“NO BOOK BLURB, NO CRY” EXCERPT by Brian Alan Ellis

An Inspirational/Crazy Informative Guide to Proper Book Blurbage

(An excerpt from Sad Laughter, forthcoming from Civil Coping Mechanisms)

“[This book] will fry up some prose eggs in your ol’ brain pan.”

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“[This writer] is the kind of poet whose madness and how [he/she] exorcises that madness is a thing of dark brilliance one can admire from afar but if you ever let [him/her] crash at your house for a few days [he/she] would scare the living shit out of you.”

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“[This writer] can fix your pipes and your roofing but [his/her] book of durable, brick-layered stories can also fix your mind plumbing, too.”

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“[This book] sends a roundhouse kick to your funny bone before blowing it up. Disagree? Then I don’t con­sider you a person; you are a terrorist towards good taste.”

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“Reading [this book] is like waking up to find a bloody horsehead in bed with you and then screaming but not screaming because you’re repulsed but because you’ve actually discovered a fresh way to look at life and it’s amazing.”

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“[This writer] definitely has a way with words—they aren’t written; they’re kicked and fondled before being splattered across the page like a dead, wet dog.”

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“[He/She] is the type of writer you’d let crash at your apartment and then wake up to find they’ve murdered your pets and then turned them into dancing puppets that are now lip-synching to all your favorite Debbie Gibson cassingles, so yeah, a real party animal.”

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“[This book] takes readers on an uncompromising fun­house ride of damaged people attractions.”

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“[This writer] is the type of poet who will put [his/her] head through a plate glass window just to make killer poetry out of [his/her] face.”

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“[This book] is a brave and poignant look into a per­son’s mind as they struggle to exist in a world where Hulka­mania is generally not the strongest force in the uni­verse and we are all in danger of being crushed by a 500-pound giant hailing from parts unknown.”

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“[This book] is recommended for anyone who knows how to read.”

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“[He/She] is the kind of writer clever enough to moon­light as a lawyer/sociopath capable of freaking out a table full of squares by using hella unassuming meth­ods, so yeah, a wonderful talent.”

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“[This writer] writes like a sadistically imaginative child who plays house by burning down the house.”

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“[This book is] a coming-of-age fever dream [the author] carved into some Ouija board [he/she] later used to summon the spirits of David Koresh, Jesus Christ, and Richard Ramirez.”

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“[This writer] is like the Tombstone of frozen descrip­tive prose pizza.”

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“While reading [this book] you’ll feel as though you’ve been taken hostage, like you’ve been stuffed and then zipped inside of [the author’s] emotional baggage, which is okay because it’s warm in there, at least.”

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“[This book] is kind of like Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov meets Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, or maybe like The Notebook meets Re-Animator, I don’t fucking know.”

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“[This writer] is like Sissy Spacek in the movie Carrie when they dump pig blood on her but instead of setting the prom on fire [he/she] ignites your thoughts using dark and mysterious word torches.”

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“If the literary scene were a slammin’ mosh pit, [this writer] would be commanding that shit using wind­mills and crazy roundhouse kicks.”

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 “[This book’s] narrative is like the music video for Van Halen’s ‘Right Now,’ except it makes sense, and it’s funny for the right reasons, and it isn’t as preachy.”

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“[This book] is the literary equivalent of Kid Rock’s dandruff.”

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“Though [this writer] has never won a literary award, it’s quite possible they’ve accidentally urinated on themselves while drunk, so…”

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“Crackling with powerful satanic energy, [this book] is like When Harry Met Sally except Harry listens to nu metal and Sally is possessed by Zuul from Ghostbusters, has an addiction to shitty speed, and may or may not be a juggalo.”

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“[He/She] is the type of writer you’d let crash at your apartment and then wake up to find naked and sum­moning weird spirits while kneeling in the center of some pentagram they’ve drawn out on your living room floor using your pet’s blood, so yeah, a real pain in the ass.”

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“Reading [this book] is like having your emotions con­stantly dunked on by Shaq.”

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“[He/She] is the kind of writer who will pilfer a leather bomber jacket out of a garbage can and then hit the shitty neighborhood bar thinking they look real god­damn good in it, so yeah, a kindred spirit.”

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“[This book is] dripping with comical dark poignancy... like a bacon, egg and cheese McGriddle.”

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“Reading [this writer] is like getting a totally sweet hand job from someone with an MFA—someone really smart, but also someone kinda shifty, kinda dangerous.”

