Odessa Rising (Romeos)

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By Labor Day weekend my move from 326 to 309 was locked-in.  We were told that breaking us up, moving me out of the room, would be best given our tendency to stupidity.  I knew my new roommates but introductions will wait.  When Labor Day weekend hit our restriction was over, Connor was back to working on promotion, Flip was gone and Reston believe again in the sanctity of service.  The kid, Reston, bored me often with his ain’t it great way of seeing the world; his way of seeing the positive.  He bounced into the latrine as I dried off.

“Burke, you ready man?  This is awesome.  They back off our asses just as Labor Day starts! Fuck-n-A-Awesome!” His eyes dancing again.

“Where’s Connor?”

“Back at home.  I mean our room.  I guess it’s not home for you now eh?”

“Could be worse.  At least I don’t have to hear about the gaiety of PT.”

“That’s funny.  I don’t get it.  But man this is great.  Long weekend.  We were talking about hitting the pool party first then maybe the club.  They got a Mexican buffet set up over there.  Well, I guess it’s Mexican.  Might be Panamanian.”

“Might be.”  I walked toward my new room.  He followed.

“You don’t think we’ll get in trouble again do you?  I mean just having fun like July fourth without the coke…”

“And whores and beer and the spirited feeling that precedes such nefarious activities?” I interrupted.

“I ain’t got 5 dollars so you gotta speak English today.”

I laughed.

Connor bellowed from the hallway around the corner.

“Romeos Out!”

Two months had passed since I heard Connor’s battle cry.  Truth is, it made me smile inside and out.

“Romeos Out!”  We called back.  Reston continued with whatever his thought was…

“…so I told Tanner that no way I was doing it again and that I couldn’t afford an Article 15.”

“Wait, what are you saying?  What did you do?”

“I put half a quart of oil in Bravo 17 instead of an entire quart.  All I could find was half a quart and the tool guy said I’d have to pump more if I needed more and I don’t know how to use the pump so I told Tanner I didn’t do it but that I couldn’t get in trouble anymore on account of the Article 15 from July and all and that really.”

“Ok, ok, fuck. Stop talking.  Jeez.  What did he do?  Nothing.”

“That’s exactly what he did!  I’m telling you, he’s a good Man Sargent Tanner I mean.”

“Or Bravo 17 hasn’t moved in three weeks and won’t move for another three and you’re the first person to actually check the oil and give a damn.  Or, he might just like the way your lips move.”

“He’s a good man.  And you’re an asshole.”

“Agreed.”

Connor took the corner.

“Let’s go, let’s go, and let’s go!  We’re burning daylight and somebody, somewhere is drinking up all the beer.”  His crooked grin beamed.

“I’ve got beer in the fridge.” I said.  “We’ll grab them, I’ll get dressed and voila!”

“Colsen going out?  How about Warren?”

“Colsen is otre lada seeing some girl.  Warren doesn’t go out much.  I don’t think he drinks all that much.  I saw him once at Wegotcha drinking up a storm to Prince songs but other than that, not much.  Did you know he draws?  I mean like superheroes and stuff.”

“He traces Batman comics?”  Reston said.

“Not really.  He creates Superheroes, then draws them.  Helluva a drawer or artist or whatever they’re called.” I said. “Dude’s got talent.”

“We’ll hit the pool party first, see what’s up, then go to the club.  It’s a beautiful day Man.  Just beautiful. Not too hot, not too much humidity.  Perfect.”

“It’s Panama.”  Reston said.  “To me it’s always perfect.”

“How do you manage to kiss up to an entire country?” I asked.

“Talent, I guess.”  He said.  Kid made me laugh again.

+++

 

Funeral tents led up to and surrounded the Davis pool.  Families in lawn chairs huddled together as their children ran and played or waited for balloon animals.  It looked like a state fair from any state back home complete with hay bales of unknown origin.  Blue trashcans filled with melting ice held beer and soda.  We grabbed our pieces of eight from the beer barrels and headed toward the smoky, food tents. Someone was grilling hot dogs, burgers and underneath those scents floated a hint of barbecue.  The US and Panamanian flags flitted in the breeze while a DJ Van blasted AFR’s Labor Day special.  Songs about the working man from Johnny Cash to the Boss.

“We’re gonna hear ‘She’s works hard for the money’ about a thousand times today.” I said.

“Donna Summer is some kinda’ hot.” Connor said.  “She could work hard on my money any day.”

“And we’re all going to hell.” Reston said finishing his first beer.

I saw Alma talking with the other linguists.  I rode over from Clayton with her but with the drug bust and all I hadn’t seen her much in social settings since.  Someone told me under the Bohio that she had been sent otre lada right after getting here.

Maybe she didn’t know?  Maybe I won’t tell her?

Maybe I’ll have another beer and work on the romance later.

“Stick with what you know.  And right now, you don’t know much” I heard my Grandfather say.

Roseman was walking around in gym shorts, tube socks and bulky white shoes.  His tank top was an image of a bald eagle with the words “Vote Weird” written in magic marker across it.  He approached us.

“Do you know where I can find a good cabinet maker?” He said.

“What?” Connor replied.  “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Sign, Countersign.  You people know nothing of the gospel.”

He walked away.  Rumors were rampant that he hit too much acid one night downtown and since then conspiracies abound.  He once took a cab to Coco Solo and asked the ER doctor about his mother’s hernia operation.  He told us, “They might know something the American docs don’t about such surgeries.  American doctors are junior college dropouts with heads for greed and golf.  We send the best people overseas to keep the CIA healthy. Panama has more CIA agents per capita than any other country in Central America. It’s all too cozy, you know.  Too fucking cozy.”

The Davis Pool was the center of many activities on base.  In a country where swimming is available year round it’s easy to understand why people from the land of 4 Seasons would find it appealing.  It was a standard joint with concrete, latticed fencing around it, showers, lockers and limited lifeguard hours.  Unlike most days, today they allowed beer inside the pool fence.  We walked in to see some Romeos we knew.  A guy from Wisconsin I went to Basic with was there.  We parted ways at Dix and ran into one another later in Panama.  He was a dental assistant and an asshole.  All he talked about was hockey, Brewer’s baseball and how the blacks and Mexicans were taking over the jobs from decent people.  I never asked what he meant by ‘decent’ but figured none of them would’ve hung around him long.

