Welcome! Here is this week’s Flash, posted in the order received.
The theme is Union of Opposites.
I met her on December 26th, 2002. I tripped on my words and felt sure my chin was wet with drool. At the time, I had no idea I’d be seeing her increasingly over the next few years and eventually share an apartment with her; she radiated a scintillating temporality and I wrung thoughts from my mind, determined to soak up her presence like a sponge.
All my life, I thought meeting Rachel Bridile would be like feeling pounding heat in the middle of winter and her gentle smile would be like a glass of lemonade. But in the night of December 26th, watching her stride toward me with flashing cameras behind her, pushing light out of darkness like searchlights, I felt as if I were in the midst of an emergency, like a tornado was gliding toward me and I was too afraid to move.
“What are you doing behind the ropes, Mr. Brice?” she giggled, staring at me. I felt the flashing heat of the cameras on my face. “How mistreated you are! Please allow me to be your escort and come join the party. Everyone is anxious to meet such a designer as yourself.” She extended her hand across the red ropes. My name is not Mr. Brice, it’s Thomas, and I am not a designer; I’m a code monkey. But I did not have time to realize that she knew—it’s so obvious now—that I wasn’t a designer and had no idea who I was. I took her hand and jumped the rope as gracefully as I could, my heart hammering in my chest, and did not allow myself to believe that this was an elaborate joke rather than a misunderstanding, that she was doing what I idolized her for: acting. We walked down the isle into a wide panorama of cameras and red carpet, framed with gold fixtures.
Oh look there’s a very tall one with
a squatting toad, not in a bad way,
but in a hey wait up you’re walking
way too fast for me to keep up
with you today kind of way. His feet
slid over the surface of the earth like
he’s on skis while her feet punched the
earth with jagged holes every couple of steps
or so and seemed more like tiny machinery
ready to give an oily cough or two
and call it quits at any moment. And
yet they dragged on together. There’s a beautiful
hopeful smile with a sneering less enchanted grin.
Boy is she in for a big surprise.
It’s her birthday and he’s completely forgotten her
name.He’s a lumox but she’s always loved
big animals.She squeezes his arm like he’s
a favorite stuffed bear hearing a secret thought
right before bedtime. And here you go there’s
an old gut who’s been up and down
the river a few times surely by now
used to three squares a day with a
prettified younger one who’s probably still trying to
keep the last one down for the count.
All of them seem to belong to each
other anyway. Okay just one more. The undiscovered
moviestar and the clueless cheerleader who thinks he’s
a smart dresser. He struts and she gaits
it but decides to give the long haired
boy a little soft at the corners look
as he rolls by looking for his tee
shirt, which he obviously must have lost somewhere
on the way over to the beach earlier.
Mafia? What I know about the Mafia? – I’ll tell you: I was once married to an Italian, a gorgeous woman and an ardent Catholic. She was the daughter of a Carabinieri general, who was proud to have received a handsome payment from the Mafia for helping them kill one of their implacable opponents – down there they spring up like mushrooms after the rain, I am told. After I left her, I never lost the fear he might send someone to break my kneecaps. I still remember our last meeting: I stood outside of his black Mercedes: he lowered the tinted windows just enough for me to be able to see his sunglasses and the moustache holding them up: Son, he said, don’t forget your friends but don’t underestimate your enemies. I wasn’t listening well because I had my eyes on the rabbit leaning on him like my ex-wife used to. I swear it was grinning at me.
Damn, but he was sexy, sitting astride the horse, chest hair poking above his polo shirt. Normally his buttoned-up doctor’s coat revealed only a tanned jawline.
He threw his polo mallet on the ground as I offered him the tray of tumblers.
“You look strangely familiar,” he said, taking a drink and swinging his leg over the horse, landing on the ground beside me without spilling a drop of Jamaican rum.
“Don’t know why,” I said, tossing my raven hair. “I used to be an alien in a previous life.”
Really, I was simply out of my nurse’s uniform, and his probable myopia made seeing me for the person I really was, improbable.
