Snowbunny

This is an early draft of my book Snowbunny. You can buy a copy on Amazon.

– when printing
– change ** to italics
– insert page breaks
– make ——- underlinez into real underlinez and center titlez
– replace (r) with real (r)s if possible

[the dust jacket tantalizez us]

PET CHAMELEON FATHERZ BABY OF OHIO U. CO-ED!
19-year-old admits: ‘I frequently had unprotected sex with my one-year-old pet lizard’ Paternity confirmation by Harvard(r) School of Medicine reversez ancient belief that lizardz cannot impregnate humanz!

UNIVERSITY STUDENT HIDEZ PREGNANCY FOR 8 MONTHS!
A baby endangered by months without prenatal care iz healthy, bright-eyed and an enthuziastic eater. A traumatized mother who feared lozing everything–her scholarship, her academic career, and her reputation–haz kept it all!

[title page]

Snowbunny
———

Copyright 2004 Inhaezio Zha.
All Rights Rezerved.

[page break]

Part One. The Kat. Part One. The Mission. Section One. The Kat-Kissing Mission. Chapter One. Athenz, Ohio, and the Invention of the Zippertrick. Part One. The Weekend College Vizit. Part One. The Kat. Movement One. The Kat. Chapter. Section. Section One. The Riot in the Parlor. Page One. The Unexpected Vizitor. Part One. The Dream. Part One. The Recurring Dream. Part One. Part One.

[page break]

Part One: The Bad Dream
———————–

Jhosette waz dreaming. She waz cherry. Cherry flavored red. Jhosette waz in bed dreaming and she waz sleeping more soundly than the human body iz capable of sleeping naturally. She and her friendz were drinking Robitussin(r) the night before. Jhosette had swallowed a whole bottle. It waz her first time drinking Robitussin(r). Most of her friendz who did it would only take a half bottle. They say drinking Robitussin(r) iz almost az bad az doing cocaine (that it fucks you up just az bad). Athenz, Ohio iz in the middle of southeast Ohio and there waznt much of a cocaine supply there but the main strip in Athenz had a Rite Aid(r) so there waz a ready supply of Robitussin(r). Jhosette waz dreaming. She waz stretched across the bottom bunk of her dorm room. Her roommate Kimberly waz lounged in one of the residence dining hallz regaling her tablemates with accounts of the Robitussin(r) consumption of the previous evening.
“I used to get up at three o’clock in the morning. I never used to hit the bed till eleven o’clock at night or so and I did this for seven dayz a week all my life.” Kimberly slurped skim milk from a paper bowl. “That’s all I did, waz study and study, even at night, keep buzy.”
People just chewed.
Kimberly waz a political theory and womenz studiez major. She waz a Mormon(r). She had brown hair. She had fucked thirty-seven boyz since arriving in Athenz, Ohio three yearz ago on a windy Sunday afternoon with her parents in the Range Rover(r). Cherry watermellon, cherry tomato, cherry luscious freezy poppy lovely. Jhosette waz markedly less experienced sexually than her roommate. She waz red violets. She waz roze thornz. Jhosette had fucked eight boyz. She waz blood. She waz dreaming right now, and even in her sleep she could feel the anger in her pussy, its teeth bore like the teeth of one of the wild thingz in Where The Wild Thingz Are(r), eyeing Wolfsuit Max greedily, ready to eat him up.
Jhosette waz dreaming and az she dreamt she writhed like a snake in the cottony knots that were her sheet. She waz bare chested. Her pantiez clung to her crotch (if you had been looking, you would have seen the white outline of a panty liner stuck with adhesive tape to the inside of her underwear).
“That tampon doublez az an emergency flotation device,” he said, joking.
Kimberly hated that Jhosette slept without a shirt. It waznt that she minded looking at Jhosette’s chest while she slept…it waz that Jhosette waz so damn skittish whenever Kimberly tried to get a tad freak with her.
“I mean, I’m not *gay* either,” Kimberly would say, “but I just would like to *lick* them.”
Jhosette woke up to this once: Kimberly, distracted beyond restraint from her studiez by Jhosette’s perk, had come across their room and started licking them with the concentration of a child who’d won posession of a hard candy ring, a greedy kat hunched over a saucer of milk, lapping at an invisible stain. Jhosette had thrown her coverz over her body and frowned at Kimberly. She waz chocolate. Kimberly smiled innocently and went back to her desk. They had spoken about it many timez since.
“Just don’t sleep in the nude. Then you won’t have this problem.”
“But the *problem*, az I see it, iznt so much with me sleeping in the nude az it iz with you lapping at my breasts like a hungry *kitten* every time you see them.”
“I can’t help it,” Kimberly mock-explained, “It’s just the way my mother raized me.”
Jhosette obviously didn’t buy this. The girl waz insatiable, the prototypical nymphmonkey, freakfiend, gargoyle of every meat market bar on Court Street, such an frequent entrant in Athenz daily Walk-Of-Shame(r) event that she had more than once picked up a second guy on her way home from a hectic night at a fraternity house with the first.
“Go for a third sometime,” Jhosette had quipped when she gathered where Kimberly had been on one of theze occasionz.
Kimberly took it az a challenge. “Maybe I will.”
Jhosette waz dreaming. She waz pinprick red. She squirmed in bed az she did it. And Kimberly waz glad she waz eating breakfast in the residence dining hall instead of sitting in the dorm room another Saturday morning az Jhosette slept in, bare-chested, Kimberly sitting at her desk hopelessly trying to write paperz on whatever her professorz had most recently chozen az the topic of the moment.
Jhosette waz dreaming. She waz blown glass. And her toez squirmed az she did it. Her reddish-brown hair, long to her butt, twisted around her neck, shoulderz, stomach, around the tops of her armz az she dreamt. And what she dreamt iz that she waz in the bathroom at the end of the hall.
Now we’re going to put her in a place in the hall next to a place where she waz just standing in the hall. And we’re going to pretend that some time haz passed. And we’re going to begin to observe the fliez that are swarming around her. And we’re going to begin to die.
She held a plastic drinking cup, itz mouth between the tips of her fingerz. With her other hand she gripped the toothbrush like a hammer. A tube of Crest(r) waz tucked into the front of her drawstring shorts. In the dream she waznt topless; she waz wearing an Ohio University(r) sweatshirt with a cute little icon of a cub paw on its front. She vaguely wondered why everyone waz asleep (in her dream it waz mid-afternoon). She walked past Sarah Martin. She walked past Deidre Taylor. She walked past Amy Browning. She walked past Courtney Leigh. She stopped walking, realizing for the first time, in her dream, that the girlz were all white. Black girlz attended her school, but all the girlz in her hallway were white. Jhosette looked into Courtneyz room. Courtney sneezed (tight pink noze). Jhosette thought the girl waz too uptight: majoring in accounting or some shit…the girl did her own taxez and when she did them she uzed the long form. Jhosette thought Courtney needed a good hard kick in the face to snap her out of it. Kimberly waz less optimistic; she belived Courtney needed to be gangfucked by a sailor crew…or maybe forced to eat a girlz pussy or forced to stick her fingerz up her own butt or something. Maybe she needed to have all the hair shaved off her body in the middle of the night. Kimberly had described this fantasy to Jhosette. They would all sneak into Courtney and Angelaz room in the middle of the night and tie Courtney to her bed with thin twine (so it would hurt her if she struggled to get free). Then Kimberly would lather Courtneyz entire body with Gilette(r) shaving gel and Jhosette would read sectionz of Beowulf(r) while Kimberly shaved Courtneyz legz, her head, her armz, and of course her pubic hair. Jhosette thought about this plan of Kimberlyz az she looked into Courtney and Angelaz room on the way to the hall bathroom to brush her teeth. Jhosette thought Kimberly needed psychological counselling. Jhosette padded along the hall in her bare feet and turned the corner. She went into the bathroom. Its door waz alwayz propped open. Her bare feet touched the cold tile floor and she walked to the side of the bathroom where the showerz were. Four spickets protruded from the wallz about six feet off the floor. A seriez of sliding plastic curtainz could be pulled out from the wallz to separate the space into four ad-hoc stallz. Right at this moment the curtainz were thrown to the sidez and the place stood unpartitioned like Jhosette’s idea of what a communal bathing area might have looked like in Roman Timez(r) (or maybe a gas chamber). The floor waz dry under Jhosette’s feet az though no one had uzed the showerz for dayz. Jhosette went to the other side of the bathroom and began the ritual of brushing her teeth. She bent to the floor and set the red Solo(r) cup on the tile, then roze and removed the tube of Crest(r) from the waist of her shorts. She set the toothbrush on the side of the sink, then realized she would be needing the Solo(r) cup, so bent again to pick it up. Jhosette opened the valve on the sink and filled the cup and looked at her head and neck…she saw them like roots of a tree, saw her twisted hair az cotton before it’s spun, tangled kite stringz, rough ship rope, frayed denim, and she didn’t push it out of her face. Her eyez were sleeping in the dream (but open, bloodshot) and Jhosette wondered, in an offhand way, if drinking some Robitussin(r) might help her situation. She remembered that when Janice waz little their mother had given Janice a spoonful of Robitussin(r) to help a cold. That had worked just fine. Why wouldn’t it work for Jhosette now, to combat bloodshot eyez or a headache, or even a little cough if she happened to catch one? Jhosette blinked in the mirror. She looked around the bathroom floor for a can of Robitussin(r) or maybe an ace bandage, but there waz nothing there–offwhite haxagonal tile. Outside the windowz, the grass waz fall green and the sky fall blue. The lawn waz empty of the usual Frizbee(r)-tossing Nerd(r)z and blanket-lounging Hippie(r)z, void of the usual diligently-heading-to-class freshman, and Jhosette waz wondering where they all were when she turned from the open bathroom window to face herself in the mirror. She squeezed a snail of toothpaste onto her Crest(r) toothbrush and brought the device to her mouth. When she parted her lips to allow brushing, Jhosettes eyez widened and her face went ghost white. Her heart thumped one time very hard at the top of her chest. Between her lips were no teeth: just her tongue (coated with gooey green film) and her bleeding, malformed gumz, distorted like a runt baby hatched of too many chromozomez, empty sockets dangling with stringy, unmatched dental nerve endingz. Then everything waz blank.

——-

And Jhosette waz lying on the floor. And she waz the bird again, the cherry albatross. Waiting in the wingz, waiting to go on. Cherry albatross waiting for the chance to say her linez. Pauzed, poized to expend her duez. Cherry albatross waiting in the wingz, waiting to go onstage. Albatross perched on air, waiting in a storyz plot that chroniclez the crushing of a crab. Waiting in the wingz to go onstage. And after that, after that, after that what could possibly be after that? After that there couldn’t possibly be anything after that. After that all there could possibly be iz a brief moment called and characterized by “after that” and then, after that, there would be… Cherry albatross meeting you in the hallway, months before. Albatross eyez flashing, cherry wardrobe positioned somewhere perfectly between North Africa and New York City, somewhere classically inbetween Model-Whore(r) and First Year Art Student(r). Cherry albatross meeting you in the hallway, months before. Cherry albatross singing. Cherry albatross winning you in a glance, with a word, with a single drop of a liquid voice. Cherry albatross winning you with a storyz plot that iz az merciless to the cherry albatross az a gull iz merciless to the crab. Cherry albatross spinning you in a plot already penned, published, packaged, and waiting in the wingz.
She waz cherry. Cherry flavored red. Cherry watermellon, cherry tomato, cherry luscious freezy poppy lovely. She waz red violets. She waz roze thornz. She waz blood. She waz chocolate. She waz pinprick red. She waz blown glass. She waz flame. She waz a sign stopping traffic. A deadlocked intersection. She waz the ink on the dotted line. She waz wine.
Woman sitting on top of a tree masturbating. “What do you want with me,” she waz saying, “my cherry yumyumz?”
“I can’t decide.”
“Would you like me to give you a moment?”
“No. Just tell me what you have again.”
Kevinz dream, one night, of runawayz and shoofliez and Kevinz old girlfriend, Maggie, waz a Mormon(r). Az hiz hand smoothly stripped her of her pantiez, she accomodated by leaning slowly back on the matress, which lay bare on the unkept floor.
“Yeah, that waz it.”
Your cherry yumyumz. Your fucking wrapper crinkled on the floor. Your packaging in a fucking knot. A goddamn leash on your twat with a steel chain running to your neck. Just a wide leather collar, that’s all. Just white powder sprinkled on your bare ass. That’s all. Just a prizon choker I can yank on. Just a linoleum floor and a box of razor bladez. Just a box of Band-Aid(r)z. Just a bag of Huggiez(r) and a wooden paddle (splintered). Just a chair with straps, a gag, a can of gasoline, a match, and a cigar. Just a leather interior. Just a beach, or a boardwalk, or a backseat, or a brick wall.
“What do you want with me?”
“That’s all.”
Mormon(r) with a passionate love for pussy and kissing dogz and sitting on top of treez masturbating in time with the rhythm of the car az it drove down the highway far along.
“That’s all?”
“Well…”
“Well?”
“That’s not all.”
Invitation. The eyez.
“You know.”
“What?”
“After all that I want you to–”
“What?”
“After that–”
“Say it.”
Lean in close. Feel the breath with the wordz.
“After that…I want you to die.”

[page break]

Part Two: Marcel
—————-

When Jhosette woke she felt scratching on her face. A light weight on her forehead and a delicate *scritch scritch*, delicate pinprick roving over her cheek. Jhessica would have freaked, probably, and reached up and slapped whatever it waz, but Jhosette had been used to this morning ritual of Marcelz for a couple of yearz now. When he felt hiz Jhosette had slept too late, Marcel would crawl out of hiz holding area (an open terrarium on the dresser) and make hiz way down the side of the dresser, navigating through the terror of girlz clothing strewn around the floor. He would carefully avoid observation by the Kimberly since whenever she saw him she had the habit of cocking one eyebrow skeptically at him, or shaking her head in disapproval, or sometimez (when hiz Jhosette waznt around) the Kimberly would raize her voice at him and threaten him with her arm poized az if she waz about to slap him backhanded az hard az she could. Jhosette’s hand moved to her face and gently removed the fellow. He clung to her cheek az she lifted him, digging hiz clawz into her skin and managing to hook one of them inside her right nostril.
“Marcel,” Jhosette said, “Marcel Marcel Marcel.”
And he let go when he felt the tender vibration that her voice sent washing over the circlez on the sidez of hiz head. Jhosette curled her fingerz supportively under Marcelz body and turned him so that hiz head waz facing her eye. Hiz tongue flickered out of hiz mouth and touched her eyelashez. Jhosette could see the tiny razorz of hiz teeth, delicate arrowheadz like thoze of a baby shark. Marcel smelled hiz Jhosette’s eye again. She had such a serious face. Marcel wanted hiz foot massage but hiz Jhosette still wanted the bed. Later he would want the bed and she would want to leave for a walk. She would want to shop. She would want to lay on the roof. She would want to go out for breakfast. She would want to order dinner in, stay up all night, skip work the next day. She would want the weekend. She would want Sunday afternoon. She would want Monday afternoon. She would want Tuesday. She would want him to want Tuesday the same way she wanted Tuesday and him to want Wednesday the same way she wanted Wednesday. She would want Thursday through Saturday the same way. She would want Friday the same way, and she would want next week the very same way. The exact same way. Exactly. With no changez. None at all. Zero. None. Repeat. Indentically. Forever.
“Did you miss me? Were you bored?” Jhosette reached under her pillow. She retrieved a stack of letterz. “Did you have enough activitiez to keep you busy while I slept?” She propped her torso on her elbowz and set the lizard on her stomach. Marcel instinctively curled himself into a defensive circle, hiz tail wrapping back around on hiz head. Jhosette put the first letter on the bottom of the rumpled stack, then the second, and she settled on re-reading the third in the stack (which actually had been the fourth one sent). Baby blue ink, juvenile scrawl.
“–yu hav an idel puse and i hav an idel kak but yu stil liv in this taun yu stil breath th wotr that i du–yu prable had a krush on me then yu prable hav a krush on me nau–ov kors ar frendz wil sa that yur tu old for me but yur idel cunt iz prable nat tu unidel and my idel dik iz prable nat tu unidel for yu tu shur we kan go intu yur rum wer yu tak yur best fotugrafs and shur we kan go intu my rum wer i wach th best reyunyunz and shur we kan go intu ar stor wer we sel th best nuzpapurz and shur yu kan wok intu my klazet wer i kep my best saks and shur i kan wandur intu yur toilet wer yu sumtimz tak a shaur and shur i kan wandur intu yur kalur id histure wer yu sumtimz git a mesij and shur yu kan luk intu my bathrum klazet on th shelf abuv th taulz wer i kep my idel puse with no nam that i wosh with hat wotr wen im dun hu sleps buhlo th kuvurz hu iz rede wen i ned hur–”
Marcel lifted hiz head and it swayed from side to side, surveying the room. The Kimberly had left her notebook on, Marcel noticed, and the Nietzsche(r) waz still out. Marcel didn’t like it when the Nietzsche(r) waz out; it made the Kimberly foul-tempered and meaner (than usual) toward hiz Jhosette. The screen of the notebook pulsed with orange and blue that were the colorz of the Kimberlyz desktop wallpaper. Marcel would have to go spend some time with it in a minute. The Kimberly had often caught Marcel basking on her keyboard in the glow of the screen, but for now Marcel would gather heat from the stomach of hiz Jhosette, feel the girlz caressez on hiz long spine, and smell the oil of her skin. Jhosette took in a deep breath. She could also smell her skinz oilz, a scalp that hadn’t been washed in a month, the scent of the pits of her armz, undeodorized, that had gone two dayz without a shower. *I smell like the combination of patchouli and a dead cow.* She continued reading the letter.
“–yu kan tak a bath and lak th dor on yur wa aut yu kan flip thru buks ov pantingz yu kan wandur thru mi klazet red leturz frum mi girlfriendz yu kan tuch yurself wil yu luk at ther pikchurz yu kan hid ther fotugrafs undur mi bed and lev me preznts floting in th singk yu kan rit on mi mirur and yuz th aliv oil yu wil mak me hape wen i diskuvur th evudents that yu kukt yurself brekfust that yu mad yurself at hom yu wil driv me kraze with yur smel on th shets ov th gurl nekst dor who sleps hir and wundurz hu shez sleping with az she lumz at me–she kan smel yu in th blangkets–she sez yur traks in pasing, she findz thoze pikchurz ov th uthur gurlz listed undur th bed she stumbulz ovur yur hairpin on th dashbord ov th Sivik(r)–she noz that i dont yuz Skintumat(r) bade wash she evun noz that i wud nevur fold mi dishtaulz lik that–she kan se yu–she kan se yu–she kan se–”
Marcel had determined that the environment waz safe, and, having done so, he turned hiz attention to hiz Jhosette, uncoiling himself and allowing himself to move more freely, hiz shoulderz looser, hiz gait more jaunty, hiz head riding high above hiz body in a proud march. Marcelz marched carried him up hiz Jhosette’s chest. He circled a nipple with hiz tongue, then bit down potently. Jhosette had just begun to look lovingly down her chest at him, her warm brown eyez huge in hiz field of vision, her hair giving him some sense of cover on the pale expanse of her breast, when there waz a curt fiddling with the handle of the door and with a burst of air that shook the room and startled Marcel such that hiz clawz reflexively seized hiz Jhosette’s breast, the Kimberly had come into the room and slammed the door behind her.
Kimberly looked worried.
Jhosette stuffed the stack of letterz under her pillow and flipped her head in Kimberlyz direction. “I’m fine. I’m fine.”
“Are you sure? God, I thought you would never wake up.”
“No, it’s just this damn Robitussin(r).”
“I know, iznt it great?”
“Except that right now my throat feelz like a two-thouzand-year-old toad!”
“It’s great, though, isn’t it?”
Jhosette thought for a second. “Yeah.”
“I know,”–Kimberly waz raving–“I *know*, and the great thing about it iz it’s fucking legal! Theze frosh are alwayz asking you to buy them a six pack of fucking *beer*?! Fuck that shit. If I can’t get ahold of e(r), Robie(r) iz the only way to go. Fucking six packs. Fucking forty-ouncez. Theze kidz wouldn’t know how to get high if they were snowboarding on a mound of coke. You feeling alright?”
“Yeah, I’m good. I’m just…tired.”
“Jezus, you’re still in bed? It’s four in the afternoon.”
“I know. So that makes it only like…six hourz…seven hourz since I waz finally able to get to sleep.”
“Yeah, that stuff’ll keep you up for dayz. Where’d you go off to, anywayz?”
“Nowhere, I waz just in the study room with Meghan till like five am.”
“I want to have sex in there.”
“With who?”
“It doeznt matter. Just gotta be in there.”
Marcel peeked out from behind a strand of Jhosette’s hair.
The Kimberly waz leaning against the back of her desk chair, blocking Marcelz view of the notebook. She had picked up the Nietzsche(r) while Marcel waz hiding. She put it down just now and shoved her hand into one of the front pockets of her jeanz–going for the Scripto(r) lighter. The Kimberly waz already holding a clove in the other hand. When the Kimberly waznt looking, Marcel liked to rub hiz cheeks against the brown paper the clovez were wrapped in. Marcel loved their smell. The Kimberly sparked the tube and continued speaking with the Jhosette with a clove bouncing up and down between her lips on each syllable. She picked up the Nietzsche(r) again and fidgeted through its pagez, glancing over passagez az she talked. What she said waz: “Little girlz, little girlz.”
Jhosette waz looking at Kimberly like she waz crazy.
“In case you’re wondering, watch ‘Annie’, the uncut version.”
Az if that explained everything.
Kimberly flipped her hair and lowered her voice confidentially. “I just wanted to tell you that I’m doing all right this weekend, I probably would have died this weekend at home, I am so ashamed of myself.” And now she stared out the window, suddenly teary, voice choppy. “Thank you for loving my petty little self. I have been absolutely horrible lately, but I’m *not* going to apologize. I need someone to talk to sometimez–a boy, maybe. Someone who carez. I know you care, but I really can’t talk to you about my problemz that involve thingz of a sexual matter with someone else.” Kimberly took Jhosette’s hand, kneeling beside the bed. “I feel bad, I shouldn’t do that to you I will do anything not to hurt you, or to make you feel better, you know that, I hope.”
Jhosette waz staring drop-jawed at her roommate. “Why do you do this?”
Kimberly dropped Jhosette’s hand and returned to her desk. She laughed. “I played Frizbee(r) in the green for hourz this morning and I have Disney(r) music in my head right now: Alladin(r).” Kimberly fiddled with a Ball(r) jar on the desk, unscrewing the lid. “I’m glad I’m not home, but then again, around here I’m having to deal with eight hormonally screwed up, mood swingin’ to beat the band, eighteen- and nineteen-year-oldz. You know this hall drivez me batty sometimez. Life sucks.” She dipped her clove in the jar. When its glowing tip passed the surface of the clear liquid it went out without a sound. She removed it, blew on the tip, re-lit it, and took another puff. “Sorry, don’t know what came over me. I’m really alright…or…I’ll be alright soon.” Kimberly rushed back to the bed and threw her armz around Jhosette. “Thank you, roomie, I love you.”
Jhosette turned to face the wall. She waz checking on Marcel.
This upset Kimberly. “Jhosette,” she said, “are you gonna vote this year?”
Jhosette looked up from the lizard, but did not make eye contact with her roommate.
Kimberly moved away from the bed and looked at the screen of her notebook. “This paper sucks.”
“Which one iz it?”
“It’s for my Feminist Geology class.” She scrolled up in the document. “Wanna hear what it’s called? It’s called ‘The Soft Pornography that iz Prime Time Television and the Futile Efforts of Feminist Media Watchdog Organizationz to Change Viewing Preferencez to Something Less Disempowering to Women’.”
Jhosette waznt listening, though; she waz thinking of the letterz.
Kimberly pressed the delete key five timez, erasing part of a word she had written before breakfast. “panth—–“: gone. She looked over at her roommate. “Jhosette, are you gonna vote this year?”
“You mean for prezident or student council?”
Kimberly took the clove out of her mouth and glared at Jhosette: laying topless on the bottom bunk, unshowered, with that lizard perched on her right breast, her bare stomach inviting, round and creamy against the much whiter sheets that covered only Jhosette’s anklez in a knotty twist. For godz sake, you could see her panty liner! Kimberly squirmed slightly at the sight and broke her stare by forcing herself to set the Nietzsche(r) down on her desk next to the jar of embalming fluid. Slowly, clearly, to make sure her wordz would be understood, she said: “For prezident.”
Jhosette didn’t answer. Her mind waz racing: *my chest iz thin and makes a hollow thumping sound when you pat it hard with the palm of your hand–my belly sticks over my underbelly out a little more a little more every time I pat it–below my knee iz skinny like a too skinny girl below my knee iz bone and too flabby calvez skin no muscle and toez–my teeth are crooked and the bottom middle one on the right when I look into the mirror iz breaking up from the sidez slowly decay and I will have none left–my eyez have no light and my hair iz too long–my toez are fine, except that I’ve peeled the nailz too low–my fingerz are fine except that I’ve peeled the nailz too low–my armpits smell like they should, like patchouli and a cow, mixed together–mmm*. Jhosette reached for the lizard and her quick movement startled him. He ran down her arm and hid beneath a corner of the pillow. Jhosette felt around under the pillow but by then Marcel had escaped around the back of the bed and waz hiding at the base of the wall that the long side of the bed waz pressed against.
Kimberly kept talking. “Are you unhappy with me? I’m sorry for being petty. I really didn’t want to come off that way and I do love you with all of my heart–and part of the rest of me.” With her non-clove hand, she patted her crotch, two quick pats. “I promise not to bite you anymore unless someday it iz appropriate. I love you, and if I hurt you in any way I’m so sorry. I really try not to. I love you. My subconscious lovez you too.”
When Kimberly spoke Marcelz tiny body flinched with each vibration of the air in the room.
“I’ve been thinking,” Kimberly continued, “that I’m silly to think you might loze respect for me. I don’t think you could…or…I can’t think of anything that I could do to warrant that…at least not in *our* liberal framez of mind.”
Marcel wished the Kimberly would leave them alone. Just…set the clove down in the ashtray on the dresser, toss the Nietzsche(r) in the trashcan, and leave. Go have breakfast again or something. *Something.* Hiz Jhosette waz still tired. They had had *quite* a hectic night and hiz Jhosette would probably benefit from a half hour or so more of sleep before they went out to meet her sisterz at the airport. Marcel only slept for an hour at a time, but he had noticed that hiz Jhosette, the Kimberly, and their other friendz usually slept for eight or nine hourz on schoolnights and even longer on weekendz. Marcel spent long periodz of time alone during the day when the girlz attended classez and ate mealz, then there waz a flurry of activity each evening around four or five pm when the girlz would congregate in hiz Jhosette’s and the Kimberlyz room or sometimez stand together talking outside the door with other girlz from up and down the hall. Typically Marcel obzerved this from the security of hiz open terrarium, but sometimez he would crawl out for a better look at hiz Jhosette’s and the Kimberlyz hallmates so that he would have a mental picture of them to refer to in later moments when hiz Jhosette and the Kimberly discussed the various merits and shortcomingz of the other girlz. Theze conversationz were not of the utmost interest to Marcel, but he enjoyed them a great deal more than the political and philosophical discussionz hiz Jhosette and the Kimberly sometimez got into. It seemed to Marcel that hiz Jhosette preferred the social rehash conversationz to the political onez az well. Once when he left the open terrarium and went across the room to the door to get a better look at the girlz for hiz mental picture, it had struck him to go down the hall az fast az he could (not to escape–he would never want to be away from hiz Jhosette for too long–but to explore). So he had scurried down the side of the dresser and across the minefield of discarded clothing from both the girlz. He had crept to the doorway and looked up at the crowd standing there. Hiz Jhosette and the Kimberly were there, and the Courtney from down the hall, and the Julia (whoze brown hair waz also pretty, but not az long az hiz Jhosette’s, and not az twisted and viney, and with no hint whatsoever of the red that made hiz Jhosette’s hair unique of all the girlz Marcel had ever seen). The Sarah waz there, and the Deidre, and after taking them all in with a sweeping upward glance, Marcel (not himself entirely certain of the urge that moved him) bolted down the hallway along the edge of the carpet and the yellow wall. He ran az fast az he could, hiz four tiny legz flexing their musclez in a rapid waddle, hiz head and bulbous eyez raized and perked up, scoping the expanse for any approaching feet. When he made it two doorz down and waz sufficiently out of accidental stepping range of the girlz crowded around hiz Jhosette’s and the Kimberlyz door, he diligently looked both left and right down the hallway, then with a rapid burst scuttled across the carpet into the Courtneyz room. He stopped at the doorway. The Angela waz sitting at the desk brushing her hair. Marcel checked the bed. Empty. The other desk. Empty. He peeked back down the hallway at the crowd of girlz. Hiz Jhosette waz looking down the hall in hiz direction. He instantly jerked hiz body back inside the Courtneyz room. Without waiting to find out if hiz Jhosette had actually seen him or if she had just happened to be looking at the very spot on the floor where he had been standing, Marcel darted across the Courtneyz throw rug that her grandmother had insisted she put down on the floor to keep her feet warm when she got out of bed in cold weather. Marcel zipped under the bed and up the wall, bracing himself in the crease where the two wallz formed the corner of the room farthest from the door. At the top of the roomz cube, he craned hiz neck so that he could see the Angela. He hadn’t met this one before, and the Courney rarely talked about her, except to say that she waz quiet and too shy but that she seemed like she would be nice if you could only get to know her. Az Marcel watched the girl methodically brush her hair and stare thoughtfully at the cinderblock wall in front of her, Marcel decided he would go down and introduce himself. He sped along the edge formed by the wall she waz staring at and the ceiling and situated himself in the next corner of the room. He stayed there a moment (he waz getting up hiz nerve). She did look nice enough, Marcelz mind echoed, if you could only get to know her. He wondered, az he watched the Angela place her hairbrush delicately on the desk, what it would take to get to know her. The excitement of being in a new place, the mystery of this new person he felt sure he waz about to meet, and the danger of having left hiz Jhosette’s and the Kimberlyz room without permission…all combined made Marcelz thoughts quicken. He felt, az hiz tail whipped frenetically against the surface of the wall, that if he didn’t go now hiz Jhosette waz likely to notice him missing and come looking for him. Marcel did feel that hiz Jhosette waz a bit overprotective at timez, an overprotectiveness that (though he waz sure she didn’t mean it to) he felt sometimez bordered on smothering. Marcel skated down the edge of the room and az he did the Angelaz head turned hiz way. She pushed her chair back from the desk and stood up in a single movement so quick that it brought Marcel to a dead stop.
The Angela yelled: “Jhosette! Come in here and get your little friend before I KILL HIM!”
Marcelz heart pounded az he heard the word “KILL”. He knew what it meant, and he didn’t want it to happen to him. Although he didn’t think the Angela waz the kind of person who would kill him, he took the threat seriously and waited, perfectly still, hiz legz poized to run if the Angela moved so much az a millimeter in hiz direction, waiting for hiz Jhosette to come rescue him from this Angela (who Marcel waz beginning to understand why the Courtney thought it might be difficult to get to know). The Angela didn’t move and Marcel didn’t move.
Pushing pash Angela, Jhosette pried Marcel out of the edge of the room and carried him back to hiz open terrarium. She set him down and patted hiz head with her index finger. “Don’t go in there again,” she said.
But Marcel already waznt planning to. Now he stayed hidden in the space underneath hiz Jhosette’s and the Kimberlyz bed, hoping that the Kimberly would leave, enjoying the smell of the Kimberlyz clove and of patchouli that permeated all of Jhosette’s clothing, her sheets, her skin, her paperz and books, and their entire room. Marcel rolled himself into a curve in the foldz and rivets of a tshirt of hiz Jhosette’s that had fallen out of sight and been forgotten, scrunched under the bottom bunk since the beginning of the quarter. Marcel lay very still for a long time, feeling the air around him vibrate with the mellow rhythm of the girlz voicez, feeling the padding of their feet on the linoleum floor in compact thudz, whoze shocks made their way across the surface of the floor to where he lay. The girlz were amicably arguing some point of social politics, discussing their Robitussin(r) consumption of the previous evening, chatting randomly. Marcel gathered (by the combinationz of footsteps, pauzez in conversation, and temporary muffling of Jhosette’s voice) that hiz Jhosette had gotten out of bed and put clothez on, that the girlz were preparing to leave the room for a while…and Marcel waz listening to their talk, attempting to gather data about where the two might be going and when they planned to return, when hiz eyelidz started to feel heavier and heavier, drooping earthward under their own weight, dipping, bobbing open at hiz request, then dipping again, lower this time…this process repeated itself for several minutes until the lizard waz completely unaware of the voicez of the girlz in the room, completely unconscious of hiz bodiez pozition in the room…soon he had forgotten hiz need to stay awake to gather information about the girlz planz, forgotten all, and gone to sleep. When he woke the overhead light waz off, the shadowz under the bed had grown even darker, the door waz shut, and the room waz completely quiet.

