Saturday, December 23, 2006

the photographer

She lids her eyes seductively and watches him twist the lens a hair. He's squinting and his woolly curls half-obscure his face. The camera hides the other half. Irene fills in the blanks in her mind's eye. Mexican with a broad face and small passive eyes, a scar on his cheek, Raoul's face tells more stories than her own ever could.

"Good," he says with his slight accent. She watches the muscles of his arms and tries not to let her expression change, though her mouth wants to edge up into a smile. "Go ahead," Raoul adds and his white teeth reveal themselves generously beneath the camera. Irene likes that he can see that in her, likes how observant he is despite everything.

The flash goes off and Irene, experienced, doesn't blink, just watches the sunspot on her retina. It goes off twice more, and then he lowers the camera and she's rewarded with his face, just as she'd imagined it. Except there's sunspots covering bits of it, thanks to his camera.

"You think you can use those?" she asks, and wishes she smoked. How chic, how impressive it would be, just now, to light a cigarette and inhale like a girl from 1955.

"At least one of them should work. You did ver' well today. The company will like these shots." Raoul pours them both glasses of water; she sips at hers, thinking what an inadequate substitute it is for that rush of nicotine she's so often imagined (worried about blemishing her sharp, straight, white teeth, she's never even touched tobacco). She looks at the water, swirling, distorting, but she can feel his beady, watchful eyes on her and tries to curve like the gorgeous woman she knows she is. This is the first time she's worked for Raoul, and she likes him. He makes her feel appreciated. Her friend Ky told her once, knowledgeably, that women always like photographers and cosmetologists, because they make them feel beautiful. But she's never liked a photographer as much as Raoul, and Irene has been a model for two and a half years now, gone through a lot of people.

"You make me look good," she says, untying her kimono top and hanging it over her chair, and her canines, abnormally pointed, glint.

"You appeal to the market," he replies. "Good-looking, excellent cheekbones, the shadows fall ver' well-- it is less work for me. And there will need to be ver' little photomanipulation. You will sell many pairs of pants by yourself." He smiles at her again and gulps down water, throwing it down his throat like vodka. Idly, she wonders what kind of drunk he is. She wonders, too, how he is in bed. Gasping and hardworking, maybe, like the other round-faced Mexican she once slept with, a cute, honest painter with an easy smile and crinkly eyes. Irene decides she finds Raoul attractive, thinks maybe she'll give him a try. What's his last name again? Probably Gonzalez. They're all named Gonzalez.

"How long have you been taking pictures?" she asks, more out of politeness than real interest.

"I got my first real camera when I was sixteen. I went around taking pictures of everything I could see. And I never stopped, not even now. When I worked, I saved my money for better cameras, not for cars or clothes. Always the camera." She enjoys his soft slurred tones. She thinks that she needs to meet more immigrants. They're not as smart as real Americans, but they're good, humble people. That or desperate, dirty thieves and killers, of course. It goes one way or the other. Irene's maternal grandparents were Russian, and her father's father was black. It makes her beautiful, and because she was born in America, there are no negative side effects: she's just as quick, as fluent, as anyone.

"That's really dedicated of you," with just the right amount of earnestness in her tone. Raoul doesn't catch it, of course; Irene intends it to be too subtle for him. But he gets the undercurrents, and his thick eyebrows draw together furrily. He gulps down water like a man who can't get used to having enough, and thinks.

Finally his small eyes meet hers. "And how long have you been modeling, Irene?"

"Oh, a couple of years." She waves it off like it's nothing, making sure he notices the perfect shapeliness of her arm, the fine bones of her wrist. Her fingers are long and graceful. Her dappled body, in this light, is flawless, and she knows it, uses it shamelessly to her advantage.

Raoul knows it too. He drains his cup, sets it down on the table, stands and shakes her hand. His grasp is warm and dry, her own a little clammy from moisturizers and lotions. "Thank you for working with me, Irene," he says and pats her hand. "I hope to see you again sometime." And he starts to walk away.

She watches his rounded buttocks in his scuffed, big-pocketed jeans move as he walks away from her. His back to her. Confused, she starts to ask him, don't you want to stay, but she stops in time. All that comes out is, "Don't you--"

He turns and looks at her again. That broad, calculating, scarred face. Those little eyes, seeing everything. "Did you say something?"

She shakes her head, feeling her vixen hair whip coolly around her long graceful neck. "Goodbye."

He shuts the door quietly behind him, and she stays seated in her jeans and silk bra, hand still curved around her cup of water, speechless, not knowing what to think. For the first time in a long time, Irene feels stood up.

And by a Mexican, no less.

Marten's Birthday

We were celebrating Marten's birthday when the phone rang. It was right after we'd all sung to him, and he was opening presents, ripping with the enthusiasm of a newly thirteen-year-old boy. I'd always thought he was an unlikely kid, my cousin; the name Marten calls up visions of a towheaded Swede, but he is dark-haired and half-Filipino. Go figure.

Anyway, we'd all been exclaiming over a video game when the phone started to ring. "Go get it," Aunt Emily said to my dad, her brother. Dad went to get it-- he's that kind of guy, does what people tell him.

We watched Marten unwrap my present, a book. Eragon, some new hit fantasy novel all the middle-schoolers liked; the movie had just come out. "Thanks, Franny!" He came over to give me a hug. I hugged him back. He's a nice kid, my cousin. Unlikely, but nice.

"Happy birthday," I said.

Dad came out of the office holding the cordless phone away from him. I didn't notice at the time, but he looked kind of shocked. "Emily, you better take this one," he said, and something in his eyes made Aunt Emily take it.


Marten moved on, tearing the paper off of a present some friend of his had given him-- he'd had a social party at the bowling alley the day before and saved the presents to open with us. I watched him. Until Aunt Emily said, "I'm sorry, what?" and something in her tone was so awful that all of us-- Dad, Mom, Rocky, Christopher, Uncle Ira, Aunt Libby, even Harry-- turned to look.

"Are you sure it's him?" she asked. Behind her tone was a quickly rising wave of horror and panic and loss. My heartbeat started throbbing in my throat. I was kind of terrified. I snuck a look at Rocky, grabbed his hand. He squeezed back.

"Okay," Aunt Emily said. "Okay. Okay. Thank you, um, thank you for calling. Yes. Thank you. Goodbye." She clicked off and looked out over us, her eyes darker than they'd ever been, and unfathomable. Shit, shit, shit, what's going on? I thought desperately, and fidgeted, and played with my big brother's sailing-tanned fingers.

"Well?" said Aunt Libby finally, tensely.

Aunt Emily gave Marten a darting glance. He was looking up at her, utterly lost, the gift from his friend forgotten. The room had a waiting feeling; all of us were holding our breath. We knew the news was bad, but we didn't know what it was. Was it some stalker of Aunt Emily's, having seen her in that brief modeling stint six years ago, violating a deserved restraining order? Had Great-Uncle Rocco (Rocky's namesake) been hospitalized again? Had Grandpa Jack died, or been diagnosed with cancer? Somehow this seemed even worse than those, worse than we could imagine.

Aunt Emily took a deep breath. It hitched in her throat and so did mine. I was nervous as anything. I thought irrationally of my crush, Dylan. That made me scareder.

"Tim's been killed," she said calmly. "Timmy's died."

Oh my God, I thought. Tim was her older son, my eldest cousin at twenty-four. He'd enlisted in the Army three years ago. Been sent to Afghanistan eight months ago. We'd all sort of assumed he'd come back, knowing it was impossible to live scared that he would be killed every day. Without talking about it, we accepted it, and set Timmy aside in our minds as someone we'd see when he got leave again, hopefully before a Democrat was elected.

And now he was dead?

Marten ran to his mother and buried his face in her chest. Pandemonium erupted quietly, in the middle of his pile of presents. The magic in them was gone, reduced now to unimpressive, inanimate things. We all drifted toward Aunt Emily, comfort vaguely in our minds, penetrating the fog of shock and disbelief. "It must be a mistake," I heard my mom mutter. "Some bureaucrat thing. It can't be, not our Timmy."

I tried to picture him in my head. It was hard; I hadn't seen him in about eight months. My mental image was grainy but clear enough: a dashing young guy, thick arched dark eyebrows, a closely-shaved head, strong chin, good smile. A little heavyset, a little shorter than average, a little singler than most of his friends, but hell, Timmy was a great guy. Really lovable, funny, smart. We'd been getting e-mails from him when he had the chance to send them, and it was always a treat to read his thoughts.

No more e-mails from Tim now.

I looked at Marten. His thin shoulders were shaking in his new red snowcoat. Aunt Emily was caressing him, her hands touching his hair absently. She still looked out over us all, like she was an actress who'd been told not to look the audience in the eyes. No one knew what to do. Bad timing, I thought. Poor Marten. And his father, of course, had left ten years before. I wondered if Uncle Nick would even find out about his son's death-- Timmy's death, oh God, death. I imagined my cousin in a big army tank, patchily armored because the army was so underbudgeted despite the cost of the war, and some insurgent throwing a bomb out into the street, the explosion, Timmy in the driver's seat, his head blown off, the blood and brains painting the tank. I was still clutching Rocky's hand like a security blanket. I shut my eyes, and it was only when I felt the wetness on my lashes that I realized I'd been crying.

Harry started wailing, a thin baby cry. He wasn't even two yet. Aunt Libby picked him up gratefully, Uncle Ira cooing over him as well, trying to distract themselves. I heard Mom ask Aunt Emily in a low voice, "Do you want us to stay?" I peeked out to see Aunt Emily nodding vigorously. Poor woman. And Marten, his teen-birthday ruined, Jesus. I couldn't quite grasp it still. I kept picturing Timmy's brains plastering the window of the tank. He'd told me he was driving one two months before.

"Afghanistan," muttered Rocky. "You'd think it would be safer than Iraq."