“My contact lenses fell out on the playing field,” he said. “Perhaps everyone looks strangely familiar.”
He downed the glass as I watched his Adam’s apple throb. I was giving him my best signals and he was lobbing them in all directions. Frankly, I wanted to take the polo mallet and smash it over his head. These diet pills were getting me nowhere.
I dropped the tray of drinks on the ground. “Oh, I’m so clumsy,” I gasped. “I hope my mysterious illness isn’t flaring up. No one seems to know a cure.”
He bent down and picked up the tray. His subservience was immediately unappealing. This paediatrician stalking was a joke. Perhaps I should try another profession as my friend Marta suggested. She had snared a nice psychiatrist and a great couch to boot.
“White,” he says.
“Black,” I answer. Then I correct myself: “Snow.”
He doesn’t look up, just keeps filling my answers into little printed boxes.
“Street,” he says.
“Sign,” I answer.
He takes his time.
My mind keeps playing his game while I wait for the next task. House Mouse. Trap Escape. Door Window…
“Now pick a color,” he says.
He places 6 cards in front of me. Blue Yellow Red. Green Orange Violet.
“White,” I say.
He doesn’t get the joke. Or maybe it’s part of the rules: no humour.
“Pick a color”, he says.
“Orange,” I answer.
He takes the card, takes another note.
We repeat the color game until there is only green left.
“Hope goes last,” I comment. I can’t help it.
“They are complementary,” he informs me. “If you add all of them, you arrive at white.”
I hadn’t known that. Or maybe I had, a long time ago. I lean back, waiting for the next stupid telling question, but we are done. He hands me a cheque.
On the way home, I buy a box of water colors. I make sure that all six colors are included, blue yellow red, green orange violet. I paint them on a boxless page, one after the other. I try. I try again. White, I say. White Sky. Street Crossing. I try and try. But the only places I arrive at are brown, gray, nameless.
“I can’t believe they’re getting married.”
“Shush, the ceremony’s started. You’re just jealous she found someone
“I don’t have to rush into anything. Oh my god, do you see her back?”
The couple exchanged vows. The groom bent his head. His long hair hid
his crinkling eyes and flushed cheeks. The bride wiped a tear dangling
from his chin. His hands grabbed hers and held them. A tattoo of a
compass covered the back of his left hand. He raised his head. Another
tattoo of a pirate flag peeked from his collar. They kissed. A few
sobs escaped the crowd.
“He’s a good man for marrying her.”
It started on a whim when Henry got downsized from his Wall Street job. He’d read in Fortune, or somewhere, about a bond trader turned baker. Henry becoming enamored with flour and sugar.
Now Henry isn’t a sharing person. I buy a cake, he devours the whole thing while I’ve only had a slice or two. That’s what made me think cupcakes. They can’t really be shared— so mistakenly I’d thought: no problem here.
It’s a sweet little place, trés shabby-chic. Henry bakes them, getting up early, as all true bakers do. He’s the type of man who puts himself fully to every task. The cupcakes are heavenly, arranged on round glass pedestal trays with lace paper doilys. Our shop is the most perfect little escape from reality.
So why do we fight all the time?
Today we fight over frosting. I feel pink with sprinkled coconut would be a nice change from the typical white on white.
Henry sort of pulls at his hair. “Pink will turn off the men.”
“What is this, a sports bar? It’s cupcakes, Henry. Cupcakes?”
“I’d like to attract more of a mixed crowd. Too many prissy-pots,” he says.
“Ok, we’ll do a beef-jerky cupcake with a swastika on top. Edible or plastic?”
”The swastika. Do you want it sugar or plastic?”
“Now where would we find a plastic swastika?”
“You’re kidding me, right? Henry tell me you’re kidding.”
She fanned herself in the sweltering heat of the church and dreamed of the vegan spring rolls she would order for lunch afterwards. Her godless ways condemned her to hell, according to the man onstage, but all she cared about was the man she sat next to.
He sat in the pew and held her free hand, devotedly trying to save her soul while listening to the preacher condemn it, and dreamed of cheeseburgers.
