Battle not with monsters lest you become a monster. And if you gaze for long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you—Nietzsche

I was born in Dayton Ohio. You think the midwest is easy but it’s not. Dayton has the highest murder per capita of any city in the US. At least it did when I lived there.

We also have the highest number of Presidents, Ohio does. More US Presidents were born in Ohio than any other state. Ohio also has the distinction of always voting for the President. In Presidential elections, Ohio is the state that most consistently votes with the winner.

It’s a testing bed, a litmus test. Columbus is a model city. That means when they’re testing a product, they test it in Columbus, because if it works in Columbus, it’ll work in the rest of the country. And if it doesn’t work in Columbus, it won’t. Columbus is miles and miles of malls.

Dayton has a combination of features from around the country. The language is broadcast English. There are white people. There are black people. There are Indian people. There are some Asians. There’s a lot of programming north of Cincinnati; we have some high-tech companies there. You can go to college in Ohio. You’ve got Ohio State, if you want to party. And you’ve got OU, in Athens, if you also want to party. And there are smaller schools. Case doesn’t count. It doesn’t fit with the spirit of the state. Cleveland is just..you go too far north you lose the spirit of the Ohio I’m talking about. If you have an engineering degree from Case, then: every offense intended. And I’m sorry. You got ripped off.

You’re not going to be well-rounded if you live your whole life in Ohio, just like you’re not going to be well-rounded if you live your whole life in California or Djibouti or wherever else. Ohio isn’t exactly whitewashed. In southern Ohio (which borders Kentucky) you have white people and black people who have moved up from the south. They’ve come up on the bus. They’ve come to join their cousins..or flee their cousins. So you’ve got a southern mentality and a southern friendliness (not quite a hospitality). But people come from Pittsburgh, which is only four hours away, and people leave Dayton to go to Pittsburgh, to go to school. My friend Jenny did that; she went to school in Pittsburgh. Four more hours east and you get to Philadelphia, another hour to New York, so if you were born in Dayton you can go to New York and if you were from New York you might end up in Dayton. If your family’s there. That’s what happened to Jules. She was born in New York and she came to Dayton because of her family. Then they moved back and left her, and she was the only one there.

Jules is black. Black people and white people don’t get along in Dayton. That’s why Dayton has the highest murder per capita in the country. I know you’re rushing for your almanacs. It’s gotta be Detroit? Or “South Central”? Right? Nope. It’s Dayton Ohio. It’s not just murder in general. It’s murder per capita. Look it up.

People who are born there always want to leave. If you came later you like it more. But no one leaves—almost. It’s a black hole. People who live there say it’s a vortex..it’s one of the vortexes. There are vortexes near Sedona, in the southwest. And I think maybe there are vortexes in Brazil or something. And then there are the vortexes of Dayton Ohio. They’re supposed to be some sort of energy center. It’s like a hurricane that you can’t see. Or a tornado. It’s special energy. Maybe it helps you..you know..maybe you’re in tune with it. Or maybe it kills you..you know..crushes you because you can’t take it. I don’t believe in vortexes. But my friends do.

I do believe it’s impossible to leave Dayton. I don’t really care whether it’s due to vortexes or economics or magnetism or what the fuck it’s due to, but once you move to Dayton—or if you’re born there—it really is impossible to leave. My friend Tuesday left for a while. She lived a year in Sedona. But she came back. And my friend Anna left for a while. I think she lived in Montana. But she came back, too.

I finally left. I drove to New York, left my car in a parking garage on 58th and Lexington, and never went back. That car wasn’t there long, I bet. This is New York. I bet it was there for a day, maybe two days, and then they towed it. I have no idea. That was a great car, but I was done driving.

I didn’t have a car in high school. I didn’t have a car in college. It wasn’t until after I had graduated from OU and had started my first job. I was working there three months before I got a car. Before that I was driving my dad’s van. When I did get my car I bought it new, bought a Honda. Nowadays it’d be a Subaru but this was back a few years. Mine was black. A Honda Civic DX, hatchback, five speed. It was a major step up from the van.

In high school I never worked; we weren’t allowed to. My parents wanted us to focus on school. Senior year I had a job in a library; that was about it.

I never drank in high school either, never smoked pot. I did a lot of things late.

In high school I couldn’t drive, never drank, didn’t have sex. So I had to find other things to do. Mostly I did art projects. And hung out in girls’ rooms, not-having sex with them. We listened to music. I was into video; it was later I discovered painting. And it was later I discovered sex, real sex, fucking. And later still that I drank. And even later still that I learned to drive a car. Now I don’t do any of them. I’m retired. It was in therapy, maybe five years into it, when I realized I had become a Puritan. Maybe always have been. We have a strict family, but not in the sense that you’re not-allowed to do things. Strict in the sense that you can do whatever you want..but after you do it, we’ll judge you. Freedom, then damnation. That’s how all of us turned out.

A typical afternoon for me, once I had spent the entire day cutting class doing art projects, was to go home with one of my girlfriends and do art projects at her house until my parents called and made me come home, or sometimes until it had gotten to be so late that my parents would call her parents and promise to send me with money next time if they would please front the money, this time, for a cab. I preferred the cab. You didn’t want to have my dad pick you up when he was mad.

I liked girls’ basements, and I liked girls whose parents weren’t home. Parents who worked late, who would be home an hour before they stuck their head into their daughter’s bedroom and discovered there were two of us.

“Who’s your friend?”

“This is Matt.”

“Have you two eaten?”

“We had macaroni and cheese.”

“When’s Matt going home?”

“We’re working on an art project.”

“Liz, come see me. I wanna talk to you.”

“In a minute, ok Mom?”

“Elizabeth Ronstadt. Right now.”

Liz and I did video together. Our finest project was cut to some Pink Floyd she introduced me to, The Division Bell? My parents were into the Beatles. I grew up on Here Comes the Sun. We just cut all these pictures together—black and white pictures from magazines—and we put some Pink Floyd over it and we called it our own.

When Liz came back from talking with her mom she said: “You have to go soon.”

Then Elizabeth sat next to me on her bed.

Before, she had been sitting kind of across from me on the bed. Now we only had limited time, so we had to make out.

The first time I touched Liz’s breasts it was in school, and we were on camera. For video, we were supposed to go into the hallway, or anywhere around the school, and get shots of things we thought were interesting. Each shot had to be at least ten seconds long, for editing purposes. If the shot was shorter than ten seconds, when you tried to edit it, you might not have enough footage. What if you wanted to fade out? Or fade in? Even if it’s a still object, freeze-framing a shot doesn’t look the same as having a still shot, of the object, sitting there, not doing anything. We had to make sure each shot was at least ten seconds. We got shots of the stairs—this neat shadow that was happening. We got a shot of Liz’s leg. Then we got a shot of me cupping Liz’s breasts in my hands, as I stood behind her. That was the first time I touched Liz’s breasts. (Action.)

I touched them a lot after that. We used to sit and play footsie under the work tables in the art room. But in me and Liz’s version of footsie, we went straight for the crotch. We weren’t playing around with any toe-on-toe stuff. She went for my crotch. I went for hers. We got along fine in art class. When the people sitting next to us found out why we were laughing, they were disgusted. Maybe they were jealous; they acted disgusted. I liked having Liz’s foot on my dick. And I wasn’t sure exactly what I was doing to her, between her legs, but it felt hot and I liked having my foot there.

Liz was mixed. Maybe that’s why some of my white friends didn’t like that I liked her. I know that’s why some of my black friends didn’t like her. It’s ok, with some of your black friends, for their black friends to have white friends, but sometimes with those same people it’s not ok if their black friends like their white friends. You can like white people, you just can’t like white people. Same with black people; it’s okay to like them, you just can’t like them. Liz was mixed.

I really didn’t think of her that way. It’s only looking back that I realize she had darker skin (darker than a tan, and more regular than a tan) and that her hair was dark and curly and unlike the hair of any “white” people that I know. In high school I wasn’t aware that she was mixed. I just thought she had nice breasts.

When we made out at her house, when her mother left the room, I would put my hand down her pants and feel her vagina, and put my fingers inside of it, and her door would be open, and we’d both be looking at it, imagining her mom walking in.

I’d feel her squishy parts and she’d tell me about her neighbors.

“You know that kid Rafael? He was sitting on the fence when we came in.”

“Yeah. I know Rafael.”

“Why? How do you know him?”

“Because,” I say, “he’s a gangster.”

“Is that all you’ve heard about him?” Liz sits up.

My hand is still inside her. “Why? What?”

Her jeans tighten over the back of my hand and she leans close. “You can’t tell anyone this. Don’t tell him I told you. Don’t tell him. You know that girl Brandi, the one they found behind the school?”

I nod.

“You know how the police are always around here?”


“They’re looking into Rafael. They think he’s the one that did it.” Liz grabs my wrist and my hand is frozen. “Don’t tell anyone this, but I know he did it, because he told me.”

I look at her.

“He brags about it to everyone, around here. I told him don’t you ever tell anyone you told me that. He did it, though. Those police are here every day. I hope they get him.”

After that I lost my erection.

I wasn’t with Liz long, just in high school. We weren’t even really together, we just made out. I preferred making out with her in the school hallway, or in the prop room that had all the theatre costumes. That was a scary room, but Liz’s house was scarier. If you know that someone killed someone, and they go to jail for it, and you’re the reason they got caught, that’s a bad thing. I was pretty sure Rafael had killed that girl; you could see it on his face.

When you’re a kid your ideas of things are lampooned. Your idea of a kiss, before you do it; your idea of sex, before you do it; your idea of death, before it happens to someone you know. Even your idea of murder. When you’re a kid, it’s like: oh my god how could someone do that? Then you grow up, and you’re like: yeah, if someone raped my daughter I can see running them over with the car. You understand rage. You understand accident. You understand that some people are just fucked up, and have been since birth, and will never be ok, no matter what schools they go to or medication they take.

In high school, I just didn’t want Rafael to see me at Liz’s house, because if he told Liz, and he saw me with Liz, and he ended up going to jail, when he got out he might come looking for me. It was worth making out with Liz in the prop room.

But yeah, next year it was Tuesday, and the year after that it was Meryl. And Liz’s just someone I think about from time to time—like on a scale of years. You wonder where these people are—and you don’t really care—but that’s a whole person out there, doing things. Usually people become completely different.

I went to OU—this is in Athens Ohio—and I met another girl. This one’s name was Kate. And after that it was my roommate’s sister, Stacy (that was awkward). Then it was some girl named Meg, who was very forceful, and there were a bunch of other girls in there and there was even a guy (named Chad) and..actually there was even another guy, Mark, and oh, yes, there was this girl named Charisma, who was excellent and who I could never give up, even though we had nothing to talk about. I’m pretty sure Charisma was the best sex of my life.

But it’s hard to judge.

I mean, there are so many angles. There are so many facets. There are so many aspects of a relationship, even just the sexual part, it’s hard to say that Charisma was bar none the best sex of my life. But she was. In a pure-fucking sense. She was.

We would go to movies together and she would just suck my dick.

We would go to dinner—she would try the same thing. (We got kicked out of restaurants.)

When we got home we never made it to the bed. We fucked right on the floor. We made out in the seafood section of the grocery store—and I hate it when couples make out in grocery stores. Everything was sex to us. At one point we were working through all the public library branches in Dayton, having sex in every one. Public places was a thing of ours. It was pathological, but it was good, good fucking.

The next day, though, was always a pain. I had to hang out with her until about two in the afternoon, and she’d want to go on errands, buy things, random things like she needed to go get a tarot deck or a new crystal. We were always in these gypsy stores. I’d be sitting in the parking lot, in the car, thinking about just leaving, while she had her cards read. And she’d always be talking about other guys. That’s what she’d need the tarot reading for. We were just friends with benefits but still, I don’t want to hear about the guy you’re getting engaged to, while I’m buying you a crystal. I didn’t care about the money though; the worst part was waiting for her to get done with her errands, so I could take her home. By noon the next day I didn’t care if I ever fucked her again. I was done. I was even done with pussy altogether if it had to be like this. How can you be so good at fucking and have absolutely nothing in common with a person? When we fucked it was like god had re-invented sex. In the car with her, the next day, it was like god’s counterpart was doing some relationship experiments of his own.

Charisma’s one of the only people I’ve ever cheated with. Every time we had sex we were cheating on some engagement she was in, but that’s not what I’m talking about. When she and I first started, we were cheating on a relationship of mine. She was that persuasive. And I was that fucking horny. It’s hard to stay faithful when you’re twenty.

I was with this girl Ashley, who later became my friend. But while we were together, I cheated on Ashley with Charisma. Once. Well, twice. Two nights. And there was one other time I cheated on someone, with someone else. And that time is one of the things I regret the most. But even Ashley—I never should have cheated on her with Charisma. She deserved better.

Ashley I met at work. She was the password girl, the account girl, she kept track of all the user accounts for the software I developed. Ashley was from Middletown, and she came up to Dayton for I don’t know what reason. She’s extremely skinny, kind of a freak; she’s got wispy hair like she’s fifty, even though she’s only twenty-two. If you need passwords for anything you go to Ashley.

“I need a ghost account for news.”

“Hold on.” (She’s on the phone.) She’s typing. I didn’t see the headset. “Makowski. You’re so nasty.” That’s what she’s saying into the headset. Makowski is our boss. One of them. “Hold on.” This time she’s telling Makowski to hold on. “What do you want.” She turns around in her chair, spins the chair around, and spreads her legs. She’s wearing jeans. She runs her hands up the inside of her thighs, toward her crotch.

“I need a ghost account for news.”

Her eyes never leave mine. “I’ll chat it to you. Is that all you need?”

“For now.” I turn and start to go.

Ashley turns back to her screen then says: “Wait.”


“Why do you need a ghost account?”

Other people in the aisle of cubicles are hearing this.

I just need it. “For testing,” I say. I mean this is her job. She could get fired for giving me the wrong password. But she’ll give me any account I want. You’re supposed to keep things separated—partitioned—for people’s safety. Social security numbers and everything. But in actuality everybody has everything, inside the company. We’re always in the news for leaks.

In my chat I find a picture of a girl squatting over a boy. They’re on a mattress with no sheets. Paint on the walls is crumbling. This is from Ashley. She always sends me porn at work. Technically, the pipe that chat runs on is unencrypted, so anyone in the office who had two brain cells to rub together could run a program and sniff out what everyone else was saying on chat. But no one in this office takes that initiative. They’re all busy surfing YouTube.

I delete the picture. I type: ghaccount?

Ashley types back: a second! Then she types: xoxoxxx

Grisly. Ashley is technically married, but they’re separated. She got the house. That’s where we fuck, typically, though sometimes in my apartment. I fucked her one time in her desk chair on a Sunday morning, which was a really terrible idea but there’s no cameras in this area. I think she has a thing for Makowski. It’s something about the way she presents to him in meetings. Like a slave thing; like she’s getting off on subserviently presenting him with bullet items and completed task reports. I can see when she does it. Makowski doesn’t notice but to me it’s obvious. Something about the way she puts her elbows on the conference table and then where her chest rides after that, its altitude. Makowski is a fucking idiot for not noticing. He’s an MBA.

Makowski I found at the pop machine one day. This is in the hallway outside the office. He’s standing there in his pleated khakis. When he bends down you can see how tight those pants are. I hated tapered khakis, I just do. It says something about you if you’d buy them. This fucker is going for a nickel in the coin-return. It’s not clear if he’s putting it in or taking it out. He struggles with a dollar. It’s folded. It won’t go in the bill acceptor. He sees me standing there and he says: “I’m an MBA, you’d think I could figure this out.”

MBAs. I wasn’t going to critique him. I wasn’t going to say a thing. I was going to stand there quietly and wait my turn. I might have even said something pleasant to him, even though he’s my boss. Something like: “Hey.” And maybe a smile.

But no.

This fucking guy.

Even a pop machine is about him being an MBA.

Does he remember using pop machines before becoming an MBA? Does he remember that non-MBAs can fuck, drive cars, pick their noses, make telephone calls, drink water—even play golf! Motherfuckers and their “golf shirts”. Give me a fucking break.

If Ashley ever fucked Makowski I would lose all respect for her. But she wouldn’t. He’s too fat.

I type: ..? That’s an ellipsis and a question mark. Two is the new three. As in: where is my fucking ghost account?

Ash responds with another link: this time to some Sesame Street gag I’ve seen before. Sesame Street crunk. (“What’s the number for today?”—“I’o’n’know nigga!”)

I call her. I don’t say anything. I just breathe.

I can hear her lips. Gum.

“What are you doin after work today?”

She says: “Making cards.” She makes greeting cards out of construction paper, popsicle sticks, stuff like that.

“That’s not what I mean,” I say. “What’s your pussy doing after work?”

“Oh that,” she says. Long pause. “I can’t talk about that right now. Uh-huh. One second.” ppl at my desk! she types.

ghaccoutn I type. I type fast and the letters get transposed.

.................forthcumming she types.

Then it says Ashley has left the conversation.

I’m imagining her bent over on the carpet in her upstairs bedroom, the extra room, the craft room. She’s got a popsicle stick in one hand and an Elmer’s glue in the other hand. Maybe she’s licking the glue, I don’t know, but I’m fucking her.

Ashley wears the weirdest panties. Her bras, on those tiny breasts..I always feel like I’m with a little boy. Some cross-dressing kid who stole his older sister’s undies. Yeah. She would definitely have a popsicle stick in her hand.

Her husband lives in some apartment north of Cincinnati. It’s kind of fucked up since he paid the down-payment on this house and Ashley never would have been able to get it without him. She can just barely make the payments. I know cause I’ve helped her. Now that’s an expensive hobby.

Ashley is the only person in this entire office who makes any sense. Well maybe Gao. No—scratch that; Gao doesn’t make any sense. Ashley is the only person here who makes any sense. I hope she finds another job, she’s too good for this place. A bunch of monkeys. I’m not sure if I really like Ashley or if I like Ashley because of the contrast between her and everyone else.

She types back across my screen: GKHDDWN

That’s my ghost account.

I type back: txh

I follow her home after work. She drives real fast. We play cat and mouse on I-75. When it’s just me I don’t drive like this but I use her as an excuse. It’s flirting; it’s justified. We don’t talk on the phone, though. That’s a little too dangerous.

Ashley gets home she eats a banana. That’s why she’s so skinny.

“Let’s get a pizza.”

“You get one.”

“You’re not having any?”

“I’ll have a slice.”

I dial a number.

“I want pepperoni.”

“I’m not getting pizza.”

She looks at me weird.

“I’m not getting pizza if you’re only gonna have a slice!”

“What are you getting?”


“I want extra mayo. And no cheese. And extra of that sauce they have.”

I throw her the phone. “Order it yourself.”

“Look who’s cranky,” she says. Then we fuck.

We don’t get pizza. We don’t get burgers. She eats bananas and I eat Special K with her fucking skim milk and beef jerky. She’s making craft cards with glitter and ink stamps. She’s got ink all over her hands. Sometimes I don’t get into the tomboy thing. I’m looking out the window with a glass of wine.

“We should throw another party,” she says.

This whole neighborhood is still being created. There are lots in her cul-de-sac that don’t have houses on them. Most of the houses on this street are empty. They’re waiting to be sold.

I turn to Ashley and say: “What kind of party?”

She pats the carpet next to her for me to sit.

The last party Ashley and I threw was called the Ice Party. We always do theme parties. And we always require something of our guests. It’s a trick to create ownership. If you require something of someone, they become a participant. When you participate, you feel ownership, you have more fun. Like someone who never does chores at the house they live in: you’re not getting away with anything, you’re harming yourself by dealing yourself out of participation in the house. You won’t ever feel you really live there until you participate..in whatever’s going on..chores or whatever. At our parties the required participation is written on the invitation. At the Ice Party, the participation was “Bring something to share”. Simple as that. Your participation can be anything, as long as it requires something from the guest. It doesn’t matter what they bring to share, it doesn’t even matter if they share it. The only thing that matters is that the person feel they’re a part of things. “Bring something to share” accomplishes that.

Ashley and I were working on perfecting our parties.

“What should we call it?”

“The ’Naughty’.” I said that without even thinking.

Ashley’s patting the carpet next to her, trying to get me to sit. “What’s the participation?”

I gesture with my wine glass. “Wear something naughty,” I say. I don’t sit down. I’m pacing. Pacing. Because now we have the kernel of an idea.

Next thing you know I’m at Frederick’s of Hollywood—and this is before I’d ever been to Hollywood, so this was Frederick’s of Hollywood in the Dayton mall, in Buttfuck Ohio.

I’m picking out water bras with these women who are loving picking out water bras with a twenty-three-year-old man. Most of these women are older than me. But there’s one who’s about my age. They have their hands on me: they have to in order to size the bra. Turns out what looks good on me is a 32A. Pink. Water bra. And I’m buying panties too. I was going to stuff the bra until these women introduced me to the water bra. Before I walked into Frederick’s of Hollywood I didn’t know such a thing existed.

If you’re the host of a party called the Naughty, and on the invitations you’ve charged each of your guests to “Wear something naughty!” then you better damn show up in something naughtier than all. Pink panties and the rest of my Frederick’s of Hollywood get-up should do it. You never know, though; some of these Ohio kids are freaks.

I’m squeezing this water bra to feel its plushness and this check out girl is squeezing it with me and we’re both standing over it like experts at Christie’s examining lot 666, the matching bra and panty set for a man. Perfect! Better than stuffing! If someone feels me it’ll be oh so soft! I’d like to take this girl in the back and feel her chest, do some side-by-side comparisons to the water bra, see which one is softer, swap out this pair of panties for the ones she’s wearing. Etc. Instead I settle for giving her an invitation to the Naughty.

“What’s your name again?”


Ashley’s naughty outfit is this French maid thing. It’s like a corset. It’s not supposed to be a French maid thing, but that’s what it looks like to me. She just looks like a whore. Or a vampire or something. It’s really not that hot. I think I’m getting tired of Ashley. Just sexually. The maid thing is played out.

“What are you wearing?”

I show her the Frederick’s of Hollywood shit.

She touches the bra and looks at me. “You’re gonna wear this?”

I put the bag on her craft couch, next to a bunch of Stampin’ Up! accessories. “Want to see me in it?”

“Sure,” she says, but she’s not sure. She’s not sure at all. “Your boobs are gonna look bigger than mine,” she says.

“Are you jealous? Do you want to sit on me and think about it?” I touch her tit. She does have small tits.

“Do you wish I was..” she’s not looking at me “..more like that?”

I fingernail the shit out of her tit and she jumps back.


I grab the top of her jeans.

“Do you wish I was more like this?”

“Do you wish I was more bodybuilder?” I say. “Or more washboard? Or more teen angst emo mothefuckin earlobe-plugged-out fuckin..skater..earthy..”

“No, no,” she says, “You’re pretty washboard.”

“Well don’t get worried about it.”

She’s touching the Frederick’s panties. “I just..if you want..I mean my underwear aren’t like this.”

“That’s because your underwear have class.”

“If you want me to wear underwear like this—“

“I love your underwear.”

This is the kind of thing you say to end an argument. You say this thing in private, when it’s just you and one other person. “I love your underwear.” I mean, you don’t love her underwear. You might like them, you might have kinky great feelings about them, but no one loves underwear. Love is reserved for animate, complex beings; responsive beings. You might even love a cow. You could definitely love a dog. But underwear?

“You do, baby?”

“Of course I do.”

“You love my underwear?”

“Yes.” I love to take them off you. Does that count? I love that they contain you—does that count? I love them because you love them, I love them because they’re yours. That’s the extent of my love for them. I’m not a loving-underwear kind of guy. “Come’ere, Ash. What’s wrong?”

“Do you like my costume?”

“I like it.”

“Does it make you want to fuck me?”

“I always want to fuck you.”

“But does this make you want to fuck me?”

“Jesus, Ash.” I pull away. “It’s naughty. It’s very naughty.”

“So that’s a no.”

“I can’t determine if it makes me want to fuck you, because I always want to fuck you; and hence, I can’t distinguish which of the multiple factors at play are making, me, want, to, fuck, you.”

“Do you really want to?”

“Yes.” (I really did.)

“Do you want to do it on the counter?” (The kitchen counter, this was a new thing.)

“Yes.” Of course I want to do it on the counter. Counter is fine. Kitchen. Bathroom. Those are all fine places to fuck.

“Do you wanna do it with the vibrator?”

“Yes.” Of course. I want to do it with the vibrator. No man can always be enough for a woman. You need the vibrator on your clit. I want you to have it there.

“You’re gonna play with my nipples?”

Of course. Of course I’m gonna play with your nipples. And you’re gonna cum. And then I’m gonna lay you back and fuck the shit out of you. You’ll be face-down. I’ll come on your back. Then I’ll lay on top of you and you’ll go back to craft..motherfucking..iPod holders or whatever you’re working on.

There’s a hollowness about sex—there can get to be. You can avoid it. You can maintain it sweet, you can maintain it pure..it’s just a lot a lot of work. Because you do get used to their underwear. And their shaving cream and their favorite lunch meat. Those were all tiny little pieces of information that were new to you at one point. Of course you knew that corned beef was a lunchmeat, before meeting that certain someone..you just never thought about it like that. As a good choice..as the right choice. Somehow this person, in moving around in the world and making sandwiches and learning how to eat lunch, has found such an optimal choice of lunchmeat..something you were unable to find..or not ready to find! But now you are! Corned beef is truly the best choice for lunchmeat, as is that certain kind of sandwich bread—the kind you had been getting before is too hard! It’s too hard to chew. This bread is much better. It says “sandwich bread” on the package for god damn! The bread I’ve been buying doesn’t even say “sandwich bread”. That bread was good for my sandwiches—you know, honey and butter—but for corned beef and mayo this bread is ideal. This is the bread. This one right here. Why does anyone do it any other way?

And then you eat that kind of sandwich for a while.

And it just becomes bread.

It’s just: the kind of shaving cream we always get. The kind that’s in my shower.

It’s just: the way we do it, with the vibrator on your clit and you sitting on top of me and then me fucking you from behind while you smile blissfully with your face pressed against the sheets. Then I come on your back and then you get up and then I fall asleep and then you put the sheets over me so I’m not sleeping naked and then I have dreams about dogs biting me who won’t let go and their teeth! and then I wake up sometime in the middle of the afternoon with afternoon sun shining in my eyes and I push off the sheets and I go in the next room past the bathroom with all the usual shaving cream and I find you in the craft room and I wonder why I don’t sneak a few of my clothes home with me this time when I go and you look at me thinking these things, which I’m sure you think as well, and then you reach for the craft knife and you’re cutting identical strips of iconic bears into the side of..side of..something..a cup holder for your mother..I don’t know..

You can put your junk in female panties even if you’re a guy. It’s not 100% comfortable, but it’s ok. My junk isn’t that big.

I’m wearing cargo pants, six pockets per side. But underneath are my Frederick’s of Hollywoods. On top I’m wearing a rainbow shirt, skin tight. And under that is my water bra. I did have to stuff it a little. I’m not wearing makeup or anything. And I’m wearing socks. They’re these furry ones with little gripper things on the bottom. I have to adjust my junk.

I look in the mirror. I don’t look like a girl at all. I look like..a guy wearing a water bra. I push down the front of my pants. Pink top of the Frederick’s. Now that’s sexy. It doesn’t make me want to fuck a guy. It makes me want to be a girl getting fucked by myself. Or maybe it makes me want to fuck a girl. My dick is pointed straight up. But it’s not hard.

Here’s who’s gonna be at this party. It’s gonna be me. It’s gonna be Ash. It’s gonna be waaay too many of our work friends—the ones who like to do drugs. The ones who wanted to make sure we’d have alcohol and ecstasy and that the party was going to be insane before they agreed to come.

“Is it gonna be insane?”


“Is it gonna be ridiculous?”

“Yes. Are you coming?”

“Let me check with Angela.”

Angela is Gao’s wife. Gao is definitely coming to this party.

Who else is coming? Let’s see. It’s gonna be Ashley’s improv friends and it’s gonna be people from my neighborhood. I live in town, in Dayton, in the Oregon District. There’s gonna be people from there, people I met at the coffeehouse and people who live downtown. These are people who come to art shows and who I know from bars, and from high school. Some of Ashley’s friends are coming too. Aside from her improv friends, she’s bringing Kenzie Merriman, her best bud from high school. And Nathan, someone else from high school. He’s gay and his mom robbed a bank on television. I mean she robbed a bank. And it was on television. On the news. We’re pretty sure he’s gay. Well, I’m totally sure; Ash is on the fence.

Who else? Ashley’s notable improv friends: MJ and this girl Brooklyn. And Zombie. Brooklyn is this tightly-hot, kind of smouldering one of the three. MJ is short for Mental Jiant—we call her that cause she’s smart. And Elizabeth Ronstadt..that’s Liz, from before—who I went to high school with? People call her Zombie now, or Zombie Lizard. We never hang out; Ashley met her independently through class. Now I only see her at the club. Elizabeth is sort of the babydoll-murderer of the three. The three of them plus Ash are in an improv troupe. Improv comedy. And they do some sketch.

From work it’s going to be—no managers, just people we work with—it’s going to be Hong Yang Gao (my work partner), me, Ash, this guy Brickman (a web developer), his wife (or girlfriend), this girl Karen (she’s a tester, she’s not very good but she looks like she needs to get out of the house). She’s married but not bringing her husband. There’s a story there, I’m sure, but I’m not going to be the one to tell it. Who else? Some girlfriends of mine from high school—that should be interesting. That would be Sarah Garner, Arianne Bannister, Constance Page, and some others. I guess you could count Brit. And also Missy Horne. They might be there too. I just kissed Brit once, but it was an intense kiss. She was grabbing my dick.

Ash is bringing some exes too. Annoyingly, this fuckhead Christopher Whatever-the-Fuck-His-Last-Name-Is. Muggs? Miggs? Something stupid; something that sounds like the military. What was it? Sergeant Fuggz reporting! Fitz-something? I don’t know. The guy is an asshole.

And my friend Chad. Chad is beautiful. Chad is one of the guys I would fuck if I was gay. Or maybe even if I wasn’t gay. Chad has beautiful, long, dark, shiny hair. Did I mention it was black? It’s not curly; it’s wavy. Down to the middle of his back. He wears it in this ponytail; he looks like a martial arts master. And he has the funniest sense of humor. He’ll go off on a tangent about “The top ten reasons you never want to fuck a crack ho”—stuff like that. It’s hard to explain but he’s just..silly.

Also I invited Janel—the girl from Frederick’s of Hollywood, remember?

That’s about it. We invited the neighbors just so they have less reason to call the cops.

When I have a party I don’t fuck around. We had to modify Ashley’s house a bit.

I mean it was our party. But certain touches were just mine. Like the disco ball. And the strobe lights. And the blacklight room. And the bong, with a funnel at the top and a bunch of plastic tubing we bought at Home Depot. That bong was a motherfucker. You’d pour—whatever—in the top and it would slide down this one-inch plastic tubing, swirling around this pole in Ashley’s kitchen, and at the bottom—you’d have to lie on he floor to get it—you’d open your mouth and in would slide your shot, or your beer, or whatever you were drinking.

The blacklight room was for sex-only. It was designed to be an orgy room. Everything in there was meant to inspire sex. We’ll see how it goes.

What else? The bathrooms were all done out, decorations on the mirrors and shit. There was a makeout closet—Ashley’s walk-in closet. It was labeled “Makeout room” or something equally obvious. You don’t want to be putting complex instructions on your party. “Makeout room” is simple enough. You can read that and understand it when you’re drunk. Also: on the invitations: “Wear something naughty”. A five-year-old could understand. That was all our flyer said on the front: “the Naughty [date and time ] [location]” and “Wear something naughty”.

This is what people wore:

(Some people dressed heavenly.) Janel was one of those. She rolled in early; she was one of the first to get here. Janel’s idea of naughty was something like a lingere angel. I didn’t think it was all that naughty but it was naught-tay. Ash was in the kitchen, I open the door, Janel comes in, the house is mostly still empty. Ash and Janel see each other, I know this is going to be a rough night.

“Janel! Glad you’re here!” (Slight kiss on the cheek.)

“I brought these,” she says. She’s got two bottles, a Jamison and some potato vodka I’ve never heard of. “It’s Russian.”

“Really? Janel this is Ash, Ashley, this is my friend Janel.”

Ash stays seated on her kitchen counter. “And how did you two meet?”

“Really? That’s Russian? I didn’t know Russians made potato vodka.”

“Or it might be Slovenian,” she says. She twists the bottle in her hand. She looks very, very good.

(Some people dressed normally.) I mean normally for “naughty”. These would be people like Brickman, from work, and like Karen, from work. Karen comes in she’s got her mouth hanging open like she’s at the dentist. She’s always like that.

“Is there cotton in your mouth?”


“Close your mouth. Is there cotton in the back of your throat?”


I put my arm around her and bring her into the house. “Come here, come here, there’s the kitchen, have a drink. Ashley’s in there.”

Karen shows me some Bud Lights. “We brought these.”

“Put em in the kitchen. Where’s Gao? There he is. Gao. What the fuck is up with you?”




“Hong Yang!”

Matthew!” Gao leans in close. “Do you have any ecstasy?”

“What?” I pretend not to hear him.

He whispers in my ear. “I heard there was gonna be ecstasy at this party.”

I put my hand on his head. “Hong Yang.” I kiss his forehead. “Come do a shot with me. Brickman, get your ass in here. What the fuck. I thought you were gonna bring your wife.”

(Some people dressed freakishly.) That would be Elizabeth Ronstadt—Zombie Lizard? These girls show up. This is Zombie, Mental Jiant and that girl Brooklyn. Yeah. Zombie shows up in desert camo pants, combat boots, and a white bra, drenched in blood. Mental Jiant is smearing the blood on Zombie’s stomach when I open the door to let them in. MJ is dressed as a flasher. When I open the door, she straightens from Zombie’s belly and opens a beige trenchcoat. She’s completely naked. Sweaty little clam. She closes the coat and pulls down a dark pair of shades, overly-dark. And Brooklyn. Brooklyn. It’s not like we had this party in January, but still. Brooklyn is wearing electrical tape on her nipples—two little Xs—and a white pair of panties..and that’s it.

There were those types of people. There were those that dressed heavenly, there were those that dressed normally, there were those that dressed freakishly. And then there were other kinds of people.

(There were those who dressed devilishly.) Well, there was one who dressed devilishly. Actually she dressed as the devil. But a naughty sort of devil. And it was this one that I liked the best.

I’ve told you all I’ve told you, up to this point, not so you’ll think I’m a womanizer—by today’s standards I’m not—but so that you know what this story is about. This isn’t about my job. It isn’t about my using drugs. It’s about my love. And I had imagined love, held concepts of love, even thought I’d been in love..but before that night I had never had the chance to love. Of course I’d loved my family, I’d loved my friends, I’d even loved my job and in a way I’d loved drugs and books and exercise. I’d loved apartments I’d lived in. I have this chair I love. And I’d loved women—loved their bodies, even loved their minds. Even—and this is true—even loved their emotions, even loved their person-ality, their chaos and their little quirks like wanting to see a nine o’clock movie and leaving the house at eight forty-five. (That was Ashley.) But before that night I’d never been in love, and that’s the kind of love I’m talking about here. Did she sweep me off my heels? Not really; I’m a guy, we don’t really get swept off our heels. Did she blow my mind? It’s more like she blew my spirit. I just never knew anyone like that existed. I spend my whole life acting—pretending to like people. I don’t even know I do it—at least I didn’t before I met her. It’s like you’re having these conversations, and you’re dialing yourself down to deal with whatever the person is telling you, whatever thing they’re going through, but without even thinking, you’ve filtered out the great and wild and real you, and you’re just dealing with them in the way that they need to be dealt with. Because all they want to talk about is work—or all they can talk about is work. Or dance. Or improv. Or painting. Or sports, television, and all that shit. I don’t care about the weather. I don’t care about traffic. I don’t care that the show was so goddamn funny last night. It wasn’t. It wasn’t funny. It wasn’t scary. It wasn’t great. And it never is with people.

Except..eventually..when you meet the right person..it is.

That person for me was Jules.

I’m standing with the door open, ushering in Zombie in her Desert Storm blood bra, Mental Jiant the fucking Sesame Street Flasher, like she’s gonna show me the golden “AN” or something. And Brooklyn—damn. Nothing on. A white pair of panties and electrical tape. I’m just watching her go in, from the back, nothing but skin. And Ashley jumps off the counter for these three, cause these are her improv friends. And she’s tweaking Brooklyn’s nipples and I see Mental Jiant—from the back this time—as she opens her coat to Ashley and the rest of the room, then closes it. Zombie smears some blood on Ashley’s neck. And Ashley bites Zombie’s neck, hard, and Zombie winces. (“Fuck, bitch!”)

Then MJ’s looking around, and Brooklyn looks back, and Ashley and Zombie are talking but I see Ash see her first. Someone behind me. And Brooklyn slaps her naked leg and says, “Come on, Jules!”

Jules: where to begin. I guess I’ll start with what she was wearing, even though that is the least important thing I could tell you about her.

She was dressed as the devil. She was dressed as the fucking devil. And not like a joke devil, not like those red plastic horns and equally cheesy pitchfork. She has dark skin, and she’s wearing red. Her shorts are twisted onto her, twisted up her crotch, twisted on her legs. Her top is done the same way, like it was dyed in lamb’s blood, dripped it, she did some sort of ritual and this is what she looked like when she was done. She has a cape—clear plastic, thick plastic—and high boots (also red) and in that same deep red she’s holding an umbrella. And then around her neck was a string. And on the string were three things: a whistle, a rubber ducky, and a razor blade.

“You know it isn’t raining, right?”

“It keeps the grief away.”

“It’s raining grief?”

“From the sky.”

“I like your—“

“Don’t touch it.”


She has my finger in her hand. She shakes it away, then blows in her hand like it had dust in it—the end of a magic trick. “Don’t touch it..because I said so. And because it’s mine.”

The razorblade is right on her skin. If she hugged you, it’d cut her.

Mental Jiant is talking to her friend. “Don’t touch it..because it has cocaine all over it.”

I look at the razorblade.

“It doesn’t have cocaine,” Jules says.

“But,” MJ screams, “It’s going to!!”

Then Jules is going past me, and she never takes her eyes off me, and she says—to MJ but while looking at me—“It’ll have your blood on it before the night is through. And maybe little bits of your mind. But I never, ever use this razorblade for coke. I have other razorblades for that. Is this the house?” Jules is looking around. She sees the ceiling. She sees the floor. She sees the other people, but she’s at a different speed. It’s like she’s thinking faster, or with alpha waves or something, and she’s in a trance, and in her dimension everything runs at double speed..so everything around her runs twice as slow. So she can get into the spaces between, and she can see Hong Yang Gao for twice as long as he’s seen her, even though in clock time it’s been the same amount for both of them. And she’s going into the room like this, and I’m standing at the door, and it’s like I can already hear our final conversation and see our final scene. I know we will be together. I know that I’m the one who will like her more. And I know that, when we separate, she will be the one to leave me, because I would never leave her.

And yet she seems small, like she would break, like she’s a skeleton and between us only one has flesh. Like she just stepped onto this planet, earlier tonight, and this is her first party, and her first night sleep, and her first time walking in a body. Like she’s never been to school, never worked, never been ruined by any of that. Maybe never loved—maybe never ruined by that either.

She goes into Ashley’s house, and it’s Zombie and MJ and Brooklyn..and then it’s Jules. It’s Jules. And it’s everyone else. She doesn’t stand by them, she goes around the room. She puts her hands on Hong Yang Gao, on his neck, and blesses him. I don’t know how else to say it! She blesses him with her touch! I don’t know if she kisses him or straightens his shirt or brushes his cheek. I don’t think she did any of those things, I think she just touched his neck. And in her eyes..blessing. Then she leaves him, and you can see Hong lighten. He doesn’t even smile. He just lightens. And Jules sits on the couch, on its arm, next to Karen and she starts talking to her. This stupid little girl from work, this shitty tester whose mouth is always open and talks like she’s deaf. Jules talks to her, and she takes Karen’s drink and she drinks from it. And she hands it back. And Karen is happy, because Jules is listening to her. She’s really listening. She’s really being listened to. This black devil with a razorblade necklace and who’s smiling like Karen is the greatest teacher in the world, like Karen is the wise one, like Karen holds the most precious, the most rare, and the wildest secret in the world. And Jules is there to catch it. If it falls out. To scoop it from the floor and put it back into Karen’s heart. To close the door and stand guard, with all her devil power, to keep it safe. To warm it. To see it with her eyes. To blow it like a spark with devil breath. And make it glow.

That’s Jules. That’s the best way I know to describe her. I know it’s a bit operatic but that’s the way she was. I don’t think I ever knew her a day without her singing, and I don’t know how to talk about her without doing the same.

But there’s a hand on my shoulder, and there’s breath in my ear. And Chad’s got his hands on my waist—because Chad likes me, too—and I bring him into Ashley’s house. I present the room. And Chad sees Jules, and he knows without any discussion.

“What the fuck.”


“No,” he says, and he grips my face in his hands and looks into my eyes like I’ve only ever been looked in the eye by Chad. And it doesn’t make me uncomfortable. And he says. “No.” And he means Jules. “No.” And he means me. “What the fuck.

People were aways saying that about Jules and I. They would look at us—one of her friends would meet me or one of my friends would meet her—and they would say “Do you realize what this is? Do you see? Do you see?” And we would say: “Yes. Yes I see.” And they would say: “No. No. I do not think you do.”

Did we see? Did we see that we were—it wasn’t made for each other—it was more made from each other. We were cut from the same stuff. As though, in all the universe, many little pieces of stuff had been cut up, and sent out into the world, and these two, that happened to be cut from a place right next to each other, had happened to meet again.

We didn’t look alike. Jules was black and I’m white, so there’s that. Jules is a woman and I’m a man, so there’s that. We were the same height, but it wasn’t that. It wasn’t how we looked. It was our essence. And if you can’t read a story where people talk about essence then I suggest you stop reading right now. This is a story about essence. This is a story about love. And if you can’t stand a story about love, then this book is not for you. We’re not very far in. You can stop now.

When you looked at Jules and I, you said: that is two of the same. That is the only way it can be. That..is..

And you would stop.

Because the thing was, you had never seen a Jules and me before. You had never seen it, even in your own relationships. It doesn’t happen. It can’t happen. And it’s never happened to me since.

Love isn’t perfect. And Jules and me weren’t perfect (you’ll see that). But there is such a thing as a soulmate. And by this I do not mean someone you fall in love with! Because being soulmates and falling in love are two separate things. You don’t necessarily fall in love with your soulmate. Comparatively, love is common. Finding your soulmate is rare. But even if you find your soulmate, that doesn’t mean you live happily ever after. It just means you found your soulmate.

Jules was mine. It is very unlikely that I will find another. It’s possible. It is. But the world is a big place, and matters of chance are hard to control.

Chad is one of these people who will fuck up a dance floor.

“Chad. What are you doing?”

Chad is behind me with his hands on my neck. “I’m fucking up the dancefloor.”

He kisses my neck. That’s just the way Chad and I are.

Ash is next to me. My strobe lights are working; they’re pointed at the disco ball. The light in the room is..crazy. Karen is half-sitting on Brickman’s lap; that’s what I’m talking about. Corny little girl and corny little guy: get together. Have stories to tell on Monday. Get funny stares at work; they’ll only be from Gao. Where’s that VP I invited? Didn’t I invite a VP?

“Didn’t I invite a VP to this bitch?” I’ve got a firewater shot in my hand.

Ash says: “Are you gonna drink that?”

I do. Cinnamon. Shot. Gone. Glass on the counter.

“What were you saying?”

“What was I saying?”

“Something about ’a bitch’.”

I lean into Ash. “I was saying: didn’t we invite a VP to this bitch?”

“Did you?”

“I don’t know; did I?”

Ashley shrugs.

I think I invited Mastin. I’m pretty sure I invited Leonard Mastin, VP of Mead Research. I hope that motherfucker shows.

We’ve got: well first of all, we’ve got MR employees, who are married, on ecstasy, making out with each other on the couch.

“Did you give them ecstasy?”


That would be Gao, Brickman, and Karen.

“How much did you give them?”

“I gave them one.”

“Did you give it to them?”

“I sold it to them. Well. Gao I gave two. And I gave them to him.”

Ashley says: “Keep an eye on him.”

“Gao’s fine. I’ll take him a water.”

“Is he drinking?”

I shake my head.

“Are they?”

Brickman and Karen? “A little.”

Ash looks at me. “You get Gao. I’ll get them one.”

I nod. Gao is on the back of the couch, with Karen’s head between his legs, playing with her hair. He’s got strings of it between his fingers, like spider webs.

Ash is already across the room and she has waters for Hong, Brickman, and Karen. I hope Brickman and Karen fuck tonight. I think that would be delightful.

Chad is on that girl MJ and it’s him and the flasher; trenchcoat, hair, both flying.

I find Janel in the blacklight room, the makeout room. She’s sitting by herself, next to two other people but with space between them. The two people are Constance and Christopher Fucking Fuggs or Muggz or whatever the fuck his name is. They’re making out. Janel is sitting near them, looking straight forward. She’s kind of playing with the tassel on her shoe, which is white (and looks silver-blue). One of her shoes is off and she starts to put it on when I come over to her but then she stops and chucks it about a foot in front of her. The tassel on her other shoe—this white ribbon—is twirled in her fingers.

I sit between her and the makeout couple. I look at her. I smile. I look at the makeout couple. They don’t even notice. Constance Fucking Page and Christopher Muggz: motherfucker. Ash’s ex and my ex: together again. So glad we could introduce you. Have an ugly baby. I look back at Janel.

She looks lonely. She looks sad. She probably has a boyfriend.

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

She shakes her head but says “Yes.”

“You should have brought him.”

She looks at me, startled.

“I mean: you could have brought him.” I touch her ribbon. I touch her fingers, too.

I love looking at people in blacklight. It makes them scary. It makes them seem like a different person.

I kiss Janel. I hold onto her hands and I kneel on top of her and I make out with her. It isn’t long before I touch her breasts, and I have her nipple in my fingertips. She’s gasping and I want to go for her panties but she has her hands on my belt. She’s undoing it. She finds the pink Frederick’s panties she helped me pick out. She pulls them down and puts the tip of my dick in her mouth. I’m gonna get my dick sucked four times at this party. I’m not bragging. It’s just part of the structure of the evening.

“Leonard Mastin’s here.”


It’s Ash. She’s right over my shoulder. “Leonard Mastin’s here.”

Janel still has my dick in her hands when I turn around. “Did I invite a VP to this bitch?”

Janel lets go of my dick.

Ashley looks at it. She looks at Janel.

Janel looks away. She’s looking at Christopher and Constance, who are fucking.

“Hey! Hey!” That’s Ashley to Constance.

Constance looks up. Her head is against the closet. They’re not fucking, I was wrong. They’re not fucking but they’re close.

Ash says: “Did you do a shot with me? Silly girl. Constance, I didn’t even see you come in! Have you been back here all this time?” Ash looks to Janel for confirmation. Even in the blacklight, Janel blushes. “Leonard Mastin is here.”

“Did Gao see him?”

Ash shrugs.

Constance is kissing Christopher’s nasty throat, deep.

Ash tells them: “Stay right there. I’ll bring us drinks. But you” [Constance] “are definitely doing a shot with me.” She’s talking to my ex. She ignores her ex this whole time. Christopher Fuggz. Even Ashley hates him. She never calls him by his name. She calls him “Worst Mistake”.

“Who’s Leonard Mastin?”

“Huh?” I’m looking back at Janel and my dick has softened.

Her legs are spread. She definitely looks more comfortable than when I first walked in. Her Frederick’s of Hollywood outfit, head-to-toe, naughty angel, even the socks. See the strip in the bottom of her panties. Go to touch it. I want to. Ash is leaving. She’s looking in the room, half her face visible, as she closes the door. Yeah. The door to the makeout room should be closed. I could take this girl back to Ashley’s bedroom—or the craft room. Do a little Stampin’ Up. I put my finger inside the leg of her panties.

“Who is Leonard Mastin?”

“He’s this guy we work with.” But I’m looking at Christopher’s ass, skinny little ass, poking up in the air as he’s working his way down into Constance Page’s crotch.

“Mastin. You made it.”

Gao looks nervous. He’s tripping balls.

“Is anyone else from the office here?”

“Brickman, and Karen. Where’s your costume?”

Ash is with me. “What’s this?” She means Mastin’s suit.

“Did you get the invitation?”

Mastin smiles.

“Did you wear something naughty? It’s right there on the back, in English.”

Ash says: “It’s on the front.”

“It’s on the front. Did you get an invitation? Get this man a shot.”

Gao’s looking at me, pleading, like: get me out of here. Ash is showing Mastin the funnel bong that I constructed. He’s kneeling on the kitchen floor.

“Can you tell?”

“Hong Yang. No. You can’t tell. You look fine.”

“Cause that’s..Leonard Mastin.” Leonard Mastin is a VP at Mead.

“Don’t worry. I’m telling you. I can’t tell. If I can’t tell then he can’t tell.”

“Are you rolling?” Hong asks.

“No,” I say.

“Roll with me.”

“I promise I’ll tell you if you do anything weird.”

But Leonard Mastin is on the floor now and Ashley’s pouring straight Vodka down the rubber piping. Absolut. The blue bottle. 80 proof.

“Hong. See. You’re fine.”

“Where’s his outfit?”

“Yeah, we’re gonna work on that.”

“It makes me nervous,” Hong is saying, “if he doesn’t have an outfit.”

The vodka’s pouring into Leonard Mastin’s mouth. Some gets on the floor. He cranes his neck to get under the tubing and something falls out of his pocket. He grabs it with one hand and he’s standing and people are cheering and MJ flashes him and Ashley is opening his hand to see what he picked up and it’s a pacifier with little pastel angels painted on it.

Ashley stamps her foot. “What is this?” She holds the pacifier in his face.

“It’s something naughty,” he says, and he takes it out of her hand with his mouth.

I turn around but Gao is already distracted. He’s standing in front of the open freezer, frost clouds pouring all around him. I shake Mastin’s hand, and he’s sucking on the pacifier, and I say: “Get with Gao. He has something the two of you need to discuss.”

This time when I go into the makeout room it’s with Ash. Janel is gone. She’s somewhere else. I don’t know where she is. Christopher and Constance Page are doing their thing, and I guess this is the point in the evening when “the makeout room” became “the orgy room”. These are the hazards of throwing a party called the “Naughty”.

“Are you having fun?”

“Yes. Are you having fun?”

“Yes.” Ashley pulls down my pants and I already have her French maid skirt in the right position.

“People seem to be having fun.”

“People do.” She deals with my Frederick’s panties and puts my dick in her mouth (that’s two).

“Are your friends having fun?”

Ashley nods. She puts her hands underneath my water bra.

Christopher and Constance are moaning. I can see Constance’s eyes. We’re looking at each other. Her head is getting knocked against the closet door, loosening the screws. I’m gonna have to fix those in the morning. Constance Page. Fucked her only once, in high school, in the photo hallway, between the dark room and the developing room. Should have done it at her house. Could have done it at her house, if we weren’t so scared. We took math together. We used to study. Constance Page, getting fucked by Christopher..Worst Mistake. The only reason Ashley wants to fuck me in here right now is to get back at him, to show him she’s moved on. Not the only reason, but a reason. You never know how someone like Constance Page is going to turn out. They could go one of a few ways. In high school she was hot, but nerdy—at least I thought she was hot. But she wasn’t that hot and she wasn’t that smart, which usually means they’re going to turn into the milk-fed, plush, housemate variety: not super-hot, but loyal; not a great career, but willing to work at the library or something. Not as low as the post-office variety, but not at the college-professor or actress level either. Granted I shouldn’t equate the last two.

The door opens. It’s Chad and Brooklyn. I didn’t know Chad liked girls. But the two of them are a contrast: Chad in all black, with long black hair, and Brooklyn, with nipple Xs and a lotta lotta flesh.

Ashley sits on top of me. I can’t see Constance Page anymore. I can hear Worst Mistake’s unfing sounds and I don’t know what’s grosser: them using a condom or them fucking without one. Chad and Brooklyn are doing this tantric thing, slow touching, touching each other’s faces. They’ve got some kind of spiritual communion. It’s just gross, when you think of sex in the details. The mechanics of Christopher’s dick being wrapped in a condom, maybe it slipping off, Constance Page’s pussy juice mixing around his scrotum. That stuff has smells. I mean, tomorrow they’re both going to be taking showers and they’re each going to have the smell of the other one on them. I think that’s really why people are gay or straight. It’s not really about the act of sex. It’s about what kind of smells you want to have on you afterward.

I love Ashley. I love talking to her. I love having sex with her. I like having sex with her anyway. It’s like having sex with your best friend. There’s that saying, “Happiness is being married to your best friend.” If that was true, then I should marry Ashley. Then I’d be happy.

But I don’t think happiness is really what we want. If you’re not happy, then you want to be happy. But once you’re happy, you want excitement, you want fear, you want death maybe..but happiness does not want happiness. That’s the problem with it. Only people who aren’t happy want to be.

I don’t think we want happiness at all. I really think we want fear. As in: the state of one who might lose. Or: how you feel before greatness. Happiness is just: peace. Look around you. Does it seem like people want peace?

I think we want fear, because fear is of the unknown. Safety, satisfaction, peace: they are of the known. Fear is more alive.

Probably we want both, which is why we create relationships, then cheat on them. We want to be bad, and we want to be good, one with our parents, one with our friends; probably some fucked-up pattern from childhood.

I feel safe with Ashley, and I love feeling that way. But that’s not enough. I like when someone knows me, and I like when someone likes me more than I like them, because you know they’ll never leave. I like having a best friend. And I like fucking her, too; I like that kind of sex where you completely trust and you know the other person will never hurt you. That sex where you can look into the person’s eyes all the way through, where they can get you off while you’re looking sweetly in their eyes, like a child, maybe, like the care and trust that two adult children might have with each other.

I even like that she knows my past. She knows everything about me and she tells me the little details, the bone-drenching minutiae of every little emotion and the situation with her ex-husband and her mortgage payments and whether she checked the mail and how many sprinkler heads are gonna be in the front lawn and in what arrangement. That’s me and Ash; that’s how it is between us. If she says “do you want to go to a movie” I always want to. I could sit on her craft couch or stand at the window forever, holding my glass of wine, and watch her make cup holders out of popsicle sticks.

But there’s this thing, when you’re with someone—you always want to be with someone else. I want to be with Brooklyn, I need to be with her, and I never will. I’ll want to forever, though. Partially because I never will. There are questions that want to be answered. Once they’re asked, they never go away. If you never ask them, it’s ok, they don’t haunt you, your mind just goes on not-thinking about that question and a whole bunch of others that you never ask. But once a question has been asked, one of two things happen: Either you answer it, by exploration—you’re satisfied (with a yes or a no) through the course of events. Or the question is never answered, because you never get to try it out, because you never get to explore whatever circumstance and whatever possibility the question suggests. In this last case, the question drives you crazy forever. It never goes away.

It’s probably the most horrible thing to say, but Ashley was an answered question. She could probably say the same of me.

Brooklyn was an unanswered question, but a mild one. I’d never get to fuck her, never get to be with her particular body. Who cares. It’s unanswered, but the answer wouldn’t matter. Not much.

The question I was asking while Ashley fucked me..the question that was starting to take hold of my mind, in terms of razorblades and angels and little rubber ducks with devil horns..the question that was forming itself in the words of slow-motion and space, and how you could be between it..that question..

(as Ash and I fucked alongside Worst Mistake and Constance Page, and Chad and Brooklyn’s tantric love..and while, without a condom, inside my best friend’s body, I came)

..that question was Jules.

I found Jules outside, with Mental Jiant. They were both smoking, sitting on the curb in front of Ashley’s house, at the end of this empty cul-de-sac. I sit down next to MJ.

“MJ, I didn’t know you smoked.”

“I don’t, really.”

Jules says: “D’you want one?”


She holds out a lighter.

I cough. I smell the smoke. It’s an entire pack of pre-mixed spliffs. I don’t smoke pot—usually. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

Jules holds her cigarette with her thumb and index finger, lightly, like it’s a toothpick. When she flicks it away she flicks with those same two fingers. Her ass is on the sidewalk, heels in the street. Still that razorblade necklace. Whistle. Ducky. She puts her hand on the curb: long arm, double-jointed elbow. The girl has perfect posture. Perfect.

“We’re talking about the vortex.”

My eyebrows raise. “The vortex?”

“Jules is telling me about it. Tell us about it, Jules.”

“Is he ready?”

MJ looks at me and says: “He’s ready.”

Jules slaps my knee. “I knew you were!” She’s almost falling over. “I knew you were! I could tell just by looking at you. When I first saw you.” She’s come around, she has both her hands on my knees. She’s sitting in the street. “You know what you are?”

I’m looking at her.

She’s looking right into me. “You’re a divine master.”

I peer into this girl. What is the girl? Is she kidding? Is she insane? Is she high?

“You’re a divine master god. That’s what you are. Do you know that about yourself?”

I look at MJ.

MJ says: “Jules: Meet Matthew. Matthew: Jules.”

By the time we got around to talking about the vortexes the three of us had walked far away from Ashley’s house. MJ had gone inside and grabbed the bowl of jello shots. She had gotten her shoes. Jules had taken hers off. I had smoked most of my spliff. And the three of us were sitting on the second floor of an unfinished house, in the dark.

Jello shots are dangerous, precisely because you don’t know how much you’ve had.

I wished I could see outside.

Jules was standing in a corner, talking to us about the vortexes, but looking at the wall. MJ occasionally gave me a jello shot but she was eating most of them. Then it was just me sitting with the bowl of jello shots, and MJ was lying on the floor, and looking at the ceiling, and Jules was standing feet away from us telling us the story.

They knew it started in 1982. They had figured that out. They knew for sure about this one in Africa.

“I thought it was in Brazil, or Argentina, or something.”

“There are!” She takes my arm. “There are! You knew! I knew you knew! They’re minor. There are some in Argentina, I knew you knew. You know.” Jules is stroking my arm.

“And there are some here, too, right?”

Jules has a way of beaming into you when she looks at you. She doesn’t have to tell me. I know. There are some here, minor ones. They’re all over the planet. There are some in Hawaii. There are some in Arizona. There are some in places in Asia. There are some in Europe, where the druids were. There are some in Argentina. Some are in the ocean, underwater. But the major, major one—the one we know most about—is in Africa.

“It’s in Zaire. It’s in a river basin.”

“And this is the big one?”

“Listen. Yes. Listen. Are you listening?”

Me and MJ are quiet.

“The most they know about it is that it’s been there since 1982. But they didn’t know that until recently. Because—before you ask—because: they found a direction of time that goes—“ she uses her arms to show how it goes “—crossways with the rest of the development of change.”

“What’s ’the development of change’?”

“It’s..you know how things change? Through time? We think of it as time but it’s not just time, they’ve discovered. There are other developments of change, that aren’t time, but that change things..like time does. Got me?”

We were trying, but we didn’t really get her yet.

“When time happens, things change.”

“Like getting older.”

“Right. You get older. You stop being a kid. You die. Time is the metaphor we use to understand how that happens. It’s just a metaphor, though. There isn’t really a timeline where time is a line or a dimension that’s straight, that only goes one direction—“

“Is she high?”

“She’s always like this,” MJ says.

And Jules says: “Shut up. Shut up. I’m trying to tell you something here. About the development of change. Do you want to hear about the development of change?” Jules puts her hands on my lap.

I say “yes.”

“He wants to hear about it. So shut up.”

“Tell him about the vortex.”

“I’m telling him why they didn’t discover it until recently.”

MJ holds up her finger. “It’s too complicated.” She’s shaking her hand. “Just—“ she’s looking at me—she’s shaking her hand at me! “Just—give me a jello shot. Tell him about the vortex. Thank you. Assume—for now—“ she swallows the shot “—assume for now that it makes sense that it’s been there since 1982 but they just discovered it recently. It all comes together, but—Jules, it’s too complicated when you explain it with the cross-dimensional time thing. Just tell him about the vortex.” And MJ lies down again.

The vortex was a hole, basically. It was like a funnel on the surface of the earth. Like gravity. If you got too close, you’d never come out.

It was shaped like a well, like a spiral well. It was like a tornado, except not in the air. It was a tornado whose top was at the surface of the planet, and whose bottom was somewhere at the center. Or, at least: its bottom was underground. They don’t know how far down it goes.

It can suck you in if you get too close. That’s why people didn’t find out until recently that it’s there. Because everyone who knew about it, went into it. So unless you’d been there (and got sucked in) you didn’t know about it. And if you did know about it—if you had ever known about it—you got sucked in, because you went too close. People tried to keep their distance. They said: I’m going to go there and see what it is. I’m not going to get too close. I’m going to keep my distance. But they couldn’t. Once they were there, it didn’t seem dangerous. It seemed beautiful. They had to see it just a little bit more.

Since no one who had seen it was around to talk about it, getting description of the vortex was difficult. There were conflicting ideas. Some people said the earth turned into an ocean, and it was like the water in a bathtub drain. Some people said it was like a black hole, where as you got closer and closer the gravity became stronger, and it was harder and harder to go back the way you came. People said the ground was cracked, at the outside, where it started. You could go into the forest around it, you could drive some distance along the road that led to its center, but the moment you thought you could see it—even see evidence of it—you had to turn back. It was that slippery. You could see it on the horizon, but the minute you saw it, it was too late. You would be in the forest. You would think: something is wrong. The grass should not be like this. The ground..I’ve never seen the ground like this. They said it makes the sky purple. That it’s like lightning. Like purple and orange lightning, right over the hole. They say that the orange above it is like no other orange you’ve ever seen—that it opens up a new part of the spectrum, and your eyes see a range of color that they’ve never had a chance to see before.

