By Jessika Grewe Glover
Both tires turned from bright, commercial white, to the grit of living north of Calle Ocho. Two weeks earlier, I traded my saved cash for the red and white all-terrain scooter. It seemed logical to use it on this early morning in June to get my mom a birthday present. At eight, I knew it was two blocks west, two blocks south from the house my mom, brother, and grandparents shared in a lower middle class neighborhood in Miami. The increasingly grubby white tires bumped over unmaintained sidewalks and driveways, past the Dade County library on Calle Ocho, the carniceria, Everglades Lumber, which I found much later in life had been involved in a cartel scheme, and to the train tracks. At eight, I was trepidatious around the tracks. Even then I knew that was where the prostitutes stood each night, able to continuously cross Eighth Street each time a police car pulled up. South of Calle Ocho was Dade County police, north was City of Miami. Neither had the jurisdiction over the other and as long as the women of the night tripped their heels along the tracks, wavering between the demarcation of departments, they were free.
The tracks, however, held a different sort of fear in my younger self. It never failed, that when I passed them, there was the stench of death wafting from the graveled embankment along the railway. Often, feathers and clawed parts pushed from the confines of a Winn Dixie or Valledero grocery bag. Other times, a slain goat, its floppy ears and sweet face frozen in the horror of its final, blood-soaked moments, lay amongst the rubble. Those train tracks were where many Santeria dumped the remains of sacrifices. I never understood the religion. I never knew the difference between it and voodoo. It and satanism. It and evil. As a child, scootering along that well-known stretch of asphalt in late 1980s Miami, I knew it was what I should stay away from.
Tucked back near the concrete staircase of a strip mall was a small florist. I walked in with the remaining seven dollars and fifteen cents left from my scooter savings, and handed it to Maria Elena behind the counter. I had been there before. She smiled, took the money, put together a bouquet worth at least triple what I had paid, and sent me off home before the sun had fully risen. As I jingled the bell at the front of her shop, Maria Elena stopped me and said in Spanish, “Make sure you never look that goat in the eye. He comes from a place none of us needs to know about.”
My fingers clutched the wrapped bunch of iris and carnation, scoring the stems against the perforated white rubber of my handlebars. Sneakered feet kicked home in record time, presenting my mom with her gift before she had to leave for a double shift at the airport. In the decades that have passed, I’ve never forgotten the goat, Maria Elena, or the question of from where that poor sacrifice had come. Perhaps he had wandered onto the wrong side of a drawn line or tiptoed over the veins of tracks that ran the length of a state juxtaposed between the vibrance and grit of South Florida, and the blistered stern of the American South. Whatever his fallacy in life, I always hoped he found peace, regardless of the weight of religion pinning him to those tracks.
By Wim Hylen
Marcel, the handsome, black and white creature I had never quite grown to love, was stolen in broad daylight in front of a Lower East Side coffee shop while I was using the restroom. My eccentric aunt Frieda had given me the dog when her lumbago prevented her from walking him. Not long after I had filed the police report on Marcel’s theft, I lost my job as a development assistant at the Museum of Outsider Art. I wasn’t the only one who was downsized, yet it somehow felt personal. I don’t think they ever really warmed up to me.
You should never have moved to New York City, my mother told me. You’re like Frieda, never satisfied with the simple things.
Never missing an opportunity to be pretentious, Frieda had named the dog after Marcel Proust. That‘s the problem with her in a nutshell, my mother claimed.
I thought my mother was the problem. She and her ilk were why I had fled Ohio. The small mindedness, the fear of the unconventional, the prizing of practicality over imagination, the parceling out of words as if they were scarce. Not that I didn’t love her. I did, fiercely, but I didn’t admire her like I did her sister Frieda who, although nearly impossible to talk to, with her scattershot solipsistic ramblings, had the courage to leave their small town and pursue her ill-defined dream of conquering the big city.
