By Brooks Egerton
Sara creeps westward on LBJ, safely in the far right lane as the fertility clinic exit approaches. Does anyone here—she asks under her breath, although she’s alone—do anything but drive? Five minutes and half a mile later, as she adjusts the visor against the December sun and squirms from the bloat of overstimulated ovaries, an answer appears: it’s a wild-maned woman pushing a stroller on the shoulder, followed by a limping dog. Mother of God. Out loud this time. Sara passes them, pulls over, looks in her rearview to see the woman throwing something at the beast, jumps out, and screams above the traffic’s din, What are you doing? The woman whirls and stares, then picks up an asphalt chunk. For a second Sara thinks she’ll be the next target, but her nemesis turns back around and fires again. Hit this time, the dog darts into the side of a car whose driver is slowing to take cellphone photos of the spectacle. The girl in the stroller thrashes as Sara runs by and scoops up the skeletal mutt. Next thing she remembers, a vet is telling her that he’s about 6 months old, has a broken hip, broken leg, broken tail. They’re not new fractures, he says. Probably has internal injuries, too. Putting him down might be the most humane thing. Certainly the cheapest. Sara sees herself handing over a credit card and signing a consent form, on which she names the little guy Isaac. She sees herself calling her husband to say, Sweetheart, I’m all done with the in vitro. I found our baby today.
Brooks Egerton is a former investigative reporter at the Dallas Morning News.
Stranger on the Bridge
By Julia Heaberlin
“It sounds like the sea, doesn’t it? When you close your eyes? I love the sea.” The words float at me out of the dark. Feminine. Breathy.
I wonder if I’m imagining her voice over the rush of traffic on the LBJ Freeway below. But when I turn, there she is, a slender shape in the shadows of the bridge, a few feet from me. She’s taking off her heels, placing them neatly beside her. She tucks her skirt underneath her on the filthy concrete and sits with her arms wrapped around her knees.
I can make out a dark flip of hair, a delicate profile. The lights are out on this patch of the highway, which is why I picked it.
She’s young, I think, maybe early 30s. Too young to die. The fog of whiskey is lifting in my brain, defining the edges of the night. I don’t want to worry about saving her. She can only be on this bridge for one reason. The same reason I am.
I gesture to the noise below. To the spot I’ve been staring at for two hours. “You can put your shoes back on. This is a solo mission.”
“I’ve lost things, too.”
“You need to pick another night.”
“I’m sorry. I am.”
“A son, Patrick.” The tremble in her voice begins to work on me. “A husband, several months after that. I thought about killing myself a lot. I drank. Had nightmares all the time. But I have had lots of happy moments, as well. Every moment one lives is different from the other. The good, the bad, hardship, the joy, the tragedy, love, and happiness are all interwoven into one single, indescribable whole that is called life. You cannot separate the good from the bad.”
“A little hackneyed, don’t you think? I can say that because I’m a poet. A poet and a drunk, my wife would say. Bet you
haven’t read a poem since sixth grade. Most of America doesn’t give a shit about poetry. ”
“I’ve read everything from Colette to Kerouac. I read every day. People read.”
It’s sharp, her retort. The silence that’s left is pulling me deeper into this stranger, when all I want is to be alone. When all I want is soundproof blackness.
The silence stretches. She is going to make me explain. Think twice. Confess.
“You want to know why?” Now it’s my voice trembling. “Every day, I feel devalued. As an artist. As a human being. Every night, I pick up a bottle and watch the news. Will there be nuclear holocaust today? Tomorrow? I used to believe that underneath all our crassness, all our selfishness, people are good. That, in the end, we will do the right thing. But that little safety bar on the roller coaster? It’s gone.”
She gives a hoarse laugh. “My husband used to say that it was insane that two men, sitting on opposite sides of the world, should be able to decide to bring an end to civilization.”
“So you understand.”
