How are we going to call for help?" "They'll find us, they know where we are." Two older men brushed dirt and jellyfish off each other. Tilley's tumbleweed hair was filled with the legs of jellyfish. She had a half smirk on her face as she noticed me at the stairs, peering through a mound of rubble. A woman lay dead, face down in a puddle with her ribcage deflated. A tree peeked through a hole in the wall. It mourned palm leaves over her. Three men helped lift an obese man from under a sheet of concrete. His cheek filled screams were ignored. A bird potee-weeted straight from the pages of a Vonnegut novel. I imagined what Dresden must have looked like for a moment. Maybe we had been a part of something like war. A cynic stated the obvious. An optimist held his hope low in bloody hands. His broken wife and her palm leaves. Eventually help came. Axes and strong arms freed me. I stumbled out from the stairs, thanking them; barely bruised, barely cut. They were young and too horrified by everything to say you're welcome. I patted their backs and walked across the room, which had been cleared of both dead and live bodies, by then. The jellyfish still floated at the top of the shallow water. No one bothered with them. I noticed

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fish, some still alive, weaving with their colors between my legs. A rainbow of scales, coming and going in ribbons. Mostly everyone had been sent out of the building, and now the ones that saved me were leaving too. They said the building could collapse and asked if I were able to walk out myself or did I need to be carried? I was tired but okay. We left the homeless shelter in an awkward group, God knows what we were thinking. I don't remember. Outside was worse. Some of the people I recognized from the shelter huddled in blankets, stood instead of sitting because they were sick of being wet. Others laid in the back of trucks, sleeping or crying. Waiting. A helicopter landed on top of a nearby building. Everyone looked half-dead. I didn't suppose I did. I didn't feel it. I was exhausted, from all the noise and from holding myself up, from shielding my face, from not sleeping. But still the excitement over everything I had seen prevailed, kept me curious, kept my shaky hand writing. The surrounding buildings were not completely destroyed, but beaten, most of their windows blown out, soggy. Like missing teeth and sweat, like I was walking around the flesh of a recently murdered body. Surreal, I suppose, would be the word for it. Ugly. Slushing through the watery filth, I stumbled over a horseshoe crab. On its back, it tried to roll over. Rusty bug-like arms frantic, tail tapping the ground. A huge watery beetle. I watched it for a while, its underbelly, the movements reminded me of a factory. Dark and automatic, a pumping motion. I finally reached down and turned it over, moved on. One of the men who helped me out of the stairs shouted, don't go too far. I nodded and then realized what he meant. There, thirty feet in front of me, struggled the stark body of a dying shark. He was just a little too big for the water to be able to swim. His body skidded against the pavement, his fins stuck straight out of the water, he twisted and slammed and splashed and barely inched forward. Not far from where he was struggling lay deeper water, where the ground met the incline of a hill. I went back to the group. No one spoke. Sea life met rural town life. Exhaustion settled in and people laid down wherever they could. Usually over the crest of a tumbled piece of wall or tree. I talked to the workers who had come to save us, who had been speaking on radios and now had nothing left to do. I asked the men who they were. Volunteer fireman, they said. From neighboring towns, not so badly affected by the storm. They drove in with their oversized four wheel drive trucks and managed to reach us, where they had heard on the radio that some people from our town had come to. Now they're waiting

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for the helicopters and ambulances to come. They said others were searching for people through the town, too. But the water, and all these animals washed ashore made it hard. One of their trucks hit a giant sea turtle on its way here, cracked its shell in half and tipped over. "You wouldn't believe what's underneath those shells." Every now and then I could hear the distant hum of helicopters. I asked what exactly the storm was, anyway, a hurricane? They said it wasn't. But they didn't know what exactly it was. No one did. They stopped talking when one of the men sighed loudly, stepped close to me and took off his hard hat. Curly red hair like coral puffed out. He looked like he was still in high school. He asked me how it is that everyone here was a bloody mess except me. I told him about the bums, the argument, the basement caving in, being stuck on the stairs. He shook his head. "Good fucking luck you have, Abe." He answered my questioning eyes with a chalky hoarseness. "Yeah, I've read your book. I recognize you. We all knew you lived here. I suppose you'll turn this into a book too, huh?" "I probably will." "Yeah, great, thought so." He wiped some dirt out of his hat and put it back on. "But it's not a story." "I understand," I told him, "you are young and it's hard to take this in," but he cut me off. "Young? A few years younger than you. Seeing this is killing me and yet you're as calm as if you were watching some scene in a film. I mean, you're over there fucking writing. And not for the sake of journalism, am I right? For the sake of a story." Right. "Fascinated with that shark. Writing about him like he mattered. The fucking shark! Jesus. Someone told me you had been writing the entire time, while people were dying, you didn't even try and do anything, to help. You just wrote." "But what could I--" "They told me to leave you in there, let you die. These other guys here had to convince me to help you otherwise I would have. Let you die." He glared at me for a while before walking past. Someone apologized for him when he was out of earshot. "His girlfriend, I think, is out here. Or ex-girlfriend. I don't know. She lives here, I mean. We uh... you know. We don't know what happened to her yet. And we're all kind of shocked. Obviously. I mean, look at it. It's uh... you know. Shit, man. And we can't figure out what it is about you. Your calmness, I guess, that is just driving us crazy. These people mentioned you, making eye contact, not saying a word, writing, like they weren't even there. It's inhuman." He stopped for a moment, said sorry, and called out "Luke" and followed his redheaded friend. I didn't know whether I had really been doing something wrong or if they were just overreacting.

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Paramedics came. People were carted off in helicopters and ambulances. Someone asked me if I needed a ride. I said no. I walked back to my apartment building. I would have maybe asked my landlord to come with me but he was dead. Those blue jellyfish were everywhere, hanging in trees like fruit, floating by me, ruptured in stringy residue against houses. I tripped over animals, scurrying through their recently expanded sea. I had no idea what was underneath me. My apartment was gone. Well, not gone. It was everywhere. I was trying to find my notebooks in the mess. I never did. The bottom half of the apartment building was still more or less intact but most of the rooms above had found their way into the neighboring yards. My grumpy neighbor was at his house, which had been partially knocked down. He shifted through the wreckage like I shifted through mine. I walked over to him. He shook his head "Goddammit Abe, not now." I told him I just wanted to see if he was okay. "It's gone. This son of a bitch storm took my bugs, my garden." He shoved aside a piece of his roof from the water, bent over, and peered at the ground. "I swear to God if there were any way I could get back at that storm, if I could kill it, I would tear its noisy throat out. Bury it in what's left of my garden." He stood up straight and looked at me. I was writing in my notebook. What he said had given me an idea for a story about a storm chaser. "Get out of here, Abe. For Christ's sake, I don't need you trivializing this for me with your writing." And so there it was, because of some wind and rain I had suddenly become an antagonist. I left him, and walked back to the shelter. Some trucks were still there. One of the men offered me a ride out of the town, I asked if he would drop me off near the city. He agreed to leave me at a bus stop that wasn't under water that would take me there. I tell Elissa all of this, laying on her couch after a steaming shower and cold food. She is listening and for once has nothing to say.

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Chapter VI

Autumn and Amethyst and Auburn and Forest Furnished Coffee Table Brown

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July 16th - 8:26 a.m. - Year 1 My town, on the front page of the city's newspaper. Knee deep in the sea and its life, summarized by words in black and white, colored above by a photograph with grainy boo hoos and all their shades of blue. I skim through the supposed causes of the storm, the damage, some vague stories from survivors. Nothing new, nothing convincing, nothing I hadn't already known. What really catches my attention is a paragraph about a car that was found in Tilley's parking lot; smashed against a tree, the driver dead, headlights still on, an umbrella opened inside on the passenger seat like a mushroom. The victim's name was Leah. I flush the toilet, bring the newspaper with me to the living room and show Elissa, who is watching the television like an incandescent moth. She doesn't pay attention to me. I've been here for almost a week, with Elissa. Her boyfriend and her broke up. That's the extent of details offered (she's afraid that if she tells me anything personal I will put it in a story). She also told me the last thing she needs right now is another man living with her, so I should find my own apartment as soon as possible. I haven't looked very hard yet because I enjoy being here. A journalist contacted me the other day, through Elissa. She set up a time for him to come over and interview me about the storm. Tomorrow, I think. The note says three in the afternoon. I have not heard from Moses. I don't know whether to miss him or forget him. There is still some lingering anger over what he said to me, but I suppose once my town is fixed I will go look for him at the beach. I would at least like to know what happened to him. In the meantime I am trying to focus on other things. I've been writing on my hand "learn how to play the harmonica" because it is something I've been wanting to do for a long time but haven't remembered yet. There was a shop near Elissa's where I bought a brand new harmonica (since my other one is strewn somewhere in the mess that used to be my

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apartment). But there's been more pressing issues to remind myself of so I've been forgetting. With all of my notebooks gone (except for two, spanning over just a couple of months) my memory hasn't been doing well. I've had to write a lot of notes. To remember to lock the door when I leave the apartment, lift up the toilet seat when I urinate and put it back down when I'm done, to flush, how to use the microwave, how to turn on the TV using the goddamn complicated remote control, my password to my email address, my email address, and this and that. It's not too bad. Elissa is worried but surprised at how impeccable my memory is concerning what happened the night of the storm. She gave me new notebooks and told me to fill them with as many memories from my old notebooks as I could recall. But I am not interested anymore in that. I told her that I am starting over, creating a new character. Great, she said, I wish I could do that, just forget. Right now she's sitting in front of the television with her knees near her chin. And the glow is a perfect match, like a neon lit road map fit to her body. I sit next to her and ask her what she's watching. "Can't you tell?" she asks. But how should I know? She says it's not important, I wouldn't like it. I ask why. She says because it's full of love interests. I said you're right, I don't like it. A smile folds in the map of her face, her eyes roll like a dropped compass. She leans her head on my shoulder. Her hair comes forth in tendrils of autumn and amethyst and auburn and forest furnished coffee table brown. She says "you don't like love interests because you've never had one." --July 17th - 2:58 p.m. - Year 1 The door is trembling under someone's knuckles. Here's the reporter. Elissa has left for the day so I have to let him in. He recognizes me, grips my hand and shakes enthusiastically, asks me how I'm doing. I say fine, and you? He says, no really, how've you been? Haven't seen you in a while. I am one big question mark. He sees it, tries to bend me back into place. "Remember the writing seminar we went to, that Elissa set up? I sat next to you. I had longer hair back then... I was the guy who wanted to be a journalist... You thought you did too but changed your mind because you found reality boring and didn't like the idea of college... You said I needed shorter hair if I wanted to get hired as a journalist... You were right... We made fun of the clothes Elissa was

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wearing... My name is Gerald... We went for coffee after the seminar... You told me you hated coffee and you were trying to lose weight so you couldn't drink hot chocolate and you ended up buying tea even though you said tea didn't taste like anything... You said I was the opposite of you because I remembered everything and you forgot everything... I take it you still forget everything... The waitress had a bright orange pin on her blouse which read 'if I don't suggest orange juice it's free' and you ended up with free orange juice which you drank instead of the tea... You gave your tea to an old man who didn't have enough money to buy his own... It snowed a little when we were about to leave and since we were near the ocean you asked if I knew whether or not the snowflakes had saltwater in them. I said you should taste one to find out. When we went outside some little kid beat you to the punch, sticking his tongue out, saying 'eww, it's salty' but I think it's impossible for salt to get into precipitation since it's too heavy so I don't know how-" Exclamation point. I tell him I remember now. I ask him how his career is going. He says fantastic. Fantastic. He says he'd ask me how mine is going but it seems pretty evident. We go to the black and white kitchen, pull up a couple chairs to the gray table. Like shadows converging. He starts off asking me typical questions. I give him typical answers. He says this is just to build my character. He fills in a few gaps in my past, asks me about my favorite books and movies, what most influences me to write, things like that. Then he puts down his notepad and drops his professional face. His forehead stitches toward the bridge of his nose. I notice a green in his eyes light up like a row of hills under sunlight. "You're not really how I remember you, Abe." He's not how I remember him either. He's much more defined. The angles in his face are sharp and clean. His chin is calm and to the point, so are his lips and his words. Sometimes I forget he is there, he is so relaxed and so much a part of everything he touches. Like the newspaper that he writes in. Black and white and calm and to the point and casually folded over, his topics like pages turning while taking a shit. Entertainment, Travel, Politics, turn turning turned. The only color to be seen in those hilly irises. "How so?" "You've pretty much lost that shy exterior in exchange for some social skills." "Glad to hear the observation."

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"What happened, exactly?" "Hmm?" "Why are you different?" "Oh, I just decided the other day." "To be different?" "Yeah." "Interesting. When we first met you had been quite the awkward fellow." "Had I?' "Oh yes. You had no idea how to communicate. You kept silent when you should have laughed, you laughed when you should have kept silent, you didn't talk about anything relevant to anything else, you didn't make eye contact, you were always tapping your feet, or humming to yourself, or letting your attention drift elsewhere, or staring at strangers, or interrupting people in the middle of conversations. Your facial expressions were random and often a bit exaggerated; I think you reacted to things in your head instead of the things around you. Your grammar was strange, I didn't always understand what you were saying. And you had a bit of a comical stutter. Elissa also mentioned to me how you have changed. She hasn't talked to you about it because she thought you might be sensitive." "I stuttered?" "You sure did." "No one ever told me that." "That's not the kind of thing people really point out I guess. How could you not have known?" "I don't know." "Maybe you didn't always. Maybe you were just nervous that day." "Maybe. I don't remember." "Anyway, back to you deciding to change." "Yes?" "How." "Like I said, I just decided to." "Try and explain that to me. Was it because of the storm?" "No. It's because of a conversation I had with a friend. Before the storm." "What was the conversation about?" "Me." "And?" "How I had no personality."

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"Oh." He tells me to continue. "If I'm writing a story and I don't like my character; I change him. If he needs charisma or sensitivity or cynicism or passion, he gets it. I figured if I knew how to manipulate personality with fiction, why not do it with myself?" "But then it isn't genuine, is it?" "I don't know. How many people are genuine in the first place?" "Good point." The gray around us pushes away like smoke from waving limbs as Gerald stretches, arms above his head. He yawns and jots down some more notes before continuing. His handwriting looks like those green hilled irises, no crests of the cursive in a straight line. I feel a little out of place without my own notebook to write in. He inevitably asks about the storm, and I tell him everything I told Elissa. His face contorts into a jigsaw puzzle. His smile (if it is a smile) is crooked, his eyebrows are upside down, his nose is out of place. He asks me if I'm aware that I sound excited about what I saw. I say I don't just sound it, I am. He nods his puzzled face into a solid expression. Relief. "When I started my job I thought I was a terrible human being. I covered car accidents, murders, fires, robberies. Everything. Those kinds of things. Anything. And the more gruesome the injuries, the more devastating the accident, the more intense the damage, the more excited I was. I'd look forward to hearing that someone died, to seeing someone cry. I would read obituaries and get envious if there were any interesting deaths I had missed. It was intriguing to me. Cinematic. I liked having something like that to write about. Especially considering it was real." "I know what you mean." "I'm glad there is someone I can relate to. Other journalists I work with seem almost ashamed of their jobs." "It's probably an act. I'm sure you pretend to be humbled by what you're actually excited about." "That is true. You know a lot, Abe." "A lot about what?" "People." "You should too, by now. Considering your job." He's interviewing me but I seem to be getting the best of him. I smile. He sees it, and puts his professional face back on abruptly. The smoky gray of the table and the rest of the room settles back in. His

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eyes go overcast and again we are shadows. Our causerie for the remainder of the interview is dull. He leaves with a brief handshake and I have the feeling he was offended. Oh well. ---July 18th - 11:09 a.m. - Year 1 Elissa leaves the television on all day, every day. Uninteresting characters stir the air in an electronic cobweb of banality. I can't focus anything into prose when I am here. Elissa refuses to lower the volume, much less reduce the glow of the screen to its naturally unlit cube. And tonight I am at a loss, pulling my hair and feeling unwonted creativity loosen in the follicles. "Why does that have to be on all the time," I ask her. "It keeps me company." "I don't count as company?" "No." ----July 19th - 10:47 a.m. - Year 1 The phone's terrible voice has temporarily stifled my pen. I've been up since before the sun, writing. A couple old characters in particular have come to life again from Tilley's restaurant, I've decided to capture them before I forget. Elissa answers the phone and asks me if I would like to meet Gerald for some coffee and orange juice today, around noon. He has more questions to ask me. I say sure. I should be finished writing by then. Elissa reads through what I have written after I am done. She says what the hell is wrong with me, this isn't much of a story for kids anymore. I say sure it is, I've just made my protagonist a bit of a villain. Or a confused hero, maybe. You know, for a change of pace. She persists with arguments but I tell her I don't have time, I have to go meet someone for coffee and orange juice. She says she knows, she's the one who arranged it. Another handshake and one of the city's endless supply of cafes. Gerald insists I try the coffee. It is supposedly superb, gourmet something or other. I say I will try if he buys it. He does, and I don't like it, so I end up buying tea that tastes like nothing because this place is

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too fancy to sell plain old orange juice. We sit down and I immediately notice he doesn't have a notepad and he notices my eyes noticing his empty hands. "This isn't really an interview. I just needed to talk to you again. To figure out what it is that is wrong with us." "I don't think anything is." He sips his coffee and scratches the side of his head, green hilled eyes dimming as he squints. "I was wondering what you think about people after spending all this time studying them?" "That's kind of a vague question." "What do you think makes someone who they are, is what I mean." "I think people are however you interpret them, or however they interpret themselves to be, basically." "But what are we really, in your opinion?" I wonder for a moment and shrug. "A mess of wires and flesh and maybe some soul." "That's all you have gathered?" "More or less. What have you gathered?" "Not a goddamn thing, Abe. Nothing. It seems like everything is just stories and characters, like none of it is real." "I can understand that. And with you -- having seen so much more tragedy than the rest of us -- it would make sense that you would become numb after a while." I talk further to Gerald, abandoning my first personality in favor of a warm and sympathetic one, more like Moses, who I am modeling this new style of causerie after. I am receiving smiles and feeling a bit more lively than usual. After I have reassured Gerald that he is smart and a good journalist and more or less normal, we wander back to the topic of the storm. I talk to him about the sea life everywhere. How interesting it all was. He tells me he is friends with a marine biologist, I should meet her. She could show me around, really introduce me to the ocean and all that. Shake hands with the waves, get my feet wet, and whatever else there is to do. I tell him that would be wonderful. He says he'd be glad to set something up for me, he'll call her later and see if she's willing.

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Chapter VII A Cloud Shaped Like a Sneeze

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July 22nd - 1:22 p.m. - Year 1 I meet Gerald's biologist friend, Hallie. She is a bright redheaded woman, a little younger than I, and very rich so it seems. She owns a boat, scuba diving gear, radar equipment, the works. She shows me around and points everything out with nonchalant gestures. Turns out her parents are rich, not her. But she knows a lot about sea life. "I'm always thinking about the sea," she says. After the tour of her small but well equipped boat, we leave shore in a smooth farewell. I feel inclined to wave but keep my hands at my side. Gerald told me she would probably take me scuba diving, so I should be prepared to get wet. I'm nervous about undressing in front of her, I suck in my gut and wonder if it will make my chest stick out too much. I glance down and try to figure out through the ridges in my shirt. I decide to half suck in my gut and try to appear natural. The boat glances across the ocean surface barely making a ripple. What lies beneath is invisible, just vague reflections of nothing in particular. We're traveling parallel with the shore rather than heading out into the eternity of waves, which is relieving. I don't want to be in the middle of nothing except sky and water reflecting sky. Hallie steers the boat with one arm and watches me, her sunglasses winking sparks of sunlight. I don't know whether or not to take it as flirting. And then I wonder if I should try flirting, myself. I stand beside Hallie and ask her why she loves the ocean so much. She says because it makes her happy. Why? She says because it's nice. Oh. I smile, wondering how exactly to flirt. I've seen it. I think it's happened to me before (although I was never the most responsive person to flirt with). While her back is turned I try and count the different shades of red in the flames flowering down her head. I want to throw my hands in the fire. I clear my throat and make sure none of my nervous habits are showing. If I want to create a new personality I have to be good at it. I focus on the passing carpet of ocean to calm me. I hope she will say something so I don't have to try to come up with anything else. She does.

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"And what exactly is it that you love about the ocean so much? I've been watching you watch it, and obviously you are smitten." "It's just calming." She nods. We discuss Gerald a little, when no other subjects come up. She says she met him a while ago when he interviewed her after her brother died in a boating accident. He was quite compassionate, supposedly, and went to the funeral and they became fast friends. It seems like Gerald had learned the art of pretending a warm personality like I have. I ask her about school, about her job. Simple enough. She tells me vaguely about getting her degree in marine biology and how she now helps preserve wildlife and is involved in research and development and laboratory work, but what she really loves is being out in the ocean. On her boat and in the water. She asks me if I would like to take a swim and see some animals. I am nervous of what's under the surface but determined to experience new things to write about, so I say sure, and she stops the boat and grabs a bag from under a seat. It is a little cloudy. I ask her if lightning would kill us if it happened to strike the water. She says she doesn't know but assumes not because otherwise there wouldn't be any fish left after a thunderstorm. I trust her because of the warm smile she gives me in front of her warm voice. She frequently makes jokes that I am not sure are jokes, so I am having a hard time knowing when to laugh. She has to reassure me when she is joking or not, but she does so with a light heart. I am quickly falling in love with her laughter and not sure if it is real or not. Maybe I could fall in love with practically anyone. Nonchalant arms stretch over her head and off comes her shirt. Then her shorts. I wonder how to stare without staring. She turns to open her bag and I see freckles stipple her back and shoulders, paint brush speckled. Her aqua swimsuit hugs her tight. Her waist comes in and her hips roll out. Her butt lifts naturally as if propped up by her thick thighs. She turns around. Her skin is a milky peach and my mouth waters a little. She is flat footed. Thin and robust in the right ways. Balanced. Raspberry red hair up in a pony tail, bare shouldered and buoyant chested, collarbone smiling under her smile. "You can stop staring and undress yourself, Abe." My face flushes and I do as I am told. I feel embarrassed but she laughs at me reassuringly, and says that she is flattered. I don't know what to say as I drop my clothes on the ground and try to wipe the

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blush out of my cheeks. I suck in my gut, but not enough so as to inflate my chest. She hands me a mouthpiece and a mask and some fins and a tank which she helps me strap to my back. Then she puts on her own. She explains how to use the mouthpiece to breathe. She says go ahead, try it. I do. She asks if I can breathe. I say yes. She says good, then we'll go ahead and jump in. I ask her if there should be more training involved, she says yes, but she's not in the mood for a scuba diving lesson. And then she jumps in. I follow. The monochromatic overcast sky, a cloud shaped like a sneeze, the surface of the water in one clear line, the underneath; a filmy expanse of blue. Fish and things sailing in ribbons and sparks, ebbs and roots, fireworks and sways. Coral dots the floor like Hallie's freckles, blooming gardens of lilac purple and hawkweed orange and dragonfly green. My flat fins push heavy, I feel the weight of the sea. I can barely move. Hallie swims in front of me, her loose hair combs the water like hands. She is smiling at my awe and immobility. She points at her own legs and shows me how to move. I eventually get the idea, however clumsily. I am terrified of the enormity of the water but trying not to show it. I focus on my legs in their movement. The water feels like a second skin when I am still and a gust of wind when I swim. I can barely keep my eyes open. Too much color. Hallie grabs me and leads me to one of the gardens of coral. The chalky branches stand raised in a spectrum of applause. Animals come in and out. She points at them as if her gesture will communicate some sort of knowledge. I force myself to relax. Somehow it works. Hallie and I watch the flicker of coral and sea like Elissa watches her TV. Then I notice an animal appear in one of the empty spaces of blue. An octopus, reposing in tendrils of fountain orange. Opened like an upside down tulip. His long arms swaying gently, the suckers on the underside stark white. All alone there in the blue its legs look like snapshots of lightning. He sees me come toward him and lowers himself, as though to give me room to swim past. His humble movements are endearing. There is a sort of whimsical wisdom about him. Something calming. I almost want to embrace him. I reach down to pet his charismatic head, spongy and wet and dry. His black eyes widen in their beetling brows. He suddenly lifts and charges his long legs to escape, I reach out to keep him near me, and our limbs become entangled. He panics and his skin begins sorting through colors like a dropped box of crayons.

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Frantic paced and beautiful. I am apologetic for disturbing him but glad I did. To see his hues. In our mess of arms and legs he decides to grip me like I am gripping him. His suckers stick to my skin and I feel myself swell. A milky black cloud comes from somewhere and envelops us. Then I feel hands pull me free. Water pushes against me from the octopus shoving away. I catch a glimpse of his angry colors as I am shoved above by Hallie's hands. A filmy expanse of blue, the surface in one clear line, a cloud shaped like a cough. My head to the air I take out my mouthpiece and laugh. "I thought only squids could squirt ink!" --July 24th - 9:03 a.m. - Year 1 I just bought a vehicle from a used car salesman down the street, since my old car drowned. The salesman was a little younger than me with slicked back sale pitch black hair. A caricature of his profession. He was full of Italian phrases and Italian gestures and Italian facial expressions. After I purchased the car he patted my back, vigorously shook my hand and informed me that I was one hell of a swell guy to do business with. I get the vague feeling that he ripped me off, but if so, at least he was a swell guy to be ripped off by. ---July 25th - 10:54 a.m. - Year 1 Elissa is quiet. Something is wrong. I tell her about the octopus and all the ideas that being underwater gave me. A whole new sort of perspective. Everything looks different now. Drier, of course, and more stable. She's been on the phone all day. It's almost five o'clock. She looks tired. She waits for me to stop talking and finally speaks. "Abe, you haven't been writing much for your story." I tell her I know, and she says I need to start focusing on it. She's tired. She's started publishing new authors and doesn't have as much time to attend to my motivational needs. She needs me to work without her encouragement. "And I signed a contract... with a big children's publisher. This is important. I need to have a rough draft for this story by November and you barely have five pages. Notes don't count." "It's a children's book, it doesn't have to be long," I tell her.

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She stops talking for a minute and gets up to make coffee. "You're exhausting, Abe." She leaves the room. She comes back a minute later and keeps the conversation going. She tells me that my book will be published through her and the other publisher, which will also hire an artist. I tell her that's great and look forward to see pictures to go along with my story (although I know an artist's interpretation could potentially ruin my characters). I want her to not be angry. I ask her what's wrong. She says she told me what's wrong, why aren't I taking her seriously. I say I am, I am. Something else is wrong. It is apparent. She goes over to the coffee machine and waits for it to finish even though it's nowhere near done. Her back to me. Sniffling. I walk over and put my arm around her. She stiffens and holds her breath before getting some milk from the refrigerator. "I don't need a hug, Abe. I need you to finish that goddamn story." So I sit back down at the kitchen table. I have a long page of notes written from yesterday, other pages from my last notebook left before the storm. All these characters I have yet to find a place for. I see Elissa, now, back to staring at the coffee maker. It bubbles and crackles. She refuses to meet my stare. I don't know which personality to use around her. Nothing seems to work. Maybe all she really needs is for me to write, after all. So I try. ----July 25th - 2:07 p.m. - Year 1 Now I have finally found a place for all my characters in one escalating bruise of prose. They have come alive in a half fiction sort of embrace, so to say they are happy to be. And I could start over with them just as I was starting over with myself. I try and find Elissa to show her. I hear the shower running. I sit on the couch and wait for her to finish. I trace the circular welts on my arms with my finger. I do not let the TV come to life. I pick up the newspaper on the coffee table. I find a small photo of myself next to an article. Gerald's article. "Famous Writer Trivializes Storm." Oh no. A majority of the article told my account of the storm, the rest of it attacked my character: "...Abe is exactly what the rumors circulating have been saying. Heartless." "...and when I asked him what he really thinks about people after all these years of studying us and writing about us he replied

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'people are nothing more than a mess of wires and flesh and maybe some soul.'" "...He stolidly described the events of that terrifying day with the hint of a smile on his lips. It was appalling to witness." "...to think that he is publishing a children's book is atrocious." "...His talent as a writer is debatable. But his morality is not. This man shows no sign of compassion for human beings. And while I don't encourage the people of his hometown to mistreat him, I also don't encourage them to buy his books. It would not seem right to support a man who refused to support his own town in its greatest time of need." As I finish the article Elissa walks in the room, her hair wet, dressed in pink pajamas. She stands to the side of the couch, staring at my ears as though I can hear her eyes. "So you've seen the article." "Yes, just read it." Elissa shakes her head and says she will kill Gerald. But first she has to sleep. Then she will wake up and go to his house and kill him. I have to laugh at that. She asks me why all of a sudden I find everything so hilarious. Why not? -----July 27th - 11:23 a.m. - Year 1 "Hello?" "Hi, is Hallie there?" "This is her." "Oh hi, this is Abe." "Hi Abe." "I had a nice time scuba diving with you." "Likewise." "Maybe we could do something again, sometime this week. I mean, it doesn't have to be scuba diving, of course... just go out to eat or something like that." "I'm not sure, Abe. This is kind of a busy week for me. Maybe some other time." "Oh, okay." "I have to run." "Okay, bye." "Bye."