——-

After the bath it waz opium in the red room. After the bath it waz my foot massage by a brown haired snake. Serious face snake. Kneading my solez wrinkled forehead snake. Snake lying beside me in the bed. Brown haired snake breathing the contents of her lungz in through my mouth clenching the back of my neck in her palm. After the bath it waz Dead Can Dance(r) remixez that we listened to on LSD before my job interview. She waz sleepy, and I read sectionz to her from an Anne Rice porno, sipping bloodstainz from the carpet, scraping my Jhosette’s round belly with nailz. After the bath it waz reading while we fall asleep; after the bath it waz occasional trips out the front window to stand on the roof and looking up, mouths gaping, wide eyed children standing on the roof where we shared so many breakfasts. After the bath it waz candlez and yellow rocks and yellow rocks and yellow rocks. It waz the bedsidez let down to encloze us like a bleeding womb in redz and layerz of redz to swallow people back into their beginningz–legless, cellular, carried by the sea. And after the bath we mostly left each other alone, though we did it naked and next to one another. Talking waz completed earlier or left for the next day. There were no vizitorz after the bath, no knocking on the upstairz door, everything locked on the first floor. After the bath I’d read but never write. After the bath I would never eat food or drink. After the bath I’d never read technology, newz, or weak fiction. After the bath there waz generally no production; we didn’t make anything, further our goalz, involve ourselvez in commerce. After the bath we were never capitalists. After the bath we were tantric Moroccan zen Buddhists. This waz the devil speaking. Mute luddite tantric Moroccan zen Buddhists. The devil in Marcel. After the bath our music and our movements were slow, the candlez each burned themselvez out at a different interval, we touched, ate roze petalz, and wandered into dreamz. This waz the devil speaking. The devil in Marcel. Months prior to the election. In a swing state. Campaign bannerz littering the boardwalk before a storm. A legless gypsy, trapped in bellz and beadz, rhythmlessly turning a gourd in her handz. Her shoez are worn with the dust of the journey.
Trickster. Author of Blindness. Pandemonium Arch-Fiend.
Down the road, somewhere in West Virginia, sits a woman with a scar she don’t know where it came along the bottom of her soul iz scaped the man of a name she once knew.
Twelve. Your twelve-year-old daughter.
If I cannot bed you then I will bed an Insane Clown Posse(r)-loving, Insane Clown Posse(r)-worshiping twelve-year-old friend of yourz who likes me becauze I represent falsely what she thinks she would like to become. And if I represent that enough to get her to sneak to me in your living room in the middle of the night where you’ve cast me at the couch then so be it by the flicker of video gamez on cable television while you sleep. Summer. Weeping. Summer sky and summer sky summer. She iz my twelve-year-old ICP(r) initiate and I will tell her how to uze the lenzez and I will tell her how to uze the camera and I will tell her what filter she needz to uze when she prints the photograph in the darkroom and I will tell her how she needz to dip her handz into the chemicalz without wearing protective glovez and I will tell her how to dip her handz into me. Summer rain on the roof of my house in summer rain in summer on the roof of my house in the summer under the summer sky in the summer season before the summer after the summer when hiz Jhosette had gotten out of bed and put clothez on I met you in the summer before the fall before the summer after I waz wondering where the two might be going I met you in the summer after the fall before I met you in the summer sun, in the summer sky, met you in the summer run and summer fly, met you in the summer sun and summer sky, met you in the summer near and summer nigh, met you in the summer fun and summer high, met you in the summer sun and summer fly and summer fly and summer high upon the summer air and summer sky. Met you in the summer in the summer in the summer summer sky.
Met you in the summer. Met you in the summer. I waz completely unaware of the voicez of the girlz in the room. I met you in the summer when the sun waz summer hot the wind waz summer warm warming my shoulderz summer shoulderz tan with summer sun and summer sun and summer sun.
She found none.
And summer sun and summer sun.
Dipping, bobbing open at my request.
Sand in specks and clumps, sheeting you…getting…everywhere.
She wanted to meet me there. She wanted to come inside. She wanted to…”talk” in the car. She wanted to see my kitchen. She wanted to bring her clothez over and do laundry. She wanted to take a shower. She wanted me to make dinner. She wanted shellfish. She wanted to peek inside the freezer. She ate my chocolate. But I hope hez right, becauze we sure could uze something like that right now. She wanted us to go out to dinner. She wanted us to stay in. She wanted to strip naked in the living room with the blindz up. With the lights on. With the lights on.
Alwayz. Alwayz with the lights on.
And what are we to do?
A flotation device, or some kind of savior, you understand, becauze none of us haz had formal training in this field. She waz pinprick nailz. Cable television. Cherry popping skullfuck in the shower Saturday morning before eight. And what are we to do? Cherry popping skullfuck in my bathroom shower every single Monday morning before eight am.
Cherry popping skull.
Fuck and cherry-popping fuck.
Dig in and wash the windowz of the sky long and done and dusty in my eye?
Cherry popping skullfucker mourning the skullfuck on Monday morningz before eight. Cherry pop popping the skulling fuck fucker mourning the Saturday morning before eight in the morning. Mourning the cherry pop in the morning before eight am in the morning. Time. Time in the morning before the cherry popping skullfuck popping the cherry in the morning. Time in the morning before the morning time skullfuck. Showerz in the morning before the shower fucking skullfuck with a cherry in the shower in my room. Room in my shower. Extra room in my shower. Room in my shower in my room.

Cherry nailz in the shower in my room.

Running.

Cathedral mountain dark.

[page break]

Sneaking from the back to hold a candle mercy God hez coming through the camera lenzez focused to, fuzing precision in the hull of a converted trailer home sweet river running through the crack between my legz the shiver of a momentary shawl upon your head I thought you were dying for a second, crushed between the Greyhound(r) charter nonstop to the dezert.
You had your birthday party in my bathroom.
Marcel crawled out of hiz holding area. He sprung directly on her, kissing forcibly, and though she tried to bring her handz to hiz head he pushed them away, raking her lip, amuzed.
You had my birthday party in your bathroom.
Kimberly would raize her voice at him and there we are again, swallow, az truth iz nothing but a differential constancy of arbitrary Constance. He clung to her cheek. An old friend.
You had your birthday party in my bathroom when you let me have my birthday party in your bathroom and have my birthday party in your bathroom with you. When you let me have my birthday party in your bathroom you had your birthday party in my bathroom. When you had your birthday party in my bathroom you turned twenty-one in my bathroom when you turned twenty-one you were in my bathroom when you turned twenty-one for the first time in my bathroom you turned twenty-one in my bathroom. Constance. Acquaintance really, but what’s the score. Blood in this ring, bone in the other. When you were twenty-one you turned twenty-one in my bathroom. Marcel managed to hook one of hiz clawz inside Jhosette’s right nostril. Then he pulled away, and, for the first time that night since they had exposed themselvez to each other, they made eye contact. You turned twenty-one in my bathroom.
Marcel.
Radiant fever burnz the brightest right before we loze power.
In my bathroom.
Marcel.
You turned twenty-one.
And shez clozing the door behind me. And shez locking the door behind me. And shez clozing the door behind me and locking it. And I’m locked in before her and I’m in her room with the door behind me. And shez locked me in and we’re together and I’m locked inside the room and shez with me inside the room and it’s her room and we’re in and we’re locked together inside and the hallwayz outside and we’re inside and we’re together inside her room and the wall iz filled with sarongz and her refrigerator iz empty even though she haz one and shez checking email from her old professorz who type lust for their student and would have taken her on the turn of a dime any time they wanted her on the floor inside the door on the floor inside the door on the floor of her room.
There it goez–blackness, blanket, bludgeoning. Tool.
And shez making tea and shez talking to me az she readz email from her old professorz and we’re drinking tea on the floor with our kneez crossed and our starz…

Off course after a hot night.

In the vision of the moon.

[page break]

But in the starez each only found concealment, silence.
She had.
Marcel curled himself into a defensive circle.
Merciful Almighty we sing your praizez hinting at the core of manz dezigning gene. Jhosette propped her torso on her elbowz and set the lizard on her stomach. Marcel could see it. She had. She had sand stuck in her fucking thing. Jhosette took in a deep breath. She had sand stuck in her fucking thing and she waz fucking singing about the sand fucking sand stuck in her fucking thing and she waz fucking singing about the sand stuck in her thing her fucking thing waz stinging becauze of the sand stuck in her thing fucking the thing with sand stuck in the fucking thing.
Marcel.
She had sand stuck in her fucking thing she had sand. What do you know, it waz all Mendelian after all. Stuck in her fucking thing she had sand. The grown boy lowered himself into hiz sister and bent deliberately down to her mouth. Sand waz stuck in her fucking thing and I waz fucking looking at the thing in her fucking thing in her sand stuck in the sand in her thing. We’re safe and sound without a friend among the empty cosmic skrye.
She had. She had sand stuck. Marcel. Into the sun, will you, break the pinpoint eclipse rulez and find yourself staring into the optic nerve of timeless fury, anguising eternally sound.
She had sand stuck in her fucking thing.
He licked her. He sank hiz teeth deep into her upper lip, puncturing the flesh, dripping blood onto her chin. Marcel. When I met her she had sand stuck in her fucking thing. Marcel. And I licked it out.
“I know. Iznt it great?”
Peace. Be with you brother; brother what a night.
“It’s great, though, iznt it?”
When I licked it out there waz no more sand stuck in her fucking thing. And I licked it out more anyway.
A shot at her visage revealed nothing but distant submission. And she liked it when I licked it out and she asked me to lick it out more anyway.
Marcel.
And I licked it out more anyway.
Kicking myself in the head for my own lack of agility I end up tied in knots I tied myself and yet I perceive that anotherz fingerz might work thoze strandz more deftly than could I.
And she liked it.
So I licked it out more.
And she liked it more.
Again he interred the lip to hiz bite, slicing it with thirsty fangz which this time joined somewhere in the middle of her tissuez. She pulled the coverz over her head. And I licked her noze. And then she sucked on my noze until I sneezed. And I put my finger in her ear and made her swear at me until I sneezed again until her breast on the blanket went out like smoke and a lung in a plastic bag until she nagged me to do it to her again each Saturday morning.
From now on.
Pinklez tinklez antlerz yearning for the sunny skiez above I think you’re there upon that hill and so I chase your primroze pantiez out on the lawn and lay you there to fuck you heavenly. Or so I think. Until I knocked at her door again at the dormitory on the hill at the end of the group hallway with door signz teazing me and reminding me of their age while I wage, silently, the war. While you swore under breath that I waz here again. But you’re my friend, in the room at the end of the hall. That iz all, my friend, that I know, in the end. And all that I’ll fend. The salty blood surged into hiz mouth and spilt from hiz lips onto her chest. And she waz spinning in the sea, spinning like me in the summer sun, spinning like me in the fun, wonderful summer sun spinning like me in the one place that will make you face the tenth of this clock in mask all the while that you’re behind. Cook the rhine, count the spine in my watch az I clotch your pig my swine cline and fine my prine. Ly zine, la plyne ma zhine locka macha phlinee. Ma fro me zoplaka. Zwne ma pla zho ma zho. Co zho ma zho ma zho. Pla hzhoamako. Pzhline ok la zchizne. La zchinchezel ma zo oh ah ma zho aka zho ma kahzaka a la swatchawhcaltmakanakanakanakatamatako. But though the sex iz good we walk away and gone the hill iz made of paper money Barbie(r) blinks her plastic eye and I see that my fresh discovery iz…what?…nothing but Chex Party Mix(r)?…nothing but graham crackerz in a plastic baggie?
She said it waz a wonderful day to start smoking. She said it waz a wonderful day to start smoking Kamel(r)z and she started smoking Kamel(r)z on a wonderful day. She said Kamel(r)z introduce seratonin to your brain and she introduced seratonin to her brain and she introduced a Kamel to her brain. Her brain introduced itself back to the Kamel(r).
“How do you do?”
“Fine thank you.”
“I’m a brain.”
“I’m a Kamel(r).”
“Yes, I know, I introduced you to myself.”
“Oh.”
“Would you like a lollipop?”

——-

With careful fingerz he swirled the sanguine liquid to intricate pattern, eventually covering her entire body with lucid, grotesque new featurez that skillfully accentuated her natural onez.
She said it waz a wonderful day to start smoking and she started smoking. She never started smoking more than she started smoking when she started smoking. She never started smoking more than she started smoking the day before she started smoking. She injected a Kamel(r) into her brain.
“Fine, thank you.”
“How do you do?”
Wrapped by my mother before I ever went to school but now the graduation iz over and my tassel swingz only in tiny quantum motionz behind my closet door. That’s what my professorz tell me, anyway. She injected a kitten into a cowboy and the cowboy smoked the kitten. The cowboy smoked the kitten like a Kamel(r) and the kitty liked it. Erect nipplez formed an axis for each spiraling breast; hoardz of untamed beasts hustled from out the exaggerated fissure between her legz. She said it waz a wonderful day to start smoking and she smoked a kitten in a cowboy. The kitty waz a camel. She said it waz a delicate day to start smoking and it waz a delicate day to start smoking.
And she started smoking.
“No…it’s just this damn Robitussin(r).”
And it waz a delicate day she started smoking.
“I’m good. I’m just…tired.”
I don’t see movement of any kind, least of all the quantum hammering of a dead kat but you can buy my products anyway, cauze guess what, I don’t test on animalz.
“In case you’re wondering, watch ‘Annie(r)’, the uncut version.”
Delicate day. It waz a delicate breakfast after a delicate shower before a delicate walk and delicate afternoon and a delicate nap. She had a delicate way of putting her fingerz down my neck and she had a delicate way of turning over on the sheet and a delicate way of saying my name and a delicate way of shuffling off her jeanz and she had a delicate way of brushing her hair and a delicate way of buttoning her shirt and a delicate way she had of everything she did waz a delicate way of doing everything she did. Raw paint carelessly swelling, all vigor left the body. Everything she did had an elegant way of being the elegant way of doing everything she did waz the elegance in the way she went about doing every little elegant thing that she did showed the elegance of doing thingz the way that a natural elegance doez thingz of elegance iz the natural way of doing thingz of elegance iz. Of course, I also simultaneously *do* test on animalz so howz that for a consumer base.

elegance iz the natural way of doing thingz of elegance iz

Kimberly lowered her voice confidentially. Straddling sticky corpse, the boy leaned over to her chin, placed hiz teeth around it, and bit straight into the flesh az hard az he could. She turned twenty-one in my bathroom in an elegant way. She turned twenty-one in my shower and the way she did it waz elegance in my bathroom at the age of twenty-one she waz elegance.
“You think so, motherfucker?”
She turned twenty-one in my bathroom.
Marcel.
She turned twenty-one in my shower.
Her birthday waz elegance.
Bracing her skull with hiz handz, Marcel yanked down with hiz tightly clenched jawz and ripped the cartilage from its bone.
And twenty-one in my shower waz elegance, too.
“What? You thought I wouldn’t mind?”
Elegance waz a wonderful way to start smoking.
He now used this to smear the blood across her body.
And smoking waz elegance, too.

Elegance waz smoking in the shower in my bathroom on her birthday.

[page break]

Part Three: The Barbie(r) Factor
——————————–

Jhosette and Kimberly were driving. Jhosette waz driving, and Kimberly waz sitting beside her smoking clove cigarettes and biting her fingernailz.
“You know thoze thingz make your lungz bleed.”
“Do they really make your lungz bleed or iz that just something you heard?”
“I’m pretty sure it’s true. But even if they don’t they can’t be good for you.”
“It’s better than smoking.” Cherry albatross winning you in a phraze in the front seat of the car. Winning you in a shoulder nudge on the roof in the rain. Winning you in a sleeping face and spinning you into a phaze beyond all you thought waz written there.
Kimberly shaved a sliver of nail from her left thumb. She held the sliver between her teeth, felt the sharpness of its edge on her tongue, then turned away from Jhosette and spit the nail over the side of the car. The car waz a Chrysler(r) convertible, white exterior with cream leather seats that Jhosette’s parents had bought in Cincinnati during Jhosette’s first year in Athenz. You didn’t need a car in Athenz; everything of interest to the typical student waz reachable with a twenty minute walk. Most thingz of interest were walkable in ten. But Jhosette’s parents weren’t going to have their daughter stuck in the middle of Nowhere, Ohio without a convenient mode of transportation. Jhosette hardly ever uzed it, but it waz nice to have if you wanted to go out to the lake or drive, az Jhosette did on occasion, to Columbus or Cincinnati to get a break from the incest of small town college life. Mostly she drove it to the airport. But the airport in Athenz, Ohio iznt like the kindz of airports that you and I are used to. In fact, the airport in Athenz, Ohio iznt even technically in Athenz, Ohio. It’s thirty milez outside town and consists of one corrugated metal hangar that iz home to five or six Cessna(r)z, which iz about the only type of plane that could possibly land on the single narrow runway, a black strip of badly-poured asphalt situated alongside State Route 74 and the flat land of cornfieldz.
The Chrysler(r) convertible waz on Route 74. Jhosette waz driving. Kimberly had just taken out another clove and lit it from the smouldering stub of her last one. Jhosette turned her head to watch this. Kimberly caught the look.
“What?”
“Gimme one of thoze.”
“Fuck…” Kimberly said, “that’s my girl.” She waz a real cheerleader, alwayz trying to get you to do something you weren’t originally planning to do. Whoever you were, whatever the area of endeavor, Kimberly wanted to see you take it further. She lit a clove and placed it between Jhosette’s fingerz so Jhosette wouldn’t have to take her handz off the wheel.
Jhosette jockeyed the clove to her left hand and rested her arm on the rim of the car door. The wind took what it could of her hair and threw it over the leather headrest.
Kimberly waz hunched over talking to the dashboard while she smoked. “I have a good build, a husky build. Do you want to start by taking picturez of me in your basement cellar? Then we could get down to where we go out in the woodz, and we take picturez and you can have me play with you, et cetera, and so forth. I would be against it at first, you know…? I would have scarz all over my back from your whip.”
Jhosette kept her eyez on the road. “So you wish I waz some sadist and I waz whipping you, iz that it?”
“Um hum. Taking picturez, everything. Well I guess they refer to that az sodomy…right?”
“I guess.”
“Both oral and anal.”
Kimberly leaned back in her seat. She watched the dotted line of the road smear past them and she smoked her clove nervously, alternately biting her nailz and taking dragz from the cigarette. Between theze movements she uzed the nail biting hand to navigate through the presets on the radio. There were only three tolerable stationz in the area: and oldiez station which waz the most popular local commercial station, the college station (broadcast from one of the white dishez on top of the communication department building) which had student-produced newz and music programz. It waz one of the objectivez of the communicationz department to give az many students az possible the chance to uze the equipment and learn to run a radio show. A spurious result of this effort waz that you never knew what or who waz going to be on at any given time. The only other station Kimberly could stand waz NPR, broadcast out of Columbus. The signal waz weak, but it waz almost all talking so it didn’t matter. Kimberly punched a preset and they went from listening to some Beatlez song (“Don’t want to leave her now / you know I believe in how”) to listening to the five o’clock national newz program. The newz waz a little more relaxed on the weekendz: some famous poet waz reading pseudointellectual poemz she had written about Barbie(r). Kimberly listened while she lifted the tip of her fingernail from the middle finger on her left hand, took a moment to consider (with her tongue) the sharpness of the sliver, then turned and spit it out the window. She switched back to the oldiez.
“Hate all this brainpower being spent on considering the sociological implicationz of Barbie(r). It’s just like that photographer who stagez Barbie(r) teapartiez and takes picturez of them. Shez like…nationally famous; I’m like…what the fuck? I mean, I get it. I do get it. I’ve spent my fair share of time talking about Barbie(r) in some of my classez: really, really interesting stuff…for a while. But I mean, come on, it’s only really interesting for theze Thirty-Something(r) Gen X(r) Star Warz(r) kidz. I can understand. If I waz raized on Pong(r) and Molly Ringwald(r) I’d want to spend my thirty-thouzand-dollar-a-year schooling talking about Barbie(r), too. Hell, anyone whoz seen Sixteen Candlez(r) and had their *eyez* open could practically write a book about Barbie(r).” Kimberly took a drag off her clove. “What’s the Barbie(r) Factor in the old Lit Department? You get to hear a lot of Barbie(r) poemz in Advanced Compozition with Chris O’Shaunessey?”
Jhosette considered for a moment. “There waz a Rainbow Brite(r) poem submitted to The Review about five yearz ago.”
“Five yearz ago? Musta been good if they’re still talking about it.” Kimberly switched to the communication department’s station (“–at ten milez per hour, clear skiez, and tonight we’ll see a twenty-five percent chance of–“). She switched back to the oldiez. “Fuck it. Gimme the Beatlez. When are they supposed to get here?”
Jhosette looked at the digital clock in the dash. It said 5:49. “Around five.”
They could already see the airport, the broad, vertical stripes in red and white on the sidez of the hangar. There waz one car parked in the lot beside the runway. Kimberly surveyed the sky: gray and windy. The Beatlez song ended and when the next one came on Kimberly switched off the radio. She uzed her burning clove az a pointer, holding her arm out to an object in the sky: dipping below the clouds, a small white plane, its wingz wobbling side to side. Jhosette slowed the car in anticipation of their turn into the airport parking lot.
Kimberly said, “Good thing we got here early.”
By the time the plane had landed and turned at the end of the runway to roll slowly toward the hangar, Jhosette and Kimberly had extinguished and discarded their clovez and were leaning against the side of the convertible, improvizing:
“We could invent a cobra made of pussy and pure light.”
Kimber smiled. She touched her roommate’s head. “She could have my name and your hair.”
“And we could smoke caffeine-free drugz by the warmth of my windowz.” Jhosie brought an imaginary clove to her lips.
“Jostle our neighborz…”
Jhosette waz laughing. “Remember that time I had a pimple on my cunt?”
And they were both cracking up.
The plane stopped not thirty feet from them and both its doorz swung open simultaneously. A man jumped out of the left side of the Cessna(r) and waz bending to adjust the pleats at the cuffs of hiz pants while two girlz (one sixteen, one eight or nine) helped each other exit the right side of the plane. The sixteen-year-old climbed backward from the door, one hand gripping the rim of the opening, the wrist of her other arm anchored in the clutch of the younger girl. The younger one tossed first a backpack and then a duffel bag onto the runway.
Jhosie nudged her roommate and (under her breath) said, “Shez turned off her phone for the summer.”
Kimberz response waz automatic. “And invented herself the character of the red room.”
Jhosette’s father waz coming toward the Chrysler(r) convertible. The youngest girl (the one who waz eight or nine) ran up and hugged Jhosette. Then, just az affectionately, she hugged Kimberly.
The girlz father waz the first to speak. “You’re sure you’re going to be alright with them this weekend? Becauze I just really need to go back and be with your mother tonight for this thing…I mean, shez really, really…shez not…you’ll be fine?”
Jhosette looked over her sisterz: Jhessica (the sixteen year old) and Jhanice (who waz eight).
They are passing out pillz on the low circular table and passing out pillz on the low circular table iz what they do around 7pm on Friday and Saturday in the nights on Friday around 7pm they pass out pillz on the circular table in the dark smellz of smoke enter their nozez they have purchased candy coated toyz to suckle in the dark candy coated smellz of their bodiez heating up the space between their bodiez the space of pillz passing out on a low circular table in the candle of Friday night pillz coming out of cupped handz and coming out of back pockets and coming out of spacez in wallets clutched tightly in denim cupcakes we find them passing out pillz on low tablez circlez on circlez on circlez and hairz flowing into handz brushing through hairz planz showing through starez knowing through planz for Friday nights in circular roomz with candlez casting starez on the roof in red hotel hushez under rented sheets taught with the electricity of your neck the chilly fast-heartbeat air on the floor beside the couch with the stoplight outside turning red then green then yellow with us looking out on the street from 404. Wandering through Friday night stoplights the electric shiver up your neck leading us antagonistically to choke our baby pumaz silently and tuck them in the coverz before we leave the towelz unwrapped to reveal caterpillar sporez, Anglican devil-nachts sleeping in the weave of a twenty-four headlight microbox. Five thouzand watts of pill wattage haz us swallowing giant pumaz whole while they sing their babiez goodnight through rented taughtness. Starz prezerved wandering through room 404 off the balcony side of the far side of the hallway by the pool. We were there twice. Once waz on a Saturday morning. Once waz on a Friday night.
Jhessica rolled her eyez at Jhosette. “Hez been like this the whole way over here.” Then, to her father: “We’ll be fine.”
Jhosette hugged their father. “Thanks for bringing them.”
Kimberly waz looking down at Jhanice. “Did you bring a toothbrush?”
Jhanice kicked Kimberlyz shoe. “Of course I brought a toothbrush.”
“I just don’t want your breath to stink if you meet any cute boyz while we’re out on the town tonight.”
Jhosette glared at her roommate. “What town? Anyway there aren’t any cute boyz here, you know that.”
Kimberly smiled at the girlz father. “Come to dinner with us? Something quick?”
“No, I’ve really got to get back right away.” He looked at Jhosette. “You’re motherz…well–”
“Get back to her already,” Jessica suggested, “If she can’t manage.”
Their father glanced quickly at hiz youngest daughter (Jhanice), then at Jhosette. “I think I better.” He nodded toward Kimberly–“Nice seeing you.”–and went to the other side of the aircraft. He looked perfunctorily over the cornfield and beyond the runway and then stepped up into the plane. He crawled across the seat and, leaning out to cloze the door hiz girlz had gotten out of, said, “Be back on Sunday. I’ll call you.”
Jhosette raized her hand az a goodbye. Jhessica approached the Chrysler(r); she had a grouchy expression on her face and she waz dragging her duffel bag beside her through gravel and dust. Jhanice squeezed Kimberly tightly at the waist. The girlz father clozed the plane door. The single propellor started spinning. He drove back to the center of the runway, and, with fewer than five wordz between him and the lone air traffic controller, sped along the runway and into the sky. Once he waz in the air Kimberly went around to the passenger side of the Chrysler(r) convertible and leaned with both handz on the car door. Jhosette stood staring into the sky at her fatherz plane.
Kimberly got everyonez attention: she clapped her handz twice and spoke: “Roomie…roomie…we gonna show theze girlz how to have fun in a college town tonight or what?”
Jhessica said, “I already *know* how to have fun in a college town.”
Jhanice climbed over the side of the car into the back seat, ignoring that Jhosette had opened the door and pushed the driverz seat forward for her. Kimberly held the door for Jhessica az Jhessica climbed silently into the back seat on the right side of the car. Once everyone waz in, Kimberly lit a clove cigarette and handed it to Jhosette. She lit another one and offered it to Jhessica.
Jhessica looked skeptically at her older sister, who sat behind the wheel taking a long drag. “You know thoze thingz make your lungz bleed.”
Kimberly smiled and offered Jhessicaz clove to the eight-year-old.
Jhanice smiled warmly and said, “No thank you.”
Kimberly took the clove between her own lips and switched on the radio az Jhosette waz pulling out of the parking lot onto State Route 74. It waz still on the oldiez station and they had heard only a few notes of some seventiez rock before Kimberly switched it to the student-run station (“–last week’s fatal beating of a thirty-six-year-old homosexual woman and her adopted Chineze baby–“). She instantly switched it to NPR and listened to three syllablez of a crackling male voice (“–alleged–“) before switching it back to the seventiez rock song and settling into a comfortable slump in the leather seat.
Jhosette turned her head halfway around to her sisterz and kicked the gas pedal to the floor. “Thingz crazy at home?”
Jhessica spoke first. “Un…fucking…believable.”
The eight-year-old interjected, “Momz experiencing some stress.”
Circular pillz in the spinez of CD casez and a phat pleasure Band-Aid(r) in the freezer, Michaelangelo(r) pillz embedded in the spinez of paper lamps hung in orange from the ceiling, Jaques Cousteau(r) pillz scuba diving in chemistry diving capsulez within the confinez of the toilet tank, aerial stunt skydiving motherfuckerz falling from her eyez in slow motion, Ansel Adamz(r) stillz hiding in 35mm in her camera bag, aligator monster motherfuckerz lounging under the couch waiting for a chance to pounce, and she haz theze Alka-Seltzer(r) coke-looking motherfuckerz laid out in talcum on the countertop. Ask Your Doctor About Advair(r).
Jhosette turned back to the road. “Well, you got two dayz off. What do you want to do?”
Jhanice said, “I’d like it if we could stop somewhere and get some coffee.”
Kimberly raized an eyebrow and snuck a glance at her roommate. “Take the girl to Perks(r).” She leaned over the back seat toward the eight-year-old. “They’re open all night and they have like eighty different kindz of coffee. What about you?”
Jhessica sat with her shoulder pressed az deeply az possible into the carz upholstery, staring blankly into the corn az they sped past. Without looking at Kimberly (and with absolutely no inflection in her voice) Jhessica said, “Boonez Farm(r).”
Jhosette said, “What?”
Jhessica raized her voice. “I just want my Boonez Farm(r). Then I’m happy.”
Kimberly turned to face the front, attempting to supress a laugh.
Jhessica said, “Do you guyz ever go to partiez or anything or do you just sit around the dorm?”
Kimberly couldn’t hold it. She laughed outright.
Jhosette spoke. “Jhess…this town iz filled with twenty thouzand horny kidz who all they do iz occasionally go to class and they spend the rest of their time at one of the twenty barz on Court Street drinking shit that would make you absolutely spill your guts and the next day they wake up on somebodyz floor that they’ve never even met and then they somehow find their way back to their room and find their friendz and then the next night they go out and do the same thing again. Just ask Kimber.”
Kimberly punched Jhosette’s shoulder playfully. “You ain’t no saint yourself.” Kimberly turned back to Jhessica. “And forget Boonez Farm(r). I think it’s time you girlz went sailing.”
“Sailing?” Jhanice asked, her eyez wide.
Jhosette laughed.
“Yep,” Kimberly continued, “tonight I think the four of us are gonna do a little sailing with the Captain(r).” Kimber smiled at Jhosette; Jhosette’s smile widened.
“The invention of heroin waz seminal to the invention of semen.”
“Lick my cheezy head, bitch.”