“I understand that the world has been on the brink before. That Americans care about their past, but for short-term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters. I also believe just as much that one man can make a difference and every man should try. My husband believed that. He was … magic. He believed in art, in mankind, in the future. In that innate goodness you’re talking about. He said only dreamers can save us from the cynics, the cold realists.”
I try to bat it away, but a poem is whispering, already writing itself in my head. “The traffic does sound a little like the sea,” I say. “Tell me again how you ended up on my bridge?”
“If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain … or help one fainting robin unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.”
“ It’s one of my favorite poems.” The woman is rising. Slipping her shoes back on. “Poets are the ones who change the world. You must continue.”
She’s leaning over the edge, staring into the abyss of people and hurtling steel that is no longer calling me tonight.
I think she’s going over.
I stumble to grab her. Nothing but air.
Except, she’s still here, smiling.
Only then do I see the pink suit. The blood.
Let them see what they’ve done.
She holds out her hand to me.
“I’m Jackie,” she says. “Don’t be afraid.”
Author’s note: A number of quotes in this fictional piece can be directly attributed to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, including her belief that poets are the ones who change the world. “If I can stop one heart from breaking” was one of her favorite poems. Two of her children died, one stillborn and another only two days old. Jackie moved their graves to Arlington Memorial Cemetery beside their father’s almost immediately after the assassination. After the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK did say in a White House meeting that it was insane that two men on opposite sides of the world could control the fate of mankind. Jackie would have been 98 years old this summer, on July 28.
Julia Heaberlin is the author of three books, including the international bestseller Black-Eyed Susans (Ballantine, August 2015).
By Merritt Tierce
He does surgery. He’s not a surgeon, but he has been in surgery for 27 years. Sometimes it’s just him and a da Vinci robot taking out a woman’s uterus. Or the whole engine block: uterus, ovaries, cervix.
When all else fails, hold pressure, he said. He said a surgeon once held pressure on a man’s chest for 14 hours. Usually the surgeons in his stories are not heroic. They are jocks and assholes. They don’t listen to NPR, and they ride their bikes aggressively around the lake. They care only about money, and they make mistakes.
This man lives in my memory. He is over there by White Rock, where that one beaver comes out every night and waddles across the bridge. Where the obese woman sits and throws pieces of bread to the geese and waits for a sighting of Herman, the nutria. I think of my memory as his apartment. I think of it as beautiful and strange. In the kitchen cabinets he kept canisters of film and stacks of reptile magazines. He ate out. That is why and how we met. Because he ate at the Dream Cafe. I have always felt myself in my story, but with him I felt it more. Someone holding pressure on me in my story. He kept all his shoes in his oven.
I don’t think about missing him or why. I think about things he said in that kitchen. Like, Think how much peach you’d have with no pit.
He was a gardener at the Arboretum. He knows the names of all the plants and trees. In his bedroom are five sansevierias spaced evenly on the windowsill. Those are the ones you see in malls and hotels. They have tall straight leaves and come with tags that say Wants Little Attention. On the elevator-size balcony of his third-floor apartment he’s created a Japanese garden. He put in a bamboo floor and black powder-coated steel planters on three sides. A bamboo screen grows in front of the railing, and against the walls Japanese yews and hostas flourish. He put in two mahogany plank benches. He was sitting on one of them in the gorgeous pale-green early morning light filtering through the bamboo stalks when he told me he’d read that email I wrote and he couldn’t be with me any longer.
In the breezeway outside his apartment’s front door are nine Japanese maples in pots. One is 8 feet tall. There is also a cedar elm that he found as a tendril stuck in a log while he was hunting snakes with my son. Now it has three foot-long branches and deep green leaves, and both of us were superstitious about it. We called it Our Tree. There is also a tomato plant that he pulled out of a crack in the pavement in the parking lot of Al-
bertsons one night. It was dark and we were stepping up onto the sidewalk. Hey, that’s a tomato plant, he said, and bent over to wiggle it out of the crack where it was growing. What he called a tomato plant was a single stem with four small anemic leaves. I asked him what kind of tomato he thought it was. Albertsons, he said, and I laughed the loud laugh he used to say he loved.