I don’t know. I’m just telling you what Jules told us. MJ had heard it before. She said there was a website. She said it was dangerous to think about. The more you thought about it, even conceptually, the closer you got to it. People who documented it, died—and their documents never got out. There was a van, a news van, that had broadcasted on their way in, and some of the video was saved. Jules had seen it. People said it was fake. It looked fake. It had to, because video couldn’t capture the vortex. It had to look fake, because if it had looked real, the vortex would have captured anyone who saw the video, and believed.

“Do you believe that? Can you imagine it? Do you see the picture that I’m painting in your mind?” Jules is about an inch from me.

“No,” I say. I don’t.

“That’s why you’re safe,” she says, and she closes her eyes.

We had to hold her upright to get her back to Ashley’s house, because Jules could hardly stand.

The blacklight room was fully an orgy room and I was getting my dick sucked by a murderous babydoll when Gao comes in and tells me that Jules is throwing up in the bathroom.

I go to the bathroom and knock. “Jules?” There’s no response so I’m about to knock again and say “Jules” again but then it’s Ashley from inside and she’s screaming at me and screaming into the toilet at the same time: “You go fuck her. You fuck her!” Sound of the toilet lid: clack on the porcelain. She’s gripping it with both hands. “You go fuck that little girl.” Then mumbling.

I turn around; Gao’s gone. It wasn’t Jules, it was Ash. I find Gao in the blacklight room. He and Leonard Mastin are touching each other’s eyebrows. Brushing them with their fingers. That’s gonna be awkward in the morning.

“Gao. Hi Mastin. Gao—“

Mastin pulls me down with them (rolling on the floor).

“I see you and Hong discussed that thing I mentioned.”

“We did,” Mastin says. “Now we’re brushing eyebrows. You should try it.” Mastin takes my hand and puts it on Gao’s eyebrow. “It feels nice, doesn’t it. Is he rolling?”

“Gao,” I say. I’m brushing both his eyebrows with my hands, both at the same time. Gao’s smiling blissfully, eyes closed. “That wasn’t Jules, man.”

“It wasn’t?”

“It’s Ash.”

Hong just smiles.

“She’s pissed she think’s I’m fucking Jules or something. Talking about me ’fucking that little girl’.”

“You should fuck her,” Hong says. “You should.”

“How old is she?” Mastin says.

“I don’t know Mastin are you having a good time?”

Mastin takes my hand. “Fantastic. That thing that Hong and I discussed is awesome.”

“Awesome? That’s a new word for you.”

“I use it in my spare time,” he says.

“Do you guys need some water?”

“Do this,” Mastin says. And I’m brushing a Mead Vice President’s eyebrows. On Monday we’ll be sitting in a conference room on the third floor and Mastin will be there in a suit and tie, and me and him and Hong Yang Gao will politely discuss capacity, availability, and performance issues with the Mead research application. Leonard Mastin will have absolutely no guilt about this because you come down soft on ecstasy, you yawn a lot, you realize it’s ten the next morning, and you go to sleep. That will be his Saturday. On Sunday, he’ll feel fine, he’ll go out to lunch with his wife, he’ll eat solid food again. And that’ll be it. He and Hong will always help each other in the office, from this point forward. It’s not a gay thing. They’re just friends now.

“How old is that girl?” Mastin says, “The one you’re going to fuck.”

“I don’t know, she’s—“

“She’s twenty,” Hong says.

“How do you know?”

“I was talking with her earlier,” Hong informs me. “She’s twenty and she’s an actress and she’s brilliant.” Hong pokes my chest. “You would like her.”

“I do like her.”

“Then go get her.” That’s Leonard Mastin.

“Are you two gonna be okay? Do you want me to bring you some waters?”

“I’ll get them,” Hong says. He gets up on his knees. “You go find your girl. She’s in the bathroom. Vomiting. You hold her head.”

“Hong. Sit the fuck down.”

Hong looks inordinately shocked.

“Hong. Sit down. You’re not going anywhere. If you get up to get the waters you’re never going to find your way back and then you two won’t be able to..uhh..”

Mastin brushes Hong’s eyebrows.

“Right. I’ll be right back.”

“Find her in the bathroom,” Hong says. And he points. He points to the front of the house, where the stairs are.

Oh! “Which bathroom is she in, Hong?”

He points again. “I told you downstairs.”

Oh! She’s in the other bathroom. Ash is in the upstairs bathroom, puking. Jules is in the downstairs bathroom, doing the same. How classic.



The door opens. It’s Chad.

I can see Jules, part of her brown skin, part of a leg, the back of her calf.

“Is she ok?”

“She’s fine, she just feels embarrassed. She doesn’t want to see you right now.”

Jules heaves into the toilet.

“Can I get you anything?”

“We’re fine,” Chad says. “I’ll find you later, ok?” Chad closes the door.

This is how parties always end, with your last girlfriend throwing up in one bathroom and your next girlfriend throwing up in the other.

They end with Mental Jiants checking with Zombie Lizards to see if Zombie Lizard can drive Jules home, and Mental Jiant going off with Leonard Mastin and Hong Yang Gao. Probably to Denny’s. Who knows. Maybe back to Leonard Mastin’s mansion to have a threesome or just some intellectual conversation.

They end with Brickman and Karen passed out in Ashley’s bed. Not in the guest bed. Not on the craft couch. Upstairs, in Ashley’s bedroom, in Ashley’s bed, underneath the covers.

They end with Janel leaving early and going back to her house, alone, without saying goodbye, not wanting to call her boyfriend, and me never seeing her again.

They end with Constance Page, who I fucked in the photography hallway at school, just that once, standing naked—completely naked—at Ashley’s sink, downstairs, bending over, drinking from the faucet. And Worst Mistake upstairs in the blacklight room pulling up his pants. At work on Monday Constance Page won’t have a name. She’ll be “that naked girl”.

Ultimately they end with Ashley sleeping on the couch, using a broken styrofoam packing shape as a pillow, all the lights on, strobe light still going, everyone’s cars gone, and me and Chad sitting in the orgy room, each holding a bottle.

“Does confetti vacuum?”

“I don’t know.” I’m drinking Absolut.

Chad is drinking wine. “I bet it does.”

“Did you do a shot with me?”


“I did a shot with all my friends,” I say. “But not with you.”

Chad puts down his wine, carefully, on the carpet.

I put the Absolut bottle to his mouth and pour.

He chugs it, crazy-sharp Adam’s apple bobbing.

“So where’d she go?”

“She left with that bloody bra girl, remember?”

“I didn’t see her go. Who? With Zombie?”

“The babydoll.”

“That’s Zombie.”

“You’ve got some freaky friends,” Chad says. “I like that.”

“You’re my friend,” I say.

“I know.” And Chad gives me some pill—it’s some prescription pill he’s taking, I don’t even know what it is—and after about twenty minutes Chad’s dick is in my mouth. And he cums. And I taste his cum. And I swallow it, like a little girl, looking up at him with probably a pretty cute face. Water bra and all, drunk, my ass in the air, high on whatever prescription pill. Then Chad has his hand down my panties, and he’s thumbing my dick. But it won’t get hard. So I put his hand on my nipples, and then he uses both of them, and I sit against the wall and take up my bottle of Absolut, drinking, while my dick gets hard.

That’s pretty much how parties end, at least at Ashley’s house.

It’s not a party unless someone gets divorced (that would be Karen).

It’s not a party until someone throws up.

It’s not a party without someone getting pissed.

It’s definitely not a party without a Mead VP.

It can never be a party without MJ.

It could really never be a party without Ashley passing out.

It’s probably not a party if jello shots are left over.

It helps a party when you break into someone’s house.

It hurts a party when the murderous babydoll leaves early.

It helps a party when you get your dick sucked—by anybody. It helps if it’s a girl, it’s alright if it’s a guy..if it’s Chad. It’s pretty much always a party if it’s the first time somebody’s swallowed cum, and felt hot for being a little bitch to your guy friend. That’s definitely a party. In the sense of something being broken.

Confetti does vacuum just fine. Firewater stains do not come out of carpet easily. Especially beige carpet. And waking up to your girlfriend screaming, while you were just about to doze off to the sunlight coming through venetian blinds into what was (before the sunrise) a blacklight room..to hear Ashley screaming about “how am I gonna get this out!!?” while you’re checking to make sure your zipper’s zipped and giving knowing looks to your best guy friend..all of that is a sucky way to sober up. But that’s what has to happen.

I threw those Frederick’s of Hollywood panties in the upstairs bathroom. Ash must have cleaned them up later.

Monday was screaming. Sitting at my desk, screaming inside my head. Like someone’s turned down the saturation on all the colors. Maybe I shouldn’t drink so much.

Makowski had originally scheduled me for a slab cubicle when the group first moved here. A slab cubicle is like a cubicle except it only has one side. So..it’s a six-foot slab, with a wall. You face the wall. I told Makowski, when I saw the diagram of cubicles in the new space..I told him my bathtub is bigger than that. Here’s exactly what I said:

“My bathtub is bigger than that, Makowski. I’m not working there. I want a real cubicle or I’m not coming in to work anymore. If you give me that slab I’m staying home and I’m working from my bathtub.”

He gave me a real cubicle. He gave me a corner cubicle.

I survive a hangover pretty well. I only had a little last night. Sunday Ash and I had lunch at Bravo. I wore my sunglasses the whole time. That’s not normal for Ohio. We didn’t talk much.

Lately my goal has been to try to get fired. I show up and get things done—which is more than 95% of the people do—but when it comes to the extras I’m pretty much in “fuck you” mode: wearing two different color shoes and all that. Burning incense at my desk. There’s nothing about it in the employee manual. People like me are why legal documents get to be a hundred pages. They keep having to add provisions to specifically address practices they never thought of. Christmas lights at Christmas are standard in an office. Christmas lights year-round, aren’t. Fuck em.

Makowski tried to give me a slab cubicle because I’m a contractor. The main difference between a contractor and a regular employee is we make more money. And they can fire you at any time. But if they do, they have to pay the full contract. Why anyone would work as a regular employee I have no idea. That’s not true. It’s because they have no self-respect. I suppose it’s slightly more secure. But it’s not like I’m trying to start a family.

The first thing you need in contract negotiation is no fear. I negotiated the highest raise of any MR contractor last year. I did it by having no fear.

The thing you fear in a contract negotiation is that they’ll think you’re crazy for the amount of raise you’re asking for. The key is: to not be afraid of this. There’s no good reason not to be afraid. You should be a little afraid. But to be a good negotiator, you just choose not to be afraid..because you chose to.

You just get used to fear.

When Makowski put me in that slab cubicle I was ready to be poor. I was ready to have nothing. I was ready to lose my job. I didn’t disrespect him. I just said: Look, guy, this isn’t going to happen. Now here are your new choices: you put me in a rightful cubicle or you shake my hand right now because this is goodbye.

That’s negotiation.

You’ve got to tell people that you matter. That you’re here. No one’s talking about excessive ego here; this is simply pushing back the weeds of other people that are growing in your garden. It’s saying: Look, there’s a fence here! You grow whatever you want. Don’t mess up my planting strategy. See? I have things in nice, neat little rows and you, don’t, get, to mess, with my, garden.

I have a planting strategy here.

It may not make sense to you.

That’s ok. It doesn’t have to.

I type to Ash: hows your pussy?

She types back: buseee! =P

That’s bullshit. She’s not busy. That means she doesn’t want to talk because I hurt her feelings. Not even for being with Chad, or Janel, or anyone else. That doesn’t matter, as long as I didn’t come with them. A little dick-sucking at the “Naughty”, who cares. It’s par for the course. If she wasn’t throwing up the bathroom her and Brooklyn woulda been making out, too. No, it’s for some stupid thing I did at lunch yesterday—at Bravo, when I had my glasses on? She thought I was wearing the glasses so I could look at the waitresses and that hostess that I like—which I wasn’t. I’ll look at that hostess anytime I want. I’ve never hid from Ash that I like her. That hostess has a boyfriend anyway. The reason I was wearing those glasses is I didn’t want to look at Ash. Not that I didn’t want to look at her. I just needed some privacy. You can’t have someone looking at you all the time.

I type to Gao: fridays? (As in: do you want to cut out early and go to T.G.I. Friday’s where the waitress knows our first three drinks by heart, where we don’t have to even order until after the first three. Gao is a contractor as well. Ash is a regular employee so she has to stay at work and work.)

I look over at Gao. He has his headphones in. He’s typing. His chat window isn’t up. I can see the red indicator at the top of his screen, though. He’s either ignoring me or he’s in one of his development trances.

My clock says 10:21. It’s a little early for Friday’s. I guess I could do some work.

My desk phone buzzes. The caller ID is “RECEPT”.


“There’s someone here to visit you.”

“Ok. Who is it.”

A woman’s voice. “Matt. It’s Zombie.”

I’m staring at the corner of my cubicle.

“It’s Elizabeth.”

“Hi.” I lean forward. “Hi. What are you—are you here?”

“We came to see you and Ashley but she’s not picking up her phone.”

“Yeah..she’s pretending to work. You want me to go bring her out to you? What door are you at?”

“We’re in building..one.”

“Walk down to building five. I’ll get her. Just—I’ll meet you at the reception desk, you can’t get in here without a keycard.”


I’m tapping on Ashley’s shoulder. She’s glued to her screen, wearing a pair of Minnie Mouse sunglasses that look like they would belong to a kid.

She won’t look at me.

I pull off her earbud and she’s like: “What the fuck!”

“Zombie’s here. Maybe her and some other people. They’d like to see you and they’re meeting you in the reception desk.”

I drop the earbud.

“They’re here?”

“They’re in building one. They’re on their way here.”

Ashley looks frustrated.

“Didn’t you invite them?”

No, and I have to work.”

“Well, I’m just telling you. Don’t shoot the messenger.” I start to walk away.

“Matt. Matthew.” She’s kneeling backwards on her chair. It’s swiveling in a way she doesn’t like. She arcs her head to tell me to come back, and plops one foot on the carpet to stabilize.

I go back.

“Tell them..oh fuck, what time is it? Why the fuck did they come here?”

“I don’t know.”

“Can you ask them and get back to me? Or just..you hang out with them.”

“You want me to get back to you?”

“You know what I mean.”

“They’re your friends.”

“They’re your friends, too,” Ash hisses, “Didn’t Zombie have your dick in her mouth?”

Ravi—this really sweet guy Ravi—turns around and looks at us. Everyone else is too polite to look but now Ravi, Chirag, Jeff, Roger, and Dawn all know that I had my dick in some girl’s mouth, named Zombie.

Ash has her eyebrows raised, her eyes wide.

Yes, I suppose I did have my dick in Zombie’s mouth. Does that mean that I have to go let them into the Mead Research lobby and I have to be the one to tell them that just dropping by for a visit doesn’t exactly work here?

Yes. I guess it does. It means that.

“Thank you,” Ash says.

And I go.

It’s Zombie, MJ, and Brooklyn.



“Is Ashley here?”

“She’s..working. I told her you were here but she won’t leave her desk. She’s chained there by some sense of duty to The Company.” I’m saying this in the echoey reception chamber and the security guard/receptionist is looking at me.

“Can we see her?”

“Basically..no. I told her you were here. She said she’s not coming out. Maybe I can get her to meet for lunch in like..an hour?”

Brooklyn opens her clutch and shows me a joint. “We brought something for you two.”

“I see. I can call her, but..”

“She’s not picking up, remember?” That’s Zombie. And she’s standing very close. She’s much shorter than me so I always have the experience of her looking up at me.

I have my phone out.

“Oh, she’s gonna pick up for you?”

I shake my head. “Ravi? Hi. Would you tell Ash that I need her to come out to the reception area. She has to sign for a package. Use those words: she has to sign for a package. Thanks Ravi.”

Ravi pulls the phone away from his mouth but I can clearly hear him tell Ashley she has to come to the front to sign for a package.

“She’s not coming.” Indian accent.

“Thanks for trying Ravi.” I sigh. “She’s not coming.”

“Well,” Brooklyn says, “can we smoke this here?

I’m looking at the security guard and we’re both totally grinning.

“Come on outside,” I say.

“There’s a pond back here.”

We all step out into the sunlight, into the Mead Research courtyard. You have to build a pond for every so-many acres of land you clear for office buildings, so there’s a pond back there, with geese. Presumably before MR built these buildings those geese were living happily on this land and they had natural ponds and trees to splash and shit in, but if you ask me the geese are getting a really good deal. They have a nice big pond now, that has a water filtering system, and groundskeepers clean up their shit every day. There are a million little terraces and benches and concrete shelves that border our buildings..little fountains..big fountains..and these super-aggressive geese that know exactly what a bag of Dorito crumbs looks like. They’re highly intelligent. I saw one open a package of Sweet’N Low once. If he had opened one of those mini handi-wipes I would have shit myself.

“So you come here every day?”


“So you have a good job.”

“Yep.” That’s how we arrange things, in my country. You either have a shit job, where you make enough so that if you have two or three of those jobs you can barely scrape by..or you have a good job, and you make eight to twenty times what one shit job pays.

“You and Ashley work together?”

“We’re in the same group.”

“Is that how you met?”


We go over this hill—this is out past the parking lot.

“Watch out for geese shit.”

“Why do you have all these geese? Are they part of the company?”

“They just like this pond.”

“Right..cause..I didn’t even know Ohio had geese.”

“Wha’d you guys do yesterday? You can smoke here if you want.”

“Let’s go over to that bench,” MJ says. So we do.

The three of them, and me, sitting on this Mead bench, way away from the buildings, where nobody except single people ever go. Some little Vietnamese girl, halfway around the world, eating lunch by herself, just because she happens to be the best person in the world at something. And because this is the only place on the planet where anyone needs that particular something done. I mean sure you get to send money back to your family, but Jesus, what a way to live.

I smoke the joint with them. I’m not going back inside. After this I’m going straight to my car, I’m going to go lounge around the mall until restaurants open, then I’m getting a jump on Gao at T.G.I. Friday’s.

“What are you guys doing—“ I smoke “—after this?”

“We have class.”

“What kind of class?”

“Improv. Level 2.”

“Are you all in it together?” I pass the cigarette.


“Is Jules in it with you?” I smile.

“Do you like Jules?” This is Brooklyn who says it, and she has her hand on my knee, and somehow it makes me sick.

“Jules usually doesn’t deign to hang with students,” MJ says.

And Zombie says: “Jules doesn’t take improv.”

“She teaches our Level 2 class.”

“Do you want us to tell her anything when we see her?”

“If you’re gonna see her today I want to come with you.”

“Do you want us to tell you whether or not she likes you?”

“She told you not to tell!”

“Well,” I say, “That answers that one.”

“How does it answer it?”

MJ passes to Zombie. “Just smoke this.”

“Why? How does it answer it?”

“Do you want us to tell her anything?”

I let Zombie smoke, then I smoke, then I pass to Brooklyn, then I say: “Why did you take your teacher to a party?”

“She’s from our theatre.”

“She acts at Black Box.”

“She’s a real actor.”

MJ nods at me. “She gets paid and everything.”

“Well is she in a show?”

MJ nods. “This Friday. There’s a preview on Thursday, if you want to come.”

“He can’t come to the preview.”

“Sure he can. We can invite anyone we want.”

“Are you all in it?”

“I am,” Brooklyn says. “I’m Angel Number Six.”

“No you’re not,” MJ says.

And Zombie says: “You’re Angel Number Eight, bitch.”

“She’s an extra.”

“I’m not an extra! I’m background. There’s a difference.”

“Anyway, can you come?”

“What time is it?”


“Yeah I can come. Thanks.”

“Good.” MJ hands me the joint. She stands up and I can see the sun coming through her dress, between her legs. She yawns. Her hair is everywhere, red, curly strands against a blue sky. “Get Ashley to come.”

“Did you invite her?”

“We always do,” MJ says, “But she never comes.”

“Why not?”

“Because,” MJ says, “She always wants to stay home. With you.”

“Come to this preview on Thursday.”

“I’m not going to.”

“Why not?”

“You know why.”

“They said you always stay home because you want to be with me.”

Ash takes off her glasses.

“I’m sorry, Ash, you’re trying to read. I’m sorry. Do whatever you want to do. I just don’t want you to miss time with your girlfriends cause you want me to come over.”

“That red isn’t gonna come out of that carpet,” she says.

I shake my head.

“I’m gonna have to get new carpet.”

I look at the stain.

“I’m gonna have to re-carpet this whole area. You know how I hate seams.”

“They can hide the seams.”

“Yeah,” she says, “but I’ll notice em.”

“I wish you wouldn’t.” I really wish she wouldn’t. “Just get someone professional to come replace that little spot, you’ll never know the difference unless—“ (she starts to interrupt me) “—unless you want to notice it.” I really wish she’d just choose not to notice it and have some fun. That’s how she is, though. She’ll pay attention to a spot, she’ll have to have the furniture just right. I think she’s started eating sugar again..to control. We all have our things. Mine’s alcohol—which is another kind of sugar. For Ash it’s sugar and Adderall. I wish she’d see that life doesn’t have to be perfect, that you don’t have to give the perfect gift and that there’s no wrong gift to give, no incorrect way to give it and that the only thing that matters is the giving. That’s the only part that matters. The giving, and the receiving. If you do those two right you’ve got the whole thing.

But don’t think I don’t know my part in this little dysfunction. I know I’ve never really committed to her in the way that she’s committed to me. I know that when I stop paying that mortgage (or stop contributing to it) and when I go back to my apartment, I’m really going to be there. I know I’m not going to think about her, and I know that she will think about me. Not saying I deserve thought and she doesn’t; that’s just the balance of our relationship. There’s always one who likes the other one, more than the other likes the one. I’ve always loved her, I like her even. But she’s never excited me, not past the first few months (which is pretty good, really).

I mean what do you expect? That we’re going to be best buds forever?

Lay off the Adderall and stop being so stressed about everything, maybe we’d have more fun. I wish she would go out with her girlfriends. She doesn’t have to flirt with people while she’s out! But damn, how do you expect a relationship to continue when all we ever do is sit at the house doing craft night and drinking wine? The occasional video game? I don’t like to see you sitting there making things. I’d like to see you come home, once in a while, from a night with your girlfriends..happy. Maybe a little drunk. I want to know that you’re ok. Within yourself. I want to know that you’re not depending on me too much. That if I went away, you’d be sad, but you’d move on. With Ash I know she would move on eventually but it’s gotten a little too much to the needing-you end and too far, too far away from the enjoying-you end..of the spectrum.

I’m in her bedroom with the closet door open.

She comes in when I’m holding the Frederick’s of Hollywood panties.

“Did you keep these?” I ask.

She sees me standing at her closet.

A couple of my shirts are on her bed.

“What are you doing?”

1692 was the name of the club. 1692. Was that the year Columbus sailed the ocean blue? I can’t remember. I think that was earlier.

1692 is the club at 1692 South Jefferson Street in Dayton Ohio. Thursday night is goth night. Freak night. Every other night it’s a gay club. Thursday night, for them, is a little odd.

Thursday night it’s not just gay boys in the cages. It’s gay boys, too. But it’s straight girls, too. It’s everybody.

I’m in the car with Ashley. It’s me, Ashley, and Chad. And my friend Penelope. She and Ash and I once had a ten-second threesome in the bathroom of my apartment. But it was ok—it didn’t violate anything—because nobody came. The four of us are cracking glow sticks.

“Ok. This bag’s done.”


Chad opens his door and gets one foot out before Ashley stops him. She quotes the song we were listening to earlier:

“Where the fuck was you at?” She wags her finger at him. “What the fuck was you doin’?”

“There’s another bag of these, cowboy.” I toss him another bookbag. It’s a blue Jansport.

Chad opens it. He starts cracking. “How many bags do you have?”

“Six. Give that one to Marcus.”

“Marcus is gonna be here?”

I lean back at Chad and smile. “Yes.” Pretty sure Chad likes Marcus.

“Who doesn’t?” Ashley says.


“Who doesn’t like Marcus?”

“You just read my mind.”

And Ashley says: “I know. Maybe you shouldn’t be getting rid of me too soon, you know?” She shies away. “I’m good for a thing or two.” Then she cracks a glow stick.

The gate to get inside is intense. Having now been to LA I can attest to this. In Los Angeles you get a red carpet and crowd-control ropes. In Ohio you get a black, metal cage with bars on it, a tiny slot of a window and a big oaky motherfucker that drinks straight gin (well gin) and has arms the size of a fat girl’s waist. America never had vodka until the end of prohibition. I just thought you should know that. You don’t get a guy in a suite politely turning you away from the door, in Ohio. What you get is a gecko-looking zipperhead dyke with fucking skeletal implants and face tattoos. She may go by Zombie Lizard now, but her real name used to be Elizabeth Ronstadt. I love Ohio. Ohio is the best.

“Slammy!!” is what she says when we get to the gate. I have no idea what that means.

She fuckin hits the bars.

“D’you have tickets?”

“Fucking tickets!?” I say. I get right up in her face. “Fuck you.”

Liz climbs up on the window, on her side of the bars. Leopard-looking lizard, tattoo girl. Her fingernails are curling. The skin on her face changes color, changes patterns, blending in with the walls. She doesn’t even have to speak. Her tongue says it. Says it with forks. She wants to see our tickets.

“I’ll fucking fuck you so hard you’ll be licking your lips with my dick, bitch.” That’s what I tell her.

She likes that. “I’ll stick my finger so far up your ass your brain’ll get the motherfucking hiccups, motherfucker.” That’s what she says to me.

“The fucking hiccups? Is that all you’ve got? Fucking..lizard-looking..Mick” (that’s the bouncer) “why don’t you let this lizard out of her cage and run ‘er around the block a bit, I don’t think this bitch has gotten fucked in a long time.”

What the fuck did you say to me?” She’s got her fingers through the bars and I’m licking them. She sticks one partway up my nose.

Chad is facing Mick. “So..how much are..tickets?”

Zombie pulls her fingers back inside the cage. “They don’t need no fuckin tickets, Mick. Have a good time. Fuckin: upstairs. Fuckin: downstairs. Stay the fuck—“ she reaches through the bars and grabs my neck “—stay the fuck out of the basement. I know you.” She’s looking at all four of us, as if all four of us were going straight from this cage into the motherfucking basement. She pulls me closer. “And stay the fuck off the roof.” She laughs. “I’m serious, you, you fucking fall off that roof I’ll be laughing at your fucking funeral. Ok? I’ll be crying by the grave but when I turn away..I’m gonna fucking laugh cause your dumb ass should know better. Are you workin tomorrow?”

I smile. I’m looking into lizard eyes.

“Get get the fuck outta here.” She pushes me back.

I can breathe. I turn my neck.

Mick lets us into the club.

“What the fuck happened to her?” Chad asks me.

“That’s her work personality.”

“What’s her real name again?”

“Elizabeth Ronstadt. She went to Stivers.”

I see the look in Chad’s eye.

“She likes girls,” I say.

He says: “She seems to like you.”

\1692. What can I say about 1692. I’m sure nothing that would impress you. You’ve been to clubs, so you know that this is the type of place where a sixteen-year-old might lose her virginity and vomit off alcohol for the first time, both in the same night. You’ve been to clubs, so you know that there will be old men here looking at young boys and you’ve been to clubs, so you know that someone might dehydrate from ecstasy and die on that dancefloor that you were just dancing on. And you’ve been to clubs so you know that after he dies, and after he gets taken away on a stretcher, people are going to keep dancing.

You’ve been to clubs, and you know all these things, so I don’t have to tell you.

“Where is Jules?” That’s me.

And Ash says: “This is all we’re gonna hear for the night.” She does a formal bow to me, Penelope, and Chad, and she goes for the stairs.

Chad says: “I’m gonna dance with her.”

“Have fun.”

And he goes.

“Who’s Jules?” Penelope asks.

“She’s this girl,” I say. “Let’s check the roof.”

“Is she the kind of girl who would be on the roof?” Penelope asks.


“Is she the kind of girl who would be in the basement?” Penelope asks.

“I don’t think so.”

We’re in the stairwell. Downstairs is always dead. Upstairs is where Ashley and Chad went to dance. Two more floors above that, of offices and empty space. Not like Mead Research offices. More like probly the offices that a zookeeper would work in. If you go all the way up the stairs, through another gate, sometimes the door to the roof is unlocked.

Penelope slips through the gate behind me. We’re each carrying three Jansport packs so it’s a multi-step process.

“Just leave em there.”



We leave em all by the gate, some on this side, some on that. Penelope and I hold hands going up the stairs. There’s space between the slats. The stairs looks like they’re going to fall down.

The roof is unlocked.

I push open the door.

It’s empty; no one’s there.


“They’re with us.” MJ waves us toward the theatre. It’s almost eight.

The guy nods for us to go ahead. He’s sitting with a tablet just inside the lobby.

MJ pushes the theatre door open wider. Ashley and I cross the lobby and go in quietly.

“I’m glad you made it,” she whispers.

The theatre is empty, the director and a couple other people sitting halfway back. We go the long way round, behind the director, and find seats at the far end, in the seats on the side.

MJ picks up her knitting. “Is this too much of an angle?”

I wave my hand to say “no”.

The place has a muffled feel, like the pads on a piano, where the hammer hits the string. A clodding, echoless feel.

“Can you all see alright?” That’s MJ. She puts down her loom and her needles. It’s a picture of a house she’s working on. She doesn’t seem like the kind of girl who would knit, but you never know.

“Is Brooklyn back there?”

“Yes. She’s—“ but MJ stops.

We’re all whispering but we’re whispering real loud. You can hear us all across the theatre. The director looks at us.

MJ just nods to finish her sentence.

“Alright everybody make sure your cell phones are off.” Kind of a canned voice, a shallow voice. That’s the director.

Somebody next to him says something into a walkie-talkie and the lights go out.

Preview night for a local theatre in Dayton Ohio. The theatre is called Black Box 101. I guess people in Dayton just like naming things after their street address. It’s the best theatre in town, though; there’s nothing 101 about it. There’s a bigger theatre a few blocks over but it sucks—their show selection. The big one only does classic plays, tried-and-true operas, that stuff. It’s ok but sometimes you want to see a new play in the midwest. You know?

Black Box 101 has it.

Tonight’s play is called “Market Place” and it’s an urban love story. It follows a girl—a young woman—named Mercredi, as she traumatically moves out from her parents’. And she makes her way in the city, in this new neighborhood called Market Place. Maybe it’s not a love story. Maybe it’s just about her making her way. But it is a love story..cause there’s this girl..that Mercredi loves.. Mercredi is the French word for Wednesday, and I guess this playwright had been to France, and while she was there she met this woman, and that’s how this story developed. I’m pretty sure the playwright is here. I’m pretty sure she’s one of the women sitting back there with the director. Or she might be the director. I don’t know. I don’t care about any of that. All I care about is that Jules plays the lead, and tonight I’m going to get to see her.

The roof is empty. Me and Penelope venture out. It’s safe up here, except that there are no walls around the edges. There’s this little lip, about a foot tall. Other than that there’s no fence or anything.

You can hear the bass from below. It hits through you. This would be a terrible neighborhood to live in on the weekends. My place is up the road a little, and over. You could walk there from here in about 20 minutes.

Penelope sits on the lip of the roof, with her back to the city. We’ve got a couple of tall buildings, a few others. That’s it. City I grew up in, city I might die in. A river, about a million people, and a whole bunch of factories no one uses anymore.

“You got a light?”

“No, Penelope, I don’t really smoke.”

She has one, she had one in her pocket, she wanted to see if I had one. She has two cigarettes out and she lights them both and hands me one. I face her, standing.

“Is it usually people up here?”

“Sometimes,” I say. But I’m enjoying it like this. “You wanna dance?” I say. “We can go downstairs. We can dance right here.”

“That’s ok,” she says. “I don’t really dance.”

I smoke. Penelope smokes. Penelope and I have a strange relationship which is basically that we both like artichoke hearts on sandwiches and sometimes we drive to funerals together. I’m serious. When our friend Dennis jumped off a parking lot to kill himself we drove to the funeral together. It took us forever because we got lost. Penelope was driving. I was sitting in the passenger seat taking pictures. We got to the funeral late, but it was ok because we got there together. We could always be the two people that got to Dennis’s funeral late instead of it just being: that one person who got to Dennis’s funeral late. And we both really, really like artichoke hearts on our sandwiches.

“We could dance right here. If you want. I’m not trying to gyp you out of your Thursday night experience.”

“Do you want to?”

“Not really.”

“You’re not gypping me. Come here.”

But she’s sitting on the edge. I sit on the roof, kind of next to her, kind of facing her, but I sit on the low part, before the edge.

“Do you have ecstasy?” That’s what she says to me. Not: “Have you eaten any artichoke hearts lately” or “how’s things” but “do you have ecstasy?”

“Yeah,” I say. I’m not gonna lie to the girl who drove me to Dennis’s funeral. I’m definitely not gonna drink tonight. I’m not gonna drink if I’m gonna do ecstasy. And I’d do ecstasy with Penelope.

“Do you have it with you?” She smiles, and she leans back.

And I think she’s gonna fall. My hands tense up.

But she doesn’t fall. She’s just standing up. Standing up from the lip of that building. And now she’s standing before me with her hand out. “Let’s go,” she says.

“Do you mind if I just give you my keys?”

“It’s not with you?”

“It’s in my car. It’s in the trunk.” I unzip my pocket. “I just kinda want to sit here for a second. Just..to take a second alone. But come back.”

“I will.”

“There’s a purple bag, just a little cloth bag. There’s a film canister inside there. It’s inside that.” I hold back my keys. “There’s a whole bunch of it in there, just bring us two..or bring us four..but don’t tell Ashley and don’t take any more than I can see. And you keep track of me. Bring it up here and take it with me.”

“I will.”

“And come right back.”

“I will.” She takes the keys.

“I’m sorry,” I say, “I’m just a little weird today.”

Cause in that play somebody had died. It was Jules’s lover. Mercredi. She had died in a fight. Except she didn’t even fight. She just got stabbed in the neck at a Burger King drive through. She was sitting there ordering her food and some homeless guy came up to rob her. All Mercredi’s lover had was a debit card. So the guy stabbed her.

They didn’t show that in the play. Mercredi just finds this out from a phone call. It would be hard to show that in a play. I guess you could have a part of a Burger King drive through and play it out somehow. Or she could walk up to the window. But they didn’t show it. It wasn’t her story. It was Jules’s story. Or Mercredi’s.

So she gets this phone call. And the way Jules played it..my god. It kind of got to me. You felt like she must have known someone who got stabbed at a Burger King drive through. Or was killed instantly. Like she must have known someone who went away in an instant, she must have known what it was like..to be shattered in an instant.

I don’t know. I’m not an expert on theatre. I paint and I program computers. But I think Jules was really good. I mean really good. Like: too good to be in Dayton. Like she shouldn’t still be in this town.

I crawl over to the edge of the roof of 1692. Crawl because I’m afraid of heights. I don’t see how somebody like Dennis could go to the edge of a parking garage and just jump over. Or he probably didn’t jump; he probably just sat on the edge and slid himself off. Or maybe he did jump: maybe he stood on the edge and jumped. I couldn’t do it. I guess you have to get to the point where you just hate everything so much, and feel so bad, that you’re not thinking about it the way I’m thinking about it right now. I think of the details, the funny details—like that last little scoot that you’d have to make. That last little exertion of pushing yourself off the edge. I mean how do you go through with that motion? Don’t you think, right then, holy shit, I can’t go through with this. I’ve gotten all the way up here, but if I do this last little scoot, I’m dead. I won’t be able to change my mind on the way down. Don’t you think that? You probly do. And at that point you probly just don’t care.

I can’t even sit on the edge of buildings. I make my way over there on my stomach, then I put my elbows and the top part of my head over the edge. I’ve got a whole body back there to keep me here. I spread my legs. It feels more stable that way. I smoke over the edge.

Penelope goes across the street—I can see her once she’s in the middle, crossing the far two lanes. There’s my car. She jumps up onto this concrete flower bed, this four-foot square with a tree in its middle. She’s skipping. She jumps off the tree, in this triangular courtyard and goes to my car, parked on the street. She opens the driver-side door and gets in. She leaves the door open. I’m smoking her cigarette. She turns on the lights. My headlights are beaming into the car in front of mine, a conversion van. Then Penelope closes the door. And my reverse lights go on.

I start to stand up—I start to raise my elbows on the lip of this roof—and then I stop. I delicately lower myself back down. And I smoke that cigarette, and for a moment I look away, at our two tall buildings and then past them, and I think about how big this world is. Then I look back at my car. I’m thrilled by it. I’m actually thrilled. Can you imagine? If Penelope steals my car, leaves the city, leaves the state, if Penelope just now decided she’d had enough of Dayton, and she steals my car to leave?

But she doesn’t do that. She doesn’t even drive around the block to get more cigarettes or sell my ecstasy at half price to ravers at another club. The lights go from white to red. And then they turn off. And Penelope gets out of the car and goes to the trunk. She has to bend down to see where the keyhole is.

And I’m in the dark. And I see Jules for the second time. And this time when I see her I can look all I want, with no one looking back at me. With no one seeing me.

Her first scene. Urban setting. Nice production design. It’s Jules in her old neighborhood. She’s on her way to work and she smokes crack with a local under the stairwell. They’ve used a stairwell in the theatre as part of the set. I have to crane my neck to see.

It’s dimly lit. Graffitti’d. There’s trash everywhere. They’ve imported a piece of a chain link fence. Broken-out tires. And Jules’s character lights up with this homeless guy. They talk. Then she goes to work.

Jules is all I see. She’s black, as I think I mentioned, which is I’m guessing part of why they chose her for this role. To make it seem more urban. But they could have been putting on Romeo and Juliet in the whitest of suburbs and they would have flown Jules’s ass in to play the lead because she’s that good.

It’s a simple scene. It’s a scene that takes you off-guard. Everything you think is going to happen, doesn’t happen. You think she’s coming outside to go to work. You don’t think she’s going to run into a crackhead coming off his high. You don’t think she’s going to get away from him safely, the way he’s acting. You never thought she already knows his name. Then..then..when she checks his pockets you don’t think she’s going to help him get high again—that she’s going to remind him to check his sock—that’s where he usually keeps it. That’s where he stashes some extra, early in the night, so he won’t smoke it all. So he’ll have some for later. She helps him hit it—he can’t even hold the pipe. She lays him down. She brushes his hair with her hands. What kind of play is this? I look at the director. Then Jules (Mercredi) smokes the pipe with him. She hits the pipe! The guy is passed out, eyes all up in his head. Jules puts the pipe in the guy’s sock. She takes off his shoe, puts the shit in the very bottom of his sock, then puts it all together. Ties his shoe. Arranges the man’s legs while he’s fucking out. Then she goes to work.

She doesn’t look anything like what I saw at the party. Which was: spirit-elf..then..I don’t know. Was she wigging out or something? It was MJ and me who were having jello shots. Jules had like three. I think she worked herself up talking about the vortex but..I just don’t know how you can work yourself up that much by thinking about something.

She’s not like that here. She’s a totally different person. It’s the same body. I can recognize the body. I can recognize the skin. It’s the same skin. It’s not the same face. It’s not the same expressions. She looks older—this character is older. She somehow convinces me with her motions—just in the way she stands up!—that she’s ten years older and has spent her lifetime working as a paralegal..some kind of secretary. You can see on her face the number of times she’s had to pick up her boss’s laundry. How many times she’s made coffee for the whole office. How many trips to Costco she’s had to make, when really more than her should share the load.

Like when she puts on that homeless man’s sock: she’s got this way she moves her fingers. This way she holds the joints. It’s like she’s taken age from people she’s seen. Or people she’s known. Or people she’s been. And she bottled that and put it in her knuckles, by an eye-dropper, before the show. It creeps me out, when I think of her as Jules, because I know that girl is only twenty..what? Was she twenty-one? I think she’s twenty. She must have a grandmother. She must live with her grandmother. Because somehow this twenty year old looks thirty-five.

There’s nothing about it stagey. Honestly, it looks like she believes that stairwell is the stairwell from her apartment, like she believes that that homeless man could die before she gets back from her day. That’s the Jules trick. That’s how she creates magic. It’s very simple, and it’s very hard to do. She believes in you, how you don’t even believe in yourself. See what I mean? Jules doesn’t see you. She sees what she imagines you could be. In the greatest of all possible worlds, what would be the embodiment of this person..what would this spirit’s manifestation be. That’s the question she asks when she looks at you. That’s how Jules operates. She even does it with herself. But like any magician, she knows the secret to her own trick. It took me a while to figure it out, to see what she was doing. But she’s known it for a long time, and she’s bored of it, and she knows how simple it is..so sometimes she doubts it. That’s Jules’s problem, as you’re going to see as this story unfolds. I think it’s contagious, because I’m pretty sure somewhere in the time that she knew me, she passed it on.

We were a crazy pair. I’m not sure I know who I was to her. I mean I know she loved me. We loved each other. But when I try to get inside her head and see who I was to her..I can’t.

Penelope never comes back up to the roof. I’m lying on my back when the person who does come up there, does. My head is on the lip at the edge of the building. The gate’s cracking and smashing back, someone slamming the steel aside. I figure it’s Mick, sent up by Liz, to get everyone off the roof. Of course it’s Jules.

“Penelope sent me.” She pronounces it “penna-lohpe”, for fun.

“Do you know Penelope?”

“I do now.”

“I saw your show tonight.”

And Jules sits down. She’s wearing a sari, some tight shirt. I can see her breasts, her arms, her armpits, her nipples. Her hair is up, tight, off her face. I like it wild. I can see her face, though, everything of it, with her hair like this, every part of her eyes, all that skin connected, from ear, to eye, to cheek, to nose.

“Did Penelope see the show?”

“No. She and Chad came late so they met us after.”

“Who is ’Chad’?”

“The one with the long hair. You remember Chad—“

“The one you like?”

“—from the party, yeah..I guess he is the one I like.”

“Are you and Ashley still together?” She just jumps right on it. Right on it.

But she looks away when she says it, and I’m leaning toward her.

“We’ve been split for a while. We still do some things together..like the Naughty. We just like to collaborate. We’ve been trying to create the perfect party.”

“You’re doin pretty good,” she says, still not looking at me.

“Are we?”

She turns back. “Yeah. You wanna dance?” She invites me.

I stand.

“But not down there,” she says. “It’s kinda loud.”

I take her hand, and we do a little faux-ballroom thing for about two seconds, which morphs into us standing four feet apart and me attempting some kind of a club dance—I don’t really dance—I just do my own thing when I come here. That morphs into us both facing the same direction with my hands on her belly and her hands on my hands and my face is even over her neck but then she turns and pushes me away.

That’s too soon,” she says. “I know what you want.”

“And what do you want.” I look straight at her and don’t give her any chance for escape.

She turns on one heel. “Maybe I want the same.” She does that shy-girl thing, but not too exaggerated.

“You wanna go downstairs and dance, where we can be chaperoned?”

She frowns. She goes to the edge of the building, puts her foot on it. Her head is down. When I go to her I see she’s very sad—almost crying!

“What’s wrong?”

She shakes her head. She wipes away a tear. Then she looks over at me with this doubtful, doubtful look, like I’m her kid and she’s my mother and she just found out that I robbed my own father with his own gun and took his money to buy my first hooker. It’s that kind of look she gives me. Like she knows me! I just met this girl. She doesn’t deserve to give me that kind of look! But that’s the look she gives me.

“What is it?”

It’s like I’ve hurt her—before I’ve even known her!

I just stand there, and I look over the edge. My car is still there. I might be the one leaving early tonight. I can’t do this sort of thing. This is not what I signed up for. I want to help, but if I don’t know what’s going on with you, I can’t help.

“I just don’t know you very well,” she says. “I don’t know anything about you.” She’s looking straight at me.

“Ok,” I say.

She’s waiting for me to say something. Or she’s done saying what she had to say.

I’m looking at this girl’s eyes. One is slightly green. One is slightly grey. It’s not contacts. That’s how her eyes really are. Her green eye eats spinach. Her grey one eats coals. When she moves one, the other stays still. She’s done crying, but clearly she could cry at any moment. She could cry when she wants to.

I say: “What do you want to know?”

“You can start..” she’s digging in her pocket “..by telling me..” she’s digging more “..what this is.”

She drops two ecstasy pills in my hand, which I guess Penelope gave her.

It’s after the preview show. I’m downstairs at the theatre, Black Box 101. There’s a red couch there I like. If you ride the elevator all the way down, below the street, there’s a floor there with some classrooms. All the classrooms are locked but outside, in the elevator lobby, is this red couch with laid-back sides and hardly a back. It’s more like a chaise, those things..you know those European-looking loungers? It’s a couch like that. The red is deep, deep red and it has these buttons pinched deep into the skin of the couch. It’s..like..four inches from the surface to where the buttons go, closer to the core. I love to go to that couch alone. I just lie there after a show.

Unfortunately this time Chad and Penelope came down with me. Ash is upstairs talking with who knows.

“Oh, this is nice!”

Chad tries one of the doors.

Penelope lies back on the red couch, taking up the whole thing.

Chad squeezes her leg, on the thigh—he practically grabs her crotch.

I sit on the edge of the couch, half-on, half-off.

"Get over here!" And Penelope pulls me so I’m sitting next to her face. This is after me Ashley and her had our ten-second threesome in my apartment bathroom, so I’m comfortable sitting next to her I just don’t always like to be sitting right next to someone’s face.

Chad and her are flirting.

“See?” Chad is saying (to me), “This is like a crack whore..on crack.”

I look at him doubtfully.

Penelope’s moving his hand and he’s straight up touching her pussy now, he’s wiping his hand across it.

“Is he always this boring?” Chad says, “when he’s not..on crack.” Chad and I have never smoked crack together that’s just how he talks.

“He’s not boring,” Penelope says, “he’s just got Juliet on the mind.”

“Is that what it’s short for?” I say. I guess I’m staring into space.

Chad is like: “Whoah. Brother. You are deep into that shit.”

I touch Penelope’s pussy—throw Chad’s hand off. “Chad, you don’t even know what kind of crack whore this is.”

Penelope nods.

And then I reach down her clothes and down her underwear and I put my finger between her pussy lips—which is the first time I’d done that with Penelope.

And Penelope looked very shocked.

But she didn’t move my hand.

And I didn’t move it.

But she looked at me like “Oh, my, god, I don’t believe we’ve taken it to this level.”

Then I started feeling weird about it and like why was my hand there between her legs and it started to feel clammy, so I took it out, and I didn’t smell it, and I didn’t wipe it on my pants I just set my hand delicately on the arm of the red couch chaise thing and Chad and Penelope and I all had a moment of silence.

“Did you just put your hand down her cunt?”


“Did you just..put your fucking hand..right down her—“


“Shut the fuck up Chad,” I say.

And Penelope says “How do you two know each other?”

“We smoke crack together.”

“We used to.”

“We used to smoke crack together.”

“Yeah,” Penelope says, “What do you do now?”

“Now that we’re done smoking crack together?”

Penelope nods.

“Fuck crack whores.”

“Yeah?” Penelope’s getting flirty with Chad.

“Pretty much.” And Chad starts getting cozy with Penelope again. “Have I ever told you,” Chad says, “My Top Ten Reasons You Know You’re Addicted to Crack?”

Penelope giggles and says “No.”

Chad’s Top Ten Reasons You Know You’re Addicted To Crack are something like this:

(It changes every time.)

  1. There’s not really ten reasons there’s..like..six..maybe five. It’s just a stupid thing Chad and I say when we’re drunk. It’s always funnier when you’re drunk, it won’t be funny here, I’m just including it for completeness, so you know what you’re not missing.

  2. is when you’re sometimes late to work..because you’re smoking crack.

  3. is when you occasionally miss a day of work because you’re smoking crack.

  4. is when you spend more money than you should buying crack.

  5. is when you spend money that you should be spending on food..to buy crack.

4 and 5 have to do with borrowing money from other people and not paying them back (for the purpose of buying crack).

  1. is when you steal money from other people..to buy crack.

  2. is when you’ll steal other people’s stuff..to sell..so that you can then buy crack.

And the Top Ten Reason You Know You’re Addicted To Crack..is..when you actually suck dick for crack. Chad loves saying the phrase “suck dick”. Hmmm. I wonder why.

Ok. So maybe there are ten.

I told you they weren’t funny.

There’s not a whole lot that is funny about Dayton. For instance, me and Chad and Penny sitting in the basement of Black Box 101 listing the Top Ten Reasons You Know You’re Addicted To Crack when only one of us has ever smoked crack (Chad) but before our lives are through there will be only one of us who hasn’t ever smoked crack (Penelope).

The stand-up here isn’t funny. Only when Dave Chappelle comes. I saw Dave Chappelle in the coffeehouse once. See? That’s the kind of thing I mean. That’s my claim to fame. I saw Dave Chappelle in the coffeehouse one time. That’s as good as it gets, in Dayton.

I find myself giving away all my things, in Dayton. Because I don’t plan to stay here. I’m really going to leave. Save my money, go to New York. They have computer programming jobs there. I’d even make more money.

When I say giving away all my things, I mean: if somebody wants a pair of pants I own—I give them to them. Chad and I trade corduroys all the time. Jules used to borrow my pants. Actually some of them she never gave back. But that’s kind of an academic issue now, isn’t it?

I know I’m overly analytic, but you have to think about these things. Giving away your possessions is a classic sign of suicide. It’s a warning sign, a symptom. Somebody should have said something. Someone should have been looking out for me in all of this. You know? When people give away all their things, sometimes that means they’re Buddhist. The rest of the time it means they want to kill themself.

Where was the person who was looking after me? Where was the person to say: Hey: you need therapy. And you need a lot of it. And you need medication. And exercise. And better sex. And healthier relationships. And you need to go to church, or AA meetings or something. Where was that person for me?

It wasn’t Jules. It wasn’t Ash. It wasn’t Chad or Penelope or any of my other friends. It wasn’t my parents. I mean I’m twenty-three, what are they gonna do? I used to go over my mom’s house when I was high on ecstasy and cook her breakfast. Her and my little sister. What the fuck is that? I mean I loved my mother—I wanted to cook her breakfast—and I loved ecstasy, too. I probably never would have cooked my mother breakfast if I wasn’t on ecstasy..so..how do you count that? Is that a mother and son sitting on the screened-in porch eating delicious, expensive food that I bought at the grocery store..that I cooked for the three of us, that my mother and I ate while having one of the closest conversations of our lives—for her as well as me. Is that psycho crazy stuff or is that a better morning than most mothers and sons tend to have in their relationship. I don’t know.

Now Chad’s downstairs. Now Penelope’s downstairs. Now Ash is with them and Jules is following me down the rickety ones from the roof and she’s asking me about the ecstasy, which is now in my pocket.

“Do you take that?”

“I have.”

“How often do you take it?”

“Some times.”

Jules stops on the stairs.

“Look I gotta see how many they took and make sure they’re not overdosing at 1692, ok? No offense to this conversation. Come with me. Come help me. Please.”

Jules follows.

The club is off. I mean it’s packed. That lizard musta let a lot more people in since I went up to the roof.

“What time is it?”

“I don’t know.” Jules doesn’t wear a watch either.

“Don’t you have a phone?”

“It’s at Black Box. Don’t you have a phone?”

“It’s in the car. Help me get these Jansports.”

“What’s in them?”


But I’ve got three and Jules has one and let’s hope Ash and Chad have the other two. I’m at the threshold to the downstairs—well, the second floor—and I look up behind me. Jules is sitting on the top step, dark blue Jansport open, rainbow light rising to her face.

I know it’s premature (and I’m not the marrying type) but I know right then and there that I could marry this girl.


She looks up from the bag. “Did you bring all these?”


“How many are there?”

“A lot. Like..I don’t know..like three hundred.”

She stands. She zips the bag. She takes my arm. “Did you buy all these?”

“Yeah,” I say. But I don’t wanna talk about that. We’ve gotta find Ash.

We find her. We find her at the bar. You can’t really sit at this bar you just stand there and order drinks which come in a plastic cup then you take those drinks to your table, or the rail around the bar, or you drink them there. Ashley was drinking hers there.

“Where’s Penelope?”

“Hey, Matthew; how’s it going!! My brother!” That’s Jablonski. He’s behind the bar. Jablonski has slept with more women than god. I swear. It’s because he’s the bartender. He’s slept with like three hundred.

Or four hundred. When he tells me I always forget the number cause it’s so big.

“What’s up, man?”

“Brit was looking for you.”


“Yeah, she told me to tell you something about her cunt.”

Ash raises her eyebrow at me. I don’t even look to see Jules’ reaction.

“Whatcha drinkin?”

“I’m not.”

Jablonski already has the bottle in his hand. Firewater. That’s what I always drink here.

“No, really; I’m not drinking. Just. Save it. Don’t waste it!”

He’s already pouring.

“Pour me a small one, if you’re pouring one. Make one for her too.”

“Ash, do you want something?”

“I’ve got something.”

“A tiny one. A teenie tiny little—that’s!—enough. Can you make it two?”

Jablonski has one for himself and the four of us drink together. Jablonski’s looking at Jules and I’m smiling back at him as we drink our drinks and we never break eye contact. That’s how me and Jablonski do it. We never break eye contact with a toast. It gives you bad luck for life. We’re smiling at each other and Ash and Jules are smiling awkwardly and I’m looking at Jablonski like “You better not fuck her” and Jablonski’s looking like “How do you know I already haven’t” and I’m like “I would scalp you if you did” and he’s like “I like my scalp, bro, you can have her—anyway, can’t you see I’m working on getting Ashley into the sack” and I’m like “that’s amazing, we can tag-team this situation” and he’s like “then get your ass on the dancefloor, Rome wasn’t built standing at the fucking bar at 1692!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” All of this with our eyes.

“On the house,” he says. He slaps my arm and grips it, like some Legionnaire’s handshake. I don’t know. That’s how I imagine Roman soldiers shaking hands. Then he’s back to making drinks. The bar is mobbed.

“Ash, did Penelope talk to you?”

Ash is looking at Jules, who is standing, not beside me, but almost directly behind me now.

I step sideways so I’m not blocking Jules.

Jules takes a step in the same direction; she’s behind me again.


“I heard you,” she says. She and Jules are caught in some sort of wild creature standoff.

Jules is literally peeking over my shoulder, with her head right next to mine, but lower. She’s acting like a squirrel or something.

I’m grinning at Ash about this—I can’t help it, it’s so silly!

But Ash isn’t grinning with me. She doesn’t find it cute.

“Did Penelope give you any ecstasy?”

Jablonski hears this. He puts his hand over an “O” mouth like Betty Fucking Boop. For a guy that’s slept with so many women he sure does act gay. He shifts his eyes side to side.

I look at the people next to us. It’s teen wannabe punk whatever.

“Why?” I yell. “Are the cops here tonight?”

Jablonski shrugs.

Ash says “I haven’t seen Penelope.”

“Where’s your Jansport?”

“By the wall. Is she gonna help do it?”

I turn to Jules. “If she wants to.”

Jules is nodding, up and down, like a puppy.

“Ok, good,” Ash musters, “It’ll be fun.”

And then I take Jules out of there before anything bad happens. Not that anything bad would happen. But..I don’t want to press my luck with those two.

Sic. It’s the only way I know to describe the scene at 1692. I mean when it really gets going. Early in the night you’ve got your stupid couples, the floor’s not that full. People there to drink. Those people are done around 1am. 2am. Date couples are gone, except the ones who are really trashed..or the ones who haven’t been drinking at all. When me and my friends go we go to dance. It’s a fucking dance club. I mean damn. Liz’ll come up from the booth and no one new is coming in. Mick stands by the back door and makes sure, after about 2am, that anyone who leaves, doesn’t get back in. There’s no exceptions for that, not me, not Liz, not anyone.

Outside it’s like an Old West scene. People throwing up on the asphalt—I mean face-down in the parking lot. And people smoking pot in their cars. And people shooting their guns off. Hey, you know. This isn’t New York City, this is Ohio. You can shoot your gun off for a while before the cops show up. If it’s late enough, no cops are gonna show up. Say: around 4am.

Around 2am it gets good. That’s when we dance. 2am to 4am. None of that meat market bullshit. I lead Jules right out there. She follows behind like a fox, making fox ears with her cupped hands. She’s one of the only black people here. This is a white club, mostly. There was a black couple here earlier. I think they left.

When I turn, Jules is dancing. I thought I was a freak. I’m a geek dancer, a dork dancer. I don’t really know how to dance. But when I dance, I dance anyway. People stay away from me and Lizard when she’s here. No one dares get close to Zombie Liz. And I tear it up.

But Jules does none of this. She doesn’t tear, she doesn’t rip, she doesn’t smoke it, she doesn’t build it up. And she doesn’t break it down.

If Johnny Depp and Charlie Chaplin had a baby, dancing, that baby would be Jules.

I thought I didn’t care what people thought, but this girl.

She never gave a fuck.

She never even had a fuck to give.

She’s boppin it like..I don’t know..like someone who’s pregnant with a baby giraffe. She’s with giraffe. That’s the only way I know to describe her. Five-foot-ten black girl in this club where everybody’s white, and she’s not acting cool. No. She doesn’t have to do that because she’s Jules. She doesn’t have to dance like black people dance. She doesn’t have to dance like white people dance, either. She doesn’t dance as corny as me. She doesn’t dance as sexy as them. She’s not trying to get anything. She’s definitely not trying to blend in. And she doesn’t look like she’s trying to get anyone’s attention—nor is she paying attention—to anyone but me.

And when the high note hits, when the song goes opera, when guys in the light booth decide to kick us with everything they’ve got on the grid overhead..then she breaks it down.

And I’m outclassed. And I don’t even care. I’m outclassed in every category ever invented and then some, in categories no one’s ever thought of. Jules outclasses me in categories that people who invent categories would be afraid to think of.

All I can do is watch her. I’m dancing. I’m with her. But all I can do is watch. I don’t even pretend I’m not watching that girl, like if there was only a minute left of oxygen in the world, I wouldn’t pretend not to breathe it.

It’s not easy, not pretending not to watch her. I don’t want to lose her. And she’s not even mine! What does that say?—When you’re afraid to lose someone you’ve never even had.

Jules has Penelope. And now Penelope has Chad. Chad and me are rocking off and I come back to Jules. And I have her a little bit, in a dance-floor way. I feel her sweat. I taste her hair. She’s got her butt in my crotch and she’s banging it. We’re banging it together. Chad is on me and I’ve got Penelope’s hand somewhere. Where’s Jules?

There she is. I turn to her. It’s just me and her. It’s Juliet and Matthew. And we’re dancing. We’re dancing. I’ve never even kissed this girl.

She’s got her arms up, and she’s dancing slow, and I grip her sari. I didn’t even know I did it. Just grabbed her on the waist. And it’s thin fabric, the thinnest, and I feel her skin and the swoop of the front of her, where it goes down. I accidentally undo her knot, or loosen it, cause she’s holding it and her other hand is on my shoulder and she’s panting, smiling with her mouth open, and looking down at her knot. She pushes me away and says “I’m going to the bathroom.”

I’m with Penelope and Chad, leaning back. I think they’re holding me. Ashley’s at the bar.

“It’s time for the bags,” I say.

I turn to Penelope and Chad.

“Get the bags.”

There’s this little thing I like to do at 1692. It’s expensive to do it, which is why no one ever did it until me. But it’s not that original an idea. It’s just that unless you have a couple hundred dollars to blow on light sticks you’d never actually do it, even if you thought to.

We just go to every Meijer in the area—Meijer’s this grocery store? But they have a camping section. So you buy out all the glow sticks. Then you go to the next Meijer and you do the same.

Then me and Ashley..or me and Chad..or me and Jules (as it would be the next time we did this) sit in my Honda out front of 1692 and break each one and make a huge pile of the wrappers and even the sticks out across a handful of Jansports.

Then you get your closest friends, and you give them a bag.

And then when the time is right you all have a signal—like I hold one glow stick over my head. Everybody’s on the dance floor. You do this in the middle of a song. Or at the beginning of a really good one—like twenty seconds in. Everybody with the bags opens them and passes out the glow sticks.

The dance floor goes from dark, goth, freak, gayboy formal—everything everyone’s wearing—to lit up. Lit up with lights. Everyone has a glow stick. Everyone’s dancing with it. It’s everywhere. That’s how we like to do it.

“Wait till Jules comes out of the bathroom.”

“You like her, don’t you.” That’s Chad.

“You’re gonna fuck her, aren’t you?” That’s Penelope.

The two of them are all over each other.

“How many of my fucking ecstasy did you take?”

Penelope answers. “We just took two. One each, before you ask. Your lights were on. Well. Your inside light. Don’t worry I turned it off.”

“Ok, good. I won’t worry. Are you drinking water?”

“Yesss.” They answer in unison.

“Are you drinking alcohol?”

“Noooo.” “Wait. Chad. Did you?”

Then Jules comes out of the bathroom.

Around 4am we’re coming out of the club. No: around 4:30. Jules’s arms are both around my neck. Her skin is so soft. We’re both sweaty, and, out here, the air is cooler. No one’s on the street.

“Chad, you driving?”

“No,” Chad says, “We’re walking.”

Penelope says: “Are you?”

“Right, of course, you live..in the Eva Feldman building, right? Goodnight you guys no—we’re not driving. We’re..walking. How did you get here?” I ask Jules.

“I live right over there. Where do you live?”

“I live right over there.”

“Uh oh,” she says.


“Goodnight! Have fun. Play safe. Don’t get AIDS.”

Chad and Penelope turn around. Penelope points at Chad’s shirt. “Don’t get AIDS,” she says.

That’s how we leave it. Lol. Chad and Penelope—that shirt isn’t even Chad’s, he must have picked it up at the club somehow—and me and Jules, wandering off in opposite directions on South Jefferson at four in the morning.