Not for Timmy, I thought, and I remembered how when he'd graduated high school he'd told everyone to stop calling him Timmy, only Tim, and of course none of us ever remembered because we were family. I remembered when he'd phoned us and asked for a ride because he'd gotten too drunk to drive; the time when he'd come over and talked me through a bout of bad depression because a boy had made fun of me; the way we had used to talk on the phone, how he called me Francine, always, tenderly, in a cousin way. Oh, Timmy. I felt Rocky's hand on my head, felt my tears getting the dark wiry hair on his arm wet. I couldn't help it anymore; I started sobbing, for real, the way Marten was. The birthday party had turned to a party of mourning.

We stayed for hours, until it got too late and there weren't enough beds in the house. Aunt Emily apologized profusely, and thanked us for staying. Uncle Ira had taken care of all the calls to the other relatives. We didn't let ourselves think about Timmy's friends.

When we got in the van to go home-- Rocky, Christopher, my parents and me-- Dad drove shakily, erratically. Mom was tense next to him, barking reprimands for leaving his high beams on, for forgetting his blink signals. Finally Dad snapped, "For Christ's sake, Wendy, my nephew was just killed!" After that we were all very quiet. All three of us were in the back, Christopher in the middle, my little brother, and he had taken our hands and we sat in a chain and tried not to think of Timmy's life spraying all over his shattered windshield.

"Some birthday for Marten," Dad said as we pulled in to our driveway.

We all went to bed, and I couldn't sleep that night. I stayed up, wanting to call Dylan and tell him, have him comfort me, but I never called Dylan and we weren't really friends. Wanting to call Kylie, but she went to bed early. Wanting to call someone, anyone, but it was actually almost twelve and it was a school night. I couldn't face school and I knew it. More than anyone I wanted to call Timmy, who'd never minded the late-night calls. Timmy could tell me the truth, that he was alive and fine, what a fantastic birthday gift for Marten, a living brother after all!

But in Afghanistan, he was unreachable. And in Heaven (if there was such a thing), well, maybe he could hear me, but I couldn't hear him back.

I crept out of bed, padded my way to the computer, a desperately hopeless idea in my mind. Christopher was sitting there, the glow of the screen lighting up his face. He turned to me guiltily. "You should be sleeping," I said hypocritically, unable to think of anything else to say.

"Sorry, Franny. I..."

I looked at his screen. He was writing an email. "Who're you writing?"

"Timmy," he mumbled, not looking at me.

I put my hand on his shoulder. He was Marten's age, had turned thirteen in July. I wanted to tell him I had had the same idea, but I couldn't get the words out of my mouth. They sat there, heavy, below my tongue. I couldn't even spit out a simple "good night."

I went back to bed, curled up in fetal position under my covers, and shut my eyes. And for the first time in years I really prayed. Not the hopeful, shallow prayers I always offered up in church (God, get Dylan to like me; Jesus, make the pimple on my chin go away), but real prayer, the spiritual kind. My eyes were squeezed shut and I called up my pictures of God and His Son, like a good Episcopalian.

And in my imagination, Jesus Christ looked like Timmy.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Shit. What have I done? My hands are strange(rs) to me.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Frosted-Glass Table

She sat at the small round table holding his cigarette. The tabletop was of frosted glass and she imagined insects trapped, preserved, in it. She gingerly put the cigarette in her mouth. She didn't have a lighter, she didn't smoke anyway. She was wearing a white dress which had already gotten dirty from her frantic application of makeup that morning.

The chair was the kind with strips of wood along the back and the seat, and they cut into her. She felt uncomfortable. She wished Jan would come back already. He had just gone to get them drinks, surely that couldn't take so long? They were outside and the sun was very hot and even the cool-looking frosted table burned a little to the touch. She was getting thirsty. By the time Jan came she would be thirsty enough to finish both their drinks, and then he would have to go get more and she would have to be alone again. Next time she would go with him, she decided.

There were not many others at the outdoor tables. An elderly couple: the man with a small moustache, the wife with a large pink hat. An attractive young couple, the woman with lustrous dark hair, the man with a soul patch and bottle-green eyes. He had his arm around her and they were drinking from the same tall appealing drink, with two straws. She wished Jan was like that with her, though he was no longer her boyfriend. She wished she had a boyfriend. Jan was awfully insensitive that way, always talking about Katya.

Perhaps he had run into Katya and that was why he was taking so long?

When he returned, she decided, she would depart for the bathroom and take as long as possible-- to pay him back. Let him stew uncomfortably in the frosted-table heat. But she knew really that Jan would not take it the same way she was. He would smoke of course, and drink, and observe, and think about things in his mind, and maybe hum a little, and the time would fly by. No, then, she would stay with him, pester him. But that wouldn't faze him either. Oh, Jan was impossible!

Without conscious effort her fingers had started to shred the white unlit cigarette in her hands, and she wrenched off the filter and tapped out the tobacco onto the glass table. A fly buzzed by and she imagined it imprisoned in the table, as if it were amber. She shredded the white cigarette paper and felt a little like crying.

Footsteps behind her, and she resolved not to look-- hoping hoping that it was him but she needed to not seem so needy. But they clopped past her and she looked up and it was a blond man, long-haired and big-shouldered, in a sweater. Where the hell was Jan, then?

A small girl walked by with her parents. Each of them was holding one of her hands and at intervals they would swing her up between them, the girl chortling with pure delight. Alice tried to remember her parents doing that with her, and could not. She remembered it with her little brother, but not with her. She wished Jan would come. She needed to catch up with him, anyway. She hadn't really talked to him in at least two weeks, though it felt like forever; they had kept making dates and canceling them. The cigarette dust was all over the frosted-glass table, and she swept it into a little pile. The sun went behind a cloud and she felt a little better, and also a little chillier. Jan's coat was hung on his chair and she considered getting up to wear it, but it required too much effort, and it would be awkward then when he came back.

More footsteps clopping by, and again she did not look. Jan, Jan, please let it be Jan finally! And then a tenor voice, very pleasant: "Sorry I took so long. Ran into a friend at the bar. Hand me a smoke, will ya?"

He dropped into the seat across from her, with the coat, and she could not quite bear to look into his pleasant ruddy face. He set down two tall lovely drinks with umbrellas on the dirty frosted table, and pushed the one in the yellow glass to her. "Pina colada for you, daiquiri for me." He pronounced it "dahi-kee-ree," and she was too amused to correct him.

"Thank you," she said, cool as the lovely drink, which she sipped not-too-eagerly from a great curly straw. "Who'd you meet?"

"Peter. This guy who used to work with me, before I quit at the Hammond place. Do you have my smokes, Alice?"

She looked regretfully at the table with its little pile of cigarette remains. "You gave me one, but um..."

Jan went shocked. "You didn't smoke it, did ya?"

She thought about claiming that-- surprise him a little-- but it was too obvious a lie. "Shredded it," she confessed.

He grinned slanty. "Never mind." He found one in his coat pocket and lit it with a sigh. They sucked at their drinks.

"How is Katya?" she asked at length. She could not bear not knowing, and he was so carefully not mentioning it.

His face softened a little, eyelids drooping, and he took a big gulp of dahiquiri. "Oh, she's fine. She got a promotion. She told me to not even try any more. She's in love with some dick at work."

"I'm sorry," she said, trying to sound genuine although of course she was as full of glee as the little girl being swung by her parents.

He stubbed out the cigarette on the frosted-glass table, doubling suddenly as an ashtray (how silly that they didn't have them, actually, at this kind of place). "Yeah, well. She's not so swell anyway. I don't mind."

She spun the little umbrella from her pina colada between her fingers. Soon, she knew, she would shred its paper too.

A fly lit on their table, and lightning-quick Jan smashed it onto the glass. "Sorry," he said sheepishly when he saw her expression. "Reflex. Couldn't help it. Sorry, baby."

She looked at its flattened body and it made her think of her imaginings before, the amber, the preservation. But this fly would be scraped off the frosted table within hours by some busboy. No posthumous remembrance for him, except Alice's.

She let the paper crumbs from the umbrella float to the frosted-glass table surface and looked just to the right of Jan, at the happy young couple, and felt nostalgic and a little sad and wanted to kiss Jan on his big pink lips, but the table was between them and they had been over since March, and now it was hot out and the drinks were very cool and the fly was squashed and rotting and nothing was better. Nothing would be better for a long time.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

I really liked The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Stephen

When Stephen woke up in the Maine-chilly sheets he knew immediately that he would have to write later that day. It wasn't that he felt it itching in the back of his mind the way he did sometimes when the novel was new and fucking exciting, or when he knew he was on the verge of discovering a plot twist that would change the entire thing. But he knew that he had to clock in some four hours this morning, just like always, or he would get behind. The story was in one of those goddamn doldrums; he hoped he could work through it today. ...After a shower.

He rolled over and looked blurrily (blearily) at Tabby's back, hunched away from him, naked. He hadn't been on such great terms with Tabby lately. She supported him, sure, of course, like always, but she was a little pissed off because he didn't like her new idea, the one about Marcia and the babies. Tabby was a first-class woman but her writing was like a fucking soap opera, Stephen thought. She'd only started writing after meeting him, he reminded himself, feeling a little vindicated and, what was the word, generous almost. He had to encourage her, sure. She was like a child. A slim-shouldered, intelligent, funny, dramatic, stubborn child.

It was five-thirty and Stephen had gone to bed at two but he wasn't tired. A perk of getting old, he supposed. He didn't mind getting old, really; his talent and his fame were only growing, and the kids (first-class kids, really) had finally left home. He reached out onto the little rickety Guatamalan table by his side of the bed-- Tabby had her own on the right-- and plucked up his glasses, those awful ones he'd worn since '72. By now he felt they were almost synonymous with his name-- a fucking household name by now-- and even, he thought secretly, with the whole genre of horror. Stephen could no sooner get laser surgery-- and this was a fucking great analogy-- he could no sooner get laser surgery than he could chop off his hands.

He put them on and the world came into clarity, except for a large irritating smudge on one eye. Stephen rubbed at it ineffectually and cursed quietly. Finally he threw the spectacles down on the pillow. Fuck it, Tabby could clean them when she woke up.