But which of us had been wisest? Frieda, who lived alone in a tiny, rent-controlled apartment, and had been dead for several days before she was found? Me, who now sat adrift, jobless and dog-less in Alphabet City? Or my mother, secure in Kinsley, Ohio, where I imagined that right now the autumn air was filled with the acrid, melancholy aroma of chimney smoke and the sun was setting demurely behind the Ferris wheel of the County Fair?
Marcel had been eminently lovable, yet something had prevented me from deeply bonding with him. Probably the same thing that prevented me from making close friends or maintaining a romantic relationship, my mother would have said. I suspected my mental connection between Marcel and Frieda’s begrimed, cigarette-saturated apartment may have been a factor.
Tonight, after my parents ate dinner, they would sit together in the living room, only occasionally speaking, at ease with long silences. Maybe they would discuss my recent troubles or the fate of my sister whose unemployed husband had just picked up his second DUI.
We all make choices in life, one of them might say. And they would feel no need to pursue the subject further. That one remark would be enough to put the topic to rest.
My prevailing emotion was grief. Grief that our little clan was so ill suited to anything resembling a full life.
I took the subway to Brooklyn and sat on a bench on the Coney Island boardwalk. I am prone to such gestures. I ate fries doused with vinegar as the sun set shamelessly behind the Wonder Wheel. After I tossed the empty carton in a nearby trashcan, I arched my neck and sniffed the air like Marcel would have. Somewhere in the mix, lingering behind the brackish odor of seawater and frying oil, there was a faint tinge of smoke.
I had come to New York expecting adventure to be lurking around every corner. It was the place where everything would change for me, I thought. And despite all evidence to the contrary, I was still waiting for the arrival of delights I was sure the city had in store for me. The one thing I have never lacked is belief. The more remote the possibility, the greater my need to believe in it. Right now, I am half convinced that I will soon spot Marcel ambling down the boardwalk, sniffing the air for clues to my whereabouts.
This Tiny Thing That’s Probably Not Important But Might Be
By Annabel White
The first time we met, at the barbecue in July, we spoke for less than five minutes. We were inside. The sofa was scratchy, the colour of burnt toast, and you were sitting on the other end of it. You had two squiggly veins on either side of your forehead, perfectly symmetrical, like kinks of spaghetti. I told you I liked them and you laughed. It was late, maybe ten o’clock. You said you liked maps. I told you how my mum also liked maps, and I thought, for a moment, how she’d probably like you, too. I stood up a few minutes later because the others were playing some drinking game at the ping pong table. I didn’t know you were going to leave then, but I noticed you went and said goodbye. To Elliot and James and whoever else. I was holding the ping pong ball, bouncing it. It kept missing the cup and I remember turning around as you walked out the door. I remember how, for a second, I felt sad because I didn’t want you to leave yet, because I’d been hoping you’d say goodbye to me.
In August, you sent me a message and a few days later we ate pitta bread and hummus by the pagoda in Battersea Park. In September, you pushed your bike up Portobello Road one Sunday morning, a paper bag with two cinnamon buns in your hand. It was sunny and the sky was blue. I pretended I liked cinnamon. Two weeks later I sat on the seat of your bike, it was Saturday night and I held onto your shoulders as you pedalled. We had a reservation at this vegan curry place in Wandsworth, a reservation we were minutes away from losing. Your helmet was too big for my head and when I got off the bike, you asked if you could kiss me.
It was October when I first stayed over. We’d watched your friend’s dad’s band play in a pub round the corner and we’d whispered as we walked up the stairs to your room. You didn’t want to wake up your dad. I’d been so nervous about all of it that I almost hadn’t come.
I was worried about the pub. Your friends, your parents’ house. Sex. The way my face looks in the morning when I haven’t got make-up to cover up the blotchy bits. It felt like a lot.