“You want to get breakfast?”

“Do you want to?” Jules is now accommodating.

“Maybe in a while. You want to walk?”

She takes my hand.

“I thought you were crazy,” she says, “when I first met you.”

“You practically just met me.”

“Let me finish. Let me finish,” she says. “When I first met you, when I very very first met you, at the door of Ashley’s house, I thought: who is this guy?” I let her talk. She’s on a soliloquy about how I was wearing panties, and how that impressed her. She uses the funniest words. I mean in the middle of a sentence, she’ll just throw one in. “I like how you dance,” she says.

“Do you?”

“Your dancing..is like tintinnabulation.”

“No it’s not.”

“Would you—Shut up and let me pick my words! It is. It’s like tintinnabulation of the mind.”

“You’re just fucking off now.”

“Aren’t I allowed to fuck off. Don’t you want me to fuck off? Isn’t fucking off just exactly what you want for me to do?” She has this musical way about the way she speaks.

“That’s not all I want.”


“No, it’s not just about fucking off.”

She grabs me close. We’re standing by the river.

“Yeah,” I say, “it’s about fucking in, fucking on, fucking under, fucking inbetween.”

“Fucking inbetween,” she says. “I’ve heard about that. Do you want to fuck me?”

“Not right now.” I’m trying to explain some subtle point that I think is really important—

Jules laughs and says: “Well that’s good. Cause I hardly know you. There doesn’t need to be any fucking right now.” She says it in this deep voice, like she’s imitating some actor from a movie.

She goes off along the river lights, over by the fountain, and it isn’t later till we kiss.

We’re sitting by the fountain, which is off, and the light is coming up over the neighborhoods. There isn’t sun yet, it’s maybe 5:15. We’ve been talking all this time, Jules about her play and her mother and her beautiful little sister who she hasn’t seen in months, who she emails, and who emails back. Her sister’s name is Bianca, she’s very formal, she puts image attachments in all the email she sends to Jules, pictures of flowers, and she finds a different one to attach, every time she writes. I talk about work, and Jules listens, and she cares with her eyes, and with her brow, when I say that I’m unhappy. Not in general—in general I’m fine. But with work. It’s got problems. And they’re not the kind of problems that are problems for the company. But they are for me.

We both dry out..our clothes, from sweat. And she sits in my lap for a while, and I put my arms around her, and I kiss her neck.

It’s a delicate moment, that moment you first kiss someone. It doesn’t matter if you’ve already fucked them—as is sometimes the case. That first kiss, even a hand kiss or a neck kiss, is something.

I kiss her on her neck, and she squeezes my arms that are holding her. Then I kiss her shoulder and she turns around, scooting on the concrete wall next to where the rivers meet.

We’re looking at each other and our foreheads touch.

And I like this girl more than I want her to know.

Because she’s alive. She has that spark. And it’s not a spark I want to extinguish, and it’s not a spark I want to keep me warm. It’s hers, and it’s hers only. I just like to look at it. I like to know it’s lit in her.

Knowing that is more than anyone owes anyone else.

You can’t expect people to share their spark with you.

Not even knowledge that it exists.

But I’d do anything, with this one, with this one before me, to be a spark from her perspective, and I’d do anything to never offend this one before me, so that I could always watch her glow.

Ashley picked me up an hour later. She’d taken my car to get a shower, then she came by to drive us both to work. She picked me up downtown. I told Jules I was walking home but I went to courthouse square and sat for a few minutes before Ash arrived.

I get in the car.

Ash is still wearing the same clothes.

“Didn’t you go home and get a shower?”

“I got a shower.”

“Are we gonna pick your car up, or do you wanna get it after work?”

“Let’s get it now,” she says. Her teeth are clenched and her arms are straight out, elbows locked, hands gripping the steering wheel.

“Well,” I say. “I think I’ll drive.”

I get out of the passenger seat—we’re still stopped by courthouse square—and I go around to where Ashley is and I open the door of my Honda.

Her hands are still on the steering wheel. Her seatbelt is still on.

“Are you o-kay to drive?” she says.

“Yeah. I’m fine.” (You were the one drinking.) “Ash. Come on. I’ll drive us to your place.”


“So we can get your car.”

“My car isn’t at my place.”

“Where is it?”

“It’s at your place.”

Oh right! Glad I didn’t take Jules there!

But it’s like Ash reads my mind: “How was Jules.”

“Jules was fine. Please. Get out of the car. Let me drive my car. We’ll take you to get your car. You can drive to work. You want to get breakfast?”

“Didn’t you have breakfast with Jules?”

“Ash. Please get out of the car. I’ll take you to your car if you want. I was just thinking we could get McDonald’s or something. Can you please get out. The light’s about to change.”

I had walked Jules partway to her apartment and gave her a light peck. Our lips started doing their thing again, and then our tongues wanted to get involved, and they started to, but we put them back away.

“I’ll miss you.”

“I know—I’ll miss you too.”

“You wanna do something else with me?”

“Sure, yes—I do.”

“How bout..tonight.”

“I can’t. I have my play.”

“Oh right. Can I come see you? Or no..that’s too much. I’m not stalking you.”

“I might stalk you.”

“That’s fine, that’s fine. I can..I have your number, we’ll..I hope your show goes great tonight.”

“Thank you, sweetie.” She comes back to kiss me.

And then she goes.

They say “parting is such sweet sorrow” but the reason that is, is you never know if you’re going to see the person again.

I would see Jules again. Not that day. But many, many other days. I wouldn’t see her forever, though. There would come a day when that day was the last we knew together.

I drove Ash to my house—my apartment in the Oregon district. I think Jules said she lives right across Jefferson—or maybe over Monument. She said she had a little loft.

“I’ll see you at Mead,” I say. I’m locking my car and Ash is tromping down the street to hers. “See you soon!”

She doesn’t say anything. I know what she’s thinking. It’s something like: Didn’t any of that mean anything to you? Was nothing we said, for real? Doesn’t anyone have traditional relationships anymore? I want my key back. That’s me. I want my damn key back. I want to be able to take Jules to my place and not have Ash walk in on us because she still has the damn key. Or already be there like she would have if I had taken Jules here today.

(“I thought you said you lived alone?”

“I do.”

“Then who’s that singing in the shower?”

Except Ashley doesn’t sing in the shower. But you get the idea.)

And fuck! She left the door unlocked! I’m at the top of the stairs. I turn the handle and push the door inside my living room. Unbelievable! All my friends think that it’s some kind of energetic faux-pas to lock your door—like the act of locking your door is keeping good energy from entering your life or that you’re asking to have your house broken into and all your stuff stolen if you lock your door. Ashley leaves her whole house unlocked down by Mead.

I step in and lock the door. Definitely getting that key back today. The bathroom light is on, the carpet in front of the bathroom is wet. Did she sleep in my bed? It doesn’t look like it. Maybe she made it back up. I kneel by the futon and smell the comforter. Wouldn’t that be sweet. If I brought Jules back here and she smelled Ashley on the sheets. Jules could probably smell her, too, she’s got just that kind of sensitivity.

The camera’s on, on my computer. When I walk past, video of me plays on the screen. And she’s recording! What the hell is she doing in here, recording herself masturbate?

(Jules double-clicks an icon on the desktop. “What’s this?”

“Oh! That?! The file named AshleyMasturbating123? That’s nothing. Let’s just drag that to the trash.” In fact: ignore anything that ends in “.hardPorn”)

Fuck me. This sort of thing could happen. Ruin a perfectly good kernel of some twenty-year-old that I desperately want to get inside her panties.

But it’s more than that.

It is more than that, right?

I think about our night together—our morning. About her acting in the show. About our talks. And about our kiss.

Yeah. Definitely. It’s more than that.

I take my time. I wash my hair. I pick out new clothes and I floss my teeth extra well. When I shave, this time, I think about kissing Jules and I make sure every little hair around my lips has been trimmed or plucked.

I masturbate, but I don’t think of Jules. It wouldn’t be right. There’s a power thing that goes on in your mind when you think of someone while you masturbate. Whether or not it affects them is a matter of quantum-pseudo-scientific debate that I’m not willing to get into. But it definitely affects you. I don’t want to have that kind of static between me and Jules, even in my own mind. She’s special. So this time when I jerk off I don’t think of anyone. I just touch myself and come.

I always go to work after I go dancing. If I didn’t, I would start to think of Chad’s list—an alternate version called The Top Ten Reasons You Know Your Social Life is Interfering With Your Work..and not going to work the next day after you’ve stayed out all night dancing, on that list, would be number..I don’t know..seven?

Working after you haven’t slept is terrible. It’s wonderful until about 1pm, when it really hits you. In the morning, it’s great. You don’t have that just-woke-up feeling that plagues most people until they’ve had their tenth cup of coffee. But around noon, and especially around 1pm, it starts to hurt. That’s the time of day, from about 1 to about 4—maybe 4:30—where you endure three hours of questioning (from yourself) on why you’re living your life the way you do and why not just simplify, get rid of the social life or the job. You know, do it like most people. But then around 4, 4:30, life is good again.

By 4:30 I’m making social plans. “Ash, you want to go to dinner?” “Gao: TGIF?” Except we never go to Friday’s on Fridays. It’s like going out drinking on New Year’s Eve or playing practical jokes on April 1st. That shit is for amateurs. On Fridays me and Gao go to Bravo! Italian Cucina, where Gao and I both drink more alcohol than the people at Bravo! Italian Cucina are accustomed to serving normal customers, and eventually we are asked to leave, and we have to call Ashley and Angela to pick us up. Gao once shot a bullet through the wall of his condominium—have I mentioned that? I need to get some new friends.

Working—for me—after I’ve had no sleep means I’m less able to put up with people. In a normal day today’s development meeting might have gone like this:

“We need a team to work on the Python developer standard.”

“Developer standard?”

“Yeah, we need a naming standard for this new development that’s being done in Python.”

“Gotcha. Well. I’ll help if it’s less than—you know—an hour or two a week.”

Makowski smiles. He’s proud of me. I stepped up to the plate.

That’s how that might have gone in a normal day. Today, though, after me having no sleep, the conversation actually goes like this:

“We need a team to work on the Python developer standard.”

“Developer standard?”

“Yeah, we need a naming standard for this new development that’s being done in Python.”

“Gotcha. Well—wait. What development is being done in Python?”

“It’s just some stuff for the new transaction servers. So we need a team—this is volunteer only—to make a standards document—“

“But hold on,” I say. “Why—what exactly is being done in Python?”

Now this is in a conference room on the third floor—the big conference room. And to their own discredit, there are VPs in this meeting. There don’t need to be VPs in this meeting. This is a development meeting. Maybe Mastin; that’s it. But if these fuckers want to waste time coming to a development meeting, that’s their problem. And Makowski: what’s he doing throwing around terms like Python? He doesn’t know a Python from a fuckin rubber snake in his backyard.

“So what’s being done in Python?”

There’s like..twenty-five people around this table looking at me.

“I mean who is doing this development in Python?”

This guy named Marc starts talking. “It is for..the transaction server..in the middleware—“

“Yeah I know it’s in the middleware,” I say. The transaction server is the middleware. “Why the fuck is it in Python?”

Makowski looks at me. We don’t say fuck here. If I say fuck three times he’ll ask me to leave the meeting.

“We have a language list,” I say. “Python isn’t on it.”

Marc is quiet.

“What does this Python code do?”

“It is an object wrapper..it binds a stateless protocol..” Marc is French, so if you can, try to imagine this in a French accent. “It is an object wrapper..it binds a stateless protocol—“

“Hol hol hol..hold up. You have messaging code—“

“It is not messaging code. It is an implementation of the reflection pattern—“

“So you have reflection code..in Python..mirroring something from the transaction server.”

“That is correct. We used a Booch pattern from the Design Pattern—“

“Fuckin..” (unbelievable) “..Booch didn’t write Design Patterns. Where are you messaging this object to?”

“It’s not messaging, it’s mirroring; that’s why the code is in Python.”

“F..” I start to say the F-word again. Makowski’s watching me. About all he can do is shut up and count the number of times people say the F-word because when it comes to software engineering he doesn’t know the difference between his own gaping, sloppy joe asshole and the tiiiiiiiiny stinkhole of some Filipino virgin. So I don’t say the F-word, because Makowski is counting that hard. That’s his area of expertise and function in these meetings: to count the number of times developers say the F-word and kick them out once they’ve said it three times.

“So,” I say, “Where is this object being mirrored to?”

“To the client—“

“So then it’s being messaged from the transaction server to the client, and we already have messaging code to do that, written in Perl, ready to go, running in production, open protocol, no need to rewrite shit in Python or any other language to get data from the transaction server to the client..or wherever. That’s why we have a language list. We don’t need messaging code written in twenty-seven different languages because it increases ramp-up time for new developers who don’t know Python—“

“But everyone is learning Python now—“

“I know Marc. I know. That’s the problem. We already learned Perl. We bought a hundred and nineteen copies of The Perl Book and everybody learned the ins and outs of Larry—“ (I almost say “Fucking”) “—of Larry Wall—“

“But this code,” Ravi interrupts, “uses features not available in Perl.”

“No it doesn’t,” I say. “I’m sorry, but whatever features you think Python has that Perl doesn’t—it’s just not the case—“

“But the—“

“Let’s not have a language discussion right now? Ok? The Perl code works, it’s fast, that language was chosen for a reason, by committee, after sober and documented technical analysis..quantitative analysis involving CPM and Applications and Infrastructure and Management and it’s just..it works. There’s no need for Python..in that domain.”

When I say “CPM”, I look at Roger—and Roger backs me up.

When I say “Applications” Tim Jones backs me up.

When I say “Management” I look at Leonard Mastin, and he backs me up. Leonard Mastin also shoots me a look when I say “sober and documented analysis” but that’s just between me and him.

Fuck it. Fuck. This conversation could have gone a lot smoother if I hadn’t been out dancing—if I had gotten some sleep—but then we would have Python in the messaging code because fucking Marc Disney wants to learn how to code in Python.

Makowski presses the backspace key on his tablet a couple times. I can only assume this is because the meeting is almost over and I only said the F-word twice.

“Everyone good?” He looks at me.


He looks at Marc. Marc drops his pencil and it rolls toward him. He shakes his head and stops it before it rolls off the edge of the table.

“Good,” Makowski says, “Let’s move to final business.”

Gao was crazy. I’m not sure I made it clear with the thing earlier about him shooting a bullet through the wall of his condominium.

“Gao. Let’s go play video golf at Applebee’s.”

We’re in the third floor hallway at Mead.

“Fuck that,” Gao says, “Let’s get Nina and go blacklight bowling.”

“I don’t want to go out with Nina today.”

Nina is Gao’s codeword for Darcy, this bitch from work he’s fucking. We both have girlfriends from work—how pathetic.

“No Nina?” he says.

I shake my head.

People are walking around us as we’re standing in the middle of the hallway. Blacklight bowling doesn’t mean blacklight bowling, either. Gao has codewords for everything. Blacklight bowling means we sit in Gao’s Eclipse and he bumps crystal meth. He heats it in these little foil squares. He says it makes him want to lie around all day and play with his nipples. Pete Makowski is walking by. I move out of the way for his belly. Did they give you that with your MBA as well? I think part of the reason MBAs like basketball so much is it rhymes with NBA. I’m serious. I think they look at those acronyms and the neurons in their brains get confused.



His belly moves on. Ash is there, she’s talking with Karen on some ID stuff. Louis Brickman is coming for us. If Brickman gets here he’ll want to come along. I don’t want to drink with Louis.

“Gao?” I dip my head to the side.

“What though?” Gao doesn’t want to play video poker. That’s a little too pedestrian for him, even if we get drunk off our ass.


“Today?” he says. But he looks optimistic.

“I’ll meet you there in ten.”

Gao nods.

It’s 11:25.

He’s bumping ICP in the Friday’s parking lot. Insane Clown Posse? I come up to the car.

“Get in,” he says.

“I don’t want to.” I can see the foil on his passenger seat.

Gao is bopping his head up and down with the music. He turns it up. “Shit. Fuck. I’m sawing off an elbow!” Those are the lyrics. He listens to this same song on repeat. I do it with him, at his house. It drives his wife crazy. “You want my couch! You motherfucker! I need your motherfucking brain!” That’s what we listen to. This man has a daughter.

Gao has his sunglasses on. I do too. It’s a beautiful day and the parking lot of TGIF is mostly empty, just the staff. We’re the first people here.

Gao has the foil. “You sure?”

“I’m good.” I’ve never smoked it. I’m trying to draw the line somewhere. Still, sitting with him in his car while he does it..you know I’ve breathed some of that in.

Gao flicks his torch.

“Come to the bar, man.”

“I’ll meet you.”

I’m doubtful. I pull his car door open.

He pulls it shut.

“You can’t have my couch! What the fuck you thinking??!” It’s Gao, speaking along with the lyrics and speaking to me, too.

I take my hand off the door. “I’ll be inside.”

Gao turns up the system. “Now come here you big fat motherfucker—get on the table!” Then, in the song, some guy is hitting people on the head with a frying pan, knocking them out so he can kill them and steal their body parts.

I’m walking toward the Friday’s, bright canopy flapping in the wind—red and white stripes covering the patio. My hands are on the double doors, pulling them both open.

I need to get my key back from Ash today, for sure. I don’t care about hot hostesses anymore..I’ve got Jules. The things I want to do to that girl are terrible—nasty—even though I like her in a tender way too. Isn’t that fucked up? Even as sweet as a girl could be, even as much as you like tender kissing, you still want to fuck, too. It’s just the animal of us, I guess—our lizard brain. I hope that girl wants to fuck me the way I want to fuck her cause I want to tear that pussy up.

This is the world I live in. I don’t know..I guess you could call it western privilege—I hear we’re a lot richer than other countries. This is the only thing I’ve ever known.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: this writer just wants to have a sidekick character who’s a minority. “I have black friends.” Yeah, we know. And your Asian friends and your gay friends..but how well do you know them? And this writer, you’re thinking, gives Gao a ricey car—how corny is that: he drives an Eclipse and smokes meth. He’s Chinese, he’s the greatest video conferencing programmer who ever lived..or at least the greatest in this country. But he is. Gao is the greatest video conferencing programmer in this country. Possibly the world. Mead Research hired him special. That’s why they brought him over here. If you’re a programmer, half your friends are Indian or Chinese. But sometimes Gao does culturally-specific things..like he drinks green tea every morning. Classic, right? How likely is that? But he does. He mixes it at his desk and he buys it from this place in New York and he doesn’t call it “tea”—he calls it sencha. Which is actually Japanese but you get the point. I’m not gonna make shit up. If he drank green tea and called it “sencha”, then he drank green tea and called it sencha. And if he drove an Eclipse and smoked meth..well..what do you want me to do about it? His name is Gao, he smokes meth, drinks green tea and drives a fucking Eclipse. Oh yeah: and he’s the greatest video conferencing programmer on the planet. He also shot a bullet through the wall of his condominium one time..but you know that.

“Gao, sit your ass down.” I push his trivia console over to him.

He half-picks-up a drink. “Why are there only two drinks here. Where is my other drink?”

“I’m drinking slow you motherfucker, cause I want to drink with you.”

He and the bartender—this waitress we like—she works as waitress and bartender this time of day—she and Gao do this special handshake. It makes me feel very un-cool.

“You didn’t drink my other drink?”


“Did he drink my other drink?”

Jesse leans across the bar. I can see her tits. They’re warm-looking, they’re kind of plush—they remind me of this Aaron Copland song I like. It’s from Rodeo (it’s not Hoe Down, it’s this other one). Her breasts make me think of cows, or teenage girls growing up on farms, drinking milk and milking cows. Girls eating beef. Beef-fed women. Anyway—

Jess touches Gao’s forearms. He’s got tattoos there. (Typical, right?) Jess tells him that I haven’t drank his drink, that she’s only served me two and that I’m drinking my second one, and that the two in front of Gao are exactly the same—made from the same mixer—as the one I drank, and the one I’m drinking.

Gao points behind the bar. “Why is there curacao in the well? These drinks aren’t made with curacao. I don’t see—I didn’t see anyone drinking anything with curacao in it. Them?” Gao points at a table: a manager and an employee, doing hours or talking schedules or something. They’re drinking Cokes. “Them?” Gao points his face at a table on the back wall: retired couple. Menus large against their frames. Gao starts to laugh.

Jesse traces her fingers along his one arm. “I love this. Where did you get this?”

“I did it myself.”

“Is he lying?”

I say: “No.”

“What does it mean?”

Gao won’t tell her.

“What does it mean?”

“It’s a program,” I say. It’s this long-ass hexadecimal number. I copied down most if it, once, before Gao saw me doing it. I can’t memorize that well. “It’s a self-replicating program,” I say, “It’s a virus. If it ever got off his arm it would destroy the world.”

She’s rubbing it. “That’s sexy.”

Gao’s watching the trivia screen. He punches an answer.

I punch mine. He’s got this one; I suck at trivia.

“Who had the blue curacao?” Gao slams his first drink on the table (glass empty). The manager, sitting with the employee, looks over. The old people still have their faces in their menus; they probably didn’t hear that.

Jesse turns around. She mouths the words, like the opposite of a ventriloquist. I had it. She doesn’t want the manager to hear. Before Gao got here she made herself a tiny, tiny drink.

“So’d’jya fuck that girl? Get somma that black pussay?” That’s Gao.

This is us three drinks later.

“Djya get yourself in somma that black cunt?”

“Gao: shut, up.”

He puts his hand over my trivia thing so I can’t answer. “Did you ever fuck a black girl before?”

I press my button anyway. I press it through his hand, using one of his fingers, bending it the wrong way.

“You are the slowest scotch drinker I’ve ever seen,” Gao says.

“What’s the hurry? Aren’t you supposed to enjoy it?”

Gao slams back a scotch and orders more food. “Black pussay,” he’s saying, “Black pussay.” He’s spinning the utensil setup like a propeller.

My eyes are intent on the trivia. Gotta get in a few answers while Gao isn’t paying attention.

Jess is used to this.

There’s a pair of surgeons sitting across from us. The bar is a square, it goes all the way around. It’s us, there’s some early work people on one side, a guy drinking alone, and these two surgeons, who are talking real loud. The one’s trying to impress the other. He’s holding his hand out, flat, palm down. He does this thing with his wrist, where he flies his hand out, into that flat, palm-down position and he says to the other one: “Steady as a rail.” He works with organ donations. When people die, he’s the supervising surgeon who decides who to give the organs to. He’s presenting his drinking partner and the rest of the bar with these juvenile ethics dilemmas, like: If one room has a woman in her twenties, who’s a drug addict, and pregnant—“and she’s on welfare”—and the other room has a stock broker, middle-aged, male, with no family (who rips people off for a living)..which one should he choose?

“Which one did you choose?”

“He chose the stockbroker, cause he’s a motherfucker,” Gao says real quietly.


I yell across the bar. “Which one did you choose?”

“I chose the stockbroker,” the guy says. Then he’s telling his buddy about how he came in here before he had to make that decision and had—how many?—gin and tonics.

Jesse tells us how many with her fingers: three.

The surgeon flicks his hand out and holds it flat.

“Steady as a rail,” he tells his friend.

“I think he means solid as a rock,” I say.

But Gao says: “Whatever.”

But Jesse wants to know about this girl.

“She’s black?”

“Yes,” Gao says, “but she’s beautiful.”

I look at Gao. “She happens to be black,” I say. “And yes,” I tell Jesse, “she is beautiful.”

“She really is,” Gao says.

Jess tells him to play trivia and she pushes the console toward him. She puts her elbows—and her tits—on the bar and looks directly in my eyes. “Where did you meet her?” Her hands are on her cheeks.

“She came to my party.”

“He throws excellent parties,” Gao says. “There was this girl—what was her name?”


“The naked girl.”


“Whatever happened to Constance. Why don’t you bring her around?”

“Tell me about this girl,” Jesse says, “The one you like.”

“Well. Her name is Jules—“

“Oooh. I like her already. Keep going.”

“Can I have another drink,” Gao deadpans.

“In a minute.”

“Can I have another drink,” Gao says.

In a minute.

“Can I have another—“

“Do you want me to sixty-nine you, Gao?”

Me and Gao look at each other and bust out laughing.

“You know what I mean.” Jesse’s never eighty-sixed anyone in her life. “””Shut up you guys.”

Gao’s like: “Um..yes.”

“Gao. Play your fucking trivia. Matt. Tell me about your girl.”

But I can’t. Those stupid surgeons are talking about some surgery they were doing the other day, and they’re laughing about it, talking about the patient, describing her in these really terrible terms..just..drinkin it up..talkin shop..

“Excuse me. Excuse me.”

“What do you want bro?”

Jesse stops me. She says: “Can you please not talk about surgery so loud, you know, people are eating.” She says it super super nice. You’d think after eight years of medical school you would learn not to talk about surgery in a bar. Jesse said what she said to them really nice. Have some freaking respect..talking about organ donors after they died and gave their heart to someone. Given the circumstances, what Jesse said to them was really nice. If I had said something to them, I would have never said it that nice.

You know that statement “You are what you love (not what loves you)”? It’s from the movie Adaptation. Don’t ever try to explain that to someone in a bar.

Gao doesn’t want to hear it. He’s flirting with some woman he’s never gonna go home with. Jesse has a full bar at this point. I’m talking to this woman next to me (this older woman—and Gao is rolling his eyes). He’s trying to distance himself from me, like he would never sit next to someone who’s talking to an older woman. Like: he didn’t even come here with me, he just casually knows me.

I’m trying to tell this woman how when I was younger I used to have this thing for camp counsellors. Not always a love thing—though it was a love thing when they were women. But an admiration thing. You know..some people you meet..most people you meet..and it’s just..you get the details of their life, you get their particulars, and you’re not impressed. It doesn’t mean anything to you. But for me, with some kinds of people, I was like..impressed. That was camp counsellors, mainly, as a child. And maybe ministers to a lesser degree. And student teachers. And some college students. And chess players. But more than any other group, it was camp counsellors. It doesn’t matter about the group.

(I can see I’m losing this woman. Gao is right, all she wants to do is sleep with me, I’m some younger trophy man just like he feels about this younger girl he’s talking with, trying to take home..or trying to take..wherever. He’s got a wife and kid at home, maybe they can go to her place. So I’m trying to keep this woman with me, because I really want to talk about this.)

I’m telling her how I always admired camp counsellors, or ministers or whatnot, and some kinds of teachers and I’m telling her how, recently, I’ve started seeing this statement in a new way. You are what you love..not what loves you. You can see that statement in a simpler way..and you can see it in at least one, other, deeper way that I’ve just come upon, in my life.

Am I losing her? I am. She just wants to fuck a younger man. Gao is right. I hope he at least gets laid.

“I’ve got to go outside,” I say, totally awkward.

“Djouwanna cig, bro?” Somewhere in the evening Gao started saying “bro”.

“No,” I say.

And Jesse says she’ll keep my seat.

The parking lot is full. I sit on the curb. I get my cell phone. It’s the middle of the afternoon—I mean it’s maybe four. I call Ash.

“How’s it going?”

“How’s it going?”


“Good. Do you have a sec?”

“Sure,” she says, “What’s up.” I can hear typing in the background.

“You know that saying from Adaptation that I like, about not being what loves you, but being what you love?”

“Where are you,” she says.

“If you don’t have time—“ I say.

“Need me to come pick you up?” she says.

I’m quiet.

“Is Gao there?” she asks.

I don’t say anything. I don’t want to be having this conversation with my ex-girlfriend. She is my ex, right?

“I’ll be there in a little bit,” Ash says, and we both hang up.

I really don’t want to be having this conversation with my girlfriend. This is what’s wrong with the world. You try to have a conversation in a bar. Or with your ex-girlfriend. I just want to talk with someone about the new way I’m thinking about this line from Adaptation. But you can’t have that conversation in a bar. It just doesn’t happen. And you can’t have that conversation with your ex-girlfriend: the conversation about how you’re too drunk to get home and you and Gao need a ride home—and how one of those rides home is gonna be to Gao’s wife which as much as Ashley loves us I know is not a drive she wants to make, almost all the way to Cincinnati..and the other one of those drives..the one to take me home..I don’t even want to think about that drive right now.

So I’ll tell you. Even though it’s years later. I wanted to find someone that night to tell this to, but I guess since you’re captive I’ll just lay it out here. The thing is, about that saying (You are what you love, not what loves you)..it doesn’t have to mean that your essence is more defined by what it is you love in this world than what loves you. It doesn’t have to mean that when you love something, or someone, or whatever you love..that that more defines you, that that is more important, in your essence, that what loves you. It can mean that.

But I had just figured out, at that time in my life, that it can mean this, too. (It’s simpler.) You are what you love: that can just mean: when you find yourself attracted to something in this world, it’s because that thing is just like you. You are what you love might just mean that when you love something, that thing is you. When you love someone, it’s because they’re just like you.

Basically that love is a mirror. It’s not a wanting, vampiric or otherwise. It’s not desire or admiration or need. It’s a mirror. When you feel it, it’s a sign—but not about the other person—about you.

When you love, it just means: this person, here, is not a stranger. This person, here..this isn’t really an other person. In some ways..even though it’s in another body..this is you.

Ashley played the music I hate on the way home. It was Fugazi. I hate that shit. It’s too hipster, it’s like..if you weren’t in DC when it was happening, then why are you listening to it? You’ve got to play it on a mix, too—you can’t buy the full album. Your friend has to have given you the mp3..then it’s cool. Ashley is from Middletown; what the heck is she doing listening to Fugazi.

“Where are you going?”


“I know but..whose home?”

“Do you want to go to your place?”

“Yeah..kind of.”

Ash looks pissed.

“Just take me back to my car.”

“You’re not driving.”

“Oh, fuck, Ash. Just take me to my car and I’ll sit there for a while and drink coffee.”

“You don’t drink coffee.”

“I know.”

Ash keeps driving.

“Just take me to my car.”

She swerves on the highway. “I’ll drive you to your place but I’m not taking you to your car.”

“Fuck, Ash..so..what..you’re gonna stay over?”

“I’ll pick you up in the morning.”

“I really don’t want you to pick me up. Just take me to my car. I won’t drive drunk. I’ll sober up. I’ll sit at the bar and get a coffee.”

“No, you won’t.”

“Oh, fuck, Ash.” I lean my head against the window. The lights go by..too close. I really am drunk. “You’re right on the line, Ash.”

I can drive my own car thank you very much!”

I’m not gonna argue with her. She’s been in three accidents; I’ve been in zero. I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves.

“At least change this,” I say. I pick up her iPod and she doesn’t stop me.

Fugazi Fugazi Fugazi. “Fuck me, Ash.”

She doesn’t say anything.

At least she’s driving me home.

When we get to my place she parks in the driveway. She walks me up. It takes me a while to open the door. The key sticks a little when I’m drunk. I just leave the door open and go in, kick off my shoes, adjust the thermostat. Ash is standing outside my apartment, in the stairwell, the door wide open. I didn’t want to close it in her face.

“Are you going to invite me in?”

“Ash, I want my key back.” I go to her and hold out my hand.

“Can I come in?” Her face is pained; she could cry.

“Come in.” I step to the side. I don’t touch her. If I touch her, bad things could happen.

Ash goes to the kitchen and sets her purse on the counter. She takes everything out, just about, places each item carefully beside the sink.

I’m watching her, standing there.

She’s baring the contents of her purse, stalling, taking as much time as possible with each item. You know her keys are right there on the top. We just got out of the car.

But I can’t rush her. I can’t rush her on this one. I need my key back. I do. But you can’t rush someone on this moment. This is a moment you usually only do a few times..and if you’re doing it right..I think this is a moment you only do once, per person.

“Do you want me to come pick you up in the morning?” She has the keys.

“Ash, I’m sorry. Look—why don’t I just get a cab. Or Chad can take me.”

“Chad doesn’t drive.”

“Why don’t you just let me worry about it, ok?”

She makes a show of trying to get my key off her keyring, then drops the keys on my kitchen floor. She bends and sits, then reaches up and slides the keys on the counter above her.

I go over to grab the keys—which I shouldn’t have done—and I open the clasp with my fingernails. I’m taking her keys off to get to my key—you have to do that on her keyring—and Ashley puts her head on my leg—which I wish she hadn’t done—and I’m feeling her cry through the cloth of my jeans, my knee getting damp.

It’s so hard, when you’re breaking up with someone, to stop sleeping with them. I can’t let her sit there in my kitchen, crying. She needs to be taken care of. She doesn’t need to drive home, then drive back here tomorrow morning. She’s just a little girl—look at her! Her feelings are hurt, and I’m the one who hurt them. And that’s okay. She understands. But right now—look at her—she just needs to be cared for, a little bit. And who better to do that than me? I know her! I love her! We’re familiar with each other.

This line of thinking is flawed, though. Because: where’s she gonna sleep? In the living room? I don’t think so. And where am I gonna sleep? Not in my bed? When I’m drunk and tired? I don’t think so. What are we gonna do, sleep with me on top of the covers?? It just doesn’t work that way, even when there’s a Jules looming on the horizon. I’ve got my key. This can be the last night. But what’s a little fuck? I mean: we know how to do each other so well.

I texted Jules on Saturday afternoon. I couldn’t wait any longer. I saw her preview on Thursday, met her at the dance club later, danced, kissed, talked..that was Friday morning. Then Gao and I went out drinking, Ashley drove me home. And I woke up with Ashley in my bed on Saturday morning, around seven o’clock. I don’t know when I went to bed—extremely early. I woke up once to puke.

Ashley was still there in the morning, and I had to buy her breakfast—well, coffee. I drank juice. She drank tea. This is at the local coffeehouse, up the street. Then we had to do that awkward thing where she drives me all the way to the Dayton Mall, to T.G.I. Friday’s, so I can get my car. By the time I’m alone, driving home, it’s two in the afternoon.

The first text I sent Jules was this: How’s your day?

The first text she sends me, is: ::HARD

She does that, she puts those little dots before some words, or between words. I do it sometimes, now. But I got it from her. Jules also uses all caps, which I never do. But coming from her, it’s ok.

I wait for her to say something else, but she doesn’t. Her day is hard. Or: ::HARD. That’s all she says. The silence after it strengthens her meaning.

I decide to call.

“Hello?” She sounds depressed—I mean like something died.


She says nothing.

“How are you this afternoon.”

“I don’t know..” she says. I imagine her face blank, staring out a window, at rain.

“I hope I didn’t call too soon. But. I wanted to call you—“

“I wanted to call you too!” she almost screams. “I’ve been wanting to! But—I didn’t want to call too soon! Oh! I’m so glad you wanted to call me.”

“I did. I really did. I was even scared to text you.”

“You were scared? Why??”

“Because. I was afraid—that..you know—I didn’t want to pressure you.”

“I want you to be able to tell me everything,” she says, “Without being afraid.”

I’m quiet for a bit too long.

“Was that,” she asks, “too soon? Was that too weird?”


“Do you think I’m weird?”


“But you think I’m a little strange, right?”

“I don’t think you’re strange,” I say.

“You don’t?” She sounds disappointed.

“I mean—no, actually. I think you make perfect sense.”

“I think that makes you strange.”

“Does it?”

“Can you talk to my mother?” she says. “And use those words: She makes perfect sense. That would be wonderful. I’ll arrange a call.”

“Does your mother live in Dayton?”

“Luckily, no,” she says.

And I leave it at that. “Jules?”

“Yes, Matthew.”

“Would you like to go out sometime?”

“Oh,” she says, “Oh oh oh oh oh.”

Then I say: “I mean—just something..sometime—it doesn’t have to be today.”

“I have my show today,” she says.


“But you can pick me up after.” There’s a smile in her voice.



“Where are you?”

“I’m downstairs. Take the elevator all the way down. Or: I’ll meet you.”

“I’ll come down.” I push open the door to the lobby of Black Box 101. I had gone up to the theatre, then come down to the street to see if I missed her, outside.

When I get downstairs she’s seated on the red couch. There’s a woman next to her—I guess someone who came to see the play. Jules is facing her, looking at her straight on. The woman is turned kind of sideways. Jules has her hands on the woman’s arms, and she sees me come into the room. They’re talking. I sit over on the side, near a corner. The woman doesn’t notice me.

The woman’s murmuring. She’s in trouble. She’s pleading to Jules, pleading to be listened to. Pleading to have someone listen to her life.

Jules is calming her. She’s not even actually listening. That’s something you have to know about Jules. She’s not actually listening to the woman. When I ask her later, what that woman was talking about, Jules will crunch her eyes and say “I’on’know.” I guess I don’t know either; maybe Jules really does know, and she’s just fucking with me. It sure looks like she’s listening. It looks like she’s listening hard.

The woman is crying—she’s wiping her face with her sleeves.

And Jules is telling her that she deserves to feel sad, right now. What strange advice. If I really thought that, I’d be afraid to tell it to someone, because of how they might interpret. You deserve to feel sad?

But the woman responds. She nods. She knows Jules is right. It’s the first smile I’ve seen on the woman since I sat down.

I can hear some of what Jules says. I’m trying not to listen, zoning out, thinking about my own life, my own objectives. Like wanting to take real good care of Jules and needing to not sleep with Ashley again. But some of Jules’ words come through, and this is what I hear:

“..need to take that thought into you, need to make that thought part of your daily meal..right?..your mind is eating a daily meal, just like your stomach! is eating a daily meal..” When she says “stomach!” she says it with an Annie smile, or like she’s five, or eight, or a really happy twelve. She says it with this insane tonality that’s like how a children’s show host would talk to a child! But not like Mr. Rogers. Like she’s talking down to this lady—except she’s cheering her up! “..you need to take that idea into your mind and chew!” (Annie dimples) “Now tell me what it tastes! like!” And she has the woman tell her..

She has the woman tell her how the thought tastes.

And I’m just sitting here, staring at this, and Jules is taking the woman’s tears on her own sleeves—she pops her shoulder out and tells the woman to “Put your head right there.” She puts her arms around the woman’s head and neck and motions to me that it will only be two minutes—five tops. I say ok. And I sit there and watch Jules take this woman’s sadness. Because that’s what she’s doing. They can talk stomachs and tears and chewing and thoughts and meals all they want—and fucking Jules can lie and say she doesn’t remember what that woman told her all she wants—but she’s taking the woman’s sadness. Nothing less. I can’t, in my own mind, justify giving that a pretty name.

We get shakes at Steak ’n Shake. I know that’s a terrible first date—or second date?—it’s the only thing that’s open in Dayton after a certain time. Except Denny’s, but Chad works there, so that’s out.

Jules and I have the worst first date ever. It’s because I’m hung over, and because we’re at Steak ’n Shake, and because Jules is manic depressive. But mostly just because it’s our first date.

You’d think after such a beautiful kiss, and talk, and walk by the river, that we could make it through our first official date with some spunk—with some spark even—but we can’t. We sit there like a couple of depressed old people. Our server probably thinks we know someone who just died. At least we’re comfortable enough with each other to be sad.

Jules hardly touches her shake—which is strawberry.

I drink too much of my shake, which is chocolate, and she offers me some of hers, which I drink most of.

“Who was that woman at Black Box 101 tonight?”

“I just met her after the show.”

“Really?” I ask.

“Really,” she says.

“It looked like you totally knew her.”

Jules doesn’t respond. Then she says: “What did you call it?”

“Black Box 101.”

“It’s just ’BlackBox’,” she says. “One word. 101 is the street address.” She says it like I’m a fucking idiot.

“Sorry, I thought—“

“You don’t have to be sorry,” she says. “Don’t ever be sorry with me.”

I’m getting reprimanded at Steak ’n Shake.

But she’s right.

Why did I say that?

I don’t know why I said that.

“How long does your show run?”

“I don’t want to talk about that. Six weeks,” she says. “Five if we suck. Do you want to get food?”

“Not really.”

“Why did you take me here?” she says.

It’s a fucking legitimate question. “I don’t know—“ I start to say I’m sorry but I don’t say that. “It’s the only place that’s open.”

“What about Denny’s? Or bowling?”

“Are you making fun of me?”

“No!” Then she feels the implication. “Are you making fun of me?”

“No, I’m—about bowling? No. No. Do you like bowling?”

“I guess,” she says. “What else do you do around here.”

“I usually paint,” I say. “What do you do?”

“I usually act,” she says.

“I liked your acting.”

“You do?”

“I thought..I thought you were wonderful.”

She kicks me under the table. “Was that you??! Oh my god. What do you paint?”

“It’s fine. Abstract stuff.”

“Want me to kick you again?”

“Hard, please.”

She kicks me really soft.

I grab her shake and drink the rest of it. “If you want more I’ll get us more but it looked like—“

“Let’s go,” she says.


We make out in my car a bit, and we’re on firmer ground.

“I want you to be comfortable with me,” she says. “Really comfortable.”

“I am,” I say. But I’m not. I’m distant.

“What is it?”

“I don’t know,” I say, “I’m just not in the right..state.”

“You should meditate,” she says, and she straightens in her seat.

“You should kiss me again,” I say.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah,” I say. “I love kissing you.”

“I love kissing you too,” Jules says, after we stop kissing. “I hope that wasn’t the last time,” she says, businesslike, looking straight forward.

“You wanna go somewhere else?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says. “You choose. Take me anywhere you like.”

We talk about her acting, and she’s not a twit about it this time—she opens up, we both do. She’s telling me about shows she did in high school and her first professional show—Romeo and Juliet—before I decide where I’m gonna take her. I don’t just wanna take her straight to my apartment—that would give the wrong signal. I also don’t want to take her straight to her home—that would give the wrong idea as well. So I take her to my studio, which is where I paint.

I don’t tell her where we’re going. I just take her in.

“Is this yours?” she asks.


Juliet has my arm. She grips it, pointing. “Are..these..yours?”


She looks around. She lets go of my arm.

I sit on the floor, leaning against the couch I have set on the entry wall. I let her look; I let her walk around. I don’t feel like talking. I must be a weird sort of company—and at that point I was doubting whether this date of ours would have a second—but I have to be myself, in a moment..if I’m sad or if I’m quiet or if I’m just not feeling it. I was feeling Jules I just wasn’t feeling this date. Being in my own space made me feel better. I just sat there and watched this girl I liked.

She’s got a short dress. She has long brown legs. She’s as tall as me—five-ten—though we have different proportions. She walks like a gazelle, or a zebra, or a prancing horse. And she looks like a Tekken character today: long legs, high heels, tight tights, a large sweater hanging mostly off her back. “You did this, too?” she says.

She’s standing by my mural.

“Yeah,” I say. I stand.

She tells me that she loves it, which is hard for me to hear. I don’t like when people tell me that they love me—or things I’ve done—it makes me feel uncomfortable. I don’t believe them. I know they’re entitled to their point of view, but deep down, I don’t honor other people’s opinions, at least not when they’re saying nice things about me. I should go to therapy. They could figure it out. Maybe a group session where everyone says nice things to each other and we see how much of that we can stand.

So we look at my mural. And Juliet thinks it’s beautiful. I painted it with my feet. And my hands. But without a brush. It’s a big field of green and blue and orange—it’s twenty feet wide—and in the middle the green and blue come together in these two rushing orbs and there’s kind of an explosion—or a gathering—or some kind of dance that the two orbs do. Some people say they look like two giant sperm—

“They remind me of spirits,” Jules says. She has my hand. “When did you paint this?”

“Last year,” I say.

She looks at me and nods. She takes my other hand.

“You knew,” she says, “You knew.”

I’m going to tell you about the first time Jules and I had sex. Not that it’s important. It is important, but it’s not that important. Mainly I want to get it out of the way so that I can get on with the rest of the story without either of us having to think about it.

So, to tell you about the way Juliet makes love, I have to tell you about this time I was having dinner with Chad in Centerville..we had taken ourselves out to a nicer place than usual (usual being Denny’s). We’re in this boxcar restaurant—this is a Mexican place—I’m looking at my soup and I brush something off the side of my plate with my thumb. It was minor—Chad didn’t even see it. But this waitress comes over—she was thirty feet away!—and she asks me if everything’s ok with my soup. She was super-nice about it, she wasn’t pushy and she wasn’t apologizing..but she was attentive. From all the way across the restaurant..something Chad didn’t even see and he’s four feet away from me..and she sees it, and she comes over to check.

When she left I told Chad I would love to share a bed with that woman.

He asks why.

“Because,” I say, “she’s so attentive.”

Attentive. That’s all it is. It’s just paying attention to who you’re with—It’s knowing what’s going on with them! That’s all it is. It’s so simple. And no technique, and no position, and no fatherly advice could better prepare me for sex, than this: pay attention. Simply be in tune! If you are a fiddle and I am a bow, then notice the strings! Notice when they’re slack and notice their tightness, notice when they need a wax or need a tune.

That’s what that waitress did with my soup in that stupid boxcar.

And that’s how Jules is in bed.

We didn’t have sex in the studio—not that night. But we did make out, up against the wall in the hallway, after I had let us out of my space. We made out in the freight elevator on the way down to my car. Jules and I always made out in the car. And the next night, Sunday night, when she didn’t have a show and we could start our evening earlier, we eventually had sex at my apartment.

The night started out with a tentative text—from her this time, I had let her make the first move—and it ended with her telling me where to put my dick, and showing me where to put it..and her putting it there with her hands. She didn’t like to have her nipples touched too much. She liked it, but that wasn’t what got her off. She wasn’t super-into having her clitoris rubbed. I’m speaking comparatively: Charisma used to constantly rub her clitoris, or have me rub it, while we were fucking. Some girls like more of that. Ash and I used a vibrator. Jules wasn’t into that—not when we were fucking. She would play with my vibrator when she was at my house and I wasn’t, and she liked to fuck the top of this antique French couch I have in my living room—she was a freak like that. The couch has this little ball, this nub, on the top of each arm, made of polished wood. Juliet fucked that. She liked my vibrator on “fast speed”..she would tell me this when I got home. But when she was with me, she liked fucking. I’ve been with girls who faked shit..I’ve been with girls like that before. Jules didn’t fake shit. Not when we were having sex. You know that saying about “there’s making love, there’s having sex, and then there’s fucking”? Well, with me and Jules, it was always some of each.

She was loud when she came—she didn’t hold back. I liked that, I liked it in the eyes of my neighbor the next morning.

She liked to be on top. I liked to look at her when she was on top. I liked to look at her when she was on bottom, too. But she liked to be in control. That was probably what got me off the most—that was what was most virginal about her: she was like someone who had never before taken control of someone else. Herself, yes; but when she got to control me—when she got to be the one doing the using—it was something new.

She liked to be used, too. She liked it when I put her legs together and fucked between them—when I held her down. Even her cheeks got red when I did that, when I fucked her like she was a little girl, as both she and I loved to pretend, at times.

She loved to be fucked in the bathtub, and over the edge of the sink, in the bathroom—it was just the right height. And she could see herself in the mirror. She could see us both.

She liked to talk. She loved it when I talked dirty, and she asked me to, all the time. She would just tell me whatever she was thinking..this kind of meandering, stream-of-consciousness adult monologue. She didn’t feel shameful about sex: she would say things like: “I’m your hole. Fuck me. Fuck my hole. You have something and I have a place to put it. You have somethingness. I have nothingness. Fuck me. Use me as your hole.” When Juliet said things like that, it wasn’t dirty. It was literal truth. She just spelled it out.

Jules is like that. You don’t know if she’s an adult, or a child, if she’s innocent, or ancient, or what. Of course she’s all of them—and she brought them out in me. With her I didn’t have to choose.

Lights on, lights off? Eyes open, eyes closed? We just did them all, constantly.

I loved looking at her face. This isn’t just during sex.

I loved looking at her face when she first woke up.

I loved looking at her face when she just walked outside—into the sunlight.

I loved looking at her face when she was talking to someone else—healing them..I think that’s what she did.

I loved looking into her face when I was coming and I loved looking into her face when she came.

Her eyes.

The grey one blinks.

The green one never looks away.

Fucking someone with your eyes open—looking them in the eye when you come—is like going down the rollercoaster with your hands above your head. Either way, your body is going down that hill, it’s just that with your hands above your head you feel it differently. You’re daring gravity, daring the rollercoaster..and wind..and your stomach, to bring it on..you embrace it more that way. It’s the same way, when making love, to look a person in the eye.

We were at my house—it was me, Ashley, and Chad. Everyone was trying on clothes.

“What do you think about this?” That’s Chad. He’s wearing a skirt, as usual, and trying on my jackets.

Ashley says it doesn’t go.

Chad tries on a new one. “What about this?” He asks in this sultry way.

We’re trying to go to an art show. “It starts in half an hour.”

“So?” Chad’s getting all sultry with Ashley on my futon now. He’s kissing her in the ear. “We don’t wanna be early.”

“I wouldn’t mind being a little bit early,” I say.

Chad says: “Is your stuff set up?”

“I set it up this afternoon.”

“Did you see the one I put up?”

“Yeah,” I say, “It looked good.”

“Which one did you put up?”

“You can see it,” I say, “when you get there. I’m getting coffee.”

“You don’t drink coffee.”

“I’m getting coffee anyway. Do you want anything?”

“Chocolate buddha.” “Red eye.”

“Can you be dressed when I get back?”

They don’t answer.

I’m going out the door. “Don’t fuck on my bed, either."

I walk a block to the coffeehouse. Brit is serving. We don’t say hi. We smile our hellos. I see her all the time.

“Can I have a Chocolate buddha and a double—triple—huge red eye.”

“What’s wrong?” Brit says.

“I’m trying to go this party, right?”

“Which one?”

“The art show—are you going?”

“At Front Street? Yeah, if I ever get out of here!” She yells that to her manager. “Are you showing?”


“I’ll see you there, then, if you hang around. Just..stay till like nine..or..can you stay till ten?"

“Maybe,” I say.

“You look sad,” Brit says.

“That’s cause I’m trying to leave my apartment and Ash and Chad are up in my closet trying on every piece of clothing I have. Just pick out something to wear, you know?! They’re like—it’s like they’re in a time zone..to themselves..they think all anybody wants to do is sit around and watch them slurp on each other. If they wanna fuck, why don’t they just go to one of their places, fuck, and then meet me up later!”

“I’ll get your drinks,” Brit says.

“What do you think about this?”

“I think it’s fabulous. Can we go now?”

"What’s the rush?"

"He wants to see Jules."

"Jules isn’t gonna be there. This isn’t about Jules."

"Why isn’t Jules gonna be there," Ash says.

Chad says "What is this about?"

I set their drinks on the carpet in my bedroom. My clothes are everywhere. "Did you guys fuck in my bed?"

They distance themselves from each other, pretending like they don’t like each other.

"Do you need some time alone," Chad says. He takes Ashley’s hand, helping her up from the bed. Then he patronizingly puts a hand on my shoulder and says: "We’ll meet you there."

Then he and Ashley, both wearing my clothes, take their coffees which I paid for, and they leave.

"You don’t mind if we walk,” Chad says.

Ash laughs. “To Front Street? I’ll drive us.”

I text Jules: ar eyou coming to the rt show? art

It’s about five minutes before she texts back: kinda late4me after show idk

I’m shaking my head and trying to think how to convince her when I get a second text: im jk baby! ::awwww!

I laugh and just text her back: almost suicided over you

She texts back: don’t joke ::pick me up?

I text back: when.

Jules will never drive. Even though she has a car. She keeps it parked in a lot downtown and everywhere she goes—even when she gets groceries—she walks..or gets a ride with me.

I’m sitting out front of BlackBox waiting for her.

She comes out with a cigarette and gets in my car.

“Can I have a drag?”

“I’d prefer you didn’t smoke,” she says. She opens my window and flicks it.

“Do you want to get dinner?” I ask.

She says: “Let’s just go to the show.” She pops a piece of gum and offers me one.

I don’t chew gum.

We make out in the parking lot of the warehouses and Jules has my dick out before she asks me if I want to go inside to see the show.

I have my fingers inside her. “Now?” I say.

“That’s why we came, right?”

"I don’t care what we do,” I say.

But she says: "I want to see your painting."

She’s seen my painting. She’s seen it in my space.

“I want to see it on the big wall.”

“My wall is bigger than the one in here.”

“I want to see it in there,” she says. “I want to see other people looking at it."

She turns my head and kisses me.

"I love how direct you are,” I say. “Your honesty..is like..”

“A kick in the nuts?” she says.

I tell her I don’t usually call them nuts..and she asks me what I do call them..and we help each other get our clothes back on.

We head toward the art show.

And with Jules beside me..with her willing to hold my hand..and with her wanting to wrap herself around me..

With Jules..

in general..

and every time I’m with her..

I’ve got a song in my heart.

Even though our first date was technically at the Steak ’n Shake..and even though our first kiss was before that, after dancing at 1692..I like to think of our first date as being that night, at the art show. Knowing your greatest moments while they’re happening is an art, and I’m not sure what I knew about me and Jules, at the time we were happening, but I do know now, regardless of what came after and what had come before, that that art show—our real first date—was one of me and Jules’s finest.

We went from room to room. We didn’t smother each other. She didn’t stay on my arm the whole time and I didn’t stay on her arm the whole time. But we had a moment, flashing from room to room, looking at all this art. Looking at each other. Chasing each other around this print shop that had been turned into an art gallery for just one night. Isn’t that true—isn’t that the way it is? For the rest of its existence, that space is a print shop, and on this one night, it’s an art show. That’s the only night Jules and I ever go there. The rest of the time that space is full of people working and making their wage, and the rest of the time Jules and me are off in other places, doing other things, sometimes together, most of the time apart. Strange little one night—bright little memory. Most of the time I spent looking at her back! Or her looking at mine..and me not seeing her at all. Then one of us turns, and sees the other, and leads us to another room.

That’s really everything I own—memories like that.

“D’you wanna dance?”

“What?” I’m whispering.

Jules says: “Do you wanna dance,” in her regular voice.

“While they’re reading?”

Jules may have been kidding—and it may have been me who asked her, I don’t remember. So I don’t really know who stood up first and who asked who, at this point, but I do know that there were some angry poets in that art show after Jules and I started dancing.

They were reading poetry—this really intellectual stuff that neither Jules or I could follow..and that it looked to us like not too many people were interested in—and we got up in the middle of the room and started dancing. It was one of those things—you know where you’re in love and you feel like no one and nothing, in the entire world, matters..except the two of you? It was that feeling—that feeling where you look into your other’s eyes and nothing around you (not police, not any distraction, not house rules..nothing) matters except that you’re looking in her eyes and she’s looking in yours. It was that validation you get from being loved, in that way, by another person, that makes you unafraid..makes you no longer need the validation of any other! You don’t need anyone to tell you that you’re right..and it doesn’t matter if anyone tells you that you’re wrong. You don’t believe them—and you do not care! Because you’re being validated, held-up, loved—or whatever you want to call it—by the only person in the world who matters..who matters to you.

I’m not an expert on love—I’ve only been in love that once—but I at least know this: that if we weren’t in love, we wouldn’t have danced. That if we weren’t in love, we would have sat there staring straight forward in our seats, listening to that intellectual poetry. They would have finished that poetry reading, and not Jules, and not I, and and not anyone in that place would have danced all night.

But that’s not what happened.

“Boy you two really know how to clear a room!” But the room wasn’t clear. It was full: of people dancing.

“Did you decide you couldn’t take it any more? Huh? Matt?” But I couldn’t hear her, whoever was that other one, talking to me.

“Guess that’s what happens..when you invite freaks to an art show." Guess so. Guess that is what happens. That’ll teach you. Always, always invite freaks to an art show. What are you doing, having an art show without them?

The poets left the room. They didn’t talk to me or Jules for the rest of the night. They sat out front, by the stairs, on an old church bench—they kept to themselves.

Their poetry was sad! It was too much thinking!

We didn’t need thinking—we needed dancing.

We didn’t need intellectual smut tonight—making fun of words. That stuff’s for school.


We needed all the people dancing. That’s what all the people needed, too. Right? Cause these were people who just got off of work. These are people who had a rough week. Right? These aren’t people with no spunk and all luxury time, whose brains need technicalities and wheedling. These are people like Ash, who just got broken up with; and people like Chad, who’s not sure if he’s really gay; and people like "Brit!" "Hi!", who had to clean cum off the coffeehouse bathroom wall tonight. "How are you Brit?” “I’m fine Matthew. Is that your painting?" “Yes. This is Jules." “Hi Jules." "This is Brit." "Hi Brit." “I didn’t know this was a dance." "It wasn’t." "Well, it is now.” Damn right it is. See..these are people like Sean Wood, whose gallery this is, who owns this print shop, who owns this whole floor. A week later Sean Wood is gonna be dead, because Sean Wood is going to kill himself, in this room we’re dancing in now. He’s going to shoot himself in the face because he’s in a lot of debt. He doesn’t tell any of us. He’ll leave a note..but it won’t make any sense. So Sean Wood definitely needs to dance tonight. He needs to see Jules and me cutting across this poetry reading with a red marker, shutting out everything else in the world, and looking at each other across the space of four inches. He needs to see us in this one moment that we happen to love, and get out of his seat that he has perched in the corner where he’s secretly smoking pot, and come over here and dance. Come here Sean. Come and dance. Forget for a moment your debt. Dance with us. It’s ok. It will end in a few minutes. But for now, for a few minutes, it’s ok.

And it’s ok poets—you wanted to be sad anyway. You are better suited on your church pew, away from this dancing. People have joy in here. I didn’t hear any joy in your reading—did you, Jules (no)—and I didn’t think you wanted it there, either. I didn’t see your reading seeking it out..and I didn’t hear your text doing any seeking either. So you sit in your pew, and be sad. You can do it together. Be serious. Be lacking in question. Be full of knowledge..and answer—and see how much that answer weighs you down.

This is my Jules—and not even mine—and this Jules and this guy across from her—this guy here—this guy is gonna dance. It’s not hateful—it’s not hateful to poets. It’s not about me and Jules. That room wanted to dance. It didn’t want to read poetry right then. If it did..we’d be reading poetry. We’d be sitting here listening to intellectuals, and looking at their intellectual paintings, behind them (including mine). But that’s not what happened, because that’s not what this room wanted to happen.

Some things are like that—but a lot of things are like that with Jules. She always said the same of me..I don’t know why..but she was always calling me "Divine Master" and shit like that..other names..”You are a Divine Master God!” I always thought she was crazy—and she was. Jules was most definitely crazy. But maybe she was right, too, in a way. Maybe I am a divine master god (I have my moments). Maybe it wasn’t her who got up in that warehouse and invited her man to dance. Maybe it was the other way around. If she was so lovely—and to me she was the god—then if she loved me..maybe I’m not such a piece of shit after all. Everyone has their god. Is it so hard for you—yes, YOU!, the person reading this book—is it so hard for you to believe that to someone out there, you’re their god?

I knew it would be. That’s why I had to back into telling it to you, in this roundabout way. See..there’s this little problem with not-being in love. Which is that somewhere..somewhere in the world..you’re punishing the people that could be in love with you. It’s not just your loneliness—if it was that would be ok (that’s what we tell ourselves)—but it’s not: it’s someone else’s too. They’re like pieces to a puzzle. And yeah: there’s not just one right person for you in this world..it’s not that kind of made for each other. But right now, in a certain moment, in a certain way, every part of us that’s mismatched, isn’t just part of one person. It’s part of two of us, or three of us, or four of us, or more. You can’t be alone all by yourself..loneliness is something we do as one, as part of the whole human animal.

Your pain is my pain.

Your joy is my joy.

When you dance..I dance.

That’s just the way it works.

(Jules taught me that.)

“Do you wanna come home with me?”

"Mmm hmm.”

"Do you wanna sleep in the same room?"

Jules laughs. "Mmm hmm.”

"Can we do anything we want?"

Jules says it to my neck: "We can do anything we want."

“Can you stay all night?”


“Can we sleep in in the morning?”


“Can I take you to breakfast?”


"Do you like sleeping in my bed with me?"


“Do you know how much I like sleeping in this bed with you?”


"Do you wanna get fucked?”


“Do you like the way we do it?”


"Do you come? I mean are you really coming when we do it?”

“Matthew. You make me cum so hard. You always make me cum. As soon as you stick it in me you make me cum. I think it’s something about the way you’re bent. You always make me cum. You make me cum more than anyone I’ve ever been with.” Then she pauses. And she looks at me. “Is that what you wanted to hear?”

And I say: “Yes.”

I remember waking up and seeing your face in the sunlight. I remember that summer—I’ll remember it all my life. I remember our breakfasts on the roof. I remember that you never liked to eat—even though you loved my food. I remember how self-conscious you stayed, even months into knowing me. I remember how sometimes each of us would dress in the other room, even after we’d been together. And I remember how you looked, in the middle of the night, with just the light that was coming from the bathroom, with your brown skin half-under and half out of the covers. I remember how you liked my fur. I remember your hot ass—the curve of it—you really did have a perfect body. I remember your colors, inside and out, that dark brown that I love so much—love the deep matte-ness of it—I love the way it doesn’t reflect light. I love white girls, I do. But my favorite kind of skin is yours. It’s deep. It seems softer to me. When I bite it, I like the way it tastes. When you move, when you bend at the waist, I like the way your belly looks, in the front—I like the way you crease. I love your nipples. I love your cunt. I love your brown lips, and I love the red that’s inside of them. Those two colors together..on you..it’s contrast I want to bite, and slip my tongue inside—it’s contrast I want to fuck. And when you’re sitting on top of me, with your morning hair, and when you’re fucking me and you forget about us for a second and look at something out the window—that’s my favorite moment of all—to be fucking, and it be such a regular thing that neither of us cares if we’re paying any attention at all—for you to look out the window and me go up on one elbow to see what you’re looking at—what was it? Jules? (You’re looking.) The mailman? A bird?

In the morning Jules and I wake up to knocking. Banging. It’s Ashley, at my door.

Jules doesn’t know who it is at first. I know right away.