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------July 27th - 11:42 a.m. - Year 1 I am a hopeless unromantic. -------July 28th - 3:15 p.m. - Year 1 It's been three days since Elissa has made her threat and she has not killed Gerald yet. Today she plans on calling him, however. We are in the gray kitchen. We spend so much time here but we never eat here. She is so sad. What the hell is wrong with her. "Hey. Elissa?" "What, Abe." "What's wrong. Why not tell me?" Elissa sits down next to me, at the colorless table. She is tired. She is always tired just like she is always sad. She pats my back. "You're sweet Abe. You didn't used to be, you are now. But that doesn't change anything. I am still your publisher, you are still my author." "I know." "You're not putting me in a story no matter how clever your tactics might be." "That's not why I asked, Elissa. I really want to know." She half laughs and leaves the room. She comes back with my notebook. She points at the part I recently wrote. This is good, she tells me, write more like this. And I say I will. Then I ask her about the possibility of doing book signings in the city. She says she's been thinking about that, too. And then I say I'd like to do a book signing in my old town. She says that's not a good idea. But I insist. She sighs, says why not, if you insist. And she picks up the phone. She goes to the living room where I hear her chestnut voice humming through the waves of television noise. It peaks for a moment and then stops. She comes back into the kitchen and hands me the phone "here, you talk to Asshole for a while." "Gerald?"

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"Hi, yes. I suppose my name's become synonymous with asshole?" "Apparently." "I was trying to explain to Elissa that I didn't mean for my article to be so harsh. You know how editors are, he was biased against you because he grew up in your town so he had me add in a lot of negative stuff..." "Yeah. Well, whatever the reason, I wanted to congratulate you on playing a good game. You really tricked me into opening up. You're not a very good writer, though." "Haha, well, thanks I guess." Elissa glares her coffee pot eyes at me before leaving the room again. "I thought I had people all figured out. You threw me a curve ball. And Hallie told me that you had come off as being compassionate when her brother died. Now I have to wonder who you really are." "Wouldn't be worth the effort. Hallie doesn't like you, by the way." "I had figured as much. It seems my attempts at flirting didn't go over so well." "It's not so much that as the fact that you attacked an octopus and she had to save you." "Oh, that. Right."

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Chapter VIII Antagonists and Protagonists

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August 2nd - 11:24 a.m. - Year 1 A reluctant book signing set up by Elissa in my old town. Today. I change my clothes and brush my teeth (after being reminded to do so). I head to the door and wave goodbye. Elissa shakes her head and says I go at my own risk. And that's exactly why I go. The city blinks in the traffic that I have become accustomed to. I take my left and right turns after glancing at directions written on yellow note paper and the street signs become less frequent. A mile marker comes into view and suddenly the city is swallowed up in the condensed sight of my rear view mirror. The buildings and cars shut their eyes and I emerge with the world suddenly looking so much larger. Outside of the smoggy grays of traffic and noise lies an impressionist painting no one would have expected to be there. Hills pass me by in crowds of viridity. Tires fold over. Hours and hours of this. Everything humble and quiet and open. I don't know if there is a point in being homesick but I am. Fifty minutes away from my home and I feel tense. The steering wheel sticks to my fingerprints. My mind is stuck in something along the lines of nostalgia. A sound shakes my ears and I put my hands to them and then the front end of my brand new used car is straddling the wooden limb of a splintered fence. I get out and find the source of the noise that had startled me off the road. It's a cow, all alone and moaning the hell out of the air. The hill she lays on is naked, unlike this side behind the fence which is brimming with green. I walk toward her and see a barn in the distance. I wonder where all the grass has gone. In the barn, a crowd of animals huddle together in the corner with guilty expressions wrinkling over their faces. Behind the barn is a small house. Knocking on the door brings no one. There are no signs of humans, the house is empty and so is the small garage. Not even furniture or dust. I feel something eerie and head back toward my car. The moaning cow beckons me as I pass by. I can not leave her. Her eye lashes flutter,

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wet. I lean down by her huge oreo head. She's moaning like a submarine submerging. Her saliva splashes in small green rivulets over the parched ground. I rub her forehead with my hand. At the top of the hill another car pulls over. I look up to see a woman step over the fence I had smashed. She asks me what I am doing with the cow, and am I alright? I say I am fine and the cow is dying. She says that's good and of course it is. It's been trying to kill itself since the farmer left. I ask who the farmer is. "Oh, great guy named Allen, really rich and loved animals. You haven't seen the story on the news? Wanted to try his hand at owning a farm, but couldn't bring himself to slaughter them (the ones who had to be slaughtered). He ended up losing a lot of money and decided to abandon the farm. Instead of selling the land or the animals (knowing many of them would eventually be killed) he left them to fend for themselves. The cow loved him. Didn't know what to do without him. It didn't know, of course, how close Allen was to butchering it (it's too old for good milk anymore). So it's been trying to eat itself to death. I'm sure you've noticed how bare this side of the hill is (it's hard to miss). Well anyway, just let it be, its lights should blink out soon." And then this woman who speaks in parentheses drives away, leaving me alone with a suicidal bovine who is eating herself to death for the sake of loneliness. I watch the woman go and ask the cow how she is doing. Moan mooan moooan. I pat her head and stand up, shake the dirt off my clothes, write down the scene in my notebook and then remember I have a book signing to do. I shouldn't be late. So I scramble to my car and back it out of the fence and continue to where I was going, all the while thinking about the cow. It's been two weeks since the storm and the town has already dried and begun to restore. My book signing is set up at the outskirts, rather than near the mess of a shore, in a bookstore with white tile floors and maroon walls and a small café and rows of books in rows of shelves with rows of price tags and rows of genres. I look around before the book signing starts and find my book tucked away under fiction. Simple enough. I meet the store owner who is indifferent. She points to a table set up with copies of my first novel. She tells me to try and sell them, she'd appreciate it. She has thin straight hair that molds to her facial expressions. But when she talks to me she is expressionless and her hair is quiet. I say thanks and sit down in my chair, in front of my table, and look at my books. Or rather, the duplications of my one book. There's my photo on the inside of the

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back cover. The letters from my words, the black block sentences that make me see colors. Does anyone else see what I see? I wait there, at my table, battering my self esteem with pointless, unanswerable questions. No one comes. The store owner does not talk to me. And I feel the hint of abandon. It swells to fill in the gaps where bodies should be instead. I guess I am still an antagonist. After a couple hours of being ignored a boy almost a man comes up to me and says hello. His curly red hair rounds his head like coral. I remember something. He has a copy of my book and I sign it for him. In his other hand he holds a thick stapled pile of paper. He asks me if I remember him. I tell him I remember his hair. He says he was one of the workers who helped me out of the rubble. Luke. It comes back with the words I had written, and I shake his hand, catching him off guard. "Luke, I'm glad to see you again. Let me say right now that you were right, to be upset with me." "I was? I was going to apologize for how I acted..." "No no, don't bother, I don't blame you. I had it coming." I am again using a warm personality, hoping it will save me from staying the antagonist of this story. "Oh, well... I just wanted to let you that being a volunteer fireman in a small town, I am pretty much on call for every single possible accident, and I can be pretty numb to casualties too. So I shouldn't have been such an asshole to you, all considering." I tell him to sit down in the empty chair next to me. He timidly does so, his eyes staring at the table. "Luke, did you find your girlfriend?" "No,... no." "She died?" "Yes." I sigh and watch his trembling sight, wavering in front of his eyes, those thoughts and memories that allow him to have his eyelids open but only see into the back of his head. He is perfectly still. And I don't know what to say except I'm sorry. He doesn't reply, just gives me the pile of stapled paper that was in his hand. I glance at the cover. On it is printed his full name, Lucas Adrian Cox, and his address and phone number. At the top in huge bold print it says "The Lost Ones". I flip over the first page and glance at the words. It is a play. He finally opens his mouth. "It's a play." "Yes, I see that."

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"I've looked up to your writing since I saw one of your short stories in a magazine. I love your book. And I'm really into writing. And I uh... I was hoping you could read this for me, when you have time, and tell me what you think. Maybe help me out with it, if you can. I mean, if you have time." The heavy load of words rests in my hands. I see his eyes peek up to me and I lie to him. "I'd love to. What's it about?" "It's about a group of kids who want to run away." "Yeah?" "Yeah." "Alright, well, I'll read it as soon as I can and let you know what I think." "You really will?" "Absolutely." Something like a smile widens in his face. I smile back and clear my throat in the silence. Neither of us seem to know what to say next. Finally I use a tactic I learned with conversations. Saying the first thing that comes to mind. "Have you ever heard of a guy named Al, who owned a farm in Blye?" "Actually, yes, I live in Blye. I was friends with Al during high school." "No kidding. I drove into his fence today." "You mean at the farm?" "Yeah, and I saw this cow dying." "Ah. I've seen her too, it's a shame." "I was wondering how much he was planning on selling that farm for." "I'm not sure,... why?" "Just curiosity I guess." "You want to buy a farm?..." "It seems like a romantic idea, doesn't it?" "Sure." "Anyway, do you know how to reach this Al guy?" "I'm not sure, but I could find out for you." "Terrific. Here's my number." I tear off a piece of paper from my notebook and write it down for him. He pockets it, and I see a new look in his eyes, something like pride. He tells me he's got to get going, shakes my hand, and says "see you later, Abe" loud enough for people around to hear him. As he exits through the glass door I notice he is

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watching the reflections of people's reactions, his head high and shoulders lifted, and I have to laugh. After that, encouraged by Luke's friendliness, a few people come over and talk to me, I even sell and sign a couple books. Apparently there is a fine line between antagonists and protagonists. The book signing ends another hour later and even the owner is a little nicer to me by now. She thanks me for coming, I thank her for letting me, and we part ways knowing we'll probably never see each other again. That's always something that has bothered me, parting with these brief characters who I know must have so many stories to tell. Instead of going straight home I traverse through my old town. I miss it. I don't belong in a city, I belong here. I find my old apartment complex and park my car. It's begun to rebuild. There's construction workers and ladders and planks of wood and sheets of tarp. To my left I can see my grumpy neighbor in his garden as always. I walk over and kneel down next to him. He rolls his toad eyes. Asks me if I have better things to do then come back here and bother him. I say no, not really, and mention the book signing. He nods, his hands busy with something in the garden. I lean closer and see him trying to shoo a large bug into a glass container, carefully. It's a wandering violin, the same kind of giant praying mantis that I had once almost swatted off his back. I ask him if any other of his bugs had survived. He says not many, but he's hoping this wandering violin is a female and that she's pregnant, since he doesn't have much money left to buy more. I say I am surprised he found a surviving bug now, it's been a month since the storm. He says he's surprised too, of all the bugs he bought he figured this one would be the least likely to live. He humors me for a little longer, captures the bug, and says he has to get going. I go to the beach, conscious of how strange it is to be reliving a past routine all over again. I'm not sure why I miss it. I couldn't stand it before. I leave my shoes in my car and walk barefoot through the cooled sand. Those refreshing sounding lungs of the ocean rifle my clothes in wrinkles and whisper my hair in prose. The infinity of the water like sky embraces everything. And there is no sign of Moses. Questioning a few people I find out no one knows what happened to him. They don't even seem to remember him. I search the length of the beach before it hits rocks and then find a lonely place to lay down, flat on my back, still in my clothes. The sand holds on to me with crumbly hands. I'm not sure what I'm waiting for but I'm waiting.

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A hermit crab without a home comes looking for one. He was probably sick of the ocean and so decided to go offshore. He finds a skull but it is already occupied (by me). I tell him I'm sorry, I'd let him in if I could. I suppose he understands, because he goes on his way and straight into a pair of empty sneakers. A few minutes later a little girl screams when her foot fills them. Pulling her flesh out of her soles she runs toward the water and wipes him off in the waves. So he ends up back in the ocean where he was trying to get away from all along. Still unsure of what I am waiting for I close my eyes and let the sun warm my lids. I can feel the weight of the light pushing my sight deeper and deeper away from my eyelids. I think about that look Luke had, when I asked him about his dead girlfriend, staring into the back of his own head. And this is how I find myself sleeping. --August 2nd - 4:43 p.m. - Year 1 With Luke's play script in hand I begin reading. Outstretched on my stomach in the mouth of my bed. Sand is still in my hair and clothes from sleeping on the beach but I haven't felt the need to shower. It's just past six in the evening and I feel like morning. Crumbs of shore shift in the folds of pages as I turn them, quickly glancing through the tedious myriad of clichés and borrowed themes. Luke is not a good writer and I don't know how I can tell him so. Or if I even should. I am halfway through the first act when a shadow and its perfume dampens my sheets. I turn my head to see Elissa sit down next to me. She has one of my notebooks. She drops it onto the bed. She doesn't say a word but places her hand on my lower back. Warm in the palm and light in the fingers. I give her a smile and keep reading. For a while she is quiet and just rests her hand there, watching me. Then she pulls her hand lower and tugs under my shirt. I stop reading but keep my eyes on the page. Her hand shuffles under my shirt, the fingers trickle at their tips, give me goose bumps, then they flatten and smooth out, circling around the small of my back and between my shoulders and around and around. If sand gets caught inbetween our skin she lets it. Uncomfortable and confused, I pretend to keep my attention on Luke's play. Her hand continues. Without a word she rolls me over by gently leading me with her hand. Like a turtle being beckoned to lay on its back. Her eyes try and

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speak but I'm not hearing. With a rustle in the bed she heightens herself and straddles me, both her hands on the skin under my shirt, still smoothing and trickling, shivering and heating. She lowers her pelvis onto mine and I feel a warm pulse run through me. She leans her body across mine, kisses my cheek. I barely feel her lips. She whispers. "Abe, I read what you wrote, in there. About me." I remember the scattered little details I had of her written. The same things I would have written about anyone. Just half poetic descriptions. "God, I can't believe I am being swooned by a writer. Me, of all people. By a writer's words. But I'm lonely and I can't help it." Her thighs tighten and her body moves against mine. Her voice lowers, bordering on being histrionic. "I can't help it." I have no idea what to say. I expect to feel something explosive, to be excited, but I feel physical sensations and nothing else attached. As if this were ordinary, just skin and nerves. Which I suppose it is. She breathes into my ear and rests with her body against mine, her hands still under my shirt at my sides. And the phone rings. She slowly gets up, her thighs lingering, walking out of the room. She comes back in and says her boyfriend just called, he's moving back into the apartment. And she leaves it at that. I lay there in a sort of daze for a while and then decide to go for a walk. Elissa's touch still tingles somewhere on my skin. I try and get it out of my head but it seems to take up all the space. I take the notebook she found herself in and I keep the words clutched in my hand. The streets are quiet. I want to get lost. So I take every side street I can find but end up back at the boulevard somehow. Impossible to get lost. Rows of stores and restaurants lined up for miles. The local and the corporate owned. Each with a distinct mood. Walking by them is usually intimidating but all I can think about at the moment is skin. The sand in her grainy palms. Now that it is over I am feeling things. I am attaching emotions to the touch, I am wanting more. But whatever it was is already done. I find a store I can not remember seeing before. Probably because I had mistaken it for a house. Plain and almost entirely unaltered wood. A bit out of place. A sign in the window simply says "antiques". I walk inside.

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There are a couple of bare light bulbs. Shelves full of old books, boxes stuffed with everything useless: bulky rusted razors, porcelain statues of giraffes and sheep and roosters and pigs and penguins, rows of carefully engraved spoons, grinning teapots, frowning broken clocks, board games, books, toys without the appearance of once having experienced a child's childhood. Not everything is necessarily an antique, some of it just seems to be junk. A sign near the cash register says "unattended children will be sold." The cashier looks cranky and up to keeping the threat. I yawn through the poorly constructed aisles, wondering how a store like this could survive, and see a wooden crate filled with postcards. Glancing through them I notice the flow of cursive covering all their white backs. The handwritten causerie of not so long ago and decades and decades before that. Characters and stories. I grab the entire crate and bring them to the cashier. His eyes light up and he asks if he can help me. I say I'd like to buy this whole box of postcards, how much would it be? He shrugs, and starts counting the postcards. He says no one ever buys these so he'll give me a deal. Thirty bucks. Ecstatic, I gladly hand him over the money and hurry home to read.

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Chapter IX Tea, Sugar, Cream and Letter Home

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Dear Mother: Hope you are much better by this time. We are pretty well; you and I both have colds. Have two inches of snow this morning. Has been cold and cloudy for some time. The Fishers and Ella Richardson expect to go to Cal. about middle of Dec. I hear that Mr. Douglas and his son are going too. With love. Hector. Sally, Rumor has it we are headed to Russia. Or Norway. Who knows at this point. I wish I could write you something longer, like before, but there is not time to anymore, and postcards are all I have left to write on. Love you. Timothy Dear Ann, Well how is college treating you? I'm having a wonderful time. The college is lovely and the girls are sweet. It's freezing cold in here. I'm catching pneumonia. If you find a spare minute to write please do. Lots of love Isabell Hiya love, hope you're okay? How is my Cindy doing? I miss you both so much. I can't believe I've been away for 2 months!! I am having the best time though, and everyone is lovely. I'm running out of money fast, it's so expensive here. Stockholm is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I feel so at home here. Gamla Stan is my favourite place, and whenever I feel sad I go there down by the water and it makes me think of you. All our buddies say hello and they wish you could be here too, I hope you're not working too hard!?! Tonight will be amazing. Say hello to everyone for me, I'll call you and my mum soon. Give Cindy a kiss for me! I love you. Jennifer xoxo. It is beautiful here. I think you would like it. The people live like Thoreau... in little houses with few modern convenience. It's like

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being one with the world. We're staying in cabins. We've ridden horses, hiked in the rain forest, gambled at a casino, and sat at the bar and took shots of tequila (a one time experience for sure). Today we're going to the volcano on the card. I miss you terribly. Take care. I'll see when I get home. Love, Gina PS. William Tell did shoot the apple off of his son's head! We swam in this today. Dear Mom The tall thing in the picture is 'Last Stand Hill.' Don't know why the natives call it that. It's really beautiful country. Wouldn't mind ending my days here. Tomorrow we get rid of the silly Indians, then I think I'll open a little casino and settle down. Your son, George Lionel, you're not coming with us. That's why this is a postcard instead of a letter. I discussed things with Harry and he thinks it's the best idea. I know, we promised. But what can I say? There's not enough room in the cabin for everyone and you never took our plan serious enough in the first place. We'll get along fine without each other. Mark, I thought coming to Hawaii would be exciting and relaxing, but to my dismay it was quite the opposite. I learned all about Hawaiian culture and how it's been turned into a tourist trap ever since it became the 50th State. I feel so bad for Hawaiians. Your friend, Alex Sally, Some of us are worried about the boat trip. Many have had the flu, and more have been seasick. I am well today. Destination still unknown. Love as always. Tim Dear Dad,

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Would you believe after we spent all last weekend fixing my car... Some idiot broke into it and tried to steal it? They didn't get far my steering lock prevent them. But, to add insult to injury, they threw my SHOES out into the grass, and took one of them! I'm left with a car that is undrivable and half a pair of my favourite shoes. I wish we lived somewhere else. It's times like these I get most homesick. I love you. -J Mr. Dave I'm currently sitting in a train station, about to begin my 5 day Thanksgiving trip to Prague. What better way to celebrate the conquest of a continent than by leaving it? Ben Hey you... You know that relationships are kind of like kicking field goals with shoes with no shoelaces. At first you're kind of leery about it, not wanting to lose your shoe, but once you lose it, and the feeling in your foot everything becomes fine. Oh by the way, how have you been? Zack Gretchen, It's been a long road, one that surely wound, and did it's share of winding me up too. Crying on the shoulders of a gas station attendant can really humble a man. I miss you. This trip is maybe more than I can take. I was stupid to think that this was going to help me find myself. I've found that taking this trip actually separated me from a big part of myself, you. I'll be coming home soon. I can't stand this distance any more. With love, always, Jacob. P.S. Remember the night in the park?? I can't get that moment to stop playing over and over in my head. Daddy, Things are going good. Being in Florida is nice too. It gets warm and stays warm, and the air feels wet. But jumping in the pool at the hotel makes that ok. I want to come back to Illinois. XoXoXoXo Jennifer

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Scary Keri, How are things going out in the Western states sis?? If you couldn't tell, I've made it to New York and done the standard tourist fair. You know, seeing the sites, buying expensive gifts for the friends, cheap-o postcards for the family, and been getting hassled by street vendors wishing to peddle their boiled hot dog wares to me. Don't worry, I'll be wary of the pigeons. I see them from their perches scoping me out. I see them all right. LOTS OF LOVE SIS!! Crazy Christy Dear Future, Could you tell me (a) how I die, (b) if travel by tube has been invented (sci-fi tube, not the underground!), (c) will I live to see newcastle win the premiership, (d) what sports do you play? I guess you haven't invented time travel, because if you had people would have seen people from the future already. If you do, don't come to our time, we make children do stupid exercises like this. If you are from the future, you're not from far enough ahead, because this paper would have disintegrated by then. You can't learn anything from us, we haven't even learned how to plan ahead. Hey Greg, Things are cool in the city, still getting offered pills by our friend. Flat is shitty, no work, no sex... living the dream, like we always wanted. What's happened mate? How're you getting on at work, ya sellout? Still with Liz? Give her my love, I know she wants it! Barely writing these days, all I can think of is that I cut costs by buying cheap paper when I can't even afford to refill my pen. I'll still never use a biro! Come see me man, and bring some tuna for old times sake. My sandwiches are all unfilled lately. Ben When you least expect it. Jordan Dude, I was so shitfaced last night. the liquor here is dirt cheap, think I’ll stay a while. Sally,

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This is the last one I can write. The ship leaves in hours. We are at Archangel, in Russia. If I don't make it back, tell my parents and that I love them. And our kids. And Ralph and Lisa and Ted. We have to go now. Love always. Tim Hello, hello. Things are wonderful out here. The rapture came last night. And yesterday, Ransom and I woke up just before sunrise and watched the world get born. Now we are gone, if you haven't noticed. I'm sending this from the train station. The whitecoats are nowhere to be found. Glory, Glory, Hallelujah: Lucy. Eric, Hey man, how's Seattle? I heard they set a record for most days of rain in a row. But you like rain, right? Anyways, hope you have a good time. Anthony Dear Mother and Dad: Arrived safely. Ice cutter brought ship into harbor. All 300 lbs. of luggage needed. Warned not to use bathrooms in the hotel as maids refuse to clean. Candy and I dress and walk two blocks in middle of night: convince guard in Red Cross offices of our necessity. Soldiers canteen well-visited. Can now say: Tea, Sugar, Cream, and Letter Home in Russian, Czech, Polish. Glad to have brought guitar. At night the soldiers dance their feet off. Love, Gail Mom, Dad, Who thought I'd have made it this far this quickly? The railroads are still in repair, so Franz and I are stranded for the time being. I saw a man get bitten by a snake yesterday. I don't know if he'll survive. Franz wants to sleep on the desert floor, but I'm afraid of being bitten, and the local shop keeper warns us about natives still fighting for their land here. I suspect it was the act of such savages that caused the damage to the railroads. I will write again before leaving this outpost.

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nation,

May God spread his love and blessings across this growing with love, Sears

Dear, I never know what to write in these things. I'm almost done with this bus trip. Last time I sent a card I was in Tempe, now I am up in Portland. I have to say, I really like it here. Next time I decide to hop a Greyhound and go across the country I'll have to be sure to drag you along, but my bus is about to leave again. I should be in Chicago by the end of the week and then back to you the week after that. I'll send you a package soon, all these souvenirs are starting to weigh down my carry on. Keep Believing, Jack. Dear Mrs. Hutton, Forgive me for writing this letter. Your husband, Private Timothy Hutton, we called him Tim, gave his life in defense of his friends, comrades and country. He was faithful to the end, and was a brave and true soldier. We will miss his laughter, and his quick wit. He will not be soon forgotten. With deepest regards and sympathy, Sgt. Stephen Whitsell, AEF, England. P.S. Enclosed is a letter addressed to a Ms. Hallie Lane we found among his effects. There was no address on the letter so we were unable to send it. It was in the Bible he always carried in his left pocket: Hello Hallie. Funny hearing from me, isn't it? Oh well, if I am honest, dearly and hopelessly and sincerely honest with myself, you won't hear from me. Whitsell, the goddamn bastard, wwon't even bother to check my body for a letter, or even send someone to check my body for a letter, or whatever. More than likely. We are presently surrounded by the enemy. Yes and the general consensus around here is that we're all going to die. Neither side is fighting right now, because it is December twentyfifth (Merry Christmas, by the way) and so we're waiting until dawn, I guess. I don't know why we can't agree to stop ! fighting altogether, all together, if we can very well agree to stop for a whole day. So much for Jesus and peace, if it only lasts one day in winter.

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This Bible of mine is proving itself to be obsolete. So well then anyway we've all been drinking, I will admit I have been drinking as much as everyone else, and I don't know, maybe I'll slur my written words like my spoken words, so I apologize in advance if that should be the case. So well then anyway we're surrounded and abandoned, just a small group of men, absent of any radio contact, and the enemy is over there, you know, by the trenches that aren't really trenches anymore, and they're laughing and drinking like us, but of course with much more exuberance, and I'm not even sure right now who they are or where they are from. It's like a vague dream in which whatever is chasing you is scary as hell but faceless. And they're killing us come sunrise, supposedly. These faceless rifle slinging demons. So I thought, what the hell, I'll write Hallie, I'll tell her what I would never tell her sober. What I would never tell her if I knew there would be awkward social consequences to be alive to endure thereafter. I never viewed you as a cousin so much as maybe a model from a Renaissance painting by Titian. You know, with that smart ass sly smile of yours, like you found everythigng hysterical because you were in a completely different world and could appropriately enjoy such unenjoyable things as living. Like you were just these dried pigments against a flush and wet world. And tljhs hrg those long legs, just like The Venus of Urbino. Your hair like tree roots under water. I would undress you in my mind and you would be her, from that pain ting, you would just fall open in my head all framed and full of brushshshsh strokes. And And And so And those swift mooovemeeentsss oh and stuck in my head circclclclclling like a fan And that endearing twinkle and shine that blew up your retinas and made your face this sun all full of like hair and like long sweltering limbs. What was it, a quasar, yes, which you looked like if it were a bright summer, drinking from your plastic cup some orange juice while everyone else drank soda at family gatherings in whoever's backyard. Quasars, remember? You were into astronomy, so I learned all these defintions, I read whooooole boooooks, but then I never talked to you about them. Never impressed you. But look, Quasars! Impressed? I even know about Rayleigh-Taylor instabilities, for God's sake. You and

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I, if I were with you, could have quite the spirited galactic conversation right now. Pardon me, I need to weep a little at the thought. ............ But then well anyway to get back to where I was. I couldn't verbalize the attraction (attraction really isn't the right word but who knows what is) and so I kind of just avioded you. Mentally preparing myself for the perfect act of conversation, the right moment to unleash it. But I guess it never came, because while I was just entering high school, you were just heading off to college, because you were always so smart. Smarter than anyone dared give you credit for, being a girl and all. But then well anyway I convinced myself to give up on you, as logic set in, because surely I could not allow myself to be in love with my cou sin, and I knew you would never be in love with m e. And I focused on my life inststead. I stopped trying to find common interests with you. But realized I had no interests of my own. But then well anyway so I joined the army, and I married a girl I was not in love with. I figured it would help get you outofmyhead, but it did not. But by dawn, bye dawn it should help, you should be out of my head, you should be poured out all over some grass somewhere, or the snow, watering some tree somewhere, or ferns, your face and my words for you, my love for you, it willall just trickle somewhere, somewhere underground, into some place, into some forgetful spot somewhere, and so finally you'll be out of my head, and I'll be nowhere, but you'll just as well be somewhere, there, wherever the insides of my head end up draining. And here I am, writing my last letter alive to my estranged cousin, not anyone else, being all sentimental and remorseful. And cliché. The three things I hate to be, the three things I feared to be the most, besides a soldier. hahahaha Life's a real joke like that. ................... I would be polite, and about now, ask you how you are, and things like that, and well, of course there's no point, just wanted to say, to make sure you knew and know, I'm not completely iiiintroverted, even if so I seem. So I seem to have not quite enough time to write the decades of supressed paragraphs I would have liked to share with you. This is me attempting to sum it up within the next hour or two: You have been the only beautiful thing I have ever seen in my life.