Stephen rolled out of bed into the cold. (Maine! ah, Bangor, Maine, he had no choice but to live here now, the place was such an inspiration-- but even though he had no choice he kept telling himself he would never want to live anywhere else, not even Hawaii or Fiji or Florida.) He turned on the shower. It was April and it took some ten minutes for the water to heat up. While he was waiting, Stephen shaved and took a leak and brushed his teeth and sneaked a glance in the mirror. Without his glasses, with reality blurred, he could handle the mirror. But he didn't much like the way he looked when he could actually see. Now Tim, his character, he definitely liked looking in the mirror, the jackass. Tim was a good-looking bastard. Wouldn't it be jarring though if one day Tim looked in the mirror and saw someone else, someone ugly and scary? It would totally undermine the usual legends of beasts not having reflections. Perhaps this new beast would only be a reflection. Hmm--

And then finally the shower was steaming and Stephen stripped off his yellow boxers and stepped in, oh, fuck, scalding!

Saturday, August 12, 2006


How quickly he joined the past tense!

You could have almost marveled at it, if you were disposed to doing so. One moment the man is alive and well and kissing his wife goodbye and wincing at his sunburn as he pulls his sweatshirt over his back, and the next is "Did you know him?" and "He was a good man" and "They're going to bury him in Minnesota, that's where his family was from, you know." Suddenly no longer there, no longer actively affecting others. Affecting others with his absence instead.

Birth, you thought, was not really like that at all. Birth and death were the bookends of life (or were they? These debates on when life really started were confusing, and was it at conception, at birth, three months in, or what?), but birth was gradual. Giving birth took hours and the pregancy took months. Death was the opposite. Death was decisive, death was quick and sudden and irreversible. One was dead when the line was flat, when the heart stopped beating for good, when the chest stopped rising and falling, when the eyes stopped responding to light. Death was harsh and obvious, and after the first few hours when you thought they could still save him, bring him back, life-changing near-death experience you can laugh about a little and all that, well, after those few hours you gave up and let them pull the plug and sat in shock for a while on the plastic chair and then you went home and when you woke up you expected him to be there and then you remembered that he wasn't.

But it took a long time until you really realized that he was gone forever. You knew it on the surface, and you knew that it was going to hit you for real sometime, but nevertheless when it happened you reeled from the blow, you pushed it back, you tried to make it more gradual (like birth). You did what you were meant to at first, wore the black and acted somber and even cried dutifully somehow, but not with those wracking sobs that hurt your chest that came later, though you tried to stop them. Denial was less painful, denial made more sense. Birth was gradual, thus death should be. So he wasn't really dead.

The gravestone said "rest in peace" but that just made you mad. Rest in peace? Why rest in peace? The man lived in peace! Why rest in peace? His life was not war. His life was great. He was happy. Why not take someone miserable instead and bring him back? Rest in peace, well, maybe he is, but peace isn't what he wanted. What he wanted was to live. He was a man with a love of life in him. Take somebody else, that kid who's always whining about wanting to just leave this world, the old man who's blind and degenerating, someone not in the prime of his life. What was he being punished for? He didn't want to die. Why did he die?

And you just couldn't wrap your mind around it, because there was no reason. "God's eternal plan," they said, but what was it then? Why did God's eternal plan involve him dying just then? You couldn't see his death affecting something major. It made those who knew him sad, but it didn't change the world, not in a huge way. It was senseless and stupid and impotent and why would God do something like that? Didn't Nietzche say that God is dead? Maybe God is dead, that makes more sense than the death. But the driver didn't mean for it to happen, of course, he's broken up about it, and why should there be an accident? In a sane world accidents do not happen. It's not that they weren't careful, both of them. It was just bad luck, really. Awful luck.

But that's not fair, you thought. Luck? Since when is luck what determines someone's life? (It happens often really, you guessed, what with the preemies and cancer and bombs and all, it's all luck of the draw, but somehow that logic doesn't work when it comes to accidents. Accidents just don't make sense at all. Accidents should stop existing.)

And when you looked at the grave it just made you mad because the death did not make any sense and you wanted him to come back and it wasn't fair and you didn't understand it and it wasn't fair. You had to move on, of course, and you managed okay, but thinking about it was despairing a little because clearly you just didn't get the way this world worked, because his death didn't fit anywhere in your comprehension of the world. It was a bad blow. It was entropy.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


The baby was large for his age, always. But very good. Very quiet.

He liked the cat, liked to cuddle with it. Kind of sad, actually. One night he took it with him to bed. Cuddled it, you know, squeezed it. We woke up in the morning, went to check on the baby. Covered in blood. Poor thing. Blood and fur. He'd squeezed the poor cat to death. It couldn't escape. It had exploded, or something. We cleaned it up. Rather horrified, really. That was when we really first realized how strong he was. He didn't know his own strength, of course. He was a baby!

But then of course the thing with the snakes, that didn't surprise us at all. A good baby. Just very very strong.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

the attacks

The doctors didn’t like the seizures-- they scared them-- so they gave me medication. It worked just fine, it worked great. No more seizures for me, no more panic for them, for my teachers and my brothers and my parents and my classmates.

But I didn’t get the feelings when I was taking the medication. No one really got my seizures, I think. They saw me thrashing and screaming and breaking sticks in my teeth, or whatever. I was never conscious of that. What I was conscious of were the feelings, so beautiful, like being catapulted up into the atmosphere. I felt dizzy and lightheaded and not in my body and amazing, and I could see anything I wanted to see. But mostly I didn’t want to see anything because I was too busy flying. While my body was letting its instincts run it, my mind and soul were somewhere else. Heaven, maybe.

I got to experience Heaven on earth, and the medication stopped it.

I didn’t want others to worry and freak out and force it on me, so I kept using it when they were around, except sometimes when I forgot. But when I was alone I would never take it. And because, I think, the seizures built up when I was taking the medication, sort of like they were piling up against this barrier, when I took it down by not taking the pills (three a day) I would generally get one within the hour.

Oh it was beautiful. My God, I pity all of you who’ve never had one. The experience is like nothing. Mind out of body, you can do anything you want, anything. None of it is real, I guess, but somehow it still is. Maybe it’s like breaking into an alternate universe. Maybe something very like magic. It makes you feel like a little kid, learning the world all over again.

It’s hard to describe in English, I guess, because you don’t have your body-senses. No eyes ears nose tongue skin. No vision hearing smelling tasting feeling. Instead it’s something else, something like all those at once plus more. Like being dead, maybe, since your body isn’t there. I’ve never met anyone who’s had a near-death experience. I hear you rise up and you see a light, or something, and that isn’t what I feel. I feel more like I am the world. Like my atoms have dispersed and I am a little bit of everyone and everything. Spiritual hackneyed stuff? Maybe, but it’s true. And I guess they fear it.

My mother’s name is Marilyn and I had my first epileptic attack at age four. My poor parents freaked out utterly. My father’s Allan, very practical. They took me to the hospital, of course, and they said it was a flaw in my brain and that they should have told us earlier when they did the scan for Down Syndrome and it was unforgivable that the doctors in Sigourney County didn’t. That was where I was born. They gave me medication too, but even at that age I didn’t forget how much I liked the attack. I tried to tell my parents and they wrote it off. So I only took half my pills. My parents didn’t know, they thought I needed stronger medication or something. I flushed the other pills down the toilet.

I had two brothers, then three. The third one, Benson, was born when I was six. The other two were older than me. When I was ten, Paul was twenty-one, Leon fourteen. Benson four, of course. Strange for my parents, having four boys so spaced out. I think they always wanted a girl, but it wasn’t to be. I think maybe they spaced us out so in the hope that they could have a girl that they could raise all to herself. Instead they had to raise four boys over the course of what, forty years? Unbelievable. I don’t think I could do it for the life of me. They were brave.

We had a dog, I remember, until I was nine. Lucy, she was called, a golden retriever. She was run over by a car in 1998 and I was devastated. I had taken my medication that day and I had attacks anyway, two, bad enough that I was rushed to the hospital. I guess it was an escape for me. They said it was stress-induced. But in the attacks I had seen Lucy and I had made peace with her death somehow, and I didn’t cry over her after that.

I never had much luck with animals really. I always wanted pets, and we had them often. I’d bring home frogs and worms and things and tried to care for them. They’d usually run away or die and I’d have another attack. Things like that hit me hard. Leon said I was a sissy, Paul, always gentler, that I was the most sensitive of us four. Benson was a violent boy, which made it worse. He’d always hurt things for the fun of it and laugh. He was cute, with chubby cheeks, and he liked to hurt things. I hated it and I hated him. I’d try and induce attacks sometimes, to get away from him, that brother of mine, no true brother of mine, I always thought.

Leon was a little bit harsh. He knew the role of older brother well and he played it well: diffident, cool, always leaving me out of things, teasing occasionally, but mostly sticking to his own business. It was okay with me. I’d never known a world without him, and so of course I was quite used to him.

Paul was the best of the batch. He was genuinely sweet. Always dating someone. When I was thirteen and he was twenty-four he got married to a great girl named Debbie, and within a couple years they had a baby, my first nephew, Stephen. Adorable, of course. They were the perfect family. Then they had a girl, Patty. I think my parents were jealous. They were always trying to be doting grandparents, even while they were still raising Benson and I.

Benson was a handful, but my attacks really bothered them, I think. None of my brothers had diseases. Sure, they got hurt and they got sick, but my parents could deal with kid problems. With epilepsy, not so much. I wonder how bad they would have been if I’d had something worse-- multiple sclerosis, maybe, or muscular dystrophy, or autism, or leukemia, or another tragic child illness. They got lucky: four children and nothing worse than epilepsy, easily medicated.

I tried to tell people how I liked the attacks sometimes. Mostly they’d just look at me like I was a completely masochistic freak that deserved to be locked up. Paul, predictably, was the only one that listened at all. When I was done trying to describe it-- I was fifteen or so, he was twenty-six and a father-- he looked at me seriously with those great blue-green eyes he somehow inherited and said, “Monroe, it sounds amazing. I’m almost sorry I don’t have it.”

“You ought to be,” I said, fifteen, clear-eyed, murky-skinned. “But no one gets it. It’s not even in textbooks or anything.”

“Maybe you’re a unique case,” he said. “Maybe you’re the only one, ever. Imagine that.”

