Wednesday, November 9, 2016

JØnathan Lyons, The White Noise Album (Pages 1-43)


Book cover image for The White Noise Album
Heroinum/Dirt Heart Pharmacy Press (2016)
by JØnathan Lyons 



The White Noise Album (Pages 1-43)


Suffer the Children
Included in the Dirt Heart Pharmacy Press anthology The 8th Madness.
Now.1
Ne slumps sullenly in nir chair, the gag firmly in place. I will have only a moment to escape the room before ne dooms me with a word — even some small vocalization. But Sasha is my child, my own flesh and blood, and I will not let nir starve. I change nir soiled diaper, then set the plate of steaming food before nir and ready myself to flee.
And I think, My God, ne’s only nine.
I slip my key into the mechanism on the rear of the gag, but hold the device itself in place.
Maybe I’ll get lucky. Maybe ne won’t try to speak to me.
Remember, I whisper, trying to sound soothing, no words. Use the pen and pad.
I let go of the gag and sprint for the door.
Pa —  ne gets out. The blow pounds me into the wall. I cannot breathe; ne’s knocked the wind out of me. I struggle through the door, shoving aside my shabby improvisational soundproofing: layers of towels and blankets duct-taped to the door, inside and out. The soundproofing was an impotent effort, though, like so many where my child is concerned.
As my breath slowly begins to return, I wonder what my child was trying to say to me.
Please?
No — Papa. My heart, so crumpled from all of this, implodes further. I clutch to my heart the locket Anna gave me at an earlier, happier time. Inside, anachronistically enough, is a small lock of her hair.
My baby, my child; ne just wanted some small comfort from me. Ne meant no harm, but, of course …
We could not seem to convince nir not to speak. No modes of communication worked efficiently, as without the full range of motion, nir hands could barely — and then, clumsily — use sign language, and writing on a notepad was slow, tedious. I did not blame her. Nir situation, one of rare communication, one of imprisonment, was inhumane. It was all we’d been able to come up with.
I told myself we would only need to keep nir bound and gagged until nir weaponized words faded. This, I hoped, would arrive with adolescence and the radical alterations that brings.

Fracture
            When ne was born, our child turned out to be a rare creature: A fully hermaphroditic baby.
            The delivery physician told us that it was customary to select a sex for children born between genders and for a surgical team to tailor a child to that decision. I was all for this solution, but Anna would have none of it. A stalwart believer in one’s right to self-determination, she demanded that our firstborn be allowed to choose whatever path s/he wanted. But I’d wanted a son, and she was keeping me from having one, and in I resented her for that, and that resentment took hold, and a fracture formed between us.
            Anna took on the tasks of choosing a gender-neutral pronoun set, which we integrated into our vocabularies so that we might avoid awkward constructions such as s/he. According to ta go-to Web source dedicated to the issue:

Ease of pronunciation: 4/5
Distinction from other pronouns: 4/5
Gender neutrality: 4.5/5

Although relatively obscure, this has become my favorite contender. It follows the formats of existing pronouns while staying more gender-neutral than any but Spivak – you could call it gender-balanced. “Ne” is n+(he or she), “nem” is n+her+him, “nir” isn+him+her. Because it has a different form for each declension, it doesn’t lean towards following male or female patterns – patterns made very obvious when you read works about obviously male characters with female-patterned pronoun forms. The letter “n” itself can stand for “neutral” – a property we are searching for. A reader may be uncertain how to pronounce “ne” at first glance, but pronunciation of the other forms is relatively obvious. One problem when reading aloud is that the “n” sometimes blends with words ending in “n” or “m,” but it didn’t occur as often and wasn’t as problematic as “zir” with words ending in an “s” or “z” sound.

            Anna decides to name nir Sasha, a German name for males, but one that’s often assigned to female babies in the West.

Before.1
            Sasha and I will head to the park. Anna, who has been noticeably distant from me these past weeks, is booked in a meeting for another hour and a half.
We are fortunate to have a company that specializes in playground equipment calling our tiny town its home: Our parks are exquisitely decked out.
            The day is cool, but not cold. The leaves scrape white noise across the pavement, electric in the unforgiving autumn glare. Before this day, I never suspected that the sun might have a mean streak.
            Sasha and I chase across the collage of slides and ladders and gangways that our benefactor corporation has designed to resemble a pirate ship. We’ve brought along a bag of our own, as well, bearing a soccer ball, wiffle ball and bat, even a spongy football. As we head down a high, bumpy slide, ne sprints to our sack and retrieves the soccer ball.
            “Catch!” ne yells, beaming. Ne drops the ball and gives it a hell of a kick. It sails over my head and across the park, toward the borough’s Main Street. Sasha decides to make it a race. We tear across the grass, and I let my pace flag a bit so ne can beat me to it, when I notice, in the front window of the coffee shop across the way, Anna.
            She is not alone. She has an expression of delight on her face that I have not witnessed in ages; her posture is relaxed. Sitting across from her at the small table, a fit, and younger-looking man smiles charmingly and holds her gaze. Their hands touch, then surreptitiously flit apart. Underneath the table, their feet and legs caress one another. I touch the locket again, almost a reflex, as the organs within my chest hammer. The lock of her hair comes from a happier time, a time when an extramarital relationship would have been unthinkable. Realizing who he is sinks my heart like a stone.
These are pleasures missing from my life these long months, and she is gifting them to another man. And not just any other man. All at once, I realize that my Sasha sees all of this, as well — sees nir mother clearly enjoying a romantic moment with nir uncle, my twin brother, Owen. My parents named me, phonetically, the opposite: I am called Noah.
Perhaps he reminds Anna of who and what I used to be. He is more in-shape than I am, and the effect does render him seemingly younger than me. I cannot deny that I’ve put on a few pounds, and that working out has never been my thing. I’ve let myself slide. I’m a lump.
            My child stares for a time at nir mother and nir uncle, nir face burning with fury at Anna. Then nir gaze turns to me. Ne is imploring me to interrupt, to acknowledge what we are witnessing, to do something. But I find myself immobile, terrified of what I am seeing, completely bereft of the will to act.
I pick up the ball and tell my child that it is time to go home.
            Nir expression of fury and alarm, that look of desperation for me to do something to set things right before our world breaks, undergoes a slow transmogrification. My child cannot accept nir ineffectual, impotent father, nor his failure to take even a single, minimal step to preserve their family, their world. Everything is about to shatter.

Now.2
When the first reports of this began to appear, we regarded it as a hoax, or possibly some sort of group hysteria. Words? How could words kill?
Sasha loved to sing. Like any tween, ne spoke endlessly on nir phone with riends. Lately, I’d noticed the sudden frequent dropping of F-bombs in those conversations. Thinking about it now, it would have been impossible not to; ne meant for us to hear nir new, taboo lexicon.
It was obnoxious — the sort behavior that manifests when the hippest thing a child can come up with is being unnecessarily rude. I leaned around the corner and gave a disapproving look, which ne answered with an expression I can only interpret as saying, Fuck off.
            Then, as Anna was preparing dinner one evening, I noticed her beauty, present even with her curls tied back and a sheen of steam and sweat glossing her face. I came near, hugging her from behind. My lovely Anna clamped my hands and shoved them away.
            I’m cooking, she said. But her tone was clear. I was losing her. As nearly as I could tell, the only reason she did not either leave or kick me out was for Sasha’s benefit.
In sprang our child. Hey-hey, I cheered. How’s Papa’s little favorite?
            Sasha’s retaliation was swift. With an expression of blazing contempt, nir eyes burned into mine. I yielded. I looked away. I was no good at this with nir at all, anymore, and nir talent for staring so fiercely that I backed down had manifested suddenly, out of nowhere.
            An uncomfortable realization began to set in. In school, ne learned mathematical processes that I — and, indeed, most people my age — could no longer recall. Ne was learning things that those of my generation had already forgotten and had no day-to-day use for, and ne was being tested on nir grasp of them, all while being denied society’s permission to even operate a simple motor vehicle. These realizations led nir to regard nirself as more intelligent than me, and more so than the vast majority of adults she met. Nir contempt for nir circumstances swelled.
Had my Papa’s child disappeared completely into this scathing, caustic tween?
            Anna bent down, away from the considerable white-noise racket of her stir-fry, went eye-to-eye with Sasha. Anaise beamed at nir mother.
What do you hear? Anna asked nir. It was simple, a vocabulary game we played. Sasha grinned, their faces not 10 inches apart.
Sizzle! Ne belted the word out at the top of nir lungs.
That word, Sizzle — so sibilant, all hissing and edges. A word like a blade, it sliced through Anna’s beauty like a shattering windshield. It was the first manifestation, not yet at its full force, and I think that that is why Anna survived, though Sasha’s word took a heavy toll: That sibilance slashed at Anna, a hurricane of razor blades, gashing open wounds and, ultimately, leaving her wheelchair-bound. 
Where Anna’s blood spilled, the kitchen transformed: Before I could even begin to wipe up the blood, the puddle, a deep cerise in color, began to grow. At first a handful of separate pools formed. Then those pools reached out to one another, slowly widening.Since that day it has slowly grown wider. I have tried lowering things in search of its bottom, but we can come by nothing as easily as before all of this, and when I upended a broom and dipped its handle in, I could not reach the bottom, and the slipped from my grasp and sank. The pool ranges from cobalt to robin’s-egg blue, and shimmers subtlely, a vivid palette that contrasts with ours. The palette of our world seems to have drained to colorless shades of gray. I can see nothing through the surface of the pool. A freshwater scent wafts now from the room.
I cautiously navigate its edges to prepare what food I can forage from the abandoned stores. The laws that hold world together have come unmoored.

