<%BANNER%>

How to Cleave

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PAGE 1

HOW TO CLEAVE By ELIZABETH CHRISTINE KAISER A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF FINE ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2006

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Copyright 2006 by Elizabeth Christine Kaiser ii

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To My Parents iii

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I am grateful to Mary Robison for her inspiring prose, dead-on insights, and wonderful encouragement, to Jill Ciment for her frankness and above-and-beyond guidance, to Padgett Powell and David Leavitt for their much-appreciated assistance, and to Kevin Canty for commanding me to come to this program. I would also like to thank my parents for their continuing enthusiasm, support, and unflagging belief in me. Finally, my appreciation extends to Anne Elizabeth Pries, my fellow writer and kindred spirit. iv

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TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS .................................................................................................iv ABSTRACT .......................................................................................................................vi HOW TO CLEAVE .............................................................................................................1 GIRL WITH HAIR ON FIRE ............................................................................................14 TO FILL .............................................................................................................................27 THE PLACE BETWEEN ..................................................................................................41 CAUGHT! ..........................................................................................................................64 FLOTSAM .........................................................................................................................79 WHAT IS MINE ................................................................................................................93 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ...........................................................................................114 v

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Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Master of Fine Arts HOW TO CLEAVE By Elizabeth Kaiser May 2006 Chair: Mary Robison Major Department: English This collection is made up of seven stories. In most of these, I attempt to explore an adult desire to return to childhood. The idea is that when this is proved impossible, people try and regain their child selves in other weird and creative ways. In The Place Between, a teenager mourns the loss of her childhood due to her mothers death, in Girl With Hair on Fire, a young woman who just cannot seem to grow up struggles to love and care for two children, and in What is Mine, the protagonist literally steals a kid. These adult characters seek to reclaim their own childhood pasts by dwelling on them, ignoring adult responsibilities, and just pretending that they are not actually grown-up. They all act like children, and all of them are obsessed with the notion that it was better, once. vi

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HOW TO CLEAVE My mother became a Hare Krishna in February, after everything good in winter had already happened, but before it had begun to get warmer out. My mother and I both loved Christmas and were sad to see it go, each year taking its passing as a loss. Afterwards it did not seem there was much to look forward to. So we were both in need of a distraction, and trying something new made sense. It did not seem so strange to me. The Hare Krishna faith is a serious religion and should not be taken lightly, as a hobby. But even so, this is how my mother treated it. She went to the meetings, which offered both the steps of conversion and impartial information sessions, but she did not change her lifestyle significantly. The only concession she made was to stop eating meat, and then only briefly. Even this she could not stick to, this small thing, for as soon as I complained it was back on the menu. Classes were Tuesdays and Thursdays from three to six. There was also a separate womens course which my mother did not choose to attend. After school I would pick her up and we would go to the class together, she attending while I did my homework. Afterwards we would go home and I would finish whatever I was working on and my mother would take to bed. February was one of her sleeping months. My mother was bipolar, and that is not something you recover from, not ever. As I understand it, bipolar disorder manifests differently in different people, but in my mother it was mostly a matter of energy. Some months she was happy, energetic and fun, always up for an adventure. These were also the months she did not sleep much. At other times she would get very, very down, dark and depressed, and was mostly asleep. 1

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2 In saying this, I do not mean to suggest that I hold a bitterness towards my childhood, or that my mother was a difficult person to deal with. She was not. And I feel objective in saying that she was the most charismatic person I have ever met. I believe this is how most people felt about her, and that it was the reason she got away with the things she did. My mother was beautiful in a glamorous, movie star-ish way, except that she was cooler-looking. When I was very small I went with one of my little friends to a Blondie concert. I remember thinking that it was my mother up onstage, decked out in sparkly spandex and a blond wig. She was small, with dainty, delicate bones. I did not take after her. I had my fathers horsey face, his long lanky body. I had his big teeth and coarse hair. That winter marked the first season of our lives together, just the two of us. My father had moved out the month before. He had had an affair and had confessed to it, and my mother had told him to leave. My father loved my mother deeply. He did not want to go. But my mother could not live with a man who had betrayed hershe would not tolerate it. I loved my father but I adored my mother, and was happy to have her all to myself. So I was not greatly distressed by his absence. Later, I recognized my devotion to my mother as the sort children have for a parent that they know is capable of leaving them, but this was not until a long time had passed, and I was grown, and it did not matter so much anymore. Looking back, it is a wonder she stayed with him as long as she did, that she did not get fed up with him earlier. She was a fickle person whose likes and dislikes changed frequently. She did not stick with anything long. But now she had finally gotten tired of

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3 him, and my father knew it. This was obvious in the tone she used with him, and the words she used, even the way she moved when he was in the room. My father had acted foolishly, but he was not a calloused man, just broken-hearted. This was clear to me, even then. But this was only one of the strange things that was happening that February. Another was that I found myself suddenly friendless. Over the summer my best friend Marti had gotten breasts, enormous ones, and with them a boyfriend, a lacrosse player with a crew cut named Kyle. With these new accouterments, Marti had moved up in the world, leaving me far behind. I was no longer cool enough to be friends with. The woman who ran the class was small like my mother, but older and leaner, with long graying hair. She was called Anirukh, but it was not clear to me whether this was really her name or just something she went by. I doubted it was the former. She was a white lady, not Indian. There were nine people attending the class including my mother, five women and four men. All of them were white and seemed yuppie-ish, a common enough type in the Bay Area, where we lived. The group could be divided into two sections: the serious and the non-serious. The division, in my mind, was based solely on dress. The serious ones wore robes (but only to the meetings, they changed after class), and the less serious exercise pants and a T-shirt, since yoga and meditation were part of the course. After he left, my father developed a habit of coming over to the house when he knew neither my mother nor I would be there. He still had a key. He would sneak in and

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4 make himself at home, turn on the television, have a snack. This was mostly Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, when we were at class. He was never there when we got home, but he would leave little tokens so that we were reminded of his presence. I think that he wanted us to know that he missed us, but he did not know how to show it properly. The apartment he was renting was across the street from his practice, so he couldnt use the excuse that it was easier to come to after work. He was very deliberate, very demonstrative, and never left the house without making a mess. He was gross about it. We would come home and find dirty pots caked in soup on the burners, cigarette ash on the onyx-tile coffee table, a half-eaten pastrami sandwich stuck between the folds of the couch. Once he left a beer bottle with an inch of liquid left in it, and while my mother was unpacking groceries from the car I took a sip. The beer tasted warm and like it was formenting, sort of rotten. It tasted like something I wasnt ready for. Classes were held in an old church that had been renovated and turned into a public meeting house. Our town didnt have any temples. The church had beautiful stained glass windows all along the outside, each one depicting a different event in Christs life. The one I liked particularly showed Jesus speaking to his disciples, and was done in all red panels. I would sit under it and work on my calculus homework, the only class that gave me trouble, and hope I was bathed in a rosy glow that softened my jaw line. I was concerned about what the class thought about me and didnt want them wondering, as I did, how such a gorgeous woman had managed to have such a lump. I thought it was funny that the meetings were held in a church, and on the drive home one day I mentioned this. I expected my mother to laugh but she just looked at me.

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5 Then she told me not to be such a snob. I was not a snob by any means although I longed to be one, and so I took this as a compliment. In my mind, only the beautiful and popular were snobs, and so from then on I said anything awful I could think of, hoping to be called a snob again, and so get a little closer to becoming the sort of person I wanted so desperately to be. Anirukh stressed a pure way of life: no gambling, meat-eating, or intoxicants. She stressed chanting, yoga, and meditation. This was the path to Enlightenment. She also stressed the importance of abstaining from illicit sex, or any sexual act that did not occur within marriage and with the purpose of conception. Otherwise sex brought about entanglement, exploitation, disappointment, and illusion. Illusion was especially important to avoid. If you followed these rules you would simplify your life and bring your mind and senses under control. At the end of each session, Anirukh would tell a story about the Lord Krishnas life from the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the summit of the ancient Vedas. She told stories about his childhood, playing with the cows and calves in the forest, about his journey to the ocean of milk and his adventures there. She told stories of Krishna witnessing Lord Visnu transform into a wild boar, and of his quest to rid the world of demons. She always began with, once upon a time, and she spoke in a soft, sing-songy voice, as if she were telling a bedtime story. During this time, one or more of the adults would inevitably nod off, but were not reprimanded because sleep was just another form of meditation. I did not sleep, however, and by the third week I had had enough of story time. As soon as her voice dropped a few decibles I got up to get some air. Outside, one of the men from the class,

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6 Bob, was already there. I thought he had said he was an architect. He was one of the less serious ones and was wearing a jean jacket and had a ponytail. He was smoking. Intoxicants were useless for spiritual realization, for although they could bend the mind they could not free it, but he was smoking anyway. Hi. He grinned pointing at his cigarette. Dont tell, he said. I wanted to say something but I didnt know what, so I just nodded. From watching him in class I had already deciphered that he liked my mother and was trying to feel things out with me. During meditation, when everyone was supposed to have their eyes closed, he would watch her. After class Bob approached my mother, and they talked. My mother had joined the class at least in part to meet men, so this was not outside the realm of what she wanted to happen. I was standing by the doorway so I couldnt hear what they were saying to each other, but I could see that Bob was gesturing wildly, and that my mother was giggling. The day after she talked to Bob, my mother showed up at school. It was lunchtime, twelve thirty, the worst time of day to be friendless. I was walking around outside, just wandering, hoping someone would talk to me. Ann! she stage whispered. I walked towards her. She was wearing a leather jacket and black jeans, a cigarette in one hand and one foot stuck in a crook of the metal fence. She looked like a rebel teenager from a fifties movie. I was thrilled to see her. I was probably the only kid in the history of high school who wanted people to see them with their mother.

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7 What are you doing? Come to lunch with me, she said. She sounded breathless. Lately she had seemed a little frantic, like she might be moving into her manic mode. I shrugged. Just getting some air. Go tell your friends, she said. I turned and looked behind me. She didnt know about Marti, about my new role as social outcast. My mother never suspected that I was not both breathtakingly beautiful and wildly popular, and if she did she never let on. Theyre kind of being stupid, today, I said. I think Ill just leave them hanging. My mother stomped out her cigarette. Right, she said. She winked. Be mysterious. We went to the Chowder House, a little shack built on a slant just down the street. Inside it was dark and warm, a cozy, wooden cocoon. We choose our regular seats in the booth with the tallest backs, the one farthest from the window. I ate a breadstick and waited for my mother to start talking. I knew why we were there. My mother was a strange woman in many ways but I was her daughter and she was no mystery to me. Bobs cute, Mom, I said. I like him. My mothers eyes widened. She burst out laughing. How did you know? she said. Ann! Sometimes I think youre positively clairvoyant. My mother confided in me. She said that she liked Bob, too, and that he had asked her to go on a date with him. She told me about everything she was feeling. She was like a girl that way, and we were girlfriends together. My mother treated me like an equal, which I found both empowering and tremendously flattering. She had wanted me to come

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8 to lunch so that she could ask my advice on what to do about the situation. She wanted my blessing, too, and to make sure that I was okay with her seeing another man. I told her it was fine. I did not particularly want my mother to date again, but I saw it as inevitable, and I did not find Bob threatening. He was nice enough and hip in a way, with his jean jacket and ponytail, but he was not aloof or striking or terribly interesting, as far as I could tell. He would not be able to hold my mothers attention for long. Then it was my turn to confess something. I thought about making something up, to say that a boy had kissed me at a party, but I had been to no parties that year. I was always at home, so I did not say anything, and she did not press me. After lunch I did not feel much like going back to school and so we decided to just go home. My mother didnt mindshe had been a spotty student and thought it strange that I was so dedicated. At home, there was a blue Volvo in the driveway. Dads here, I said. My mother sighed, then sucked air in sharply. Ugh, she said. Take care of him, will you? Will you, Ann? Ive got to have a smoke. My mother got out of the car and started walking to the backyard, and I nodded at her. It wasnt a problem--I knew how to take care of this. Inside, my father was sprawled out on the couch, his legs draped over one arm. He was still in his work clothesa beige suit and a darker tiealthough he had taken his shoes off. His hair was mussed, and his beard looked patchy and sparse. There was a piece of pizza on the ground without a plate and an empty box on the coffee table. Hi, Dad, I said.

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9 Ann, he said. Honey. How was your day? Fine, Dad, I said. I couldnt think of what else I should say. We stared at each other. I felt like I had caught him doing something embarrassing, like he was naked, sitting there on the couch. How was yours? I managed, finally. Oh fine, fine, he said. He stood up, and leaned down to pick up the pizza box. Listen, Sweetie, Ive got to gogot a late patient. Will you tell your mother hello for me? I said I would, and he kissed me on the cheek. The next week we went to class, and when we got home, my father was there again. We had Bob with ushe and my mother were going to a movie in an hour, and had come home with me to kill a little time. When I saw the car, I wondered if my father had sensed something happening, somehow, and had stayed on later to find out what it was. My mother saw the Volvo and rolled her eyes. I didnt have to say anything. Groan, she said. Double groan. She put her hand to her forehead. Again? she said. Again? I reached around to the front seat to pat her hand, and she took Bob out back to smoke. I could hear her as she walked, mumbling, its like hes my father. I went into the house to take care of things. I stood on the front steps and threw the door open, calling into the house. Hey Dad, I said. Come here a second. My father came out, looking surprised. Hi, he said. Hey, I answered. Did you know somebody smashed up the bird feeder?

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10 Really? he asked. Let me take a look at it. It was a crazy lie and as soon as I said it I regretted it, but I wanted him to see Bob, to show him that my mother had moved on and that she did not need him anymore. I wanted to stop the ritual of his coming over. It was a cruel thing to do but I could be cruel then, and remorseless. I knew I was hurting him but I did not care. I wanted my mother all to myself. I led the way to the backyard. My mother was pointing at something on the ground. Bob had his arm around her and they were laughing. I looked at my father. It was sunset, and his eyes looked strangely pale, almost translucent. I tried to make him look at me but he continued to stare straight-ahead, at my mother. Then he turned around quickly and walked out. A month into sessions, my mother threw a potluck for the group at our home. My mother was not the sort of person who threw parties that were not a success, and this was no exception. Everyone was there. She invited my father as well, and, because he was a glutton for punishment, he came, toting a casserole under his arm like it was a football. The party got off to a nice starteveryone was standing around and chatting, and a few people were smoking out on the lawn. I felt strange with all the Hare Krishna people in the house, and my palms were sweating. My mother didnt seem to need me to do anythingshe wasnt paying attention to anyone but Bob, so I went to the bathroom to take a break. I stayed in there for as long as I could without feeling weird, washing my hands over and over. I avoided looking in mirrors whenever I could help it, though, so I kept my eyes on my hands. When I came out, my hands were damp but they still felt

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11 sweaty. Back outside, everything had changed. It was a different party. Everyone was singing and dancing, and chanting uninhibitedly in a way I had never heard before. My father was sitting with a guy from the group, a skinny man named Ed who was playing the sitar. My father was completely engrossed, swaying his head to the music. He looked goofy and huge sitting with little Ed, too eager, like an overgrown toddler. Ann! he called. He waved at me wildly. Come over here! This guy can play Beethovens fifth! Come see! I kept my head down and pretended not to hear him. I felt sorry for my father and I felt badly about what I had done to him the day Bob was over. But too I was keenly aware of negative association, and I didnt want his weakness to bring me down. I did not think I could afford it. I kept walking. I went outside to sit with my mother, who was singing while Bob played the guitar, and when I went in to get something to drink my father was gone. He had left because no one was talking to him, not even little Ed, and he had not felt wanted. He had left because I had sent him away. Something strange happened at that party. Afterwards classes continued, but they met at our house now and not the church. My mother had become the unofficial leader, even though she didnt know any more than anybody else. That my mother was now in charge was clear to everyone, and they acknowledged it by consulting her, whether it was how much saffron to put in the rice, or which Krishna story should be told next at meeting. Everyone was feeding off of her energy, her charisma. Anirukh continued to run the meetings, but they were looser now, more fluid, and didnt stick to any sort of

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12 schedule. Most of the time everyone just sat around talking and chanting, or else they meditated. My mother was now dedicated to purifying her life, and she was earnest in her quest for enlightenment. She stopped eating meat and was chanting and meditating every day. March was still a sleeping month, which meant that, normally, she averaged sixteen hours a day, but that was no longer the routine. She stopped sleeping. She no longer slept through the day, and when I got up in the night to go to the bathroom or to check on her, I would find her on the screen porch in the lotus pose, meditating or chanting softly to herself. It was not just my mother. Everyone in the group was more serious. At meetings they greeted each other with, may you seek pleasure wisely. They stopped saying hi. They all wore robes when they came to the house, now, and most of the men had shaved their heads. Even Bob cut off his ponytail. There was something in the air that early spring. Several of the members quit their jobs. My mother had no job to quit, but she made a gesture that was equitable for her in shaving her head. This is not required of Krishna women, but vanity works against purification, and so my mother relinquished it. With her hair gone my mother looked younger, smaller somehow. Gone was my mother the movie star, in her place a tiny pixie. One Saturday, the group held a public chanting in the city park across the street from my school. My father came, and we sat together on a bench a few yards away from the dancers. They were dressed as a group in orange and yellow robes. All of them were

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13 dancing, some with bells on straps around their wrists and ankles, some beating tambourines. And they were all chanting together. Sitting at a distance from my mother, away from her, allowed me to see her clearly. She looked thinner, leaner, almost gaunt. Her beauty was more ethereal, now, less obvious. She looked like she might float away. She was moving slowly, raising her arms above her head and lowering them in soft, fluid strokes. Every once in a while she would take a graceful little hop into the air. She never looked over at us, smiled or waved, and I knew that, in one way or another, she would leave us both. A picture appeared in my mind of us, my father and me, stuck with each other, alone. Two little old maids. Might as well get used to it, I thought. I laughed. My father looked at me. Whats so funny? he asked. He had a strange look on his face, more a nervous smirk than a smile. I shook my head, and we went back to just watching. Years later I wondered what would have happened if he had asked me to dance, or I had asked him, or if we had chosen each other, for once, instead of my mother. Maybe nothing. In any case we did not, then or ever, not even when she left the Krishnas and got much much worse, and was not even herself, not really, anymore. We could have been of some comfort to each other then, but we did not choose to. And for a long time after she died, years and years, we held her so close to ourselves that we could not speak of her to one another, or even say her name.

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GIRL WITH HAIR ON FIRE The girl is surprised that this is her life. It is different now than how it was going to be but this has happened to the lives of many people she knows. She is twenty-eight and she lives alone in a big shanty house by the sea. She has saved up some money and is taking a hiatus from her hard, gridded life. She has been there for six months. She does not fear loneliness, but she is warned about it often. Her friends, they do not understand why she has left the City. To them it is the only place on earth. How could she leave the greatest place on earth?! They cannot figure it out. This morning, the daughters of an old friend and another woman she does not know have arrived to stay with her. The girl is not nave. Taking them in feels good and generous. It does not feel like the only thing to do. They are abandoned children, the children of mothers who have abandoned them. No lawyers, no services have been called. It is to remain a small town affair. The girl has failed to comprehend how this can happen but she is not the kind to make a fuss. It is not something people tolerate in her. The children are staying with her until it is determined what will be done. Babes in the wood, the woman on the phone had said. Little defenseless babes! Yes, the girl had answered. It was summer and there was sweat between her thighs. She wiped it away with a Kleenex. 14

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15 You are a good girl, the woman said. What a weight off my mind! I have been so anxious about who would take them! There have been many sleepless nights! Certainly, said the girl. Did you know that the children were playing outside when they left? asked the woman. They drove off right in front of them, in broad daylight. Like perfectly honest people. The girl breathed. I heard they were lesbos, said the woman. Poor defenseless creatures! Like little plucked chicks. The girl imagines the children coming in packages, little capsules, clear and egg-shaped, rolling off the train. There will be nothing to worry about because there are air holes, but they will have been jostled around. She will take them home and open them up. She will throw them in water and watch them expand. Even at the train station she cannot get herself to think realistically. She sees them and forgets about the money she has saved, the big shanty house. She forgets that she is twenty-eight. She thinks only that they will live in a tree house and survive on cheese and Ritz crackers. They will hunt robins eggs and shellfish. They will burn tree limbs for fuel. They are the only children who get off the train. The girl has seen the first child before, when she was just a wisp of a baby. Now she is a wisp of a girl. She has pale hair and eyebrows. Her friend is more substantial, with her bright yellow hair and a cherry popsiclecolored mouth. Her features are exaggerated almost to the point of vulgarity.

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16 I'm her life coach, she says, turning to her friend. Get your hands out of your sleeves! she says. That looks crazy! It looks like you don't have any hands! The girl is startled. She has not even noticed that the child has her hands in her sleeves. The child smiles shyly at the girl. She has a sweet, pinched face. The girls friends call. They do not know about the children. They are wondering how she is doing. You are missed! they say. We miss you! Me too, says the girl. It is too far away, they say, youre cutting out. Me too, says the girl. You are so far away, they say. It is like living on an island. Yes, the girl answers, it is. Wait, they say, Pull your antennae up. The girl adjusts her phone. She pulls the antennae up. What do you do out there all day? they ask. Make Bric-a-Brac, says the girl. Eat sponge cake. They sigh. I would like an oasis too, they say. My own little escape. The girl does not answer. You are so far away, they say. It is like you are living on an island.

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17 The girl has a lover who comes to visit her every couple of weeks. The man has other women, of course, but he comes to see the girl the most. When he comes, he brings her strange and important gifts that she would never think to give anyone. Once, in winter, he gave her an oyster shell with a real pearl inside. When the girl lifted the pearl to her face she saw that it had a hole running through it, like it had been taken from a necklace. It is summer, and this evening he arrives unannounced. When he comes, he arrives in a pea-colored automobile the girl thinks looks like a pretty bug. Reserved for fun time, he says. He opens the sun roof. He pulls her into the car, onto his lap. You're my steady, he tells her. Although this is not the colloquial use of the word, I feel that its transformed meaning retains my intended sentiment. The children are watching them from the porch. The girl kisses the man and laughs loudly, loud enough so that they can hear. She pokes the man in the ribs. Ho ho! he cries. Ouch! The girl hops out of the car. She is a nervous girl, full of insufficiencies. She is only in her late twenties, but already she is missing things. For instance: she has no drive. This she is sure she had at some point but there are other things that she is not so sure about but which have gone missing none-the-less. She fears that she is growing old too fast. She is a cautious driver, she is good at Bridge. When she closes her eyes, there are wrinkles on the insides of her eyelids. Taking a lover has made her feel productive, like she is getting her life back on track. The girl ushers the man in to dinner. She has cooked for the childrens arrivalpork, potatoes, peasinthepod. She has covered the table with a pretty cloth. The man

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18 and children sit down, and the girl sits too. She looks around the table, hopefully. She waits for someone to say something. The girl watches the children eat. The first child eats daintily, one small mouthful at a time. The girl imagines that she can see it moving slowly down her vertebrae, inch by inch. That she is clear as an embryo. Ive seen all this before you know, the other child says. Ive had a pina colata, and a rum and coke. This child eats like a teenage boy, like a little beast. The girl does not want to answer. She stabs a broccoli tree with her fork. She does not answer. She waves the tree in the air. Ive seen all this before you know, she continues. Ive been to Hawaii and Belize. Ive been to the beach a thouououou-sand times. She says this dramatically, like a rich woman in a play. This place is nothing new for me. The man is cutting his pork. He uses sure, swift strokes, like he is cutting something much more important, like somebodys chest. The man cuts his pork and looks around the room as if the children are not there, as if none of them are there. He cuts as if he wants to get it over with but also does not want to make a mistake. The girl loves to look at him. He has floppy hair and a wide, toothy grin. When she looks at him, she is reminded of a dentist who, when she was a child, removed her stubborn tooth. The tooth had been attached to a muscle, and the dentist had given it to her in a baggie to take home, for the tooth fairy. But the baggie was only white paper, like the ones used for donuts, and on the car ride home blood and saliva had seeped out. Now, the girl bites at her fingernails. She is troubled by the mans impression of the children. She bites at her fingernails and crosses her legs very, very tightly.

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19 After dinner he says: Theyre funny. I like the way they speak only when spoken to. This is his idea of a joke. He smiles coquettishly. He scratches the back of his hand. He is always itching. The man disappears up the stairs from noon until early evening every day he is with the girl. He is a poethe is writing a book of poems. The girl is not supposed to disturb him. At dinner time he comes down the stairs and yawns. He asks: Whats cookn, good lookn? When she asks him what it is hes writing, he says, I am writing poesie for my favorite girl, but she has never seen any of it. When she asks when she can see it he says, soon baby, and throws her a tomato or a spatula, whatever is handy. The girl is walking around the house, searching for the children and trying to remember the things her mother did to make her feel loved. There isnt much. She remembers her mother giving her whole halves of cantaloupe melon with the seeds scooped out. She put hot water bottles under her sheet. The girl does these things for the children, too. Sadly, the girl remembers mostly bad things. One thing is that her mother used to brush her hair. Once she had brushed too hard and the girl had told her: You are terrible at this, and her mother had hit her in the head with the back of the brush. Then she had covered the place where she hit her with her hand and held it there for a long time, like she was trying to suffocate it. The girl is thinking about these things because already she is making mistakes. For instance: today she realizes they have not had toothbrushes for a week. The children have

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20 not brushed their teeth for a week! This is the sort of thing she forgets. She has, though, prepared herself for questions. She has prepared herself for questions, but the children ask none. Children ask questions! she thinks. What could be wrong with them? They never cease to cause her worry. They ask only, When is dinner? And Where can we find shells in the sand? They ask, Where are the jellyfish? The girl hears voices coming from a closet in the hall. She opens the door because she is afraid they will suffocate. Its your fault, says the other child. It is all your doing. There is a silence. The girl hears a sound like a strap hitting wood. It is the childs birthday, and the girl has planned a party. She has baked a yellow cake and bought the child a watercolor set. She has decorated the house with things she has taken from the beach. She has hung pinecones and sea stars from the ceiling, and sprinkled pretty shells and rocks all over the house. She has lined the banister with seaweed. It looks like the jungle, the child whispers, taking the girls hand. She squeezes back. The girl feels that the child is an old soul. The other child is rash, loud. She does vulgar things with her eyelids. The girl has bought the child a gift, and she has bought the other child a gift, too. It is a tiny bowling ball with matching pins. The gift is not really for her but it is meant to ease the girls guilt. I already have this, says the other child. She puts her hands on her hips. I hate bowling, she says. Bowling is for the bourgeoisie.

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21 In the evening they go to the beach and the man makes a bonfire and Smores. He is telling the children as story. The children are watching him intently, as if any moment he is going to do something fascinating. The girl likes to watch the children watching the man. She is greedy with him but she is glad to have someone to share him also. It is a contradiction that she has grown used to because it will not go away, like mildew on the windows, like a scratch she has grown to love. The man asks the children what they would like to have in the story. Bunny rabbits! they cry. Dinosaurs in their underwear! The man lifts his eyebrows. Once, he tells them, I saw a man turn into a pumpkin monster before my very eyes. The man likes to tell the children stories with high shock value. The children sit back, satisfied. They cross their arms and kick at the sand with their feet. He had sharp leaf hands that could cut through anything, and he spit seeds out of his eyes. Here he spits across at them, over their heads. Wooo, he says. Woooooooooo. The man chases the children and bites their legs. Dont play rough, says the girl. She tries to smile cheerfully. She looks at the man and at the children. The sun is setting and everybody is pink. They are the same pink species. The girl looks at her skin and it is pink, too. The girl shivers. She is thinking about how she has not had a birthday party herself for many years nor has she been to one for many years. She remembers only one. The party was for a child in the girls class and was held on a boat. What the girl remembers best is that there was a magnificent pink cake with the childs name spelled out in pink icing. When the child went to blow the

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22 candles out, her father leaned over her and pushed her face into the cake, and little girls hair caught on fire. The father had meant to do it after the candles were out but he was too quick. The girl looks up. The other child has stopped running. She is coughing. She cannot stop coughing. She coughs all over the girls lap, all over the Smore the man has made. She drops the Smore in the sand. Arent there shots for that? asks the man. Why didnt she get a shot for that? It is very late at night. The girl is up, thinking about the day. She is freezing. She is not yet used to living by the sea. She is cold all the time. She cannot get warm. The girl tries not to disturb the man with her shaking. She makes herself think of pictures of those paintings with all the tropical flowers in them, of sunny patios. The girl lies awake, worrying about the child. She is restless with worry. The girl finds the child strange and troubling. In essence, she fears that the child is weak. If she could, she would give her own strength to the child, she would take her in her arms and blow into her belly button, filling her up with strength. That afternoon, when they were walking on the beach, the child picked up a shell and said, cold and dreary make the world pretty. She is always saying things that dont make sense like this. The girl wonders if it is wrong to leave her to her musings so much. Perhaps, she will grow up with false hopes. Perhaps, she will grow up seeing goodness where there is none. The girl sighs and the man stirs and turns away from her, flopping his arm across his eyes. She would not mind if he were to wake up. She would like it, for once, if they could have one goddamn conversation. The man is turned away from her but she shakes

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23 him and he wakes up. There are things to fear, obstacles to face, she says. There are forgotten obligations, missed appointments. Dark coves to swim through. Do not let the children trouble you so! he says. The girl pats his back. She sighs. She says: I have lines on my forehead but I have a good face and character and that is enough. Absolutely, says the man. Go to sleep. The girl gets up to walk the halls. She tries to tip-toe. She looks at the ground, watching her feet in order to keep them silent. There are stains on the floorboards. There are outlines of hands on the floorboards. And everything is sticky! Children are so sticky! She cannot get used to it. Every time she finds a new mess she thinks, Now when did I do that? So little of the house belong to her, now. The majority of the house belongs to children and the man. There are so many rooms! She cannot find the one that is hers. It is so large! It is a hollow, echoing place, full of unspoken sadness. It is cavernous and haunting. She is glad to have given it up. The girl comes to the childrens bedroom and crosses the threshold twice, like a night watchman. She goes into the room and stands, hovering, like a moth. The girl sits on the childs bed. She buries her face in the childs hair, and in the other childs hair as well. She whispers secrets--about the man, the other lovers she has had. They stir, as if they are listening, but they do not wake up. Children, she whispers. Is it not freezing? The girl waits politely for a response.

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24 The man leaves. He is gone for days and days. When he returns, he goes straight upstairs to work. The girl cannot help herselfshe goes up to greet him. He is sitting in his chair, facing his typewriter, away from her. The girl thinks that the man looks devastatingly handsome in his crisp blue shirt with the wide collar and stylish haircut. The girl walks in and sits on the desk. I can see you growing thin in this room, she says. I can see you dying. The girl sighs. She collapses into him, against his thick, undefined muscles. She puts her head on his shoulder. The man cocks his head to the side and smiles. Morbid, he says. Sexy. He pulls her to him. He grins at her and she begins to giggle. Then she begins to cry quietly. I am wild with cold, she says. Later in the day, the girl comes to see the man again. She has interrupted his work again but she cannot care. How she has missed him! He cannot believe how much! She dances around the house and claps her hands. She runs to the man and tries to make him dance with her, but he will not. I love you I love you I love you, says the girl. The man looks at her strangely. He lays one hand, slowly, on the desk. I am telling you the truth, she says. She grabs at his shirt. Take care, he says. This is a linen suit. Outside, something is tapping on the roof. He says: take care. Still, she clings to him. She will cling to him forever. When he throws her off, it is only to stop her pounding on his chest. The girl gets up and crawls towards him. She paws at his slacks where his calves are.

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25 You are a dull girl, he tells her. You grasp after nothing, and nothing grasps after you. The man stands up. The girl watches as his arms drop to his sides. His hands are clenched in anger, thick as gorillas fists. The girl is exhausted with heartbreak. It has taken it out of her. He is angry, she thinks. He is an angry, bitter drunk. The girl falls onto the bed. She must go to sleep. The child comes and curls up next to her, under her arm like a cat. She wants to braid their hair together. The girl thinks there is a reason why it is better if this does not happen, but she is too exhausted to conjure it up. When she awakes, she has the feeling that very much has occurred. She has had a dream in which they are all to go on a ride in the mans car. Outside, it is dark. In the dream, the car was quite small, small as a little beetle. How will they fit? They cant. Someone must stay behind. Youre it, the man had said. The girl wakes in a panic. This is terrible! There is something very terrible about being left behind. The girl rouses the child, who smiles. It is unsettling for the girl that someone would smile so soon after the dream. She tries to untangle their hair. It is cold. Their hair is almost the same color and is hard to separate. The child and the girl call all over the house for the man. The girl does not believe that the man has left her. Even when she sees that he is gone from the house she does not think that he is left. The girl wraps the child in a sweater. She is freezing, and now she must go out into the night to find her lover. She must find him and convince him that he

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26 is who she craves. That this should be enough to satisfy. The girl takes the childs hand. She is telling her something important. I have defined love, she says. The girl and the child walk along the beach. It is dark, and the wind has picked up a little. They watch the beach grass leaning as they walk. The girl holds onto the child, and the child looks down the beach as if there is an end. When the girl first spots the man, she is not sure if he is a dog, or a sand dune, or a pile of snow. When she approaches him, he does not jump up. He is talking to the other child and she is lying on her back on the sand. There are dark patches around her, on the left of her side and by her head. Her stomach is showing. There is more to her than this but in this moment all the girl can see is her baby belly. The man is telling the other child something useful-where to plant a juniper so that it does not get too much sun, how to cook a pasta dish. He is telling her how to board a train. The girl goes to the child and picks her up. She picks her up to carry her, but her grip is soft; it is like holding onto feathers. The child makes a sound and the girl stumbles but continues to walk. Something is winding itself around her ankles and tearing into the soles of her feet. The sand scatters. It is the hair and teeth of little refugees.