She’s standing at the top of the stairs, banging on my door, screaming for me to open up. This isn’t the first time this’s happened.

But it is the first time this’s happened when Jules slept over.

“Who is that?” Jules has my fur wrapped around her. She covers her breasts.

“That’s—“ I stand up. “I’ll go see.”

My apartment is small. It’s two rooms. It’s a main room with a kitchen off the side of it, then a bathroom, then my bedroom. When I go out I pull the door of the bedroom to.

I’m wearing sweatpants and I look through the spyglass.

Ashley has her pajamas on, carrying a blanket, and she’s got a makeup kit set on the steps behind her. It’s like one of those fishing tackle boxes but for makeup. It looks like she’s been camped out here a while.

She knocks on the door, right in my face.

I would really like to pretend she isn’t here, but we’re going to have to leave the house sometime. Maybe she’ll leave.

She steps to the door—she looks angry—and she bangs on it with her palm and forearm: slap slap slam!

“Ash,” I say. "What the fuck.”

"Oh good!” she says. “You’re there! I saw your car. I was worried. Are you ok?”

I wait about ten seconds before I say, “I’m fine, Ash.”

“Can I come in?” She looks angry still. Like she had a season pass, and yet the park won’t let her in. She knocks again.

“Ash, please.”

“Can I please come in? Why is your door locked?”

“It’s locked because I lock my door.”

"I need you to come over,” she says. "I had a spider incident."

I look at the floor, at my sweatpants, at my bare feet. I don’t have a shirt on.

Jules is looking at me. I turn around. She’s there, hot body wrapped in fur, standing in the bedroom doorway.

With my hand I make the sign for "one minute" and I put my hand on the doorknob. I wait for Jules to go back inside the bedroom (she does not look happy). With my other hand, I take the chain off.

I’m not going to give you Ashley’s spider story verbatim because if I do it’ll just sound like I’m making fun of her. Ashley is afraid of spiders. Deathly afraid. Let’s just leave it at that.

I once drove speeding at around 2am to Ashley’s house to spray Raid on some spiders that were hiding in a mask on her wall. Ashley makes masks. It’s one of her crafts. Actually she’s better at making masks than anyone I know. But then again, she’s the only one I know who makes masks. That time I drove speeding to her house at 2am to spray Raid on those spiders behind the mask? She was still with Tim then. He just wasn’t home at the moment.

So this day, the day when Jules was inside and Ash came over—

"What time is it?”

Ashley shows me her phone. 7:53.

“Ash, you have to go home.”

She’s crying. “There’s so many of them.”

“Where are they?”

“They’re under the sink. I tried to get them with a broom and then I tried putting foil around my hand but I don’t know what to do..”

At this point in the conversation, sitting with her on the steps outside my apartment, I get fully in touch with something that I should have dealt with better at the time: I’m angry. I’m angry at this girl, for calling me at 2am while she’s still married to Tim, to come over to her house and kill spiders. I don’t even like Raid; I don’t believe in chemicals like that. I don’t believe that spiders need to be killed. I think we should just let them be, unless they’re a tarantula, and they’re on your face right then. And even then..I just don’t feel that horribly toward spiders.

“Do you think you could get some counseling?"

Ash looks at me.

“Like..fear counseling. They can help you..you can—they put a spider on..well they put a spider near your hand, and then, after a while—“

“I don’t think I could do that,” she says.

I give up. I don’t say that to her, but I do. I know I’m not perfect, I’m full of my bullshit like everyone else. Like if you find me drinking, I’ll tell you how I’m not really drinking. I’m just drinking some. Just a little. I’m just drinking today. But good grief, at least I go through the pain of trying. And how can you be that scared of spiders? Certainly I must just be a superior cuss—totally arrogant—to think I have my life together better than Ashley, but..I can’t think of a single thing I’m scared of that much. She doesn’t even try new food! Like things like peas! Or mushrooms! Or bananas! She doesn’t even like bananas. How can you not like bananas. Maybe I should have some sympathy. We had different upbringings.

But not that different.

“Is she in there?”

"I’m not gonna discuss that with you.”

“So that means yes.” Ashley turns away.

“Of course it means yes.”

"Do you want me to go?"

I exhale. “Ash—“

“I’ll go,” she says. She wipes her nose.

I put my hand on her knee. “I’m sorry—“

She grips my fingers. “It’s ok,” she says.

“Why don’t you call Chad.”

“Chad is gay,” she says.

I laugh. “So you finally figured that out.”

“I knew,” she says, “I knew. I thought I could turn him. There’s only so many times a guy can gag when he’s eating your pussy before you realize,” she says, “that the guy is fucking gay.”

There’s that sense of humor I like.

“Did I ever gag when I ate your pussy?”

Ash holds her head high. "Not once.” She even smiles. Then she stands and with her back to me, looking at my door, she says: “No. You like pussy all too much.” She turns to me and says: “Obviously.”

"Who was that?” Jules asks. But I don’t have to tell her. Jules won’t look at me. She’s getting dressed, but she doesn’t leave. We’re in bed together and she’s got everything but her shoes on. “Does she still come over here?”

“She had a spider problem. She’s afraid of spiders,” I say..but I know that’s not gonna fix this situation. Not by a long shot.

“Does she know that we’re together?”

“Yes. She knows that. She’s having trouble accepting it.”

“Did you tell her that we’re together.”

“Yes. Absolutely. She knows that.”

“And you let her come over?”

“She just came over, ok?” I realize I said that with my voice raised. “I’m sorry for saying it like that. Look, I told her, just now.. I made her go. I didn’t let her in the house.”

Jules hands me my shirt. “Put your shirt on,” she says.

Breakfast is difficult. I make us toast and eggs and bring it to her on the roof. My roof is slanted, but we crawl out the window and kind of lounge on it. It’s sunny. Jules compliments the eggs but keeps it on that level until she’s done eating. The way she’s sitting—with her back straight up, her neck high, an extension of that perfect posture—she looks like a queen—or a princess. She doesn’t eat her toast. She eats two eggs, that’s it. Part of her orange juice.

Later on we’ll go to the arboretum, the botanical gardens, in Cincinnati. We’ll call Chad and MJ, and Brooklyn will be able to come, and the five of us will squeeze into my car and drive all the way down there. We’ll steal flowers from the garden and get kicked out for acting silly, then we’ll all cram inside a telephone booth and take a picture. Jules and I will be happy. We’ll get Indian food and she’ll have her hand so much in my lap she’s practically jerking me off at the table.

That will happen later. Now, however, on the roof, as Jules lies back and we’re both lying on the shingles, I’m just hoping that not Ashley, or Brit, or Meredith Carter, or any other of the girls I’ve been with—or who are just friends—stop by. This doesn’t happen often. But it does happen. I live one block from the coffeehouse, one block from the bars..so people do stop by. And yes, sometimes, in the past, when those people have been drunk, fucking has occurred. It’s not happening anymore, but—

“I shouldn’t have gotten mad,” she says.

I look at Jules. She looks peaceful. She’s squinting up at the trees, at the sun through them. I’m quiet, letting her have the time if she wants to say more, but she doesn’t.

“I will make it very clear with her,” I say. “I’ll call her on the phone. I’ll tell her she cannot stop by. I’ll tell her she can’t come here.”

“It’s ok,” she says. She rolls over and lays her arm across me, and kisses me. “As long as you’re only with me.”

We kiss some more.

“But that’s good,” she says, grinning, “Because I don’t, want, her, coming over here.”

Then she grabs my dick, through thin sweatpants, and we have to go inside.

I’d shiver after sex with Jules. She would do it too. I don’t think I always used to do that. I think I got it from her.

It’s this bone-chilling, skin-crawling shiver, all up your spine. Like something’s leaving your body—something spiritual though, some energy. Like something’s evaporating..I don’t know.

After sex Jules would just lay there, naked—she’d cover only her feet—and she’d stare at my wall. I guess: at my paintings. Jules was a fan of socks—not very comfortable with her feet. She’d be staring into my paintings, seeing things in them that I’d never seen; she’d talk to me about them, and talk to me about other things.

“It looks like this,” she’d say. “I think I saw it in a dream.”

She’d have her hand on my painting, but I’d be staring at the ceiling, or watching us both naked from my computer’s point of view, through its camera, on the screen.

“You know this part you have down here? Where it’s color like a whiplash?”

"Yeah," I’d say. I know that part.

"How did you make this?"

"I made it with a string."

"Oh," she’d say. "I see! This is—" she’s tapping the painting "—not unlike the other description I’ve heard. You’re not tired of me talking about this, are you?"

"I like hearing you talk about it."

"Good," she says (relieved), "because I scare some people."

I roll over to her. "You don’t ever have to be afraid of your intensity with me."

We’re eye to eye.

"I love your intensity. Ok? I’m intense. I love that you are." I’m gripping her face. "You need your intensity and we need it too. I do. It helps me. It’s like when Jesus said—you don’t mind if I talk about Jesus—"

"Talk about Jesus!—"

"Ok. It’s like when Jesus said ’You are the salt of the earth.’"

Jules is nodding.

"Salt is intense."

Jules is nodding more.

"So be your intense self. Ok? If it scares me, I’ll deal with it."

She almost has a tear in her eye.

"It’s better than the other way around," I say. "Unintense people, boring people, dead people. What good is that? It’s a waste of the genome, it’s bodies..walking around..doing nothing. We have enough of that, so people like you..have to be intense. You have to. It’s your job. Don’t you feel that that’s your job?"

Jules’s eyes are closed. She’s nodding. She whispers: "It’s yours too."

Then she’d tell me about the vortex, and I would get a little scared. Not really of the vortex, which, sober, I didn’t believe in. But of Jules, and Jules’s mind, and how much of her mind was filled with stuff like this.

She would tell me about this other description of it, which she had read. Like on the internet somewhere. I imagine the page with animated under-construction icons and rainbow’d horizontal separator bars. Maybe a purple background. Real scientific stuff.

She’d tell me the description—and she’d see it in my paintings. Her hand would trace the part I’d made with a string and she would see the description of the vortex, in it.

"You’ve seen it," she’d say.

"No," I’d say, "I just made that with a string."

Then she’d get mad.

I personally don’t think you have to believe all the same things as the person you’re with, or as your friends. I don’t see any reason I couldn’t be with someone who had entirely different world-views than me, and still love them. Living together, to me, is about making love and arranging the house and making breakfast and washing clothes and taking walks and taking baths and brushing hair and burning incense and wiping your feet at the motherfucking door.

"Jules. What do you see?"

"I’m telling you. This is exactly it," she’d say.

"Show me."

"I don’t have to." She’d pull me closer. "See? It’s in your painting already." She’d touch the canvas. "You’re, showing, me."

Then she’d tell me the second description of the vortex. This is in Africa, remember, in Zaire, at the site of the main vortex, the big one, the one that everybody talks about.

Zaire. 1982. River basin. Some guys are out in a truck, a news van. They’re like with National Geographic or something. It’s a pickup truck. Their equipment is in the back. It’s three guys. They’re wearing hats like Indiana Jones.

Then they see it. But they don’t really see it—because if you’ve seen it then you don’t live to tell about it, remember? But they see evidence of it. Right? These guys get out—or some of them do. They don’t know they’re looking at the vortex. They don’t actually see the vortex. But what they do see are these little balls of light. Each one is shaped like—I don’t know..from Jules’ description it sounds like they’re shaped like a pound cake..one of those round cakes that you make in a mold? I guess you can make different kinds of cakes in those molds..but it’s shaped like one of those molds..like a doughnut, but not symmetrical from top to bottom. It’s like that, but light. Have you ever seen research in hyperporous solids? Probably not. It’s like..these lights are like something between..a cross between a solid and a gas. It’s like: it’s has a shape..it keeps its shape like a solid, but if you touch it, you can go right through it, like a gas. It’s like a sponge, if there was hardly anything to it. That’s what these lights are like. That’s what these guys saw, on the edge of the vortex.

Jules says it looks like the part of my painting I made with a string. I think what she’s trying to say is it looks like a spirograph. That’s how the lights are arranged. If you were up above, you could see this clearly. From the ground, it just looks like every once in a while there’s a light—one of these spongy pound-cake-looking lights, set on the ground like cow dung. After you go along a ways, though, you start to notice that they’re arranged in a pattern—a spiral—interlocking spirals like a spirograph. It’s a moiré pattern, based on her description: there’s overlapping spirals of these things, and there’s an interference pattern between them. Once you see the pattern, you’re in danger of never returning, because that’s when you start to see the vortex—that’s when you start to know it’s there.

I imagine these guys, these first guys who saw it. When they got there..when they stopped their truck..they’d be amazed. They’d see these pound-cake-shaped lights..well first they’d see one of them. They’d stop the truck. They’d see this..thing..on the ground. Maybe they’d drive past one first, and all just think they were crazy. Then they’d see the second one.

One guy would get out. He’d see one in this direction. Another guy would get out. He’d see one on the other side of the road. They wouldn’t talk. They’d just stare, in amazement, as they put their feet into these miracle balls of light that were settled on the ground, and they’d wonder if they could touch them. So they’d try. And they’d discover that they weren’t harmful—they weren’t hot, they didn’t burn—in fact, they were kinda cool. But they were heavy—you couldn’t kick them..and you couldn’t pick them up. They just liked to sit there, in their spirograph pattern, getting closer and closer together as you followed their trail. And at the center? Well, that’s what you wanted to figure out—and that’s why the vortex was so dangerous. It tempted you, with a little piece of information, and it laid itself out, along the ground, in a path that you would follow—right to the center—where it was too late.

Jules saw this in my paintings. She insisted that it was I who was telling her..about the vortex. I didn’t argue with her. Because, as I said before, I don’t think it’s necessary for people to believe the same things to be in relationship. Or to even have the same frame of mind. But it’s not the kind of bedtime story I’d ideally like to listen to. And I have to say: I was a little scared—especially when she told me she was only telling me things I had already told her—I was a little scared of what was going on inside her mind.

"Let’s go out."


"I don’t know. We need groceries. You want to go to the grocery store?"

Jules was pretty much living with me at this point. "I don’t want to drive," she says. "That’s the thing.."

"I’ll drive us," I say. "So you don’t have to drive."

She’s hiding under the covers. I hear her muffled voice.

I go under the covers with her. "What did you say?"

"What?" Her back is to me.

"What did you say?"

"Nothing," she says.

I’m looking at her butt.

"I said I don’t want to drive anywhere."

I grab her, push my hand between her legs, from the back, and get a thumb between her lips. "Let’s walk."

"Mmm," she says. "I don’t wanna walk, either."

Jules is slipping on my pants. It’s this pair of clubbing pants, red nylon, with zippers up the sides. There are also zippers on the pockets, which is great for clubbing. Jules has them on: it’s her brown legs, a white pair of panties, and my red pants. These three colors together..and I’m ready to get married.

Jules doesn’t ask to take them. She doesn’t say: "Hey, can I borrow these?" She just checks herself out in the mirror, zips the crotch, and goes on with her day. Those pants are hers now. There’s no place I’d rather they be—than on her body.

"You wanna go to lunch?" I ask.

"No," she says, mock-annoyed. She smooths the pants down, touching the front of herself.

We won’t leave the house till late that night. But I don’t care.

Jules has to do laundry. And she has to steal some more of my clothes. Her place is nice—it’s more expensive than mine—but her place doesn’t have on-site laundry. There’s a laundromat right downstairs, but she doesn’t like to use it. She does her laundry at my place. I have an upright washer and dryer—one on top of the other?—Jules loves that.

"It’s just the right size," she says, patting the side of the dryer. "It’s not too big, it’s not too small, it washes and dries the clothes nice and quick!" She always goes on about it—and she talks to the dryer, too. "Go little dryer, go. Do your thing. There’s more drying left in you..I can see!" It’s like she should be a kindergarten teacher or something. "If I had this washer and dryer I would do my clothes every day," she says. But she pretty much does. "Do you want me to do your sheets?"

"Now help me put them on."

But we don’t even get the futon cover back on before we’re fucking. And I say fucking—because mostly that day it was fucking. We fucked seven times. I remember it, because I counted. I came seven times that day—forgive me if that’s the metric I use, but it’s a metric I can keep track of easily. Jules doesn’t seem to mind it, either.

"You came in me seven times." She says it like a proud mother. You’re a big boy now. You came in me seven times.

"I know I did."

"I liked it," she says. She rubs her pussy. "You conditioned me. Before you cum in me, and after you do, it’s like..my pussy is so different."

"It is like conditioning, isn’t it."

"Yes," she says, grabbing me. "I needed conditioning. And you conditioned me."

Then we fuck again.

We also used to punch each other. I know that sounds weird but it’s really not. Charisma and I used to choke each other. Jules and I punched each other. It’s just..it’s just one of the things you can do during sex (with someone you know really well) that’s kind of a release. Jules started it.

"Hit me."

"Hit you?"

"Did we discover something Matthew’s never done?"

"I’m mean I’ve done—similar things but—hit you?"

She turns her head. This broad side of her face is there: cheek, jawbone, neck. She braces for me to do it.

"I don’t wanna hit you."

She bears her fingernails into my wrist. "Fucking. Hit. Me." Then she gets really excited. I don’t even have to fuck her, to make her come.

But the thing I like most, and I like this with black girls as well as white girls, is watching her blush. I just like it when a girl lays back and lets me fuck her. From the front. Open that pussy, put your arms around me, kiss my ear and close your eyes, and let me come. I like it when a girl lays back and takes it, and when what I’m doing gets her excited—even though it’s what I’m doing for me. And when her cheeks turn red—she’s not even cumming, I know that—but I’m getting her hot. And when I come inside her, then, and she rubs my back. And then when I’m laying on top of her, and she runs her fingernails over my back, so lightly. And when I almost fall asleep, still inside her, but then she moves and I get hard again. And then she rolls over, and we lock hands, and then it’s her turn to come..that’s what I like the most.

I don’t remember ever liking panties as much, either. Clearly I have a thing for panties—Frederick’s of Hollywood and all—but on someone else—I just don’t remember ever liking seeing someone’s dirty undies. Not dirty—but used. Jules’s little panties on the bathroom floor, crumpled after she uses the toilet and before she takes a shower. That’s her—that’s her artifact. It’s her accessory. It’s—I mean if you think about it it’s her diaper—why we have a fetish for people’s diapers is beyond my ability to think. But—I don’t know I just know that when Jules leaves hers around, it’s like this little part of her. And this private part of her. Or the thing that goes right next to the private part of her. And that that becomes public, becomes casual, in my apartment—it’s more than I could ever wish. It’s more than I could ever expect to hold onto. It’s one of those things that you love every minute that they last, because they’re entirely out of your control.

And I’ll say one more thing, while I’m going on.

I love Jules’s pussy.

I do.

I love it.

It’s..the most beautiful thing I’ve seen—on a person. I mean I love sunsets and I love beaches and mountains are o-k. But Jules’s pussy—fuck me.


The contrast is part of it. I love white pussy, no doubt. And there’s even something special about white pussy, that black pussy doesn’t have..there’s a softness, or a tenderness, or a little-girl-ness, to white pussy, that black pussy doesn’t have. But it goes both ways. Because Jules’s pussy..there’s something to it..that no white pussy I’ve ever encountered..has possessed.

It’s the color, in a way—in a way it is. I’ve already told you that the damn contrast between the inside and the outside of Jules’s pussy is part of what I like about it. We all love pink, yeah? Well with Jules it isn’t pink: it’s red. And that red is so much hotter—so much more womanly—than any pink could ever be.

But it’s also the tightness. White pussy is more like gum—like a very nice, tight, hot, wet, muscular piece of gum. And I can come just fine in white pussy—that’s not a problem. But Jules’s pussy is like a fist. It grabs me. It can hold onto me. It can take me differently. It’s textured differently.

Mostly what it comes down to, I’m sure, is that I’m white and so as a child I developed different ideas—and more ideas—about white pussy than I did about black pussy..or Asian pussy, or any other kind. This isn’t going to become an academic discussion on pussy, however. Suffice it to say that I like the one on Jules.

Not like. Love.

When we stay home on days like this we eat whatever’s in my fridge. Which isn’t as barren as..say..Jules’s fridge..but she still laughs when she opens it. It’s champagne and some leftover sushi.

"You don’t even drink champagne."

"I know, but—it’s here for guests."

"When is this from?"

"New Year’s Eve."

"Which one? This year? Or before that?"

"It’s from this year!"

Jules closes the fridge and opens the cabinet above the sink.

I re-open the fridge, leaning around her, and grab the leftover sushi.

"You’re not gonna eat that."

"Well..if you won’t go out! We have to eat something."

"Well," she says, "I’m not eating day old sushi."

I’m opening the carton and correcting her. "This is at least two days old."

"What’s this?" She’s looking at some honey jars I have in my cabinet—right next to a 2-liter of Absolute Mandarin.

"That’s just..uh..you want a shot?"

She’s holding a honey jar in my face. "What’s this."

There’s a bunch of mushroom pieces suspended in the honey. I take the jar from her. It’s actually kind of beautiful, the way they’re floating there.

Jules is looking at me pointedly.

"They’re hallucinogenic mushrooms," I say. And I put the honey back.

"They’re what?"

"They’re psilocybin mushrooms."

"Why do you have so many of them?"

"I’m just saving them."

"Do you eat them?"

"Yes, I used to. Yes. Sometimes I do."

"Let’s meditate together," Jules says. "Start from om and go crazy?"


So we sit face-to-face, and we put our hands on our laps, and we sing. We kind of start off humming, then we sing. It’s full-on singing, and I can really feel the connection.

Jules lies me down, and we do body work. She pulls out the Alexander block—this foam brick that you put under your back while you meditate? She stretches me..pushes my shoulders down. That’s what I really need to work on, this crab-style slouching that I do. Jules makes fun of me when I walk.

Then I do her. I basically just give her a massage, but she loves it.

"Do you know what you were doing to me?"

"I could feel the connection," I say.

"No," she says. "Did you know, while you were doing that, what you were doing to me?"

"Yeah," I say. "When I touch your body..I listen. With my hands."

"Did you ever go to school for massage?" she says.

"No. I just feel it out, you know. It’s like not even between you and me, it’s just my hands..and your back..you know, your body..and my body..just..talking to each other."

We’re sitting like platonic friends. We might not have ever made love.

"That’s what it’s like to me too," she says. "I..feel..we’re really connected."

"I know." I say it quietly. I feel it too.

Jules is in the kitchen. She has my cabinet open—the one above the sink. I can hear her. I can’t see her—I’m in the bedroom—but I can hear from the way her voice is, that she’s looking into the kitchen cabinet.

"Jules, what are you doing?"

"I’m looking at your honey..honey," she says.

"Do you want to eat hallucinogenic mushrooms with me?" I ask.

"No," she says. "No."

I hear the cabinet close.

She’s standing naked in the doorway. "I want to know why you have so many of them."

"I just bought em in bulk," I say. "Sometimes they’re hard to find, I’m just..saving them. Please don’t worry about it, I’m not selling them."

"Do you find that they help you to become more connected?" she says.

"I really don’t take them that often."

But she’s kneeling with me, and I see that she’s not interrogating me—she really wants to know.

"I’m sorry if I’m scaring you," I say.

She looks away.

"I don’t want to worry you—"

She grabs my chin. "You’re not worrying me," she says. "The fact that you’ve got a 2-liter of Absolut Mandarin worries me more than your..mushroom farm. I’m just asking you..when you take them..does it help you feel connected?"

"Yes," I say. But I feel uncomfortable. "Yes. I guess in a way it does."

I look away but Jules follows me around to the side. She lies her head on the futon next to me. She wants to look in my eyes.

Is it bad that I never liked Ashley’s underwear but I love the ones on Jules? I actually disagree with democratic ideas of love—like the idea that you can love anyone? I disagree with that. As simple as—like—the hand and glove metaphors are, I think those are about right. Two puzzle pieces, a hand in a glove, even that Cinderella shit about the glass slipper. I really think that’s about right.

Sometimes we think that love is something that we do—or that any of these relationships are of our own power. What did that guy Viktor Schauberger say..? Have you heard of him? He’s this Austrian scientist guy. A bird is not—no.. A bird does not fly, it is flown. A fish does not swim, it is swum.

A bird does not fly—it is flown.

I do believe that that’s how love is.

It would be too much energy to fall in love—too much work—if we were doing it ourselves.

It’s like everything else in this world: we think people are so important, but we’re not. We think we are making this happen—this world! We think we’re making our consciousness and making our love and making our economies and making our food and making our luck even!

I don’t think that’s true. I think we’re less like a director—and more like someone going to the movies.

That was surely the case with Jules and I. We didn’t try to make this happen—any more than Ashley and I tried to make what happened with us happen. It just happened—but not just: it happened because of the way the puzzle pieces fit together..because of the way there was a hand and a glove—or wasn’t, in the case of me and Ash.

With Jules and I, we weren’t trying to destroy ourselves—and we didn’t try to fall in love. As much as I’d love to take responsibility for what happened there..I can’t. What happened to me and Jules didn’t happen because we decided to make it happen. It happened to us.

Because of who we were.

And because that’s the way the world is.

"Does it bother you that I have hallucinogenic mushrooms in the kitchen cabinet?"

"It doesn’t bother me," she says. "Don’t assume how I’m feeling."

"I didn’t mean to scare you," I say.

Juliet exhales. Her fingers play on my chest. "You know what I care about?" she says. "I care about you taking care of yourself..getting enough sleep..getting enough to eat.." (here she looks at me) "..not drinking too much. I just don’t want you to see you hurt yourself. You’re my baby," she says. "I don’t want anything to hurt you."

She tells me her fears. She’s afraid of losing me. She’s afraid she’ll never feel connected, if we lose each other. She says she was alone for a long time before she found me. She says she missed me, even before we met. Jules tells me things I don’t believe—but that maybe I’m starting to. She tells me that we were together once, in outer space—or..she didn’t say outer space, but it was something like that—like we were together in the primordial ooze or we were together before everything got separated..like before wars and before humanity lost track of where we came from..before we forgot our origins, there was togetherness, and she and I were together. I don’t know if she means in a literal sense. Maybe she does. Maybe she really means that our spirits were together, before, and the us we are now have just forgotten. But it does feel like that when I’m with her. It does feel like we were separated at one point. Like we were always together, and then somehow we got separated. And I never want to be separated from her again, from this part of me that I deserve and that I need..I don’t know about outer space and I don’t know about past lives..but that’s how it feels. That’s how it feels, to be with her—like I’m back together with some part of me that somehow I forgot. Of which she reminds me.

"I don’t want anything to ever hurt you either, ok Jules?"

"Oh, good; no, no, no, I don’t want anything to ever hurt us. Or hurt my baby," she says, smoothing back my hair.

"No—nothing," I say. "I missed you too."

"I know—you did??!" she says.

"Of course I did."

"I don’t ever want to be without you. I don’t ever want to lose you," she says. "Never again. You won’t leave me, will you?"


"I’m afraid of losing you."

I tell her the way to release yourself from fear of loss is by fully accepting loss.

She tells me she wants to hold me like a mother holds her child and help dissolve my fears.

"Promise that you’ll never leave me," I say.

"I won’t," she says. "I will hold you to my spirit forever. I will hold you to my spirit forever. I will hold you to my spirit forever." She opens her eyes. "Did you know that it was me, when you first saw me? I knew it was you."

"Yes, I knew right away. I knew in the first moment."

"You did??"

"Yes, baby, I knew the minute I saw you."

"I knew the minute I saw you too. Yes yes yes."


Yes. For a minute that’s all we say: Yes.


That Big Yes.

That yes that’s only in the eyes.

That yes..that only happens once..then gets repeated, over and over again. "There’s only one yes," I say.

"There is only one yes," Jules says.

"In the beginning, there was yes," I say.

"Oh, yessss," she says.

"There was only yes."

"There was only yes."

"And the yes got split," I say.

And there came the fear.

"The yes was split. It was split by questioning. They forgot the yes. And then they learned no and why and all the other things that aren’t yes."

"Yes," she says. "But what happened then?"

"After they were lost?"

She nods.

"Some people..just here and there..a few of them..they found the yes again."



"And then what did they do?"

"They found the pieces..that they had forgotten."

"Then what? What did they do?"

"You know what they did."

"Mm hmm." Jules is nodding. Our faces touch. "They put them back together."

I knew Jules was lying. That I could convince myself of. If I had been smarter, I would have been able to convince myself that she knew I was, too.

I’d never seen her do drugs. Well, a little bit of drinking and a little smoking pot. Those don’t count. Not really. Not to our generation.

But I’d never seen her do any hard drugs, and I didn’t know that she did them, and I didn’t know the rest of her problems. Hell; I didn’t know the half.

"Do you want to do these hallucinogenic mushrooms with me?"

"No. No." Like: no, I would never do that. Get that away from me.

That was the first clue—that I didn’t see.

I mean: if she really had never done hallucinogenic mushrooms or anything like them, if she really would never do "something like that", then her reaction would have been less strong, less judgmental-seeming, less extreme. It might have even been curious. It’s the people so opposed to something who are susceptible to it.

My mother has never smoked a cigarette. Not one, not in her entire life. She’s "just never had any interest in it". That’s not something she does. Her dad died of alcoholism. I’m a drinker. But I’m telling you: it didn’t skip a generation, she’s just so opposed to what her parents did (father drinking, mother smoking) that she’s never going to smoke a cigarette. That’s her intention. That she’ll likely do. But it’s a dangerous position..to oppose. You’re always having to uphold that thing you’re against. You have to stand firm. You have to be vigilant. All those mantras from the twelve steps are middling shit. It’ll help you get so far, but then what—you’ve got to oppose the devil for the rest of your life? People opposing him..is the reason he exists.

So basically—sorry for hitting you with all that Derrida.. Basically: Jules was on drugs and she was hiding it from me. And, basically, I was on drugs and I was hiding it from her.

"Want me to drive you to your show?"

"No, I’ll walk."

"It’s like ten blocks!" I say.

"It’s like eight," she says. "What time is it?"

"What—do you want to get dinner before you go?"

She hesitates.

"It’s on me," I say. "Sushi."

But she goes.

And after her show sometimes, she’d be trying to find me. And I’d be out with my friends.

She’d text me: ::lonely. The punctuation I think stood in for her concept of her. An abbreviation of I. Kind of like an apostrophe..that stood for the person speaking.

I’d text back: ::playing

with girls?


typical:: she’d text: Typical you.

I’d started feeling that call again, that call to be myself and hang out with Chad and Brooklyn and MJ & crew. It really made Jules sad—at least she acted like it. She would call me crying. And the next time I saw her—after hanging out with my friends—she would absolutely cry then.

MJ & crew had introduced me to Jules. But Jules wasn’t their friend. They had just met her because of the theatre and invited her to come along. Now Jules was more mine than she was theirs—that was everyone’s impression; I’m not being possessive. I find out years later that some people were just putting up with her because of me. They saw how much I loved her and they were nice to her as an extension of their love for me. It’s terrible—how we treat each other. Jules was one of the greatest people I’d known up to that point in my life. That people discarded her as crazy or too weird or too intense..was just tragic. I think for girls mostly it was that they were jealous of her. People discrediting you—except in the case of someone who’s truly paranoid—people discrediting you is a sure sign that you’ve got it going on.

when are:: coming home?

::at the house of T. I write out the text but don’t send it. Cancel cancel. Cancel again to make sure. Jules: I don’t know. I might not come home tonight.

Chad’s across from me on the carpet. Brooklyn, Zombie. MJ is outside making love to flowers or smoking them or something. I’ve got my little purple bag in the trunk of my car.

"Did you call Ash?"

Chad still has his phone in his hand. "Do you want me not to?"

Brooklyn says: "Matt, you play with me. Chad: you call Ash. And call Soren and Christina—"

"Drug Dealer Christina?"

"Yes, Zombie, Drug Dealer Christina—"

Zombie claps her hands together. Drug Dealer Christina—as we call her, to distinguish her from all the other goddamn Christinas we know—and Soren, are sure to bring LSD, in liquid form. Sweet little eye-dropper, and this house will be off its bricks.

I almost say that I have my little purple bag in the trunk of my car but then I realize what a stupid idea that would be. Everyone knows that stupid fucking bag is in my car; that’s probably why they invited me.

"Is Jules coming?"

"No," I say, "I don’t think so."

"Did you text her?" Brooklyn asks.

I’m searching for the words. Brooklyn gets me. "That’s ok." She laughs. "Jules is crazy. I told you—"

"She’s not crazy," I say.

But Brooklyn’s looking in my eyes.

"I just need a night off," I say.

So we all agree to pretend. I pretend that I never got Jules’s text and Chad pretends that I never sucked Chad’s dick; Zombie pretends she isn’t technically still married and MJ also pretends that Zombie isn’t technically still married—to a man. Brooklyn and I pretend that it doesn’t matter what you do when your people aren’t looking, and we each stow an extra hit of ecstasy on the way back to my car.

It’s that second one that really gets you going. That’s what Soren always says.

Plug five. Snort three. Take one under your tongue. (Goes the general advice.)

"Smoke two," Soren says, "Snort seven."

Then Drug Dealer Christina chimes in: "Eat three. Swallow ten."

And Soren says: "Have you guys ever heard of parachuting?"

Some people stick it up their ass.

One will give you a nice roll.

It’s that second one that really gets you going.

Me and Brooklyn are sitting in my Honda listening to the Chemical Brothers—and I hate the Chemical Brothers—and everyone, both of us in this car and everyone in the house, is pretending that we didn’t invite Soren and Christina over.

"Christina just needs to clean up." That’s what MJ always says when someone talks about how off-the-fucking planet Christina has become. Christina just needs to clean up. Yeah. That’s true. And Hitler just needed to stop killing people. Just adjust that one little thing, and he woulda been fine. What’s a little genocide among friends?

Brooklyn chose the Chemical Brothers. I don’t why it’s still in my iPod.

I put the car in reverse.

Brooklyn’s extra pill is sitting on the dashboard of my car.


She looks up.

I hold the pill above her hand, which she opens. I drop it.

"Put that in your pocket."

"I’m gonna put it in my sock."

"You’ll step on it."

"I’ll put it in my bra."

I watch her do this. It doesn’t seem like the best place—but how would I know? "That’s better," I say.

She turns up the Chemical Brothers but I don’t care. We’ve already swallowed one ecstasy pill but it’s too soon for that "I love everything" phase to be hitting. Half my pill is under my tongue, still dissolving. You can feel it sooner that way. Plus it’s easier on your stomach. It burns a hole in your tongue, but..I prefer that.

"Where’s your extra one?"

I pat my cargo pocket, the bottom one.

Brooklyn feels my pocket from the outside, locates the pill, and twiddles it in her fingers. "Just loose like that?"

I shrug. I ease the car back, looking in my mirrors.

"What if you lose your pants?"

I bust out laughing.

"What if someone.." she says "..takes them off." Her hand is on my leg.

"I’ll have to get back to you on that," I say. And I was right—I would—though at the time I had no idea what state I would be in when I finally did get back to her.

"Where are you taking us?" Brooklyn asks, though she doesn’t really care.

"Just down the block."

We’re all the way down the block, and around the corner, before Brooklyn asks "Why."

I get out of the car. She follows. I check the doors. I make sure the trunk is locked. Then I give Brooklyn my keys.

"I don’t want em," she says.

"Come on," I say. "Let’s go."

But she won’t leave until I take the keys.

"Fuck, Brooklyn—"

"Don’t Fuck Brooklyn me! I mean you can fuck Brooklyn you just can’t ’fuck Brooklyn’."

I take the keys.

We put them in some neighbor’s mailbox, halfway up the street, and walk the rest of the way back to the House of Transformation.

By the time we get to the porch, every step we’re making is in tai chi.

"What are you guys doing?"

I don’t even get the words "tai chi" out of my mouth before Brooklyn falls over and she’s screaming: "Soren!"

Soren shakes my hand. He’s formal like that—even his cap. It looks like it’s from the Netherlands. Honestly, Soren looks like he should be in an office somewhere—he looks that way most of any of us. His face is very stern. He’s got stiff hands. He’s tall. He drives a Jetta. I think his parents are leaving him an inheritance—like a big one—which is why he doesn’t care what he does with his life.

Christina’s standing next to him, fucking with her iPod. "I hate slow-intro shit." She skips a song. "Fuck Korn." She skips. She’s kissing me hello and helping me keep my balance. We do it right on the porch: Soren pulls out his eye-dropper and feeds me and Brooklyn liquid LSD like we’re baby birds. He puts two drops and tells me "it’s concentrated."

Then we go inside the house.

It feels like there are more people there..than there are..it feels like we just got here..did we? And it feels that we’ve been here forever. I think we were, before..when did you get here?

"I’ve been here all along."

Did you change clothes? No. You changed your hair.

"I haven’t changed anything."

Well. I like your hair.

"You’re tripping balls. Matt. Drink some water. Matthew! This way."

Did Everyone Get Ecstasy?


Are You Sure.

"Yes! Everyone’s on ecstasy."

Everyone here?

"Yes. Yes! Take my hand."

We’re going down the stairs. I was upstairs. Now I’m downstairs. In the kitchen. There’s no furniture. There’s Adrian, this girl from high school. "You look very relaxed," I say. "It’s probably the morphine," she says, and we leave it at that. But she’s still there when I come back, and to me, Adrian is always in the kitchen saying "It’s probably the morphine." I just wanted to make sure everyone got ecstasy—and everyone did. For the people I missed, Soren had some, so I never needed to lock my keys in the car. Or stash them up the street—they’re in a mailbox! I’m pretty sure it was number 1709981776.

"Point one repeating," I say.


I say it again.

"Drink some water."

I do, and it tastes like salt.

"I think I’m gonna lie here forever."

"I know," MJ says, "me too."

"There’s no reason to leave."

"There isn’t."

"Bend this flower with me. Bend it with your thoughts. Sing. Sing this flower with me. Sing it to light. Bend light into me. Bend it with your song. That’s it. Bend. There was sound. There was song. Then..light..bending with a rainbow.

"Bend this flower with me. Beautify the petals. There it was moving—did you see that? You made it happen with me. You made the flower. See the circle of petals? See the pink? See the green? See how the pink and the green? Bend petals into a rose..

"Bend this flower with me. Sing it slowly. Sing it light. We had a moment in sunshine! A moment in light. You were saying—and the things you said to me! Say them to flowers. Petal-say them. And say them in my tendril ear." "Did you say tender dear?" "No. I said tendril, dear."

Leave them in my rose. Bloom me and tackle my sunshine burning in a demi-raindual happeningstance melody of tigerbalm and terrormoons, demigod of the sunbrow, murdering sense and tripping me toward algernon..

We all know it’s going to happen, Matthew. We all know. We’re knitted inside your eyebrows right behind the forehead ear..and taking you below the bubble is our job! "That’s why we’re knitted here." "Did you say knitted, dear?" "I said that’s why we’re knitted here."

"I think I am going to sit here forever," MJ says. And she’s one of the ones with the perfect posture too!

"You’re one of them," I say.

"Who?" she says.

"You’re one of the ones," I say. "You have it."

But she laughingly informs me that she lost it long ago.

Then me and Chad are in a laundromat—no—a corner store. There’s a line, and we’re on a conveyor belt, so we don’t have to move. This outer-space thing happens. There’s a popping. Someone has a bead. The register tells me the price but when I tell it the price back, I tell it the price right: it’s one..with one repeating. And the one repeats forever.

Chad says we have to go.

"I was gonna get a SoBe."

"I got you one."

"Lizard Fuel," I say.

"That’s it," he says. "Look."

I look at it. It’s perfect.

I smoke an entire pack of Kamels.

Chad smokes an entire pack of menthols.

We’re sitting on the porch of the H-O-T.

"I love going normal places when I’m tripping," Chad says.

"I know, me too. I felt like we were on a conveyor belt."

"I can see that," he says. "Do you still feel that way?"

I check the ground. "No."

"You were talking some crazy shit when you were over there with MJ."

"Was we? Was we. I like it that way, with the was. Was we walkin was we talkin some ] s t r a n g e shit when we was..was we?"

"You was."

"Who all is in there? Did more people come over?"

Chad shakes his head.

"It seems like more people now."

"Does it?"

"It does to me."

"Why don’t you invite Jules?" Chad says.

And I say: "Did you invite Ash?"

"She’s on her way," Chad says.

"She is??" I ask, and we both fall over laughing.

All I can think of is that water..how it tasted salty. You take a perfectly normal input system (like a brain) and you alter it with ecstasy and LSD and all of the sudden, all of the water in the house is salty. Even in the kitchen. This was a perfectly normal input system before we got our hands on it. And there seems to be a lot more "we" going around here than there was before. Quiet down in the cheap seats. There’s only one controller-consciousness here. I’m open for input, but..

This input system wasn’t perfect, either, before we got our hands on it. It was functional—for certain things. But there were certain things it wasn’t even aware of—did it need to be? I think it did. It thinks..I do. It thinks I need to widen my way of thinking. It thinks one is not enough. It doesn’t want two..it wants one and one repeating.

One. Point one. Point one. Point one. Point one. Repeating.

Salt water fresh. And an Abe Lincoln nose.

"Ok, everyone, act normal."




"There’s people here."




"It’s Ashley, y’allll." That’s Zombie Lizard. She’s got a kitchen knife and a roll of masking tape, which she’s taping around her body, fully clothed. "It’s my elevator briefcase."

"Well," I say, "you missed a snap."

I button up her briefcase.

"Hey," she says. "Hey! Did I say you could button up my briefcase?!"

"I self-informed," I tell her.

But she’s screaming, standing up, running out the house and taping herself to Ashley as soon as Ashley is in range. Ashley takes it all in stride, helping her friend tape the two of them together and spinning the two of them around like a dance move.

I’m their umbrella.

"Where did you get that?"

"From the rain."

Where did I get this?

"You bought it." ::a whisper in my ear.

"Who said that?"


"Where did I get it?"

"YOU BOUGHT IT!" Chad says. He’s screaming, running down the street naked, carrying a board.

I’m gonna flip out of my unconventional style here for a moment so you can understand what’s going on. Because I want to make this very clear. This isn’t an element of my pseudo-schizophrenic landscape—bubbles from the noise. This isn’t something I made up, while candy-flipping. This is not poetic license. This is Chad, my friend, running down the street, naked, with a board.

Ashley has us taped together.

She’s really a gem for putting up with all of this.

And, for a while, we were in this together. We made the Naughty together, remember? Yeah, we did. We were. Now we both grip Zombie’s tape and hold each other for the fall. Music from the house is on. Neighbors’ shadows on their windows, watching us—crazy house. Teardrops. Stuntman. Circus. Sculpture. Rhône.

And Chad, my friend, jacked off his mind on LSD, normally beautiful Chad, with long black hair, who sucks dick beautifully and cracks us all up with stories about crack whores and who actually lived in a crack house, in west Dayton, before he founded the House of Transformation—to the tune of some music from Fight Club—is running up and down the street, screaming, naked, carrying a board.

He’s slapping the board on the street. When he gets to the end he holds the board above his head and screams something that no one can understand. Then he slaps the board down on the street—banging the shit out of it—and he picks it up and runs the other way.

Brooklyn is stuck in a corner in the basement. She can’t get out. She’s crumpled like a mantis—and you don’t want to get too close. Her makeup is running, eyes are black. And her fingernails scratching the wall.

And the basement’s crumbling. Every time she touches it. Crumbling sand, the sides of the house, stuck together with glue that this sideways girl is scraping apart with her hands.

Fluorescent light—trying not to step on anything—and getting closer and closer to this girl, my friend—what happened to you? Were you frightened? Did you see something from the beyond? Or is that just sometimes how trips go? Yeah. Sometimes, that’s just how they do.

A step closer.

Reaching out for her—wherever she is.

She swaps the hand away. She is crumbling, she is tearing down, bleeding from the brain, and spine wild—electric kat. I can see the flashes within her, can see her brain without a net, high-wiring, possibly melting down. You can sometimes get out of this but usually—not.


When she opens her mouth to speak it’s like a demon.


She takes me in like a spider.


Away from the planet.


There was a body here.

No more.

In blackness.


Reality was all a lie.

Everything about it: Jules, my own name, the fact I went to school. It was all strung out on candy and necklace, water was even a lie, it was never wet, it was never water at all. It was never figured out—it was never solved. It was never funny. It was never needed. All that suffering..didn’t mean a thing to the universe. It didn’t mean a thing to the sky. It’s not remembered, never counted; only collapsed and even relationship was all, just, our, idea, of what, happened.

There was never even a me.

Jules was wrong. The vortex isn’t in Zaire. That fairytale—that she loves—never happened. There were never three guys in a truck that stopped and saw those orbs of light. That never happened. There’s a river basin, there—but you can drive right through it. The sky looks strange there, but just because you’re used to the skies over Manhattan, over Dayton Ohio. Not because there’s any vortex. There never was. It’s just a story we tell because we have to have something to believe.

Because we want there to be something to fear.

Because if we fear it, then it must be powerful.

And we want there to be something more powerful than ourselves.

Because the truth—that there isn’t—is too hard to take.

That death meant nothing? That it wasn’t caused by some powerful force? That there was no need to suffer, from any god’s point of view? That nature, that everything outside of us and everthing that is other than us..doesn’t care—just doesn’t care—about us, the way we do.

That we don’t matter, to the universe. The universe doesn’t care about us—that’s the truth. It doesn’t love us and it doesn’t hate us it’s just hosting us for a while. And when we’re gone, the universe won’t shed a tear. Not because "it doesn’t care", not because "it’s cruel"..but..because..it doesn’t have tears.

Now that you’ve seen that, what do you do? Do you come back and become a Nazi? No. Do you become some hard-ass who doesn’t cry at funerals? Or some zen master who doesn’t cry at funerals? Is that enlightened? No. You get back inside your body and you remember temperature and you remember clothes, you remember time and your job and your particular value system. They come back like memories when you wake. Every morning, you remember who you are. Every morning, for an instant, right when you open your eyes, you’re still dreaming, and the dream rules still apply. Then you remember. You remember that the watch you were looking for in your dream didn’t really look like the watch you lost in waking life, in "real life". You remember that that school, that you went to in your dream, doesn’t look like the real school you went to, in your waking life. You call your sister..and she isn’t dead.

You come at this story with consciousness. This is how we come at all stories. Like a frog—who comes at a story with frog consciousness. A frog might dream of his own sticky tongue—but sticky in a different way. The consciousness gives the story meaning—it’s how you understand. You can’t tell a frog story to a human—and it goes the other way. All stories—all stories—are moral. They’re there to please us—to convince us, to present a convincing argument for why the world should be some particular way.

Jules’s story is there—her story about the vortex—is there why? It’s a story about knowledge that can never be obtained—or knowledge that changes you. Knowledge that changes you so much that you can never be the same..so much that you can never even return. The vortex, the black hole, is her way of representing the idea that there are some things, that once you touch them, consume you, like fire. That not every door lets you back in, once you’ve gone out. That for some red pills, there is no matching blue pill.

The vortex is Jules’s way of saying you can’t shake the devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding. That you can’t be awake and then pretend to be asleep. There’s a road that leads to life—which I call the unraveling—and there’s a road that stays in death (which is like staying tightly wound). Once you unravel a tightly-wound ball of string so much..it doesn’t go back. It’s ok (it’s scary, but it’s ok). But it doesn’t go back.

Why do they say there are vortexes in Dayton?—or Zaire. I don’t know. I think sometimes when people think of vortex they think they’re going to get something out of it—like it’s some power center that’s going to benefit them, once they figure out how to control it. I don’t think you get anything out of a vortex (I don’t think that’s the best metaphor). I think Jules is right: you don’t take from it. It takes you, and you go in, and in, and in, and if you go in far enough, you never come out.

Coming off of LSD is exactly like waking up from sleep, except it takes longer to fully wake up, and the dream you’re waking up from is more persistent. It’s like if it took you four hours to wake up, and you could remember your dreams, clearly, for the whole next day.

But like waking up from sleep, there’s a process of remembering—of being reminded—of your life. Of your waking life. All the details, all the things you see, the sensations that you start to pay attention to again—like touch, like temperature, like the body that you’ve neglected on your trip inside the mind—all those details remind you of who you are. Or, technically: of who you were.

Early in your trip you might have forgotten that water doesn’t taste salty, or you might have forgotten that it’s cold. You might have forgotten that pictures don’t talk to you, and paintings don’t move like holograms—that they don’t show different images when viewed at different angles. You might have forgotten to ignore some of the texture information that your eyes record—and that your brain is thinking of (parts of it)—all the time. You might have forgotten things like anger, or lateness—things that your boss will not have forgotten about as his happy hour wears off around ten the next morning.

Coming off of LSD you’ll start to remember things like: it’s a good idea to wear socks, or: I don’t need to be wearing three sweaters. One is enough. Maybe one and a hat.

You start to remember things like: Panera opens at eleven. Panera has good bread. You can get a peanut butter and jelly at Panera, or an everything bagel. Everything bagels have poppy seeds in them.

I like sesame seeds better. You start to remember things like that.

You remember how to pee. It’s a strange acquaintance, your body after tripping, like a friend you haven’t see in forever. Hi. How are you. Oh yeah, we used to do this together. This is part of how we interact. I stand here, and urine comes out. You remember the sensation, in that new way that only happens when it’s been eons since you last felt it. You feel your urethra. You notice it.

You notice things about your friends.

Like how much you like them. Their peculiarities, even. The normally-annoying way that Ash is taking care of everybody: no longer annoying. In fact: we need taking care of.

"Do you want an ecstasy?"

"I’m fine."

You notice the way an Ashley looks patronizingly at you when you ask such a thing, and how comparative and judgmental and knowing her word choice is, even in two little words. You see how much she looks down on you and respects you at the same time, how knee-jerk a response it is for her to be afraid of what is different—not in you..but—in herself. You see how different you are. How as much as you try to relate to her, you’re never going to be able to reach..across a certain chasm.

"Do you want a ride to work?"


Both standing on opposite edges. Each having extended your arm a foot.

Dawn. The House of Transformation. Brooklyn traces her way up the front lawn, piece of a bird feeder in her hand. There’s mist on the grass. She’s shoeless. Soren and Christina’s Jetta is gone. I’m seeing the orange come above the houses..some blue..some red..and the lightening sky above.

"Does she look skinny to you?"

Ash looks at Brooklyn. "She’s on a starvation-calorie diet. She’s eating like six-hundred calories a day."

"I don’t think that’s healthy," I say. "I think you’re supposed to eat at least..like..fourteen hundred calories a day."

"You’re sure you don’t want me to take you to work?"

"Ash. It’s Saturday."

"I know." She’s waiting for me to register. "The release?"


"We have a release today."

"That’s right. Well.."

"Are you coming?"

"No, I don’t think I am," I say. "I don’t think they really need me for it..do you?"

"I’m sure Gao can handle it."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I mean it’s just your team that’s doing the release." She skwunches her face. "I don’t think they need you. What should I tell em?"

I’m thinking.

"Should I tell em you’re doing tai chi?"

"Who told you about tai chi? That was earlier—"

"You’ve been doing tai chi this whole time. Look at your pose."

I take my arm down from over my head. "Ash. Tell em anything you want. They won’t believe it, even if you tell em the truth."

"You’re right," she says.

"They’ll just think I’m sick, no matter what you tell them."

"You’re right," she says, "They’ll just think you’re sick."

Texting Jules. There’s like twenty texts from her. I scroll through them.

where are you

where have you been??!

I miss you

I’m coming over

I needed you tonight

I need you ::where

Jules, Jules, oh.. I text her, without thinking, without caring, knowing that for her everything’s going to be bad and for me everything’s going to be blankly ok.



are you up::



::smh fine where

I just tell her:


::I figured that out where IS it

I text her the address.

I spend the next twenty minutes looking in all the mailboxes on both sides of the street between my car and the House of Transformation.

I’ve been sitting in my car for an hour before Jules gets there. She’s sweating. She’s on foot. She bangs on the passenger side window.

She gets in.

I drive.

Ash used to be used to it, and now Jules is—but when I need to think, I drive. You don’t ask questions. And there is no destination.

We’ve been by the Bob Evans, along this desolate strip of road, by this McDonald’s, in Riverside. I pull off in the Carroll High School parking lot. Some track kids are warming up. This tall sign informs us that "Congratulations! Math Team 3rd in State of Oho."

Jules is pressed against the far window, as far away from me as she can be, and she’s got this look on her face like I better talk: now.

I just tell her: "I tried acid last night."

"Was Ashley there?"

"She wasn’t there until the end."

"Did you tell her not to come to your house?"

"I told her."

"Has she been over?"

"Since that one day? No."

"You need to tell me, right now, do you still like her..like-her like her?"

"No. Absolutely not." I’m looking at Jules like we’re both in a courtroom and wondering if this is how our relationship is going to be for the rest of our lives.

She’s gripping the door handle. Wearing sweatpants.

I’m hearing the track kids outside the car as they’re shouting and laughing and their coach tells them to shut up. "Math Team: 3rd in State of Oho." I’ve got to get out of this place. I should ask Jules if she wants to go to New York, right now. She can show me her home. Someone like Jules doesn’t belong in this place. She deserves someplace where they can spell the name of their own state, even in a state with more than four letters.

Jules is looking at me, breathing in and out. Then she starts to cry. She starts to hit my chest. And she’s in the seat with me. She’s yelling at me—I mean really yelling. The car is getting hot and I want to turn it on so we can use the air conditioning but I can’t the way Jules is sitting. I don’t want to be disrespectful—even if I am hot. I hate being stuck in a car with someone and those track kids are looking at us, and then their coach looks at us and he makes the kids go back to their stretches, but there’s still some of them looking, as Jules cries, and I see them looking up from their shoes, and the grass, into our car.

This is the crying part of the relationship. This is the stuffy part, when neither one is happy and neither one can change it. But you stay together, because even horror isn’t enough reason to break it off. Because this doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you. And she knows you love her. She knows. Every time you tell her.

But she bangs on my chest, and she gets it out. And I’m crying too, gripping her hair, and she’s looking up at me, quiet now, with humongous eyes, asking me why, why, why—why did I try acid.

"Did you do any other drugs?"


"Do you do any other drugs?"

"No. Just the ones you know about."

"Ho—" (she laughs).

"I’m sorry," I say. "I’m not perfect." But she’ll never look at me the same way. There will always be part of me that she thinks is crazy, this place where she thinks we’ve departed, gone separate ways. This area that separates us..is growing. If I had invited her, then she would have done it with me—or talked me out of it. We would still be together. We would not be in the parking lot of Carroll High School in Riverside.

"I don’t want you to do any more drugs," she says.

"Even drinking?"

"We need to meditate," she says. "Not here. Later."

"Do you want breakfast?"


"Do you want to go somewhere?"


(Can I buy you anything? Can I buy you the most expensive dinner you’ve ever had? Can I buy you something that will make you love me the way you did a day ago?) It’s a simple line of thinking, but that’s the way it goes.

"Let’s just go home. I want to sleep." She wipes her nose.

I open the glove compartment. There’s fast food napkins inside. She doesn’t use them.

Her nose is on her sleeve. "Just take me home."

I turn the key in the ignition. My hands are on the steering wheel. I breathe out. There’s something I’m supposed to learn from this moment. I don’t know what it is. I know what I’m not supposed to do. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Where do you go with that?

I look at Jules. She won’t look at me. She’s looking out the window, wet sleeves, knees pulled up underneath the seatbelt. She locks the doors.

"You want me to take you home?"

She looks at me: terrible. There’s a burning in her eyes, in her face, a pain all across her forehead. I can see her veins, and she sniffles again. She wipes her nose, her eyes. She uses my sleeve this time. "Do I want you to take me home?" she says. "Have you learned nothing about me? Do you know how I feel about you?"

I can’t do this. "If you want me to take you to your place—" I start.

"Listen. Listen." She’s on my lap again, seatbelt dangling. She snorts. Neither of us care. "I want you to take me home..to your house. I’m with you," she says. "I never want you to leave me again. Are you going to leave me?"

"No." I whisper it.

"Good." She grabs my chest. You’re my baby. I need this. I don’t want you to take some drug that’s going to paralyze you or mess up your brain." She’s gripping my face. "I love you. You’re my part," she says, and then it drops into nonsense.

I hate fucking Riverside.

Still: she was my magician, and I was hers. One who brightens the eyes of the one who brightens eyes. And when Jules didn’t have a show, and when I didn’t have to work—which were rare days—hanging out at the apartment was best. We did that thing where once you’re with someone, you stop hanging out with the rest of your friends. Which is a terrible thing to do—you should never do that. But we did it—and you will too. It’s just the way it happens. You think this person is your whole world. And for a while they are.

"Come check this one out!"

I’d go to the window.

Jules is leaning out, looking across the street, where some guy is pushing his kids in a stroller. It’s a big one—with seats facing front and back. And the guy is a transvestite. I’ve never seen him before—but it’s a freaky neighborhood. He’s wearing heels and they’re not working too well with the broken sidewalks.

"Isn’t she beautiful?" Jules would say. "Look at her."

"It’s a guy," I say.

And Jules genuinely wouldn’t know it was a guy.

And I’d realize: all she was noticing was the dress—beautiful dress—and the way the woman held herself, and the thought of having kids.

"Do you want to do that with me?"

"Not now," she’d say. Then she’d say: "Yes." Then we’d kiss and stuff. Then she’d say: "Do you want to do it now?"

And I’d say: "No." I want to find a better job first. I want to find a job I like. "I don’t think it’s responsible to have kids before you have a way to support them."

"You have a way to support them."

"I know," I say, "But I want a better way to support them."

Jules rolls her eyes and says "Pfff", and then we make love, but we make sure not to have children. It’s an hour later and I’m lying on my back, sweaty. Jules is face down on the carpet next to me, arm on my chest.

I say: "I want to have kids somewhere where they get some culture. Where they can learn. Somewhere bigger. With good schools."

"The schools here suck," Jules says to the carpet.

"How did we survive," I say. "How did you?"

"We’re different," she says. "Plus I went to better schools. We can’t expect to have gifted children. You’ve thought of this, haven’t you? I know you must have, somewhere in that big brain of yours—"

"Whatever parts of it are still functioning."

"Oh, it’s functioning. It’s functioning. You know that, right? You..and me..we might have normal kids." She props herself up on me. "You..might have a stupid kid. Could you handle that?"

I think for a while. But I’m not thinking of whether I could handle a stupid kid—I’m thinking of how beautiful Jules is, and how lucky I am that she’s propped up on me, this close, looking back at me.

"Stop looking at me," she says. "I know that look. What’s gonna happen—when your kid is dumb as nails?"

"Isn’t the expression..sharp as..nails or a tack or something?"

"You are dumb as a nail," she says. "One of the ones that breaks when you hit it."

"You mean bends."

"A bent nail is a broken nail," she says. "How do you hit a bent nail? How do you hammer in a bent nail? That’s..a broken..nail."

"I’d be fine with it," I say. "I don’t care if our kid is dumb."

That I said "our kid" turns us both on, and we fuck again, and this time we look each other in the eyes and we don’t worry about getting pregnant.

"All space is here."

"All time is now."

This is Jules and I meditating.

You really have to meditate with your partner—try it. Making love is one thing..and it can delve into meditation. But you’ve really got to—you know—sit face to face and chant. You can wash dishes together, you can go to Mendelson’s and buy coats and you can sit watching movies, silently, next to each other..but how many times are you gonna do those things? How much of your Saturday and of your life are you gonna spend at Mendelson’s, on opposite sides of a coat rack—looking at coats. That’s a lot of your life, if you think about it. Facing the same direction (not each other) in a car, at sixty miles an hour, toward your death. In a kitchen: again (unless you’ve got a really nice kitchen) usually not facing each other. Humans are the only mammal that has face-to-face sex. Did you know that? All the other apes—and all the other animals—do it from behind. The only other mammal that has face-to-face sex is dolphins! Whales and dolphins. Once we fuck up this world, it’s gonna be the whales and dolphins that take over. Them and elephants. Imagine what a peaceful world that will be. Elephants will probably always have to do it doggy-style.

But yeah, when Jules and I meditate, I don’t always think of like..zen principles and shit. You don’t have to think about specific things when you meditate. You have to let your thoughts go. You have to watch them instead of think them. That’s all it is to meditate.

For Jules it’s sitting straight..which..I really don’t do. I try, but I’m not as straight as her. When she sits, this striped shirt she wears—it’s not like a flannel—it’s like something from Pacific Sunwear. It’s very tight. Even though she has that on plus a bra I can still see her nipples. When we’re done meditating I’m gonna suck them right through her shirt and her bra. Until there are wet spots on her chest and she’s reaching for my dick. Jules is more spiritual. I don’t think she thinks about sex when she meditates. It’s hard for me to imagine the details of her taking a shit, though, so I’m probably wrong that she doesn’t think about sex when she meditates. That stupid saying about guys think of sex every ten seconds and women think about sex every six minutes? or something like that..I’ve known enough women by now to know that’s bullshit. It’s the same for guys and girls. And it’s not ten seconds. It’s not seven either. It’s..like..five.

"Now look at me," Jules says.

(I do.)

"Now raise your arms."

We match each other’s movements. We make a mirror. This is my favorite part of meditation—because this is the part where we’re allowed to laugh.

This is us together. This is us in my apartment. Jules in her own place was a different story. I’d go there—she’d have all the lights off, windows closed—this is the middle of summer! Air conditioning, full blast. Refrigerator open. She’s got this blue fish tank, it’s all these little white fish. Silver. No personality. Jules is sitting in the middle of her floor, by herself, legs crossed, taking pictures of her feet. Zooming way in. I’m like: "Jules—"

She’s like: "Shhh! You’re being too loud. Whisper," she says, "Whisper."

I’m talking..totally at normal volume she’s acting like I’m..screaming at her. Like she’s cowering down and shit. Covering her head with her arms. Literally covering her ears every time I open my mouth.