Before.2
No one knows what this is. It began around the time that the Voyager 1 spacecraft crossed the heliopause and left our solar system behind. Some saw connections in the timing. Parents around the world struggled to cope and adapt as their children’s voices, without warning, suddenly became weaponized.
Some succumbed to religious speculations. Some new, or perhaps renewed, Curse of Babel. The gaunt, haunted, grubby man at the corner marked its coming by trading his large, homemade sign’s slogan from “The End Is Nigh!” to:
“No More Launches!
G-D Don’t Want Us
Up There In
HAEVIN!
Perhaps, they postulated, in crossing the heliosphere, humankind had gone too far for His liking. Perhaps this was punishment He was visiting upon us. He had a reputation for that sort of thing. They struck out in desperate supposition, laboring to make sense of the vile new normal that pitted parents’ survival against their children’s most meager utterances.

After Anna’s injury, I had to keep Sasha hidden. It quickly became clear that the streets were no longer safe for children. Roving packs of vigilantes, people who had avoided having offspring and who now felt besieged by them, would gun down a child on-sight, rather than risk being destroyed by a stray syllable. Often, the words felled them before they could get off a single shot.
Adults were never afflicted, never found that their speech had suddenly turned deadly. Not as far as we know, anyway. The change arrived so suddenly and with such devastating effect that civilization imploded. No communications, no television, no water or electricity. Children accidentally slaughtered their parents, teachers, any adults who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Babies’ nonsensical chatter chipped away at parents’ defenses, driving them out of their minds or into retreat. The body count is unknowable, but it has been devastating.

Now.3
Anna abides, though with no spark, no enthusiasm for life, her former beauty now an intricate cicatrix and her flesh a papery, ashen gray. I do my best to balance helping her onto the toilet, wiping away the shit afterward, and keeping us fed. Outside, the world rages with the savagery that comes when such panic takes hold of a population that society shatters.
Looters have taken nearly all of the food from the Kwik-E Mart, the nearest convenience store. I find a couple of cans of creamed corn. Before all this I wouldn’t have touched this stuff, but today, as I load them into my pack, the thought of it makes my stomach growl.
All of the stuff that’s perishable rotted long ago, and other looters have taken most of the food that never rots.
Back at home, I put another log in the fireplace and move Anna closer for the warmth, but she sits, unresponsive. I hear no sound coming from Sasha’s room, but to be as sure as I can, I wait a solid hour, listening, before I dare enter and replace nir gag. The arrangement isn’t ideal. I do not dare let nir speak, lest nir words make short work of us. I keep nir hands and feet secured to a chair. I leave enough length on the ropes that ne can feed nirself, but not so much that ne can reach nir gag. We can barely communicate. I left a book on sign language on the table before nir months ago, but tied down as ne is, imprisoned by nir own father, ne sits, vacant-eyed and crestfallen. This time ne hasn’t eaten a bite of the food I left with nir. I lock nir gag back in place.

In the kitchen, the pool in the floor’s center has grown to a width of about five feet, a reflective, shimmering azure mirror. I can still make my way around it, but that won’t be the case if it keeps widening. If our house had a basement, I would be able to examine it in more detail. But the place is built on swampy Florida land; the house stands on a concrete slab. The source of the pool, apart from its sanguinary beginning, is a mystery.
I struggle to open the cans of creamed corn with our dull, rusting can opener, then empty both cans into a  saucepan. This I rest on our grill in the fireplace. It’s not much, but it’s food.
When I bring a hot bowl of the corn to Sasha, I see tears flowing from eyes blazing with fury.
If I un-gag you now, I whisper, you’ll say something so loud and so sibilant it will shred the flesh from my bones.
But the rage in nir expression does not waver. Ne takes the pen in nir hand, hovers it over the notepad for a moment, then slashes out the word: MONSTER.
Fine, I tell nir. You can eat it cold, later, when you’re in a mood I can trust.
I rejoin Anna before the fire. A questioning expression forms on heruined face.
Tough love, I’m afraid, I say. But my wife turns away. She hasn’t a word for me — not a one.

Flow.1
The next morning, it is time to forage again. Our nearest neighbor was a professor emeritus of English, an immense man with thinning, wavy white hair who used to have dinner at our neighborhood pub every night. He has introduced himself to me a dozen times, with no recollection of the previous exchanges. I’ve been watching his house and, not having seen any activity there in more than a week, am contemplating pillaging there for whatever supplies he might have laid in.
Our days seem broken. I use terms such as day and night, but it is as though the planet has stopped its rotation; all day and all night, the sky and the air are an overcast, sullen gray.
I traverse the yard, entering the no-man’s land between ours and his. This I do with care, because this retiree may, in fact, still remain within his home, and he may well be armed, and he’ll certainly not find me familiar. The retiree’s name is Morrow.
As I approach his home, I see and hear no signs of life. In fact, as I move nearer, I can see that one of his windows has shattered and gone unrepaired. I risk a glance into the place, but find no trace of Morrow. All is quiet inside, and the fireplace, though it was lit at some point in the past, shows signs that it burnt out long ago, and it has gone untended.
I find the front door closed, but unlocked. Inside, after a slow, wary reconnaissance, I decide that the old man must have fled. I find a few canned goods in his kitchen and load them into a bag — canned vegetables, a few soups, nothing much, though I cannot help but notice that Morrow’s book shelves overflow with Atlases of rivers, streams, brooks, all manner of waterway. And it is a globe-spanning collection. As I try a final door, I am surprised to find stairs leading down: a basement! How unusual here, with our soggy soil. I brandish a fireplace lighter for what little light it can provide, and make my way down. The basement is musty and damp, with a plain concrete floor. Against the far wall, I spot sets of shelves that turn out to be Morrow's emergency supplies — a flashlight, a camping lantern, a gallon jug of water, and enough food to last us a few days. As I load what I can into my bag, the shelf I’m emptying wobbles a bit. I notice  that the shelves each have a set of wheels attached at the bottom. In fact, now that I’m looking down here, near the floor, I see a set of arcs in the dust on the floor, growing out from beneath the shelves. I take hold of the shelf before me and, with an effort, roll it aside.
I find myself staring into the darkness of what is clearly some sort of tunnel. Its sides, ceiling, and floor all resemble the unfinished rock- and concrete-face of an abandoned sewage system, though these are clearly meant for human passage. Closer inspection with my meager flame reveals walls a claustrophobic four feet apart, along with a low, rough ceiling.
Over the next while, I explore the tunnel and find it labyrinthine. Why, I puzzle, would daft old Morrow's unlikely basement have a hidden door leading into a labyrinth? I spot a faint sapphire glow ahead of me, a blue light of some sort, and I decided to investigate. Reaching it means a long, uncertain walk.
Abruptly, the cramped tunnel opens into a yawning chamber, an aqua brilliance radiating from overhead. The ceiling appears to be ice, but as I watch, I notice that its surface is ungulating, stirred by some force. Somehow, I am standing submerged in a pond, its surface a ceiling moving slowly, more like cold molasses than water. A passage branches away from it to my right, another to my left. The one on my left seems to be flowing into the pond, and the snail-paced current of the one to the right flows away. I can feel the current’s gentle pull. The floor of the passage is strewn with pebbles and silt, some of which glitter in the cobalt glow. Tiny debris drifts unhurriedly past, sparkling like tiny chunks of diamonds and ice.
Peering up through the shifting surface, I can make out the distorted façade of playground equipment, long fallen into disrepair, rusted and crumbling like everything else. The labyrinth — it is, somehow, a route decided by the flow of water through bodies and tributaries, ponds and creeks. That is enough for me to dub it the Flow, for shorthand.
I extinguish and pack my fireplace lighter. The Flow provides plenty of light. This space, somehow, seems to join the collective ebbs and tides, the current, the very flow of the waterways. And yet, I am walking normally, my feet on a floor of a million glimmering particles. I find things along the floor that seem out-of-place: A corroded piece of a ship bearing the identification “USS OKLAHOMA”; a mug and saucer, heavily encrusted with barnacles and shells, with “RMS Titanic” etched upon each; and shells, nacreous, phosphorous wonders from fresh- and saltwater creatures alike — all saturated in such color that they cast the washed-out world outside the Flow in a flat spectrum indeed.
I follow the passage whose current leads away, and after walking for more than an hour, my creek-passage opens into what has to be the river that runs alongside our town. I follow the stream’s path, retracing my steps, and decide to investigate a branch I’d passed along my way out. The water of the aqua ceiling, here, does not seem to be in as much motion. I approach another pond-chamber. The floor of this one is much the same as the others, though a familiar broom rests in the silt at the bottom of this one. And, peering up through a small pool, I slowly come to recognize a room. I am staring up, through the watery ceiling, and into the kitchen of my own home.
Suddenly, Morrow’s collection of waterway atlases makes a strange sort of sense to me. To follow the Flow, and to know where he was going, those maps would be useful.
Through the luminous ceiling I see cans and containers left open on the counter, and realize that Anna is the only one at home who could have gotten into the kitchen to get something to eat.
My heart soars: My wife will swoon with the news of my discovery, at all of its chromaticity and luminescence and wonder! I collect stones and shells, all glowing like gems. I will win her back. I begin stacking the stones, arranging them into geometrical patterns, making certain each placement is just so. I build a bower for my beloved — a wonder constructed of iridescent stones and glowing nacre. I can hardly wait to share my discovery of the labyrinth with her; so little new and exciting happens in our gray, cloistered world. I want to impress her, perhaps even delight her into some small conversation with my impossible find.
Then I realize that the discovery of this aquamarine labyrinth has immersed me in my curiosity so firmly that I’ve lost track of time. I’ve been stupid. I let the time get away from me. I have a seriously injured wife to care for and a reproachful, intemperate, and probably very hungry child to clean and feed.  This transmarine ceiling is far too high for me to reach up and through. I hurriedly retrace my path to Morrow's basement and swing the shelving back into place.
I heave open the door to our home, brimming with excitement.
Anna! I call out, dropping my bag of filched foodstuffs in the entryway. No response comes.
Anna?
How long have I been gone? A terrifying notion strikes: What if the food I’d seen on our kitchen counter wasn’t for Anna? What if I’ve been gone long enough that Anna felt it necessary to attempt to feed our child? The last time I’d laid eyes upon Sasha, the child had been in a vicious mood.
In a panic, I scramble down the hall toward Sasha’s room. A chill wind pushes back my hair. When I reach nir room, the door is open. The scene on the other side is one of explosive, glistening scarlet and dull gray light from outside. The wall has been blown away.
 Anna died here, shredded by our child’s deadly lexicon.
There, sitting on the bed ne no longer uses, sits Sasha, weeping silently.
I weigh the risk to myself, then search out the notepad and pen.
Sasha, I write, what happened?
Sasha, with a trembling hand, takes the pen and pad.
Mama told me she loved me, ne writes.
In this bizarre moment, I cannot process Anna’s demise; it does not seem either real or possible. I take back the pen and pad and write, What then?
Clearly reluctant to respond, my child regards the pad warily. After a long wait, ne reaches for the pen and pad. Ne protects me by allowing nirself neither to vocalize nir weeping nor to speak.
She brought me some food, ne writes. She took off the gag and untied me. Then she told me she loves me. I started to sign “I love you,” but then she told me it was ok — she hesitates — to say it out loud.
Already, the room has begun to take on a cerulean glimmer. I suspect an actual blueshift may be beginning — that time may behave differently within the flow of the waterways and the areas immediately surrounding them.