The service ended. They exited the building together, hand in hand, and drove into the day.
I think of us as a Venn diagram, two ovals making
union, my yin seeking optimal overlap with your
yang. But north-facing magnets perpetually
polarize our perimeters, every minor interaction
implodes into a push-me-pull-me tug-o-
drama – the toothpaste cap rolling in the bathroom sink,
the crusted cans cluttering the recycle bin, the
maxed-out (again) Visa. Tits-for-tats, our minefields
of petty disgruntlements escalate, words carelessly
scattershot – always, never, fault, hate — leaving
behind crumb trails of unarticulated ultimatums.
But then, we sleep or, perhaps, make love – no, it’s
fucking pure and simple – and we lose ourselves in
the animal noises, the words peel away, and our
amalgamations circle to their singular intersection.
We did what we had to do, donned black balaclavas and we kept moving. There were no sirens, no alarms, no newscasts, even. We just knew, and we moved.
In what used to be Philly, we drag-raced with what used to be Move. A dreadlocked woman and a naked toddler threw down the flag; we gunned our engines, we were off. We knew we had to leave them behind. Only two of them’d survived the government onslaught decades ago and these two weren’t them.
In the Dakotas, our cars danced past the Ghost Dancers. They were hard core drummers. Mickey Hart woulda been jealous, if he’d survived. Their drums kept going going going, but they all stayed in one place.
We had to move.
In the Alabamas, we ran into fog and a regiment of Confederates. We got the fuck out of there. Tout suite.
I’d like to say we didn’t remember the Alamo, but one of ours had to piss. We ran into youknowwho and he was fighting Mexicans and it was so beautiful and there were fireworks, or else it was God’s wrath, or else it was the sky now.
The way the sky was now was beautiful but you had to stop to see it.
We couldn’t stop for long; if we did we knew we’d be dead. If we were dead, we’d have to stop and then we’d have to start moving all over again.
Sam sat for the last time among the basalt tidepools she had come to know so well that weekend. Her eyes followed ghostly crabs climbing past anemones, but she didn’t see them. Even on the climb down from the campsite, when her hands gripped the sharp ridges left as the lava cooled, she thought only of Lisa’s soft tanned skin and all the places on that slender body she would never see again, let alone touch.
Sam had been so pissed off about sharing a tent with a cheerleader.
“Experienced campers need to take care of newbies,” the youth leader had apologized.
Lisa, however, turned out to be anything but new to the woods. They had spent the past two nights discussing edible and medicinal plants by flashlight; Lisa even knew legends about salal that Sam had never heard. Late Saturday night, Lisa had claimed to be cold and slipped into Sam’s sleeping bag. The hours that followed had been the best of Sam’s life.
They would never be repeated. Lisa had kept her distance at breakfast, and Sam knew she was a good Christian girl who couldn’t be a lesbian. Nor could a cheerleader befriend a freak who used a notepad to communicate with people but talked to plants and animals.
Sam breathed deep of salt and kelp. One perfect night would have to be enough. She rose and began the climb back to where the other girls were packing and laughing.
Responding to the court’s decision to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, Congress redefined marriage as a Union of Opposites. The point was to discriminate against same-sex couples without referring directly to men and women in the law and to thereby sneak one past the Justices. But as was its wont, Congress acted hastily and without reading the final legislation and thus gave homosexuals a long-awaited opportunity. Instead of marrying as man-and-man or woman-and-woman, hordes of gays and lesbians sealed their love as short-and-tall, thin-and-fat, right-handed-and-left-handed. The wrath of God was immediate. The mighty US ship-of-state shuttered and shook as it tore along the dotted lines which distinguished it from Canada in the North and Mexico in the South. Its planking opened up along every longitude from Maine to California. And in a devastating instant, the Lower 48 collapsed into the earth. Canadian soldiers armed with hockey sticks swarmed out of Whitehorse to conquer Alaska and battalions of pensioners from Vancouver and Toronto, kept spry by socialized healthcare, dropped from the skies to take Hawaii. Ironically, Ottawa imposed same-sex marriage on both of these new acquisitions. While this last development led believers to question the ways of God, they soon discerned the wisdom of his plan when they realized that the collapse of the USA created space for the rising tides of global warming and opened up the trade route between Europe and China, thus finally giving Christendom something it had been praying for since the days of Christopher Columbus.