"Jules," I whisper. "Why are we whispering?" But I forget to whisper this last part.

She cowers down in pain..menacing eyes.

"I’m sorry—" I’m whispering everything now "—listen. Come with me to Dorothy Lane. We’ve got to get you out of here."

She shakes her head and leans down to her foot—her body bending flat in half. Her face is by her foot. She’s peeling something..delicately peeling something..off her foot. A piece of skin?


I have to carry her out of the apartment.

Then at Dorothy Lane she’s a maniac. In my car she wears two pairs of sunglasses—one on top of the other. She’s bracing the dashboard like we’re about to crash—when we’re perfectly fine. She wants to stay in the car while I shop but there’s no way I’m letting that happen.

I sit her on this bench next to the bakery and I get one of those small baskets.

"Are you gonna be ok?"

But she looks terrible. She doesn’t look like she’s gonna be ok. She’s shivering, grabbing bits of newspaper from this stack of Wall Street Journals, and she’s putting them on her legs.

I set the basket at her feet and sit down next to her. I’m taking the Wall Street Journals and stacking them, not back in their pile but on the bench with us, in our laps. Then Jules goes limp and I’m just holding her. She’s staring at a stack of Lärabars. People are watching us as they enter the grocery store. I don’t care what they think. I’m past wanting to kill anyone who looks at us strange—I just want to take care of my Jules. I have my arms around her. I hold her head so it doesn’t fall. Her fingers are scraping my leg—softly—brushing her fingernails back and forth along my leg, back and forth.. I’m rocking her, gently. That’s something that seems to work in these situations. Just rock her and wait till it passes.

Some guy from the store comes by and starts stacking the Wall Street Journals. He starts to ask me if everything’s ok—and he sort of mouths the words. But I tell him—quietly, and mostly with expressions and eyes—that she’s fine..we just need to sit here a minute. He stacks the newspapers but he doesn’t make us move, and no one else comes to bother us.

On that bench in Dorothy Lane Market she tried to tell me it, but she couldn’t. She opened her mouth—but all she got was "I have to tell you.." It was an hour later and we were at Carillon Park, on this stone ring that goes around the carillon, and Jules had her head in my lap and I was feeling the sun. It was just a blue, blue sky.

"I have to tell you something. It’s nothing big," she added, so I wouldn’t start thinking that we were breaking up or that she had AIDS or one of those things.

She sat up. She wanted to be sitting up to tell me this. She wanted us to be on equal level.

"My brother died when I was younger. This is kind of a sad story..so..I’m not asking for your sympathy or anything. Ok. I don’t need that. So—I’m just telling you this so you can better understand me. And you do..you do understand me. You understand be better than anyone I know—better than anyone I’ve ever met. Even my mother. It’s true. She has no idea who I am. But. When me and my brother were younger..when we were..he was fifteen I was seventeen." She stops.

"..So this is like three years ago," I say.

"Yes," she says. She tells me the rest of it looking in my eyes. "When he was fifteen and I was seventeen we were in a car..and I was driving. And.. We went though an intersection and..I..crashed the car. Into another car. That was turning. And my brother died. Ok. It was just the two of us in the car. No one else..in the other car..died. No one else was hurt. It wasn’t even that bad of an accident! But that’s what happened." Jules is smoothing the front of my shirt. "And that was my only brother. Who only got to live to be fifteen. Because of me. So. That’s what happened. Ok?"

She’s looking at me like she wants forgiveness—which I obviously can’t give her. And she’s crying now. She’s crying freely, which is something Jules does not do. When she’s angry at me, sure—or when she’s really happy, she might give a tear then. But for her to grip my shirt and just look into my eyes and open up on the stones by the carillon, and let that come out, straight between us, with no guard and no holding back, to just let those tears and those sobs and those fights from when she was seventeen—and her brother was fifteen—to let those come through the gates..well..it’s the openest I’d seen her.

And later on I was going to learn about what she knew about, then—about what it’s like when the person you love dies..and you’re the one responsible. I was going to learn that if you were the devil—I mean if you were the very incarnation of all those mythologies of evil—if you were that, and you wanted to design the worst possible thing you could do to someone wonderful..that’s what you would come up with. You’d sit in your cave, scheming, and after you’d exhausted a whole bunch of petty torments, and after you’d grown bored with the dialectical ins and outs of manslaughter versus murder versus accidental death..you’d come up with someone killing the person they love. It just doesn’t get any better than that. You’d take someone who was completely alone, who needed, more than anyone you could find, the company of others—of a particular other. Then you’d design that other person to be perfect for them. Then you’d put them together, and you’d quench their loneliness with each other. Then they’d fall in love. And they would become one. Then you would have one of them kill the other, by accident.

To kill your brother in a car accident—I don’t know. It must have been especially terrible that it wasn’t "that bad of an accident". They hit this car. Jules walks away. I mean she doesn’t even go to the hospital. She’s fine. They were just going down Lexington, this other car tried to make a left. It was a U-Haul, she said. Jules didn’t even hit the window. They were both wearing seatbelts.

And you walk away—and your brother doesn’t get up. Never gets out of that car, not without help. And the last thing you ever wanted to say to him—doesn’t get said. Never will. It’s a one-sided goodbye. One of you is here. One of you is gone.

You have to call people in those moments, too. You have to do a few normal things, while the last of your world sinks away. You have to call your parents—in Jules’s case. You have to tell one person the news—hopefully the one person who you can count on to tell everyone else the news. That way, you only have to make one phone call.

I can see Jules at 58th and Lex, probably holding onto her brother for dear life. Until someone grabs her and takes her away from him. And she’s sitting on the curb. And she’s looking up at the glassy towers there. A Payless. A Victoria’s Secret. The Container Store. Asking them why did this have to happen today.

You can’t do anything in situations like that. The firemen, and the ambulance, and the police take over. All the civil systems that we’ve put in place to deal with the details of such things. They take over and deal with the details—you don’t have to bury your own dead—and so you’re useless, in the very event that has most to do with you.

All you have to do—in Jules’s brother’s case—is die.

And for the other person, you look at your friend, or your mother, or your son, and there’s part of you that didn’t know they could do that, or didn’t believe they could. But there it is. They did. And now you’re left—to what? When the only thing you want to do..is go with them.

So we sit by the carillon. Me and Jules. The most terrible days of life always seem to have the best weather. She’s stopped needing to look directly into my face to tell me everything she’s telling me. Because now she’s told me. And I’ve listened. And there’s nothing else to say so we listen to the bells. That’s one hour: that’s four o’clock. And it’s past the next hour and almost to the next one after that before either of us says anything. And it’s Jules.

She says: "Take me somewhere we can eat?"

I just take her in my arms and pick her up from the stone bench and put her in my car and drive her home. Then I order pizza, delivered. I’m not leaving this girl anywhere, not on a bench in the Dorothy Lane Market, not in my car for five minutes while I run in somewhere to get some food. She’s staying in my sight, she’s staying under the covers in my bed, and when she eats pizza I’m feeding it to her, every bite. She doesn’t get to decide, and she doesn’t want to. All she needs is back rubs and neck rubs and hot baths and favorite movies. She doesn’t get to pick the movies—I know what they are. Unfortunately Jules’s favorite movies are Life is Beautiful and Amelie and the night is still early, so we’re gonna have to watch both of them. I play Amelie first, hoping she’ll fall asleep and we can skip Life is Beautiful, but she doesn’t, so after we’re done laughing and crying at Amelie we’re lying there laughing and really crying to Life is Beautiful. But she does fall asleep before the end of that one. But I don’t turn it off. I watch it to the very end, to my least favorite parts, and I hold my girlfriend’s body in my lap, and she sleeps.

But when she wakes—oh, when she wakes. That is the part of Jules that you want to be around. That is the time that you want to see. My Jules—and I don’t think she would mind if I called her my Jules (in fact she would probably like it)—my Jules was the Jules of the morning, of little notes that she left on my pillow—and of sunlight. She was brushing teeth in the morning and doing yoga Jules. She was arranging the flowers Jules and checking her email Jules. She couldn’t start her day without checking email. And I always keep fresh flowers in the kitchen. Jules would arrange them. They’re in a vase, she just likes to prop them up and make sure the best petals are facing forward.

My Jules was the morning Jules of sunlight and errands and Saturday mornings..all day to be together until her evening show. After the show we’d meet for drinks at the Uno’s near the theatre. The crew would get wild, the cast would have a few drinks. Mostly me and Jules just went home. Everyone says "bye" and waves us off of the bar, and assumes we’re right about to have sex, as soon as we leave, as soon as we get home..and me and Jules leave, her arms around my waist, my arm around her neck. And we did have sex, pretty much right when we got home. Sometimes sooner.

But the next morning, Jules would be up, folding the clothes that we’d scattered around, hanging my shirts up in the closet. I’d wake and see her doing that—standing at the closet, hanging up even shirts that didn’t need to be hung up..or standing there, looking in my mirror, pivoting her body so that she could see her leg. She’d smooth her waist..run her fingers along the inside leg of her underwear, making it fit right. Then put ties in her hair.

If I woke up first, though, I would sit halfway up and look at her. I’d look at her face. That’s my favorite part about her, I think. Of her body.

She’d know I was watching her. She’d know it before she was awake. She’d move her hand, or bend her leg, or grab my waist before she opened her eyes to let me know it.

You know: some things you remember. Some things you don’t. That’s the sad thing about a lot of these stories we tell ourselves: a lot of it is made up. Did the sun glint in her eyes? Did she stretch? I don’t know. I remember some of her stretches..but not all. She didn’t snore—not really. It was this quiet purring sound. She slept on her right side. But—you know—like what position her hands were in when she slept..I don’t remember. Maybe because it wasn’t always the same, maybe because I’m a bad boyfriend..I don’t know. I am a bad boyfriend..but not because I don’t remember Jules’s hand position when she slept..just because I am. Mostly she would sleep with her hands on me.

"You like to cuddle."

"Yeah, I do."

"I like that you hold me."

I’d hold her tighter then.

"Some people..they just..they sleep beside you. You hold me. I didn’t know I’d like that. I do."

"Well tell me if it’s too constricting—"

"It’s not," she’d say. "It’s just right." Then she’d squeeze me hard.

And oh..oh—the Jules who puts me to sleep. You’ve heard about our sex life, so I won’t bore you with that..but oh..the Jules..who loved me at night. Who wrapped me up, who held me in her hands. Who told me bedtime stories—and not all about a vortex. She could be scary, but she could be loving, too. I think it’s pretty obvious they go together, the yin and the yang. I mean: there’s no beautiful people who aren’t scary..there’s no wonderful people who aren’t also hurt. That’s why they say: you can’t catch a tiger’s cub unless you go into the tiger’s den. I think that’s why they say that. It’s true, that saying. But people try to do it anyway, try to get the light without going through the darkness..they try to see the vortex..without going all the way in. The thing is it’s just not there..it’s just not there, what you’re looking for, until you go all the way in.

So she’d tell me fairytales. And some of them would be scary, and some of them would not. Jules just likes to make up stories. I mean: some of this shit: her mother didn’t tell her this, she made that shit up.

And Jules has never been to Zaire. She talks about it like she has but she’s never even been to California. New York and here. That’s it. Pittsburgh on the way through, a couple years ago. I don’t care though—it’s a lot of work finding someone who will tell you fairytales after she’s fucked the shit out of you, on your way from bed to sleep. If you did find someone who told you true stories, they likely wouldn’t be able to screw worth shit. Or they probly wouldn’t be a good storyteller—true or not. I just fall asleep listening to her tell me whatever she wants to tell me, working out some stories in her mind, making nonsense up, telling me her dreams. If it’s her voice she could be telling me to "fuck off back to hell" over and over and over and I would fall asleep just fine.

Of course it helps to be with someone who is ready for sex, any place, any time, and any way you want it, any way it pleases you.

It helps.

And it helps if you both like drugs—or both don’t. But in our case the former.

"Do you want to do those mushrooms now?"

I laugh.

That’s Jules: she’s waiting for an answer.

I’m grinning like: no.

"So. Do you want to?" she says.

"Do you want to?"

"Kind of. I’d kind of like to try."

"Have you ever done them before?"

She shakes her head like we’re discussing candy—and she’s three.

"Well now’s not the best time to try," I say.

"Why not."

"Don’t you have a show tomorrow?"

"I have a show tomorrow at noon," she says. "Call is noon."

"Well," I say. "I mean it’s kinda late."

It’s 11:38.

"I mean. If you take them now..then..that’s like six in the morning you’re gonna stop tripping. Or eight."

"Right," she says, "Then I’ll do my show."

I’m all about taking mushrooms with Jules but I’m not too thrilled about impacting the theatre quality in Dayton. It’s already kinda low.

But that’s her life. And she’s a really good actor. I bet it’ll improve her performance. My job interview at Mead I was coming down off mushrooms and I totally got the job.

"Are you sure you want to do this?"

(Mm hmm: shaking her head up and down like a two-year-old.)

O-k. Too much and she’ll be in outer-space, forgetting about her body, thinking giant caterpillars are eating her brain. Too little and she’ll just have some light hallucinations and laugh a lot. She already laughs a lot.

Jules dry-swallows her mushrooms, after only a couple chews.

"Can you hand me that?"

"Pussy," she says, and she hands me my water.

No need to make this any harder than it has to be.

You can’t really write about a mushroom trip—or an acid trip for that matter—you’d end up with Alice’ in Wonderland. You also can’t write about dreams—because nobody gives a shit. You can write about what you learned on a mushroom trip, but then you end up with philosophy—à la Aldous Huxley. So bear with me.

Jules is looking at my painting. She’s developing a relationship with it. That’s what you do on mushrooms. You think you have a relationship with something—that isn’t there.

"Come see this," she says.

I can already see it. The forms are changing slightly. I’ve seen it before.

"I think you have some late color in this one." She says this. Late color. As if colors could be late or early? Who ever heard of such a thing? (Starting to sound like Alice?) It goes deeper. "You have some crashable hues," she says. As in: hues..that can crash. Have you ever thought of hues crashing before? Blending, maybe, or hues on a continuum. "This one needs a nap," she says, "before it’s ready. It’s in preparation. It’s still learning." She shakes her head. The painting disgusts her—if anything could right now. She’s not judging it but she can’t look. I can’t look. Not anymore. The crashing and learning and hue-ness of it all is..just..not..lookable at the moment. She drags me to the next.

"This one is middling. Middling shrift and whereabouts. Do you know the play I’m talking about?"

I shake my head yes.

"Torrents of—no. Terrible..nasalnifty—do you have nose spray?"

I move my face in a circle.

"That’s—because I might need some that’s—not an expression. This." She moves my head with her hand, in the exact motion that I made with it, the circle. "Toddlers trying on..tassels might have painted this more clearly because in a minute I might need some—no—it’s clearing up. Ix-nay on the ’ose n’spray."

I’m smiling.

"Do you know that I need you?" Jules asks me, as we’re descending into mushroom-land (hilarity is listed as one of the effects). Side or primary, I’m not sure. "Do you need that I know you?" Oh! That makes sense! How terribly strange (said Alice, to some creature larger than a house, who would normally fit on your fingernail); how terribly, terribly wonderful and strange that one should mix the words and letters around in such haphazard ways—and that such constructions would continue to mean what I originally meant to mean! (Terrible, wonderful, strange.)

"But do you?" she’d say.

"Do you what?"

"Do you..oh..my. What do..you do?" That pause right there would have taken about eight seconds, Normal Conscious Time. Between "do" and "you": "What do.................................you do?"

And the reply would be: "You do."

Then for a while you might think about the construction: "You do you." Which would be followed by infinite thoughts about "Do you do?" This is how mushrooms work. Read those final Aldous Huxley words. You get at a way of thinking—it really is a philosophy—about what a thing is. You make thoughts wherein, finally, the isness of a thing makes sense.

Because there is an elephantness to an elephant.

And a treeness to a tree.

And so on.

It doesn’t make any sense to explain mushroom consciousness or LSD consciousness or Aldous Huxley consciousness to someone who’s not on mushrooms or LSD..or who isn’t Aldous Huxley. It also doesn’t make sense to explain normal consciousness to someone who isn’t on normal consciousness. If you’ve switched consciousnesses you know exactly what I’m saying. If not: it’s like this: when you buy something in present-day American culture, you don’t just give it away unless you think you’re getting something in return. When you make a painting, nowdays, you sell it. You hang it on your wall. You give it to someone you love. You don’t give it to someone you may never see again, who you hardly know.

You’d have to explain that to someone on mushroom consciousness.

Someone on mushroom consciousness might decide to give away all their paintings, the next day, after Jules had left for her show. To people he hardly knew. That he might never see again. Someone might decide to do that.

Someone on mushroom consciousness might instead of doing her lines, do someone else’s lines, in the play. Not lines she made up. Someone else’s lines: another character. She might see how they respond. The play might be better because of it.

I mean it might actually be better, from the audience’s point of view. You might not get yelled at, by anyone, because the director liked it better too. You might get the job you were applying for, because you could feel what the interviewer was saying next. You might do that, if you were coming off of drugs.

Or you might think you could invent your own types of speed, and shoot some mix you concocted, then go kill both your parents in their sleep, with superhuman powers that left you the next day. That might happen, too.

Or you might run, and run, and run with wind in your lungs looking down at your feet like they were dangling above the ground. You might feel free, freer than you’ve ever felt. You might.

None of these things happened to me and Jules. We went into the vortex. We saw those things Jules talked about. We were them. We were the sky and there were tentacles—connecting everything. We saw how people feed into each other—and all systems. There was an octopus tail, the suction of an octopus—many times—and they connected. There is a mouth, of each creature, where the outputs from the other creatures go. It’s one mouth and many tentacles. Each being has a mouth. The tentacles of all the octopus around it feed into that mouth. They output through the tentacles—they feed the mouth. Then that creature processes the information from the tentacles. It digests it. Then it outputs information through its tentacles. It’s output goes to the eight octopus around it, into their mouths..and each of their mouths..has input from eight other creatures. That’s how people are connected. That’s how all systems are connected. You see this on mushrooms. It is true in the world of normal consciousness—just harder to see. Ask an engineer. This is how computers are connected. This is how math systems are connected. This is how economies are made. Every mouth feeds from every arm and every arm feeds every mouth. That is even how babies are made. It is how inspiration happens: every mouth breathes into every mouth and into every lung. Every lung fuels every mouth..to breathe..into every lung. That is why nature as a whole, doesn’t get tired, even though people get tired: because in nature, every lung is not trying to breathe the same air at the same time. One is always resting. One is always working. Then they switch. The one who is rested helps the one who is tired. That way, every one does not have to be inspired at the same time. One is resting. One is working. One is empty. One is full. They are not trying to be everything at the same time. They are being one thing—at one time. This is why things go terribly, terribly wrong in normal consciousness. Because in normal consciousness there is always one thing that wants to be every thing at one time. That one thing gets tired—it is trying to do something it cannot do. Then it wears out, and it breaks, in disastrous style.

When we went through the vortex, in our dream, in our mushroom dream, we saw that it was not a gravitational pull at all. It looks like a gravitational pull, from earth, because once you’ve been there, you never come out. That’s how we think of it. Actually (we discovered on our mushroom mind) it is this:

You’re in outer space. We are, me and Jules. This is where we started. We can see the earth. We are gods. We don’t think of ourselves as gods (only humans think of gods as gods, with all those connotations)—we think of ourselves as ourselves. Jules and Matt. We’re us, the same people, but in outer space. We’re looking at the earth. We decide to go there. We think there is something for us to do. Not like Jesus—not like we think of Jesus anyway. All these prophets, it’s like we think they came here primarily to help us. Fuck that. They came here for their own purposes. We only think of them as being sent to help us, because we perceive ourselves as needing help—and them having done so. That’s one paradigm. That’s not how they saw it. They didn’t come to help—they were on their own journey. Jules and I see ourselves like this. We’re in space. We’re us—we’re not "gods", like we think of gods—we’re just us in outer space. We decide to go to earth, because we think we have something to learn. We decide that we need to have a human journey—that we, as gods, need to go down there and learn something. So we separate ourselves, and we make ourselves forget. We have to! If we go down as gods, with memory of this place, up here—of this point of view—then what will we be able to learn down there? We’re not going down there to learn something we already know about down there..from up here! That wouldn’t make any sense! We need to forget what we know about down there (from up here) so that we can learn something new..something we wouldn’t have been able to see..from up here.

Does this make any sense? I’m sure it doesn’t—just like when people try to explain their dreams. It’s a ridiculous endeavor, but really—do you have anything better to do?

So we go to earth, and we make ourselves forget everything we know about up there, and we get born into our bodies again—Jules in New York, me in Dayton—and we live our lives—these lives. We forgot we knew each other before, so we have to go all through the process of meeting each other again. We have to grow up, become able to fall in love, each develop a lack of love and then a desire to fill that gap..and then we have to wait around until me and my downslope of a girlfriend Ashley decide to concoct a wild party to re-kindle our relationship and then MJ, Zombie, and Brooklyn decide to bring along their eccentric sketch comedy instructor because they’re interminably stuck in a Level 2 class when they think they should really be in a Level 4.

Is that really what happened? I don’t know. Maybe they really did like Jules, and genuinely wanted to bring her along. Maybe MJ’s car was in the shop and Jules agreed to come along as long as someone else would drive. I don’t know.

Everything else doesn’t matter. Everything else is just us taking pictures of each other while we were on the toilet—Jules’s underwear around her feet—and us stepping out naked onto the roof and asking ourselves if we jumped..if we jumped to the next roof, would we make it.

When it wears off, it’s just you putting things away. This shouldn’t be here. —No. "Why do we have all the chapsticks out?" Because we were comparing them, remember! Oh. Yeah. Well they’re boring now. I’m putting them away. "Good thing we didn’t try to jump that roof!" Yeah. Good thing.

"You want me to drive you?"

"No" —she’s stretching— "I think I’ll walk."

"I’ll walk you."

That time I left the door unlocked.

Dayton, Saturday, ten a.m. Almost eleven. Jules and I walk down Main Street. At 3rd Street I remember that Jules is black, and I am white, because that is the bus station controlled by black punk teenagers who hate me for being with one they think they own..and hate her even more for denying what they think is a central part of their identity. In private, if there weren’t any police around, they’d hurt me. But they’d hurt Jules even more. And in private, they hurt themselves the most, for thinking that who they are is someone who has pride enough to never be with a white person. Fuck that. I hate fucking racists. I don’t give a fuck what color you are: it’s all the same. That’s 3rd and Main.

A block past that it’s more mixed, you still get stares though. This time it’s from the white hostess who seats us at Uno’s. I swear, Dayton is one of the most racist places I know. When our server comes by, I swear to god, if she gives Jules one look I’m going to ask to be re-seated.

"Can you give us that table in the corner?"

All the booths are labeled. One says "For Aristocrats". The circle booth in the corner says "For Lovers".

"That one?" She stops walking and points, with our menus, to the corner booth.

"Yes, please." I say it in the nicest tone.

So she walks us all the way to the back and Jules is holding my wrist, smiling. Stay calm, dear.

"Is this table gonna be alright?" She says it with what would now seem to me a southern accent.

I’m thinking: This is the table we requested, bitch.

But Jules says: "This is fine," and she takes the menus from the woman’s hand.

"It’s too bright in here," I’m saying.

"You’re cranky," Jules says, and she blows out our candle.

"It just seems too ridiculous to me, that she would be like that."

"It’s normal," Jules says.

"It’s still too bright in here. I’m gonna go ask them if they can turn off the lights—"

"Sit, down." Jules has my wrist again. She’s giggling. She gets up on her knees and leans into the booth next to us (which is empty) and she blows out the candle there.

"It’s still too dark," I say.

"You mean bright," she says, and then Jules blows out the candle in the other booth, the one behind me—without even moving! She throws her breath. It must have been ten feet, from where she blew out this candle.

None of this changes the lighting one bit, but I swear, I wasn’t tripping—she blew this candle out from like ten feet away.

When our server got there she was perfectly nice. She was younger, not a racist. She deferred to Jules and didn’t flirt with me and she wasn’t even too mad when all we ordered was two waters.

And I threw in a clam chowder. But neither of us touched it.

"You’re not going to eat any more without me?" Jules meant the mushrooms.

"No," I say. "I’m going to sleep, if I can."

"Ok," she says.

But after her show I just went home and watched movies. I couldn’t sleep. I was starting The Matrix for the third time when she got back. And she was tired, then, and it rubbed off on me, because we both got a half-an-hour nap before I walked her back for her evening show. This time when we walked by 3rd and Main, it was worse, and I was less trippy, and I knew that we were in real danger. These people didn’t just want to talk shit—they wanted to start shit. There were only so many times you could walk past that block without getting hit.

I waited at Uno’s, all through her show, at the bar. I drank slowly, but I drank. I had upgraded from wine to long islands by the time Jules came to find me.

"Let’s take a cab home."

"Honey, you live five blocks away." Jules checks my cash to make sure I left the bartender enough. The two of them are in charge now. They’ve co-opted, taken over.

But I make us take a cab.

We have to wait almost an hour for it.

Jules thinks I’m crazy—and she’s right, I fucking am.

But we take the cab anyway.

When we get home I bathe her. I take the soap. I take her scrunchy sponge and I wipe every part of her body. I dry her when we get out of the shower. I put her robe on, and I put her under the covers. I light candles in the windows and turn off everything but the kitchen light. I put my hand on her butt, over the comforter, and I put my other hand on her head.

She goes right to sleep.

I go to the kitchen. I make sure my mushrooms are packed away, all the cans sealed, no sticky honey residue anywhere on any of the cabinets (I hate sticky). I think about this trash can that’s in the alley behind the house this apartment is in, and I think about throwing away all my mushrooms: dismantling them, throwing away the honey in separate trash cans and disguising the mushrooms somewhere else..maybe just throwing them in someone’s yard. They’ll decompose fast enough without the honey. But I don’t do that. I check on Jules (asleep) and I make myself an Absolut Citron and OJ and I sit on the kitchen counter and play with magnetic poetry and wait for myself to get tired.

"Haven’t seen you in a while." That’s Ash. She’s standing behind me at my desk.

I don’t turn around. I say: "Hm."

"Are you ok," she says, "everybody’s worried about you."

I don’t respond. I wanna know who the fuck is everybody.

I spend the morning looking at the pixels on my monitor. I’m not a big fan of computers when I’m on mushrooms—they’re hard to understand. As in: it’s hard to understand why people use them. I’m at this desk all day, year after year, made of many months, and many many days..of just staring at this screen. Is there anything really going on in there? I mean think of a single letter on your screen: think of the pixels that make it up. That’s what you’re looking at. Why? I know I’m here to do something, I just don’t know what it is. And I don’t have much confidence that anything I find, to do, is gonna do much in the way of deep satisfaction. Even if I move. What am I gonna do? Get another job? Won’t it be the same? I paint, here, I have my warehouse. I like getting high and I like my friends. Maybe I’m never going to be Basquiat—maybe I’m just a computer programmer. Maybe I haven’t had it hard enough to be Basquiat. Maybe things have been too easy for me. Maybe the world only needs so many Basquiats, to kill, for fun, and maybe the rest of us get off average and easy.

I have one window up, over there—that’s my left screen. I ssh around a little, then switch to a test account, then attach to a disconnected session we use for monitoring. From there I log in to production and do a c; tail -f | grep -i gkhddwn acheron_log.1311157784.

That’s gonna look for all the instances of gkhddwn or GKHDDWN in the file called acheron_log that was created this morning at 1311157784 (which is a time—that’s like 5:29 this morning, and 44 seconds, once you convert it all out). That file is still being written to, which means that instance of the Mead Research application has been running for like five hours.

Now in my other window, screen right, I log in through my web browser and load the news research tool. I log in with the ghost account that Ashley gave me, months ago. I wanna make sure it’s still a ghost account, that no one’s reading over my shoulder while I type. I do a test search for "Basquiat". I get a bunch of articles. I check screen left: there’s nothing. The window is blank. I control-c. Restart my tail. Do some more test searches. In the right window I get data back, but in the left window, nothing. It’s really a ghost account. No one’s seeing what I’m looking for. The most they could know is that I used a ghost account from my desk. After that, there’s no record. I don’t have access to the accounts database, which is why I have to check it this way. But after verifying that this is still a ghost account, I do know that the system isn’t storing any information about what I’m doing—I know this because I wrote the system.

Most people when they use ghost accounts are using them to steal social security numbers or look at porn at work. I just want to read everything I can on Basquiat. But even though everyone can look right over my shoulder and see exactly what I’m doing, I prefer there not be any official record that I’m doing it.

"So how you been?" Ash just comes right up to me in the cafeteria and sits down on my table. She’s gained weight.

"How did you find me here?"

She points. "I’m eating lunch. Right over there."

I look across the sea of tables. The place is just packed. I never eat in here. I have machine cards laid on the table, and I’m playing a handheld, emulating Super Mario. I undo my other earbud.

"So how’s it goin’?" I say this sing-songy, and without meaning it. "Are you back together with Tim?"


I shrug.

"I don’t believe you just said that to me."

Ash always gains weight when she and Tim are together. I think it’s because he’s a safe bet—he won’t leave her even if she gets fat.

I don’t say anything. I just look at her.

"How is Jules?"

"I don’t want to talk about Jules with you."

"I saw her at the gym."

"You did? When did you start going to the—I didn’t mean it that way, I didn’t mean it that way. What—fucking—you go to the YMCA?"


"So you saw Jules, that’s great. Did you two..talk?"

"We ran next to each other on the treadmill." Ash makes this funny hand movement. "Side-by-side. Two treadmills. One next to the other."

"I get it," I say.

"There’s something else," Ash says.

"What." I think she’s gonna tell me that her and Jules got into some shit, or Jules tried to read her palm or something, or Ash said something catty and now she was going to try to present it to me like Jules was the one who messed up.

"My dog attacked someone," she says.

"When did you get a dog?"

"Like. Three months ago. Yeah. About three months. Maybe two."

"And he attacked someone?—wait—what kind of dog did you get?"

"A corgi. I named him Beethoven."

I can’t stop laughing. She’s shitting me! "You got a corgi..and he attacked someone!"

"Why is that funny." she says.

"Because—" I start. But I can’t. A corgi!!? "What did he do to the..person?"

"I think you need to get some help," she says.

"I’ll consider it," I say, on the back half of a laugh. I’m gulping air because I love fucking corgis. "When the fuck did you get a corgi?" I say. I put my hand on her thigh and use the other one to rest my chin.

She takes my hand off her thigh. "I got him three months ago. I just told you that. Do you remember?"

"Yeah I remember. I’m just fucking with you. Why did you get a—" Then I stop, and we’re looking at each other, and we both know exactly why she got it.

"So when did you get this little guy? He’s cute! Come ’ere, buddy, yeah, oh, you’re a nice nice little man, I don’t think you could hurt anybody."

"He won’t hurt you," Ash says. "He likes you."

"Well yeah..what’s not to like..oh..there..little buddy..yeah." I’m lying down in Ashley’s yard and this corgi named Beethoven is licking my ear.

"Don’t let him do that," she says. "The behavioralist says—"

"Why not? He seems to like it!"

"He likes earwax," Ashley says, not-pleased.

"You couldn’t bite someone, could you?" I say, grabbing him by the pits and pulling him on top of me. "No. No you couldn’t."

"You better not let Jules smell him on you, if she smells another—"

"Jesus, Ash, what a cunt thing to say."

"I didn’t say it. You didn’t let me finish."

"I thought you said his name was Beethoven!"

"It is."

I’m turning the dog around, looking for genitals. There’s nothing obvious. "Ashley! This dog is a fucking girl!"

"I know," she says, "But I like to call him Beethoven."

"Well at least you’re a freak," I say, rubbing my face and the dog’s face together. "You’re just like your mother." The dog is panting, looking sideways, letting me do whatever I want to her. "This dog wouldn’t hurt a fly," I say.

But Ash says: "You wanna see pictures?"

She shows me the pictures she and the guy—the attackee—took after Beethoven chomped into the guy’s ankle. It’s pretty gnarly. "This is the first one," Ash says. "Right after."

"Do you know this guy?"

"No. He just moved in, I guess. That’s the only time I’ve seen him. She only attacks people when it’s dark."

"You mean he. What do you mean people? Holy shit Ash, you’re gonna have to put that dog down."

She sets the camera in her lap and leans back on the couch. She looks over at Beethoven. He’s sleeping by a gas fireplace. It’s four in the afternoon. I’m actually feeling hungry again.

"So when did you and Jules start doing mushrooms?"

I’m looking at her like whaaat?

"I can tell by your texts," she says.

Ashley and I have done mushrooms together.

"I don’t care," she says, "I just wanna make sure you’re ok."

"What about her? Don’t you want to make sure she’s ok? That I’m not leading her down the dark path?"

"I don’t care about Jules," she says.

And I believe that.

"Jules isn’t my friend," she says. "You are." She gets up from the couch and kicks the dog, gently. "I’m not gonna have to put you to sleep, am I?" Then she asks me if I want wine, and against my better judgement, I say yes.

She turns out the lights.

"It’s not sex," she says. "We’re just two friends."

She turned out the lights but I didn’t get up. I didn’t get up and leave.

"We’re not fucking. Are we?"

(No, not at this exact minute.)

"We don’t have to do anything we don’t want to do."

(It sounds like a line I would use to take a girl home from a bar.) I’ve heard that speech before: Just come home with me. We’ll watch TV. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. And then the minute you’re through the door she’s taking her clothes off. Once you get home, with someone you just met, the important thing to do is fuck as soon as possible. You can’t survive awkward moments at that phase. With an Ashley, it’s this strange inversion, a wholly different kind of talking yourself into fucking someone.

"I’m not doing anything," Ash is saying, as she unzips me.

"I’m not doing anything," I think, as my hand finally does go for her tit.

It’s sick the way I do it, I twist it like I’m opening a small tube. Or twisting together wires, making a bomb. I twist it and I want it to hurt. Her face moans. Then it’s just Beethoven whining in the hallway, after I close him out of Ashley’s bedroom, and when I’m walking back to the bed she’s writhing on it, and she’s not that fat, she’s just got a little thickness and she spreads her legs and sticks her finger inside her. When I fucked that shit I fucked that shit hard.

She has this ceiling fan that was blowing on my back. I was cold. Fucking her. My back was shivering. And I got myself up inside her and I just got it, I got it, I took. It’s smooth, like honey, when I cum inside that girl. When I grab her hair. It’s like tongue:honey::dick:that..it’s that smooth, fucking, biting the back of her neck, pushing her up the bed. Shivering. And sweat—cold—on my shoulders. She has the air conditioning turned way up for August. Ass cold, dick hot. Even her ears are freezing. There’s only one part of us that’s hot, and that’s the only part we care about. I’m grabbing her cheeks and pulling her toward me and when I’m done I don’t lie down, I don’t get dressed I just open that door and go downstairs and hit the thermostat up to like eighty and I go to the kitchen and my dick is still hard and I get a beer and I drink it even though I hate beer. I chug it. And Ashley’s coming downstairs with her hair messed and scratches on her skin, bruises forming, as I’m hitting around in her refrigerator, looking for stuff, making a sandwich, got the ice cream out of the top and throwing a wine key across the counter.

Chad shows up. This is my place. He’s got a trash bag over his shoulder. When I open the door I see he has another one at his feet.

"Sorry about this," he says, but I let him in, take his bags, and then we go for coffee down the street. I order both our drinks, then go to the table.

"Fix it up," I say. "I know you like sugar and creamer I just didn’t want to fuck up your drink."

He’s got this pathetic look in his face.

"Would you please fix your fucking coffee?" I smile. "Nothing’s permanent. Someday it’ll be me asking you."

He fixes his coffee. It’s just like those guys at the end of Titanic. If the ship’s going down, you’re stupid not to enjoy your last few minutes.

Chad stayed with me for three weeks. Nineteen days to be exact. Of those nineteen days, I spent three with Ashley, and most of the rest with Jules. Jules hated me being at her place because she hated being at her place. The nights I spent with Ashley, I told Jules I was at my place with Chad and I told Chad to pretend like we were away if Jules came by. Jules didn’t come by. She was happy to sit at her place destroying herself.

The House of Transformation fell apart. It wasn’t even Chad’s house. He was just sleeping in the basement and the upstairs housemate paid all the rent. That’s what I gather. Chad said he worked day labor for a while. What happened exactly I don’t know, but Chad is kind of a user when it comes to sex. He’s attractive..but..for him it’s like everything is about sex. The upstairs housemate had this Palestinian boyfriend, who was here seeking asylum. I’m pretty sure Chad slept with him.

"You and me are not sleeping together."

"I know that," Chad says.

"I’m—seriously. My situation is complex enough as it is."

He puts his hand on my shoulder. "I’m here to listen."

"No thank you." I take his hand off. "You can sleep..in here. Be careful with the couch," I say. It’s my antique French one, the one Jules likes to fuck, cause it has those little nubbins on the top? "It’s delicate," I say. "See this wickering? You know—just don’t stick your feet through it by accident."

"I’ll sleep on the floor." (I have a bunch of floor pillows.)

"Dude. Make yourself comfortable. Just don’t—just make yourself comfortable."

That night I bought Chad a $100 dinner. $100 for each of us. And a $100 tip. Fuck it. That thing with the Titanic, right?

Staying with Jules was an education. The signs were all around me, all along, but you see what you want to see.

To start with, I was always hungry when we finished eating. We would eat like yogurt and some granola, and then some kind of yogic tea she was mixing..cleansing..calming..centering..I don’t know. All I know is I was hungry. I couldn’t focus on sex, I couldn’t focus on her, I got angry when her older male theatre role models emailed her. They wanted to sleep with her. There’s no question. She read me one of the emails and I know that speech. That’s the speech of an older man who wants to fuck a young woman because he’s lost his fucking spark. I’m not condemning it but I am condemning it when it’s my girlfriend. You don’t want to sound jealous, though, so I played the supportive partner.

"It sounds kind of manipulative to me, Jules."

She’d look at me for signs of jealousy.

I’d plain-face, making sure I looked absolutely relaxed. "It sounds like he’s trying to make you feel bad. You’ve said to me that you feel guilty. What do you have to feel guilty about? If I make you feel guilty—say for reading email from guy theatre friends—if I was trying to make you feel guilty for having friends or emailing them..I hope you wouldn’t take that, from me."

She’d agree, and swear not to answer email from him again and I’d tell her she didn’t need to do that for my sake and she’d hug me and say oh, no, no honey, it’s for us and I like it when you tell me what to do and when you protect me. Which is all well and good except sometimes some of the protecting has to be done by yourself. She kept emailing him, even after she said she wouldn’t. I could tell by her mood after she was done on the computer. She wasn’t focused on me, I wasn’t focused on her, meditation was bullshit and—



"Let’s get some food. Come out with me. I’ll bring you something back. You want burgers? Ok: Thai. No Thai? Well whadda you want, sushi? I’ll get us sushi. What’s wrong baby? Nothing? Oh. Ok. I’m sorry you don’t feel well. There’s no pressure from me. It’s your body. I don’t know. I’m not keeping track of what you eat! No. Jules, no! I’m not saying that. I’m not saying anything. I was just asking if you needed anything. No I don’t. I’m fine. I’m fine." Then I’d mentally recount the contents of her refrigerator, as I remembered it, as best I could, from the last time she’d opened it. Yogurt. Plain yogurt. What else? Was there juice? Soy sauce. And a bag of rice, in the cabinet. I couldn’t even remember there being any juice.

Chad would be lounging in the bathtub with the door open when I got home from work.


"I’m sorry." He’d get out of the bathtub, full-frontal, dripping on the carpet, and shut the door.

I usually had a shot of Absolut Citron when I got home from work those days. Then I’d sit on my porch and look at the neighbor girl (she was the girlfriend of a band) and I’d wish my life was hers, or the band’s, or something else. I should have been a rockstar. I have too much personality to be a programmer.

"Hey Rach."


Of course she doesn’t know my name. Of course she doesn’t. Why would she? I’m just some bum with a day job. Then Chad would come out in his towel and the three of us would talk, and that would ruin it for me.

Chad would have his dick out when I would come home. Not jerking off. Not hard. But laying there, on my French couch, with his dick out. Like sticking through the hole in his boxers.

"What are you fucking airing it out?"

"Oh, sorry." He’d put it back in.

I’d try to think of something else to say—but what do you say to that?

Chad got the picture. "I’m looking for a job. I might start tomorrow. Or Monday—Tuesday. It’s roofing."

"You’ll fit right in."

"What do you mean by that?"

"I mean you have the mouth for it. Have you ever done fucking roofing?"

Chad says nothing.

"I just mean you have the mouth for it. Have you ever been around fucking roofers?"

"So I might start on Monday," he says.

"I’m sorry, Chad." Then I’d make him a Citron. It was a real lovely partnership.

You probly think I’m a horrible person, that I hated Chad. I don’t care what you think. It’s just hard to live with someone when you weren’t expecting to. It’s also hard to live with someone who has their dick out when you come home. That shit is weird. Catching someone masturbate is one thing—that I can understand. But someone who sits around not naked with their dick chilling out through the fly of their shorts? On my French couch.

Chad had a weird childhood though. His brother and sister are fucking. I mean they live together. They told their parents about it and everything. They’re not technically married (obviously) but that’s how they live. Chad’s really embarrassed about it. It was probly six months into knowing him before he finally told me. Their parents hate it, it’s this huge thing that nobody talks about. They can’t do anything. I mean the whole family cannot do anything, because they’re the family (to themselves and to others, they’re the family) who has this incest thing going on. And that’s all anyone can think about.

They’re stuck, right there, at brother-sister fucking and they can’t resolve it and they can’t accept it and they can’t, do, anything, else, because of it. It fucked the whole family.

You have to think, though, that if Chad is so embarrassed about it, that maybe there was some weird sex stuff that involved him, too—and those kinds of stories don’t get told to you after six months of knowing someone. They might get told..after ten years..if you’re drinking.

I’m not gonna judge Chad. I think he knows that. I’m not gonna pressure him to tell his stories, either.

"Jules, hi."

"Where are you?" She’s whispering again.

"I’m at home. What is going on with you, Jules?"

"What is going on with you," she says. "Are you doing acid again?"

"No. Are you doing something I don’t know about?"

"What do you mean?" (Still whispering.)

"Have you eaten today?"

"Matthew, what are you saying?"

"I’m saying, that like me, you tend to focus on your work, on your projects, and sometimes you forget—"

"What projects," she says, like it was an accusation.

"Your work. Your play," I say. Holy hell.

"Are you coming over tonight?"

I want to ask her why she’s whispering but I’m not that masochistic. Chad is on the couch, dick in, eating a Ho Ho. He’s licking the cream out of the inside and I can see the black buildup between his teeth.

"Are you coming over?" It’s a gravelly voice, just above the whisper.

I hate my life.

I tell her I have to work in the morning.

I wish I had never met either of these people, in a way. I wish I was just sitting at a desk somewhere with my brain ate out.

Next morning I come out of my room Chad has Penelope sitting on top of him. There’s no covers. I can see everything.

"Good morning Penna-lohpe." I smile. It’s been a while.

She scratches her belly. "Morning."

And she and Chad are riding each other.

I take a shower.

That was an interesting development.

Penelope is sucking Chad’s dick when I come out and what I notice is his tattoo. Chad gives me the bro nod and Penelope’s back is to me. I go to the kitchen. My magnetic poetry is up there, and I can see the two of them have been playing with it. Some of the things that are written are nothing that Jules or I would write. Too vulgar. I have a food set, and someone has rhymed "tahini" with "zucchini". It expresses a loose converse, or counterpart, to what they’re doing right now: I Lie Plump Subject To Your Zucchini As You Devour My Liquid Edible Tahini.

Chad told me about that tattoo, about a year into knowing him. It says "PRIDE" and it’s a reminder to him that that’s his worst sin, the thing he has to be most careful about. His weakness.

You should always know your seventh deadly sin. Mine used to be gluttony. It’s the sin, of the seven deadly ones, that you’re most susceptible to at the time. Later on, after it was gluttony, I switched to wrath. Now mine is pride, above all others, so I think of Chad.

He said one night he went to the top of a cell tower—he had been drinking. He climbed the ladder. He stood at the top. He wanted to kill himself—for various reasons. He said he’s glad he didn’t, but he was this close. The next day he got that tattoo. It was pride that got him to the top of that tower, and he didn’t ever want to go there again. So yeah, Chad can stay at my apartment any day.

"Jules. Open up."

Sound of scrummaging, knocking things over. Footsteps.

I just wait.

"I hurt my foot," she says. She opens the door and is immediately facing the other way, going back into the apartment, holding her foot.

She’s in the bathroom. She tells me she’s bandaging it.

I can hear her throwing up.

"I’ll just be a minute," she says, every so often.

Then I hear puking.

I check the refrigerator. There’s nothing in here. Soy sauce. Lite mayonnaise. She’s eaten all her rice. There’s just Yogi Tea totally having stained the inside of her one mug. You can see the layers of rings where it’s been used since the last washing.

When she comes out she’s perfectly poised. That posture. She looks fine, and I have trouble remembering anything except I want to be with her, with that body, with that mind.

"You alright?"

"I’m sick," she says. "I haven’t been feeling well." That’s always what she told me.

I honestly felt ashamed. That I hadn’t seen it sooner. What kind of boyfriend doesn’t know this about the person he’s with? It makes me feel like all those stereotypes are true: that men only want one thing, they’ll do anything to get it, they don’t care about anything but that. It blinds us. Etc. Except everything about Jules was blinding.

"Sleep here," she says.

Yeah. No kidding. I was going to do that anyway.

Hold you in my arms. Hold you here. Never let you leave. Tell me your stories. Tell me about times you checked yourself into the hospital. Tell me about the year you took off from everything, when you went to some spiritual camp for depressed people that your parents paid for, and when you came back everyone at BlackBox thought you’d changed. You’re not going anywhere. Not on this night. Chad and Penelope can fuck all they want on my French couch, they can break the thing in half. I’ll do nothing to you tonight—I don’t fuck when you’re depressed. I don’t fuck when you’re down. That’s for grown-up people who are healthy and are having fun. Don’t kiss me tonight—not like that. Tonight you are my charge, and I am a wall. Tonight I am a dragon—not against the princess—but to watch her from herself. To wrap around you, to squeeze the sadness out of you, till it’s dripping, on the floor. To listen to your stories, as I have listened to Chad’s, and as you, my reader, now listen to mine. You are not going anywhere. You are not leaving this bed. Jules, my Jules, who held me, I will never let you go. With respect, I’m not letting you go in that bathroom alone, again, to stick fingers down your throat, to squeeze your stomach out of you and bleed your eyes. I can feel the surface of your teeth, the roughness, where you’ve worn the enamel away. Your stomach—yes, it’s amazing! It’s flat! Don’t you ever do that to yourself again. This isn’t just your Jules! You’ve lent her to me! You’ve let me hold her long enough that I’ve fallen in love! You’ve become part of me and parts of me are taken with you! If you kill you, if you hurt you, you are taking me with you, into your vortex! You are sucking me down with you, into your spiral hole..you have taken me.. And taken me to a place where I never come back. Do you see that, Jules? Do you see? What you’ve done to me. You’ve sewn us together, written the lines of you and me interleaving, there is no you spoke without me being spoken too. I cannot speak my name..my friends cannot speak my name..without your name being spoken too. There’s no walking away. If you tried, it would kill you. I don’t know how it is for you. But if I tried, Jules, if I tried..it would kill me. I can’t unwrite you from my life, there’s no revision history. There’s no past anymore. It’s not like there was a me before you, that I can go back to, before we ever met. It’s like..the me I was..when I was a little kid..before I ever saw your face..knew that we would be together. Knew that I would find you. Was never afraid. So you can’t write yourself like this. You cannot write yourself away. There was never a you without me and never a me before we met. You can’t play it like this. You can’t spin me out to nothingness while you let yourself die. And that’s what happens to people who do not eat. And I know you know that. Because that’s exactly what you’re trying to do.

Those are nights when I let the phone ring. When the only person I want to text is right here. When I don’t really give a fuck if Ashley’s neighbor is suing her over a scratch from a dog. I don’t care about her neighbor, I don’t care about the dog, I don’t care if Ashley loses her house because of damages. It’s not my problem. Chad and Penelope can sell my furniture if they want to. And work—work—who cares.

I’ll hold you in my arms until you make me go. When you make me go away, I’ll stand outside your door. You can burn down your motherfuckin’ house, Jules—and it seems you’re trying to—I’ll still be here. I’ll hold your head in my arms, and I’ll kiss your ear. I’ll have you on my lips, I’ll smell you, I’ll know your taste, I’ll hear you, I’ll feel your voice..I’ll do all these things, and more..because we’re cut from the same stuff, Jules. We were forged in the same shop. We were born of the same fire. And I’ll never leave you. Even when there’s nothing left but ashes.

Jules cleaned my entire place from top to bottom when Chad left. She wouldn’t let me do anything. I sat on the couch while she cleaned. And she occasionally brought me iced tea. I told her she could clean my place if she would let me take her to dinner after. She agreed with an "mm hmm" but she never actually said "Yes."

She cleaned my counters with a toothbrush. Sink: inside and out. I mean the bottom of the sink, inside the cabinets. She borrowed a vacuum cleaner from my downstairs neighbor—the one who’s always giving me dirty looks after Jules has been screaming while she comes? Jules sweet-talked her. I wasn’t allowed to leave the couch.

"Juliet, when do you think you’re gonna be done?" This is around seven o’clock.

"I don’t know, sir; are we in a hurry?"

"It’s no rush. I just want to call ahead."

It was ten o’clock before we left the house. I dressed nice. Jules wore club clothes. She was undressing me, coming across the table, getting out of her seat, untucking my shirt, feeding me breadsticks, kneeling beside me. It was kind of a nice restaurant. It’s a pizza place—but it’s kind of gourmet. It’s one of the nicer places to eat in Dayton. Our server’s name is Keegan.

Keegan comes up behind Jules, and looks over her to ask me what we’d like to eat.

"We’re gonna have two of the seared tuna fillet."

Jules shakes her head and makes the "1" sign with her finger.

"And..we’ll just split a Caesar salad with..no anchovies."

Jules is tugging on my pant leg.

I bend down to her and she whispers in my ear.

"Actually. We’ll have anchovies."

"And would the lady like anything to drink? Or yourself?"

"Tonight..no." I’m looking at Jules, in my red club pants, cross-legged on the floor of Pacchia, rubbing her head on my leg. "I think we’re good."

"Excellent. Your salad will be right out." Keegan takes the menu from my hand and Jules’s from the table in front of her seat, the one she’s not sitting in.

Jules does eat a good bit of her tuna fillet, and watching what can only be her genuine enjoyment at its taste, I’m wondering if the thing’s got inflated in my mind. There’s her fork. There’s her mouth. The food is going in it. She’s not overly skinny—I mean she’s thin—but she’s not unhealthy-looking to me.

"It’s great, baby, thank you." She puts her foot between my legs.

We’re sat by the window, facing 5th Street, which means we’re the type of couple they think if other people see, will make more people come into the restaurant. People are walking by and they are definitely looking at us. I don’t know if it’s cause she’s black and I’m white, if it’s because she’s wearing club clothes and I’m mostly in a suit, or if we really do look good. Sometimes I focus too much on the problems. We’re in love, right?—if I’m worried about anything else, isn’t that a mistake?

There’s people banging on the window. At our table. Jules is waving at them. Brooklyn. And MJ. Where’s that murder doll? Where’s my lizard? There she is, bumming a cig off a homeless guy. That’s John the Baptist. We call him that cause that’s what he calls everybody. If you’re a guy, John the Baptist calls you John the Baptist. I think he’s on crack. MJ’s jumping up and down waving at Jules and Jules is up from the table before I know. She has her napkin with her—she tucks it inside a zipper pocket. I’m waving at MJ and Brooklyn makes a faux-kiss of the windowpane but neither of us actually touch the glass. I look around and decide to stay seated. I don’t want anyone to think we’re walking on our check.

Zombie has her cig from John the Baptist and she’s making her hellos to me through the glass, mouthing words, telling me Jules is hot, and I’m not sure if she’s happy for me or interested in Jules for her own purposes. Jules is outside. Then the four of them walk off. Just walk off, down 5th Street, and leave me sitting at the table.

John the Baptist sees me craning to follow them, and he looks at where they’re going, then back at me, and he shakes his head and grins. Then he goes back talking to himself and yelling at the cars pass and I stare at my tuna fillet, which is wonderful, but not what I want to be staring at right now.

I knock on the window. The other couples along the front look at me. I knock again. John the Baptist turns around. I shrug at him, asking. And he shrugs back at me.

I’m digging in my wallet, pulling out reminder cards, grocery store tracking devices, passwords written on the backs of paper menus. There’s a flattened paper crane in there. Some of Juliet’s hair and a note written in crayon that says "BE HERE NOW". The hair is taped to the note—what a signature. I hand Keegan my debit card and tell him I’m not leaving. Everyone at the tables around me is pretending not to look. That’s why I hate this town. Go out to dinner and they’d rather watch me than eat their food.

I’m in the next part of the restaurant, next door, you can walk right through and it’s a bar, same owner, and it looks out on 5th Street. Jules isn’t there. I could go outside but if she thinks I’m crowding her she’ll get extremely angry. There’s jazz playing. Do I walk through, to the coffeehouse that’s connected to this place, and see if I can see her through those windows? Perfect date. Just let her do her thing. I’m looking at the bar in the Jazz Room. There’s a seat at the end, right near the register. That’s usually where I like to sit—out of the way.

That’s where I am by the time Jules comes back. Me and Keegan have negotiated, kept the table for a while and then both given up on Jules returning, done our paperwork, and smiled pathetic sympathies at each other. Jules finds be at the bar.

"What are you doing?"

"What does it look like I’m doing?"

"I had to—I had to work out some things with them—they were—" Jules is eyeing my drink. It’s a girl drink—something with blue curacao.

"Do you want to sit down?" I say. I’m picking up my drink. There are open tables in the Jazz Room at this point.

"Let’s go home," Jules says.

"No, let’s sit down," I say. "I’m enjoying the music."

Actually I hate fusion jazz, which is most decidedly what this is. But I’m not exactly ready to go home right then. Jules sits beside me and can hardly keep her hands still.

"How was the fish?"

"You had some, remember?"

"How was the rest of yours. Baby.."

"It was fine. The rest of yours is in a box at the hostess stand. If you want it."


I drink my blue drink, and order another.

I try to force Jules to drink, but she won’t.

And I hate the patronizing look she’s giving me. If I want to get drunk, after that shit, then I deserve to get fucking drunk.

She goes to the bathroom four times while we’re sitting there.

When we get home she goes to the bathroom again. She locks the door. She’s there for eighteen minutes. I’m listening.

"Jules, are you ok?"

She’s not throwing up.

I knock. "Jules."

"What? Dammit." Then something bonks. "Aw, fuck."

I sit down on the couch. The living room is dark. The kitchen light is on. I can see light coming from the bottom of the bathroom door. And it’s all my paintings, in dim light. Me and all my paintings.

Jules comes out she’s half-dressed, taking off her shirt. She sits on top of me. We’re kissing. My hand is on her nipple and she’s unzipping my suit pants. "Jules." I can taste it on you. "Jules." I’m holding her head; looking at her mouth. I pull her close and lick her. She’s completely bombed out, her eyes are to the side. She’s gripping my pants like she’s gonna fall off. I’m feeling around in her left pocket—my right—but she opens the other one for me, the one on the other side. It’s in her chapstick—she’s got an Aveeno Active Naturals that’s hollowed out—there’s no chapstick in it. She opens it for me and says "Be careful" and she leans back and taps a little out between her breasts, and looks at me, like a shameful child, waiting to see what I’ll say.

Of course I want to be angry—part of me does want to play the parent. But that’s not our relationship. She is not my child. She has this look in her face like she wants to be punished—like there’s nothing more she wants than me to hate her, to never want to speak to her again—and the more time I’ve had to think about this, the more sure I am that that’s exactly what she wanted from me. But that’s just not what I wanted from her..or with her. That’s not who she was to me.

I pulled her forward and I let the coke run off her chest and with my right hand I went between her legs and I pushed those red club pants into her vulva and pressed. She unzipped herself, still not looking at me, and I took my hand and dug between her legs and pressed her panties into her. She’s pushing those off and I’m switching with her, putting her on the couch and getting myself inside of her.

Some love is fire, some love is rust. Joseph Moncure March said that, in The Wild Party. But the fiercest, cleanest love, he says, is lust.

We did cocaine that night. We popped the cap on that Aveeno Active Naturals and did every bit of coke she had bought or just got off of Zombie, who turned out to be the conveyor of that little vice. We had Zombie calling her people and their people calling their people, to meet us over by the Walgreens, driving around the block just me, Jules, Zombie, and some guy named Richard—whose name definitely wasn’t Richard. But not before I stripped the red club pants completely off her legs and had her dripping off the edge of my couch, her head on the carved back rail, her eyeing the coke and then looking up at me, servile, while I fucked her little cunt. And then, while she was crawling across my living room carpet, grabbing her coke vial, I pulled back her legs and pressed her into the carpet and fucked her again, her ass in the air, me watching her do sloppy lines on the cover of my Moroccan Interiors book and then lying down in it, her hair and her face and her nose powdered with it. She held up her finger and I bit it, instead of licking the cocaine off it, as she’s intended. I felt her insides skwunch together when I bit the finger, so I bit it harder, and came up, head beside hers, and sniffed whatever I could get off of her hair and the Taschen book. And I pushed. I pushed my dick inside her. And I kept it there. And it got hard, and big—harder and bigger than it ever was before with her, and I kept it inside her while she tapped out a better pile and I pressed my face next to hers and into the book and sucked it through my nose and we could both feel me, moving inside her.

I kept her like that for a long time, pinned.

And then neither of us were eating, and I forgot to worry about her eating disorder. Juliet and I coordinated by phone, like this:

home in 30 (Did you get the shit?)

::sweet (I’m not telling you!)

plans? (Seriously, did you get the shit.)

sweet luv:: (Didn’t get the shit. We’re gonna stop doing coke today, and get back to our regular lives of being in love and painting paintings and playing plays and programming programs and groceries and not-driving and isolation and happiness that we used to have.)

<3 (I love you. I’m glad. We shouldn’t be doing that anyway and I’m glad you took the step of not calling Zombie today and Zombie not calling Richard and you and Zombie not doing half the shit I paid for before I even get home and there’s only half a bag left for me and you..even though of course you’ve been doing it all day without me.)

I’d pack up my desk—going home anyway. Time on the drive to think about the fatedness of me and Jules meeting at that one party, how if she hadn’t mentioned the vortex and been so weird that first night I might never have noticed her. Then Jules texts:


And my heart pounds. This is my girl. We truly are made of the same stuff. If I was with any other girl, she would be trying to get me to stop, she would hate that we’re doing this, she would think I’m a loser—she wouldn’t understand. This is my girl. She’s lonely like me, she’s alone like me, she hates this world, as I do, she hates the hate, she hates how messed up we all are, in our jobs, in our fraud government, in our fake families, just maintaining connections so we can say "I have a dad." "I have a son." All that crap.

This is my girl.

Who called Zombie, who’s been spending all day smoking cigarettes in my living room and doing lines with our lizard friend and making out with her for all I know. This is my girl, who, with Zombie, showed me new ways to take it—eat it, for one—wrap it in toilet paper and swallow it, then drink a lot of water. Fuck. The three of us watched Schindler’s List like that and I swear it was the best way I’ve ever seen that movie.

This is my girl. I wonder if I can get her to have a threesome with Zombie.

This is the girl who gives me head while I do lines, and vice-versa. Who gets my coke-dick hard no matter how unwilling he is at the moment. Who forces me to cum and who loves to get fucked and who still uses the Alexander block to work out my shoulders afterward. ("You’re cramping."—"I know.")

And I text back:

get it ready (Because when I get there, we’re going. And by it I mean the coke, your pussy, the fucking Alexander block. Get the door locked, get the shades drawn, put both our phones on silent and lock em in the drawer. Because I’m coming home. And when I get home, I’m staying home. Until one of us has to go meet Zombie at the Walgreens or someone has to leave the house to work. You can even be alone with Zombie. I don’t know about Richard. But get it on. Because Mead Research ain’t cutting it today. Not this or any other day. Good enough for a paycheck. And no. Sorry, Ash, no. I can’t talk today.)

But Jules has a surprise for me.

"Did you get the shit?"

Zombie is on my couch. Lizard. Murderdoll.

They have stuff out, but it’s not cocaine.

There’s a strange smell in my house.

Jules is taking off my belt. She sits me down. "I want you to try this."

"What is it?"

"We’ve talked about it."

Zombie is holding a bag with a brown rock in it. They both have their shoes off. There’s a syringe on my round table. There’s multiple syringes. I look in my bedroom: it’s just the three of us. Jules locks the door.

"Only if you want to," she says.

Zombie echoes this. "Only if you feel comfortable."

"Do you want to try it?" Jules is nodding her head for me.

I take Jules into the kitchen and Zombie is holding the bag up to the light, at my open window, inspecting what she’s got.

"Where did you get the needles?" I say.

"Hospital," she says. Don’t worry.

"Where did you get the stuff?" I ask.

Zombie answers. "It’s not from Richard. Don’t worry. It’s from one of my friends."

"Have you done it before?" I step into the living room.

Zombie is looking at Jules.

No, Zombie, I didn’t know that Jules had done heroin. Thank you.

"Have you done this particular batch? I mean, I’ve heard it’s very specific."

"I’ll do it first," Zombie says. "If you’ll shoot me." She’s asking Jules.