“Hey Burke, what’s up Brother?” He called out from the pool. “Happy Labor Day!”  He was drunk and obviously alone.

“Hey man.” Reston said.

“Hey Bensky.  How’s it going?”  I didn’t listen to his answer.  We kept walking until the distance was enough to make conversing weird.  Connor introduced me to a friend.

“Burke, this is Shane Wilson.  This is the guy who hooked us up back in July.”  I shook his hand.   This is the guy who sold Connor the coke that we are just now escaping and Connor seeks him out?  I finished my beer.  Reston looked nervous.  I’m sure I did as well.

“Just wanted to apologize for getting you boys in trouble.”  He said.  He was older than us, probably in his mid-20s.  A navy guy now in his final two weeks in country.  “Don’t let this place get to you.  I did.  I’ve been here five years and fuck-n-A I’m gonna miss it.”  Someone called his name from the other side of the fence.

“I gotta go.  Again, sorry about all that.  Better luck next time.”

I didn’t know what to say or think about Shane Wilson.  I never asked Connor where he got it from or how.  He just had it.  We just did it.  And we got caught.  The details didn’t interest me until just then.  What did he mean, it got to him?  How?  Why would he apologize so casually for something that could’ve been so bad?  Was so bad.

Connor spoke up.

“I didn’t know he was going to say that, you know.  I think we need to just put that behind us.  We’ve talked about it.  I mean.  It’s bad enough that’s everyone else thinks of us.  But what we think of us…that’s what should matter, right?”

“Right.” I said.

“Right.” Reston said.

“And I think we need another beer.”  I said.  I turned and for the first time in my life saw the tanned face, the gentle, equine features, the tussled, highlighted hair and the perfect teeth surrounded by the thin irresistible lips of Patricia Elizabeth Barnes.

“Wait.” I said as Reston and Connor kept walking.  Connor looked at me and then in the direction to which I stared.

“Oh, Barnes.  Yeah, she’s hot.”

“Dude.  The sun is hot.  A desert is hot.  That girl is not hot.” I said.

“What is she then?” Reston said.

“She is damn, damn, damn. With a good long wow at the end.”

She was wearing cut off shorts and a black Cure tee shirt.  She was wiping her hair and talking to some guys in the pool when suddenly she dove in the water.  They laughed.  Connor told me it we needed to move.  I walked slowly keeping my eye towards her.  She came up out of the water and then dove back down to swim more.  Reston was behind me.  He pushed me in the water.  I heard people laugh when I came back up.  Five feet in front of me, Barnes smiled.

“Hey.  I’m Burke.  What unit are you in?”  I felt like a dumbass instantly.

She smiled.

“My unit?  Wow so GI Joe.  I’m Barnes.”

“Nice to meet you Barnes.  Sorry about the unit thing.  Just you know.”

“My friends back home call me Odessa.”

“What does that mean?”

“That means maybe we can be friends?”  Her eyes were green and reflected the light from pool’s surface.  They were reddened by the chlorine but still struck me as beautiful.

“I like The Cure” I said.

She laughed and dove underwater.  I could tell by her fractured image underwater she was swimming away.  I swam towards the edge.  Connor pulled me up laughing and talking about we aren’t going back home to change.

I turned around and saw her talking with the other soldiers again.

“Talk to you later” I yelled.

She ignored me.

 

There is surrealism to listening to American pop music while marinating in government sponsored alcohol.  It makes patriotism of drunkenness.  To properly represent the country of Reagan, one must sway to plastic British bands, suck down warmed Buds and gawk from behind mirrored sunglasses at Panamanian thighs and the occasional hometown hotness gone soldier.  It was a gentle mood that came across me along with the sweat and squinting and ungentle realization that I, and Reston and Connor, would never this way come again.  A brief moment in the sun when, if I could just find the word or song or painting or sculpture apropos, it would be the first Art I’ve touched.  The most beautiful girl known, the best Men known, the best scenery and unlimited chemical inducements to accept it all as a birthright of volunteerism. I picture myself bent over a blank page with a giant pencil like I used in Kindergarten, trying to write it all down.  Maybe sipping bourbon, smoking cigars as a palm frond fan turns slow in the air.  I laughed out loud.

“What’s so funny?” Connor said

“Just one of those thoughts, ya know.  Nothing I guess.”

“You thinking about Barnes?”  Connor took a long drag of his cigarette as we topped the hill towards the barracks.

“How can you not be thinking about Barnes?  I mean Jesus H. dude how can you not be thinking about fucking Barnes.  And I mean it both ways it sounds.”

Connor laughed with that easy Carolina laugh.

“Man, she’s hot, I give you that.  But I think she’s married or engaged or something.  Bad story there brother.  Ugly ending, crazy birds, some guy with a chainsaw.  Just a bad ending. Ya’ know/”

“Well aren’t we poetic today.  How much have you been drinking?”  We entered the barracks and began to take the steps two at a pop.

Connor stopped.

“Too much to take the steps.  Go change, I’m gonna smoke.  Might go back and find Reston.  Either way.  We’ll be at the club in an hour.  Meet us there.”

I showered again, hit the cologne bottle and went back out thirty minutes later.

+++

Coming out of the building I looked across the scene down by the pool.  A tsunami of people rolled in, wave upon wave of brown, black and white flesh moving about like ants.  Music bumping from three locations.  The club entrance swallowed and spit out people in short order as the parking lot seemed a disco.  I saw a beer truck and a big rig with “Class Six” written across it.  Somewhere in that gyrating mass of sweat, alcohol and optimism moved Odessa Barnes.  Her vision rising as both dream and nightmare.  Her green eyes shot through my closed eyes begging me to indulge the fantasy of complete honesty, unabashed weakness and the iron-clad dreamscape of optimism.  Her beauty, strength and intelligence deserved the most and least a Man can offer. Himself.  Not the Me or I everyone sees, but what the mirror shows.  What the nightmares mock.  The Man who cries in confession, crawls to the altar call and begs mercy in  barroom brawls. I knew she was the one.  The one for what, didn’t matter. Her pleasure would be worth all pain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Santa Doll

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His eyes were scabbed wounds inflicted by the night’s drinking. Crusted, rusty and painful to the blink he shook his head for clarity. Numb hands extending to insolent fingers that scratched and scratched but the sticker wouldn’t budge. He rubbed the butterfly emblem, turned the bike upside down, twisted it into his armpits and tried the leverage routine. Nothing. The sticker, placed upside down, refused to yield. The bike, bought with odd jobs and plasma, resisted his spirited adjustments. The sun was rising. The child was stirring. It was Christmas. And it was horrid.