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“[This writer] is the type of person who’d eat the fries off your plate after you’ve gotten up to use the bathroom at Perkins, which means they’re a real sneaky ass.”

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“Sorry, book blurb was replaced by Metallica’s St. Anger snare drum sound.”

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ON OUR WAY TO SEE YOU by Ashley Hutson

Right now we're stuck behind a funeral procession and it looks like we're going to be late. Mack keeps saying, How long, how long? We're on our way to see you.

I adjust the rear-view mirror, and Mack is in the back seat, bouncing around. He never settles down when the car goes slow, refuses to be lulled like other children, does not even want to be sung to. He's saying, How long, how long?

And it is about noon right now, and it is a beautiful day and it is November. There is a hearse way up at the front. The cars in the line are mismatched and strangely colorful. Funny how these things appear without warning. An hour ago I got the call, and I swept up Mack and yanked some clothes on him and we piled into the car and I hit the gas. I flew out of town, I don't mind telling you, and it seemed like I turned around for a second—just one second, to yell at Mack to calm down and quit screaming—and when I turned back there was this line of traffic in front of me stopped dead. It happened so quick that I slammed on the brakes, throwing Mack and me forward to strangle on our seat belts for a second. Uh-oh, Mack said.

These long, narrow roads between towns. You know them. You always complained about them when you had to get up in the pre-dawn hours, never knew what animal would jump out from the black woods and drive you off the road into death. Every morning in winter I'd listen to you grouch as I poured the coffee, and this was before Mack was born, this was when everything between us was an adventure and the only thing that worried you was a lonely road in the dark, and my biggest fear was a spider lurking in a kitchen corner. The kitchen of that house we loved, that was a long time ago, remember? And now here we are, me here on this road and you there, and Mack is in the back seat wailing like a devil, ignoring me like he was birthed out of some other woman's loins. Like I am not his mama at all.

Mack starts counting the cars ahead of us. They don’t make noise. I wind down my window and there’s only silence and wind. It is colder than it looks. I close the window. We're a mile outside of town, at the part of the road where it stretches wide and flat after a steep hill, and the cornfields spread out, and at the horizon are rounded mountains so far away they look blue. An open space like this is something special around here, you remember how the first time Mack saw this part of the road and yelled Roller coaster! like it was some big deal.

Now he's in the backseat and saying How much longer? and I tell him to keep counting cars. He skips numbers. He goes from eleven back to three.

I start counting, too. Everything is slow. And I am telling you what, these cars are all clean. I don't see a filthy one in the bunch, not like our old beater that I haven't taken to the carwash in who knows how long. And this day is so fine, so clear, and it's November and just as brown and gold and blue as a late fall day can be, crisp as flint corn. On these kinds of days you and me used to go out right before dusk, we would take walks in the woods down by the old gristmill's abandoned skeleton and I'd kiss you on a path so private no one but deer would see, and then on Sundays we'd go to your Granny's house and eat pot-pie until we were sick.

I am on my way to see you but I am stuck. A procession is ahead of me, a long, crooked line. How long? How long? Mack is saying.

He's lost count, and so have I. I can't see the hearse anymore, it's gone over the far hill and out of sight. There are three cemeteries between you and me and we’ve already passed two, and I keep hoping these cars will stop, I keep waiting for them to turn. But the cars keep moving in a slow drip-drip-drip fashion, and for some reason I am thinking of water, thinking of the word wet, thinking of sex, trying to think of the last time we did it in that small bed in our apartment before you got the night-cough and started with the pills. That apartment we had to move into after you got laid off, you hated it because you thought I hated it, but let me tell you right now: I never hated any room you were in. Right now I am thinking of your jaw clicking when you bit into a sandwich, and how the noise sounded like you were crushing gravel. The sound would satisfy me so, as if your mouth were mine.

The third cemetery is approaching, and Mack is in the backseat like some kind of ghoul that was visited upon me, upon both of us, like a night flower that bloomed in my stomach, like a premonition saying How long? How long? Mack is like a lot of things but the thing I most regret is that he looks exactly like me and not like you at all, even though that was something you cooed and congratulated the baby for—you congratulated a baby—while I lay there in the hospital bed, wondering if my insides would ever feel properly arranged again. And Mack being born sickly, with my spongy bones and looking like me, surely that was some kind of punishment? An omen? But of course you took his birth as a boon, to you Mack was a gift and it didn't matter that he was smaller than most or couldn't get his words out clear like other kids or that maybe my blood was to blame. You said he was a good kid because he was us put together and that blood was not poison, blood was just blood, and you'd never seen an omen in your life.