[page break – the following iz on a completely blank 2-page spread]

sodium benzoate (to protect taste)

[page break]

Jhessica rolled her eyez. They were improvizing again.
Toenailz provide every protein required by the human body–the problem iz they grow too slowly, like sloe gin, rotting on the vine before the moment of it haz had fruit to reach maturity.
“That’s Slow Jen; she takes a while.”
“Honey, you have to wait till we get back to the room before you take your clothez off. See that? That’s a cop dear. Here, take your shirt. Allison, why did we let them drink? They never drink.”
“I know.”
“Why did we let them start tonight?”
“I didn’t even see them until they already had about six shots in them.”
“Well watch them more closely next time.”
“Do you think you could get Mozart to jack off in my face?”
“No…Mozart’s booked tonight.”
“Fuck.”
“I can get Axyl Roze or Tori Amos.”
“No. I wanted Mozart.”
Kimberlyz mother wandered into the sunroom, glancing back over her shoulder occasionally at her sulking daughter. *The poor thing!* All the wanted waz Mozart and now, becauze of Darylz gambling addiction, the child would spend her seventh birthday without music, pouting on the kitchen floor. Tomorrow something would have to be done about Darryl. Something drastic. Something final. *That bastard may have ruined my life, but it haz to stop before the effects on our daughter are irreversible!* Maybe she should cut hiz dick off, like that newzhero Lara Croft(r)! But no, that waz too mediaseeking, too dramatic, too 1998. She would have to think of something more 40 AD, like push him in front of a bus. Fuck it, hadn’t she alwayz been fascinated by the technical elements of guillotine construction? Of course…the front escallier would make a suitable gallowz, provided Kimberly could be tucked away upstairz at the moment of the snap, and the body removed before Kimberlyz TV showz were scheduled to be watched downstairz. Though the required materialz are relatively inexpensive, crucufixion remainz an impractical meanz of spouse disposal due to the large amount of time needed to allow the suffocation to run its course.
Kimberly took another drag from her clove before switching the radio back to NPR (“–a six-part seriez exploring the turbulent history of Western(r) counterinvolvement in the Middle East(r), from the Crusadez(r) to this latest conflict in Iraq(r)–“). Kimberly cleared her throat. “Howz your throat feeling, Jhosie?”
Jhosette looked at Kimberly questioningly. “Fine. Why?”
Kimberly cleared her throat again. A pained look came over her face. “Actually, minez feeling kind of sore. Do you mind if we stop by Rite Aid(r) and pick up some Robitussin(r) or something?”

[page break]

Part Four: The Kat-Kissing Mission
———————————-

We find Jhanice on the street. We find her with greasy braidz, toe twist, we find her thumb pressing play on a portable tape recorder. We find her lips swished to one side schoolmarm-style. We find her JeanzJordache(r). We find a white chevron glued to the tip of each shoe. We find the tape saying “where we were in the middle of the” and we find her finger rushing to the rev/cue and backing us up to “who said?–what about the Scriptolighter(r)?” and we find her trip, and her chin findz the sidewalk concrete. The portable tape recorder findz the sidewalk concrete. The batteriez of the portable tape recorder find themselvez naked rolling on the sidewalk concrete. And we find her licking her lips of the blood we find her hand on her forehead tongue testing the bottom lip–yep, it’s busted! Damn and I busted my lip open again and the portable tape recorder batteriez are naked on the sidewalk again and I’m laying face down on the sidewalk again. Damn damn damn. Damn again found myself laying face down on the sidewalk and the “what about?–what about the Scriptolighter(r)?” and we find her picking herself up off the concrete and clothing the batteriez and her finger finding the play button on the portable tape recorder and her playing it and shez playing it backwardz and finding the rev/cue button and running the tape back and speaking clearly into the tape recorder saying “I’ll never–I’ll never fall in love again” and she walks.
In town, Jhosette parked the Chrysler(r) convertible on Court Street. They all got out of the car. Kimberly skipped a few steps away from the three sisterz.
“I’m going to Rite Aid(r), I’ll meet you someplace?”
“Sure,” Jhosette said, “Perks(r)?”
“Okay.”
“But we’re taking the long way,” Jhosette said, “so don’t hurry.”
Kimberly said “K!” and patted a parking meter on the head, skipping off down Court Street.
Jhessica said, “What’s wrong with her?”
“Well,” Jhosette said, “shez had a sore throat for dayz and shez–understandably–pretty excited about getting it fixed.”
“O-kay…”
Jhosette took Jhanice by the hand and started walking. Jhessica followed beside them.
“Let’s get *you* that Boonez Farm(r) and then we’ll get *you* some coffee.” They went east on Court Street, passing the book storez and a Chineze restaurant, passing the Kinkoz(r) and a 50z diner. The road sloped down az they passed the City Hall and a courthouse and the Methodist(r) church. When the road sloped back up the businessez they passed were increasingly barz. The Parrot’s Eye(r). O’Jungz(r). Ned Pepperz(r). The Greenery(r). Jhanice obzerved the students. Almost everyone she saw waz in their late teenz or early twentiez. Jhessica obzerved them, too. A group of girlz came by wearing logo sweaterz and Gap(r) jeanz. They all had blond hair and round plush facez, flawless skin. Jhessica had never seen such a consummate bloc of perfection outside of TV.
She confided her thoughts with her older sister az a second, similar group passed them. She waz incredulous: “Iz someone shooting a *commercial* right here?”
Jhanice squeezed Jhosette’s hand (hard) and stopped walking. Jhosette and then Jhessica also stopped walking, looking to the youngest girl for an explanation. Jhanice pointed to a window on the second story of a tanning salon whoze windowz were plastered with lurid posterz of the Caribbean. Between the curtainz and the glass, two kats stood in perfect symmetry with one another, their nozez touching delicately. Jhanice smiled widely and some male students noticed the three brown-haired girlz of varying agez (obviously sisterz) stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. The male students followed the line of Jhanicez arm to the second story window. The little girl squealed. “They’re kissing!”
Jhessica saw the boyz looking at them and automatically took two steps away from her sisterz. “Come *on* you two, let’s *go*.”
Jhanice turned from the window and silently bowed her head to the pavement, considering what she had just seen.
Jhosette asked Jhessica: “Which one do you want to go to?”
Jhessica looked up at the sign of the bar they were standing right in front of and read its contents to Jhosette. “The Smiling Skull(r).”
Jhosette held the door for her sisterz and they all went in. The place waz empty. Four people at a corner table eating burgerz and friez from red plastic bowlz molded to look roughly like woven baskets. The girlz sat in a row on three bar stoolz, Jhanice in the middle. A tribal tattoo waz engraved in the bartenderz arm, disappearing under the sleeve of hiz white tshirt and sprouting again from the neckhole. When he approached them he made eye contact only with Jhanice. She waz cherry budding pubsickle in an underage barroom. “What can I get for you?”
But Jhanice shook her head gravely and politely no.
Jhosette leaned across the bar and affectionately punched the bartender. “I want a cozmopolitan.”
He grinned. “You are a cozmopolitan.”
“I want one anyway, glasshead.”
“Glasshead!? Seriously, what can I get you?”
Jhosette pointed at Jhessica with an unlit clove. “Shez having shots.”
The bartender looked at Jhessica. “Wha’d’ll it be?” Cherry budding nymphsickle in a dormitory stairwell.
Jhosette said: “Give her a shot of One-Fifty-One.”
Jhessica glared at her sister. “Don’t be giving me some shit that’s gonna make me puke.”
Jhosette lit the clove. “Get a chaser.”
“What kind of beer you like?” the bartender asked.
“Just…a Coorz(r) in a can and a shot of one-fifty-whatever.”
The bartender set a shot glass on the bar.
Jhessica waz shaking her head. “I know you. This iz gonna be some nasty shit that would make a horse puke oats and I’m gonna embarrass myself.”
The bartender went back to Jhanice. “Seriously, you want somethin hon?”
The girlz eyez brightened. “Sprite(r)?”
“What about you?”
Jhosette waved her hand over the bar. “I’m fine.”
“No, no, no,” Jhessica whined. “You ain’t gettin me drunk while you sit there smokin that shit completely sober. Nuh uh. You drink what I drink, if you recommend it so highly.”
Jhosette smiled. She tapped her index finger on the bar in front of her.
“Chaser?”
Jhosette shook her head. The bartender turned and left.
Jhanice peered at Jhosette with wide eyez. “Do you come here a lot?”
“Sometimez.”
“Do you come here every night?”
“Not every night.”
Jhanice leaned in close to her older sister. She whispered. “Do you like that man?”
Jhosette laughed, and the clove smoke came out her noze and blew across Jhanicez cheeks. Jhanice couldn’t help but take some of it in during her next breath. She wondered if that constituted smoking…? Had she just smoked? The stuff smelled sweet, not stinky like the cigarettes their parents smoked. She felt it hot on her face and spicy at the top of her throat. Jhessica adjusted her dress, watching the bartender wash a glass, hiz back to them. When the bartender came back to them he waz carrying a translucent Solo(r) cup filled with clear liquid. He set the Sprite(r) in front of Jhanice first, then popped the tab on Jhessicaz Coorz(r). Then he poured the shots for the older girlz.
“Enjoy,” he said to Jhessica. She waz cherry muffing blindpounce tiger and she turned twenty-one singing showtunez in the shower in my bathroom.
Jhessica returned the bartenderz gaze nervously. She moaned tensely, convulsively tightening her legz around hiz head.
He left them, going to talk with the foursome at the corner table. Janice sipped her Sprite(r), then blinked widely at something behind the counter. Jhessica waz too busy situating herself in relation to her shot and Jhosette too busy watching Jhessica situating herself in relation to her shot that neither of them noticed Jhanice blinking at the thing behind the counter, on the other side, near the dishwashing sink. Jhessica had cautiously lifted her shot to mouth level, careful not to spill any, when she became acutely aware that her older sister waz watching her. When she turned she waz somehow not surprized that Jhosette’s expression waz a smirk.
Jhessica set her shot back on the bar. “What?”
Jhosette let her laugh out all the way.
“What?! What’s so fucking funny?”
“Nothing…”
Then they both saw Jhanice, holding the cup of Sprite(r) with both handz, perfectly still, in front of her, and peering over the plastic cup at something under the other side of the bar. Jhanice licked her top lip clean of the Sprite(r). Jhessica followed her younger sisterz gaze to the underside of the bar, but she didn’t see anything there.
“What iz it? Jhanice?”
The little girl smiled at Jhessica, a smile whoze relevance to this particular moment and circumstance waz impossible for Jhessica to discern, but that waz unquestionably a smile of complete, pure, innocent delight. Jhanice set her cup of Sprite(r) down and hopped off the stool. She bolted around the bar toward the foursome in the corner. Jhessica and Jhosette saw the headz of the foursome turn with what they assumed waz the movement of Jhanice rushing past them. The headz of the foursome followed an action invisible from where Jhosette and Jhessica sat on the other side of the bar. Jhosette saw the gray blur of the kat jump from the middle shelf near the dishwashing sink and run for an opening in the bar. One of the foursome laughed and choked a little on an onion. The headz of the foursome and the head of the bartender tracked the invisible motion back in the opposite direction, it leaving more slowly than it had come their way. Then Jhanice waz saddling up with her sisterz, cradling the gray barkat in her armz, handling him carefully az she climbed into her stool, and, once they were both up, kissing hiz face with abandon, tugging at hiz earz, scratching hiz cheeks, rubbing hiz fat belly, offering him a sip of her Sprite(r) and, when he politely refuzed, forcing hiz head into the cup. Given the oblivious violence with which her younger sister shoved the kat’s head into the Solo(r) cup, Jhessica thought the kat must be ready to claw Jhanice in the face, jump from her armz and run fearful to some hidden spot under the bar. Jhanice sumberged hiz muzzle in the sugary liquid, squeezing hiz head into the narrow cup, hiz earz smashed against the translucent plastic, hiz face taking the form of the clyindrical mold. Gripping the scruff of hiz neck, Jhanice withdrew hiz head from the cup az methodically az she had inserted it. Far from being ready to scratch her captivez eyez out, Jhessica obzerved, the kat instantly craned hiz neck to Jhanice and pressed hiz noze to her lips. He only pulled back slightly to have room enough to lick the Sprite(r) from around hiz own mouth. Jhanice stroked the kat’s head heavily; the feline bowed under the pressure of each stroke. The bartender made only a casual notice of all this, and waz back chatting with the corner foursome. Jhosette saw Jhessicaz face: she waz staring, drop jawed, at the interaction between Jhanice and the strange kat. Her forehead showed four distinct wrinkle linez which Jhosette knew, on a girl Jhessicaz age, would vanish traceless az soon az the next thought entered her head. Jhosette reached for her shot and curled it between three fingerz. She lifted it and expertly tapped the bottom of the tiny glass on the bar. She waz still staring at Jhessicaz forehead. Jhessica picked up her own shot. Jhanice sipped her Sprite(r), occupying herself by visually studying various bar instruments–glassez hanging overhead, strainerz, ashtrayz, beak-nozed nozzlez affixed to the bottlez–oblivious both to Jhessicaz preperatory ritualz and, momentarily, to the movement in her lap: at this lapse in attention, the barkat leaned toward Jhessica and waz sniffing her shot. Jhessica swatted the kat’s noze with the back of her hand. He flinched back, and Jhanice waz once more aware of the beast she waz holding. She looked side to side at both her sisterz, Jhosette cooly cradling her shot in the same hand az her clove, Jhessica feigning comfort with the tiny glass, nervously eyeing her Coorz(r) in a can. Jhanice ran her left hand in a long, loving stroke along the kat’s head and neck, lifting the Solo(r) cup in toast and mockery of her older sisterz. Jhosette brought the shot to her mouth and downed it in one smooth sip. Jhessica followed suit so hastily that some of the shot dribbled down her chin before the glass even touched her lips and most of the rest of it dribbled out of her noze very shortly after.
Jhosette grabbed her youngest sister by the hand and tried to pull her away from the bar but Jhanice curled her anklez around the legz of the stool and gripped the edge of the bar with both handz, the purring kat trapped between her forearmz.
“Simonz not *ready*. Hez not *ready* for me to go.” Jhanice shook her head and clenched her teeth.
Jhessica waz standing in the doorway, her handz set on her hips, her legz set apart, her black boots planted firmly on the step that led into The Smiling Skull(r). She marched back to the bar and grabbed Jhosette by the wrist. “Let’s go without her.”
Jhanice said, “That’s fine with me.”
Jhessica tugged at Jhosette’s arm, gaining some inchez toward the door. “What about your coffee?” she pleaded, and with her next tug Jhosette lurched a foot toward the door. Jhessica wailed “Goodbye!” at Jhanice and Jhosette smiled lazily at the bartender az Jhessica wrenched her older sister all the way through the door and onto the street.
Back inside, Jhanice lifted Simon and licked him on the side of the face. Careful to avoid knocking over the empty Solo(r) cup, she handed him back to the bartender. The bartender took the kat over hiz shoulder and rocked him gingerly, like a baby. Jhanice jumped from the stool and ran to the door to find her sisterz.
On Court Street, the girlz walked like this: Jhosette went right down the middle of the sidewalk, her handz swinging at her sidez, her viney hair thrown casually over her shoulderz, her denim pants hanging loosely on her waist and their fluted bottomz swishing near her anklez. Jhessica stood to Jhosette’s right, nearer the parking meter side of the sidewalk. Her black boots ground against the pavement and ran so high up there were only four inchez of leg showing between the tops of her boots and the bottom of her black dress. (Cherry popping heelz popping cherry popping heelz.) Jhessica walked in a more structured, intentional, somewhat less natural way than Jhosette. Her glancez, the turnz of her head and the moments when she choze not to turn it, the way her handz found the linez of her own hips or thighz or neck, the way she shook her shoulder-length hair (straight and dyed az black az her dress)…all this waz the result of an expert social engineering whoze input variablez were every aspect of the crowd around her. If the boy noticed Jhessica from half a block away, Jhessica had already scoped him at a block and a half, studied him, calculated him, classified him for half a block and then completely ignored hiz entire geographic vicinity for another half a block so that by the time he saw her she waz capable of letting him pass without a glance, without a nod; capable just of meeting hiz eye, holding it for three stridez, and turning away to laugh casually with Jhosette about some imaginary subject; equally capable of pretending until the last possible moment that she had not seen him at all, and then, right before she would leave hiz sphere forever (casting him into frozen darkness), turning abruptly away from her sister in mid-sentence, crossing the street between moving traffic (this while holding hiz startled gaze and shooting him a cold smile while sliding between the parked carz on the other side of the street), parting hiz circle of friendz, grabbing hiz wrist, digging her nailz into its soft underside, and moving close to the side of hiz face with the kinetic rush of a vampire, biting the top of hiz ear with a carefully timed exhale of hot breath in a single syllable (“oh”)…then, az the gent stood there enjoying the novelty of having been violated in a way that straight men are rarely ever truly violated, Jhessica would turn and cross the street to rejoin her company, pointing out some random trinket in a shop window (pretending to like it), or simply picking up the half-sentence where she had dropped it and never casting another look in the guyz direction. Jhosette tolerated theze characteristic and inevitable detourz of Jhessicaz. Jhanice waz still young enough that she didn’t completely understand them. Jhanice actually waz interested in the trinkets in the store windowz. She hopped from one side to the other of her sisterz, swung around parking meterz with one of her armz attached to them, dodged and dove between other people walking the opposite direction. She sometimez took Jhosette’s hand, getting the oldest sisterz attention to show off Mylar(r) balloonz in the window of a card shop, to offer a glimpse of a penny she had found lying headz up on the sidewalk (good luck for Jhanice) or offer az a gift a penny she had found lying headz down (good luck for whoever Jhanice gave the penny to). She also stopped Jhosette to ask questionz about the school (Where were the teacherz?) and she listened eagerly to (though waz sometimez a bit confuzed by) Jhessicaz bending of her ear to derisively suggest inappropriate undertakingz or ask absurd questionz of her younger sister. (“Why don’t you ask Jhosie for a clove?” or “Jhanice, don’t be mean to me, I know you have one…pleaze, pleaze let me borrow one of your tamponz.”) Jhanice listened to theze requests with a patience that made Jhessica wonder about the girl. She never got angry with Jhessica, that much waz just weird, but the fact that Jhanice didn’t seem to understand the irony or the anachronism inherent in theze questionz absolutely freaked Jhessica out.
“Jhessie,” the little girl would say, politely, quietly, az if sensitive to the privacy of the asker of such a question, “I don’t have one.”
Jhanice wasn’t listening to Jhosette and Jhessicaz conversation. She ran from side to side az they headed back along Court Street, retracing the path they had taken to The Smiling Skull(r). Jhanice ran around the left side of Jhosette without looking and stopped abruptly when she saw that her trajectory would have her collide with a college girl who waz carrying a kat in her armz and talking sulkily with her boyfriend, who followed somewhat behind, speaking plaintively to the girlfriend, gently, saying “Will you come?”
Jhanicez quick movement and sudden stop drew both their attention. The college girl looked down at Jhanice and the kat she waz carring did the same thing, craning hiz furry head down from the girlz shoulderz to spy the rapidly-stopped Jhanice. Hiz earz perked and hiz eyez seemed to widen at the sight of the little one. The college girl almost fell forward, but stopped herself.
“Say you’re sorry,” Jhessica demanded, but the girl with the kat instantly said she didn’t have to. Jhosette silently obzerved the couple. Jhessica stood with her handz on her hips, staring, annoyed, across the street, now pretending not to see the couple, their kat, Jhosette, or Jhanice. The kat squirmed eagerly in the college girlz armz: suddenly, compulsively needing to be on the ground.
“Farquar,” said the college girl sternly, but the kat broke free and jumped down. It took a moment for him to accept that he waz actually free. Then he made hiz way round the college girl and her boyfriend and marched up to Jhanice, who waz bent to the ground, waiting for him. The kat rubbed against Jhanicez handz and armz, starting with hiz noze and cheek, continuing with the side of hiz body, and finishing hiz first pass at her with a tickly brush of hiz tail. Jhanice picked him up without asking, hefting him to the level of her shoulderz. The kat’s owner looked upon Jhanice with what Jhosette took for pride. Supporting the kat’s body on her right arm, Jhanice smoothed hiz earz back along the sidez of hiz skull, encasing hiz now cone-shaped head with her left hand. The kat held hiz body perfectly still while Jhanice slowly, smoothly moved her head closer to the kat’s. She approached hiz noze and allowed her lips to gently touch it. Then she opened her mouth az wide az it would go and thrust her neck forward, encircling the kat’s head entirely, hiz neck between her teeth, hiz noze at the top of her throat. Jhanice held this position for a count of six, trying not to breathe on hiz face, managing to exhale only a tiny fraction of a full breath. Under the pressure of the fingerz of her left hand, she felt the strange kat’s ear twitch. Janice removed the kat’s head from her mouth, released her grip on hiz earz, and patted him twice az he shook out hiz head and yawned. He submitted without the slightest complaint to Jhanice handing him back to the college girl and the college girl repositioning him in her armz. Jhanice looked up at all of them from herz, the lowest of all their vantage points.
The boyfriend waz the first to speak. “This iz–you know what this iz, right?”
Immediately hiz girlfriend dug her fingernailz into hiz genitalz and scraped them upward, marking hiz skin, boring az deeply az she could. “‘This iz an affair and tomorrow you better not love me.'”
And they were off down the street.
Jhessica waz the first of the sisterz to start walking again. Jhosette had started to follow along that Jhessica might not get too far ahead of them and vanish into the drivel of students on the road, and she had crossed the space of four sidewalk squarez before she noticed Jhanice waznt with them. She turned and hurried back to grab her youngest sister by the hand, wrenching the eight-year-old from her petrified stance (solemnly facing the couple, and their kat, who waz almost out of sight). Jhosette and Jhanice quickly caught up with Jhessica, who waz now refuzing, on general principle, to stop walking for this sort of interruption. The girlz resumed their earlier configuration, Jhosette and Jhessica talking about thingz Jhanice had no care to listen to, Jhessica occasionally taking the opportunity to tyrannize boyz by staring at them suggestively and promptly ignoring them to scope the next, Jhosette letting her legz casually stride against the firmness of the concrete, feeling the wind move against her az she approached, continually, new pockets of air, and feeling it enter her noze and travel to her lungz, and Jhanice leaping from side to side, straddling, crossing, avoiding, and pouncing on the sidewalk cracks in her own schizophrenic version of hop scotch. When an approaching adult stopped abruptly to avoid being intercepted by her erratic, largely oblivious path, Jhanice would look up at whoever it waz and laugh.

——-

When they got to Perks(r) Kimberly strolled jauntily to meet them from where she had been waiting against the outside brick wall of the place with a bulging Rite Aid(r) bag in her hand. “What took you so long?”
Jhessica rolled her eyez.
Jhosette said, “I told you we were taking the long way.”
“I’ve been standing here for half an hour.”
“We went on–” Jhanice began.
But Jhosette interrupted: “We stopped at The Skull.”
“Oh yeah…get your Boonez Farm(r)?”
Jhanice waz trying to get something out: “We–”
“Actually, we did a–”
“We–”
“Whad you give her–”
“Shot of–”
“Just a little–”
“One-fifty–”
“We were–”
“One–”
“You did a shot of one-fifty-one?!”
“She tried.”
“My god, you trying to kill the girl?”
And Jhanice screamed to be heard: “WE WENT ON A KAT-KISSING MISSION!”
They all stopped what they were saying and they looked at the girl, who waz standing with her feet at shoulderz length apart and her armz folded at her chest.
Kimber leaned down and put her face close to Jhanicez. “Oh yeah? Well, you better go get your coffee,”–she held the bulging Rite Air(r) bag over Jhanicez head–“becauze I ain’t sittin here all night.” Kimberly made her hand into the shape of a pistol and pointed it at Jhanice. “I supposedly had a gun, which waz a cap gun, and we marched off in the bushez, and so forth, and I tortured her,” she said in a monotone.
Jhanice could tell that Kimberly waz serious, and she saw by Jhosette’s face that Jhosette waznt going to help her on this one. Jhanice flared her nostrilz at Kimberly and growled, a gutteral growl whoze bass sounded frighteningly like the growl of a real bear or wolf. Jhanice broke her stare with Kimberly and ran past her into the store, frenetically scanning the chalkboard menu az she approached the counter, and said, with the last part of the same breath with which she had growled at Kimberly, “I want a triple shot of Espresso(r) in a to-go cup, pleaze.”

[page break]