Grief. I’m an idiot. When you find out someone’s been throwing up after they eat, and then you discover that they’ve probably been doing heroin all this time, do they still have bulimia? What’s making them throw up? The eating disorder or a drug? I don’t even know if Jules has an eating disorder.

I turn to Jules. I open my mouth to speak. I don’t know what to say.

Zombie says: "Do you want me to wait outside?"

"No," I say. "No. Are you gonna stay here? Are we gonna do this—I mean—are the three of us gonna do this together, the three of us? I don’t want anybody coming or going after this I just want to have..a controlled situation, you know?"

"Am I invited to stay?"

"You’re invited to stay just—is anybody else coming over?"

Zombie shakes her head.

"You don’t have to do this," Jules says.

"I know," I say. I want to, though, I want to.

I look at Jules. I look at her feet. She’s got pinpricks between the toes. I grab her arms. They’re thin, but fine.

"How long have you been doing this?" I say.

She says: "A year."

Everyone’s lying. Everyone’s lying all the time. That’s not true but if you start there..you won’t have far to go, to get to the truth. Jules was away for a year but she wasn’t just at some spiritual camp for people who are depressed, and disconnected. It was a rehab camp: a spiritual camp for people who are depressed and disconnected and bulimic and on heroin. I used to take so much shit from her: she’d give me a hard time about not eating organic. She eats organic. She’s a pescetarian. Yeah, it’s true—cause heroin is actually a vegetable. You go to all that trouble to never eat parts of a cow but you open your veins to h. And she gives me trouble for drinking. We were all stupid then. I’m sitting in a bar trying to read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind—and I can’t figure out why it isn’t working. I’ve got all this Buddhist advice at my fingertips it just doesn’t seem to sink in. It’s the same with Jules. We had everything complex..down..and nothing simple. All we had to do was stop racking our brains. When you’re young—or if you have any kind of spunk—you think you’re gonna figure something out..different than it’s been figured out before. Turns out there’s nothing to figure. Most of the lessons are about not trying to escape pain, and not trying to find pleasure. Your body is already a computer, it runs certain programs. We get into trouble trying to overclock our shit. Trying to be complex. Complex is a disaster. Jules was one of the most complex people I’ve ever known. Ash was a close second. The only person I’ve met more complex than either of those two..was me.

I took my shoes off. I’d done ecstasy. I’d done coke. I’d drank so much I’d thrown up on my car in the Oregon District—or someone’s car. But I’d never done heroin. And I’d never shot anything into my veins. I always like to get comfortable when I do drugs.

When I did ecstasy I’d carry around a recorder and a timer. And wear the most comfortable sweats I could find. Me and Chad bought clothes special to do ecstasy on. We’d pick them out sober, as an ecstasy outfit. I don’t understand people who just do whatever, whenever, without any preparation. I guess when it comes to drugs I’m kind of a gourmet.

I remember the first time I did ecstasy—this was at the House of Transformation. Brooklyn fed it to me. I just thought: this is it. I’ve swallowed it now. I’m on the rollercoaster, going up that first hill—there’s no turning back short of a stomach pump, and that ain’t going to happen. I’m out of control. There’s nothing I can do to stop it. ::That’s one of the greatest feelings in the world.

I thought I might die. (People did.)

But it was wonderful, and unexpected, and came on and went away beautifully, like it had been designed to be the easiest drug in the world to come down off of. I wondered why I had been drinking at all. I went home, I slept in my own bed, I saw patterns on the backs of my eyes. Someone said that there might have been PCP mixed in with it—but there wasn’t. All that stuff is spook stories. Do you think ecstasy dealers like to fuck up their profits by putting other drugs in the drug you’re buying? Your problem is getting the purest stuff possible, stuff that’s not watered down or cut in half..there’s little danger in getting extra drugs with your drugs! It doesn’t make financial sense. No, those patterns on the backs of my eyes were there all along, I just never learned to pay attention to them.

They were there since childhood, you want to know the truth. And back then I used to watch them all the time.

I knew where to look when I was a kid.

Somewhere between then and now I had forgotten.

So I took off my shoes. I put on a thin pair of sweats. I didn’t wear any underwear. I didn’t think Zombie or Jules would mind. I wanted to be comfortable. I thought about not wearing a shirt but I did, I wore a black t-shirt that said "PUMA" on it.

Jules was heating it, breaking it down. I asked them again where they got the syringes. Zombie got my arm ready.

"Do you need a belt?" That’s Jules asking Zombie.

"No, I got it," Zombie says. She has me grip her thumb, and pump. "He’s got good veins."

"Are you ready?"

"You’ve been doing this for a year?"

Jules has the syringe in her hand. She’s done her bits with cotton and heating and siphoning into the syringe. It’s the yogic body, that belly that I like, there’re Jules’s eyes—she does heroin. Ok. This might take me a minute. But it’s safe, if she’s done it. If she’s been there and stuck around. She knows how to shoot it. I’m scared she’ll get a bubble in my brain.

"Hold on," I say, "Hold on. Lemme get some water."

"I wouldn’t," Zombie says. "You’re just gonna throw up whatever you drink."

"I’m gonna throw up?" I ask Jules. I want to make sure she answers this one.

"Yeah," she says, gripping my arm. "But you’ll like it." She presses the syringe, wasting a little bit of it out the tip, checking for bubbles.

"I’m gonna like throwing up?" I ask.

Zombie’s getting all excited on the couch, adjusting her stance.

Jules laughs and says "Yeah."

Jules had decided I would go first, so if anything went wrong, the two of them would be relatively sober so they could handle the situation. It wasn’t very comforting.

"Just don’t move," Jules says.

I look in my girlfriend’s eyes. That she could put something inside of me, that would change me so drastically, that would change my state—it gives me a hard-on even now to think about it.

"I’m gonna give you about half of what I would give myself," she says. "Just to be safe."

"But I’m gonna feel it?"

She and Zombie both answer at once. "Oh yeah." "You’re gonna feel that."

I look at the syringe. It seems like a lot to be putting into my vein, but I’ve never done this before. "You would give yourself twice that much?"

Jules shows me with her finger: "I would give myself this much."

"And that’s okay for you?"

"Just trust her," Zombie says.

Goddamn right.

She pulled the handle out—Zombie was holding my arm, and my back, too, to make sure I stayed still. Jules had put the needle in. It was steady. She pulled the plunger out, blood mixed with heroin. She was in the vein. Then she pushed it in a little ways. "Can you feel that?" she said. I looked at her. "Not yet." "You will," she says. She pushes the plunger in, slow, gradual, and she’s looking at me when she pushes it all the way in. "You feel that now," she says.

And I did.

It hit my neck. It hit my whole me, and I was warm. My whole body comforted—and it was a body thing, not a mind thing, like LSD or mushrooms—it was a whole body thing. Ecstasy is both. Heroin is..well, it’s perfect. It doesn’t trip you out like e; you’re not forgetting to go back to the room you came from because you’re so enthralled with the carpet. Really, it’s impossible to get anything done on e. With h, you just feel good. It’s impossible to explain. The best way is to work backward from throwing up. You know how awful it feels to throw up? On heroin it feels fine. So: your general level of goodness is raised to the point that throwing up feels fine. Then you work back from there..from how much better not-throwing-up feels, compared to throwing up. Apply that to how you normally feel. Heroin makes you feel as much better than normal, than throwing up is worse than normal. That’s how heroin makes you feel. Like your whole body is laughing. Like nothing matters. Like it doesn’t matter what you do..or if you do anything. There must be a reason we’re on this planet..there must be a reason we’ve been designed to feel bad. I know, for sure, that this life isn’t fun and games: if it was meant to be, then we would feel more like this..all the time.

"Do you like that?"

I lie back on the carpet. Jules is over me, hanging over me, soft.

I’m smiling, holding up my hand. She touches me.


She cups my hair. Her face is turning sideways, she’s coming down, to kiss.

"Hey hey hey," Zombie says, and she’s off the couch taking the syringe from Jules’s hand and cleaning it, putting it on the table. We have paper towels.

"Now I’ll do you." Jules goes to Zombie on the couch, and I sit up, and I love sitting up. My apartment is great. I’m glad I work at Mead Research. How else would I be able to afford times like these?

Jules is kneeling by my friend, and I see Zombie’s head go back, and a drop of blood rolls off her arm, right across the light skin, and falls on the couch. They wipe it up, but that drop will always be there, on that couch, and people will later tease me that it’s menstrual blood, and their worst doubts really will be that it’s from a bloody nose—one drop of blood on the upholstery of that French couch—but they would never imagine where it’s really from.

The Jules does herself—and it’s watching an expert work. Neither of them use a tourniquet—a string, a belt, or anything—and Jules doesn’t need anyone’s help when she’s doing it. She’s expert, and I’ve never seen her this confident or this much in a class by herself. Acting is one thing. There she excels at something many people want to do. Here, she is perfection at something few would even try. I’m loving watching her do it, and I’m behind her on the couch, wrapped my legs around her in thin sweats and holding perfectly still, looking around her arm, she barely lays the needle into her—it barely touches—she’s perfectly gentle as it goes in. The syringe lays on her forearm as she grabs a tissue. She sets it next to her leg. Zombie sits up in slow motion. Jules pulls the plunger back. Mixes her blood with the h, then she hits herself in one, smooth motion. All the way in. She pulls it out and flexes her arm. She makes a fist. She lets it go and falls backward into my arms.

Zombie has the syringe and she puts it on my round table.

There’s that one drop of blood next to Zombie’s leg.

I’m lying back, and Jules is lying on me. I can feel the bones in her spine, her shoulderblades. Her back presses into my stomach. I’m leaning my head over the side of the couch and I feel something. I push Jules forward. Zombie watches me. I get up. There’s shit all over my round table. Tissues with blood on them. I catch myself. They’re both watching me, and then Jules turns away, as I step to the bathroom, holding my hand on the corner wall.

In the bathroom, I close the door—civilized.

I look at myself in the mirror. I look fine.

And then I think I’m not going to do it, but I don’t get the door very far open before I close it back and brace myself on the texture of the towels, then I’m bending over throwing up water and some of Gao’s green tea and a pasty mixture that can only be Cool Ranch Doritos.

Coming out, I was relaxed. I loved my house as never before. It didn’t look different, like on mushrooms. And I didn’t want to fuck the shit out of Jules, like on coke.

I was happy with my work for the first time. Work is hard. I don’t have children. If I had children, maybe I would accept my slave position, and work hard for them. In fact I know I would—that’s why I don’t have children. And I know I would love it. I know that would be a reason to live, an infallible reason to give my labor to someone else—to feed my kids. Of course. I would have that reason to work, if I had kids. That would be the end of my searching life. It would be up to me to give them what they need so that they could search, in this life, and maybe find something good.

I don’t know about having kids with Jules. I think I want her to myself. Plus—you can’t bring kids to this. I hate my job, Jules is on the line of holding it together. Reaching out her arm, she and Zombie lying there like some kind of statues, statues come to life, but only slightly. Like they just got one drop, each, of magic nectar, in their granite limbs. Like trees, swaying, in wind. Zombie’s arms above her, Jules leaned back with a positively bro slouch.

They ask me how it was to vomit.

And I tell them that it wasn’t bad.

Jules is a star. Zombie is some kind of lion. Jules could be a snake. I’m a stretch—without a yawn—when you first wake up. Ripple the muscles, find the floor. And stretch.

They ask me if I like the floor.

I tell them yes.

And it’s literally hours—sometimes hours, when I do this—before I leave the floor. Jules does stunts. She sits upside-down. She shoots herself in the foot, between her toes. Zombie cringes, I am amazed. That Jules could take me here—that she had been here before me, before I ever came—she opened a door. I think it shows me..how to work. That I need something to work for. Maybe this, but something like it. This is why people have pools. And giant houses. And expensive cars. You need something that great..to remind you..what you’re working for. Work hard, play hard: one doesn’t happen without the other. You earn this. If you work easy, then you don’t get this. You get dinner out, one night a week. That’s what a Louis Brickman has. Then there’s someone like Marc Disney, higher up. He gets things. He can buy nice toys. Like pinball, and vintage games. Posting high scores from his ColecoVision—and I think he has a maid. Then there’s Gao, or there’s me. Gao can shoot a bullet off, almost kill someone in the next apartment, and be ok. Gao can take off work any day he wants. He can drive an Eclipse—he can crash an Eclipse. He can have a wife and a girlfriend. And a daughter. And an oak bed. The posts on his bed are awesome. Odysseus would sleep there. Odysseus would fuck his wife there.

Then there’s me. And yes, this is what I’ve earned. I have a job tomorrow—I worked today. I can invite a Mead Research VP to my party and give him ecstasy. I can derail meetings when cheesehead developers try to put Python in the messaging layer. I can try heroin with my girlfriend, in my apartment, with my friend, on my couch. I can do that, I can do it safely, I can enjoy a few minutes of my life before I die.

"Baby. You ok?"

"Yeah, I’m great."

"Come here."

We all drag ourselves into a line on the couch. I like how my mind isn’t all fucked up on this stuff. Your body is—no doubt. But your mind is pretty much still here. There’s no disturbance in my sight. My room is still my room. The paintings have no special significance. But a friend on my left. And a friend on my right.

"Do you like it?"

"Yeah, I’m a fan."

"Do you want to do some more?"

"Can I?" I ask Jules.

She bends to the table, to work. And this time, when she taps it, she hits me with more, and I throw up right away this time. When I come back, I’m a flight, nonstop to New Mexico. I’m a warplane, bracing to explode. Screaming, above the sky. And still, like quiet air—wrapped in a blanket—I’m home.

"Let’s never do coke again."

"Let’s never do coke again."



"We have a deal?"

Zombie can’t agree.

Me and Jules shake hands.





"Why don’t you just enjoy," Zombie says, "what we are doing. Instead of making promises," she says, "about the next." It sounds like something Jules would say.

But it’s good advice. It’s good advice in general. About Jules, about my job, about me, from Jules’ perspective. Just enjoy what we are doing..instead of making promises about the next. The strangest places you get wisdom. Some of the best things I’ve heard came from people I think had no idea what they were saying. It’s just me, I have to realize. When it comes down to it, it’s just me, interpreting all this shit I hear, and coloring it with my life. No one’s talking to me. They’re talking to themselves. I’m just standing here listening, working out whatever crazy journey I’m on. And someone like Jules, she isn’t mine. She’s just here next to me; we’re sitting on my couch, for a little while.

We spend the night like that, we spend the day. In the middle of the night the three of us go to Meijer and try on sunglasses. I buy a pair of gloves, which I wear to drive. There’s no one on the road, not even cops. Zombie and Jules and I sit outside at Le Monde, and pick at dessert crepes. Mostly we just drink kombucha, and I order caviar, which tastes amazing with kombucha.

Ash is calling from Mead but I won’t pick it up.

Then Jules and Zombie have to go to class—Jules is teaching.

"Don’t do it without me," Jules says. "You’re not ready to shoot it by yourself."

"I won’t." Damn straight I’m not ready to shoot it by myself. I don’t want to die.

"I’ll leave you some of this," Zombie says. She takes out her bag. She’s got a little mirror in there with no edges—just a cut piece of glass. Jules gives her the Aveeno Active Naturals and Zombie cuts and taps in about half of what she has, for me. Jules gives me the Aveeno Naturals.

"Can I come to your class?"

Jules says no.

"Alright, well, kiss me," I say.

Jules bends to me at the Le Monde table and kisses me. Zombie’s hand and wrist and mine meet, in the sunlight, and then they’re gone, walking under the railroad bridge to the theatre.

I call Chad.

"Why aren’t you working?"

I tell him it’s because I’ve been doing heroin.

The server asks Chad if he wants something to drink.

"Should I get wine?" Chad asks me.

"Get whatever you want," I say.

"You know," he says, as the waitress leaves, "If I didn’t know any better I’d think you were serious."

I just laugh, and then give him the Aveeno Naturals. "I do have some cocaine, though," I say. "Don’t open it here. Take it inside." The bathroom here has a marble counter. Smooth. No edges.

Chad holds up the chapstick. "You’re shitting me."

"Nope. Don’t do it all."

"How much is in here," he says.

"Just open it slowly."

What else are we gonna do? That’s a serious question. Make money? Buy houses? Start a business? Some people are trying to get on top of the system. I always assume the system is doomed anyway.

The caviar reminds me I have a tongue—it’s extremely strong. Like concentrated salt. You can feel that fall weather coming on. Cold breeze, even though we’re in the sun. In a couple of weekends no one will be sitting outside. It’s almost too late for it now.

Ash buzzes me. I pick up because I’m by myself.


"Are you coming to work?"

I look at the time. It’s three o’clock. Almost four. "Not today."

"Are you coming over?"

"I don’t think so, Ash."

"Are you with her?"

"I’m not with anybody. I’m by myself. So. How are things at the old Mead Research today?"

"Are you at your place? I’m coming to get you."

"I don’t think that’s a good idea, Ash. I’m not at my place anyway. If you want to meet up, sometime, we could get..a..coffee or something.."

"So this is how it’s gonna be?"

I think about pretending I don’t know what she’s talking about..but decide against it.

"Yeah," I say.

"What was last week?" she says.

"Last week was just two exes fucking," I say, and hang up.

Chad comes out and drops the Aveeno Naturals in my shirt pocket. It glances my nipple on the way in. It’s a very thin shirt. It’s pink. It has flowers on it. And it’s made of silk.

He flops down and slides his chair into the table. He’s running a fingernail along the inside of his nostril.

"Um," I say.

Chad widens his eyes at me.

"You might want to.."

He’s messing with his nose.

"You might want to keep the—" I brush my nose "—down. Since we’re in public."

"Is that Zombie’s?" he asks.

Maybe I should have invited him.

"I’m sorry," he says, sitting on his hands. "I don’t usually—but wow."

The waitress brings his wine and he sips it before informing everyone on the patio that it’s really good shit.

"Wanna go to the park?" I say.

"Yeah," Chad says.

I throw a twenty down for the wine.

"Why can’t we go to your place?"

"I just don’t want to."

"I won’t hit on you," Chad says.

And I say: "I’m not worried about it."

"How’s Penelope?"

"Well you know," Chad says. He’s situated next to a neon orange railing on the top of the kids’ swing. We’re back off 5th Street a couple blocks. I’m across from him, looking over the swing. There’s tons of windows facing the park, but we’re the only people I can see.

I look at him and he’s looking at me knowingly.

"I never fucked her."

"You what??"

"She’s just a friend."

"But you used to hang out with her all the time."

"We both like artichoke hearts," I say. But he doesn’t get it. Everyone always thinks I’m joking when I say that. He doesn’t get that I’m literally telling the truth.

"Didn’t you and Ashley and her have a threesome?"

"That was just oral sex," I tell him.

"Why can’t we go to your house," he says.


"It’s ok," he says, "I get it. You’re not really into guys—"

"It’s not that I’m not into guys," I say.

But he insists that, in fact, I’m not into them.

"I’m just—"

"I know," he says, "You’re with Jules. You two are perfect for each other." He puts his hand on my knee. "I would never come between that."

I don’t do anything with Chad—except half a vial of Aveeno Naturals Cocaine.

"How are you getting home?" I ask him. I just flat out ask him.

"I took the bus here," he says. "You could drive me."

"No. I couldn’t." My legs are cramping. Everything’s tense. "Can you call Penelope?"

"Damn, you’re just gonna kick me out like that? Can we at least wait at your place."

"No," I say.

"You’re that afraid I’m gonna jump you," he says.

"I’m not afraid at all," I say. But even that was saying too much.

Chad’s trying to read me. Does he know?

"Just. Call Penelope."

He has his phone out.

"No no no," I say, "I’ll call her."

"I’ll call her," he says.

"Fuckin—would you just let me call her?" I say. "Chad needs a ride," I say, when she answers.

She tells me she has Chad on call waiting.

"I know, I have him right here. Does he like eating pussy?" I say, "because he says—"

Chad grabs my phone.

I grab his. "Switch over!" I’m yelling, to Penelope, in the middle of this park.


"Pen. Does he?"

Penelope shows up on her motorcycle, which Chad had told me about. She straps his helmet on. She goes without one. Chad buckles his arms around Penelope’s waist and the two of them are off down the road, and I have an empty hollowed-out chapstick and sore legs so I can hardly walk.

Chad told me about that motorcycle. Penny had already been in an accident, in it, downtown, and been fine. She was racing to a red light, racing someone through. She had stitches. She was fine. Like twenty of them. In her eyebrow. Now Chad was into motorcycles, and Penny was teaching him how to drive.

Chad gave me the finger as they drove off. His back was to me.

I waited at the coffeehouse. I pretended to read the paper. I texted Jules about a million times.

Brit came out and sat on my lap. We wrapped our arms around each other, and I put my arms inside her coat. She asked me if I was cold. We flirted mildly over the topic of us bringing back the word "cunt". Just the two of us. If we started using the word, everyone would. I like Brit. She’s one of the many people in my life that if I had given a fucking chance to, I’d have more friends.

Then I went to the Walgreens and bought cigarettes. I went ahead and bought two packs, because I knew I was going to smoke them all. And I stood there talking to the counter guy for like twenty minutes, looking at porno mags, and even when this cop came in, I had the mag out on the counter, showing him the pictures.

I wanted to talk to him more, and I think he wanted to talk to me more, but he got a call, so he paid for his coffee and left. I started smoking inside the Walgreens and grabbed a beef stick for good measure—since the cop was just leaving it seemed like an ideal time to steal something. The guy at the counter saw it but he didn’t say anything. It was way bright outside that day, I remember. The cop car raced down 5th Street. Jules won’t be done for a while. I think I’ll go to work.

Oregon District. I can find my car. If I drive real slow, I’ll be ok. Empty highways this time of the afternoon anyway. I get to the coffeehouse. Am going to turn the corner, go back a block to my house, see how the keys feel in the ignition of my Honda, see if going to work right now is really a good idea. But there’s light from under the train bridge. Police light. So I go check it out.

Brit is trailing out of the coffeehouse, no jacket. We’re both looking at the noise. I never even thought that it might be Jules. My thoughts never even went to her and Zombie. And I was right, they were safely tucked inside BlackBox, doing Improv Level 2. The lights under the train bridge were for Penelope and Chad.

Approaching. A store there just called "H A M B U R G E R". Chad is standing on the pavement, his hair in his hands. Penelope is on a stretcher, but she’s trying to sit up. She’s telling them she’s fine. An EMT makes her lie back. The motorcycle is in the middle of St. Clair. Purple beast. Black glass and plastic sharded on the street. Cars stopped in every direction. There’s people coming out from the movie theater. People on top of the parking structure, behind me, looking over the edge. That’s the parking lot where Dennis Bogan killed himself. This is where he jumped. I’m looking at Chad. "I’m fine," he says. "When did this happen?" "Like, three minutes ago. Four minutes. Penelope, lie down!" "It’s just my neck is hurt!" she says. "I’m fine!" But once you say your neck is hurt, you’re going to the hospital, and you’re going there in a stretcher. Chad turns his back on the situation. I follow him. "I knew this was going to happen. She’s—you know how she drives. I don’t want—" he stops "—my mom..my brother..my sister..I can’t talk to anyone..I need her," he says, "I do." And for the first time in a while, I really believe what Chad is telling me.

They let Chad ride in the ambulance, but they won’t let me.

"I’m fine, Matt," Penelope says. "Don’t worry about it. The bike’s insured. We’ll call you later. You wanna do something? I’m fine."

And she was. Nothing was wrong with her, nothing was broken. She didn’t even get stitches that time.

The ambulance drove away—they were just taking her down the street—and I looked at the junk in the intersection, which police were cleaning up. There was no one else in the accident. She just lost control.

"Where are you?"

"I’m at the hospital."

"Where are you?"

"I’m at the hospital. Chad and Penelope were in an accident. She crashed her bike. They’re fine, they just..they just crashed."

"Were they drinking?"


"Was Chad driving?"

"No, it was Penelope. Chad can’t even drive a motorcycle. She just..I don’t know..she drives too fast."

"You want me to come down there with you? Which hospital?"

"Is Zombie still with you?"

"Oh. Is that what you want to do?"

"I should probly stay here." In the background, Chad was laughing with Penelope. I could hear them through the curtain around Penelope’s room. "I think they’re fine." I sniff. "I’m just gonna stay..with them..for a while."

"Are you high?" Jules says.

I look around the hospital. "Yeah," I say.

I drive anyway. I make my way down the hospital parking garage, down those rectangular ramps, with Penny and Chad both in the back of my car. Penny’s fine. They just want to be together. I pull us out into dusk. The front of the car scrapes the street as we come down the last ramp.

My legs hurt from the coke. Everything about me is cramped. I feel cracked-out. It’s kind of a hollow feeling in your head. Like part of you has left.

Chad and Penelope in the back seat remind me of when I was a teenager, when sticking my fingers up the leg of some girl’s jean short was a big deal, and her touching the tip of my penis was too. I don’t know if the skin gets less sensitive, or if back then you just weren’t used to people having their hands all over your genitals all the time..and now you were. I suspect it’s the latter but I can’t completely shake the idea that through all of this, I’ve been damaged. That I have grown less sensitive. That I don’t feel anymore. Not as much.

Chad just lives a few blocks away. He lives with Penelope now, in a house they rent for cheap, in exchange for doing some of the work on the place. It’s major work, like replacing the porch, and filling in walls—things like that. Chad and I used to party on this block—it’s down Wyoming—when we were kids. There’s the Taco Bell. There’s the Denny’s. Look how far we’ve come.

"Call me if you need anything."

"Perfectly fine," Penny says. They’re getting out of the car.

"Well call me if you need a ride."

Chad walks away from the car, holding Penelope—holding her like it’s something he really cares about.

When I open my door I know who’s gonna be there. I know it won’t just be Jules. I know it’ll be Zombie, at least—the two of them. Because now we’re in camp-out mode. Once you start doing drugs with people, normal manners don’t apply. You can’t overstay your welcome anymore—time just doesn’t matter.

"Hey Zombie."

"Hey Matt."

"Don’t I get a hey?" Jules is at my side.

"You get a kiss."




"Oh my god, we’ve become an old couple."

"No you haven’t," Zombie says, "You’re cute."

I leave them in my living room. I don’t explain myself. I go to my room, I undress, I take a bath. Only once while I’m in there does Jules knock.

"You ok?"

"Yes. I’m fine."

Then she leaves. I figure they’re doing it without me, I imagine Zombie laid back on the couch with Jules shooting her arm. I think of that one blood trickle. I don’t care if they are. I’m not even sure I want to do it tonight. I mean: I did heroin for the first time. I do have a life. I have to get back to it eventually. I think I need to set some goals. Like make a list of things I want to accomplish at Mead. Besides make more money. Like things I want to change—things I want to do differently—to do better. I think you have to do something that you feel is fair—that you didn’t cheat anyone else to do—and didn’t stand on anyone else’s back—before you feel proud. I don’t feel proud. I want to.

I walk to my room in a towel. I peek back in the living room. They’re sitting, hands on their laps, like they’re waiting for playtime to begin. I turn on my blacklights, then I get dressed and sit on the roof. Climbing through the window. Feeling the cool, nighttime, air. Maybe I need to just get comfortable with what I have. Is this what happens to people who have what they want? What do I want that I don’t have? Jules is with me. That amazing thing, that was once a stranger, is in my room, is in my bed, is in my car, is with me whenever she can. Is this what I want? Do I want a better car? No, I got this one because I wanted it. I live in this apartment because I wanted it. It’s in the perfect location. I don’t need to own a house, don’t need that for my psyche. So now what? Sell my paintings? Become something other than a programmer. I can’t do that here. My paintings are good but I can’t sell too many here. I can give them away—we discovered that’s fun—but if I want to make a living as an artist, I have to go..to New York basically. Maybe Jules will come. Get in my car. We’ll just drive. I have to save some money. Maybe: ten thousand dollars. Twenty. We could move there on that, right? It would be hard at first, but she could show me around. I could get away from my old people, make some new friends. I’d make friends there, I’d make friends just walking around.

I’m waiting for Jules to come outside and get me, but she doesn’t.

Maybe she’s learned that sometimes I need my time alone.

Maybe I’m doing better at letting her have her own friends. I want her to. We’re better this way. Not so claustraphobic.

I go inside. I leave my window open. I brush my teeth. I wash my hands. I feel like I’m preparing for something—a ritual. Maybe I don’t even know what I’m preparing for. Maybe Jules knows. Maybe she can see it better than me. Maybe I’m smoothing my pants in case I die. And chose this shirt, because it’s one of my favorites, in case, this night, I die.

I choose music. I make it spacey. Jules and I have been to the vortex—we’ve been to outer space—and come back—right? We’re used to fear. We can handle it. Serious enjoyment involves serious risk. You control it the best you can. But do you hold back? Do you forgo, do you go without, pleasure..for the pain?

I set my arm out. I make a fist. I flex my arm. And Jules shoots me, her way. Simple touch—light. Rests the syringe on my arm after it’s in the vein to readjust her hand. Just the slightest pressure of the needle on my skin. So delicate, little pipe of blood. And she hits me, full on, one dose this time.

She takes the needle out.

It’s in my lungs—are air.

I see them both, I feel it in my back, all the way up—my shoulders.

Jules sets the needle on the table.

She brings a tissue and wipes the blood from my arm.

She’s holding my arm, and I’m gripping her.

I am the rain.

I’d wake up in the night with Jules standing over me, screaming.

"Why is all this junk in the house??!"

"Jules—it came from you."

"It didn’t come from me. It came from Zombie."

I’m sitting up. It’s 4am.

"Why the fuck is all this junk in the house." Jules kneels next to me on the futon. She’s holding a bag of heroin.

"Are you dreaming—" I try to say.

But Jules screams. She screams as though she’s being murdered. There’s no question that the neighbors can hear.

"Will you—ff—please be quiet." I take the bag from her.

"Are you gonna be able to go to work tomorrow?" she says.

"Of course I’m going to work tomorrow."

"People on junk lose their jobs. They don’t make it to work."

"I’m not gonna lose my job, just—Jules, what is wrong with you?"

"What is wrong with me?"

She pushes me down, pushes me into bed. She’s seething. It looks like she woke up from a bad dream.

"Jules, were you dreaming?"

"I’m not dreaming," she says. I wait for her to do something: leave, lie down, go in the other room, but she doesn’t. She sits there, thumbing the bag of heroin. Occasionally she looks from the bag to me.

I lie with my eyes open, hoping the neighbors don’t call the cops.

I can hardly keep my eyes open at work.

Gao is fine. Gao is typing away, making sencha. I should probly be on the kind of drugs he’s on.

Chad calls. "Hi. Can you talk?"

"Sure," I say. I leave the line open as I walk from my cubicle to the hallway, to the reception desk, to outside, to the courtyard, to the grass, to the pond, to the stone bench, and I talk to Chad there.


"So what."

"So what’s up."

"P. I’m afraid she’s gonna die."

"She is gonna die," I say.

"I mean soon," Chad says.

"Why do you think that? I’m sorry, I’m just kidding," I say. "Tell her you’re worried about her, tell her not to ride the bike."

"I can’t—"

"Because of feminism."


"Well just tell her anyway. Use I statements. Say: I get worried when you crash your bike. It scares me when you drive eighty miles an hour on a downtown street."

"She knows it scares me," Chad says.

I’m quiet—looking at the geese.

Chad’s voice over the cell: "She likes to scare me."

One goose makes his way toward my feet. I kick out, hoping it’ll make him go away, but it doesn’t. These geese are too domesticated.

"Can you talk to her," Chad says.

I inhale. "Maybe."

"You know her better."

I laugh.

"I’m serious," Chad says, "You have a better relationship with her than I do."

"How is that possible," I say.

"You do. Trust me," he says.

"Well." I wish I had a cigarette. "I think it’s something like twenty-five percent of motorcycle owners get in a crash within the first six months of owning a bike. How long has she had it?"

"Like..a month."

"So..well, I guess that statistic doesn’t help us. Just let her know you care about her, that you want her around, you know, but yeah, I agree, you can’t push her, I mean: Penelope. Yeah. She’s..I mean I think that’s part of her thing, not thinking about death, not worrying about the odds, you know? I mean..she’s.." I almost say that she had a rough time growing up, then I remember who I’m talking to. "How’s your relationship going? Is she.. Are you..?"

"I love her," Chad says. "I’ve never loved a woman like this. It had been a long time..you know—"


"It had been years," Chad says.

"I’m glad things are good. I’m sorry she likes to scare you—that’s..sucks."

"How are you and Jules?"

"The same. Chad—fuck." I can’t tell him. He’ll either hate me or want to be a part of it. "How is Penelope? Was she really fine?"

"Not a scratch," Chad says.

"How are you?"

"I don’t know how we walked away from that. Penny says she’s perfected crashing. She knows how to crash right, so no one gets hurt."

"Yeah," I say, "well. She’s lived this long."

Chad and I talk for another hour, just about everything. At least everything going on with him. I tell him Jules has trouble sleeping—that she keeps me up. He laughs and I tell him it’s not like that. I can’t fuck with Chad’s situation. I mean he stopped smoking crack. We’re friends to a point, y’know, but Chad and I are on different tracks.

When I get off the phone I think about texting Penny. I don’t though. It’s her life.

Chad texts me all day. I meet him after work, at the Trolley Stop, this bar on 5th Street. We drink long islands, then go to the park. Gets darker these days, cool by this time. Chad has a flask in his jacket.

"Where’d you get that?"

"Penny gave it to me." Chad opens it and hands it to me.

I sniff. "What is this?"


"What kind of vodka is it?"

"Fucking..Popov," he says. "Does Jules hate me?"

"She doesn’t hate you," I say.

"Then why can’t I come over anymore?"

"It’s just a territory thing."

"You can come over to me any Penny’s place anytime."

"Thank you."

"Why don’t you? Why don’t you come over tonight?"

"Jules is waiting."

"Is she gonna be mad that you’re drinking?"


"Thanks for hanging out." Chad’s shivering.

"I like hanging out with you."

Chad drinks.

It’s fall now. The lights are out in the park. We’re not supposed to be here. It’s only the streetlights around the edges, and light from the alley.


"Talk, bro."

"It’s good to have a guy friend."

Chad doesn’t look at me, he doesn’t flirt with me, he doesn’t put his hand on my knee. He just says: "I know."

"Where’s Juliet?"


I close my door. It’s just Zombie.

"Was she—were the two of you—?"

"A little bit," Zombie says. "Do you want some?"

"Did she tell you what happened last night?"

"That she freaked out at you? She feels terrible."

I sit down. "She’s an intense person, you know?"

The Zombie Lizard laughs. "Have you been drinking?"

"Why, do you want some?"

"I can smell it, that’s all."

"I drank with Chad. You can help yourself—" I gesture the cabinet.

"No, we shouldn’t. Isn’t that funny? Jules would be mad at you if we drank together, but she won’t be mad at us for doing this."

"At this point everyone’s fucked everyone," I say.

Zombie says: "Almost."

But we laugh. Zombie and I are not that stupid, we wouldn’t do that to Jules.

"Where’d you guys drink?"

"In the park. Trolley Stop."

"Why didn’t you invite him up?"

I look at the table before us. Spread with plastic bags, used tissues, new tissue boxes, lighters, candles, cotton, a million water bottles, caps everywhere.. There’s drugs here we haven’t even considered using because of h.

"You know Chad used to smoke crack," I say.

"I know that," Zombie says. "I’ve smoked crack with him."

"I just don’t wanna—I mean all he does now is drink..and coke.."

Zombie’s looking at me.

"So I just don’t wanna tell him..you know..bring him into..this."

Zombie puts her hand on my wrist. "Chad already knows. Penelope told him. Brooklyn told her. Brooklyn is my best friend..and MJ. I thought that’s what you and Chad were talking about. Chad’s worried about you."

"He didn’t say anything."

"That’s because he’s worried about you. He thinks you have a problem."

I chuckle. "What do you think?"

Zombie chuckles too. "I think he’s right."

"How long had you been doing this before you me and Jules started?" I ask her this. I can’t even remember when we started. It wasn’t long ago. When was the first time? Oh yeah.

Zombie says: "Not very long."

"Do you think you have a problem?" I ask.

Zombie nods. "Definitely."

She’s not pretending to be cool. We’re just talking.

"Do you wanna space out?" she says.

I say: "Yes."

"I wanna marry Jules," I tell her, once I’m good and high. I’m rolling on the floor, pretty much talking to Zombie’s feet. "I do. I wanna marry her and I even want to have kids. I wanna be with her, you know, I want to be with her forever. It’s like—I can talk with you honestly right now, can’t I, without it getting back to Jules? Fuck it I don’t care. Jules wouldn’t care. Tell her whatever you want. It’s just—you know how there’s always one person who loves the other one more? There’s always one of you who is more into the other? Well with me and Jules I can’t tell. She’s—I mean I’m pretty sure it’s me..because I’m infatuated with her, not just liking, she’s crazy I—if she left me I would die. Like..I’ve never..liked a girl like I like her, it’s sick actually if she knew how much I needed her I know it would turn her off. I went to her car one time, I left a note? I put magnetic poetry on her car door, it was just ’I love you, I’m thinking of you’, whatever. You know she doesn’t drive. It was..at least a couple of days before she saw it. I was like: oh my god, this girl’s gonna think I’m a stalker, I’m putting poetry on her car in the middle of the night..that’s the kind of things I do when I think about her, it’s sick, I know. I mean if she didn’t like me back I would be a stalker." I chuckle. "But she does. It scares me sometimes—it turns me off. How much she likes me. Sometimes she lets it out. She says that stuff about us being separated at some point, like for her it’s really spiritual—that’s really the level she approaches it on. I never think about getting married—like with Ashley: I never thought about getting married to her. She thought about it. But can you see me and Ashley getting married? No. Of course not. I never knew this, but..apparently it’s natural for kids to imagine getting married when they’re young. Like boys and girls. They see their life in the future and they know, like, I’m gonna be a fireman, I’m gonna be a doctor, I’m gonna have a wife, I’m gonna get married in a pink dress—that stuff. I just never saw myself getting married with Ashley. I’ve never even seen that with anyone. And: I’m not about to propose to Jules, but—I mean if she wanted that..even if she wanted the big hoopla to show her parents, tuxedo and everything..I would do that for Jules. Not that the ceremony means anything to me. I doubt it would to her, either. But if she wanted it. Like for her mom. I would just do it because she wanted to. Why would I deny her that? I never bought Ashley diamonds—because she wanted them too bad! I don’t want to be fucking manipulated into buying someone fucking diamonds, you know, but if Jules wanted them, I would just buy them because she wanted them. The diamonds wouldn’t even be the thing. Maybe before, I felt like it was an obligation. But now..it’s like..who cares, it’s Jules. I wouldn’t deny her something that made her happy—I wouldn’t feel the need to analyze it. And if she wanted a wedding..I mean..I would do that for her. No problem," I say, and I settle onto my back, looking at the bottom of my round table.

Zombie leans over the table and looks at me. "Do you think," she says, "that Jules is the marrying type?"

Zombie and I have always had a certain kind of intimacy. But we’re not going to fuck. High school is over. And now—what we have?—it’s a drug intimacy. She shoots me up and shows me how to do it. I hold the tissue for her while she shoots herself. We sit side-by-side, but facing the same direction. We’re together in this thing. Mostly I like her cause she tells me stories about Jules, from class. I like those legends, of the time Jules told a student she was "going to kick his fucking ass". Or the times she throws things. She threw a chair at someone’s head. People like that sort of thing when you spend the rest of your time meditating. It makes you real.

We’d time ourselves: to see how long we went between hits and to see how long it was till Jules got home. When she got home we’d all get really high—we’d do bigger doses then. Any two of us could go off alone and it was ok: to visit Brit at the coffeehouse, to go to the park, to sit in my car and play music and enjoy the heat. It was expansive, then. I’d go to work in the mornings but my day was in the evening. The only wasted time was the drive to work and home. The rest of the time I was spending money or making it.

I enjoy Zombie because there’s no pressure. The only oddity we have between us is not-fucking out of respect for Jules. And I don’t want to. But there’s always that thing, with someone you’ve never had sex with—that you could. Zombie and I never did, though. We were Jules’s lackeys, waiting for her to come home. I like that, because it made our relationship simple. I could be by myself, with Zombie. I couldn’t do that with Jules. I didn’t like Zombie—not like that, not now. She was stupider than Jules. She didn’t have the same spark. But she was fun, and she helped pay for heroin, and she gave me and Jules a break, both, from our regular intensity.

When Jules would come home I could see some jealousy in the way she looked at me and Zombie. We couldn’t help it. When I was at work it was Zombie and Jules, here, by themselves. Was I jealous of Zombie? Yeah. The thing I liked about Jules’s jealousy was that she was jealous of Zombie, too.

When Jules asked us what we talked about, I said "Mostly we just talked about you."

And Jules laughed.

But it was true.

"We have to stop doing this," Jules would plead when we were in bed together.

"I know," I’d whisper.

"I’m gonna ask Zombie to not sleep here anymore," she’d say.

"Ok," I’d say, but I was afraid that without Zombie we would just do it worse. That Zombie was a safety valve that I didn’t want to see taken away. The three of us were bad enough. If you took away one, I thought it would get worse. I did imagine, too, even then, that if you took away two of us, and it was just one left, that any one of us by ourself would do it worse still.

In terms of loneliness, I am quite sure that’s why Jules and I found each other. Together we were a total mess. By ourselves we couldn’t function.

"I’ll tell Zombie tomorrow," Jules would say.

We’d snuggle, and Jules would put one leg over me.

I’d play with the edge of her panties and she’d get all the way on top. She’d rub on me like that, though her underwear, pleading, like asking permission—like asking permission to cum.

Sometimes when she was like that I’d think about asking her to marry me. I didn’t want it to be lewd, though—there’s never a right time to ask someone that. She and I were never going to fly each other’s names behind a blimp. Why not when she’s on top of me, like a little girl, with her panties still on, asking me in the gentlest but most concise way if we can fuck. That’s what a cunt will do. It will get on top of you and tell you what it needs. It will tell you through a pair of panties. It will ask they be removed. Why not, then, say: of all the things I won’t deny you, I won’t deny you this? This custom. This ceremony. This symbol for our families. I would let you ride me. I would not deny you pleasure, in any form we can arrange it. I won’t deny you any part of my body, for your use. I won’t deny you money, I will even risk my job, so that you and our friend can amuse our brains, and I will go along with you if you kick her out and I will even stop shooting heroin with you if we do it together.

Pull your panties off.

Ask me with your naked skin.

With its inside and its out.

Show me what you want.

Make it happen.

Ask me with your cunt.

Let me hear her plead.

What does she want?

To be satisfied? Done. She can have that. Why wouldn’t I let her? Why would I keep this cloth between us. She’s speaking now. She’s saying need. I need? I need to come? I need you to be happy—I need you to get what you want. Are you ready? Baby? Are you ready to fuck again? Pull those off. There. Allow my fingers. We are adults. We don’t hold back. Put yourself—there. Now ride. Ask me again what you want—what you need. Ask me with your body. Show my body what it can do for you. Invite it. Welcome it. Train it. Train it what to do. We don’t need heroin. You can tell Zombie to go home. The house will be quieter then—that is all. You can make more noise. We will have the hollow and the walls, no one to hear us, no one checking, and you can take off your wrap and roam freely, let the truth come out. Unzip yourself and let the mask drip. Jules. You’re coming. Fuck. And. Fuck. I’m coming too.

You can stop doing drugs. You can stop anytime you want. All you have to do is accept change. Accept that you cannot hold the world in one place, in one time, with your will. Accept pain. Accept that things are not the way you want. That’s all you have to do. It’s the same as accepting that your father doesn’t love you, or that you’re dying. It’s easy.

"Just accept change."

"I’m trying to."

"Just let it fucking go." That’s Jules, passing out on the kitchen floor. Lying in a sticky stomach acid that’s not quite vomit. And this is us trying to quit. Or maybe it’s just her throwing up.

I don’t know.

"Just let it fucking go." Jules is tracing her fingers on the plastic floor.

I’m holding her belly in my arms.

She’s wretching.

"Jules, you need to eat."

"I did," she says: "Look."

I think about calling a doctor. Calling her parents. Shit. I’ve never met her parents. I’m dragging her back, pulling her across the carpet. I’ll clean that later. Jules’s arm hits the washer, hollow metal sound, and Jules is saying: "Let it fucking go."

I pull her to the couch. It’s rainy; not raining, but rainy.

Jules heaves.

Nothing comes out.

She covers her mouth.

I can feel her stomach turn.

Her head droops; I turn her face. That grey eye, dead; the green one dropping. Her seeming small.

"I don’t know how to help you."

"I don’t need help."

The grey one blames me.

The green one apologizes later.

I set her on the couch; she’s mumbling. I call my dad. He’s not there, I leave a message, as he hasn’t figured out how to use caller ID yet.

Jules says: "You’re holding on too tightly. You never meant to be here. You didn’t. Admit it. Matthew, admit it. You never meant to be here. Did you? Did you want to come here? You need to let it fucking go. You can’t answer me, you know I’m telling the truth. Let it, fucking, go. Why can’t you do that?" She’s beating her arm, one arm with the other fist. "This world isn’t yours." She shakes her head violently. "You think you own me? You think it’ll always be around for you? I made you take me to the restaurant."

"What are you talking about?"

"Shut up and listen. I made you. When you took me out to eat. I made you buy me that. I cried! I cried and make you fear! You believed me! I made you do that. Isn’t that terrible?" She’s gripping the couch. "I MADE YOU!!" And laughing. Looking out my window. Turning to me. Pacing lion. "Everything I did to you I made up. I made this happen. I made you love me! You do love me right?"

She really waits for a response. She really wants to know.

I nod, holding the edge of the wall.

"I know," she says. "I know you do. I love you too. My baby. My baby. I’m sorry I made you do that." She’s begging, pulling me down. She wipes her hands on me, on my legs, down my front, like she’s ordering me, smoothing me, putting me down. "I wasn’t really mad at you. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you." She nods her own head for me. Her eyes are filled with tears; she’s hysteric, laughing and smiling and crying and sniffing all at the same time. "That time in the car. I just wanted you to be with me! Be with me," she says, hitting my chest. "I made you think I was angry! That’s what I do! Don’t you hate me, you need to hate me, you need to let it out, you need to let it fucking go."

"I don’t hate you."

"You’re holding it in."

"I really don’t hate you."

"You need to let it fucking go."

I exhale. "Oh, Jules.."

"Not right now, maybe. Maybe you’re not ready. But someday, you need to let it fucking go. I wish you could do that with me. I used to be like you. I had to let it fucking go. Do you know what I mean? I did. One day. I was holding on..I was holding on..to my mother. I want you to come with me. So bad. You’re not going to leave me, are you? You have to stay. I need you, Matthew. I was so alone before."

"I was too."

"Were you?"

"Yes. I’m so afraid you’ll leave me."

"There’s one way I would do that."

"How’s that?"

"If you don’t let it fucking go."

"I don’t know what you’re—I don’t know what you mean, exactly. I’ve let it go. I’m not holding onto anything—like anger? I’m not angry."

"I made you buy me dinner."

"I don’t care."

"I made you buy me things. I made you scared. Then you had to buy me things to keep me."

"I don’t care. Ok."

"Don’t you hate me? You can tell me that."

"I don’t. I don’t hate you."

"You will, though." She smiles. Then her face turns to a frown and she’s sad muppet again. "You are going to leave me. I can feel it."

I shake my head.

"I don’t want to be alone again," she cries. "I CAN’T TAKE IT! I searched for you. I knew you were out there. I found you at that party. I acted for you. I wanted you to notice me. Then I made you like me."

"I liked you anyway."

"But I did," she cries, "I made you. You don’t hate me, do you?" She hugs me, so tight I can’t breathe out. "I can feel you. Feel your tightness. There’s things inside you..you need to let out." She shakes her head and her tears and snot are on my shirt. "I feel your breath," she says. "You breathe shallow. You need to let it fucking go. You’re gripping—feel?" Her hand is on my chest, and the other one on my back, showing me how to breathe. "Let it go."

But she’s pleading in my eyes, pleading with hers, and what she’s really saying is: Let me fucking go. I don’t think it’s because she doesn’t love me. I think it’s because she needs to go.

Maybe she’s right. Maybe I need to let her go.

But it’s more than that. I think it’s her. It’s her, talking to herself, telling herself to let it go. It’s her, convincing herself. Training herself. Teaching herself something she wants to learn. This whole speech isn’t to me. It’s Jules, talking herself—slowly—out of her life.

Jules is in the other room. I finally get my dad on the phone.

"Are we still on for our visit?"

"Tuesdy the twenty-second. Tuesdy week. I uh..I didn’t rent a hotel—"

"No, Dad, stay with me. I’ve got..you can sleep on my bed. I’ll sleep on the couch. What time are you getting in?"

"Well, I rented a car."

"Ok. You just want to meet at my place?"

"Yeah—around ten?"

"What time are you flying in?"

"I got an early flight..I’m leaving Philly at something like six a.m."

"That’s fine, Dad. I’ll take you to breakfast."

"All right. Looking forward to seeing you, my son."

"I’m looking forward to it, too."

"See you."

"See you. Bye Dad."

"Bye bye." He’s always very formal.

I can see Jules’s feet on my futon. I peek. She’s sleeping—or pretending to. I think she really is. She’s probably passed out from not-eating. She’s gonna have to stay at her place while my dad is here, cause..that..just..wouldn’t work.

I’m gonna clean up the kitchen. That’s what I’m gonna do. There’s incense powder all over the carpet—I’ll have to get that later, when Jules is awake. But I can clean up the foil, and wash the spoons, and put the cover to my round table in the washer to do later. I’ll vacuum later. I can at least clean up the living room. Straighten the pillows. Get this place back to normal. Jules can stay anytime she wants—except when my dad’s here—but I have to re-claim this place. This used to be my apartment. Summer mornings..used to have nice tea here, and—you know—feel the breeze, check internet, stuff like that. Could do that again. I don’t need all these people in my life. Someone like Chad—why is he in my life? We’re just re-living some moments from senior year..same bars..same Denny’s. I mean, come on.

I take all the candles off the table. I have a plant there. I move him to the kitchen. Water him. I call him Phil. From the Muppets Take Manhattan? Kermit loses his memory for a while, the people he’s with call him Phil. My plant is Kermit, if he lost his mind. Plus he’s a philodendron. So.

I water Phil. Leave the trickle on him while I go to the living room. Jules still sleeping. At least she’s still. I open a window, and I remember. I’ve got this great hexagonal bay window in my living room, and I remember that it’s there. Just wind coming through the window..isn’t that enough?

I clear the table. I take all the incense off of it, I take all the spoons. I wash them next to Phil. He’s probably the dirtiest plant on the street, washed in the same sink as a bunch of gear. I think about that, sometimes—people who smoke around their dogs? Their dogs are smoking too. Phil is a heroin plant, in a heroin household. At the moment. But we’re gonna change all that. Part of this change is going to involve me getting a new job. Simple. It can be doing the same thing. But I have to work somewhere where people have integrity. If I can find one.

Jules is stirring. I close the window. If I can keep her down for a while longer, I’d like that. Have a minute to myself. I close the window almost all the way. Still want some air.

And I sit.

The cover to my table is bare. Its particle board, cut in a circle, set on an X-shaped stand. In each of the alcoves of the X I keep various things. You can see them without the cover. On this side, I keep a laptop, an old one I just use for internet in here. I keep it out of the way. One of the rules in my house is there are no clocks visible. No computers. No phones. Even the clock on the microwave is blank. In the next pocket are incense things, and cards. Tarot cards that I never read but that friends like to play with. In the next one are pots, and frames. Planting stuff. Nails, tacks, stuff for the wall. Frames I’m not using. I have one wall that’s full of empty frames. It’s a sculpture. It’s just a whole wall of frames—every one different—every one empty. They frame the wall. No glass in them..just: the wall, and an empty frame. In the next one are books that I’m not currently reading, and drug stuff. My purple bag is there, a wool hat I wear when I’m high (my head gets cold). You can’t have your head get cold when you’re high—you have to maintain your temperature. Also in there are some water bottles for hiking, and an old check box—from a bank..it had checks in it—that now houses junk we stole from the hospital. Well, that Zombie stole. Syringes, cotton. Tourniquets that we never use.

You can only shoot up so many times before you die.

Every time I shoot up I wonder if that’ll be the last time I do.

And I have the gear out. Phil is still getting watered, small little trickle from the sink running down. He’s in a slotted container, so it’s ok, he won’t get over-watered. Sometimes he deserves to be in the rain.

And if I die, Phil will be getting watered, and I’ll be slumped over the round table with no cover on it..or maybe lying back on my French couch, still holding the syringe. Maybe I’ll fall over and the syringe will punch further into my arm, into the muscle, and that’s how she’ll find me.

Two weeks to stop this, until my dad gets here. Not even. After that I’ll do it no more. That’s how I’ll do it: wind down before Dad’s visit, then not do it while he’s here, then when he’s gone, never do it again. I need something, like a hobby. Maybe gardening—if I had a yard.

There’s the syringe. This one’s mine. They’ve all been bleached, but I know this one’s mine because I put them away. I remember the angles they were set at, with respect to the box.

I’m gonna make Jules eat. After this. I’m taking her to Bravo and I’m gonna make her eat. In a gentle way. We’re gonna have rules: like no trips to the bathroom.

Close the box. Phil trickling. Maybe I should call Chad, while I’m doing it, in case anything goes wrong. Keep him on the line. Don’t tell him what I’m doing. But if something goes wrong, then tell him. "Chad, you need to come over."

I can call to Jules.

But I wouldn’t want to wake her up that way.

Scrolling through the phone. Zombie’s an option. I set the phone down, menu scrolled to Zombie (with Chad right there—just a wrap to the top—then Gao). Those’ll be my options. One button: Zombie. Top wrap: Chad. Right below that: Gao. I’ll have time, right?

If something goes really, really wrong, I’ll have time.

Heat it, tear some cotton off. Place that in the spoon. I have my water bottle. Mix it. Cool. Place the cotton in the spoon. I did this right—I’m not missing a step, am I? Use my belt this time—hold it with my teeth. My teeth are gritting, so hard. Pulling it back. It’s tight enough. When I shoot it, I’ll start to let it go. I have the vein. Have it in the syringe. Checking for bubbles. Waste a little though the end. That’s it. I’ve got it. I don’t have to shoot the whole thing—but I know I’m going to. Once that first part goes in, once I feel it, I’m not gonna stop halfway—I’m going all the way in.

I mix the blood. You can see it—two different colors. Our pale brown, and our deep red. Swirling. It’s in the vein. Just push it slow. Push it in.

My teeth are gritting so hard on the belt, pulling so hard on my arm—too hard, but I don’t want to let go.

My fist is gripped.

I push it just a little.

There it goes.

I don’t even mean to loosen my grip on the belt—but I do. I’m relaxing from the injection, and I don’t know what’s gripping what. I push it in, and in, and all the way in, and I feel it in my chest, and in my back, and in my heart, and in my other arm. And in my neck. Oh. Wonderful neck. The needle is still in my arm. I pull it out. I let the belt go, from my mouth—I loose my teeth. The belt is still tight, and I let it fall. I place the needle on the table, on the raw wood of the table. I shot a lot. I can feel it in my neck. My neck tightening. I’ll clean the syringe later. I’ll wipe the table. There’s just a patch of blood on my arm, nothing running, no drip. I wipe it gently, with my other hand, and loosen the belt. There. I can really feel it now. There. The belt is off. And it’s coming. It’s coming. It’s coming up my back and it’s in my face and my jaw and now it’s in my head. The belt is on the floor. I don’t put it back around my waist. I scoot it under the round table, and I edge myself up to the couch. Everything is fine. Oh yeah. Everything is really fine. There’s my phone, still set to Zombie, with Chad and Gao. If I need them. I pull the phone onto my belly and lie there, touching my skin. I touch the back of the couch, where the wood is carved. I touch my face. I’m hot. I pick the phone up. I’m ok. Just relax. Relax into it. Phil is being watered. There’s the trickle. Now it’s gone. The water’s still making its sound—but I can’t hear it. It faded in again. Phil is still there. And then the only sound I can hear is the sound of the window. There’s people outside, and a breeze.. The air is heavy like clouds. I can feel it moving. It’s this whole deafening muddle..taking me..and I think I know what Jules means.. It carries sound. It holds us here. Even the air has plans. What if I want to depart from those plans.. What if I was a bird, or a monkey..or a hawk.. I would die in a tree and no one would care. Why do we grieve, down here..why are we connected? Even Jules and me—that girl sleeping. She was gone, and now she’s here, and whenever she decides to leave..she’ll be gone again. When I go, when I leave her, will I even take my self? Or does that stay, too, when a person goes? Will she leave? Will she take her with her?

I check the phone.

Still Zombie. Still Chad.

Still Jules sleeping on my futon.

But no, if I left..if I left her in that room..today..I wouldn’t take me with me. The me that’s her boyfriend? The me whose house she’s in? That me would stay right here, for her to hold..for her to remember..when I go, I go..I am transformed. I forget the me that came before. When I go, I go—even from myself, I go that far.

"Matt, it’s Dad."

"Hey, where are you—are you here?"

"I was wondering—can you give me your address so I can put it in my phone? I’ve got this new iPhone."

"Where are you, Dad?"

"I’m driving."

"I thought you were going to call me when you got to the airport."

"Well, Matt, I don’t have your address."

"Dad, I was going to meet you, so you could follow me. Are you near the airport?"

"I’m on the highway."

"I thought we were gonna have lunch by the airport. Or breakfast. How far down the highway are you? Are you on seventy-five?"

"Seventy-five, yes. I’m—that’s what I’m on. Do you want me to meet you at your place?"

"Well, we can. Dad, I’m at the airport. I’m here waiting for you because I thought you were going to meet me here."

"I thought I could just meet you at your house."

"That’s fine. I’ll meet you. Can you tell me what sign you’re at? What’s the next exit?"

"Ok," he says, "If you can just give me your address so I can put it in my phone."

"That’s fine, Dad, I will. Just tell me what exit you’re at so I know how fast to drive."

He’s parked in front of my house. I’ve talked him through how to get there. Because MapQuest on the iPhone is a piece of shit. He’s got my address in the phone but it keeps getting turned around. The car he rented is a Prius. To him, that’ll always be the only hybrid. He tells me about the gas mileage, how quiet it runs. My shit is a hybrid too, it just doesn’t drive like a hybrid.

"Hey Dad."

"How you doin?"

"Good. How are you?" My voice is gravelly.

"Good, good. This your place?"

"Yeah. This is it."

We’re standing under the trees. My two-story house is next to us.

I’m pointing up. "That’s mine—the second floor. We all use the porch. You want to get some breakfast?"

"Yeah I had some snacks on the plane." He pats his belly. "I packed my own, you know they don’t have very good snacks anymore." He raises his eyebrow. "Pretzels? They used to have peanuts. A pretzel doesn’t exactly fortify me."

"You want some breakfast then? I can drive us," I say.

"No I can drive," he says.

"Well.." I exhale.

"I got this great hybrid," he says. "Come on. Let me drive. It’s free, except for gas. We might as well use mine."

I say ok.

I get in the car with him. But I really don’t want to.

He drives right up against the back of the car in front of him. The guideline is one carlength per ten miles an hour that you’re driving—am I right? I’m pretty sure that’s the guideline. I’m pretty sure that’s something he told me! I distinctly remember..being a child..and my dad telling me that guideline. Now here we’re driving and he’s right the fuck up against the back of the car in front of us. He gets real close, then he acts disgusted and changes lanes.

"Is this the exit?"

"Yeah, it’s—that highway crossover?"

"Is it a right-hand exit?"

"Yeah. You’re gonna want to get over." I slump in my seat.

He drives around the parking lot—the front two rows. There’s empty spots all along the back row. Tons of empty places. He brakes. Here’s a couple coming out—they’re coming out of the restaurant. We wait for them, watching them, seeing what car they get into. They adjust their seatbelts, have a conversation, back out, then we’re in their way so they can’t get out of our way so we can take their parking space. We have to back up. There’s someone behind us at this point. That guy has to back out of the aisle so we can back up enough to let this couple out. My lips are open, front teeth pressed together and I think what I’m doing is called seething—breathing through the front of my teeth, looking straight forward, eyes locked on the yellow happy face icon of the Happy Face China restaurant next to the place we’re going. I don’t have to look at Dad to know that he’s sitting over there perfectly content to fuck up the entire parking lot just so we don’t have to walk.

It’s the same with the table. You think I flirt with hostesses? Fuck me, I wish Jules could see this. He’s making jokes with them about the availability of southern-style grits, referring to family members who used to prepare these for him, as a child—referring to them by first name while this high school senior is just trying to get us to our table so she can deal with the next couple hip enough to choose this vegan-friendly breakfast joint I’ve sadly taken my dad to. He’ll pretend like it’s ok but I should have taken him to a minor league ballgame, gotten some hot dogs. You can get meat here, though, it’s just vegan-friendly.

"What’s TVP?" he’s asking, as our waitress is trying to get away, to bring our drinks.

I answer for her. "It’s textured vegetable protein."

The waitress smiles. She’s got kind of a cute outfit. Homey plaid apron over her butt. Ponytail. A little tame around the tights but it is a family restaurant.

"You see something you like?"

"Have you had the—how do you say it?" he shows me the menu.

"Seitan. It’s wheat. It’s protein."

"It tastes like meat?"

"They season it, yeah—my friend MJ makes these tofu tacos..they taste just like ground beef. It’s all the seasoning."

He asks me what I’m having.

I tell him bacon.

"Is it made..with..seitan?"

"No it’s just bacon. I don’t eat vegetarian, Dad I just—like this place because they have..good..fluffy—they know how to make pancakes. That’s usually what I get. And they have fresh-squeezed orange juice, you know, I like..real juice."