On the news, the economy is all bad, but you’d never know it from my viewpoint washing dishes at Chan’s Open Kitchen. Just like that Charles Dickens thing on TV. “Stuff’s kinda good. Stuff’s also kinda bad.”
You can’t see me. I’m all the way in the back drying clean dishes with a filthy rag. My roomate, Quon, waited tables and fed me information about the patrons. After work, we’d get so high that we’d slip off the couch onto the floor and cuddle while the record player crackled and cadenced until one of us realized the needle never reset and we would fall asleep.
“See that guy.” Quon pointed and I searched through a small portal. A man in November courted May. She laughed and pawed at his shoulder. “That rich bastard’s got it all, poor guy.”
Just then, the woman’s mouth dropped. She grabbed her Martini and threw it. The man’s head was drenched. Quon said it was a dry Martini and I howled. I bolted out the back door to the alley and laughed my ass off and that’s when I saw it – a slug racing away, leaving a trail of shiny muck in its wake.
“I can’t give you my blessing,” she said gently. “It will never work. I’m sure she is lovely, and she has the most beautiful eyes. They are so big, I can see why you’re mesmerised. You are the same colour, but there are so many other differences between you.
“Her nose is a little obvious, it’d always cause comment in our circles, and is that fair to her? We have long noses in our family, Uncle Bill’s for instance, but hers is positively serpentine. Surely it would get in the way of every quiet moment you had. Her ears are a little excessive. Lovely that she would hear you, but with ears like that, she’d hear you change your mind.
“Have you really noted her legs? Solid yes, but such chunky ankles. Nothing like the elegant leg our family is so proud of.
“Her parents won’t agree, you know. Better have a broken heart now, my dear. A few tears and then look closer to home. You know, there has always been a problem between our families. Elephants are scared of mice.”
Tell me you’re wearing a ——-
What? Who is this?
Just tell me you’re wearing a ——-
This is lewd, This is offensive. This is disgusting.
If you’re not wearing a ——-, please hang up, put one on, and call me back. My number is ###-####.
Is this ——-? I told you not to contact me. Do I have to call the police again?
No need for guesses. Just answer the question, please.
If this is my stepfather, I’m going to puke.
Look, are you wearing a ——- or not? I have other calls to make.
I could just hang up. Why don’t I hang up? I have this problem—I can’t hang up.
You’re compelled. You’re smitten. A yes or no—that’s what I’m looking for.
I’m home alone. I just vacuumed the couch. After I eat a sandwich, I’m going to scrub the toilet.
I could make assumptions from this response but I need hard yes or no confirmation.
I could be lying either way. What if I just lied?
Look, I know we’re total opposites but we could be good together. We could meet at the local —–, grab a drink, get donuts, fantasize.
Donuts? What the hell’s wrong with you? Goodbye.
Wait! Let me sing a song. Let me put my love into you, babe. Let me cut your cake with my—
I’m hanging up. Goodbye.
Wait! What you’re wearing now, is there skin showing? How about showing some —-?
She smells like cinnamon. He tastes like sea-salt. Her hair is the colour of the apples on the trees. His is dark and curled, soft like animal down. When she strokes him, he purrs. In the mornings, evenings, they swim, emerge fresh and naked from untainted ocean. They tell one another they are the gods, goddesses, their laughter lazily rippling. They tell one another this is the beginning and do not laugh. Wrapped in one another, the world buzzes quietly around them. When they kiss they grow larger and he breathes: yes, we are the gods. Between her legs she is ripe red like pomegranate seeds. He reaches. She climbs atop him, asks: but wasn’t I second, smaller? Her fingers brush his rib-cage. He smells of lust and grass in the sunshine. He swells, tugging her over him. You are a goddess, he whispers. No such thing as smaller, second. The hot breath of the afternoon. Apples spill. She arches.