When I imagined it it made me really very lonely.

I pictured my girlfriend, soulmate, lover, wife as an epileptic too. Beautiful, of course, hourglass, and smart and we could time our medication and ascend together and it would be the most intimate thing ever known, the two of us up there in everything, in each other, in everything. I guess I was a romantic. I knew it wouldn’t come true. I didn’t know who I’d fall for; I only hoped it would be someone who would understand at least. I hoped even more it would be someone who sort of knew what I meant. Because I would feel so terrible if she hadn’t felt it. With family I could deal with it; with friends-- well, I never really had friends. But with the love of my life I would want her to experience it so badly.

What if Paul was right and I really was the only one?

How awful that would be!

Benson was the selfish brother. Everyone told me I was more generous. “He may be afflicted,” I’d hear my parents say of me, “and a little antisocial, but Monroe’s got a heart of gold really. He’d give anyone the shirt off his back.”

It was true. I wanted others to share my wealth. I wasn’t wealthy really, but I felt it. I’d offer my sandwiches and quarters to hobos. I’d drop my candy money in donation boxes sometimes. I was naive, especially as a child-- but even when I got older and more experienced and knew the world better, I still couldn’t resist giving things up for others, whether it made a difference or not. It made me feel like I was making a difference, and that meant a lot.

I was empathetic, too, because of the epilepsy. And, my high school colleagues claimed, straight-edge. I didn’t want to do drugs, because what if they messed it up? And from what I heard they were nothing like as good as the attacks. If it didn’t make you one with everything, if it didn’t make you feel like you had died and gone to heaven, I wouldn’t try it. I was tempted by heroin a little, but the addictiveness and danger kept me away. Why bother when I already had an internal drug that surfaced often, sometimes (if rarely) when I most needed it? With no side effects except maybe inciting a little fear in others, maybe coming back to reality a little bruised and broken? More than worth it for the ride.

I figured out fairly quickly that the attacks were usually stress-induced. Problem was, I couldn’t induce stress in myself. My body wasn’t stupid; it wasn’t that easily tricked. Generally I had to take my medication, for one thing, and sometimes even when I held off on it the attacks didn’t come, because I wasn’t really scared or upset. When Lucy died that did it. When any of the animals did. Benson incited attacks sometimes, the way he acted. That kid was a monster. My parents figured it out though, and stopped it. Which was good in a way, but also bad, because I wanted the epilepsy so badly.

When I was seventeen Paul and his wife and two children were in a car crash. All of them, as it turns out, were fine-- the worst injury was Debbie’s broken collarbone-- but I had one of the worst (best) attacks of my life. I woke up in the hospital sore all over and they told me I’d been writhing for thirty-nine hours. “How are Paul and everyone?” was the first thing I asked. “Well,” they said once they figured out what I meant. “They’re doing quite well.” Paul, on crutches, came in to see me. “Nice to be in the same hospital as you, buddy,” he said. “Man, you know you’ll never be able to drive with that epilepsy. Why don’t you take your medication?”

“I did,” I said. “When I’m really stressed I get attacks anyway. And they last longer.”

Paul knew my secret. “Well, okay, kid. I’m sorry the accident brought that on.”

“It’s really fine,” I said.

Paul winked at me. “Come visit me and Deb sometime. We can jam the kids in one room. It’ll be really fun.”

“Maybe I’ll take you up on it sometime,” I said.

In college I majored in psychology, which was strange. I learned a lot and got a kick out of diagnosing people, particularly Benson, who at the time was hitting puberty and causing a lot of trouble. The kid lit trash cans on fire, he beat up younger children, he smoked and drank and, he told me once, snorted cocaine. I knew my parents had raised us as well as they could, and us three older ones had turned out fine. Leon had dabbled in drugs a little, but not irresponsibly, and by now he was in his twenties and had settled into drinking now and then. He was seeing a vibrant, beautiful black girl by the name of Mona and she would break his heart every couple of months, then come back to him. Whenever it happened he’d go off drinking and make a fool of himself. Paul told me he talked to him about it, and Leon saw sense, but he just couldn’t help it. He was crazy about Mona. I think he was hoping to get her pregnant so she would commit to him. Funny, because up until then Leon had always been the commitment phobe. He’d never even finished an extracurricular program, let alone found a steady job.

When I was twenty-four I met a girl who offered me sex. What could I do? I was a virgin and a little bit ostracized for it. I accepted, but we had hardly begun when I got a major attack. To my credit, I’d warned her before, but I woke up in the hospital, the frightened girl, face running with caked makeup, beside me. “Monroe? Are you okay?”

“Sorry,” I croaked. “Maybe some other time.”

Soon after that Benson was caught possessing crystal methamphetamine and tossed into jail. We couldn’t afford the bail, which was just as well. I worried about him-- not because he was in prison, but because of the others who were there. I was afraid they’d corrupt my brother more. He was a screwed-up kid, but he was my little brother, and he’d worshiped me when we were very little, and we had played games together, and I guess I loved him.

My brothers were really the only people I ever loved. My parents too, but that wasn’t the same.

I never did find a girl. Am still a virgin, actually. No one really knows or cares, especially me. What do I need a girl for when I’ve got my attacks? They’re far better than sex, I know it. Even if they only come at the worst of times. So what. I’ll take what I can get.

Neither of Paul’s kids are epileptic. I almost wish one was. I’ve been searching out others on the Internet, contacting them, asking about their experiences. Some are sort of similar to mine, but none are just the same, at least not yet. Paul was at least partially right; I’m unique. Sometimes it gets me depressed and I feel awfully lonely, and then, if I haven’t taken the pills, sometimes an attack whisks me away and I dangle above the world, not part of it and yet part of it all, and I don’t care anymore. I don’t care anymore at all.

a line

It makes you feel like a little kid, learning the world all over again.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The first story ever put on this blog... now in script form!

JOEY, a tall, brown-haired young man, sits at the bench carving a candle holder.
MIRI, his fiancee, short and dark, runs up behind him and covers his eyes with her hands.
Guess who?
(more seriously)
Good thing you didn't knock that knife out of my grip. Someone could have gotten hurt.
Only you or me. No one else is here.
Oh, what a scandal!
They laugh, then turn more serious.
We could get in a lot of trouble if they find us alone, you know. We're not married yet.
Allow me to point out that you're the one who came to see me.
Why are you here, anyway, Miri? You always need a reason.
She sits lightly by him.
Joey, I missed my last period.
So? It will come.
I think I might be, um, pregnant.
Miri, you can't be pregnant. It's not possible. Women don't spontaneously grow babies.
But... I had this dream.
(taking her hands)
Tell me about it.
An angel. Joey, an angel came to me. And he said I would bear the son of the Lord.
The Lord? The Lord God, you mean?
Miri nods.
It was the angel Gabriel. He said I'd give birth to the son of God.
(after a period of silence)
Dreams are only dreams, Miri.
But... Joey.
What is it?
...At least part of the message was the truth, though.
Look, skipping one cycle is nothing to worry about. You're not pregnant.
Not that!
He said my cousin Elizabeth is pregnant, too.
Your cousin Elizabeth is barren, Miri.
Yes, that's what I thought too.
What's the truth about it, then?
So I went to visit Elizabeth.
She's pregnant, Joey. Six months in; there's no doubt about it. She says if it's a boy, she and Zach will name him John.
That's not even possible. ...Does she look pregnant?
Yes, of course.
Then how come you haven't noticed until now?
I don't know. I haven't really... I expect her to look the way she does in my mind, you know? I wouldn't notice a difference unless it was sudden and drastic.
So you think you're pregnant.
I'm... I'm almost positive.
Joey extracts his hands, turns away.
What did I say?
Who is the father?
What? There isn't a father.
Joey stands, slaps her across the face and strides away, leaving the candlestick behind.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

the run

She ran and ran and when she could run no more she tripped to a faltering walk, falling over her own too-large feet. Her own huge regular gasps hung trapped in her ears, looping; she marveled inwardly at how they did not, could not pause, her body superceding her will. The chatter of the carefree others seemed miles away. Her head was too heavy, and she found herself looking at the ground, at the wads of damp dead grass strewn like corpses over the freshly-shaven green to which they had been attached the day before. She thought it would be better, faster probably, if she fell to her knees and onto her chest and just crawled the rest of the way. There was three-quarters of a lap to go-- the end was not far, but certainly not near. She felt that she would die before she made it the rest of the way. Her heart would give out, or implode. Her heated brain would drip out her nostrils. Her internal organs would just shrivel away. The weight of her jacket sat on her hips, negligible, but the snaking sleeves kept unraveling from the knot she had made and she had to retie it again and again. Another second of her time wasted. Her arms bobbed up and down, her hands fisted, and she thought that it probably looked ridiculous, and wondered if anyone was still watching. How far behind could she be? Three minutes, four? She had never stopped moving, though early on she had stumbled her way behind everyone else and stayed there. Rest-breaks had not been allowed her, and she didn't think they would have helped anyway. Once she stopped, she didn't think she would ever be able to walk again. She was thirsty, so thirsty that she thought she would not allow herself too much to drink in case, like a dehydrated refugee, her stomach would not be able to retain it and she would just throw it up. It seemed all too plausible. She tried to breathe through her nose, which was next to impossible, and she resorted back to gigantic mouth-gasps. Her face burned. Half-blinded, she fell across the finish line.

"Seventeen minutes. Not bad!" the woman in the orange vest said encouragingly, scrawling something onto a clipboard.

The others were gone.

She made it to the picnic table and collapsed, too weak to get to the water fountain. Her face still burned, and when she put her hands to it it throbbed incessantly. Her eyes felt soft, like they could melt in her face. She tried a hand on her collarbone and found her pulse quiet but hammering fast. She put her head on the table gingerly and listened to herself breathe, obnoxiously loud. She realized her clothes were all damp, just a little, from her sweat. Her feet no longer existed for her, had momentarily crossed into another realm. She was glad that the day was not warm, even though the cold contrasted with her too much and she thought it might phase her out of existence, as matter and anti-matter cancel. She wanted to fall into a lukewarm bath, to hell with it all, and

(probably drown)

relax. She wanted to sleep, but she knew she couldn't. Her head was pulsing too much. The blood ran to her brain and made her veins twitch with its rush. Her chest rose and fell and rose and fell in a manner that was almost exaggerated. Her eyes were open-- she had not the energy to force them shut-- and she was glad that no one was in her line of vision, even though she knew that if she thought about it too much panic would swamp her and she would search everywhere for them, regardless of her exhaustion. But right now she was just glad to have no witnesses. Even the petite middle-aged woman in the orange vest had discreetly gone away.