The second time I stayed over, it was November and this time when I left, everything felt off. We had dinner in Chinatown five days later, our feet touched under the table, but when we said goodbye you didn’t kiss me. I saw you once after that. I’d finally moved out of my parents’ house, I’d got a job at an agency and I was subletting off a friend in Pimlico. I fried garlic, courgette, and anchovies in a Le Creuset pan that came with the flat. I poured cream, cooked fresh pasta, bowled it all up. I grated parmesan, cracked black pepper. It was some of my best work.
In the morning we walked to a bakery, ate artisanal croissants at my kitchen table. You rubbed my feet. It felt like the beginning, not the end.
And then, December. There were no messages from you on my phone and I couldn’t understand it. I called you. I lay on my bed, hot tears rolling down my cheeks, my phone beside me. We mostly stayed like that, in the silent understanding it was over. When you spoke, your voice came slowly out of the speaker, answering my questions with all the wrong words.
It hurt. I walked past the pagoda on a grey Sunday morning, I queued for a croissant alone. On my phone I wrote a list of all the reasons it would never have worked. A defence mechanism of sorts.
He didn’t make you laugh.
You were always nervous and not really yourself around him.
You ran out of things to talk about.
It felt meaningless, untrue and it didn’t help. Underneath the list I started writing about that first evening. The barbecue, the sofa, the back of you in the doorway. It was tiny and probably not important, but as I typed it all down, it felt like it might be.
Go to Sleep Little Baby
By Lindsey Harrington
The felt animals are slowly rotating over the baby’s head, giraffes and elephants just visible in the nightlight’s warm glow. The crib slats are illuminated too, casting long narrow shadows over the baby’s torso, keeping it constrained but safe.
It’s the same for Allison, constrained but safe, safe but constrained. On the outside, her life seems charmed. She met the guy, had the wedding, and then the baby in short order. Check. Check. Check.
Although it’s what she’s always wanted, it’s harder than she imagined. The ritual helps.
Allison clicks the door to the nursery closed and tiptoes down the hallway. The strains of the lullaby follow her.
Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep little baby.
Troy will be home in an hour. She doesn’t have much time.
When Allison and Troy met, it wasn’t like in the movies she’d watched as a teenager. She didn’t see him across a crowded room. Time didn’t slow down. He never made her pulse quicken. She didn’t feel faint. He appeared on the dating app on her phone screen. He wasn’t holding a fish and had a full set of teeth, so she swiped right. She had just needed someone to fill the husband-shaped hole in her life.
Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep little baby.
While the lullaby tinkles mechanically and the baby naps, Allison enters her walk-in closet and unearths her suitcase from its hiding spot, behind the hamper brimming with spit-up-stained onesies. She wheels it to the center of the space and its purple shell glimmers underneath the spotlights.
She packed it on their first day at home with the baby. She had locked herself in the closet away from Troy, who was more a stranger than ever, and away from their new child. Gently, she laid clothes inside like some mothers laid infants in bassinets. Through the door, she heard him singing a lullaby as he rocked the wailing baby, swaddled in a soft blanket.
Your mama’s gonna sway and your daddy’s gonna pray. So, go to sleep little baby.
While she doesn’t open the suitcase, she knows exactly what’s inside: three pairs of dress pants, five blouses, a pair of silk pajamas, enough socks and underwear for a week, and a makeup bag full of travel-sized moisturizer, toothpaste, and concealer.
“I can leave anytime I want,” she reminds herself, walking around the suitcase and studying it from different angles, like an artifact in a museum. The crush of pressure eases when she takes the handle and wheels the bag down the hallway, even though she knows she will roll it right back and tuck it into its secret place. She hums along to the song.
Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep little baby.
“See you tomorrow,” Allison whispers as she dims the closet lights and shuts the door softly. But she will see it much sooner. She’ll see it tonight, in her dreams.
The Matter of Dreams
By Simon J. Plant
“What do you think a dream is?” I ask again. My sister sighs; I’ve been at it all morning.
“Please,” she says, busy with something at the kitchen counter, “must you?”