We sit silently together as I turn the hand-cranked generator on our emergency radio and strain to hear a signal. Sasha has voluntarily blocked nir urge to speak by cutting cardboard down into a shape ne can squeeze between nir teeth and lips — a trick ne learned from a schoolmate who suffered Tourette Syndrome.
There’s hardly ever anything to hear, but once in a while we catch a stray broadcast from someone with an emergency generator and a shortwave radio. The information that arrives is sometimes too outlandish to be believed. A survivalist hunkered down in the Hill Country outside Austin sometimes signs on. He calls himself the Minuteman. He is convinced that this is a zombie apocalypse. He does not leave his bunker. Every transmission from him sounds little more disconnected from the outside world than the previous one.
But his paranoia saved his life; laying in canned supplies, drinkable water, an emergency generator, and who knew what else, gave him and his wife a safe place to retreat to when the world as we knew it came crashing down.
I roll along the dial, searching ...

With my worn atlas, I open to the maps of Florida. I could find a path to Cape Canaveral easily enough, but the open road? That’s just asking for trouble. But Morrow’s trove of waterway atlases?
I’m going to forage, I tell my child. Ne sits in a chair near the window, reading by the colorless light from outside. Ne does not look up.

I return to Morrow’s basement. I haven’t told Sasha about the transmarine labyrinth yet. I don’t know whether ne’ll believe me when I do. But I want to see what more I can find among its watery branches. Above the fluid ceiling, I see what I can of the world. Everything moves in slow motion, as though it’s all swimming in syrup. I follow the branch that leads to the pool in our kitchen, and happen across a new passage. Through the surface, I watch as Sasha’s room comes into focus overhead. The blood spilled in Anna’s death has created a reflecting pool like the one in my kitchen.
I am thinking, now, of the canned foods I’m going to look for, when the current strengthens, the Flow lifting me from the floor. I reach for the wall, but only scrape up my hand in the effort. Tendrils of my blood swirl into my wake. My pulse quickens. This hasn’t happened in my earlier visits to the labyrinth, and I do not know where this rush of the Flow is heading.
Abruptly, the current ebbs and the water becomes — well — water again. It happens so suddenly that water rushes into my nose and throat. My clothes suddenly soaked and heavy, the Flow vomits me forth, and I land in the grass beside a storm-sewer ditch. The tiny trickle of man-made stream that runs through here could not possibly have been deep enough for me to submerge.
I’ve gulped so much water into my lungs that I spend the next few minutes vomiting it back up. When I’ve righted myself reasonably, I look to the shore. Just up from the ditch is a building that used to be a grocery. I plod a muddy trudge up and away from the sewer.
I negotiate my way around, checking for others. When I’m reasonably certain the coast is clear, I force open a locked rear door. The gut-wrenching stench of rotted meat and vegetables makes me wretch, but I have nothing left to expel.
I wring water from my bag, and it splatters to the floor. There are obviously no lights to turn on, so I make my way in what bland, flat daylight seeps in through the place’s translucent ceiling. I find rows and rows of foodstuffs in cans and jars. The produce and meat sections of the store were clearly left to rot when the world broke and the power failed. I load my bag, planning to carry as much preserved food as possible out, then figure out how to get it home from wherever I am.

Back at home, as I roll the tuning dial, searching, I hear a faint voice — so faint that I almost don’t catch it. I’ve been cranking the radio’s manual power and listening long enough that I’ve let myself space off; I’d stopped paying attention.
The signal is faint, but after rolling back over the frequencies a few times, I find it again. It’s another survivor. The sky is radiant, she reports. To anyone who can hear me — and I don’t know if anyone can — it is an eerie blue, sort of faint when I first noticed it, but I ventured out earlier today and witnessed the glow growing stronger. It seemed to be flowing toward a specific, single location. I had pepper spray, in case I found any trouble, but the streets here in Cape Canaveral were dead. This place is a ghost town.
The brightest concentration of the glow was almost neon. It converges from all directions at the bottom of Launch Platform 41, then shoots up and away, a line of light going straight up.
Canaveral LC-41?, I say. Sasha raises nir eyebrows, forming a curious expression. Ne lifts nir hands and shrugs nir shoulders. It’s faster than writing or signing.
Voyager 1 launched from LC-41, I tell her.
Ne rolls nir eyes at me and slashes out a message with nir pen and pad: WHY THE FUCK DOES THAT MATTER?!?
I feel foolish. Stupid. She has me. I don’t know.
The voice from the shortwave continues. Time is behaving oddly at the platform. The closer I got, the more things around me slowed down. I watched a bird hang standstill in midflight about a block ahead of me. I think it might stop altogether at the LC. It might even flow backwards.
The signal fades.
Cape Canaveral, I say. I can feel its pull, a current flowing toward LC-41.
Sasha regards me warily. We’ve settled into a necessarily tacit truce, but nir showing any sign of being impressed by me or my actions is rare. I can’t blame nir. If I were a dependent child and my lone surviving parent showed signs that he was losing his mind, I’d be worried.
But the Flow — why is it flowing toward the LC?
I think we need to go on a roadtrip, I tell Sasha.
Ne raises nir eyebrows dubiously at me. I open one of Morrow’s atlases to a map showing Cape Canaveral.
Come on, I say, I have something to show you. Something I’ve found.

I lead my silent child across the way to Morrow’s house, then through the door and down to the basement.
Stand back, I tell nir, and ne listens. I swing the shelving aside, unveiling the labyrinth and the bower I built to lure Anna.
I call it the Flow, I tell nir. Come on. I hold out my hand and, thankfully, ne takes it.
I don’t quite know how, but the flow seems to unite every river, stream, creek, whatever sort of waterway — the circulatory system of the planet — even blood, as it travels the labyrinth of the body. And the flow of time.
Now Sasha wears an expression of fear. I try to soothe nir, keeping my voice calm, authoritative. I don’t know what happened, but that woman on the shortwave? What she reported has me thinking that the old launchpads at Cape Canaveral are important, somehow. Come on. I’ll show you.
I lead my child along the passage and into the first chamber of the Flow.
I hug nir, pull nir close; ne stiffens a bit, but relaxes after a few seconds.
Hold on.
I hold the map of Cape Canaveral before me and concentrate on its location.
A moment later, the Flow’s current gathers us up from the floor and hurtles us along a vortex of the liquid that we can, inexplicably, breathe.
When the flow ejects us in a crashing wave, we find ourselves gasping, spitting water, just outside the Launch Complex. Sasha tugs excitedly at my shirt sleeve, and points up.
The sky overhead, the ground beneath us, everything radiates a neon blue hue, all of it flowing toward the one I recognize as LC-41. There, the Flow gathers at the base of the platform, turning upward in a bolt of brilliance, into the sky. And I know what is at the other end of that beam of light: It’s Voyager 1, stationary out there, somewhere, anchored by the Flow to our broken world. Voyager, the flow of time, the impossible physics that made the children’s words lethal, all of it is part of the Flow, somehow.
Without thinking about it, I close a hand around my locket. But if time is behaving strangely at the LC — I say. Come on.
I lift my child to nir feet and we set off for the center of the Flow: LC-41.
At the base of the Launch Complex, I can see everything slowing more and more, the closer we come. Sasha pulls on my sleeve again, shaking nir head.
I need to try something, I tell nir. Ne swallows, then nods uncertainly.
We approach a bird, stationary in flight in the air before us, shining like a jeweled sculpture in brilliant sunshine.
I fumble for my locket and open it, extracting the lock of Anna’s hair. This I plunge forward, ahead of the bird, to where the effect might be even stronger. And with a quiver, the lock of hair begins to lengthen. Sasha shakes my sleeve, pointing at the hair. It’s growing.
I know, I say.
And as we watch, the hair grows. The gray begins to disappear from it. And it begins to take on the shape of a woman, the radiant cobalt glow becoming blinding.
Noah? she says.
In the heart of the glow stands Anna, younger than she was when Sasha’s loving, deadly words struck nir down. Younger, in fact, than she had been when she began to become distant toward me.
It’s me, I tell her. It’s us.
I release the lock and place a hand on my wife’s shoulder, leading nher out, toward us.
Sasha weeps, but here, in the heart of the Flow, the sound does not transform into an attack on the flesh. Mama! she says, I am so, so sorry.
For what? Anna asks.
Nevermind, I say. She does not remember the events leading to nir death, nor, apparently, the distance that had grown between us before the world as we knew it collapsed. I place a hand on Sasha’s shoulder now, and we shared a long, heartfelt hug.
In the distance, I see a young man, immobile mid-leap, one who is somehow familiar. After some time, if there is such a thing in this place, I recognize Morrow, returned to youth and health, stationary in the Flow.
I don’t know how this works, I tell them. Present and past seem to have collapsed into this moment. We might not be able to leave the Flow. We might have to stay right here, at the heart of the Flow and the fracture, where Anna can be gone, yet alive, and Sasha can be both male and female, or neither.