The wife left when the silence became too much to bear. He reminded his soul of this as the whiskey dove into the coffee mug. She couldn’t handle the stress of Allison. The never-knowing she represented. He topped the mug with coffee and took a sip. The trailer was chilly but nothing like last year. His tongue burned as the whiskey soothed his shake. Allison seemed snug a moment ago. Blankets, night-light, stocking cap, heavy coat, and the Santa doll tucked under her arm. Warm all night, he hoped.
The porch greeted him with warped attention as match met cigarette. The smoke smelled of the wife. He closed his eyes and remembered but when the moment became too much he opened them and listened for the child. Focus, he thought. This is hers. He exhaled and saw the old days formed from smoke sitting dead in the still air. He gulped the coffee.

I’ll never be enough.

He knows if he stands too long on the deck it’ll give way. He wants to go inside but the smoke is good. Smooth.
In childhood he waited on this morning for sunlight. His Father woke them with a blessing and praise for the Savior Child as the son fidgeted in footie pajamas hoping for a train.
Lord we celebrate your birth this moment so many years ago as you prepared to die for our Sins and Transgressions…
The Father spoke more as the boy thought of Batman and the Green Hornet.
Socks, a book of parables and a Cowboy/Indian play set he settled for. Money was tight all over.
Money was tight now.

I sold my blood and put the sticker on upside down.
He went inside to listen for Allison and pour another drink.

The sun rose slow and gray. He stood on the porch again.
The child would wake, and as she’d done for nine years, stare at the gifts and offer a faint smile.
He exhaled and wondered why he didn’t leave first. The wife listened to the doctor, as he did. She heard the words of assurance.
Nothing wrong physically. We don’t know. Allison just won’t speak.
The child sitting on a doctor’s table turning a block in her hand. Her brown liquid eyes immersed in the rotations and angles. The wife shook her head. The husband thought of drink. He finished the cup. The smoke faded as the sunrise turned orange from gray. He knew not his daughter’s voice.
The cold touched his skin but faded against his thoughts. She will wake soon and expect Santa.

Santa put on the stickers wrong honey.
But he’s so busy.
Maybe he was just confused in the dark.

And the girl would smile a Mona Lisa smile and he’d sipped the coffee. Christmas was the morning on which every parent becomes magic. Every mystery of the world is revealed as the children squeal and laugh and dance with joy. The magicians sit on couches and wonder at the power of the child’s joy. But his magic was never enough. He saw her smile. He watched her move around the tree, touching the gifts. She’d look at him in disappointed silence and the Father wanted to scream and cry but the girl then smiled crookedly and maybe it would be okay after all.

Maybe his magic was enough.

Through the narrow trailer walls he heard neighbor kids laugh and shout at presents. He pushed open the door to listen for her footsteps. Before she left, his wife woke the child on Christmas. The night before she would position every toy just right. The day then spent presenting the magical scene and still the silence. Perhaps, he thought, the wife believed Christmas would make the child talk. Maybe the songs, the images, the movies, the anticipation would make the child suddenly declare a blessing upon us all, everyone.

The trailer was garish with lights he’d found. Dumpsters, garage sales. He reached down into empty pockets to find the recycling money, the pan-handled and prostituted money to buy lights. Below the rotting liver and dying soul, he believed it was Christmas that would save the girl. She’d speak with more light. Another nodding reindeer. If only he could find one more lighted string to adorn the deteriorating trailer. She’d smile. Laugh. Speak.

The wife sent him a letter; scribbled words requesting forgiveness. What am I to do with the silence? You know. Don’t make me say it. She looks at me and moves her hands, like I know? and still it’s not enough. Here’s some money to help.

Through the open back door he hears her move around. The child goes to the bathroom as Father sets himself near the mutated bike.
He tries again to upright the butterfly but the drink adds impairment. He worked with her to understand the signals she gave. Sign was all they possessed but the old man failed every attempt. He signed Happy Birthday but just knew to all heaven he signed Go Get Corn instead. He was never enough for the beauty of her silence. He shook with fear and thought of another drink. All he wanted was to hear her squeal. He longed to hear her squeal and to know the sound of her dead voice as it bellowed with joy. In drunken states he prayed to a sober god for the miracle promised in black-and-white movies.
A word.
A complaint.
A simple phrase.

I Love You Too Daddy.

And his heart would break.
The tears would come.
He’d say I’m sorry.
She’d say, for what?
Everything honey, you deserve a better world than my magic can bring.
But it’s all alright now Daddy. Santa came last night and made it perfect.

She flushed the commode.
He stared at the mutated butterfly and promised the empty promise of never again. Next time-sober. Next time his magic would be enough.

He closed his eyes.
Neighbor kids squealed with joy as the smoke of ghosts floated before him and the wife said,
This silence is killing me.
She moved away as the cool morning sky turned blue and he heard the child move around.

Take a sip of drink. It’s going to be alright in about ten minutes. Maybe less.
The child comes down the trailer hall. He looks at the bike and hopes she sees, but doesn’t notice.
Her footie pajamas break the hall shadows. She looks at the tree with its leaning, sparse look. She walks to the bike and notices immediately. Her small, dirty fingers run along the inverted butterfly. She lingers as the Father finishes his coffee.
Merry Christmas sweetie. You like what Santa brought?
The child lifted her Santa doll and leaning close to it she moved her mouth in silence.
He felt a tear and a shake and the lump he’d heard about as she put the Santa doll to her ear.
The three stood there as the Santa doll answered.
She rubbed the butterfly again.
The Father saw a tear on her cheek and she wiped it with the Santa doll.
She pointed at her chest and then pointed to the upside-down butterfly.
Merry Christmas sweetie.
She pointed again to her chest and then the butterfly. She repeated the motion as the Father said,
Oh, ok. You and then the bike. The butterfly? You like the butterfly? I’m glad. You know Santa was busy and it was dark. No? What? You and the bike? You…

She took his hand and rubbed it on her head.
Then she rubbed his hand along the crooked sticker.
He thought he understood. But my magic, it’s no good. I don’t…
He said, you feel like the butterfly?
She grabbed his neck and held tight. He wrapped his shaking hands around his daughter, the silent angel of his cluttered mind and he held on until her crying finally stopped.
She kissed his moist cheeks and then kissed her raggedy Santa doll.
He cried and laughed as her imagined voice reminded him.