Part Five: Medicine
——————-

Marcel waz basking in the orange light of the Kimberlyz desktop wallpaper, hiz eyez clozed, motionless, in the same position he had been in for the last hour, enjoying the warmth of the screen and not thinking much of anything when the door opened and in a rush four girlz came into the room, hiz Jhosette, the Kimberly, and two other girlz Marcel had never seen before. Az soon az the key turned in the door Marcelz eyez were open. By the time the door opened he had hidden himself under the cover of a book that waz lying open on the Kimberlyz desk and found himself staring, with some dismay, at the spine of the Kimberlyz Nietzsche(r), which waz laying clozed and propping up the cover of the giant, open book under which Marcel waz hiding. They were all laughing when they came in, the Kimberly telling the end of a joke Marcel had heard before about a man pissing into a cup on a bar. Marcel went to the edge of the book cover to get a look. One of the new girlz waz about the same age az hiz Jhosette and the Kimberly and Marcel wondered if perhaps she waz from the second floor. The other one waz too young to be in college, though. She looked about the right age to be a sib. Both the new girlz were laughing at the joke. The younger one laughed the most, but the other one laughed a little, too. Hiz Jhosette chuckled, but Marcel knew she had heard the joke before, becauze he had heard the Kimberly tell it to her. Marcel ran to the other side of the textbook and across the Kimberlyz desk. He caught a secondz glance at their positionz in the room. Hiz Jhosette waz taking off her sweater and sitting down in the same motion. The girl who might have been from the second floor waz peering into Marcelz open terrarium on the dresser and the young girl had rushed to the window to look out onto the green. Marcel saw a blond blur he knew waz the Kimberly, near the door. He heard the door cloze and the sound of the metallic latch clicking into place. He scurried across the desk and ran down its far side, out of sight of everyone in the room. He heard the girl he thought might be from the second floor say, “What’s this for?”
The Kimberly waz the one who answered. “That’s where Jhosie keeps her boyfriend.”
Marcel couldn’t see this, but Jhessica raized her eyebrowz at Jhosette.
The Kimberlyz voice continued: “She lets him climb all over everything. I’m pretty sure she lets him sleep with her.”
Jhosette smiled and reclined in her bunk. Jhanice had turned from her post at the window and waz looking around the room. Marcel thought she might have pauzed when her eye passed over the corner of the Kimberlyz desk (where Marcel waz peeking around the edge to get a look at the people in the room). He waz relieved to see her eyez move from hiz position. Jhanice scouted the room. There waz a poster to the left of Kimberlyz desk that said “PARENTAL ADVIZORY / EXPLICIT LYRICS” in bold black and white letterz. There waz a poster on the back of the door that had a huge yellow smiley face on a black background. There waz a bullethole in the forehead of the smiley face with a trail of blood coming from it (that waz part of the original poster–it hadn’t been drawn in). Kimberlyz desk waz covered with open books and at least three full ashtrayz. There waz an L.L. Bean(r) bookbag on the floor with the initialz KLM stiched into it. Jhanice picked up a video from Kimberz desk. It said “Brittany Alexzander. Allison Wyle. Adela. Cinderella. 18 And Ready to Rock Your World!” Kimber snatched the video and stuffed it in a drawer. The top bunk waz littered with stuffed animalz and large pillowz, and the sheets up there were az disordered az the onez on the bottom bunk, where Jhosette’s fitted sheet had come unattached at the end where she put her feet when she slept. The blue and white striped matress showed at that end. Jhosette’s desk waz stacked with compartmentalized plastic trayz meant for storing fishing lurez, but Jhosette’s were filled with beadz and hooks and stonez and screw connectorz and spoolz of fine thread. There waz a hand loom that had a half-finished choker necklace on it. The floor waz almost unwalkable; to get from the door to the window Jhanice had to chooze her steps like a mountain climber searching a rock face for a crevice suitable for the insertion of a few fingerz, wedging her feet in the open spots between crumpled shirts and jeanz with belts still threaded through the loopholez at their waists. There were mirrorz on the closet doorz, and Kimberlyz waz covered from edge to edge with taped up photographs of her friendz, snapshots from placez she had been, picturez of her family, picturez of her and her brother that their mom had taken of them az children, cutouts from magazinez of rockstarz and movie starz, famous newz headlinez she had photocopied from old newspaperz in the library, stylish advertizements from magazinez. The mirrored door of Jhosette’s closet waz decorated with writing in lipstick, lists of thingz to do, informal poemz she had written about Marcel, abstract questionz that Jhosette had wondered about the universe: “When will I *know*?” Jhosette’s clozet door also hosted lists of the four-digit extensionz of her friendz dorm phonez. 3628 Amy. 3249 Maxwell. 3293 WKEG. WKEG waz the student radio station. Jhosette liked to call into Amyz show and chat, their intimate conversationz broadcast across a small portion of southeastern Ohio for anyone with a radio to hear. Marcel saw that the youngest girlz eyez had gone to the mirrored closet next to the dresser that held hiz open terrarium. He took this opportunity to zip along the edge of the floor that ran between the Kimberlyz desk and the bed. He ran behind Jhosette’s desk with all the beadz on it into safe territory under the bottom bunk. Jhosette’s feet disappeared from Marcelz view of the room (the slot between the floor and the bottom of the bottom bunk) az she lifted them from the floor and stretched out in her bed. Kimberly went to her desk and clozed the dictionary whoze open cover had been propped on top of the Nietzsche(r). She grabbed the Nietzsche(r) and flipped through it, not paying any real attention to the book. She waz saying: “It’s possible I might have to choke you tonight. I’m sorry if I do. Are you” (she waz speaking to Jhessica) “Are you old enough to vote?”
Jhessica glared at Kimberly, her black dress pulled tight around the form of her body by the way she waz leaning against the dresser. “I’m sixteen.”
Kimberly fumbled with the clove in her fingerz, found a lighter, but then put the clove down on her notebook keyboard. She unscrewed the lid of the Ball(r) jar, dipped the cigarette quickly into the clear fluid, lifted it out, and set it az the next in a neat line of clovez on the desk. She re-capped the jar and picked up the clove at the opposite end of the line from where she’d placed the wet one. “I don’t know about you, but–you say you’re sixteen? Well, you don’t have to worry about it for a while, but you really ought to…really…consider…” Now she waz flipping through the Nietzsche(r) az though she waz looking for a particular passage to quote, but waz unable to find it. “It’s an important stance. You–” She put the Nietzsche(r) on her desk, face down, still open, and stared at the orange of her desktop wallpaper. “Nevermind. I’m blabbing. You didn’t come here to get a political education…but of course Barbie(r) would say that a pub iz the most appropriate place to talk politics. Jhosie, help me out here, I’m lozing them.”
Jhosette waz yawning and couldn’t say anything at that exact second. She waz planning to suggest that Jhanice pick out some muzic when Kimberly said:
“Jhessie, be a sport: throw me that bag.” Kimberly had placed the Rite Aid(r) bag on the dresser near the open terrarium, and now she waz halfway across the room, leaning against her desk, trying to talk herself, mentally, out of smoking another clove. Jhessica looked at the dresser, figured out what Kimberly waz talking about, and reached for the plastic bag. She looked inside it. A quizzical look came over her face.
Jhosette finished her yawn and said to Jhanice, “Pick out some muzic if you want.”
Jhanice waz turning to look through the strewn stacks of CDz, caseless, but stopped when she saw the way Jhessica waz looking at Kimberly. Jhessica had one eyebrow raized, and had shifted her grasp of the bag so that now it waz dangling from the hook of her little finger.
Kimberly put an unlit clove in her mouth az defense against the look Jhessica waz giving her. She looked at her lounging roommate and said, “What the shit? Like I’m asking her to toss me a shrunken head!?”
Jhosette looked away; she suddenly wondered where Marcel waz hiding.
Kimberly turned back to Jhessica. “Just toss me the bag, pretty pleaze.” The clove bounced up and down az her lips moved with this speech. Jhessica reached into the bag and pulled out a bottle of Robitussin(r). Kimberly coughed involuntarily, the clove bobbing once, faintly, with the catch of her lungz. Jhessica placed the bottle on the dresser. Jhanice watched az Jhessica went into the bag and brought out another (identical) bottle, holding this one up in the fluorescent light above the dresser, turning the bottle halfway around, scrutinizing its label and twisting the skin on her forehead az though she waz unhappy to discover the detailz of the bottlez contents. Jhessica set this second bottle on the dresser beside the first one. Jhosette noticed the silence in the room and raized herself up on her elbowz so she could crane her neck around the bedpost to see what waz happening. Jhanice looked expectantly at her older sister but got no response. Jhessica went into the bag a third time, her movements mechanical az she removed the third bottle, placed it on the dresser, looked again skeptically in Kimberlyz direction, then brought out a fourth bottle of Robitussin(r) and placed it on the dresser. The four bottlez stood side-by-side in a neat row, evenly spaced, their labelz all facing exactly the same direction, Marcelz open terrarium casting a burning grass-green highlight in exactly the same spot on each of the four bottlez. Jhanice looked at Jhessica. Jhessica looked at Jhosette. Jhosette looked at Kimberly, and Kimberly took the clove from between her lips. Her eyez made the crescent moon shape of a clownz and the girl giggled in falsetto. Jhosette rolled over onto her stomach, covering her head with the topsheet, wrapping her body in it, feeling the musclez in her forearmz flex tightly, her fists clench, her heart thump in her chest. She breathed in deeply through her noze, under the sheet, with everyone in the room watching her, then rolled out of the coverz and out of the bed onto her feet (the topsheet wrapped around her like a cape) and stumbled like a drunk across the floor toward Kimberly. She fell on her roommie and they grinned fiendishly in each otherz facez. Jhanice looked on with curiosity, and Jhessica with apprehension, az the older girlz clenched each otherz handz and bobbed up and down, laughing hysterically.

——-

Kimberly made them all change into their pajamaz before they started. Kimberlyz pajamaz were a white slip set with some sort of matching bra and panty arrangement underneath that didn’t ever come quite fully into view, but showed itself in teaze here and there. Jhosette didn’t own pajamaz but they were going down the hall, so she had to wear something. She put on a tshirt and a pair of green nylon soccer shorts with a silkscreened icon of a Cannon(r) on one of the legz. Jhanice wore something similar, a pair of blue gym shorts and a tshirt. Jhessicaz pajamaz were a gray pair of fitted sweatpants and a black silk bra. Kimberly opened the door and the four of them filed into the hall, one behind the other, each carrying a toothbrush and Jhosette and Kimberly with their uzual bathroom cups, Jhessica and Jhanice with red Solo(r) cups that their big sister had stolen from the cafeteria. Each of the four girlz carried an 8oz bottle of Robitussin(r).
Sarah waz talking on the phone and leaned into the hall after she saw the four girlz pass, covering the phone with her hand. “So early to bed?” she quipped. It waz eight o’clock.
Jhosette, who waz last in line, turned and talked to Sarah while walking backwardz down the hall. “So early to rize,” she said, holding her bottle of Robitussin(r) up for Sarah to see.
Sarah squealed into the phone: “They’re doing it again!” and Jhosette heard the voice on the other end yelling excitedly. Smiling, Sarah went back into her room, answering the voice on the other end with, “Yeah, but *your* lame ass iz too scared to try it.” She winked and waved, and clozed her door.
Jhosette turned so she waz facing the way she waz walking. She followed Jhessica, who followed Jhanice, who followed Kimberly down the hall and around the corner, then down the next hall and into the door on the left that led to the bathroom. The girlz stood in a row, occupying four of the five sinks that lined the end of the room opposite the showerz. One long mirror ran the length of the wall. They all looked at each otherz reflectionz az they brushed their teeth and talked with mouthz full of spit. Jhosette and Kimberly were in the middle. Jhessica waz on the outside next to Kimberly and Jhanice waz on the outside next to Jhosette. Jhosette and Kimberly were talking.
“Shez not even Buddhist(r), I’m telling you. She thinks shez Buddhist(r) but all she ever doez iz stand around talking about Ayurvedic Meditation(r), Homeopathic(r)…sandalwood…whatever. She sayz shez a Vegetarian(r), too, but she eats meat all the time.”
“Well she also sayz shez forming a rock band but she never playz her guitar. She never practicez. I heard her pick it up *one* time. Have you heard her play it?”
Jhosette shook her head.
Kimberly spat into the sink, took a quick gulp of water and rinsed her mouth. When her head came up from the sink she said, “Well shez horrible. She doez a better job being a Vegetarian(r) Buddhist(r) than she doez being a rockstar.”
Jhosette spit now and rinsed her mouth. She said: “I wouldn’t mind so much if she waznt such a bitch to everyone. Everytime anyone sayz anything funny shez got a reazon why their humor iz inappropriate or offensive, why the person iz just az bad az what they’re making fun of, why you shouldn’t ever tell jokes about rape, why you shouldn’t tell jokes about people getting their headz cut off, why you shouldn’t tell jokes about stupid people dying from skin cancer.”
Kimberly kicked in: “Shouldn’t tell jokes about sex.”
Jhosette looked surprized.
“Yeah, the other day she waz on a soapbox talking about how we really shouldn’t be so casual about sex, talking about putting together a *hallwide petition* where we’d all sign our namez saying that we wouldn’t have sex with anyone we weren’t in a longterm relationship with–”
The eight-year-old still had froth in her mouth when she interjected: “That’s not a petition.”
Kimberly slapped Jhosette on the back. She looked at Jhanice in the mirror frankly. “Excellent point! It’s not a petition. It’s a contract, it’s a covenant, it’s a committment, but of all the stupid thingz it iz…it’s *not* a petition.”
“But that’s what she waz saying, gonna get together a petition…”
“What’s she gonna do to people who don’t sign it, corner us in the hall and anally rape us with a Snow-Cone(r)?”
“Anyway shez such a hypocrite, I heard her having sex with Nathan Ketchen like three dayz ago.”
“Ewww!” Kimberly squirmed, her legz twisting together like she had to pee. “No, but check this out. I heard her having sex with Sheep Boy(r). I swear to god. She waz in her car, she waz naked with dude on top of her, and I opened the door. I heard Sheep Boy(r) say something like ‘Best motherfucker I ever had’ and then Becca throwz him off and jumps up, runz over to the door and slamz the motherfucker right az I walk by. I open the door back up and tell them I waz the park patrol or something, fucking with them, and so forth. It tortured both of them to have me standing there, you could see from their facez. I stood there questioning them for like a *minute*, honest truth. Do you *know* how many guyz shez been with?” Kimberly put the water in her mouth and waz gargling when Jhosette said:
“Bitch iz going for some kind of record.”
Jhessica thought Kimberly waz going to knock her over. Kimberly waz trying not to laugh, trying to keep the gargle in her mouth, but a little spray of it shot from between her lips. It hit the mirror and ran down, a thin streak of white liquid with two bubblez still intact after the trip from Kimberlyz mouth. The sight of this made the otherz laugh and made Kimberly give an aborted chuckle, and she waz so afraid that this chuckle waz going to make her looze it completely that she turned away from the mirror and away from Jhosette and Jhanice so that her condition would not be aggravated by the otherz laughter. Jhessica flinched az Kimberlyz hand caught her shoulder for balance. Kimberlyz face waz right next to Jhessicaz. Her stomach churtled up another bubble of laugh but she managed to absorb it somewhere between its source and her mouth. Both her handz were on Jhessicaz shoulderz now, trying to keep herself from falling over with the speed which which she had whirled around. Jhessica twisted the upper half of her body, reflexively trying to escape Kimberlyz hold. Kimberly regained her balance, her handz still clenched on Jhessicaz shoulderz, and az she righted herself saw the look on Jhessicaz face. Its seriousness, its fear at the potential inherent in this situation struck Kimberly az achingly more funny than Jhosette’s suggestion that Becca might be going for some kind of record. The gurgle started again, her stomach convulsing, wavez of shock jerking upward through her torso, a tickle of electricity singing in her neck, and she felt the twinge in her cheeks at the same instant of time when she had the thought to turn away from Jhessica, away from the mirror, to face the center of the bathroom. Her gargle exploded with a *pshhh* into a mist that rained on the floor tilez. Portionz of it merged and ran in streamz toward the drain in the center of the room.
Jhessica stood rigidly az she watched Kimberlyz saliva roll toward the drain. She said: “Gross.”
Kimberly knelt on the floor laughing, holding her sidez az she convulsed.
She waz looking at her own spit slide across the floor. Jhessica said: “What??” but that only made Kimberly laugh harder and take one of her handz from her twitching sidez so she could uze it to point to the drain and what waz headed for it.
“O-kay,” Jhessica said, and turned back to the wall mirror, nervously brushing her hair.
Kimberly pulled herself together enough to say, “You know what your problem iz? You ought to get more fun out of life.”
Jhanice poked Jhosette lightly in the ribz. Jhanice waz holding the bottle of Robitussin(r) in her other hand, reading the label.
Jhosette turned to the eight-year-old. “Yes, sweetie?”
Jhanice shook her head. “This sayz it’s for sore throats.”
Jhosette peered at the bottle Jhanice waz holding. Jhanice angled it so that it would be eazier for Jhosette to read. Jhosette looked her sister in the eye, “Uh-huh.”
Jhanice set the bottle on the edge of her sink and looked back at Jhosette. “My throat iznt sore.”
Jhosette put both her handz on Jhanicez shoulderz, lightly. “It’s okay, sweetie, you don’t have to drink the whole bottle.”
Kimberly had stood up and waz making her way back to the row of sinks.
“But are *you*?” Jhanice asked.
“Huh?”
“Are you going to drink the whole bottle?”
Jhosette took the bottle of Robitussin(r) from Jhanicez sink and pressed down on the cap az she turned. “I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do, but I’m going to have some and then if I feel like having more I’ll decide that later.” Jhosette had the cap all the way off. She handed the open bottle to Jhanice.
Jhanice held the bottle in both handz and looked down through its neck into the glossy green jewel syrup inside. “I can decide later.”
“That’s right. That’s what we’re all going to do. We’ll have some now and if we want some later we’ll decide that later. Okay?” Jhosette looked tenderly into her youngest sisterz eyez.
Jhanice smiled contentedly at Jhosette. Her eyez twinkled. Holding it with both handz, she took a gulp right out of the bottle. When she brought it down from her lips her head waz still tilted upward toward Jhosette.
Jhosette raized her eyebrowz to Jhanice az a way of asking her how she liked it.
Jhanice mirrored her sisterz expression, raizing her little eyebrowz az high az they would go up her forehead, and the little girl licked her lips for the lingering taste of the green liquid.
Jhosette righted herself and went to work opening her own bottle. Kimberly and Jhessica had opened theirz. Kimberly held her bottle up in a toast invitation to Jhosette.
Jhessica shook her head but raized her bottle, too. “I don’t believe we’re doing this.”
Kimberly said, “You should have seen your big sister last night.”
Jhessica said, “Yeah, I bet,” and took the bottle to her lips, chugging four large gulps before taking the bottle away and taking a final swallow to clear her palate–her eyez clozed, her lips pursed. Kimberly waz sipping herz with her little finger stuck out in the classic imitation of high-class English(r) drinking tea. Jhosette waz just getting her bottle open and the safety cap removed when Jhanice waz taking a second sip, and a third, and looking over at the older girlz, mimicking their ritual. Jhosette got her bottle open and started drinking.
Jhanice waz so excited that she took another big gulp like Jessica Gulps(r) and brought the bottle down from her mouth in an enthusiastic rush, bounced twice on both feet and squealed, musically, “It’s medicine!”

——-

“That’s right, that’s right Jhanice, that iz so very true,” Kimberly said az the four of them walked in a clump back along the hall toward Kimberly and Jhosette’s room. “It *iz* medicine. It’s medicine. Robitussin(r) iz nothing but medicine. They sell it on TV. A five-year-old can buy it at Rite-Aid(r). They might az well be selling it in a fucking pop machine.”
Jhanice bounded forward on the carpet. “Pop iz medicine too!”
“True, true,” Kimberly said, “pop *iz* medicine. Motherfucking caffeine, *co*deine, *morph*ine, it’s *all* motherfuckin medicine. You just buy it different placez. We legislate the distribution channelz, but it’s all really more a matter of *class*, you know?”
They were at the door to the room now. Jhosette opened it and let her sisterz pass.
Kimberly stopped in the doorway. “I mean, when waz the last time *you* bought a forty? See what I’m saying?”
Jhosette motioned with her head for Kimber to enter the room. Kimber poked Jhosette in the forehead and went in. Jhosette clozed the door. Jhanice climbed into the top bunk and Jhessica sat in Jhosette’s desk chair (which waz nowhere near Jhosette’s desk, but, instead, waz across the room near the dresser with the open terrarium). Jhosette and Kimberly remained standing in the middle of the space.
“D’j’ou want a clove?” Kimberly offered.
“Oh yes, pleaze.”
Kimberly took two clovez between her lips and inhaled through both, lighting each in turn. She placed one of them between the fingerz Jhosette held out, fingerz on the same hand she waz using to carry her Robitussin(r).
Jhessica peered into the open terrarium and took another swig of her bottle. Without looking over, she said, “I ain’t takin you two to the hospital when your lungz collapse.”
Kimber took her clove from between her lips and punched, “HEY!” Jhessica looked over. Kimberly tossed the pack of clovez at her. Purely out of reflex, Jhessica caught the pack with her free hand. Kimber waz looking at Jhosette, saying, “Where waz I? Where waz I?”
“Fortiez.”
“Thank you. Yes. Fortiez. A forty ounce bottle of malt liquor. What the fuck? What the fuck? You see what I’m saying?”
“Yeah, yeah. Totally.”
Jhessica turned the pack of clovez in her hand. “You two have some sort of secret language or something. A forty. So what?”
“A forty iz medicine,” Jhanice said from the top bunk. Her voice waz muffled (az she waz peering over the side of the bed, the far side, the side that came flush with the wall).
Kimberly looked from Jhanice to Jhessica and then to Jhosette. She shrugged. “Would *you* explain it to her?” Kimber went to her desk and sat down and started typing. The clove bobbed between her lips az she mumbled half-phrazez to herself. “Neonatal aesthetic dileneation…imagistic vertical stratification…”
Jhessica waz shaking her head. “What the fuck iz she talking about? Jhosie, make her stop.”
But Kimberly kept mumbling. “…Erinz eyez narrowed…”
“Whoze Erin?”
“…*her eyez narrowed*…man, the fucking world iz dead…the world iz *dead*…the girl in the book did me a favor I am her little sister and when she asked me to bring her the prick of a flower I said yes to the girl in the book and when I brought her the flower she made me lick her stomach…” Then, after a long silence, she almost shouted at the notebook “In a minute we’re gonna edit the *fuck* out of what you just said but for the moment pleaze speak freely.”
Jhosette lied down against a pillow on the floor and used a remote control to turn on the television. It waz MTV(r). Some rapper from the Dirty South(r), waving hiz shirt around hiz head like a helicopter. There were old Cadillac(s) propped on cinderblocks and when Kimberly heard it she took her clove out of her lips and tapped it twice on the air between her and the TV. “You know I hate that shit.”
Jhosette turned the volume up.
Az soon az Kimber had returned the clove to her lips she gave Jhosette the finger. The whole time she never looked away from the screen of the notebook. “Take your shirt off…swing it round your head like a helicopter…” waz what the rapper waz saying. Jhessica slid onto the floor with her older sister so that they were shoulder to shoulder, sharing the same pillow and bedpost to lean on. Before Jhosette went to college, the two of them used to watch TRL(r) together every day after school. The rapper waz surrounded by ten or fifteen other men. They all wore blue or khaki work pants like the kind kidz wear at Catholic(r) schoolz. They all had identical white tshirts that they had taken off and were swinging around their headz like a helicopter. They sang in gruff voicez. “Take your shirt off / throw it in the air / swing it round your head like a helicopter.”
Jhanice crawled away from the wall to the edge of the bed that faced the room and said, “Wherez the helicopter?”
Kimberly, still typing, pointed to the TV with her clove. When Jhanice saw what waz happening on TV and said “Oh” Kimberly retracted the pointing device and reinserted it in her mouth. Jhanice crawled out of sight. She peered between the bed and the wall. Kimberly noticed that Jhanice waz whispering at some unseen thing (and she waz sure she knew what). Kimber couldn’t make out the wordz Jhanice waz whispering, but she heard she swish-swish of the girlz mouth echoing off the wall and ceiling. Kimberly then saw, in her peripheral vision, Jhanice crawl the length of the bed to the post that Jhosette and Jhessica were leaning against. Jhanice had placed her Robitussin(r) on the top of that post, which waz narrower than the base of the bottle, but wide enough to hold it if nothing shook the bed. Jhanice cupped the bottle in both handz and brought it to her lips. She drank a sip, remembering timez before when their mother had fed her cough syrup from a spoon when she stayed home from school.
dark smellz of smoke enter their nozez
She remembered that some of them tasted cinnamon.
they have purchased candy coated toyz to suckle in the dark
This green stuff reminded her of her favorite cough drops, Vicks(r), that her father carried around in a sandwich bag in hiz shirt pocket. She had memoriez of him taking the bag out of hiz shirt pocket, removing the rubber band he kept them wrapped up with, and taking out a cough drop. He would say that they were the best kind of cough drop in the world, and Jhanice agreed. She snuck them from the hall closet and put them in her pocket to take to school with her. Once she waz out of the house she didn’t have to be secretive about eating them. Other kids loved them, too (even more than candy) and Jhanice had incrementally negotiated entire lunchez off her schoolmates by offering them trade after trade of their lunch itemz for her cough drops. She only did that for especially good lunchez, but the technique waz flawless. Once you had one of theze Vicks(r) cough drops, it left a taste in your mouth that made you want to have another, then another, and you ended up eating whatever of them waz around until there were none left. Jhanice swallowed her sip of the Robitussin(r) and set the bottle carefully on top of the bedpost. She crawled over the sheets and the stuffed animalz to the crack between the bed and the wall where she had found him. He waz clearly hiding, but he had not been too afraid to talk to her. She felt the warm liquid coating her esophagus and still sticky on her teeth. There waz an excited feeling, like Christmas(r), or being nervous, starting in her stomach. She also felt it in her wrists and around her eyez. The creature waz still there, she hoped, still waiting to talk with her some more, not run farther down the wall in hiding, but perched right where she had left him, flat to the wall, legz spread, sticky fingerclawz splayed to grip the maximum span possible. Sitting perfectly still, hiz tail giving a nervous twitch every so often, eyez bulging from opposite sidez of hiz body, spherical lidz rolled back into hiz head, gleaming up at her from the dark crevice behind the bed.

——-

“You thought I wouldn’t notice?”
Marcelz neck waz bleeding.
“You thought I wouldn’t notice that you’re sitting in my chair sifting through the carpalz of my tunnel, digging some of your own, picking up your noze and up your butt with wide eyez, handz flexing eagerly, awaiting the golden nugget?” Cherry cross legz and cherry face hide behind a book pretending to read catching glancez over the cover. Cherry legz crossed at the anklez. Cherry legz wrapped in black stockingz fine net mesh covering your cherry from me. It seemed strange to him that the chin had come off so eazily.
Put your book down.
Streamlined from the shifting of her hair, a tigress’ lair, may fate be fair. There awaits the beauty and the tangle that I seek, inseparation that iz singularly existent from an external perspective, that of me, another face among the massez of enumeration impossible from the setting of a single chair. Birdz. Beasts. A flock upon the house of leavez, trash upturned, and ash that burned the mangled prayer iz now the pleasantry of a ten minutes nap. We wake to scream, to wander aimless in the inbetween, raking endless gardenz in this feathered heather, Kevinz Dream.
Pull out a cherry pink cellphone and pretend to call your boyfriend. Pretend to call your unclez girlfriendz dog and pretend to arrange planz for the evening. Pretend to be epically indispozed, pretend to be eternally committed, pretend to endlessly have somewhere to go, something to do, someone who carez where you are. Pretend to smile az you flash your eyez at the wittiest pretend joke in your pretend conversation that you’re pretending to have so you won’t accidentally have a conversation with me. Pretend to part your lips with a breath of surprize. Pretend to tap your fingernail on something plastic, just twice, entirely for effect. Pretend to turn your hand over and inspect its reverse. Pretend to care what hez telling you. Pretend hez waiting for you. Pretend hez anxious. Pretend hez maybe even a little bit angry and pretend that you’re maybe even a little bit hurt. Pretend that you’re apologetic. Pretend that hez somewhat understanding, but still somewhat peeved. Pretend that later you’ll make it up to him. Pretend that he knowz it. Pretend that you care. Pretend that it’s real. Pretend that it’s real, real, real, real…becauze you know that I’m watching you.
Marcelz heart pounded.
For a while he continued hiz vacuous painting, staring into the abysmal twisting depths of this dezign, until finally hiz eyez began to wander…to the matress, now stained sickly reddish-brown…and the freezing concrete floor…and then to the wallz, covered with taped-up posterz and drawingz which miserably failed to cover the permanently-embedded cracks…the cracks in the wall…the cracks which led nowhere, except to complete and utter dark, an immovable void alwayz so close, and yet, until now, too small to enter.
Cherry popping skullfuck in the shower Saturday morning before eight.
And the fucking black dress. The fucking black dress; the fucking black dress that obfuscates whether or not you’re pretty in the face, that obfuscates the sound of your voice, that obfuscates the color of your hair, your eyez, your skin, obfuscates even the shape of your body, obfuscates your name, your address, your job, obscufates the ring on the fourth finger of your left hand, obfuscates your “no”, obfuscates all your accessoriez and mannerizmz and all your thoughts about the upcoming election, obfuscates your degree and your pedigree and obfuscates your accent, obfuscates your place of birth and national origin, obfuscates your scent, your original language, your in-flight meal preference, your name for god, obfuscates your underpinning, obfuscates your overdroning, obfuscates antimatter, obfuscates your brand of toothbrush, obfuscates your choice of doctor, obfuscates your zip code, obfuscates your line of credit, obfuscates your cheap shoez, late reply, incoherent laugh, obfuscates your highwire act, obfuscates your middle and last namez, favorite color, inner strength, apartment number, favorite drink, pet’s name, table mannerz, knowledge or ignorance of art, obliviousness to or obsession with sports culture, (in)ability to tolerate veal, prime rib, lamb, chutney, spice of any kind, mangoz, tomatoez, cheese far gone, friez in concert with admission tickets, movie tickets, R ratingz, X ratingz for intellectuality, triple-Y ratingz for absentmindedly shoulderflipping Barbiez(r) randomly displayed for your average middle-class fatherz four-fugue enjoyment squeezing hiz wife’s handz in the popcorn dark with hiz pinky finger slopped between your earz, Dumbo, legz in France, whiplashed underpants frying eggz in lace on two pinz notice from the time you sneezed, from that very first time you ever sneezed in the backseat of the blue van when they were all there anyway in the dark but didn’t know what you were doing and I mean they really had no idea what you were doing at all in the universe of the way back following dark physics and using dark mythology to forge mystical archaeology consisting of peanut butter and chocolate marbled marble repeating stirred in a blender with spiral binding and a splash of black ink–
But today the inaccessible reachez of the Empty were so near…
Gripping her long hair fully in both handz, he started up the hill.
The flash of ambulance light on a table knife ambulance light of yellowz whites and red plastic number fifty-three inflated tirez down a too-narrow street running us all to the waiting room of the ER(r) where no such Dorrito(r), no such readymade Cappu(r), no such Clooney(r) can undo the spicemagick of the last episode. Black silhouettes beckoned him from beyond the present; the diabolic rhythm of the wind scraped against hiz bonez. Hiz leg weakly crumbled beneath him, striking fiery granite’s razor edge.
The body dropped.
No such spicemagick can unleash the infinite sensuality hidden in the mechanics of an innocent flip from page one to page two, the intimate eventuality inherent in the slip from rage one to cage two, no intimate eventuality in the intrinsicality of a simplicity, foot on the ground pepper accelerator, hot any spicy, gigglefuck fruitplate, cherriez, strawberriez, pearz, bluberrychocolate nipplecheeze going raw in the lacy waist strap, la la la lezbian fruitwasherz, mitigant wineryboyz crushing blueberriez under their toez in splintery wooden boxez, me breaking your head through splintery glass in the hotel room, going out for ice afterward, bringing it back, spilling it all over the floor, it all starting again right back at the beginning.
Marcel sucked hiz thumb like a toddler.
Cherry wannagogo?
Cursing this scape of the damned, the gateway to infernal torment, he dug hiz fingerz into the earth, curling spine and neck toward this bed of death, sinking face and shoulderz deep within the sordid clay. He thrust hiz open mouth further down, breaking through a sacred stratum. Glasshead lippersticker mulberry cherrylipsmacker fractiousness, razor fray wire, redblood wire musclez hairthin fractionz and subcutaneous cauzewayz inventing collaborative erosion across your surfacez, all of this meeting in the middle. Your bellybutton sex. Your bellybutton pear, fractured surfacewize bloodbubble mitigator. Even if you knew who I am, you would never know where to find me, I would be gone. Even if I waz even with I waz even I would be more than even when I waz more than even if I waz even I. Marcel smelled Jhosette’s nippelope. Demon clawz extended from living shadowz, the exhibition of a fleshwalker, piercing hiz eyez and draining all fluid from their element.
The boy ceased to breathe.
Even if I untied your handz your hair would still be tying your neck there. Even if I could drain the sea your black hair would still be black green seaweed wrapped around neckskin, constricting the network of veinz, purple the brown and pink of your trunkspine. Neck. Love. Your necklove, necklove. The thing that I like to strangle when we fuck. Gliding through oily tunnelz, a single grub crawler sensed the rot a few feet away; driven by supernatural reflex, it struggled violently…thrashing, desperately yearning to reach the glow of being on which to suck. When we fuck I like to gasp your groan I like when we fuck when you gasp to my groan when your neckfingerz wrap my breathtrunk gasping airless mudstruggle internal mudstruggle when we fuck I like for you to gasp for air to my grunt for air to gasp in fingerz tight around your neck and tight around my neck my fingerz right around your neck a brick rope tied to the ceiling of your basement wooden pony between your thighz bloodwedge to white ride timber angle cutting cherry blood swiggle strangling my red ear hot with heartblood, ripe while cooing you liez back in the cool, drainz the stream of seedless psychobabble mudbugz, fatfree psychobabble pubdrugz, sera, seratonin ficklestick, seratonin mudfucker, mudstruggle, seratonin corkscrew, seratonin chimneyfire, seratonin mudfucker, seratonin admissionz process, seratonin minimum score, seratonin percentile, seratonin nipple pocket, seratonin nylonz, seratonin bathroom floor, seratonin black dress, seratonin hair pulled back, seratonin fishnets, seratonin service package, seratonin chambermaid, seratonin pregnancy solution, seratonin wad, seratonin cud, seratonin four stomachs, seratonin style invention, seratonin ape shit over brown hair, seratonin excretion, seratonin blood test, seartonin employment, seratonin Band-Aid(r), seratonin Tampax(r), seratonin tampon, seratonin Tampax(r) tampon, seratonin purple waist strap, seratonin leather spikey dog collar, seratonin dinner table knife, seratonin fingernail scratching, seratonin underarm deodorant, seratonin djscribble, seartonin fuck bartender, seratonin condomfly, seratonin X-Filez(r) hallucination, seratonin literary interpretation, seratonin strawberry creme brulee, seratonin al dente pussy, seratonin Italianz.
Upon reaching hiz skull it quickly burrowed in, devouring all obstacle.
Seratonin cherriez.
There it lay until the boyz handz came scraping at hiz own head, scratching, digging inward to find the source of hiz agony.
But it would not be removed.
Seratonin dormitory mailbox. Seratonin dormitory parking spot. Seratonin dormitory parking lot. Seratonin sea of carz. Seratonin bulimia. Seratonin magnetic poetry at 3am. Seratonin wall decoration. Seratonin sarongz. Seratonin club mix. Seratonin dinner date. Seratonin gigolo bartender. Seratonin conversation on the stairz. Seratonin conversation in the parking lot. Seratonin dance club. Seratonin disco ballz. Seratonin disc jockey. Seratonin lighting dezign. Seratonin electrical tape. Seratonin carpet texture. Seratonin carpet texture number two. Seratonin carpet texture number three. Seratonin carpet texturez number four through seventeen. Seratonin sidewalk texturez one through nine. Seratonin brick texturez number one and two. Seratonin car upholsteriez one through eight hundred forty-three. Seratonin summer breezez fifty through seventy-five. Seratonin clothing fabric texturez four-eighty through four-eighty five. Seratonin sunrize number two. Seratonin handstand number one. Seratonin. Seratonin ambulance one. Seratonin ambulance one. Ser.
Instead it lay waiting, mute, tranquil for secondz at a time, only to suddenly resume the inexorable torturez.
Ser. Seratonin extra change of clothez just in case. Ser. Seratonin abandoned laundry. Seratonin abandoned car. Ser. Seratonin phone call. Seratonin long walk home. Seratonin Sunday morning.
Clutching at hiz head, the boy tried furiously to get at the tiny beast by digging at hiz nazal cavity with sticks, but bone impeded hiz progress.
Seratonin McDonaldz(r) breakfast.
He threw down the toolz and scraped madly at the ground, ignoring hiz burning handz and the consummate needling of hiz soul.
Seratonin fuck fuck fuck.
Hourz passed, and he did not cease to dig.
Seratonin fuck. Ser. Seratonin carpet texture number thirty-nine. Seratonin water feeling number twenty. Seratonin birthday number one.
You had your birthday party in my bathroom when you let me have my birthday party in your bathroom and have my birthday party in your bathroom with you.
He thought of nothing else but hiz obsession with the hole.
When you let me have my birthday party in your bathroom you had your birthday party in my bathroom.
Seratonin excuse.
When you had your birthday party in my bathroom you turned twenty-one in my bathroom when you turned twenty-one you were in my bathroom when you turned twenty-one for the first time in my bathroom you turned twenty-one in my bathroom.
It grew with horrifying speed, and az he dug it seemed to him that he waz digging faster and faster and faster…an eternal expansion…a growing, hungry crevice spreading out before him, waiting, collecting, summoning him into its blindness…
Seratonin weekend. Seratonin night.
He hefted the frigid corpse, looked into its lifeless eyez for a last time, and cast it headlong into the gap.
Ser.
Cherry sunk in a glass of ice water. Cherry with a straw. Cherry in a candle, flame in a yaw. Cherry bar napkin soaking blood stripe from rock armpit armpit paper fiber blue ink striping shadow stocking striping linoleum magnetism void banglez watchez and an ice cold pink headband belonging to a fourteen-year-old with brown hair and a Bible(r) under her arm. Pink ribbon az a bookmark. Suburban poolside afternoon and a family friend, coffee-free piano black ivory lipsmacker adoption mother with a splintered paddle threat in every smiling eyelash mother with a powdered spanking roaring under the hood of every goodnight kiss, mother with your spine-red neck submerged beyond the tiled stairz of the wading end of the backyard. Mother with an adopted fatherfuck waiting just beyond the immigration to the next house. Waiting just behind the five o’clock. Waiting just behind the six o’clock. Waiting on the tenz and on the twoz and on the onez and on the sevenz. Waiting on the eights and the elevenz. Waiting on the seventeenz and the twenty-onez. And waiting, especially, especially waiting on the twentiez.
She spent her twentieth birthday in my bathroom. She spent her twentieth birthday in my bathroom on her kneez experiencing seratonin carpet texture number eight hundred and three, feeling water feeling number five on her naked back, feeling sensation number twenty-one slip between her fingerz, sensation number twenty-one slipping through her fingerz, sensation number twenty-one taking her back a few summerz, sensation number twenty-one taking her back one more summer, sensation twenty-one taking her back just one more summer, sensation number twenty-one taking her back, in a way, about fifteen summerz before that, before that there waz no summer at all, only frozen dropulez and drifts of snowflake in the rezerve by the college, only green moonlight and private walks late late late late late before before before before the the the park park park waz waz waz waz waz open.
Cherry waz her name waz cherry flame in candle red waz cherry oak waz blood cherry whalez cherry scalez and ancient flame that cherry came. Cherry waz her name and cherry came to cherry came to cherryz name waz cherryz came to cherryz name to cherryz name to cherriez