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But well then anyway, the sun should be rising soon, us men are getting nervous, fidgeting and crying. Someone is asking me to write his wife a letter, since he can not write one himself because he has lost his writing hand from a bullet. I guess I will be writing his wife a letter instead of mine. Poor Sally. And suddenly, suddenly the liquor is fading, the hangover is being skipped over, and I suppose I am in a god awfully miserable mood, all considering. Griffin, I've lost your address. Where are you? Sabine

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Chapter X The Words and the Hills and the Mouths and the Sea

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August 4th - 12:21 p.m. - Year 1 Elissa coughs from the kitchen in a cobweb of gray. Sometimes I feel like I have to hold my breath in here. I show Elissa my box of postcards. She glances through them and I ask her if she now understands why I am so interested in people. She shakes her head. They have seemed to make her tired. I will admit they had the same effect on me. After reading so many words from so many people I can barely stand the thought of writing myself. But no matter where I try to take my mind all I can think about is cursive, in the words and the hills and the mouths and the sea. --August 5th - 1:17 p.m. - Year 1 "Hello, is this Al?" ---August 6th - 10:35 a.m. - Year 1 I write Luke a letter about his play which I have just finished reading. I tell him it was well written and shows much promise. And then I point out how he can improve it. I am doing what many high school and college students do when they write essays. It is called bullshitting. Which reminds me of something I noticed in a few of those postcards I read.

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----August 7th - 12:09 p.m. - Year 1 I go back to the antique shop to ask the owner some questions. The cashier I had bought the postcards from says just a minute and a woman comes downstairs. She looks about sixty with leathery skin and baby blue eyes. I talk to her about who gave her which postcards and what they were like. Her memory is infallible and I am jealous. She is quick to answer until I mention the various postcards from Tim, wondering how someone could possibly have let go of those epic words from a man who died in war. She stiffens her lips and replies "my sister, actually. She couldn't stand to have her husband's words around anymore and asked me to sell them." "Oh." Is the most articulate response I can come up with. There is a sudden dampness in the room as I feel the thunderstorms in this woman's eyes, the borrowed pain of her sister's. "Oh." -----August 9th - 11:34 p.m. - Year 1 "I want to travel, Elissa. I want to be a perpetual tourist." "Mhmm." "You don't believe me?" "Believe what? What the hell does 'perpetual tourist' mean? Why can't you talk normal to your poor publisher. I need to have a sensible conversation with you once in a while to keep our working relationship healthy." "What?" ------August 11th - 3:53 p.m. - Year 1 Luke calls me to thank me for my letter. He says he will take everything I wrote into consideration and appreciates the time I took to read and critique. I say no problem and think to myself, what a sap. Which reminds me of something silly from all those postcards I read.

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-------August 13h - 9:00 a.m. - Year 1 I notice my name show up in another article written by Gerald. In it he talks about Luke. Him rescuing me and how I am now helping with his play. Gerald says maybe I'm not such a bad guy after all. I'll never know what he really thinks. Which reminds me of something vague from all those postcards I read. --------August 15th - 2:13 a.m. - Year 1 I haven't remembered to play my harmonica since writing a reminder on my hand. The marker has long since faded and I've lost the instrument. ---------August 16th - 12:28 p.m. - Year 1 I tell Elissa I found a new place to live and I'll be moving out tomorrow morning. She doesn't even look up from her paperwork and says "Oh good, about time." Which reminds me of something I learned from all those postcards I read that I'd rather forget. ----------August 17th - 10:15 a.m. - Year 1 A rainfall sheds its skin in dew. The brown feet of a wooden fence burrow themselves in parallel lines, still broken in the place where my car had hit. A dormant tractor gathers moss on its blades. Cows lull the grass into a furrowed mattress. A sparrow yawns over the lawn under her nest. Empty chairs stare at each other on the cloudy porch. The stables shiver and the horses rub their plush noses together. A lamb cradles her naked dignity in the fur of hay. Dawn waves over the hills. A rooster sleeps in and stops time. I stand in the pause and appreciate what I can now call home.

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The cow who missed Al and a few others have died. Some of the grass has grown back. I have a lot of work to do to get things back to normal. Al sent someone to help things move along. He should be here soon. In the meantime I carry my small collection of belongings from my car and into the house. An hour later I have settled in. A car comes rolling down the long dirt driveway. Out hops a man dressed in a neat black suit. He hurries toward my front door and I open it before he can knock. His hand shakes mine. "The name's Kurt. Look, I'm pressed for time, so let's make this quick." And he starts walking toward the barn. I follow, asking him if Al sent him, he nods. Entering the barn he stops his steps and mutters. "Oh Christ's holy shit." I ask him what's wrong. "Al is an idiot. Look at this mess. He told me he was paying someone to take care of the animals after he left. They didn't do a very good job." And he starts to move things around, the animals watching us, backing up on their hooves and nails, snorting and coughing while Kurt quickly rearranges their home. He is careful not to dirty his suit, keeping everything around him at an arm's length. I watch, impressed. Before long he is asking me why I am not helping. I tell him I don't know what to do. He starts to give me orders. I transport chickens from one coop to another. I collect bales of hay from the loft and drop them in a pile near the entrance. Kurt lets the horses outside and I shovel their droppings. One naked lamb watches me curiously. I smile at her. Kurt sees me and shakes his head. "You're just like Al, aren't you." I tell him I don't know. He asks me if I'm going to keep my promise not to sell or slaughter any of the animals. I say yes, a promise is a promise. That head of his continues to shake. -----------August 17th - 2:09 p.m. - Year 1 "Why did you buy a farm if you're planning on traveling?" "I can still have a farm and travel." "How?" "I don't know. I didn't think that far yet." "My God, you are something else, Abe." ------------August 17th - 2:14 p.m. - Year 1

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Impulsive!

-------------August 17th - 3:30 p.m. - Year 1

The animals look puzzled as I fumble through the barn, trying to decipher the things I wrote down that Kurt said in a rush before he left. Toby the horse practically swims in his own shit and I am at a loss as to how hay and grass can produce so much fecal matter. But oh how graceful this horse is. Inbetween working (or trying to work) I go up to Toby and hold his head next to mine, wrap my arm around his neck in a half embrace. If he decides to turn his head I am forced to move with him, and laugh while he snorts. Flies dot his body and his back twitches, his tail swings. I shoo the flies away, pat the horse's round side, apologize that he does not have arms to kill like I do. He looks at me and chews, hay half sticking out of his mouth. The muscles in his jaw are moving mountains, his snowy white and pink nose are velvet. His huge eyes are brown with speckles of cinnamon, autumn leaves in a cold lake. He is the most incredible thing I have ever seen. He keeps distracting me, and it takes the entire day to finish the work I have guessed that I have to do. Then I let him outside and into the pasture, where he gallops in the dying sunset of a pink moon. Watching the silhouettes of these animals gather, I start to feel something at rest inside of me. Finally. I start to clarify. I sit down next to a cow on the chilly ground. She chews grass from the corner of her mouth with thoughtful motions. Her marble eyes wander the whites of mine. I wonder if she can even see me. I feel like a ghost resting in the cadence of this plush animal's. Or a cough. Or a knot of bad breath. The cow has lowered her lashes and begins to snore. Her pink nostrils flaring like ladybugs out of an oreo coat of fur. I press my stale palm against her warm nose. I lay against her for a while. I watch the other animals. My head empties out. There is just a low hum from the growing grass and the cow and the silhouettes. --------------August 19th - 8:06 a.m. - Year 1 "Abe, hello, it's Gerald." "Hi."

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"I was wondering if you'd care to join me today. I'm interviewing quite the character and I thought you might like to put him in that story of yours." He goes on to explain how he has a second journalism job apart from the city newspaper (for an international magazine) where he engages in significantly more creative and independent interviews. "I'd love to come." "Excellent. I can pick you up in an hour if that's okay." "Sounds good." I hang up the phone and wonder what trick Gerald might be playing on me now. But I can not resist the lure of finding a new character, so I change my clothes and gather my notebook and wait for him to come. An hour later, as promised, he knocks on the door and takes me away from the farm, through the city, and north, toward a depressing little town I have never heard of. Gerald says it is a ghost town, that's probably why I never heard of it. Whenever I ask, he refuses to tell me about the character we're going to be visiting. "You'll just have to see this guy for yourself." So I acquiesce to watch the passing ghost brick skeletons. They look to have been born at least a century ago. I ask Gerald why this town was deserted but he says our character will tell us, be patient. So I try, and by and by we approach the town legion. A lonely stone building that reminds me of a tortoise dropped off in the middle of a desert. We get out of Gerald's car and meet this character. He is about as old as the town but not yet a ghost. Close cropped white hair and small eyes like black pearls. He lets us inside the legion swiftly without any attempt of an introduction, looking outside for a moment before slamming shut the door, sunlight blowing away in a gust. The legion is dark, a lone light bulb hangs here in the corridor with an uninviting fluorescence. Gerald looks at me and winks, trying to suppress a laugh. This unnamed character now turns to stare at both of us before speaking. "Which one of you is the reporter." Gerald says he is and extends his hand. The man shakes it. Then Gerald introduces me, saying my name is Abe and I'm a college student studying journalism who he is bringing along as a sort of extra credit assignment. The man nods. "Okay then. I'm Norman, in case you didn't know." "Howdy."

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And then Norman leads us down a small succession of stairs and into what must have once been a basement, but now has been neatly furnished into a living space suitable for a small family. We walk down a hallway that has a couple small rooms on the left with their doors wide open. One room is painted red, the other emerald. The hallway leads into a large kitchen with a counter and stools, not unlike a bar. An empty tiled floor and sink and cupboards and so on are behind it. The walls are a dull yellow, and a basement window lets in some sun rays that are filtered green by the high grass. At the end of the kitchen is a dining room with a bare wooden table, adjacent to a living room with a beautiful maroon and purple rug and black leather couch. Potted plants and flowers line up on shelves, along with a grandfather clock in the corner and some impressionist paintings on the wall. At the far end of the room is a door that leads outside into a garden with a couple syrupy cherry wood Adirondack chairs settled on a concrete porch that fades into the furry green of hump backed hills boxed in by stilted eucalyptus tree legs. He shows us around the backyard and side of the building, which is covered with thick vines like spiderwebs. He says he would have gotten rid of them but he found them aesthetically appropriate. Overall, Norman's interior and exterior decorating skills are impressive, especially considering his age, which he claims to be one hundred ("but no congratulatory letter from the president yet."). We end up back in the living room, where Norman settles himself into his couch. Gerald and I choose a couple nearby chairs. Norman does not wear glasses, he walks with only the slightest limp, and breathes with ease. His old age doesn't show except for his face ("I figure I got another decade in me before I get too old to keep living."), which is sewn deep with enough wrinkles to make any facial expression of his difficult to interpret. He's intellectually sharp but I am not always able to follow his thought process. Gerald asks him the obvious questions first. Why he lives in this ghost town ("It's where I grew up and I refused to leave."), how he gets food ("Got the garden out back and if I need anything else I take a walk to the nearest grocery store, not too far away. If my car still worked I'd use that, don't really have the money to fix it though."), and what happened to the town ("Well, basically, every business in town went bankrupt. You see, our mayor was a real dullard, but charming. What's the word... Charismatic. Anyway, everyone loved the son of an ape except me, and I would always run against him but no one would vote for me and he managed to get us in a real financial mess. People started jumping ship, one by one, businesses shut down, and before

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you could blink an eye everyone was gone except me and my wife, Jane."), and things like that. Gerald and Norman discuss town politics, which doesn't interest me. Gerald did his homework, knows the entire history of the town board members and everything that went awry within and without. He agrees with whatever Norman says, and Norman reveals more and more, encouraged by Gerald's receptiveness. Norman eventually talks about his wife. "She was a real beauty, yes, she was something. She stuck with me, and we lived here and tried to convince people to come back. I said I would be mayor, and together we could rebuild everything. Idealistic crap like that. Looking back I realize the flaws. But I don't regret it at all. Because Jane and I created this perfectly isolated little world. The state government didn't get involved in this town, they said it would cost more to fix our problems then leave them be. So they left us be. And I got to be mayor. Well, no, I got to be the goddamn king." Norman looks at me briefly and apologizes, "Pardon the language. But my lord, what a thing of wonder, to waltz around these empty streets that, as far as anyone was concerned, I owned. I'd have big parties in town and we'd fill an entire street, since we didn't have to worry about traffic or police. And my wife loved it, she did. Until she met a man at one of our parties, who was a real mayor, or senator, or something. Whatever it was. And she ran off with him, but I stayed. Why not? What else did I have. I was thirty-five by then, and my wife had left me, and I owned a town. I got pretty bored. I had a job, I was a journalist like you, Gerald. I wrote articles about political activities all over the country, I challenged the powers that be, or rather, the powers that were, and made a big fuss about this and that. But there were those drought seasons, I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. That was after the war. So I began to take up painting. Maybe you noticed coming in. I painted the city hall pink. For kicks. I made a giant chessboard out of main street and used to play chess with a friend of mine using whatever large objects we could find at the dump for pieces. I had a lot of fun, yes. But the past couple decades my friends have all been dying on me, even my lovely wife and her big shot husband, who I had over for dinner a couple times. No use for hard feelings, you know? And anyway, I'm fit as a fiddle, but don't have the energy I used to. Now I get my kicks by tending my garden and watching the news and reading books. Tried to write a book, too, but couldn't get the right grip for fiction. Wrote an autobiography, though, yes. Threw it out when I realized it was garbage. I was only meant to be a journalist, I

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guess. You two surely understand. Anyway, I've been waiting for some government agents or something to come in here and throw me out, start rebuilding the town, and take away my throne. But no one's bothered, after all this time. It's kind of sad. I tried, I really tried to rebuild it. But no way, no luck, no chance." Norman gets quiet for a moment. Clears his throat. Gerald and I both finish writing his last words down. He looks at us, grins widely, and says this: "Well for God's sake, don't look at me as though I have more to say! That's it. That's everything, boys. And it was nice talking to you, but I reckon this King ought to get some sleep if he plans on running the town in the morning." He leads us back through the kitchen and the hall and the stairs and to the front door. "Not sure what kind of article you're going to write but I'd be grateful if you'd send me a copy." "I will, Norman. Thanks so much for your time." Gerald shakes his hand, and then I do, and we leave. "Told you he was a great character," Gerald tells me in the car. "A bit loony but something grand to write about." "I'd say so. He'll definitely find a way into my story. It'd be impossible not to include him." We drive out of Norman's ghost town in silence. I see a pink building in the distance and laugh with an envious sort of sound. ---------------August 19th - 9:22 p.m. - Year 1 Gerald invites me to have a few drinks with him after the interview. I tell him I don't drink beer but he insists, saying he has no one else to drink with. We end up at a place called Hardware. It is cloudy with orange colors and artsy sort of people wearing artsy sort of clothes. Paintings fill the walls, and the bartender wears a bandanna with curly cues of blonde bouncing down. There's a bluegrass band playing to my left, the drummer uses the windowsill as a snare drum. I squeeze through the crowd of people, following Gerald. A pretty girl with a big chest watches me accidentally look down her shirt and smiles. I give her a brief nod and nervously move on to the counter. Gerald boasts about the enormous selection of liquor available. "Look at this, they even have a menu, just for the alcohol." He orders a beer

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for me that costs seven dollars. "It's a dessert beer, so you might actually like it," Gerald says. The flavor's not bad, a tangy sort of peach, but it is so sweet I have to take short measured sips like wine. We go back to the table and talk. As Gerald continues drinking his lips widen and his voice soaks with a maudlin sound. He tells me about how he misses his former wife and all the friends he lost after their divorce. "But Abe, the thing is, I can't seem to take anything seriously anymore. Not even myself. I like to play games with people, you know, to lie, to like, like have fun at everyone else's expense. I get bored a lot. I thought being a journalist would solve that but it doesn't. And it's not even that I love people, I am just bored without them around. Without the, like, entertainment of friendship." He stops talking to cough, holding his hand up to his mouth. "I'm just glad you seem to get me, Abe. And I know people get really sentimental when they drink, so maybe this won't mean much, but I just wanted to say that I really appreciate you." I tell him thanks, and the feeling is mutual. We continue our brotherly conversation, and the more I drink, the more I too become an open book. There is something intimate about two people being completely vulnerable with one another, regardless of why. I tell him about Moses. I tell him about how I am starting to miss my parents, they don't call as much as they used to. I tell him about my romantic encounter with Elissa (something she made me promise to never tell anyone under any circumstances) and how I'm starting to maybe feel the gap that comes from being without a girlfriend. I admit that I am a lot more lonely than I let on, when it comes to that sort of thing. I just don't know what to do about it. I tell him about the animals and my farm and how happy I am now, and how much potential for greater happiness there is, if I could just find what is missing. Traveling has helped, I am so grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to see new places. And on and on I go, unable to stop. Gerald says he can't even follow me anymore, it's just nonsense. But I'm thinking deep thoughts here. That's what I tell him. And I gotta share them with someone. Somehow I get on the topic of religion and morality. I'd like to know what makes people want to brush the skin off their shoulders and pull out their bones like wings. I want to know what it is in humanity that has us all talking about angels like they're real. It is at this point in our conversation, at the adjacent bar stool, a woman dressed in a net of tattoos says to me "how would you know if they aren't?" As if she knows. I say nothing, just shrug my wingless shoulders, and against my better aesthetic judgment (I blame the beer) fall in love with the inked wings on her back.

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----------------August 20th - 5:49 a.m. - Year 1 I went home drunk, for the first time in my life, and -- still full of words -- exhausted the sleepy rooster with my newfound alcohol induced revelations. Now, a couple hours later, I wake up with his voice shrieking through my ears, a peach sort of headache making colors leak from the back of my eyes to the front. -----------------August 23rd - 10:20 a.m. - Year 1 Kurt has helped me learn to maintain the small farm. He also gave me the name and numbers of some nearby teenagers who might be interested in taking care of the animals in case I ever left town, which I will need once I go forth with my plans of travel. The physical labor of working here is giving me more energy and keeping my head clear. I am starting to wake up early, every morning. Eggs from faithful chickens sustain me until lunch. And with the inflated chest of a newfound masculinity I work with my hands every day until dinner. My appearance has already changed, thinned out, become more sinewy; self consciousness waning. I have called and thanked Al for the farm and newfound confidence, he has thanked me for keeping my promise to keep the animals alive. When not working I will occasionally draw or write, converse with the farm life, attempt to figure out financial difficulties (which I refuse to write about). I've also been compulsively digesting children's books. Especially those relating to farm animals. I just finished The Naughty Seven by Jackie Ward. It highlights the dangers of eavesdropping, which I am familiar with, being a professional eavesdropper myself. Meanwhile my phone has been ringing more often than usual. Sometimes Luke will call to ask for advice, and not just concerning his play. He feels some sort of imposing unreciprocated connection with me. I am thinking of changing my phone number. Or getting rid of a phone entirely. But I have to stay in touch with Elissa, who is waiting impatiently as ever for a story I don't even have much time to write anymore. She's trying to convince me to leave the farm but I am always refusing. She doesn't understand that for the first time in my life I think I might be happy.

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------------------August 26th - 8:02 a.m. - Year 1 Toby is by far the largest of all the animals but he is also the most gentle. He watches his steps so as to avoid collapsing the inner skeletons of rabbits and the exoskeletons of grasshoppers. I've never tried to ride atop his back but I am sure he would let me. He is humble and polite. Light leather brown, shiny sugar shine. I've been drawing him since dawn, it's noon now. I've barely drawn anything since I drew Tilley. I forgot about it, I guess. Starting again has helped me remember what it was about drawing that I liked so much. The artist's interpretation of shape and how it effects what he actually sees, or some such introspective thought. Toby stamps his right foot and shakes his head. Ripples of fur crash down his ribcage shore. He snorts and blinks, glances over at me. I show him my drawing and ask him what he thinks. He sort of nods, as if to acknowledge that what I have drawn is an accurate representation of himself. -------------------August 28th - 9:31 a.m. - Year 1 Gerald is taking me on another interview. I've asked him why he's treating me so well, and he said because I was so gracious concerning his first negative article about me, and, incidentally, after his recent divorce not many people are willing to be his friend anymore. He finds my indifference to ethics and appreciation for manipulative tactics and love for characterizations all perfect attributes for a friend. And they are; we get along surprisingly well. He has apologized many times over for his first article about me, and promises to repay me someday when his editor will let him. I told him he has already paid me back tenfold. He seems afraid of losing another friend. I can sympathize. Today we're visiting an African prisoner of war who now lives in North Dakota. He came to the states just a month ago. I don't know how in the world he ended up in North Dakota, and, as usual, Gerald releases close to no information about our interviewee prior to meeting them.

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I haven't been to an airport in years. These surrounding farewells and hellos are all too much to write. Gerald seems surprised at my closed notebook. We board our plane and sit next to each other in small seats with a rumble from under us and a lofty feeling in our guts and a cloud shaped like a sneeze and then a lucid expanse of blue. Planes don't seem all that different from boats, really. After the plane lands we take a bus to a park and meet this man wading on his back atop the surface of a pond in the middle of shady trees and bike trails. Gerald calls out his name, "Boma." The only black person in the entire park, maybe in the entire state, it is not hard to spot him. He lifts up his head and his white teeth blare out of his skull. "Gerald! Here you are, very good, I was almost getting bored waiting." He turns over in the water and swims toward us. Stepping onto the grass he wraps his swim trunked body in a towel. He is sinewy and long and thin and the darkest shade of brown I have ever seen in skin. The whites of his eyes look like light bulbs and he has only the quietest layers of hair on his head. It almost looks like smeared ash. His nose is like clumps of moist clay, his lips shiny tulip pedals. He blooms into a warm causerie with a dulcet voice that almost gives me shivers. "It's so nice to swim. I can feel the tiny fish kiss my arms, my back, as I float there. You two should go in before we start, it's very relaxing." We both decline. Boma points at me (somehow politely). "And who is this, by the way?" Gerald introduces me, saying I am a new reporter who Gerald is showing the ropes to as instructed by his boss. "Hi Abe." He wipes his wet hand off in a towel and shakes my hand. "I'm excited to talk to you. It seems like no one has been interested in me until now." Gerald never tells me how he gets interviews with the people he interviews, or why he interviews them. But they're always the most unique people I have ever met. "That's good to hear, Boma. I'm excited too. Let's start off with the attack in Monrovia..." And as usual, I am not interested in these sort of things. This civil war in Liberia, rebel groups and transitional governments, UN

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Security Councils and political mischief. I have always been more attracted to the things of humans, not the world. These are the words from Boma's story that I found worth sharing: "My parents were killed. In front of my eyes. It's no matter, though. My parents were not good parents, and I was only half sorry to see them go. I was hiding in the closet when these rebels came, with knives instead of guns. And so on and so forth. But what use are those details? They died, and so they died." And: "I'm only twenty now, can you believe it? I can not purchase an alcoholic beverage in this country but yet I've been drinking Serengeti since I was twelve years of age. What a laugh this place is, I love it." And: "I learned English from these Marines who rescued me after I had been a prisoner with rebels for over a year. English, of course, is the official language of Liberia but no one there hardly speaks it. I had picked up the basics of the language from a teacher, but not much. Anyway, the Marines said I could not go to America, because they could not go back to America either. Not yet. They really liked me, but they could do nothing for me, except offer me shelter and food while we all waited for the war to end. They could have gotten in big trouble, keeping me around, but they risked it. This was three years I spent with them. I didn't know your country let their men leave for so long, for such a lost cause as Africa." And: "Now I live with Kent's family. Kent was one of the soldiers I lived with in Monrovia. Your country granted me a visa and all that, because I had nowhere to go in Liberia, and those soldiers I stayed with insisted I come with them. They admitted how much I helped them. I translated and helped with maps and did some other work which they say I can't talk about. Your government is funny, so much to hide!" And: "Kent taught me poker. Well, tried to teach me. He said I have the best poker face he's ever seen, because I never knew if I have a good hand, no matter how many times he explained it to me. Royal flushes and straights and whatever! Stupid game." And: "The marines were doing what I suspect they usually do. Fighting, policing, things like that. A couple of the men died. I'm not

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allowed to say how or why. There's a lot I'm not allowed to say. If I say the wrong thing they'll deport me, and if I go back there I will probably die. Supposedly all was resolved, but all is not so. All is not well. It is never well, there. I am so glad to be gone. And here you are interviewing me, even though there is so much I can't say. But here is what I can say, Gerald. I can say life is an absolute treasure. I am the happiest I have ever been in my life every day I live, every minute. Laying in that pond, that was the happiest moment of my life. And in a couple minutes, I will climb that tree, and talk to the birds, and it will be the new happiest moment in my life. And so on. Do you see? You, Abe. You see. When I talked about the birds and the tree your eyes grew like roots. Haha, do not be embarrassed! You understand, but you are embarrassed. Life is so simple, Abe! It is so simple to be happy. Do not be ashamed of that knowledge. Americans are all so deep in thought, there must be a reason for everything, there must be, what do you say, strings attached? Yes, right, there must be strings attached. You do not trust joy. Well, tell me, either one of you, what strings are attached to climbing a tree? Hmm? So many of us miss the core of life. And in Liberia, we're always fighting for control. We're always angry, shaking our fists and cursing. Civil wars! Well I never saw the point, I never will. I've already got it all figured out, my friends. And this is the real reason I agreed to have this interview: to talk to you about laying in ponds and climbing trees. The simplicity of life and the reason for living. Now tell me, am I making sense? What will the public think of this? Kent says I am a crazy, but too bad for him, I'm the happy one." And the interview ends shortly thereafter. Boma thanks us vigorously, embracing us, saying he hopes we will be as happy as him and that Gerald's interview will help everyone else be happy too. He reminds me of some of the people from Moss’s church, except more genuine. In fact, he is the most genuine human being I have ever met. There is a hopeless but fervent urge to befriend him. I hesitantly say goodbye. As we walk away he pulls me back for a moment. Gerald keeps walking. Boma puts his arm around me. "Did you understand what I meant about happiness? It is important that Americans understand, if you understand you can help explain it to other people. If America understands they can help better the world. They are in the position to do so." "No... I don't really understand." Boma sighs.

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"But the tree, the birds. I could tell you knew what I meant." "I think so." "Well that's all it is, that's when you were happy. Up there in that tree." "How did you know I was even in a tree?" "It's all in your eyes." "Okay." "Try and understand. It is so important that people learn to be truly happy. It will solve everything." "Solve everything?" "Yes. The only reason people hurt each other, the only reason there is crime anywhere is because people are unhappy, and want something." "Right." "So the problem is not people's bad nature, as most people think. It's just that no one is taught how to be happy." "Right." "You don't understand." "No, I don't think so." Boma pats my back. He gives me a fluent shrug, and wishes me good luck. I catch up with Gerald, looking over my back to watch Boma climb up a tree, the happiest son of a bitch I have ever seen. Gerald laughs, when we are out of earshot, calling Boma a "real sincere moron." I disagree but don't say anything, and instead ask Gerald what he plans to write in his article. "Mostly things about the war. He said some stuff I've never heard before, how the marines operate and how many short cuts they take. Tax payers will be interested to see how their money is being spent." I don't say anything. "What's that look for? Are you worried they'll deport him if I write this? They won't." "Okay, but are you going to include that thing he said about happiness?" He laughs. "Are you serious? That load of shit about ponds and birds?" --------------------September 1st - 7:07 p.m. - Year 1

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Today I drew the rooster as he eavesdropped on the pigs gossiping with shrilly voices over their troughs. His stuck out beak, his stretched neck, his ears (wherever they are) under feathers and more than likely perked like antennas. Sometimes I listen with him, trying to understand all the noise. ---------------------September 5th - 6:30 p.m. - Year 1 Gerald comes over for dinner so he can help me with my story. It's worried that it's not enough. I'm worried. So to say. Mind's scrambled and he's here to sort it all out. Journalist big shot, mentally capable of tremendous organizing related feats. I cook him what I can. Living on a farm has introduced me to the vivid world of culinary arts. I have yet to master it, which is obvious from the expression on Gerald's face as the fork enters and exits his mouth. After we finish he walks around my living room and asks me what it is I want my story to say. I tell him it's not trying to say anything, it's just a story. He nods, "as you always seem to be so sure of." He picks up a notebook filled with farm animal sketches. "What the hell is this?" he asks. I look and say it is Toby. He puts the notebook back down and kind of laughs, then continues questioning me. We try and figure out where my story is going even though I know it's not going anywhere. Nothing much is accomplished after half an hour or so and in an act of frustration Gerald collapses his ass onto my couch, telling me I am full of very particular patterns. I ask him what he means but he just closes his eyes, he just sort of hangs his head, he just sort of says forget it, then breaks into an almost unendurable monologue about the importance of grammar and language. I let him finish before giving my opinion. We always repeat the same arguments. Finally, forfeiting our sharp tongues, Gerald attempts to start over. "Alright. Let's try a new topic. Tell me more about the relationship between Liam and Rue, maybe it will help us find a theme. It is the core of the story, after all." "No it isn't. I swear to God no one is ever listening to me. The story is about characters, not the main characters, all of the characters. It's about everyone else."