She had lived through the mile, somehow.

Friday, May 26, 2006

the prediction

Throughout high school I will stay similar to who I am today but college will create a transformation and I will become extremely confident and also get happily married; then when I return for high school reunions I will be gorgeous and charismatic and everyone will ogle me and feel sorry that they had never dated me while they still had the chance, and I will kiss them all (or at least the ones that were my friends) chastely on the mouth and point out my husband that I will have dragged along and they will force smiles and go home and think about the past. The ones that are single and dated profusely back then will feel quite jealous of me and in the meantime I will be unselfconsciously sleeping in a big double bed snuggled up to my husband. We will be considering planning a baby, although we'll both know that we'll not be ready for one, but we will bring it up occasionally and think of names for it. We will find the name Isaac rather nice.

Friday, May 12, 2006


Ywain plants himself assuredly on the raft and gleefully lets the salty air rush into his face, bite into his skin.

Monday, May 08, 2006

I wrote this a little over three months ago and sent it into a contest; it did not win

We wanted to be in a book, and there was the added motivation of payment. It was a problem. "Let's look for an author outside, then," we said and left home with high hopes.

We combed the county without success. Any authors were sitting unshaven at their desks and shook their heads at us without really looking. "We've got enough ideas already," they said with sighs. "Too many, in fact. There isn't enough ink in the world for our ideas!" The few who weren't swamped were desperate, and didn't look like the sort for us. If ideas avoided them, perhaps they weren't worthy.

We thought about splitting up to search but decided not to. We would get too lonely without each other. We were going to search systematically, but were suddenly overcome by apathy. We sat instead in comfortable chairs and smoked cigars for nearly a month. We got fairly tipsy sometimes in those weeks. We liked to drink whiskey through crazy straws and could get through a dozen glasses a day when we tried.

After that period of relaxation, though, we got a telegram that reminded us we had to work. The telegram said that we were, after all, getting paid by word, and that no authors had yet accepted us. It said that if we were to continue our rest we would run out of fuel (money, that is) in four point five weeks-- and that was approximate. We looked at each other, stubbed out cigars worriedly, licked our lips and told each other it was, perhaps, time to look for authors again.

So we strapped on our hard hats, put on appealing ties and cowboy boots, and braided our hair. Then we trekked north. We liked cold environments.

The first author we tried looked at us skeptically and picked out Nancy. "I like her," he said. We looked at him distastefully and noted that his breath was alcoholic and that his moustache was untended. "It's all of us or none," we stated with finality. He gave us a penetrating stare and waved his hand in a dismissive manner. "In that case," he said, "you can all leave."

We left, grumbling and insulting his heritage. We said a man who stank of cheap beer with filthy facial hair was absolutely not our type, that he would not do us justice, not at all. No way! We looked at our maps studiously and picked out a spot only a few miles away, to the east. The locals looked discreetly away as we shoved through them with our flamboyant outfits. When we tried this author's house, though, she gave us a harassed look and said that she absolutely could not handle us right now. She was, she claimed, six months pregnant. We knew when we were beat, and bowed out as gracefully as we could. The next author around lived a river away, so we took a ferry and chatted casually with the other occupants-- those who acknowledged us, that is. None of them wrote, although we met a poet. But her characters were mostly flowers, dewdrops and jilted lovers, none of which we were too adept at playing. And she couldn't handle a crowd.

We left the ferry and wound our way to the author's house. His door was open and we walked in and up the stairs. He was in bed. We thought about infiltrating his dreams, but decided no one took those seriously anymore. We raided his refrigerator and explored his house. He clearly lived alone, which was good: he was certainly serious about writing if he didn't have functional relationships.

The author got up with mussed hair to fix himself a cup of coffee, and we greeted him cordially. His eyebrows shot up and he said, "I haven't seen a motley group like this in quite a while."

"We live to serve," we said and asked him to consider us. As he made the coffee, and as he sat on a stack of magazines and drank it, he looked at us with pensive eyes. As he placed the mug in the sink without making further effort to wash it, his mouth was twisted in deep thought.

"You know, I think I have a plot which would fit perfectly with you all," he said. "I'd better start drawing the plans."

"Just start writing," we suggested-- we were paid by word, after all-- but he was adamant. Still, we didn't mind too much. Our living was more or less guaranteed and this man seemed quite capable. We were fairly happy then.

Sunday, April 23, 2006


Cogan bangs in. I don't look up; I can tell it's him by his clumping footsteps. "Hey," he calls out.

"Hi, Cogan."

He sheds his sweatshirt and comes into the kitchen, where I'm watching pizza microwave. Kisses me casually; he tastes like oranges. "You seem bored."

"I am." I sigh.

"No dates? Me neither," he says without waiting for an answer. "It sucks."

"Still got your eye on what's-her-name?"

"Elinor? Nah, she hates me, it's pointless." The microwave chirps and I slide the pizza slice out. Cogan gives me a puppy-look.

"Fine, I'll split it with you."

"I love you, Gabby," he says with a huge grin, shaking the hair out of his face. I can't help but smile back; he's rather a sweetheart, after all. I've known Cogan since the second grade.

Instead of cutting up the pizza, we eat it bite by bite. I make him give me the last one, since I was the one who nuked it, after all. Cogan consents. Then we move to the couch, nestling against each other. He turns on the TV.

"Nothing good's on," I mumble. "Nothing good's ever on."

He shrugs and flips channels, wielding remote like a shotgun, finally setting on a long, long music video in which an ethereal woman wails and there's an overactive fog machine. "Good enough," he says smugly.

I poke him just above the hip. "Cogannnn."

"Gabbeeeeee," he replies. "Gimme a kiss."

I give him a kiss, and he surprises me with a quick squeeze. "Sorry, Gabby, sorry," he apologizes immediately. "Couldn't help it."

"It's okay," I say. And I really don't mind. We've been roommates for almost two years now, we've fooled around a lot and fucked twice, and it's fun, a good outlet. We love each other, sure, but not that way. It's just a way to consummate our friendship, and we both know it.

Cogan yawns. "Work sucked today. This woman comes in and starts bitching about her coffee not being decaf. She wants her money back. She already drank the goddamn coffee. We're a bookstore, not fucking Starbucks."

I shake my head in sympathy.

"How bout you?"

"Went to pottery class, went to work, helped fifty little kids try on shoes, got some whining adults, got some decent customers. Robin's on my shift now, and she's really helpful. It was okay."

We watch TV for a while, not enthusiastically. We work on the crossword ("'aboard,' not 'on ship!'" I maintain). We go to bed.

It's a week later (the word was "aboard" after all), and I'm the one that bounces in this time. Cogan's home, reading a magazine. "Guess what?" and before he can guess-- because he always does-- I finish, "Hot guy."

"No way." He grins huge. I do too.

"Yes way. Came into the shoe store. Tried on a bunch of shoes."

"Hit on you?"

"Sort of. He took my card-- not just the store's card, but mine. I think I might get a call. Robin thinks so, too."

"Gabby, that's great!"

"Well, and you?" I say, taking my shoes off and throwing myself onto a comfy chair, feeling good all over. "Anything new going on?"

"Well, you know about Megan." For two days now he's known Megan, and she's all he's been talking about. Gorgeous gorgeous Megan. "She just started working at the bookstore. Turns out Fridays we work together. It'll be sick. She's just gorgeous, Gab."

"Does she like you?"

"She seemed friendly enough. She did that hair-and-sideways-glance thing."

I nod knowledgeablely. "She's into you all right." I don't know her, so he describes her for me: her shiny-gloss lips and straight red hair. Slim and tall, maybe even as tall as Cogan, who's what, five-ten? Seems nice enough-- seems absolutely wonderful, actually, but he is a little biased.

"Can't wait 'til Friday," Cogan says. He gets up, goes to the fridge, gets out a Popsicle. "Want one?"

"Sure." Megan wouldn't want a Popsicle, skinny little Megan. I've got some meat on me, God forbid. It's not like Popsicles are fattening anyway.

Cogan tosses me one; we eat them together. His is orange, mine grape. (We split our Skittles bags accordingly.) We talk about Megan, and then I describe the guy from the shoe store in detail. Cogan raises an eyebrow at the guy's nose stud, but approves overall. I'm content.

Friday gallops in and so does Cogan, obviously, because he calls me up breathless and goes, "Gabby, where are you?"

"At work, silly. And you're not supposed to call my cell here." Fortunately there's a momentary lag and no one's in the store, not too usual for a Friday.

"Gabby, Megan fucking likes me!"

You're shitting me, I think, but I don't say it. I opt for "Seriously?" instead.

"Seriously. I asked her out. We're going to dinner tonight." He sounds really excited, his voice tense with the effort of containing how thrilled he is. Not everyone would notice this, maybe, but I've known Cogan for almost my whole life, for maybe twenty years (God, that makes us seem old).

"That's great."


A customer comes in, and I say goodbye in favor of leather-sweat shoes.

Dinner's lonely. I look thoughtfully at my card. It has my home phone number on it, and my name. I wonder if anyone has ever been stalked by business card; certainly I haven't. On a certain level cards are all about trust, trusting the stranger.

Thinking makes me frustrated, and so I read instead, and surf the Internet. Listen to pounding music. Begin to feel better.

Ten o'clock Cogan comes home and wraps me in a gigantic hug. He smells different and looks flustery.

"Go well?"

"Fuck yes."

I offer up a smile, which he beams back tenfold.

The next day I get a call. "Hi Gabby, um, it's Kevin. You know, from the shoe store the other day? Basketball shoes? Do you remember me?"

I'm pretty sure I do.