——-

Jhessica leaned on Jhosette’s shoulder and looked away from the TV at the box of clove cigarettes in her hand. She turned the box over. Written on the red matte surface of the box in silver neo-gothic lettering were the wordz “Genuine Taste”. Without thinking, she tapped the box against the palm of her left hand, lifted its top with her thumb, and pulled out a clove with the thumb and forefinger of her left hand. She twirled it between her fingerz. The Robitussin(r) waz giving her a chilly feeling. She could feel her eyez pulling back along the sidez of her head, stretching, elongating…what did they call it…myopia?…mycopia?…and her scalp felt tighter, like a wig or a swimming cap. She reached into Jhosette’s lap and took the lighter. Aloud, she said “Fuck it” to the clove. “Fuck it,” and lit the thing between her lips. Kimberly huffed and laughed but didn’t look away from her notebook. Jhosette snuggled against her sister. Jhessica inhaled her first breath of the clove. The sensation waz surprising, but she didn’t cough. The heatsmoke slid easily into her lungz, billowing inside, and every catch, every hiccup, every twitch that threatened to occur waz caught on the outside, before it happened, like on the surface of a cave, caught and shock-absorbed. She inhaled deeper, without letting out her first breath, then let the clove away from her mouth and let the breath all come out of her in a long, slow, measured exhalation. She clozed her eyez. There were alwayz patternz on the back of them, alwayz, since she had been little, the patternz of a chaotic mess, patternz of a childz playroom floor scattered with toyz thrown every direction, spread across the floor, covering it, a floor impossible to walk across. The toyz were never quite distinguishable, never quite individual. Trinkets from Toyz-R-Us(r), a collection of agez from the Rainbow Brite(r)s and Transformerz(r) to the McDonaldz(r) Happy Meal(r) trinkets of even earlier yearz, to battery-powered toyz of older agez… She knew it waznt wize to try to focus on a particular toy, to try to individuate one of them out of the mess. She didn’t try to anymore. She knew that if she tried to focus the whole image would disappear, the whole floor of toyz would coyly elude her attempt and jumble itself into a field of noizy gray, colorz too finely mixed, shapes too randomly intermingled to be seen at all. You just hovered above the thing and took in the sense it gave you. Any zooming or examination would destroy all viewability, any investigation would yield slurry, meaningless butterblend. Jhessica took it in, took the smoke and the air from the outside world into her lungz, felt the rush of consciousness, lightening, az the oxygen hit her brain. Lights a little brighter, nervez a little more on edge, tactile sense at once a little more in tune and, with respect to its interaction with the room, a little farther away. She felt her hand in Jhosette’s, felt her own hand squeezing Jhosette’s tightly, felt the warm rush of blood beneath their skin, imagined she felt the pulse of it in individual veinz, imagined she felt the rushez of their bloodz synchronize themselvez…in concert…*with* each other. *Rush.* With. *Rush.* And Jhessica opened her eyez, remembering that she had swallowed Robitussin(r), remembering the burning clove in her right hand, remembering the room with Kimberly sitting at her desk typing into the notebook, the room with MTV(r) playing for her and Jhosette, Jhosette who seemed to actually be able to watch the TV, remembering Jhanice, somewhere on the top bunk crawling around in excited bursts which shook (slightly) the bedpost she and Jhosette leaned against…and then, for minutes, the bed lay still. Jhanice might have been staring into her own field of toyz, finding patternz in the ceiling, thinking to herself, falling asleep, leaning over the edge of the top bunk to watch the rapperz on television, smiling, her chin resting on folded handz. Jhessica took another drag of the clove. It burned her throat and lungz, burned the base of her mouth, burned her eyez from within, somehow, forced her to wipe her face on Jhosette’s shirt.
“Are you okay?”
“Good, fine,” Jhessica said, and Jhosette squeezed her hand tighter. The rapperz were done singing about the helicopter. Jhessica didn’t realize she waz rubbing her noze on Jhosette’s shoulder.
Kimberly actually looked away from the notebook when this happened. To see. To catch a glance. To eye the motherfucker. Jhessica waz rubbing her noze on Jhosette’s sleeve. Jhessica waz rubbing her noze on Jhosette’s sleeve and a trail of mucous recorded the trajectory of the noze on the sleeve. Kimberly saw it. It waz true. It waz happening. The sleeve had a history of mucous and a history of mucous waz forming on the sleeve az the noze waz wiped across the sleeve and the mucous waz forming… Kimberly began chatting and the chatting took on order like a symphony, like melted cheeze, like an oven timer, oven timer counting down to the ripening of bread, to homeing of stead, to the zoneing in of head. “Ripening az they did the gutteral of the new philosopher, ripening az they did the gutteral of the gutteral of the new philosopher, ripening az they did the gutteral of the new philophasty” she said, and then she said again, “ripening az they were wavez of the new consciousness, ripening az they were the wavez of the new immortality, ripening az they were the knavez and stavez of the imminent philoganglyizm, snipening az they were the knavez of the innumerable imnominomasty” and Kimberly stopped talking, stopped typing, stopped talking and stopped typing the thingz she waz talking about and looked into the room where her breast-having roommate and the breast-having roommate’s sister were lounging watching TV, two of them, two of them watching TV and the other one of them watching something in the crack between the bed and the wall. Kimberly saw the little onez buttocks shaking, quivering like a dog, her legz shuffling fore and back like the girl had to pee, saw the girlz toez squirming in her socks, rubbing on each other like Kimberlyz did when she came.

[page break – the following iz on a completely blank 2-page spread]

i have my ideal bitchez and you have your ideal toy

[page break]

And Kimberly stopped typing in the notebook, and she stared away from the bed and back into the orange of the desktop wallpaper and she saw the orange spiralz, the concavitiez and interferencez of the desktop wallpaper, ripplez of ice falling on powdered snow, ripplez like rain in autumn on leavez of decaying pilez, pilez of decaying leavez, pilez of decaying heavez and hoz, pilez of relaying weavez and woez. And she took her own clove between her lips and looked away from the desktop wallpaper into the top corner of the room and took a deep breath of the clove dezigned to bring her back in line with material reality, and the burning in her lungz had only some of the effect she had intended (only some of the neglect she had offended). Kimberly touched her own hair, feeling the strandz between her fingerprints, feeling the texture of her fingerprints by the way they crossed with strandz of her hair, hair she knew waz blond and naturally so, really so, blond by the mollecular operationz of her scalp. Blond by the sun and blond by the operation of genetic damnnation passed across centuriez in a convoluted fuckfest to light on her shoulderz, passed across generationz, oceanz, passed by continental warfare, passed through the Nile like malaryia, passed briefly through Tunisia, passed briefly across the straight of Gibraltar, passed slowly, slow, and ever so slowly across the European continent, drinking cowz milk in the Netherlandz, preparing her for the predelictionz of US government-sanctioned school lunchez; drinking cowz milk in the angled sun of the Netherlandz, preparing her not to be black. Kimberly felt her hair. Hair. Felt strandz of her hair sprouting from her head in an even ponytail, felt equestrian threadz sprouting from the back of her head in a flail.
Jhosette saw this and thought about saying something but she didn’t. She watched the MTV(r) rapperz in afterimagez taking their shirts off and swinging them above their headz like a helicopter. Jhosette saw Kimberly touching her ponytail, slowly, saw Kimberlyz eyez space out before the desktop wallpaper, saw the girlz fingerz running themselvez slowly over the strandz of her own hair, saw the girlz eyez working themselvez through space, saw the girl sit completely still except for the movement of her fingerz, saw the girl breathing, saw the girlz foot tapping out the rhythm of some internal melody, something out of synchronization with the songz on the television. Jhosette smiled, squeezing Jhessicaz hand even tighter (and not realizing how tight she squeezed it, even though Jhessica pulled her hand away), and Jhosette stood up and walked over to Kimberly, who sat staring at the desktop wallpaper. When Jhosette put her handz on Kimberlyz shoulderz, Kimberly looked up at her roommate, saw the spiraling weedlike hair of her roommate, saw Jhosette’s green eyez in contrast to Jhosette’s red hair and the redness in Jhosette’s cheeks az Jhosette leaned down to her roommate and kissed her full on the mouth. *She waz alwayz teazing*, Kimber muzed while she waz kissing Jhosette back, *and someday it waz going to get her in trouble.* Kimber bit Jhosiez lower lip, let it go. She touched Jhosiez noze. Tenderly, like a sleepy drunk, she said, “In a minute we’re gonna edit the fuck out of you but for now pleaze feel free to speak freely.”
Jhessica caught sight of this kissing but went back to the TV. If her sister wanted to kiss her roommate it waz none of Jhessicaz business. It waz between the two of them. Anyway Jhessica had kissed a girl or two herself. There were so many of them around (girlz) it waz inevitable that they should kiss each other from time to time, waz it not? Jhessica looked at the television. It waz a commercial now. She scooted herself against the bedpost more comfortable since Jhosette waz gone. She remembered the bottle of Robitussin(r) on the floor beside her leg. She picked it up. It waz one-quarter full of green. Jhessica downed the rest of the liquid. Fuck it. Fuck it. If they were going to do that then she waz going to do this. That, roommates kissing each other at a computer. This, sit with her bare legz on the floor of the dorm room and down an entire bottle of Robitussin(r) if she wanted. Jhessica looked at her bottle. The label said “Robitussin(r) P.M.” Jhanice had called it Nighttime Medicine. “With Antihistaminez” Jhessica thought of the antacid their mother drank with dinner. Robitussin(r) P.M. The Nighttime Sleepy Sleepy Sleepy So You Can Sleep Medicine(r). Jhessica clozed her eyez at the top of her green gulp. The liquid ran down the inside of her body and coating her throat. She swallowed repeatedly, sucking against the inside of her mouth. Az she swallowed she slammed the bottle down on the floor, its hollow plastic shell making only a muted thud on the linoleum. Jhessica stood up, and she wavered az she did–had to grab the bedpost to keep herself from falling. This shook the bed enough to get Jhanicez attention. Jhanice burped az she took the bottle of Robitussin(r) away from her mouth and held it in front of her with both handz. Jhessica walked around the bed. “Did you drink the whole thing?”
Jhanice looked into her bottle. There waz still one swallow left. Jhanice looked at her sister sidewayz and brought the bottle back to her lips to take the rest of it. Jhessica waz coming around the bed in a way and at a speed that made Jhanice think Jhessica might have wanted to stop her from drinking the last of it.
“Did you drink *that whole thing*?” Jhessicaz hand waz on her sisterz knee. “Did you? Jhosie I don’t believe you let her drink the whole thing! You two are supposed to be watching her.” Smoke waz rising from the clove in Jhessicaz right hand. She walked away from the bed and stood between Jhosette and Kimberly. Her back waz to Jhosette. Jhessica let her chest press against Kimberlyz and she looked directly into the older girlz face. Jhanice had crawled to the outside edge of the bed and waz leaning over the side to get a better look at her sisterz. Jhessica put her face real close to Kimberlyz. Kimberly seemed surprized, but Jhanice couldn’t tell if Kimber looked like she waz about to laugh or if she looked like she waz about to punch Jhessica in the face. Jhessica said: “You got a thing for my sister?”
Kimberly bent slightly at the kneez and cupped her hand around Jhessicaz, taking the clove from her, then pulling her hand away. Jhessicaz eyez locked on Kimberlyz in a way that wouldn’t let Kimber look elsewhere. Jhosette raized an eyebrow, smirking and twisting her body, her armz folded about her chest. Jhessica stepped on Kimberlyz foot and her hand came up to grab Kimberlyz wrist. Kimberly winced and dropped the clove. Jhosette bent to pick it up. Jhessica dug her nailz into Kimberlyz flesh.
“Fuck!”
“I asked you if you got a thing for my sister. So far I haven’t heard an answer.”
Kimberly struggled to free her wrist, but with one foot pinned to the floor she almost lost her balance. Then Kimber did laugh a little and she brought her face even closer to Jhessicaz. “Okay, yeah.” She wrung her arm free. “I got a thing for your sister.” She took the clove from Jhosette. “That form some kind of problem for you?” Kimber took a drag from the clove and held her breath with the smoke.
Through the translucent slip, Jhessica took a fold of Kimberlyz stomach between her fingerz and twisted the skin.
Reflexively, Kimber tried to step back but waz stopped by the foot Jhessica had pinned to the floor. She slapped Jhessicaz hand away from her soft, white belly. “Fuck, bitch!” She put her arm around Jhessicaz neck and pulled Jhessiez face to her own. “You keep doing stuff like that I might develop a thing for *you*.”
“You would attack two little girlz?”
Kimberly said, “I’d attack all three of you. I’d fuck you and make you have incest with each other. I guess one of you iz around eight, but that doeznt matter to me. I’d like to take all of you into the woodz and sexually assult you. I’d put you in a dress and make you take it off, or lift it up, if that helps you any to see how I am…? While you were doing that I’d have your sisterz play with me.”
Jhessica took her foot off Kimberlyz and turned around cooly, putting the back of her head in Kimberlyz face. Now Jhosette rested one of her armz on Jhessicaz shoulder. With the other she took the clove from Kimberly and smoked it. Jhessica glanced at Jhanice on the bed, then back at Jhosette. “Did you know she drank that whole bottle?”
“That’s very obzervant.”
“Don’t you think that might have been a little *much* for her?”
“I believe Kimberly *doez* have a thing for me.” Jhosette waz looking not at Jhessica but past her, at the roommate. Kimberly took back the clove.
Jhessica swerved sidewayz to block their view. “She just likes your body.”
Jhosette put her hand on Jhessicaz forehead. “You feeling alright?” and cocked her head to the side sympathetically like their mother did when one of them waz sick.
Jhessica removed the hand and stepped out from between the girlz. She moved away from her sister and her sisterz roommate.
“If you’re not feeling well maybe we could find some medicine.”
Jhessica stopped and turned. “I’m fully”–glancing at Jhanice–“fully *medicated*, thank you,” and Jhessica saw that Kimberly waz staring her down, her head tilted forward dramatically, tugging at her own slip and caressing herself seductively. Kimber started across the room toward Jhessica. Jhessica took the clove out of Kimberlyz hand (the girl waz going to burn herself if she waznt careful). Kimberly unstrapped the tranzlucent slip and let it fall to the floor.
Jhessica pushed her away. “Stop.”
Kimberz hand came out and grabbed Jhessica by the neck, cuffed her.
Jhessica swung around and knocked Kimberlyz arm aside. She stepped up on the girl, reached around back and grabbed Kimberz ponytail, pulling her close. “You better back the fuck off, girl…fore I *hurt* you.” She shoved Kimber away.
Kimber turned to her roommate, pointing sloppily over her shoulder in Jhessicaz general direction. “You got a firecracker there. She have a boyfriend? You have a boyfriend?”
Jhessica turned away and set the clove on the dresser.
“I bet you’ve got boyz drooooling over you.”
Jhessica waz staring at the open terrarium.
“Fuckin huffpanting, jealous, offering to kill themselvez and everything.” Kimber sat down at her desk, crossed her legz. “Am I right?”
There waz a scurry of movement on the top bunk. Jhanice swung her armz, trying to catch hold of something to arrest her fall, but she only managed to grip the topsheet and, with her other hand, the striped ear of a stuffed zebra. Her legz tried to grab for something but her kneez only knocked the edge of the bed on the way down, speeding her fall. She landed on her shoulder, rolled over in a clunky sort of summersault, her half-balled form flailing uncurled az she hit the floor…armz, legz coming coming untucked and flying, spring-loaded, into a spread position on the floor. Jhosette knelt. Kimberly settled calmly into her desk chair. Jhessica looked over but didn’t move; she waz watching Kimberly, who now leaned forward like a scientist, chin in hand, studying a caged subject. Jhosette waz rolling Jhanicez head back and forth and looking into her eyez upside-down, asking questionz (“Are you okay?”), but Jhanice pushed her sisterz face out of the way and looked over at the clothez on the floor. And Jhessica saw that Jhanice waz laughing. She waz looking from side to side, then trying (repeatedly) to get up, but what stopped her waznt pain or broken bonez but rather the fact that she waz laughing convulsively from the belly out, and every time she tried to contract a muscle wavez of shock rippled outward from her gut and made movement of any kind (except pointless wriggling) impossible.
Jhosette waz saying, “You okay, sweetie?”
Kimber, in her dry voice: “Shez fine, except I don’t see how she can breathe in that state.”
“Doez anything hurt?”
“If anything hurt, she wouldn’t know it.”
“You’re sure you’re fine? You–”
“Shez going to hyperventilate if she doeznt take a deep breath here one of theze minutes.” Kimber got off the chair and put her free hand to Jhanicez little belly, tickling. With every touch the girl shot into renewed convulsionz and giggling (scacatto machinegun). Jhanice rolled into a ball to protect herself from the tickling. When Kimberly stopped, Jhanice crawled on her handz and kneez toward the bed and peered underneath, her butt sticking up behind the rest of her like a snobby noze. She reached under the bed az far az she could with her right hand, swiping at something–her face, by this motion, turned to where Jhessica stood. She stared blankly at Jhessicaz legz–her real attention waz with whatever she waz fishing for under the bed. Her arm swept back and forth, her face strained, her neck bent az far az it could go to the side to give her arm az much reach az she could give it.
Jhosette bent to peer under the bed. “What?”
“Hez hiding from me!”
“Who?”
“He won’t come out!”
Jhosette moved closer to the bed. Her eyez searched the darkness and the clutter underneath. She followed Jhanicez swiping, saw her kick up tufts of dust, long wispy stranglez of hair az she pushed aside a twisted, grimy sweatshirt. Usually he liked to find a corner of the room, but Jhosette scanned the base of the wall all the way to the corner and he waznt there.
Jhanicez hand swept furiously.
“Be gentle,” Jhosette said. “Hez small.”
“I *know* hez small. That’s why I can’t *find* him.”
“Be careful you don’t hurt him.”
“I *can’t* hurt him. This iz part of the *game*. He runz away from me and then I try and catch him.”
Kimberly looked at her desktop wallpaper. “Ah, yes…we know this game. He runz away and then we try to catch him.”
Jhanicez tongue waz out of her mouth. Jhessica saw it squirm between her teeth and saw her bite it gently to try to keep it in place. Jhanice waz still for a moment. Then with a surge that shot one of her legz out from under her she slapped her arm down on the linoleum and Jhessica saw, from her point in the room, a wide smile spread across Jhanicez face like the way a puddle of urine spreadz across the seat of a childz pants when she can’t wait for the bathroom. The girl licked her lips and slowly retracted her hand from under the bed. She had the lizard in her grip, hiz tail sticking out one side of her hand and hiz torso and head sticking out the other side. He held hiz front armz out from hiz body tensely az if bracing himself against the air. Hiz eyez were open wide. When Jhanice brought him out from under the bed he caught sight of hiz Jhosette, and Jhanice felt the lizard squirm in her fist, reaching with hiz head toward hiz closest friend. Why waznt hiz Jhosette helping him? Jhanice settled into a cross-legged sit, half on the linoleum, half on a wadded pair of jeanz with the belt still in them. She brought her right hand in close to her body and peered down at the lizard. Hiz heart waz beating very fast and hiz breathing (the quick swell and shrink of hiz long body) pumped in Jhanicez hand against her own pulse. Jhosette looked over Jhanicez shoulder at the lizard. Hiz face turned instantly up to Jhosette and he squirmed again in Jhanicez hand. Jhanice brought the lizard to her face.
“Iz this him?”
“That’s him.”
“Oooh…” (The Jhanicez face waz huge in hiz view.) “I’ve been wanting to meet you.”
Marcel blinked. None of the girlz from the hall ever wanted to pick him up. The girlz from the hall hated him to be out of hiz terrarium. Certainly none of them had ever gone out of their way to pick him up. Usually Marcel found himself doing the chasing. The girl eyed him curiously and turned him over in her hand so she could look at hiz tail. Her hand waz hot, wrapping the middle section of hiz body in a tight bun, and he could feel her pulse, too, squeezing him with its rush. The Jhanice turned him over so he waz facing her again.
“Marcel!” she said, “You’re so pretty!” And she brought out her left hand with a finger extended to touch hiz front right arm. Marcel did hiz best to catch it in hiz clawz, but even az well az they did grip her skin, catching in the ridgez of her fingerprint, he waznt able to maintain hiz grip when she pulled the finger away.
Jhosette put her hand on Jhanicez shoulder. “You might want to hold him a little looser.”
Marcel waz relieved that she did loosen her grip slightly. With hiz back feet he tried to pry her grip open, but she still held him tight around hiz torso with the circle of her thumb and index finger. Marcel smelled her hand.
“Oooh…it ticklez!”
She smelled like cappuccino, the sugary kind.
“How long have you had him?”
Marcelz world swung rapidly az the Jhanice turned to face the Jhosette.
“Hez one year old.”
Actually, he waz less than a year old, and he had been trying to tell hiz Jhosette that for some time. She had bought him six months ago from the pet store in Cincinnati and the salez associate had told hiz Jhosette that he waz about six months old at the time, but Marcel waz sure the salez associate had made a mistake. He waz pretty sure he had been born at the pet store, becauze he didn’t remember ever being anywhere else. But therez no way he could have been there for six months before hiz Jhosette bought him. The time there waz so short (nothing ever happened) and he waz certain it could only have been a month or two from the time of hiz conception to the day hiz Jhosette found him in the store. He definitely waznt a year old. Maybe eight months on the outside.
“Oooh!–”
“Be careful you don’t squeeze him–”
“Oooh I *want* him,” Jhanice said greedily, “Hez *soooo* perfect.”
“He iz nice.”
“Can’t stand that fucking thing.”
Jhanice glared at Kimberly and held Marcel to her chest protectively.
Kimberly glared back, then looked to Jhessica for an ally. “A lizard! A fucking lizard…?” She put her handz up in defeat.
Jhessica didn’t quite get what waz so perfect about him, either, but she went to the center of the room and bent beside Jhosette to get a better look. Just a green lizard, the shape of a chameleon maybe but Jhessica didn’t know exactly what kind he waz. Hiz tail swapped the back of Jhanicez hand and Jhanice looked to Jhessica to see if she approved. Jhessica smiled (trying to be helpful) but it came across halfhearted. Jhanice went back to Marcel. She stroked hiz tail with her left index finger. He didn’t seem to like it. Hiz squirming became more violent, and the lapse of concentration bred by Kimberly blurting “Hey!” waz all it took for Jhanicez grip to loosen just enough for Marcel to shimmy hiz way free of her hand and jump across to Jhanicez tshirt. He zipped upward along the fabric (seratonin texturez four-eighty through four-eighty five), narrowly missing Jhanicez hand come slapping down on her own shoulder. He zipped down the back of her shirt and jumped off a bit early (anticipating the possibility that another hand would come after him). He zipped across the linoleum, zagging around obstacle clothing, zigging randomly like you were supposed to do if someone waz shooting at you (break the pattern, keep them guessing about what your next move’ll be) and around the edge of the Kimberlyz desk and up the wall without thinking, behind the desk (too small for handz to reach) and stayed. Still. Silent. Till the young girlz eye came peeking around the edge of the desk, finding him panting and alert, gripping the wall. Her eye disappeared.
“I need to move your desk.”
Kimber didn’t respond.
“I need to move your desk.”
“See…this exact spot…this iz where my desk *goez*.” Kimber mock-pleaded with Jhanice. “So much time…*so* much time went into arranging this room, theze articlez of furniture, into their present arrangement. Jhosie, tell her: we were a mess when it waz all finished…took us two weeks and I just…can’t…basically no.”
Jhanice knelt. Marcel saw her eye again, then no eye, then fingerz, tiny little fingerz, half the size of hiz Jhosette’s, small fingerz, peeling through the space between the wall and the desk. They stopped, though, at the entrance. Wiggling. Wiggling. And behind the fingerz Marcel saw her eye, her mouth, that tongue coming out again, licking her lips. Marcel hoped she waznt hungry.
“Pleaze…”
“Sorry.”
“Jhanice, shez working.”
“I’m not really *working*, but…”
“I want to play with him.”
“Hez probably scared. He’ll come out when he wants to.”
Right, Marcel thought, I’ll come out when I want to. I am not compelled by this girlz dezire to play. I can stay here for az long az I want. For az long az it takes me to get *ready*, Marcel thought. Good and ready. And I’m not ready yet.
“I’m ready *now*!” Jhanice whined.
But *I’m* not ready, Marcel said internally. And until I’m ready, I’m staying right here. He re-gripped himself on the wall. At the top of the space he saw the edge of the desk. The wall right above it shone with brighter colorz (the colorz of the room not shadowed by the desk) and Marcel could see, ever slightly, around the profile of the books, the orange glow of the desktop wallpaper.
In the open, Jhanice stomped her foot on the linoleum and crossed her armz about her chest. Kimber smirked at Jhosette and Jhanice tried to ignore this, but Jhosette returned a confidential laugh. Jhessica had positioned herself on Jhosette’s bed and waz fully engaged in the smoking of some clove…
Jhanice had lost track; they were all chain smoking them with no sign of slowing. Jhessica didn’t seem at all concerned that Jhanice waznt getting to play with the lizard, and Jhosette and Kimberly apparently thought something about the situation unrestrainably *funny*?! Jhanice stomped her foot again, and when Kimberly laughed at this (a small burst at the mouth) Jhanice looked up at the corner of the room and screamed (loud) a single exclamation but one whoze tone inched higher and higher with the loosing of it, lifting in volume, and finished with a grating twinge, a fluted end like a hook. When she waz done Kimber laughed again, despite the suspicion this would anger Jhanice further. Marcelz entire body froze with fear az he felt the shrill calling of the little girl whoze eyez and fingerz had so recently sought him.
Jhosette cocked her head at the screaming sister and laughed also, shusshing her with a casual finger. But Jhanice, in her anger, looked so cute and Jhosette at that moment cared so little about the thoughts or possible reactionz of any of her hallmates who weren’t already out drinking, that in the same moment she shook her finger she also screamed, a deeper and more solid scream that stamped a look of shock on Jhanicez face and even cauzed Jhessica to break her cloven repose and look at Jhosette.
The lower tone of this second scream made Marcelz ribz chatter painfully. What were they doing to her? He had never heard hiz Jhosette scream before, but that scream waz undeniably herz. He wondered if the little girl waz poking hiz Jhosette and holding her tightly in a sweaty pulsing grip. The thought made him blush with rage, and he ran up the back of the Kimberlyz desk and crossed onto its surface. Kimber saw hiz movement in her peripheral vision and turned to him, the motion of her head colossal in Marcelz field of view. He froze right where he stood (on a giant open book on the Kimberlyz desk) and looked up at the girl. He knew she didn’t like him to be there.
“Jhosie! Stop yelling and put this thing back where he belongz!”
They were all leaning over the desk, and Marcel didn’t dare run (for fear that the young one might reach out and slap him and that would be the end). He wanted hiz Jhosette to put him back in the open terrarium, pick him up gently and calmly like she alwayz did…or maybe lay back on her bed and let him crawl over her body, hide in the twisting strandz of her hair. What waz taking her so long? Why were they still looking at him?
“He wants one.”
“No he doeznt *want* one.”
Jhosette picked Marcel up and rubbed him against her cheek. “Yes he doez. Now that I think about it, he may have been trying to tell me all week.” Jhosette turned Marcelz body so that he faced her. Hiz tongue flicked her noze. “You *do* want one, don’t you.” She shook hiz body up and down, hiz head bobbing in the opposite direction of her shakes, trying to maintain its altitude. “Yes…he…doez.” Jhanice waz eyeing her sister suspiciously. Jhosette caught the look. “Here, I’ll prove it.” Jhosette shifted her elbowz on the desk and leaned in, setting Marcel on the open book whoze cover had been propped on the Nietzsche(r). She placed him on the edge, though, some wayz away from the spot where he had frozen in fear. “Watch. If he goez there again we know hez trying to tell us that he wants one.”
“Jhosie, you’re crazy,” Jhessica waz saying.
“No, no, fine,” Kimberly said, “let her give him one. Don’t challenge her.”
The four of their headz were arranged in a semicircle around the desk; all were watching to see if Marcel would move. Marcelz eye took them in in panarama. Three brown-head girlz, one of them hiz roommate. One blond-head girl, hiz other roommate. All their eyez open on him like floodlights, the lenzez of microscopes. They were whispering to each other so that he wouldn’t know what they were saying. They were waiting for him to make a choice. They had planned a trick, or they were using hiz next action to determine if they liked him. They had noticed a discoloration of hiz skin. They had discovered that he waz malformed. They thought he had a funny walk. They had decided to take him back to the pet store! Marcel moved hiz right front leg forward to a slightly different spot on the book (just becauze the place where it had been before he moved it made him slightly uncomfortable). Az soon az he did this all the girlz shoved their headz in closer and there waz a concensus of “ahhhs” from them. Marcel froze again, curtly locking hiz front arm in its new position. The youngest one waz whispering to hiz Jhosette, cupping her mouth with her handz like they did in gangster moviez so the FBI couldn’t lip-read what they were saying through telescopes. The sound came around him in a swisshh swishhhh swishhhyy swish swishhy swissshhh…and the slithering of her tongue made him tremble. The young girl took her handz away from her mouth and Marcel waz horrified to see that hiz Jhosette waz smiling broadly at whatever the little one had said, nodding in Marcelz direction, approving of whatever mystery he had carelessly become entangled in. The Kimberly yawned, the motion of her head tossing her chin-length hair side to side in a way that seemed (in Marcelz overheating brain) a perfect rhythmic counterpart to the swishing of the young girlz lips. And hiz Jhosette must have detected, somehow, that Marcel waz noticing the movement of the Kimberlyz hair, becauze she reached out a hand then and flicked the Kimberlyz shoulder.
“Stop it. You’re distracting him.”
Marcel waz horrified. They had taken care to protect the mystery of what they were looking at. They had taken care to conceal the meaning they clearly promised to attribute hiz next action. Why did hiz Jhosette not take care to also hide from him this urge of herz to ensure that he remained focused…on…some unknown goal, some mysterious decision?!?
“I can’t help if my beauty distracts him.”
The Jhessica smirked. “It’s not your *beauty* thatz distracting him.”
“What then? You think hez picking up my pheromonez? You think they’re paralyzing him with raw lust for the purchase of my skin?”
“Not exactly.” The Jhessica rolled her eyez. “I waz thinking more along the linez of–”
“Shhhhhh!” the Jhanice swished, noizily, and Marcel felt the breath of it washing over him like wind. “Hez trying to think!”
*I am, I am…I am trying to think. But I don’t know what I’m to be thinking about, don’t have the slightest clue, and it’s…truthfully, good people, it’s causing me some anxiety right now! I would like to make the right decision, but I haven’t been told what I’m deciding. Even if I had all the information,* Marcel thought, *I’m not all that good at making decisionz, not that good at determining the best course of action for a particular moment.* Hiz eyez went to hiz Jhosette. He knew she loved him, and she waznt usually like this. She usually lounged on her bed peacefully, sleeping or watching TV, and she just let him crawl over her body and hide in the tangle of her hair. She never put him on the spot, never forced him to do thingz he didn’t want to do, never made him answer questionz about topics she knew he would rather not discuss. And she knew he didn’t like to be the center of attention. She knew he waz a private person. She *knew* this about him, and still, here she waz, playing this stupid game where he waz the center of attention, subject to close proximity to girlz he didn’t know, to breaths breathed like wind across hiz body, to their secrecy, their whispering, the scheming and mysterious planning of theze four girlz whoze eight eyez fenced him in like lazerz. Marcel knew that if he could cry he would be doing it now. They were bigger than him–true–but he could put up with that. He waz equipped to hide from big animalz, equipped to dodge their careless feet. They were *smarter* than him, though, and they knew it. They knew it and they were heedless to the handicap with which it shackled him. He had felt this way before, not az strongly, but this same flavor of emotion served in smaller bytez and melancholy whiffs, and it had alwayz come on when hiz Jhosette and the Kimberly were excluding him from a conversation whoze content they felt waz inappropriate for or irrelevant to him, or when they decided to watch TV and they put on a show that they knew he couldn’t understand. And especially he had felt it when in their sentencez they chose wordz whoze meaningz he had never been taught. The Kimberly waz the worst about it. Hiz Jhosette usually went along with it when the Kimberly did it, but now hiz Jhosette waz the one instigating this behavior. She had just but pick him up and put him on her shoulder, let him climb into her hair. If she didn’t want him climbing in her hair, she had but pick him up and put him back into the open terrarium. She had but call them off, and the sidez of hiz face would stop burning. She had but tell a story to the girlz that waz much more interesting that he, and they would look away. He waz sure she had such a story waiting in her brain…he waz sure of it. But something had gotten into her. Something waz making her act differently. Maybe it waz the company. Especially the little girl. The little girl with the cold breath waz having this effect on her, this effect that produced such unusual behavior from hiz Jhosette that Marcel waz hoping this would be the last of the company for a while. Flick, flick: the sound of the Kimberlyz lighter. The end of her clove waz three inchez from Marcelz head. The Kimberly set the lighter beside the open book. Blue smoke from her clove rolled over Marcel and the book like a fog. The reduced visibility made Marcel feel like he waz in a smaller space. The girlz were still above him; he hadn’t forgotten them. But their starez were less harsh through the filter of the clove smoke, and mainly becauze hiz legz had become cramped from the tense way he had been holding hiz position, he decided to take a step. When he took it, it felt good to move the musclez, so he took another. When he took that, it felt even better (loosening hiz frozen joints). And he took another, and four, five, six–and stopped dead when the shriek of the little one and the immediate communal cheering, hollering, back-slapping, “oh-my-god-ing”, rib-poking, celebratory kissing, smoke-exhaling, and high-fiving that ensued from the crowd above reminded him with a panic of adrenalyne that they had been waiting for him to do something, and though, even now, he waz clueless what that something waz, he waz certain he had just done it.