Her magic was enough for them both.

The End is Nigh.

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I took three days off work so I could stand by the road and beg for money.  My face, plump from years of abusive prosperity, lacked the appearance of homelessness, but I hoped dirt smeared and two days’ stubble would deflect my audience.  I misspelled enough words on my sign to add ignorance to my implied list of woes.  Our town only has one bum, and being the non-competitive sort, I decided to drive 50 miles away and set up shop.  I took no identification, no money.  I left my car in a Piggly Wiggly parking lot.  When I was in grad school I learned the Piggly Wiggly was the first supermarket to offer shopping carts for their customers.  Until that time, a customer presented a list and the clerks went off to hunt, or the shopper carried a small hand basket.  The hand basket was popular since the social contract commanded women to shop daily for their family’s food.  The shopping cart made it possible for women to buy more than one day’s worth of food.  Suddenly, women had hours per day available for Soap Operas, gossip and eventually the Equal Rights movement.  If something called Piggly Wiggly could enhance the social position of women everywhere, surely my car would be safe in its care.

I stood there for ten minutes before a person looked me in the eye.  I avoided the distant stare or sunglass-covered method used by so many of my potential brethren.  I wanted them to look me in the eye.  And I, them.  He was in a pick-up truck and bobbed his head to music I couldn’t hear.  He stopped bobbing long enough to nod at me.  I nodded back.  He drove away.  The next driver didn’t look up from his cell phone long enough to notice me.

It was then I thought about stepping out in traffic.  The feeling of metal on flesh sending me reeling backwards.  Concrete scraping my head as I fade to black.  A stranger’s voice being the last voice I hear.  He just stepped out!  Nothing I could do!  What the hell? The image of Hell coming clearly into view.  Satan and my old sixth grade teacher standing there egging me across the threshold of eternal damnation.  The local paper reporting “local homeless man commits suicide”.  Then they find out.  He wasn’t homeless.  He worked over in ________.  Fine, upstanding citizen, really.  Dressed as a bum.  Begging for change. Working for food, or beer, whichever is cheaper on you.  The mild scandal back at the office.  My God! Did you hear?  Yeah, I heard.  Standing on a corner, begging…?

I laughed out loud.

An hour later someone gave me two dollars all waded up like from a dryer.  She was a pretty girl who smelled young and sparkled when she smiled.

Here you go sir.  God Bless you.

I’d practice no response to the giving.  My mind focused solely on the action of waiting for pity.  I came up with something I thought proper.

The End is Nigh!

The pretty girl with her smells and sparkles hopped back in her car quick.  Nothing scarier than a homeless End Times nut.

A policemen stopped by and waved me into the parking lot of the abandoned convenience store in which his car idled.

What’s your name buddy?

The End is Nigh!

For you it might be.  What’s your name?

William Henry Blank.  My friend’s call me Billy.

I ain’t your friend.  We’ve got an ordinance (he pauses to take a drag, exhales in my face) against panhandling.

I’m handling no pans officer.  I’m simply standing here with this sign.

Well you can’t do that.  Not here.  Where’d you come from?  Never seen you ’round here. Hitchhiker?

I live in __________.  Own a small law practice there, actually.

I bet you do.  I’m the King of Columbia too!

Columbia has no King, officer.

Look, you keep being a smartass and I’ll take your dumbass in for resisting, vagrancy…

You’ll do nothing of the sort.  The End is Nigh, I tell you.  My car is at Piggly Wiggly, that bastion of Women’s Rights.  I’m William Blank.  I own a law practice in _____________, and have no interest whatsoever in listening to your harassment.  Your town ordinance specifically allows for signs seeking donations for worthy causes.  Ambulance.  Fire Department etc.  Food is a worthy cause.  Alcohol is a worth cause.  And I’m asking for nothing more than what the signs says…  Give What you can.  Hungry.  God Bless.

The officer eyed me a minute more.  He squinted, as if he was thinking or trying to become capable of thought, I’m unsure. 

You wait here.

I’ve no intention of doing anything but.

He returned to his car and spoke into his radio.

Here I reminisced on the day I last worked.  Routine day in many ways.  Coffee.  A brief review of pending cases.  I answered a few calls, returned a few.  An old friend sent a letter asking me for legal help, pro bono.  I dashed off a resounding Yes and gave it to Mary for mailing.  The doctor called and offered his diagnosis.  Stage Four.  Something about a few months.  It is said by many that a person’s reaction to such news impacts their recovery as much as all the power of Medical Science combined.  I sat there for a moment and briefly wondered if it would’ve not been better had he told me to come in, instead of saying it over the phone.  Potential litigation there, I reflected.  I thanked him for the phone call and agreed to come in to discuss our options.  Our options…as if…We had Cancer…

I returned home that day and fed Sampson after putting him out for bladder relief.  In the living room is my Father’s old chair.  It was brown, leather high back with blackened arms.  I lit a cigar and waited for a response from myself.  None came.  I suppose I’d known for years.  All the drinking, eating and smoking.  There was part of me waiting to die long before the news hit.

Well, you seem to check out.  There is a William Blank over there and no one has seen him for a few days. The lady there, Mary, described someone just like you.  Down to the know-it-all attitude.  What are you doing Counselor?  Out here like this.

The End is Nigh!  People should be warned and… 

I could think of nothing to say.

He stared at me, then said,

Right.

I returned to my post.  Across the street and down four houses, a child was playing in the yard.  There was plastic pool in which the child screamed and laughed while splashing water.  There was a woman nearby watching the child and laughing.  I waved when she glanced my way.  A moment later she carried the child inside.