We've been following this funeral parade for what seems like a few hours now. I am trying to get to you but there is this line of cars I cannot pass or see the end of. I still cannot see the hearse. Sometimes I get glimpses, but you know how this countryside is hilly, is rocky and rough, and I keep losing sight of the hearse over the next hill or around the narrow curves that infest this place, the steep inclines that laugh at this old car, the landscape sneering at the humans who tried to carve a road into it.

The cars passed the last cemetery miles ago and I can't help it, I keep following them. Now they're splitting off the main road, going up a mountain. The night is coming fast. I forgot how early darkness falls this time of year. My ears are going shut. Mack is quieter now, lying down in the backseat. He's whimpering a little. I can't get the memory of a normal afternoon two weeks ago out of my brain. Do you remember? It was October then. You were setting trash bags on the curb outside the apartment, and I was at the kitchen sink skinning an apple, and Mack was watching the TV in another room, and when I caught your eye through the window you gave me a smile. You raised up your hand and waved.

From the back seat I hear, How much longer? but I ignore it. I gun the engine, willing the car to climb higher, higher. Where this mountain ends, I don't know.

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GHOST SEX by Chris Dankland

Lucille died of leukemia in Utah. Richard died in a car accident in Seoul. They were both 16 years old when they died, and now they'd be 16 years old forever, two pissed off sulking virgins condemned to populate the dreams of the living. All those faceless extras that appear in your dreams, where do you think they come from? Just whipped up out of nowhere? No you idiot, those people are ghosts.

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In 1967, a Dominican garbage man in Queens dreamed about winning the Nobel Prize. Lucille and Richard were in the audience, sitting next to each other. Richard was wearing a tuxedo and Lucille was wearing a beautiful dress made out of a giant wet tongue. At the front of the room, the Dominican garbage man ranted about how he invented trash that doesn't smell. Every ten seconds, every audience member was supposed to stand up and cheer.

Richard looked over at Lucille, looking her up and down. Nice dress, he whispered through the side of his mouth.

Lucille stood up and cheered. She sat back down. Thanks, she said, grinning. It's the only good thing about this dream. What a jackass, she said, nodding at the stage.

Richard grinned. He stood up and cheered. He sat back down. The Dominican garbage man droned on and on and on. The two teenage ghosts managed to have quite a long conversation during that time. They introduced themselves. They complained about the afterlife. (What a fucking disappointment, sighed Lucille.) They talked about how they’d died. They talked about all the things they missed. They talked about the things they never did.

I never kissed anyone, said Lucille, quietly. She stood up and cheered. She sat back down.

Really? said Richard. But you’re so pretty!

Lucille blushed the same color as her red tongue dress. Thank you, she mumbled through a grin. Nobody wants to kiss somebody that’s dying, I guess. You didn’t see me the last year of my life. I was bald and pale and skeletal. I was throwing up all the time. I could barely get out of bed.

Can I kiss you? said Richard. He stood up and cheered. He sat back down.

When they sat back down, Lucille nodded enthusiastically. Richard leaned over and pressed his soft lips on hers. Everyone else in the audience stood up and cheered. But Richard and Lucille just stayed sitting there, pawing each other, breathing hard, making out.

Hey! said a nearby ghost. Pay attention!

They didn’t even bother to peel their faces from each other long enough to tell the creep to fuck off.

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In 1983, Richard and Lucille met again. This time it was in the dream of a Japanese house wife who was taking an afternoon nap. She was dreaming about a haunted house full of pillows with arms and legs. The pillows had giant mouths full of razor sharp teeth, and they were running around murdering people. Richard and Lucille were both dead bodies laying on the kitchen floor.

Hey! said Lucille, quietly. She moved her foot and nudged Richard. Richard opened his eyes in a squint, but when he spotted Lucille they shot wide open.

HEY LUCILLE! he said loudly.

Lucille grinned and said: Shh shh shhhhh. The pillow monsters were running all over the house, chasing the Japanese housewife. Those fuckers have sharp teeth, she said.

Richard nodded and quietly crawled over, closer to her face. He kissed her. I missed you so much, he said.

Me too, she sighed.