[page break]

Part Six: Mathus
—————-

Kimberly wore flip-flops and now had a giant sweatshirt on over her white slip. She had brought the Ball(r) jar with them. All three of the sisterz had put on sneakerz. Jhosette had her Cannon(r) shorts on. Jhanice still wore her blue gym shorts and a tshirt. Jhessica had found a black shirt that went with her sweatpants, but she waznt wearing it. She waz walking down the street with nothing but the silk bra covering her top half. The shirt waz tucked in her waistline in case of a No-Shirt-No-Service-type situation.
Marcel waz completely naked.
Jhosette carried him there in her pocket with the letterz. He waz scrunched in a half-circle with hiz face and torso pressed against the crumpled, folded stack of paperz. Marcel knew that hiz Jhosette knew how much he hated to be stuck in her pocket, constricted to the point where he waz hardly able to breathe due to the tightness of the fabric of her jeanz holding him against her body. Why had she chozen to take him like this? She knew he much preferred to ride beneath her shirt, between her breasts, perched at the top of her bra, where the red satin waz fringed with lace. Instead he waz squished by the denim of her jeanz pocket against the crumpled stack of letterz, humiliatingly flattened every time she took a step. The continued presence of the girlz voicez waz a comfort to the darkness, but he ignored the wordz they said.
“You’re not really–”
“He fucking wants it. He fucking wants–”
“He doeznt *want* it.”
“What he *wants*, I fucking *give* him, okay?” Jhosette had stopped walking, and she had stopped in the part of the cycle of her stride that left Marcel in the flattened position. Jhosette waz holding the door of the parlor open for her sisterz and roommate. With her free hand she ushered them in with broad sweeping gesturez. “Right this way, ladiez…pleaze…don’t hold up the line,” and, when the girlz had entered, she spoke to a stranger who waz passing by the shop’s entrance: “You sir? Tattoo? Exotic body piercing?”
He didn’t seem to be interested.
“Second onez half price,” she teazed, and entered the parlor. Jhessica waz standing uncomfortably near the wall beside the front counter, studying tattoo dezignz that had been framed and mounted on the wall. When Jhosette sauntered to the counter, Jhanice followed her. Kimberly set the Ball(r) jar next to the cash register. A man with a dreadlocked beard leaned across the counter at Jhosette. Jhosette wazn’t looking at him. She scooped the lizard out of her jeanz pocket and slapped him down on the counter. “He wants a tattoo.”
The man with the dreadlocked beard looked at the object on the counter. “He looks dead to me.”
Hearing this, Jhanice went up on her toez to inspect the lizard.
Jhosette poked him. “Hez just nervous. Marcel. Introduce yourself.”
Jhanice sighed and shook her head at Marcel.
The dreadlocked man brought hiz face close to the surface of the counter. “He looks…awfully still. You sure hez not dead?”
“Hez not dead,” Jhanice chimed. She rolled her eyez.
Mathus gestured toward Jhanice, confuzed. “Who iz this?”
Jhosette said, “That’s my sister.”
Sister. Noun. A pussy who iz not a pussy becauze you’re not allowed to fuck it.
Jhanice took the lizardz front right claw between two of her fingerz. “Marcel, I’d like you to meet…what’s your name?”
“Mathus.”
“Mathus.” Jhanice took the manz hand and brought it toward the lizard. “I’d like you to meet Marcel.”
Mathus raized one eyebrow at Jhanice, then spoke to the lizard. “Marcel. What can I do for you today?”
Jhosette spoke for him. “He’d like a tattoo.”
“Yes,” Jhanice said, “hez been thinking about it for a long time and,” she said, looking up at her big sister, “today hez ready.”
“What kind of tattoo iz he looking to get?”
Jhosette said, “Something tribal.”
But Kimberly sallied up to her roommate. “No. A clownfish.”
Mathus raized hiz eyebrowz.
“He wouldn’t look good with a clownfish,” Jhosette said. “Hez already a lizard. Having another animal on him would be overkill.”
“But clownfish are cute. If you give him something tribal everybody’ll be scared of him. He’ll be like one of thoze evil Gremlinz(r) from Gremlinz(r) II.”
“The evil Gremlinz(r) in Gremlinz(r) II are the only funny part of the movie, Kimber. Without the evil Gremlinz(r) there never would have been any Gremlinz(r) II.” Jhosette looked to Mathus for corroberation on this point.
Mathus knelt a little and spoke to the eight-year-old. “What do you think he wants?”
Jhanice waz stroking the reptile. Her face lay close to hiz back, and Mathus imagined that the lizard waz calmed by the company of the little girl. She waz talking to it, kindof humming, and she let herself finish the phrase before looking up to respond to Mathus’ question. Jhanice hefted her body halfway onto the counter (supporting herself on her forearmz) to be able to lean across far enough to grab the pen tethered to the counter by a length of string that the place supplied for its customerz to uze when signing credit card receipts. Jhanice brought the pen back across the counter and let herself down over its edge so she waz mostly on the floor again. She positioned the pen between her thumb and first two fingerz. She tapped the tip of the pen against the counter three timez and stared pointedly at Mathus. Mathus raized one eyebrow at Jhosette. Then he ripped a blank strip of paper off the receipt printer. He slid it across the glass countertop toward the eight-year-old. Jhanice bit her bottom lip (and, at timez, her tongue) az she squirmed to be tall enough to draw her suggestion clearly enough so Mathus would get the concept of it so that he would be able to transfer it to Marcelz bellyscalez. Jhosette watched with interest and Kimber glanced about the room az Jhanice drew. After some time, the little girl stopped drawing and set the pen back on the glass countertop diagonally across the scrap of receipt paper (to keep it from rolling up). Once this had happened, Mathus knew the girl waz finished. Without lifting it from the counter, he rotated the scrap of paper so that what had been the bottom for Jhanice waz now the bottom for him.
Jhessica had come away from the wall. She leaned across the counter. Mathus saw her breasts. Jhessica laughed, a scoff. “You’re all still proceeding az though this iz *actually* going to happen?!”
Mathus pulled back from the drawing and eyed Jhessica gravely.
Jhessica folded her armz against her chest and ground the toe of her right boot into the floor: “What?”
Even though the little girl waz clearly best at communicating with it, the lizard seemed to belong to the oldest of the three brown-haired onez. Mathus pushed Jhanicez drawing toward Jhosette for her approval. Jhosette looked at what her youngest sister had drawn, and when Kimberly caught a glimpse of itz form out of the corner of her eye she put her hand on Jhosette’s shoulder and bent for a closer look. It waznt a clownfish. It waznt exactly tribal, either, though it seemed to owe something to the twisting, overlapping octupus armz of the popularized Celtic(r) knots that were frequently applied az tattooz. When Jhosette first saw it it looked symmetrical, like two halvez of the same object, armz on a body, maybe, or two towerz of a cathedral…twin animal snakes drafted from not-quite identical strandz of DNA. And the formz were not particularly striking until you noticed the catch: they weren’t twinz at all. They were not exact copiez, not mirror imagez. At first glance they were two of the same. But az you began to absorb the detail of each, what became clear (and, az juxtaposed with the similarity that the two formz exhibited on a macro scale, what waz palpably distubring about them) waz that they were, in each minor construction, in each facet, in each particularity of texture and skin…in every question of flavor and form, in every puzzle of whether this would cross that or that would cross this…they were entirely different: books written of the variant languagez of two opposing nationz, the output of familiez of axiomz the definitionz of which ensured that the discourse spun from their rulez would never intersect. Jhosette would see the symbol later that very night. When she saw it again, she would feel, greatly amplified, the chill she had felt even the first time it waz presented to her, scrawled in her youngest sisterz hand on a scrap of receipt paper from the tattoo shop. Kimberlyz wordz faded into Jhosette’s awareness.
“It’s sort of like…it’s like…”
“It’s the dual,” Jhanice interrupted, shoving Marcel across the glass counter toward Mathus, but what they all thought she said waz “It’s the duel” like a fight between two people, not “It’s the dual” az in the male and the female, az in the presence and the absense, az in the ebb and the flow: “It’s the dual.”
Mathus scooped the lizard up. “The duel it iz.” He indicated the drawing with hiz head. “Could you bring that?” he asked Jhanice, and Jhanice did, following Mathus across the waiting room, past Jhessica and down a short hallway lined on one side with three flurescent-lit doorwayz. Mathus entered the first of the workroomz. He spoke monotonously to Jhanice az she, Jhosette, Kimberly, and (reluctantly) Jhessica followed him through the doorway. Jhanice stayed near Mathus and the lizard. The older girlz slid onto a counter built into the wall. Above their headz, cabinets ran flush with the ceiling. “Everything in here iz sterilized to hospital-quality specificationz. We don’t reuze needlez. We don’t reuze any of our paper or plastic products. All our chairz and worktablez are lined with dispozable coverz, az you see, so your little…what waz hiz name?…”
“Marcel.”
“…Marcel will be fixed to a clean surface while we administer the dezign. All our technicianz are required to go through a three day safety and sanitation course which we give right here in the shop. This course transferz a vivid appreciation for the necessity of following our unique battery of safety and sanitation precautionz during all phazez of processing. I teach this class myself…so don’t worry…your little…Marcel…will receive the height of care here. Our procedurez and precautionz have been dezigned to make processing az pleazant and painless for the subject az possible.”
“But he will feel *some* pain?” Jhosette ventured.
“Yes. With any type of processing, the subject will experience some pain, but theze levelz are well regulated and calibrated to remain within rangez and threshholdz that most people find acceptable.”
“Have you ever given one to a lizard?” Jhessica asked.
Mathus pauzed, looking back and forth between Jhessica and Jhosette with the first nervousness that they had seen on him. Finally he spoke: “I gave one to a kat once.”
“Well…” Jhessica pushed, “did it hurt the kat?”
“Did it hurt the kat.” Mathus shrugged. “Hard to say. Have you ever had one?”
“No.”
Mathus racked hiz fingernailz on the armature of a stainless steel magnifying lenz. “He’ll probably be fine,” the artist said, bringing hiz left fist, which had Marcel situated within it, to hiz face. “Ready?”
Marcel squirmed.
“I might have to tape him down. He seemz a tad overexcitable.”
“Tape him,” Jhanice said, “he won’t mind.”
“What kind of tape?” Jhosette asked.
Mathus opened hiz fist and pressed Marcel to the sterile white paper running the length of an operating chair. In the second while Mathus’ hand repositioned itself from the gripping-Marcel position to the pressing-Marcel-into-the-chair-so-he-can’t-move position, Marcel managed to promote one leg through part of an escaping step before being pinned again by Mathus’ hand. With hiz other, Mathus groped around in the chairside supply tray for a roll of white medical tape. He brought it around to hiz face and put the loose end between hiz teeth. He unrolled eight inchez of the stuff. He let the loose end fall from hiz teeth and replaced it with the part where the eight inch segment waz still connected to the roll. Hiz head tugged and ripped the segment. He placed the roll on the chairz sanitary cover and smoothed the eight-inch segment over Marcelz back, perpindicular to the lengthwize direction of the lizardz body. Mathus pressed the endz of the tape to the sanitary cover az close to Marcelz body az phyzics would allow. The he retracted hiz pressing-Marcel-to-the-chair hand. Marcel tried to run, but, while the tape allowed a great degree of movement az it concerned hiz front and back legz, it stuck to hiz back scalez and to the chairz sanitary cover securely enough to keep him from scrambling off. Mathus took two steps back from the lizard.
Jhanice, who had been myopically nozing through the contents of the chairside supply tray, lifted her head and saw Marcelz predicament. “No! No!” she screamed.
Jhosette put her handz on the little girlz shoulderz. “What’s wrong? Don’t you want him to get it?”
“No!” Jhanice stomped her foot and looked at Mathus with indignance. “Hez supposed to get it on hiz *belly*!”

——-

When they had Marcel turned over on hiz back and had applied tape this time at the base of hiz tail and the base of hiz neck, Mathus extended the circular, lighted magnifying lenz and stuck Jhanicez sketch to itz edge with a square of the white medical tape. Jhanice situated herself on Mathus’ left knee and peered through the glass. Marcel could see her, she knew, through the bottom halvez of hiz spherical eyez. Jhanice knew that Marcel could hear her wordz (“It’ll be alright”). She knew that he understood that the pain would not last for long. He waz willing to endure it. He had, after all, chozen this for himself…they were all just carrying out what he had requested. Each of Jhanicez handz gripped one side of the protective gogglez that Mathus had given her; she pulled them over her eyez. Mathus waz already wearing hiz. Jhanice turned and looked at the goggled artist through their two sets of glassez and gave him the thumbz up sign. Mathus helped Jhanice off hiz lap and leaned in close to the glass. He studied the drawing, studied Marcelz scalez, studied the drawing, studied Marcelz scalez, and went back and forth. Jhanice went to the counter where the older girlz had ensconced themselvez and pulled Jhosette’s hand away from her mouth (she had been biting at her fingernailz). Jhanice clasped the hand of her oldest sister between both of her own.
“He’ll fine. Hez ready.”
Jhessica waz seated a few feet away from Jhosette and Kimberly, eyeing the other three girlz: Jhanice comforting Jhosette, Jhosette and Kimberly clinging to each other like occupants of a lifeboat. Kimberly waz looking down at Mathus’ foot, which rested delicately above a mechanical pedal built into the floor. Hiz foot rocked up and down above the pedalz nonslip surface in time with some internal rhythm that waz somehow synchronized (it seemed to Jhessica) with hiz looking back and forth between the scribbled symbol and the pale yellow underside of the lizard. Jhessica saw Mathus flex hiz fingerz into the trigger, the gunz six silver probez extending in parallel at varying terminal lengths from the body of the thing. When Mathus’ thumb touched a lever of brushed steel fixed to the side of the gun, the hexagonal carousel performed one sixth of a rotation, bringing the next of its dye-laden protrusionz to the top (and active) position on the gun. When Jhanice had first seen Mathus rotating through hiz palette, she had protested “But we’re only going to uze black” and Mathus had countered “It’s going to look black, mostly black, but to give it depth we’re going to do the edging in bluez and yellowz.”
“Bluez?” Jhanice had asked, astounded.
“Yes,” Mathus had said, “to lighten up the blacks.”
“But…yellowz?” Jhanice had protested.
“Yellowz,” Mathus had said firmly, “to reinforce the blending between the dezign”–he had indicated her drawing by aiming the gun at it, then he had pointed the gun at Marcelz belly–“and the base color of the subject.”
“The subject,” Jhanice had said, “*haz* a name…hiz name iz Marcel.”
Mathus had nodded apologetically.
Kimberly watched Mathus’ thumb activate the lever, spinning the gunz hexagonal carousel through yellow, green, blue, purple, red…and then (by tapping the lever in the opposite direction) Mathus ran the carousel back, off red to purple, then to blue. Jhanice waz watching this too and it disturbed her.
“But we’re not gonna start with blue.”
Mathus didn’t look up. He waz studying Marcelz scalez. “It’s gonna look black,” he said, “don’t worry,” and then Kimberly saw Mathus’ foot descend from the place where it had been hovering over the pedal. He tested its give, rocking the metal slab forward slightly and feeling the resulting vibration of the gun. The water in its holding cartridge clouded into vapor streamz colliding with the transparent wallz of the glass cylinder. Mathus pressed the pedal halfway down, then all the way down before eazing up to about a seventy-five percent push. He pointed the gun away from Marcel and squeezed the trigger to its maximum extent. The frequency of the gunz vibration increased; Kimberly plugged her earz. A cone of fine mist appeared at the end of the blue probe. At the center of the mist cone, a lazer-straight thread of blue, fine az silk, shot from the gun. Mathus brought the gunz tip to a testing board that waz mounted to the side of hiz rolling supply cabinet. He manipulated the device through a squiggling pattern and let the thread of blue weave its line among the tangle of test squigglez already embedded in the board. The blue stream translated itself to the surface of the board az flat, opaque, indelible color. Mathus waved the gun back and forth in a zig-zag, then held it still, trained to a single spot on the board. The stream printed a tiny singularity of blue at the end of the last zag. Over the next few secondz the singularity grew slightly (almost imperceptibly) larger. This growth waz due solely to the effect of Mathus’ pulse on the pozition of hiz hand. He pulled the gun back from the test board, then back further, until the distance at which when the thread of blue hit the board made it leave no mark at all; instead, the blue dye rolled down the surface of the test board az a current of microscopic beadz. At the scale on which the people in the room viewed this, it looked like fine blue chalk dust gathering in a thin cloud at the boardz surface, dissipating, falling through the air almost invisibly, collecting in a distorted circle on the parlor floor. Mathus then brought the tip of the gun very close to the test board, closer than any of the girlz had yet seen it come. It made a sound like high-pitched drilling through bone, like drilling through teeth and nervez, and they all saw that the blue stream waz boring the shadow of its singularity into the depth of the test board. Tiny sliverz of the boardz plastic coating shot back toward the gun. When the blue stream had born its way through the plastic, sliverz of the wood underneath escaped back through the pressure drilling into it and their creamy wood color mixed with the white and blue powderz that were already collecting on the floor. Mathus released hiz grip on the trigger and the blue stream subsided. He backed hiz foot off the mechanical floor pedal. The vapor cloud inside the gunz holding chamber subsided from its vortex, settling az an inert puddle that rocked back and forth with miniature wavez. Mathus swung himself from side to side on the bearingz of hiz swivel chair.
“D’j’ou mind if I smoke?” Kimberly asked.
Mathus shrugged. “It won’t affect the process.”
“Sweet,” Kimberly said, holding out her open hand. “Give me one of thoze.”
Jhosette pulled the crushed pack of clovez from her jeanz pocket and tapped them to the open end of the box. Kimber took one and lit it herself. Jhosette took Kimberz lighter and lit her own.
Jhessica crossed the room from the doorway scowling at them. “You people are fucking fiendz.” She snatched the box before Jhosette could put it back in her pocket. Jhosette helped her sister light the clove, and the three of them leaned back against the wall beside the supply counter, engrossed in the ritual of smoking. Mathus had again clamped down on the pedal and again depressed the trigger, training the gunz blue thread closer and closer to Marcelz belly, when, after taking a deep breath, he released the trigger and rolled hiz head backward so the gun faced the ceiling. With hiz spare hand he reached toward them abstractly: “Do you mind…?” And Jhosette went to the trouble of retrieving the box of clovez from her pocket, lighting one, and handing it to Jhanice, who had come over from her post beside the artist to receive the burning clove. Jhanice took it between her lips and sasheed across the tile toward Mathus. When she got to him she took the clove from between her lips and put it in hiz mouth. Mathus took a long drag and then, saying “Thank You Sweet Jezus” through lips that held the clove, again bent in close to Marcel.
Whilst Mathus waz working, Jhosette and the other human girlz chain smoked clove cigarettes and Jhosette and the girl that waz her roommate chain nibbled their fingernailz, biting them to the nubz. Jhanice needed to go to the bathroom, but she didn’t want to loze sight of Marcel, so she stayed in the workroom with the older girlz, herself, Mathus, and the lizard. When the urge to pee grew most intense, she pressed her legz together and contracted her toez. Once she even danced in place a little hopping circle to help the urge pass and allow her to watch az Marcel received the tattoo from Mathus’ gun.
“You’re hopping around like an idiot,” Kimberly had said.
“I’m hopping around like a rabbit,” Jhanice informed her.
Kimber bit the end of her clove and chewed it completely before swallowing. The ground clove tasted salty in her mouth.