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-----------------------September 10th - 9:12 p.m. - Year 1 I'm trying to get into the swing of writing again but it has been difficult. All I want to do is draw instead. I am especially obsessed with the shades created when the sun is at a certain angle, either early in the morning or just before dropping beneath the hills. I go into the barn and it lays down these slits of light that make railroad lines across the bodies of the horses inside. The shadows look like they are stretching everything out, bruising the hay steep, dragging hooves low, centering everything toward the back wall, pulling me in deep. ------------------------September 18th - 10:45 p.m. - Year 1 Gerald takes a sip of beer. The lights from the bar crowd in, Gerald waves them off and says "well then, let's get down to business." The business of which being the tedious act of finding me a romantic interest. Not for my book, but for myself. Gerald is convinced he can teach me the appropriate tactics and find a girl tonight. It is a Friday and the bar is full of pretty girls and I am lonely and willing. "Okay first off, regardless of what anyone tells you-- girls love being hit on. Even if they already have boyfriends, even if they're married, even if they have had their tubes tied and are radical bald headed feminists. It doesn't matter. They'll soak up any self-esteem boosters they can get. Just don't do anything stupid like put your arm around them. You have to be subtle and only half interested. You have to flirt, but not act desperate. As soon as they sense any hint of desperation in you, they will flee. They might actually stand up and head for the door. So listen then, you need to not be yourself, because you're a desperate son of a bitch, let's be honest here. But that's okay, pursuing girls has nothing to do with being yourself anyway." He goes on in similar almost misogynist fashion. He ends his advice saying that I should write down what I will do, envision it and capture it in words, build confidence. So this is what I write, after picking the prettiest girl I can find, sitting alone: She unshook and shine and shook and shushed my busy worded mind. Paragraphs of blonde bright wheat and pretty feet in the

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insouciance of neverminds, hooray and how are you, I am never minding myself never, no, not yet, fine, thanks for asking and yourself. ? Have me in novella shapes because no novels are read for the casual cause of causerie. Sure enough, sure, someday we'll make beautiful sense, beautiful nonsense, or something, somehow. I have her skylight eyes stuck in mine, I have the first noun I need to make my move to an adjective, which she will find to make herself perfectly receptive, which will make it perfectly appropriate for perfectly placed commas, like this ,, when I kiss her square on her liquor pink lips, and pull my (arms) over her, whisper a parentheses sort of sentimental sort of saying, in dashes she'll be swept off her feet------- so to speak. Gerald asks to read what I have written, and laughs heartily after doing so, asking what the heck is wrong with me. And anyway, even the alcohol doesn't give me enough courage to put my grammatically incorrect romantic contrivance into action. -------------------------September 23rd - 11:22 a.m. - Year 1 Toby brushes his nose against me, following me as I pound fence stakes into the ground to create a new pasture. "It's your fault I have to do this, you know. You and those fat cows, eating everything that even looks green, that even appears as though it might have once been green, or anything that resembles the shape of grass. Your old pasture is a minefield of uprooted plants and shit." Toby laughs through his nose, still following me as I count my steps and continue pounding stakes. I laugh too, and he keeps me company, down the rectangular lines, counting seven steps at a time, the grass as high as my knees, Toby already drooling with his fantasies of green. -------------------------September 28th - 8:00 p.m. - Year 1 Leaning back in my chair after another long day working, I open my notebook, grip the pen. And instead of writing I spend the next hour marveling at my calloused hands. I hold both palms up and

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see how the creases -- instead of pillow swallowed soft -- now look tree bark bitten. There is a yellow tint near my thumb, it fades into a rosy peach and then a marble white and then a tobacco brown. Still dirty. Can't seem to wash them well enough. Never have my hands been so colorful, albeit mostly colors of dull. --------------------------October 1st - 1:58 p.m. - Year 1 I am attending an interview with Gerald and a famous poet named Terreson. Gerald is not as excited about this interview as he has been about others. "There's nothing worth writing about this guy," he tells me. The moment we meet Terreson I know Gerald is wrong. His most striking feature is his height. He barely reaches my collarbone, but yet commands a tall reverence. As though he thinks you have no right to look down on him, literally speaking, even though you can not help it. His movements are tediously deliberate, not one step too many, no second thoughts or second glances. He does not smile but something about the curve of his lips gives the impression he is secretly laughing at you. He is bald, I'm not sure if it is because of age or blade. His scalp does not shine and does not stand out, and for this reason stands out. Wrinkles cradle his ears from the back of his head. Those grim sort of wrinkles bald people have. Like out of place crow's feet. Crow's wings. Gerald introduces us, this time I am his "sister's friend who is interested in being a journalist." I can't explain why, but I'm worried Terreson will know we are lying. He lets us into his humble apartment. A small brick fireplace, white walls, bookcases only half filled with books, lots of open windows letting summer in, a pair of green potted plants and a sleeping cat on the hardwood floor. Gerald looks bored as he pulls up a chair to the kitchen table and declines an offer of coffee by Terreson. I also decline. Our poet takes his time in preparing his own cup. As though it were a literary act. Stanzas and punctuation without the room or need for rhyme. Measuring a spoonful of sugar by holding it level with his eyes, dropping precise gulps of milk in contours of small splashes. He

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takes a sip, seems to contemplate the taste in his mind for a moment, sort of nods, satisfied, and then joins us at the table. Gerald asks him some questions about his newest book of poetry, about his political aims and his struggles starting out as a poet and things of that nature. Terreson replies with short but strikingly intelligent responses. Not the usual bumbling sort of characters Gerald and I are used to. Then Gerald asks him about his life growing up. This is Terreson's response, word for word: "Well, I was born a poor little black boy. By age eleven I was working the strip in Daytona. This was in the go-go years when pretty women were dancing in cages suspended over the bars and stages. I kind of liked that, even if I was the right color but the wrong age. And my daddy, the bartender, was kind of cool. He would baby sit me, let me sit at the bar, drink cherry cokes, and because he was so busy, I got to look up. Even with the right color, but at the wrong age, all I saw in those cages was heaven. Then one summer my mamma made me read the World Book Encyclopedia, starting with A. By the time I got to M, or maybe it was Q, I became a poor little white boy. So all of a sudden I was both the wrong color and the wrong age. But then Rita stepped out of her cage one night. Good thing for me she was color blind. Good thing for me she figured it worth her whiskey-a-go-go while to take a young boy in hand. Now you know the story of how I got educated by day and night." Gerald stops and looks at Terreson, a bit stunned. This is what you get for underestimating a professional poet, I am thinking to myself. And as I copy down his words I decide I can't fit him in my children's book, he will need his own separate story. Someday. ---------------------------October 5th - 4:12 a.m. - Year 1 The rooster greets me this morning with a surprised look. I have awoken before his alarm clock voice sounded. He yawns and stumbles after me to see what I am doing. I am hoping to get an early start today so that I will have more time to write in the evening. I've been on this farm for almost a month and I am finally getting used to the routine of it. I am in love. Everyday I am outside to see the skies, the sun rise and set, the animals play and talk, the shadows change and drop, the colors dim and flourish, saturate and

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leak. The changes as the day progresses. Being a part of the setting is more important than writing about it. Life has become simple, something along the lines of an oil painting, until a bill in the mail or a call from Elissa reminds me of my other commitments and the need to make an income. As I begin working the rooster watches, head half cocked. He begins to walk in circles and puff his chest out, shake his head in agitated motions, confused. When finally the sun rises he calms down, stares. I stop working to stare with him. We stand side by side, the violet and blue foamy sky opening its heavy eyes, the stars dimming out as the eyelashes of clouds lift. And the rooster in a joyous uproar begins shouting his bright vowels and consonants that almost make words. ----------------------------October 5th - 8:12 p.m. - Year 1 Instead of finishing early and working on my story, I am drawing the rooster and myself, watching the sunrise in colored pencils. -----------------------------October 10th - 2:43 p.m. - Year 1 I can almost hear Elissa clenching her teeth behind the phone. "So you've become friends with Gerald, I hear." "Yes." "I don't know if I even dare ask why." "Okay." Now I am pretty sure I can hear her clenching teeth. Rubbing like sand through fingertips. "Well tell me something positive for once, Goddammit." "I have some new characters." "Thank God. Do you have a plot yet?" "Well. No, sort of." Her clenching teeth spill into a sigh. "Do you even want to write books anymore?" I hold my breath, wondering.

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"No, no, don't answer that question. Nevermind. I don't even want to know. But I have contracts, Abe, I have deadlines. I'm not the only one publishing this book. I can't fuck around anymore, alright? I need a rough draft of the entire story by the end of the week. This is not debatable." "Alright." "I am going to call you twice a day, and bother you. This is important. No 'I forgot' excuses will be accepted." "Alright." Back to clenched teeth. "You are at the top of my list of frustrating human beings. I hope you know that." "I think pretty highly of you too." "Not funny." -----------------------------October 14th - 7:02 p.m. - Year 1 After finishing my work I sit in the barn with the animals and try to write. I only have maybe six or seven rough chapters written. It's not nearly enough for a final story. Scribbled ideas cover my notebooks. Random scenes that don't belong together. Character sketches. The rooster, curious as always, has his beak watching my pen idly leak letters. "What has happened to me?" I ask him. He shrugs. ------------------------------October 21st - 3:22 p.m. - Year 1 I just finished typing out and emailing the rough draft of my children's book to Elissa. I have plenty of characters but I couldn't think of a plot so I borrowed the Bible's. -------------------------------October 25th - 7:02 p.m. - Year 1 Gerald calls me, saying he has another interview with someone he would really like me to meet.

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"Already?" "Yes, in Ireland!" And so just like that, off we go, my first time out of the country. After a long plane ride we arrive at Shannon airport in Dublin. The Irish accents catch me off guard. Collectively, they sounds different than I would have guessed. It's this sonorous sort of sound you would expect to hear on top of an icy mountain, almost surreal. I suppose Irish accents are things in America you hear as a farce, but here it is poetic, natural, mellifluous. Dublin is an unremarkable city. Busy and full of bodies. Nice architecture, relatively clean. It is raining but the sun is out and making rainbows out of all the shiny coated people. We drive our rental car through (Gerald trying to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road) and take the N4 toward Longford, where our interviewee awaits, over seventy five miles away. And here are the hills Ireland is famous for. I've always loved the hills from my town but they are nothing in comparison. These are alive, like the green backsides of some enormous beasts, hunched over with their heads buried in the ground, sleeping. We arrive at a small coffeehouse called Castlepoint. The outside appearance, as you might have guessed, is along the lines of a castle. Cheap stone, roughly chiseled, not quite aesthetic, but crudely charming. Inside it is the standard coffeehouse decor, moody lamps and wood furniture and some cheap artwork. A knight's armor stands guard near the door, which I involuntarily nod to as we enter. Gerald surveys the room, finds his interviewee (a middle aged woman) at a table with only one free chair and sits across from her. I grab a chair from another table and sit to the side, awkwardly. Gerald introduces me to her. Her name is Sheena. She smiles briefly toward me and then Gerald begins asking questions. Slowly I unravel her character. Sheena is forty-nine, not looking forward to turning fifty, short and stout with black hair that cups her chin and deepens the angles of her cheeks, bright white skin with dark freckles that dot her bare arms like pepper, a nose drawn low in faucet fashion, hazel eyes that don't match the rest of her face. She likes to cook and likes to eat what she cooks a little too much, and tries to exercise with her pilates videotape but can't seem to find the time or motivation. She is very much a normal sort of person. Except she is involved in a group called World ITC in which she practices EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena, Gerald

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whispers to me). Sheena, noticing my puzzled expression, explains what EVP actually is. "When the voices of a spirit interrupt an Electro Magnetic field, we use audio tape, computers, video cameras, televisions, and other gadgets to capture the sounds and communicate with these spirits. Have you ever seen the American film White Noise? No? Well that's okay, that movie was a bit embellished. Here, I'll show you some pictures of the equipment." She pulls open a laptop which she had been previously resting her hands on, and brings up some photos of her "office" as she calls it. There is an assortment of radios and other electronic junk. She smiles proudly. "Looks like a mess, doesn't it? But it's all perfectly place, all purposeful. You would never guess." Gerald asks her what she has to say to skeptics, who claim EVP is nothing more than wishful thinking, CB signals from neighbors, interrupting radio waves and the like. "These skeptics haven't heard the voices of those they have lost to the afterlife. It is like an atheist who does not believe in the Blessed Virgin Mary and the virgin birth she gave, but they have not seen her in a vision or experienced the Jesus that came from her womb." "Speaking of which," Gerald says, "and thank you for leading me to my next question, how can a Catholic practice something like EVP and still believe in God?" "This may not be a popular opinion among Catholics, but it is my personal belief that the causerie from spirits we receive are from those caught in purgatory." I look up and catch Sheena's eyes. A little startled at my jumping neck, she asks me what is wrong. "Nothing,... I've just never heard anyone else use the word causerie." Sheena laughs, "and I've never know anyone who knew the correct way to pronounce it." The interview continues and I am starting to get uncomfortable with all this talk about ghosts. But the questions keep coming while my legs shift in my chair, anxious to leave. And then Sheena opens her laptop again. She says she has some interesting recordings to show us, if we are still skeptical. This is what we see:

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A television with an image fading into view of a face, unmoving, the eyes black and deep, skull bone hollow. A dress billowing like a blown flag in the middle of a field. Someone hunched over and screaming into the ground "come back!" The distorted image of a small boy knocking on the screen. A hand, limp and quivering. An explosion of feathers floating in the air like autumn leaves. Everything is snowy with television fuzz and sometimes barely recognizable as anything at all. But occasionally the image comes in clear for just a second. I try to keep my appearance stolid but I am terrified, unable to look away from the laptop. Sheena says she has more, and pulls up some audio files. This is what we hear: At a deserted mansion there was a recording of a voice saying "I like it better before." Another recording has a high pitched scream followed by a gruff voice saying "you're next of next of next." Sheena, in what she claims to be a haunted theater, says "I'm cold." A voice responds, in a gargled baritone, "so are the dead." In the same haunted theater, a woman's voice says "would you care to accompany the morning?" And other strange voices, filtered and stretched; unsettling. I am practically shivering now. Crossing my arms and hoping to God that the interview is almost over. Sheena is about to open another file when Gerald says he's heard enough, thanks. A bit abashed, she closes her laptop and answers the remaining questions Gerald has to ask before we shake hands and leave. "You were trembling for a while there, did Sheena's ghost talk spook you?" Gerald smiles as he drives, waiting for my response. "Yeah, I'm not too comfortable with ghosts I guess." "Why not?" I don't answer. "It's all a hoax, anyway. You have got to know that." We keep riding in silence. Gerald is out of character. Out of words. He seems immersed in the scenery, he's not even looking at the road. It makes me a little nervous. He pulls the car over and gets out. I open my door and ask him what's wrong. "Nothing's wrong, Abe."

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He's staring at the hills, his irises aligned, at peace. The contours of green perfectly matched. "I think I'm going to stay here." "What?" He hands me the keys to the rental car and walks away.

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Chapter XI Plain Blue and Dandelion

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November 1st - 4:14 p.m. - Year 1 "Hi Abe." "Hi Elissa." "Are you free today?" "I will be in about an hour." "We're going to New Jersey." "New Jersey?..." "Yeah, pack some clothes, I think we might stay a few days." "I just got back from Ireland last night, I'm kind of tired." "I know. Wear something colorful, okay?" "Alright." I start packing some clothes and pens and a new notebook I bought a couple days ago. I call my parents and tell them I might stop by to say hello sometime today or tomorrow. They sound excited. I meet Elissa at her apartment. She opens the door and I catch the hint of her boyfriend's figure in the background. Something drops from my adam's apple to my ribs. I swallow. Elissa asks if I'm okay. I nod and we get in my car and I take us to the airport. After a long and uncomfortable flight, we land in New Jersey, gather our baggage, and wait for a bus. The autumn leaves are falling parallel with sparkling constellations of snow. I haven't seen real snow in years. Elissa shivers. We get on the bus and hold our suitcases on our laps. To my left is a man around fifty, staring out the window. Silver paint brush strokes are dipped in and out of his thick hair. A shopping bag half concealing a bottle of liquor rests in his hand. I wonder if he is sad. When I look up I notice he is suddenly fighting back tears. A young girl with black bangs is also watching him and seems to have noticed the same thing. We share a glance and I catch her smile with my own before she shyly turns her face away. I am reminded of something melancholy from all those postcards I once read.

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Elissa and I stop at a busy street corner and walk to a large building with a sign out front that says "Jersey Wings Butterfly Conservatory and Garden". I laugh at Elissa and ask why we had to go all the way to New Jersey to look at some bugs. She tells me to hush. The outside of the conservatory is a skeleton of glass and concrete and metal. A triangular sort of dome reaching heavenward, out of the earth with palms upturned and arms raised. Upon entering the sounds of wind and birds become muffled and the sunlight suddenly magnifies into a watercolor wash of white. I squint and pay the ten dollars to walk around. Elissa seems unusually excited. We follow a brick path between the limbs of various plants speckled with butterfly bodies. All of these colors in polka dots and stripes and flannel and other absurd fashions. Creases of wings meeting pencil thin insect bodies. Some have long furry eyebrows and curling tongues, huge round eyes or seemingly no eyes at all. Some flutter like hot air balloons, hang in front of us. Others dart past in the colorful blur of acrobatics. I want to catch them but Elissa says I'm not allowed. Being here reminds me of my grumpy neighbor's bug collection, except animated. I almost wish I had brought him with us. We point out certain shades of wings and take pictures. A bug will land on Elissa and she will laugh nervously. I hold out my hand to encourage them. They extend their kite wings in timid greetings, embrace us with confetti arms. The flowers are as vibrant as the butterflies, I almost expect them to quiver and move. After circling the conservatory, we end up back where we started. Elissa says she has to use the bathroom and leaves me to sit on the stone ledge bordering one of the nests of plants. I am careful to make sure I don't crumple any bugs. I keep my eyes lowered beneath the intense light of the boastful sun. A pair of feet wander toward my seat, thin denim legs follow, landing next to me. Padded dirty gloves are pulled off long feminine hands. Just as I look up to see whose face belongs to these fingers she sneezes. A cloud of butterflies sprinkle the air and halo her head as though they had suddenly poured from her nose. I say bless you and her cheeks rise. The butterflies disperse and leave her still. Taking out my notebook I write her down. Her face is youthful and broad. Her eyes seem to be frozen in a wink. She looks a little Russian. There is something familiar about her. Her lips are winking too. She is almost unsettling, watching me without faltering. She has

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pupils set deep in green globes, eyelids eclipsed, she has freckles like snowflakes on hills, she has those kind of lips that kiss the air when they talk, like doves, she has a body language that makes my insides want to get up and crawl out and wrap themselves around her waist, she has hair that branches into vines of maple leaves, rustling against my shoulder as she sits next to me, like I could climb right up, like autumn had never changed seasons and just keeps growing in her head, she has kite hips floating halfway off the ground, a stomach that grins, a collarbone that frowns. I ask her if she works here. She says yes, she's just taking a little break now. I nod and wonder what else to say. She leans over my shoulder, I stop writing. "Writing about me in there, are you?" "Well." "Yes?" "Yes, I was." "Can I read it?" "I don't usually show people what I write about them." "Why not?" I shrug, and hand her my notebook. After reading she puts it on my lap and says she is part Russian, in fact. Or so her parents have told her. I smile and keep the notebook closed on my lap. She asks why she makes me feel unsettled. I say I'm not sure. "I seem to have that effect on people." "Oh?" "I'm not shy, not with strangers anyway. Strangers are always shy, so I guess I unsettle them." I glance up to see if Elissa is around, she is not. I open my notebook and write more. The butterfly woman next to me persists. "So you find me attractive." I take a moment to consider how to respond. "Yes, that's why I wrote what I wrote." "Well, thank you. I find you attractive as well. You have a gorgeous mouth." I laugh. "See there it is, a gorgeous mouth and gorgeous laughter." "How does one have a gorgeous mouth, anyway?" "Well I don't know, how does one have winking lips?" Smiling with my gorgeous mouth I tell her I don't know either. She extends her hand and says her name is Caprice, I take her palm

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and tell her mine. A butterfly folds itself into the creases of Caprice's clothing as she smiles. Something nostalgic pulls me so deep I have to blink heavy to resurface. I try and find something to say. I say something stupid. "So how do you like sharing a name with a car?" "I didn't know I did. How about that. Pretty ironic." "Why's that?" "Because I happen to love to travel." "No kidding? Me too." And so our causerie begins, and lasts another ten minutes. Butterflies flutter in and out of our causerie like commas and quotation marks. She holds out her long maple palmed hands and lets them sit there, half cupped there between her fingers. The more she talks the more and the more she shows affection toward those bugs the more I am inclined to write sappy things, so I shut my notebook and acquiesce to enjoy her company without documenting it. A few minutes later Elissa comes from the bathroom and sits next to me. She says sorry for the delay and notices Caprice. She says hello, I introduce Caprice to her, and after we talk together for a while Elissa invites her to come have coffee with us. Caprice says she has to work, maybe tomorrow, around noon? Elissa says that sounds fine, they exchange phone numbers, and we agree to meet back here. As we exit I open my coat and let a stolen butterfly free. --November 1st - 7:28 p.m. - Year 1 I take a taxi home to my parents after eating dinner, Elissa takes the bus to a hotel. I told her my parents would have been glad to have her stay with them but she declined. I was silently relieved. Which reminds me of something subtle in all those postcards I read. The driveway is short and the houses huddle their shoulders close together. It's not like where we used to live, in the country with houses miles apart and driveways just like roads. I knock on the door. My mother answers wearing her familiar expecting grin. We both say hello and then she awkwardly hugs me and hurries me inside, saying how cold I must be even though it's almost warm outside and I am wearing a thick sweater. She tells me to sit on the couch and she'll be right down. Her footsteps undulate up the carpet stair tongue,

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swallowed in the mouth of upper rooms. I fidget nervously and then force my limbs still. I try and memorize the room, one object at a time. Wallpaper in plain blue and dandelion. Grandfather clock standing tall on stiff joints. Lilacs on the coffee table wrapped in the purple glass hands of a swirling vase. A Dean Koontz paperback upside down. The shelf on the wall centers my attention. There is a row of photos, of me, in four or five year lapses, in a raincoat or tennis shoes or a snowsuit or a graduation cap or pajamas. Grown up in a snapshot. A clock with wooden hands carefully ticking behind glass stenciled with the white lines of a blue jay on a branch. A glass blown sculpture with petals like a stained glass tulip. A clumsy porcelain doll of a boy cradling his skinned knee. Voices upstairs huddle and disperse. Embrace and shove. These childhood arguments come back to mind. I concentrate on the glass tulip until they come downstairs. My father collapses his arms at his sides. He looks at my mother with his golden retriever face. He walks down the last steps and shakes my hand roughly then sits in the plush blue chair across from me. He scratches his fuzzy sideburns and - beckoned from my mother's eyes - tries to smile. I try to try to smile back. He says "well, then, how you doing Abe?" I watch his mannerisms. So familiar. He must be so much like me. "I'm good dad. Yeah, things are pretty swell." "Pretty swell, huh? That sounds nice." "How are you?" "Fine." My mom sits down next to me on the couch and pats my leg. "Tell your father about-" My father interrupts her pelican mouth with his old dog jaw. "The children's book. I know about it, Darla, I talk to our son on the phone too." She quiets. I watch them. My dad finally speaks. "Yes, well, go ahead anyway Abe, tell us about the book." "Well, it's a loose spin off of the Bible, I guess. A kind of parody, but not all that funny. I don't know. It's a trite idea but I couldn't come up with my own story. I'm hoping to make it different enough to be noticed." "Will there be drawings?" "Yes, an artist is being hired."

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My father sits back and cradles his chin with his palm. He grins. I must be so much like him. My mother changes the subject. "Abe, have you met a woman yet?" "No, mom, not yet." "Oh." My father stares at my hands. "Do you always need to be writing all of the time?" "Yes." "Oh." The clock with the blue jay suddenly seems chirping at our attention. I fight the urge to fidget, as my father is doing. Readjusting his legs on the chair, scratching his face, cracking his knuckles. My mother sits still next to me. She asks if I would like something to drink, do I drink tea or coffee? I laugh and say no, I neither drink tea nor coffee. "Okay I suppose it will be chocolate milk, then" My father laughs and seems to relax as she leaves the room. He leans toward me. "She is driving me crazy." "How so, dad?" "She acts like I don't know you. Before you came over she was retelling me the story of your youth, as if I hadn't been a part of it. As if I couldn't remember my own son. And besides, we talk on the phone. Maybe not as much as we do, but still. We talk." "Yes, we do." He holds my eyes with his. "I do know you, don't I?" My eyebrows jump. My father's never had a personal conversation with me before. Not at least that I can remember. "Yeah, you know me. I mean..." I don't know what to say. He waits. Still. "Maybe your mother's right." He stops leaning forward and grumbles, falling back into his seat. The cushion wrinkles with wry shaped grins. The flowers and the wallpaper and the chair seem to be mocking him. His head lowers. My mom comes back into the room with chocolate milk for me and a beer for my dad. He lifts his head but doesn't say thanks, I do. She asks me what I've been doing lately. I say writing. She asks if there is anything else. I sigh, feeling claustrophobic already with their questions. I try to remember the art of conversation. I tell them about Hallie and the octopus.

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"You attacked an octopus!?" "No, mom, I just went to touch it." "But then you held on to it?" "He held on, too." "How do you know" my father asks, "that it was a he?" I say I don't know, it just looked like a he. My father says sure, an ugly thing like that is bound to look like a he. We all laugh. Causerie is so simple if you can find the right words. "So this Hallie girl..." "No, sorry, mom." "Why not?" "I had tried asking her out, actually." "Really? Abe!" "Yeah but I don't think she's interested." "How do you know for sure?" "Oh, I know for sure." She smiles. "Well at least you tried!" Even my father is grinning loudly. Proudly. His chin suddenly raised. "Was she cute?" he asks. "Sure she was. She was a redhead." "Aha!" he laughs. "Well, that explains it." "She had these nice freckles on her shoulders." "Yeah?" "She was gorgeous." My mother grips my arm. My father crosses his arms and nods. And I swear to God the looks they wear now are significantly prouder than after I had told them of my first publishing contract. "So you'll be seeing more ladies then?" "Haha, I guess so, sure. Actually I'm supposed to meet a girl named Caprice tomorrow for coffee with Elissa." The blue jay stops chirping for a minute and my parents share a look. "That sounds nice," my mother says. "So how long are you staying," my father asks and I tell him I am leaving tomorrow evening. He nods and scratches his furry sideburns like a moth combing its antennas. "We've seen the articles, you know," my mother says. My father catches her eyes and she pauses and then says the journalist sounded like he had it out for me. My father coughs.

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"Yeah, well, he was crafty. I guess all reporters are. At least his second article was a bit nicer." "Yes, thank God." My mother asks me if I really don't care about people like the article said, if I really just watched them suffer. I lie, explaining that there was nothing I could do. I say of course I cared. She sighs and says of course, of course. My father doesn't look at me. She changes the subject. "Are you still living with Elissa, then?" "No... I bought a house." "A house?" "Yes. With a farm." My father widens his eyes and asks how I could afford a farm. I explain to him that the farmer was selling it absurdly cheap and I haven't spent much money since receiving the profits from my book. I never spent much money on anything. He asks why the heck I wanted a farm anyway. I shrug. He shakes his head and stops talking. My mother changes the subject again. "How is Moses, by the way? You haven't mentioned him lately." I don't know how to say it, so I don't. "He's fine." Now I change the subject. I talk about the house, I say I like it. I mention the shelf. My mother says my father built it and then she bought things to put on it. I try to regain the comfortable atmosphere we had achieved before but it seems hopeless. Our drinks have emptied and the blue jay has become restless. Time drags on with dull small talk. I say I should be getting to bed even though it is only eight o'clock. I briefly hug my parents and they show me to a guest room where I lay down. They say goodnight. My mother slowly closes the door and for first time since my half hour cat died I want to cry. ---November 2nd - 12:00 p.m. - Year 1 "How was it seeing your parents again?" I say it was fine. She says good. We're in another taxi heading toward the butterfly conservatory. Caprice is waiting for us inside. She is near the front door, wiping her nose. She sees us and

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smiles, crumples her tissue and throws it in a nearby wastebasket like a soggy pair of wings. She's wearing a pink coat tightly shaped to her tree limbed body. Her long denim legs give way to brown boot roots and clunky cluttered steps. We share a collective smile and Caprice asks where we are going. I say it's up to her, neither Elissa nor I know our way around. We get in her car and she drives us to a restaurant twenty minutes toward the city. Hooligan's Diner. "You'll love it," she says from the driver's seat. We go inside and I see why: the abundance of characters. There is an old man on a stool at the counter wearing a green polka dot hat. He is drinking gaily from a large mug of apple juice and flirting with an attractive waitress who is humoring him with abounding smiles. A family with airy voices trade secrets under their breaths. Two young girls play a card game in the corner, laughing while trying to peek at the other's hand. Alone, a man draws a boat in his sketchbook with a sail shaped the same as his curving silver hair. The wisps of his pencil strokes seem to stream out of his body and through his fingers like hair follicles. A tall man comes lumbering in, his height and loud shoes attract wary eyes. This trench coat that looks like a skinned manta ray cloaks him, gives him aqua wings. He has winter eyes, tired and scratched. No teeth are visible when he opens his mouth to talk, and the hostess hurries him to a stool at the counter and forgets to ask him if he wants a drink. He takes off his cowboy hat and sets it on his lap. His spaghetti strained blonde hair reaches down to his shoulders. When a brave waiter finally attends to him, he orders a chicken salad and pours ketchup on it, declining the wide variety of customary dressings offered. He drains the entire bottle and asks for a second one, which he dips his remaining shards of processed chicken meat in. While finishing his unorthodox meal, a man who had apparently just finished a lengthy jog sits next to him. He is balding, overweight, and exudes an undeodarized armpit smell that from even here is a bit hard to stomach. He orders coffee, saying he doesn't have enough money for anything else, and then attempts to create conversation with the trench coat guy, unsuccessfully. His lips are sluggishly lisped, and everything he says is comical, although I seem to be the only one chuckling to myself. The trench coat character is unamused and anxiously awaiting his check, plate cleared, ketchup smeared dry in his throat.