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TO FILL Grove is visiting his wife at the hospital where she has been admitted for another round of tests. Something in her brain is not right. It has not been right for some time, but only recently have they discovered it. Still, they do not know what is wrong with her. It has been five months of not knowing. Grove crosses the hospital parking lot. He walks in wide, exaggerated strides. He is playing a game with himself. He is taking giant strides and trying to keep his slippers, the slippers he always wears, day and night, from sliding off. He is testing whether or not he can keep the slippers on while taking such giant steps. To Grove, the parking lot seems very long but it is an optical illusionin fact it is short. The distance from the car to the hospital does not allow Grove enough time to collect his thoughts. Time, Grove understands, is not with him. Grove stops and turns, casts a wistful glance at his car. Groves car looks worn and comforting among the other, much newer automobiles. It looks like it is made of old cushions. Grove has seen men, older men than he, napping in cars while they wait for their wives to come back from shopping, exercising, chatting with other wives in front of home-style restaurants. Grove, too, would like to take a nap and wait. 27

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28 Grove visits his wife in the afternoons, after his late morning class and before his evening one. Grove is a professor at a small private college two miles from the home Grove and his wife have lived in for over thirty years. The college is best known for the student bodys involvement in the Vietnam War protests, but it is still a well-respected institution. Grove remembers this time as quite thrilling. He had so much energy, then. The students were exhilarated, dynamic. They were practically insane with excitement. Once, one of Groves students called him the Establishment and threw a can of Coke in his face. At the time, Grove had explained to the student that in fact he was less the Establishment than the can of Coke. The thought of this makes Grove tired. He couldnt manage that sort of effort, now. Youth has energy for such trivialities, he thinks. The old just wipe away the Coke. The hospital waiting room looks like the lobby of a hotel where he and his wife once stayed in Oregon. Same peppermint stick wallpaper, same citrus smell. The whole hospital is like a hotel. Heavy brocade curtains separate patients rooms, and the bathrooms have dishes of fancy soaps. Groves wifes room is the same. It feels to Grove as if it were once a plain room that has been heavily made up. Grove tries not to catch the eye of the people in the waiting room. Their faces are stricken with what seems to Grove to be more confusion than grief. They are all reading. Eyes bug out at Highlights, Glamour, the Times. Mouths hang open. A woman in a bright blue suit is talking into her cell phone in what seems to Grove to be a highly inappropriate tone of voice. She is loud, she is a loud woman.

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29 You must do them by hand! she screams. The Handover dish set can not survive the rinse cycle! No! screams the woman. No! Grove feels frantic. He looks around at the other people, and they are frantic, too. Such noise, Grove thinks, does not belong in a hospital waiting room. It is a place that is meant to be hushed and calm, where the noise level should maintain a hush. Unpleasantries, he feels, should be taken outside. Hello! says Groves wife when he enters, Welcome to the Villa Borghese! Grove's wife smiles at him. She is wearing a sweat suit with painted flowers on the top. Her face is shining as if she has just gotten back from a run. In contrast, Grove is gray and weak, old. His skin falls in loose bags off the sides of his face. Groves wife holds out her hands to him. Her hands are filled with tiny dish soaps. Who is this woman, Grove thinks. Who is this woman with all this joy. Grove sits down in a chair by the window. It seems the least obtrusive place, nearest the outside world. His wife puts her hands on her lap. She lines up the soaps across her knees, down her thighs. She is the type of woman who makes light of awful situations. Have you been chanting for me, darling? she asks. Groves wife has become a member of the hospitals eastern religions support group. She is now a member of half the support groups in the hospital. She is a support group junkie. Grove cannot understand it, how it could help. Grove feels that his wife has been taken in by a bunch of hoo-ha.

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30 Groves wife is wrapping and unwrapping the little dish soaps. The paper is thin, transparent. It seems to Grove utterly pointless. Groves wife rubs her feet together dramatically. She is not a subtle woman. It seems he has forgotten to bring her socks, again. It is shocking, even to him, that he should have forgotten. He is always forgetting things she has asked him to bring. It is just that he is home in such brief spurts, now. It does not feel right that he is there, alone, without his wife and daughter. Guilt follows him from room to room. It seeps in through linoleum and glass. It crawls in and gnaws at his throat. In the hospital room, nurses move in and out of the room in rapid, efficient waves. They are brisk, cheery people, capable and assured. They make minute, terrifically effectual adjustments (the pillow, the bed, the volume on the TV), that make Groves wife feel safe and comfortable. Grove stands to the sidehe tries not to get in the way. Still, his presence annoys them (it must!)he is weak, ineffectual. There is nothing he can do. He is a parasite on the peaceful internal workings of the hospital, unwelcome and unwarranted. An aberration. Groves wife is reading a poem she has finished this afternoon. It was the nurses who encouraged the poetry. Groves wife started in one of her support groups but it is the nurses who have kept her going. They smile when she reads, hovering over her like mother birds, stopping to listen. Groves wifes poems are filled with the best scenes of her girlhood, Midwest cornfields and the Prom, harvest moons. One in which she is howling at the moon. In these poems Grove is nowhere, he cannot be seen. Still, each time his wife begins a new poem Grove anticipates an outburst, a culmination of withheld blame. Grove braces himself against attack.

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31 Having an affair was certainly ill-advised, certainly thoughtless. And Grove is ashamed of it, it has brought him nothing but shame. But it was not, contrary to his daughters belief, contrary to what his wife must believe, a matter of love. He has not betrayed his wife in that way, to that extent. It was just a student, a girl, only, no one with whom it was possible to fall in love. The girl had been bored and looking for a scandal. He was selfish and eager for sex. It was as simple as that. It had lasted a few weeks, two months, tops. It was over before the Illness began. He would never have let it go on, further. There are things about Grove that are innocent. There are things for which he is not to blame. Groves wife stops reading. It is only a poem about her childhood, after all, about throwing out her sisters diary and feeling sorry afterwards. It is an awful, truly terrible poem. All of her poems are terrible. Grove would like to tell the nurses that his wife has not always been like this, that all their lives together until a certain point she has been bright. Grove tries to tell himself that he wants to defend her. Really, he admits, he is humiliated. I am a professor at a prestigious university, he thinks. I did not marry this silly woman. Grove cannot imagine when his wife became so stupid. In graduate school, she made better grades than Grove, scored higher on all the tests. She used to be clever. Once, on a road trip, Grove and his wife stayed in a rundown bed and breakfast. There room was little and shabby, all brown, splintering wood. It was completely unadorned except for a glass jar filled with pennies on the dresser. Do you suppose this is meant to keep us honest? his wife had asked, and then she dumped the pennies into her suitcase. Now, Grove takes his wifes hand. It is slickand

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32 clammy. It is wet with tears, but this is nothing new. Groves wife has always had the look of someone on the brink of tears. There is nothing new on this front. Groves daughter, Angela, knows of the affair. Angela was a student at the university where Grove teaches and, although Grove was fairly careful, found out. College is a gossipy place, Grove knows. Word gets around. It really was, now that Grove looks back, inevitable that she would hear. Neither Grove nor his wife have seen their daughter in a year. During this time she has married, divorced, and had a child. Groves daughter is twenty years old. She does not know of the Illness. She left before the headaches began, before the dizziness and the vomiting spells. In this year apart, Groves daughter has sent them one letter. It was brief and in large type. In the letter, Groves daughter included almost nothing about the baby. Only that it was chubby, that it seemed overly chubby for its age. Like walrus fat, she said. Grove is a desperate man. He does not love his dying wife. He is sick. All his feelings-those that he has about his wife, the hospital, his daughter--are shameful ones. Grove remembers reading somewhere, he doesnt remember where, probably in a doctors office, in a waiting room waiting to get his teeth cleaned, or his ears checked, something small like that, some safe, insignificant visit, that Picasso had not loved his dying wife, that he had had to be locked in the room with her, because he refused to stay by her deathbed, even in her final hour. And, Grove thinks, the worst part! Locked in the room with his dying wife, Picasso had covered his eyes. He could not even stand the sight of her, the woman he was supposed to love.

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33 It is the next day and Grove is visiting his wife. A woman in a bad wig is sitting outside her room, smoothing her dress and eyeing Grove. She is probably a cancer patient. She is sitting, she is acting like a bodyguard, like she is guarding the room. She is sitting very straight. Her wig is dark and sleek menacing, mysterious hair. The bangs fall over one eye. The womans round, guileless face looks trapped underneath it, like it is being kept against its will. Grove feels sorry for her. If shed let him, he would straighten the wig. Grove passes the woman and she stiffens. Groves wife is asleep. He clears his throat, and she opens her eyes. She seems to be in a bit of a delirium. There is sweat on her upper lip and she is shaking a little. Often, Grove finds her this way. She slips in and out in pulses. Lying and waiting, she says. Lying and waiting. What could be more contrary to my natural inclinations? Yes, says Grove. I dont know. Groves wife is rubbing her feet together, in her sleep. Still, she has no socks. She is already asleep. It is the pills. Groves wife is taking pills to clear her mind, they are supposed to clear her mind after a little while. Now they leave her foggy, though. Grove leaves to find a coffee and when he returns his wife is awake. She is wide awake, now. She looks refreshed, healthy, not sick at all. Her eyes are bright and her cheeks are flushed like they have just been slapped. He has been gone for ten minutes, at most. The transformation is startling. But this is the nature of Disease, says a nurse. She shrugs. Grove looks at the nurse. She is a big woman, boxy and chinless.

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34 Which disease are you talking about? asks Grove. The nurse stares at Grove. She speaks very slowly. This one, she says. Groves wife is eating her afternoon snack with a spoon. It appears to Grove to be a concoction of Jello and pudding. She is biting at it, chewing the pudding and the Jello together in quick, hostile bites. If only there were something more satisfying, she says. Grove nods agreeably. The spoon is hanging from her mouth. It moves as she talks, back and forth, like a pendulum. Grove brushes at his face, like he is brushing away a crumb. Still, the spoon hangs. Grove must keep himself from lunging at his wife, from grabbing the spoon. His lunging would terrify her, it would scare her terribly. This is the last thing Grove would do. It is a matter of spirit and will. I have a new poem, says Groves wife. She takes her notebook off the dresser. She looks at him coyly, from under heavy lids. Like she is flirting with him. Oh, wonderful! says Grove. He is loud and enthusiastic. He is a good, supportive husband. Groves wife giggles. She flattens her hair against her ears. She clears her throat. I wonder if his eyes are brown or blue? she reads. I wonder if he looks more like me, or maybe you? Grove closes his eyes. He clears his throat. Wait, Grove says, You just wait a minute. He wipes his hands on his corduroys pants. Grove asks: What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you?

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35 Marrying you, she says, she laughs. She does not miss a beat. She does not give the question a moment, a breath, to sink in. Im going out for a moment, says Grove. Oh, Richard, says Groves wife. Dont be a moron. Grove walks outside. He is just stepping out for a moment. Outside, the hospital smells like sewage, like there is a sewer nearby. There are tables and chairs, like outside a restaurant. They are mostly empty. A young man in green scrubs is sitting alone at a table. He is patting his cowlick over and over with one hand. As far as Grove can tell, he is just sitting there. Grove walks to the table. He sits down. Oh, the young man says, Its you there. He smiles. He has big, sorrowful eyes, like a newborn calf. Its nice to see you, he says. The young mans voice is flat, exhausted sounding. His interest in Grove does not seem intense. Grove cannot tell if the young man recognizes him or not. When he smiles at Grove, deep grooves form at the corners of his mouth. Grove watches the young man and waits. It is clear, now, that he has been drinking. The young man puts his head in his hands. He looks at Grove through parted fingers. We continue to try, he says to Grove. We continue to try, and we do not give up hope. The young man pounds the table with his fist. Its just that the ailment is so elusive, he says. It is a trickster, a sneak. It moves constantly, evading us. The young man looks at Grove. We have not given up hope, he says. The young man smells of cigarettes. Grove would like to bury his face into his chest and breathe deep. He is wearing a nametag that reads: Dr. Aspestos, but that

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36 cannot be right. Imagine, thinks Grove, a doctor whose name is so close to that of a deadly poison! It cannot be right. The name is so unfortunate, wrong. It is meant to be hidden away. Grove has a strange, sudden affection for the young man, this young man with the poison name. It is odd and surprising. The things in this world most precious are hardest to determine, Grove says. The boy looks out into the parking lot. He takes a bottle of whiskey from under the table. Thats the downside, he says. He takes a drink. Yes, says Grove. He looks at Grove, dead on. He hands him the bottle. Thank you for coming, he says. We appreciate your much needed support. Grove gets onto the highway heading away from the university. He speeds. He turns the radio up. He is a teenage boy, wild and reckless, with much to lose. He drives to a house in a neighborhood he never goes to, a neighborhood he has no need to visit. Grove takes the whiskey and hops out of the car. He surveys the lay of the land. He puts his hands on his hips. He takes a swig of whiskey. The house is the picture of a decrepit housesagging roof, peeling paint, some skeletal furniture on the porch. Broken tree limbs line the walk. It is large and looming. Grove came here once with the student. They came for a party. Grove cannot remember what it looked like before. Probably like this. It is dark inside the house but still Grove can see that much of the floor is covered with glass. Grove is afraid of cutting his feet, but he kicks the glass anyway. Perhaps he wouldnt mind getting cut, really. What, really, would be the harm? Grove cannot think of any substantial reason. The inside of the house is just one big open space. There arent

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37 any rooms, just one room. The last time he was here the place was empty but now there is a double mattress and a metal card table. Grove kicks the table and flops down on the mattress. He lets his slippers fall on the floor. Coming to the party had, of course, been a mistake. It was ridiculous, really. His was a conservative university; he had put his job on the line. He had exercised no discretion, and he had not cared. It was only that he was infatuated with the infallibility of the youth that surrounded him. He had believed in its power. Grove thinks of the young man. Although he spoke with the boy for only a few moments, his affection for him is somehow near to his feelings for his wife. Somehow, the feelings are similar. How swift and strange is the moment of human connection, Grove thinks. Grove thinks of the bond formed between survivors of peril. People who have suffered plagues, crashed airplanes. Sinking ships. It is a care, Grove thinks, built on mutual emergency. Grove looks at the ceiling. The mattress is cold and damp. It has the hard/soft firmness that Grove thinks of when he thinks of snow. Groves face feels very hot, like he is holding a lamp underneath his chin. He moves his arms back and forth, like he is making a snow angel. Grove thinks of his daughter, bitter and world weary. She has probably been to houses like this one dozens of times. She probably finds them commonplace. In fact, Grove thinks, she is probably in a house like this right now. A mans purpose in this world, Grove says aloud, is to be a father. Grove clinks the table leg with the whiskey bottle. He toasts. To breed, says Grove. To sire.

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38 Outside, the noise of birds and cars blend together, making a sound that is monstrous, terrifying. This is how I will be when shes dead, he thinks. Drinking whiskey in an empty house, lying on a mattress alone. Grove can feel fact and fiction turning around each other in his mind. They are getting confused. He is very angry at his daughter. How could she bring a baby into a place like this? he thinks. My daughter, thinks Grove. A mistaken person. Grove sits up, puts on his slippers and walks outside to the porch. The sky is darker than it was before he went inside, but only in spots. Grove grimaces. He leans over the railing to hawk some spittle. How gloomy, he says, this visit has turned out to be. Grove gets into the car and turns on the radio. Leaving the house has made him feel renewed, like he has barely escaped some specific, terrible disaster. Grove thinks of his wife, whom he should love. He thinks that when she is gone he will frame her poems and put them in his office. He would like to do something for his wife, this good woman. Grove thinks of the socks. He drives to a department store in a shopping center near the hospital, the nicest one he knows of. Inside, the department store is basically empty. Grove cannot see any salespeople, any customers anywhere. A girl with large red hair is shouting obscenities at her little redheaded mother. The woman is holding a sweater up to her daughter, turning her torso

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39 back and forth, like she believes that if she finds the proper angle the sweater will look all right. I would never wear this, says the girl. You know when Id wear this? Never. The girl bugs out her eyes. They are dark and shrewy. She has so much hair. It covers most of her large face. Never, she says. Never is when Id wear this. The girl shoves the sweater at her mother. You would wear this, Mother, says the girl. The girl reminds Grove of a doll he once brought home when his daughter was a little girl. The doll had wild red hair, just like this girl. When his daughter saw the doll, she burst into tears. She was terrified. Groves wife had reproached him. The doll he had selected was an awful doll, the worst. It was terrifying. How could Grove not have known? Grove moves past the women quickly. He wants to be away from them--they are loud and upsetting. The selection of socks seems a private thing. Grove looks around. He pats his cheeks, which are still warm. There is really no one there, really. Grove fills his coat with socks, all the socks that seem pretty, the socks he thinks his wife might like. He stuffs them in his pants pockets, under his armpits and at his waist. The socks feel secure, comfortable. Like they are meant to be with him. When Grove returns to the hospital it is night. He feels solid and triumphant, as if he has conquered something, something that was necessary to conquer. Grove tromps through the hospital, carrying the socks in his arms. He is reminded of a story in which a man and a woman give up their most prized possession in order to buy gifts for the other.

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40 Each lover seeks to fulfill the others greatest wish, and in the seeking, much is given up. The gifts bear the marks of sacrifice and a great love. When he reaches her, Groves wife is bent over something. Grove cannot see what it is. Grove goes to his wife and lets the socks fall out of his arms, onto the bed. I come bearing gifts of sacrifice and a great love, says Grove. He beams. Groves wife looks up. She is crisp and white, whole and innocent as an egg. She looks at the socks, and at Grove. She shifts and a pair drops to the floor. She bites her lip. And there they are, unquestionably, pity and fear, and the final, impenetrable judgment they bring with them. Pity and fear. Distinctly.

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THE PLACE BETWEEN She probably should not have been there, for escapism was no way to deal with grief, but her brain wasnt working right, not like it should, and she hadnt been able to come up with any other alternatives. The alternatives she could come up with were terrible, dark and disturbing, all wrong. They were too embarrassing to even say out loud, let alone follow through with. Her mother was dead. This was the beginning and the end of it. And she would never not be dead, not ever. There was nothing she could do. Now she was spending the summer with her friend Annabelle, traveling with Annabelles grandparents on a houseboat, going down the Snake River in southeastern Idaho. They had been together on the houseboat for three weeks, but had been friends for a very long time, now, since they were freshmen. Next year they would be juniors. Originally, Annabelle had invited Jane on the trip to keep her company, but after what had happened, she didnt expect her to still go. It was Annabelles grandfathers houseboat. He had won it on the senior citizens episode of a popular gameshow, along with an orthopedic Stairmaster, several large pieces of scuba equipment, and a cherry wood bed set. There were also a number of miscellaneous items collectively valued at over three hundred thousand dollars. The houseboat was a deluxe edition, as modern as they come. It had a main room, little kitchen, and two small bedrooms down below. The grandparents kept the prizes in the 41

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42 main room, categorized into piles and lined up neatly along one wall. They seemed to be under the impression that it was important not to separate them. The routine was that they would cruise for a few hours in the morning, Annabelles grandfather at the helm, and stop around noon. They spent the afternoon lounging on the deck, and in the evening would either barbecue or stop at one of the little town for dinner. So far, Annabelle and Jane had spent the summer lazing around: tanning, taking beauty magazine quizzes, grumbling about being bored. Mostly, though, Jane slept. She felt that a segment of her life had run its course, in a way. She was taking a break from it. It was noon. Annabelle and her grandparents were out on the deck, sunning themselves on beach chairs. Jane walked out and gave everyone a little wave. No no no no no no No, Annabelle said. She was lying on her stomach on the lounge chair, staring at Jane. She was wearing a bikini and large, octagon-shaped sunglasses. You cant wear that! Youll never get tan that way! Jane looked down at her shirt. She liked it. She had found it somewhere-it was probably her stepfathers. The caption read, Boogie Boards U.S.A. The T-shirt featured a green lizard, riding high and proud above a blue, blue ocean. Jane. Darling, Annabelle said. She sat up. I know that, right now, it might seem like the universe is suggesting the Goth look, but that doesnt mean you have to listen. There is absolutely no reason you should have to embrace such a dismal palette, not least of all because its completely wrong for your complexion. Youre an autumn, for Gods sake. Plus, its unhealthy! You need sun. Most depressives get that way because of a lack of sunlight, you know.

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43 Annabelle pointed to the sliding glass doors Jane had just come through. Her sunglasses glinted. Insidenow. And dont come out until youre wearing something decent. Borrow one of my suits if you have to. Jane went into the bathroom and put on her swimsuit. What Annabelle had said to her wasnt surprising. This was Annabelle's idea of a pep talk. She was trying to be helpful, Jane knew that. Somewhere along the line Annabelle had come under the impression that this was the way you talked to people. Her technique lacked sensitivity, sure, but it worked. And she wasnt mean, not really. Annabelle was pretty, demanding, and naturally authoritative. It wasnt her fault, she was used to getting her own way. In the vapid milieu of high school thats just the way things worked. Jane looked in the mirror. She didnt like herself. It was hard to, under the circumstances. Fate had decided she didnt deserve all that much. Two days before school ended for the year, Jane and her mothers second husband, Pete, had allowed her mother to be taken off life support. Pete had asked Jane if she was ready and she had said yes. In May, her mother had gone in for knee surgery, something everyone had referred to as routine, and never recovered. She just hadnt woken up. At first the surgery had gone well. And before her mother had been declared brain dead, the surgeon had been very excited to see the results. When she didnt wake up, Pete pretty much lost it. The funeral had been terriblefull of her mothers acquaintances Jane didnt know and did not care toand afterwards Pete had taken to bed, and had been lying there, crying and lethargically fondling her mothers things ever since. Once, before she left, Jane had found him lying on the ground in her mothers closet, one of her dresses wrapped around him like a blanket. He had

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44 taken things terribly. Really, Jane had come on the trip to give him a break. He didnt know what to do, how to handle her. She was letting him off the hook by leaving. Jane returned to the deck to lie down. Jane, Annabelle said. You havent told us yet. How are you feeling today? Annabelle was giving Jane one of her concerned looks, the one that made her eyes look droopy. Fine, Jane said. She wanted to laugh. Annabelle had been acting like her caretaker the entire trip, treating her like she was a sick baby. It was pretty funny. Jane appreciated it, though, thought it was sweet, even though she knew Annabelle wasnt being entirely selfless. Annabelle was going to be an actress. For her life was a stage--every event offered a role only she could make the most of. Annabelle was practicing on her. Jane pulled up a lounge and lay down. The grandparents didnt look up, stretched out in matching bathrobes. They were weirdos. They drank all the time. They never asked how she was feeling. In fact, they seemed to have genuinely forgotten that Jane was in mourning. At first, Jane had thought they were trying to be considerate, that their silence was meant to be quietly reverential. But after the first few days they began to talk more, and Jane began to get the feeling that probably wasnt it. Their conversation was made up of horrible things, upsetting things. They seemed to have a real penchant for tragedy. This was chitchat. That morning over breakfast at a pancake house, Annabelles grandfather actually read out loud an entire newspaper article about a woman who had been mauled to death

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45 by a black bear in the state park. It had torn her up pretty much limb from limb. Later it was seen running, a womans braceleted arm dangling from its mouth. Isnt that awful! Annabelles grandmother had cried. That gruesome fiend! Her white hair stood straight up around her head in a little poof. She dabbed at her forehead with her napkin, reaching for her glass. She was blushing for some reason. At least hes not still on the loose, she added. Everyone nodded. The bear had been captured, thank goodness, and promptly put to death. Thankfully, he had gotten his comeuppance. It says here the bear was probably attracted to the sweet smell emanating from this womans purse. Now what would a bear want with a ladies carry all, do you think? Annabelles grandfather lifted his vodka tonic and pointed in Janes direction. Let this be a lesson to you girls, he said. For safetys sake, dont go toting around a lot of unnecessary, good smelling products. Leave your chewing gum, vials of perfume, and scented sanitary napkins at home. If you must, gurgle a little mouthwash before you leave the house. Instead of going with boys who only want to nibble at a lily-scented neck, choose beaus who like you for your sparkling personalities. Its better to be a little smelly on a date than dead on one. Then Annabelles grandmother had piped up that the restaurant greeter had said that there had been a rash of break-ins on the river. Apparently, the thieves struck whether or not there were passengers on board. Its really bizarre, what theyre taking, Annabelles grandmother said. They seem to be after anything, anything. They filched a pair of dentures right off of

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46 somebodys nightstand, and one of the boats that stopped over last night complained they were missing their total number of wastebaskets. Annabelle had looked at Jane apologetically. All this while she had been trying to get her grandparents to stop talking. She had made faces, kicked shins. She had tried acting gently, subtly, but to no avail. The grandparents were resolutely clueless. Poor Annabelle, Jane thought. She really did try. Annabelle was clearly mortified, but Jane felt relieved. She was glad they werent making a big deal about things. Her mothers death felt like a private matter for some reason. She didnt want to talk about it. Now, on the deck, Jane looked at the grandparents. She didnt know if they were just drunk or crazy or what. Probably both. The houseboat was on autopilot. It meandered lazily along, occasionally bumping into something invisible beneath the surface. Jane lay on her back, watching the scenery as it moved slowly by. The Idaho landscape was pretty bland. There was really nothing to look at. Everything was wheat-colored. The hills, houses, and trees were the same shade of a lightly toasted biscuit. Even the people were yellow. They were all blonde and sallow-looking. Annabelle found Idahoans terribly interesting. She was fascinated by what she referred to as the farming poor. Jane had to admit that the people they passed did look poor, and that a lot of the houses looked pretty run-down, but she didnt want to encourage her. Once, when they passed a little naked boy, Annabelle threw a nickel at him. Jane? Annabelle asked. She was bent over a magazine, circling something with a green pen. Jane lifted a finger to show shed heard and then shut her eyes again. She

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47 didnt want to answershe wanted to be left alone. She was so tired, so tired; she knew if she could just keep sleeping, everything would be better. Jane! Annabelle said again. Think fastwho would you rather date? A Johnny Depp look-alike with a motorcycle or a Kurt Russell double who owns a horse ranch? Jane tried to open her eyes. She couldnt. What? she asked. Who would you rathershe stopped. Oh never mind, Annabelle grumbled. Im putting you down for the second one. Jane knew that Annabelle was frustrated with her, but she didnt have it in her to apologize. Annabelle was always piping up about something, pointing out something they were passing or asking a question, but she usually quieted down again pretty quickly if Jane didnt answer. She was always working hard to get Jane to participate. Sometimes even when she refused, Annabelle found a way to make it happen. Once, Jane awoke to find that Annabelle had French-braided her hair and was busy painting her toenails a particularly vibrant fuchsia. When the summer was over, Jane would return to Seattle to live with Pete. He was her legal guardian, now. Pete and her mother were married for four years. During that time, Pete had legally adopted her. Jane had always thought it was really nice of him to take the trouble. Jane looked at the water, trying to conjure up memories of her mother. They were getting fuzzyalready they were slipping away from her. Once, her mother had refused to pay a cabbie when he couldnt produce correct change. It was right before Christmas and they had gone to see the Nutcracker Suite. Jane could remember standing in the cold, shivering and telling her mother to hurry up. Was that something worth remembering?

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48 From one perspective, it portrayed her as demanding and miserly, but from another, as tough and smart. She could think of it that way, Jane thought. She didnt have to think about it the other way. She just wouldnt think of it that way, is all. Jane tried to think. This was important. She felt that if she didnt catalog what she remembered, keep track of them in some way, that they would be gone forever. Memories were fickle, fleeting things. They had to be captured, pinned down. They werent just going to pop into her head, say, five years from now. Jane sighed. It would be nice if she could remember at least one of her parents. Jane had grown up fatherless. She didnt know anything about her father, really. He had died when she was a baby. And now her mother was dead, too. The day of the surgery, Jane didnt even think about the possibility of it not working out, it didnt even cross her mind. Her only thoughts were that it was a stupid idea, and that her mother looked fine the way she was. What she didnt think was, my mother could die today. She didnt prepare herself at all. Jane was already forgetting her mother. There were things, important things, she had already forgotten. Her mothers voice, the way she moved her hands, everything. It was all going. She couldnt even remember what her mother smelled like. Jane wished she had brought something of her mothers with her, a lock of hair or something. Or maybe that was creepy. She guessed it was, creepy, but she couldnt tell for sure. She didnt have a good gauge for that sort of thing anymore. Jane fell asleep. When she woke up, Annabelles grandfather standing over her, reading aloud from Anna Karenina. He was yelling, really.

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49 Oh how dreadful! he cried. And the way she was dressed, how unladylike! Annabelles grandfather had been reading to them almost everyday for the last three weeks. The novel had seemed an odd choice at first, especially since she and Annabelle had had to read it the past year in school, but that had stopped bothering her pretty quickly. It was soothing, being read to, and when she could get herself to concentrate, it was a nice escape. This world was like a fairytale, it felt so foreign to her. Everyone in the story was so emotional. Those Russians! They were always weeping and fainting, challenging each other to duels. It was all so dramatic. Jane didnt feel that way at all. It was like she had skipped the first few stages of grief and gone straight to bitter resignation. She felt that the other parts of her reaction were inside of her but that they had burrowed too deep, she couldnt get to them. It was like there was some sort of gunk inside her, stopping her up. She felt that she should be fighting something. Tolstoys characters were always running after evil doers and taking them down. They were always avenging someone. She sensed that she should be fighting something, but she didnt know what, and she didnt have the energy, not really, to do anything about it. She should hate Pete, but she couldnt because she felt sorry for him. She felt sorry for everybody. She even felt sorry for herself, but in a removed, distant sort of way. It was the same feeling she got whenever those had for those orphans from Zimbabwe or Lithuania or wherever when they came on TV, asking for food or money. She was like a little lost girl, far away from herself, in need. I am very well and happy, Annabelles grandfather read. If you were worried about me, you can be easier in your mind about me now. I have a new bodyguard.

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50 Jane looked down the river. Parked along the bank a ways down, another, smaller houseboat was moving strangely. Something red, a nightgown it looked like, went sailing over the side and into the water. The boat shook hugely, rocking from side to side. Then it stopped. Jane blinked. She thought she heard someone shouting, but it could just as easily have been rock musicshe couldnt be sure. Reality was so tenuous, now. There was not so much difference, these days, between her waking life and when she was dreaming. They blended together. Each came upon her timidly and with a sort of slowness. It was difficult to tell. Jane had been having dreams about her mother. In one, she and her mother are watching a movie, and, in another, they are selling cookies at a school bake sale. All of the dreams center around everyday activities, and most go off without a hitch. A few, though, involve some sort of problem, but they are always silly, inconsequential. They are sitcom disputes, easily resolved before the dream is over. In the bake sale dream, inquiring customers refuse to buy day-old cookies and she and her mother force them to, anyway. In another, her mother steals an ugly scarf from a department store and then leaves, the two of them running and skipping and laughing together. All in all they are mundane, uncreative dreams, as boring as they come, but they made Jane feel a little better, at least immediately afterwards. At the same time, if she thought about them too much, the dreams made her feel worse. At some point she had had to admit to herself that they were wishful thinking, only, not in fact a conglomeration of things that had actually happened. Jane had never done those things, any of those things, with her mother when she was alive. Her mother was always busy with work, and, later, with Pete. Jane was spending more time with her mother now that she was dead

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51 than she ever did in real life. There was something clearly wrong with this, she knew. She didnt want to think about it. Jane sighed. She felt pathetic. She was so pathetic! There was really something wrong with her. It had become evening. The sun was setting slowly beyond the unremarkable landscape. Jane was alone on the deck, watching it. Inside, Annabelle and the Vermiskis were in the middle of a heated game of Texas HoldEm. Jane had not been playing well and had been booted. Across the water at the edge of the bank, the baptism of a young girl was being performed. Jane wondered if the people were so poor that they couldnt afford a proper church, or if it was that they knew so little of the world that they were under the impression that this land was beautiful. Jane watched the pastor submerge the girl and then slowly bring her back up again. Jane found the whole concept of baptism pretty intriguing. One minute you were eternally damned to hell and the next you werent. That was the miracle of faith, she knew. It was amazing, if it was true. Jane didnt know. She didnt know anything about religion, really. She hadnt been raised Christian. They hadnt gone to Church, or anything. Jane didnt think her mother had believed in God. Once, when she was really little, Jane had asked her mother where she thought God lived. It was morning and they were about to leave the house; Jane for kindergarten and her mother for work. They were standing in the hallway, Janes mother with her briefcase and Jane with her little red backpack. They were late, probably, and her mother was either flustered, or annoyed, or both, and without looking she had pointed at a little spider plant sitting on the entryway

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52 table. There, she had said. It was a ridiculous thing to say but Jane had been so little at the timeshe believed it, and consequently spent her entire childhood scared to walk by it, and she never did anything bad in front of it, not ever, not even pick her nose. Jane dangled her feet in the water. She had always hoped her mother had meant something more, although she probably hadnt. It was afternoon, again. It was some day, she didnt know. The days all blended together, she couldnt tell them apart. They felt momentarythey were short lapses between sleeps, only. Inconsequential. Annabelle was bent over a magazine, scribbling crazily. She was quizzing them again. Earlier, Annabelles grandfather had been reading to them from Anna Karenina. They had reached the part where Anna heads for the train and Annabelle had interrupted. Youre stranded on a desert island and you have one creature comfort along with you, she said. Would it be your diary, the teddy bear your boyfriend gave you for Valentines day, or your Standout Complexion compact by Max Factor? I would absolutely shun existence without that particular piece of make-up, Annabelle's grandfather said. He winked at Jane. So that. Annabelle frowned. Oh, it's just a stupid ad, isn't it? She put down her pen. You guys suck. Why didn't somebody tell me? Annabelles grandfather was staring at Jane. On her head, in the black hair that was all her own, she wore a little crown of daisies, he said. He took a sip of whatever he was drinking. Doesnt our Jane remind you of Anna? Grand-pa, Annabelle said. She looked horrified.