Afterward he was still on my TollTag account. He didn’t go to college but he could save your life if you were dying and cutting something out of you would fix it. I did things for him, all kinds of things. But they weren’t enough. He said I wasn’t a real woman. I don’t know what he wanted.
I would look at my TollTag account on my phone sometimes to see where he’d been. One morning he’d gone north through the Keller Springs plaza at 5:36 am, and I knew he was headed to surgery, so I got in my car barefoot and drove the 47 minutes to his apartment. I went up the three flights of stairs, and I took Our Tree. I touched the leaves of the other trees, and I touched the doorknob on his door. I went down one flight, and then I came back up and pulled three perfect walnut-size tomatoes off the tomato plant. I set them in the dirt in the pot of Our Tree and drove back to my house.
I took the tomatoes into bed with me and lay down on my side and lined them up on the sheet in front of my face. In bed at night, we watched nature videos. He had a new 3-D plasma television. Turtles swimming balefully. Freakish fish with mud legs. A flamingo opera, David Attenborough, lizards posed seated in small chairs. He is sewing someone up, and I am looking at three tomatoes, and on his balcony, in the warm air off the lake, the bamboo leans, waves, flutters.
Merritt Tierce’s debut novel, Love Me Back (Doubleday, 2014), won the Texas Institute of Letters’ Steven Turner Award.
By Ken Lowery
This boring old man smelled like he died inside a cask of whiskey. He thought he knew what was up, but he didn’t. Chad knew what was up, and what was up was this: this was a 24-hour pharmacy, the same one where Chad had bought his post-bender Gatorades since he’d moved to Dallas last month, and the closest bar was called Spirits + Shenanigans, not Jack’s.
The hell kind of name was “Jack’s,” anyway?
“Been coming here every night for 30 years,” the boring old man said, rocking in place. He was rocking, right? Or was Chad’s shit all blurry? “Gotta pay up. Last call.”
“I don’t know how many ways I can tell you—”
“They tore down Jack’s two years ago, Billy,” the pharmacy’s lone graveyard shifter said, wheeling a mop bucket up the aisle. “Put this Walgreens up to compete with the CVS across the street. I tell you every week: the street you knew is gone, man.”
Billy blinked slowly, as if waking from a dream. “They took my bar?”
For a fleeting moment Chad felt empathy. And then he felt warmth on his feet as Billy doubled over and upchucked three decades of chunky rye onto his shoes.
Chad recoiled, slammed into the rack of sleeves of peanuts behind him, and slid down into the muck, shrieking and kicking the whole way. “What the hell I’ll end you I’ll eat your face—”
But he stopped, abruptly, and sank into the filth on the floor. Billy was gone. He had not walked away; he was gone.
He looked up at the pharmacy employee, ashen-faced and moist. The word “ghost” had almost formed on his lips when the clerk simply held out the mop.
“Your mess now, man.”
Ken Lowery is a comic book writer. He also co-created the @FakeAPStylebook Twitter feed and edited the spinoff book Write More Good (Three Rivers Press, April 2011).
By Sanderia Faye
I had been inside my house for three straight days without so much as going to the mailbox. My hair was matted in back, and I smelled like month-old pizza supreme. I needed to get out of my head. I needed to get out. So I took a shower, washed my hair, walked the five minutes to Deep Ellum.
It was only a couple of blocks from my house, but I didn’t go there very often. I preferred a more polished crowd; I’d worked too hard to ever be called poor again. I generally went to West Village for food and drinks. But I wanted to drink and I didn’t want to drive, and I needed to stretch my legs from days of sitting and waiting and hoping and nothing happening. It had been six months since I was fired and I was too embarrassed to ask anyone for help. Not me, the No. 1 person on most everybody’s list to call for advice.
I wanted to escape into the darkest corner I could find and tell my troubles to somebody, anybody, a stranger. Throw up my problems all over him and dare them to follow me back home. Become as cool as my alias: Regina Jones. Maybe let him do things only a man with a sleeve tattoo knew how to do.