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A baby cries and throws a crayon; the fan above us suddenly stops, starts turning backward, blowing the cold air down, cooling the top of our heads; an old woman knocks on the window to get the attention of someone inside, this person ignores her; a motorcycle revs in the parking lot; and the overweight guy in too tight running attire shivers while saying "hey I just got a feeling of deja vu, how 'bout you?" She sees me eagerly copying characters and says "told you you'd love it." I tell her I haven't been to a good restaurant in a while, I forgot how many characters there were to find. We order our food. Our waitress is an energetic bleach scalped woman with the fleshy grin of a grandmother. She hurries off to wherever and Caprice takes hold of the conversation. She is quick lipped and full of strange wordings and euphemisms and analogies. The scratchy plush booths seem to pick up on her vibrating vocal cords, stamp the words in my skin. There is something uncomfortable in her ease, something soft in her sharp. I'm not sure if what makes me interested in her is attraction or curiosity. She leaves me without any definitions, which makes me uncomfortable. I itch the space between my shoulder blades and try to understand her. "I've been coming here since I was young. My parents moved here and they dropped me off at this restaurant sometimes instead of finding a babysitter. They told me to make myself home, here. And I did and I have." She watches the man drawing. "He comes here regularly. He's a ship drawer. A real boat enthusiast. Ever been on a boat, Abe?" I tell her I have, recently. She smiles and changes the subject. She talks about butterflies. Elissa asks her about her job. Caprice vaguely tells her, and asks Elissa about hers. She tells her. Caprice starts talking about an artist she likes from the city. Elissa mentions some artists she knows. Caprice sips her coffee and says she loves real Irish cream, not the fake stuff. Elissa says she likes cappuccinos. Caprice says she's never been to Ireland but almost everywhere else. Elissa says she's always wanted to see Paris. Elissa says she loves architecture; there's some beautiful architecture in the city. Elissa says she had a dream last night about an earthquake. It's like they're not even having a conversation, just exchanging sentences along the same subjects. And I have had nothing to say, but Caprice frequently purses her lips into a wink and stares at me unabashed. A little cheer erupts in Elissa as she rises out of her seat and moves toward a young man. "Derek!"

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"Elissa!" They hug tightly and Elissa says it's good to see you and he says it's good to see you too and Elissa turns around to introduce us. "Abe, this is Derek, he's an author I almost published until I started dating him instead." I shake his hand. "And this is Caprice." Caprice waves childishly. Derek sits down and Elissa and him have a separate, nostalgic conversation. Caprice just stares at me. I'm looking at Derek, mostly. Jealous. After a few minutes Elissa and Derek decide to go do something together, do we mind? Caprice and I say we don't, and Elissa says not to worry, she'll have Derek drive her to the airport on time and I can call her cell if I need to talk to her. Then they are gone, and Caprice is still staring. I share her creamy gaze as long as I can stand it, in frequent and concise increments. I can't seem to think of anything to say. She finally does. "Abe?" "Yes?" "Can I see your penis?" "What?" "Can I? I mean, you don't have to now, but maybe later." I start to laugh and say no, no she can't. She frowns and with a whining voice asks why not. I don't know if I should take her seriously or not. I try and change the subject but she won't let me. She seems determined to make me feel awkward. She is so pretty that I do not want to make her upset so I try and keep her happy without being uncomfortable. Finally she gives up after I repeatedly refuse, and she says sorry, she's just been watching me and is curious. She thinks I must have a nice penis. She pronounces it without any lowering in her volume, without any unfamiliarity with the word, as if it were nothing more than a conjunction. A couple people are watching us with the corners of their eyes. "Do you have to always be writing?" "Usually not always." She takes the hand that holds my pencil and asks if I would stop writing for a moment, for her. She keeps her hand there, on mine, and the look she is giving me is making me dizzy, and I can't help it, I admit it, she is just too extraordinarily beautiful to argue anymore. I stop.

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----November 2nd - 2:33 p.m. - Year 1 We're in her car, driving idly. I start to relax in the passenger seat, writing while listening to her occasional words and watching glimpses of hills and blimps of clouds. She suddenly seems out of conversation, her winking lips are closed. She asks me if I'd like to go to the country with her. I say I don't know. She says I will like it, there's a neat house there she wants to show me. I finally give in. Her smile sways up her cheeks. I wonder vaguely if this woman is crazy. The idea excites me as much as it worries me. We drive for a long time. I warily watch the clock. I tell Caprice I need to get back to the airport by eight. She says we're almost there. After a short time we pull into a long gravel driveway with a small house at the end sitting like an empty June bug shell. It is immediately familiar. "Caprice... this is where I grew up." She parks the car and stares straight ahead. I shift in my seat and hold my breath. I look at Caprice. I don't know which question I should ask her first. "Elissa mentioned that you grew up in New Jersey, so I asked where, and recognized the address. I thought you might like to see it." "When did you plan this, exactly?" "Over the phone last night, remember I gave Elissa my number? She was going to come too but then she saw that author or whatever." Caprice is not apologetic and I don't know if she should be. But I figure as strange as she is and admittedly frightened as I am, this has potential to be literary, and I certainly can not turn that opportunity down. "Okay, let's go in then, I guess." We get out of the car and walk up the porch stairs that creak like crickets. The unlocked door eases open, as though welcoming the familiarity of long lost touch. I peer inside and tremble slightly at the vividness of resurfaced memories, playing in granular reels of film. A picture book that smelled like dried vinegar with a flying sailboat on the cover, a kite hanging over a green field enclosed with a chain link fence, a balloon popping high above a red Ford truck, a jet streaking up

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a sunset, a star blinking out just at the rise of dawn. All of these escalating cinematic pictures that I am not even sure are of my own retrospection. But what else would they be? Inside scars beat the life out of their walls. Scratched paint (either that or it's peeling) writes hieroglyphic nonsense. Dirt peels the color from the floor. The nudeness of the vacant house is offset by shivering groups of abandoned sundry, huddling from corner to corner and refusing to let go. Caprice sees how nervous I am and tells me it's not so bad, not as haunting as it is habitable. I start to remember my ghosts. "I want to leave." "Why?" I don't answer her. I feel stuck. She grabs my hand and pulls me forward. "But it's so romantic, Abe! This is your childhood, this is like your skeleton. Like your--" "Stop." "What's wrong?" "Nothing." "Do you want to stay?" Her eyes warm over me with caramel tongues. That smile of hers reaches. I sigh. "Yeah, okay." We walk through the hall that leads from the front door to the kitchen. A mist hangs low from dust blown upside down out of the mouths of ghosts. I can see their limbs hanging in the cobwebs; their lips kissing in the dust stains. I can feel them shift in and out of the rooms, creaking. Caprice weighs her hands on my shoulder. I'm trying to stay calm as we enter the kitchen. The faucet is dry and the sink is lined with rust. A moan blows through my head. I quiet it and wait for something to happen. My memory runs out of film. The windows are empty. Everything is a musty peach color, rotting. Caprice asks me what's wrong but I don't know what to say. Not wanting to continue any further, I am about to suggest that we leave when a ladybug flutters in front of us, its wings blurring in windmills of red. "Hi," Caprice says. The ladybug hovers there politely. Caprice smiles and reaches out her hand. It sneezes at her approach, exploding into a spray of poinsettia petals that float straight up and stick to the ceiling. Caprice

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doesn't say a word, just sort of gasps and follows me as I walk back through the kitchen. I've seen more than enough to satisfy any lingering curiosity I may have had about this house. Before we reach the front door a sound like the breaths inbetween kisses gathers in a chorus from above us. Rustles and then tears. Two ghosts drop from the ceiling, covered in coats of dust and poinsettia hands. They stand in front of the door and sort of cock their heads, curious to see if I will try to walk through them. I don't. And so I suppose it's safe to say I've finally gone off the deep end, which may or may not have been predictable thus far in my life. My knees feel like they aren't there and my hands are shaking. The back door is on the other side of the house, through the kitchen and living room. I half run toward it, feeling the heavy weight in my legs that would be more commonplace in a nightmare. Caprice follows. I stop at the living room. It is crawling with the ghosts of my childhood, the only things I really remember from way back then. There is a carpet rolled up, with a body trapped inside trying to peel itself out, rocking back and forth across the floor. Caprice asks me where we're going. I don't know. Her fingers dig into my arm. The body in the carpet is creeping toward us. An egg rolls out from a hole in the wall and across the floor, cracks, sprouts a daffodil. A clock melts down the wall. Outside the window a sailboat wades through shallow waves of November snow, curved like snail shells. Underneath the worn carpet little hands are pushing through. Caprice mutters, "Abe..." "Okay, okay, okay," I stutter, "it's okay, they can't do anything to us." The body in the carpet groans, wheeling itself into the kitchen. I shove it back with my foot, the carpet unravels as it hits the wall and the creature from inside escapes. He is colored completely tar black, limbs like a human, head like an elephant trunk without an elephant head. He languidly rises to his feet and moves forward, nose trailing on the ground. Caprice gasps. "Are you sure they can't do anything to us?" "I don't know." We hurry back into the kitchen and hear him coming. He makes wheezing noises from his elongated head, muffled with footsteps. There are still those dusty ghosts guarding the door, heads at an angle, arms loose at their sides. Caprice leans against me, completely still.

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From underneath the basement door (near the front entrance of the kitchen) there is piano music leaking through and lulling the floor tiles into sheet music. We tip toe around the quarter notes and against the opposing wall. It is a classical piece, Aphorisms, I think, although I can not recall the name of the composer. The song rumbles with the deep prairie reverb of chords and shimmers with the starlight spark of high keys. I am involuntarily humming it on my lips while watching the black ghost in the other room, who is clumsily trying to climb up the fireplace. Black chunks of lining break apart from the chimney and fall to the ground with a patter like purrs. "Let's try and sneak out now," I whisper. The fireplace begins to glow as we make our way across the living room. More residue from the chimney drops and breaks loose a white cloud of fireflies. They pour out, murmuring over the black ghost's body like a string of torn down Christmas lights and silently arrange themselves in front of the door. The black creature is still clawing away inside the chimney, digging out more room for the fireflies to emerge. "So I guess we're trapped." Caprice nods. We return to the kitchen where the piano from the basement is still playing, notes running down scales, creating colors and textures, giving life to the once lifeless kitchen. Grass starts to grow in the sink; turning into a garden, vines run up the wall, bugs begin to climb out of crevices in the wall and floor. Not in a mood to appreciate the aesthetic nature of ghostly projections, I guide Caprice out of the kitchen and up the stairs near the entrance of the house. We're at the top, in a bare space directly inbetween my former bedroom and my parent's. Above us is the attic door. In the open rooms at our sides there are tiny elephants marching forward, like bugs, balanced on thin spindly legs four times the length of their bodies. They are small but menacing, trumpeting across desert carpets. I groan to myself, now exhausted more so than scared. We pull down the attic door and climb up, close the hatch behind us. The air is humid with vinegar and dust. But no ghosts. I lay down on the floor and sigh. Snowy light casts pine tree shadows on the dim woodwork. Caprice still has nothing to say. She stares intently at me, something like a wash of sympathy in her eyes. I'm wondering if this is all in my head. Caprice shuffles over the attic floor on her knees and holds my trembling hand. "Caprice,... you did see them, right?" She smiles ironically and nods. We must be crazy.

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"We must be crazy," she says. She asks me if I've always been crazy. I say I don't know, maybe. She laughs. "I'm sorry I brought you here," she says. "It's okay. I should have known better than to actually go inside. I figured they wouldn't still be there, and that it was all in my own head in the first place. I mean, I didn't know they were actually real." "Oh, they looked plenty real to me." She seems relaxed, sitting with her legs crossed, breathing evenly, half smiling, lips winking. "How are you so calm?" Caprice blushes and shrugs. "I don't know. I've seen ghosts before too, so I guess I'm not completely shocked. Elissa mentioned that you thought your old house was haunted--" "She told you that?" "Yes, and I was kind of curious to see if there would be any ghosts. I'm sorry. I never expected anything like this. Looking back, it was kind of selfish of me." I don't respond. Caprice is still holding my hand. I should rightfully be throwing a cerebral temper tantrum, all considering, but the look she keeps giving me, her eyes never straying from mine, the touch of her hand, it is all irrationally soothing. "Was your house always haunted?" "I think so." "Did anyone else ever see those ghosts we saw?" "Not as far as I know." "What are they going to do to us?" "Nothing, most likely. Usually they just kind of taunted me until they got bored with it." I lay back and close my eyes, wondering how in the world this happened, so quick. Caprice grips my hand tighter. "We're okay, Abe. I mean, people see weird things like this, it's not like we're the only ones." "I know. But that was really weird." Caprice laughs. Hahaha. Like this is somehow funny, like the fact that we are out of our fucking minds is a real comedic spectacle. And here I am, laughing too, and oh well and why not. "Well, we're unique then. Nothing wrong with that."

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And I am overcome with the urge to kiss her, now, but I can't seem to peel myself from the attic floor. She gets up and wanders around the attic, inspecting the remains. There's some leftover boxes, a broken mirror, a chair with three legs, some scattered papers. She finds a bundle of envelopes and begins leafing through them. I turn my head to the ground to try and hear what the ghosts are doing. There's just the faint whisper of piano and footsteps and firefly wings. Outside the window I see the sailboat drop anchor in the snow. "Who was James Plath," Caprice asks me. "I don't know." "There's a bunch of letters here from him." "He might have been someone from my mother's side of the family." "Listen to this: Dear Evelyn, I miss you more than I can stand to admit. How many times have I said it? Too many. I don't think this missionary trip is worth it. All I do is miss you. And no one over here believes in Jesus, anyway. It doesn't seem like they're ever going to. I hate to be a doubting Thomas, but..." A crying voice startles my eyes. And here he is, where I would not expect, inside the wall, embossed behind white paint. His mouth is open with a stuttered sob. Caprice puts down the letter, she apologizes. I don't know to who. The hollow of the ghost's mouth widens the wall, crying in shrills and throat fulls. He looks at me, his head turning, arms reaching. Tears come out of his imprinted eyes through marbles of paint, rolling down the wall and into a puddle. I scramble to the attic hatch and lift it open, giving the ghost one more look before I leave as his eyes peel through the surface, colorless and lonely. Paint washes over the floor and whites out all of his letters, drips down after us as Caprice and I climb down the ladder. We run through the house -- the most bizarre assortment of things imaginable chasing after us -- and smash through the dusty ghosts guarding the front door, who promptly rupture into chalky blooms of nothing. We receive a collective glare from the window, running down the driveway. A snowman steps onto the deck of his sailboat in the backyard and waves at me as Caprice backs out of the driveway, his hazel eyes glowing with a malignant wink.

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-----November 2nd - 7:15 p.m. - Year 1 "Elissa? Hey, it's Caprice. I don't think Abe can make it to the plane, he didn't take the visit so well. Yeah. He really freaked out. He's sleeping now. I will call you in the morning and let you know how he is." I am not sleeping.

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Chapter XII Mute and Sweet

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November 3rd - 1:02 p.m. - Year 1 A high strung dribble of hair holds the hollow of my eyes as I lift my lids open. I turn my head and there is Caprice and here I am. A walking stick is walking upside down on the skylight above us. I mistake his shadow for a tree. It will be as close as he ever gets, which is what he's probably been trying to get at all along. Sensing my movement, Caprice asks me how I am doing. I tell her I don't know, I just woke up. She moves her hair out of my eyes in the broken blurs of brushed out burrs. An alarm clock digitally damns the morning by announcing afternoon. I feel like I haven't slept. Caprice smiles and removes the covers. She stands up naked and walks out of my eyes and I do not have the energy to watch where she goes. The starkness of her nudity fills my mind with questions. The curve of her buttocks, the empty space between the very top of her thighs, the hint of hair. I see a light snow hurry itself down the window and I remember New Jersey and its ghosts. So this is why I am where I am. I yell at Caprice since I don't know where she is. "Caprice, what did I do?" She comes back and explains the house and the ghosts. I don't know what to say. She tells me it is okay, I am crazy and she is crazy. Then she kisses me on the mouth and unzips my jeans. ---November 3rd - 2:27 p.m. - Year 1 So that is sex? ----

November 3rd - 4:12 p.m. - Year 1 "Take me with you, Abe."

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"What about your job?" "I am so fucking sick of butterflies and flowers." ----November 4th - 3:08 p.m. - Year 1 I take her home with me. Whenever I had tried to question what we were doing, she just reminded me how we are crazy and if we question what we are doing it will just make us crazier. "And who the hell needs that?" she says. And I have decided it does not matter. I could use something new to write about, and it will be nice to not be lonely anymore. The farm is just how I left it, and so the cows are lazy and the pigs are smirking and the rooster is pestering everyone and the afternoon is hazy. She sees everything in a sweeping gaze and asks me why I live here. I say can't you tell? Can't you see. I don't know how she couldn't get it. She asks what there is to get. We go inside the house and she unpacks her things. She rearranges my room effortlessly. Everything is changing but I do not feel changed. I am not having one of those epiphanies everyone is always talking about. She asks me, don't I want her? And I am not sure. "But don't I make you feel good?" Her lips round over the Os between the G and D, making a dove-like sound out of the word. I admit she does. So why am I so hesitant, she asks. And I tell her my virginity is somewhere in her. She says oh, oh honey! And she laughs. "You like to word things so strangely sometimes, don't you?" I tell her I don't do it on purpose. She makes fun of me, she calls me her literary darling, she bites my ear and tickles my sides and I finally laugh, I finally, really, I finally, really laugh. -----November 5th - 4:29 a.m. - Year 1 Like pomegranate pupils, like a pair of onion irises, like egg white sclera scrambled into eye lash lids; we stare into this omelet of a mess of a romance. We peel it back with our stares. I ask her between kisses and thrusts, what exactly it is that this means. What makes us different? What about the other kisses and the other lovers and the

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others. She says I make conversation at the worst times. She says no face wrinkles honey dew without sweating lemons, no mouth tastes pure. She says don't worry. I tell her she makes no sense, I'm not the only one who likes to word things strangely. She starts to close her eyes and move with me, lulling vowels of sound in song. She tells me to shut up. I feel something whistle and stir, roll up our naked bodies and clench our throats. I gather the collapse of our skin in my arms. Forget about whoever else we may have had is what she tells me, not knowing there is no one else that I have ever had. And I hold the sunset a while on her shoulders, draped in the fleshy pink of a plush plum's guts. A rainbow of something like sunburn, sullied hills of hues hot from the illumination of. I slide the colors off her like a cape. To the floor. We eventually fall asleep, my arms there, over her. I wake up purple and out of love. Dawn just isn't the same, I tell her over the sound of her sleep. She'll never know. ------November 7th - 11:43 a.m. - Year 1 "So you and Caprice are really hitting it off?" "That's certainly one way to put it." Elissa laughs over the phone, she sounds happy with me for the first time I can remember in months. "She seems like a real nice girl." "She is, yeah. She's adorable." "You don't sound so excited." "I am, I just don't think I have had time to adjust to it, to take it in. You know?" "Yeah, it happened fast." "Way too fast." "But you're happy with her?" "I think so. It's just not exactly the fireworks I had expected." "What do you mean?" "I expected to feel more, I guess. But I know this is a good thing, I know she is beautiful, I know I shouldn't be lonely anymore. My logic tells me I should be thrilled, my heart seems kind of indifferent." "Boy you're a strange one, Abe." "You're not the first one to tell me that."

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-------November 9th - 12:28 p.m. - Year 1 The rooster is angry that I am not waking up for him anymore. I don't know how to tell him I have something more important than animals, now. I have a woman. And she makes me sleep in. --------November 11th - 3:09 p.m. - Year 1 The wind carries an empty dress across my road. I hit the brakes. The dress hurries its limbless self across my windshield as I screech to a stop. I watch the sunlight turn the transparent cloth into an aquarium of green before rolling off my car. Caprice asks if I'm okay. I say yes. Not sure what had just happened, I wonder if I ran over a ghost. If that is even possible. They've been visiting me occasionally since I returned home. I glance into the backseat, expecting to see the naked body that might have once filled that dress. She is there, alright. Her legs crossed, pretty little toes clenched like knuckles. Her face is bruise and bluebell hyacinth. The lips that harvest her wheat smile spread across her face when she notices me. I stare for a moment before remembering my manners and am about to introduce myself but Caprice sneezes instead. The ghost blows out the window like a handful of dandelions, the dress waiting for her with a wide open neck on the lawn. Caprice asks me what happened, why do I have that look on my face? I ask her if she saw the girl, Caprice asks who, and I say nevermind. Nevermind. ---------November 13th - 2:17 p.m. - Year 1 Over the hills of my neglected farm animals I stroll. The pigs are huddled in lolly pop rows, engulfing the food from their troughs. I tell them they are grotesque beasts, but they do not care, and neither would I, and I am jealous. A light November rain shuffles its mouth in kisses across us. A fat horse and an even fatter cow lay next to each other in the grass, whispering. They stop as I approach. Usually they would include me in

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their barnyard gossip, now they glare at me until I pass. Most of the other animals have taken shelter in the barn. I go in and do my work while they watch, their noses upturned or their asses pointed in my direction. I finish cleaning their stalls and filling their food and I try to show a little affection but they avoid me. They are hungry and grumpy, unaccustomed to the new feeding schedule I have started since I don't wake up as early as I used to. I tell them I am sorry, I will try and be a better farmer. They don't care, and neither would I, and I am disappointed. I head back to the house, quietly open the door and find Caprice just rising from the couch, smiling at me. She hits the ground with her bare feet. I take off my rainy shoes. She washes her hands. I drop my wet gloves. She gathers a towel in her arms. I slip off my coat. She opens the bathroom door. I close the front door. She turns on the shower. We step inside. Her shiny skin drapes over me like cellophane. Bubbles of soap gather in rolling marble rainbows through the furrows of her flesh. We wash each other clean with the particular innocence of children. She talks about how in love with me she is. I wring the water out of the roots of her hair and am not sure how to respond. "Are you in love, too?" "Sure." She drapes her arms around me and bites my neck, "oh Abe, you sure know how to swoon a woman." We both laugh our soapy mouths into each other's. And then they gather in, just as the shower is closing its lips. I watch them while I dry her hair. They kiss her shoulders and roll down her back. They cough in her mouth, sneeze down her breasts, laugh in her navel. They cling to her with hundreds of fingers until she finds a towel to wipe them off. And every time she sees fog after a shower she assumes it's from the water, not suspecting the lonely moments of these lonely ghosts. ----------November 16th - 1:30 p.m. - Year 1 "Abe, I need you to work on the story." "I will, Elissa, I will." "By the end of the month you have to finish the entire thing." "Okay."

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"The rough draft wasn't too bad but now you really need to pull some Abe-magic, and get it done." "Okay." "We'll consider it your Christmas gift to me." -----------November 18th - 3:02 a.m. - Year 1 "When I was younger I wanted to write a book, too. I had a deck of cards I would play with and pretend that each suit had their own kingdoms. The face cards all had distinct ranks, grudges, personalities and all that. There were affairs and treasons and royal subplots. Then someone stole the deck and I gave up on the whole idea. Haven't tried writing again since." Caprice laughs at herself and I tell her I think that is a terribly sad story. And I think of my characters; how I've been giving up on them. Like they are dying in pages of wilted prose, forgotten. ------------November 19th - 11:18 a.m. - Year 1 "Yes, mom, she's my girlfriend." "Oh my God, my Lord in heaven. Abe!" "I know, I know." "You don't even sound excited!" "Yeah. Well, sometimes I am. I'm kind of worried she'll get sick of me or something, regret moving out here. She sacrificed a lot for me, I feel kind of responsible now to keep her happy." "Well don't worry about that, just enjoy it." "I'm trying, I mean. Yeah, I am." "Wait until I tell your father, he'll be so proud." "I bet." "What's her name, anyway?" "Caprice." -------------November 21st - 2:54 a.m. - Year 1

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I've given the protagonist of my story a love interest. I am disgusted with myself. Caprice and Elissa are happy with me. I'm so happy that they are happy. Joy can be unreasonably contradictory when it has to be. "Don't feel so bad," Caprice tells me, "romantic interests, as you call them, are inevitable." "Is that so?" "Well, here I am and here are you." "Yes, here we are." I look around, at where we are. In bed. So often. "And we were inevitable." "You really believe in that, in fate?" "Why not?" Before I can shrug she puts her hands to my shoulder and digs her fingertips in, massages my shoulders with dulcet hands. I relax, lay back down, and lose my hands in the maple syrup of her tree limbed body. Like I am reaching into the hollow of a tree. I slide my palm between her legs, flatten the thin layer of maple leafed hair, slightly damp, like autumn under dew, her eyes closing, the moist lips just underneath, and back up, over the plush curves of her bare bottom, the aqua cotton of her underwear stretching against my knuckles. She gives me an enamored look with half closed eyes, pursing those winking lips, slipping off her panties, pulling out of her shirt. And after she has also retired me of my clothing she lays her soft body atop mine. She tells me to focus on how this intimacy feels. The intimacy of nudity and touch. It feels good, I tell her. She says yes, yes, but really feel this. And she lifts her upper body, so I can appreciate the rise and fall of her chest on mine. She does the same with her pelvis. But we don't have sex. And the longer we lay there the deeper I fall in love. Skin must have communicated something words could not. She leans closer, she holds her hands over my ears so she becomes mute and sweet. I have to read her lips but I can't understand what she is saying. --------------November 23rd - 10:02 a.m. - Year 1

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A postcard in the mail arrives from Gerald. I had almost forgotten I knew him, after everything that happened. He writes with those familiar cursive hills, but a different tone. Abe, here's another postcard to add to your collection! Haha. So long since we last talked. I would have called you but I know how you hate phones, so what's the point? You and I are made more for written words. Anyhow, Ireland is fantastic. I am finally at home, I am happy, and believe it or not, I am being honest with people! Yes, being myself, loosened of my past, care-fucking-free! Please write me back and I'll tell you more, and if you want a plane ticket just say so, you're the only person from back in the states I wouldn't mind having around. With a newfound sentimental (and sober!) affection, Gerald I write him a short note back, mostly mocking his overuse of exclamation points, and saying I can't visit now but I hope we stay in touch. I don't really mean it. I am suddenly disinterested in knowing him, and I don't know why, and I am trying to shrug off an odd tinge of guilt. ---------------November 25th - 9:32 a.m. - Year 1 "Abe, I'm bored?" "What would you like to do?" Caprice throws her arms over her head and whistles lightly, she says she doesn't know. A lamb is looking at us through the bedroom window. She drops her arms back down to cover her bare breasts. I laugh and the lamb cocks her curly head. "I want to get a job," she tells me, "I don't want to be so near these animals always." "Okay. What do you want to do?" "I don't know." She leaves it at that and then a couple minutes later asks me why I don't write anymore. "I write." "Yeah but you used to have that goddamn notebook with you all the time. I couldn't get you to stop writing in it. Now you barely touch it." "Well you're partly to blame for that, I would think." Caprice laughs, "oh, I am keeping you busy, am I?"