Minnows
“Minnows," first appeared in Writing that Risks: New Work from Beyond the Mainstream, Red Bridge Press, July 2013, and was nominated for a Pushcart Award

fishie 1.1  "Fed your fish yet?" our mother asks. I say I will. Blue follows after me like a stink I can't scrub off. I pick up the little container full of flakes and Blue says, "How much do we give 'em?"
"A pinch," I say.
"How much is that?”
"What? It's a pinch."
"A big pinch or a little pinch?'
"Jeez, Blue, I don't know."
Blue is quiet for a few seconds, so I pinch a pinch of fish food and throw it on the top of the water.
"What's fish food taste like?" he asks.

2.1 We're family, and families solve their own problems.

0.11   Our mother is awake, but her eyes are dark all around and the skin there wrinkles dry in a web of wrinkles. I tell her I'll make mac and cheese for dinner later and she tells us to sit down.

minnows 1.1  Pop-Pop comes home from work with two smallish goldfish in a baggie full of cloudy water. "Pets for my boys!" he yells, "My little men! You two get to name 'em." Pop-Pop goes to the back porch and fishes out a glass tank I always knew was there but didn't know was for fish. He takes it out the back door and hoses it out out back, then brings it back in and sets it on the little table in the dining room. He gives my brother and me each a pan and says, "Fill 'er up!"

5.1 Later, I make our last box of mac and cheese and some powdered milk. There's still a little powdered milk left after. July is burning out from under us and our Pop-Pop is gone and I can't make our mother listen. I leave a bowl of mac and cheese outside her door, but know that in the morning it will be un-ate.
In the morning, the bowl of mac and cheese is right where I left it. Our mother hasn't touched it and she still isn't getting out of bed.

1.1a  In the night, I dream of Pop-Pop attacking the house, smashing in all of the ground-floor windows and yelling our mother's name.

4.1  In the morning I wake up to someone knocking on the front door. Outside is my Uncle Jim. He smiles and says "Mornin'. Your Pop-Pop here?"
"No," I tell him. "My mother says he might not come back."
"Where's your phone?"
"We don't have to tell anyone," I say.

3.1 In the morning I wake up to someone knocking on the front door. Outside, Gwen-Doe-Lyne and a cop car have pulled up.
Our mother is shaking.
"What'd you do to our mother?" I say.
She says, "I didn't do nothing. Your pop happened to her."
Our mother is silent and shaking. The cop is actually helping her up the front steps.

2.2 We're family, and families solve their own problems. We police our own. It's no one else's business.

0.10   Our mother is awake, but her eyes are dark all around and the skin there wrinkles dry in a web of wrinkles. I tell her I'll make mac and cheese for dinner later and she tells us to sit down. "Your Pop-Pop isn't probably coming back," she tells us.
I say, "What?"
"Your Pop-Pop," she says, and she shakes when she breathes, "isn't probably coming back."

minnows 1.2  Pop-Pop comes home from work with two smallish goldfish in a baggie full of cloudy water. "Pets for my boys!" he yells, "My little men! You two get to name 'em." Pop-Pop goes to the back porch and fishes out a glass tank I always knew was there but didn't know was for fish. He takes it out the back door and hoses it out out back, then brings it back in and sets it on the little table in the dining room. He gives my brother and me each a pan and says, "Fill 'er up!"
We do. Pop-Pop puts some drops in the tank and we float the baggie in there a while, then let out the fish. "Goldfish?" I say. "Dime feeders," he says to me

Interstitial 1.1  It's even hotter today, and getting worse and the air heavier.
Hotter and hotter, it's getting late in June and our mother and Pop-Pop fight harder and drink harder against the heat. They go to bed yelling and wake up in sweat.
Our mother tries to run a good house, keep a good home, she tells us that and she makes us dust and do dishes and pick up to show us how it's done right. Dinner, our mother always tells us, is a sit-down meal at the table at 5:30 sharp. Last time I stayed out of sight behind her garden and pretended I didn't hear her calling, she put me in bed — hungry! — at seven o'clock! I just laid there, bored and hungry.

1.1b  In the night, I dream of Pop-Pop attacking the house, smashing in all of the ground-floor windows and yelling our mother's name. Gwen-Doe-Lyne is Our Mother’s friend. She’s still around, and that seems to make him angrier, 'cause she's an outsider. She don't understand.

0.9  Our mother is awake, but her eyes are dark all around and the skin there wrinkles dry in a web of wrinkles. I tell her I'll make mac and cheese for dinner later and she tells us to sit down. "Your Pop-Pop isn't probably coming back," she tells us.
I don't know what I hear, but that's what she sounded like she said. I say, "What?"
"Your Pop-Pop," she says, and she shakes when she breathes, "isn't probably coming back."
Blue sobs next to me.

minnows 2.1  My brother and me cross the empty field that's growing where it looks like a house should be there but it isn't, past the house that's haunted and its broke-out windows, and grab super-sour gooseberries from the gooseberry bush on our dirt path. The dirt path goes back into the woods here, and down at the end of it is the sewer grate and the big concrete pipe that pours into it. It's warm enough I'm sure I'm getting more pets today. The minnows will be swimming around in the sewer-pond, where concrete spills onto rocks and mud. Minnows maybe. Frogs even, maybe.

A Friday and hotter and the musty-wet air all over us, and our mother is in the kitchen making pork cutlets and hamburger helper and cut canned corn. She runs a good house and she keeps a good home. And dinner is at 5:30. And when it's 102 degrees out and the blacktop melts between your toes until your feet are too hot to stay standing on it, and the hot comes up in waves that make the air move like water, and Pop-Pop hasn't made it home by 5:15 to get cleaned up for a sit-down meal at the table, her anger hangs in the air, thick with sweat. And at 5:20, the whole house has got hotter, like it's gonna blow apart. And at 5:45, when Pop-Pop pulls in the old white car, she's just waiting. She served the rest of us at 5:30, but she's just waiting.

In the tank, the goldfish chase and the water is getting hazy. Pop-Pop is a smog of Pabst Blue Ribbon and cigarettes and our mother's patience with him ran out long before he got his last ones for the road.The woods are thicker here than back in the neighborhood, by the houses. But the pond is our secret. We can be pirates here, or Indians. We like pirates more, so we named it Pirate's Cove. I catch tadpoles and put pond water in my jar for them, then close the lid tight.

1.1c  In the night, I dream of Pop-Pop attacking the house, smashing in all of the ground-floor windows and yelling our mother's name. Gwen-Doe-Lyne is Our Mother’s friend. She’s still around, and that seems to make him angrier, 'cause she's an outsider. She don't understand.
Our mother tries to leave us. She's's stuck as we are. I wake to Gwen-Doe-Lyne and my mother smoking in the kitchen. "Careful there junior," she says, "Lotta glass broke here last night."

5.2 Later, I make our last box of mac and cheese and some powdered milk. There's still a little powdered milk left after. July is burning out from under us and o Our Pop-Pop is gone and I can't make our mother listen. I leave a bowl of mac and cheese outside her door, but know that in the morning it will be un-ate.
In the morning, the bowl of mac and cheese is right where I left it. Our mother hasn't touched it and she still isn't getting out of bed, and our Pop-Pop still isn't around.

4.2  In the morning I wake up to someone knocking on the front door. Outside is mMy Uncle Jim. He smiles and says "Mornin'. Your Pop-Pop here?"
"No," I tell him. "My mother says he might not come back."

"Dinner at 5:30 means dinner at 5:30 in this house!" she shrieks. My ears ring. Blue starts to put his fingers in his ears, but I shake my head and make an I'm serious face and he stops.And Pop-Pop is pleading with her, telling her he's sorry, he had car trouble, and she says bullshit, I smell the bar on you, and I have to admit she's right, already I noticed that, but I'm not no way gonna say it. And it explodes. They explode. They yell and she throws hot food and a skillet at him and Blue and I know we can't be around in the middle of one of these and we run for it.

Uncle Jim looks afraid, real afraid for a second, then wipes it off his face. "Where's she?" I point into the house.
Inside, the dishes have piled high and crusty and stuff is all over the carpets and floors.
"My God," says Uncle Jim. "Have you been eating?"
"Yeah!" I say. "I'm the man of the house now. I've been cooking."
Jim looks around at the dishes and the mess. "You're the man?"
"Yeah," I say, "Pop-Pop told me so before he left. It's family business, no one else's. We don't have to tell anyone. Especially not those pigs."
"Where's your phone?"
"We don't have to tell anyone," I say.
"Show me."