Hunger pangs ran up and down my stomach from not having eaten in days. I walked under the burning orange and green neon of 7-Eleven and passed Elm Street. Good-Latimer widened at Main. I stood at the intersection and didn’t want to cross, so I kept walking and made a left turn on Commerce. It was dark, around 9 o’clock, but I wasn’t worried about the homeless men who lagged on the corners or sat on the sidewalks. Where did they go when the tunnel was destroyed to upgrade the streets? I couldn’t even remember where the tunnel was before, yet a sudden longing for it filled me with nostalgia. I didn’t know why. I only complained about how nasty it was, hated the graffiti, and the stench took my breath away whenever I forgot to roll up my car windows.
The only reason I had purchased a home on the east side of the highway was because the real estate agent swore the builders had plans to turn it into another West Village, which was true, but who had expected the mortgage fiasco to come? What made people believe they could afford a home on a two or less credit rating? But they signed the papers as if they were TVs bought for Super Bowl Sunday with every intention of returning them on Monday. And that had put those like me, who had done it the right way, with a perfect credit score and money in the bank, at risk.
Damn, losing my home. I had called the bank to ask for a modification, and some person who seemed not to have a clue informed me that I needed to be at least three months behind on my payments before they would even consider looking at my mortgage. Seriously, three months? Did he know what that would do to my perfect credit rating?
Wasn’t much happening on Commerce Street on a Thursday night, so I stood in front of Twisted Root, conflicted about whether I wanted to eat meat for the first time in eight years. The exact reason I had decided to become a vegan failed me as the smell of burgers and fries swirled up my nose. I was right on the precipice of walking in when I saw a blue-and-gray sign that read Tuckers’ Blues. Where is it? I looked around and the only option was a dark alley that led behind Twisted Root. I could see the headlines now: Intelligent woman makes ignorant decision after losing her job. She traveled throughout the world alone but was murdered less than a mile from home.
Whatever—if I’m going to die, it might as well be newsworthy. I cautiously made my way into the alley, and soon enough I stood in front of a set of double doors. Directly above them was another sign with Tuckers’ Blues written in capital blue letters with yellow-and-blue flashing lights circling them. A lighted blue eighth note rested above the sign. An eighth note, a quaver, half the value of a quarter note. Yeah, I know that feeling.
I pulled on one of the doors and a long-legged woman looking as if she had just dropped in from the ’60s, long braids with beads and a dashiki dress, said, “Peace, sister. Welcome.” A man played guitar and sang B.B. King’s “Everyday I Have the Blues,” and it almost knocked me back. A congregation of 10 people nodded their heads and patted their feet to the beat. Then a 6-foot-tall woman stepped away from the backup singers to the front of the stage and became the song, and all 10 customers stood up.
The woman from the ’60s asked, “Is this your first time here?”
“That’s Lucky Peterson,” she said. “A Grammy winner, and that’s Liz.” She pointed to a chair near the stage.
Lucky and Liz harmonized: “Speaking of worries and trouble, darling, you know I’ve had my share.”
Amen, I thought, and took my seat. A few minutes later, the woman from the ’60s bought me a drink. I reached for my purse and she shook her head, no. My eyes insisted that she let me pay. I sat up straighter in my chair and held my head up higher. I may not have a job but I still could afford a drink. Was I looking that pitiful? Did she know I wasn’t working?
“First drink is on us,” she said and smiled in a way that softened me inside and out. “I’m Lola, but everybody around here calls me Peace. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing you again.” She sat in the chair next to me. “What’s yours?”
“I’m Tucker,” I said, forgetting about my alias. I took a sip of my drink. “I believe I’ll be back.” 4
Sanderia Faye’s debut novel is Mourner’s Bench (University of Arkansas Press, September 2015).