The high clouds darkened bringing the smell of rain.  I supposed more money would come my way in the rain.  No.  I made my way back to the Piggly Wiggly, sloshing my feet as a child might in the puddles.  I kicked the water high thinking I might been a field goal kicker had law school not offered such profitability. Sports pays well but only to those determined to be the best. Even a mediocre lawyer makes a decent living compared to most. At best I was a step above mediocre and such acknowledgement satisfied me.  My nose never longed for a grindstone, my stomach felt no craving for an early morning worm.  Such clichés of success seemed hollow as a balloon.  My practice would die with me.  This too, seemed oddly comforting.

My take for the day was six dollars, mostly in change.  Twenty-eight cents of which I found along the sidewalk while walking.  The downpour continued as I reached the parking lot.  I went in the store to buy whatever six dollars would bring.

Excuse me, I said to the cashier.

Beer is over there, she said pointing behind me.

Ah, no thank you.  I’m wondering where the little cheap cakes are, you know the boxes of them?

That way.

I followed the line of her finger and located the section quickly.

I stood outside next to a broken mechanical rocket ship and devoured the Cake Rolls.   As I ate, an older woman walked up and handed me a Five dollar bill. 

No ma’am. Thanks.  I’m off the clock.

She huffed a ‘God Bless You’ my way and kept walking.

I shoved the money in my pocket.

The rain let up some so I headed out to my car.  As I approached I realized my keys were still in it and the door locked.  I laughed at the idea of getting arrested trying to break into my car.  I walked back to the store and used my silver earnings at a pay phone.  I picked up the receiver and realized I had no one to call.  No one that would consider bringing me a spare key to my car.  Not a soul that would drive 50 miles to help me out even though I had cancer.  No one knew I had cancer except me and the Doctor.  I called the Doctor.

Doctor Thomas?  Yes sir, this is William Blank.  I need your help.  I’ve locked my keys in my car over here in _____________ and need you to bring me a spare set from my office.  Yes, it’s about an hour or so drive. Weather is rather crappy, yes.  But see. Yes I do have friends, I suppose.  But see.  No, I can’t call the police.  Funny story, that.  Over here.  Well, I’ve spent the day panhandling and now they think I’m a bum and if I call them to ask them to open my car…yes, you see the problem?  Good.  You always struck me as a sharp tack overall.  You’ll come then?  I see. Yes, I understand.  Being with family is important, no doubt.  Thanks.  I’m sorry to bother you.

I hung up as the voice was asking for more money.  For three more minutes, please deposit seventy-five cents.   Funny how money buys the most meaningless things like more time on a phone.

I stood there for a moment checking my options.   I could call Mary and use my pull as employer to get her over here.  I’d have to pay her I suppose.  I ventured inside and asked the clerk.

Is there a locksmith service locally?

As she explained about her brother-in-law and how his neighbor knows a guy, I realized my pocket was empty and all proof of financial solvency was an hour away.   The bank was closed.  Shit.

I bought a cheap cigar and got a light from a construction looking guy walking in the store.   When he came back out, he handed me a quart of beer wrapped in a brown bag.  I accepted but promptly threw it away when he drove off.  The rain let up.  Night drifted in and soon the air was cold.  It was mid-week so the parking lot of Piggly Wiggly remained mostly empty.  As time went on I decided to break out my rear, passenger window and get into my car.  Cost be damned.

I used my elbow at first and finding that too painful, decided to use an odd metal pipe I found near the dumpster. I swung and the window shattered.  I popped the automatic locks, got in the driver’s side and drove off before I realized how comfortable it was to be in my element again.  The road opened quickly though the darkness gave me claustrophobia.  I tried to laugh at the course of my day but found humor supplanted by a desperate fear. No one to call to help.  No one knew I was dying.  No one.

The mood mellowed as I came closer to home.  I thought on which Bourbon to sip.  I had several chapters left in a spy novel I was reading.  After a warm shower, I’d settle into my old chair and relax.

My mind seemed empty at the police check point.  I had nothing they requested; no identification, no license.  No worthwhile explanation about why my rear, passenger window was busted out and a bum seemed to be driving such a nice car.  One officer recognized me and convinced the others to let me through.  I asked if one of them had a smoke.  None did.

My neighbor, Mrs. Callaway, always irritated me.  She was nosy, smelled of flowery perfume and spoke with a question mark at the end of her sentences.  The royal We was employed by Mrs. Callaway, in an attempt, to me, of sounding cultured.  Silly.

As I returned home she met me near my door.

Mr. Blank, I see we’ve had a rough day at the office?  Perhaps you work too hard?

I yelled.

I’ve got Cancer you sanctimonious bitch!  You happy?  Tell the whole fucking’ world if you want…the old bachelor lawyer is dying!

She stood there as a tree just before I collapsed on her shoulder sobbing.  I felt her pasty hands on my back as all the madness unloaded.  She helped me in to my home.  I questioned for years whether Mrs. Callaway would break into my house to snoop around.  As she deftly moved through the house retrieving towels I felt grateful for her busybody zealotry and disregard for state laws.  She rubbed my head dry as my hands shook violently.

No one knew.  No one to call.  I blathered on like an idiot. Spilling my cancerous guts on her sagging ears.

She took my hand and began to pray.  I leapt forward and tried to kiss her, grabbing her 62-year-old breasts.

A smack across my face and she was gone.

Cancer or no, you’re not to treat me like a whore!

I dried myself off, showered, and dried off again.  I sank into the chair with my book and bourbon and tried to clear my mind.

I felt the tears well up behind my eyes.  I called Mary at her home and informed her I was closing the practice for a while. 

Personal reasons, I said when she asked why.

You know Mr. Blank, things are tough everywhere.  My daughter told me today about some man begging near her house.  He kept saying The End is Nigh, The End is Nigh. People are crazy these days, sir. 

I laughed.

I’m sure I’ll open up again soon Mary.  I’ll have someone send over two-months’ pay to your house.

Thanks, Mr. Blank.  Anything I can do?

No. Thank you.

I hung up and fell asleep before finishing my drink.

Writing through the Dream, T.C.’s old joke and the music we should all hear.