“Seriously,” I say behind her, swiveling back and forth on one of the stools at the island bench. It makes this awful squeal which she hates, and that’s exactly why I do it; I’m a terror. “What do you think they are? Like, what are dreams made from?”
“I don’t know,” she snaps. “Hopes? Desires?” Her elbow works sporadically as she cuts something like a carrot on the chopping block: chop chop chop.
“Desires …” I consider the word, say it again but more incredulous this time: “Desires.”
“Yeah,” she says impatiently, “things you want. They come out in your sleep.”
“Come out …” I hear her eyes creak as they roll in her head. She wishes our parents never came back from that hospital with a boy when she was six, wishes they’d come back with nothing.
“What do you mean by that: ‘come out’?”
“Sprout. Emerge. You know, from the”—she waves the knife in the air—“the what’s it called.”
“Okay … What are nightmares?” The chopping stops. My sister hates nightmares; Halloween, scary movies, urban legends, all that stuff. She finds the macabre abhorrent and her squeamishness is candy to me.
“I guess they’re …” she begins, then stops, thinking. “Fears,” she says eventually, “dislikes, mixing with your imagination.”
Her discomfort tickles. “Like scary prophecies?”
“Whatever. Sure.” She resumes chopping. Something’s marinating in the oven and the heat rising up makes her sweaty. She never cooks. I find it deeply amusing: in all her aloofness, forced to play chef for an irritating little brother because absent parents decreed it. Curious to see how she does.
“How do you know we’re not dreaming now?”
She drops the knife, turns and angles me with one of those are-you-kidding-me stares. “Do you desire spending the weekend together?”
“Is me babysitting you something you’d hope for when our parents are out of town?”
“Not exactly, but—”
“There you go. Not a dream.”
“But do you know you’re dreaming when you’re having one?” I ask, prying deeper. I love this game, could do it all day.
“No,” she say, exasperated. The timer on the oven bings. She shakes her head. “Not usually.”
“So what if this is a dream? Right now, all”—I wave my hand to encompass the kitchen, the moon in the window, the smell of meat cooking—“all this.”
“It’s not.” She’s bent, retrieving the casserole. She straightens, drops the casserole on the bench, slams the oven door and stands over the result, devastated.
“But how do you know?” I push. I really am a shit.
“I don’t know.”
I swivel again and my stool goes squeal! “Would it be your dream, or mine?”
“Don’t push me …”
“Yours?” I see smoke wafting above her head and cannot help but sneer. “Or mine—”
“I said. don’t. push. me.”
I stop swiveling and go still. Something was strange in her voice just now, like a parrot had crept into her throat to sing dissonant harmonies. Her hands grip the bench and tendons in her wrists are like ropes straining. Muscles in her back ripple under her shirt.
I sniff the air. “I, um … think you burned it—”
“You think?” she says, and slaps the table.
She snatches the casserole from the bench, nothing protecting her hands from the searing heat. I go to tell her don’t, but the notion of burning skin is not what silences me and sinks my stomach.
She turns to me and her eyelids peel back to reveal too much white; big red veins trace over blank fields where irises should be. The irises are gone, I think as her mouth falls open and blood spills down her chin. Teeth come tumbling out like scrabble pieces. They rain over the casserole in her hands. That’s when I see the faces: two severed heads staring up from the dish, blackened and seared. Melted eyes in charred sockets swimming like oysters in their shells. On the table behind her I see no carrots. What I see is a bloody knife, skin and severed fingers and bone. My mother’s wedding ring and father’s Rolex sit nearby like scraps awaiting the compost heap.
My sister’s hair drops from her head in tufts and her skin turns leathery and grey; black worms wriggle agitatedly beneath the surface. She plonks the casserole down before me and grins. “Is this a dream, brother?”