Jack Ruby and the Virgin
By Kathleen Kent
The course, taught at the Executive Secretarial School of Dallas, was only three months long. But Meribel only half-heartedly applied herself to the mysteries of Gregg shorthand, typing, and office deportment taught by the priestesses of the cult of nylons and polyester plaid. It was the summer of 1974, and she’d been for two years a fine arts student at a large university in Austin. She’d marched against the Vietnam War, dropped acid while staying at a commune, swam naked in Hippie Hollow. She would move to New York upon graduation, live at the Chelsea Hotel, and create complex but accessible art like Bill Beckley or Andy Warhol.
But her father, afraid of her becoming a starving artist, talked her into taking the classes. Just in case, he had said.
Initially, Meribel had argued bitterly with her father about taking secretarial classes. After all, he himself was a dabbler in the theatrical arts, being the owner of La Tunisia, the first costume-themed restaurant in Dallas, in the 1960s, a Hollywood-style sheikh’s tent where the waitresses wore gauzy harem pants and the doorman was an ex-basketball player sporting a fez and caftan. Celebrities and gangsters alike ate there, including Jack Ruby, who would sometimes bring the Dallas police commissioner and a few off-duty cops.
The director of the school was Mrs. Craig, who lectured her students on proper business attire and discretion, which included fielding unwanted advances from one’s boss.
Meribel soon gained the reputation for being difficult. She not only balked at the required reading materials, The Seventeen Book of Etiquette and Entertaining, she recommended to the teacher conducting the “Business Ethics” class Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique.
Several times she was called into Mrs. Craig’s office for “the talk.” And though she acted put out, Meribel came to enjoy the encounters. Mrs. Craig was never known to raise her well-modulated voice above a conference room level when irritated, was an attentive listener, and always offered her offending students an icy Tab, the trendy drink of choice.
During one of the talks, she asked Meribel what she planned to do with her life after graduation. Mrs. Craig listened politely, her chin cupped in one exquisitely manicured hand, as Meribel talked about her plan to move to New York and become an artist. For the few weeks she’d already attended the school, Meribel had never seen a wrinkle in the director’s clothing, one strand of hair misplaced, or any bit of mascara smudging her flawless complexion.
To Meribel, Mrs. Craig was the proverbial Texas ice queen: sexless, repressed, and clueless about female empowerment. A perpetual virgin, shrink-wrapped within Southern mores, encased in antiquated morality. Meribel had been the one confidently striding the halls of higher learning, her progress unimpeded by either pantyhose or heels, gleefully shedding thou shalt nots like confetti at a homecoming parade.
Meribel became obsessed with learning everything she could about the elusive Mrs. Craig. Despite the warnings against gossip, the students passed around bits of tantalizing information gathered from former students and indiscreet staff members. No one had ever heard Mrs. Craig talk about her personal life, and it was doubted that she’d ever been married, even though she was allegedly over 35 years old. But it was rumored, preposterously, that Mrs. Craig had dated Jack Ruby—the mob-connected nightclub developer and promoter of strippers and prostitutes at the Carousel Club. The man who’d shot Lee Harvey Oswald.
As the months passed, Meribel looked for any cracks in Mrs. Craig’s polished veneer that would signal an opening for another more personal chat. La Directresse was always polite whenever she passed her students in the hallway, or when they lingered by her office door. Yet she never invited further conversation beyond inquiries about their improving skills in typing or shorthand.
The day before graduation, Meribel knocked on the director’s office door. It was late afternoon, after all the students and staff had left. Mrs. Craig called her in, and Meribel was surprised to see that there was a lit cigarette in an ashtray, a bottle of scotch, and a half-filled glass on the desk.
Sitting down, Meribel told her that she’d be going back to Austin soon to finish college, and she wanted to say goodbye. The conversation moved to other incidental things, the books they’d been reading, the movies they’d seen that summer.
“You know, I’ve always wanted to go to New York,” Mrs. Craig said. “I almost went, years ago.”
Meribel almost felt sorry for her.