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"You certainly are. And with you I remember everything. I remember Monday, we went to the zoo, you told me you were sick of seeing animals and didn't know why we were at a zoo in the first place. I remember we ate ice cream and when a little girl dropped hers I gave her mine. I remember two weeks ago when you first moved in you said you hated the curtains and so we bought new ones that I hate instead. I remember the cow scared you last week when it mooed as you were attempting to sunbathe in a new pink swimsuit you bought which I told you I thought was silly and it was too cold to sunbathe anyway and then you told me you thought everything I wore was silly and it was wonderfully warm and I was just a sissy. I remember having an argument about whether to buy cinnamon bagels or onion. You wanted cinnamon because you said the onion ones would make my breath stink and then you would never kiss me again but I bought onion bagels without you knowing and ate two of them and kissed you and you kissed me back and you are still kissing me. I remember you said after reading my book that I should start incorporating italics in my writing to add a bit more personality, I told you it was hard to use italics in handwriting. I remember making love on the hills even though you felt awkward because the nosey rooster was watching. I remember us first trying to cook a meal together. You said if we were going to live and sleep together we should have real meals. I didn't understand but I went along with it. Remember the meat loaf? It was like coral. The mashed potatoes were watery. We gave our dinner to the pigs and went out to eat at a pizzeria that had an enormous sized cashier named Sammy who cashed us out and made our pizza and seemed to be the only worker in the entire place. You said you felt bad for him and gave him a big tip and cleaned all the tables in the place for him. That's when we found out the other workers had been on break. I remember waking up to you talking in your sleep a couple nights ago. You were talking about yourself and how you were self-conscious of your body hair. Particularly near your navel. I remember an hour long conversation about how much we liked dinosaurs. I remember my everyday vocabulary started to improve after living with you for one week. I remember all the different movies we went to see and why I thought they were terrible and why you thought they were good. I remember how you move, I remember your shrug and your face and your body. And I remember lots of other things. You see, I don't need to write anything down anymore, and I am probably as sick of writing as

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you are of butterflies and flowers." ----------------November 26th - 12:45 a.m. - Year 1 The rooster is depressed and spends his mornings sleeping in now that no one will pay attention to him. I have tried to comfort him but he won't so much as look at me anymore. And Toby, he gallops by himself, ignores me when I call his name. Sometimes I sit in the barn and just wait for them to notice me, to take pity on me. I tell them, I tell them they are my friends and that I miss them. I guess they just don't understand. -----------------November 28th - 3:21 p.m. - Year 1 The ghosts haven't left. They press their faces against the window and smudge it with their breaths. They throw their shadows in my hall and fall upon my bed, creak with the springs and pull down the sheets. They whisper and they yell and they dance. They put on this whole little parade but I usually sleep right through it. Sometimes I wake up and catch one of them laughing or knocking on the closet door. I tell them to keep it down but they're determined to be a loud sound in my quiet gray. They say "wake up wake up, we're dead and we live louder than you" and I just tell them shut up shut up I'm too tired to. I think maybe they followed me from my old house. Leapt into the backseat as we left the driveway. Or maybe I am just dreaming. I can't decide. I tell Caprice this and she shakes her head. We're at a park, sitting on a bench. A little girl with red hair blows bubbles near us, wrapped in a pink coat. I can see the wind's arms moving through the rainbow of spheres, rounding over the bicep and down the forearm, popping in wet sparks at the fingers. Huge transparent bubbling limbs waving over the park. "The ghosts didn't follow you, Abe." "Then why am I all of a sudden seeing them again?" Caprice shrugs, her shoulders rolling in ski slopes. She says maybe I am just feeling a little bit more crazy than usual.

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"But I can't get what they say to me out of my head." "You believe them?" "I don't know... maybe they are right, though. I feel kind of lazy, I am the happiest just laying in bed with you. I don't know where my passion went. I'm not writing like I used to, I'm not traveling like I wanted to, like I did with Gerald. I'm not meeting lots of people like I used to. Like I planned to. You're the only character in my life anymore. I don't feel the same drive, I guess." "But aren't you happy?" "I think so." "Then what are you worried about? Life is not about a list of accomplishments, it's about joy. And Abe, I am pretty happy, right now. I've never been in love until now, even if I thought I was. And I think maybe you're worried because we are sort of in a transition stage. Our lives have both changed so dramatically. We've talked about this before." "Right." "So it's just that we're settling in, we're smoothing out the wrinkles, we're on our way to a new kind of life." The wind continues moving its arms through the bubbles, caressing the girl's hair, embracing her small frame. She laughs and holds her arms out, too. "You're almost finished with your book, aren't you?" "Yeah, sort of." "That's moving forward. You want to travel, to meet more people, to experience more things? We can. But not until we make more money. That's why we have to wait until you finish this book." "I guess you're right." "And I got a job, so that will help us." "You did?" "Yes. It's closer to the beach, though. Where you used to live before the storm." "Oh." "It's a florist shop." "But I thought you were sick of flowers?" Caprice laughs, "I was, but then I started to miss them again. I guess me trying to get away from flowers would be like you trying to get away from writing. Eventually you just get sucked back into it."

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I smile and continue to watch the bubbles. The girl and her charming hair and her upraised arms and the swirling rainbow marbles. Caprice reaches her hand to my head and turns me toward her eyes. "Abe, please just tell me if you are in love with me or not." I must love her. I must be in love. When I am with her I remember everything. When I am not with her it is as though time has paused. She has cured me of my forgetfulness and shown me affection and changed my life. Of course I love her, I must be in love with her. "Of course I am in love you." Her winking lips reach toward her ears and she pats my leg. "Then don't worry, for God's sake. Enjoy this. The ghosts will go away, you watch. They will go away and we will be happy." ------------------November 30th - 2:29 a.m. - Year 1 From the sound of the sugar seeping out of my railroad finger prints sweetened with the train wreck touch of a tree limbed girl I try to push it all back into my pores but our hands are honeycombs and there's nothing to hold, just the taste, just the maple of her palms, just the leaves in her branched hair, just the thought. It's like all we are is all over us. It's like it's not happening, like I can't grasp how she has changed my life, this whole idea of romance. As much as I want to understand I can't. But I am resolved to accept this. And suddenly the ghosts let go, they slide off the bed, off our clothes, through the carpet, under and out the door.

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Chapter XIII Soil and Earthworms and Toss and Turn and Fur and Feathers

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December 1st - 7:01 p.m. - Year 1 It's just the night in the broom I am pushing out of the kitchen floor, that's all I am doing when I am sweeping. I am keeping the shadows at bay, letting all the light find a place to stay. Caprice is sleeping too much and I am trying to fight it. And then she is leaving, working. She comes home smelling like lilacs and I want to bury my face in her skin but she goes to the shower and the lilacs fall off with rainwater drops and then she goes to her bed and all of a sudden I am wishing the sun would stop setting -- the sun that I used to love watch fall, one of the last things I would passionately write about -- I suddenly wished would stop. So that she would come home when it was still light and I could see her. She says she is tired. She says I should finish my book, there are bills to pay. She says maybe if we lived closer to where she worked she would have more time to spend with me. She says we should buy a house on the beach and forget this place. I am finished with my sweeping. It's not working, the sun has set and the florescent lights give me headaches so I turn them out. Caprice is asleep. I go outside into the frosty moonlight. I tell my animals I am sorry. They are trying to sleep and ignore me. I let the horses out of their stalls and into their fenced square of mud. I watch them twitch and yawn and shake their heads. Their hooves thump in the ground like giant mouths opening and closing. Filled with soil and earthworms. It is dark and they are barely visible in blue highlights. Huge bundles of moonshine leaking sinewy contours over the ground. Cows from the invisible distance moan. I let them sleep wherever they want and usually they stay outside. Songs play all night from those hills. I always listen to them while I watch Caprice. And I remember everything that happens when she is sleeping. I remember every

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movement, every toss and turn, every word she mutters out of the midst of dreams. Then she leaves early in the morning and I forget everything that happens until she comes back. I don't know what is happening and where my mind is going. I don't even know how long it has been since I last wrote something, since Caprice started working. I don't understand calendars, the days don't pass with me. I just have the frequent and nagging phone calls from Elissa (she calls me at night now because she knows I won't remember what she says if she calls during the day), she tells me to please, please finish the story. And Caprice tells me, please, please finish the story. The rooster creeps out from his sleepy den like a yawning lion. He ruffles his feathered mane and gives me a dirty look. It is nearing dawn. He stretches his neck and lays back down. He seems uninterested in making noise. I try to encourage him but it is useless. "I am sorry. Hey, look, whether or not I wake up shouldn't mean you should stop being a rooster. I mean, that's what roosters do, right? Crow. Cock-a-doodle-doo and cocorico and kuckeliku or whatever." He stares at me with unblinking eyes. I have his attention. "I'm going to leave, Rooster. And I don't want you to stop crowing, even after I am gone. You have to start again. I'll even wake up tomorrow, for you. I will. I don't know what's been happening to me. I thought this place would be good for me. And it was. But now I am different. You understand. Oh Jesus. Don't look at me like that. I'm telling you, okay. You. I'm letting you know before anyone else, because you've always been the one who wants to know everything. Well now you know that I am leaving. Go ahead and tell everyone if you want. I can't stay. I'm sorry." I start crying. I can't believe I am crying. I try to stop. I forgot what crying felt like. My face gets sticky. The rooster looks scared. "I'm sorry, really. Shit. But what can I do? My notebooks are gone. Do you have any idea how many I had? Hundreds. I lost them in a hurricane. Or some tropical fucking storm or something. So there it is, there it goes. I tried to ignore it. I tried to pretend it didn't matter. All I have now is this one notebook that I managed to save, that's running out of space. And it doesn't even make much sense. It's just,... there isn't even a plot. Most journals or diaries or whatever amount to something, go in a direction. Most people have a plot and go in a direction. Where am I going?" A couple animals have gathered around, curious about the sounds I have been making. "I thought I could remake my life, I thought this notebook could redefine me, that

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the other notebooks I lost wouldn't matter. But I am starting to forget everything. I haven't told anyone this... but I am forgetting everything. I am forgetting everything. My childhood is gone. Not that you would care. None of you remember anything either." I give a meek laugh. "That is probably why I like you so much. But no, now, listen. A childhood is important because it helps define a person (I have figured this out from listening to people), you can see how you are and say 'I am this way because of how I grew up' but now I can not tell you why I am a certain way. I thought I could just make myself however I wanted, and I wouldn't even miss my childhood. I thought I could create this character whose personality was up to him. Who could be whoever. I didn't think character was that important but at the same time I was obsessed with it. And then the plot, the plot. Shit, I never even figured that out. So I am characterless and plotless and without a childhood to use as a scapegoat for where I am. Without a childhood to help build a character. Do you understand? I have less than a year in this stupid notebook and my memory barely extends beyond it. It's shrinking. It's been shrinking since I lost the notebooks. I've been shrinking. Like coming to the level of insects. There's just Caprice. And I know you guys hate her and I'm sorry I brought her here. But she makes me remember. I have to be with her. The notebooks are gone and my memory has been dying and she is the last thing left, to keep me remembering. So you have to understand why it is so important that I stay with her. That I make her happy. I'm so scared she will get bored and unhappy and she will leave. So I have to make her happy. She's not really happy here. I mean, I am forgetting everything. I'm like a goldfish for Christ's sake. I have to leave, I have to do this. And I feel like an idiot, because I always think I am figuring something new out. I always think I have finally found what I should be doing. So maybe I will change my mind again. Have one of those epiphanies everyone is talking about, again and again. Hell, maybe I will change my mind again and forget that I changed my mind again. And I keep talking in italics and I can't stop. There's this need to emphasize everything. I can just feel it, you know, I can feel me losing myself. I can not explain how distressing that is. I feel like my memory is about to disappear and I will disappear with it. There's so many characters I have made in stories... I have made them and then decided I didn't like them and just casually discarded them and forgotten them, and now I feel like that. You wouldn't understand. Like I am going to just be let go, if I don't start making myself a real character. I just can't seem to talk to anyone

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else. With everyone I think more carefully about my words. Just like I think before I write. And I don't even talk much, when I do talk. Anyway, what I was trying to explain was how much I need Caprice. She will keep my memory here, and I will not just fade out, and I will not need to write all the time (I am so sick of writing) and I will not be so goddamn repetitive and talk in italics all the time like I need to emphasize things to remember things and I will be able to build a character. I will marry her, I will be a husband, we will maybe have a child, and so I will be a father. And I will remember it. And there will be a definition, there will be a childhood, maybe not mine, but someone's, someone's childhood will be a part of mine." I've run out of things to say. I collect my breath and stay seated there in the barn. The animals shift nervously, slowly gather in. They make quiet noises, stamp the ground in front of me, nudge me with their noses. I close my eyes tight and gently stroke their fur and feathers. The lamb rests her head on my shoulder from behind. I hold her there between my arm and elbow and I sob myself into coughs. The rooster turns his head away. I try and tell him I won't forget him, especially him, but the effort just makes me cry harder. I never know if I am doing the right thing. --December 2nd - 2:03 a.m. - Year 1 "Caprice." "Abe?... I'm trying to sleep." "Caprice, tomorrow I will finish my story, I will give it to Elissa, and then we will move to the beach." "Really?" "Really." And I decide that I’ll write it right here. With everyone and everything else.

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Chapter XIV A Qualm on the Beach

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Chapter 1 It was like Adam and Eve except it started on a beach, not nowhere. And Moses was like God except he had a body and only one name. He was made of blown glass with a full spectrum of colors inside swirling like a warm pot of rainbow coffee. His nose ran high up his forehead in the shape of a spout. He could pour the colors out and they would create whatever he wanted. Moses had a qualm on the beach with loneliness. He created his lovely world without company. His lovely beach and lovely sea sat there humming with no one to hear except him. One day the lonely ocean swayed his lonely thoughts to his lonely hands to the promising sand. He molded it in a shape that resembled a man. The lifeless mold was hollow with a hole atop the head. Moses poured his colors in, filling the sculpture full. The sand that was grainy now became smooth and wavy. The sculpture became real and Moses told him his name. It was Liam which means determined guardian and so Liam the determined guardian he became. Liam spent a long time with Moses and he too grew lonely with him and his ocean, neither of which needed guarding. So he asked Moses for another someone to guard and be with and they agreed it seemed fitting. Moses gathered sand into the shape of something resembling a woman, poured himself inside. She filled out and came to life and Moses named her Rue which means traveler, which she would be. She was like Eve except she wanted to leave her Eden. Chapter 2

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Liam went to Moses, soon after Rue was created, complaining. "There is nothing to protect her from." Moses nodded, but said nothing. "Can't you do something?" Liam asked. Moses shrugged and walked to the shore. He bent down and poured color from himself and into his cupped palms, dumping handful after handful into the ocean. Little blue bouquets of paint. "Soon you will have something to protect her from," he said. Liam waited all day, watching the puddles skim the surface of the water like oil, harmless. Disappointed, he found Moses and complained again. By this time it was sunset. Before Liam even finished his sentence, he heard Rue scream. Blue creatures shaped like parachutes with eyes sailed in the air toward her. Their hair whistled as they chased Rue, gathering in a thick swarm. They leapt onto Liam and stung him while he tried to fight the mass off. He smothered them in the sand, let their small mouths fill with it, weighed himself upon several at a time. Half an hour passed and the shore was covered in what looked like stepped on blueberries. Moses turned his head, felt sick. Liam's face shined with joy as he stared at Rue. She thanked him and said that he should clean himself up. The next day Rue told Moses she did not want to be protected any longer. She was bored with boring Liam and the boring ocean. She wanted new lands to explore. She also asked Moses to create obstacles to prevent Liam from finding her, to make sure that he would not bother her anymore. Moses felt a tinge of betrayal in him as he considered Rue's plea. This is what he told her: "I will do what you ask, but only if you promise me you'll stay with Liam if he can find you." Rue sighed her agreeance.

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Chapter 3 And so the following day Rue left before Liam woke up. She walked for hours out of the beach and into the new land Moses had made for her. When Liam finally rose from his sleep he discovered her missing and told Moses he would have to go find her. Moses let him, of course, knowing of Rue's mischievous plan. And I will let you know a secret, that even Moses, being like God, even he felt a little guilty. Not far from the beach a crowd of colorfully decorated clowns ran into him. Some were riding on brightly lit carousels, others were moving on entire stages. They shoved past him like running water and briefly disoriented him. Then he was confronted by an enormous creature made out of black and white blocks. It tried to suck the color out of Liam but his agile limbs helped him to escape with his hues intact. Sprinting forward he reached the top of a hill and laid under a tree to rest. The tree spit its amber on him, almost encasing him in it. Liam ran from the tree and wiped the sticky liquid off himself in the grass. He was beginning to wonder if Rue was really worth all the trouble. Moses in the meantime was facing his own problems. All the new creatures he had created as obstacles for Liam began to ask Moses to create things for themselves, like Liam had. Because of limited space, Moses was forced to extend his world's boundaries further, to create habitats suitable for his creations and their needs. He created different languages for these creatures to speak, different lands to live in, different foods to eat, different everything. Everyone wanted to be special, everyone wanted to be better than the other. There were constant battles. A world originally created without jealousy was suddenly overflowing with it. As Liam continued he was faced with a cloud of fireflies. They swarmed around him, burning his skin. He ran away, accidentally swallowing one of the bugs and seeing it light up in

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his stomach. He decided enough was enough, Rue was not worth the trouble, and gave up his search. So much for our valiant hero! But don't give up on him yet. Everyone needs a little time to grow, especially those who have spent so little time in creation. This is a lesson you'll surely learn, yourself, also spending so little time in creation. Anyway, Liam came back to Moses and told him of his failed efforts. Moses understood and assured Liam that he did the right thing. Liam then asked what else there might be for him to guard. Moses explained his dilemma with the overwhelming desires of the creatures he had created. Liam apologized, feeling responsible, but Moses did not blame him. He said there is, in fact, more to guard than Liam could handle by himself. So Moses created a strong lion out of the sand named Emmanuel. His fur was the color of bark, his eyes the color of broken beer bottles. He and Liam took an immediate liking to each other. They were like King David and Jonathan, except neither had a jealous father. Neither of them had a father at all, really. Liam and Emmanuel's job was to organize and defend the good creatures from the bad, to help create treaties and peace between enemies, if possible, to name all the varied creatures, to map out their places, to help them build governments, and so on and so forth. Moses was hoping if these creatures' needs could be met by each other, they would stop asking him for things and he would not run out of color. Because, if you will recall, Moses only has so much color in his body. After the tediously long task of preparing for their journey and gathering supplies, Liam and Emmanuel bid farewell to Moses and traveled west, to walk around a world that was continually growing. They were like Israelites, except their promised land was already ruined. Chapter 4

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The first creature that Liam and Emmanuel encountered was a blue boy. Just plain blue. He looked much like Liam except smaller and he left a blue trail wherever he went. He upset many of the other creatures because he refused to stay in one place, and his blue trails ruined everyone else's land. He was the first graffiti artist of this world we are reading of. Liam talked to this blue boy while Emmanuel watched with a growl lingering beneath his lips. "Little blue boy, why do you wish to upset everyone so?" Liam asked. The boy replied, "I do what I want." "And you do not want peace?" "I want what I want." "You want attention." "Whatever you want to call it." "Moses has sent us to settle the troubles of the world." "And you want that?" "I want what is best for everyone." The boy laughed. A blue bubble popped from his mouth like chewing gum and disappeared into the air as a skyless sky blue. He turned to walk away but Liam grabbed him from behind, spun him around. "Listen to me, boy, or we will be forced to become violent." "Violent? Why? What gives you the right? I am only walking, I am not doing anything wrong." "We are given the right by Moses, who created you, and who has sent us to solve problems." "And I am a problem, then?" "Yes." "So solve me." And so they did. In a blue mess, Liam and Emmanuel strangled the boy, who refused to comply with Liam. Afterward, Liam spoke to Emmanuel with tears in his eyes, blue smudged in his palms. "Do you think we did the right thing, Emmanuel?"

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"We did what Moses asked us to. And how could he be wrong?" "You are right, yes. I just feel guilty." "I don't. There is nothing to feel guilty about." And so Liam settled his guilt, deciding it was a ridiculous feeling, and he and Emmanuel went on to try and solve the world's problems. In some areas, no one was hurt, and problems were resolved peacefully. They were starting to build a reputation and many creatures were not willing to lose their lives for the sake of their pride. Not like the blue boy had. Moses had given Liam and Emmanuel extraordinary strength for their journey and there was no point in arguing with them. But some still did. There was a woman, for example, with black dots like pepper all over her arms and sharp hair that created a dark halo around her head. She communicated with the dead, scaring her neighbors. When Liam and Emmanuel came to confront her, she gloated about her powers, trying to scare Liam and Emmanuel away before they convinced her finally to stop, to find other things to do. I think it was Liam who suggested she take up cooking, which she did, and in fact came to create many culinary delights of her town, and even open a restaurant. And then there was a creature who had no home, and was shaped like a crumpled up paper bag. He was sad and lonely, and would walk into people's houses, uninvited, and talk to his reflection in their mirrors. I don't know why he didn't just look in a lake or something. Anyway, Liam explained to him that it would be easier to build his own house, his own mirror, and talk to himself there. He saw the logic in that and complied. He now owns a house of mirrors, which attracts many creatures as a form of entertainment. Now, why getting lost in a house of mirrors would be fun to anyone but a schizophrenic paper bag, I do not know. A less positive encounter happened to come with a little boy. The blue boy's brother, in fact. This one was completely white, even his hair and his eyes. A rather strange looking fellow.

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He spent all day long chasing his own shadow, driving surrounding towns crazy as he scrambled through, asking for people to help him, knocking things over, stealing ropes and glue and whatever else he could find to try and capture his shadow. Liam and Emmanuel heard of this boy's bothersome actions and sought him out. They met him high in a tree, calling to his shadow that lay on the ground. Liam stood at the roots and shouted up. "Hello, boy, what are you up to this afternoon?" He shouted pleasantly back. "Good, some help! Listen, you stay right there, and you, lion, get on the other side of my shadow. Make sure he can not escape. Then I will fall straight down and land on him and wrestle him on the dirt until he is forced to stay with me." "We shall do no such thing," Liam replied, "as there is no way to capture a shadow." "There isn't, is there? Well, tell me this, Liam, have you ever tried?" "No. But it is a silly idea. I see you already know my name, so surely you know what consequences will come if you do not listen?" "Surely, sure I do. You will strangle me like you strangled my blue brother!" "Yes." "Well, tell me then, what have I done wrong?" "You are bothering everyone you come into contact with. No one wants to help you catch your shadow, because it is impossible. And you steal and damage the possessions of others." "Well, Liam, I do not think those are such terrible things. Certainly not deserving of death." "We don't think so either. But unless you agree to our rules, we will have no other choice. We can not be lenient or people won't listen to us." "And what are your rules?"

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"Simple. That you stop trying to catch your shadow." "But I can't. He drives me crazy. He teases me and escapes me and I have to catch him." "You would rather die then let him be?" "Yes." At this, Emmanuel shook the tree with his massive paws and the boy fell flat to the ground. There, Liam smothered his face into the dirt until he stopped breathing. And they were shocked to see -- as they lifted the dead boy off the ground to bury him -- that he left no shadow. Chapter 5 It was a very long time before Liam's and Emmanuel's job had been finished. But they managed to calm the unruly world and give people what they wanted without actually having to create new things. And they saw many wonderful new lands. Long rows of hills shaped like cursive, a town that was kept in the mouth of a forest green envelope with people who spoke in poetry, a nomadic city that moved its buildings on stilt legs, an underwater castle made of coral, a colony high above the ground where the birds were the keepers of everything, a train that was shaped and sounded like a harmonica, a garden with flowers and bugs that looked like they had been made out of rain, a river of flowing honey, a group of creatures shaped like umbrellas who let themselves be blown into different artistic directions, and more things than you could ever imagine, and I know if you are anything like me, you could imagine lots of things. The creativity inside Moses was astounding but unfortunately unappreciated. Consider this an accurate analogy to the artists of modern day. I would continue describing these lands in greater detail, but I am told it will not sell any books. There was a creature Liam and Emmanuel met who owned an entire town. He said everyone else who had lived there gave up and left for better things. He stayed, living by

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himself in his house, painting the town different colors and having huge parties. Liam and Emmanuel rested for a few nights in one of the many hotels he owned, and were well fed with food from his garden. "Come back anytime," this jolly and hospitable creature told them, and they would, later in our story. But at this point they had reached the end of their travels and were about to head back home. Moses was overjoyed to see Liam and Emmanuel again, when they finally arrived. He embraced them tightly and thanked them over and over. They were too tired to reciprocate in the same enthusiastic fashion. Liam especially had grown weary, and disliked much of the ugliness that he had seen in the creatures Moses created. That night Moses had a huge feast just for the three of them. They had vegetables as big as you and I that they ate with steak knives, and roasted blueberries, and seafood piled upon ladders of seafood (long crusty looking things and slimy looking things and colorful looking things), and loaves of bread shaped like frisbees that were as sweet as brown sugar. Afterward Liam talked to Moses alone. "Moses, this world is no good," Liam said. "What do you mean?" "Even after all this work has been done, it seems worthless." "Surely you don't mean that, Liam." But Liam did. And he went on to tell Moses that even after they had solved problems and made things better, everyone ended up doing the same bad things, picking the same fights. When they came around people pretended to be fine. But he heard rumors after they left of them returning to their old ways. There seemed to be no way to keep everyone under control. Moses listened carefully until he finished. The waves rolled like opening carpets behind them. The sand was soft and hugged their toes. It would have been a very calming night if it weren't for the unsettling things that they were

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thinking. Moses took a deep breath. His glass body shimmered in the moonlight, the colors inside him seemed to dull a little in the moments before he spoke. "Listen, I will send you on another task for me. Are you willing?" "Of course," Liam responded. "Good. Then I will have you seek out the good in this world. You will convince those good ones to come with you, and once we have gathered them we will start all over again. I will destroy the rest. And I will do things right this time. I can see what mistakes I have made; I will not make them again. I will change your form, so that no one will recognize you and force pretenses out of fear. This way you will be able to honestly decide who is pure hearted and who is not. But you have to go alone." Liam agreed. And after a few weeks of rest he set out again, to find the few good creatures left in the world and save them. He was like Noah, except there was no ark to build. And there would be no olive branches or rainbows. Chapter 6 Liam spent the morning of his journey's first day up in the tree of someone's yard. He was like Zacchaeus except he wanted to see everyone not just someone. A pig with oily hooves and a beet red face came out and yelled at him. He said with his screeching voice that he was going to go inside and get an axe and cut the tree down and then cut down Liam. Liam laughed, and when the pig left he got down from his tree and walked away. The pig never found him and lost his chance of being saved. Later a man stopped Liam and asked him if he had been in anyone's tree lately. Liam said yes. The man chuckled and said that he was told to bring Liam to prison for sitting in the pig's tree, but would not do so because he found the situation comical. Liam thanked him but did not save him because he was not doing his job very well.

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And then there was this orange creature, with eight arms and beady eyes. Liam approached him and attempted to shake his hand. A fair gesture, I would think. Well, apparently this creature didn't think so, and flung his arms fearfully, sticking to Liam in a tangling mess. His body began sorting through all of the colors of a crayon box until someone came and helped Liam out. Liam went on and on, without complaining, judging who would be saved and who would not based on unfortunately brief judgments. He wrote down the names and whereabouts of those he would save in a leather bound notebook. But he did not have time to deeply consider every person he met. And so, as fate would have it, he ended up making some poor decisions. Countless stories of bad, cruel, heartless characters could be told, but at the moment, as I write here in my house, with the warm summer air coming through the window, everything bright and green and alive; I feel optimistic. And this may be, thus far, a pessimistic story, but I feel like telling you some of the more positive creatures that Liam encountered, if you do not too much mind. There was a creature Liam would never forget, a creature as dark as night, with bright light bulb eyes and a great wide smile. His name was Boma and he was the wisest man Liam had ever met. When Liam first found him, he was laying on his back in a pond, fishes kissing the backs of his arms. Liam asked if he could talk to him and Boma said sure, and asked Liam to join him in the pond. Liam did, and this is what Boma told him, and what I am going to share with you, because it is the wisest thing you may ever hear: "I can say life is an absolute treasure. I am the happiest I have ever been in my life every day I live, every minute. Laying in this pond, this is the happiest moment of my life. And in a couple minutes, I will climb that tree, and talk to the birds, and it will be the new happiest moment in my life. And so on. Do you see. You, Liam. You see. When I talked about the birds and the tree your eyes grew like roots. Haha, do not be embarrassed! You

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understand, but you are embarrassed. Life is so simple, Liam! It is so simple to be happy. Do not be ashamed of that knowledge. Creatures in this world are all so deep in thought, there must be a reason for everything, there must be, what do you say, strings attached? Yes, right, there must be strings attached. You do not trust joy. Well, tell me, what strings are attached to climbing a tree? Hmm? So many of us miss the core of life. I've already got it all figured out, my friend. Now tell me, am I making sense?" Liam didn’t think so, and admitted his confusion. "Try and understand. It is so important that people learn to be truly happy. It will solve everything." "Solve everything?" "Yes. The only reason people hurt each other, the only reason there is crime anywhere is because people are unhappy, and want something." "Right." "So the problem is not people's bad nature, as most people think. It's just that no one is taught how to be happy." Liam had to think a moment, but yes, it did make sense, and he told him so. And I hope it makes sense to you. I sincerely hope that this character, this beloved character of mine, I hope he makes sense. If you get nothing out of this story, except this, then I will be content with the impact made. Now Boma happened to have a brother, who Liam met soon thereafter. He looked much like Boma and was just as kind. Liam talked to him for a short period of time about his brother and when they were finished Boma's brother gave Liam a tremendously tight hug which spread bits of warmth throughout his entire body. Another twenty miles or so from Boma’s brother was a building built to help alleviate the woes of certain individuals who had addictions. Being children, this concept might be a bit over your head. But there was a character there, who had wanted nothing more in life than to meet Moses. He was far from the Beach, and had no idea where it was. No one would tell him,

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and he resorted to drinking this juice that hurt his body and made him sick, but temporarily happy. Like alcohol. You had to leave a couple smashed fruits out in the sun for three days and then mix them together. They rotted and bubbled and made a mild poison. And it's a wonder people do things like this to themselves, but they do, even in where we are from. And so anyway Liam told this creature he personally knew Moses, and would be glad to introduce him. Liam made him promise he would stop drinking, and he would come back for him when he was finished with his journey. Liam also encountered a creature who owned a town (a town that used to be empty and was now filled with creatures). This creature did not recognize Liam but regardless found a place for him to sleep and food for him to eat. Liam was once again in awe of his kindness, and happy to see the lifeless town now blooming with life. The creature explained, when Liam asked what had happened, that creatures found his empty town to be a refuge from other lands, and he let in anyone who needed a safe place. Another wonderful creature Liam met was this woman covered in a beautiful gray paper. Like silk more than paper, really. Who's to say what it was, since this story is all fantasy and imagination, anyway. Whatever it was, it was gray, and covered her. And not unlike the blue boy, she was able to draw with her body, leave impressions. But she was much nicer than the blue boy, cooperative and considerate. She showed Liam a drawing of her husband which she had drawn across an entire mountain. And there was a woman-like creature covered in warts and seaweed, from the ocean. Liam felt sorry for her, she looked so sad and so ugly (but the seaweed from the ocean was so green and beautiful). She also had a very large husband who was covered in a black and gray mud. His throat was shiny and purple. Neither of them talked but were deeply in love with each other.