Waiting for Liftoff
By Roberta Beary
None of us had any idea she’d be famous. That we’d be watching her up on the big screen. Waiting for her name to roll by in the credits. I can’t tell you her real name on account of you’d recognize it. Anyway, back then, we couldn’t help but know her. Everyone did. You wouldn’t call her movie-star pretty. She was a beanpole. Flat as a tomboy. Always the same pair of blue bell-bottoms and cropped white tee shirt. Dirty blond hair and high cheekbones. Classic features you’d say now. Back then she was living with her family. If you could call it a family. No mother. A father out of work. The one brother. Who didn’t do anything but yell at her. And smack her around. We saw it. Nobody said anything. We had our own problems. Our own messed-up homes. A boy in our class said the brother sold her by the hour. To his friends. That couldn’t be true. Could it? We didn’t know. But we knew one thing. Her father was a bastard. The time he answered the door in boxers and wife-beater. A handkerchief in his hand. Dory wiping her mouth with her fringed purple scarf. Her old man threw the handkerchief. Go clean yourself up, he said. Your friend’s here. Dory looked blank. Her lips slightly open, like in the movie. The one that made her famous. That got her the penthouse in L.A. And the rock star who was gonna marry her.
A white handkerchief with blue stripes. Dory kicked it under the kitchen table. Her father lit up a Marlboro and stared out the window. Dory and I went outside. Sat on the schoolyard swings. Pushing with our Keds. Waiting for liftoff. It’s a kinda blur now. One day Dory’s a kid in my class. Next she’s up on a movie screen. Talking the same way she talked in school. The zombie monotone. You can read about her in Wikipedia. She’s got two pages. But whoever wrote it got it wrong. She didn’t jump cause some rock star wouldn’t marry her. It wasn’t like that. No matter what it says about the day she died. Dory was already dead back when we knew her. When we knew about her father and brother. Knew and never said a word.
Everything Is Going to Be Ok
By Daniel DeRock
Before I worked construction, before my lungs changed, before this leash around my neck, I used to be a damn good quarterback.
The space demon builds all this stuff with our bodies while we sleep. When it sleeps, we get to do human things.
That’s what this leash is for. So I don’t do nothing stupid while I’m awake.
Before my voice stopped, my buddy and I used to talk. I remember his name felt like cherry slushies. Our bodies have been working on this atmosphere conversion tower a while now. Sometimes I wake up a few levels higher on the scaffolding and get scared—this part of the sky isn’t fit for people.
The space demon changes my lungs while I sleep. I can breathe fine up here. Just can’t talk so well.
Wasn’t long ago our lungs weren’t changed and my buddy and I talked easy. Way below, my hometown looked like the ripped-out belly of a computer.
“Senior year, home field, twenty seconds on the clock,” I said. “Sixty-five yard touchdown pass to win it.”
“Bullshit,” my buddy said. He bet me I couldn’t hit the next tower with a wrench.
I picked up the wrench, arched it back, looked to the nearest conversion tower. Fifty yards away, maybe. I got dizzy and my shoulder hurt.
“Goddamn arm ain’t what it used to be,” I said.
“We aren’t none of us what we used to be, buddy,” he said. Only he said my name. I remember my name felt like birthday cake.
He was right. We’re so thin. The space demon forgets about food and water.
We sat on our toolboxes. Something in the mood had shifted. Not just the fact of our bodies, but we’d broken a rule between us. Don’t talk about the glory days.
My buddy said, “Sixty-five yards, huh?”
So I told him the last story I remember.
It was a warm September evening and we were down 29-35 against Westville High. Losing wouldn’t cut it if I wanted a chance with Katie Miller at the party. Coach called a time out. From the huddle, I saw Katie smile at the top of the cheerleading pyramid. Her green skirt waved in the breeze.
“Coach, let me do this,” I said.
There was destiny electric on my fingertips: the night before, I’d dreamed about a play-action pass, the crowd losing its mind.
Well, that’s what happened. There I was, 45 yard line, skirt glowing green at the edge of my sight. Faked a hand-off and this space opened around me, this quiet bubble. I saw the patterns, found my dude hauling it to the end zone and you know what happened next. Bam. Crowd lost its freaking mind.