10. Sometimez clovez are whole. Sometimez they’re powdered.
Which type doez the reader prefer?

A. Whole.
B. Powdered.

Marcel squirmed. And it made Jhosette’s nipplez twitch. Seeing him stretched out on hiz back like that, hiz belly expozed, seeing hiz entire body flinch when the gun stream first touched it after a moment’s break, it reminded her of when they had lain, both naked, in the bed that waz the bottom bunk of her and Kimberlyz bunk bedz back in the dormitory on the other side of campus…Marcel nestled among the twisting strandz of Jhosette’s red hair, hiz tiny razor clawz poking into her skin for traction. Jhosette sometimez looked down over her breasts and studied Marcelz eyez, thoze coy half-spherez with the double eyelidz, hiz piercing glance, bird-quick az it sought new perspectivez into the room. Jhosette would catch him looking over at the open door into the hallway that led to the other girlz roomz. Jhosette would catch him looking at the orange glow of Kimberlyz desktop wallpaper. Jhosette would catch Marcel looking at the open terrarium on top of the dresser. Jhosette would catch Marcel looking at her nipplez. She knew he didn’t consider her sexually, exactly, but it waz obvious he waz attracted to the redness and the protrusion that occurred at the apex of each of her breasts. Several timez she had caught him smelling (licking) thoze spots fondly, the way you smell your sheets for tracez of your departed loverz odor, the way children like to wear their parents pajamaz when they go out of town. And Jhosette could almost feel the little clawz clamping the soft skin of her breasts az she watched Marcelz ordeal through an increasingly dense cloud of the peppery smoke.
“Jhosie. You’re *killing* my hand.”
Jhosette hadn’t realized how hard she waz squeezing Kimberz fingerz in her own. She gave Kimberz hand back. “Sorry.”
Jhanice squealed, “Hez fine Jhosie! He lovez it!”
“Listen,” Kimber said, “do you have your letterz with you?”
Jhosette nodded. She waz pouting, worried, sad sad girl.
“Maybe reading one would make you feel better.”
Jhosie dug in her pocket and retrieved the rumpled stack. She waz looking at Kimber skeptically.
Kimber turned away. “I won’t look.”
“But you’ll judge me. You think it’s silly.”
“I don’t like to see you worried, I’m trying to take your *mind* off it.” Kimber opened the Ball(r) jar and quickly dipped a clove. “If I had a quart of chocolate ice cream I’d open it right up and hand it to you.”
Jhosette wiped her runny noze with a sleeve.
Kimber set the wet clove next to the jar. “Go ahead. Pretend like I’m not here.”
Jhosette unfolded the stack. Baby blue ink. A juvenile scrawl. She read the one that waz on top. “–i hav an idel kunt and yu hav an idel dik and yur idel dik iz bigur than mi akchuwul dik and mi idel kunt iz smolur than yur akchuwul kunt–mi idel kunt haz no nam and mi idel kunt haz no th rest ov hur bade if she sleps besid me at nit duz nat pek hur hed aut ov th kuvurz–she sleps at wast levul with mi indeks fingur parked insid hur–mi idel kunt wen i cal for hur snezez in mi hand a raund pul ov slipure myukus wich i wip araund hur lips in prepurashun for–mi idel kunt sleps on th top shelf ov th bathrum klazut, ubuv th taulz, and i lathur hur with hot wotur aftur im thru–mi idel kunt iz ther for me wen i am rede–she dremz ov me in skul holz shrauding mi hed in a gra hud and making mi wa thru th prufesurz and dodling studnts to met hur in th plagraund on a gathik marbul bench nat thre yardz frum th rot iurn fents nat thre yardz frum th site trafik nat thre yardz frum th studnts wating for th bus she pulz mi hud araund us–hur toz hur legz ar springing she iz leting me tak mi hand bitwen hur legz she iz leting me rap th slipure myukus araund hur lips she iz blushing cheks and wave har she iz luking at me tuching hur and she iz wating for me to do it to hur–gra hud Gandolf evrething in gra–th strets ov Nu York Sity shot in blu jel–and sudnly she sez wer in th plagraund and sez th studnts waching and hidz hurself in kuvurz running frum th klozing and asking me wi wer aut in th opun–and im asking hur nat to se them–pritend ther nat ther shez hiding undur th hud and blushing at me tri-ing to pritend ther nat araund us kloz hur in she triz but for a momunt thingks we ar ulon rimemburz skulchild poking us and thru th hud tha se and blushez me kluching sa wi ar we in publik i sa lisn, no, rele, rele, pritend, pritend, that tha ar nat ther–bulev me–se–bulev me–tha ar nat ther–pritend so hard yu start buleving–pritend so hard yu mak it hapun–se–wen yu no tha ar nat ther tha ar nat ther–she blushez, weping–kindrud–smol–”
Kimber smacked her own forehead. The letter waz making Jhosie worse, not better.
“Coming along fine, fine,” Mathus wailed, tossing hiz gun hand up over hiz shoulder and waving its stream in the air like a hairdresser might finesse the flow of air streaming from a blowdryer, a little wiggle, like wavez, and Mathus brought the gun back down on top of hiz subject, training the spindle of black onto the lizardz belly, widening the edge of one of the armz of the symbol Jhanice had drafted. Her drawing expressed the structure of the symbol in a way that made Mathus understand the character and the feel it waz supposed to have. It gave him the perfect blueprint from which to work, even though Janice’s rendering of it also reflected the restrictionz of the juvenile hand through which the symbol had come to be inscripted on the strip of receipt paper. Az Mathus translated the twisting body of curvez and texturez onto Marcelz scalez, hiz sense of visual balance and formal aesthetics imbued the gnarled dezign with the fullness and porportion that Jhanice had intended. Jhanice waz glad that Mathus had been chozen to apply the mark. Hiz strokes were so exact, hiz attention so focused, and what he had already drawn waz so completely like Jhanice had imagined the mark that she knew it would be perfect when he finished it. Jhanice stood beside Mathus, watching hiz gun cut the first scout of a new arm of the dezign, black powder flying out from the point of the inscription and collecting in the rimz of Mathus’ protective gogglez. Hiz lips were encrusted with the stuff, hiz dreadlocked beard coated with fine mists of the combined colorz of the spickets of hiz gun; it made Jhanice want to run her fingerz across its surface to see if the powder would come off like the grime on the back of semi trucks that people cleared away with their fingerz to write “clean me”. She felt something tapping into her back, something dull and smooth, something firm. The tapping moved to her shoulder, and Jhanice understood this to mean that one of the older girlz waz trying to hand her something. She reached over her shoulder and took the thing, a rounded bottle just at the limit of her handz capacity to wrap its fingerz around it. Pulling the bottle before her face, she saw the familiar label and the thick, jewel-green syrup inside. The bottle waz full. Its child-safety cap waz in place. Jhanice didn’t look behind her. She didn’t need to confirm what she suspected: that Jhosette, Kimberly, and Jhessica all had fresh bottlez of the stuff, doubtless produced from the deep pockets of Kimberlyz sweatshirt, or (who knowz?) maybe they were stored in Mathus’ cabinets all along, maybe everyone at the college waz alwayz drinking the stuff and she had just never picked that up from any of the conversationz she had yet heard about what it iz that people do at college. She had heard there waz a lot of drinking, and some people seemed to think there waz too much drinking…but at school Jhanicez teacherz had told her she waz supposed to drink eight glassez of water each day, and Jhanice waz having a hard enough time drinking the amount she waz supposed to drink, so she found it difficult to conceive of people being physically able to drink too much. Maybe, she thought, the daily amount waz different for Robitussin(r) than it waz for water. Jhanice pressed down on the bottle top and turned (it said “Press down and turn”) and then the cap came loose and, after a few screwz, came off completely, and Jhanice waz staring down into the jewel-green well of the medicine. Suddenly she had a surprising and wonderful thought. She turned her head to the girlz behind her (her suspicionz about what they were doing were confirmed) and, over the high-pitched buzz of Mathus’ gun, she squealed, “Water iz medicine, too!” Jhanice chose to ignore the rude snorting laughter her statement inspired in Jhessica.
Kimberly had just taken a long sip of her medicine. When she waz done she licked her lips and smiled lustily at Jhanice. “That’s right…and beef iz medicine, too.” She took a dry stick from the clove line that had been developing along the countertop.
Jhanice waz confuzed. “Jhosie, what’s beef?”
“Cow meat.”
“Oh…beef! And beef iz medicine, too! And pork iz the other white medicine.”
“Pork,” Kimberly repeated, sparking the clove stick, “iz the other white medicine.”(sm)
Jhanice delighted at this attention. “And cheeze!” she suggested, “Cheeze iz the other white medicine!”
“You people are sick,” Jhessica cut…but she waz drinking it too, she waz drinking it too, Jhanice realized with joy, and she noted this aloud to everyone in the room. Kimber nudged Jhessica in the side with her elbow and Jhessica slammed her Robitussin(r) down on the supply counter and left the workroom. Kimber nodded at the bottle, eyeing Jhanice.
Jhanice shook her head and tugged on Mathus’ shirt. He kept the gun on Marcel and delicately turned to see what Jhanice wanted. Jhanice pointed to the open bottle on hiz supply cabinet. “Mr. Mathus. Thirsty?”
Mathus took in the sight of the older girlz perched on hiz supply cabinet chugging Robitussin(r). He grinned and went back to hiz work.
Jhanice shrugged at Kimber.
“It’s alright,” Kimber assured her, “You can drink it.” And Kimberly held the bottle out for Jhanice to take. Jhanice waz elated by this gesture. She took the bottle, gripping its mouth with her fingerz and covering the hole with her thumb az completely az she could. She shook the bottle violently, jigging it up and down like people sometimez do to Coke(r) canz az a practical joke, but her thumb waz way too small to completely cover the opening and gulps of the green syrup splashed heavily out of the bottle and ran down toward the floor across the backs of her fingerz and down the plastic sidez of the bottle. Jhanice lifted her thumb from the opening and took a swig from this new bottle, then immediately took one from her original bottle. She felt the syrup traveling down her throat and coating her insidez with spice and softness; she knew the tingling in her brain waz a downstream effect of that spice, of the thickness of the liquid, of its greenness (none of which water had or made her feel). And she wondered why people drank water at all, why they drank it instead of milk or blood or Robitussin(r). And she found herself draining the last of the new bottle (the shook up bottle), draining the last of its thick gulpy greenness into the back of her mouth and found herself swallowing convulsively, taking the stuff in like you take in air, without chewing, without swishing, without pauzing: just letting the stuff flow down her throat unrestricted.
Kimber had her lighter out. Her thumb waz pressed down on the red button; she had sparked it. The flame roze from the plastic tube and licked the bottom edge of a small paper cup. The waxy covering on the cup flaked and condensed into tiny globulez with the heat…and then the bottom rim of the cup turned brown, the burn spreading like food spoilz in fast motion, wrapping itself through the whiteness of the paper and then the flame waz coming from the cup az well az the lighter and Kimber let her finger off the red button and tilted the cup in her hand to expoze its upper portionz to the flamez. The fire crept up the side of the cup and when it began to fan out widthwize she blew and blew, extinguishing the flamez. Jhosette saw Kimberly add the thing to the end of a row of similarly altered cups (six strong) forming a line on the surface of the supply cabinet.
Mathus drove hiz foot into the pedal and the spinning of the gun roze to a frequency that made Jhosette’s earz feel like someone had poured acid into their canalz or there were millionz of miniature ants roaming around on her eardrumz and biting into them with tiny clawz, stepping on her with tiny sticky feet and lifting thoze tiny sticky feet zillionz of timez per second, producing a sound that made her spine cringe. Her shoulder came up to her cheek, twitched, dropped down again. Kimber pulled another cup from the dispenser and flicked her lighter. The bottom rim. The wax flaking. The brown spreading like fruit molding in fast forward. The flame crawling up the side and spreading out along the body of the cup. Kimber blowing out the flamez and setting the cup next in the row. Mathus drilling the pedal into the ground. Marcel squirming in a way that made Jhosette think that if he could scream he would be doing it. The million ants marching on Jhosette’s ear and Jhosette’s shoulder convulsing upward to her cheek. Twitching. Falling back down, not exactly to rest. And Jhanice had set the empty bottle down among Mathus’ toolz on hiz rolling supply cabinet and waz sipping the original one like sipping coffee when it’s hot or like how middle aged men sip whiskey or scotch (note to the author: sip whiskey or scotch like a middle-aged man sometime during the editing process), holding it in their mouths to let it settle before swallowing it, savoring the itch, flushing it before it gets too salivaey. That iz how Jhanice drank the Robitussin(r). And the way thoze middle aged men feel about whiskey or scotch iz the same way Jhanice felt about the Robitussin(r) when she glanced over her shoulder with the intention of taking just a quick glance at the older girlz and her quick intention of a glance instead became the lengthy execution of a wide-eyed, drop-jawed stare becauze in the first second of what had been meant az a glance Jhanice saw that the warmth she had been feeling on her spine waz not entirely an effect of the green medicine: a roll of gauze that waz partially dangling from the supply cabinet waz blazing with flame that had already left carbon stainz on the top shelf of the cabinet. Kimber and Jhosette were fanning at it with their handz and when Jhosette saw that Jhanice waz looking at them Jhosette brought her finger to her lips in a *shhhh* sign, her eyez tensely checking Mathus. Jhanice turned back and saw that the artist’s concentration waz so sharply focused on hiz subject that he really hadn’t noticed the gauze fire, even though Jhanice could now see the reflection of it glowing brightly in the lenzez of Mathus’ protective gogglez. Jhanice saw that Marcel waz looking at the fire with hiz eye, the huge pupil glassily staring in the direction of the glowing orange flamez. Jhanice left Mathus and tried to go surreptitiously to the older girlz (whose fanning waz doing absolutely nothing to affect the course of the fire). She hefted herself onto the countertop, pushing the girlz apart, and she got so close to the burning gauze while trying to assess the fire that her bangz almost caught. She saw that the cabinets were stashed full of medical suppliez–plastic glovez, scissorz, red biohazard bagz.

11. Sometimez biohazard bagz are red. Sometimez they’re
orange. Which color doez the reader feel would be the
more appropriate choice in this context?

A. Red.
B. Orange.

The cabinet waz stashed full of three-ring binderz of tattoo dezignz. There were instruction manualz for Mathus’ gun, a four-volume set all together az wide A through M from an old-fashioned printed encyclopedia. And there were napkinz, rollz of flexible plastic tubing, rollz of white medical tape, Ace(r) bandagez, boxez of hollow needlez of varying sizez, boxez of gauze and Band-Aid(r)z, and a dozen alluminum cylinderz stamped with colorful diamond markingz and black lettering (stacked horizontally in a pyramid and held in place on each side by three-ring binderz). Jhanice didn’t think it would be a good idea if the fire got to the cylinderz. It waz already charring the edgez of the gun manualz and thoze were on the same shelf az the cylinder pyramid. Jhanice removed the cylinder that waz topmost in the pyramid and carefully lowered it to the shelf she waz standing on, which waz the counter where Jhosette and Kimber were sitting with open bottlez of the green medicine. The cylindrical tube rolled along the countertop and stopped at Jhosette’s thigh. Jhanice took the endz of the next two tubez between her fingerz and tried to set them alongside the one at Jhosette’s thigh but the couple of them waz too heavy for her to hold at once–they slipped from her hand. One landed on the countertop and rolled, stopping next to the one already at Jhosette’s thigh. The other hit the countertop with its bottom end and bounced with a seriez of tight plinks to the tile floor and started rolling toward Mathus’ chair. But Mathus had caught the sound of the plinks over the supersonic buzzing of the tattoo gun and hiz head turned first with the energy of idle curiosity, but quickly became the jerking movement of fright az he comprehended the flame spinning from hiz giant roll of gauze and having now doubled itself solidly to the pagez of the gun manual. Hiz attention waz so immediately and completely wrapt to this fire situation that when he swiveled from Marcel to the girlz and the fire, he forgot the action of the gun, and hiz hand let its tip draw so close to Marcel and the sanitary cover that the stream of black being dictated by the hexagonal carousel burned a perfect razor tear through the white paper and the blue leather upholstery of the chair, burned a black-rimmed razor cut in a line that, in the half-second of Mathus’ swivel, sliced a perfect fissure through the lizardz body at the torso, and hiz guts surged from what had suddenly become the two halvez of hiz body. Marcel felt the gunz heat increase in a rush at hiz belly, but the way he waz taped he could not see exactly what had happened to him. He waz watching the gauze fire. He watched the Mr. Mathus heft the Jhanice down from the surface of the supply cabinet, watched the little girlz feet touch the tile floor, watched the burning roll of gauze shift balance when a large dangling part of it fell from the top shelf onto the counter where hiz Jhosette and the Kimberly were sitting. Marcel watched the Kimberly take the Jhanicez hand in her own and tug her through the doorway into the short hall and out of sight. He watched two of the paper cups the Kimberly had uniformly burned and set in the now desimated row roll off the countertop onto the floor, watched the Mr. Mathus pressing on hiz Jhosette’s back trying to suffocate the flamez that had caught on the bottom of her shirt and were racing up the thin fabric. And az the hot in hiz belly swelled and sank, swelled and sank, and az he realized he could not feel hiz tail, Marcel watched the flamez jump from the thin fabric of hiz Jhosette’s shirt to her long twisting hair and once it waz there it moved like a zap, like lightning, up her head and around her back and enveloped her skull with a burst of light that threw the Mr. Mathus, even with hiz protective gogglez, onto hiz back on the floor, knocking the fallen metal cylinder across the room where it hit a wall and spun out the remainder of its momentum in a dozen tight twists. Marcel heard hiz Jhosette shrieking and saw her writhing on the floor slapping at her head and he waznt sure if she had fallen off the counter first or if first the fire had caught one of the metal cylinderz on the shelf next to the gun manual and set off the explosion…but whatever the order, both happened, and Marcel saw the flamez come out of the cabinet to swallow all the air, slicing, consuming, blazing packs of muscle scratching at the room with its clawz. Before the orange roared through hiz eyez and the hot in hiz belly shrank and swelled for the last time, az he felt the scorch of the flamez devouring him and finally comprehended the dullness below hiz middle, az the orange filled hiz eyez and in the totality of that colour he waz unable to see…he remembered the vision, from a few secondz earlier, of hiz Jhosette, her beautiful twisting strandz of hair consumed instantly by the hunger of the desktop wallpaper…az he remembered her screaming and slapping her head and falling to the floor with the explosion, he felt the pain of the flamez and the pain of being sliced in two piecez and with one quick flash that overloaded the capacity of hiz tiny brain, he reazoned that this pain, the exploding tin canz of the orange of the desktop wallpaper, the muscle clawz of the blood wraith that had lept from the cabinet, and the hot surge at hiz belly and the dullness below it…Marcel thought that all this waz too terrible to be anything but the feeling of hiz Jhosette dying, and he thought of her writhing on the floor slapping at her own head, thought of the flamez eating her up…he wondered how he waz so fully able to know the pain she waz feeling…in hiz last moment, having theze thoughts about hiz Jhosette, Marcel ached for her.

[page break]

Part Seven: The Snowbunny
————————-

After that, after that, after that there would be conversationz and silence, mostly silence, silence and conversationz where Jhosette would say nothing but listen absently to new companionz whoze dying breath would not move her. After that…after that would be an endless and cyclical regurgitation of *that*. After that would be after…that, and it would alwayz be that. It would be summer, then winter, then summer, then winter, then summer, then winter, then summer, then winter, then summer, then…summer. Then winter. Then summer. Then winter. Then summer. Then winter. Then. Then. Summer. Then. Winter. Then. Summer. Winter. Summer. Winter.
Kimberly and Jhessica sat huddled together on the curb across from the tattoo parlor. Kimberlyz sandalz had come off in the middle of the street; she waz barefoot now. Jhessica had brought her legz up against her body and their white undersidez were visible to anyone around. People had stopped walking and were standing in the road in front of the tattoo parlor and they were looking through the storefront to see if anyone waz still in there. The large glass windowz on the front of the store bore the wordz “Abraz Tattoo and Piercing” (painted in large red letterz with brown outlining); a blue and pink neon sign that said “Every Second Tattoo 1/2 Price” hung on one side of the shop and on the other side waz another blue and pink neon sign that said “Body Art – Safe And Sanitary”. The neon signz were suspended by thin chain from the ceiling inside the shop. The power supply of the one that said “Abraz Tattoo and Piercing” had been disconnected by the blast–its letterz lay dark. The one that said “Body Art – Safe and Sanitary” waz still on, though its blue and pink neon seemed less brilliant against its new backdrop: flamez that were pouring forth into the waiting room of the tattoo parlor from the first workroom, the workroom that had belonged to Mathus. The fire waz already starting to darken the wallz of the waiting room, and the small crowd who had been lounging there browzing the volumez of dezign suggestion binderz and peruzing body jewlery in the glass casez had rushed out of the shop. Some of them were standing in the street. Some of them were standing on the sidewalk next to where Kimberly and Jhessica were huddled. There waz a pale blond-head girl who looked about fourteen cowering behind her friend, repeatedly saying, “Macy, you gotta give me a cigarette.” and peeking around to look at the fire. A harley dude waz standing next to her; the bottom half of a peacock on hiz bulging arm sported fresh lively bluez and greenz…the top half waz faded and smudged and dull on hiz flesh.
Inside, beyond the burning doorway of the first workroom, Mathus waz lying on the floor with a brown-haired girl. Her twisting hair and Mathus’ beard were both badly singed, and the girl waz slapping her head to put out the flamez.
A white VW Rabbit(r) slammed on its brakes and screeched to a halt in front of the parlor. Then the explosion happened.
Summer.
Even farther back, when the wind waz solid piecez loving to embrace the solitary kiss of morningz touch.
Winter.
Now the Rabbit(r) waz stopped still in the street with two carz clogged up behind it. A mostly bald man got out of a red Carrera(r). He stood in the street between the crowd of people who had gathered to watch the fire and the burning building itself. He and Kimberly recognized each other.
“Dr. White!” Summer.
“Miss Harrison.” Winter.
Stripping naked in the Serengeti desert, I saw a tribezman going across the plain in search of deer.
“Dr. White, they’ve done it again!”
“Who haz?”
“The Mormon(r)z! See?” Kimberly unfurled one of her armz from their crossed position at her chest and pointed at the tattoo parlor. Her fingerz numbly probed the simple berth, desperately searching for a place that would quench the rage within. Through black smoke filling the front room the professor saw a thirty-year-old man with a dreadlocked beard coming from somewhere in the back of the store. Waking night slid its curling rayz round the edgez of their blindz; its mortal chill crept silently through the cracks in the wall. He waz dragging someone by the armz, and when he came through the front door of the parlor the professor saw that the person he waz dragging waz pregnant. Her shirt rode high enough that you could see her protruded bellybutton from across the street. The professor rushed toward Mathus and took one of the womanz armz. The two men dragged Jhosette across the street. She waz conscious, but weak: her effort to lift her feet az they carried her only came with enough energy to get one or the other of her kneez bent and the sole of the accompanying foot placed flat on the asphalt and partway through the motion of one step before this structure crumbled and her legz went back to dragging the street, her deadlocked kneez bouncing uncomfortably az her shoez met with bumps and divets in the pavement. When Mathus and the professor had her across the street, they sat her on the curb and Kimberly and Jhanice and Jhessica were all at once around her.
“Jhosie! Jhosie! You okay?”
“Ah, fuck…her face iz burned.”
The professor had hiz phone out. He waz dialing 911. “A girl burned. High street, near–yes, I don’t know. Send one directly. Therez a fire az well.” The professorz brow furrowed dramatically and hiz lips pressed together disapprovingly, they way they sometimez did when a careless remark by one of hiz students necessitated an explanatory diatribe which the professor wished had remained unnecessary. On the street in front of the burning parlor, he held the phone away from hiz head, so that it waz no longer touching him. “No, I don’t, but I think it would be a good idea for you to send someone to extinguish it.” And he snapped a button on the phone and let it slip into the side pocket of hiz jacket.
Kimber waz sitting cross-legged behind her roommate, gently rubbing the girlz lower back.
Jhanice waz holding Jhosette’s hand. “Doez it hurt?”
“I’m okay.” But she didn’t look okay.
Jhessica said, “They’re getting you an ambulance.”
“I don’t need an ambulance.”
“Yes you do. I *know* that haz to hurt.”
“It’s not that bad.” But she looked like she waz going to cry.
“Oh, Jhosie…” Jhessica put her handz on her sisterz kneez. “Can I get you something?”
Jhosette shook her head. She stared into her own lap–vacant eyez. Then she looked up at Jhessica, pleadingly.
“What?”
“Tell me…”
“What?”
Jhosette’s voice warbled az she said it: “The story of the snowbunny.”
Jhessica sighed and almost rolled her eyez but she and Jhanice scrunched in closer with their sister, trying not to touch her burnz. Jhessica ran her fingerz over her eyez, exhaled, and began: “When we were little, we loved it when it snowed. We would get so excited that when we woke up and saw the snow out the window we would go out of our room and run up and down the hallway in our pajamaz.”
“They were footed pajamaz,” Jhanice added.
“Yes, they were footed. And we needed new onez every year becauze we would wear out the feet by sliding around on the floor.”
Jhanice corrected: “We were *ice skating*.”
“Anyway, when it snowed we’d run up and down the hall, and, az Mom tellz it, she would come out of the bedroom in her bathrobe and find us staring out the front windowz with our facez pressed against the glass.”
“You left marks on the glass breathing.”
“Yeah, she waz never too thrilled about that part. But she made us hot cocoa and oatmeal, and after we ate she would dress us up–”
“*Bundle* you–”
“*Bundle* us up in long johnz and sweaterz and what seemed like about three coats–”
“And mittenz–”
“She would put our handz in mittenz and make us each wear a wool hat *and* a scarf *and* have our hoodz up *and* she would pull the hoodstringz down *so* tight we could hardly *see* out of the hole that waz left.”
“But you were warm.”
“Mom would say ‘toasty warm’. And she’d send us out in the snow.”
Jhanice waz worried that Jhessica waz going to leave out the important part!
But Jhessica continued. “She would stand on the porch watching us and she would say, ‘Look at my little snowbunniez!'”
Jhanice looked worriedly over Jhosette’s burnz. You could tell Jhanice waz really scared. “Did that make you feel better?”
Jhosette nodded.
The professor leaned down to Jhosette (her face burned and what waz left of her hair badly singed) through the swarm of Kimberly, Jhessica, and Jhanice caressing her where she wazn’t burned, trying not to touch the spots that were, filling her earz with encouragements and pozing them with questionz. The professor leaned through this confusion, placing hiz head an equal distance from Jhosette’s earz and Kimberlyz earz, and asked, very clearly: “Now. Who do you say iz responsible for this mess?”
“The Mormon(r)z,” Kimberly repeated.
And Jhosette sobbed, on the very next beat of the metronome, “The Mormon(r)z!”
The professor straightened himself, surveying the smoke leaking from around the door of the parlor and into the street. He saw the brief imagez of flamez now and then piercing the smoke’s blackness and testing their way forward, making the next step in their constant consumptive evolution. He took in the panorama of observerz who had gathered along both sizez of the street and all through its middle. Someone threw a can at the storefront. Someone else threw a bottle–spider crack along the glass. And there waz a line of eight or so kidz, arm in arm, blocking traffic from the other direction. Some of these people were hiz students, young people who had written paperz about the political and intellectual strugglez of the ancient and modern world, people who had sat in hiz office to discuss issuez tangential to thoze discussed in class or to pursue the material onez in more depth. And hiz thoughts were interrupted by a tugging on hiz sleeve. The professor looked down to see Jhanice standing close beside him. Her eyez were very bright–inquisitive and playful but with no trace of the spaciness usually found in people her age (which the professor guessed to be seven yearz). The girl tugged at hiz sleeve again. Their eyez were in full contact, and the professor wondered why she hadn’t simply started speaking once she knew she had hiz attention. “Child. What iz it?”
The big-eyed girl let go of hiz sleeve and with her other arm pointed across the street. The professor followed the line of her finger to the tattoo parlor. Behind the shop’s glass door, which waz prezumably unlocked (since Mathus and Jhosette had just come through it), stood a boy with leg bracez and double walking canez, the kind with padded arm supports that circle your armz. He looked like he waz in hiz mid-twentiez. He waz cleanly shaven, and hiz black hair lay stringy and greasy on hiz head, a forensic part arbitrarily separating side from top, strandz from both halvez of the divide having wandered into hiz face. The kid waz wearing a yellow tshirt that had some writing on it about Wonder Kidz(r) or Wonder Bread(r) or something like that (it waz hard to read from across the street). He waz wearing black jeanz that were too tight and too short for hiz body. Several inchez of leg remained visible above hiz socks and below the cuffs of the jeanz. He waz banging hiz kneez forward, hitting them on the parlor door, hiz alluminum leg bracez snapping against the glass with shallow clinks. The door broke forward an inch or two each time the boy hit hiz bracez against it, but, each time, before he could get the other leg to push the door farther out, or lodge one of hiz canez in at the bottom to hold it in place while he maneuvered another good strike…before that could happen, the door waz pulled back by its hydraulic piston, pulled back right in place flush with the blackening doorframe. The professor waz watching when the boy came to realize the futility of hiz current method and began instead just ramming hiz head into the glass. With each successive hit, the door moved only a quarter of an inch in its frame, blocked from opening by the autolatch. There waz a wide bar running the width of the door that served az a handle to release the latch…simply push this bar and then push the door all the way open. But, though the cripple boy could push the bar in and move the door open an inch or two, it alwayz fell back in place by the operation of the piston before he could adjust hiz body to make the second move. The professor turned hiz back on the boy and addressed the crowd loudly enough to get the attention of most of the growing throng of students nearby.
“There iz a sense in which hez playing a character that reflects a common reaction to this world–but I think the only way for us to interpret hiz actionz are az literal statements he iz making from himself.”
Someone from the back wiggled their hand in the air to catch the professorz eye. He nodded and the student asked her question. “Iz it true that Nietzsche(r) killed god?”
“Well, in the few minutes remaining, I will try to answer this question. It iz often asked and rarely given the discussion it dezervez, especially considering the volume of misinformation disseminated about this issue in the annalz of common culture–”
“You mean MTV(r)–”
“Yes I mean MTV(r).”
“So…did he?”
“No. God waz dead long before Nietzsche(r) waz born. Nietzsche(r) simply had the misfortune of feeling obligated to concern himself with the burial preparationz. Stonehenge Mayanz(r) carried the bodiez of their ancestorz to four-story funeral pyrez where the flesh simply rotted away in the sun. Nineteenth century Germanz had a more…*literary* approach to this sort of ritual.”
“Why didn’t they just fumigate?”
“Heroin hadn’t been invented.”
Jhanice heard a crash and when she looked in the direction of the sound she saw that one of the upstairz windowz of the shop had a jagged hole in it. The flutter of motion caught her eye: two boyz in orange hooded sweatshirts, young onez (towniez, thought Jhosette), running away through the crowd. Then Jhanice heard another crash, and looked back in the direction of the parlor to see that the window of a neighboring shop, the pizza place, waz now marred by a similar hole. Then she saw the arc of a textbook–the halvez of its cover spread and its pagez waving az it flew, cross over the white Rabbit(r) and strike a boy who waz stepping out the pizza place. It hit him square in the back and knocked the wind out of him. Trying to catch himself, he tripped on hiz own feet and fell into the road. There waz another crash, and the second window of the pizza place had been smashed through with a chair from the sidewalk eating area by a person who five minutes before been nervously enjoying a first date. Someone from inside the pizza place threw hiz fist through the broken window and said, “You dumb fuck!” and hiz sleeve caught on the pointed edgez of the glass and when he pulled hiz arm back it waz bleeding in four long streaks that ran in parallel tracks from hiz wrist to the inside of hiz elbow. A whole bookbag flew through the window and its weight knocked him back a step. The cut and bloody man rushed to the door of hiz shop but when he got there he didn’t open it: the sidewalk out front had erupted into a brawl, girlz pulling each otherz hair and guyz punching each other in the face so hard that after the punchez they couldn’t walk straight…or even see straight enough to make their next punch go towardz the person who had hit them last. Three paper plates lay next to an overturned table, the pizza grease marking the trajectory of their motion in long streaking marks from the plates to the sidewalk to the half-eaten pizza wedgez lying three feet away. Someone fell backward over the red door and into the interior of the Porsche(r) and the professor didn’t notice becauze he waz watching az the gathering crowd pressed itself blindly toward the front of the tattoo parlor and with its punching and pushing and pulling of hair it pressed itself against the door where the boy in the black jeanz that were too short for hiz legz waz still trying to get through. He managed to maneuver the thing once more into its one-inch-open position, then a girl the professor realized with a start waz Kimberly Harrison waz thrown at the door, her back striking the plate glass and slamming the thing clozed against the efforts of the cripple boy. The force of the door being shoved clozed knocked the breath out of Kimberly and knocked the cripple boy (who had been leaning on the bar to try to uze hiz whole body weight to push it open) onto the floor inside the parlor. He almost disappeared from the professorz view in the veil of black smoke thickening behind the storefront.
The boy waz struggling to rize, probably, but all Jhanice could see waz the bottomz of hiz shoez twitching–clawing at the plate glass. She tried to push her way through the crowd to get to the door, but Jhessica held her back by an arm and the neck of her shirt…the collar caught her neck and briefly, partially constricted the flow of air between her head and her lungz. Jhanice dug her fingernailz into Jhessicaz arm and when Jhessica reflexively let go Jhanice threw herself at the crowd and tried to burrow through the mass of fighting people, but she only found herself staring at the waistlinez of fifty pair of jeanz…Leviz(r), Wrangler(r), Guess(r), and pursez and shopping bagz that said Fendi(r) and Gucci(r) and Vidal Sasoon(r). And when she tried to go any farther she got kicked in the shinz (hard) and got her feet stomped on by shoez that said Chuck Taylor(r) and Nike Air(r) and shoez with big solez that Jhanice knew on the bottom said “Sketcherz(r)”. Someonez butt slammed into her chest and shoulderz and Jhanice fell onto the asphalt. She thrust her handz backward to break the fall but az soon az her fingerz touched the ground a pair of boots pinched them into the black. And she tried to get up, but got hit in the face with a knee that bruized her cheek for a month and when she eventually did get up everyone had changed placez and she couldn’t see which way it waz to the door of the tattoo shop and she had gone ten feet into the crowd in the wrong direction before she realized it and tripped again on something slick on the ground and saw ants on concrete near a seam in the sidewalk, methodically following their scented trail from a crack in the side of the building and to and from the dusty pizza wedgez that were smeared into the ground. She got up instantly and went along the fronts of the buildingz toward the tattoo place. She went past the sign that said “Every Second Tattoo 1/2 Price” and saw the billowz of black smoke behind the glass dulling even her view of the neon letterz hanging four inchez from her face. The crowd surged and wedged Jhanice between a torso wearing a giant sweatshirt and the hot surface of the glass. It surged again, and Jhanicez cheek waz smeared across the window az the crowd dragged the little girl in its pulse…the glass waz hot on her face and her skin felt like it would be ripped away and her handz grasped fruitlessly for some knob to hold to, to support her weight and free herself from the surging of the mass. But there waz no knob to grab to, only the smooth surface of the glass and her burning cheek pressed to it and smeared along the remaining length of the window and then the crowdz movement brought her around the steel frame between the large window and the parlor door–her body rotated over the raized rectangular shaft of the frame and its edgez cut into her face and armz and shoulderz in two placez az her body waz twisted along the surface of the shop. Then she waz pressed against the door of the parlor and the crowd surged into her, leaving her gasping for breath az she tried to

double over

keep her balance

The crowd surged again slamming her backside against the door but this time there waz no breath to squeeze out of her and she just banged flat into the glass, her armz clutching her sidez and her mouth open az she waited and hoped the breath would come. The streetlights were starting to look wonderful against the waning bluez of the sky and she could feel the rayz of the neon sign whoze lettering hung just above her head, along the horizon. The pink and blue light brightened the facez and clothez of thoze stuck just in front of the shop, and Jhanice made out, in the periphery to her left, an embroidered logo that said (in green on white cotton) “Ohio University”. And when the sight of all that had faded to black and then faded back in, and when the deep bluez of the sky had swam with eight thouzand specks of silver glitter suspended in the air by currents of invisible water, and when the breath came back (in cramped, choking gasps) and her handz had stopped clutching her sidez and had started (at some unrememberable point) clutching the aching in her head, Jhanice felt the glass door moving behind her and her mind flashed with a vision of the bottomz of the shoez clutching at the glass. The crowd had surged away from her and she found she waz able to turn around and kneel, almost before she could see again, tracing the ridgez in the steel door down to the base of the frame in this temporary blindness, her fingerz first finding the glass, then fanning widthwize to the edgez of the door…then, when her handz had found the columnz of steel at the sidez, the thumb and forefinger of each formed a cupping wedge around the nearest right angle of the beam and slid downward along the intersecting planez az the girlz kneez automatically bent to lower her body along a path parallel to thoze taken by her handz…and when she reached the bottom of the door she blinked and with the back of her hand rubbed the wetness from her eyez and steadied her body in relation to the door, gripping one side of the frame and feeling her breath dense and dry in her throat. Az she tried to breathe, her lungz lay flat in her chest. The air would not go down, but stayed at the top of her throat like a frightened child reeling at the edge of a cliff. She saw the shoez through the plate glass and through the swirling smoke. And they were not moving.