Who knows when this bitch is gonna wake up again, said Richard. Lucille nodded sadly. Do you want to know something that I never got to do before I died? he asked. Lucille nodded happily. Richard stretched out his hand and put it between Lucille’s thighs. She blushed. Thirty seconds later, she was squirming. Lucille looked over at Richard’s pants. Something big and long was bulging down his leg, twitching like a chrysalis eager to shed its cocoon. She unzipped him and pulled it out. It felt good in her hands. Warm and hard and swollen. For a long time, they rubbed each other like that, watching each other grin and grimace and pant and whimper and groan.

All the sudden, a pillow monster scampered into the room, bug-eyed and wild.

Fuck! said Richard, jumping to his feet, hard as a rock. He jumped in front of Lucille and wrestled with the pillow monster, punching it in the face and throwing it around. Lucille! he said, between kicks. Meet me in the dreams of the first baby born in 2078! Find me! The pillow monster snarled and screamed.

FIND ME! LUC--

The Japanese housewife woke up.

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In 2078, the first baby born on the planet was a girl from Nigeria. Her first dream came on the the third day of her life. Newborn baby dreams don’t usually have ghosts in them. Babies know nothing of the world. They know nothing of other people, not in the way that you and I do. To babies, people are amorphous blobs with liquid vibrating voices. And that was how Richard and Lucille appeared. Two naked lava lamp bodies with voices like singing waterfalls. The baby floated in a fractal womb full of patterns and squiggles. Richard and Lucille were playing the baby’s father and mother.

Your dick looks like a bowl of red jello, said Lucille, giggling.

Richard smiled and rolled his eyes, which nearly floated out of his head. He had to reach up and grab them so they didn’t get away from him. Look who’s talking, Miss Picasso painting, he said.

Lucille looked down and laughed. I have like fourteen breasts, she said. I guess the baby is hungry.

I think it’s kinda hot, said Richard.

You do? Well, I have to admit your jello boner is kind of doing it for me, too. Let me try something. Lucille floated down until she was six feet from Richard’s waist. She started sucking in air through her mouth like a straw. Richard groaned. His jello dick start stretching out, slowly pulled toward her mouth. Soon his dick was six feet long, filling her mouth. Richard held his head back and groaned.

Come here, he gasped.

Lucille floated over like a wiggly amoeba. Richard’s six foot long dick gently pushed through her skin, deep into her center. She wrapped her arms around him and gasped.

They finished fucking two hours later. In the newborn baby’s dream they held each other tight, their hearts pumping in perfect synchronized rhythm.

We have to do this again, said Richard. We have to.

Yes, said Lucille. I don’t want to be without you. I love you, she said.

I love you too, said Richard. Next time, let’s meet in somebody’s wet dream. Lucille nodded enthusiastically.

Lucille hugged Richard as tight as she could. I love newborn babies, she said. They sleep all fucking day.

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ANATOMY OF A DISTANCE by Elle Nash

A list of things you miss. A touch with the lips. The knock-you-on-your-ass touch, the kind that starts in the lower extremity of the leg below the ankle, as he moves closer to you, the kind where he waits for you to wrap your ammunition around him and then he pulls you in and you press with your lips pursed and slightly parted, like an immature form of animal or insect which undergoes some metamorphosis on this fucked earth, together with all of its countries, peoples and natural features which hide in our internal organs, a pear-shaped enlargement of the alimentary canal linking the esophagus to the small intestine, insects waiting in their little silky cases spun by larvae for protection, waiting for the true combination of high polymer qualities such as shape, color or form, those that please the aesthetic senses, especially sight.

A list of things you miss. Kiss so the insects with two pairs of large wings covered in tiny scales, usually brightly coloured, typically held erect when at rest, and the nocturnal insects (pocket of dust) related to butterflies could spread their number of specialized paired appendages that enable them to fly, in particular: outwards and upwards and out, out of the opening in the lower part of the human face, the tunnel surrounded by the lips, left dust and spines of insect foot in the wet membrane home through which food is taken in and from which speech and other sounds are emitted.