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53 What? He looked at her. He turned to Jane. Its a compliment! Anna Karenina is one of the most remarkable heroines in literature, hands down. Annabelle glared at him. Now listen, Jane, she said. Youre nothing like that woman. Sure she is, her grandfather said. Those high-cheekbones, black curls, those haunting, hollowed eyes Grandpa, shut up! Annabelle cried. Annabelles grandfather looked startled. Then he took a drink. Jane, Jane, Ja-Jan-ie, he said. He fell silent. After a while they went inside, leaving Jane alone. Soon the houseboat started moving, someone having taken the wheel. Jane smiled to herself, thinking of Annabelles calculated interruption. Clearly, she didnt want her getting any ideas. Jane laughed out loud, thinking of it--Annabelle made such a funny little mother hen. Anyway she had nothing to worry about. Jane had considered suicide but had rejected it. It just didnt seem that satisfying. You felt like you were really solving something for about one second, and then you didnt feel that way anymore. It was just over. Suicide required a great deal of effort with only a little payoff. It didnt seem worth it. Jane stared at the water. Time stretched before her, menacing. It was too much, she didnt want it. She didnt want to kill herself, she just didnt want to have to deal with anything, this, anymore. The best-case scenario would be if her life just quietly slipped away from her one day, she wouldnt even notice it. But that wasnt going to happen. It was best if she put it out of her mind, straight away.

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54 The houseboat slid along serenely. It wasnt in any sort of hurry. It had neither deadline nor agenda. It wasnt going anywhere, specifically. The houseboat ride was a pointless journey. It had no purpose, no goal. There was no particular destination. They just kept going, but were continually neither here nor there. They were between places, always. For a moment Jane feared that it was never going to be done, that she would never get off. She thought this was probably how her mother felt right before she died. She hadnt moved on the instant the respirator was taken out, Jane knew. She hadnt gone straight onto death. There had been a moment, at least, between. Jane was certainly between places on the houseboat. She didnt know where she was going, and she didnt necessarily want to get there. For a moment the thought was with her-she was like her mother when she was in between. She was like her mother. The thought was outside of her, large and calm. Then it was gone. The next day was the grandparents anniversary. It was a big celebration, their fiftieth. They had parked at one of the little towns and were going out to dinner. Fifty long ones! Annabelles grandfather cried. Girls, if ever you find yourselves yoked to another for this long, I recommend doing both parties a favor and just doing yourself in. He put on his coat. Just kidding! Have a great time and hold down the fort. On their way out, Annabelles grandmother stopped in front of Jane. She was wearing a string of beads over her kimono. I want to hug you for some reason, she said. She looked puzzled.

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55 Okay, Jane said. She leaned in, allowing herself to be embraced. Annabelles grandmother smelled like apricots and bourbon. Jane breathed in. It had been a long time since she had been hugged. It felt nice. As soon as the grandparents were gone, Annabelle put on all the prizes that were wearable. It was mostly jewelry. Then she sat down, putting her feet up on the table. She was wearing espadrilles. Annabelle sighed. We should just leave, she said. Jane didnt say anything. She didnt care. She didnt want to do anything that would hurt the grandparents, but at the same time she couldnt really see them getting that mad about anything. She sat down. Maybe we shouldnt, Jane said. I dont think we should. Put that back, I dont think we should, Jane mimicked. She was wearing a mink coat over her bikini. She stood up, slamming down the blender. Oh I just cant take it anymore! she screamed. Im so bored! Youre so boring! She threw off the coat and started pacing around the table. At first, when you decided to still come, I thought, Oh Noooo, shell just hang around mopey the entire time, itll be terrible. But then I thought, Maybe itll be O.K. I gave you the benefit of the doubt. I actually thought that maybe you could make this lousy trip better. See, I had you pegged as the type of person who got really witty and sarcastic in the face of tragedy. But I was right the first time! You dont say anything witty! You dont even talk! She waved her arms dramatically. You used to be fun! Remember that time Alicia Thompson fainted and you wrote, I LOVE COCK, on her forehead? That was you! You did that! Annabelle dropped her hands. She looked at Jane, exasperated.

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56 Jane shrugged. She remembered the look on Alicia's face when she had realized what was on her forehead. But it was like some other girl had done that to her. Annabelle sighed. But youre not like that anymore. Still, I gave you a second chance. I told myself, This girls mother has just died. I decided to give you some slack. I thought, well, maybe, if she cant be fun, at least she can offer some insight on loss, having to face the incredible unknown, that certainly shell have garnered some knowledge to share about this ultimate misfortune. She took a breath. But you havent! You dont have anything! Annabelle collapsed back into her chair. She groaned. Oh Im so disappointed! I wish you hadnt even come! Jane began to cry. Her whole body shook. Suddenly great, horrid sobs were coming out of her. Annabelle gasped. Oh Im sorry! Im so sorry! she cried. She hurried over to Jane and knelt down. Now Ive done it. Ive really done it! Ive gone and made you cry! Jane sniffled. Its okay, she said. Its probably good. I havent really cried yet. Annabelle seemed not to have heard her. Im soooorrrrrry, she wailed. With a moan she clutched her. Jane tried to say something, but couldnt. Annabelle had her in a chokehold, and she was really wailing, now. Jane wondered when it was that Annabelle had stopped actually feeling badly and had begun practicing for some future role in which she played grief stricken. It was probably only a moment ago, she figured.

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57 Jane couldn't breathe. She would suffocate against Annabelle's heaving breasts. She could see the obituary headline: Suffocation Due to Boobs. She laughed. Annabelle pushed her away. She looked stricken. There is something wrong with you Jane Newman, she said. Yup, said Jane. Annabelle stormed towards the bathroom, angrily flicking the mink behind her. Jane looked out the window. She didnt know why she was there. Why was she there? It didnt make any sense. She felt lonely. She wanted to call home but she didnt want to talk to Pete. Her mother was dead. She had no anchor in life, no solid ground to fall back on. She had no one to guide her. Her mother hadnt been the best, maybe, but she was all Jane was going to get. And now she was gone. Jane felt terrible. At one time she had parents and now she didnt. There was no rhyme or reason to it. Thats what the school counselor had told her. Death was the unanticipated visitor, he said. You never knew when it was going to come. Thats what he had said to her. Thats actually what he had said! And there had been no one there to disagree with him. No one had been there to say, Well maybe its not. And then he had patted her arm, actually patted her arm, saying it was going to be okay. These things happen. Blah blah. She hated everyone. A bird with black wings plummeted towards the window and then turned away, narrowly missing the glass. Jane watched, interested. The bird had only just escaped and yet it had turned calmly, only at the last minute changing its course.

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58 There was a loud thud outside. Then there was another. For a moment, Jane thought a torrent of birds were slamming against the boat, hammering themselves on the deck in droves. Two ratty-looking boys appeared miraculously at the threshold. They were short, both of them, and seemed about her age. Jane didnt think they were much taller than she was. They were wearing all black and had pale, almost bald-looking blond heads. At first Jane thought they were twins, but that wasnt it exactlytheir faces were different. Annabelle re-emerged from the bathroom. She was back in the coat. It was silent for a moment while all of them stared at each other. The taller one stepped forward, towards them. Good evening, Ladies, he said. He bowed. Allow me to introduce myself. Im Long John Silver, and this is my smarmy cohort, Smitty. Were pirates! the littler one said. Jane noticed that his eyes were bulging, a little. Were going to loot you out! He walked towards the grandparents prizes and picked up a sandwich maker. Woo hoo! he cried. Looks like we came to the right place! This is a private vehicle, Annabelle said. She looked annoyed. She pulled the coat tight around her. Youre not allowed on here. The taller one stared straight ahead, not replying. He seemed not to have heard her. Jane looked at the intruders. They werent cute. Annabelle would have spoken to them differently if theyd been cute. They were wearing leather pants and dress shirts unbuttoned to the navel. She supposed they looked like pirates. Their blondness wasnt really working, though.

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59 The tall one cleared his throat as if he were about to give a speech. Now, Ladies, he said. I want to explain something to you. Although, yes, we are going to rob you today, I dont want you to take it personally. I dont want you to feel singled out. Really, you shouldnt. Youre not the only ones subject to this ill-gotten fate. Chance isnt frowning on you, alone! In terms of looting, were equal opportunity. We dont discriminate. Were visiting all of the boats, both up and down the river. With this in mind, dont let yourselves fall under the entirely false impression that somebody else is getting a better deal than you, because it just isnt so. Youll find us aboard both the big and the small ships, the yachts and the dinghies. Each has its own unique offerings. We dont play favorites. As he spoke, Jane noticed that the boy wasnt looking at her or Annabelle, but rather over their heads, like they had been taught to do in drama class. The ground beneath Janes feet was vibrating. It took her a minute to put together that they were moving. The boys must have loosed them from the dock when they got on, she figured. Do something, Jane, Annabelle said. Crash the boat into the bank or something. Jane looked ahead levelly. She supposed she should take the wheel, but she didnt really feel like it. The intruders were blocking the steering wheel and she would have to push past them to get to it. It seemed like a lot of effort. The sun was setting. For a moment they were all bathed in a rosy, becoming glow. Then the automatic lights came on, bright and harsh. They were meant for clarity, not kindness. Jane could see now that their paleness wasnt because they were blonde, at all.

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60 They were bald. In the new light, lines appeared. It was clear now that they were older, much older, than had been her first impression.Jane stared at them, shivering. She was surprised to find herself a little scared. That these boys were actually men, grown-up men, made the situation seem more dire. The boat cruised along, steadily and without interruption. The little one piped up. He had been over at the gadget stack for a while now, playing with a jogging radio. Were pirates! he screeched. Were here to rape and pillage! Jane stared at him. He was such a loud little bugger, it was annoying. He seemed to only be able to communicate in one piercingly high octave. Long John held out a hand, shushing him. Let me clarify for my friend, here, he said. Here, as well, I dont want you to feel that you are being put upon, particularly. The fact that you are both quite lovely has not escaped me, but it doesnt factor in. This aspect, too, is simply part of the looting process. We are taking you for all you are worth. Its a matter of unalterable course, really. Annabelles mouth was hanging open. She hurried up to the man, thrusting her hand in front of his face. Im saving myself for marriage, she said. She was wearing a cubic zirconium from the jewelry pile. See the ring? She wiggled it. Im a virgin, Annabelle said. I am a holy temple of God. Jane rolled her eyes. She didnt know where Annabelle was getting this stuff. She was pulling it out of her ass. My father is a very powerful man, Annabelle continued. He could have you arrested. He could have you disemboweled. So I would give this part up if I were you, she said. I mean it would be pretty stupid not to.

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61 Long John looked up at the ceiling politely, as if he were actually considering this. Annabelle smiled hopefully. Beyond them, in the distance, Jane saw a light come on and then go out. It came on again, flickering weakly. Long Johns head snapped back. Nope, no can do, he said. Better just stick to the plan. We have to have everything we came for. Otherwise, were not doing our job. Its a disservice to the profession, that way. We are required to adhere to the law of pirate ethics, if you will. Annabelle whimpered. She threw herself on the ground, moaning fretfully. She pointed at all the prizes. Fine, take it! she said. Take everything! Just leave me alone! Jane looked at her. Such theatrics seemed to her a bit premature, but that was Annabelle for you. Long John pulled out a knife. Now were talking, Jane thought. The girls shrank back, Jane, too. For the first time in weeks she felt awake, really awake. Below her, the engine buzzed with excitement. Jane felt like she had been slapped in the face. She actually felt scared. She couldnt believe it. She hadnt thought that anything could frighten her, not ever, again. Jane looked at her hands, which were shaking. I think they mean business, Jane said. She could hear her heart beating. It was really picking up speed. She felt something like delight, but that couldnt be it. She felt dizzy.

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62 The engine was buzzing louder, now. There was something wrong with it. Jane walked slowly towards the door. She grasped the glass divider and slid it open. She felt a little faint. Something inside of her was screaming now, it was shrieking. When she reached the deck she looked back, over her shoulder. No one was following her. Behind her, somewhere, she heard a faint squealing, but it was only a little one. The water churned anticipatorily, leaping up from under the boat. She stepped over the railing, edging herself onto the rim of the deck. The houseboat pounded onwards. Jane looked at the water. She could feel her heart beating, loudly in her chest. She put her hand on her chest, feeling it. Her heart felt cool, hard, and clear as crystal. Annabelle was a tough girl, Jane thought, tougher than she seemed--she could take care of herself. So maybe she would have to sleep with one of them, that Long John Silver. So what? Shed done it before. Its not like the experience would be shocking. She would be fine. Or maybe she wouldnt. In any case, Jane was getting on with it. She knew what she had to do. She hadnt known she had a shred of survival instinct left in her, and yet now here it was, blinking at her, a bright, blinding light. It was such a surprise, such a precious, wonderful surprise. She couldnt ignore it. She jumped in. The water sucked her up greedily, pushing the boat away. Help! she cried, Help! The waves swallowed up the words and flung them back in her face. She heard a chorus of voices, all calling to her. Each shouted specific, encouraging things, but it was impossible to tell exactly what above the roaring of the engine, but it didnt matter. She knew what they were saying. She was having difficulty keeping her head up. She lifted her chin, but the water kept leaping up, getting into her nose and

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63 filling her mouth. She could feel her feet kicking, though, and her arms were moving in front of her. On land, a light flickered beckoningly. She was going to it. She heard her mother calling to her along with the other voices. She heard them calling, egging her on. Then she didnt hear them anymore.

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CAUGHT! We were better distracted so we left. He had been offered work elsewhere so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get going. I myself had been waiting for something like this to happen for a long, long time. I was ecstatic. Little rinky-dink Marx, Mississippi was never for me. I was born there but am not of there. I was not of the same stuff as the rest of them in that town. I was made for something better. It was the same with him. I worked hard to get him to notice me. Why I dont know. There wasnt much to choose from in Marx-mostly fat girls in leotards and drugstore sweatpants. I am a real looker. I was pretty much the only tasty piece for miles. Still I tried to get him to pay attention. Every day after school I would take the bus to Oxford, to the University there. I would trot down to the laboratory and walk past, sashaying back and forth under his window. I had this whole routine going where I would hike my uniform skirt up under my breasts so that it would keep rising as I shimmied past. College girls went past as well but none of them with my stems. Luckily he is a leg man, so this worked to my benefit. And me with no way of knowing! Fate had a hand in our union, you see. We were meant to be together. We were eager to get married but for different reasons. I am the sort of person who is always up for an adventure. I was done with high school, over it. I was looking to get out of town. His reasons leaned toward the nobler sort. He was actually in love with me. His name is Cash. He is very brainy. He is a scientist. He is thirty-three. He is probably a 64

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65 genius. He scored a 1600 on the Scholastic Aptitude test in junior high and it has all been uphill since then. So I was expecting a lot from him. Sadly, I was disappointed. In my opinion his smarts have not been utilized to their best advantage. For instance, he was in the lab all day when he could have been out making money. His main concern was bioethics. All day he philosophized over a pot of bubbling brew. It was his premier occupation. It was practically volunteer work. At that point he was working to eradicate cancer. He was searching for a cure. I had no doubt that he will find it, and most likely soon. It was only a matter of time. I tried to care but it is simply not in my nature. I do not have it in me. I require something different in a man. A husband should be a good provider. He goes by Cash but that is just a nickname, something I made up for my own amusement. His real name is Raleigh. I married him because I thought that brains led to money but it is clear now that I was wrong. We were as poor as church mice. So I was hoping things would pick up in Florida. Supposedly they were offering higher pay at the University there but I was banking on absolutely nothing. I always thought researchers made a fine living but Cash did not seem to be one of them. I wondered if it was possible that this trait could follow him out of the state. I had no way of knowing. So far the trip has been less than eventful. Alabama has almost come and gonewe are nearly through it. I was asleep for the duration. I have heard that the state is just like Marx but with better trees and soil, so I dont feel that Ive missed that much. Now that I am awake, however, I am in need of a little socializing. I for one think some sparkling

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66 conversation would be just the ticket to brightening things up, but Cash refuses to speak to me. He is so responsible. He is concentrating on the road. On the radio, a woman with a helium voice is asking which brand of hot sauce we prefer. Then it cuts out. I say, I am partial to Heinz in the glass bottle, special recipe, and you? I turn to him. I would actually like to know. We dont know that much about each other. We have been married a year. Of course Cash doesnt say a word. Instead, he snorts. I am so bored I could scream. I said were better distracted. Thats true. We are kinder to each other and more relaxed individuals in general. Recently I was distracted by a foreign exchange student named Eduardo. He looked like Antonio Banderas but was really a John Lennon-type character. I was very sweet on him. We met on campus. He found me one day when I was sunbathing in the quad. He thought I was a co-ed or he never would have spoken to me. I was waiting for Cash. Unlike my husband, he was looking for someone his own age. Cash didnt suspect a thing until Eduardo told him. Why Im not sure. I wanted to ask but I dont speak Spanish. Our relationship wasnt based on verbal communication. It simply didnt come up. Cash does, though, and he went wild. He wanted to kill Eduardo but he had wisely fled back to Spain by then. I tried to tell him it wasnt personal. I am a woman of appetites. I didnt intend to hurt him but I am the type of person who needs some excitement in order to feel contented. Still I am being blamed. I am being punished for this single indiscretion. Basically I am being held hostage. I am allowed to get out at rest stops and to go to the ladies but once we reach the motel it is total lock-down. I dont know what he thinks he is keeping me from doing, exactly. Who could I possibly

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67 meet there? I dont know what hes thinking. As far as Im concerned, its anybodys guess. We are getting restless, both of us. We are both in a snit. All we see are trees and fruit stands. It is all there is to look at. They continue for miles and miles. Pounds of peaches are three dollars a pop but we dont want any of them. We simply arent interested. We are doing nothing. We need something fun to do. I am so bored I am making eyes at everyone. I bat my eyelashes at every stand we pass. The workers at the stands grin and wave back. They are delighted with my friendliness. They are all whistling but I give the signal to cut it out. Still Cash looks like hes going to kill me. I stop. We pass a fireworks stand and I make him stop. It is such an anomaly I feel like it must mean something. As soon as he turns off the ignition he falls asleep. His foot is still on the gas pedal. He is exhausteddriving has taken it out of him. The stand is red and shoddy-looking. I step up to see the goods there. The only person who is working is a pimply-faced boy bent double over a porno magazine. He sees me approaching and straightens up. I inquire as to his wares and then stand around, idly rubbing my thighs together. Brace-Face recommends the Turbo-Shot 3000 but I like the Flowering Pagoda. Both are 49.95. Of course I cant buy anything. Our funds are reserved for necessities, strictly. Were flat broke. Something happened with the money that I am not entirely aware of. I had nothing to do with it. I was never good at math and am not in charge of the finances. It seems there was some and then one day there wasnt. Really there is nothing. We will probably have to charge the moving fees. The boy gives me a sample,

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68 anywaysome sort of popper. He offers to take me out back and show me how its done. He wants to help me use it. I am a friendly person in general. I pat him on the bum. Of course he is thrilled. He probably has not seen a girl in months and certainly not one who is good-looking. I check the car where Cash is fast asleep. Cutely, he is drooling. By mile one seventy I cant take anymore without a drink. Time passes smoothly with a little liquor pick me up. It is just what we need. I am craving peach schnapps but will settle for wine from a box. Cash wont partake but he can live vicariously. He just wants to see me happy, anyway. That is enough for him. There is a little liquor store along the highway. Inside it is small and quaint with red wallsstrange but cute. There are pictures of Dalmatians above the register. In line, a woman in a velour jumpsuit eyes me cattily. She gives me the once over. I admit I am scantily clad but that is every females prerogative. I stare back. I am wearing a tank top and cut-off shorts. Perhaps I am showing a bit of cheek and boob but if she doesnt want to see it she shouldnt be looking. She is just jealous, anywayher behind is the size of a caboose. The woman leans down to me and whispers: white trash. She says it under her breath but I can hear it. I dont answer. I try to remain composed but am shaking a little. Luckily Cash jumps to my rescue. He is such an upstanding citizen. He is there to defend my honor. What was that? he asks. He comes up behind me. He gets up to her, eye to eye. Now he would never hit a woman but I can see he wants to. Caboose just sniffs and turns away. It seems she has made her point and is done with us. We leave.

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69 In the car, Cash hugs me and asks if Im alright. I shrug. I would rather not talk about it. He is holding me and driving at the same time. He isnt paying attention to the road, for once. He is petting me and making some sort of cooing noise. He is making even moonier eyes than usual. It seems my damsel in distress episode has done something to him. Now that I am pathetic he is even more in love. By nightfall we are famished and have to stop. All we can find is a creepy-looking diner. We go in and find a table. Everything is greasy. Still, all we can afford is the Summertime Special to share. Basically it is one old egg and toast. It is probably freeze-dried. In the booth across from ours, a young woman strokes the thigh of a grandpa. She is very pretty and young and her companion is a million. She pats him lovingly, casually moving up. People are so crazy. These are the sorts of moments when I realize there are lots worse than mine. Now I know Cash isnt everyones idea of a hunky Mchunkster but at least he isnt almost dead. Now the girl has her hand on his behind. I think she is checking for wet. Surely he is wearing a diaper. Its true I also married for money but at least my husband isnt four times my age. Moments later they get up to leave, canoodling their way to the door. They take my good humor with them. Everything is rotten again. Over our dinner, Cash gazes lovingly. This is his normal for him but right now it seems especially annoying. Just to see what will happen, I tear my napkin in half and stick it in my ears. I want him to think its weird but he is a smitten five year-old. Of course he thinks its cute. He is goofy with adoration. He copies me. He wants to be just

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70 like me when he grows up. Now we both look ridiculous. Look! he says. Were twins! I am so disgusted. We are in the crummiest of motels. In the room, the wallpaper is shellacked over in great gobs. It is about to all fall off. The place smells of urine. In the wall behind our bed, rats scurry back and forth, chatting. They are really putting up a ruckus. They are positively celebrating. It is the rats that put me over the edge. I was fine until they started acting up. I dont know what came over me. I must have been tired from the trip. I admit I threw a tantrum. Its just that it is very difficult having no money all the time. A girl gets fed up. Perhaps I threw some things --I dont recall. There was nothing of value in that dump, anyway. Who cares if I broke something? Cash got very panicky. He didnt know what to do. When I came out of delirium I found him in the hallway, huddling there. Poor thing, he was scared to come back in. I had to drag him back by an arm. I have had the shock of my life. My husband, the genius, has become a common pickpocket. A moment ago he walked into the gas station and walked out with some poor mans wallet. He was gone five minutes. I am telling you I am surprised. He has always been such a moral person. I didnt think he had it in him. He says I drove him to it, that my fit last night pushed him over the edge. He just couldnt take it any longerhe hated disappointing me. He is very sweet but crazy. I suspect it has something to do with what happened at the liquor store but I am too worked up to be insulted. This is the most

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71 exciting thing to happen, ever! I demand to see the victim, and he promises to point him out. Almost immediately he says, There he is. Right on cue, a little man in a windbreaker jacket appears at the window. He is standing in line to check out. He is the smallest man I have ever seen hands down. His forehead barely clears the conveyor belt. For a moment I am concerned that Cash has stolen from the disabled but then I think better of it and keep my mouth shut. He looks fine and contented, very ho-hum. Clearly he doesnt know what hit him. He really doesnt notice a thing. My husband is that good. I am amazed. I ask him how he learned to do it, and he says he saw it on television. A reformed criminal on a talk show was giving a how to. He said he didnt want to watch but he was mesmerized. He couldnt help but learn. My husband! He is so smart he knows things he doesnt even want to. Cash hands me the wallet and I open it. It is a real mess. Everything is crammed around and smooshed together. Weve got two hundred bucks and a couple of credit cards, but mostly there are pictures of his family. The munchkin has four weasley children and one afghan -clad wife. She is twice his size, easily. It is a wonder how they managed to copulate. They must be very modern. I have to put the wallet away. The pictures are making me sick. The children are so awful-looking. Their noses are shaped like upside-down chopsticks. Life is already looking up. No more diners for us! We are in Miami. We are at the Chateau Neaumond, the best restaurant we could find. We have a very fancy dinner and then get up to leave. We are both so happy we forget to order dessert were so eager to get home to bed. We are in such exuberant moods. He is so confident! He takes me in the

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72 coatroom and again in the bathroom ladies stall. We are so happy! Cash leaves a 50.00 tip and I dont even say anything. Our waitress is an elderly lady and he feels for her of course. But I dont mind! The service was terrible but everyone deserves a little pick-me-up, I say. We have arrived and stopped in St. Augustine. It is not so hot and humid here. We have decided to devote ourselves fully to a life of crime. He has given up his plans to continue researching. We can go wherever the wind takes us, now. We are on the lam. It is so romantic. We are very much in love. I know it is quick but it has done wonders for our marriage already. It is so exciting. I am an accomplice! If anything happened I am not actually to blame but I would bear some of the brunt, certainly. It is a responsibility. It is evening and Cash is just returning from a day in the field. Today he made a pretty good circuit: the grocery, then the drugstore, with a quick stop at the gas station to finish things off. He may have done some street work also but I cant tell that yet. I have spent the day in the hotel. Our accommodations are much nicer now, so I dont really mind. There is a minibar and cable. I am on top of him even before hes completely inside. I wrap my arms around him. His pockets are bulging with goodies. I feel him up. I almost cannot stop myself. Now that he is a criminal I am really turned on. In the past he was the one after me but now the tables have turned. I confess I had lost feelings but now he is dark and complicated.

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73 Everything has changed. It is like a light switched on somewhere. He is so deliciously dangerous. I attack him and we fall into bed. Afterwards he wants to show me what hes gotten. We treat it like a game of show and tell. On his stop at the drugstore he picked up some disguises. Theyre masks of Sonny and Cher. Theyre just for funhe doesnt want me coming with him on his outings. But they could come in handy in other ways. For instance, they could make things even more in the bedroom. Cash puts his on and sings for me. He could be Chers long lost twin except without the hair. I picture him in a Bob Mackie dress with his little hipbones sticking out, and collapse into giggles. I laugh so hard I pee. He has finally forgiven me! He says I have been so good he is letting up on the grounding. He is tossing it out the window. I am so relieved I cannot tell you. I didnt mind being stuck in the hotel all day but I could not bear him mad. He was such a gloomy Gus there for a while. It made things intolerable. We are going out for ice cream to celebrate. There is a very cute parlor just down the street, with mirrors on the walls and high stools. It is all done up in pastels. Even at the parlor he finds a way to take something. I pay up front for my bubblegum surprise and he comes out with two per fist. Then we run out. How do you steal and ice cream cone? It doesnt seem possible. He is so quick and sneaky I didnt even notice it. He is that good.

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74 This is the worst day. We are in Lakeland, Florida. We were coming out of the Publix when a man in a clerks uniform came running toward us. Both of us panicked. I tried to duck into Cashs armpit. It looked like the end. Really, we thought we were through. But it was only a false alarm. The fellow simply wondered if I wanted the coupon for ladies products I had thrown on the ground. I smiled and shook my head. I was having a sugar craving so all Cash had taken was some Jujubees, but even that is enough to get you in trouble. Plus, you never know whats gotten around. He could be wanted. Imagine, the whole thing over on account of some jellied snacks! It couldnt have happened. The whole idea is too ridiculous. Everything is fine of course but Cash is completely traumatized. It seems getting caught has never crossed his mind before. Somehow it has just not entered into his consciousness. He is all shaken up. He was not prepared at all. He is a mess. Right now he is face down on the hotel bed, crying hysterically. He has collapsed onto the bed and will not stop weeping. I try to console him but he will not be comforted. He is blubbering like a baby. There, there, I say. I pat him on the head. I try to stroke his hair but he will not let me. I admit I am not very tender. I am very uncomfortable. I do not like to see a man in tears. I think he is having some sort of moral crisis. It seems it has finally sunk in that he has gone from curing cancer to this. I can see the wheels turning. He looks deranged. His eyes are bloodshot and there are great black rings around them. He is thin and tortured-looking. He is holding his head in his hands. He is positively green. He is this close to quitting. But I am such a brat. I urge him to keep going. Really, I am awfula selfish,

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75 selfish girl. I tell him that he must go on, that it is the only thing to do. I know it is terrible, but it is so nice to have a little spending money! I cant part with it. I know I should let him stop, but the two of us would lose so muchfor once we are both satisfied. He has found a way to please me. Men are only happy as providers you know. It is a proven fact, although Cash has come to realize it only recently. I pat his head. I want to be of some use somehow but there is no comforting him. Honey, I say. Sugarpie. Buck up--everythings going to be alright. He has stopped crying. He wipes his eyes on his sleeve and agrees sullenly. He calms down easily. I almost cant believe it. It seems fishy. He says he likes the extra money, too. Now I know this is a lie. Cash has no desire for material goods although he bears no judgment on the sins of others. Of course it is all for me. I suspect he is worried about losing me. It is the only explanation. Cash goes out on the deck to brood. He wants to be left alone. He stays out there awhile, pacing. When he comes back in he is weeping again. I hand him some tissues and he finally quiets down bit. He blows his nose wildly. I want to make a confession, he says. What? I say. It is difficult to make out what he is saying with all the snot. He repeats himself. Then he clears his throat, and his face contorts like he is going to start crying again. I have to tell you about what happened to the money, he says. I hold my breath but then let it out quickly. It seems hes been donating it all to the Cancer Research Society. He wasnt getting anywhere with his work and was ashamed of himself. He felt guilty. I shouldnt be too surprised I guesshes such a goody-two-shoes.

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76 Cash is stunned that I didnt suspect anything but how was I to know? I hadnt even finished high school when we met. I am only a little angry. Its not like I expected anything more from him. He has always been saint. Anyway, I feel I owe him one after the Eduardo fiasco. So now everything is wonderful again. We are united in mutual forgiveness. It is all decided. Everything is patched up. He will continue with the original plan a while longer. It is only until we can get back on our feet a little bit. Then well move on. Currently we are settled in Beachwood, FL. This was my choice of destination but now I am regretting it. A girl feels her have-not-ness more keenly when she is surrounded by the haves. Everyone here is rich. This is obvious just from driving through. For instance, everybody has a pool. They are everywhere you look. And we are so near the ocean! The whole place reeks of chlorine. Really, it is everywhere. You would have thought they would find a way to neutralize the smell but they havent. I suppose the residents dont even notice it anymore. Luckily, Cash has decided to step it up a notch. He has given up the life of a petty thief and is now moving up in the world. He is a breaking and entering man now. He says he was inspired by all the beautiful old houses. They are old and crumbling and easy to break into. We were tooling through a very nice neighborhood when he got the idea. I am glad for it seems the right time to make a change. Taking wallets was great for a while but it wasnt really cutting it. We need a little extra to get by. Already he has robbed six houses and a plantation-style duplex. I think its a shame to split up old houses like that but Cash says its common practice. So far I am

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77 disappointed with the results. Visions of Cartier and mink danced in my head but these people dont own any. They seem like mostly outdoorsy folk. Cash is much happier. He presents me with scuba equipment he is intent on me using. He spreads the loot out across the floor for my full admiration. He would like me to try the boogie-board. So far the joints have all gone well. No one has been at home. This is a very laid-back town. No one seems to have a security system. Im sure Cash could figure one out if he had to, but so far it has not come up. Nobody even keeps their doors locked. So Cash has had no problems. Everything has been as easy as pie. It is all over. He is practically caught. Any moment they will come crashing through the door to take him away. Really they will be here any minute. Of course I knew it had to end badly but I hadnt counted on it coming so soon. I am so upset. Last night when we were driving we passed a set of condos lavishly furnished. They were all lighted up. We could see into the windows. There was a guard booth at the entrance but Cash said it would be no problem. He was feeling tough and wanted to impress me. So we decided he would go tonight. I had a bad feeling but I let him go. As soon as he was gone I regretted it. I know he has been seen. I am sitting at the window, watching for his car. I know just how it will happen. He is coming to me. They will be right on his tail but he will arrive first. It will be close but he will make it. They will have given him a head start. They have seen love and they have recognized it. They will not stand in its way. He will come running through the door and into my arms.

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78 I know just how it will be. Oh, Honey, I will say. Oh Sweetlips. Youre the only one for me. It is already beginning. Even now I can see them, all in a pack. He is first however. Soon he will be at the door. I can hear sirens whirring in the distance. For it must be this way. This kind of happiness couldnt last forever. Our time is up. It is inevitable. It cannot be fought. Everything is as it should be. I am waiting for him, my man. All is well.