——-

Jhessica waz holding a black cloth to her chest (the strapless remnant of her bra) and staggering along the street searching groups of people huddled against buildingz that had not yet been burned and standing around watching the firefighterz unload long hozez from their trucks and paramedics carrying stretcherz and loading them into the backs of ambulancez while they strapped people to boardz, bandaged them, injected needlez–to some they simply administered Advair(r) and sent them on their way. Jhessicaz back waz bare. The remnant of her bra (a sheer fabric) hardly covered her chest. The cold air raized goosebumps on the skin and she waz glad for the heat that she felt az she passed close to buildingz with flamez licking the tops and edgez of their doorwayz and windowz. She saw Kimberly stretched against one of the fire hydrants to which the firefighterz had connected hozez, the girlz slip torn to shredz, her white legz expozed. Even in the light supplied by flamez that were half a block away and the dim green cast by the streetlamps, Jhessica saw the wicked score of scrapes and bruizez that marred the pale skin. There were four people seated around the hydrant, and two more standing, the six of them arranged in a rough semicircle around Kimberly, who, inbetween breaths of her clove, spoke in a rasp.
“Let’s loosen the belt buckle and this dripping…this slow Jen…this wet cafe that I have let myself reside in…where haz the world gone without me theze yearz…what haz silence let me hear that haz been crushed by the roar of noize on the outside…what storiez do thoze bats, who by day reside with me and by night escape to fly your world…what do thoze bats have to teach us both that neither you or I can see…drinking drops of whiskey through a straw…drumz and fliez in New Orleanz gutter, voodoo princess readz my tarot all of death in May…you will have an extended vizitation from your lover first dead in springz of alligator reptile you will write volumez of stone laid block on block to the sky and ants will climb the cracks alwayz falling, at some variable height dependent on the ant, into a terminal cushion of air, borne back by the pull of earth to softly go away in freefall, like you and I, borne back by a vacuum.”
“What happened next?”
Kimber took a drag on the clove and sort-of came back to Earth. “I waz up at the lake. Stroudz Run.”
“Wherez that?”
She uzed the clove az a pointing device. “Not too far outside town. Anywayz…this guy comez up to my car and had long hair. I had my riflez and stuff. I want you to know that. I said something becauze he got mad. We got in an argument and before I knew it–I don’t know exactly what happened–I try to tell you az much az I can by putting piecez together…this guy got killed.”
“How did he get killed?”
“By a knife, and I waz told that he waz stabbed several timez, he waz cut across the chest.”
“The paperz said he had a girl with him.”
“She came out to help him, and I hit her. I took her az a hostage, ” Kimber explained, “becauze she waz very polite and everything–we had a wonderful conversation.” Kimber told of torturing the girl prizoner for the next three dayz and killing her on the fourth day when she tried to escape. “I guess I stabbed her.”
“What did you do with the body?”
“Pushed it in the lake,” she replied, “I ran and I ran and I ran until I came to my sense. Then I came back to the dorm. I noticed my hand waz all bloody, my shirt waz torn.” Kimber told the crowd that she could barely remember what happened afterward and that she often became confuzed during acts of violence. Az she continued speaking, she recalled another murder. “And there waz another young lady involved,” she said slowly, “In other wordz…to put it bluntly, she iz dead.” The crowd got very still. Kimberly stared straight ahead, az if back in her trance. “Last year. That waz probably part of the reazon I waz scared, running…?” Her voice trailed off.
“What happened?”
“This young lady waz hitchhiking. She skipped school that day…we had a conversation and everything, you know…so I tortured her. This iz down below the cemetery. We got into a little argument and she grabbed hold of my knife and everything went berserk after that?!” Kimberly rubbed the sore portion of her leg. “I don’t remember much of it. She could have been sixteen, seventeen, eigteen…I don’t know…I don’t even know her name. We fell on the ground, I just went berserk, that’s all. She waz strangled with a rope, or with a piece of wire or something.” Kimberz eyez went glassy. “I’m sorry it happened.”
Az Jhessica passed by, Kimber had stopped speaking to drag the clove. Her audience waz laughing and remarking, prezumably in response to what Kimberly had just said. Jhessica kept walking. She thought Kimberly had not seen her but after Jhessica had looked away from the crowd and az Kimberly waz exhaling a breath of the clove, the blond-haired girl glanced over from her perch on the hydrant and took in the sight of her roommate’s sister: clutching some scrap of cloth over her chest and hurrying down the middle of the street away from the town and away from the firez and into the shadowz. When Jhessica waz out of her field of view, and az she waz relaying the next segment of her story to the crowd, Kimberly heard what she waz sure waz Jhessicaz voice call out meekly, “Jhosie…Jhosie?”
Jhessica turned into an alley between a Taco Bell(r) and an abandoned building. She crept along the narrow, vacant hallway of two brick wallz whoze mortar seemed to have been frozen just az it had somehow melted and began to ooze. Past the building that waz the Taco Bell(r), the alley widened significantly and Jhessica saw the source of the glow that had enticed her to enter this particular alleyway. A green dumpster that said “WM(r)” on the side waz burning…at least whatever waz inside it waz burning. The smell waz rotting vegetablez and rotten rubber, farmz and rainforests and grassy swamps all rolled together in the blistered air. A man waz there.
He waz flying a plastic toy airplane around hiz head like a child.
The neon orange of hiz one-piece coverall waz lost beneath the thick film of dirt that had shellacked the coarse fabric and smoothed the tiny recessez between its threadz. He waz holding a half-eaten banana close to one of the dumpsterz side openingz.
The airplane went “neeeaaarrrmmmm” and settled to a landing.
The sliding plastic door that usually covered the side opening had partially melted, and it had dripped and cooled in a chunky puddle on the concrete. Flamez spilled up the side of the dumpster near hiz hand. The bananaz peel appeared to have been torn off rather than stripped down and allowed to hang freely at the sidez of the fruit. Az Jhessica approached the dumpster, she waz comforted by the fact that the man did not turn hiz head to look at her, but hiz gaze remained absorbed in the action of the flamez. Jhessica tentatively went up sort of beside him to get closer to the warmth of the fire.
The airplane waz now firmly docked at the foot of the dumpster, pilot vacated.
The wind and cold air still kept goosebumps on her back but she felt the musclez in her face relax az the light struck her cheeks and the front sidez of her earz and the warmth of the flamez touched her shoulderz and parts of her neck. She waz still holding the scrap of her bra over her chest with her crossed armz. After a moment she turned her head to get a better look at the banana cooker. Hiz cheeks were red, like Santa(r)z cheeks in a Norman Rockwell(r) painting. He waz staring at the roasting fruit.
The windowz in the plastic plane were bombed out. Glass fragments at their edgez.
The glint of the fire in hiz eyez, the shape of them, and the molding of hiz cheeks (which to Jhessica seemed like more of a permanent cast than an expression struck for this particular moment) had the eerie effect of making it look like he waz smiling–slightly, distantly, but with a familiar and practiced adoration of the object he held to the fire. Jhessica looked at the banana. The end waz melting and a glassy coating threatened to drip away but never did–it just shifted with gravityz pull to different sidez of the fruit az the man rotated it. It looked warm, and though what waz left of the peel had almost completely blackened, Jhessica could only see one bruise on it.
The pilot must have jettisoned. Cockpit waz empty, no sign of crew.
She waz staring at the fruit and waz startled by a groan the man made that sounded like “ewwweee” (az uttered by a great sow) and az she flinched from this utterance her eyez jerked to the manz face and he turned hiz head somewhat in her direction, but not all the way, and, facing the flamez pouring from the dumpster, he groaned, “Want some?”
Jhessicaz attention waz on the plane. A tiny plastic lizard crawled from the wreckage. He waz injured. The seamz alongside hiz manufactured body rode flush with the seamz of hiz mouth, crossed hiz eyez. Jhessica sat down and brought her finger to the lizardz face.
He recoiled, licked hiz clawz, and spoke in a most somber tone. “What I tell you now I’ll have to whisper even though we’re in the solace of this red room.”
Jhessica looked up at the bananna cooker; he waz oblivious.
The lizard craned hiz neck so that Jhessica could hear. “What I tell you now iz a secret of the highest order that exists among our kind. We have no matterz of national security. When we speak, empirez do not fall and kingz are not made.”
Jhessica bent close in.
“But among even people like you and me there are thoze truths which, once spoken, spread like flame and do az much or more damage az iz done by fire. Thoze truths, when revealed, send us to jail, separate us from our loverz…they cauze us to distrust thoze whoze opinionz and wizdom have guided the coursez of our livez.” The lizard pauzed and extended a single claw in Jhessicaz direction. “Some of theze secrets, when told, drive the most level-headed person into a rage that haz no salve to quench it. And so, by telling you this, I am betting that you are unlike all other people I know, that you somehow have acquired a supernatural restraint, that somehow your logic iz so much your master that it can negotiate with the vilest passion that could ever rize within you.” He waited, trying to take in Jhessicaz expression, trying to figure how she waz reading hiz speech. “I am betting that theze thingz are true, not becauze I believe them likely to be true, not becauze I know them to certainly be true, but becauze there iz a part of me, like there iz a part of you, that wants to risk the knowing of the truth when such a question haz been raized az haz in this case been raized in you. I have a passion that wants to serve up justice to thoze who deserve it, and I know you have it too. So the me who iz agreeing to tell you what I’m about to tell you iz not the kind, reserved me who wants to do the right thing for all involved. It iz not a peaceful me who iz perfectly absolved to live and let live in every case. The me who iz telling you what I’m telling you now iz the me who seez in your eyez a curling squint which I know my eyez made when I first suspected what you have also now come to suspect. And so the me who iz telling you what I am telling you now iz the me who needz to rediscuss, with another part of me I’ve pushed down for yearz, something which demandz discussion of the most vehement kind, and which I had convinced myself not to pursue, by deluding myself that I waz not so closely involved with the situation, with thoze involved in the situation, that action waz absolutely required on my part. And I guess the reazon I’m even talking to you about this now iz that I’m unsatisfied with my earlier assessment of the requirement or lack of requirement on me to do anything about what I knew to be true. How do you take that kind of action against someone you care about so deeply, even when the crime committed iz so great az this? How do you decide that it’s right to punish your own daughter even for such a thing az this? I can see that you have disdain for me, az the me who haz kept silent about this action. I have no trouble recognizing the way you’re looking at me now. I have that same way of looking at myself over this thing…you know I must. And if you act now, I am convinced that you will react with the same rage and utter sickliness that I felt when I first saw that sight, ten feet from where I sat reading a book after a night of drinking. I saw thoze remainz, I saw the result of that act, I saw the look on that girlz face, and if I had been able to react at that moment, or even that day or that week, I would have done the very thing that iz now painted in your eyez like a wound. I’m not asking you to have restraint over this thing. The reazon I’m telling you this in the first place iz probably that I hope you will react in the way that at first I sometimez wanted to but didn’t. I admit: I’m hoping that restraint will be the farthest thing from your mind. But what I’m asking you to do iz to understand that it might be the case that if for whatever reazon you don’t react of the passion that now haz you in its grips…that you might, at your own motivation, az the knowledge playz itself out over time in your mind…that you might come to hold a certain understanding–maybe even an acceptance–of the course I choze.”

——-

Some of what waz left of the twisting strandz of red hair waz shifting against Jhosette’s naked shoulderz. She waz kneeling against a wall. Her head, her straight back, and the heelz of her feet formed a vertical line. Her legz were bent at the kneez. The girlz tshirt lay wadded on the concrete next to her. She waz breathing heavily–strong, anxious drafts from the chilly air. *We could smell my hand in moonlight, overcome deeper damage from hand-to-hand witchcraft, find ourselvez hunting pheromonez in a pet cemetery.* Jhosette’s body waz hot; her shoulderz and back had warmed the strip of wall she leaned against. She could feel its texture acutely (her sensez had been heightened by the explosion). She knew the wall waz covered with paint that formed a mural that waz popular with the students at the university. She waz underneath the art building. Facing the mural waz a wide, wide set of stairz where students liked to sit, smoke, flirt. This waz a popular first date spot among thoze who lived on campus. Jhosette gripped the skin at her anklez, kneading it roughly. The friction had turned a wide ring at each of her anklez first red, and then chaffed white. Jhosette could feel their burning pulse with her heartbeat and she imagined the raw ringz of her anklez were the circlez around anklez standing in shallow water, a stream, the edge of a pond: the pebblez on the bottom shining with ripple linez of sunlight coming through the water. Warm water. Salt water. The shore of the ocean, each pulse of warmth the next wave lapping in from the deep, coursing round her anklez in its rush to the land.

[page break – the following iz on a completely blank 2-page spread]

and Jhosette waz lying on the floor

[page break – the following iz on a completely blank 2-page spread]

and she waz the bird again, the cherry albatross

[page break]

cherry flavored pubsickle on a summer spoon. cherry flavored training wheel tricycle. cherry flavored Slip-n-Slide(r) sprinkler. green spotted mushroom man. mushroom hat. green speckled grass bladez. brown spotted white puppysickle. black spotted gray fence link silver beyond leaf. spotted poizon caterpillar treehouse entrance. treehouse playpen under-sky-blankets. potted plants. grubwormz. pbjz delivered every afternoon to a budding cherry fudgesickle. delight in licking jelly from your fingerz. delight from remnant tossing over brown spotted puppysickle puppysickle running from the hoze puppysickle drinking from the hoze puppysickle slurping puppysickle

puppysickle arf!

puppysickle lambz ear wool fleece poodle trimmed in the velvet sweaty sun. velvetshimmer. beadz of sweat lambing my coat. nice summer brown. nylon wristbandz. Spandex(r) Watersox(r). sandy puppycoat. silver crabfilm scuttling under the beachblanket crabfilm scuttling cross the sand crabfilm silver making its way to the wavez filmcrab scuttling in pounded surf scuttling from the treehouse puppysickle pbj…

and puppysickle arf!

arf! arf!

and puppysickle tailwagging puppysickle arf! arf! chasing gullz into the salt puppy fudgesickle bounding fourz in the shallowz gull circling low looking a perch, gaining steam, diving for a peck prospectus over dirty foam. puppy fudgesickle arf! bounding mommaz weekend reading puppy fudgesickle arf! bounding strangerz toddler wrapped in cherry floatiez tutu swimsuit hairclips pinkie finger in mouth face frowning at puppy arf! arf! and fudgesickle off to the next, off to the crabcake scuttling the salt puppy fudgesickle arf! arf! and gullz coming over the foam gullz swooping over the frying sand puppy arf! with gullz coming down at a four foot head stalling flaring floating waiting aiming and crunch–in for the kill

cherry arf! (fudgesickle watching their demize)

dirty foam tossing on the tilt

clarion criez from the albatross

[page break]

Jhosette wrung her anklez again and let the breath out. She waz counting aloud. Her wordz echoed briefly between the steps and the mural wall, then vanished against the sound the wind made az it rustled through the last leavez in the treez outside the cavern underneath the art building. “Seventeen…” Waterless, flush and drain, the sweat of motherz love; she pauzez around 1913, wipes her forehead, and returnz to the kitchen. She takes in all the breath she can and holdz it az long az she can and then lets it out (all) and wringz her anklez to keep them warm in the water. Then she lets herself say “Eighteen”. Not the kitchen of a house, but underground, the kitchen of the underworks and panty lining of the world. Wet with summer sun. And she knew that meant it would be coming soon and az soon az she allowed herself to know it, she did begin to feel her neck tighten and she threw it side to side to work against the cramp but it cramped anyway and she waz just throwing her neck (in twist) against it and she fell limp from the neck up and let her head drop with her chin against her chest and let herself breathe out normally, naturally, quickly, this time without the formality of holding it before she released. The shooting in her back made her lips go lax and a drop of saliva hung on by a strand and then separated–*drip*–falling to the spotty pool of spit and blood that had been gathering there over the last four hourz. Some of the blood had found a crack in the concrete and begun to seep into and fill its random shape with sticky redness that waz turning brown. A trail of ants crawled from a slit in the bottom of the mural to the fissure in the sidewalk cradling Jhosette’s output. They were carrying small amounts of the mixture–blood and placenta–back to their home in the mural wall. Jhosette clenched her anklez in deadlock when the push came.

beadz of summer sweat and your face tan for a summer while. beadz of sand clumping on your summer suit of summer style. solez–your feet padding wash on floor of summerz tile. solez–your feet–beating shoez of summer heat along the summer nile.

Her head reeled to its straightened position with the line of her back and the heelz of her feet.

and you’re waking up (slowly)

turning on the sheets–stretching

softly yawning

taking a summer while

She fought the urge to bear down on her tongue (az she had done the first time it came, piercing the muscle twice with the points of her incizorz). Instead, she ground her teeth together in a cramp reflex, pushing the bottom onez into the tops and bulling them forward, slowly, az hard az she could. And then she felt fragments of the concrete wall coming off in her nailz and realized she waz scraping her fingerz upward behind her back against the mural. And she couldn’t see it and would never know it but she waz streaking blood from her scraped away fingertips over and over in thick linez across the original pigment of the wall, crossing its geometric/organic black and white formz (mysterious letterz) with the straight wet linez of her blood. And the push waz stronger than before. And she let her straight posture fall. The keeping of it had been necessary with the keeping of her sanity, but now the slight laxing waz required if she waz to bear the pain at all. And so she let herself slump and let her feet flatten against the concrete and she let her eyez stop squeezing themselvez shut and let them fall away and let her eyeballz droop to the side and to the left. Let them droop to the sidez left of their sockets and let them stare at the faint lamplights from along the path. Illuminate the squarez of concrete (dusty) at her feet and the place where four of them met like a crossroadz. And her eyez were dry and her throat waz cracked and the sweat waz dripping from her armpits down the sidez of her body and joining with urine and blood and other fluidz that ran toward the crack and gelled and swirled and stank to attract the ants they would know to find the narrow cauldron–mixingz of the fluence of the human child and where to come to carry off the product of her labor. So they would know where she knelt and they would know the flavorz of her work so they would know her naturez and so they would be able to taste her–essence. So they would be able to follow in sightless industry–move molecule by molecule along the blindness–path of marching manufactured toward their queen. Moving underground. Other, each, gone. Meeting dark, fluid changing, feelerz grope–letting their–each another ask direction for, smelling scent treasure the of on lips of this one and gaining that key return thee in to toward…trading scent thee of thee path treasure to for scent thee of home thee path. Chirping sonic super in–bark directionz thee of path of thee, exchange fractious portionz thee of map thee to hole. Jhosette felt. Their tyrant where had sent them forth return to with fruits–babiez for thee–sent them forth juicez thee to reap any if fruit they find–package it to–gather it and transport it to the hole at the will of our mother–she sleeps to kill–she knowz the right to bear five and eat three–knowz horror thee and absurdity her of tasks–knowz the fault in all proponents of justice. Jhosette felt her lips. Her BLOOD iz ice and trailz them out she to above the mother with orderz to suck away the remnant of her corpse. Jhosette felt her lips spread wide and her insidez pushing themselvez outward, reversing like a backward sock and tearing her piece–piece–piece. She could feel–with the pushing–could feel herself ripped in two. Sliced down the middle from sharpness within and left for the both of them to rot. In the darkness of the cavern under the art building by the mural rizing near them the height of five storiez with its cataclyzim of twisting letterz–iconz–stick formz–unintelligable referencez to holy holy–tablets–mythical…throughout the text scattered are referencez to pagez in books that would never be printed, monikerz labeling heroez from storiez that were never told. She felt. Their truizmz teach the contracts of a race of creaturez that waz never born. She felt the tearing of. Their historiez list the namez of the victorious in battlez never fought and catalog the spoilz of warz that were never waged. Their pictographs show the headz and limbz of beingz–flat–of the wall, beingz that have never carried either breadth or depth. And az she felt the tearing of her body–az a drop of sweat tumbled from her self into the crevice of the ants, Jhosette felt the unrolling and the developing of a form along her own canal–

hunger. thee. nightly. showing.

borne back on the Kamel–jhosette borne back on the camel womb of innocence

inside me of she showz the murder bauble thee

cavedwellerz etching in my spine

tattoo mother–springz of silence
apple cloak
tangerine fiddle
cowboy pungent snake nickel
boot–snakeskin–apparition
microcircuitry emulation
axman
bloodtooth
dungeon
rhine
eminent castle terror interview
appetite moon feral tower malady
jericho
holy holy judgeless officerz
wanting rhetoric eyebrowz
i am he that liveth
he that hath an ear let him hear what the spirit haz to say
and i am somewhat against thee becauze thou hast killed my first love
fear nothing yet you may be tried
write down the thingz that you have seen remembering thoze who have fallen
but i will come to thee quickly and remove the candlestick

fear

fear nothing
you are the paradise of god

now i will tell you what iz alive and i will remind you of your early tribulation and proverty. i get a message on my machine that sayz you murdered your daughter. amen. you’re taking it pretty hard. the keyz of heaven and death fear not. i remember we were back down on a futon in the district saying this waz the best sex we ever had. wrap me in a golden girdle. back down in a restaurant you giving me head under the table and us making mime facez for all to see knowing that the only thing that mattered waz my dick and your cunt and the flowing and the flowing of nasty tidez. clothed with a garment down to the foot. and we didn’t care if they saw us and we didn’t care what they thought about us and we didn’t care if they thought we were better than them. wrap hiz handz in wool az white az snow. for we and they and thou and me and you all knew that it waz true. and hiz eyez were az a flame of fire. so we made love on Advair(r) twelve hourz late after popping in the diner turned diner turned nightclub turned nightclub turned bar. prophetess: teach and seduce my servants into fornication. teach them to eat the foodz that have been sacraficed under idlez. and we fucked in the carpet on the living room becauze you wouldn’t let me waste the time it took to get us out of the parking lot. thou hast a few namez that even in Sardis are not to be spoken. wouldn’t let us waste the time it takes to finish a movie or the time that it would take to answer the phone or let us waste the time that it would take to eat a proper breakfast or let us waste the time that it would take to finish up a shower. pillar of washington (theif!) i come upon you i am rich and increased with goodz, and yet i know nothing. they who have need of nothing are neither hot nor cold. they who preach not know not of wickedness. i will spill thee lukewarm out of the holez in the sidez of my mouth–dressed in white rainment–spewing the shame of your naked daughterz, spewing the shame of patriots–behold i will make the church of satan. you have the key that shutteth. i stand at the door and knock. if anyone hearz my voice, open it. on the right hand of the minister there waz a book written within and on the backside, its every other line turned upside-down, its every fifth letter turned backward, its every seventeenth letter written with salt (a tear), its every twenty-third letter crumbling the crayon scrawl of a child, its every thirty-seventh letter scribbled in the hand of blood and the book waz crossed seven timez to keep its word from the people. out went another horse (this one red) and borne on its back the smokesight of a clockwork voice ghostly channeling peace onto the earth. twenty-four saints fell down before him and loosed their beasts on the one who sat on Columbiaz throne. their daughterz were raped by men with beardz, ruled forever and ever. each pair of tiny handz held vialz full of the prayerz of the saints. the lizard held a balance in hiz hand: he changed the currenciez of thoze who entered the church (a measure of wheat for a penny, three measurez of rice for a penny, three measurez of straw for a penny). see to it–he said–that you allow no damage to come to the oil and the wine. or let us waste the time that it would take to let us waste the time that it would take to let us waste the time. and twenty-four saints fell down and worshiped the moneychanger. but your daughter waz murdered therez time time time and time time time. he works forever and ever. he doeznt know how to make you come. the seaz of the earth have turned to wormwood. a loud voice said–woe to the inhabiterz of the earth. woe to thoze who live on land. you have much to fear from the sea. he doeznt know how to stop you from watching the lizard. and the sun went blue. he doeznt know how to force you to watch the lizard stalking young girlz while i hold your head into the futon forcing your eyez to the screen and forcing you to not move at all and scratching you if you–no, do not move–no, do not take your eyez from that screen. smoke aroze from the altar. i want to make you watch the killer taking hiz young girlz while i torture you on the futon. scorpionz flowed from the book like a river. do not fucking move or i’m going to strangle you and when i strangle you i will cum and you will cum and you will die on the futon giving me head in the restaurant when the server bringz us wine and smellz the cork and you make me do it to you right here inside the door not two steps in becauze there iznt time to waste in getting to the bedroom there iznt time to waste in hiding the fact that we’re popping Advair(r) at the diner eating eggz and toast at 2am. the scorpionz tortured all the inhabitants of the earth and devoured everything that lived. there iznt time to waste in waiting till we’re back in the car to let your foot slide between my legz and leave your shoe on the tile under the table and there iznt time to talk of your dead daughter or my dead friend not for long becauze the way you listen to my storiez iz only an excuse (a backstage pass) so you can feel okay about fucking me and the time i listen to your storiez iz the same we pay this admission but the more i listen to your crap the more we suck in bed more i fuck your dead daughter more i fuck your fuck your

don’t care if you can’t breathe and i don’t care if you are sad and i don’t care if he will know and i don’t care what this moment will be blamed on destroying once it all playz out therez a slide like soapsudz squeaking in the best sex you’ve ever had and your eyez holding onto my head and locked and locked and slide slide slide you are my. scorpion. scorpionz. they had the hair of a woman and the teeth of a lion. worship this idol of gold. thieving and sorcery. record all that you see. in theze dayz the mystery of god will be finished, az god himself haz foreseen. and hiz voice will dim and flicker. and i took the little book out of the angelz hand and ate it up, and it waz az sweet az honey in my mouth. rize, woman: measure my coffin, and make your measurement exact. measure the height and the width. then worship the box. if anyone blowz this candle out, they will be consumed by fire. if anyone knocks over this cup of water they will be drowned. and their corpsez will lie in the streets of the great city. and the people of all nationz will see their bodiez for three dayz and they will not be allowed to put into the ground. and the citizenz of the earth shall rejoice over their corpsez, and celebrate, and send gifts to one another, becauze theze were the prophets that tormented all that lived upon the earth. anyone who looks at their facez will be taken with terror. and then an earthquake will devour the city (the dead and the living all alike) and swallow them with silence. do not look at the facez of the prophets. our scorpion standz before the woman who iz ready to deliver her child. our scorpion will eat the child az soon az he iz born. the scorpion sendz a flood of water from hiz mouth, covering the woman. thoze who worship the scorpion say–who can stand up to the scorpion? what power can our enemiez have against the scorpion? and the first saint poured out hiz vial, and there fell a noizesome and grievous sore upon the earth; our peoplez skin burned like acid (a virus). and the second saint poured hiz prayerz on the street and they clotted like blood, turned to dry powder. the third saint poured hiz prayerz on the street. and it waz a river of cinnamon and sage and wine and oil and flour and rice and chickenz and pigz and sheep and horsez and carz and slavez and and soulz–

Jhosette had this dream that Jhanice waz carrying the baby on the saddle of a brute through city streets. Bagpipes marbled like a tortoise. Cradling the bloody stillborn, riding a dead goat. The city endz in crumblez, sand…

They lay sticks and yellowed newzprint inward from the gutter wall.

The crowned hoovez of our gimp
bury chroniclez of the day in tearz and shit
under the palace where

a trickster child sips BLOOD from the teets of hiz mother
az she SCREAMZ hiz NAMEZ at the SKY

ABADDON
BELIAL
ANGEL OF LIGHT
ROARING LION
STRONG MAN
LEVIATHAN
SON OF THE MORNING
PRINCE OF THE POWER OF THE AIR
PUPPET

BABYLON!(r)

Snowbunny