A list of things you miss. The kind of touch with lips that wait until 2AM, after I was gone for each of the twelve named periods into which the Gregorian year is divided, after I was gone for thirteen rotations of earth’s satellite mother. The kind of touch that waited at the lowest part or point of the grief container, typically made of glass or plastic and with a narrow neck, used for storing booze, before it had the strength in the face of pain or grief to crawl up out of its trash hole and hit me on the face, breaking the orbital, surface of the thing, what is a fracture on the socket of the eye? Especially the touch that was presented to his view, in particular, the touch on the lips slightly parted with teeth showing, which cradles the upper part of the human body, or the front-or-upper part of the body of the animal, typically separated from the rest of the body by a neck, that which contains the brain, mouth, and sense organs in between its palms, fingers, and thumbs, he waits for me to cry, the touch on the lips slightly parted with teeth showing and a tongue that pushes through the mouth that tastes drops of salt liquid secreted from glands in the eye when they cry or when the eye is irritated and he tells me it's going to be okay.

A list of things you miss. The touch on the lips slightly parted with teeth showing and a tongue that pushes through the mouth to touch another’s tongue, the touch that doesn't happen anymore is the one that says "I’m here you're here and we're alive" after a near miss; internal combustion engine unfortunate incident, one which happened unexpectedly and unintentionally, resulted in damage or injury, left black polymeric substance made from latex on the mixture of dark pitch with sand or gravel, used for surfacing roads, scraping skin, flooring, roof of mouth, etc; this accident which left a strengthened band of metal fitted around the rim of wheels screaming louder than the invisible gaseous substance surrounding the earth, a mixture mainly of oxygen and nitrogen, hefting in and out of the pair of organs studded within my rib cage, elastic sacs with branching passages into which air is drawn, squealing like a hard-boiled egg or some skinned sausage bursting with juice, so oxygen can pass into the blood uncollapsed and carbon dioxide can be removed.

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YOU ALWAYS GET CAUGHT ON THE LAST ONE by Steve Anwyll

Ain't it always the case.

I'm bored as fuck. Life's like that. So I fill my coat pockets with cans of beer. Drink as I cruise the streets. Stopping to look in windows that aren't obstructed. And ain't it always the case? You get caught on the last one.

The whole night going good. Then blammo. Out of nowhere. It's over. Some fucking do-gooder concerned citizen. Prodding into affairs that ain't their own. Acting tough. And as soon as they start yelling. You know you're sunk.

Like tonight. I'm standing there in the darkness. Behind these shrubs. Tall ones. I recognize the scent. Spruce. I convince myself I'm hidden here. From the quiet streets. Prying eyes. Even pedestrians.

And boy oh boy. You can imagine. I'm having a real good time. Beer in hand. Peering through a curtain free basement window. Watching this big fat fuck bastard standing in his bathroom. Shirt off. Shadows cast from a bare bulb above his head.

Makes his tits look extra saggy I whisper.

I lean in a little closer. Confident the light indoors hides me in it's reflection. He picks up a can of shaving cream. Fills an empty palm. Then grabs a blue plastic razor. Disposable variety. Holds it in his hand. He lathers both shoulders. He draws the cheap razor upwards. Flinging the used foam in the basin shadowed by his gut.

Then it happens. All the peace and quiet is interrupted. Some fucker yelling. I can't make out what he's saying. But I can't ignore it either. I turn around. Towards the street. No one in either direction. Fucking bizarre. Oh well. Maybe I'm going nuts? I am staring in people's windows after all.

But that can't be. I'm in control. So I hone in the noise like a dog. Look up. Ah ha. There's the source. Some god damned kook on a wrought iron terrace built for one. He's got both his fists wrapped around the railing. Shaking with anger. And the only detail I can make out in the dark. Is the small orange glow of a cigarette between the knuckles of his left hand.

When I look up at him. The son a bitch gets even hotter. Jumping up and down. Flailing his arms. I worry about structural stability while he yells profanities. Calling me demented. A pervert. The complete line of slander. I'm hurt. I'm not doing anything lewd. I'm only stealing a moment.

And there's no way I'm going to stand here. Take this bullshit. I've got dignity. Self-respect I think it's called. So I gulp my beer. Then yell up hey buddy, mind your own damn business. Like ain't you got a dog that needs sodomizing?

Well shit. That does the trick. Hit a soft spot I suppose. Because he kicks the posts. Rattles the rails. Thrashes his head back and forth. And without noticing. He accidently crushes the cigarette between his fingers. I watch it tumble through the air. And I forget about him. The yelling. How guilty I look.

Until I hear those words. The ones I’ve heard so many times before. The ones that hit like a knife. And break me from my trance. I called the cops you fucking piece of shit! Uh oh. God damn it! I have to get out of here. Find a way to get even with this lowlife another time. I know where he lives.