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FLOTSAM Summer was over. The air on the beach was getting cooler, and the water was getting cooler, too. No one was swimming or lying on the beach. Everyone was packing up, leaving. Coolers, umbrellas, and sandy, screaming children were tossed haphazardly into the backs of open station wagons. The place was emptying out. It was as if the little town was closing up shop. It was time to go home. Sam sensed that Loreli didnt want to go. She had never been to the town before but she had spent the entire summer there and she had fallen in love with it. She loved the beach, and the friendly townspeople, and she felt that the climate fit her temperament exactly. The west coast suited her. She felt that she belonged there. It felt like home, even though she was not from there, at all. Actually, she was from someplace entirely different. She was from a place far, far away. They were from Cincinnati. Loreli sat on an old wooden rocking chair with a splintered back. She wore gold huarache sandals and a faded bikini briefs swimsuit. Fine blond hairs shone prettily on her face. She sighed. Sam knew she felt that something important was being taken away from her, something that was hers. She sat on the deck with her boyfriend and stared at the beach. The beach was one of those white beaches with no stones or shells. It was a beautiful beach, a perfect beach. The land behind it was golden-hued, and the water next to it was a vivid aquamarine. The beach didnt have much junk on it, either. Along the 79

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80 edge of the line of houses there was a mere sprinkling of pop cans. It was kept clean by volunteers. A group of darling old ladies came to clean it up every Wednesday. It was lovely, although it was not actually white. Really, it was more of a faded brioche. The girl didnt mind this. Still, she thought it was the most beautiful beach she had ever seen. Sam liked it, too. Its plainness appealed to him. He could appreciate the simple. Sam was a lawyer. He had finished law school in May. He had passed the Bar. He had landed a position at Betts Austin & Johnson, where he would be starting come September. Sam had a generous swag of brown hair, broad, good-looking shoulders and a broken-looking nose. He was tall. Sam was wealthy, but it was family money. This was his parents beach house. Sam and Loreli were twenty-six. They had lived together in a nearby city for four years, although they had known each other for longer. They had met at the restaurant where Loreli had been working at the time. Sam had been seated by a brightly lighted window, and when he asked to have the blinds lowered, Loreli had come over to adjust them. It was a high window. Loreli had had to stretch to reach it, exposing her midriff. It was a spectacular midriff. Sam had been reminded of the Renoir painting of the nude brushing her hair, although of course Loreli wasnt at all zaftig. Sam had told Loreli she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, and asked if she would please sit down with him. Loreli was the only woman Sam had ever loved, and he meant it to stay that way. Sam liked to tell people that he had fallen in love with Loreli at first sight, which was true. Now, on the deck, he felt uneasy. Loreli was upset, maybe too much so. It didnt seem normal. He was concerned, but it wasnt clear to him exactly what he should be

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81 doing about it. He was really making an effort, but it was hard. It all seemed rather morbid. For instance, at breakfast that morning she had told him about a vision she had had of herself while floating on her back in the ocean the day before. She had envisioned herself as a pad of sea foam. Sam, she had said, wouldnt it be lovely to just float along like that? To spend your days just idling away? It was troubling. It seemed reminiscent of the ending in The Little Mermaid. Hadnt the mermaid died that way? Sam was worried. He feared his girlfriend was losing her grip. He leaned over and put his hand on her back. Loreli didnt want to have to get a real job, and she didnt want Sam to have to, either. She would rather they stayed, always, on the beach. Unlike Sam, Loreli had nothing but dead-end jobs waiting for her back in Ohio. However, both knew it was time to get it together a little bit. The battle is always between the pleasure principle and the grindstone principle, is it not? It was a matter of reality. It was late afternoon. A little boy in a white T-shirt and blue swimming trunks walked up to the deck and stood there. His T-shirt said Water Baby, and featured a downy baby duck swimming in a puddle. He was holding a bouquet of wilting dahlias. My favorite beau! Loreli said. Matthew smiled. He held out the bouquet of flowers. He walked up the stairs of the deck and climbed onto Lorelis lap. He put his head on her shoulder. Sam put his hand over his mouth. His lip was twitching, but just a bit. It was not an entirely uncommon occurrence. He was a little jealous of Matthew.

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82 Matthew was the little boy Loreli had been babysitting all summer. Matthew lived two houses away and just a few yards down the beach. Mummys having a party, Matthew said. She said to ask if I could stay with you for a little bit. Of course you can, baby, Loreli said. Sam rolled his eyes. Matthews mother was always throwing a party. She was the party queen. Last month alone there had been nine. Matthews mother was infamous around town. She threw all the major parties, and had married and divorced several successful politicians in the area. Loreli, Matthew said, Mummys new boyfriend Peter made me my dinner and I had three oysters and a pot pie and a bloody Mary. I had a shrimp with red peppers in them. He wiggled. Loreli, Matthew said, Peter has long hair and an earring and a mustache. He knows how to fly an airplane. Hes going to show me how to fly one, too. Loreli, he said, I think I have a tummy ache. Oh dear, Loreli said. She kissed the little boys forehead. She picked him up and took him inside. She lay him down on the divan and covered him up with a towel. She went back outside to the deck. Loreli, Matthew called, are you really going, Loreli? Peter said you might not go if I asked you not to. He said I should come over and ask. Sam walked inside. He clinked his glass on the lamp. Thems the breaks, kid, Sam said. The sun set. Matthew finally fell asleep. Sam lifted Matthew up and carried him back to his house.

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83 When he got back, Loreli was in bed. Sam stood at the foot of the bed and threw his arms up in exasperation. There were two police cars in the driveway when I got there, he said. Apparently someone threw the statue of Lee Iacocca in the pool again. The new amour, probably. He made a face. Feeding the kid oysters. Heh! he said. That woman sure can pick em. Sam shook his fist. Loreli giggled. Her cheeks were flushed. She stopped giggling and started sucking on her hair, looking at Sam expectantly. Sam stared at her. He felt like he was entertaining a child at a slumber party. What was wanted of him now? Should he do a trick? Pull a balloon out of her ear? Disappear the bedpost? Yodel? He sighed and fell into bed. That woman is a real case, he said. The phone rang at three in the morning. It rang nine times. Nobody moved but it kept ringing. It stopped. Then it started ringing again. What the fuck, Sam said. Loreli picked up. From the bed, Sam could hear Matthew breathing heavily into the receiver. Loreli, I woke up and the moon was in my room, Matthew said. It was very big and holey. I closed my eyes and when I opened them it was gone again. Sam put his face into his pillow. He groaned. Go to sleep, Matthew! he shouted.

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84 Matthew sniffled loudly. The moon was in my room, he said. I think it was trying to get in my bed. Sometimes that happens, Loreli said. Even the moon needs a break from being the moon, sometimes. Sam opened his eyes and turned over. Loreli was standing at the window with her back towards him. Her nightshirt was tucked up into her panties. Loreli whispered something into the receiver. Then she told Matthew she loved him and hung up. Hell be asleep in five minutes, she said. Hes too precocious, that kid. Hell drive himself crazy. Sam sat up. Being like that makes people crazy, he said. Its things like that. Hes a little boy, Lorelei said. Hes normal. She got into bed. Little boys dream things. Sam grimaced. He knew it was ridiculous to be jealous of a five year-old, but there it was. Loreli switched off the light. After a moment she asked, Sam? Are you awake? Sam stuck his hand in the air. He waved two fingers. I was dreaming, too, she said. I was in our apartment, and somehow this cat had gotten in. It was really big. Huge. It was nighttime, and you were gone. I dont know where you were. The cat was really feral-looking. It circled around the living room. It looked like it was casing the place or something. It came after me. I ran to the kitchen, and it ran after me. It jumped at my face, and I stabbed it with a kitchen knife. She paused. I killed the cat, she said.

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85 Sam put the pillow over his head. He wished they were both asleep already. You didnt kill anything, Sam said. Sam dreamed, too. He fell asleep and dreamed that he and Loreli were at a party somewhere. They were at a party, and Loreli was trying to convince Sam to jump off somebodys roof. They were on the roof. A crowd of upturned faces watched them, below. Loreli told Sam to jump. She said it would mean a lot to her, that everyone there would love him if he would just do it. It seemed very important to her that Sam jump off the roof. She wouldnt shut up. In the dream, Loreli spoke in a high-pitched little girls voice. It was Loreli, all right, but with this weird voice. Finally Sam refused. Youre being rather cheeky, he told her. Then Loreli offered Sam a blowjob, and he jumped. As he fell, Loreli called down to him. The distance between us is several miles, she said. It was a creepy dream. Sam woke up feeling silly and a little disturbed. A mixed-up fool distracted by hooey. Sam felt bamboozled. Sam and Loreli went to a restaurant in town. It was a clam restaurant, a restaurant that specialized in clams. Fried clams, baked clams, and clams a flamb were all at their disposal. The restaurant was built on stilts. It was a bit shakylooking. Sam had the feeling that, if a fight were to break out, say, or if someone were to run through too quickly, the building would go toppling headlong into the sea.

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86 They sat down. A long-faced youth in a paisley dinner jacket ran up to the table. Hullo, friend! Loreli sang out merrily. She stood up. Loreli hugged the waiter. She kissed him on the cheek. Loreli and the waiter looked at each other like they were old friends. The waiter whispered something into Lorelis ear and they both giggled. Loreli squeezed the waiters hand. Sam looked at the waiter. He did not recognize him. Certainly, he had never seen him before. Loreli sat down. Who was that? Sam asked. His voice was calm, even. He remained unperturbed. You know everybody, he said. Loreli laughed. She touched Sams cheek with her hand. It was not the same hand she used to touch the waiter. Sam felt considerably relieved. Thats Joseph, Loreli said. He works at the market, too. Yesterday he helped Matthew and I pick out lingcods. Joseph is also an expert fisherman. He gives charters. Did you know there are over seven hundred kinds of codfish alone? And that they are all delicious? Some are poisonous, though. Thats what Joseph said. Matthew and I were amazed. We decided we were going to try all of them. Except the poisonous ones, of course. The food came. The waiter brought them bread and chowder. He brought them drinks edged in salt. Sam tried not to glare. Loreli and Sam began to talk about what they would do once they got back to the city. You could work at the pizza place, again, Sam said. You loved it there. Thats not exactly true, Loreli said.

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87 Well, you didnt mind it, he said. I distinctly remember you not minding it. Sam looked at the table. Thats something I distinctly remember. Sam, she said. The cook was a horrible person. He called me the dilettante waitress. He said I carried plates like I thought everything was disgusting. Sam looked at the ceiling. He rolled up his eyes and squinted. You never told me that, he said. I never heard any of that. The restaurant began to fill up. People entered the room in droves, mingling in the aisles like party guests. Loreli stirred her chowder. She lifted a piece of bread from the basket and put it down. You should eat something, Sam said. Loreli smiled at him. She sipped her salted drink. You wont eat now, and then well go home and youll fill up on junk, Sam said. Thats just what will happen, you know. Thats just what youre going to do. He pointed with his spoon. I know you, he said. They were seated next to a window. From where they were seated, Sam could see a man and a woman fighting over a plastic beach ball. Sam watched as the woman ripped the ball out of the mans hands and the man fell to the ground. Sam breathed. I was thinking when we get back, he began, I was thinking it might be nice to start thinking about having a baby. Ew. Ha, Loreli said. Sam blinked. Oh, youre serious, Loreli said. I thought you were kidding.

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88 Sam didnt say anything. He thought about how, in reality, whatever people said to one another could logically be taken as a joke. Finally, he said, What makes you think that? Well, for one thing you hate Matthew, Loreli said. I do not hate Matthew, Sam said. He took a drink. Matthews a little funny. The waiter brought them another round of drinks. Sam thought that this was probably his third, but perhaps he had missed something. He looked at Loreli. She was wearing a creamy sundress and crocheted sweater. Sand sparkled in her hair. Sam pictured Loreli in a black negligee. He pictured her in their little apartment, lounging on the bed. He saw her in her waitress uniform, running down the street. Sam put his glass over his mouth. Forget the baby thing, he mumbled. Sam reached for Lorelis hands. Marry me, Sam said. I love you, Loreli. What? No, she said. She laughed. Oh, Sam, she said. Sam gripped the table. He watched Loreli fiddle with her drink, putting the straw in and out of her mouth without sipping. He felt her drifting away from him, floating up and away and out of his reach. He had said that he loved her, that he wanted to get married, have a child. And he meant it. Whatever it took to keep herhe wanted that, too. Loreli got up from the table. She excused herself to go to the ladies. Clam shells rattled noisily to the floor. Sam looked at the water. He felt something inside him jump up, turn, retreat. He felt it running. He felt it turn, hurrying away on spindly legs.

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89 At the table across from him, two middle-aged women were having a conversation. Both wore jean jackets. The woman who was talking had a hip haircut. Her hair was molded into spiky peaks. Both Tommy and I got sick on clams when we were living in Morocco, she said. We were hospitalized, you know. And yet I dont mind them at all anymore. Isnt that funny? I must have Viking blood or something. The woman shrugged. The other woman nodded. Her jean jacket looked like someone had splattered paint across it. Its amazing what a morphine drip can do for a person, she said. Sam sighed. He looked down at his chowder, which was making sounds. It was gurgling, bubbling. It seemed to be talking. Glug, glug, it said. Slurp, slurp. It is early evening. Though the last few days have not been especially warm, the sun hangs high and red, a solid orb. Sam and Loreli have gone for a swim and are now heading back up the beach toward the house. They are leaving the next day. Sam thinks how perfect the night is, how wonderfully it fits the bill for a last hurrah. He has spent the whole day cleaning and packing the car. He has been getting things together, bit by bit, for days. It has been an arduous process. He has done it all, alone. Whenever he moved to say, fold up the taken-apart-but-never-used tent or clean out the beer cooler, Loreli had run off to the beach with Matthew and stayed there, sometimes working on their never-finished fort, sometimes playing an elaborate version of Cops and Robbers. Sams one real attempt to cajole Loreli into helping him, the one time he followed them down to the

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90 beach, had been met with Loreli screaming Cop! followed by she and Matthew diving behind a sand dune. Now, near sunset, Sam and Loreli walk side by side. Their pace is slow, unhurried. Sam thinks about packing. There really isnt anything left to do. In the morning, Matthew will come to say goodbye, and then they will go. In front of him, Loreli is running a little ahead. Periodically she stops and bends to inspect the beach. She is holding the bottle they finished a few days before. She is filling it up with sand. She stops and turns toward Sam. She waits for him to catch up. She holds up the bottle. You know those little bottles girls wear around their necks? she says. This is the jumbo-size version. Sam looks at the sky. Slowly the sun moves towards the fading horizon. I want to talk to you, he says. Well, Im busy now, Loreli says. Now is not the time. She bends down, takes a scoop of sand. Cant you see that now is not the time? Loreli walks towards him. She comes up close, close enough that Sam can feel her breath on his chest. From a distance, they are like lovers leaning in for a kiss. Sam jumps. I thought that was close, there, just for a second, he says. I thought you were going to spit on me. He smiles. It is as if, one by one, each of his teeth are being rammed into glass. He looks at the bottle. At the bottom of the bottle, the sand is tinted a surprising, rosy hue. Im taking the beach home with me, Loreli says.

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91 Thats right, darling, Sam says. Good girl. Loreli looks at the bottle. She begins to cry. Sam reaches for her, the woman he loves. He takes her shoulders in his hands and shakes them. Stop it! he shouts. Oh you have to stop this! Sam closes his eyes. The sun seems suddenly very bright. He feels dizzy. Sam touches the top of his head. The sun is very hot on his neck. It is as if a heavy hand is pressing down on his neck. He looks foggily down the beach. Everything is confused. Nothing looks familiar. For a moment, he feels that he is trapped in a strange, blinding land. He feels lost. He looks up and down the beach. Suddenly he feels that there is something he has not done, something he has missed. That there is something urgent that he has forgotten to do. Ahead of him, a tiny figure rushes towards the water. Sam runs to the water. At the edge of the surf, he stops. For a moment he cannot tell which parts of her are beneath the surface and which parts are not. Loreli, please, he says. Im not coming out, she says. Dont come near me. He steps forward. He plants one foot firmly in the surf. The sky is red, the water a dull silver. My sweet girl, he says. My little baby.

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92 The girl kicks the water. The water reaches her mouth and then retreats. It touches her mouth and flees. Youll have to drag me out, she says.

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WHAT IS MINE I will be plain. I have stolen a child. I simply scooped him up and carried him away. It was not difficult. We were meant to be. It was in the newborn wing, late at night. A candy striper in the preemie unit was desperate to go rub herself against her pimply boyfriend. I was working in reception. She absolutely begged me to help her out. (Watch em a minute, would ya? she popped.) I didnt mind; no one was calling. It was twelve oclock in the boonies. I took over for her. I stood among the half-formed minis and tried to breathe. There was very little air in the preemie unit. Something was wrong with the air vents. There was not air enough for all of us, and me with my over-sized lungs. I was not meant to be there. My darling stood outside the room, nose pressed against the glass. Our eyes met. He was standing alone. There was no one else in sight. Well, I have always wanted a child but my little darling was the only one that caught my eye. He was terrifically appealing. He stood out in golden plumpness among the throngs of graying larvae, wholesome as a bread loaf. It was a guiltless union; he was all alone in a hospital at night. Who would leave him there? Only a delinquent. His mother was probably barely out of her preteens. Surely, I did a service. You know the temperaments of country people. One less mouth to feed. Theyre probably grateful. As I said I waltzed out. My little one looked up at me and we both knew. He took my hand and that was it. The corridor lighting illumed our way. . 93

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94 It is beautiful here. Peaceful. Everything is so calm and quiet and near to death. The remnants of elegant ends are everywhere. They give us something to strive for. Outside our camper, two hummingbirds lie impaled on a single cactus. We have come from Portland, Maine, to Quartzsite, Arizona. We came by train. We began the journey in our first days together; it took three weeks. We cruised by taxi to our final destination. At first the cabbie thought I was completely mad but the 200.00 tip had him praising wide open spaces by the time we parted. We had to get out of Maine. We did not run so much as sensibly leave. It was not an unpleasant trip although probably best forgotten. We have set up house in a trailer. It is off by itself. The next house is miles away. There is a dirt road that sits beside it. Teddy bear cacti line the drive. We havent any neighbors. Inside, the walls are crimson. Everything is covered with a crimson fabric. The windows are shellacked crummily. It is perfectly comfortable. I bought the thing for 750.00 at a roadside stand. The stand featured a prominent billboard which caught my eye. Free gasoline with purchase, it read. Car parts sold. The trailer is practically brand new. It is shaped like a bullet. We are perfectly content. The town is filled with old people-a whole tribe. There is no one here under the age of seventy. There are so many of them. Enough to outfit an army. I think about this often. It is just something that pops into my head. Truly, they would make great soldiers, in that they would be both willing and disposable. Death, they know, is inevitably coming, so why not meet it in a nobler fashion? They would embrace the opportunity. But alas, they have no one to organize them. My hands are full.

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95 Sometimes one creeps awkwardly by on a rusty bicycle. I am friendly. I give him my pageant queen wave. I try to make them laugh, but they smile, only. They dont wave back. Time has rendered them keenly aware of their sub-par capabilities. They would fall. Technically we live in this town, Quartzsite, filled from start to finish with retirees. Are they in some sort of retirement community? The method of organization remains unclear. They have individual houses. As I said, there is no one to oversee them. No one to coddle and bed check and see who is still alive and kicking. It is such a strange place, it is so morbid. There are bullets everywhere, scattered. They are just there on the ground. It is so strange, here. I have never seen an ambulance. The old fogies dont seem to need them. They seem to have agreed to let nature take its course. Not to say they will take it lying down; they seem quite lively. They have parties. Smoke rises from their barbecues almost every night. They seem to be having a good time. The child and I rarely go out. We are content here, with each other. We have everything we need. When we do, he thinks its a big adventure. Sometimes we walk to the Roadrunner minimart, the child, the dog, and me. It is the closest thing. It takes about thirty minutes. The child is delighted. He sings as we walk. Doodadoodeedee, he says. Mommymommymommy. At the minimart, a woman in a printed muumuu squeals, What a beautiful child! It is always this way. The same woman, every time. I wait for him to answer. He has only a little trouble choosing what to say. It takes him a little time. Of course there is the fear that soon he will be talking, questioning, demanding to be told some things, whats going on, but it is all right at the moment. At the moment, he knows only a few words and his

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96 choice of combinations is usually hilarious. He looks up at the lady. Fat dog, he says. This is my fault, of courseits what I have taught him to call Blue. The woman looks at me. Thank you, I say. We back away quietly. As I say we dont go out. We are content here, with each other. We have everything we need. We are perfectly amused. Our trailer sits at the edge of a wash. The child is always there. He plays all day among the silty rocks. The rabbits are his favorites. He thinks when a rabbit jumps away he is playing a game. He does not yet understand fear. He turns on the world an innocent eye. I am sitting at the window, watching the other two run amuck. The dog and the child are teething. Rather, the dog is pretending to be a puppy, and the child is pretending to be a dog. They are messing everything up. My seat covers lie torn and tattered beside a shredded throw rug. They are ruining my pillowcases. They are having a smashing good time. They have torn up everything. I am disappointed in Blue. She is years too old for this. She is seventy-six. The child is newly two, Id say. At least for him this is semi-appropriate. I am a joke of a disciplinarian. I let them get away with it all. Outside, in the dirtyard, they are sniffing at each others poo. In the yard, old Blue is chewing on a tumbleweed and giving me an Evil Eye. Before the child we spent our days gloomily, commiserating together, mutually pupless. We came together one winter when I found her on the roadside, huddled hopelessly over a pile of frozen pups. I took her in as a fellow failureshe, having had her chance, and me with my womb as barren as this landscape. Now we are in competition. Suddenly she is a fun-loving galalways up for a game. She has devoted herself fully to entertaining the child. If she had her druthers she would have him all to herself; I would be out of the

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97 picture. She wants him for her own! And yet I dont despise her, havent it in me to kick her out. I understand how she feels too well, I guess. It is afternoon. Someone has followed us here. A man. I do not recognize him. He means nothing to me. He arrived yesterday morning. At the moment, I am staring at his four-wheel drive vehicle, which is blocking my view. Normally I have a perfect shot of the local Q mountain, of which I am now straining to catch a glimpse. There is a white spray painted Q at the very top. Everyday I check to see if someone is climbing it. No one ever is. If I were to come across a worthy candidate, I would pay them to do so. I crave such a display that much. No one comes here, which was why I chose it. It is a Hicksville sort of place. We have gone from one boondocks to another. All the streets are dead-ends naturally. He says he followed us here directly. That he stayed in the old folks camp for a while, too nervous to come on over. I wrack my brain for recognition but nothing comes up. Was he on the train? I dont recall his face. I certainly have never seen it. He says his name is Edgar. Well, I have known many Ellises and Jakes in my life but never an Edgar. I do not say this, though, so he hasnt a chance to refute me. He says he has been out of work and that he needed this, an opportunity, to get away from Portland. He says we knew each other once. Each to his own, I say. We must not deny the truths of others. He smiles. Is that Gandhi? he asks. I sniffle. I want to pat his arm hes so dim. However, I must not insult my guest. I refrain.

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98 That he has come here is not all that astonishing, really. I am not surprised. I am less than shocked. People are crazy on the whole and their craziness makes them desperate. I am attractive. Fair. A blue-eyed blonde. I am tall. The full extension of my legs could span the circumference of any man. Certainly my form harks back to a better age. It is practically a fact that I resemble a famous 1930s movie actress. Associations have been made. I possess a certain air of bonnie innocence. If pressed I will strut my stuff. I can giggle on cue. Bat my eyelashes. In my irresponsible youth I was a girl made for languorous bubble baths Now, we are sitting on the divan, knees touching. I am twirling a golden lock with my pinkie, politely rapt. The man is very animated. His face contorts amiably. He is chatting about something. He is reminding me that we were once lovers. And I love you still, he says. With all of my lonesome heart. Goodness, he is sentimental. I remain unmoved. I havent a penchant for sentimental cheesiness, a rarity among my sex. Still, I do not possess it. That un-geneit is the same that keeps me from needing a man. They stem from the same molecule. I nod and smile politely. It could easily be the case. Just because I dont remember it does not mean it didnt happen. There have been such a number. I cant remember everything. It is true I recall a romance, but with different players. You should recognize this, at least. What Im saying is there have been many; he is just one. He looks at me expectantly. He is waiting for me to say something. I, on the other hand, am feeling slightly claustrophobic. I am thinking about how tight the camper is, how small. With just one more here it is almost unbearable. However it is a double-wide, so I shouldnt be complaining. Still it is so tiny. Everything here is so small. It is as if life,

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99 the world, has collapsed into miniature. It is so tiny. We will all be crushed. If we take a breath now we will fill up the last tight spaces. I try to regain my composure. I run my fingernails along the edge of the coffee table, turning the conversation. Would you like something to drink? I ask. Its too hot for whiskey, although Ive a jug of grape Kool-Aid, freshly brewed. He nods. Were you ever involved in the sponging industry? I ask. I am thinking that the solitary life of a fisherman would account for some oddness. Also that I have slept with a lot of fishermen. Perhaps you were acquainted with some fellows I knew down at the docks, I continue. Were you in shipping? He shakes his head. From the kitchen, I eye him shrewdly. He could be a murderer, for all I know. There is no telling. I dont know any of the signs. He should not be here. Still, I do not tell him to take his leave. I am too polite. He has a sweet, bland, face. The blandness is heartening. If he had secrets, where would they hide? Behind what? His skin is poreless. I neednt worry. I eye him. He thinks I am being coy. He takes me in his arms, taut as sausages. He smells of turpentine. If ever we did have a love affair, I suppose this alone would have ruined it. He wraps his arms around me. I am defenseless. If he were to suddenly produce a knifeblade, I would have nothing to wield. Of course I ask him to stay. I am not of the generation who find it imperative to renounce the presence of a man. Rather, I find them pleasant. Nice to have around. They are useful, of course. They find ways to earn their keep. The garbage is waiting to be taken out. There are cans that need opening. He is more than welcome.

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100 Immediately, I lie down with him. Why not? We all have our requirements. I lie down for him. There is no reason not to please. I am not above it. My legs part easily. I sleep with him only to get a moments peace. Afterwards, he sleeps soundly. His exertion leaves him looking scrubbed clean. I, on the other hand, probably smell awfully. He rolls over. I lick his arm. Every man deserves some encouragement. I cannot tell him I do not remember. That I do not recall must not be known. I do not recognize him. I cannot tell. Surely he would sleep on the ground to be near me. He would lie down, sleep on the steps of the trailer. In the morning he would be there to trip over, still as the dog. He is such a kid. He takes a quick post-coital nap and then is up and raring. He and the child go out to play. In the wash they are chasing lizards, picking them up by their tails and dropping them. Often the tails come off in their hands and then they have to stop and celebrate. They do a little dance. It seems a cruel pastime to me but they are getting a kick out of it. They are giggling crazily. They have taken such a liking to each other. They are instantly attached. It is late. Everyone is asleep except Edgar and me. Edgar is curious about the child. He is desperate to find out whos he is. He is jealous, of course. I tell him he is nobodys. I found him in a paper sack, I say. I pulled him out from a shipping barrel, down at the loading docks. I use the stories I have prepared, to tease him. I find it amuses me. Why not? I can see no reason. Explanation is tiresome. I have better things to do. Really, it is none of his business.

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101 I do little here in the desert. Not much is expected of me. Doddling along after the little one seems to fill my days well enough. On the other hand, Edgar has found a job working as a handyman for the old people. Anything they cant manage, he takes care of. It has been a week. Oh how they love him! He is the answer to their prayers. The old fogies now have someone to boss around, and their women have a strapping young buck to flirt with. They are especially over-the-moon. They giggle ogle-eyed. They slip a nickel into his back pocket when his back is turned. It is nice to have a provider. And he is thrilled. The ability to provide thrills him. You can see that much in the way he cuts things up. He slices and cubes, humming. Edgar has prepared an extravagant Campbells canned kidney meal for us. However, I do not care for the carcasses of sea creatures. They disgust me. They remind me of female sexual reproductive organs. They taste like tongue. I do not care for them. I want to spit the food into a Dixie cup I am holding in my hands. I am hiding it under the table. However, I refrain. Edgar is watching me. It is important to him that I eat. He means to fatten us up. But I am fat enough already. Of course, women are eighty percent fat cells. It is a truth rarely mentioned out loud. We are engorged in a gelatinous blubber from the moment of our births. I say this. Edgar laughs and shakes his head. He thinks Im hilarious. He finds me terrifically entertaining. Once more he is delighted by an irrelevant outburst. Its quite flattering, really. Everything that pops out of my mouth he thinks is wonderful. The meal is new for us. It is something different. The childs normal diet consists of candied corn, the whites of bread. Froot Loops. I eat with him. Our tastes are the same.

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102 Rather, his cravings are mine also. I have no backbone. He is my little prince. I eat with him. He dictates our intake and I agree. Edgar voices his concern. He fears for our kidneys, our livers. We must get something of value down you, he says. He urges us to keep eating. We are as stuffed as hams. Our bellies pulse to swelling beyond our buckling belts. He beams, liking the look of us. I watch his face. It is as happy and bland as a sweet potato. I smile back, munching cheerily. I will do what it takes to please him. He is good to me, and sweet to my child. He looks upon him with genuine affection. They play. Yesterday I caught them practicing at catching a jackrabbit. Its truefrom the window they could have been father and son. Edgar and I are in bed. He is telling me that I used to love him. He turns, asks me, Why have you stopped? I have no answer for him. I can think of nothing to satisfy. He waits. He puts his head between his legs and sighs. Oh Angie, he says. Angie, Angie, Angie. He sighs. Angie, my heart. Where have you gone? I do not sleep well. A mother worries. A mothers worriesthey keep me awake. I am plagued with fears that the child will be taken. Who will come for him I am not sure. I worry that he will not be so long before he is able to ask about our situation. He is so brighthe is learning to talk so quickly. It is only a matter of time, and there is nothing I can do. Still, I spend my time obsessing. I cannot help it. I let my worries run their

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103 course. I pass the time looking up at the night sky. It is black and full of stars. Basically I am alone. Things scurry and slither in my sight but they are all at a distance--nothing ventures near. It is quiet. The silence is not so terrible; the desert offers a companionable buzzing. Now, in the night, things are returning to me. It is all coming back. It is the quietness that sparks things. With so few distractions the mind opens up. I am remembering how Edgar and I met. I have already rejected the scenario he presented. According to him, we met in the hospital when he came to inspect the IC wing for a potential overhaul. However, this is ludicrous, in that I do not speak to contractors, ever. I find their methods demeaning. Im a conservationist by nature. I believe in the saying, If it aint broke, dont fix it. It is something I stick to. The truth is that we met in line at the hospital cafeteria, where we both ordered the chicken sandwich. He stepped on my foot and commented on my choice of condiments: green relish, for indigestion. He was wearing a blue jumpsuit, uniform of the working class. If I had known he was in charge of the operation of which I disapproved I never would have spoken to him. I mistook him for someone else. I thought he was the janitor. It was a brisk, reasonably-timed love affair. He took me twice behind the sixth floor nurses station and that was it. However, now that I think of it-the man I was thinking of was bald. I am not entirely sure that he was Edgar. Well, things like that can be taken care of nowadays, I suppose. It is not just toupee or nothing, these days. Hair regrowth is a viable option. It would be impolite to ask.

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104 It is noon, bright mid-day. I have a visitor. The men are out. They are fine alone together. They are steady chums. They have a lot in common. They are both men. They share some things. They use my bosom as a welcome mat. Now, they are off hunting jackrabbits. Their cardboard contraption (loading box and carrot) has been once successfulthey caught a pet they creatively named Jack. The child is delighted with it. He is in love. He is mad for rabbits, now. He would like to be a rabbit! The dog (poor Blue) has fallen by the wayside. I blame Edgar for the title. He is a sweet companion but a dull conversationalist. Often after our interactions I am for a time struck completely dumb. For a while I waited for them outside, but had to retire when an old goose in a Nissan Plymouth cruised by repeatedly. It looked like she had taken it upon herself to act as a camp spy. I had seen her before, puttering around in the yard in the front her house, shooing away the crows. I called out to her--a reminder to her that we were already familiar. I had seen her bending over birdseed in her big koolat shorts. Granted, I am probably being a little paranoid. If this place houses any CIA agents, theyre cooked. So I had to come in. I am alone and would rather not be. I turn on the TV. A commercial for ion -free deodorizer is on. Blue sniffs by the couch, looking or snacks. She jumps up to sit next to me. We are on a truce; she is not so angry with me. Edgar has taken my place as One to Watch. I have to agree. I turn the channel. I am bored and drinking. I give her a little bourbon but she doesnt seem to react. Who could know what shocks her? There is not telling. She is old. Her convictions are flummoxed by senility. She is a good dog, weird but sweet.

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105 At five oclock they are back. Blue and I look up sleepily, our eyelids lifting half-way. We are drugged with too much television. It takes us a minute to figure out whats going on. They look really goofy; they are dressed up as the two of us. Ta da! Edgar cries. He is wearing one of my dresses and has a mop on his head. We thought wed see what its like to be you ladies. My little one shouts and claps his hands. His outfit is made entirely of newspapers pilfered from the minimart. He makes a darling puppy. He pats Blue, who barks with enthusiasm. She must be delighted. Its her bloody dream come true. Flattered, Blue and I allow them to join us on the couch, and we all cuddle up cutely. Edgar puts his arm around me, beaming at everyone. What a sap. He is so sweet and dopey; he is practically tearing up. I can see the wheels turning. He is fashioning us as a little family. He is picturing us at Christmas on a Hallmark card. We are framed in holly, cozily arranged. Im embarrassed to admit Im charmed. He is so earnest and looks so ridiculousa lethal combination. I am standing in my longjohns, shivering on the porch. Winter keeps the mornings cool. This morning I awoke to find a dead jackrabbit on my doorstep, a gift from old Blue. I hate to recognize it. Its my babys Jack. Apparently, Blue is as possessive as I am: see exhibit A. Near the shed, Blue skulks by, eyeing me warily. She is already feeling guilty. It looks like she swallowed up the bunny and then spat her out. The rabbit looks basically unharmed, though bloody. The body remains mostly intact. Tiny, frozen teats pointing towards the sky. They look accusing. I sympathize with her as a mother thwarted. We are alone for a moment.