"That’s why it’s five dollars a glass," he says.

Yeah. That’s why. We always had concentrated oj when I was a kid. My parents don’t get things like buying Armani glasses or drinking fresh-squeezed oj. I’m not putting them down it’s just I’ve had to get used to the idea of treating myself well as an adult, because we were kind of in a sustenance/ration mode most of my childhood. I don’t have a very good regulator of when I’m doing too much and when I’m doing too little for myself. You might have noticed this. I usually feel bad when I do good things for myself. I’m not blaming them for my excesses it’s just part of the package I came from. When I do nice things for myself, I usually hide it from my dad.

I show him my place. It’s tiny. I’ve made the bed. He can sleep on my futon. It’s fresh sheets. He goes straight for the window.

"It’s nice trees here." He’s running his hand along the window framing. "You’ve got good woodwork. Do you know when this house was built?"

I say nothing.

"It looks like it was built around—a lot of the houses in this area were built in the forties. I would say this house was built in the mid-forties." He pats the wood. His dad was a carpenter. He’s an architect. He built his own house. I don’t even have a house. But I’m a software architect, so I guess that’s some kind of continuity. We all—you know—think of things and build them. My dad is always talking about homeownership—that’s one word to him. He thinks I should do it. I think property ownership in this country is bullshit because it’s not really capitalist even though that’s what everyone says..but..I mean my dad’s political but he doesn’t care about that end of things—theory. He’s more about protests and newspapers and complaining about the other guy over dinner.

"Look at that tree," he says. He’s looking at this pretty fantastic beech tree right across the street. It’s true—tons of trees, brick sidewalks—this is a pretty great neighborhood. "Wow," he says. He’s looking up as far as he can see, which from here isn’t even the top of that tree.

"You can go out on the roof," I say. I open the window. "I like to go out there—eat. It’s—I mean in the summer I sit out there and read, you know, Jules likes it there—she loves that tree, too. Here. You wanna come out?"

I let him go first, and I go out, and it’s me and my dad standing on the roof under that beech. Weird how different a place seems when your dad is there. Different kind of sanity—or craziness, but—how much of this place is determined by what I’m thinking while I’m here. You know? Standing here thinking about the yard his parents had when he grew up—that I haven’t been to in ten years at least. Thinking about him pulling out his ready-made snack packs on the airplane and being disappointed with the industry-wide switch to pretzels. Or I start thinking about us growing up, north side of town, similar house in a lot of ways, and we had a great porch there. He built a swing in the backyard. Then they got divorced and he moved to Delaware and built a new house with a new wife and a new kid. I don’t really care. My parents were fighting. I want them to be happy. As long as they don’t divorce me, it’s their business.

"Look at that house," he’s saying. He’s standing closer to me and pointing at the house across the street. "Those arches," he’s saying, "That house may have been built earlier. Twenties, maybe even 1910. That house is for sale?" He’s looking at the next one down. "Is there a lot of turnover in this neighborhood?"

"Not really—I don’t know."

"How’s the market?"

"I..really don’t know."

"Ha," he says. "I bet your computer cost more than your car. It’s a different age."

That’s not exactly true, but..I know what he means.

We take a walk around the neighborhood. He likes it. He tells me about his house—how he’s taking off a room and adding a big window so he can see the woods. We had big windows in our house in north Dayton, actually—pretty big. The one he’s describing in Delaware sounds giant.

"I’ve got my work area set up there..I can see the woods. It’s a land trust," he says, and then he’s telling me what a land trust is and some about the history of Delaware and how they think about land there. It’s different than Ohio. They hold land in common there. Somehow. They still own it—I don’t know exactly, but it makes him feel more like an American. Delaware is a commonwealth. I don’t know. I always assume the country is about to fall apart, so I don’t worry about the details of how it’s currently put together. "You’ve got a nice neighborhood here," he says. "Nice set-up." He’s seen this neighborhood before, he just likes to talk about it. "How’s Ryne’s place doing?" Ryne is the guy who owns Pacchia, the expensive pizza restaurant where Jules ditches me.

"I guess..it’s doing fine. People are..in there. All the time. It’s full. I don’t really see him..I saw him..once. I think he’s like..in..scuba diving or something..in Central America. Or no: Australia. He’s..yeah I guess he’s doing well. Dad..so..tonight I’m going out with some friends. Sorry..but..wasn’t exactly sure when you were coming until recently and I have..it’s just..I’ll be home later but you and I can hang out this afternoon, right? And I’ll be back later—we can start up again tomorrow morning. What time do you usually get up?"

"Well, I don’t know," he says, "I’m on vacation."

"Alright, well. I’ll be around. If you need to call me, you can, and..until then..we can hang out. I’ll leave late..like ten o’clock. Or..eleven. So between now and then—you wanna get..err..coffee? Do you drink coffee?"

"Ava makes coffee," he says.

"Well let’s just sit over here for a while, you can get a drink and..we’ll talk."

"That’s fine," he says, pulling out his iPhone. He takes it out of a case—those ridiculous cases they try to up-sell you when you buy a phone. "I’ve just got—I do have an appointment later today that I have to keep." He’s scrolling, tapping. He gets out his reading glasses.

"Are those your two-point-fives?"

"What? Oh," he laughs. He lowers the glasses and squints at them. "Why yeah, Matthew, they are." That’s what he calls them. He has two pair, each a different magnification. One are the two-point-ohs. One are the two-point-fives. He just has a minor appointment he has to keep, with an ex-girlfriend, Mandy. She’s not a business acquaintance, though I’m sure that’s what she is in his mind. I doubt they’re even going to have sex. He’s just keeping his bases loaded, in a long-term sense.

He always does this. Comes to visit and then has other things to do. If he wasn’t seeing Mandy, he might not even come to Dayton. I’m not sure if that’s true but that’s what it seems like.

"I’ll get a water." I have my wallet out.

"I know what you want." Brit pushes my wallet away.

"This is my dad. What are you having?"

"Hi Mr. Temple." Brit comes around the counter and hugs my dad. We’re hugging kind of people here. Brit hugs me too. Why can’t I have a simple relationship—or simple-er—like the one Brit and I would have if we could have that kind of relationship. Brit’s looking in my eyes and I know she’s thinking of the word "cunt" but she’s not going to say it in front of my dad.

Don’t do it, my eyes say.

Cunt cunt cunt! her eyes say back.

"Brit is into words," I tell my dad.

Brit sparkles and says "Exactly!" She turns. "I’ll bring it. You can go wherever."

I grab a water and take my dad to the outside door. "She’s into words?" he says.

Guys with Harleys are revving past the point of our having a conversation. Brit brings my dad’s coffee.

"Are we seeing you later?" she asks.

"Yes you are," (you cunt).

Brit goes.

"Going to Dayton," my dad tells me. He takes the top off his drink.

I know where this is going and I cringe.

"Going to Dayton in the fall. Maybe September." He means Dayton, Kentucky—where his dad lives. It’s confusing, I know. There are two Daytons though, Dayton Ohio and Dayton Kentucky. "Dad is very sick," he says. "He’s up and around but—" (here he tells me the details about my grandfather’s particular type of cancer, which I’m not repeating because it’s personal and it doesn’t matter—he has cancer and he’s going to die from it and it’s horrible) "—he also can’t hear like he used to," my dad reminds me.

"That’s what happens when you work in a machine shop."

"What?" my dad asks. He heard me just fine.

"Didn’t he spend a lot of his life working in a machine shop?"

"A woodworking shop," he says. "He was a woodworker—a carpenter."

"I know, I just—I said the word wrong. A wood shop. I’m sure that’s why he can’t hear, right?"

My dad sips his coffee. "I suspect so," he says.

"How’s your coffee? Does it compare to Ava’s?"

"It’s good," he says, "But no. Your grandfather may not live past this winter. Me and the other kids..we’re thinking Mom will come to live with me, in Delaware."


"She’s in better health, but she’s lost some of her..capacity..for..well she’s ninety-three."


"Did you get my email?"

"Which one?"

"I’d like it if you come with me to Dayton when I go. Before you say anything, just listen to me, ok."

I nod.

"I visited him this last spring..oh..this was end-of-May/April. You know he likes watching ballgames. We got him an earpiece, hooks into the TV, so he can hear what he’s listening to. Mom doesn’t like it too much cause she says it makes him orn’ry" (ornery) "..I figure if he wants to watch his ballgames then he gets to watch his ballgames."

I chuckle—genuinely—at this point, cause I agree. I don’t care, but I agree.

"He can get to his swimming lessons ok," (my dad actually says "swimming lessons" even though I’m sure he can’t be taking swimming lessons—he’s just swimming, at some time specified for old people) "he swims laps. I hope I’m still able to swim laps when I’m ninety-six."

"Are you still running?"

"Yeah," he says, and he pats his belly. "I ride the bike more. The sidewalks where we live are very narrow. In some places there aren’t even sidewalks. I almost got run off the road a couple weeks ago by an equipment truck—"

"Well you look good."

"When I go in September," he says, "I want you to come with me. Think about it. When I was there in April we did some walking in the grove. Your grandfather still remembers you when you were a boy. We went out walking. His eyesight’s not very good but his memory is..pretty sharp. He was telling a story of you playing with a snake in the back yard—do you remember that?"

"No," I say.

My dad laughs. "I didn’t remember it either, at first. But it was this green snake—it wasn’t poisonous. Or no—this was a garter snake—so that would have been brown? What color is a garter snake?"

"It’s brown," I say. I can’t help but laughing.

"Do you remember this now?" he asks.

"No," I say.

"Well, Granddaddy does. He started telling me this story..his eyes lit up. He was raising his hands and I couldn’t even tell some of what he was saying when he was saying it but he remembered you playing with this snake you found in the back yard. When I talk with him, I remember what it was like to be a child, at that house. Those dogs—remember those cages? You used to play in. He was talking about his heart the other day." My dad sits back. "He was telling me..he got thinkin about his heart. He was feeling it beat. And he was thinking about how long it had been with him—his whole life—since before he ever thought about it or knew he had a heart—as a kid. I think it really amazed him. How long it had been there, keeping him going."

You can see my dad thinking about it—the twinkle in his eye.

"I want you to think about coming with me this fall," he says. He pats my knee. He sits back. He takes out his two-point-ohs and scrutinizes the details of appointments on his iPhone. "Just think about it," he says.

"Dad. I’m going."

"Ok Matt."

"Do you have what you need?"

He looks up. He’s fiddling with the remote on my computer. "Huh? How do you change the channel on this?"

"You wanna watch TV? Here, use this..click this. It’s..in there. See?"

"I’ll be fine, Matt."

"Alright I’ll be home later, I’ll sleep in here so I don’t wake you."

"Don’t worry about waking me."

"Ok. I’ll see you soon Dad. You’ve got your car so.. Alright. See you in the morning. We’ll—if you want to throw the frisbee."

"That sounds good, son." He smiles. I hate it when he says son.

I’m not planning on sleeping tonight. I will play frisbee tomorrow. But I won’t have slept between now and then.

I close the door.

"Bye Dad."

Unlocking the warehouse. I sit on my couch. This is the shitty green one I’ve had forever. This used to be in my apartment. My old apartment. Text Jules.

Come by?

Jiant’s bringing me.

Good :: see you soon

cu ::stole my punct she says.

deal:: I say.

I leave the warehouse door open. Spike comes in. He sees me on the couch. He doesn’t nod. He doesn’t say anything. He walks around the whole warehouse and stands in front of every painting. He flips into a stack to see what’s hidden. He looks over at me when he sees the paintings in back. I have my phone up and I’m fielding arrows from Jules on how if I steal her punctuation I can at least use it correctly. I’m trying to type the word "reappropriated" on my phone keyboard when Spike’s talking to me.

"There’s not a bad painting in here," he says.

I bow, as much as I can on a couch. Spike is a professional artist. He makes money off this shit.

"You know why I don’t come by that often," he says.

I nod. I know. Our work is similar. Neither one is copying off the other but we both use letters—we use words—in our paint. So. We keep our distance. Other than that we might be friends.

"Workin tonight?"

"When I leave my studio," he says, "bad things happen. It’s the safest place for me to be. Are you working?" he says. He stands near the couch but doesn’t sit down.

"I’m playing," I say, and I’m sure he knows what that means, coming from me, since this is a small building.

"Do some painting while you’re at it," he says. "Forget about your friends." I can tell he wants to say more but is holding back. "Paint," he says. And he leaves.

I’m texting Jules trying to make sure it’s gonna be ok that Chad’s here.

Zombie gets there first.

"’Fuck is Jiant?"

"She and Juliet are getting coffee," Zombie tells me.

"Great," I say. "What are you doing tonight?" I ask her.

"Whatever I want," she says.

"Just keep that stuff away from Jules," I say.

But Zombie says I mean keep it away from me.

Everyone’s in street clothes. It’s not like the Naughty. Ashley’s not invited. She knows it’s going on, cause she knows all my business. But we’ve agreed it’ll be better if Jules has some space from her. So the fledgling relationship can build itself in private. Jules is meditating when she gets there. She goes straight to the center of the room. She crosses her legs. She closes her eyes. She puts her hands on her knees, palms down. Jiant sits by me on the couch. I hand her my keys. She picks out the car key. I point to the upper level of the warehouse.

"It’s up there," I say.

I watch Jules meditate. MJ gets off the couch and goes up the stairs into the enclosed room of my space. I see the light turn on. Jules sits perfectly still, except her breathing. She doesn’t need to do drugs to get spacey. She’s already there. She moves her hands, and I know she’s doing our mirror exercise, but one half of her is mirroring the other half. I don’t feel like going down there. Jules is in her vortex now, she’s gone so deep into that hole that I’m not sure anyone could follow her. I want to—maybe—but maybe I want to come back. Maybe I like this world—just a little bit. I’m not blaming her; we have different pasts. She stands. She stretches. Jiant comes down with my purple bag. She holds it up. Zombie is with her on the stairs. They go in the bag and feed themselves. I look to the door. It’s open. No Chad. Jiant follows my glance to the door and, with Zombie, goes to it. She sets the purple bag beside the door, just inside my warehouse, and she and Zombie go out. They close the door. It’s me, and it’s Jules meditating, and Zombie and MJ have gone down the hallway to let their ecstasy come on. To watch the rain. To see the wind in the back parking lot, where old packing machinery and wooden pallets and industrial-sized screws are getting old, rusting, falling out. A ripped barbed-wire fence. Concrete walls. I know that hallway, that they’re walking down. The end of the building is open, by a stairway. The hall just ends, in this open space, one board set there for railing, but you could easily fall out. We like to sit there, dangle our feet over, watch the rain. Air rushes through the whole hallway, from outside, and in the fall it gets your stomach. They’ll sit there like children, feel themselves get high, they’ll start to talk of love. As girls, they’ll probably hold hands, and when they start to lean on each other, they’ll see they’re high enough they shouldn’t be sitting on a ledge. Then they’ll come back, and we’ll all be high.

I watch Jules move.

I text Chad but he’s not there.

I feed Jules her pill. She lies down on my bedding upstairs. It’s not a bed—it’s some blankets. She unzips her pants (because she’s a freak like that) and she squirms her vagina on my hand while she takes it. She puts the pill in her mouth. She takes the water. She brings our mouths together and lets me kiss her ecstasy mouth, lets me taste it. She swallows it and gives me mine. She knows I like to keep it under my tongue. I set mine on the desk and Jules shakes her head. She unzips my pants. She has my dick hard before I put the pill in my mouth. I want to let her make me cum. She touches my nipples and she’s fucking me with her mouth. She slows—she’s sucking me. I love her tongue. Just make me cum, Jules.


Did I say that out loud?

Jules nods.

I lie down, like a child—who’s being taken care of—and I don’t worry about anything—I don’t worry about balance or whether she’s going to come or what’s going to happen later. I just lie. I feel. My penis in her mouth, her tongue all over me. It’s..just..the way it should be. I hold my ecstasy pill under my tongue and Ashley flashes into my head for an instant, but I shut her out—that isn’t right. I look at the window. And it’s a storm. I grip Jules’ hair. She likes it when I do that. She likes to be controlled. And with my dick in her mouth, and me lying back and her on top of me, I guess I like the same.

I’m looking at the wall. At a screw that’s been screwed in too far, screwed in below the surface. Chad did that. He overdoes things. This is why all of us are friends. But I shut him out, too, and it’s just a screw in the wall, and cracked green paint, and plywood below it, and Jules is taking me in her mouth and lapping me, up and down, and not letting up, and I feel that warmth of rushing, and I relax my muscles, and I let it happen. That’s how Jules and I define ecstasy. You can’t make it happen. It’s all around you. You just let it happen. You let it come upon you. I’m not talking about MDMA, I’m talking about ecstasy, in a large sense. It’s all around you. It’s trying to come upon you. It’s actually harder to keep it away than it is to let it come. You just have to stop resisting, and..then..that is when ecstasy happens.

Two girls on a ledge, at the end of a hallway. Warehouse. Storm coming. Brown leaves crumbling, swirling in the wind. Thinking about their other friend—about friends who couldn’t be here. They talk about acting, and how they couldn’t have met otherwise. They imagine themselves young, before all this happened, before they ever found each other as company, before they ever tried ecstasy. And things will get worse for them, after this moment—better and worse. One will end up in California, in Los Angeles. She will act on TV. She will continue to do cocaine. She will find out she can’t have kids. She will find out she doesn’t want to. She will get married. But she will always like girls. Even though she likes guys, too. She and her husband will stop having sex, and she will lose her edge. She’ll still have the body, but it will be dulled. It will be the same shape, but it won’t feel the same to her. She’ll drive very very fast when she’s alone. That’s Zombie. MJ will do way more drugs than any of us, in her lifetime. She’ll share Jules’s tendency to throw up her food. She’ll fall back on her dad’s money, she’ll be sitting poolside talking to herself in the third person, and all her old friends will say this behind her back. She’ll become cruel. She’ll never be any less intelligent. She’ll forget all about this warehouse, and this night, and unless someone mentions it to her, she’ll never think of this night, again, past a certain point in her life. And there’s Chad, riding up on Penny’s bike, and the two girls see him below. And he doesn’t see them, not at first, even though they’re waving and MJ says "Chad" but her voice is hoarse, quiet, like mine—not good for yelling. Her sound is lost on the air down a tall story to the parking lot. Chad struggles with the bike, but he has big arms, and he’s getting it right when he looks up and sees MJ and her friend. He sets the bike, tests it. It holds, purple long cruiser, giant gas tank, stretched out, sculpted. Fixed from the crash. Chad will like them sitting up there, but won’t be able to see them clearly without his glasses—which he needs to get. He’ll blow his hair back in the wind and put it in a rubber band, and wave anyway even though he’s not sure who is up there.

Chad will think about this moment a lot—he’ll have time to think. He’ll stop doing drugs, ecstasy, pot, anything..tomorrow. This night will be the last night he does any drugs—even takes an aspirin—for the rest of his life.

The bike is steady. He waves at the girls.

MJ’s voice comes down hoarse on the air, and he hears her saying his name, and he knows that it’s MJ. And that it must be Zombie sitting next to her because that girl is small and mixed and Brooklyn is tall with long, black, straight, white people hair—a female version of Chad.

"Come up to us..we’ll come down." It’s MJ’s voice and he sees them standing, precarious even to his blurred vision, and he hopes they won’t fall. But they don’t. They stand and go back into the long hallway. Chad leaves the bike in the rain.

I’m fucking Jules and sweating when Chad comes in the warehouse. It’s him and MJ and Zombie. Chad yells and does some sort of acrobatics but MJ hush-hushes him and Zombie and all of them are laughing which is distracting while you’re fucking. The door to the upstairs is closed. It’s just thin wood, though, they can hear us. I don’t stop, and Jules is biting my ear and even though I’m sweating my ass off I don’t stop until I feel her hot and rush wet between the legs. Then she lets me go. She pulls her pants right up and goes downstairs. I’m slower, coming after her, and she’s hugging Chad and her hair is wild. She’s got her hair thing in her hand but she doesn’t use it.

"I heard you were having a party," Chad says deeply.

"Does this look like a party?" I ask.

"Sounds like one," he says.

"This isn’t a party," I say.


"No. It’s a get-together. You have to have at least twice this number of people for a party. Where’s Penelope?"

Chad doesn’t say anything.

"Did you drive?"

"Yeah, he comes up on this sweetbike," MJ says.

"Did you learn to drive that thing?"

Chad just says: "Do you have something for me?"

I say: "Yeah."

Roof in the rain. It’s hardly raining. It’s windy, though. Dark, and you can see the lights of Dayton, buildings in the distance. You’re not supposed to be up here..but..it’s the only way to watch the storm. Jules is getting agitated. Zombie and Chad are buddy-buddy. MJ and I are talking about math and how every problem in math is basically about mapping one set onto another (smaller) set.

We’re all in love. We love this roof, we love that we’re able to come up here, I love that I was able to rent this space and Chad loves that I have the job I do, so that I could rent this space that we all love. Jules is the only one who’s out of tune.

"I’m..just..not.." she’s banging the tar with her fist. "I can’t.."

"I’m’onna go check on her," I say.

"I don’t need to be checked on," Jules says.

"Well I’m gonna come sit with you. Is that ok?"

"I guess."

"I love this roof," she says.

"I love it too. I love us."

She gets serious. "I love us, too."

"So love me," I say.

"I did love you. I loved you twice."

I whisper in her ear: "You loved me once. The second time..I loved you."

They don’t mind us kissing. Everyone’s happy. It’s the three of them holding hands and kicking the side of the building and then it’s the five of us holding hands and trading sweaters and going up and down the ladder to get to this part of the roof. Zombie and Chad leave and come back with all the blankets from my bedding. They’re wrapped around them. We make a huddle, and at one point we’re all in a ball, and I’m looking at MJ’s hair, and it’s mixed together with Chad’s. Red and black, and I’m swirling them in my fingers. Jiant and I sang a flower once. I remember that. We sang it to life and sang it petals. Now: hair. Strings of black, strands of red.

And there’s rain.

One of the last warm days, and not-caring if we got wet, not for a moment, but—

"Aren’t you cold?"

"I like the rain."

"I have to go inside."

"Go inside."

"I want to be with you."

"Then be with me."

"But it’s cold. I’ll stay with you—how long are you staying here?"

"Just..a drop..you don’t have to stay, Jules, don’t let yourself get cold."

"How are you not cold?"

"I’m..just..feeling the rain."

"Enjoy, you two." That’s Chad. He’s the last of the three of them going down the ladder. His head disappears back inside the building.

Jules is next to me, and she’s anxious, and she won’t take my arm around her. She’s cold but she won’t cuddle. She sits a foot away. Then she wraps her arms around me and puts her head in my armpit, practically, and squeezes the life out of me. She can’t get still. I know that talking to her right now will only agitate her. She won’t go inside because she wants more than anything to be with me. And I’ve never met anyone I like more than her—and I’m totally under her power!—but right this moment I have a glimpse that I might be the one who likes less and she might be the one who likes more. I hate this thought, because it means she’s never going to leave me (that’s not the part I hate)..and it means, that of the two of us, I’m going to be the one to leave her. I can’t imagine how, I can’t think of ever wanting to, but I just know, based on this imbalance, that somehow, in the future, I am going to be the one leaving her.



"Be still."

"I know, I’m trying, I can’t, what’s wrong with me?"


"Is it the drug?"


"I just can’t..you know sometimes I can’t—"

"I know."

"I know you know. How are you so calm? What’s going on in you?"

"Do you think I’m too cold?" I ask. "I don’t mean temperature." I’m serious. Sometimes I wonder about that.

"Baby," she laughs. "No." She laughs and holds me, and I can feel her shivering.

"Let’s get you inside."

"I don’t want to interrupt your meditation," she says.

"I’m not meditating," I say.

She’s looking at me with these wild eyes.

I’m feeling the raindrops. I’m breathing—wind. I know the storm that’s coming.

Jules puts her hand on my chest. She feels me. She’s looking at me with some kind of fear. It’s not me she’s afraid for, though. She’s breathing—in. She’s breathing—out. She’s perfectly fine. She’s the most powerful person I’ve ever met. She wipes the rain off her face. Her mouth is open. Her eyes: won’t blink. She says: "You’re not meditating?"


"What," she says, "are you doing—what do you think you’re doing?"

I look at her. I don’t know. I’m just sitting with the rain.



"Talk to me."

"About what?"

"About what’s wrong!"

"I think you must already know."

"I don’t."

"Think hard. Why would I be upset."

"I don’t want to guess."

"Use your intuition."

"Juliet, come—please come inside. Let’s go, please. I thought you were cold."

She won’t say a thing—nothing that can’t be said with a turned back and crossed arms.

I’m shaking my head—to no one, since she’s not looking.

Juliet is not moving.

I lie down on the roof.

"See, there you go."

"There I go what," I say.

"You’ve eclipsed me. Don’t lie there, you’re—oh, there’s grit there. Matthew."

"Are we going in?"


"Then why do you want me to get up."


"What were you saying, just now. I mean now that we’re..out here, talking—"

"Matthew get up—"

"No. What did you mean ’I eclipsed you’? What did you exactly mean?"

"Tell me how you’re doing it," she says.

"Wha—ok. Jules..are you joking me?"

"You’ve seen it, haven’t you?"

"What are you talking about."

"You’ve seen the vortex."

"Aww, man." I close my eyes. This is one of those trap conversations! Whatever I say I lose! If I say I haven’t seen the vortex she’ll call me a liar—because she obviously’s decided I have. And I can’t say I have seen "the vortex" because then I really would be lying! Why did I ever entertain that idea in the first place? Would I be here, with her, if I hadn’t?

"I know you’ve seen it." She’s by my side. She rubs my belly as she talks. She touches my shoulders. "You’ve seen it here, haven’t you. Not the one in Zaire—obviously—but they really are in Dayton, aren’t they? I knew you had, a couple weeks ago, when you got out of the bathtub. I saw it..in your eye."

I’m blinking in the rain.

"You didn’t have to tell me," she says. "I could tell from the story in your eye. This eye had the story. This one echoed it. They told me without your knowing it!" She scooches closer. "There was a vortex in your eye! And sometimes..there was a vortex in your mouth. A dark no-thing-ness..on your tongue. You had silent teeth. Your ears were swirling with sound. And you made your back, from the beat of a drum."

I want to tell her that she’s just high, that she’s just rolling, that the ecstasy has her rapping in tongues. But she’ll never listen. I want to tell her that, yes, I have seen the vortex, but it wasn’t in Zaire or Dayton or any other physical place. It was when I met you.

It was when I met you. It was at that party. It was in the upstairs floor of that unfinished house, with MJ and the jello shots. It was in you, Jules, in every word you spoke and the ways you believed in them. It wasn’t even in your story about the news truck broadcasting live from some gravitational tornado in the middle of Africa. It was just the way you moved. That slow way, that way you took up time. Took it up like you were collecting rope, took it up like those little mome wraths in Wonderland, sweeping up the path behind Alice, gathering all the breadcrumbs, until there wasn’t a way back.

And then you left me here in Wonderland.

And yes, thank you very much for being a fucking psycho.

Because I never would have fallen for you otherwise.

Juliet—with a fucking t. I now believe in intelligent design because you were designed for me.


Crazy enough for me to believe. I wouldn’t have paid a moment’s attention to anyone sane. Crazy enough to attract me. Cause sane people don’t get up and make a whole room dance. Crazy enough to drive me crazy, because I don’t—I really don’t know how far down the rabbit hole..your sanity goes.

It may just be excessive belief, that you have. In which case you’re yin and I’m yang.

But when I met you, some little demons started deflating the bubble of my yang. They replaced it with a fun house mirror. Or: a silk scarf from some trickster who keeps making everything go away.

So yeah: I believe in the vortex. What did you say it was? Some thing wherein if I go too far in, I’ll never come out? Sounds about right. What if the vortex goes too far into the vortex, eh Jules? What if the vortex goes too far into itself? Because I think that’s what’s happening to you.

I can’t argue with you because you believe what you’re telling me. Or it really is that good of an act that you’ll just keep it going no matter what happens, even if it means screaming at me in a car over something you’re not even mad about, even if it means working yourself up..you’re going to keep acting..until it becomes real—aren’t you? That’s your vortex: go so far into your own play..that you can’t tell the difference. That’s what took you away from me, I believe. You just pretended yourself away.

So yeah, I know the vortex. I believe in it. I believe that whatever you decide to happen, happens. I believe, in your case, you’ve chosen to go away. You decided you didn’t like this world. You didn’t want to be here. You just made us all seem worse than we were, me, your mother, the stupid older men who mentored at your spirit camp. They’re not evil. None of us are. You just decided that this place was unacceptable to you. Hence the vortex. Am I right? You can tell me. I’m not going to critique you, Jules. I just want to know. You just basically decided to leave, sanity first, and this was the story you made up to help you do it.

"It doesn’t matter what you believe. I saw it in your eye. You know, you could have a fever and not believe it. That doesn’t mean you don’t have it. And when I say you have eclipsed me, that is not an insult to me. I love myself," she says, and that’s the only part of this so far that I don’t believe. "I love myself, and nothing about you upsets me..especially not that you’ve done something wonderful that I haven’t."

"You can do whatever you want," I say.

But she calls me a divine master god. That’s what she says. That’s her terminology, which I hate. Or: am exceedingly uncomfortable with. "You are a divine master," she says. "I am..not," she says. "I’m not ready."

"You’re just being melodramatic cause you’re on ecstasy."

"That’s exactly what a divine master would say," she tells me.

I laugh.

"And that is exactly how a divine master would laugh."

"Well. Tell me something a divine master wouldn’t do..then I’ll do that."

She shakes her head. "You’re joking. But. That’s exactly how a divine master would joke."

"I’m not comfortable with the term ’divine master’," I tell her, but she just laughs, because even this confirms her theory. "Look at you," she says, "You’re radiating with infinite wisdom."

In the future, I do less drugs with people, because I like to know what of their insights come to them unaided. But, it turns out (in the future) that whether I do drugs or not, not many people have insights—at all. I just..was oversaturated with it in my youth. I just happened to be around..lots of people who were insightful. By lots I mean like..two. But that’s lots compared to what’s happened since.

I have Jules lying on my chest. She’s facing the buildings of Dayton. I can’t see them. I’m looking straight up into the darkness.

"You’re a divine master to me," I say.

"But you hate the terminology."

"Well. In my terms. You’re.. You show me things."

"Like what. Be specific."

"You know the story of..the..it’s like when you’re with people, when you’re with other people, you show me how I should be with them or..how I could be with them. I think..I lack compassion. I think that’s something I have to learn in this life."

I’m expecting Jules to stop me but she doesn’t.

I’m touching her rainy face, her cheek, and her leg is over me.

"I care about people. But. I don’t have..real compassion for them. I do for some..but that’s the problem. Because compassion..isn’t just for people you like. Right?" I chuckle. "That’s my problem. I love some people, but..I really don’t love other ones."

"You’re scared," she says. "You’re scared to love them, or scared to admit that you do. Why are you scared?"

"I don’t know."

"Just tell me why you’re scared."

"I’m—I don’t—really I don’t know. Do you?"

"No, I don’t. I’ve been trying to figure that out since I met you."

"You have compassion for people, though. That’s one of the things I learn from you. When you talk to people, it’s like they’re the only thing that matters to you, right then—"

"Oh usually I’m not even listening—"

"Well whatever you’re doing..it’s working..for them—"

"It makes me sick," she says.

I let her talk.

"They’re fake. They’re all fake. They don’t really have problems. To have problems you have to feel. You I think are starting to feel."

"You feel very well," I say.

"So?" she says.

"So count your strengths," I say.

"What was the story you were going to tell me earlier?"

"What story?"

"You said you’d tell me a story."

"What was it about?"

"I don’t know, you never told it yet."

"I’ll tell you a story about a little girl and a little boy who laid outside on a roof so long they got sick and couldn’t enjoy their ecstasy—"

"That’s not the one."

"Mmmm. I have one..about..a little girl who..got..is?—I’m not sure this is the one you want me to tell you."

"What’s this one about?"

"This one’s about a little girl who..got..horny and fucked her boyfriend on ecstasy on the roof of his warehouse?"

"Unnh," she says. "That’s not a story you tell me..that’s a story I tell you."

"That’s what I was hoping," I say.

But she says: "I’m serious. What was your story?"

I didn’t tell her. I told her "I don’t remember." I made her tell me her story, the one I wanted to be told, about the little girl on the roof who makes love to her boyfriend. In the rain. And she hurts her knees. And they come back inside soaking wet to their ecstasy party in the warehouse, and have to change clothes, etc. etc. etc. But I lied. I didn’t forget my story—I didn’t forget the one I was going to tell her. And I should have told her then, because I never did tell it, after that night. I never told it to her at all. But it was this story I heard in counseling, like years before that, and..this story is about a woman walking along a beach..and..this woman is picking up starfish and throwing them back to the ocean. This beach is full of starfish..they’re stranded because of the tide and they can’t breathe..they’ll..you know..they’ll die, if they sit there too long..they’ll dry up, and they’ll die. So this guy comes up to her and he looks down the beach and it’s..just..miles and miles of starfish..there’s thousands of them..maybe there’s millions. This guy is like: "What are you doing? There’s millions of these. You can’t pick them all up. You can stand here and throw those back in until you die and it’s not gonna make a dent. As many as you could ever throw back, it’s not gonna matter." And this woman, with a starfish in her hand, says: "It matters to this one."

That’s kinda how I feel about Jules. That’s why I loved her. She didn’t really care how many there were to throw back, and the way she was going about saving them..didn’t make any sense. But..she loves the world, and that’s the most attractive quality that exists.

I wake up seeing her face in the sunlight. I wake up hearing her breathe. Hearing her breath, move in and out. Seeing her lips, her nose. Watching her chest move. Seeing her clutch the blankets, lying sideways on the hard floor of my warehouse.

Hearing Chad leave earlier, and MJ, and Zombie, through the downstairs door, through light sleep, and knowing we were alone.

Jules has written on the wall, in crayon: All space is here. All time is now. We all write on the wall here but Jules’s words are the best.

I brush her face. I run my fingers on her neck. In time she wakes. She rolls up on an elbow and pulls my arm around her.



"I love you."

"I love you too. I think that’s the first time you’ve said it."

"I’ve said it in my heart before."

"I’ve heard it there."

And then we say it with our lips.

And Jules says: "I remember our first kiss. So delicate. So slow."

"I loved that kiss."

"I did too. And I remember our second one. That one..was a little bit different," she says.

"I liked them both."

"Mmmm hmmmm," she says. "But that first one—"

"I was scared," I say.

"You were??!"


"Why were you scared?"

"Because. I didn’t know if you liked me. The same way..I liked you."

"Oh. Awww. Ohhhh-o, Matthew, I did. I did. I liked you from the moment I saw you. Awww, you were scared?"

"Mmm hmm."

"But I did like you."

"I was so glad."

"I was glad too! And you kissed me..the way you kissed me.."

"Which one the first one or the second one?"

"Oh-h, naughty. I think you want something like the second one right now."

"I want you to tell me about our first kiss," I say.

"Well. Oh, Matthew, I love the way you kiss."


"I love the way you held my face."

"You remember that?"

"I remember every little thing. I remember how you pulled me into you and..how I pulled you into me..and how our arms were. And you were so slow."

"In a bad way?"

"Ohh-h no. In a very good way. You..take..your time. You always do. I love that about you. When you walk. When you eat. When you kiss. Sometimes when you make love."

"But when I kiss?"

"Oh yes. You took your time..here..and here..and here. And you kissed me right here..and here."

"And then I kissed you here."

"Yes. Do you like the way I kiss?"

"Yes. And I like that first kiss, too, actually. I mean the second kiss was..more.."

"The second kiss was fucking."

"Right. Well that was nice. But that first kiss.."

"It was special."

"It was, and it was slow. I like the slowness of it too."

"You were so delicate when you first kissed me."

"I’m glad. I’m glad I was. I wanted it to be slow. I didn’t want to rush with you."

"Why didn’t you."

"Because I really loved you. Or: I liked you at the time. But I knew you were special—I mean I really liked you. I didn’t want to mess things up."

"Awww..Matthew. You know you could never mess things up with me. You know that now, don’t you?"

"I feel more comfortable with you, now. Did you mind, the first time we kissed, that I..touched you a little bit?"

"I liked it."

"It wasn’t too much?"

"It was the right amount."

"I wanted to touch you, but..I didn’t wanna..make it seem like.."

Jules is waiting for the words.

"I didn’t wanna seem too forward."

"Your hands were more on me when we were dancing."

"Oh, I love dancing with you. I love how wild you are."

"I love the way you dance," she says.

"My crazy dancing?"

"You just let go—"

"It’s dorky—"

"No, it’s actually not."

"Well, I like the way you dance. I never see you move like that otherwise."

"What—like this?"


"I’ll move any way you want me to."


"Do you really love me?"


"Say it again."

"I love you. I love you, Jules, in crazy ways."

Jules hugs me like I’ve never felt her hug before. "I needed you. I was missing you, before. I’ve been afraid."

"Don’t be."

"I was scared last night, in the rain."

"Don’t be scared. Please. What can I do that you won’t be scared?"

Jules sits us up, in our meditation pose. She says: "We are divine masters..together. And we have to keep each other here. This world distracts me. It pulls me away. Not like you. You’re here. But you’ve got to pull me back in. Keep me here."

"I will."

"It’s so easy for me to get lost..there are so many influences. And I’m very distracted..very..and I don’t want to ever be without you. I don’t ever want to be anywhere but here."

"All those pulls from every direction, even though they’re strong, they can’t take you. You can stay here. We can center ourselves, here."

"I think you already have."

"Well I need you here with me."

"You’ll have to show me how you do it."

I look her in the eyes. "Don’t doubt yourself."

"I was so scared without you. So scared," she says.

I hug her, and she’s crying.

"It was so lonely without you. I was so lonely."

"I saw how scared you were," I say. I’m holding her face in my hands. "I saw you."

"I was so scared! I knew that you were leaving and I wanted to come with you. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to."

"Release yourself from the fear that we will be apart."

"You’re not gonna leave me?"


"Ok," she breathes.

"Release yourself from the fear that I will leave you."

"I release myself from the fear that you will leave me." She says it. The meditation is taking hold. I can feel her breathing. That posture is there: her perfect meditation pose. She says: "I release myself from the fear that you will transcend beyond my reach."


"I think you’ve been speaking to me a long time."

"Yes. Since before I knew you."

"I was trying to allow myself to listen," she says, "but it took a long time. I’m a good listener, but.."

"Some things are difficult to hear."

"I know!"

"I know. For me too. For me too." I’m looking at this woman that I love, and I’m saying to myself: In your arms, I am home. That’s what my mind is saying. I don’t know how I got to this point, but I’m here, with her. "I found it," I say.

"Was it lost?"

"I remembered."

"Had you ever really forgotten?"

I remember that which I have known all along. I find you—who have always been at my side. I open myself completely. I attune myself to ecstasy. "I’m reacquainting myself with ecstasy," I say.

And Jules says: "Is this really real? Is this real?"


I touch her, and I see her release herself to ecstasy. I see her begin to remember..

And then there’s Jules’s crayon writing, next to us: All space is here. All time is now.

"We are here, now, forever."

"We will always be here, now, forever."

"We have always been here, now, forever."

We are here, now, forever.

Jules and I sat in the car in front of the warehouse. She played me her music. She sang it for me. She sang it to me, really, like every lyric had already said something she wanted to say to me. Should I tell you what her music was? I don’t know if it matters. I guess I will: it was Dar Williams. Jules loved it.

"Oh I must confess," she sang to me, "I was drawn, I was drawn to the ocean.." Singing her pretty voice in the car, just to me. "And the ones that can know you so well are the ones that can swallow you whole." Jules sings directly to me. I keep her eyes. I don’t look away. "I have a good and I have an evil. I thought the ocean..the ocean thought nothing. You are the welcoming back from the ocean."

I start the car. I drive us to Jules’s place. I don’t want her to meet my dad and she doesn’t want to meet him, either—"Only if you want me to."

"Not really."

"I wouldn’t want you to meet my parents, either," Jules says. "Maybe my dad. Definitely not my mom. We can just be.." she sings along with the tune of the song, but in the words of our conversation "..we can just be..for ourselves..in our own precious ocean. You and me..sometimes the ones you know..don’t know you at all.. And sometimes..sometimes the ones you just met..have known you forever.." It was something like that. I don’t remember her improvised lyrics, exactly. It wasn’t raining anymore. The roads were wet. It was Sunday morning—no one out. That eerie quiet of streets that are normally busy—with no one on them. I took my time at the red lights. Stopped in front of Jules’s place, up Ludlow. Jules was still singing.

"You don’t know how precious you are," she sang, in Dar’s lyrics. "I am the one who lives with the ocean." Jules, singing right to me in someone else’s words. "You don’t know how..I am the one. You don’t know how..I am the one."

"Dad?" I’m going in. "Dad. Let’s—you wanna get some breakfast?"

I go into my bedroom. He’s under the covers with tent-pole. I mean: my fur. I shouldn’t have gone in. It’s space under there for his dick and his hands!—a big pocket right by his dick.

He’s looking at me, surprised.

I decide to me unphased. "You wanna get some breakfast?"

"Sure, Matt."

"Great," I say. I leave my bedroom and close the door.

I take a shower. By the time I’m done, Dad’s out of my room and I change in private, wearing one of my velour sweatsuits I got at the thrift store.

I’m standing at the door; he’s on my French couch.

"Ready to go?"

Dad stands up. "Yep."

Dad never asks where I was all night and I never bug him about the fact I caught him masturbating in my bed.

There are planes flying by, overhead. I’m with my dad before security. Can’t see a thing, but: I’m listening to the planes go.

"It’s been good seeing you."

"So," he says, "what are your plans for today."

"Well, I’m gonna do some painting. Grocery shopping. Maybe clean the apartment."

"You’ve got a really nice place, here. It looks like you’re in your element. It’s a nice neighborhood."

"Thanks. What are your plans for the day?"

"Well. I’ve got my reading on my phone. Got the Utne Reader subscription on here, believe that? It’s a little hard to read, but.."

"I think you can magnify it if you do this." I reach for his phone but he won’t let me touch it. It’s subtle, but he pulls it back.

He looks at me over his glasses.

"Well," I ask, "What are you doing when you get home?"

"Me and Ava are going to cook taco salad. I guess you don’t really cook taco salad, but, Sunday is Tex-Mex night, we usually do taco salad or chili or sometimes we go out to Chili’s—you remember Chili’s, when we used to go on Sundays as ’the fam’."

Yeah. I remember it. "Oh yeah," I say.

"Well there’s one right by the house," he says. As if that solved all the problems of the universe.

"Well enjoy it."

"What? Oh. Yeah, I will. Thank you. I will. And we’ll probably do some reading. Ava likes to read articles. Sometimes I read to her, out loud.." And he’s still talking but I’m not listening. They love to sit around and complain about the political situation—this is what they do at dinner. In my opinion that’s a waste of a fucking marriage, but hey, it’s not my life. I tune out when Dad starts talking about politics—Mom too. I think they just want something to hate, so they don’t have to deal with their own lives.

"It’s been good seeing you, Matt." Dad has his ticket out, his ID. He’s going toward the line.

"Alright, Dad. I love you. Thanks for visiting."

"Come see us in Philly sometime!"

"Alright," I smile. "I’ll do that."

He goes toward security.

The words feel genuine but I never do go see him in Philly. We pretty much fall apart after that. Not because he was masturbating in my bed. I just mention that because it’s funny. Or it’s odd. It’s just one of those things that happens when people are around each other. Sometimes you catch the other one masturbating. We didn’t fall apart because of that. We were never really close and though we "loved" each other, as so many of us say we do—we use that term—but..I mean, what is there, when all we do is see each other when he’s here on business?

I turn around, and I catch a glimpse of the Seattle’s Best. Every time I see that Seattle’s Best I think of Pete Makowski, MBA, one time we were on a trip together. Pete is there in his khakis juggling a briefcase and a carryon and his wallet and a cup of Seattle’s Best. He stiffs them on the tip jar, complains about the service in front of the man who was serving us. It’s an African man, older than either of us, and if the three of us were out in nature somewhere, the mountain would treat us all the same, but here, in the Dayton airport, Pete Makowski is my boss and this guy serving him coffee has to shut up and take it—smile—at Makowski’s rudeness and I’m so weak..I’m in such a weak position..that all I can do is make a private glance at the coffee guy to let him know that I don’t support my partner’s behavior. But..it’s still the same. Makowski is my partner—he’s my boss. We work together and we’re on the same side of the counter. Even slam-dunking a tip-jar dollar past the MBA doesn’t do anything..it’s just me buying back a tiny shard of my own self—and I mean a tiny shard. That’s what I think about every time I leave that airport.

On the way home I play Jules’s music. I play Dar. And—the sky over Dayton, driving south, is plain—light, with just the slightest color orange.

I never make it home. Chad calls. He says he hit someone with Penny’s motorcycle and can I meet him at Dayton Children’s, room 406.

Chad is in the elevator. He’s riding the elevator up and down, checking for me in the lobby. He’s nowhere near room 406.

As soon as I come through the front door he sees me. He grabs my arms. The look in his eyes says everything.

I hug him.

"Is he ok?"

Chad just takes me to the elevator.

We ride up. It’s us, and a doctor. He’s headed to the same floor.

There’s a crowd outside the room. The doors open. The doctor goes out first. He’s doctor Ellis. Doctor Ellis pushes past a crowd of people. Chad hangs back. He sits by a plastic shrub. He sits on the floor. His long hair against the blue-painted wall.

I’m toward the room. It’s friends—it’s friends of the kid. They’re in the second grade. Maybe third. Some of them have on soccer uniforms.

Then there’s the parents. They look way sadder than the kids. The kids are sitting quietly, or looking out the fourth-floor window. The adults are sobbing—some of them—and shaking their heads.

I go up. The door is open. There are more people in room 406. Doctor Ellis is in there. And the kid that Chad hit is in there. He has a tube strapped to his face, tape everywhere. He isn’t moving. There’s a plastic pipe running off the end of the bed—that’s for urine. That must be the mom. There’s the mom and the dad—the closest adults to the bed. She’s covering her face with the end of her sleeve. He’s..he’s acting strong. He’s talking with the doctor. Doctor Ellis is explaining something to him, showing him a monitor. Doctor Ellis is gesticulating with his hands, he’s moving them and then when he refers to the kid, and explains something else, his hands stop moving. He has one of those looks on his face that says: be hopeful—but the eyebrows tell a different story. They’re arched in that way, that in combination with a piercing in the eyes, a crystal clearness in the eyes, says: it’s over. Let go. This one’s out of your control.

I look back for Chad and don’t see him. The shrub is blocking the way. He’s probably right next to it, around the corner. Some mom is looking at me, and some kid is edging by me, peeking through the door. That’s her friend in there, and her friend is not going to be playing soccer anymore.

"Excuse me," I say it gravelly.

"Who are you?" asks this mom—and this kid looks up at me—the one who’s looking at her friend. This giant face—these giant blue eyes—she doesn’t know who I am.

I look at the mom. "I was at the scene," I say. I lie.

"Did you see who did this?"


The mom shakes her head. "Don’t go anywhere."

"I won’t," I say, and she’s hugging me, burying her head in my chest, and gripping my wrist.

The little kid goes into the room. She stands at the side of the bed. She takes her friend’s hand—which has tubes coming out of it—and she puts it on her face. She rubs it on her cheek. And some other parent—not the parents of the child—take the hand away from the girl and put it back on the bed. The girl lays her head down next to her friend, on the hospital pillow, and smooths his hair. She’s whispering something. What is she saying?

I take my arm away from the crying woman and she’s telling me not to go anywhere so I can make a report to the police and I’m telling her I already saw them and already made my report and just came up to see. And she’s cursing the one who did this—she’s cursing them beyond reason—but I understand.

I have to drag Chad into the elevator. Some of the kids are watching us. One of them pushes another, and the other falls down, and they’re scuffing around in the hallway when the elevator doors close.

"I want you to drive me somewhere."

"Wherever you want to go. Are you ok?"

"I’m fine," he says. "Just listen to me."

We’re in the parking lot of Dayton Children’s and I’m snaking us down to the exit. I’m listening, whenever Chad wants to talk, but he’s not talking. He’s rubbing his hands together, and rubbing his calves, and pressing his face against the window. They don’t make me pay for parking, which is nice. Chad and I drive out, into the sunlight.

Chad never asks me what I saw in the room. I never ask him what happened at the accident.

"Where do you want me to take you?"

"Take us downtown."

So I drive us downtown, and I park in a church parking lot by the river where you don’t have to pay on Sundays.

Chad gets out of the car.

I get out of the car.

We stand by the river.

"I thought you were gay when I first met you," he says. "Either that or you were really really high."

It’s a perfect afternoon. It’s warm, still, for August. My car is one of the only ones in the parking lot. I sit on the rail. Chad is facing the other way, with his hands on the bar, looking at the river.

"Did you tell anyone about this?"

"No, I just came to get you."

"You didn’t call Penny?"

"I didn’t even know what happened."

"I need to ask you to do something, as my friend."

"Whatever you want, man."

"I want you to not tell Penny. I want you to take me somewhere, after this, I want you to drive me there, and I’m gonna go, and you’re not gonna see me again. Neither is Penny. And I don’t want..people talking about this so don’t tell anyone. Can you—will you—will you do that for me? Will you—this is what I want. Ok? This is what I want from you. Out of all the things you mighta thought I would ask you for, someday.." he laughs "..I know you didn’t think of this. And I didn’t either. Fuck." He hits the bar. "I hate this stupid town. I shoulda left. I shoulda dropped out after tenth grade and gone to..wherever. Colorado."

"If you want me to drive you, somewhere, Chad, I’m serious. I will take off work and drive you wherever you want to go."

He laughs again. He looks at me, and he looks really deeply into me. "I know you would. You’re a great friend." He wipes his nose. He breathes out and he really smiles. "You’re a lot fucking crazier than I am," he says. "You’d drive your friend across state lines, after he walked away from the scene of an accident."

"I’d drive you anywhere."

"You would, too. I know you would." He’s shaking his head, looking down at the bar. "You’re a crazy motherfucker and I wish you would..stop..being that way. Doesn’t Jules want to get married? I mean..you could have kids, it wouldn’t kill you."

"Let me come with you, let me just drive you. I’ll call Jules; I’ll tell her I’m away for a..while..a few days..a week, whatever. Work won’t miss me. What the hell, man, did you mean to hit that kid?!"

"No!!" He says it to the river.

"I know you didn’t. Of course you didn’t. So..fuck! Chad..fuck.."

"I know where you’re going with that," he says. He looks at me in his pastoral way. "It was my fault."

"Yeah, but you come to my warehouse, you get—"

"No," he says. "I wanted to come to your warehouse." He goes to my car and stands. He tries the door, which I’ve locked.

I go to the car. I unlock the doors.

"I’m glad I spent the night with you," he says. He’s looking at me over the top of my Honda. "It was a great party," he says.

"So where are we going?"

"Just take me up by the highway."


"Just go down to 3rd Street."

I put the car in drive. We sit at a light at the parking lot exit for like five minutes.

"I don’t think it’s gonna change," he says.

I exhale. There are no cars coming. I finally go. Three blocks up Chad tells me to take a right. In front of us is the highway.

"You can’t hitch a ride here, Chad, there’s no entry ramp. Lemme take you where you want to go."

"You would do that, wouldn’t you."

"Why not?"

"I’m not—I’m not judging you when I say this, ok? But," Chad says, "I wouldn’t do that."

"You wouldn’t."


"If I—if I hit someone with a car, and it wasn’t my fault, you wouldn’t drive me somewhere, so I could move on with my life? You wouldn’t do that?"

Chad shakes his head.

"Well who cares what you’d do? You know? I don’t want you to spend your whole life suffering..for some accident."

"Stop here," Chad says.

I think he’s gonna change his mind, but I’m so wrong.

Chad looks across the street. He’s brought us to the police department—the downtown jail. I’m on the north side of the street. The jail is on the south side of the street, across three empty lanes.

I hit the steering wheel.

Chad says: "This is what I’m asking from you. Don’t tell my family. Don’t tell Penelope. Don’t tell anyone. Ok? I don’t want anyone coming to visit—"

"What about me!?"

"You can come. You can, only you, by yourself. Not Penny, not Jules—don’t tell my family."

"Won’t they come looking for you?"

"No. And Penny doesn’t have their number." Chad gives me his phone. "It’s not in there, either. Just let me do this in private," he says. "Without anyone looking."

"Why do you have to do it at all?"

"Because," he says. "I hit a kid on a motorcycle."

Chad unlocks the door. He opens it. He steps out.

With my car stopped on 3rd Street I get out and am standing in the other lane, hugging him, holding him, holding his head as tight as I can. And Chad isn’t teary. I’ve got a terrible feeling in my stomach.

"Are you sure?"

He puts his hands on my shoulders to quiet me.

I look in his eyes. Here’s my only guy friend—the only guy I know, and like.

"Promise me," he says.

"Promise you what?"

"Promise me you will not tell my family. Don’t try to find them. Right? Don’t tell them."

"I’m coming to visit."


"I promise. I won’t tell your family. Fuck!"

Chad lets go.

"I’m coming to visit," I say.

Chad says: "Come alone." And he turns his back to me and crosses over the other two lanes.

Ash and I were planning a new party. This one was gonna be called "The Masque" but then we decided on just "Masque". We were gonna have a piano. It was going to be very elaborate. This one was gonna be in my warehouse. I had to check if the freight elevator could support a piano. It could support an upright—and fit an upright. But it could not support and fit a baby grand. We’d have to put it in through the windows. Which means taking the windows out. It was gonna be work—but it was doable.

This party was going to have no alcohol—because it was going to have all sorts of other drugs. We were making sure that Soren and Christina would be there—plus a couple other people we knew would have things. We told them to be ready for high-volume. We had the invitations done and everything. It said: WEAR A COSTUME :: NO ALCOHOL. When people saw the invites they got upset. No alcohol? It took them about five seconds for someone who knew us to tell them that that meant there were going to be other drugs involved.

Ashley and I had been planning this party on the sly. Well: we had been working around Jules, to not rub it in that my ex and I were planning a party together. Jules wasn’t logistical. Anyway this is something me and Ashley did together. Jules wasn’t happy about it, but, I didn’t think it was outside the bounds, to plan a party with my ex? We did it all at work, I wasn’t going over to her house anymore. Her dog had been put down for attacking that neighbor and I didn’t even really console her all that much for it.

Jules even got excited. She made me buy face paint, and we practiced our masks in the mirror at night. We’d paint each other’s faces. She didn’t care that Ashley and I were planning it. Eventually she trusted that we were just planning a party. Jules was with me every minute, so she didn’t have anything to worry about. She called me at my desk a lot.

Penelope called me too. For a while I didn’t answer. She kept calling, though, and she didn’t leave messages. Eventually I picked up.



Then Penny waits a long time, and what I really hear is Louis and Karen talking about some testing scenario in the next aisle.

"Did you see him?" Penny asks.

I say: "Yeah."

And Penny hangs up.

And until she and I went to Chad’s funeral, that’s the last day we talked.

I had a talk with Pete Makowski.

"I’m interviewing with Tammy’s group," I told him, in his office.

"Well I’m sure you’ll get it."

I’m sure I will, too.

"It’s a pay cut," he reminds me. "Had enough of the contracting life?"

"I’m just tired of some of the stuff that’s been going on in this group, is all."

Makowski looks at me, and I see a glimpse that somewhere under the football exterior, there’s a pocket of him that understands.

"I’ll put in a good word for you," he says.

He’s sincere but we both know his word won’t do me a bit of good.

When I leave Makowski’s office I don’t go back to my cubicle. I go straight down the stairs in building six and out a side door. It says Alarm will sound but it doesn’t.

I think about finding Gao—some trivia at Friday’s? But I don’t, and I don’t find Ash and I don’t call Jules. I drive around Dayton in the sunlight, I get Rallyburgers. They have a deal on mushroom swiss, it’s fantastic. I go by the BHA piano store and look at the one I’m renting. I take my Rallyburger in but the guy doesn’t say anything. Piano’s good—we go over the weight limits. They have a crane they use, but it’ll cost extra. Taking the windows out is my responsibility. I don’t actually own the warehouse space—I’m just renting. But it’s ok—nobody gives a fuck. I head over to Brown Street and look at this house that’s for sale. There’s this giant fucking mansion that’s available in the Oregon District but—I don’t know—I kind of like it over here. It’s low-key. There’s a Burger King. The house needs a lot of work—and I won’t be the one to do it..but..it’s doable.

I go to my warehouse and stand outside looking at the windows, finishing the rest of my second burger. I almost leave. I almost leave and go drink, but I decide to go inside, for a minute, just to look around.

There’s no one there. Not even Spike Young’s car is outside. Strange day when Spike Young isn’t at the studio. And there’s that long hallway, that’s open at the end. It’s gonna get cold in here in winter. I go all the way to the end, look in some spaces that aren’t rented yet. Giant spaces. Unfinished walls. These are long and skinny. Mine is more of a square.

I unlock my space.

Leave the lights off. There’s plenty of light coming in through the windows. One whole wall is windows.

Paint cans open. Giant canvas on the floor, not even cut, just unrolled from this giant spool. I walk over it, go to the window, check things out from the inside. The piano can go there. Maybe paint that wall before it happens. Chad would have normally done that. So stupid. Not anyone’s fault, when that happens. We all drive, don’t we? Whose fault is an accident? If he hadn’t been high..I don’t know. My feet make echoes in the room.

And then I paint. It takes me a while to settle into it. I go upstairs, use my computer there to log into work for a minute, chat with Gao. Ashley messages me and I immediately log off. Ashley doesn’t work with Tammy’s group and I wonder why I’m considering taking a pay cut to become an employee of Mead Research.

I open the paint. I leave my phone on the stairs and I use my hands, and my feet, and no brushes, and I close the warehouse door and take off my shirt and my pants and eventually my underwear and I paint a new vortex, this one in light of having met Jules, and this one with less metaphor. I just paint it like she said it was—in Zaire. Some truckers see strange light in the sky, get out, head toward the center of the pull. Gravity takes them, pulls their skin off Francis Bacon-style. Sucks them in, gravity never letting them leave.

I want Spike Young to show up, I want Jules to call and rescue me, I want anyone to come by and see me madly swiping paint with no clothes on..maybe..I want someone to worry. Maybe I should have had kids, be on that same rollercoaster with everyone else so I wouldn’t have to think about myself so much. The thought of having kids, though, with Jules. It terrifies me.

What is it though, really, on these empty afternoons? What am I looking for, in this warehouse? I know I won’t find it at work. What’s here, either?—dust and drywall, people’s spaces where they fantasize about having real businesses? Workspace, people making clothes. People selling jewelry. Artists—painting for themselves.

And Chad: where is he now? In some tiny room, not doing anyone any good? How is that helping? Because Chad was a worthless human being aside from his ability to accidentally kill someone? And once he’s crossed that line, there’s no use for him in the real world? I don’t get that. Having him sit in some room for ten years is going to improve him? While Penny is not getting loved and that mother’s kid is still dead, no matter what you do. You wanna prevent kids getting hit by motorcycles don’t build playgrounds and roads right next to each other.

Fuck. And what am I doing here? Painting paintings that—what? End up in some warehouse show? So I can get laid? So some girl looks at these and says: wow, this guy really has something inside him. I want to glom onto that, I want to be like that..or..that guy reflects something that is like me (so let’s have sex). It’s maddening, how simple that game is. And how unrewarding! So what! You fucked that girl. Or in Jablonski’s case: so what, you fucked twenty. Or sixty. Or a hundred and twenty. Or whatever the count’s up to. Then what? You die?

I think maybe you shouldn’t teach kids anything in school, because it’s getting disillusioned with all that shit that makes life suck later.



"What’s goin on?"

"Nothing! What’s going on with you?"

"Nothing." I look around the warehouse at crazy painting artifact. "Just..uh.."

"Where are you?" Ashley asks.


She’s quiet.

"D’you have a second."

I can tell she’s covering her mouth while she speaks. "Yes I do. Just..one..second." A pause. "Now. Of course I have a second my old friend. What have you been up to. I haven’t seen you around this week. Is everything ok?"

"Everything’s fine. I’m fine, Ash." (I don’t need you to ask me if I’m fine all the time.) "Well—" I start.

She interrupts. "Are all the party preparations coming along well on your end?"

I’m about to tell her about the piano and how everything’s ok but we have to take out the windows and how there’s a $500 deposit just in case it gets damaged during the party and then there’s separate insurance that I’m getting, not through the store, etc. etc. but then I just don’t. I don’t tell her that and I can’t go any further. Because I’m going to have to look at Jules later on and..isn’t one life enough? Isn’t it complicated enough to try to get one thing right, in your life? Just your job or just one relationship with one person. I give my parents shit for getting divorced—I give my dad shit anyway, in my own mind—but at least he got married! It was flawed, it ended, maybe it even failed, but at least he did it. And now he’s onto something else. Which is flawed, which is idiotic in my mind, which might fail too..but at least he has some simple pleasure: reading articles about the President with his wife. What else do people do? Does it all have to be here-now meditation like me and Jules? I guess for me it does.



"I have something very hard to tell you."

"Is this about Chad?"

"No." Chad’s shit hadn’t been in the papers, not with his name on it, and everyone assumed (of course rightfully) that I had the inside scoop on What Had Happened to Chad and Where Did Chad Disappear To? "No, it’s not about Chad."

"Have you seen him?"

"Ashley, listen." How to do this. "This isn’t against you, ok? What I’m about to say isn’t against you."

Perfect silence from her end.

"We’ve been friends for a long time.."

"Oh no," she says.