"I'm sorry it took so long to call, I misplaced your card."

His voice is puce. I'm charmed by the way he refers to himself by his shoes, as though he thinks someone who works at a shoe store remembers someone by their footwear. "That's okay."

"So um..."

I know what he's going to say, more positively than I've known anything, so I help him out. "Want to go out? Catch a movie, maybe, or dinner?"

He laughs, sounding embarrassed. "Yeah, that was what I was getting to. I was thinking that diner down on Fourth Street."

"I have a date for tonight," I tell Cogan.

He's genuinely happy. And he has one, too, how convenient, and wasn't Kevin the name of my ex, the one that skateboarded? As it happens it was, and I had forgotten him completely until Cogan mentioned it.

"This Kevin is better."

Eating with him is far less awkward than first dates normally are. Turns out he is, of all things, a test pilot-- not the career I'd expected, with his shaven head and luxurious shoulder tattoo (a Celtic knot). "Forever Young's one of my favorite movies," I say, and he grins.

"Yeah, that definitely influenced me."

"So if you're in the military, why were you buying shoes at my store?"

"Someone told me a really attractive girl worked there," he says, downing a shot of Coke like an expert. I giggle. "Um, but I just wanted shoes for home, you know. They only give you those boots. Not really good ones, either."

"Are you a basketball player?"

"Yeah, as a hobby, not on a team or anything." His eyes are a very light green.

"And you don't have a girlfriend."

He grins, shakes his head, darts a eyelash-glance at me. He's so obvious it's rather darling. He's only twenty-four, after all, two years younger than me.

I kiss him goodnight, because I know he wants to kiss me but he's too shy, and we make plans for next Tuesday night. I feel triumphant. He drives away in his little beat-up old car with the anti-Bush bumper stickers, and I unlock the house.

Cogan's still not home.

I wonder what Kevin would think of Cogan, and feel a little nervous. It's not like he's my boyfriend-- neither of them are, actually-- but still.

Then I wonder what Megan thinks of me, if she's jealous; wonder what he's told her about me. Pretty uncomfortable situation for him too. But it pays off for us both, since after all we are close.

I go to bed before he gets home, and can't help but worry myself wide awake until I hear him inside. It must be three at least. I pretend to be asleep when he checks my room.

The next morning we dissect our dates in detail. Cogan's interested in Kevin, and I want to hear about Megan... to a certain extent. "Why were you so late last night?" I eventually dare ask.

But all he does is grin. "Blame Megan. Gabby, she's so wonderful. We were actually talking; I never do that with anyone. We talked for hours and hours. It was amazing."

"You talk to me," I point out, a little hurt.

"Well, you, sure. But you're different."

He talks to Megan on the phone all of Sunday. Retaliating, I call Kevin. His sweet inexperience makes me feel better. I'm only his fourth girlfriend-- well, not girlfriend, quite. His fourth date.

Cogan's calling himself Megan's boyfriend now. He's making assumptions too quickly, I think. Only middle-schoolers say they're together when they've been on two dates. But she does seem to like him, from what I hear. I still haven't met her, and when I ask he dodges the question. "I dunno, Gabby. She might think you're competition."

"Don't you want to meet Kevin?"

"Yeah, but not if you don't want me to."

I don't really know what to do, but that evening genius strikes and I make a suggestion: double-date. Kevin likes the idea, and I sandpaper-work at Cogan until he grudgingly agrees. "Just don't embarrass me."

"Cogan, I'm not Julia." Julia being his ex and a friend from high school. "I have some tact."

"Megan might see you as a threat."

"Well, Kevin will definitely see you as a threat, so just act into her and I'll act into him and no one will have anything to worry about."

"We won't be acting, Gabby."

I don't answer.

We set the date for Tuesday, when Kevin and I were going to get together anyway. We decide to have lunch and then catch a movie.

Monday passes agonizingly, Tuesday too fast. I go to the little cafe, where Megan is waiting. The guys haven't arrived yet. I recognize her from Cogan's description, surprisingly accurate. She's very cute, though surprisingly flat, one problem I haven't had to worry about since age eleven.

"Hi," I say, "are you Megan? I'm Gabby." We shake hands; hers is freezing cold. I sit by her. "I've heard a lot about you."

"So you're Cogan's roommate?"

"Yeah, we've known each other for ages."

"Really," she says. "Do you think he likes me?" She seems very shy and uncertain, suddenly, and I have to tell her the truth.

"Megan, he's incredibly into you. You're all he talks about."

She smiles, a little dubiously. "Well. I like him too. It's amazing, kind of, the way we hit it off."

She asks about Kevin, and I tell her a little. She says he sounds like her cousin. She's not so bad, after all. Then Cogan shows up-- "Sorry I'm late"-- gives her a long, graphic kiss, and then comes over and hugs me. I've been watching, a little weirded out. "Hey, Gabby. This is Megan, I guess you met."

"We did," she says. I nod.

Cogan tells us about work, and we listen. I feel really awkward. Fortunately, Kevin arrives. "Hi, Kevin!"

"Oh, God, I'm really sorry, I'm the last, aren't I?" He shakes hands with Megan and Cogan, then takes a seat beside me. The waiter, who we've been deterring for the past several minutes, comes back like an invincible fly and we order. Megan gets a salad, Cogan a hamburger, Kevin a sandwich, and I order soup. We manage to have spirited conversations somehow. Kevin and Cogan seem okay with each other, and Megan and I have achieved a tenuous acquaintanceship.

Turns out there's no film we really want to see, so we go to Cogan's and my house instead and watch, at Kevin's urging, Bonnie and Clyde. It's a movie I could watch forever. Cogan, who's seen it too many times, is unenthusiastic: he likes action, but more along the lines of Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Megan hasn't seen it yet, somehow, and she cries at the end.

Then she says her shift at the bookstore they work at is coming up and gets up off Cogan's lap. And then Kevin leaves too, and it's just me and Cogan. We sit on opposite ends of the couch. I raise an eyebrow at him.

"That was fun," he says.

"Yeah. It was."

"Kevin seems like a good kid."

"Megan's pretty nice too," I allow.

"I guess now that we're both... we can't... you know."

"Yeah, I mean, it wouldn't be fair to them."

He nods, and we both move closer to each other until we're sitting in the crack between the pillows. I breathe him in.

"I like you better, Gabby," he says with a hitch in his voice.

"No you don't."

"I think I do."


"Maybe," he hesitates. "Maybe platonically."

"I know what you mean." Actually I feel kind of the same way. "Cogan?"


"I think we might get married. In a bunch of years. You and I."

"Yeah, maybe," he says thoughtfully. "Megan... she's really incredible, but not... I couldn't spend my life with her."

I picture Kevin, his sallow features and wannabe nose stud, his good looks and army-man, average mouth. I like him a lot, I really do, but he's not a Cogan. "I mean, we know each other so well, we might as well be married already," I falter.

He shrugs. "Might as well have fun while it lasts, I guess."

"You mean you wouldn't have fun being married to me?"

Now he smiles. "Wouldn't be the same."

A pillow fight ensues, and I guess I'll just take things as they come.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Barn

The site was cordoned off; yellow tape and child policemen surrounded it protectively. Yana drew her shawl around her shoulders and walked up to one of the policemen, bold by desperation. "Please, sir, can't I see?"

"I'm sorry, ma'am, we can't let anyone in." The boy had a very neutral face, beardless. Probably he couldn't even grow a beard. He couldn't have been twenty. He was very pale.

"But I think my fiance... he might be in there." The terrorist had been led away; he hadn't put up a fight. Everyone inside the barn was dead. Misha had been in the barn an hour ago, she knew, volunteering to enlist. She thought perhaps he had escaped. Hoped so blindly.

"I'm very sorry," said the boy, who looked like Yana's nephew Isak, really. "I wish I could help."

"When... when will they take out the bodies?"

The boy shook his head. "I don't know. Would you like to give me your telephone number, and I can let you know?"

Yana gave the boy her address instead. She didn't want to leave, though. An older policeman came and brought the young ones coffee and doughnuts. Her policeman offered her a quarter doughnut, which she accepted. She sat on a doorstep, adjusted her skirt and watched the policemen. They made her angry, the way they avoided the inside of the barn. Someone must have checked to see if all the people inside were dead, of course. Or had they? She thought of asking, but she had bothered the boys enough. She thought of Misha, his lamb's beard and lips that always bled. She wanted to tear off her headscarf and burn her fingers and rend her clothing. More, she wanted Misha to show up suddenly beside her and kiss her and kiss her.

The sun dimmed; shadows lengthened. Yana tore off her shoes and walked home barefoot. She ran a bath and couldn't stand to take it. She sat at the table, unable to do anything. Her mother came over. Yana talked to her for a few minutes and sent her off. She lit a candle and passed her fingers through the flame. The hours passed so slowly that Yana felt they had taken up a year. She slept perhaps two hours all night.

The next morning the young policeman knocked for her. Yana was thrilled to see him, and hugged him. He led her to the scene. "They took out the bodies, if you want to identify your fiance. If he's in there, which he might not be." He was a boy in all respects.

Some of the corpses were almost unscathed; others, maimed to the point of inhumanity. Misha was not among the recognizable ones, although two of the mangled ones had builds similar to his. "Reason enough for hope, I'd say," said the policeman optimistally. "If you find him, let me know, will you? I'll be at the police station for the next week. My name is Sander."

Yana nodded and let him lead her out. She walked home, still shoeless, almost wishing that her feet were not so callous so that they would show her pain. She opened her door and

--there sitting at her table was a man with a woolen coat and a lamb's beard and eager brown eyes and empty gloved hands--


She knocked him and the chair over in her incredulous joy, and he was laughing, "Yana, what are you doing, you'd think I'd been gone a year!" and she cradled his face in her hands.

"God, God above, Misha, didn't you know? The barn you went to enlist in, a terrorist set a bomb in it, not an hour after you'd gone. I was so worried, Misha, Misha."

Misha was speechless and Yana saw that his hands shook. She steadied them. "God," Misha said after a little time, which got it all across really.

"Well," said Yana at length. "Did they let you join the army?"