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106 The sun is setting. I have made the mistake of telling the child. Now he is in mourning. He is heartsick over his pets vengeful demise. At the moment he is quite melancholy. I had no idea he was so attached. I find myself jealous of a dead rabbit. It is ridiculous. He is moping around, sullen. He has been like this all day. A month ago I could not have imagined preferring anothers company to his but the moment has arrived. I am so jealous. I leave him to his mutterings. I retire to the porch with my beau. Edgar and I sit on the porch like two old people, watching the sunset. We are like two of the retirees, huddling together, waiting to go. I have given him the good chair, the one with the sunken middle. The one I have fallen into has the propensity to snap shut. I admit I feel a little badly. I have gotten him drunk. He is such a tiresome companion and I am so upset. I slipped a little bourbon into his coffee. At dinner, I offered it straight. I admit I pressured him. You see, he is so much lovelier when drunk. He is silly and spontaneous and actually amusing. Inside, the child is playing with his train set. He moves the same car back and forth along the windowsill, spitting profusely. The revving of its engine is accompanied by spittle. Through the glass I can hear the sounds. It is getting tedious. I suggest a walk. Edgar is delightfully intoxicated. He literally jumps up at the mention of it. We head for nothing. Towards the sun, I guess. We head in that direction. Edgar walks beside me, swinging his arms. On the ground, bullets are everywhere. They look shocking on the sand, like things from space. As we go along I gather them up. I am collecting them for good luck. It is a charm that comes with a certain danger, which is the beauty of it. One day I might be standing by a water heater and they could just explode. But it wont happen. The child

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107 was born under a lucky star. I am his guardian. There is no one else. It is impossible to harm me without harming him. As an afterthought, I am protected as well. Edgar jumps in the air and stumbles. He is waving his arms. He thinks he has seen somethinga snake maybe, or a really big lizard. There it goes! he shrieks. He is drunk as a skunk, eyes bulging. He is pointing at nothing. We have reached a clearing. There are no cactuses and the place is free of brushthere are only the bullets. I like to imagine how they got there. It is a wonder. I suppose some old man put them there. My most promising idea is that he sprinkled them across the desert as a sort of game, perhaps for his grandchildren to find. The sky is getting pinker, it is almost red. The Q on my mountain is a rosy pink. As we walk, the bullets in my pocket rattle together. Each step is accompanied by a definitive clink. They swing back and forth along with the rhythm of my stride. I fondle them with my fingers. I am thinking that they might make suitable playthings. Might they not make darling little rocket ships? I drop them into my pocket, pinching my wrist accusingly. I am horrible, horrible this rabbit incident has me raving mad. I am so hungry for his devotion that I would like to hurt him. However, the powder is old and useless, probably. They most likely would not go off. I could give them to my boy and there would probably be nothing to worry about. Of course, my conscience forbids it. It is just my bitterness at work.

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108 In the night I wake up, gasping. I have shuddered myself awake. I have wrested myself from an awful dream. I am sweating all over. In it, I was watching my little one playing in the yard, and ran straight into a cactus. By the time I reached him, he was covered in spines. His baby body was a bloodied pulp. I rush to his room crying, begging for mercy. I get into his little bed, burrowing under the covers. Still, I do not wake him. He is mumbling dreamily. Shhh, Mommy, he says. The coyotes. His eyelids flutter. Grrr, he says. I am standing up, now. I have composed myself. I bend over him. I cannot help but sniff him. He smells delicious. His baby head smells of Skittles. He pats my hand, sweetly. Even in sleep he comforts me. I am so relieved. All is forgiven. It is early evening. The man is leaving. I am sending him away. I have betrayed my beloved and Im blaming it on him. I know it isnt right but it is what I am doing. He really must go. He is not one of us, nor will he ever be. It cannot happen. He is too whole; he is no sort of outcast. He is of the outsidehe belongs there. He has been here too long already. Three weeks! I should have cut the cord, anyway, by now. His being here is not good for the child. If he can get so attached to a bunny, how fond must he already be of this man? Their time together has been lovely. It is cruel to prolong it. In regards to my own selfish concerns, I am not worried about him telling anyone about ushe wouldnt. He would never betray me in that way; he is so utterly devoted. I have to get down to business. It is no longer proper to continue waiting. Remaining passive is no longer kind. However, I say only what is needed. I use only the

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109 phrases needed to make him go away. I tell him I do not love him, that all my devotion belongs to my son. He laughs, not getting it. He is so slow. You were always so witty, he says. Somehow, Id forgotten that about you. I give him a look to show my gravity. I am honest and true. I am clear as a ghost. He gets it. He collapses in tears. He buckles over and hangs his head between his knees. Feeling badly, I pat his torso. I stroke his sweaty hair. There is no comforting him. He is inconsolable. There, there, I say. Isnt there some other girl youve gotten me mixed up with, one that you were meant and born to love? He looks at me and cries harder. He is blubbering like a baby. He will not stop crying. I continue to pat and coddle but I am running out of patience. However I do not show my frustration. My annoyance is cloaked in calm. Surely theres an explanation to what happened, here, I say. This is simply a case of mistaken identity. I go on. Surely this is helpful. I remain so reasonable. And really Im terrible unsuitable. For instance, a real horror in the mornings. Without assistance, my breath resembles that of a wild boar. And have you taken a look lately at the state of my underarms? I can make them do the chaachaa. Just look at those babies jiggle! I check my audience. His face has collapsed and he is drooling. However, I keep going. I push through. I really turn on the dramatics. Go to her! I cry, Go to her now!

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110 Something terrible has happened. Edgar has been bitten by a brown recluse spider. Tonight he went out to the shed for a shower and then came back, poisoned. It happened quickly. It took ten minutes to accumulate his doom. The landscape has rejected him. It is not just me. It is only a few hours after I told him to go. He went for a shower and then returned, raving about how he had been attacked. It was under the toilet seat. However, I dont see anything, yet. It has been ten minutes. Edgar has collapsed. He has draped himself dramatically over the divan, limbs sprawled. He is holding his arm over his head to drain the blood out. An hour passes. He is moving in and out of sleep. I am beginning to see what he is talking about. Although the actual bite is just a dot, his bitten arm appears sunburnt but his face is pale. He is dizzy and pale-looking. He is see-through. I can see the light wavering beyond his clear and shimmering skull. In the lamplight, the skin on his face seems to ungulate. The color is draining out. His head looks like a colorless blob. His cheeks hang limp; all the liquid has left him. He looks like an aquarium somebody tipped over. The door is open. From the shadows, Blue appears, trailing the hairless culprit. She is such a predator, these days. She has managed to jam the bulbous carcass of the spider in her mouth so that its legs appear to be jetting straight from her gums. She looks fine, but I suppose she is stung now, too. I know some things about spiders. It is important to be aware of ones enemies in a new place. I have done my research. The desert recluse attacks only when provoked. Of course, I do not say this, for it certainly wouldnt help things. Thankfully, I hold back. On the other hand, Ive read that the sap inside a barrel cactus is a sufficient salve. If asked I

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111 will seek it out. I am more than able. I tell him this. He shakes his head, rolling his eyes. He is not impressed. He has given up being impressed by me, it seems. That time for us is over. He spends the night vomiting. In between upchucks he glares at me. He seems to think I am the one to blame for the attack. He thinks I planted it there. In the night he whispers his accusation, primly beneath the sheets. This seems an extreme reaction to me but I am keeping in mind that he is possibly dying. I have tried to convince him otherwise but it is of no use. Between vomits he berates me. He spits out bile and harangues in equal measure. I have never seen him so energetic. He is downright feisty. Grossly, his anger seems to have excited a desire in me. He is spitting up with such flair. I am worried about him but also aroused. He is brave and hot-looking. Edgar, I say. Ive never seen you this way! This illness is revealing a whole new side! Again, he is less than amused. He does not smile. He spits in my direction. It is the morning. Edgar is really going, now. He is off to the hospital in Phoenix. The bites of brown recluse spiders are almost never lethal but of course one should take precautions. I would like him to take Blue but she has gone off somewhere. She hasnt the option to take the attack lightly. It is different for her, she realizes, and so she has gone. Animals wish to be alone when they die, you know. They are more proper than we are. The bite mark is now a hole. It is about the size of a pencil eraser. It is black and bloodless. I have to try and not shudder. The lack of blood is unsettling, for some reason.

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112 It is such a clean wound. He doesnt bleed. However, it is surrounded by several crimson rings. They are just lines, though. I do not want him to go anymore but I understand that it is the noble thing to do. Illness does not belong here, in this home. The child should not bear witness. Now he stands at the door, shivering. Its all your fault, you know, he says. Edgar is gone. He has been gone for days; it has been so long. I miss him. I want him back. Everything, my perception of him, has changed. I should have kept him here. I could have nursed him back to health. When I first asked him to go the rooms opened up for a while but now they feel even closer. He was holding things up, it seemskeeping them back. I suppose I am driven by guilt. There are things that we are obliged to pay. We do owe him things. We are indebted awfully. Something is owed. In the night, the child calls out for him. Da, he whimpers. Da. But children soon forget. Their memories are slim. This is what I am hoping for, anyway. He will come back. In a few days, hours, even, I will be sitting by the window and the phone will ring. Darling, he will say. I am coming for you. But I do not need to wait for it. He is coming soon. He cannot forget us; we are his loves. We go to the desert to wait for him. I take the child in my arms and carry him. We walk only for a little while. Soon we will find the right space to lie down. There are so many stars; we can see everything we need to. They light our way. Since he has been gone things are so clear. I see now that it was wrong to say that the desert rejected him. I see now that it was claiming him for its own. Now, the desert

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113 spreads before us in its fathomless order and law. We are part of it, too, now. We lie down to let it take us. In the desert, I wrap my arms around his little torso, and he puts his head on my chest. He nuzzles up to me, close as a kitten. He falls asleep almost instantly. He is content to be with me. The child is at peace. He will return at night. He will find us as we are, asleep and nestled cozily. I can see him walking up the drive. He is pale and shimmering, his face glowing. He will return to find us as we are now, leaning on one another, close and warm, waiting to be found.

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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Elizabeth Kaiser got her B.A. in literature, creative writing, and AfricanAmerican Studies at the University of Montana, and her M.F.A. at the University of Florida. She lives in Florida with her cat, Bianca Jagger. 114


Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0014347/00001

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Title: How to Cleave
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0014347/00001

Material Information

Title: How to Cleave
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0014347:00001


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HOW TO CLEAVE


By

ELIZABETH CHRISTINE KAISER

















A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF FINE ARTS

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


2006



























Copyright 2006

by

Elizabeth Christine Kaiser



































To My Parents















ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I am grateful to Mary Robison for her inspiring prose, dead-on insights, and

wonderful encouragement, to Jill Ciment for her frankness and above-and-beyond

guidance, to Padgett Powell and David Leavitt for their much-appreciated assistance, and

to Kevin Canty for commanding me to come to this program. I would also like to thank

my parents for their continuing enthusiasm, support, and unflagging belief in me. Finally,

my appreciation extends to Anne Elizabeth Pries, my fellow writer and kindred spirit.
















TABLE OF CONTENTS



A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ..................................................................... ......... .............. iv

ABSTRACT ............... ...................................... vi

H OW TO CLEA V E .................................................................... ... ............. 1

GIRL WITH HAIR ON FIRE........................................................... ...............14

T O F IL L ................... ...................2...................7..........

TH E PL A C E B E TW E EN ............................................................................ .............. 41

C A U G H T ..................................................................................................................... 6 4

F L O T S A M ........................................................................................................7 9

W H A T IS M IN E ........................................................................................................... 9 3

B IO G RA PH ICA L SK ETCH ..................................................................... .............. .. 114

























v
















Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Master of Fine Arts

HOW TO CLEAVE

By

Elizabeth Kaiser

May 2006

Chair: Mary Robison
Major Department: English

This collection is made up of seven stories. In most of these, I attempt to explore an

adult desire to return to childhood. The idea is that when this is proved impossible,

people try and regain their child selves in other weird and creative ways. In "The Place

Between," a teenager mourns the loss of her childhood due to her mother's death, in "Girl

With Hair on Fire," a young woman who just cannot seem to grow up struggles to love

and care for two children, and in "What is Mine," the protagonist literally steals a kid.

These adult characters seek to reclaim their own childhood pasts by dwelling on them,

ignoring adult responsibilities, and just pretending that they are not actually grown-up.

They all act like children, and all of them are obsessed with the notion that it was better,

once.















HOW TO CLEAVE

My mother became a Hare Krishna in February, after everything good in winter had

already happened, but before it had begun to get warmer out. My mother and I both loved

Christmas and were sad to see it go, each year taking its passing as a loss. Afterwards it

did not seem there was much to look forward to. So we were both in need of a distraction,

and trying something new made sense. It did not seem so strange to me.

The Hare Krishna faith is a serious religion and should not be taken lightly, as a

hobby. But even so, this is how my mother treated it. She went to the meetings, which

offered both the steps of conversion and impartial information sessions, but she did not

change her lifestyle significantly. The only concession she made was to stop eating meat,

and then only briefly. Even this she could not stick to, this small thing, for as soon as I

complained it was back on the menu. Classes were Tuesdays and Thursdays from three to

six. There was also a separate women's course which my mother did not choose to

attend. After school I would pick her up and we would go to the class together, she

attending while I did my homework. Afterwards we would go home and I would finish

whatever I was working on and my mother would take to bed. February was one of her

sleeping months. My mother was bipolar, and that is not something you recover from, not

ever. As I understand it, bipolar disorder manifests differently in different people, but in

my mother it was mostly a matter of energy. Some months she was happy, energetic and

fun, always up for an adventure. These were also the months she did not sleep much. At

other times she would get very, very down, dark and depressed, and was mostly asleep.









In saying this, I do not mean to suggest that I hold a bitterness towards my

childhood, or that my mother was a difficult person to deal with. She was not. And I feel

objective in saying that she was the most charismatic person I have ever met. I believe

this is how most people felt about her, and that it was the reason she got away with the

things she did.

My mother was beautiful in a glamorous, movie star-ish way, except that she was

cooler-looking. When I was very small I went with one of my little friends to a Blondie

concert. I remember thinking that it was my mother up onstage, decked out in sparkly

spandex and a blond wig. She was small, with dainty, delicate bones. I did not take after

her. I had my father's horsey face, his long lanky body. I had his big teeth and coarse

hair.

That winter marked the first season of our lives together, just the two of us. My

father had moved out the month before. He had had an affair and had confessed to it, and

my mother had told him to leave. My father loved my mother deeply. He did not want to

go. But my mother could not live with a man who had betrayed her-she would not

tolerate it. I loved my father but I adored my mother, and was happy to have her all to

myself. So I was not greatly distressed by his absence. Later, I recognized my devotion to

my mother as the sort children have for a parent that they know is capable of leaving

them, but this was not until a long time had passed, and I was grown, and it did not matter

so much anymore.

Looking back, it is a wonder she stayed with him as long as she did, that she did

not get fed up with him earlier. She was a fickle person whose likes and dislikes changed

frequently. She did not stick with anything long. But now she had finally gotten tired of









him, and my father knew it. This was obvious in the tone she used with him, and the

words she used, even the way she moved when he was in the room. My father had acted

foolishly, but he was not a calloused man, just broken-hearted. This was clear to me, even

then.

But this was only one of the strange things that was happening that February.

Another was that I found myself suddenly friendless. Over the summer my best friend

Marti had gotten breasts, enormous ones, and with them a boyfriend, a lacrosse player

with a crew cut named Kyle. With these new accouterments, Marti had moved up in the

world, leaving me far behind. I was no longer cool enough to be friends with.




The woman who ran the class was small like my mother, but older and leaner, with

long graying hair. She was called Anirukh, but it was not clear to me whether this was

really her name or just something she went by. I doubted it was the former. She was a

white lady, not Indian. There were nine people attending the class including my mother,

five women and four men. All of them were white and seemed yuppie-ish, a common

enough type in the Bay Area, where we lived. The group could be divided into two

sections: the serious and the non-serious. The division, in my mind, was based solely on

dress. The serious ones wore robes (but only to the meetings, they changed after class),

and the less serious exercise pants and a T-shirt, since yoga and meditation were part of

the course.



After he left, my father developed a habit of coming over to the house when he

knew neither my mother nor I would be there. He still had a key. He would sneak in and









make himself at home, turn on the television, have a snack. This was mostly Tuesday and

Thursday afternoons, when we were at class. He was never there when we got home, but

he would leave little tokens so that we were reminded of his presence. I think that he

wanted us to know that he missed us, but he did not know how to show it properly. The

apartment he was renting was across the street from his practice, so he couldn't use the

excuse that it was easier to come to after work. He was very deliberate, very

demonstrative, and never left the house without making a mess. He was gross about it.

We would come home and find dirty pots caked in soup on the burners, cigarette ash on

the onyx-tile coffee table, a half-eaten pastrami sandwich stuck between the folds of the

couch. Once he left a beer bottle with an inch of liquid left in it, and while my mother

was unpacking groceries from the car I took a sip. The beer tasted warm and like it was

fermenting, sort of rotten. It tasted like something I wasn't ready for.




Classes were held in an old church that had been renovated and turned into a public

meeting house. Our town didn't have any temples. The church had beautiful stained glass

windows all along the outside, each one depicting a different event in Christ's life. The

one I liked particularly showed Jesus speaking to his disciples, and was done in all red

panels. I would sit under it and work on my calculus homework, the only class that gave

me trouble, and hope I was bathed in a rosy glow that softened my jaw line. I was

concerned about what the class thought about me and didn't want them wondering, as I

did, how such a gorgeous woman had managed to have such a lump.

I thought it was funny that the meetings were held in a church, and on the drive

home one day I mentioned this. I expected my mother to laugh but she just looked at me.









Then she told me not to be such a snob. I was not a snob by any means although I longed

to be one, and so I took this as a compliment. In my mind, only the beautiful and popular

were snobs, and so from then on I said anything awful I could think of, hoping to be

called a snob again, and so get a little closer to becoming the sort of person I wanted so

desperately to be.




Anirukh stressed a pure way of life: no gambling, meat-eating, or intoxicants. She

stressed chanting, yoga, and meditation. This was the path to Enlightenment. She also

stressed the importance of abstaining from illicit sex, or any sexual act that did not occur

within marriage and with the purpose of conception. Otherwise sex brought about

entanglement, exploitation, disappointment, and illusion. Illusion was especially

important to avoid. If you followed these rules you would simplify your life and bring

your mind and senses under control.

At the end of each session, Anirukh would tell a story about the Lord Krishna's life

from the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the summit of the ancient Vedas. She told stories about his

childhood, playing with the cows and calves in the forest, about his journey to the ocean

of milk and his adventures there. She told stories of Krishna witnessing Lord Visnu

transform into a wild boar, and of his quest to rid the world of demons. She always began

with, "once upon a time," and she spoke in a soft, sing-songy voice, as if she were telling

a bedtime story. During this time, one or more of the adults would inevitably nod off, but

were not reprimanded because sleep was just another form of meditation. I did not sleep,

however, and by the third week I had had enough of story time. As soon as her voice

dropped a few decibles I got up to get some air. Outside, one of the men from the class,









Bob, was already there. I thought he had said he was an architect. He was one of the less

serious ones and was wearing a jean jacket and had a ponytail. He was smoking.

Intoxicants were useless for spiritual realization, for although they could bend the mind

they could not free it, but he was smoking anyway.

"Hi." He grinned pointing at his cigarette. "Don't tell," he said.

I wanted to say something but I didn't know what, so I just nodded. From

watching him in class I had already deciphered that he liked my mother and was trying to

feel things out with me. During meditation, when everyone was supposed to have their

eyes closed, he would watch her.

After class Bob approached my mother, and they talked. My mother had joined the

class at least in part to meet men, so this was not outside the realm of what she wanted to

happen. I was standing by the doorway so I couldn't hear what they were saying to each

other, but I could see that Bob was gesturing wildly, and that my mother was giggling.




The day after she talked to Bob, my mother showed up at school. It was lunchtime,

twelve thirty, the worst time of day to be friendless. I was walking around outside, just

wandering, hoping someone would talk to me.

"Ann!" she stage whispered. I walked towards her. She was wearing a leather

jacket and black jeans, a cigarette in one hand and one foot stuck in a crook of the metal

fence. She looked like a rebel teenager from a fifties movie.

I was thrilled to see her. I was probably the only kid in the history of high school

who wanted people to see them with their mother.









"What are you doing? Come to lunch with me," she said. She sounded breathless.

Lately she had seemed a little frantic, like she might be moving into her manic mode.

I shrugged. "Just getting some air."

"Go tell your friends," she said. I turned and looked behind me. She didn't know

about Marti, about my new role as social outcast. My mother never suspected that I was

not both breathtakingly beautiful and wildly popular, and if she did she never let on.

"They're kind of being stupid, today," I said. "I think I'll just leave them hanging."

My mother stomped out her cigarette. "Right," she said. She winked. "Be

mysterious."

We went to the Chowder House, a little shack built on a slant just down the street.

Inside it was dark and warm, a cozy, wooden cocoon. We choose our regular seats in the

booth with the tallest backs, the one farthest from the window. I ate a breadstick and

waited for my mother to start talking. I knew why we were there. My mother was a

strange woman in many ways but I was her daughter and she was no mystery to me.

"Bob's cute, Mom," I said. "I like him."

My mother's eyes widened. She burst out laughing.

"How did you know?" she said. "Ann! Sometimes I think you're positively

clairvoyant."

My mother confided in me. She said that she liked Bob, too, and that he had asked

her to go on a date with him. She told me about everything she was feeling. She was like

a girl that way, and we were girlfriends together. My mother treated me like an equal,

which I found both empowering and tremendously flattering. She had wanted me to come









to lunch so that she could ask my advice on what to do about the situation. She wanted

my blessing, too, and to make sure that I was okay with her seeing another man.

I told her it was fine. I did not particularly want my mother to date again, but I saw

it as inevitable, and I did not find Bob threatening. He was nice enough and hip in a way,

with his jean jacket and ponytail, but he was not aloof or striking or terribly interesting,

as far as I could tell. He would not be able to hold my mother's attention for long.

Then it was my turn to confess something. I thought about making something up, to

say that a boy had kissed me at a party, but I had been to no parties that year. I was

always at home, so I did not say anything, and she did not press me. After lunch I did not

feel much like going back to school and so we decided to just go home. My mother

didn't mind-she had been a spotty student and thought it strange that I was so dedicated.




At home, there was a blue Volvo in the driveway.

"Dad's here," I said.

My mother sighed, then sucked air in sharply.

"Ugh," she said. "Take care of him, will you? Will you, Ann? I've got to have a

smoke." My mother got out of the car and started walking to the backyard, and I nodded

at her. It wasn't a problem--I knew how to take care of this.

Inside, my father was sprawled out on the couch, his legs draped over one arm. He

was still in his work clothes-a beige suit and a darker tie-although he had taken his

shoes off. His hair was mussed, and his beard looked patchy and sparse. There was a

piece of pizza on the ground without a plate and an empty box on the coffee table.

"Hi, Dad," I said.









"Ann," he said. "Honey. How was your day?"

"Fine, Dad," I said. I couldn't think of what else I should say. We stared at each

other. I felt like I had caught him doing something embarrassing, like he was naked,

sitting there on the couch.

"How was yours?" I managed, finally.

"Oh fine, fine," he said. He stood up, and leaned down to pick up the pizza box.

"Listen, Sweetie, I've got to go-got a late patient. Will you tell your mother hello for

me?" I said I would, and he kissed me on the cheek.




The next week we went to class, and when we got home, my father was there again.

We had Bob with us-he and my mother were going to a movie in an hour, and had come

home with me to kill a little time. When I saw the car, I wondered if my father had sensed

something happening, somehow, and had stayed on later to find out what it was.

My mother saw the Volvo and rolled her eyes. I didn't have to say anything.

"Groan," she said. "Double groan". She put her hand to her forehead. "Again?" she said.

"Again?"

I reached around to the front seat to pat her hand, and she took Bob out back to

smoke. I could hear her as she walked, mumbling, "it's like he's my father." I went into

the house to take care of things. I stood on the front steps and threw the door open,

calling into the house.

"Hey Dad," I said. "Come here a second."

My father came out, looking surprised. "Hi," he said. "Hey," I answered. "Did you

know somebody smashed up the bird feeder?"









"Really?" he asked. "Let me take a look at it."

It was a crazy lie and as soon as I said it I regretted it, but I wanted him to see Bob,

to show him that my mother had moved on and that she did not need him anymore. I

wanted to stop the ritual of his coming over. It was a cruel thing to do but I could be cruel

then, and remorseless. I knew I was hurting him but I did not care. I wanted my mother

all to myself.

I led the way to the backyard. My mother was pointing at something on the ground.

Bob had his arm around her and they were laughing.

I looked at my father. It was sunset, and his eyes looked strangely pale, almost

translucent. I tried to make him look at me but he continued to stare straight-ahead, at my

mother. Then he turned around quickly and walked out.




A month into sessions, my mother threw a potluck for the group at our home. My

mother was not the sort of person who threw parties that were not a success, and this was

no exception. Everyone was there. She invited my father as well, and, because he was a

glutton for punishment, he came, toting a casserole under his arm like it was a football.

The party got off to a nice start-everyone was standing around and chatting, and a

few people were smoking out on the lawn. I felt strange with all the Hare Krishna people

in the house, and my palms were sweating. My mother didn't seem to need me to do

anything-she wasn't paying attention to anyone but Bob, so I went to the bathroom to

take a break. I stayed in there for as long as I could without feeling weird, washing my

hands over and over. I avoided looking in mirrors whenever I could help it, though, so I

kept my eyes on my hands. When I came out, my hands were damp but they still felt









sweaty. Back outside, everything had changed. It was a different party. Everyone was

singing and dancing, and chanting uninhibitedly in a way I had never heard before.

My father was sitting with a guy from the group, a skinny man named Ed who was

playing the sitar. My father was completely engrossed, swaying his head to the music. He

looked goofy and huge sitting with little Ed, too eager, like an overgrown toddler.

"Ann!" he called. He waved at me wildly. "Come over here! This guy can play

Beethoven's fifth! Come see!"

I kept my head down and pretended not to hear him. I felt sorry for my father and I

felt badly about what I had done to him the day Bob was over. But too I was keenly

aware of negative association, and I didn't want his weakness to bring me down. I did not

think I could afford it. I kept walking.

I went outside to sit with my mother, who was singing while Bob played the guitar,

and when I went in to get something to drink my father was gone. He had left because no

one was talking to him, not even little Ed, and he had not felt wanted. He had left because

I had sent him away.




Something strange happened at that party. Afterwards classes continued, but they

met at our house now and not the church. My mother had become the unofficial leader,

even though she didn't know any more than anybody else. That my mother was now in

charge was clear to everyone, and they acknowledged it by consulting her, whether it was

how much saffron to put in the rice, or which Krishna story should be told next at

meeting. Everyone was feeding off of her energy, her charisma. Anirukh continued to

run the meetings, but they were looser now, more fluid, and didn't stick to any sort of









schedule. Most of the time everyone just sat around talking and chanting, or else they

meditated.

My mother was now dedicated to purifying her life, and she was earnest in her

quest for enlightenment. She stopped eating meat and was chanting and meditating every

day. March was still a sleeping month, which meant that, normally, she averaged sixteen

hours a day, but that was no longer the routine. She stopped sleeping. She no longer slept

through the day, and when I got up in the night to go to the bathroom or to check on her, I

would find her on the screen porch in the lotus pose, meditating or chanting softly to

herself.

It was not just my mother. Everyone in the group was more serious. At meetings

they greeted each other with, "may you seek pleasure wisely". They stopped saying "hi".

They all wore robes when they came to the house, now, and most of the men had

shaved their heads. Even Bob cut off his ponytail. There was something in the air that

early spring. Several of the members quit their jobs. My mother had no job to quit, but

she made a gesture that was equitable for her in shaving her head. This is not required of

Krishna women, but vanity works against purification, and so my mother relinquished it.

With her hair gone my mother looked younger, smaller somehow. Gone was my mother

the movie star, in her place a tiny pixie.




One Saturday, the group held a public chanting in the city park across the street

from my school. My father came, and we sat together on a bench a few yards away from

the dancers. They were dressed as a group in orange and yellow robes. All of them were









dancing, some with bells on straps around their wrists and ankles, some beating

tambourines. And they were all chanting together.

Sitting at a distance from my mother, away from her, allowed me to see her clearly.

She looked thinner, leaner, almost gaunt. Her beauty was more ethereal, now, less

obvious. She looked like she might float away. She was moving slowly, raising her arms

above her head and lowering them in soft, fluid strokes. Every once in a while she would

take a graceful little hop into the air. She never looked over at us, smiled or waved, and I

knew that, in one way or another, she would leave us both. A picture appeared in my

mind of us, my father and me, stuck with each other, alone. Two little old maids.

"Might as well get used to it," I thought. I laughed.

My father looked at me. "What's so funny?" he asked. He had a strange look on his

face, more a nervous smirk than a smile. I shook my head, and we went back to just

watching.

Years later I wondered what would have happened if he had asked me to dance, or I

had asked him, or if we had chosen each other, for once, instead of my mother. Maybe

nothing. In any case we did not, then or ever, not even when she left the Krishnas and got

much much worse, and was not even herself, not really, anymore. We could have been of

some comfort to each other then, but we did not choose to. And for a long time after she

died, years and years, we held her so close to ourselves that we could not speak of her to

one another, or even say her name.















GIRL WITH HAIR ON FIRE

The girl is surprised that this is her life. It is different now than how it was going to

be but this has happened to the lives of many people she knows. She is twenty-eight and

she lives alone in a big shanty house by the sea. She has saved up some money and is

taking a hiatus from her hard, gridded life. She has been there for six months. She does

not fear loneliness, but she is warned about it often. Her friends, they do not understand

why she has left the City. To them it is the only place on earth. How could she leave the

greatest place on earth?! They cannot figure it out.

This morning, the daughters of an old friend and another woman she does not know

have arrived to stay with her. The girl is not naive. Taking them in feels good and

generous. It does not feel like the only thing to do. They are abandoned children, the

children of mothers who have abandoned them. No lawyers, no services have been called.

It is to remain a small town affair. The girl has failed to comprehend how this can happen

but she is not the kind to make a fuss. It is not something people tolerate in her. The

children are staying with her until it is determined what will be done.




"Babes in the wood," the woman on the phone had said. "Little defenseless babes!"

"Yes," the girl had answered. It was summer and there was sweat between her

thighs. She wiped it away with a Kleenex.









"You are a good girl," the woman said. "What a weight off my mind! I have been

so anxious about who would take them! There have been many sleepless nights!"

"Certainly," said the girl.

"Did you know that the children were playing outside when they left?" asked the

woman. "They drove off right in front of them, in broad daylight. Like perfectly honest

people." The girl breathed.

"I heard they were lesbos," said the woman. "Poor defenseless creatures! Like little

plucked chicks."




The girl imagines the children coming in packages, little capsules, clear and egg-

shaped, rolling off the train. There will be nothing to worry about because there are air

holes, but they will have been jostled around. She will take them home and open them up.

She will throw them in water and watch them expand.

Even at the train station she cannot get herself to think realistically. She sees them

and forgets about the money she has saved, the big shanty house. She forgets that she is

twenty-eight. She thinks only that they will live in a tree house and survive on cheese

and Ritz crackers. They will hunt robins' eggs and shellfish. They will bum tree limbs for

fuel.

They are the only children who get off the train. The girl has seen the first child

before, when she was just a wisp of a baby. Now she is a wisp of a girl. She has pale hair

and eyebrows. Her friend is more substantial, with her bright yellow hair and a cherry

popsicle- colored mouth. Her features are exaggerated almost to the point of vulgarity.









"I'm her life coach," she says, turning to her friend. "Get your hands out of your

sleeves!" she says. "That looks crazy! It looks like you don't have any hands!" The girl is

startled. She has not even noticed that the child has her hands in her sleeves. The child

smiles shyly at the girl. She has a sweet, pinched face.




The girl's friends call. They do not know about the children. They are wondering

how she is doing.

"You are missed!" they say. "We miss you!"

"Me too," says the girl.

It is too far away," they say, "you're cutting out."

"Me too," says the girl.

"You are so far away," they say. "It is like living on an island."

"Yes," the girl answers, "it is."

"Wait," they say, "Pull your antennae up."

The girl adjusts her phone. She pulls the antennae up.

"What do you do out there all day?" they ask.

"Make Bric-a-Brac," says the girl. "Eat sponge cake." They sigh.

"I would like an oasis too," they say. "My own little escape." The girl does not

answer.


"You are so far away," they say. "It is like you are living on an island."









The girl has a lover who comes to visit her every couple of weeks. The man has

other women, of course, but he comes to see the girl the most. When he comes, he brings

her strange and important gifts that she would never think to give anyone. Once, in

winter, he gave her an oyster shell with a real pearl inside. When the girl lifted the pearl

to her face she saw that it had a hole running through it, like it had been taken from a

necklace.

It is summer, and this evening he arrives unannounced. When he comes, he arrives

in a pea-colored automobile the girl thinks looks like a pretty bug.

"Reserved for fun time," he says. He opens the sun roof. He pulls her into the car,

onto his lap.

"You're my steady," he tells her. "Although this is not the colloquial use of the

word, I feel that its transformed meaning retains my intended sentiment." The children

are watching them from the porch. The girl kisses the man and laughs loudly, loud

enough so that they can hear. She pokes the man in the ribs. "Ho ho!" he cries. "Ouch!"

The girl hops out of the car. She is a nervous girl, full of insufficiencies. She is only

in her late twenties, but already she is missing things. For instance: she has no drive. This

she is sure she had at some point but there are other things that she is not so sure about

but which have gone missing none-the-less. She fears that she is growing old too fast.