1.2  In the night, I dream of Pop-Pop attacking the house, smashing in all of the ground-floor windows and yelling our mother's name. Gwen-Doe-Lyne is Our Mother’s friend. She’s still around, and that seems to make him angrier, 'cause she's an outsider. She don't understand.
Our mother tries to leave us. Our mother, though, will not leave us, not while that lid is held down tight. She's's stuck as we are. I wake to Gwen-Doe-Lyne and my mother smoking in the kitchen. "Careful there junior," she says, "Lotta glass broke here last night."
"Where's Pop-Pop?" I say.
"Where he belongs," says Gwen-Doe-Lyne. Our mother's eyes are unfocussed, reflecting.

0.8 Our mother is awake, but her eyes are dark all around and the skin there wrinkles dry in a web of wrinkles. "Your Pop-Pop isn't probably coming back," she tells us.
I don't know what I hear, but that's what she sounded like she said. I say, "What?"
"Your Pop-Pop," she says, and she shakes when she breathes, "isn't probably coming back."
Blue sobs next to me, and then the words are just shooting out of me. "Let him come back," I say.

minnows 2.2  When our mother sees us, her eyes are puffy even though it's lunch time. The hit one isn't much more puffy than the not-hit one. But sitting there, in the kitchen, in rollers and a cloud of smoke from her smokes, she looks tired. Then her eyes find us through the clouds, and they get wide.
I hold up my jar and holler, "Tadpoles!" The tadpoles make me so happy I know they'll have to make her happy too. In the tank, one fish runs, the other chases.
Our mother pinches the cigarette between two fingers and points to the back porch. "Not in my house," she says, shaking her big, roller-lumpy head. "I keep a good home." She grinds out the butt, that's what my Pop-Pop calls it, her butt, in the too-full ashtray. She sneezes and ash swirls in the air, real slow, the sun through it like a giant sword.
I turn for the porch, but the jar slips and smashes on the floor, dumping sewer-pond water and breaking glass and flapping tadpoles in a big, slow crash.

3.2  In the morning I wake up to someone knocking on the front door. Outside, Gwen-Doe-Lyne and a cop car have pulled up.
Our mother is silent and shaking. She has long scratches on her hands and her feet and her arms and her legs with black string like bugs' legs sticking out down both sides. Stitches. I've had stitches.
"What'd you do to our mother?" I say.
She says, "I didn't do nothing. Your pop happened to her."
The cop is actually helping her up the front steps.

0.8a  “I want him back. I want things back the way they were.”
2.3 We're family, and families solve their own problems. None of the other kids talk about their pops hitting their moms — that's not how we do it. We police our own, no cops, Pop-Pop said to us. Even Uncle Jim beats up Pop-Pop in private. It's no one else's business.

4.3  My Uncle Jim smiles and says "Mornin'. Your Pop-Pop here?"
"No," I tell him. "My mother says he might not come back."
Uncle Jim looks afraid, real afraid for a second, then wipes it off his face. "Where's she?" I point int and stuff is all over the carpets and floors.
"My God," says Uncle Jim. "Have you been eating?"
"Yeah!" I say. "I'm the man of the house now. I've been cooking."
Jim looks around at the dishes and the mess. "You're the man?"
"Yeah," I say, "Pop-Pop told me so before he left. It's family business, no one else's. We don't have to tell anyone. Especially not those pigs." Uncle Jim jumps a bit at my words. He knocks on our mother's door, says her name. Then he comes back to me.
"Where's your phone?"
"We don't have to tell anyone," I say.
"Show me."
I lead him into the kitchen and show him the phone on the wall. He picks it up, then  gives it a funny look and hits the button a few times. Then he puts it back, shaking his head.
"Do you have any friends who live close?" he says.

0.7  Our mother is awake, but her eyes are dark all around and the skin there wrinkles dry in a web of wrinkles. "Your Pop-Pop isn't probably coming back," she tells us.
I say, "What?"
"Your Pop-Pop," she says, and she shakes when she breathes, "isn't probably coming back."
Blue sobs next to me, and then t The words are just shooting out of me. "Let him come back," I say. She says, "I don't want to."

minnows 2.3  When o Our mother sees us, her eyes are puffy even though it's lunch time. The hit one isn't much more puffy than the not-hit one. But sitting there, in the kitchen, in rollers and a cloud of smoke from her smokes, she looks tired. Then her eyes find us through the clouds, and they get wide.
"How the hell did you boys get so filthy? It's not even lunchtime!" she says.  I look down at my shirt and see the dirt and mud. Blue is worse, though, he's got mud in his ears somehow.
I turn for the porch, but the jar slips and smashes on the floor, dumping sewer-pond water and breaking glass and flapping tadpoles in a big, slow crash. Our mother hits the roof, screaming at us to look at the mess we made and clean up the mess we made. Blue bolts out the front door and I scramble out the screen window with no screen in it, onto the thing that's supposed to hold up an air conditioner, and away. I sneak a big canning jar from Pop-Pop’s rusty lawnmower shed. I catch more tadpoles at Pirate's Cove and chase minnows. Blue finds me there after a while, tells me he wants to go home. "Not yet," I say. "Let her cool off. You see how she goes after Pop-Pop. We'll go later."

0.7a  “I want him back. I want things back way they were!”
“.were they way the back things want I”

0.6  Our mother is awake, but her eyes are dark all around and the skin there wrinkles dry in a web of wrinkles. "Your Pop-Pop isn't probably coming back," she tells us.
I say, "What?"
"Your Pop-Pop," she says, and she shakes when she breathes, "isn't probably coming back."
The words are just shooting out of me. "Let him come back," I say. She says, "I don't want to."
This is insane. We're a family.
I make each word weigh the same. "Let. Him. Come. Back."
"I don't want to," she says, and her voice is sad, so sad.
"Why are you so sad? All you have to do is let him come back," I say.
Later, I make our last box of mac and cheese and some powdered milk. There's still a little powdered milk left after. July is burning out from under us and our Pop-Pop is gone and I can't make our mother listen. I leave a bowl of mac and cheese outside her door, but know that in the morning it will be un-ate.

1.3  In the night, I dream of Pop-Pop attacking the house, smashing in all of the ground-floor windows and yelling our mother's name. Gwen-Doe-Lyne is Our Mother’s friend. She’s still around, and that seems to make him angrier, 'cause she's an outsider. She don't understand.  the four of us are on a beach at Lake Okoboji. We're swimming in Lake Okoboji, water that's clear like glass. The rocks on the bottom are exactly the shape and size of turtles, and I can barely pick one up to swim with it to the top to prove to everyone it's a turtle, and when I get there, it has turned into a rock to fool me. I try and try, but the turtles keep turning into rocks until finally my Pop-Pop, shaking his head, tells me to knock it off.
Then we're all four, our mother, Blue, me, and my Pop-Pop in the lead, swimming, but the water is dirtier than Okoboji, because it's Pirate's Cove, and we're minnows, and gigantic people appear right over top of us and try to catch us. Pop-Pop and our mother chase all wild, one thumping into the other, both hurting both, till one, Pop-Pop leaves through the roof of the pond and swims up, out, and away. In the commotion the water has gotten swirled up and hard to see through, but a big blade of sun cuts down through the swirl. My lungs burn and a net scrapes across my face and body and sploosh, I'm in a fish tank. With a thunk, a rock the size and shape of a turtle lands on the lid — a rock bigger than any of us.
Our mother tries to leave us. Our mother, though, will not leave us, not while that lid is held down tight. She's's stuck as we are. Gwen-Doe-Lyne says, "Lotta glass broke here last night."
"Where's Pop-Pop?" I say.
"Where he belongs," says Gwen-Doe-Lyne. Our mother's eyes are unfocussed, reflecting. Like a fish’s.

0.6a  “I want things back way they were!”


0.5  The words are just shooting out of me. "Let him come back," I say. She says, "I don't want to."
This is insane. We're a family.
I make each word weigh the same. "Let. Him. Come. Back."
"I don't want to," she says, and her voice is sad, so sad.
"Why are you so sad? All you have to do is let him come back," I say.
"It isn't that easy," she says. I look around, and I want it all to make sense and it doesn't. The fish tank is thick with algae and swirled-up stuff. Our Mother drifts, her eyes dull like a deep-sea fish's, one that doesn't use its eyes much. It still doesn't make sense.
"I'll make us mac and cheese," I say. In my head I can hear Pop-Pop, my Pop-Pop, telling Blue to listen to me, telling me to take care of our mother, telling me I'm the man of the house. "It'll be okay. I'm the man of the house." Don't take too much shit from'er, but take care of'er, he'd said.

Interstitial 1.2  In the woods along our path, Boy-O Sparks and the other older boys swing and jump through the trees, hooting like chimps. When he's around the older boys, Boy-O doesn't want much to do with us. We know to stay out later still when we see the red lights flashing from our place. We catch lightning bugs and smear their glowing stuff on our faces for war paint, until the lightning bugs aren't out anymore and the glowing stuff doesn't glow anymore. We get back late to no one at home. Broken dishes and food exploded all over. I dig around in the kitchen and find us peanut butter and jelly and make us one-slice Wonderbread sandwiches and wild berry Kool-Aid. Blue seems real, real sad, but he gets a red Kool-Aid mustache, and when I show him in the mirror, he laughsThe phone rings but I don't pick it up. No one told me what we're supposed to tell anyone who asks. And like Pop-Pop said, we're a family. We fix our own problems. They're no one else's business.Blue and I got lots of bug bites outside tonight. I find the pink lotion our mother uses for those and paint them all pink.

minnows 2.4 We don't dare go back for lunch. I let Blue drop minnows he catches in my jar with my tadpoles. The tadpoles won't mind. It keeps him too busy to worry about going back yet.
When we get back, we go in through the back door and I put this jar on a shelf on the back porch real, real careful. Blue says to me something about fish needing air, and that's stupid, fish breathe water, so I tell him to shut up.
Our mother is in bed again, and Pop-Pop is still.  In the kitchen I find Wonderbread and steak sauce and make us no-steak steak sandwiches. I mix an envelope of Kool-Aid in a plastic pitcher in the sink and stir with my hand in almost to the elbow to reach the bottom. The one goldfish hits the lid so hard it flips a little open, then claps back closed.

minnows 3.1  When our mother wakes for the afternoon she takes a long, long time showering. There's sticky red on the counter where I spilled pouring us Kool-Aid, and ashy mud near the ashtray. Our mother steps from her room, calls us gross little monsters, and orders us to the back yard. She hoses the mud off of us and says our clothes are done for.
In the night, I hear the goldfish chasing, chasing, and once in a while, the thump of the one or the other one hitting the lid.