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And there was a family of creatures made out of the ocean. There was a father a mother and a son. Their voices sounded like running water. Liam loved listening to their conversations. And there was a creature very tall and winged, similar to a stork. Her body was shaped like a kite and the wind blew her around with ease. She talked rapidly and had a terrible memory. Liam saved her because he could relate to her forgetfulness. And there was a sad little child, colored pink from head to toe and all alone because her mother had died. Liam took pity on her. And there was a creature covered in wrinkles who communicated by writing silly messages in shells like nuts. He made Liam laugh. And there was a creature with sunshine for eyes and dots of paint along her shoulders and back and face. She often spent time swimming in the ocean and smiling. Liam found her beautiful to look at. She is the same one who saved him from the orange creature with eight arms. And there was a rock. With tumbleweed hair. It often swayed calmly back and forth and made little conversation. Liam saved it because even though it didn't have much to say, what it did say was often wise. And finally I suppose I am obligated to include some of the creatures Liam chose not to save: There was a creature much like a toad. He had a constant grin on his face and was very deceiving. He trapped creatures in his garden and killed them, then froze their corpses with a special liquid and put them on display in his home. And there was a creature made from sand who caused people to fall in love with her and then washed away from shore to end up somewhere else far away. She kept doing this over and over, even though she knew that whoever fell in love with her would lose her.

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And there was a creature with a face like a folded newspaper who constantly deceived people and seemed to take nothing seriously. And there was a creature whose body reflected images like a television screen. Liam was entertained by her. She also had beautiful coffee colored hair. But she was mean to Liam and so critical that he had no interest in seeing her again. There were also many other unpleasant ones which I would rather not speak of, since I am still in a somewhat optimistic mood and do not feel like ruining that, if you do not too much mind. Chapter 7 As Liam reached the end of the world and was about to head back to Moses, he noticed a creature hiding behind a bush. He neared her and the shadow crouched lower. Suddenly it sneezed. A burst of butterflies flew in the air like confetti, revealing the hiding creature. Rue. She smiled meekly at Liam and he shouted in joy, surprising even himself at how happy he was to see her. He hugged her tightly and she hesitantly hugged him back. There was ever the briefest tinge of romance. "How are you," Liam asked. Rue, unsure of how to answer, told him she was fine. And they discussed what they had seen and where they had been. It seemed that Rue had lived a very troubled life since leaving the beach. The past few months she had in fact been searching for Liam, long after he had given up searching for her. She appeared to be tired and afraid. Liam's urge to protect was heightened all the more. He told her what Moses was planning to do and asked her to come with him. She said she would. And so they traveled back home and Liam gathered the creatures he had written down to save. He explained to them

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who he was and what was going to happen, and even then, some of the creatures refused to come with him. He shrugged and went on, a small group followed, although some grew weary with it and gave up after a while. The number of creatures dwindled until at last they reached Moses and the beach, where the world had started. Moses smiled with relief and greeted everyone heartily, especially the creature who had been a drunk and wanted nothing more than to meet him. He was glad to see Rue, and made her tell him in length of her travels. She was like the prodigal son, except Moses was not her father and she was not a son. Then everyone was given food and shelter and finally much needed sleep. The next day Moses wiped out everything. He wasn't very creative about it. But it took a lot out of him. He had to use his colors to create open mouthed creatures that were almost as tall as the sky. They looked like hippos. They faced away from the beach and blew with bellowing voices as hard as they could. A fierce wind dragged waves all the way across the ocean and to the other side of the world, blanketing it with water, drowning everyone and everything. It came in one monstrous sound and seemed to last forever. All the creatures that were safe on the beach held their ears tight and closed their eyes. Liam crouched there in the sand imagining what must be happening to everyone out there and worried that he had saved the wrong creature, or hadn't saved enough. But it was too late to do anything about that. When this storm finished the giant hippos closed their giant mouths and hid their giant voices and closed their giant eyes and began to sleep a giant sleep. They remained dormant on that beach as a warning of sorts. They were like the slabs of rock that made the ten commandments, except they had nothing to say. Chapter 8

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Liam and Rue fell in love, as one might have expected. They did everything together. Rue was fine with being protected and staying near the beach instead of traveling around. She was tired of traveling. She had seen enough. It is safe to say that, after the flood, everyone had seen enough. But given time, those creatures grew restless, and the same problems as before began to arise. New families were given birth, and the occasional favor was granted by Moses (although he was much more careful with what he used his color for now). A new creature Moses created was a blue jay who had the tedious task of timekeeping. He was outlined in blue snow, his body was as clear as glass. This bird would check to make sure the falling and rising of the sun was correct. He hurried the sun along if he was being lazy, he woke up the moon if she were sleeping. This helped create a sort of stability lacking in the first world, normal sleeping patterns for the creatures and therefore less crankiness. Another new invention - created by Liam - was that of currency. Creatures began using money instead of bartering. People would even offer Moses money to create things. They would bring bags full of money and let it spill into the sand, pleading with him, saying things like "please oh please, make me not lonely, give me someone." When Liam saw people offering Moses money he became upset. "Look at how far people have come from knowing you," he said. Liam was very old by now, and had the cranky temperament of a tired grandfather. He was, in fact, a grandfather. And he was certainly tired. He was kind of like Abraham, except his children were not as plentiful as the stars. And there were no stars, anyway. Just one big, bright, beautiful moon. Emmanuel grew older and older, and died long before Liam. And oh how Liam wept at his funeral. Rue did her best to comfort him. Liam was able to get over the lion's death and fell deeper in love with Rue every day. He soon abandoned many of his responsibilities that he used to have. It would be safe to say his determination went to the grave with Emmanuel. He told

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Moses with this new world he did not want to be involved, really. He had Rue. He had what he was created for. Moses understood and created different creatures to take over the roles that Liam once had. He even created someone to watch over the vast ocean: a billowy snowman who never melted, sailing in a snail shell sailboat. He was always in high spirits, waving to creatures as he passed shore, keeping his hazel eyes alert for trouble. Unfortunately he didn't prove to be very intimidating, and never actually saved anyone from anything. Moses also created a rooster to bring news back and forth between different lands so that they could remain in touch without having to travel so much. The rooster was eventually killed for being both overly noisy and nosey. Many of the creatures created to replace Liam met a similar fate. It seemed he was irreplaceable. I suppose you could say Liam was kind of like Samson, except his hair never grew beyond his shoulders. Chapter 9 Evil was abound. Much like before. It was inevitable, and the creatures Liam had decided to save in haste were sometimes terribly malicious, to say the least. For the most part, the same problems as with the first world returned. And Moses was exhausted to the point where he regretted creating anything in the first place. He almost gave up entirely. To briefly depart from my biblical allegories, he was like Van Gogh, except he did not have an ear to cut off. During this time, in one land far from the beach grew a battle between four royal families. They were distinguished by birth with certain markings, much like the suits of playing cards. Regardless of the inner turmoil between these four kingdoms, they became very powerful and grew so far that their kingdoms almost reached the beach. Practically every creature alive gave itself - willingly or through force - allegiance to one of these

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ruthless kingdoms. And this was when even Liam could stand it no longer. "Moses! It is happening all over again!" he said with his shaky voice. Moses nodded and laid back in the sand. He said he did not have much left in him. Liam saw what he meant-- his color had almost run dry. He was practically transparent now, his glass body dusty with sand and bits of salt. Moses said he would give it one more effort. He created a final creature with the last bit of color that had been sloshing in his feet. It was a sturdy, plain looking man (Moses had lost his seemingly endless creativity by now) dressed in blank gray clothing. He looked very neat and orderly. He stood erect and asked Moses what he was to do. Moses told him, simply, to clean the world. The creature nodded and set upon his task. He was the strongest of any creature Moses had made, despite his average size and normal appearance. He picked up entire trees, entire mountains, entire lakes and set them aside. He did everything in a neat and orderly fashion, careful not to dirty himself or make a mess. He barred off quarreling groups from each other. He emptied and cleaned out wastelands and made them habitable. He did what he could but could not do enough. The four kingdoms were too powerful. Even he could not reach them, could not solve the messy messes they were making. He returned to the beach and apologized. He shook off his dirty hands and said he could do no more. Then he left. He hitched a ride with that ever jovial snowman, and no one ever saw either of them ever again. I suppose they sailed off into the sunset, or something. Chapter 10 The four kingdoms were so treacherous, against each other and within their own kingdoms, that the whole world went to hell, pardon my language. Moses had nothing left in him, he

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was practically dead. And Liam was too old to do anything. Meanwhile, the four kingdom's grew closer and closer to the beach. Liam lost all hope. Rue stood at his side and kissed him. She told him to do what he had to do. He was about to when a cowardly group of creatures approached him. There was a small stout creature that looked like a cucumber, with red coral puffing out of his head for hair. He approached Liam and asked for help, for protection against the advancing four kingdoms. So did a ghastly creature stuck in a red sort of rug. He claimed one of the four kingdoms had wrapped him in this cloth as a punishment and he could not get out. And so other creatures came forth, complaining, pleading. Liam wanted to weep but instead screamed. He told them to leave him alone, he could do nothing. The sound of his voice made the creatures cringe. They slowly backed up and left. Liam looked back to Rue and she nodded. A fat creature that looked like an Oreo lay dying in the grass near the shore. Green spit dribbled out of its mouth as it moaned. Liam looked at it sympathetically for a moment before walking to the water. He stood between the two hippos and commanded them to wake up. Their heavy eyes slowly opened in the sky. Liam told Rue and his dying Moses that next time there would be no one else, just them. And then he let those hippos roar.

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Chapter XV Opened like Proverbs

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December 2nd - 3:15 p.m. - Year 1 I drive to the city to give Elissa my story. She hugs me, to my disbelief, and says she has been working with new authors and publishing new books but she will make reading this story of mine a priority. She says thank God I finished, just in time. I feel like I don't mean nearly as much to her as I used to. I suppose I don't. I'm not so much ashamed of myself, as disappointed. I had higher expectations for these characters. I rushed them into something they were not ready for. And I find myself apologizing to them, telling them they deserved better. But it is hard, to be responsible for a character, when I have had so much trouble developing my own. --December 3rd - 1:22 p.m. - Year 1 Here we are speaking in the beach of purchasing our new home. Caprice holds on to me with her childish motions. The ocean is almost beautiful enough to make me forget the farm I abandoned, Caprice is almost beautiful enough. I'm treading the water with my toes, Caprice has her silly pink swimsuit and she's swimming, even though the water is frigid. The waves toss her around and throw her back to me. She knocks me over. I hurt my knee in the rocky sand. She laughs so hard that I start laughing so hard. She says if we live here we can do this every day. I hold my breath as more icy saltwater combs over us, drags the smiles from our heads and creases them in the sand. Squinting my eyes I am briefly surrounded with only the sound of water and the touch of the Ocean's lips and Caprice's hips and I am kissed inbetween, I am in their mouths, I am gurgled and spit out, and then the waters recede while I lay there with Caprice waiting for the waves to return and I tell her I would absolutely love to do this everyday. ----

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December 3rd - 3:07 p.m. - Year 1 "Abe, I have some problems with your story." "Of course." "First off, this was supposed to be a children's story." "Right." "And, I mean, even the vaguest allusions to The Inquisition are inappropriate." "What?" "Second, there is not enough character development. There's Rue and Liam and Moses and Emmanuel. And even they barely develop (the overwhelming mass of other characters don't develop at all). They need quirks. Every children's book needs characters with quirks. Like Emmanuel should have had huge paws that made him stumble or something-" "But that would have ruined his character completely. Did you even read the story?" "Okay, bad example but you know what I mean. Kids don't understand subtle character development. They want quirks." "Quirks." "Quirks." "Fantastic. Well, I don't do quirks." "Yes you do, sometimes." "Well, I didn't with this story. And anyway, it was hard to develop the characters as it was. All I wanted to write about was setting. So I sort of turned the characters into settings themselves, to compromise. And anyway there's not much to them. They're just people from restaurants, mostly. Just exaggerations. The plot was an excuse to throw them in." "That's no way to write a book." "I guess not." "Third-" "Did you make a list of qualms with the story and then write it down or something?" "Yes." "Haha, 'Qualms with A Qualm on the Beach.'" "Third. It's too long for a children's book but too short and quirky for a young adult book."

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"I thought quirky was good?" "Not for young adult fiction, they want deep brooding stuff." "What?" "That's not who we're writing for, it doesn't matter." "Okay." "So we have to find a happy medium, something for the kids. Fourth, the vocabulary." "Uh oh." "Yes. And you can't swear in a children's book, Abe." "Fair enough, it wasn't that harsh though." "Fifth, you awkwardly jump to first person point of view at random times." "I am the narrator." "Yes. But you can't just jump into your story." "Why not? I wrote it." "We went over this many times in the past Abe. You know I can't publish whatever the hell you feel like writing. Sixth, Christian metaphors-" "They're not metaphors." "Hush. Christian allusions are not good for mainstream audiences. Not with a children's book like this, anyway. C.S. Lewis could get away with it, but that was different." "Why?" "Because he was more subtle about it. He didn't say things like 'He was like Zacchaeus except he had no reason to be in anyone's tree.' I mean, who the hell is Zacchaeus, Abe?" "You never heard the story? He was a tax collector who was really short and wanted to see Jesus talk so he climbed a tree." "Oh. And since when did you start reading the Bible anyway?" "I was bored and it's been a best seller for centuries or something so I figured I'd give it a whirl." "Give the Holy Bible a whirl." "Yeah. It was pretty good." "No kidding. When did this fancy strike you?" "A while ago. Took a long time to read. I didn't really get the point. Revelations seemed to be a bit over the top." "So I've heard."

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"Genesis was my favorite chapter. It's too bad it was the first. Anyway, I knew borrowing from the Bible was an acceptable practice in the literary community so I went ahead and tried it out. I liked how it was working so I kept it up." "So this has nothing to do with faith? You based your story on these biblical allusions and characters just for kicks?" "Yes. That's just how it happened to work. Moses was God and Liam was Adam and so on. It fit." "Okay... well, the creation and Moses and the flood thing is okay. But those other little obscure biblical references have to go. Seventh, the ending. For Christ's sake, Abe." "What?" "A little bit of a downer, don't you think?" "Sometimes children's books are melancholy." "But this was just plain depressing. I mean God was dying by the end. Way to be sacrilegious." "It's not about God, though." "Oh it's not, is it?" "No. It's about characters. Yeah, I borrowed some plot and some characters from the Bible but they're not exactly the same. This isn't about religion it's about a story that I made up. It's not supposed to be a satire or anything like that." "Okay but the ending is too depressing. If we publish this stuff the future generations will grow up to be nihilists." "Hahaha." "Eighth. There's no connection with kids. It's too surreal without being adaptable. There's not much that will really pull a kid in." "I guess I can admit to that. I've never been good with children." "It shows. Ninth. Emmanuel dies but is not resurrected." "So?" "Emmanuel means 'God is with us' in Hebrew." "How did you know that?" "I looked it up online. You had the definitions of Rue's and Liam's name but no one else's so I was curious to see what Emmanuel meant. And anyway, apparently Jesus was often referred to as Emmanuel or something like that."

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"Yeah I remember something about that when I was reading through Matthew, I guess I forgot." "So the assumption was that Emmanuel was based on Jesus." "Nope. It was based on a cat I used to have." "You had a cat?" "Yeah for about half an hour." "Oh. So Emmanuel dies, and isn't resurrected." "Right." "He should have been." "My cat wasn't resurrected; Emmanuel isn't resurrected." "Tenth. I think you should make the snowman a bigger part of the story. He could add some much needed comic relief. He has a lot of potential, I think. He could be this guardian of the sea who gets involved in mishaps and never does his job right and who everyone has a good ol' chuckle at." "That's an absolutely ridiculous idea." "Eleventh, there was a part in the story where Abe admits that he had Rue, what he was created for, and he is happy. I would like to end the story closer to that point. I would like things to be resolved, there." "Abe? You mean Liam?" "Oh. Yeah." "There is no way I can end the story there." "Yes you can. Twelfth, you can't use your own life is a metaphor." "Elissa." "You can't, not for a children's book. It just doesn't work, the other publishing company taking on your book knows a lot about you from newspaper articles and they will surely recognize you putting yourself into this story, and they won't accept it. You have to think about them. You're not just writing for me anymore." "I am not in that story." "It's all there. Moses, Caprice, this supposed cat of yours, the storm. You." "Caprice? Me?" "She's Rue, right? And you're Liam." "I don't know." "Abe, you made yourself a metaphor. You can't do that."

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"I am not a metaphor! I can't believe that after completely tearing down my story, you would accuse me of being a metaphor. You know I hate metaphors. Everyone knows that. I can't believe you publish my books. I can't believe this. I am going to hang up now and I will call you back after I forget what happened." "That doesn't even make sense." ----December 6th - 12:20 p.m. - Year 1 She sits me down and our new house opens its empty mouth. This is our porch, she says. Ours. She says this while we stare straight ahead at the Pacific. The music of the shore leaps triumphantly, fills the air in a cinematic orchestration. We have our arms around each other. The rolling of the waves hushes all clichés. And washed ashore or washed away, heart shimmering plush in her own ribcage, a music box pulse, that dress, that she is nude beneath, it sticks to her hips, saltwater and mist, oh and if only Caprice knew, the waves and the beach and the sea, how empty they are without her there. ------December 15th - 1:34 p.m. - Year 1 "So I'm Rue, right?" Caprice has just finished reading my book. "No." "But you're Liam?" "No. I am not a metaphor." "Don't yell at me. I didn't say you were. Jesus." "I wasn't yelling." "What's this book about, if not us?" "It's not about anything, it's just a story. But I guess if it had to be about anything, it'd be about the farm." "Oh sure, of course, that goddamn farm." "I'm going to exit this conversation before I get pissed." "Go ahead. I'm going to go take a swim." "Great. Maybe I'll join you after I cool down."

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"Okay." -------December 19th - 11:18 a.m. - Year 1 She smiles at me, because she understands me, and for the first time in my life I feel at ease in my skin. I could sit down, next to her, and just breathe, without anything in my head, for once, just this record player playing nonsense, this pulse kind of cushioning our causerie, this nostalgic sort of sound, our voices like gin and tonic, settling with the clink of ice cubes as commas come and go, and go, and go. Her smile has arms, she's hugging me from across the room, a good feeling, comes and goes. --------December 23rd - 2:14 p.m. - Year 1 Caprice comes out of the chilly December water. I bring a towel for her. "I'm sorry I yelled." "It's okay." "No, really, I love you." "I know, honey. I love you too." Through the listens of the lines in her cheeks, little hills rising with arms outreached, she forgives me. A blurry thought comes forth and my eyes water. Salt water makes a mess of the footsteps we had particularly placed as we head back inside. I can not tell what we had been spelling. I've been lost since I fell in love. I won't admit anything. This is our little unpublished secret. I am anything but poetic. Shhhh. ---------December 25th - 6:39 p.m. - Year 1 She opens my gift and laughs. "Are you serious?"

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In her hands, unwrapped, are a deck of playing cards with stories and character profiles I have written about each Jack, Queen, and King. [Refer to November 18th entry]. ----------February 12th - 6:39 p.m. - Year 2 I drove out to Blye today, to see how my old farm was doing. When I got there I saw nothing but empty hills and a torn down fence. I parked my car and sat there for a long time, debating on whether or not to tear out the pages about the farm in my notebook. I've been doing that lately. If there's a memory I decide I don't want anymore, I tear it out of the notebook, and then promptly forget it. I look at the pages now. Old drawings of the rooster and Toby. I let them stay. More irrational tears well up in my head. I'm starting to become a maudlin mess. -----------March 28th- 1:20 a.m. - Year 2 I wish I had things to write about, sometimes, but I'd rather be happy than write. This is probably the most important thing I have ever learned, as simple as it sounds. ------------May 9th - 6:39 p.m. - Year 2 Awnings yawn the sun stretched canvas of blue, the sky and its mouth and my God. Spring comes early here. Imagery is spirituality says the treetops to infinity with those upraised arms always reaching. Trees harbor droves of wings. But those roots aren't moving, those leaves aren't going anywhere. I look at my feet as I step from sidewalk crack to sidewalk crack. Pavement ladders. I think about how lucky I am. Caprice grips my hand and points out a wedding dress in the store window. --------------

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July 11th - 2:12 p.m. - Year 2 "I do." --------------October 12th - 11:15 a.m. - Year 2 From the sound of my acoustic house some of me sung some her salt. A wonder of what I would catch in the corners of my mouth to speak her out. Would it be loud enough, would anyone else know what I've had? Some would say they've heard it all but that's only because of what they've said. It's those things unsaid that really say it all. So I've heard. Caprice laughs and say it's okay, she understands, even though I don't make sense, and I'm right, it's one of those things that should be unsaid. And here we are or will be, with the string section, so to speak, wrapped in wool like steel, humming with heat. A run down a guitar chord, a musical disorder of limbs, speakers singing under and about a lonely pink moon. In the bed or the lights, in the sheets or the wine, in the meantime, waiting for this baby to step on out and show her face and grin her existence that is so invisible behind the skin of the stomach I am kissing. ---------------December 9th - 3:11 a.m. - Year 2 Her name will be Rumy, which has no meaning as far as I know, and so free to be anything she wishes is what she will be. ----------------April 3rd - 8:12 a.m. - Year 3 She comes to us covered in the brilliant glow of candy apple red, a gray under her skin, an ancient green hue in her eyes, the screams of new.

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-----------------April 4th - 12:12 p.m. - Year 3 With the blanket in ripples over her tiny body I hold her gently. Her face rests in the soft flesh just above my collarbone. I kiss her and ask her if she can hear the ocean welcoming her home. Caprice starts to cry a little, through her smiles. ------------------June 1st - 9:29 a.m. - Year 3 So I guess you're calling it quits on our friendship, considering how many of my postcards have been sent without response. I don't blame you. I guess this will be the last one for your collection. I'm real happy here, in case you've ever wondered. Found a nice Irish girl, real genuine red hair, real genuine freckles. You'd like her. Lots of friends, too. The beer here is great. All the stereotypes about this place are true except the bad ones. Looking forward to reading your newest book, whenever the hell you publish it. Hope it lives up to the hype-- I didn't buy into the praise about your children's book. Anyway, I'll miss your idiosyncrasies, and hope that all is well out there on the Pacific. Gerald. -------------------August 19th - 11:02 a.m. - Year 3 Looking over old writings I was struck with an urge to visit and see how my grumpy former neighbor is, so I took off this morning to find him. I still don't know his real name and he still lives in the same place. I knock on the door. He laughs with his toad throat voice as soon as he sees me and lets me in. I sit down with him at his kitchen table. "So Abe - the rich and famous writer - is paying me a visit." "That I am." "I was just making some chicken dumpling soup, perhaps you'd care for some?" "Sure, thanks."

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He fixes me up a bowl. I've never had chicken dumpling soup. It's pretty good. I ask him how he has been. He says great. He asks why I am here. I tell him I live near him again and figured I'd drop by. He says that was nice of me and asks if I want to see his bug collection. I say sure. We get up and walk down a hallway just past his living room. He seems unusually nice. "I put you in my children's book, you know." "Oh yeah? Haven't gotten around to reading it. Who am I?" "A malignant toad who freezes creatures and puts them on display for his own personal enjoyment." My former grumpy neighbor laughs heartily. "Sounds fitting." I tell him he seems to be in much higher spirits then I remember him ever being. The term grumpy neighbor doesn't really apply anymore. He even looks happier, somehow younger. He says he has certainly become more inclined to being cheery over the past year. I ask him what happened. "Things have really come together for me, since the storm." "How so?" "You'll see." He opens a door at the end of the hall. It resembles the old bug collection he lost except this one fills the entire room. The ceiling is painted as a sky, smudged with clouds and dropping winged insects from invisible strings. The walls are painted with forest scenery. I can not tell that they are painted but I am assuming they are, as the depth of the trees and paths look much deeper than the room could ever hold. A light bulb at the center of the ceiling is a sphere as bright and soothing as the sun. Nothing fluorescent about it. It hangs there within reach and yet millions of miles away. Lifelike plants cover the room; instead of a carpet there is grass. Bugs of all bizarre assortment are glued in poses everywhere. I have to resist the urge to walk inside. The child in me wants it to be real. I verbally applaud his display and stand there for a long time and stare. It looks exactly like a photograph I could walk into, except he won't let me. "Hold it there, Abe. You can see everything from here." After one last good look he turns off the light. I notice everything turn pale blue in the room and the sun grow caters and a

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moon's face. Pinpoints of stars suddenly show up. The door is closed before I can clarify if that's what I really saw. We walk back down the hall. This man has accomplished something that I have been trying to achieve since I first started writing. He accomplished something I have more or less given up on. And here I am hanging my head in shame and awe and temporary inspiration. It’s like my life should have led up to this point. Like this should be my room, except in a literary form. We go to the front door and I tell him I can not get over how real the room looks. I say it might work well in a story, someday. Maybe I'll write another children's book about it. I ask him how he managed to make the room. Did he paint the walls himself? Where did he get the grass and the plants? He just shrugs mysteriously and says maybe it is real. He laughs at my raised eyebrows. "Not a lot of people get to see that room. You should feel lucky." "Why don't you show people? You told me your old bug collection was like a trophy to you." "It was, but I've learned a lot since then. Fulfillment isn't about other people's opinions. You know what they say about needing to be content on the inside and all that. Well, I did this for myself. I don't need to show it off to be proud. But I figured you, of all people, would appreciate it." There is a song playing in the speakers, I hadn't noticed it. Just a piano in the deep prairie reverb of chords and shimmers of starlight sparked high keys. The melody is familiar, I ask him who the pianist is. Dmitri Shostakovich, he tells me. We sit back and listen. He tells me how he had always wanted to play piano as a child, back in Moscow. His father owned a great big grand piano and hired an instructor to give him lessons, but he never got any good at it. He eventually gave up on pursuing music and pursued bugs instead. When the song finishes he sort of mumbles. "Ya vsegda hotel zhit' vnutri pianino." I ask him what the heck that means but he just laughs and says nevermind. Outside the window I notice a wandering violin land on a tree limb. His head is cocked in that particular praying mantis way. I turn my eyes back to my formerly grumpy former neighbor and ask him how I would go about taking care of one of those bugs.

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"It's not that hard, really." "Do tell." --------------------August 28th - 12:00 p.m. - Year 3 I take Rumy to see my parents. They adore her, as grandparents seem to adore every infant. She sits on my mother's lap and stares at the blue jay clock for hours. We talk and play catch up. Mostly they are catching. Me pitching. We decide to go to the park and have a picnic. I let Rumy crawl in the grass. She follows a line of ants, trying to point them in the right direction, away from the pond. She is almost level with bugs and she loves them. As the ants descend down a hill I pick her up so that she doesn't hurt herself. My parents are wearing those loud proud grins. Suddenly my mother cries out, "Abe! There's a huge bug on your shirt!" She does not remember that I am not afraid of bugs. I look down on my arm and see a wandering violin wandering up my arm. I wonder aloud what in the world he is doing here. Rumy reaches out to him with tentative hands. ---------------------August 30th - 11:07 a.m. - Year 3 "Abe, have you seen these horrendous bugs?" "Where?" She points at the windowsill. "Oh, that's right. I stole one of those from my neighbor. It was pregnant. I forgot about it. That explains it." "Explains what?" "One must have followed us to my parents." "You're kidding. That's a long way to follow you." "Yeah, it is. One hell of a bug." ----------------------September 3rd - 3:13 p.m. - Year 3

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Caprice watches Rumy try to walk on wobbling legs. "She's so goddamn cute, Abe." Rumy can't balance and when she totters back (she never seems to fall forward) Caprice catches her gently and props her back up. "Keep trying Rumy," I say, "you'll get it." Caprice laughs, "you've been talking to her like an adult since the day she was born. Haven't you ever heard of baby talk?" -----------------------January 12th - 1:29 p.m. - Year 7 Crayons scribble nonsense that almost makes trees. "Those are good, Rumy, you've got some autumn in the branches." "Yeah Dad." "What are these?" "Roots. They're going up." "Out of the ground?" "Yeah." "Why?" "So nobody can cut 'em down." "Oh, they're going to fight people off, then?" "Yeah." "Not a bad idea." ------------------------March 2nd - 12:00 p.m. - Year 8 My youth is being relived. Rumy small and eyes filled with wondering. I take her to the creek and we let a toy sailboat sail down. She watches nervously, wondering if it will stay afloat. Over the rocks under the water she walks, crayfish peeking through. I tell her to watch out. She slips, I have to save her, and we forget about the brave boat wandering away. A week later we find the sails but not the boat in our backyard. I imagine the crayfish having used them like parachutes, landing here to ask us why we won't leave their creek alone, they're tired of hiding from our toes, toes, toes.