She is a cautious driver, she is good at Bridge. When she closes her eyes, there are

wrinkles on the insides of her eyelids. Taking a lover has made her feel productive, like

she is getting her life back on track.

The girl ushers the man in to dinner. She has cooked for the children' arrival-

pork, potatoes, peas- in- the- pod. She has covered the table with a pretty cloth. The man









and children sit down, and the girl sits too. She looks around the table, hopefully. She

waits for someone to say something.

The girl watches the children eat. The first child eats daintily, one small mouthful

at a time. The girl imagines that she can see it moving slowly down her vertebrae, inch by

inch. That she is clear as an embryo.

"I've seen all this before you know," the other child says. "I've had a pina colata,

and a rum and coke." This child eats like a teenage boy, like a little beast. The girl does

not want to answer. She stabs a broccoli tree with her fork. She does not answer. She

waves the tree in the air.

"I've seen all this before you know," she continues. "I've been to Hawaii and

Belize. I've been to the beach a thouououou-sand times." She says this dramatically, like

a rich woman in a play. "This place is nothing new for me."

The man is cutting his pork. He uses sure, swift strokes, like he is cutting

something much more important, like somebody's chest. The man cuts his pork and looks

around the room as if the children are not there, as if none of them are there. He cuts as if

he wants to get it over with but also does not want to make a mistake.

The girl loves to look at him. He has floppy hair and a wide, toothy grin. When she

looks at him, she is reminded of a dentist who, when she was a child, removed her

stubborn tooth. The tooth had been attached to a muscle, and the dentist had given it to

her in a baggie to take home, "for the tooth fairy." But the baggie was only white paper,

like the ones used for donuts, and on the car ride home blood and saliva had seeped out.

Now, the girl bites at her fingernails. She is troubled by the man's impression of the

children. She bites at her fingernails and crosses her legs very, very tightly.









After dinner he says: "They're funny. I like the way they speak only when spoken

to." This is his idea of a joke. He smiles coquettishly. He scratches the back of his hand.

He is always itching.




The man disappears up the stairs from noon until early evening every day he is with

the girl. He is a poet-he is writing a book of poems. The girl is not supposed to disturb

him. At dinner time he comes down the stairs and yawns. He asks: "What's cook'n, good

look'n?" When she asks him what it is he's writing, he says, "I am writing poesie for my

favorite girl," but she has never seen any of it. When she asks when she can see it he

says, "soon baby," and throws her a tomato or a spatula, whatever is handy.




The girl is walking around the house, searching for the children and trying to

remember the things her mother did to make her feel loved. There isn't much. She

remembers her mother giving her whole halves of cantaloupe melon with the seeds

scooped out. She put hot water bottles under her sheet. The girl does these things for the

children, too. Sadly, the girl remembers mostly bad things. One thing is that her mother

used to brush her hair. Once she had brushed too hard and the girl had told her: "You are

terrible at this," and her mother had hit her in the head with the back of the brush. Then

she had covered the place where she hit her with her hand and held it there for a long

time, like she was trying to suffocate it.

The girl is thinking about these things because already she is making mistakes. For

instance: today she realizes they have not had toothbrushes for a week. The children have









not brushed their teeth for a week! This is the sort of thing she forgets. She has, though,

prepared herself for questions. She has prepared herself for questions, but the children

ask none. Children ask questions! she thinks. What could be wrong with them? They

never cease to cause her worry. They ask only, "When is dinner? And "Where can we

find shells in the sand?" They ask, "Where are the jellyfish?"

The girl hears voices coming from a closet in the hall. She opens the door because

she is afraid they will suffocate.

"It's your fault," says the other child. "It is all your doing." There is a silence. The

girl hears a sound like a strap hitting wood.




It is the child's birthday, and the girl has planned a party. She has baked a yellow

cake and bought the child a watercolor set. She has decorated the house with things she

has taken from the beach. She has hung pinecones and sea stars from the ceiling, and

sprinkled pretty shells and rocks all over the house. She has lined the banister with

seaweed.

"It looks like the jungle," the child whispers, taking the girl's hand. She squeezes

back. The girl feels that the child is an old soul. The other child is rash, loud. She does

vulgar things with her eyelids.

The girl has bought the child a gift, and she has bought the other child a gift, too. It

is a tiny bowling ball with matching pins. The gift is not really for her but it is meant to

ease the girl's guilt.

"I already have this," says the other child. She puts her hands on her hips. "I hate

bowling," she says. "Bowling is for the bourgeoisie."









In the evening they go to the beach and the man makes a bonfire and S'mores. He

is telling the children as story. The children are watching him intently, as if any moment

he is going to do something fascinating. The girl likes to watch the children watching the

man. She is greedy with him but she is glad to have someone to share him also. It is a

contradiction that she has grown used to because it will not go away, like mildew on the

windows, like a scratch she has grown to love.

The man asks the children what they would like to have in the story.

"Bunny rabbits!" they cry. "Dinosaurs in their underwear!" The man lifts his

eyebrows.

"Once," he tells them, "I saw a man turn into a pumpkin monster before my very

eyes." The man likes to tell the children stories with high shock value. The children sit

back, satisfied. They cross their arms and kick at the sand with their feet. "He had sharp

leaf hands that could cut through anything, and he spit seeds out of his eyes." Here he

spits across at them, over their heads.

"Wooo," he says. "Woooooooooo." The man chases the children and bites their

legs.

"Don't play rough," says the girl. She tries to smile cheerfully. She looks at the

man and at the children. The sun is setting and everybody is pink. They are the same pink

species. The girl looks at her skin and it is pink, too. The girl shivers. She is thinking

about how she has not had a birthday party herself for many years nor has she been to one

for many years. She remembers only one. The party was for a child in the girl's class and

was held on a boat. What the girl remembers best is that there was a magnificent pink

cake with the child's name spelled out in pink icing. When the child went to blow the









candles out, her father leaned over her and pushed her face into the cake, and little girl's

hair caught on fire. The father had meant to do it after the candles were out but he was

too quick.

The girl looks up. The other child has stopped running. She is coughing. She cannot

stop coughing. She coughs all over the girl's lap, all over the S'more the man has made.

She drops the S'more in the sand.

"Aren't there shots for that?" asks the man. Why didn't she get a shot for that?"




It is very late at night. The girl is up, thinking about the day. She is freezing. She is

not yet used to living by the sea. She is cold all the time. She cannot get warm. The girl

tries not to disturb the man with her shaking. She makes herself think of pictures of those

paintings with all the tropical flowers in them, of sunny patios.

The girl lies awake, worrying about the child. She is restless with worry. The girl

finds the child strange and troubling. In essence, she fears that the child is weak. If she

could, she would give her own strength to the child, she would take her in her arms and

blow into her belly button, filling her up with strength. That afternoon, when they were

walking on the beach, the child picked up a shell and said, "cold and dreary make the

world pretty." She is always saying things that don't make sense like this. The girl

wonders if it is wrong to leave her to her musings so much. Perhaps, she will grow up

with false hopes. Perhaps, she will grow up seeing goodness where there is none.

The girl sighs and the man stirs and turns away from her, flopping his arm across

his eyes. She would not mind if he were to wake up. She would like it, for once, if they

could have one goddamn conversation. The man is turned away from her but she shakes









him and he wakes up. There are things to fear, obstacles to face, she says. There are

forgotten obligations, missed appointments. Dark coves to swim through. Do not let the

children trouble you so! he says. The girl pats his back. She sighs. She says: I have lines

on my forehead but I have a good face and character and that is enough. Absolutely, says

the man. Go to sleep.

The girl gets up to walk the halls. She tries to tip-toe. She looks at the ground,

watching her feet in order to keep them silent. There are stains on the floorboards. There

are outlines of hands on the floorboards. And everything is sticky! Children are so sticky!

She cannot get used to it. Every time she finds a new mess she thinks, "Now when did I

do that?" So little of the house belong to her, now. The majority of the house belongs to

children and the man. There are so many rooms! She cannot find the one that is hers. It is

so large! It is a hollow, echoing place, full of unspoken sadness. It is cavernous and

haunting. She is glad to have given it up.

The girl comes to the children's bedroom and crosses the threshold twice, like a

night watchman. She goes into the room and stands, hovering, like a moth. The girl sits

on the child's bed. She buries her face in the child's hair, and in the other child's hair as

well. She whispers secrets--about the man, the other lover's she has had. They stir, as if

they are listening, but they do not wake up.

"Children," she whispers. "Is it not freezing?" The girl waits politely for a

response.









The man leaves. He is gone for days and days. When he returns, he goes straight

upstairs to work. The girl cannot help herself-she goes up to greet him. He is sitting in

his chair, facing his typewriter, away from her. The girl thinks that the man looks

devastatingly handsome in his crisp blue shirt with the wide collar and stylish haircut.

The girl walks in and sits on the desk.

"I can see you growing thin in this room," she says. "I can see you dying." The girl

sighs. She collapses into him, against his thick, undefined muscles. She puts her head on

his shoulder. The man cocks his head to the side and smiles.

"Morbid," he says. "Sexy." He pulls her to him. He grins at her and she begins to

giggle. Then she begins to cry quietly. "I am wild with cold," she says.




Later in the day, the girl comes to see the man again. She has interrupted his work

again but she cannot care. How she has missed him! He cannot believe how much! She

dances around the house and claps her hands. She runs to the man and tries to make him

dance with her, but he will not.

"I love you I love you I love you," says the girl. The man looks at her strangely. He

lays one hand, slowly, on the desk. "I am telling you the truth," she says. She grabs at

his shirt. "Take care," he says. "This is a linen suit." Outside, something is tapping on the

roof. He says: "take care." Still, she clings to him. She will cling to him forever. When

he throws her off, it is only to stop her pounding on his chest. The girl gets up and crawls

towards him. She paws at his slacks where his calves are.









"You are a dull girl," he tells her. "You grasp after nothing, and nothing grasps

after you." The man stands up. The girl watches as his arms drop to his sides. His hands

are clenched in anger, thick as gorillas' fists.




The girl is exhausted with heartbreak. It has taken it out of her. He is angry, she

thinks. He is an angry, bitter drunk. The girl falls onto the bed. She must go to sleep. The

child comes and curls up next to her, under her arm like a cat. She wants to braid their

hair together. The girl thinks there is a reason why it is better if this does not happen, but

she is too exhausted to conjure it up.

When she awakes, she has the feeling that very much has occurred. She has had a

dream in which they are all to go on a ride in the man's car. Outside, it is dark. In the

dream, the car was quite small, small as a little beetle. How will they fit? They can't.

Someone must stay behind.

"You're it," the man had said.

The girl wakes in a panic. This is terrible! There is something very terrible about

being left behind.

The girl rouses the child, who smiles. It is unsettling for the girl that someone

would smile so soon after the dream. She tries to untangle their hair. It is cold. Their hair

is almost the same color and is hard to separate.

The child and the girl call all over the house for the man. The girl does not believe

that the man has left her. Even when she sees that he is gone from the house she does not

think that he is left. The girl wraps the child in a sweater. She is freezing, and now she

must go out into the night to find her lover. She must find him and convince him that he









is who she craves. That this should be enough to satisfy. The girl takes the child's hand.

She is telling her something important.

"I have defined love," she says.

The girl and the child walk along the beach. It is dark, and the wind has picked up a

little. They watch the beach grass leaning as they walk. The girl holds onto the child, and

the child looks down the beach as if there is an end. When the girl first spots the man, she

is not sure if he is a dog, or a sand dune, or a pile of snow. When she approaches him, he

does not jump up. He is talking to the other child and she is lying on her back on the

sand. There are dark patches around her, on the left of her side and by her head. Her

stomach is showing. There is more to her than this but in this moment all the girl can see

is her baby belly. The man is telling the other child something useful-- where to plant a

juniper so that it does not get too much sun, how to cook a pasta dish. He is telling her

how to board a train.

The girl goes to the child and picks her up. She picks her up to carry her, but her

grip is soft; it is like holding onto feathers. The child makes a sound and the girl stumbles

but continues to walk. Something is winding itself around her ankles and tearing into the

soles of her feet. The sand scatters. It is the hair and teeth of little refugees.















TO FILL

Grove is visiting his wife at the hospital where she has been admitted for another

round of tests. Something in her brain is not right. It has not been right for some time, but

only recently have they discovered it. Still, they do not know what is wrong with her. It

has been five months of not knowing.

Grove crosses the hospital parking lot. He walks in wide, exaggerated strides. He is

playing a game with himself. He is taking giant strides and trying to keep his slippers, the

slippers he always wears, day and night, from sliding off. He is testing whether or not he

can keep the slippers on while taking such giant steps. To Grove, the parking lot seems

very long but it is an optical illusion-in fact it is short. The distance from the car to the

hospital does not allow Grove enough time to collect his thoughts. Time, Grove

understands, is not with him.

Grove stops and turns, casts a wistful glance at his car. Grove's car looks worn and

comforting among the other, much newer automobiles. It looks like it is made of old

cushions. Grove has seen men, older men than he, napping in cars while they wait for

their wives to come back from shopping, exercising, chatting with other wives in front of

home-style restaurants. Grove, too, would like to take a nap and wait.









Grove visits his wife in the afternoons, after his late morning class and before his

evening one. Grove is a professor at a small private college two miles from the home

Grove and his wife have lived in for over thirty years. The college is best known for the

student body's involvement in the Vietnam War protests, but it is still a well-respected

institution. Grove remembers this time as quite thrilling. He had so much energy, then.

The students were exhilarated, dynamic. They were practically insane with excitement.

Once, one of Grove's students called him the "Establishment" and threw a can of Coke in

his face. At the time, Grove had explained to the student that in fact he was less the

"Establishment" than the can of Coke. The thought of this makes Grove tired. He

couldn't manage that sort of effort, now. Youth has energy for such trivialities, he thinks.

The old just wipe away the Coke.

The hospital waiting room looks like the lobby of a hotel where he and his wife

once stayed in Oregon. Same peppermint stick wallpaper, same citrus smell. The whole

hospital is like a hotel. Heavy brocade curtains separate patients' rooms, and the

bathrooms have dishes of fancy soaps. Grove's wife's room is the same. It feels to Grove

as if it were once a plain room that has been heavily made up.

Grove tries not to catch the eye of the people in the waiting room. Their faces are

stricken with what seems to Grove to be more confusion than grief. They are all reading.

Eyes bug out at Highlights, Glamour, the Times. Mouths hang open.

A woman in a bright blue suit is talking into her cell phone in what seems to Grove

to be a highly inappropriate tone of voice. She is loud, she is a loud woman.









"You must do them by hand!" she screams. "The Handover dish set can not survive

the rinse cycle!" "No!" screams the woman. "No!" Grove feels frantic. He looks around

at the other people, and they are frantic, too. Such noise, Grove thinks, does not belong in

a hospital waiting room. It is a place that is meant to be hushed and calm, where the noise

level should maintain a hush. Unpleasantries, he feels, should be taken outside.




"Hello!" says Grove's wife when he enters, "Welcome to the Villa Borghese!"

Grove's wife smiles at him. She is wearing a sweat suit with painted flowers on the top.

Her face is shining as if she has just gotten back from a run. In contrast, Grove is gray

and weak, old. His skin falls in loose bags off the sides of his face. Grove's wife holds

out her hands to him. Her hands are filled with tiny dish soaps. Who is this woman,

Grove thinks. Who is this woman with all this joy.

Grove sits down in a chair by the window. It seems the least obtrusive place,

nearest the outside world. His wife puts her hands on her lap. She lines up the soaps

across her knees, down her thighs. She is the type of woman who makes light of awful

situations.

"Have you been chanting for me, darling?" she asks. Grove's wife has become a

member of the hospital's eastern religions support group. She is now a member of half

the support groups in the hospital. She is a support group junkie. Grove cannot

understand it, how it could help. Grove feels that his wife has been taken in by a bunch of

hoo-ha.









Grove's wife is wrapping and unwrapping the little dish soaps. The paper is thin,

transparent. It seems to Grove utterly pointless. Grove's wife rubs her feet together

dramatically. She is not a subtle woman. It seems he has forgotten to bring her socks,

again. It is shocking, even to him, that he should have forgotten. He is always forgetting

things she has asked him to bring. It is just that he is home in such brief spurts, now. It

does not feel right that he is there, alone, without his wife and daughter. Guilt follows

him from room to room. It seeps in through linoleum and glass. It crawls in and gnaws at

his throat.

In the hospital room, nurses move in and out of the room in rapid, efficient waves.

They are brisk, cheery people, capable and assured. They make minute, terrifically

effectual adjustments (the pillow, the bed, the volume on the TV), that make Grove's

wife feel safe and comfortable. Grove stands to the side-he tries not to get in the way.

Still, his presence annoys them (it must!)-he is weak, ineffectual. There is nothing he

can do. He is a parasite on the peaceful internal workings of the hospital, unwelcome and

unwarranted. An aberration.

Grove's wife is reading a poem she has finished this afternoon. It was the nurses

who encouraged the poetry. Grove's wife started in one of her support groups but it is the

nurses who have kept her going. They smile when she reads, hovering over her like

mother birds, stopping to listen. Grove's wife's poems are filled with the best scenes of

her girlhood, Midwest cornfields and the Prom, harvest moons. One in which she is

howling at the moon. In these poems Grove is nowhere, he cannot be seen. Still, each

time his wife begins a new poem Grove anticipates an outburst, a culmination of withheld

blame. Grove braces himself against attack.









Having an affair was certainly ill-advised, certainly thoughtless. And Grove is

ashamed of it, it has brought him nothing but shame. But it was not, contrary to his

daughter's belief, contrary to what his wife must believe, a matter of love. He has not

betrayed his wife in that way, to that extent. It was just a student, a girl, only, no one with

whom it was possible to fall in love. The girl had been bored and looking for a scandal.

He was selfish and eager for sex. It was as simple as that. It had lasted a few weeks, two

months, tops. It was over before the Illness began. He would never have let it go on,

further. There are things about Grove that are innocent. There are things for which he is

not to blame.

Grove's wife stops reading. It is only a poem about her childhood, after all, about

throwing out her sister's diary and feeling sorry afterwards. It is an awful, truly terrible

poem. All of her poems are terrible. Grove would like to tell the nurses that his wife has

not always been like this, that all their lives together until a certain point she has been

bright. Grove tries to tell himself that he wants to defend her. Really, he admits, he is

humiliated. I am a professor at a prestigious university, he thinks. I did not marry this

silly woman.

Grove cannot imagine when his wife became so stupid. In graduate school, she

made better grades than Grove, scored higher on all the tests. She used to be clever.

Once, on a road trip, Grove and his wife stayed in a rundown bed and breakfast. There

room was little and shabby, all brown, splintering wood. It was completely unadorned

except for a glass jar filled with pennies on the dresser.

"Do you suppose this is meant to keep us honest?" his wife had asked, and then she

dumped the pennies into her suitcase. Now, Grove takes his wife's hand. It is slickand









clammy. It is wet with tears, but this is nothing new. Grove's wife has always had the

look of someone on the brink of tears. There is nothing new on this front.

Grove's daughter, Angela, knows of the affair. Angela was a student at the

university where Grove teaches and, although Grove was fairly careful, found out.

College is a gossipy place, Grove knows. Word gets around. It really was, now that

Grove looks back, inevitable that she would hear. Neither Grove nor his wife have seen

their daughter in a year. During this time she has married, divorced, and had a child.

Grove's daughter is twenty years old. She does not know of the Illness. She left before

the headaches began, before the dizziness and the vomiting spells. In this year apart,

Grove's daughter has sent them one letter. It was brief and in large type. In the letter,

Grove's daughter included almost nothing about the baby. Only that it was chubby, that it

seemed overly chubby for its age. Like walrus fat, she said.




Grove is a desperate man. He does not love his dying wife. He is sick. All his

feelings-- those that he has about his wife, the hospital, his daughter--are shameful ones.

Grove remembers reading somewhere, he doesn't remember where, probably in a

doctor's office, in a waiting room waiting to get his teeth cleaned, or his ears checked,

something small like that, some safe, insignificant visit, that Picasso had not loved his

dying wife, that he had had to be locked in the room with her, because he refused to

stay by her deathbed, even in her final hour. And, Grove thinks, the worst part! Locked in

the room with his dying wife, Picasso had covered his eyes. He could not even stand the

sight of her, the woman he was supposed to love.









It is the next day and Grove is visiting his wife. A woman in a bad wig is sitting

outside her room, smoothing her dress and eyeing Grove. She is probably a cancer

patient. She is sitting, she is acting like a bodyguard, like she is guarding the room. She is

sitting very straight. Her wig is dark and sleek- menacing, mysterious hair. The bangs

fall over one eye. The woman's round, guileless face looks trapped underneath it, like it

is being kept against its will. Grove feels sorry for her. If she'd let him, he would

straighten the wig. Grove passes the woman and she stiffens.

Grove's wife is asleep. He clears his throat, and she opens her eyes. She seems to

be in a bit of a delirium. There is sweat on her upper lip and she is shaking a little. Often,

Grove finds her this way. She slips in and out in pulses.

"Lying and waiting," she says. "Lying and waiting. What could be more contrary to

my natural inclinations?"

"Yes," says Grove. "I don't know." Grove's wife is rubbing her feet together, in

her sleep. Still, she has no socks. She is already asleep. It is the pills. Grove's wife is

taking pills to clear her mind, they are supposed to clear her mind after a little while.

Now they leave her foggy, though.

Grove leaves to find a coffee and when he returns his wife is awake. She is wide

awake, now. She looks refreshed, healthy, not sick at all. Her eyes are bright and her

cheeks are flushed like they have just been slapped. He has been gone for ten minutes, at

most. The transformation is startling.

"But this is the nature of Disease," says a nurse. She shrugs. Grove looks at the

nurse. She is a big woman, boxy and chinless.









"Which disease are you talking about?" asks Grove. The nurse stares at Grove. She

speaks very slowly.

This one," she says.

Grove's wife is eating her afternoon snack with a spoon. It appears to Grove to be a

concoction of Jello and pudding. She is biting at it, chewing the pudding and the Jello

together in quick, hostile bites.

"If only there were something more satisfying," she says. Grove nods agreeably.

The spoon is hanging from her mouth. It moves as she talks, back and forth, like a

pendulum. Grove brushes at his face, like he is brushing away a crumb. Still, the spoon

hangs. Grove must keep himself from lunging at his wife, from grabbing the spoon. His

lunging would terrify her, it would scare her terribly. This is the last thing Grove would

do. It is a matter of spirit and will.

"I have a new poem," says Grove's wife. She takes her notebook off the dresser.

She looks at him coyly, from under heavy lids. Like she is flirting with him.

"Oh, wonderful!" says Grove. He is loud and enthusiastic. He is a good, supportive

husband. Grove's wife giggles. She flattens her hair against her ears. She clears her

throat.

"I wonder if his eyes are brown or blue?" she reads. "I wonder if he looks more like

me, or maybe you?"

Grove closes his eyes. He clears his throat.

"Wait," Grove says, "You just wait a minute." He wipes his hands on his corduroys

pants. Grove asks: "What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you?"









"Marrying you," she says, she laughs. She does not miss a beat. She does not give

the question a moment, a breath, to sink in.

"I'm going out for a moment," says Grove.

"Oh, Richard," says Grove's wife. "Don't be a moron."




Grove walks outside. He is just stepping out for a moment. Outside, the hospital

smells like sewage, like there is a sewer nearby. There are tables and chairs, like outside a

restaurant. They are mostly empty. A young man in green scrubs is sitting alone at a

table. He is patting his cowlick over and over with one hand. As far as Grove can tell, he

is just sitting there. Grove walks to the table. He sits down.

"Oh," the young man says, "It's you there." He smiles. He has big, sorrowful eyes,

like a newborn calf. "It's nice to see you," he says. The young man's voice is flat,

exhausted sounding. His interest in Grove does not seem intense. Grove cannot tell if the

young man recognizes him or not. When he smiles at Grove, deep grooves form at the

corners of his mouth.

Grove watches the young man and waits. It is clear, now, that he has been drinking.

The young man puts his head in his hands. He looks at Grove through parted fingers.

"We continue to try," he says to Grove. "We continue to try, and we do not give up

hope." The young man pounds the table with his fist. "It's just that the ailment is so

elusive," he says. "It is a trickster, a sneak. It moves constantly, evading us." The young

man looks at Grove. "We have not given up hope," he says.

The young man smells of cigarettes. Grove would like to bury his face into his

chest and breathe deep. He is wearing a nametag that reads: "Dr. Aspestos," but that









cannot be right. Imagine, thinks Grove, a doctor whose name is so close to that of a

deadly poison! It cannot be right. The name is so unfortunate, wrong. It is meant to be

hidden away. Grove has a strange, sudden affection for the young man, this young man

with the poison name. It is odd and surprising.

"The things in this world most precious are hardest to determine," Grove says. The

boy looks out into the parking lot. He takes a bottle of whiskey from under the table.

"That's the downside," he says. He takes a drink.

"Yes," says Grove. He looks at Grove, dead on. He hands him the bottle.

"Thank you for coming," he says. "We appreciate your much needed support."




Grove gets onto the highway heading away from the university. He speeds. He

turns the radio up. He is a teenage boy, wild and reckless, with much to lose. He drives to

a house in a neighborhood he never goes to, a neighborhood he has no need to visit.

Grove takes the whiskey and hops out of the car. He surveys the lay of the land. He

puts his hands on his hips. He takes a swig of whiskey. The house is the picture of a

decrepit house-sagging roof, peeling paint, some skeletal furniture on the porch. Broken

tree limbs line the walk. It is large and looming. Grove came here once with the student.

They came for a party. Grove cannot remember what it looked like before.

Probably like this.

It is dark inside the house but still Grove can see that much of the floor is covered

with glass. Grove is afraid of cutting his feet, but he kicks the glass anyway. Perhaps he

wouldn't mind getting cut, really. What, really, would be the harm? Grove cannot think

of any substantial reason. The inside of the house is just one big open space. There aren't









any rooms, just one room. The last time he was here the place was empty but now there is

a double mattress and a metal card table. Grove kicks the table and flops down on the

mattress. He lets his slippers fall on the floor.

Coming to the party had, of course, been a mistake. It was ridiculous, really. His

was a conservative university; he had put his job on the line. He had exercised no

discretion, and he had not cared. It was only that he was infatuated with the infallibility of

the youth that surrounded him. He had believed in its power.

Grove thinks of the young man. Although he spoke with the boy for only a few

moments, his affection for him is somehow near to his feelings for his wife. Somehow,

the feelings are similar. How swift and strange is the moment of human connection,

Grove thinks. Grove thinks of the bond formed between survivors of peril. People who

have suffered plagues, crashed airplanes. Sinking ships. It is a care, Grove thinks, built on

mutual emergency.

Grove looks at the ceiling. The mattress is cold and damp. It has the hard/soft

firmness that Grove thinks of when he thinks of snow. Grove's face feels very hot, like he

is holding a lamp underneath his chin. He moves his arms back and forth, like he is

making a snow angel.

Grove thinks of his daughter, bitter and world weary. She has probably been to

houses like this one dozens of times. She probably finds them commonplace. In fact,

Grove thinks, she is probably in a house like this right now.

"A man's purpose in this world," Grove says aloud, "is to be a father." Grove

clinks the table leg with the whiskey bottle. He toasts. "To breed," says Grove. "To sire."









Outside, the noise of birds and cars blend together, making a sound that is

monstrous, terrifying. This is how I will be when she's dead, he thinks. Drinking whiskey

in an empty house, lying on a mattress alone. Grove can feel fact and fiction turning

around each other in his mind. They are getting confused. He is very angry at his

daughter. How could she bring a baby into a place like this? he thinks. My daughter,

thinks Grove. A mistaken person.

Grove sits up, puts on his slippers and walks outside to the porch. The sky is

darker than it was before he went inside, but only in spots. Grove grimaces. He leans over

the railing to hawk some spittle.

"How gloomy," he says, "this visit has turned out to be".




Grove gets into the car and turns on the radio. Leaving the house has made him feel

renewed, like he has barely escaped some specific, terrible disaster. Grove thinks of his

wife, whom he should love. He thinks that when she is gone he will frame her poems and

put them in his office. He would like to do something for his wife, this good woman.

Grove thinks of the socks. He drives to a department store in a shopping center near

the hospital, the nicest one he knows of.




Inside, the department store is basically empty. Grove cannot see any salespeople,

any customers anywhere. A girl with large red hair is shouting obscenities at her little

redheaded mother. The woman is holding a sweater up to her daughter, turning her torso









back and forth, like she believes that if she finds the proper angle the sweater will look all

right.

"I would never wear this," says the girl. "You know when I'd wear this? Never."

The girl bugs out her eyes. They are dark and shrewy. She has so much hair. It covers

most of her large face. "Never," she says. "Never is when I'd wear this." The girl shoves

the sweater at her mother. "You would wear this, Mother," says the girl.

The girl reminds Grove of a doll he once brought home when his daughter was a

little girl. The doll had wild red hair, just like this girl. When his daughter saw the doll,

she burst into tears. She was terrified. Grove's wife had reproached him. The doll he had

selected was an awful doll, the worst. It was terrifying. How could Grove not have

known?

Grove moves past the women quickly. He wants to be away from them--they are

loud and upsetting. The selection of socks seems a private thing. Grove looks around. He

pats his cheeks, which are still warm. There is really no one there, really. Grove fills his

coat with socks, all the socks that seem pretty, the socks he thinks his wife might like. He

stuffs them in his pants pockets, under his armpits and at his waist. The socks feel secure,

comfortable. Like they are meant to be with him.




When Grove returns to the hospital it is night. He feels solid and triumphant, as if

he has conquered something, something that was necessary to conquer. Grove tromps

through the hospital, carrying the socks in his arms. He is reminded of a story in which a

man and a woman give up their most prized possession in order to buy gifts for the other.









Each lover seeks to fulfill the other's greatest wish, and in the seeking, much is given up.

The gifts bear the marks of sacrifice and a great love.

When he reaches her, Grove's wife is bent over something. Grove cannot see what

it is. Grove goes to his wife and lets the socks fall out of his arms, onto the bed.

"I come bearing gifts of sacrifice and a great love," says Grove. He beams. Grove's

wife looks up. She is crisp and white, whole and innocent as an egg. She looks at the

socks, and at Grove. She shifts and a pair drops to the floor. She bites her lip. And there

they are, unquestionably, pity and fear, and the final, impenetrable judgment they bring

with them. Pity and fear. Distinctly.















THE PLACE BETWEEN

She probably should not have been there, for escapism was no way to deal with

grief, but her brain wasn't working right, not like it should, and she hadn't been able to

come up with any other alternatives. The alternatives she could come up with were

terrible, dark and disturbing, all wrong. They were too embarrassing to even say out loud,

let alone follow through with.

Her mother was dead. This was the beginning and the end of it. And she would

never not be dead, not ever. There was nothing she could do. Now she was spending the

summer with her friend Annabelle, traveling with Annabelle's grandparents on a

houseboat, going down the Snake River in southeastern Idaho. They had been together on

the houseboat for three weeks, but had been friends for a very long time, now, since they

were freshmen. Next year they would be juniors. Originally, Annabelle had invited Jane

on the trip to keep her company, but after what had happened, she didn't expect her to

still go.

It was Annabelle's grandfather's houseboat. He had won it on the senior citizen's

episode of a popular gameshow, along with an orthopedic Stairmaster, several large

pieces of scuba equipment, and a cherry wood bed set. There were also a number of

miscellaneous items collectively valued at over three hundred thousand dollars. The

houseboat was a deluxe edition, as modern as they come. It had a main room, little

kitchen, and two small bedrooms down below. The grandparents kept the prizes in the









main room, categorized into piles and lined up neatly along one wall. They seemed to be

under the impression that it was important not to separate them.

The routine was that they would cruise for a few hours in the morning, Annabelle's

grandfather at the helm, and stop around noon. They spent the afternoon lounging on the

deck, and in the evening would either barbecue or stop at one of the little town for dinner.

So far, Annabelle and Jane had spent the summer lazing around: tanning, taking

beauty magazine quizzes, grumbling about being bored. Mostly, though, Jane slept. She

felt that a segment of her life had run its course, in a way. She was taking a break from it.




It was noon. Annabelle and her grandparents were out on the deck, sunning

themselves on beach chairs. Jane walked out and gave everyone a little wave.

"No no no no no no No," Annabelle said. She was lying on her stomach on the

lounge chair, staring at Jane. She was wearing a bikini and large, octagon-shaped

sunglasses. "You can't wear that! You'll never get tan that way!"

Jane looked down at her shirt. She liked it. She had found it somewhere-- it was

probably her stepfather's. The caption read, "Boogie Boards U.S.A." The T-shirt featured

a green lizard, riding high and proud above a blue, blue ocean.

"Jane. Darling," Annabelle said. She sat up. "I know that, right now, it might seem

like the universe is suggesting the Goth look, but that doesn't mean you have to listen.

There is absolutely no reason you should have to embrace such a dismal palette, not least

of all because it's completely wrong for your complexion. You're an autumn, for God's

sake. Plus, it's unhealthy! You need sun. Most depressives get that way because of a lack

of sunlight, you know."









Annabelle pointed to the sliding glass doors Jane had just come through. Her

sunglasses glinted. "Inside-now. And don't come out until you're wearing something

decent. Borrow one of my suits if you have to."

Jane went into the bathroom and put on her swimsuit. What Annabelle had said to

her wasn't surprising. This was Annabelle's idea of a pep talk. She was trying to be

helpful, Jane knew that. Somewhere along the line Annabelle had come under the

impression that this was the way you talked to people. Her technique lacked sensitivity,

sure, but it worked. And she wasn't mean, not really. Annabelle was pretty, demanding,

and naturally authoritative. It wasn't her fault, she was used to getting her own way. In

the vapid milieu of high school that's just the way things worked.