0.5a  “I want things back way they were!”

0.4  Our mother is awake, but her eyes are dark all around and the skin there wrinkles dry in a web of wrinkles. "Your Pop-Pop isn't probably coming back," she tells us.
I say, "What?"
"Your Pop-Pop," she says, and she shakes when she breathes, "isn't probably coming back."
The words are just shooting out of me. "Let him come back," I say. She says, "I don't want to."
This is insane. We're a family.
I make each word weigh the same. "Let. Him. Come. Back."
"I don't want to," she says, and her voice is sad, so sad.
"Why are you so sad? All you have to do is let him come back," I say.
Later, I make our last box of mac and cheese and some powdered milk. There's still a little powdered milk left after. July is burning out from under us and our Pop-Pop is gone and I can't make our mother listen. I leave a bowl of mac and cheese outside her door, but know that in the morning it will be un-ate.
Everything zeroes here.

minnows 3.2  In the morning, on the back porch, the tadpoles and the minnows float at the top of the closed-lidded jar. In the dining room the goldfish pester each other.

0.4a  I make each word weigh the same. "Let. Him. Come. Back."
"I don't want to," she says, and her voice is sad, so sad.
"Why are you so sad? All you have to do is let him come back," I say.
"It isn't that easy," she says. I look around, and I want it all to make sense and it doesn't. The fish tank is thick with algae and swirled-up stuff. Our Mother drifts, her eyes dull like a deep-sea fish's, one that doesn't use its eyes much. It still doesn't make sense.
Everything zeroes here. in four …

fishie 1.2  What's fish food taste like?! This I had not thought of asking. "It smells like Pirate's Cove mud," I say.
"Yeah, but what does it taste like?"
"It's good. Like catfish. Here, stick out your tongue."
Blue smiles and out comes his tongue. I smear it with a really, really big pinch, and Blue's smile disappears in a burst of barf that covers his chin, but doesn't go anywhere else. It won't be good if our mother sees it. I drag him into my brother's and me's bedroom and our bathroom and washcloth him off.

0.3  Our Mother drifts, her eyes dull like a deep-sea fish's, one that doesn't use its eyes much. It still doesn't make sense.
"I'll make us mac and cheese," I say. In my head I can hear Pop-Pop, my Pop-Pop, telling Blue to listen to me, telling me to take care of our mother, telling me I'm the man of the house. "It'll be okay. I'm the man of the house." Don't take too much shit from'er, but take care of'er, he'd said.
Our mother says my name, Pop-Pop's name, and I explode, looking for weakness.
Everything zeroes here. in four three …

4.4  "We don't have to tell anyone," I say.
I lead him into the kitchen and show him the phone on the wall. He picks it up, then  gives it a funny look and hits the button a few times. Then he puts it back, shaking his head.
"Do you have any friends who live close?" he says.
I nod. "Boy-O and his family the Sparkses are only a mile and a half or so down."
Uncle Jim thumbs through the phone book and writes out a number on our notepad and hands it to me. "I need you to go to Boy-O's house and tell his pop you have an emergency, and to get an ambulance here."

0.2  Our Mother drifts, her eyes dull like a deep-sea fish's
"I'll make us mac and cheese," I say. In my head I can hear Pop-Pop, my Pop-Pop, telling Blue to listen to me, telling me to take care of our mother, telling me I'm the man of the house. Don't take too much shit from'er he'd said.
Our mother says my name, Pop-Pop's name, and I explode, looking for weakness.
three two …
 
0.1  Our mother says my name, Pop-Pop's name, and I’m explode, looking for weakness in her. I point to her cuts from the flying glass.
"You let him come back or I'll hit you in the stitches!"
 Our mother's mouth opens big and round for a second, then closes, and her eyes glaze over, dead like a carp's. Her mouth opens again, big and round, but I can't hear any air going in or out. She stands, wobbly, and drifts into her room, closing the door. Then we hear the click of the lock locking.
two one …

minnows 3.3 In the dining room the goldfish pester each other. They're going crazy in that tank.

0.0 I point to her Our Mother’s cuts from the flying glass.
"You let him come back or I'll hit you in the stitches!"
 Our mother's mouth opens big and round for a second, then closes, and her eyes glaze over, dead like a carp's. Her mouth opens again, big and round, but I can't hear any air going in or out. She stands, wobbly, and drifts into her room, closing the door. Then we hear the click of the lock locking.

3.3  In the morning I wake up to someone knocking on the front door. Outside, Gwen-Doe-Lyne and a cop car have pulled up.
The cop is actually helping her up the front steps.
"You the man of the house?" says the cop. He seems friendly. That's not right. I nod, wary.
"Your pop gave her quite a scare tonight," says the cop.
I nod. We police our own, I think.
"Know where he's keeping himself?" says the cop. I knew it. He wants us to break ranks, rat each other out. "Nope," I say, then realize it's true. Pop-Pop was never happy to see the cops visit. Why should I be any different?

4.5  "We don't have to tell anyone," I say.
I lead him into the kitchen and show him the phone on the wall. He picks it up, then  gives it a funny look and hits the button a few times. Then he puts it back, shaking his head.
"Do you have any friends who live close?" he says.
 I nod. "Boy-O and his family the Sparkses are only a mile and a half or so down."
Uncle Jim thumbs through the phone book and writes out a number on our notepad and hands it to me.  "I need you to go to Boy-O's house and tell his pop you have an emergency, and to get an ambulance here."
"Aye-aye, cap'n," I say and salute him. It’s a game: I'll be a spy behind Nazi German lines on a mission.
He watches me for a second, then returns my salute.
"Go now," he says.

The Good Life

"The Good Life" first appeared in Phoebe – A Journal of Literature and Arts, Vol 36, Issue 1, Spring 2007.

We'd been laying low, trying to fly below the radar, dodging the landlord we owed nearly a year of back rent. We opted to live the good life, staying in a Days Inn with a pool. We guarded what little actual cash we had. I didn't have any money in the account, but I still had checks.
That year had gone by so fast, with me in and out of work and mostly out. I slept off a hangover, missing my first shift at a Burger King, and that made my eyes tear up. It was dark in the bedroom, that kind of lifeless gray you get when the light of a cloudy day reflects off the snow. We'd had a snowstorm overnight, and the house was fucking freezing.
"Jesus Christ," I said, feeling about as much self-worth as I thought the voluntarily homeless must, "I can't even keep a job at Burger King." I had $37 to my name and no paycheck on the horizon. It was winter, and in Iowa, they can't cut your utilities while it's still freezing out, so I could let that bill slide a while.
The whole thing pushed me to the edge; I was ready to lose it, promise to clean up and take the straight and narrow right there on the spot. But there she was to keep me from any hasty decisions. Lee Ann. The housemate who came to the dilapidated dive on Dodge and decided to stay. She'd just come walking up the walk one day late in the summer. Shitty, my bartender over at a place called the Fox Head, had hired her to wait tables. When she'd mentioned that she was looking for an apartment, he'd sent her my way. I didn't remember telling Shitty that I needed roommates, but I was perched at his bar a lot in those days, and didn't always recall absolutely everything I told him.
So anyway, right, Shitty sent her strolling down the cracked sidewalk out front of my place one painfully sunny late-summer morning as I sat with Larry. We were wincing our way through a Maxwell House, post-acid hangover. I was trying to read a week-old newspaper, but you know that post-acid funk, all greasy and skin-crawly, your insides feeling all squeezed. Your brain just doesn't work right. I was mostly just spacing off.
She grinned at us, told us her name. She took one look at the place and decided that the $100 rent was right for her. Larry seemed a little uncomfortable with the idea of a girl roommate even then, thinking back on it.
A prodigious flow of Old Style across the bar from Shitty that first night, and we closed out the bar for a two a.m. walk to the place we all three now called home. Though I suspect the beer had something to do with it, she decided that first night it was time to fuck me.
Like I said, that was late in the summer. I was a night janitor part time. I cleaned a building that belonged to Kirkwood College. During the day, people who wanted to stay in school after high school came to the small brick satellite on Maiden Lane; at night, loaded up on whatever I could afford, I came through and cleaned up after them. I emptied their garbage cans, bleached their toilets and urinals, swept and mopped their floors. I wondered if they ever thought about where the garbage and stains went. No one from the school was ever around when I showed up for work.
My boss, Danno, came by unannounced sometimes to show me where I'd missed a cobweb, things like that. Guess it made him feel smart, necessary, like no one but him could see a cobweb and have that light bulb come on in their head, telling them that it should come down. I didn't keep that job long. With a meager drinking budget from the job, I needed to cut back somewhere. Lee Ann and me decided to room together and sublet the extra. The idea was, that would drop the rent to $50 each, except that we never found anyone to take my old room, so it just stayed empty.
So, the Burger King morning, I was about to make some barrel-chested proclamation that enough was enough or something and go out and try to save my new job. I had a splitting hangover headache and bruises on my chest and shoulders where Lee Ann had punched me the night before in a fight over something. I don't remember what. But then, like a champ, she came through.
"Wait," she said, smiling. She had a little dried blood on her lower lip. I didn't see it until she smiled, and I didn't remember hitting her. Lee Ann disappeared downstairs, returning with eight bottles of Rheinlander, the cheapest beer available in the state, as far as I know. After a struggle, she managed to get the bedroom window open; she pushed the storm window open, lined up six beers in the windowsill, and closed the inside window. Instant bedside beer fridge.
She opened a bottle for me, the lid dropping to the floor and rolling under the bed. "To your last day of work flipping burgers," she said. "Cheers!"
Lee Ann could brighten up your day like that. I was back from the brink. She'd taken a cold, gray winter day and let me see the beauty of the newfallen snow. Traffic hadn't even blackened it yet.
"Cheers," I agreed.
"I think we still have some acid in the fridge," she said. "Wanna get lost today?"
I shrugged, happy. "Doesn't look like I'm going to work."
She said, "Not in weather like this." We clinked our bottles together. Things were looking up.