It seems like he must have a dog I can poison?

Remember that for later. Because if he isn't lying I'm running out of time. I chug the rest of my beer. Then run in the direction opposite of the main street. Down a smaller side one. It's dark. I feel safe. But I don't let false security stop me. I need to make some ground.

About a block away. My lungs catch fire. My head is pounding. I'm not cut out for this kind of exercise. But I hear a siren close by. So I double my effort. Nausea mounting. Huff and puff in overdrive. There's a park a block away from here. I'll be free and clear if can make it.

You can do it you old fuck!

And I do. Slipping on the loose gravel pathway as I enter. But not falling. Rounding a bench to dive in the grass. Hidden from the street by a high thick row of hedges surrounding the park. Even if the cops start looking for me. They'll never see me from the street. Too lazy to get out of their car.

So I roll over on my back. Check my pockets. Grab a beer. It explodes a little. I gulp half of it. Drop my head down into the grass. Stare up into the night. The beam of a flashlight waves above my head. I freeze. I hear the static of their radio. And hope they mistake me for a lump in the ground.

The light passes through the park. I stay still. It feels like forever. My blood's running cold with fear. Heart rate hitting the roof. Smiling wide. Boredom no longer a concern.

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MR. ANGEL by Jennifer Greidus

She was no Ingrid. She was more of a Pat, or even a “Chuck,” but she was no Ingrid. An Ingrid would never own a truck stop on 85, and an Ingrid would never tell blue jokes to men who haven’t bathed in a couple weeks. When her daughter, my lover, took me there to eat, Ingrid always saved us a booth in the corner, away from Manuel, Jim, and Shaky, because those three stank more than anyone.

While she was alive and in her thirties and forties, Ingrid had two wishes. One of them was to bowl a perfect game. A perfect game is 300, all strikes, plus the two extra strikes you get at the end for bowling all strikes in the previous frames. She never bowled a perfect game.

Her second wish was to make love to Criss Angel. Mr Angel was a bit of a humdinger. A Casanova. He liked the ladies, and he liked them large. He also liked the boys--at least this is what my lover and I heard (no libel suits, please)--and the boys were the kind of boys who liked getting paid for sexual favors. Also, we heard the boys he liked--all rumor, of course--were skinny boys from Midwestern states.

As an aside, my lover and I think it’s a bit pretentious to spell your name like Criss and not Chris.

Ingrid never did get to make love to Criss Angel. But that’s not to say she didn’t get damn close. In 2009, Mr. Angel and Ingrid enjoyed champagne and strawberries in his suite at The Luxor. He had a fancy bathroom. Ingrid liked to tell her poker partners that Mr. Angel drank too much bubbly that night and couldn’t get it up. She and he parted ways, sans penetration.

Five years later, the two met in Dollywood. Ingrid was rather hush-hush about the encounter. They stayed in a cabin. She told us he wanted to go on the water rides. The log flume. When my lover quizzed Ingrid about the evening, she said the log flume made Mr. Angel queasy. We found this hard to believe because we all know the log flume makes everyone horny.

When they met for a third time in 2019, the washed-up Mindfreak was subsisting on heroin-boys, coffee, and cracker Snak-Paks. He showed up in her motel lobby. My lover and I were there, watching Les Bleus football--my lover had a thing for Basque country, the Napoleonic Wars, and baguettes, and felt some affinity for anything French.

Ingrid dropped her crossword puzzle and went to him. She held him like a baby, but her hand slipped down his torso and seized a handful of whatever she could find in his pants. I’ll wrap it up here by saying that, although Criss Angel spent the night in Ingrid’s motel room, after she brought him French toast and orange juice, he dropped dead right in front of the dresser.

For weeks, Ingrid liked to tell her poker partners that he stuck it to her right before he hit the ground--that he was stuffed in and subsequently slid out of her vagina with his last breath--but we know she was taking a shit when he kicked it. Two months to the day after Mr. Angel died, so did Ingrid.

#

My lover and I now run Ingrid’s truck stop. We let Manny, Jim, and Shaky sit wherever they want; they were pallbearers at Ingrid’s funeral, and that casket was no joke.

My lover has been depressed since her mother’s death, and nothing--not my mouth, not flaxseed waffles, not bonsai--help her move on. I try to stay upbeat. We smoke a lot of cigarettes. She can’t even put the effort into inhaling. She hasn’t eaten my pussy in months.