People said Marvin Miller was born flat-out miserable. After flunking out of an Ivy League university, “Miserable” Miller inherited a fortune, cracked up and retained the counsel of Dr. Beatrice Kukuber, psychiatrist.
Forty sessions later, Marvin refused to talk anymore and sat staring at Dr. Kukuber for the appointed hour. When she suggested he retreat to a South Sea island to find himself, he booked a flight and checked into a resort near Samoa.
One night Marvin went for an underwater walk. The suicide note read;
My darling Kuku:
I found myself. But I’m here, too.
Forever love, Marvin
I was a Mormon once, but then decided to give it up and start drinking. Drinkers have all the fun, have raucous sex in the back seat of a car, smoke pot.
My first beer was a Budweiser. Not a good one to start with, but it was free, so I took it. Can’t beat a free beer, even if it does suck. After my first one I had another, then another and another and…
I woke up in the rose bushes at a friend’s house. The inside of my head felt like a lava lamp. I took an aspirin, felt better after a couple of hours, then went home.
My second beer was a Guinness. It tasted like chocolate, the first couple anyway, but I after that I don’t remember. But I do remember the back seat of my Honda Accord and Sally Harmon sitting on my face.
After beer I moved on to liquor, shots of vodka, then bourbon on the rocks. This time I woke up in the hospital, was told they had to pump my stomach. I felt like shit the whole day, but felt better when Sally came to pick me up.
Two weeks later I woke up in the hospital again. I had wires and machines jammed in my arms and chest. Sally was in the bed next to mine, but she was covered in a white sheet. I began to cry, but didn’t return to the Mormon Church. I blamed God for everything.
“What is the world but a pile of contradictions?” he had said, launching once again into one of his favorite themes. “Dark is the absence of light and evil the absence of good, and yet, can one exist without the other? No, it cannot. “
“Hold on. Darkness as the absence of light, I can see,” she said. “It’s self-evident. The sun is in the sky, or it’s not, but there’s a big black hole in your argument.”
“An anomaly,” he said with a derisive wave.
“I don’t mean an actual black hole” she said. “In order for your evil-as-the-absence-good metaphor to work, as a strict parallel to the binary relationship between light and darkness, you have to demonstrate that ‘good’ is substantial.”
“Yes,” he said, “that would be correct. Do you think I cannot?”
“I don’t see how. Despite everything happening in the world, I can see that evil has no substantial existence, but that does not mean that it’s opposite necessarily does.”
“Sure it does,” he said. “Existence may be powered by contradiction, but its essence is attraction. The glue of the world is love. What is love if not good? I’ll prove it to you.” He took her by the waist, pulled her close, and kissed her. When he let up, she held his head and continued with more vigor.
“You and I,” she said upon relenting. “Talk about a pile of contradictions.”
“Indeed,” he said. “Thank you for proving my point.”
The fields that Arthur Parsing parses are frames and variables and motions. Organization is how Arthur’s parsing parses. First he notes insects clouding grasses and that the sky is bereft of birds. Then the wind comes with a transparent cheering. Blushing, he notes the alternating bands of colors that are held together by surface tensions. From there he intuits the continuous danger of everything flying apart.
When Arthur parses he hums to himself: “What is he looking for? What is he looking for?”
It is hard to monitor the surface tensions that subtend a composition.
Sometimes Arthur Parsing’s parsing pulls the past into the system of the present. Geographies become multiple: a hill stops being a hill, becomes a junction between time-spaces. His pulling-in unfolds around an invisible intentional line that difficulties endanger by changing.
When difficulties arise—and they do—-he picks up his Fischer-Price telephone and says: “Party’s getting rough.” This secret code springs an imaginary combine. Messages hurtle through metal tubes and trigger actions which are undertaken by agents who sit in offices waiting for messages to strike them like billiard balls. Balances are restored as cumulative effects of these actions. It doesn’t matter what the actions are.