Jane looked in the mirror. She didn't like herself. It was hard to, under the

circumstances. Fate had decided she didn't deserve all that much. Two days before

school ended for the year, Jane and her mother's second husband, Pete, had allowed her

mother to be taken off life support. Pete had asked Jane if she was ready and she had said

yes. In May, her mother had gone in for knee surgery, something everyone had referred

to as "routine," and never recovered. She just hadn't woken up.

At first the surgery had gone well. And before her mother had been declared brain

dead, the surgeon had been very excited to see the results.

When she didn't wake up, Pete pretty much lost it. The funeral had been terrible-

full of her mother's acquaintances Jane didn't know and did not care to-and afterwards

Pete had taken to bed, and had been lying there, crying and lethargically fondling her

mother's things ever since. Once, before she left, Jane had found him lying on the ground

in her mother's closet, one of her dresses wrapped around him like a blanket. He had









taken things terribly. Really, Jane had come on the trip to give him a break. He didn't

know what to do, how to handle her. She was letting him off the hook by leaving.

Jane returned to the deck to lie down.

"Jane," Annabelle said. "You haven't told us yet. How are you feeling today?"

Annabelle was giving Jane one of her concerned looks, the one that made her eyes look

droopy.

"Fine," Jane said. She wanted to laugh. Annabelle had been acting like her

caretaker the entire trip, treating her like she was a sick baby. It was pretty funny. Jane

appreciated it, though, thought it was sweet, even though she knew Annabelle wasn't

being entirely selfless. Annabelle was going to be an actress. For her life was a stage--

every event offered a role only she could make the most of. Annabelle was practicing on

her.

Jane pulled up a lounge and lay down. The grandparents didn't look up, stretched

out in matching bathrobes. They were weirdos. They drank all the time. They never asked

how she was feeling. In fact, they seemed to have genuinely forgotten that Jane was in

mourning. At first, Jane had thought they were trying to be considerate, that their silence

was meant to be quietly reverential. But after the first few days they began to talk more,

and Jane began to get the feeling that probably wasn't it. Their conversation was made up

of horrible things, upsetting things. They seemed to have a real penchant for tragedy.

This was chitchat.

That morning over breakfast at a pancake house, Annabelle's grandfather actually

read out loud an entire newspaper article about a woman who had been mauled to death









by a black bear in the state park. It had torn her up pretty much limb from limb. Later it

was seen running, a woman's braceleted arm dangling from its mouth.

"Isn't that awful!" Annabelle's grandmother had cried. "That gruesome fiend!" Her

white hair stood straight up around her head in a little poof. She dabbed at her forehead

with her napkin, reaching for her glass. She was blushing for some reason. "At least he's

not still on the loose," she added.

Everyone nodded. The bear had been captured, thank goodness, and promptly put

to death. Thankfully, he had gotten his comeuppance.

"It says here the bear was probably attracted to the sweet smell emanating from this

woman's purse. Now what would a bear want with a ladies' carry all, do you think?"

Annabelle's grandfather lifted his vodka tonic and pointed in Jane's direction. "Let

this be a lesson to you girls," he said. "For safety's sake, don't go toting around a lot of

unnecessary, good smelling products. Leave your chewing gum, vials of perfume, and

scented sanitary napkins at home. If you must, gurgle a little mouthwash before you leave

the house. Instead of going with boys who only want to nibble at a lily-scented neck,

choose beaus who like you for your sparkling personalities. It's better to be a little smelly

on a date than dead on one."

Then Annabelle's grandmother had piped up that the restaurant greeter had said

that there had been a rash of break-ins on the river. Apparently, the thieves struck

whether or not there were passengers on board.

"It's really bizarre, what they're taking," Annabelle's grandmother said. "They

seem to be after anything, anything. They filched a pair of dentures right off of









somebody's nightstand, and one of the boats that stopped over last night complained they

were missing their total number of wastebaskets."

Annabelle had looked at Jane apologetically. All this while she had been trying to

get her grandparents to stop talking. She had made faces, kicked shins. She had tried

acting gently, subtly, but to no avail. The grandparents were resolutely clueless.

Poor Annabelle, Jane thought. She really did try. Annabelle was clearly mortified,

but Jane felt relieved. She was glad they weren't making a big deal about things. Her

mother's death felt like a private matter for some reason. She didn't want to talk about it.

Now, on the deck, Jane looked at the grandparents. She didn't know if they were

just drunk or crazy or what. Probably both.

The houseboat was on autopilot. It meandered lazily along, occasionally bumping

into something invisible beneath the surface.

Jane lay on her back, watching the scenery as it moved slowly by. The Idaho

landscape was pretty bland. There was really nothing to look at. Everything was wheat-

colored. The hills, houses, and trees were the same shade of a lightly toasted biscuit.

Even the people were yellow. They were all blonde and sallow-looking. Annabelle

found Idahoans terribly interesting. She was fascinated by what she referred to as "the

farming poor." Jane had to admit that the people they passed did look poor, and that a lot

of the houses looked pretty run-down, but she didn't want to encourage her. Once, when

they passed a little naked boy, Annabelle threw a nickel at him.

"Jane?" Annabelle asked. She was bent over a magazine, circling something with a

green pen. Jane lifted a finger to show she'd heard and then shut her eyes again. She









didn't want to answer-she wanted to be left alone. She was so tired, so tired; she knew

if she could just keep sleeping, everything would be better.

"Jane! Annabelle said again. "Think fast-who would you rather date? A Johnny

Depp look-alike with a motorcycle or a Kurt Russell double who owns a horse ranch?"

Jane tried to open her eyes. She couldn't. "What?" she asked.

"Who would you rather-"she stopped. "Oh never mind," Annabelle grumbled.

"I'm putting you down for the second one."

Jane knew that Annabelle was frustrated with her, but she didn't have it in her to

apologize. Annabelle was always piping up about something, pointing out something

they were passing or asking a question, but she usually quieted down again pretty quickly

if Jane didn't answer. She was always working hard to get Jane to participate. Sometimes

even when she refused, Annabelle found a way to make it happen. Once, Jane awoke to

find that Annabelle had French-braided her hair and was busy painting her toenails a

particularly vibrant fuchsia.

When the summer was over, Jane would return to Seattle to live with Pete. He was

her legal guardian, now. Pete and her mother were married for four years. During that

time, Pete had legally adopted her. Jane had always thought it was really nice of him to

take the trouble.

Jane looked at the water, trying to conjure up memories of her mother. They were

getting fuzzy-already they were slipping away from her. Once, her mother had refused

to pay a cabbie when he couldn't produce correct change. It was right before Christmas

and they had gone to see the Nutcracker Suite. Jane could remember standing in the cold,

shivering and telling her mother to hurry up. Was that something worth remembering?









From one perspective, it portrayed her as demanding and miserly, but from another, as

tough and smart. She could think of it that way, Jane thought. She didn't have to think

about it the other way. She just wouldn't think of it that way, is all.

Jane tried to think. This was important. She felt that if she didn't catalog what she

remembered, keep track of them in some way, that they would be gone forever.

Memories were fickle, fleeting things. They had to be captured, pinned down. They

weren't just going to pop into her head, say, five years from now.

Jane sighed. It would be nice if she could remember at least one of her parents. Jane

had grown up fatherless. She didn't know anything about her father, really. He had died

when she was a baby. And now her mother was dead, too.

The day of the surgery, Jane didn't even think about the possibility of it not

working out, it didn't even cross her mind. Her only thoughts were that it was a stupid

idea, and that her mother looked fine the way she was. What she didn't think was, "my

mother could die today." She didn't prepare herself at all.

Jane was already forgetting her mother. There were things, important things, she

had already forgotten. Her mother's voice, the way she moved her hands, everything. It

was all going. She couldn't even remember what her mother smelled like. Jane wished

she had brought something of her mother's with her, a lock of hair or something. Or

maybe that was creepy. She guessed it was, creepy, but she couldn't tell for sure. She

didn't have a good gauge for that sort of thing anymore.

Jane fell asleep. When she woke up, Annabelle's grandfather standing over her,

reading aloud from Anna Karenina. He was yelling, really.









Oh how dreadful!" he cried. "And the way she was dressed, how unladylike!"

Annabelle's grandfather had been reading to them almost everyday for the last three

weeks. The novel had seemed an odd choice at first, especially since she and Annabelle

had had to read it the past year in school, but that had stopped bothering her pretty

quickly. It was soothing, being read to, and when she could get herself to concentrate, it

was a nice escape. This world was like a fairytale, it felt so foreign to her. Everyone in

the story was so emotional. Those Russians! They were always weeping and fainting,

challenging each other to duels. It was all so dramatic.

Jane didn't feel that way at all. It was like she had skipped the first few stages of

grief and gone straight to bitter resignation. She felt that the other parts of her reaction

were inside of her but that they had burrowed too deep, she couldn't get to them. It was

like there was some sort of gunk inside her, stopping her up. She felt that she should be

fighting something. Tolstoy's characters were always running after evil doers and taking

them down. They were always avenging someone. She sensed that she should be fighting

something, but she didn't know what, and she didn't have the energy, not really, to do

anything about it. She should hate Pete, but she couldn't because she felt sorry for him.

She felt sorry for everybody. She even felt sorry for herself, but in a removed, distant sort

of way. It was the same feeling she got whenever those had for those orphans from

Zimbabwe or Lithuania or wherever when they came on TV, asking for food or money.

She was like a little lost girl, far away from herself, in need.

"I am very well and happy," Annabelle's grandfather read. "If you were worried

about me, you can be easier in your mind about me now. I have a new bodyguard."









Jane looked down the river. Parked along the bank a ways down, another, smaller

houseboat was moving strangely. Something red, a nightgown it looked like, went sailing

over the side and into the water. The boat shook hugely, rocking from side to side. Then

it stopped. Jane blinked. She thought she heard someone shouting, but it could just as

easily have been rock music-she couldn't be sure. Reality was so tenuous, now. There

was not so much difference, these days, between her waking life and when she was

dreaming. They blended together. Each came upon her timidly and with a sort of

slowness. It was difficult to tell.

Jane had been having dreams about her mother. In one, she and her mother are

watching a movie, and, in another, they are selling cookies at a school bake sale. All of

the dreams center around everyday activities, and most go off without a hitch. A few,

though, involve some sort of problem, but they are always silly, inconsequential. They

are sitcom disputes, easily resolved before the dream is over.

In the bake sale dream, inquiring customers refuse to buy day-old cookies and she

and her mother force them to, anyway. In another, her mother steals an ugly scarf from a

department store and then leaves, the two of them running and skipping and laughing

together. All in all they are mundane, uncreative dreams, as boring as they come, but they

made Jane feel a little better, at least immediately afterwards. At the same time, if she

thought about them too much, the dreams made her feel worse. At some point she had

had to admit to herself that they were wishful thinking, only, not in fact a conglomeration

of things that had actually happened. Jane had never done those things, any of those

things, with her mother when she was alive. Her mother was always busy with work, and,

later, with Pete. Jane was spending more time with her mother now that she was dead









than she ever did in real life. There was something clearly wrong with this, she knew. She

didn't want to think about it. Jane sighed. She felt pathetic. She was so pathetic! There

was really something wrong with her.




It had become evening. The sun was setting slowly beyond the unremarkable

landscape. Jane was alone on the deck, watching it. Inside, Annabelle and the Vermiskis

were in the middle of a heated game of Texas Hold'Em. Jane had not been playing well

and had been booted.

Across the water at the edge of the bank, the baptism of a young girl was being

performed. Jane wondered if the people were so poor that they couldn't afford a proper

church, or if it was that they knew so little of the world that they were under the

impression that this land was beautiful.

Jane watched the pastor submerge the girl and then slowly bring her back up again.

Jane found the whole concept of baptism pretty intriguing. One minute you were

eternally damned to hell and the next you weren't. That was the miracle of faith, she

knew. It was amazing, if it was true. Jane didn't know. She didn't know anything about

religion, really. She hadn't been raised Christian. They hadn't gone to Church, or

anything. Jane didn't think her mother had believed in God. Once, when she was really

little, Jane had asked her mother where she thought God lived. It was morning and they

were about to leave the house; Jane for kindergarten and her mother for work. They were

standing in the hallway, Jane's mother with her briefcase and Jane with her little red

backpack. They were late, probably, and her mother was either flustered, or annoyed, or

both, and without looking she had pointed at a little spider plant sitting on the entryway









table. "There," she had said. It was a ridiculous thing to say but Jane had been so little at

the time-she believed it, and consequently spent her entire childhood scared to walk by

it, and she never did anything bad in front of it, not ever, not even pick her nose.

Jane dangled her feet in the water. She had always hoped her mother had meant

something more, although she probably hadn't.




It was afternoon, again. It was some day, she didn't know. The days all blended

together, she couldn't tell them apart. They felt momentary-they were short lapses

between sleeps, only. Inconsequential.

Annabelle was bent over a magazine, scribbling crazily. She was quizzing them

again. Earlier, Annabelle's grandfather had been reading to them from Anna Karenina.

They had reached the part where Anna heads for the train and Annabelle had interrupted.

"You're stranded on a desert island and you have one creature comfort along with

you," she said. "Would it be your diary, the teddy bear your boyfriend gave you for

Valentine's day, or your Standout Complexion compact by Max Factor?"

"I would absolutely shun existence without that particular piece of make-up,"

Annabelle's grandfather said. He winked at Jane. "So that."

Annabelle frowned. "Oh, it's just a stupid ad, isn't it?" She put down her pen. "You

guys suck. Why didn't somebody tell me?"

Annabelle's grandfather was staring at Jane. On her head, in the black hair that

was all her own, she wore a little crown of daisies," he said. He took a sip of whatever he

was drinking. "Doesn't our Jane remind you of Anna?"

"Grand-pa," Annabelle said. She looked horrified.









"What?" He looked at her. He turned to Jane. "It's a compliment! Anna Karenina is

one of the most remarkable heroines in literature, hands down."

Annabelle glared at him. "Now listen, Jane," she said. "You're nothing like that

woman."

"Sure she is," her grandfather said. "Those high-cheekbones, black curls, those

haunting, hollowed eyes..."

"Grandpa, shut up!" Annabelle cried.

Annabelle's grandfather looked startled. Then he took a drink. "Jane, Jane, Ja-Jan-

ie," he said. He fell silent.

After a while they went inside, leaving Jane alone. Soon the houseboat started

moving, someone having taken the wheel.

Jane smiled to herself, thinking of Annabelle's calculated interruption. Clearly, she

didn't want her getting any ideas. Jane laughed out loud, thinking of it--Annabelle made

such a funny little mother hen. Anyway she had nothing to worry about. Jane had

considered suicide but had rejected it. It just didn't seem that satisfying. You felt like you

were really solving something for about one second, and then you didn't feel that way

anymore. It was just over. Suicide required a great deal of effort with only a little payoff.

It didn't seem worth it.

Jane stared at the water. Time stretched before her, menacing. It was too much, she

didn't want it. She didn't want to kill herself, she just didn't want to have to deal with

anything, this, anymore. The best-case scenario would be if her life just quietly slipped

away from her one day, she wouldn't even notice it. But that wasn't going to happen. It

was best if she put it out of her mind, straight away.









The houseboat slid along serenely. It wasn't in any sort of hurry. It had neither

deadline nor agenda. It wasn't going anywhere, specifically. The houseboat ride was a

pointless journey. It had no purpose, no goal. There was no particular destination. They

just kept going, but were continually neither here nor there. They were between places,

always. For a moment Jane feared that it was never going to be done, that she would

never get off. She thought this was probably how her mother felt right before she died.

She hadn't moved on the instant the respirator was taken out, Jane knew. She hadn't gone

straight onto death. There had been a moment, at least, between. Jane was certainly

between places on the houseboat. She didn't know where she was going, and she didn't

necessarily want to get there. For a moment the thought was with her-- she was like her

mother when she was in between. She was like her mother. The thought was outside of

her, large and calm. Then it was gone.




The next day was the grandparents' anniversary. It was a big celebration, their

fiftieth. They had parked at one of the little towns and were going out to dinner.

"Fifty long ones!" Annabelle's grandfather cried. "Girls, if ever you find

yourselves yoked to another for this long, I recommend doing both parties a favor and

just doing yourself in." He put on his coat. "Just kidding! Have a great time and hold

down the fort."

On their way out, Annabelle's grandmother stopped in front of Jane. She was

wearing a string of beads over her kimono.

"I want to hug you for some reason," she said. She looked puzzled.









"Okay," Jane said. She leaned in, allowing herself to be embraced. Annabelle's

grandmother smelled like apricots and bourbon. Jane breathed in. It had been a long time

since she had been hugged. It felt nice.

As soon as the grandparents were gone, Annabelle put on all the prizes that were

wearable. It was mostly jewelry. Then she sat down, putting her feet up on the table. She

was wearing espadrilles.

Annabelle sighed. "We should just leave," she said.

Jane didn't say anything. She didn't care. She didn't want to do anything that

would hurt the grandparents, but at the same time she couldn't really see them getting

that mad about anything. She sat down.

"Maybe we shouldn't," Jane said. "I don't think we should."

"'Put that back, I don't think we should,'" Jane mimicked. She was wearing a mink

coat over her bikini. She stood up, slamming down the blender. "Oh I just can't take it

anymore!" she screamed. "I'm so bored! You're so boring!" She threw off the coat and

started pacing around the table. "At first, when you decided to still come, I thought, 'Oh

Noooo, she'll just hang around mopey the entire time, it'll be terrible. But then I thought,

'Maybe it'll be O.K.' I gave you the benefit of the doubt. I actually thought that maybe

you could make this lousy trip better. See, I had you pegged as the type of person who

got really witty and sarcastic in the face of tragedy. But I was right the first time! You

don't say anything witty! You don't even talk!" She waved her arms dramatically. "You

used to be fun! Remember that time Alicia Thompson fainted and you wrote, 'I LOVE

COCK,' on her forehead? That was you! You did that!" Annabelle dropped her hands.

She looked at Jane, exasperated.









Jane shrugged. She remembered the look on Alicia's face when she had realized

what was on her forehead. But it was like some other girl had done that to her.

Annabelle sighed. "But you're not like that anymore. Still, I gave you a second

chance. I told myself, 'This girl's mother has just died.' I decided to give you some slack.

I thought, well, maybe, if she can't be fun, at least she can offer some insight on loss,

having to face the incredible unknown, that certainly she'll have garnered some

knowledge to share about this ultimate misfortune." She took a breath. "But you haven't!

You don't have anything!" Annabelle collapsed back into her chair. She groaned. "Oh

I'm so disappointed! I wish you hadn't even come!"

Jane began to cry. Her whole body shook. Suddenly great, horrid sobs were coming

out of her.

Annabelle gasped. "Oh I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!" she cried. She hurried over to

Jane and knelt down. "Now I've done it. I've really done it! I've gone and made you

cry!"

Jane sniffled. "It's okay," she said. "It's probably good. I haven't really cried yet."

Annabelle seemed not to have heard her. "I'm soooorrrrrry," she wailed. With a

moan she clutched her.

Jane tried to say something, but couldn't. Annabelle had her in a chokehold, and

she was really wailing, now. Jane wondered when it was that Annabelle had stopped

actually feeling badly and had begun practicing for some future role in which she played

grief stricken. It was probably only a moment ago, she figured.









Jane couldn't breathe. She would suffocate against Annabelle's heaving breasts. She

could see the obituary headline: "Suffocation Due to Boobs." She laughed. Annabelle

pushed her away. She looked stricken.

"There is something wrong with you Jane Newman," she said.

"Yup," said Jane.

Annabelle stormed towards the bathroom, angrily flicking the mink behind her.

Jane looked out the window. She didn't know why she was there. Why was she

there? It didn't make any sense. She felt lonely. She wanted to call home but she didn't

want to talk to Pete. Her mother was dead. She had no anchor in life, no solid ground to

fall back on. She had no one to guide her. Her mother hadn't been the best, maybe, but

she was all Jane was going to get. And now she was gone.

Jane felt terrible. At one time she had parents and now she didn't. There was no

rhyme or reason to it. That's what the school counselor had told her. Death was the

unanticipated visitor, he said. You never knew when it was going to come. That's what

he had said to her. That's actually what he had said! And there had been no one there to

disagree with him. No one had been there to say, "Well maybe it's not." And then he had

patted her arm, actually patted her arm, saying it was going to be okay. These things

happen. Blah blah. She hated everyone.

A bird with black wings plummeted towards the window and then turned away,

narrowly missing the glass. Jane watched, interested. The bird had only just escaped and

yet it had turned calmly, only at the last minute changing its course.









There was a loud thud outside. Then there was another. For a moment, Jane thought

a torrent of birds were slamming against the boat, hammering themselves on the deck in

droves.

Two ratty-looking boys appeared miraculously at the threshold. They were short,

both of them, and seemed about her age. Jane didn't think they were much taller than she

was. They were wearing all black and had pale, almost bald-looking blond heads. At first

Jane thought they were twins, but that wasn't it exactly-their faces were different.

Annabelle re-emerged from the bathroom. She was back in the coat. It was silent

for a moment while all of them stared at each other.

The taller one stepped forward, towards them.

"Good evening, Ladies," he said. He bowed. "Allow me to introduce myself. I'm

Long John Silver, and this is my smarmy cohort, Smitty."

"We're pirates!" the littler one said. Jane noticed that his eyes were bulging, a little.

"We're going to loot you out!" He walked towards the grandparents' prizes and picked

up a sandwich maker. "Woo hoo!" he cried. "Looks like we came to the right place!"

"This is a private vehicle," Annabelle said. She looked annoyed. She pulled the

coat tight around her. "You're not allowed on here."

The taller one stared straight ahead, not replying. He seemed not to have heard her.

Jane looked at the intruders. They weren't cute. Annabelle would have spoken to

them differently if they'd been cute. They were wearing leather pants and dress shirts

unbuttoned to the navel. She supposed they looked like pirates. Their blondness wasn't

really working, though.









The tall one cleared his throat as if he were about to give a speech. "Now, Ladies,"

he said. "I want to explain something to you. Although, yes, we are going to rob you

today, I don't want you to take it personally. I don't want you to feel singled out. Really,

you shouldn't. You're not the only ones subject to this ill-gotten fate. Chance isn't

frowning on you, alone! In terms of looting, we're equal opportunity. We don't

discriminate. We're visiting all of the boats, both up and down the river. With this in

mind, don't let yourselves fall under the entirely false impression that somebody else is

getting a better deal than you, because it just isn't so. You'll find us aboard both the big

and the small ships, the yachts and the dinghies. Each has its own unique offerings. We

don't play favorites."

As he spoke, Jane noticed that the boy wasn't looking at her or Annabelle, but

rather over their heads, like they had been taught to do in drama class.

The ground beneath Jane's feet was vibrating. It took her a minute to put together

that they were moving. The boys must have loosed them from the dock when they got on,

she figured.

"Do something, Jane," Annabelle said. "Crash the boat into the bank or

something."

Jane looked ahead levelly. She supposed she should take the wheel, but she didn't

really feel like it. The intruders were blocking the steering wheel and she would have to

push past them to get to it. It seemed like a lot of effort.

The sun was setting. For a moment they were all bathed in a rosy, becoming glow.

Then the automatic lights came on, bright and harsh. They were meant for clarity, not

kindness. Jane could see now that their paleness wasn't because they were blonde, at all.









They were bald. In the new light, lines appeared. It was clear now that they were older,

much older, than had been her first impression.Jane stared at them, shivering. She was

surprised to find herself a little scared. That these boys were actually men, grown-up

men, made the situation seem more dire.

The boat cruised along, steadily and without interruption.

The little one piped up. He had been over at the gadget stack for a while now,

playing with a jogging radio. "We're pirates!" he screeched. "We're here to rape and

pillage!" Jane stared at him. He was such a loud little bugger, it was annoying. He

seemed to only be able to communicate in one piercingly high octave.

Long John held out a hand, shushing him. Let me clarify for my friend, here," he

said. Here, as well, I don't want you to feel that you are being put upon, particularly. The

fact that you are both quite lovely has not escaped me, but it doesn't factor in. This

aspect, too, is simply part of the looting process. We are taking you for all you are worth.

It's a matter of unalterable course, really."

Annabelle's mouth was hanging open. She hurried up to the man, thrusting her

hand in front of his face. "I'm saving myself for marriage," she said. She was wearing a

cubic zirconium from the jewelry pile. "See the ring?" She wiggled it. "I'm a virgin,"

Annabelle said. I am a holy temple of God."

Jane rolled her eyes. She didn't know where Annabelle was getting this stuff. She

was pulling it out of her ass.

"My father is a very powerful man," Annabelle continued. "He could have you

arrested. He could have you disemboweled. So I would give this part up if I were you,

she said. "I mean it would be pretty stupid not to."









Long John looked up at the ceiling politely, as if he were actually considering this.

Annabelle smiled hopefully.

Beyond them, in the distance, Jane saw a light come on and then go out. It came on

again, flickering weakly.

Long John's head snapped back. "Nope, no can do," he said. "Better just stick to

the plan. We have to have everything we came for. Otherwise, we're not doing our job.

It's a disservice to the profession, that way. We are required to adhere to the law of pirate

ethics, if you will."

Annabelle whimpered. She threw herself on the ground, moaning fretfully. She

pointed at all the prizes. "Fine, take it!" she said. "Take everything!" Just leave me

alone!"

Jane looked at her. Such theatrics seemed to her a bit premature, but that was

Annabelle for you.

Long John pulled out a knife.

Now we're talking, Jane thought.

The girls shrank back, Jane, too. For the first time in weeks she felt awake, really

awake. Below her, the engine buzzed with excitement. Jane felt like she had been slapped

in the face. She actually felt scared. She couldn't believe it. She hadn't thought that

anything could frighten her, not ever, again. Jane looked at her hands, which were

shaking.

"I think they mean business," Jane said. She could hear her heart beating. It was

really picking up speed. She felt something like delight, but that couldn't be it. She felt

dizzy.









The engine was buzzing louder, now. There was something wrong with it.

Jane walked slowly towards the door. She grasped the glass divider and slid it

open. She felt a little faint. Something inside of her was screaming now, it was shrieking.

When she reached the deck she looked back, over her shoulder. No one was following

her. Behind her, somewhere, she heard a faint squealing, but it was only a little one. The

water churned anticipatorily, leaping up from under the boat. She stepped over the

railing, edging herself onto the rim of the deck.

The houseboat pounded onwards.

Jane looked at the water. She could feel her heart beating, loudly in her chest. She

put her hand on her chest, feeling it. Her heart felt cool, hard, and clear as crystal.

Annabelle was a tough girl, Jane thought, tougher than she seemed--she could take care

of herself. So maybe she would have to sleep with one of them, that Long John Silver. So

what? She'd done it before. It's not like the experience would be shocking. She would be

fine. Or maybe she wouldn't. In any case, Jane was getting on with it. She knew what she

had to do. She hadn't known she had a shred of survival instinct left in her, and yet now

here it was, blinking at her, a bright, blinding light. It was such a surprise, such a

precious, wonderful surprise. She couldn't ignore it.

She jumped in. The water sucked her up greedily, pushing the boat away. "Help!"

she cried, "Help!" The waves swallowed up the words and flung them back in her face.

She heard a chorus of voices, all calling to her. Each shouted specific, encouraging

things, but it was impossible to tell exactly what above the roaring of the engine, but it

didn't matter. She knew what they were saying. She was having difficulty keeping her

head up. She lifted her chin, but the water kept leaping up, getting into her nose and






63


filling her mouth. She could feel her feet kicking, though, and her arms were moving in

front of her. On land, a light flickered beckoningly. She was going to it. She heard her

mother calling to her along with the other voices. She heard them calling, egging her on.

Then she didn't hear them anymore.















CAUGHT!

We were better distracted so we left. He had been offered work elsewhere so it

seemed like the perfect opportunity to get going. I myself had been waiting for something

like this to happen for a long, long time. I was ecstatic. Little rinky-dink Marx,

Mississippi was never for me. I was born there but am not of there. I was not of the same

stuff as the rest of them in that town. I was made for something better. It was the same

with him.

I worked hard to get him to notice me. Why I don't know. There wasn't much to

choose from in Marx-- mostly fat girls in leotards and drugstore sweatpants. I am a real

looker. I was pretty much the only tasty piece for miles. Still I tried to get him to pay

attention. Every day after school I would take the bus to Oxford, to the University there. I

would trot down to the laboratory and walk past, sashaying back and forth under his

window. I had this whole routine going where I would hike my uniform skirt up under

my breasts so that it would keep rising as I shimmied past. College girls went past as well

but none of them with my stems. Luckily he is a leg man, so this worked to my benefit.

And me with no way of knowing! Fate had a hand in our union, you see. We were meant

to be together.

We were eager to get married but for different reasons. I am the sort of person who

is always up for an adventure. I was done with high school, over it. I was looking to get

out of town. His reasons leaned toward the nobler sort. He was actually in love with me.

His name is Cash. He is very brainy. He is a scientist. He is thirty-three. He is probably a









genius. He scored a 1600 on the Scholastic Aptitude test in junior high and it has all been

uphill since then. So I was expecting a lot from him. Sadly, I was disappointed. In my

opinion his smarts have not been utilized to their best advantage. For instance, he was in

the lab all day when he could have been out making money. His main concern was

bioethics. All day he philosophized over a pot of bubbling brew. It was his premier

occupation. It was practically volunteer work. At that point he was working to eradicate

cancer. He was searching for a cure. I had no doubt that he will find it, and most likely

soon. It was only a matter of time.

I tried to care but it is simply not in my nature. I do not have it in me. I require

something different in a man. A husband should be a good provider. He goes by Cash but

that is just a nickname, something I made up for my own amusement. His real name is

Raleigh. I married him because I thought that brains led to money but it is clear now that

I was wrong. We were as poor as church mice.

So I was hoping things would pick up in Florida. Supposedly they were offering

higher pay at the University there but I was banking on absolutely nothing. I always

thought researchers made a fine living but Cash did not seem to be one of them. I

wondered if it was possible that this trait could follow him out of the state. I had no way

of knowing.




So far the trip has been less than eventful. Alabama has almost come and gone-we

are nearly through it. I was asleep for the duration. I have heard that the state is just like

Marx but with better trees and soil, so I don't feel that I've missed that much. Now that I

am awake, however, I am in need of a little socializing. I for one think some sparkling









conversation would be just the ticket to brightening things up, but Cash refuses to speak

to me. He is so responsible. He is "concentrating on the road". On the radio, a woman

with a helium voice is asking which brand of hot sauce we prefer. Then it cuts out. I say,

"I am partial to Heinz in the glass bottle, special recipe, and you?" I turn to him. I would

actually like to know. We don't know that much about each other. We have been married

a year. Of course Cash doesn't say a word. Instead, he snorts.

I am so bored I could scream.




I said we're better distracted. That's true. We are kinder to each other and more

relaxed individuals in general. Recently I was distracted by a foreign exchange student

named Eduardo. He looked like Antonio Banderas but was really a John Lennon-type

character. I was very sweet on him. We met on campus. He found me one day when I

was sunbathing in the quad. He thought I was a co-ed or he never would have spoken to

me. I was waiting for Cash. Unlike my husband, he was looking for someone his own

age. Cash didn't suspect a thing until Eduardo told him. Why I'm not sure. I wanted to

ask but I don't speak Spanish. Our relationship wasn't based on verbal communication. It

simply didn't come up. Cash does, though, and he went wild. He wanted to kill Eduardo

but he had wisely fled back to Spain by then. I tried to tell him it wasn't personal. I am a

woman of appetites. I didn't intend to hurt him but I am the type of person who needs

some excitement in order to feel contented. Still I am being blamed. I am being punished

for this single indiscretion. Basically I am being held hostage. I am allowed to get out at

rest stops and to go to the ladies' but once we reach the motel it is total lock-down. I

don't know what he thinks he is keeping me from doing, exactly. Who could I possibly









meet there? I don't know what he's thinking. As far as I'm concerned, it's anybody's

guess.




We are getting restless, both of us. We are both in a snit. All we see are trees and

fruit stands. It is all there is to look at. They continue for miles and miles. Pounds of

peaches are three dollars a pop but we don't want any of them. We simply aren't

interested. We are doing nothing. We need something fun to do. I am so bored I am

making eyes at everyone. I bat my eyelashes at every stand we pass. The workers at the

stands grin and wave back. They are delighted with my friendliness. They are all

whistling but I give the signal to cut it out. Still Cash looks like he's going to kill me. I

stop.

We pass a fireworks stand and I make him stop. It is such an anomaly I feel like it

must mean something. As soon as he turns off the ignition he falls asleep. His foot is still

on the gas pedal. He is exhausted-driving has taken it out of him. The stand is red and

shoddy-looking. I step up to see the goods there. The only person who is working is a

pimply-faced boy bent double over a porno magazine. He sees me approaching and

straightens up. I inquire as to his wares and then stand around, idly rubbing my thighs

together. Brace-Face recommends the Turbo-Shot 3000 but I like the Flowering Pagoda.

Both are 49.95. Of course I can't buy anything. Our funds are reserved for necessities,

strictly. We're flat broke. Something happened with the money that I am not entirely

aware of. I had nothing to do with it. I was never good at math and am not in charge of

the finances. It seems there was some and then one day there wasn't. Really there is

nothing. We will probably have to charge the moving fees. The boy gives me a sample,









anyway-some sort of popper. He offers to take me out back and "show me how its

done". He wants to help me use it. I am a friendly person in general. I pat him on the

bum. Of course he is thrilled. He probably has not seen a girl in months and certainly not

one who is good-looking. I check the car where Cash is fast asleep. Cutely, he is

drooling.