Skip ahead a few hours and my hand was sore from high fives at the party. Beer. Chips. Someone turned up the music. A wet spot on my jeans where I’d cleaned up a salsa spill. Where was Katie? There she was, she had sparkly lip gloss on.
Next thing I know, Semi-Charmed Life was playing and we were making out with tongues and she pulled me into a bedroom and locked the door. It was dark. I could smell my own sweat and hers too, but it wasn’t bad. It was nice.
Katie said something I can’t ever forget. Ever. She said, “I’m gonna show you something that will make you go crazy.”
Well, at that point in the story, I stopped. My buddy stood. His leash, tangled in the scaffolding, pinched his neck. “Dude,” he said, “you absolutely must tell me what happened next.”
I’ve thought about that night with Katie a lot. It always used to end there: she said, I’m gonna show you something that will make you go crazy; then I blacked out.
Sometimes my memories wiggle around, though. Sometimes that whole day plays out different. Like, sometimes, at the game, an ambulance came for a parent in the bleachers. A cheerleader had a seizure. In some versions, Coach walked off the field not saying nothing after we won.
Okay, so after Katie said that stuff, she turned on the lamp and I fainted, just empty nothing. I halfway woke up. Carpet scratched the back of my neck. Katie was on top of me, her knees dug tight into my hips. Loose strands of her braid brushed my cheeks. Her eyes were black holes at the centers of galaxies.
She pressed her fingers into my temples, touched my eyeballs with her thumbs. It all came at once. The clouds of fire, the long winter, the retreat underground, the building of ships, the star maps, the particle scouts, the candidate planets, the Earth on a map, the particle scout returning to Earth, the particle scout unfolding, the particle scout embedding in bodies, the particle scout transforming, the ships departing, the ships on their way.
Sometimes the space demon gives me other ways of remembering. Sometimes, Katie says, “I’m gonna show you something that will make you go crazy.” She steps over the carpet in the dark of the bedroom and stops before turning the lamp on. I hear fabric on her skin while she lifts her shirt. She turns on the lamp. My vision goes black and I trip over my feet. Katie catches me. She’s so soft. On the bed, I tell her I’m embarrassed. She says it’s all right and asks if I’m crying. I tell her I’m sorry. She puts her shirt on. I promise I’m not sad, just overwhelmed. I clutch Katie tight, her head on my chest. Past the door, there’s a party. Outside the party, a world. After this year, there’s a life. We’ll go to college. Travel. Everything is going to be okay. You’re loved. You’re needed. You are so beautiful, do you know that? Our home will be safe. Feel the hug of a trillion stars. It’s time to sleep. It’s time to build.
By Helen Sinoradzki
Pounding on the door. Jerry rolled away from her, threw off the sheet, and struggled into his pants. “Stay here,” he said and headed out of the bedroom.
She stood up and shook her head, trying to dislodge post-sex afternoon sleep. Underpants. Culottes. Tube top. She didn’t like being here, had said no when Jerry first proposed it. “My wife’s visiting her family. We’ll have the whole weekend,” he’d said.
There were voices, two men and Jerry. Jerry’s voice was getting louder. “I don’t know. I don’t know where he is.”
She ran her fingers through her hair. Jerry didn’t like her new shag cut, said she looked scruffy with all those uneven layers. They were arguing a lot these days.
Jerry shouted, “Hey, you can’t just go through my house,” and he was there in the doorway, arms out, blocking it, two men in suits crowding him.
One of them, taller, older, said, “You claimed there wasn’t anyone else here, Mr. Jones. Who’s your friend?” His voice was neutral, low and calm.
Jerry said, “She has nothing to do with this.” Then, to her, “You don’t have to talk to them, babe.”
She wished he hadn’t called her “babe.” She wished she weren’t barefoot.
The older guy said, “Your son is AWOL, Mr. Jones. If you know where he is, you need to tell us. You’re not doing him any good by stonewalling.”