Even Manny, Jim, and Shaky notice her blues. Manny tells her she looks like she lost weight. She has not. Jim says her custard pie is better than ever. Custard isn’t my favorite, but when I taste it, it’s the same as before. Shaky just winks at her a lot. It’s all he can do.

We go to bed high and hungry all the time. I feel bad eating when she never does. Sometimes, I’ll sneak into our motel bathroom and scoff down a smuggled juice box and Swiss Rolls. I eat like a squirrel, with the chocolatey outer shell melting between my greedy squirrel claws as I munch away. I make fierce eye contact with myself in the mirror as I eat. I am a bad girlfriend.

After my fifth Swiss Roll this week, I return to the bed, light a joint, and pass it to my lover. I only smoke so she doesn’t smell the artificial flavorings on my breath.

The TV is muted. The TV is always on and muted. It stays on the one channel to her liking. The channel features old sitcoms. At 2 a.m. every night, I know by heart the reflections and shadows that will hit the ceiling. I don’t even need the theme song. Red, red, pink, shadow, shadow, white, blue, red, red, pink. Black. Commercials, multi, too many possibilities to keep track of patterns. I do know the commercial for dog food with bits of real bacon, however; the ceiling takes on a lot of orange, then. The flashes go back to blue. Usually blue.

Now, she drops sideways, her head in my lap. She says, “We need to re-gravel the parking lot.”

I say, “First, we get the septic fixed.” Even as I say this, I swear that I can hear the pipes burbling.

“The septic is fine.”

“It is not fine. There are floaty things in everyone’s toilet. All the time. And sometimes even in the bathtubs.”

“It’s more satisfying to re-gravel. We see where the money goes.”

“Septic first,” I insist.

“Gravel.”

“Fine. Gravel.”

We have arguments all the time. I let her win. We never do anything, anyway.

We look left when the metal closet door slides open. It’s where my lover keeps all the shoes she never wears. She has a lot of shoes. We mostly keep our clothing on chairs and the floor. It’s a closet door that has jammed and come off the track so many times, we just decided never to open it again.

It’s not even graceful, the revelation. Criss Angel is in a tuck-n-roll position on the top shelf of the closet. There is no mirror magic. He doesn’t glide. He’s not in one place and then suddenly in another. We don’t Ohhhh.  We don’t Ahhhh. He just plummets from the top shelf, arms and legs scrabbling at the shoes, and lands on his back. He groans.

This ghost of Criss Angel is always nude.

This ghost of Criss Angel comes once or twice a week.

My lover and I sigh.

Mr. Angel has a penis that looks like bamboo shoots. Like six shoots tied parallel with twine. He’s still wearing all that makeup. Ingrid loved the makeup. She did hers like his and went dancing or bowling. Mr. Angel’s nipples are like dinner plates. Crystalline sockets for eyes. His mouth is French. His nose is Polish. I think his teeth might be Welsh.

Which one of you wants me? His mouth moves. My lover and I know what he’s saying, but he’s not making any noise.

“Neither one of us wants you,” my lover says and sits up. He asks us this every time.

Let’s have a coffee.

“No one wants a coffee,” my lover says.

Mr. Angel plays with the twine around his penis. His hips gyrate. His eye sockets dim. His body flickers. I need Ingrid’s holes. I need some holes. Anyone’s holes.

“Not it,” my lover says.

“Not it,” I say.

“What are you going to do with that bamboo penis, anyway?” My lover smirks.

Just some milk, then. I’ve had no cow’s milk for ages.

My lover stands, sighs, and puts on her robe. “Cow’s milk, and then you fuck off?”

Cow’s milk. Criss Angel moans. His crystalline tongue swipes across his French lips.

My lover sighs again and puts on her slippers. She finger-combs her hair in the mirror over the TV stand. “My mother should be here moaning, not you. You had three million chances to make love and fill my mother’s holes.” My lover grimaces as she says that. She kisses my cheek and heads for the door.

Mr. Angel’s dinner-plate nipples perk up. Ingrid had two wishes.

“We know,” my lover and I say. “Making love to you and bowling a perfect game.”

Criss Angel’s nipples perk up further. He gyrates. Bowling a perfect game.

“Do you want your milk or not?”

Thunderbird Lanes. Never forget.

#

After another month of Criss Angel visits, which usually come in the middle of Punky Brewster, my lover and I pull out the topographic map and make a plan. We stand like generals over an if > then flowchart on our round card table in the motel room.