Lee Ann

Lee Ann was not a small girl. She wasn't real, real fat, not really. She just had some extra. Big hips — birthin' hips, my old man would have called them, but I hadn't seen him in seven years, so him seeing her to call her hips birthin' hips didn't seem very likely. Good-size tits. She smoked Marlboro Reds to spite her folks and keep the weight off, said she gained 15 pounds the last time she tried to quit. A weird little nob of a nose. She was the kind of girl people call "almost pretty."
Tough times. I couldn't make enough to both get loaded and pay the bills, so I did what I could to game the system: juggled bills, waited for winter to come so I could stop paying the utilities, turned off the stereo and kept quiet when the landlord came knocking. But Shitty always slipped us a few freebies among the beers we ordered. That helped us stretch the dollars.
Now I remember what the fight was about. Lee Ann hated rubbers. Said neither of us could feel anything with one on. So she'd taken to demanding a few lunges without one. She started out cautious — "Come on, just one," then "only a couple," and so on. But the count had gotten high and I was telling her to get off me, pushing her away, and she just kept holding on. She finally started hitting me. It was like she was possessed. Or maybe I hit her. Yeah, I think that might be how it went — I think maybe I hit her first. I'm pretty sure I came while we were fighting. Man, I wasn't happy about that. A shadow from our little game of Russian Roullette and its consequent fight was still with me that next morning, but like I told you, Lee Ann just had a way of making things look up.
 We dropped a dose to fuel the new day and toasted the new coat of snow over breakfast.

Rat

Man, we loved breakfast. When things were booming along at bar close, the party usually came with us, back to Dodge Street. With the most sincere apologies, Shitty would send us out into the night with promises to catch up. The Fox Head's 20 minute bar-time lead let us stumble into Dity John's Grocery, just across the street, and grab the supplies we'd need to keep the bash alive. Then a drunken trudge home, through the snow. The cold didn't matter to us — we were impervious by that time of night.
Shitty would find his way to our place, a case of beer and any other intoxicants he might want to sell in tow. Shitty had a funny habit: He'd dose, crack open a beer, and — and you could almost set your watch by this — 45 minutes in, he'd suddenly experience the grave need to wear my steel-toed combat boots.
"Hey man, can I wear your boots man? Just tell me where they are," he'd say, the look in his eye anxious, worried that I might say "no," or that I might have lost them. I'd never told him "no," but you know how urgent things can seem when you're like that. Once he had on the boots, everything was smooth sailing and clear skies with shitty. He'd have a grand, drunken trip with us, a glittering voyage through late-night infomercials. We had a favorite: The vacuum-pack guy, this chubby guy who sold a machine for bagging things in custom-size plastic bags, then vacuum-sealing them. Shitty always snuck off to our room and fell asleep on our bed, wearing the boots.
Ah, those nights with Shitty and Lee Ann and Larry at the Fox Head! I feel like I could live inside such great times forever — just crawl back into one of them and lock the door behind me.
Or maybe that was the night Larry exploded out of the kitchen in a shrieking gallop, barely keeping himself upright and yelling, "Rat! There's a fucking rat in the kitchen!"
It was mid-December. Larry's prematurely gray-brown, shoulder-length hair was all over the place. I don't think any of us believed him. I certainly didn't. But you know what psychotropics can do to your judgment.
We decided to mount an expedition, Shitty, Lee Ann, and I. Larry stated emphatically that he was not venturing down the hall until we'd got the rat out. We advanced slowly, wary of our enemy, each of us now sunk deep into the LSD. Shitty brandished a heavy ceramic ashtray. I wielded a copy of Hustler from Larry's stash, rolled up into what I thought of as a weapon. Lee Ann clutched the back of my shirt in both hands. Who knows how long it took us to reach the kitchen? Not I.
The long and the short of it is that we found no rat. We did, however, find rat shit in the box that held an unfinished Paul Revere pizza no one could remember ordering. It had been out for a few days, and a couple of discarded syringes nearby gave me a pretty good idea why no one recalled the pizza episode at all. Lee Ann had left Shitty's place of employment before bar close earlier that week. I thought nothing of it — I'd just decided it wasn't time for me to turn in yet. So I went through the motions: drinking with Shitty at one end of the bar; picking up more on the way home; trudging through the snow to the dive on Dodge, passing Lee Ann's '72 Lincoln in the front drive. I don't remember seeing the Paul Revere's box then, but the lit candles and lack of electric light on in the place as I came in confused me. Then I spotted Larry and Lee Ann going at it face to face on a dining chair in the kitchen, needles discarded with belts nearby. They'd been shooting heroin.
I think I should have been angry. I think a guy's supposed to be when he finds something like this. But I wasn't. It was just a smack fuck, I knew that. Didn't mean a thing. It was just the kind of thing you did on smack. They'd probably turned off the lights to minimize the glare; I'd seen the light from the usual electrical bulbs go all streaks and haloes on smack, but mostly it did the opposite, just left your pupils scrunched down into tiny little pinpricks. The effect on heroin is so strong, Larry and Lee Ann might have thought they were hiding in the dark with the lights low like that. As I recall, I took the drinks upstairs with me to give the two of them a little privacy. I didn't want to embarrass anyone. They just hadn't noticed how late it was, is all. But would it have killed them to have saved me a taste?

Anyway, back to the rat. Larry, hands clutched in his long, knotty hair, demanded that we destroy the beast. None of the rest of us particularly wanted to kill the poor creature. I for one could think of no other solution. Then something clicked for Shitty. He was on board.
"I'll need my .22," he said, and with considerable authority. He suddenly sounded like a big game hunter, a man's man on a sport-killing safari. Like he was looking to tangle with the world's most dangerous predators right here in our kitchen.
Firing a gun in the kitchen while we were all dosed to the nines did not seem altogether wise to me.
"Come on, Shitty," I said, "it's all the way across town."
Shitty stared at me in defiant incomprehension for a second or two or whatever, then deflated a touch. "Poison," he said.
I shrugged, raising my hands and shoulders. We didn't have any rat poison. Why the hell would we keep rat poison around?
"We must venture to Econofoods," Shitty intoned. "They'll have the poison. They're open 24 hours. They're the place." Shitty would take the reins of this trip and guide us to our goal. We would have our kill.

Shivering from the drugs and with Larry whimpering quietly to himself, we decided, two hours into our trip, to strike out into the cold, snowy night for Econofoods. I kept thinking to myself, "Focus — focus! If we're going to drive on LSD, one of us has got to focus!"
Only I must have been saying it out loud; I noticed the others looking over at me, alarmed.
"Nothing," I said quickly, "nothing at all. Don't worry. We're doomed if we worry … "
And so on.
Larry's little powder blue car, a weathered '76 Nova, would be our chariot. Our chariot with frozen locks, as it happened. But Lee Ann had lock de-icer. We were still in business.
We were hallucinating great wobbling ripples crashing over the road, all of us were. We decided to put our heads together, all of us but Larry, who seemed to have gotten one of his hands tangled in his hair, now. He really did not seem able to free it. Lee Ann stared, wide-eyed at him for a long stretch, then burst out laughing.
"What?" he asked. "What?"
Shitty and I looked questioningly her way, but she was laughing too hard to speak.
In huffing, heaving bursts, she said, finally, "His hair! His hair — it's a rat's nest. Get it? Where'd the rat go? I think I know where that rat went."
I understood. Acid logic. Or acid humor. Whatever. I smiled and nodded at her in what I hoped was not a condescending way. Larry, his slight gut over his belt as he sat staring at her, said nothing. He was wearing a stained white button-up with faint vertical lines of tiny roses. I never could get a handle on Larry's style. But that didn't matter. He was a good friend.
My license was expired, but I was the only one of us who had one at all. So I sat behind the wheel. My cohorts decided to help me navigate. They told me they'd try to arrive at a consensus on which way I should steer to avoid the really big waves. Their pupils dilated and eyes open wide, they would be the extra sets of eyes I needed to make the journey.
It was a little hairy. The snow was fresh, and hid sheets of ice in unpredictable places on the road. We hit one (I think) and spun Larry's Nova into a snow bank sideways; then another put us into someone's front yard a few feet. But between the car and our pushing, we were able to get it back onto the road and soldier on.
"The rat," Shitty kept repeating. "The rat!" I think he was making some kind of mantra with all that repetition.
Things went on like that, pretty much, until we slid into the nearly empty parking lot. I think we were going about seven miles an hour. The night shelf-stockers were out recovering shopping carts. That looked like hard work; the shopping carts weren't really designed to handle snow of any depth, and there were a few inches out there. The night stockers stopped to watch in wonder as Lee Ann told me to head one way, then Shitty the other. I think we drove around out there very slowly for a while. Not that it seemed slow to us. But the way the stockers stopped everything and gawked, they could see that something was amiss.
We almost lost the Nova when we finally agreed on a suitable parking spot; I forgot to put it into park, and as we stopped to get out, the car started to roll. A heroic dive from the back seat, and Larry's free palm was on the brake, his legs awkwardly up over the seatback.
"For God's sake, put it in park," he was yelling. He kept repeating himself while we tried to figure out how to reach around him and hit the gearshift. But between us, we got the job done.