AWOL. Who were these guys? Martin was in the Marines. They weren’t dressed like MPs.
“How about you go in the kitchen, Mr. Jones. We’re just going to talk to your friend here for a minute.” The older man reached inside his suit coat, took out what looked like a wallet, flipped it open, and flashed a badge at her. “FBI, Miss.”
She resisted the urge to straighten the sheets and pull the comforter up.
Jerry moved toward her. “I’m not leaving her alone with you guys.”
The agent didn’t raise his voice. Still, the menace was there. “This will go better if you cooperate, Mr. Jones. You wouldn’t want your friend to be in trouble with the FBI.”
They were talking about her as if she weren’t here.
Jerry gave her the hangdog look she hated, the one he got every time he talked about his wife. He said, “I’ll be right in the kitchen, babe,” turned, and started down the hall.
How had she ever gotten herself involved with him?
Both agents stepped inside the room. It felt crowded. Something about their suits. They took up space.
“What’s your name, Miss?” The older agent again. The requisite crewcut and his face was fleshy. The younger agent took out a notebook and a ballpoint. He was stockier than the older agent. His shoulders strained his suit jacket.
“Why do you need my name? I don’t know anything.”
The younger agent opened his notebook. He kept clicking the ballpoint.
The older agent looked disappointed. “Look at it from our point of view. We’ve got a guy who deserted his company. Not thinking straight. Young. Where does he run for help? Then his father says there’s no one here but him and we find you.”
The two coffee mugs on the kitchen table when she got here this morning. Jerry grabbing them and hurrying to the sink, saying, “A neighbor stopped by.” Had he known Martin was AWOL when he asked her to come?
“Judith, my name is Judith.”
“Well, Judith.” A toothy smile. “Can we call you Judy? Judith’s pretty formal and we’re just having a little chat here. I’ll bet your friends call you Judy.”
Jude. Her friends called her Jude.
“A last name would be helpful. My partner here likes to dot his i’s and cross his t’s.”
Her stomach felt like she was hanging at the top of the steepest hill on a roller coaster. “Harlow.”
“So what are you doing here, Judy?” No intonation, but she felt distaste, a wave coming at her.
“Visiting Jerry. We work together. At the post office.”
Both agents looked at the rumpled bed, then at her. The tuna salad she and Jerry had for lunch rose in her throat. Just a summer job. A chance to earn good money for school. Then Jerry. Older. Needy. His pursuit flattering. And now here she was in his wife’s bedroom.
“Let’s cut to the chase, Judy. It’s our job to find Mr. Jones’ son before he gets himself in any more trouble. If you know where he is, it would be in your best interests to tell us.”
“I’ve never even met him.”
“So, you’re not a family friend?” Another glance at the bed. “I’d think twice, if I were you, about your involvement with Mr. Jones. Aiding and abetting someone who’s gone AWOL is a serious offense.”
“I haven’t aided and abetted anyone. I told you. I don’t know where Martin is.” And I wouldn’t tell you if I did, she thought, and didn’t feel any better.
“But you know his name.” The younger agent again, needling her.
“That’s not a crime. I want to go home. You can’t keep me here.”
“You’d be surprised what we can do, Judy.” The smile was almost a leer. She imagined him whipping out handcuffs. Yanking her arms behind her back.
Jerry’s voice. “She doesn’t know anything.” He stepped into the room. “Let her go and I’ll tell you what I know.”
She swallowed her “don’t tell them.” They would find Martin, one way or another.
The hangdog look. “Martin was here this morning.”
The mugs on the table. He hadn’t trusted her enough to tell her.
A twitch at the corner of the older agent’s mouth. The younger agent clicked his ballpoint. She picked up her duffel and moved toward the doorway.
The agents exchanged a glance, then stepped aside. Jerry reached for her. She pushed past him. This wasn’t her mess.