I exhale. "This doesn’t have to be dramatic," I say. "I love you, ok? You’re..one of the closest people I’ve been to in this life. Out of respect for Juliet, though, I can’t—"

"Can’t what? Be my friend?"

"I can’t do that to her. I can’t have the confusion of having..someone..I used to..be with.."

"I don’t believe this is happening."

"We’ve had good times, Ash."

"I knew you were going to do this. I’ve been sensing it..for a long time."

"Do you think it’s reasonable?"

"I think it’s unnecessary."

"I want to make Jules feel more comfortable. I want to give that..the best chance it can get. Life is hard enough—"

"Did Jules ask you to do this?"

"No. She didn’t."

"I don’t believe you."

"I’m sorry, Ash. I know it would be easier if she did ask me to do it but she didn’t. I’m just—I’m trying to do the best I can in a sucky situation and you and Jules..do not mix."

"Is this really what’s better for you..or for her?"

"I’m not gonna talk about it any further, Ash."

"What about the party?"

"Who cares about the party."

"Are we still going to have it?"

"I don’t think we should."

"I already gave invitations out."

"I know. I did too."

"I already invited people."

"I know."

"Am I supposed to uninvite them?"

"I’m sorry if this upsets you."

"You’re a real Spock, you know?" She’s sniffling. "I was going to invite you out, today—to go to Beethoven’s grave? And now this. It’s..honestly you’re unbelievable. I respect you, though—I respect what you’re doing. I wish you had done the same for me. That would have been nice. But I know. I understand. Jules is ’special’. Why? Why is she so special? All your friends think she’s crazy—"


"What? I’m just telling you. You know? Is that why you like her? Because she’s crazier than me?"

"She’s not crazy."

Ash is quiet.

"I’m sure you don’t want to hear this right now," I say, "But I love you and I wish you the best."

A long sniffle from her end. She’s blowing her nose. "So I guess I’m going to Beethoven’s grave alone today, then. I was going to invite you. But. Ok then. I guess I’ll go alone." She waits a long time, to give me a chance to back out. But I don’t say anything, and she finally says: "Bye."

"Bye," I say. It’s me who ends the call.

I stopped drinking for a few days to get ready for my job interview with Corporate Engineering—Tammy’s group. Then an hour before, I had a glass of wine. I brushed my teeth really well and even brushed my lips to make sure there were no stains. Afterward Gao and I went to lunch.

"You got the job."

"We’ll see."

"You got it," he says, "Whhaaat? Are they gonna—no, come on..you got it." He takes his trivia machine before him. "So you’re leaving us, huh? What’s so exciting about Tammy’s group?"

"Sorry Gao." There’s no way to answer him because there’s nothing exciting about Tammy’s group. A new area. A new cubicle. Less pay. But I’ll be an employee, which is supposed to mean stability.

"You know, they fired six hundred people before you got here. It was..like a year before you got here. All employees. Not a single contractor got fired. They had KPMG come in and tell Paul Brown who to fire? And you know what Paul Brown did? He fired them. That’s six hundred employees—no job. Hired a whole bunch of new people right after that, different groups, different titles." He shakes his head.

"Thanks," I say. "I’ll be careful."

"You’ll be careful?! What are you gonna do about it? KPMG or—you know—Deloitte comes in here..fires a bunch of people, who do you think’s gonna go first? Contractors? No. You know how many consecutive contracts I’ve worked? Twenty. They can’t fire people like you and me. We’re the only ones who get anything done! Jessie? Jess, get this guy a drink. On me."

"I’m drinking."

"Get him something stronger. He’s about to join the ranks of the.." Gao shakes his head. "You’re gonna be an employee?? Oh god. And get me some chicken fingers. No. Actually: a chicken quesadilla..with blackened chicken. Tell the kitchen—do you want me to tell them? I want it blackened. Last time it was only a little bit black. This time..tell them..I want a blackened chicken quesadilla. Do you want something?" he asks me.


Jesse comes to me.

"I’ll have the same." I’m shaking my head at my drink.

"Are you leaving this guy?" she asks.

"I’m just moving to another group. Jesus. You take a..friendly..lunch..and you turn it into a sob sob going away party."

"Sob sob?" Gao says. "This isn’t a going away party," he tells Jesse. He looks at me: "You’re going to be an employee?" He knocks the bar. "This is a funeral."

The other thing that happened right around the time Chad went to jail, was Zombie disappeared. Just for a while. Jules couldn’t get ahold of her. She asked me if I had heard from her. Zombie changed her number—none of us could call her. Then I get a call from a 614 number, it’s Zombie, she casually invites me to her wedding.

"Jules is invited."

"Have you called Jules?"

"I’m not—listen, Matt, maybe you could just tell her for me. It’s next week. Do you have a pen?—I’ll tell you the address. Jules is totally invited—I’d love to see you both."

"Is it in Columbus?"

"Yeah—oh: Brian’s home. I have to go. I’ll email you our information, ok? Tell Jules hi."

"Bye Zombie."

"What? Is your email address still the same?"

"Yeah. It’s the same."

"Alrighty then." I can hear Zombie kissing in the background. "Tell Juliet not to be shy and we’d love to see you."

I never got any email from Zombie. Brooklyn tells me: Zombie moved to Columbus, got back with her ex, bought a house, started going to church! Brooklyn heard from MJ. MJ’s the only one who actually got directions to the wedding. Zombie tried to friend me a couple years ago—and for a second I thought about it—but I don’t want to hear those old stories.

I came out of Tammy’s office, Friday night, long after I would have been at work normally. The MR parking lot was already thinned. Some evening shift workers arriving. I could see the sunset in the goose pond, and it was this incredible orange. It was incredible. There’s this woman who works at the Dayton post office—she had a picture of it, days later, taped to the side of her desk. I saw it when I went in there, she saw me looking at it, and she knew I had seen it in person. It was this crazy orange, with funnels coming down, all over it, purple and blue at their tips. There was no wind that you could feel—but it looked like a tornado. Or a million little ones, sprouting all over the sky. I shoulda bought that picture from that woman.

There was blue at the edge of the sky. Only the top part was crazy. It covered for as far as the edge of Dayton. I have never seen the sky like that, except that night.

I didn’t get in my car for a long time. I stood at the edge of the field, where the parking lot ends, and I felt something I hadn’t really felt since I was a kid: fear. It wasn’t the kind of fear like when something jumps out and startles you. It wasn’t the fear where you have a sense of dread. It was the kind of fear—I felt this once—coming over the top of a hill on a bike ride—where the hill goes out forever, and there’s more green and more blue and more perfect with the world than I’d seen before. It was that kind of fear.

It was the way the word awesome should be used. That awesome where you say: oh, my, god—this beautiful is real.

And I feel it.

I feel this sky.

That everyone who works here isn’t standing in the parking lot, staring up at it, is wrong. That you could get in your car, without standing here and looking at it, makes no sense. It shows you what is really going on here. I never used to get zombie movies—why people made them. It seems like such a silly archetype to geek out over: a bunch of people walking around dead—and they’re somehow a danger to you? I get it now. All those people, walking blind, with their arms stretched out before them—just look around you. That archetype is everywhere. And they’re not just a danger to themselves. They’re not just silently killing themselves. There is no death that only harms its owner. These people are killing everyone.

It doesn’t change. The sky doesn’t go away. It dims a bit, but the clouds stay. I would have stayed longer but I was meeting Jules.

"Did you get the job?"


"Why probably?"

"They have to check it by her supervisor..but..she wants to hire me."

"Are you happy?"

I look at Jules. I hold her. I kiss her. "Yeah," I say. "I’m happy."

"Good. Then kiss me."

I kiss her again. "Did you see the sky tonight? ..You didn’t see that?"

"I was inside. Why?"

I shake my head. "It was crazy," I say.

I tell her I canceled the party. That I canceled the Masque.

"Baby, why?"

"Are you upset?"

"Baby, no, why would I be upset with you?"

"I don’t know."

Jules holds me this time.

"Was someone very mean to you when you were little?" She rocks me. "Are you used to people being upset with you?"

"I don’t know. I guess so."

"I’m never going to be upset with you—I don’t think I ever could be. Baby. Oh. Why would I be upset with you about a party? You do whatever you want to do. As long as you stay with me. You’re not afraid I’ll be upset with you..if.."

"If what."

"If you leave me? I’m sorry—"

"Oh, no—"

"I just don’t want you to be worried..if..even that, ok? We don’t need to be too worried in this life, right, baby? Oh..I would never be upset with you."

"I’m not planning on leaving you anyway, but, thanks. I’m telling you, Jules, this sky tonight was amazing. It was like..I was like looking at god or something. I don’t believe in god, even, but—"

"Those old terms.."

"No, totally..but..this was like god was just..playing..right up there..and I was on the bottom of his sandbox or something."

"There’s probly two of them."


Jules is smiling.

I say: "There probably are." Two gods, playing up there, side by side in a sandbox, spreading the sand around as clouds, blowing storms, when they cry it’s snow and when they leave the playbox that’s an earthquake. And someday they’re gonna grow up and take apart this sandbox and move on to somewhere else to play. They probly love us like one of those children loves their sand castle—for a moment. They’re probably sad to see us go, for like ten seconds, then they move on and build another one—or play a different game. Our loss that takes us lifetimes is like ten seconds to them. They feel it—but then they’re done.

"Jules," I say.

She waits.

"Don’t ever leave me."

She holds me tight.

"I don’t know what I would do, without you here. You’re the only sensible part of my world. The only alive part. Can we do anything..can we help people?..to be more alive?" I shake my head. I turn around and face her, and wrap my arms and legs around her. I’m brushing her hair and touching her eyes, and Jules’s eyes are searching, searching me.

She says: "I don’t even know if I’d be here, without you."

"You know what we can do," she says.


"Have our own party."

I laugh.

"I mean the Masque," she says. "Specifically. We don’t need anyone else to have a party."

"Right," I say, "and we don’t need a piano."

Her eyes widen. "You were getting a piano?! ..It’s ok. You’re right. We don’t need a piano. We can have our party..you and I could have a party in an empty room."

"You could sing."

"You could draw on the walls."

"It wouldn’t be empty for long."


"With your music—"

"And your decorations—"

"That’s true—"

"You and me are already a party."

"That’s true."

"You were gonna get a piano?? Oh my god you’re crazy, I would have loved for there to be a piano."

"I was hoping you would sing."

"I would have—oh—were you gonna get somebody to play it? ..You were!! Oh my god you’re crazy. How much was this gonna cost?"

"I already paid for some of it."

"Oh, baby, I promise I’ll sing for you anytime. Anytime you want..I’ll sing you a song..what more could you want?..and what could be wrong?.. Oh my baby. Baby baby..song! I’ll..wrap you in my touch..hold you arm in arm..you were going to get a piano!!? Oh my god baby you can’t spend your money like that."

"Well help me then."

"Oh, I can’t—I can’t! I spend money on stupider things than you!"

"Well we’ll go to financial counseling."

"Do you think we need counseling?—the real kind?"

"I don’t know."

"You’ve thought about it, haven’t you?"

"I think you need it."

"Oh-h!" Jules squeezes me tight. "You might need it after I’m done with you," she says. "I’m so terrible. Oh, that time in the car. And you’re so good to me about it. Oh I don’t deserve it..not for this long! Oh, baby, how did you put up with me this long?"

"It’s not difficult."

"You need to be firm with me, Matthew." Jules shakes her head. "I had a very..loose, shall we say..upbringing. There was too much flexibility. You might have to employ disciplinary tactics with me it’ll be very tedious are you up for it?"

"I could get up for pretty much anything with you."

"O-oh! I see. Oooh. Yes. I feel you might have to be very stern with me."

"You are kind of unruly."

"Do it, Matthew. I need teaching. Right—"


"There—yeah that’s the spot."

"Right here?"

"Uh-huh. Ohh.."

I pull off Jules’s panties.

She’s looking me in the face.

I’m gonna stick this in you—it’s gonna be nice and snug. I’m not gonna hurt you but I’m gonna make us cum. You have to help me. You have to pull on my butt. You have to move. You make sounds for what you like. I won’t always be gentle. Sometimes I’ll slam into you—rush into you. We might come together in a trance..we might crash..we might miss! But I’ll hold onto you. And you hold onto me—please. Stay with me so that I will not be alone.

And paint my face, stranger. Paint me in orange and blue. Drape me in colors that were meant for the sky. Use this paint and find me in darkness—or turn on the light. See me in blinking fluorescent, capture me with your eyes. Turn me by my chin, check the sides. Find the white—what are you doing, whiskers? I’ll check it now. Oh!—you’re making me into a cat! A lion?! Fine, a lion. Looks more like a cat. I’ll wait. No. Please, apply. Are we almost done?

Do I even know you? Is this who I found? Were you waiting, as a lion—what did you call it? A mystreal. That’s a funny word. It means: whatever you think it means! Oh, silly. Tickle you there. Oh, I might have to do it again. When we’re done painting, when we’re done painting. Not now. Make me a lion. Baby. Lion? A mystreal, huh? Whatever you think it means. It’s..if I think it’s a cat then it is a cat—that’s a mystreal? I got it. Did you make that up? No, I just heard you say it. I didn’t say it. We made it up together. Fine. Wanna hear me growl?

I’ll do you. Sit still. Let me use my hands. Look in the mirror. Look to the side. That’s it. Ok, now close your eyes. I know, you were right. We don’t need anyone else to have our party. Hand me the gauze. No! I’m not making you into a ghost! This is just for masking, I don’t want to get it on your—oh, Jules, oh my god you’re silly..Jules..oh..Jules..I’m gonna have to clean that up. Better yet..you’re gonna have to clean that up. You were. You were a bad girl. Come ’ere. I might have to punish you. Hold up. Let me finish painting your face.

It needs more.. It needs more..rawr! Rawr! I need this face to match my rawr! Mmm..I taste your neck. I’d like to taste it more. Can I..just..undo this? Fine I’ll sit. Is that for the whiskers? What am I now? Oh fine. Are we gonna make love in these faces? I think that’d be fun. Just don’t touch our faces. And don’t let our faces touch the bed. Yeah, that would be messy. Do I think you’re weird? Honestly, Jules: just a little bit. I know. I know. That’s why we’re perfect. Come’ere I wanna fix your cheek. Hold still. Don’t smile. I need your face straight. There it is, it’s almost done! Look at me. How’s mine? Is it done? Are you happy with it? I love it. No, baby—oh fuck I almost kissed you! In a minute, yes. Yes, I want to fuck but first I think we should dance around like animals. We are animals. Yes, you’re right, we are.

To see you as a stranger, to be with you as a stranger, to see you in this light. Do I even know you? Is this who I found? Did you find me like this, in mask? Jules, were you lying—were you pretending it all? Did you make me up?—in your mind—did you invent me, did you wish yourself whole? Did I do this? Found you something that was never there, that was only in my mind, made you up to fit me—made you a costume of what I want? Did you only come to look like this after I saw you? Jules, tell me you were here before..tell me you were just like this. Like made up like a dragon, or a mystreal, or whatever the hell I painted you. That you were just like this, before I ever met you, romping and playing somewhere! You were real. You were real, weren’t you—wasn’t I before we met? Somehow did you paint me up to be your perfect other? Did you paint yourself inside me? I think you may. I think before you met me, you were missing—then they added us together and then each of us was there. But now if you took one of us away, we would both be here. Still, in either one of us, nothing would be taken away. I think that’s how it works, with people like us. I think you have me in you and I think you’ve come into me. The real part of me—whatever ideas I’ve had, whatever things I’m capable of—I think you learned me, Jules. I think you took me on like studies. And now, there are two—where before I think there was nothing.

And your vortex—yes—I think it’s real. I think there is some sort of gravitation..where..people go in and they never come out. But it’s not a void. That’s where you want to be. That gravitation isn’t nothingness—it’s the party. It’s in there that the party is. You and I are there. It doesn’t look like a black hole from within the black hole. It looks great. You just can’t see it from the outside. It looks dark from the outside because it’s greater. Because it’s bigger. It’s like looking through blinds. You can only see through slits, so it looks like..you can only see half of what’s there. But that doesn’t mean there’s only half of something..on the other side. When the blinds are closed, you can’t see anything..and everything is on the other side. So yeah, I know your vortex. It just means that you’re missing something. When you see it, it means there’s something you don’t know. They didn’t say that people who are in it, can’t see this side. They said people on this side can’t see through. When people disappeared within it, they didn’t leave themselves—they only left you.

So let me see you in this face—in this mystreal. Let me turn you over. Let me smile. And do you feel it?—do you feel that, just a little bit? Yes, I feel it too. That’s what I felt earlier, looking at the sky. Here I feel it more. I see it in your eyes. I’m looking at something I do not know. I’m touching something I do not control. This is one finger in the ocean. Calmness. Waves. It gets deeper. Just a little ways out. There are little fish, then bigger fish, and then a whale. You could walk off the beach, go straight into it..every step deeper..every step you’ve taken farther back..it goes.. Kiss me Jules, like you’ve never known me. Kiss me like you found me on the beach. And throw me back.

Take me in your arms, and let me take you under mine.

Speak in a language I never really come to understand.

Talk to me in emotion—in mime.

Tear pages out of my book. Write your notes on the wall.

Find me screaming.

Hush me.

Tell me goodbye.

I think I found you in a storm. I don’t think I was the storm and I don’t think you were the storm. I think we found each other in the rain. And we walked together for a while. And then you went one way and I went another. And your way was farther in the storm.

"Do you wanna do h with me?"


"Are you sure, I don’t wanna make you. Are you sure?"


"Will you fix it? I brought it—you knew I was gonna bring it, didn’t you."


"Will you fix it? Will you fix it for us both? Can I just stay?"


"Do you know how much I love doing this with you? Don’t you think this is better this way—with just us? I’m glad you cancelled that party, baby..that sounded too complicated. I think you needed distance from..from Ashley..baby..didn’t you?"

I nod.

I don’t know if she can see me. It’s dark. We’re in my room. The blacklights are on. Some of Jules’s writing, that she’s written in blacklight crazyon, is showing on the wall.

It says: BE HERE NOW.

I’m trying, baby; I’m trying.

"Will you bring it to me?"


"Do you see my bag?"


"You see it in there?"


"Oh, baby, I’m gonna take my clothes off. You can do it to me like this. Do you like finding a naked girl in your bed? Do you want me to keep my panties on?"

I say it to myself: Yes. Yes, I like finding a naked girl in my bed. Yes, you can keep your panties on. Yes, I will take them off. Yes, I will look in your bag. I will find the stuff. I will mix it. I will get the cotton. I will find the spoon. I will mix it in the kitchen and I will bring it to you in bed. I will feel you as you take it. I will shoot it. In you. I will mix it in your vein. I will see you in blacklight. I will touch you. I will take the needle out. I will watch you lie.

You will be there. You will be in my bed. You will help me take your panties off. You will want it slow.

You will let me.

You will make me.

You will guide me. You will bleed on my bed and we will set the syringe aside to be together. It will sit on the carpet, by the futon, while I love you, while you pleasure, while I ask you if you like it, and you say:


She wanted to leave. She wanted to leave her body. She used to imagine that if she thought about it the right way..she would disappear.

She used to tell me this. She used to say: "There’s not much holding me together. I’m just barely here, Matthew. Sometimes when I’m alone I think if I let go, I will disappear. We’re mostly empty space—you know that, don’t you?"

And "Yes," I’d say—I know.

"Put your hands out. Hold them here. Can you feel me breathing? This is who I am, Matthew; I’m breath and breathing and empty space. This is who you love. This is what you make love to. This is an empty shell. This isn’t me. I was born of stars and come from the hottest fire. You were there with me, once—you come from that fire. You found me here, you found this incarnation. Of self. You found this part of me!" She moves my hands around her and she says "Self" and "Self. Did you know this was your self? I didn’t know it was, at first—I didn’t see that! You were the first to see it—you saw it before me. But I was the first to believe it. And..I think I’m still the only one to believe it. ..I think you’re starting to. Wrap me in your self, roll me in your self. Roll us up—roll us together. I knew you would help me, when I saw you. Because I have to go. You.." and this is the only part she cries at "..you are not ready! Oh..I wanted you to be. I wanted you to know. But you’re not coming with me, are you, Matthew?"

"I’m not coming with you."

She takes my face and tells me to remember.

She lies down.

She is hardly there.

I think she’s sleeping. I don’t know what she’s doing—I don’t know it yet. I’m wrapping her in blankets—arranging her hair. Taking my white comforter and wrapping her in the darkness.



"Are you comfortable?"

"Matthew." That’s all she says. She’s breathing. I check her pulse. She’s fine. She’s slow. She’s sleeping.

"Jules," I say.


"Jules," I say.

And then she says: "I think I’m gonna throw up."

She goes to the bathroom. I wake to sounds of vomiting. I had dozed off.


She’s throwing up.

The door’s locked. "Jules, let me fucking in."

Then laughing. Sick, coughy laughing.

"Jules," I’m banging on the door.

She bangs back. "Go away." I can hear her hands on the porcelain, toilet lid clack. Then grumbling, what I cannot understand. "You gave us too much," she’s saying.

"Jules, open the fucking door."

"I’ll be right out in a minute," she says. "Don’t look at me like this."

"I’m not looking," I say. I take the couch.

Flushing. She vomits again. Flushing. The sink. The door opens a crack and I wait for her. She told me not to look.

Then Jules comes out. She’s completely naked. She’s screaming at me, holding my arms, jumping on top of me, hitting my face. "You gave us too much! How much did you give us!!" She’s screaming this. She’s slapping me, hitting me, grabbing my wrists. "Did you make yourself throw up?" She switches to ultra-calm mode: "What on earth are you talking about?" Then her voice changes, and it’s like there’s a demon inside of her: "How much did you give us?" She screams: "HOW MUCH DID YOU GIVE US!? Where is it? Did you give us a different kind!!?" "It’s the same—Jules!—it’s the same!" "You have to help me leave!!" she says. "Where do you want to go??" "No," she says. She grabs my wrist. "You have to help me leave. You have to help me get out!" She’s talking in the demon voice. I think she’s acting. I think she’s making up for the fact she was in the bathroom throwing up—that she’s naked and she feels embarrassed about what she’s doing. I think she’s pretending to have a demon inside her, as an excuse, as a way to excuse herself for being so fucking crazy! She’s acted before!

She drags me to the floor. She’s on the carpet, laid out. She puts my hands on her chest, on her belly. "You have to help me leave. You have to HELP ME!!" My neighbors are going to come up. They’re going to call the cops.

"Jules, are you alright?"

And then there is a flash of her!—a flash of the old Jules! She shoots me a look! She shows me she’s there! She even nods! She’s fine! That’s the real her telling me to play along with the fake her—with the demon. She writhes.


She clamps my hand down.


I’m tunnel-vision. I don’t understand what’s going on. I tell her "Shhh. Juliet. I will! Ok? I will help you. You’re ok. We’re gonna talk. We’re gonna talk what’s in you, out. Alright? Shhh."

She’s quiet.

She’s breathing.

Our hands are locked together.

She sees the calm.

"I’m gonna talk with you. Just listen."

She squeezes my hands.

"There’s something in you and we’re gonna get it out."

She nods.

She’s sweating.

There’s sweat rolling down her face.

I touch her hair.

"Listen. There’s something in you and it’s not right."

"It wants to go," she tells me. She’s shaking her head, crying. "It’s been there a long time and I’ve been carrying it and it’s too heavy. Matthew. I can’t breathe. I can’t live my life."

"Juliet. Are you breathing? Can you breathe? Are you just playing?"

She tightens her hands on me.

"Are you just playing a game or are you serious? Juliet. I need to know. Stop pretending."

"Look at me," she says. She lifts her head. "Can you hear me talking?" She lies back down. She closes her eyes and situates herself.

I’m looking around. Why haven’t my neighbors come to check? They had to hear. "Do you want—what do you want—do you want me to keep doing what I was doing?"

Juliet nods. She nods. She’s sweating but she’s fine.

I bow to her chest. "There’s something in you—and she wants to leave." I look at her face.

Her lips are closed. Her eyes are closed. She says: "Keep saying that."

I lay my head on her skin. "There’s something inside you—she wants to leave. She wants to go back to where she lives—she wants to come back. She’s gone too far away and she’s crazy now—she’s out of control. She can calm down. She can stay here with me, Jules. She can stay."

But Jules is shaking her head. She’s saying "Come with me. Don’t go."

"I’m not going, I’m staying with you. Just relax, you’re gonna be ok. Oh-h. Jules."

"I think you did it," she says. Her hands loosen. She’s brushing my hair. "Oh-h, baby."

"Are you alright?"

"Mmm hmm."

I want to ask her if she made herself throw up. I want to ask her why she fucks with me by pretending to be possessed by demons. I want to have never done heroin tonight. I want so many things but I have to settle for wondering when my neighbors are going to bust through the door and see needles everywhere and Jules, completely naked, sweating, lying on the carpet with my head on her chest, praying—something I never do—praying for the mess that’s inside her to get better or go away.

I’m in the kitchen—without her. She’s in my bed. This is earlier. This is when she was lying there asking me if I’d shoot her up and she’s lying in blacklight and I go to the kitchen. There’s her bag. Unzip it. Tiny little plastic bag inside—there’s our junk. Take it out. Put it in the spoon. Measure it. Tap it on my counter. There’s enough for three. Is this all she could get? Soren and Christina always say it’s that second one that gets you going. Plug two—snort five. We’re all crazy. It’s just the stupid shit of that domain.

"Is this all you got?"

"It’s all I could get—give me all of it."

I wait; I listen.

"I’m kidding," she says.

I knew she was kidding. I guess I’ll shoot her and then come do me. Maybe I should do a little for me, first. But Jules is waiting. I’ll do her first.

I tap it out. I divide it. I crush up the brown rock into smaller pieces.

Then I make three piles.

Then I make two.

I mix one with water, break it down a bit with flame, strain it.

Tap the syringe—no air bubbles. And I waste a little bit of it through the tip.

It’s set.

"Are you coming?"

Yeah Jules. "I’m coming."

Later she was frozen, clenched—she couldn’t speak. And I was rushing for the phone.

"911. What’s your emergency?"

"My girlfriend’s having seizures."

"Is she having one right now?"

"Yes. She’s cramping."

"Is she breathing?"


"Ok. Stay on the line."

I have her wrapped in a blanket. I have her in my bed. They’re coming for you, Jules. I called them. Just a minute. Hold on, ok? Then she’s ok again and she’s screaming at me, pulling at my hair. She throws off the blanket and tells me that she’s leaving. "You forgot about me!!" she’s screaming. "You never even knew my name! What’s this?" she says, "what’s this?" She’s throwing her purse and the drug spoons everywhere—it’s on the carpet. "What did you do to me!!" I can leave. I can leave. I find my keys. I think: I can get in my car, 911 will get here, I can drive across the country, I can never speak again. I can sober up on the drive. I can wake up in North Carolina, on my way south. Then I’ll catch a bus. I’ll ditch the car. And Jules..well..she’ll know. She’ll know what happens when she comes out of this. And she’ll understand. She’ll be glad. She’s yelling that she never loved me. She spazzes out again. She’s on the floor. I move her to the bed. There’s spit coming out her mouth. I hold her there. I wrap her up again. She makes me pray. She makes me say a prayer to the present moment, and we pray a prayer for her to leave. She wants to leave and I hold her as she says it: "Take me back to where I will remember. Say it!"

"Take me back to where I will remember."

"Make me leave this place. Say it, Matthew. This is a horrible, horrible place. You hate it here. You hate it here as much as I do. Take me away from this place! I want to leave! I was never meant to be here—never!—I wasn’t! You can’t keep me here."

"They’ll be here in a minute, Jules."

"Listen to me. Hold me. Say this prayer with me."

I hold her. She’s clammy. Her stomach cramps.

"Take me back where I can be in the universe," she says. And she makes me say it with her. "I can’t be in this place—it’s too hard for me. I know it’s hard for you, too—oh, Matthew! You’re leaving! I can see you leaving me! Don’t leave me! Come with me to where we can see us from the outside! You’re not coming with me! I knew you would do this—I, knew, you, would, do, this, to, me." And then she cramps again—she locks up—her legs run rigid and her jaw tightens and that’s the last thing she ever says to me.

I unlock the door. I leave it open. I lie with Jules.

The firemen come in. They ask me questions. They ask me what drugs we’ve been doing and I tell them she’s been doing heroin. They ask me how long ago she did it. That’s the end of their questions for me and they have me pack some clothes for her so that when she comes out of it she’ll have something to wear. They let me ride in the front of the ambulance. It’s a big one—full size—not those little vans. I can see her through the window, with an IV hanging from the ceiling of the ambulance, and two guys sitting beside her doing blood tests and checking her and holding her still while she seizures.

She said she was going back to the universe. That she could see us from outside. She screamed at me, and told me that everything was pretend. Even our love. She said she never loved me. In her last moments, when her brain was seizuring, she said she didn’t love me. She wanted me to know that.

Why did I meet her, then? To usher her out? To lie with her, while she died? To take someone, unhappy, and keep her company for the last little bit of her life? That’s what it seems. To find love? No. To be loved? I don’t know. They said she didn’t know what she was saying, that those were just random firings in her brain while it was burning out. They said she had ruined her body to the point that if she had taken an Advil this would have happened. They said her bones were eaten out, from vomiting—from bulimia—and that she must have been in extreme pain all the time. Every minute of the day, they said—the way her bones were—she was always hurting. That she hid it. That she had been this way for years. If she never came to my house she never would have done that shot. If I hadn’t mixed it she wouldn’t have died. If she never met me she would have died alone, she wouldn’t have fallen in love, she wouldn’t have written her sister goofy emails about how in love with me she was. If she never met me—if I never met her—I wouldn’t have known love in this life. If she hadn’t died, we would still be together. If. If. If. We don’t know if these things are true. We don’t know. All we know for sure is what happened: we fell in love (or pretended to). We were stupid kids, who didn’t know enough about drugs to be doing them. We held each other for a time. We went our separate ways.

Why did I go there? Why did I go into my apartment in Dayton, to be with this girl, to touch her, to watch movies with her, to meet her at some party and become obsessed, or become infatuated, or become in love—whatever happened—so that we could be together for a few months..and then..this. What can I give so that it would happen in a different way? What can I give for Jules never to have started to seizure? What can I give for those seizures not to have killed her?

Is this the secret we wanted? To send ourselves to earth? Is this what we thought we had forgotten?—what?—death?—loss?—what’s so great about this place? That there we die? That there, before death, is suffering? That there and there alone is light? Is breath? Is love? Is the darkness of humankind enough to teach a lesson? That what? That we’re stupid..and we die!? That somewhere in our frailty is an effort that matters? What? To love? That’s easy—till you’ve been there. As a child, to think of love..of falling in love..of being in love..of the fire of love. Why? So you can get divorced? So you can have the children of years by many fathers, with many women, so you can stop talking to your kids? So you can fall in love and never get to have them? We’re like the injured from war, but still romping around! One leg and still kicking! Pathetic, blind, running races. Crazy minds, crazy on drugs—crazy off! Everyone’s on drugs! Your whole mind is a drug. Collections of chemicals, in bottles, just..keeping us up from gravity. Here for a time, then spilled on the floor. One..drop..of me..might get on you. One drop. Of my time. Of whatever we mean by love. Of motherhood. Of me putting my hands on you and sending you on your way. Of saying some crazy prayer with you! Take me back to where I belong, to where I came—make me forget this place and everything in it. Even the ones I love. Make me fit again with the universe. Stop my pain. I’m sending you out, now, I’m doing what you said—I’m letting you go.

And you never even let me know if you’re pretending.

If you’re in love, if you’re angry—if you’re always acting!

If you were always crazy—if you believed that stupid vortex thing! Convinced me of it, convinced MJ, convinced Liz. Made it stick with me forever, like that sky. Made it so I can never be naive again! Can never fully trust, can never know anything without having first known you. You raised the bar. You sucked me in. You pulled me into a hole that—really—once you go into, you can never come out. Love isn’t something that doing it once makes it easier the next time. It isn’t like riding a bike. You don’t just hop back on. Love is crippling. Debilitating. It’s terror—it’s not bliss. It’s the ability to lie on the floor for days when you discover your love has been sleeping with somebody else—for a secret to twist your mind—to lose sight of everything that came before—to suffer some blindness after.

Is it hard? Or is it easy?

Is love easy to you? Do you find it that way?

Cause there’s a difference between difficult and crushing. Life isn’t difficult. It’s not complicated. The things you need to do—with some learning—are simple. Cumming, breathing, being born—is it difficult to come? It’s not difficult. You move. It happens for you. It’s like ecstasy—it comes upon you. It’s there..without your trying. It was made to happen. You don’t so much make it happen as let it happen. The hard part would be not-cumming, not-breathing, not being born.

I think death, like cumming, like being born, like anything new, is something we do naturally. I think we already know how to do it. We spend time worrying about how to do it, worrying what it will be like, wondering what it meant. But death, like any of these things, is not something we need to try to do. Not something we need to work at. It’s in us, just like breathing. We’ve forgotten. Somehow, in all this mind-space, we’ve forgotten—we’ve forgotten the most basic things. That breathing, that dying, that being born, are already set up for us. We can’t stop doing them, and we can’t keep doing them forever.

"You should probly face forward." That’s the ambulance driver talking to me. "Why don’t you face forward."

I followed her in next to the stretcher, holding her clothes, running next to the ambulance guys, and all the way into the ER. They let me sit there, next to the wall, as doctors tried to figure out what was going on with this one. Then they’d talk to each other, and someone would look my way.

Her seizures stopped. The admitting nurse came to find me in the emergency room. We did the forms in there, then she took it back to her computer. "Does she have insurance?" "Do you know how to get in contact with her parents?" "What is your relationship to the patient?"

Then the seized again.

I stood up.

They’re putting shock paddles on her chest and there’s tape wrapped around her mouth, her face, her head.

"What are they doing to her?"

And what must it be like, if you have conscious flashes in the last moments of your life—to spend it like this?

Flash of a hospital ceiling.

Flash of a doctor’s face. Flash of a nurse.

No one you know, there. No one in your sight.

Or maybe the last thing she remembered was at my apartment. And maybe these are just the flashes I have, from being there.

They shock her.

Her body rises.

They shock her again.

And I’m standing, gripping her clothes, watching all this.

"Someone get him out of here."

"Excuse me, you have to leave."

Someone’s arm on me. There’s Juliet. They’re pulling me out of the room. For a while she looked fine. She had calmed. There wasn’t anybody standing by her bed. Her heart was beating—I could see that on the monitor! And for a minute she was conscious—I was standing by her! For a minute she opened her eyes! Did she know that was me? I think she did. I think she did. I think she knew, for a second, she was in a hospital. I think she did.

"Do you have any phone numbers for her family?"

I shake my head. "I can get you..her sister’s..email address." It’s at home.

"What about her friends? Do any of them have a number for her parents?"

"I don’t know."

But it doesn’t matter. They take her ID. They look it up from there. They find her parents. They call them. They give me Jules’s driver’s license and tell me they’re flying in. They’re coming in the morning.

They don’t let me go in the emergency room any more.

I ask them questions.

They tell me she’s ok.

I see them wheeling her out of the ER and take her to the elevator. They let me follow. They tell me she’s ok, but unconscious. She’s gonna be fine.

And in the room, upstairs, the nurses look at me like I’m a pariah. One of them even tells me I should go—if this was your kid, and you were her parents, would you want to see me around right now? I don’t know. I don’t know what that nurse is talking about. I don’t know if it makes sense to hate myself or not. But I hear her suggestion.

I sit with Jules. I watch her breathe. She’s on a machine. There’s a tube coming out of her mouth, taped to her chin.

Those doctors never shoulda told me she was ok, because she was never ok. I wonder, sometimes, if they did something wrong. I know I did. But I wonder sometimes if someone there, in the hospital, did something wrong, forgot to take a test or shocked her when they didn’t have to. Or maybe they lied to let me off—maybe they did me a favor. They told me, literally: "If she had taken an Advil this could have happened." Sudafed, anything. Some over-the-counter drug. This could have happened to her just because she made herself throw up. We don’t see massive organ failure, here, that is consistent with a drug overdose. That’s what they said. A drug overdose doesn’t look like this. If they had said something different, maybe I’d be in jail. She brought the drugs, I gave it to her. Where does that leave us, legally? Is that manslaughter..or is that..just..stupidity.

Jules is asleep. She’s in a "light coma". What does that mean? Will she come out of it? "Very likely."

Very likely?

That was before I left. I don’t know what happened after I left. I’m not a doctor. Whatever went wrong at the hospital, if I hadn’t called them Jules’d be lying on the floor of my apartment, dead. Right?

"Do I need to sign any papers?"


"Do I need to talk to anyone?"


"Is she gonna be alright?"

"I can’t tell you that for sure. But. She may be. She may not." The doctor takes Jules’s clothes. "Why don’t you get some sleep. She’s gonna be here. Come back later. Call somebody. Get someone to drive you. You don’t look..very..are you feeling ok? Physically? Do you want to lie down for a minute?"


Then Jules’s heart monitor goes crazy and they make me leave the room again and they’re rushing her back downstairs and that really is when she died.

And that’s the longest walk of my life. From Good Sam, up Main Street, past the Denny’s, over the hill, past car places and coffeehouses and all the way downtown. Saturday morning. Everyone’s out, doing their thing, no idea what’s happening. No idea that one of the best people in this city, is dead. People going about their day—making stupid jokes, wasting their time, as if nothing mattered. As if they would have forever to goof around. They have no idea. They have no idea..that in an instant, one step off the rail, one pill, one fall, one cut..you can go. They think today is ok—no—that’s not quite it. They think—nothing.

They don’t think. They don’t think about death. They don’t think about the woman sitting downstairs on the red couch, like Jules does..they don’t think about her feelings or try to figure out what’s going on with her or listen to her. They just..they ride the bus. They argue. They hit their wife. They fight, like down on 3rd Street, about who’s black and who’s white. That corner can kill me, today. Go ahead. Just kill a guy because he’s white and he walked on your street. You’d do that to honor Jules..cause she’s black? Let’s see how happy that would make her today. There’s no thought going on in these people. It’s just panting, and hunger, and gnawing at the bone.

You wanna kill me?

Look me in the face.

You wanna kill this? Who’s been through this? What weapons do you have? What tools? What terror do you think you can bring. You want to honor a black woman by killing me? Uh huh. You find me a Jules..who would be happy with you doing that.

But no one messes with me on 3rd Street. Everyone who sees me, that day—and for about ten years after—knows not to mess with me because they can see that they’re dealing with a person who just doesn’t give a fuck—who has nothing to lose. That includes bosses, doctors (when I was the one in the emergency room, seeing flashes of time that could have been my last)..girlfriends..parents..sisters..friends..you can’t negotiate with people who aren’t afraid to lose something. So: if you want to be invincible, start by removing everything that you care about..every thing that you’re afraid to lose. Become someone with nothing to hide—with nothing left.

There aren’t any killers on 3rd Street. Not that I know of. The one killer I do know about..is me. To take a life, of someone who loves you..who you love..to live in such a way that eventually one or both of you is going to die..that’s what I’ve done. And I guess I’ll include Jules in that camp, to be fair. You think you’re a killer because you kill in a moment of passion? Because you run over your boyfriend with the car—because he raped your daughter? Shot some guy who would’ve sent you to jail—who would have snitched? Those are one-offs, more or less. Jules and I were chronically living our lives in a suicide..suicide attempts each day.

When you’re a kid you’re afraid of the dark. You think there’s something hiding "out there". You’re scared of the unknown. The quickest way to become unafraid is to get rid of the unknown. Go to all the places you’ve never been. Become the thing in the dark. You’re only afraid of the monster under the bed when you’re, not, it. Try crawling under the bed, try sitting in that darkness. Once your eyes adjust..once it’s your back against the wall..once you go deep enough..into that dark, and run your hands along every edge of the closet, under every shelf, in every corner, checking for monsters..you see not only is there nothing stalking you..but that if anyone’s doing any stalking..it’s you.

Computer’s on.

Sunlight coming through my bay window.

We’ve made a mess everywhere. There’s remnants of tape from the hospital. Sheets are off the bed. Jules’s clothes in the bedroom, stripped, right on the floor, between the futon and the closet.

I lock the door.

I won’t be sleeping for a long time.

In the kitchen, Jules’s poems are still on the refrigerator. The lid to the washing machine is open, empty. Jules’s clothes are in the dryer.

Her poem says: He Tenderly Dances To Smoky Red Blushing As We Nourish The Silhouette.

That’s the last magnetic poem she’ll ever write.

I write her one. It says:

May Oceans Savor Breezes For You, Brilliant Yesterday;

I Am Building An Eternity From My Impressions.

I wrap up all the needles, the foil, the plastic bags. I take the cotton out of my bathroom—I take the whole bag. There’s an alley next to that park. I’ll stash it there. Wrap it in a double bag, two of those hefty black ones. There’s more on the table. On my round table. It’s all that junk. I look in the compartments underneath. I take everything out. I make sure. I even take my mushrooms. Cased in honey—I’m done with those. And I walk them down the back walk, and there’s my neighbor doing some late-summer yard work. This is the neighbor who lives downstairs—the one who would have heard us yelling. The one who looked at me in the morning after Jules and I were fucking. The one who didn’t ever call the police. The one who might’ve seen the ambulance last night, parked in front of our house.

She waves at me with a spade in her hand. We don’t say anything. She goes back to shoveling and I open the alley gate, shuffling the bags to get my hand on the latch, and I go down the alley like nothing has happened. I throw everything away in different trashcans. I dump the honey out. With the mushrooms. I throw all the jars away in a dumpster by the park. Stuff that might have my fingerprints on it, separate. I go to the coffeehouse. I’m looking for a dumpster. Something that’ll be emptied soon. Maybe something by the train tracks. There’s a seafood restaurant over this parking lot.

Guy smoking. I drop my last bag in there. He looks like a cook on break. Neck tattoos. I just leave it there, and hope. No one’s gonna be going through that dumpster. If they do—they’re not gonna connect that shit with me. Maybe they will. Who cares.

I wave at the cook and I’m surprised at my ability to do that.

I don’t feel it, but I do it.

There’s guys at my house when I get back. I don’t know who they are. They’re wearing suits. One of them sits in the car. Two of them ask me if they can come inside. I tell them: "Yes."

On the way up the stairs I’m not sure if I got everything, but I’m pretty sure these are the guys that are gonna send me to jail. They want to look around the house. They ask my permission.

"Go ahead."

They don’t search very thoroughly. They don’t say much. They see me on my couch and I get up without them asking. One of the guys pulls back a seat cushion and just barely looks around. They know I’m not a big-time drug dealer—this is just their job.

They ask me where I got the shit and I tell them Jules brought it.

They ask for her address.

They ask me if I have any more.

I tell them no.

They tell me it’s important for them to trace back the source because if it’s bad stuff, and it’s killing people, they want to find where it’s coming from so it doesn’t kill anyone else.

I believe them.

I tell them I don’t know where it came from.

They believe me, too.

They don’t seem bad, and neither do I, to them.

They can see I’m sad.

I sit back down on the couch, with no cushion.

I’m crying. It’s not for them..it’s not for their..sake. It’s not for me, and what’s gonna happen to me. I don’t even care they’re there, I don’t—they can look around the house all they want. I don’t even care if they find anything. They’re asking me questions. I’m telling them the truth. I want them to find the source of it, if it’s bad—I don’t want this to happen to any other people. I want them to kill me if possible. Not take me to jail. Not take me to court. Kill me.

They just ask me their questions, though, and we all sympathize with each other’s position, and then they leave, and they don’t come back, and no one touches me or tells me I have to do anything or..anything. No one shoots. No one hugs. No one is stern. No one is comforted. The house is just..sunlight and neighbors gardening and me..with nothing I can do. I clench my teeth and my hands and I squeeze my eyes together to hurt. And I try to break.

I find Jules on the computer. I find a recording. From last night. The video was on. How she and I—and me and everyone—used to record ourselves having sex and show it on the screen so we could watch. There’s a recording, there. Do I click it?

Do I—what?—if it’s G-rated, do I send a copy to her parents? Wouldn’t you want to know what your daughter was doing—what she looked like—on the night of her death?

I hover above the icon but—I don’t know if I can do that yet.

In truth it was ten years later before I got rid of that recording—not too long ago. I never uploaded it, I never sent it to anyone. I watched it about once a year, and I’d always think about it first. Do I really want to do this? Do I really want to put myself through this again? Am I honoring her by remembering her or am I just driving myself crazy. That video wasn’t pornographic—it wasn’t of us having sex. It was just us talking. We were sitting by the computer, with our arms wrapped around each other. We were just hugging and talking. About what our lives were gonna be. About where we might go. About what we might do together, that we hadn’t yet done. And Jules singing. Borrowing lyrics from Dar Williams and Andrew Lloyd Webber and mixing them up in her own mishmash of love songs, sung directly in my ear, for an audience of one.

Someday I’d stand by the ocean, with a little flash drive, that was the only container left that held that file. And I’d throw it in.

I’d wade knee-deep into the ocean. I wouldn’t care if my pants got wet and what shoes I was wearing and I’d throw it in.

I’d throw it gently—but I’d throw it as far as it would go.

And I’d walk away. On the way back my pants would dry out. My shoes I got rid of—I got new ones. And some fish, at the bottom of the ocean, would be the only one to play that file, again.

Fragments of it play in my head, sometimes. Just little pieces. That she said she was ready, to give herself fully to me, that she was letting go of doubt. She would commit..soon, she said. And we said we loved each other. A million times in a million dopey ways. The silliest pair I’ve ever seen..of all the silly pairs I make fun of..was me and Jules. I love you..Oh-h, I love you..So, much I love you..I love saying I love you..we were the worst of any supermarket couple holding hands..making out in the pasta aisle, my hands in her butt pockets, grabbing her ass while we’re picking out..linguine. I mean: crazy stuff. Really stupid stuff. And on that video we were the same. She was posing for the camera and we were playing out fragments from Austin Powers that we both really like. "Very good. Loving it. Now you’re a lemur! Running as a pack! We go left! We go right! Burrow! And you’re burrowing!" Me and Jules playing this out for the camera. "And look: I’m not even shooting you! It’s crazy..and..I’m spent." Then we fall all over each other and Jules is making claws and I’m making fangs and we’re trying to act like the scariest monsters we can find.

And in those crazy moments when you’re not yet ready to watch lemur videos or write about them, with any sense of perspective, you still have to call people. You have to let somebody know. So..you don’t click on the icon labeled LoveYouMatthewBHN. You do make a phone call, though. And you call the one person you know will help. Who will care enough to help..and who will have enough strength to not fall to pieces. This person will guarantee that you only have to make one phone call, because one phone call, to tell someone that Jules is dead, is all you can make.

"Good morning!"

But she can tell, even in the silence, that something’s wrong.

"Ash," I say—

I was sitting in that Mead Research parking lot waiting for the sun to come up, waiting for that sky, waiting to see something like what I had seen on Friday. But it didn’t happen. The sky was full of diffuse clouds and the sun rose behind them, and I never got to see anything.

People are going in. This is around seven in the morning.

I had Dar Williams on repeat.

I open my glove compartment, fishing around. Cleaning. Making a pile on the passenger seat of things to get rid of. Chad has a check in there. It’s for a hundred dollars. He left it for me when he moved in with Penelope. In the subject line it says: "For services rendered". I put that in the pile.

I hear Gao get there, bumping.

Ashley comes in a long time later, when the parking lot is full, and I see her from a distance. She’s wearing a white hat.

The sky’s not going to change.

There’s a letter in the glove compartment to my dad. It’s one of those things counsellors ask you to do—you know—write a letter to someone you have unfinished business with, except don’t send the letter? Mine is to my dad. It just says I wish you had cared. But a lot more elaborate than that. I’m not quite ready to put that letter in the throw-away pile, and you’re not supposed to send it. Anyway, there’s no stamp.

If I wrote that letter to Jules it would say: I’m sorry I left you. What else can it say? I’ll see you in the afterlife? I don’t believe in heaven. Or maybe my letter would just say Goodbye. She and I might not have been together forever. We don’t know. We got interrupted. We never had an end.

Dad and I are like that too: I never got to say goodbye to him, he just stopped talking to me. With Jules at least she never had a choice. With Dad, it was a conscious decision. Maybe it was with Jules too.

So what do I do now? Go to work? Sit and text Ash and listen to everyone whisper about whatever tragedy just happened with Matt’s girlfriend? Listen to a bunch of people say they’re sorry who never even knew her? No thanks.

I don’t even want people to know that I’m sad.

I just want them to know that I can’t function.

Not today. Not this month. Not this year. A bunch of people with no skills at their job and they lack the perspective of how insignificant everything we’re doing, is. That pretty much sums up Mead Research. And on top of that, sycophantic bullshit. But that’s just me making myself feel better.

What would Jules do? She would go sit with Pete Makowski on that bench by the goose pond and listen to his troubles. She’d put her hand on his knee and look into his eyes and tell him to melt the pain away or she’d probly give him some breathing exercises or something. I can’t do that. I doubt he’d take me seriously.

What would Jules do? If she could guide me, right now—if she could be my guide. She’d tell me to let it fucking go. And then I’d say I have and she’d say: no you haven’t.

You need to let it fucking go.


"Come in! Matthew. Come in. Have a seat." Tammy’s fat. She had Coke memorabilia covering her walls. "How was your weekend?"

She doesn’t know. It’s refreshing, in a way, that the first person I encountered..doesn’t know.

"It was fine."

"I had a talk with Pete Makowski," she says.

I just wait. I’m not helping anyone out this morning.

"He says.." Tammy shakes her head. "He really wants you in his group. He wants you to stay. I really want to hire you..your experience..your math background.. And I had Kevin Ackerman look at your code. He says it’s great!"

I’m looking at the floor. Kevin Ackerman is a fucking douche.

"Do you think maybe you and Pete can work it out cause I really don’t want to be in the middle."

I look around the room. There’s a Coke Raggedy Ann doll—she’s wearing a Coke print. There’s a Coke piano—miniature, nonworking, jutting out from the wall. There’s a Coke throwing star—those ninja stars? Like that but with the Coke logo on it. I’m looking up. Everything is red. Even Tammy’s dress is red. She always wears red, even the shoes. And she wears a dress to work. I mean most MR women don’t wear dresses to work. And if they do it doesn’t look hoary. And there: above her head: a Coke water bottle, and Coke slippers, and a Coke poster showing all the different bottles since 1899. Kevin Ackerman, huh? Fuck Makowski.

"So will you go talk to him?" she says, timidly.

I say I will.

The walk in the hallway down there is depressing. I can hardly keep my eyes open. There’s a gray conference room, there’s a gray conference room. There’s a fucking desk. A shared printer.

I go into one of the bathrooms that’s not near my area. There are three urinals. A man is standing at the middle one. We’re the only two people in the bathroom.

I go to a stall. I push my pants down and sit, but nothing comes. I sit there and wait, and wait, and I hear people come and go, and I keep my forehead in my hands. Ash is texting me but I don’t have anything to say. What’s there to say? You care?—congratulations. I want you out of my life. I feel idiotic having called her—now she feels like she’s part of me again, part of my workings. I should have just dealt with it myself. I should talk to no one.

And I’m right: when I do go into our area, everyone’s looking at me. Not the Indian contractors—they’re doing their work. But the Americans. And Chirag. He’s the one Indian who looks at me. And he looks at me the longest out of everyone. He’s standing at Jeff Buckley’s desk, with a folder in his hand, looking at me with his fat belly and bifocals. What the fuck does Chirag Mishra know about me? Does he even love his wife? I bet he appeases her like he appeases Makowski and everyone in this place.

There’s some people in my row of cubicles doing sit ups. I’m stepping over elbows, bracing myself on a round table so I can get to my desk. Gao gives me a look. He puts his fingers on his desk and gives me a look of care. He doesn’t say anything but he gives me a little nod. Gao is amazing. Maybe we can talk later, at lunch. But he lingers only a second, then goes back to working on his screen. He types slowly, though, and I know he isn’t completely there. Someone switched my chair. Someone stole my chair. They gave me the one with two broken arms. As soon as you put your arms on the arm rests, they fall off. I sit down anyway. I roll us to the desk. I just don’t use the arm rests. I don’t feel like fucking with anybody today.

My next hour is spent with sunglasses on, staring at a Mead Research screen and an empty terminal window, crying.

I think I can go on, but it doesn’t seem the same to me anymore. I think about typing a command, but I think through the command now, I think about what will happen once I’m done typing it and once it’s done executing and once that tiny instruction contributes to the massive system we’re all building. I’m not happy with the result. I’m, no, longer, happy, with, the, result.

"Did you talk to Tammy?" That’s Makowski, leaning around the side of my cube.

"I—" I start to talk but my throat is full. "I spoke with her, yes."

"I’ll get with you later, on that," he says, "I’m in a meeting." By which I assume he means he’s going to a meeting.

"Uh-huh," I say. I never look away from the screen.

Ash messages me. It just says: If you need to talk..

I write back: k

Then I write an email. It says: Mead Research: Thank you for your collaboration and company over the last three years. It’s been wonderful working with you and I sincerely wish you all the best in your continued careers. This group has been particularly enriching for me due to the variety of skillsets present. I’m moving on but I hope you’ll feel free to contact me if I can be of any assistance on any of the systems that I built or worked on. I’ll make myself available by email for that purpose (matthew\@triangledirt.com) and I wouldn’t mind if you sent a pic or two of the Super Bowl party when it happens. Thank you again for the opportunity. Enjoy yourselves. Matthew Temple.

I click send.

I turn around in my chair.

I look at Gao.

His email notification goes off.

He clicks it.

He reads the first five words.

He turns to me.

He looks.

I lift my glasses.

Gao comes to me and he gives me a hug. Skinny little Chinese man, he smells like crystal meth and sencha, hugs me tighter than a mom.

I hug him back. I hold his head. "I’ll see you man," I whisper.

"You call me," he says.

And I nod.

And I walk out.

When I go outside Liz is waiting for me..crazy tattoos, earlobes still stretched but nothing in em. She’s wearing a dress, like a church dress, with flowers.

"What are you doing?"

"I came to make it right," she says.

"How long have you been here?"

"They wouldn’t let me in."

"Why didn’t you call me?"

"I deleted your number. I’m sorry. I just—don’t want to have anything to do with drug stuff anymore," she says. "It’s nothing personal against you."

"I understand."

She looks at me with this terrible face. "I came to make it right," she cries, and I put my arms around her shoulders. She’s sobbing and I can’t understand what she’s saying. "She was there and now she’s not! How can that happen! I keep looking for her, like I’ll see her—like she’s still here somewhere! She’s not answering her phone!" Zombie—Elizabeth Ronstadt—is hitting my chest. I’m telling her "I know, I know" and I’m standing in the Mead Research courtyard, looking at the sun. The tears in my eyes make it not-too-bright. They’re falling on Zombie’s head.

"We never should have done that with her," I say.

And Zombie says: "No, we shouldn’t have."

She’s shaking her head, and bawling, and I’m trying to hold it together.

Zombie and I walked together to her car. We made some polite conversation about going to get tea or sit somewhere and talk but then we both just cut the crap and said bye and she drove off. I made a decision, on the way to my car, that this would be the last time I was ever in the Mead Research parking lot, and then that decision snowballed to a decision not to return to my apartment. I got it in my head that I didn’t have to go back there, that I couldn’t, that it wasn’t right. Because Jules died there, or started to. And because how could I ever forget that that happened? Every day, being there, I would be living in the place that Jules died. And for some people, that idea would have subsided and they would have gone back to their apartment and thought about it and maybe drank some of that Absolut Citron. Or maybe they would have at least packed their clothes. And that’s probly what I would have done, a year earlier..it’s probly what I would do now..but that day, I was through. I even left my paintings.

I had an atlas under the passenger seat and I keep my important papers in a safe deposit box, at the bank. I had my keys, a debit card, my computer—I figured that was it. You never get to keep any of this stuff anyway, it always expires or you get new ones. Clothes: all this stuff: it’s unnecessary. It’s transient. It’s constantly going away.

There was a spot on the map I had wanted to go. Jules had been there. I had heard stories. That was where she was from. I looked it up. It looked like about a day. I needed that time—I took it. I took it to drive from Dayton, through Pittsburgh, through Pennsylvania, and into New York. I needed that time to cry, and yell, and bang on my steering wheel. To look at the spot next to me where Jules used to sit—when she stayed on her side of the car. And now it’s just my pile of things. Chad’s check, a Taco Bell napkin. I threw that stuff away the first time I stopped.

And the drive was beautiful. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. I saw a deer. There’s this part once you get to New York—to New York State—where you’re by a river, and the road goes down..it’s beautiful. There were fall leaves. The trees were turning. Then the road gets wide and you know you’re going to a city. More gas stations. Gas stations I’ve never heard of. All the convenient stores are named differently. In Dayton we have Walgreens—in New York it’s Duane Reade. It’s like they’ve never heard of Dayton (or even anything outside of New York). The whole rest of the country, it’s Walgreens and Rite Aids and in New York there’s not a single Rite Aid. Every drugstore in the city is a Duane Reade. You notice that, when you travel. I mean, simple things: in Dayton you can’t imagine there not being a Meijer or a Walgreens. Then you go somewhere they’ve never heard of them.

The traffic there made me forget about Jules, for the first time. It was only for a second. I’d thought about her constantly for days..and almost constantly before that..for..months..then I’m on a giant bridge and some guy is passing on a motorcycle—I’m trying to change lanes—I can’t get over—no one in this place will let me over, even with a blinker—but I guess I don’t drive like they do here. And for a second that takes my mind off her, it makes me forget. And then I kick myself—how could I forget her? How could I spend a second of a day not thinking about the person I loved? How could she leave my mind? I thought I had to hold on, forever.

I did make it across that bridge. And I paid my $20 toll.

I drove down streets and I got honked at and pedestrians yelled at me for doing the wrong thing. I drove all around—everywhere—I was on the east side highway and I ended up in New Jersey. I took some highway and ended up in Brooklyn. I saw stars and I thought I was going to pass out. I thought I would run out of gas. I ended up in a scary neighborhood, and black people were yelling at me. Someone called me a motherfucker, I think because I was moving too slow.

I went south. Somehow I ended up back in Manhattan. My favorite thing about it was the red lights. That was the one time I had to relax. No one moving—except the occasional fire truck coming through across striped lines. And I would just sit there waiting for it to turn green and do things like pretend to be holding Jules’s hand. I was really messed up at the time. I’d reach into the air next to me and hold open my hand, and pretend she was taking it, and squeeze. Then the light would change, and I’d need all my concentration not to get honked at.

Then I found her spot. The parking garage at 58th and Lexington. I took my computer. That was it. Checked the back seat, checked the trunk. Sat there in my car a while, underground, knowing this is the last time I’d see it. Then I got out and started walking away, and something pulled me back. It wasn’t Jules. It was fear: it was the sounds of rumbling through concrete, and steel, and the sound of a giant city above me. But I went back and through the windshield on the dash I saw one of Jules’s hair ties. I opened my car and took it. And that time I left the car door open, and really left, and never went back. Walked up the stone ramp and onto the street and looked around and fell in love, right away. Not the way I did with Jules. My emotions were shut down for a long time after that. It took years. But in the way that you can fall in love with a city, with excitement, I fell in love right away. I still cried, I cried in restaurants and I cried in museums mostly—in places I knew she’d love to be.

And there’s that street, and there’s that Victoria’s Secret she talked about. And there’s that Container Store. There’s that highrise she was looking at—or was it that one?

I sit on the corner. I wrap that hair tie around my fingers. And someone steps by me, so close. They almost hit me. And I see: this is the way this place is. It doesn’t stop when someone sits down on the curb or wrecks their car or dies. It might love but it doesn’t care. Sound like anyone we know?

Some things got worse. Some things got better.

I heard from Penny a month later. She told me that Chad got out of prison early. Then she told me he hung himself. I flew back to Dayton for the funeral. Penny and I slept together, which was stupid. I think we both just needed a friend. The next day we stood in the grass at Woodland Cemetery and met Chad’s father. His brother and sister didn’t come. His mom was..working.

I met Jules’s mom eventually. We had been going opposite directions the week Jules died but eventually we found each other in New York. She wanted to meet me. We emailed first. Then I went to her house, and I saw some of where Jules came from. Her mother was a nutcase—she was a lot like me. She drank. She told me she wished she hadn’t drank when Jules was little. I met her little sister, Bianca. They looked exactly the same. But she wasn’t like Jules; she was simpler, she had her head on straight. She was studying to be a dermatologist.

I stopped going to Dayton and I went to a lot of counseling.

There have been years where I’ve functioned, and years where I haven’t.

For a while in New York I liked the distraction. I had so many things I had to do to get set up, just so I wouldn’t die, that it gave me something to do while I was sad.

I thought I was getting better. I thought I had gotten over feeling guilty and going over the events in my mind—I thought I had gotten past being angry at myself for thinking it’s all about me. Who am I to feel sad—she’s the one who died! I did get better for a while.

Then I became someone who wanted to erase himself. Someone who took the present-moment thing to extremes—who didn’t believe in a future—any future, at all. Who threw away all his things only to collect more, only to throw them all away, again, and again. Who called suicide hotlines and went to hospital desks asking for people he knew weren’t there, just to have someone to talk to.

Should I be thinking about her still? What would Jules advise me? She would tell me to let it fucking go—obviously =)

Maybe she told me that then, in my apartment that one night, before it was ever necessary, because she knew she was leaving. Maybe she told me then because she knew she wasn’t going to be around to tell me later.

Her words are always running through me. Present moment, be here now, simple, less..do fewer things better. Meditate, feel, trust it, breathe. You know: she liked to talk. I’m not sure if anything she said was true..but it mattered to me. I needed to hear it, and she needed to say it. I think that’s why we met.