Big Box

I don't know if you've ever been inside one of those big-box groceries at a quarter to four in the morning, but we had. Only we weren't tabbed that time last summer. At least, the last time I'd made the trek at this time of night, I was merely stoned. With maybe a snort of speed to keep me sharp. Then a couple of shots of Kentucky whisky to take the edge off that. During the summer, they'd keep their big entry doors wide open, and birds would sometimes fly in and kind of get stuck in there. Lee Ann and I had come in search of eggs and potatoes and cheese and sausage, that sort of thing, breakfast stuff, and you know how stoned people shop; our cart was filling up with stuff we had no use for.  The Econofoods was like an airplane hangar, huge and hollow, its ceiling lined with fluorescent tube lighting. The electronic buzz the lights made was awful, and the light deeply unnatural.
Lee Ann noticed the sparrow flitting around overhead, pointed it out with a gasp of wonder.
With a loud crack from a few aisles over, the sparrow exploded, its body bloodied into a new shape by buckshot. We could see that as it fell, with a thump, next to a cooler with rows of bloody ground chuck, the really low-grade stuff. We heard a sound like hard rain coming down around us. The little steel pellets were shooting down on us in the meat section. I covered up and ducked down, but Lee Ann, not understanding what was going on, stood, gawking, until one caught her left eye on the rebound.
I think maybe the people working overnight in the place thought there weren't any customers around. Otherwise, why would they be shooting guns indoors? Someone could get hurt. Watery red trickled from where the little pellets punctured the ground chuck. It was like some kind of canned hunt, in its way. That chuck didn't stand a chance.
Lee Ann had closed her eyes for a second to clear them. The pellet that nailed her struck just beneath the brow of her eye socket. Man alive, could that girl scream. I loved to hear that shriek of hers. The night manager came running over with a look like he'd been caught spying on a junior high school shower room.
"Oh my god, oh my God," he kept saying.
Lee Ann was shrieking at him, "I'm gonna be blind, you dumb motherfucker, I'll blind you, you stupid cunt, see how you like being blind," helpful things like that. She was kicking and clawing at him. It took the other four night stockers on duty, pale, sleepless guys who shunned the daylight, to wrestle her away from him. The night manager told us then that we could get what we needed and go, the store would cover it.
There it was again: Lee Ann's weird ability to get a bad thing looking good.
We combed the aisles then, genuinely chipper, Lee Ann holding a cloth with some ice cubes wrapped in it to her eye, grumbling obscenities. But the grumbling was just for show. She'd flash me a smile, sneak one at me when she knew they weren't watching. With $13 between us, we loaded down the cart, then retrieved a second and filled it to overflowing, too. We stocked up months' worth of food. Too bad it was so late; you can't buy alcohol in Iowa after two.

Rat, more

Lee Ann's eye puffed up black and blue, and people gave me dirty looks on the street when we walked around together, but she was fine.
But that was another time, before. This time was the time with the rat.
The four of us trudged past the night stockers in the parking lot. They were having a hell of a hard time getting the carts to roll through the snow. But they'd gotten back to work; must've seen enough of our show. I bet you see lots of weird shit on the night shift at a big box grocery.
The electric buzz and awful pallor of the light struck us, but we steeled ourselves.
"We are on a mission," Shitty declared, "to make your house free of rats and thus safe for Larry."
All eyes ogled over to Larry, whose hand was now clearly inseparable from his knotted nest of hair. You could see the light go on in Lee Ann's head. The thought balloon over her head read loud and clear: Rat's nest!
She giggled. "Come on," she said, taking Larry by his good hand and leading him away. Shitty and I followed.
Lee Ann went aisle by aisle until we found a suitable pair of scissors. When she was sure the coast was clear, she popped the staples holding the paperboard sheaf together.
"Oh no," said Larry. "No, no, no, you are not cutting my hair in the fucking Econofoods at four in the morning."
I checked my watch. "Three forty-seven," I said. Larry glared at me. "It's just in the name of accuracy," I said. He returned to Lee Ann.
"Look," she said, a nurturing, maternal tone appearing magically, "your hand's stuck. We have to get it free. Looks like there's a bunch tangled up in your rings, everything."
The slow shift in his expression told me Larry was being won over by something about what Lee Ann was doing or saying, and while my mind went off on its own, trying to discover what it might be that was winning him over to her, she started cutting. Big tumbleweeds, snags, and whorls fell at our feet, and Larry's hand slowly came free, the wings of the bats on his three enormous heavy metal rings snarled in sandy gray-brown coils.
He looked pretty bad. Lee Ann took off her ski cap and pulled it down onto Larry's head.
"Poison," said Shitty. He was not going to let the purpose of our visit drift away on us. We combed the aisles until we ran across what looked to be a suitably deadly bottle. I couldn't really read the dancing letters, but the skull and crossbones seemed enormous. With drug-impaired difficulty, we found our way back to the front of the store and bought our prize. How would we ever find our way home if we couldn't find our way out of the store?

Homeward Bound

On the way home I suddenly saw too many springing headlights in the windshield. We swerved across the center line. I remember the blur of an oncoming station wagon. Time turned to molasses on me, molasses in which every detail seemed crystal clear, no matter how tiny; I had time enough even to analyze it. The inertia must have been incredible. I felt my neck pop, then pop again as it jammed to the side and was held in place with the force of the spin. After what seemed like hours, the force eased up on my neck and we came to a rest and I realized that my face had smashed into the steering wheel. My nose and brow were numb, but I could taste the copper and feel the wet warmth running off my chin. We got out to look the Nova over, see if she was still roadworthy. Shitty got a look at me and pulled a handkerchief from his coat pocket, handing it to me. He showed me where to press. Larry, poor Larry, was knocked out, but breathing in the back seat. Shitty and Lee Ann seemed unharmed. The front end was bashed in pretty good, but I thought we could make it before the police got there.
Then I noticed Lee Ann staring, pointing down the road. Four people were sprayed out glistening across the road, bodies I thought probably, pretty well skinned on the pavement. The wagon was in the ditch at the side of the road, its headlights cockeyed.
"I didn't even see them," I said. She reached over to grab onto my arm and suddenly I was screaming, my vision whited out by the pain.
"I think it's broken," she said.
I glared at her. No shit it was broken.
The headlights of another car appeared at the curve. I could see the curve, now, that the wagon had come around. The oncoming car wouldn't see the other people.
"Come on," I said, urging the others toward the Nova. But I couldn't seem to will myself to move. We could all see that the oncoming car would not see the people on the road, that that would end any question of their death, and not one of us could look away.
The oncomer was a Chevy Conversion-style van which, truth be told, was going a bit too fast to be safe. Its driver locked up the brakes after destroying the first victim, but still managed to plow into the others. They never had a chance.
"Holy shit," said Larry, rubbing at his eyes. "What the fuck just happened?"
We limped homeward with our rat poison and our injuries, the Nova randomly, flickeringly lit no matter what we tried to turn out the lights. I couldn't drive with my arm like that; Larry had to.
"Back there," said Shitty pointing past the end of the drive, into the secluded back yard. "Way, way back." Larry went along with the order, though he didn't seem happy to be leaving his car snowbound. Lee Ann let herself into the basement we could only access from outside, like the one at Dorothy's farm in "Wizard of Oz." When she climbed back up and out, she was carrying a tarp.

Inside, Shitty produced a vial of clear fluid from his coat pocket. "I was saving this for a rainy day," he said.
"What've you got?" I said.
"Morphine. You're going to shoot up. Then I'm going to set your nose. I've been in enough bar fights to handle that. But the arm — the arm worries me."
"Dude, I cannot handle this, I cannot watch this," said Larry. With a fumbling grasp, he picked up the rat poison and headed for the kitchen. Lee Ann, her face ashen, sat motionless.
"You should go with him," said Shitty. "You don't want to see this."
The funny thing about morphine is this: It does not dull your pain so much as dull your capacity to care about it. It's a lot like clinical depression that way, I'm told. A dose of morphine and you don't care what's on TV, as long as the TV is on. The nose hurt like hell, especially when Shitty had to try it a second time. But the arm. Thank God for the morphine.
I was laid out on the floor by now. Shitty stood over me. He folded a washcloth over on itself until there were lots of layers. "Open your mouth," he said. He carefully placed it between my molars, as far back as he could wedge it.
He took my wrist in his hands, braced a foot under my arm. "Guerilla medicine," he said with a screwy smile. There was a limb-tearing jerk on my arm, and my world became only the sound of my own muffled scream and the gunshot-wound pain of my arm. I flickered out.

When I came to, I could hear the others talking strategy. Well, OK, it was more of a reinforcement of the collective decision to never, ever mention the crash to anyone. Lee Ann had taken out my hair clippers and was leveling what was left of Larry's hair into a flattop.
I closed my eyes and submerged into narcotic darkness.




—JØnathan Lyons

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