Arthur Parsing parses the universe of a five year old. In that universe when Arthur Parsing parses he does not need to parse Arthur Parsing’s parsing. Arthur, parsing, is an observer. Arthur Parsing is transparent.
Watery sweet-salt linden sea, I am, I am still, thought the dreamer. Closed and still my eyes, an eternity below me and above, and so what is the need for eyes at all.
In time her unnerving stillness exerted a gravitational pull on the others, who began their inspections, sideways at first and unobtrusive, increasingly bold because they met without resistance, without any response at all. A woman, perhaps even a girl, her face was after all obscured by a nearly perfect and symmetrical ring of dyed blonde curls; a line of delicate blue embroidered flowers ran up the side of her jeans. Details, details….young enough then, growing younger by the minute because think otherwise and fear comes racing to the surface more quickly than the inspection warrants even though the impulse for the inspection could not itself be called superficial. Of course in time it is noticed that her hands are pink and old and swollen, but by then it is no longer paradoxical. The woman is stirred by the shoulder.
The dreamer awoke, and the universe was gone, replaced by scenery whose tremendous detail propelled only the animal and specific drive to hide. I am wet, I am falling, she knew, before she hit ground. My god I am so heavy here, even as my eyes look up I tend toward the ground.
The drunk was taken away, and the bus arrived, full of Saturday girls, perfumed and mascaraed, with Raybans and hopes and hair black as Elvis.
For centuries it was said that the border swallowed those who attempted to cross it. An old wives’ tale, many said, constructed to keep children in line. On both sides, children played the same games. If they played all together without speaking, one would imagine the ball still being kicked, carried beyond goals.
The shadow of Diego’s house just touched the hills that touched the border at late afternoon in the month of July. This, said Diego’s mother, was the line where small children and men could be lost. No one would know what had happened but you would never see that person again. Small boys grew into men but their eyes still shone with the mischief. Some day they would challenge the eater of men. Each day it grew in importance rather than died with their childhood dreams. They still planned in whispers; they still caught the gleam of the line as, touched by the sun, it beckoned with flashes of gold light every day at high noon.
One night Diego and his closest friend Juan bellied up to the border. Their breath was heavy with excitement and fear. Their eyes met in moonlight, their nods in agreement. As one, they sprang up and ran.
They ran as if chased by black devil bulls. Diego heard the crowd cheering, saw the ball flying, felt the heavy weight as he was tackled and fell.
He is smiling. It stinks of burned hair. He stares, grinning, while Krystelle tries not to cry. Mrs. Harley moves him to the front. He whines when she takes his bunsen. He tells her he likes experiments.
She’s new so maybe she still feels sorry for him. He’s got eczema and is small for his age. We call him “scab,” and hiss if he comes too close. Even the teachers hate him. At the end of class she reminds us about tomorrow’s field trip.
Next morning, he’s cupping something in his hands. It’s a mouse, a cute brown baby one. We crowd round to see, and then he squeezes hard, crushes it. Krystelle grabs my arm, and goes white. He shakes the floppy little body at us, smiling. By the time the teacher arrives, he’s thrown it into the bushes.
She’s put him in our group. He finds a fishhook and some line on the beach. He ties one end around a rock, and baits the hook with a piece of his sandwich. Almost immediately a gull lands, swallows it, and tries to take off, screaming. He throws the rock into the water and we watch the as the struggling bird is dragged under.
Mrs. Harley seems to run in slow motion.
Krystelle’s a lot bigger than him. She sits on his chest, her knees on his arms, and sort of scratches and rips his face with her long fingernails, shouting “How do you like it, you freak?”
The dog’s nails tapping across the floor divert her attention from the
phone. She now hears the cartoon voices, the lawn mower, fridge, and
central air. The sound of the lawn mower peaks then quickly returns to
its previous buzz. She understands the pattern to mean that the mower
has passed near the window. Larry.