"I've got a weak heart," he said regretfully. "They wouldn't let me."

"Just as well," and Yana was happier than she would have wanted him to know.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

a post about me

I wrote a story but it is too personal right now to share. It has little to do with me but a lot to do with my beliefs. Maybe tomorrow.

I like George Harrison.

I made a new blog, because the name fried bread was not taken (why, I do not know).

I am planning a huge novel which will not be written for about a decade. Also I want to write some split-scenarios. My life will take a psycho turn which should entertain you all.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Bad Job

"Why do you do it?" I asked Ira. He wouldn’t look me in the eye, the weasel.

"It’s just for the money," he said softly. "It’s not like I have a choice."

"You could quit, you know."

"It’s more complicated than that."

I wanted to hit him. Ira was a coward, that was the matter with him. I felt a real hatred for him as I looked at him, the short man with the thinning hair and weak cyan eyes. Weak, that was the only way my brother could be described.

"Ira," I said, trying to stay calm. "You are... you’re a messenger is what you are. You call people when their family members are killed in combat to give them the news. What kind of fucking job is that?"

"It’s not that bad, Lizzy, and I mean, I can’t exactly quit. Someone’s got to do it and no one else wants to. But the people need to know. What’s more important, my conscience or their knowledge?"

"I don’t know." I sighed. "Ira, I’ve known you since before I was born. I don’t... I care about you. This sucks. Get yourself some nice job."

"And a nice house and a nice wife while I’m at it?"

"Seriously, though." Making an effort to see things from Ira’s point of view, I felt kind of sorry for him. He was trying to be a good person, sort of. And he was right-- someone had to break the news. If it wasn’t him, it would be someone else, someone else’s sibling.

Just as other people’s sibling’s deaths were what he had to talk about all day.

At a loss, I glanced at my watch and noted the time gratefully. "I’ve got to go, Ira. I’ll call you. Maybe we can work something out. I really do want the best for you."

"Just as I want the best for you, Lizzy."

We hugged and then I left his apartment, thoughtful.

He had a problem that I knew I would spend a lot of time thinking about, trying to solve.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


It was very important for Alistair to look impeccable. Standing in front of the mirror, he added a dab of eyeliner, pulled out the powder again-- his skin just wasn't pale enough no matter how little sun he saw, a source of constant frustration. He bared his teeth experimentally. Still as white as ever; now those he worked hard on. His hair was starting to thin, unfortunately, although color wasn't a problem. Naturally brown-haired, he used black dye to perfect his look.

Of course it couldn't appear too contrived; that would ruin the whole thing. His reputation was staked on his professional looks, really. Alistair Morgan, always... impeccable. "Impeccable," he said thoughtfully, relishing the word. He looked, he decided, good enough. The hard part was that he had to stay subtle, or people would write him off as a crazy man. The way he looked now was good. Not perfect, but almost.

Satisfied, Alistair swirled out of his house and drove to the bar. "A very Bloody Mary on the rocks. As usual." He examined his nails; they had healthy white margins still. He was improving.

"How's it hangin', Al?" said the bartender, Dominic, handing over the drink and noting Alistair's appearance with approval.

"Well," said Alistair loftily, sucking on the straw's tip. "I must say this drink is rather good, Dominic. Better than your usual."

"Well, we got a B-type. Much rarer than the O's, and more gourmet."

Alistair was impressed.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

This WILL be edited-- it's been consuming lots of my time

Colin was the Reverend's son, so he had access to the church. Since childhood he had liked to go in during the week, to sit on a pew and bask in the quiet. Once at a young age he had gone up to the shrine and tried to hug Jesus on the cross, to give him some comfort. His father had been very angry when he had caught him. "Colin! What are you doing? Show some respect!" He had been belted and could hardly sit for a week. Fifteen years later, thoughts of that still made Colin mad.

That incident had tainted his thoughts of God, in a way. His father hadn't helped. The Reverend worked all week on his speeches. He would pace their small house while reciting in a booming voice, keeping Colin, his brother Devon and his sister Mary from playing, or even doing their homework. When they disturbed the Reverend, he hit them with the flat of his hand. It wasn't meant as anything more than a shock; the Reverend was not a violent man. But he did not shy away from punishing. The Reverend was righteous.

Agnes, the Reverend's wife, was quiet. The Reverend didn't hurt her, ever. Agnes he loved. Agnes loved the Reverend, too. More than the children, they thought sometimes. They would escape to the fort in the backyard, Devon, Mary and Colin. Devon liked to skateboard, and Mary liked to sew. Colin was the only one that thought the church was a fun place to be.

When his father had found out that he went there often, he hid the key. It was a family key and usually hung by the door with all the other ones. Now it went around the Reverend's neck. Colin thought that this, too, was unfair. If the church was God's place, why should he not be allowed to spend time with God? The church, unlike many, was not often open to the public, and besides when anyone else was there it was no fun. Colin liked being alone with God and the stained-glass windows and the unhappy Jesus on the cross.

Years passed; Devon graduated high school, then Mary did, then Colin. Devon fled to San Francisco; Mary merely moved across town. Colin went to the state university, for lack of anything better to do. He didn't do a lot in college; he wasn't very social. He managed to make a few friends, but mostly worked hard. By the end of it he was at least financially stable.

Agnes, his mother, died young-- brain tumor. The family reconvened and mourned as one. The Reverend spoke at the funeral, of course. Mary played the flute, Devon the acoustic guitar. Colin gave a piano rendition of a church song his mother had liked. Several people he had not seen since high school complimented him; he had grown into a man, somehow serene-looking with his gleaming brown skin and chunky glasses. Mary and Devon pretended nothing had changed; in a way nothing had. They were all still the same people, even if (as Devon said) half-orphaned.

The Reverend was stoic. You could tell he was wounded by his wife's death, but outwardly he acted the same. There was just something underneath, a trembling somehow.

He died five months later. Everyone said it was very touching, very tragic, very sad but sweet. Devon, Mary and Colin got together again. They spoke at the funeral, sifting their lives for good things their father had done. He had been kind. He had wanted the best for them. He had taught them ethics. He had taught them to love God. The congregation clapped and several women dabbed at their eyes. The church would miss its Reverend.

While emptying the house of his parents Colin found a key-- a large, stately one which he placed immediately. Seeing the key didn't depress him, or swamp him with thoughts of his childhood and parents. But he pocketed it. He wasn't sure why.

Later that week Colin found the key in his pocket. He added it to his keychain, where it stuck out like a giant among dwarves. He didn't use it; he lived miles from the church. Colin worked at computers, which was tedious but paid well. He took up smoking and bicycling. His siblings got married and had children; at length, at last, he found a girlfriend.

Harriet had impossibly small elbows and a petite frame. She was intellectual and she and Colin were well matched. They were a quiet pair that kept to themselves. Harriet had sisters, and the families got along, but neither of them had many friends.

Eventually Colin and Harriet married. They got along so well that there was no point in trying to find anyone else. They loved each other, but it was a very mature love, with none of the passion of youth (although they were both under thirty).

One day Harriet noticed Colin's key. "What is this, Colin?"

"It's the key to my dad's church," said Colin. "Their current Reverend has one, too, of course, but this was my dad's. I got it when he died."

"What kind of fellow locks a church?" asked Harriet skeptically.

Colin told her about his father.

Harriet was calm and collected and suggested very rationally that they go to the church and do something that would "sort of symbolically spit on your father's grave. Deface the church somehow."

"We can't do that, Harriet. Just because I still have anger toward my dad doesn't mean I want to disfigure the house of God."

"Something that won't leave lasting marks, then, but will be the kind of thing we can look back on forever. And sort of feel secretly glad that we did it. In the church."

"Sex," suggested Colin immediately.

They drove to Colin's childhood hometown. It was eight p.m. on a Thursday; the church was locked. Colin unlocked it and turned on the lights (there were a few). The pews gleamed. Christ writhed on his cross. They couldn't see the designs of the stained-glass windows in the dark, but Colin had them memorized.

They lay awkwardly between the rows of pews and did the deed. The floor was hard and cold. Then they got up (having left no traces), grabbed hands and went out, Harriet locking the door. They drove home laughing all the way.

Things were better after that.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Miranda [an assignment from January, based on a book- guess which]

Miranda is something of a tortured soul. She is understood by no one and loved by few-- namely, her parents and, cautiously, her older brother Eric. Liam and Alexandra had dreamed of having seven children, but after Miranda they stopped. They couldn't risk another like her.

Miranda sucks up money like a vacuum cleaner. It's not really her fault; her parents want cures, no matter how expensive. As it stands now, she is a burden and little else. A girl who can't control a single muscle in her body is not exactly a big contributor to the good of society.

When they take her outside for some sun, the pattern is always the same: Miranda is happy, then confused, then angry. Pedestrians shrink from her as though she were a monster. Liam or Alexandra or Eric, pushing the wheelchair, offer up apologetic smiles and continue quickly, ashamedly, on. Without Miranda they are fine, of course. Liam is a trim, gray-templed professor with a false air of competence. Alexandra is a bronze beauty (so to speak); she looks almost like an Amazon warrior, and often acts like one. Eric inherited his mother's height and muscular build. He's a chronic basketball player and popular at his high school, where he is a senior. He doesn't have a girlfriend, consistently turning down the offers. His dewy-eyed parents suspect that it's because he needs to spend the time caring for his sister. No one knows that Eric is gay.

Miranda, who for lack of anything better to do spends her time observing, has guessed. But she doesn't betray her brother's secret, of course. She wonders sometimes if even he realizes it. She believes he can solve his problems on his own.

Miranda has cultivated an interest in the arts. Her parents often sit her down in front of the television set for hours. They don't know what channels Miranda enjoys, but when they're nearby and commercials come on they change them. Thus Miranda has learned how to (in theory) make a score of exotic dishes; she could name a trivia fact about every character on Friends, Seinfeld, Will & Grace, Everybody Loves Raymond, Sex & the City, and Buffy; she understands which brushes create which effects on an easel; she can tell you how many people died in all the major battles of the Civil War, and she has seen and subsequently memorized hundreds of music videos. When Eric matter-of-factly tells their parents that Coke can remove stains, she thinks of Myth Busters and knows he is wrong. But she has to keep that knowledge to herself. She can't even control the convulsive movements of a finger or an eye.