By mile one seventy I can't take anymore without a drink. Time passes smoothly

with a little liquor pick me up. It is just what we need. I am craving peach schnapps but

will settle for wine from a box. Cash won't partake but he can live vicariously. He just

wants to see me happy, anyway. That is enough for him. There is a little liquor store

along the highway. Inside it is small and quaint with red walls-strange but cute. There

are pictures of Dalmatians above the register.

In line, a woman in a velour jumpsuit eyes me cattily. She gives me the once over. I

admit I am scantily clad but that is every female's prerogative. I stare back. I am wearing

a tank top and cut-off shorts. Perhaps I am showing a bit of cheek and boob but if she

doesn't want to see it she shouldn't be looking. She is just jealous, anyway-her behind

is the size of a caboose.

The woman leans down to me and whispers: "white trash". She says it under her

breath but I can hear it. I don't answer. I try to remain composed but am shaking a little.

Luckily Cash jumps to my rescue. He is such an upstanding citizen. He is there to defend

my honor. "What was that?" he asks. He comes up behind me. He gets up to her, eye to

eye. Now he would never hit a woman but I can see he wants to. Caboose just sniffs and

turns away. It seems she has made her point and is done with us. We leave.









In the car, Cash hugs me and asks if I'm alright. I shrug. I would rather not talk

about it. He is holding me and driving at the same time. He isn't paying attention to the

road, for once. He is petting me and making some sort of cooing noise. He is making

even moonier eyes than usual. It seems my damsel in distress episode has done

something to him. Now that I am pathetic he is even more in love.




By nightfall we are famished and have to stop. All we can find is a creepy-looking

diner. We go in and find a table. Everything is greasy. Still, all we can afford is the

Summertime Special to share. Basically it is one old egg and toast. It is probably freeze-

dried. In the booth across from ours, a young woman strokes the thigh of a grandpa. She

is very pretty and young and her companion is a million. She pats him lovingly, casually

moving up. People are so crazy. These are the sorts of moments when I realize there are

lots worse than mine. Now I know Cash isn't everyone's idea of a hunky Mchunkster but

at least he isn't almost dead. Now the girl has her hand on his behind. I think she is

checking for wet. Surely he is wearing a diaper. It's true I also married for money but at

least my husband isn't four times my age. Moments later they get up to leave, canoodling

their way to the door. They take my good humor with them. Everything is rotten again.




Over our dinner, Cash gazes lovingly. This is his normal for him but right now it

seems especially annoying. Just to see what will happen, I tear my napkin in half and

stick it in my ears. I want him to think its weird but he is a smitten five year-old. Of

course he thinks it's cute. He is goofy with adoration. He copies me. He wants to be just









like me when he grows up. Now we both look ridiculous. "Look!" he says. "We're

twins!"

I am so disgusted.




We are in the crummiest of motels. In the room, the wallpaper is shellacked over in

great gobs. It is about to all fall off. The place smells of urine. In the wall behind our bed,

rats scurry back and forth, chatting. They are really putting up a ruckus. They are

positively celebrating. It is the rats that put me over the edge. I was fine until they started

acting up. I don't know what came over me. I must have been tired from the trip. I admit

I threw a tantrum. It's just that it is very difficult having no money all the time. A girl

gets fed up. Perhaps I threw some things --I don't recall. There was nothing of value in

that dump, anyway. Who cares if I broke something? Cash got very panicky. He didn't

know what to do. When I came out of delirium I found him in the hallway, huddling

there. Poor thing, he was scared to come back in. I had to drag him back by an arm.




I have had the shock of my life. My husband, the genius, has become a common

pickpocket. A moment ago he walked into the gas station and walked out with some poor

man's wallet. He was gone five minutes. I am telling you I am surprised. He has always

been such a moral person. I didn't think he had it in him. He says I drove him to it, that

my fit last night pushed him over the edge. He just couldn't take it any longer-he hated

disappointing me. He is very sweet but crazy. I suspect it has something to do with what

happened at the liquor store but I am too worked up to be insulted. This is the most









exciting thing to happen, ever! I demand to see the victim, and he promises to point him

out. Almost immediately he says, "There he is." Right on cue, a little man in a

windbreaker jacket appears at the window. He is standing in line to check out. He is the

smallest man I have ever seen hands down. His forehead barely clears the conveyor belt.

For a moment I am concerned that Cash has stolen from the disabled but then I think

better of it and keep my mouth shut. He looks fine and contented, very ho-hum. Clearly

he doesn't know what hit him. He really doesn't notice a thing. My husband is that good.

I am amazed. I ask him how he learned to do it, and he says he saw it on television. A

reformed criminal on a talk show was giving a "how to". He said he didn't want to watch

but he was mesmerized. He couldn't help but learn. My husband! He is so smart he

knows things he doesn't even want to.

Cash hands me the wallet and I open it. It is a real mess. Everything is crammed

around and smooshed together. We've got two hundred bucks and a couple of credit

cards, but mostly there are pictures of his family. The munchkin has four weasley

children and one afghan -clad wife. She is twice his size, easily. It is a wonder how they

managed to copulate. They must be very modern. I have to put the wallet away. The

pictures are making me sick. The children are so awful-looking. Their noses are shaped

like upside-down chopsticks.




Life is already looking up. No more diners for us! We are in Miami. We are at the

Chateau Neaumond, the best restaurant we could find. We have a very fancy dinner and

then get up to leave. We are both so happy we forget to order dessert we're so eager to

get home to bed. We are in such exuberant moods. He is so confident! He takes me in the









coatroom and again in the bathroom ladies' stall. We are so happy! Cash leaves a 50.00

tip and I don't even say anything. Our waitress is an elderly lady and he feels for her of

course. But I don't mind! The service was terrible but everyone deserves a little pick-me-

up, I say.




We have arrived and stopped in St. Augustine. It is not so hot and humid here. We

have decided to devote ourselves fully to a life of crime. He has given up his plans to

continue researching. We can go wherever the wind takes us, now. We are on the lam. It

is so romantic. We are very much in love. I know it is quick but it has done wonders for

our marriage already. It is so exciting. I am an accomplice! If anything happened I am not

actually to blame but I would bear some of the brunt, certainly. It is a responsibility.




It is evening and Cash is just returning from a day in the field. Today he made a

pretty good circuit: the grocery, then the drugstore, with a quick stop at the gas station to

finish things off. He may have done some street work also but I can't tell that yet.

I have spent the day in the hotel. Our accommodations are much nicer now, so I

don't really mind. There is a minibar and cable.

I am on top of him even before he's completely inside. I wrap my arms around him.

His pockets are bulging with goodies. I feel him up. I almost cannot stop myself. Now

that he is a criminal I am really turned on. In the past he was the one after me but now the

tables have turned. I confess I had lost feelings but now he is dark and complicated.









Everything has changed. It is like a light switched on somewhere. He is so deliciously

dangerous. I attack him and we fall into bed.

Afterwards he wants to show me what he's gotten. We treat it like a game of show

and tell. On his stop at the drugstore he picked up some disguises. They're masks of

Sonny and Cher. They're just for fun-he doesn't want me coming with him on his

outings. But they could come in handy in other ways. For instance, they could make

things even more in the bedroom. Cash puts his on and sings for me. He could be Cher's

long lost twin except without the hair. I picture him in a Bob Mackie dress with his little

hipbones sticking out, and collapse into giggles. I laugh so hard I pee.




He has finally forgiven me! He says I have been so good he is letting up on the

grounding. He is tossing it out the window. I am so relieved I cannot tell you. I didn't

mind being stuck in the hotel all day but I could not bear him mad. He was such a gloomy

Gus there for a while. It made things intolerable. We are going out for ice cream to

celebrate. There is a very cute parlor just down the street, with mirrors on the walls and

high stools. It is all done up in pastels. Even at the parlor he finds a way to take

something. I pay up front for my bubblegum surprise and he comes out with two per fist.

Then we run out. How do you steal and ice cream cone? It doesn't seem possible. He is

so quick and sneaky I didn't even notice it. He is that good.









This is the worst day. We are in Lakeland, Florida. We were coming out of the

Publix when a man in a clerk's uniform came running toward us. Both of us panicked. I

tried to duck into Cash's armpit. It looked like the end. Really, we thought we were

through. But it was only a false alarm. The fellow simply wondered if I wanted the

coupon for ladies' products I had thrown on the ground. I smiled and shook my head.

I was having a sugar craving so all Cash had taken was some Jujubees, but even

that is enough to get you in trouble. Plus, you never know what's gotten around. He could

be wanted. Imagine, the whole thing over on account of some jellied snacks! It couldn't

have happened. The whole idea is too ridiculous.

Everything is fine of course but Cash is completely traumatized. It seems getting

caught has never crossed his mind before. Somehow it has just not entered into his

consciousness. He is all shaken up. He was not prepared at all. He is a mess.

Right now he is face down on the hotel bed, crying hysterically. He has collapsed

onto the bed and will not stop weeping. I try to console him but he will not be comforted.

He is blubbering like a baby. "There, there," I say. I pat him on the head. I try to stroke

his hair but he will not let me. I admit I am not very tender. I am very uncomfortable. I do

not like to see a man in tears.

I think he is having some sort of moral crisis. It seems it has finally sunk in that he

has gone from curing cancer to this. I can see the wheels turning. He looks deranged. His

eyes are bloodshot and there are great black rings around them. He is thin and tortured-

looking. He is holding his head in his hands. He is positively green. He is this close to

quitting. But I am such a brat. I urge him to keep going. Really, I am awful-a selfish,









selfish girl. I tell him that he must go on, that it is the only thing to do. I know it is

terrible, but it is so nice to have a little spending money! I can't part with it.

I know I should let him stop, but the two of us would lose so much-for once we

are both satisfied. He has found a way to please me. Men are only happy as providers you

know. It is a proven fact, although Cash has come to realize it only recently.

I pat his head. I want to be of some use somehow but there is no comforting him.

"Honey," I say. "Sugarpie. Buck up--everything's going to be alright."

He has stopped crying. He wipes his eyes on his sleeve and agrees sullenly. He

calms down easily. I almost can't believe it. It seems fishy. He says he likes the extra

money, too. Now I know this is a lie. Cash has no desire for material goods although he

bears no judgment on the sins of others. Of course it is all for me. I suspect he is worried

about losing me. It is the only explanation.

Cash goes out on the deck to brood. He wants to be left alone. He stays out there

awhile, pacing. When he comes back in he is weeping again. I hand him some tissues and

he finally quiets down bit. He blows his nose wildly.

"I want to make a confession," he says.

"What?" I say. It is difficult to make out what he is saying with all the snot. He

repeats himself. Then he clears his throat, and his face contorts like he is going to start

crying again. "I have to tell you about what happened to the money," he says. I hold my

breath but then let it out quickly. It seems he's been donating it all to the Cancer Research

Society. He wasn't getting anywhere with his work and was ashamed of himself. He felt

guilty. I shouldn't be too surprised I guess-he's such a goody-two-shoes.









Cash is stunned that I didn't suspect anything but how was I to know? I hadn't even

finished high school when we met. I am only a little angry. It's not like I expected

anything more from him. He has always been saint. Anyway, I feel I owe him one after

the Eduardo fiasco.

So now everything is wonderful again. We are united in mutual forgiveness.




It is all decided. Everything is patched up. He will continue with the original plan a

while longer. It is only until we can get back on our feet a little bit. Then we'll move on.

Currently we are settled in Beachwood, FL. This was my choice of destination but now I

am regretting it. A girl feels her have-not-ness more keenly when she is surrounded by

the haves. Everyone here is rich. This is obvious just from driving through. For instance,

everybody has a pool. They are everywhere you look. And we are so near the ocean! The

whole place reeks of chlorine. Really, it is everywhere. You would have thought they

would find a way to neutralize the smell but they haven't. I suppose the residents don't

even notice it anymore. Luckily, Cash has decided to step it up a notch. He has given up

the life of a petty thief and is now moving up in the world. He is a breaking and entering

man now. He says he was inspired by all the beautiful old houses. They are old and

crumbling and easy to break into. We were tooling through a very nice neighborhood

when he got the idea. I am glad for it seems the right time to make a change. Taking

wallets was great for a while but it wasn't really cutting it. We need a little extra to get

by.

Already he has robbed six houses and a plantation-style duplex. I think it's a shame

to split up old houses like that but Cash says it's common practice. So far I am









disappointed with the results. Visions of Cartier and mink danced in my head but these

people don't own any. They seem like mostly outdoorsy folk. Cash is much happier. He

presents me with scuba equipment he is intent on me using. He spreads the loot out

across the floor for my full admiration. He would like me to try the boogie-board. So far

the joints have all gone well. No one has been at home. This is a very laid-back town. No

one seems to have a security system. I'm sure Cash could figure one out if he had to, but

so far it has not come up. Nobody even keeps their doors locked. So Cash has had no

problems. Everything has been as easy as pie.




It is all over. He is practically caught. Any moment they will come crashing

through the door to take him away. Really they will be here any minute. Of course I knew

it had to end badly but I hadn't counted on it coming so soon.

I am so upset.

Last night when we were driving we passed a set of condos lavishly furnished.

They were all lighted up. We could see into the windows. There was a guard booth at the

entrance but Cash said it would be no problem. He was feeling tough and wanted to

impress me. So we decided he would go tonight. I had a bad feeling but I let him go. As

soon as he was gone I regretted it.

I know he has been seen. I am sitting at the window, watching for his car.

I know just how it will happen. He is coming to me. They will be right on his tail

but he will arrive first. It will be close but he will make it. They will have given him a

head start. They have seen love and they have recognized it. They will not stand in its

way. He will come running through the door and into my arms.






78


I know just how it will be.

"Oh, Honey," I will say. Oh Sweetlips. You're the only one for me."

It is already beginning. Even now I can see them, all in a pack. He is first however.

Soon he will be at the door. I can hear sirens whirring in the distance.

For it must be this way. This kind of happiness couldn't last forever. Our time is

up. It is inevitable. It cannot be fought. Everything is as it should be.

I am waiting for him, my man. All is well.















FLOTSAM

Summer was over. The air on the beach was getting cooler, and the water was

getting cooler, too. No one was swimming or lying on the beach. Everyone was packing

up, leaving. Coolers, umbrellas, and sandy, screaming children were tossed haphazardly

into the backs of open station wagons. The place was emptying out. It was as if the little

town was closing up shop. It was time to go home.

Sam sensed that Loreli didn't want to go. She had never been to the town before

but she had spent the entire summer there and she had fallen in love with it. She loved the

beach, and the friendly townspeople, and she felt that the climate fit her temperament

exactly. The west coast suited her. She felt that she belonged there. It felt like home, even

though she was not from there, at all. Actually, she was from someplace entirely

different. She was from a place far, far away. They were from Cincinnati.

Loreli sat on an old wooden rocking chair with a splintered back. She wore gold

huarache sandals and a faded bikini briefs swimsuit. Fine blond hairs shone prettily on

her face.

She sighed. Sam knew she felt that something important was being taken away

from her, something that was hers. She sat on the deck with her boyfriend and stared at

the beach.

The beach was one of those white beaches with no stones or shells. It was a

beautiful beach, a perfect beach. The land behind it was golden-hued, and the water next

to it was a vivid aquamarine. The beach didn't have much junk on it, either. Along the









edge of the line of houses there was a mere sprinkling of pop cans. It was kept clean by

volunteers. A group of darling old ladies came to clean it up every Wednesday. It was

lovely, although it was not actually white. Really, it was more of a faded brioche. The girl

didn't mind this. Still, she thought it was the most beautiful beach she had ever seen.

Sam liked it, too. It's plainness appealed to him. He could appreciate the simple.

Sam was a lawyer. He had finished law school in May. He had passed the Bar. He had

landed a position at Betts Austin & Johnson, where he would be starting come

September. Sam had a generous swag of brown hair, broad, good-looking shoulders and a

broken-looking nose. He was tall. Sam was wealthy, but it was family money. This was

his parent's beach house.

Sam and Loreli were twenty-six. They had lived together in a nearby city for four

years, although they had known each other for longer. They had met at the restaurant

where Loreli had been working at the time. Sam had been seated by a brightly lighted

window, and when he asked to have the blinds lowered, Loreli had come over to adjust

them. It was a high window. Loreli had had to stretch to reach it, exposing her midriff.

It was a spectacular midriff. Sam had been reminded of the Renoir painting of the

nude brushing her hair, although of course Loreli wasn't at all zaftig. Sam had told Loreli

she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen, and asked if she would please sit down

with him. Loreli was the only woman Sam had ever loved, and he meant it to stay that

way. Sam liked to tell people that he had fallen in love with Loreli at first sight, which

was true.

Now, on the deck, he felt uneasy. Loreli was upset, maybe too much so. It didn't

seem normal. He was concerned, but it wasn't clear to him exactly what he should be









doing about it. He was really making an effort, but it was hard. It all seemed rather

morbid. For instance, at breakfast that morning she had told him about a vision she had

had of herself while floating on her back in the ocean the day before. She had envisioned

herself as a pad of sea foam. Sam, she had said, wouldn't it be lovely to just float along

like that? To spend your days just idling away? It was troubling. It seemed reminiscent of

the ending in The Little Mermaid. Hadn't the mermaid died that way?

Sam was worried. He feared his girlfriend was losing her grip. He leaned over and

put his hand on her back.

Loreli didn't want to have to get a real job, and she didn't want Sam to have to,

either. She would rather they stayed, always, on the beach. Unlike Sam, Loreli had

nothing but dead-end jobs waiting for her back in Ohio. However, both knew it was time

to get it together a little bit. The battle is always between the pleasure principle and the

grindstone principle, is it not? It was a matter of reality.




It was late afternoon. A little boy in a white T-shirt and blue swimming trunks

walked up to the deck and stood there. His T-shirt said "Water Baby," and featured a

downy baby duck swimming in a puddle. He was holding a bouquet of wilting dahlias.

"My favorite beau!" Loreli said.

Matthew smiled. He held out the bouquet of flowers. He walked up the stairs of the

deck and climbed onto Loreli's lap. He put his head on her shoulder.

Sam put his hand over his mouth. His lip was twitching, but just a bit. It was not an

entirely uncommon occurrence. He was a little jealous of Matthew.









Matthew was the little boy Loreli had been babysitting all summer. Matthew lived

two houses away and just a few yards down the beach.

"Mummy's having a party," Matthew said. "She said to ask if I could stay with you

for a little bit."

"Of course you can, baby," Loreli said.

Sam rolled his eyes. Matthew's mother was always throwing a party. She was the

party queen. Last month alone there had been nine. Matthew's mother was infamous

around town. She threw all the major parties, and had married and divorced several

successful politicians in the area.

"Loreli," Matthew said, "Mummy's new boyfriend Peter made me my dinner and I

had three oysters and a pot pie and a bloody Mary. I had a shrimp with red peppers in

them. He wiggled. "Loreli," Matthew said, "Peter has long hair and an earring and a

mustache. He knows how to fly an airplane. He's going to show me how to fly one, too."

"Loreli," he said, "I think I have a tummy ache."

"Oh dear," Loreli said. She kissed the little boy's forehead. She picked him up and

took him inside. She lay him down on the divan and covered him up with a towel. She

went back outside to the deck.

"Loreli," Matthew called, "are you really going, Loreli? Peter said you might not

go if I asked you not to. He said I should come over and ask."

Sam walked inside. He clinked his glass on the lamp.

"Them's the breaks, kid," Sam said.

The sun set. Matthew finally fell asleep. Sam lifted Matthew up and carried him

back to his house.









When he got back, Loreli was in bed.

Sam stood at the foot of the bed and threw his arms up in exasperation. "There

were two police cars in the driveway when I got there," he said. "Apparently someone

threw the statue of Lee Iacocca in the pool again. The new amour, probably." He made a

face. "Feeding the kid oysters. Heh!" he said. "That woman sure can pick 'em." Sam

shook his fist.

Loreli giggled. Her cheeks were flushed. She stopped giggling and started sucking

on her hair, looking at Sam expectantly.

Sam stared at her. He felt like he was entertaining a child at a slumber party. What

was wanted of him now? Should he do a trick? Pull a balloon out of her ear? Disappear

the bedpost? Yodel?

He sighed and fell into bed. "That woman is a real case," he said.




The phone rang at three in the morning. It rang nine times. Nobody moved but it

kept ringing. It stopped. Then it started ringing again.

"What the fuck," Sam said.

Loreli picked up.

From the bed, Sam could hear Matthew breathing heavily into the receiver.

"Loreli, I woke up and the moon was in my room," Matthew said. "It was very big and

holey. I closed my eyes and when I opened them it was gone again."

Sam put his face into his pillow. He groaned.

"Go to sleep, Matthew!" he shouted.









Matthew sniffled loudly. "The moon was in my room," he said. "I think it was

trying to get in my bed."

"Sometimes that happens," Loreli said. "Even the moon needs a break from being

the moon, sometimes."

Sam opened his eyes and turned over. Loreli was standing at the window with her

back towards him. Her nightshirt was tucked up into her panties.

Loreli whispered something into the receiver. Then she told Matthew she loved him

and hung up.

"He'll be asleep in five minutes," she said.

"He's too precocious, that kid. He'll drive himself crazy." Sam sat up.

"Being like that makes people crazy," he said. "It's things like that."

"He's a little boy," Lorelei said. "He's normal." She got into bed. "Little boys

dream things."

Sam grimaced. He knew it was ridiculous to be jealous of a five year-old, but there

it was.

Loreli switched off the light. After a moment she asked, "Sam? Are you awake?"

Sam stuck his hand in the air. He waved two fingers.

"I was dreaming, too," she said. "I was in our apartment, and somehow this cat had

gotten in. It was really big. Huge. It was nighttime, and you were gone. I don't know

where you were. The cat was really feral-looking. It circled around the living room. It

looked like it was casing the place or something. It came after me. I ran to the kitchen,

and it ran after me. It jumped at my face, and I stabbed it with a kitchen knife." She

paused. "I killed the cat," she said.









Sam put the pillow over his head. He wished they were both asleep already.

"You didn't kill anything," Sam said.

Sam dreamed, too. He fell asleep and dreamed that he and Loreli were at a party

somewhere. They were at a party, and Loreli was trying to convince Sam to jump off

somebody's roof. They were on the roof. A crowd of upturned faces watched them,

below.

Loreli told Sam to jump. She said it would mean a lot to her, that everyone there

would love him if he would just do it. It seemed very important to her that Sam jump off

the roof. She wouldn't shut up. In the dream, Loreli spoke in a high-pitched little girl's

voice. It was Loreli, all right, but with this weird voice.

Finally Sam refused. "You're being rather cheeky," he told her.

Then Loreli offered Sam a blowjob, and he jumped.

As he fell, Loreli called down to him. "The distance between us is several miles,"

she said.

It was a creepy dream. Sam woke up feeling silly and a little disturbed. A mixed-up

fool distracted by hooey. Sam felt bamboozled.




Sam and Loreli went to a restaurant in town. It was a clam restaurant, a restaurant

that specialized in clams. Fried clams, baked clams, and clams a flambe were all at their

disposal.

The restaurant was built on stilts. It was a bit shaky- looking. Sam had the feeling

that, if a fight were to break out, say, or if someone were to run through too quickly, the

building would go toppling headlong into the sea.









They sat down. A long-faced youth in a paisley dinner jacket ran up to the table.

"Hullo, friend!" Loreli sang out merrily. She stood up. Loreli hugged the waiter.

She kissed him on the cheek.

Loreli and the waiter looked at each other like they were old friends. The waiter

whispered something into Loreli's ear and they both giggled. Loreli squeezed the waiter's

hand.

Sam looked at the waiter. He did not recognize him. Certainly, he had never seen

him before.

Loreli sat down. "Who was that?" Sam asked. His voice was calm, even. He

remained unperturbed. "You know everybody," he said.

Loreli laughed. She touched Sam's cheek with her hand. It was not the same hand

she used to touch the waiter. Sam felt considerably relieved.

"That's Joseph," Loreli said. "He works at the market, too. Yesterday he helped

Matthew and I pick out lingcods. Joseph is also an expert fisherman. He gives charters.

Did you know there are over seven hundred kinds of codfish alone? And that they are all

delicious? Some are poisonous, though. That's what Joseph said. Matthew and I were

amazed. We decided we were going to try all of them. Except the poisonous ones, of

course."

The food came. The waiter brought them bread and chowder. He brought them

drinks edged in salt. Sam tried not to glare. Loreli and Sam began to talk about what they

would do once they got back to the city.

"You could work at the pizza place, again," Sam said. "You loved it there."

"That's not exactly true," Loreli said.









"Well, you didn't mind it," he said. "I distinctly remember you not minding it."

Sam looked at the table. "That's something I distinctly remember."

"Sam," she said. "The cook was a horrible person. He called me 'the dilettante

waitress.' He said I carried plates like I thought everything was disgusting."

Sam looked at the ceiling. He rolled up his eyes and squinted. "You never told me

that," he said. "I never heard any of that."

The restaurant began to fill up. People entered the room in droves, mingling in the

aisles like party guests.

Loreli stirred her chowder. She lifted a piece of bread from the basket and put it

down.

"You should eat something," Sam said.

Loreli smiled at him. She sipped her salted drink.

"You won't eat now, and then we'll go home and you'll fill up on junk," Sam said.

"That's just what will happen, you know. That's just what you're going to do." He

pointed with his spoon. "I know you," he said.

They were seated next to a window. From where they were seated, Sam could see a

man and a woman fighting over a plastic beach ball. Sam watched as the woman ripped

the ball out of the man's hands and the man fell to the ground.

Sam breathed. "I was thinking when we get back," he began, "I was thinking it

might be nice to start thinking about having a baby."

"Ew. Ha," Loreli said.

Sam blinked.

"Oh, you're serious," Loreli said. "I thought you were kidding."









Sam didn't say anything. He thought about how, in reality, whatever people said to

one another could logically be taken as a joke. Finally, he said, "What makes you think

that?"

"Well, for one thing you hate Matthew," Loreli said.

"I do not hate Matthew," Sam said. He took a drink.

"Matthew's a little funny."

The waiter brought them another round of drinks. Sam thought that this was

probably his third, but perhaps he had missed something. He looked at Loreli. She was

wearing a creamy sundress and crocheted sweater. Sand sparkled in her hair.

Sam pictured Loreli in a black negligee. He pictured her in their little apartment,

lounging on the bed. He saw her in her waitress' uniform, running down the street.

Sam put his glass over his mouth. "Forget the baby thing," he mumbled.

Sam reached for Loreli's hands.

"Marry me," Sam said. "I love you, Loreli."

"What? No," she said. She laughed. "Oh, Sam," she said.

Sam gripped the table. He watched Loreli fiddle with her drink, putting the straw in

and out of her mouth without sipping. He felt her drifting away from him, floating up and

away and out of his reach. He had said that he loved her, that he wanted to get married,

have a child. And he meant it. Whatever it took to keep her-he wanted that, too.

Loreli got up from the table. She excused herself to go to the ladies'. Clam shells

rattled noisily to the floor.

Sam looked at the water. He felt something inside him jump up, turn, retreat. He

felt it running. He felt it turn, hurrying away on spindly legs.









At the table across from him, two middle-aged women were having a conversation.

Both wore jean jackets. The woman who was talking had a hip haircut. Her hair was

molded into spiky peaks.

Both Tommy and I got sick on clams when we were living in Morocco," she said.

"We were hospitalized, you know. And yet I don't mind them at all anymore. Isn't that

funny? I must have Viking blood or something." The woman shrugged.

The other woman nodded. Her jean jacket looked like someone had splattered paint

across it.

"It's amazing what a morphine drip can do for a person," she said.

Sam sighed. He looked down at his chowder, which was making sounds. It was

gurgling, bubbling. It seemed to be talking. Glug, glug, it said. Slurp, slurp.




It is early evening. Though the last few days have not been especially warm, the

sun hangs high and red, a solid orb. Sam and Loreli have gone for a swim and are now

heading back up the beach toward the house. They are leaving the next day. Sam thinks

how perfect the night is, how wonderfully it fits the bill for a last hurrah. He has spent the

whole day cleaning and packing the car. He has been getting things together, bit by bit,

for days. It has been an arduous process. He has done it all, alone. Whenever he moved to

say, fold up the taken-apart-but-never-used tent or clean out the beer cooler, Loreli had

run off to the beach with Matthew and stayed there, sometimes working on their never-

finished fort, sometimes playing an elaborate version of "Cops and Robbers." Sam's one

real attempt to cajole Loreli into helping him, the one time he followed them down to the









beach, had been met with Loreli screaming "Cop!" followed by she and Matthew diving

behind a sand dune.

Now, near sunset, Sam and Loreli walk side by side. Their pace is slow, unhurried.

Sam thinks about packing. There really isn't anything left to do. In the morning, Matthew

will come to say goodbye, and then they will go.

In front of him, Loreli is running a little ahead. Periodically she stops and bends to

inspect the beach. She is holding the bottle they finished a few days before. She is filling

it up with sand.

She stops and turns toward Sam. She waits for him to catch up. She holds up the

bottle. "You know those little bottles girls wear around their necks?" she says. "This is

the jumbo-size version."

Sam looks at the sky. Slowly the sun moves towards the fading horizon.

"I want to talk to you," he says.

"Well, I'm busy now," Loreli says. "Now is not the time." She bends down, takes a

scoop of sand. "Can't you see that now is not the time?"

Loreli walks towards him. She comes up close, close enough that Sam can feel her

breath on his chest. From a distance, they are like lovers leaning in for a kiss.

Sam jumps. "I thought that was close, there, just for a second," he says. "I thought

you were going to spit on me." He smiles. It is as if, one by one, each of his teeth are

being rammed into glass.

He looks at the bottle. At the bottom of the bottle, the sand is tinted a surprising,

rosy hue.

"I'm taking the beach home with me," Loreli says.









"That's right, darling," Sam says. "Good girl."

Loreli looks at the bottle. She begins to cry.

Sam reaches for her, the woman he loves. He takes her shoulders in his hands and

shakes them.

"Stop it!" he shouts. "Oh you have to stop this!"

Sam closes his eyes. The sun seems suddenly very bright. He feels dizzy.

Sam touches the top of his head. The sun is very hot on his neck. It is as if a heavy

hand is pressing down on his neck.

He looks foggily down the beach. Everything is confused. Nothing looks familiar.

For a moment, he feels that he is trapped in a strange, blinding land. He feels lost.

He looks up and down the beach. Suddenly he feels that there is something he has

not done, something he has missed. That there is something urgent that he has forgotten

to do.

Ahead of him, a tiny figure rushes towards the water. Sam runs to the water.

At the edge of the surf, he stops. For a moment he cannot tell which parts of her are

beneath the surface and which parts are not.

"Loreli, please," he says.

"I'm not coming out," she says. "Don't come near me."

He steps forward. He plants one foot firmly in the surf. The sky is red, the water a

dull silver.

"My sweet girl," he says. "My little baby."






92


The girl kicks the water. The water reaches her mouth and then retreats. It touches

her mouth and flees.

"You'll have to drag me out," she says.















WHAT IS MINE

I will be plain. I have stolen a child. I simply scooped him up and carried him

away. It was not difficult. We were meant to be. It was in the newborn wing, late at night.

A candy striper in the preemie unit was desperate to go rub herself against her pimply

boyfriend. I was working in reception. She absolutely begged me to help her out.

("Watch 'em a minute, would ya?" she popped.) I didn't mind; no one was calling. It was

twelve o'clock in the boonies. I took over for her. I stood among the half-formed minis

and tried to breathe. There was very little air in the preemie unit. Something was wrong

with the air vents. There was not air enough for all of us, and me with my over-sized

lungs. I was not meant to be there. My darling stood outside the room, nose pressed

against the glass. Our eyes met. He was standing alone. There was no one else in sight.

Well, I have always wanted a child but my little darling was the only one that caught my

eye. He was terrifically appealing. He stood out in golden plumpness among the throngs

of graying larvae, wholesome as a bread loaf. It was a guiltless union; he was all alone in

a hospital at night. Who would leave him there? Only a delinquent. His mother was

probably barely out of her preteens. Surely, I did a service. You know the temperaments

of country people. One less mouth to feed. They're probably grateful. As I said I waltzed

out. My little one looked up at me and we both knew. He took my hand and that was it.

The corridor lighting illumed our way. ...









It is beautiful here. Peaceful. Everything is so calm and quiet and near to death. The

remnants of elegant ends are everywhere. They give us something to strive for. Outside

our camper, two hummingbirds lie impaled on a single cactus. We have come from

Portland, Maine, to Quartzsite, Arizona. We came by train. We began the journey in our

first days together; it took three weeks. We cruised by taxi to our final destination. At

first the cabbie thought I was completely mad but the 200.00 tip had him praising wide

open spaces by the time we parted. We had to get out of Maine. We did not run so much

as sensibly leave. It was not an unpleasant trip although probably best forgotten. We have

set up house in a trailer. It is off by itself. The next house is miles away. There is a dirt

road that sits beside it. Teddy bear cacti line the drive. We haven't any neighbors. Inside,

the walls are crimson. Everything is covered with a crimson fabric. The windows are

shellacked crummily. It is perfectly comfortable. I bought the thing for 750.00 at a

roadside stand. The stand featured a prominent billboard which caught my eye. "Free

gasoline with purchase," it read. "Car parts sold". The trailer is practically brand new. It

is shaped like a bullet. We are perfectly content.

The town is filled with old people-- a whole tribe. There is no one here under the

age of seventy. There are so many of them. Enough to outfit an army. I think about this

often. It is just something that pops into my head. Truly, they would make great soldiers,

in that they would be both willing and disposable. Death, they know, is inevitably

coming, so why not meet it in a nobler fashion? They would embrace the opportunity.

But alas, they have no one to organize them. My hands are full.