The conversation resumes:
– Him? He’ll be at Mom and Dad’s next. Then he’ll clean their gutters
or something. It’s passive aggressive. Everything about him is — even
the way he cuts the grass. Every time exactly the same because he heard
somewhere it’s better for the grass to do it different. So he does it
– I don’t know. I don’t care.
– You’re right. I should.
[after Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Lewti, or the Circassian Love-Chaunt]
The light bright, the amber-glow dream
And the glint of a star
Flew from Loki, my roomie’s cat’s mien;
The just-waxed floor brightest by far.
They partly out of my view
By flowing veils of whitened hue. —
So glows my Lewti’s fur so fair,
Emanating out of her to the musky air,
Picture you Lewti! On your behind
Depart; for Loki is not kind
In a nonce then the sight
In a nonce they set ready to fight;
I had no portent this would occur,
Ne’er did I see this happening,
Not days before, nor those coming;
Have only seen them over and over,
Backs curved only to ignore:
Then scoot away from sight,
Now fiercely snarling and tight,
And Loki’s ivory incisors show
As fiercely snarly can glow.
Out! this picture in my mind
Depart; for Loki is not kind
We know where my Lewti flies
When cat-nip has dilated her eyes:
It is under the laundry hamper-cover,
The birdsong twitters in her head:
If only I could! Save the hour
That waxed hall’s floor to tread,
And cat-paw, like you, no sound ahead,
I might be able to save your plight
Entering horrific to my sight.
What then! these two cats together cleave
And passionately begin to conceive!
Ah! If only this I saw in my dream,
And dreamt they made love, not war;
Less time wasted would I deem
That all’s good, as lovers are!
I’d cry not atall, if I could foresee
Their bodies entwined in glee!
The invisible line reached over and tickled Eddie, taunted him. Eddie could stand it no longer and poked Thomas’ knee. When he moved it, Eddie poked his elbow.
“MOM! Eddie’s on my side.”
“He was saying mean stuff!”
“I didn’t say ANYTHING, doofus. You poked me.”
“You were thinking it.”
“BOTH OF YOU! Cut it out. Eddie, move against the door. Thomas, stop provoking him.”
“I didn’t do ANYTHING and you should yell at EDDIE and not ME.”
“Not another word out of either of you.”
Thomas went back to his graphic novel. A minute later, a shadow appeared across the left-hand page of the book; Eddie was straining to sit as tall as he could, his head now craned against the rear window, reading. Thomas turned the page and heard a slight gasp from his brother; Eddie hadn’t finished reading yet. Although he was older, it seemed to Thomas like Eddie was slower at everything. He wasn’t retarded or anything, just slower than Thomas.
In the mirror, Thomas watched his brother’s lips move as he read. Thomas caught his mother checking their silence in the rear-view mirror; a calmed smile broke across her face.
Thomas scooted across the seat and read with his back to the door. Eddie scowled and slumped on his side, eyeing again the invisible line.
The date began badly. First, she turned up her nose at my suggestion of sushi: “Ew! I want real food!” So we found ourselves at a picnic table eating hamburgers and fries, hers dipped in a large pile of blubbery mayo.
Back in the car, she switched the radio from Waits to Madonna. I thought about kicking her out right then.
But I’m a gentleman, so I suggested wine at my place (she was French, after all), but she said, “No, that’s boring,” and next thing I know we’re down by the lake drinking Jaegermeister. Jaegermeister, for chrissakes! Haven’t drunk that stuff since college. I managed not to puke this time, even when she said, “I’m going to fuck you now, oui?” What could I say? I was powerless in her hands, her mouth, her cunt. She scared the hell out of me, from her rock-hard nipples to her abundant thighs to her curious tongue. I envisioned a news flash next day: Culture Clash: Carniverous Frenchie Fucks Shy Biology Teacher Dead. She was all energy, grinning and grinding, sound and sexual fury. I ached for days, especially where my knee wedged into the dashboard. How she fit all those ways I never did figure.
I kept her number for a long time. “Call me,” she said as she slipped the paper into my jeans pocket. Not a question, more a demand. I wanted to, I really did.