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HOW TO CLEAVE
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
Elizabeth Christine Kaiser
To My Parents
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
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.
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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,
"Do something, Jane," Annabelle said. "Crash the boat into the bank or
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
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
"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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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 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
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
Sam grimaced. He knew it was ridiculous to be jealous of a five year-old, but there
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,
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,"
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
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
Sam looked at the waiter. He did not recognize him. Certainly, he had never seen
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
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
"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.
"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
"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
"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,
"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
"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
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
"My sweet girl," he says. "My little baby."
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.