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You write the piece long before the title appears.  Right here I should insert some contemporary or classic literary reference but to be honest I haven’t read that many good books.  Well, I’ve read them but I can’t remember shit because I really think a good book leaves with you an emotional note more than a quote.  Who gives a damn if Fitzgerald used way too many, very, very over-used adverbs in describing most everything when your finish, IF you finish, you sincerely wish that someone would really, really keep telling the very, very interesting story?  How many sentence fragments does Cormac McCarthy use when telling us about some Kid hellbent on violence or what an apocalypse looks like when pushing a grocery cart?  Honestly.  Plus, classic literature sucks.  How many times does Dickens have to tell you Marley is dead before you understand?  He wrote well for his time, but for all time?  Not so much.  Great plot, horrible writing.

Here I am drinking and listening to Johnny Cash and wondering where this fiction addiction will lead.  Hellfire, I don’t know.  I just find myself writing whatever crazy shit I come up with and losing myself in the process.  Writing is a lot like using drugs; you don’t know where it’s going and it is probably bad for you…but still…it’s a lot of fun.

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Gaines lives down here.  Hell, he teaches at The University of Louisiana, Lafayette and if I were a stalker-type I’d long since shown up at his door begging for inspiration.  I don’t see the need in grovelling at his groovy feet asking for inspiration.  Besides, he’d probably call the cops once he found out I was a Conservative. 

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Ugly mess, politics.  Everyone clamors for their rights, their shares, their pieces of eight from the booty haul of the American Dream but Truth be told, it ain’t so Buster.  The American Dream was a con script from jump based on Marketing needs and the want of some guy named Levi in selling sub-divisions to returning G.I.s.   I can speak my mind, I can show to any Church on Sunday and I can expect to be left the hell alone on my property; that’s the American Dream, if you ask me.  All this Mojo about an attack on said Dream, or continuation of said Dream is more Marketing.  Look at it this way…Politicians get their chubbies by promising goodies to the masses.  The masses, woefully uninvolved in their own Dreams, believe what the Politicians say…The DREAM is under Attack.  or, THE DREAM is REAL..  Either way, you’re a sucker about to swallow a load that just plain tastes gross.  The Constitution, for the most part, is damn hard to over turn.  Let it go.  Quit voting your fears and vote your brain.  Seriously.

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I’m Homophobic.  No doubt.  Think about what those guys do to themselves…for FUN.  Honestly, I get skittish thinking about a doctor’s visit now that I’m over Forty.  Those guys do such things for enjoyment.  That’s toughness.  Damn right I’m Homophobic…one of those guys could probably kick my ass all over creation without a thought.  Homosexuality…that’s T0ugh.

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I don’t know who Honey Boo-Boo is…

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I began this story about a kid who wakes up at his own funeral.  There…you know all I know now.

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For anyone coming across this blog by mistake, I say again: Writer’s Block doesn’t exist.  Like Mid-Life Crisis, it’s an excuse based on Fear and Laziness.  Get over it.  Not every word you write will be good.  Just write it.  Wait six months.  Come back to it.  Then decide what to do with it.  You aren’t God and you aren’t whoever your favorite writer is….hell, your favorite writer isn’t your favorite writer.  They’re just some person who stuck it out through the FEAR.

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Back in the Army this guy used to tell everyone that the key to a large Manly Member was to rub Lard on it every day.

Some kid took his advice.  Every day for weeks, this kid rubbed his Happy Spot hoping for an increase in his bounty.  Nothing. In Truth, his Manliness grew smaller during the process….

After several weeks, the kid confronted the soothsayer of all things lengthy….

You said I would see some increase if I rubbed it each day.

True Dat my friend.  You used Lard every day?

Lard? Well, they didn’t have that…I used Crisco.

Dumbass, Crisco is a SHORTENING….

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Get drunk, listen to the Blues and get back to me.

Emilio Jones.

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Henry Blank followed a path so generalized it escapes a description. He stood before his bay window, gazing into his manicured backyard noticing nothing at all. No birds sang for Henry Blank. No clouds puffed by in the wake of a summer breeze. Today was the big day. The announcement to end all announcements. Henry Blank was running for Mayor of Mahalia. The members of the Upper Mahalia Bridge Society had worked their magic until even Henry believed he was Mahalia’s only shot at municipal redemption. The night before he had informed Renee.

–I’m running for Mayor.
–What?
–You never listen to me.
–You never say much.
Henry flipped the channel over to Leno.
–Mayor of Mahalia, if you wondered.
–I didn’t wonder. I knew. I heard from Linda.
–Linda talks too much.
–Yes, you do.
–The boys down at the club say I’m a shoe in.
–Dirty socks and feet wind up in shoes.

He got up and went to the bathroom. Renee hit mute on the remote and followed her daydream through the hallway and out into the street. Henry came back.

–Why can’t you support just one thing I do?
–I should’ve stopped at just one thing.

He stared at her and picked up the remote. He threw it back on the table, climbed into bed and flicked the lamp off. Linda sat in the bed staring at darkness.

Henry heard the percolator’s final gurgle. He poured his imported Jamaican coffee into his travel mug. The mug was an award from the Ruritans for perfect attendance, 2004. They bought the two-story Victorian from a friend in the Society. When they first walked in, Henry fell in love with the giant bay windows facing the back yard, front yard, and one facing each side yard. Many mornings and evenings, he stood before the windows. He never noticed much, but loved the idea of everyone seeing him standing there. A regal observer of the neighborhood and, through implication, nearly all Mahalia.

–Henry! You still here?
Renee called down the stairs.
Henry thought of ducking out the patio door and slipping around to his car.
–Henry! Answer me dammit.
–Just about to leave. What the hell you want?
Her words became muffled as she replied.
–What? Spent? Speak clearly.
He moved towards the front door, away from the stairs.
–What the hell is that tent?
Renee’s voice was higher than normal. Henry remembered that was how she sounded when worried.
–What tent?
–The yellow tent in the back yard. Don’t tell me you didn’t see it this morning.

Henry stopped mid-sip and walked back to the bay window facing the back yard. His gray, sagging eyes squinted as he surveyed the 3 acres of landscaped perfection. He scanned the cherry trees in the east, the gently used work shed to the west and then settled in on the offender.

A stained, yellow tent sat in the middle of the yard. Henry could make out the tip of a large, brown sleeping bag exiting the unzipped door. Makeshift clothes lines were on both sides of the entrance. From nearly a hundred feet away Henry thought he could smell the tent and its trespassing occupant. Henry went for the patio door and upon sliding it open yelled.