Mrs. Craig then talked about the man who had wanted to take her to New York for her 21st birthday. He’d been an amateur boxer, but a gentleman, who’d spoken to his mother in Yiddish, and who could light a woman’s cigarette like nobody else. But she didn’t have her parents’ permission to fly to New York because the man owned the Carousel Club, so he’d taken her instead to a very nice restaurant in Dallas, designed like a sultan’s palace.
“Jack,” Mrs. Craig said, speaking wistfully of her suitor.
Meribel sat for a few minutes, staring at Mrs. Craig while she tugged on her cigarette and drank her scotch, until the room was smudged and hazy from smoke. The director had removed her shoes, and, in one graceful motion, draped her legs onto the desk, her bare toenails lacquered a deep scarlet. One finger rimmed the whiskey glass in slow, languorous circles. She tilted her head and winked knowingly at Meribel, the lowering of the eyelid like a bra strap easing off one naked shoulder.
Abruptly, Meribel stood to leave, but before she could go Mrs. Craig handed her a book as a parting gift. It was Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying.
Kathleen Kent is the author of four novels, including The Dime (Mulholland Books, February 2017).
The Quality of Longing at the Downtown Neiman Marcus
By David Searcy
What can it mean for a simple dress—what seems to be a simple dress, however beautifully made—to cost so much? Right here on a simple hanger. Look at the tag, the price like Latin—all those numbers, all those zeros unpronounceable. The scientific name of some rare species of desire. Yet simply here, on a rack, as if someone might buy it. Simply pick it out and take it away. On a drizzly day like this, with simple ordinary life in such abundance passing by. “Look,” Nancy says, “hand-stitched.” She knows. Not to approve. But just to say there is a difference. Somehow closer to the hand. The fundamentals. Oh, I see. The fundamentals.
What’s that tribe—or group of tribes in Ethiopia, I think, the Omo Basin—who seem never to appear except in ritual regalia? They are brilliant, startling—marvelously adorned in mud and paint and leaves and fur. And then you find out (read the text in the photo essay) it’s not ritual, it’s not memory. It’s just what they do. It’s how they greet the day. A natural impulse. And, I’m thinking, here turned inward in a way. Into a simple dress. A simple bag. The brilliance and the startlement implicit. The expense a sort of formality—expressive of the marvelous but not essential to it. You don’t have to be able to buy this stuff to come here. As the sales staff seem to understand. So friendly. Easy with it. Not at all like in the movies where they tend to be a silly, snooty setup for the Marx Brothers or whomever. Something else is going on. It seems to me that we are given to understand—as we are welcomed, and apparently entitled to be welcomed as into a public garden—that this is a natural part of the world. Exceptional certainly—why bother otherwise—but natural. Hard to believe perhaps, but natural. Maybe even fundamental. Such a simple dress best understood as priceless. Like a lovely little bird with its unpronounceable Latin name. The name is ritual and history. And the longer and more cumbersome the name, the string of numbers, the more easily the bird, the dress, floats free of that. You see. All this, you see, is here and now. The marvelous, treasured here and now. It’s what we do. We may not get to take it home but still it’s here.
Now, here’s a woman—quite an ordinary-looking, somewhat dumpy older woman all by herself at a little table in the ground-floor espresso bar that’s sort of tucked beneath the brass-railed escalator. It’s a very good place to sit aside for a moment and consider where you are and what you’ve done. She has concluded her adventure, I would guess, and takes a break before departing with her purchase, which is visible in its tissue paper nest in the open shopping bag beside her. It’s a bag as well. A very expensive, though perhaps not priceless, Burberry bag—that delicate plaid (I am corrected—it’s a “check”) so generally fashionable even I know what it is—and just as simple in construction as the paper one containing it. Open, loop-handled, lined in white as if to emphasize its emptiness. The paper shopping bag itself is striking—beautifully, calligraphically marked with the name of the store. So here we have, at the end of the day, one very elegant empty bag inside another. It’s a mystery. And yet she seems content. She has a coffee and a scone or something. Taking her time. The hollow top of the little round glass table where she sits is filled with jelly beans. As are the five or six other round glass tables—each, in effect, a shallow display case to amuse or entice with clever, probably seasonal decoration. One imagines someone up there on the seventh floor behind those big glass doors whose job this is, who thinks of little else. In any case, today it’s jelly beans. Bright-red ones. Every table filled with bright-red jelly beans so near to hand and yet so inaccessible. A monkey would go crazy. We’re not monkeys, though. The woman understands the jelly beans are not for her. She seems okay with that. The Burberry bag will have to be enough. I want to follow her home. To play this out. To figure out the mystery.