It's hard, being totally unable to communicate. Inside, Miranda sometimes has flashes of insight that she wants to share. More trivially, she wishes she could at least tell her family that she hates lentils and likes pasta, or that the Disney channel makes her want to smash the TV. She feels as though she lives in a box that she can see out of but that no one can see into. To be subjected to countless daily humiliations, not being able to do even the simplest of things for herself, is terribly frustrating. Sometimes she wants to kill her caretakers; she has a foolish belief that when they are gone she will be freed. Then it passes and she is grateful she has no physical ability to destroy. She needs them, her prison wardens, after all.

Miranda is not only interested in the arts, but is, mentally, an artist. She tells herself stories over and over in her head, trying to ward off the inevitable moment when they will be forgotten, slipping away like impatient children dressed in gorgeous silks. She imagines objects in the house rearranged in such a way that every facet of beauty is drawn out and proudly displayed. None of her dreams are ever realized.

Over the long fifteen years of her life so far, Miranda has developed a world in her mind, one so real she can lose herself in it. In this world she is accepted. In this world reside creatures taht take her aside and tell her secrets: philosophical, cynical dragons. One in particular, although nameless, is a close friend of Miranda's. They sit and smoke and he tells her about his travels. He is old and wise and has been to a million places. Now he simply remains at home watching over his family.

The funny thing is that sometimes the dragon's stories are true. What he has told her of Paris corresponds exactly with the TV show on 1920s France. What he says of physics is reaffirmed by honored scientists. He tells the truth, and it's still the truth in the world outside Miranda. She loves to make these cross-connections.

At those times she is happy.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

this is a whiny poem by me about me

my creativity is very limited
when I read other people's writing
or when I listen to music
I realize that those people can come up with ideas
in a way that I cannot
my ideas are not amazing
occasionally I have an epic idea
or a cute one
but even those are not amazing
or really very original
my ideas are usually specific moments
(such as someone having sex in a church)
while they come up with truly creative ideas
thus my creativity is limited
and back to the beginning again.

It came with a price

Carol wanted a lot of things. Nearing thirty, she was married with a daughter, middle-class, working at a desk job (9 to 5). Her life was not miserable but not joyful, exactly. Her daughter was four years old, named Kristen.

Lee, Carol's husband, loved her. He was an architect and had on occasion slept with a secretary, but Carol was (so he was sure) his soulmate and he took care not to jeopardize their relationship too much. He was towheaded, and Kristen had inherited his hair.

What Carol wanted, and she was too ashamed to tell anyone this, was money. They had enough money to scrape by, and they weren't going hungry, but Carol wanted more. She wanted a swimming pool, and before it was filled with the clear blue water she wanted to stuff it with crinkly green cash and she wanted to swim in it. She wanted to be able to casually donate billions to charities and still have billions left for herself, to buy every book and record and article of clothing and television set and computer upgrade and God knew what, she just wanted to have the wealth. She told no one this, but she knew that if Satan himself came to her and offered her a trade, her soul for ten billion dollars, she would accept it with no hesitation.

There was no free lunch, she had learnt that early on, and she knew, logically, that there would be a price even for the money. Her soul, if one believed in fairy tales. More likely it would be her free time that flitted away, or her health, or her relationship with Lee or Kristen. None of that mattered to her. Once she made enough money to last her a lifetime, she would be able to fix up those things using it. She had some fifty years left in her life and if earning money cost her ten, well, she'd have forty more afterwards to enjoy it with.

She dreamed about the devil sometimes. She had been raised Protestant, although she wasn't religious; she disliked Christmas and Easter, and they celebrated them only for Kristen's benefit. God was never in her dreams, but the devil was. He didn't scare her much. He didn't look like the devil in the storybooks; he was just a man, but somehow, in the hazy way of dreams, she knew what he really was. He greeted her casually always, and she nodded and smiled. He was like a boss that she was a little bit afraid of. He never threatened or bribed her.

One Tuesday Carol found a lump in her breast. A frantic rush to the hospital later, she was diagnosed with a benign tumor, not cancerous. The scare had shaken her up, and she downgraded to working part-time, bonded with her daughter more. Kristen turned five and they celebrated her birthday. Lee went on a business trip for two months and returned glowing, happy and slightly richer. They were saving. Carol was glad she only had one child: college educations cost so much these days. It was lucky she hadn't gotten cancer after all, or the hospital bills would have been debilitating.

They made enough to buy a second house, and this made Carol excited. They could rent out the smaller one and make all the money back, and then some. Things were going well.

More time passed: five years, to be exact. Kristen turned ten. Lee began to get gray hair. Carol wanted cosmetic surgery, but she told herself it would happen later, once she had enough that the cost would seem like spare change.

A year later, while reluctantly writing a check, she realized that that would never happen. Even if she had billions, like her dream, she would scrimp with pennies. Because pennies added up. That was the kind of mind Carol had.

At that point she quit her job, treated the family to a month in Hawaii, and began to go shopping every other Sunday. It was difficult at first, but within months she began to think of money as simply a means to an end, not as an end itself.

She got pregnant again in September. Her life was still not miserable; it had, she told herself, improved, become more joyful.

Carol still had a coin collection, though, and could spend hours poring over the currency. And she still dreamed about the devil, sometimes.

Monday, March 06, 2006


"A little to the right. Just a hair more. Yes. Yes! Right there. Now don't move, just purse your lips-- no, not that much. Yes, like that. Well, close enough. No!"

Jaime sighed, rolling her eyes. She didn't mind humoring Galen, but this was a little over the top. He was a damn good photographer, she had to concede that, and Jaime didn't have much of an eye for art. She had managed to convince him to let her wear gauzy fabric draped over her-- "like some kind of Greek goddess, you know." He had wanted to take nudes. It wasn't that he just liked to look at her body. She knew Galen; he was a romantic, he thought clothing ruined the beauty of humanity. He had often told her with earnest conviction that he belonged in the era of the Renaissance. "When are you going to take the shot already?"

He shook his head and snapped a photo reluctantly. "That one won't make it into the collection, you know. Becuase your head was off. It all has to be perfect."

"I'm not a statue," Jaime said.

"You're a living, breathing model and that is where the magic is in this thing we call photography." Galen stuck another canister of film into his camera and adjusted his thick, black-rimmed glasses. "If I were a painter, it wouldn't matter. I could make up your posture. But photography is about things that are real and those who look at these photos will know that you actually moved your head like this, that you actually were in this pose. It's real. Non-fiction. Let's try it again."

"Galen, I need a break." Jaime turned her back, shrugged off the gauze, pulled on a T-shirt. "This is exhausting. It's so much easier just to look through the, the viewfinder and press that little button than it is to manipulate your whole body, you know? You should try modeling sometime."

Galen laughed self-deprecatingly. "Not me."

"Why don't you get your girlfriend to do this?" she asked desperately.

"She doesn't mind me having you pose for me."

"So? Why can't you take pictures of her instead?"

Galen put the camera down on the table, like a precious thing, and faced Jaime. He lifted a hand, ran his thumb down her cheek. She froze. "Because although Melissa is gorgeous, she's not beautiful the way you are. You are so goddamn photogenic, Jaime, you have no idea. Lissa... her beauty is in the way she moves, the way she lives, and it doesn't hold in photos. Yours does. It's in your lines."

Jaime colored. "My body isn't that great." She was tall and slender, with small breasts and a jaw just a bit too prominent.

"Your body is amazing," he scoffed. "It's not perfect, of course, but no one is perfect. If you were perfect it would ruin everything. You're just right, believe me."

She relented and smiled a little, looking at him. He looked like Buddy Holly, with those glasses and that curly dark hair. He really did belong in another era. Most of his photographs were black and white, yet another testament to that. She liked hearing his sincere praise; his speaking habits were so clear, with so little hesitation and stumbling over words. That was the thing about Galen. He was so literate, somehow, and he always knew what he wanted to get across.

A knock on the door. "Come in," said Galen, and Melissa entered. She was curvy, thick-waisted, with chin-length curling brown hair and a lipsticky grin. She was more or less the opposite of Jaime's blond delicacy.

"Not working, I guess?" she said conversationally.

"We're taking a break," Jaime enunciated. She wiped her mouth and glanced down at herself: her legs and feet were bare. Sometimes she wished Melissa wasn't so trusting.

"How goes the photography? I brought you some apples." She was, Jaime saw, carrying a brown paper bag, and set it down now (precariously by the camera). "Green apples in there. Your favorite, Galen."

"Thanks, love." Galen moved to her and they kissed, in the carefree manner of lovers. He picked up the camera again, to protect it from the bag, and Jaime couldn't help but smile. "You are thoughtful," he said. "Here, Jaime--" he handed her an apple-- "once you're done with this we can start up the picture-taking again. All right?"

"Okay." She wanted Melissa to leave, with her overbearing dresses and hair and makeup and God knew what, she just wanted her to go.

Something up there answered her prayers, because Melissa said, "I'm gonna go unload the rest of the groceries from the car. I'll leave you two alone."

"No, you don't have to," Galen began, but Jaime cut him off.

"Okay, go ahead, Melissa."

They made eye contact for a moment. Then Melissa nodded and left, shutting the door of the studio behind her.

There was silence for a moment. Galen looked at Jaime.

"She could have stayed, you know. We're not working. It wouldn't have done any harm."

"I didn't want her being around," Jaime mumbled, looking down. She wasn't hungry, and her apple was soft, which she hated. She set it down on the table. Then, with ferocity, she jerked her head up and gazed into Galen's blue eyes. "You know what? I'm ready to go back to work." She took off her T-shirt boldly.

Galen, always willing to shoot, gestured toward the gauze.

"No gauze. Forget it. Go ahead and take your nudes."

His eyebrows rose for a moment; he looked as if he were having a fascinating internal conversation, and Jaime, unabashedly naked, watched him. Galen.

"All right," he said as if to himself, nodding a little. "All right. We can do that."

"Okay," said Jaime.