–Renee call 911. Tell them hurry the hell up!
He heard Renee run down the steps. Henry marched into his yard, dropping his punctual coffee mug.
–What the hell are you doing in there? Wake up you worthless bum! Get off my lawn. Get that damn…
Henry stopped as the sleeping bag began to move. His girth caused him to breathe heavy as long, dirty hands grip the sleeping bag’s feet.

A man emerged from the tent. His equine face, centered by a twice broken Roman nose, appeared covered in slimy dirt and flanked by depressed cheeks. Henry looked at the man. The man looked at Henry. The man grinned at Henry violently, as if waiting for a moment to pounce. Or run. Or speak. Henry couldn’t read anything in the man’s movements or posture displaying fear or courage. Softly the man’s clear green eyes twinkled. He opened his chapped lips.

–Henry Blank, I presume?
–Who the hell are you? What are you doing here? Get off my lawn, you, you, bum. Miscreant.
–Miscreant? Sort of a big word for you ain’t it Henry?
–How do you know my name? Are you some stalker? My wife has called the police already. You’ll be locked up…
–Renee.
–…as soon as they… What? How do you know her name?

The man moved quickly back into the tent and reemerged before Henry could move a step. The man held a stack of newspapers.

–See Henry Blank. In my line of work, a man has lots of time to read, but often not a plug nickel for which to buy a book. So I do what I can to keep abreast of all the comings and goings via newspapers. You read the papers Henry?
–Of course, every good citizen should read…wait…get the hell out of here!
–Well then Henry you’ll appreciate an avid fan of your editorial-type letters you send in on occasion.
–Thank you. Yes. I do on occasion write a piece for Clay down at the Harold. We’re old friends…

The man shuffled through the papers letting some fall to the ground.

–Ah!
His voice echoed. Henry became aware of his neighbors as the man’s voice died in the still morning air. He became aware of sirens in the distance.
–Ah! Here it is. July 13, 2002. Mahalia Herald. Page 4, letter 3, sentence 11. I’ve underlined it Henry Blank. Care to read your own words in your own yard as I stand here with this tent?

–I don’t know what you mean…I don’t recall.
–Oh you wrote it Henry Blank. Here, I’ll save you the trouble, but none of…well, the embarrassment.
–A good citizen is never embarrassed by their own opinion, particular one as well-conceived as my own. You know I’m running for Mayor because of my well-conceived…
–I know. I heard. People talk when nobody is listening. I’m nobody. I heard already. Ready for me to read aloud? Good, Ok.
–The police are almost here, you need to remove yourself or I’ll press…

–It is my considered opinion that the problem can be solved by an understanding by all good citizens that we must open up our borders to these people to display our compassion and generosity to our fellow-man. We must destroy that infernal fence! I dare say the only thing for a good citizen to believe is that one’s property is the property of all mankind and that our claim, as it is called by those simple-minded among us, to property is nothing more than a tool of the greedy and shameless.

The man stopped reading.

–You remember writing that Henry Blank?
–Vaguely. Yes.
–You hear those police sirens Henry?
–Of course I do.
–Running for Mayor are you Henry?
–Yes. The announcement is today.

The man’s eyes danced in their sockets.

–Well, we have an impasse don’t we Henry Blank?
–How so?
–Never very bright were you? To put it plain. Do you want the entire town to think of you as the Mayoral candidate who shunned a homeless Man in his time of need. The candidate who, despite his many well-received, and well-conceived editorial type letters, turned his back on his fellow Man out of sheer greed and shamelessness?

–I don’t think this is exactly as everyone will see it.
Henry felt his face go flush as the man smile even broader.
–Ok. Send in the bulls, kick me to the curb where scum like me belong and continue impressing folks down at the Upper Mahalia Bridge Society with your generosity.
–That’s some sort of blackmail, you bastard.
–Only if it works. And I suspect it’s working pretty damn good.
–Who are you?
–I’m you, ten years from now or me ten years ago. Not sure yet…
–What?
–Emilio. Emilio Jones, professional squatter and all around ladies’ man.

Bisbee shame, furry love, and finding the Chicken House…

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In November 2010 I posted a blog entitled “Boardwalk Furries”.

To date it is the most popular blog posting I’ve created. It relates our encounter with a group of folks who get their jollies dressing up like stuffed animals and hanging out. They also ‘yiff’, which is what furries do when bumping uglies.

Judging by the topic’s popularity, perhaps I should write about pseudo-sexual deviance on display at oceanfront locales more often. Think of the ratings.

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A couple of friends on Facebook have shamed me over my experiences in Arizona. It’s actually my lack of experiences that is the shameful part. While stationed in Ft. Huachuca, I failed to visit a town called Bisbee. I actually failed to visit most of Arizona although I made a day trip once to Tuscon. Through WordPress I met a person from Bisbee–Find an Outlet–who is an interesting representative of an intriguing place. Check out her blog.

But what all the shaming reminds me is that we should explore the world around us, regardless of where in the World we are. I’ve a paltry collection of photos, writings, and memorabilia from the places I traveled back in the day. I recall spending much of my time pissed with myself for winding up in places where I knew no one and no thing about my environment. Instead of learning like a grown up, I cowered like a child. I stayed in my room, listened to my cassettes from high school and wrote boring letters back home. Blech.

But what’s done is dinner and I refuse to play with my food.

I learned that lesson years ago. Funny how the reminder came back through a few pictures of a town I’ve never visited.

Explore your world, wherever you are.

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A man came in the office the other day asking for the manager. Sadly, that’s me. He sat in my office and requested a tour of the facility in addition to asking me many questions. He was an older man with scuffed boots and blue work pants with a red handkerchief peeping out of his back pocket.

I asked why he was interested.

“My family owned the land that this place is on. I grew up on this land.”

Over the years, he’d driven by many times.

“Just to look, ya know. See what was happening on the old homestead.”

I gave him a tour and told him as much about our company as legal. We were standing on the dock. I was rattling off bullshit a pound per minute, trying to convince the man how much good a milk company can do. The nutritious aspect of what we sell. The thousands of pounds of dairy products donated to local Food Banks. He smiled and looked around.

We walked around the back lot.

“I think this is where the chicken house was…I guess. Hard to tell.”