I imagine she takes the bus. Which is a surprise but rather sweet. Her old brown purse in her lap, her shopping bag beside her on the seat. The sun is out at last. The evening will be gold and red. It’s lovely. As she rides, the tissue rustles. It’s a short walk from the bus stop. During which she feels, perhaps, a little foolish. Tissue blooming from the shopping bag. Light slanting through the trees across the wet, uneven sidewalk. On the porch of her modest house, she has to put her purchase down to find her keys. Inside she sets it on the dark wood dining room table in the lacy-curtained evening, takes off her coat, hangs it over one of the imitation Hepplewhite chairs, and stands there for a minute. Oh my goodness. For a minute. Can she see it? Does she give a little sigh? May we imagine these two bags imply a series. A succession of smaller and smaller, increasingly precious empty nested bags, their emptiness and preciousness opposed and yet increasingly compressed into each other, toward some ultimately precious, tiny emptiness. Desire collapsed at last into itself, into a sort of irreducible singularity as she stands there, as the evening light departs the lacy curtains.
David Searcy has written two novels. His latest book is a collection of essays, Shame and Wonder (Random House, January 2016).
Wheel in the Sky
By Harry Hunsicker
My ex-wife was a psychologist. She used to say that we were all just prisoners of our brain chemistry. Neurons and synapses, the dopamine receptors and whatnot, that’s the stuff that made us who we are. It was all just about the wiring.
She ran off with a drunk she met at El Fenix—a graduate-level fix-it project right there—so I supposed her wiring was fubar like everyone else’s.
I tried to do the arithmetic in my head, calculating out how long since I’d slept, but the hours-to-days conversion kept bogging me down. Nearest I could figure, it had been about three days.
Connie lit the pipe, inhaled deeply. “We’re getting thin, baby. Only got a couple bags left.”
There’d been a lot of bags when we started. Connie’s last check from the car wreck had arrived a few days ago—three to be exact—and we’d decided to celebrate.
“Don’t you want to sleep?” I said. “The wiring in my brain. I’m worried.”
She stared at me, the wind rustling her hair.
We were on the top of the Ferris wheel at the State Fair, waiting for the ride to begin. Below us were throngs of fairgoers, scurrying about like ants.
“This long without sleeping,” I said. “That’s not good.”
“Sleep is for pussies.” She held up the pipe. “Get back on the train. You’ll feel like a king.”
I stared at the pipe for a moment, then shook my head. The movement made my eyeballs rattle, the sound like marbles in a tin can in the back of my skull. That can’t be a good sign.
“A hell of a view, isn’t it?” She put the pipe in her purse.
Downtown lay in front of us, a glass and granite forest jutting up from the prairie.
Connie stood and pressed herself against the door of our compartment, four metal bars held in place by a pin on the outside.
“I got some Klonopin at home,” I said. “We could come down easy.”
She reached through the bars and slid the pin out of its slot.
“I want to feel the breeze,” she said. “It’s so beautiful up here.”
I picked up her purse as she pressed herself against the door, arms outstretched as if to grab a piece of the sky. Maybe one more hit would be okay, then we could go back to my place and start to wind down.
When I looked up, she was gone. Far below me came the faint sound of people/ants screaming.
I sparked up the pipe, took a big hit. Felt the drug flood my brain.
Screw the wiring. My synapses loved this shit.
Harry Hunsicker is the author of seven thrillers, the most recent being The Devil’s Country (Thomas & Mercer, April 2017).