By Salvatore Difalco
Sarah had brought the flowers on the kitchen table—white and pink roses in a cut-glass vase. The roses throbbed in the warm late afternoon light. So did the vase. So did the glasses of water I had poured for us, and even the teak table. Everything throbbed.
“Your eyes,” Sarah said, “look very black today.”
My heart skipped a beat. “What do you mean?”
“I’m just saying your eyes look very black today.”
I wanted to tell her she looked like bits of coloured paper glued to dressmaker’s dummy and dusted with talcum powder, but I refrained. Best to keep my mouth shut. I was out of sorts. I took several deep breaths, but couldn’t seem to fill up my lungs. I turned my head left and right. Things had changed or were changing, some with subtlety. The walls of the kitchen dripped like egg yolks—odd, and mildly horrifying. The ceiling tiles fluttered like sheets of paper. I heard a soft thumping and turned to the source. A plump bluebird hovered in the window above the sink, and continued doing so for an interminable length of time. Was it a hummingbird, a huge one? I had never seen a hummingbird near my house. Indeed, I had never seen a real hummingbird anywhere but on television. Sarah made sounds in her chest and tapped my forearm. I stared with wonder into the mother-of-pearl buttons of her eyes. I stared until my own eyes ached.
“Give me your hand,” she said.
I offered my left but she wanted the right. She held my right hand with her right hand and pressed the fingertips of her left against the inside of my wrist. Then she aimed her eyes at the ceiling and seemed to perform a mental count. In the middle of this action, her face blanched.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Your heart is racing,” she said.
I leaned to her. “I’m excited to see you.”
“Hm, I don’t think that’s it. You saw me yesterday.”
I involuntarily yawned. Then I briefly shut my eyes to rest them. An underwater brightness flooded my eyelids, along with a huge leapfrogging of the mental current. Pent up choral and orchestral energies surged in a boiling white eruption. Unfathomable female voices rushed at me and withdrew. Mermaid tails retreated, silvery, blue-flecked. I swayed to an internal, aquarium rhythm that I could neither translate nor replicate. Harpsichord music played, so plangent and faint I wanted to weep, yet so hypothetical I could not allow my emotions to prevail in any meaningful way. And then it was as though a shimmering bank of silver and crystal credenzas exploded. I shuddered as everything turned to glittering shadow.
I heard Sarah speaking rapidly, her words unintelligible. Silence! I wanted to tell her. Silence! But I could not speak.
My mouth began watering. Nausea crept into the back of my throat. Fearing I might vomit, I opened my eyes. I was back in the kitchen, back with Sarah—staring at me with her strange eyes. I drank from the glass of water. My gulping reverberated through the kitchen. I set the glass down and glanced at my hands; they looked swollen and pink. I held them up and turned them this way and that.
“Something’s wrong with your hands,” Sarah said.
“I know, I know. Like I’m wearing gloves.”
Sarah started laughing. The laughter sounded vitriolic to my ears. I had no idea why she was being this way with me. I felt like I didn’t really know who she was. She had brought me the roses, though it wasn’t clear to me why. The roses throbbed in their vase. I could smell them. I disliked that smell. It reminded me of death. Even though they were white and pink, the roses reminded me of death.
“Why are you gritting your teeth?” Sarah asked.
“Tell me the truth why you came here?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Please tell me the truth,” I begged. “I can’t bear to be lied to anymore.”
“Take it easy now. It will all be fine.”
“And why did you dress like that? It hurts my eyes. It hurts my eyes!”
“I dressed up for your birthday. It’s your birthday, man. That’s also why I brought you the roses. You said you liked the roses.”
“It’s not my birthday. My damn birthday is in March.”
Sarah’s face looked very small at that moment, so small I couldn’t make out her features.
“It is March,” she said, in a tiny, insect voice.
What is this? I thought. What is wrong with me? What the hell is going on? I glanced at the roses and burst into tears.
“There there,” she said, touching my shoulder. “You’ll be okay. Give it a couple of hours.”