We made it back downstairs to the coffee pot. By now, he was rattling off and I was smiling. His Daddy was a dirt farmer who worked in Richmond at what was the Lucky Strike plant. He and his siblings worked the farm; mornings, evenings, summers, weekends, whenever. He said he couldn’t remember how many times they ate meat at a meal. Somewhere around once or twice a month. The rest of the time it was beans, cornbread, or whatever Mama could boil over the fire. There were Eleven brothers & sisters.
One brother died young. I could tell by the way he said it, he’d never talked much about it. The words just fell out of his mouth.

As he was leaving I explained the gate would open up automatically, as his car got near it.

“Mama never wanted to sell it. Developers just gave her too much money after Daddy died. Now she’s gone. Me and one sister up in Maryland is all that’s left.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

He smiled. “Yep. Let me go see your fancy gate. Thanks for your time.”

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A television is a handy piece of furniture when your bookshelf is full and you need to put a book down someplace.

Other than that, it’s mostly useless.

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Go Bears…

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Room of his own. (Final)

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David Gray awoke three days later and weighed 636 pounds. The hospital had placed him on a borrowed cattle scale. They zeroed it based on the mattress’s weight. Administrators had come from varying departments to check in on David. He had become their first, and only, famous patient. News organization from around the state, then the country, then the world, wanted to learn about David. The media named him “The Growing Man”.
He had not eaten food during the six days it took him to gain 450 pounds.

Tests were conducted on his blood, his urine, his fat cells, his flesh, and his semen. Research was done on similar cases up to the point where it was discovered no similar cases existed. David Gray, the Growing Man, was an anomaly of modern medical science. Psychologists flooded the talk show circuits offering opinions on David’s mental state. The President took the opportunity to commission a study on obesity. Speeches were made, pundits shouted, water coolers boiled amid heated debates on the Growing Man. Vegas gave odds on David’s weight when he finally died. Odds were in favor of a heart attack by month’s end.

David looked around the room. A maintenance man had removed the television. He was a bent man with gray hair and white knuckles. He’d helped with the cattle scale while listening to the television clamor about the Growing Man’s sexual habits, his high school experiences, and how the Growing Man is making a political statement against hunger by exposing the nation’s gluttony. The bent man yanked the television out the next night.

He stood at the foot of David’s bed as David slept.

I don’t know why they do that…hell with ‘em…

David watched his hands as they rose. His fingers were pale sausages, his hand the size of Cornish hen. He felt hungry. He felt disgusted. The wish for sleep came upon him. Though his dreams escaped him, he knew he was still thin within them. He gasped for air as fat continued to surround his lungs. A nurse came in.

You’re awake. She said.

She closed the door softly. Coming close to the bed she said,

This is my first shift with you. You have your own shift now.

David nodded. Can I get some water?

Of course. Whatever you want. She poured some water in small cup; put the straw to his mouth.

You’re famous, you know.

Thank you.

After I check your vitals…could I get an autograph?

What’s wrong with me? Why is this happening?

The nurse ran her hand across David’s chest. All the hair had fallen out.

Nothing’s wrong with you. You’re famous.

The door opened.

Nurse Watson. Oh, he’s awake. Wonderful. How are you doing Mr. Grow…Gray?

The doctor moved to the foot of David’s bed. He checked the chart then looked at the scale’s readout.

Six Thirty-Six. Holding steady.

I weigh six hundred thirty-six pounds? David said.

For the last…looks like the last two hours. Yes. Holding steady.

David closed his eyes.

Where’s my wife? David said.

You’re married? The doctor blurted. Of course, it says so here. She must be at lunch or something. I’m sure…

David looked at his left hand. The bloated skin of his third finger was scarred.

We had to cut it off, Mr. Gray. I’m sure it’s in your personal effects.

David kept his eyes closed and pictured an easel. A prairie of rolling hills with a warm breeze causing trees to sway surrounded him. He wasn’t thin, or fat. He was… The brush in his hand, the paint splotched on his shirt joined to stop time. Tomorrow was unseen canvas. Yesterday faded with a dab of paint thinner. He had no deadlines, no job, nothing to grasp. He was… Guilt crashed upon the rocks of his dream. David had no desire for home. No desire for Rachel. He knew she was gone from him. David sensed no feeling of loss at the knowledge. Something must exist in him. Anything that would show all he worked for, all he produced, was worthy of the effort. The voice he’d heard that night a few weeks back. The voice that reminded him of painting, of his love for Sinatra; it came to him now. It was his voice, but not his words. He felt the words permeate every part of his bloated self. You need room of your own.

The doctor spoke up.

Mr. Gray. We’ve tested you every way possible and have found no logical reason for your sudden weight gain. You’ve consumed no calories beyond sustainment. Surprisingly, your cholesterol, sugar, blood pressure…all normal. It’s as if, well, your body doesn’t realize it’s gotten larger. Your heart rate is normal, although your breathing is a bit irregular at times. Strictly speaking, except for your weight gain, you’re as healthy as any man your age.

David opened his eyes as the doctor was speaking. He kept the images, the calm, before him as he watched the man’s mouth move. This is real. He thought. Room of his own. A man must make room of his own. David chuckled.

Yes, the doctor said. It is odd isn’t it? We simply have no idea what has happened to you.

The doctor looked down.

Six thirty-six, he said. Holding steady. If there’s any change, let me know.

She moved towards the bed after the doctor left.

Don’t touch me, David said. Just don’t. And no I won’t give you an autograph. Just go.
She looked stunned and walked from the room.

David felt the sun’s warmth coming in the window. It rested on his arm. He tried to remember what his arm had looked like a week ago. It was lost to him. The memory of his body was gone.

Rachel was gone. She’d left him. He knew that as intimately as he knew the feel of the sun’s heat. His house was empty, waiting for his return. He breathed deep and held it. The exhalation lasted a full minute. David felt dizzy when it finished. For reasons David only glimpsed, The Growing Man had stopped growing. He was holding steady.

636.

David Gray looked at the mountain of flesh that hid his feet. It rose and fell with his breathing, but David observed it as if it were separate from him. It was more than an easel, he thought. It was more than paint. He knew it by experience, not definition.
The sun gave the room a golden hue. David smiled softly. He fell asleep.
The scale’s readout changed.

632.

629.

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