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-------------------------February 12th - 4:23 p.m. - Year 9 "Your daughter's smarter than you, Abe!" Elissa laughs and picks Rumy up, who squirms and giggles. She gives Rumy a hug and then shows me around the new house she bought (Rumy still in her arms), just outside the city, in the suburbs. "Really beautiful, isn't it?" "Yes. Except there's hardly any color." "Where'd it go," Rumy asks. Elissa and I shrug and laugh. "It's good to see, Abe, feels like a lifetime since we last saw each other." Elissa looks me in the eyes and she means it. "What's a lifetime?" Rumy asks. --------------------------April 7th - 2:20 a.m. - Year 9 Caprice and I don't have sex much anymore. She quit her job and spends most of the time at home. She seems sad, but she won't admit anything. A garden in the backyard keeps her busy, although it's hard to grow anything because we're so close to the sand. She's taken up sailing too, and sometimes I join her. She has even helped me edit my books, since Elissa won't anymore. I'm still writing, but without much success. I can't seem to focus on words. I still remember everything when I'm with Caprice so I usually don't see a point in writing anything down. ---------------------------December 25th - 7:35 a.m. - Year 9 This Christmas, like the past few ones, we are in New Jersey with my parents. We usually spend the week here, mostly because Rumy is in love with the snow and never gets any other chances to play in it. Caprice is mildly discontent, but wears a bright face around my parents and they wear bright faces around us.

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Our first morning here Rumy and I wake up early, head outside. It is snowing heavy but benignly, the flakes fluffy like furry white moths. Rumy is bundled tight in assorted colorful scarves and boots and purple mittens and a matching coat. She has always been unfazed by the cold, and would run out here in her pajamas if I did not insist on more fitting attire. The first objective of the morning is to create a snowman. So we start rolling the snow in piles, digging under the powdery surface layer to find the thicker stuff below. It slowly accumulates into the shape resembling a bulbous man, and we poke holes in its head for eyes. For the briefest of seconds, after making the holes, I see hazel eyes blinking beneath. I step back, catch my breath. Rumy says "he's alive!" I try to laugh and tell her we're not Moses. I ask her what else she wants to do. Snow angels, of course. So we set ourselves into the snow and give them flight. When we're finished, Rumy asks me where the snow owls are. I've been telling her fictional stories concerning their whimsical existence in New Jersey ever since we started coming here for Christmas. She insists on catching some to show my parents. I say sure, and pretend along, reaching into the falling snow (faster now, less benign) and grabbing the imaginative wings of these creatures, huddling them in my arms and racing inside, Rumy screaming in delight. We let them loose in the house and they fly around, blowing like giant snowballs over the living room furniture. Rumy says oh no, and tries to catch them. They fly faster until the chimney is found and shoot up its throat. We run to the window, where the snow has now filled all of the air so that the sky is everywhere. The snow owls come out of the chimney's top, coated in black, like commas in paragraphs for the pauses we see and the poetry that we don't, just a whiteout with punctuation left over. Now that they're gone all we got to show for our efforts is bird shit on the carpet and frostbitten toes, toes, toes. ----------------------------September 10th - 7:20 a.m. - Year 10 Caprice has taken Rumy to her first day of school. I said goodbye to Rumy and kissed her on her freckled cheek. I told her to not worry. She said she don't worry about nothing. I said she was contradicting herself, she should learn proper English since she won't

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be taught it in school for a couple years. She said don't worry, dad, she is speaking proper. I told her she wasn't-- if she doesn't worry about nothing that must mean she worries about everything. She said stop telling her how to talk and that what I said didn't make sense. I said maybe. She said probably, besides, she has heard Elissa correct my grammar before. Then she laughed mischievously and hugged my leg before I could retort. Caprice kissed me on the nose and shut the door and everything went quiet and now I am thinking and writing loud enough to fill the gap that is left whenever they are gone. I decide to wander the house. Talk to it. Keep myself company. I stop first by the bronze angel statue near the stairs. I tell him to keep guard over things whenever I'm not home. He nods in his still way, that carved half grin of his half grinning. His green sullied arms stick out as though offering his robe for me to wear. I decline in an overcast shrug, "it wouldn't fit me." The library beckons me with its musty smell of literature. I run my hand along the bindings of books I can not remember but love to look at. I stop at the familiar feeling books, the heavy ones I pick up and read to Rumy until she falls asleep every night. These soothing textures. I open their moon stained pages and smile at their purpose which the author would certainly resent. These profound books and their profound pages. Simply to lull my daughter to sleep. Listening to Faulkner and Hemingway in her dreams as she races at morning and its sun, across the river and into the trees, so to speak. I wander the halls and the bedrooms. Rumy's is empty and orderly. Dolls lined up on the shelf with their eyes rolled back. An arsenal of crayons and colored pencils and paper under her bed. My bedroom is a mess, in comparison. Caprice's smell lingers like smoke after fireworks. The rumpled sheets line up in mazes. I follow an arm of sunlight from the window and into the closet as it washes its honey hands over my shirts. I love Rumy so much I am unable to imagine what I would do without her. I want her to be able to know how close I am, in her imagination, in the shapes, always close and watching, worried I'll lose her freckled cheeks to the heat. I am in those words I read while she is asleep. This must be the love of a father, the love I have been reading about. This must be what was trying to be said in all those postcards I once read a long, long time ago. ------------------------------

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July 23rd - 12:00 p.m. - Year 11 Rumy lays back in her swing between the trees. Her eyes facing the sky as she sings to the wind. Move me, move me, move. ------------------------------July 29th - 2:12 p.m. - Year 11 "Here's a real lion." Caprice says this as we lean against the railing at the zoo. Rumy watches the giant cat pace back and forth behind bars. She looks up at me and says, "Emmanuel?" I shake my head. "No, not quite." Rumy holds my stare with her big green eyes for a minute and then looks back at the lion, fascinated. I've never told her she has Emmanuel's eyes. -------------------------------July 30th - 1:33 p.m. - Year 11 "Your fingers look like people," Rumy says. I laugh, my thumb arching over the steering wheel like a grumpy nursing home resident. "I know." I'm taking her to an aquarium because she loves fish and was mostly unamused with the zoo (except for the lion and birds). Caprice declined coming with us, saying she has had enough fun looking at poor caged animals yesterday. As soon as we get inside the building Rumy runs up to one of the aquariums and says, "I know them! Look, Dad, look! I've seen them before!" They are long bright fish, like ribbons, rippling across the water. "Where?" "Outside my window." And now she's tapping on the glass, saying hello. ---------------------------------

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June 17th - 12:00 p.m. - Year 13 Rumy and I are watching an elementary school baseball game together. She wants to play but they won't let girls on the team. The coach said there's a girls team she could join but she doesn't want to. She says she doesn't like girls. She says this as though she's sexless. So we just watch these kids play, uniforms shelving them like flowers in vases, their cleats shouting splish splash and the plates are making faces so they smash them in. Tip toeing the border of cameras and wrist watches, someone warns them of slipping because stained glass knees are scraping and the clumsy kids are crying while the last in line is sure to find himself grown up in a life that's just a snapshot. Rumy doesn't appreciate the nostalgia, but I tell her she needs to learn to embrace her youth and remember as much of it as she can. "You know, grade school is either a novelty or a novella." "I don't know what either of those words mean, and I don't care." I laugh at her as she continues to pout, chin in her hands, envying the boys and their baseball. ---------------------------------September 19th - 2:29 p.m. - Year 13 "Damn this kid is getting heavy." Elissa carries Rumy on her shoulders as we walk through the park. Rumy and I both laugh at her mild profanity. "So how've you been, Abe?" "Good. How's the new boyfriend and you?" "Oh, fine, fine. I think I'm old enough to finally settle down. We're thinking about getting married." "No kidding?" "Yeah." "About time." "Seriously. And how about you and Caprice? I miss that girl, haven't seen her in a long time." "We're pretty good. Rumy makes us happy." Rumy is not listening, watching the birds, listening intently to every sound that comes near her tiny ears.

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"Well that's good." "I'm sorry she doesn't come out with me often when we visit." "It's alright, no offense taken." "Good." We sit down on a bench and let Rumy feed the ducks with crusts of bread we brought. "Beautiful kid you got there." "Ain't she?" "Absolutely." "They pretty much make up my life, now. Her and Caprice, I mean." "Not much for writing anymore?" "Not really." "Still doing okay financially?" "Yeah. Those few books sold enough." "Not as good as the first two." "Oh well." "Got any other stories up your sleeve?" "Maybe." Rumy comes right up to the ducks, gently holding out her hand and saying this: "You're not going to get food unless you trust me, you stupid duck. Look, we'll be friends and eat bread, or we'll be strangers and go hungry. It's up to you." ----------------------------------July 21st - 9:12 a.m. - Year 14 Caprice kisses me on the back of the neck. "Good morning Abe." I'm drinking orange juice and trying to write. "Howdy." Caprice laughs. "You always say howdy, like you're some honky tonky Texasbred cowboy." The coffee maker starts to rumble as Caprice fumbles with the switch. "What should we do today," I ask her.

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"Let's go sailing." "Okay." She watches her coffee filter into the pot, crackling. "What are you writing in there?" "I'm trying to think of a story." "About what?" "I don't know. Any ideas?" Caprice shakes her head and yawns. "Are you happy, Caprice?" She blinks deep and asks me what I mean. "Sometimes I'm worried, you know, that you're just unhappy with me. With Rumy. With everything." Caprice walks over to the kitchen table and sits down across from me. "You know I love you and Rumy." "I know. But are you happy?" She rubs her eyes and sighs. "I don't know. Sometimes." "What would make you happy." "I have no idea. I just want to go sailing. What's with you and always wanting to have these profound conversations all the time? It's exhausting. Sometimes people just aren't happy, and that's that." -----------------------------------July 22nd - 2:01 a.m. - Year 14 You sound angry, Sweetheart, and the blankets of summer are so full of wool, so itchy. Shed your skin, Honey, shed your mouth right into my words, I will write you something you can carry in your pocket, the whole season, right there at the top of your thigh, tight against your jeans, whenever you need to remember something you love. And I will just as well love you, too. ------------------------------------August 4th - 6:47 p.m. - Year 14

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She brings the cold water to her mouth. Ice cubes take geometric snapshots of her lips. As I watch. While the prayers in our ears have been distorted by the fans and the electricity that runs them. She clutches the tablecloth. Red and white squares. Crickets are screaming at our porch. And if I let them in they will ruin us. We will never sleep. My daughter knows this, and waits patiently to grow up so that she can buy her own house and ruin herself with crickets as often as she likes. "Dad, can we just let one in?" "But what if it's a mommy?" "What if it's not?" "We can't risk it. We don't want a whole family of crickets singing in here all night long." "I do." "Sleep outside." She grimaces, before heading upstairs to find a sleeping bag. I'm afraid she'll see what the wandering violins do at night, carrying those poor crickets in their arms while chewing on their heads. Would she try to save them? --------------------------------------August 5th - 8:02 a.m. - Year 14 And the next morning I find a graveyard of wandering violins. I yell at Rumy for the first time in her existence and then promptly apologize, but explain that she can’t kill the wandering violins, as ugly as they are. I don’t bother trying to explain why. She wouldn’t understand. ---------------------------------------I don't know - Year 16 The gaps between when I write grow longer and longer. Never anything new to tell. ----------------------------------------February 1st - 11:24 a.m. - Year 18

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There's a postcard for me in the mail with the vaguely familiar painting of a moon being tickled by a long haired woman. I've been avoiding reading it all day. I know who it's from. Finally I can take waiting no longer, and pick it up. On the back is written this: I'm still alive, in case you were wondering. I have a job here in a mall, of all places, making sand sculptures in this giant sandbox of sorts near the entrance. They ask me to sculpt popular cultural images but a lot of the time I sculpt characters from your children's book instead. I didn't like the drawings or the story so I have been changing things around, hope you don't mind. Thanks by the way for making me God, by the way. I got a real kick out of that. Anyway, I am living the life. Hope you are, too. Moses He did not ask for me to write back, but I am going to anyway. I am ashamed of how much heart I am suddenly missing him with. I was overjoyed to hear from you, I will admit it. I'm sorry we lost each other after the storm. What happened to you, anyway? How did you escape? I have not been writing much anymore. The children's book brought in a lot of money. A lot. I agree with you about the illustrations and the story. I didn't like them either. It was not a good story to begin with and Elissa made it significantly worse. But everyone seems to like it regardless. Elissa has been busy with new authors. She's married to one of them. Ray Lamont, maybe you've read some of his work? He's a sappy romantic. Don't care for him much. Anyway, Elissa's not as interested in me as she used to be, and isn't pressuring me to write, so I've been comfortably living off the profits of my books, plus some money Caprice inherited from her father, who passed on recently. The three novels I wrote after the children's book weren't very successful. I didn't put much effort into them. Neither did Elissa. She doesn't have time to rewrite all of my efforts anymore, just change them around enough to give hope for sales. Although not much hope is left. Her and I still see each other once in a while, more frequently than we used to, actually. She's become a family friend more than a publisher. Rumy, my daughter, calls her Aunt Elissa. They get along really well because they both like to pick on me.

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The whole dream of travelling never really happened. We stayed right here, most of the time. Once Rumy was born I guess we lost interest in the hassle of planning trips. Anyway, I have been managing fine. I have a house on the oceanfront where you used to sculpt and am married to a beautiful woman named Caprice. We had Rumy thirteen years ago. You probably already knew this. It's been incredible watching Rumy grow up. She's very intuitive and creative. You'd like her. I'm pretty sure she's smarter than me. She's an artist. I don't know how much potential is left in me, but there is so much in her. It's relieving. I love her. I never thought this would be where I would be. With a family. I didn't think I had it in me to love like this, to want this. It is romance that has turned out to be what I needed. Imagine that? I thought writing was so important all of my life and now I can barely stand it. Although I have one more idea left in my head. It would be a story with a setting as a love interest instead of a person. I would call it Sea at Hill. I doubt I'll actually follow through with it but I might convince Elissa to publish a collection of my short stories, if nothing else. I don't have as much to say as you'd think I would after so many years. I'm happy, Moses. But why do I feel so guilty about it? Why do I keep questioning the validity of it? I fold the letter and leave it in my dresser drawer, not sure if I'll ever send it. ---------------------------------------March 17th - 6:00 p.m. - Year 19 The wooden floor tiles straight to her toenails. Camouflaged walk in a kitchen. Fish scales unbuttoned on the counter top. The steam of boiling water rises like vines of poison ivy stretching sunbound and itchy. She pushes it aside the same as she would open a shower curtain. Her hand cool and unaffected, slipping through the heat. Salmon suitcases dropped in. Like soap bubbles bubbling, salmon pink and naked, open. Dinner stops when our jaws stop, plates washed, belches excused, stomachs rolling in the fish's pink. My mouth tastes like

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vinegar. I wipe it on a napkin before she kisses me. We sit, hands held instead of words. There is this quiet dissatisfaction between us. As if we are out of love to give. Our marriage is stalled by the sea. In a house with stilts. A qualm on the beach. I wonder why we eat imported fish when we live right by the ocean. I ask her. It's the supermarket's fault, she says, and I ain't no fisherman so where else are we going to get dinner? Laughter warms us with plush arms. That's all it takes. I warm her with plush arms. Considering the wisdom over the years, the poetry in our hands, the knowledge of each other's skin and heart; I tell her I love her and finally mean it. For the first time. She rustles against my body. Lips find my neck. Don't ever forget me, she says. I don't know how I ever could. Ambrosial, her skin pleads. In the back of my head I hear someone say breathe. A chord strikes my lungs from my lips and I feel her there, in my throat. Music stuck in the current of memories. Am I creating or reminiscing? Her palms opened like proverbs, she takes me in.

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Chapter XVI

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Violet stretch marks ran up her sides like violent tire tracks. The moon sliced them up in mocking crescents. She found the slight indents of skin with her finger and wanted to pull it apart, a zipper to her armpit, a way out. Her sheets said shush. She pushed them up. She shook herself under the tent of sleeper's fabric and wished she were drowning deep in the dead skin cells that were filtering through the moonlight. She fell her feet from the bed and decided she had to go. Just like that. Impulsive. She went into the kitchen and turned on the light, wrote a hurried note, left it by Abe's pillow while he slept, then tiptoed into Rumy's room. The chapstick broke off her lips in the creases where she pursed before kissing her daughter's cheek. She watched Rumy pretend to sleep for a moment and then left. The light from the open door pulsed in Caprice's fleeing shadow. Rumy held the wax skin of her mother's lips in her tiny fingers and wept and wept a wonder. Somehow she knew she had been kissed goodbye. She turned over her pillow to its dry side after she had finished crying and hoped she was wrong. Her dream after that was long and made no sense. The rest of her life after that was long and made no sense. Caprice did not take any clothes. It was just her nightgown and the car. It was melodramatic. She creaked out of the driveway and sped toward the highway but never made it. She was trying desperately not to think. The radio was on a pop station that only played talk shows at that time in the morning. The overcast sky had sneezed itself onto the ground. She was seeing things. A face in the fog, like lips behind a cigarette. Her car parked itself in a ditch. The accident was monochromatic. Gray. She opened her car door and shifted through curtains of mist, her feet like planes in clouds. Skydiving on main street. Headlights shuffled toward her but couldn't see her. Clarity rolled up her body in a brief illumination. She realized she was the only color around, she was beautiful, she was only. =

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Abe woke up after dreaming about ghosts. It had been years since he so much as thought about them. He felt their smoky hands tugging at his blanket. He tumbled out of bed. There was no one there. He could hear them whispering. A static crackling in circles. He knew something was wrong. He put on some clothes and walked down the hall. He paused at Rumy's room. She was crying. He asked her if she were okay. She started crying harder. The sound of her sobbing made his heartbeat frenzied. He ran through the house, expecting to find Caprice slumped over in a pool of blood or passed out and drowned in the bath tub. He couldn't find her. He noticed her car was missing. Abe stopped still. There was salmon swimming in his stomach. He wanted to throw it up. He ran back upstairs and looked in her closet. Her clothes were still there. Everything was still there. He noticed a folded sheet of paper next to his pillow. The salmon crept its chewed up pink toward his throat. He kept swallowing. The ghosts were still whispering. They became louder and louder as he walked toward the pillow and picked up the note. This is what Caprice wrote to him: There wasn't a moment longer I could take. Tonight was it. I haven't told you so much and I have to before I lose my head. I am going to try and write this letter with as little emotion as possible, as quick as possible, so forgive me if I sound detached. But I'm afraid if I feel too much I won't stay strong enough to leave. I knew you when we were young. We grew up together. You forgot who I was, just like you forgot everything. When I read your first novel I recognized your name and even the photo. You haven't changed much since you were little. I found the number for your publisher and called. It was Elissa, of course. I told her how I knew you and asked if I could have your number so that I could talk to you. Instead she arranged for you to meet me in the butterfly conservatory, where I was pretending to work. I don't actually know anything about butterflies or flowers. She said I would make the best first impression on you if I was surrounded by bugs. I didn't understand but went along with it. It makes sense now. She was determined to have you fall in love with me so that you would put a love interest in your story. And I wanted you to fall in love with me because I was sick of every other man I have ever met. I had never forgotten about you. It was all set up.

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I'm sorry. When we were younger we were best friends. We were always together. Your parents didn't like me. I took advantage of your overactive imagination and convinced you that your house was haunted. I manipulated your mind. Sometimes I would show you Salvador Dali paintings from a book and tell you that the images in those paintings really happened in your house while you were sleeping. I did that with a lot of famous artists. You used to have nightmares every night. I told you that you couldn't be sure anything was real unless I was with you and to forget everything you saw when I wasn't around, that the ghosts would play tricks with you but I could protect you. I'm afraid I am the reason your memory is so terrible. Remember that ghost you saw in your attic with me? That was something I convinced you to see when you were young, too. I'm surprised you saw it again. When that happened I realized that you were still crazy enough for me to control you. I knew it was bad. Christ, I know this is all bad. But I couldn't help but take advantage of it. That's why I brought you to your old house, just to see how crazy you were, to see if I could manipulate you again. I've always loved you more than anyone else and I was afraid to lose you. This was a way for me to keep you for myself. When I was a kid I knew it was bad but I didn't know how bad it actually was. I had a fucked up life, Abe. I've never told you. I never will. But I absolutely needed you. And I needed you to need me, I guess. In fifth grade I moved to a different town and went to a new school and we stopped seeing each other. From what I have heard, that's when you started to forget everything. Supposedly you went crazy for a while, had to see psychologist and learn how to keep your memory intact. That's why you started writing so much. Ever since we started dating I've cheated on you. I love you Abe, but you are not much of a romantic. I needed sexual fulfillment. I hope you understand. That's all it was. Physicality. And when we still lived on that horrible farm and I said I got a job here and I was never home, it was because of a guy I was fooling around with. Sometimes I just stayed out there and laid on the beach. Anything to be away from that small room of yours on the farm. But as much as I hated the farm, I missed you. So I convinced you to buy a house out here. After we moved I kept cheating. But not as much. I fell in love with you. We got married, had Rumy, and I was so close to you that I lost all of my individuality. You consumed me. Did you ever notice that

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you almost never write about other people's lives? In all your notebooks, you only write about strangers and how they look, and how people relate to yourself. It's like I was just an extension of you. I read your notebook recently, and everyone was a character sketch, like none of us are actually characters to you. Even you are not a character. Anyway, when I slept with other men I barely felt it. I eventually stopped seeing them. And as much as I loved you it was too much. Too much. Too much. I was bored with being in love. You didn't write anymore. I would try and play tricks with your mind, to get you to write, to have some fun, but it didn't work. And when I tried to do something independent of you, I couldn't. I don't know why. Something kept tugging me back towards you. You needed more of me than I could give, and vice versa. One of the reasons I loved you so much was because of your imagination. No one else thought like you, talked like you. No one else was so in love with sound and colors and textures and motions and thoughts. No one else could see so much out of life that wasn't even there. You made me feel beautiful and see beauty in ordinary things. You made me feel encompassed in a world that didn't quite exist, but was so much better than what was real. But you started to lose it. These past few years have been the worst, the hardest to keep secrets. I tried to stay for Rumy but I don't love her enough, not half as much as you do. And I love you too much to lie to you any longer. And I can't be with you, I can't be sucked into you, I need to be myself. I need to stop relying on other people's minds and actions to satisfy my lack of character. Does that make sense? I feel like there is absolutely nothing to me. I feel like I am just an appendage of yours. And this must sound ridiculous, but I am so scared to leave right now because I think if you forget me then I will maybe cease to exist. But I have to try. I have to see what I am made of. I have to try and be crazy on my own, without your help. There's more to say but I can't write it. I've confessed the most important things. Please don't forget me. If anything, use this to write. I would love to read more of your books. Maybe if you write again I can come back and we can travel together, like you wanted to do but we never did. Maybe we can start over. No, I don't know. This will probably ruin everything. But I don't know what else to do. Don't forget. Caprice

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But Abe would forget. He could feel his mind unraveling. The sounds of the room became muffled. The colors started to blend together with paint brush strokes. He tried to focus on Caprice. He couldn't. He searched frantically for his old notebooks but then remembered they had all been lost. Except for one. He rushed to his dresser drawer, pulled it out. He opened the pages and wished he had written more. There were so many gaps. The words became blurred. He opened it to the last entry. He remembered the salmon and its pink. He thought maybe if he kept writing about Caprice he would never forget. Maybe he could fight to keep his memory in his head before it all leaked out. He grabbed a pen and managed to write one sentence before dropping the notebook to the floor. Her palms opened like proverbs, she takes me in. And then what was left of his memory left him in sixteen footsteps. A whole spectrum of chalk in windchime motion between the covers of skin and scent and plagiarism and noise and the deep blue you would find in the back of someone's iris and autumn and amethyst and auburn and forest furnished coffee table brown and a cloud shaped like a sneeze and antagonists and protagonists and tea, sugar, cream and letter home, and the words and the hills and the mouths and the sea and plain blue and dandelion and mute and sweet and soil and earthworms and toss and turn and fur and feathers and a qualm on the beach opened like proverbs with something along the lines of causerie inbetween. = Letters accrue from his knuckles to his wrists in fading sharpie marker. Learn how to play the harmonica. It's his handwriting but he doesn't remember writing it. A harmonica on his dresser but he doesn't remember buying it. The speakers are playing but he doesn't remember turning them on. His short and long term memory remain just out of reach most of the time. That he's been alive too long and he's seen too much is what he is thinking. And all that's left is the pink moon over the nameless hills and the nameless voice he hears from the speakers and the wandering violin wandering down the window and his room with the photos of the nameless that he did not remember putting where they are.

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He struggles down into a rocking chair and wonders what he has missed. Life is nothing without remembering what he did. There's just his unironed body and now, but somehow he knows there used to be so much more. A boy meekly enters the room. "Grandpa..." He is brightly welcomed. He looks about twelve and has freckles sunburnt under his eyes. His hair is the color of hay after rain. "Hello. What's your name?" "Liam." "Hi, Liam. Forgive me if I come off as being rude, but I can't recall my own name so I will be unfortunately unable to formally introduce myself." "Your name is Abe." "Oh. And you're my grandson?" "Yes." "That means I must be a father." "You are. You had a daughter a long time ago. Her name was Rumy." "Rumy..." Liam nods and sits calmly across from Abe on the creaky bed, his feet crossed and swinging. Abe watches him for a moment before getting a great big idea. A great big idea to recover his memory. A great big idea Liam has heard hundreds of times before. "Start back from the beginning, Liam. Tell me everything you know about me." So Liam does, in an almost memorized monologue. He tells Abe where he was born and about the hallucinations he had as a child and the consequential memory problems and psychologist visits afterward. The expectation of schizophrenia and the diagnosis of an overactive imagination instead. "You convinced yourself to forget everything that scared you, and I guess everything scared you, so I guess you forgot everything." His schooling, what kind of grades he got, his dreams to be an architect which he eventually gave up on, moving out west and working on his first novel, getting it published, Elissa and her quirks, almost losing his publishing contract because of an imaginary friend he had named Moses who he talked about constantly, Elissa sticking with him regardless because his book was selling so well. The hurricane, which only caused minor flooding damage, but Abe being too scared to go back to his apartment, leaving it and moving to the city with Elissa. Elissa kicking him out of the house

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after a few weeks and Abe going to work at a farm (where he also lived in a small room) for a farmer named Al. Al not liking Abe that much because he was too attached to the animals, spent more time talking to them than working, eventually firing him. Nowhere else to go, Abe using his money to buy a house on the beach close to where he used to live. His girlfriend, Caprice, coming with him and their eventually marriage and having Rumy. Abe still writing books without them selling so well. Caprice eventually leaving him and being killed by a car on her way out of town. Abe losing his memory and never being able to recover it for more than the briefest of recollections. Spending years in a mental hospital and being transferred to a nursing home as he got older, where he lives now. He hasn't done much more than eat and sleep since his wife died. Abe can vaguely remember those things. He nods with a solemn face and says he wants to start over again, even if it only lasts a couple minutes. Liam understands. He finds the bronze and silver harmonica on top of Abe's dresser and hands it to him, tells Abe to put it to his lips. Breathe. A chord strikes his lungs. He feels Caprice there, in his throat. He holds back a sob. For a moment he can not remember if he is creating or reminiscing. Liam is watching him quietly. Abe puts down the harmonica and asks to see the stories he has supposedly written. Liam goes to a bookshelf near the window and brings over an armful of books. Abe quickly skims through them before stopping at one with a picture of a snowman waving from a sailboat on the cover. He carefully reads the introduction. It is a note from his publisher and editor, Elissa: This last publication of Abe's he is unaware that I am publishing. It is my way of apologizing, although he may never understand the apology. I have to admit that every book of his that I published I drastically altered to the point where it was almost unrecognizable as Abe's. This piece I am leaving unedited. He deserves an unfiltered audience. He quickly glances over each chapter, noticing those fictions replacing facts. Liam waits patiently. He reaches the last scene. The ending. Her palms opened like proverbs, she takes me in. He keeps reading that line over and over. This is better, he thinks. With a finger quivering in tree branch motions he points toward his book and looks up at his grandson. "Next time I ask you about my life, tell me this instead."

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I can be contacted electronically at skyisacanvas@gmail.com for anyone interested in loaning another character for future use, although I can’t promise to give you back.

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Thank you to everyone who read this prior to its publication and helped with the editing process, especially Nicholas, who was the closest I had to a reallife Elissa, although he has been a much better friend.

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He picks those tired knees up high dropping flowers in pots that envy the gardens for being free while the gardens with their weeds envy the flowers with their thighs stunted but clean.

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