We are concerned about all the cow’s milk--my lover is vegan--and the special two-part Perils of Punky is coming up this week. We don’t want to miss it.

“We can’t do anything with that bamboo penis,” I say.

“He talks about the fucking bowling a lot.”

“We can’t take him bowling.”

“How about we bowl? Maybe Ingrid keeps shipping him back so that we’ll bowl.”

We pull ourselves together. My lover calls the emergency sewer hotline. I get the gravel crew on the books for Wednesday. We brush ourselves off. We finish a joint. We unpack Ingrid’s bowling shirt.

I am a size four, and my lover is a size twelve. But Ingrid was top-heavy, sort of an upside-down pear. A size eighteen. Regardless, my lover and I take turns wearing her bowling shirt. It is light purple--maybe it’s lavender if you’re into being specific about tones and shades--and her name is on the right breast pocket. You can’t hold anything in there, the pocket, because it’s sewn shut. Her name is in cursive, purple thread--eggplant if you’re into tones and shades.

We bowl like hell in her memory. We bowl so Criss Angel will stay away. We bowl the fuck out of bowling. No one bowls like we do. I never so much as won a trophy in my life, but I have the heart of a lion when it comes to bowling.

We pick off 300-games like nobody’s business.

A few times during the week, the metal doors of our closet creak. The more we bowl, the less they creak. Mr. Angel never tumbles out. My lover can sleep without the TV. She eats my pussy. She kisses me a lot with a face full of pussy juice. We bowl even when we’re sick. We bowl on Christmas.

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LISTEN, MY SISTER, LISTEN by Gary J. Shipley

He watched his legs grow from the armpits of his baby sister every day for a year. Both white calves there on the door of the fridge whenever he looked, and around them the arms of his sisters that through some mistake of birth were limited to two. Their eyes and feet and ears likewise dyadic. And the things they had only one of absurdly depleted in this same way.

Your sister was never more than one, the mothers kept saying. For the mother-body also seemed to be hiding someone else inside it, without any admission as to why it was so many daughters should warrant as many mothers. But her techniques at being half of something were so practiced by then she was hard to tell apart – unless like his your eye had first been seasoned on more rudimentary versions. And so he mostly disapproved of the way he could see how the mothers’ mouth would work at overlapping words, and how even her most basic movements were tiny grotesqueries of overdetermination.

Reflected in a mirror, he never saw more than one of himself; and wondered as a result why his insides had never been finished, why he’d been born so explicitly exiguous in this way, and why nobody ever mentioned it. The men the mothers knew well enough to sometimes hold onto only ever arrived at night, when they were already asleep; but some mornings the extra body was still there in the house, and like the mother-body was both internally too many and deceitfully oblivious. If he ever saw them in a mirror he saw the population of the earth swell a hundred deep into drips falling outward toward other planets.

Before his sisters got words he heard them from the same place. They were honest things, but would turn to falsehoods like the mothers and the men. And then there were the people, not part of the house, that he refused to look at. And because of this the mothers took him to see more of them. The not wanting to look prevailed and though taken specifically to see he did not. And force was he heard no good for what he had. And there was shy and there was just plain fucking weird, or so the men said, one morning in the bedroom in the mothers.

At eight years he was settled into this aloneness. He’d persisted for a series of weeks that numbered more than all the people in the house in aping the missing half. He got as far as a pancreas he couldn’t recognize.  Another way of being more than one spoke out the body of his sisters when they could not. The thought that they’d one day talk and would that way hide inside each other was a future he imagined never happening, and so eventually imagined himself preventing. They were happy and would find new happinesses if they were less ensnarled in the masquerade of being the same partially put together thing as him and instead became that thing. And he would be less alone that way. And maybe then the mothers would stop pretending themselves in half, and the men too would stop arriving.

It was cold in the night and he didn’t sleep. The mothers were busy merging with the men. When he tried to wake his sisters only one responded. He was falsely beside himself in the seconds it took for the second one to cry. He decided not to live through further impairments that at any time might never end.

Inside, when he looked, the second sister was not incarnated like he’d visualized. He’d imagined she would slide effortlessly from the other when she opened. But there was just blood and blood the same as his. And then parts he’d seen before cast in plastic that weren’t duplicated like he’d imagined when he’d had to stop imagining her complete. And inside them no further version waiting to get out. He’d not been prepared for so many separate instances of subdivision. The scissors were to act like a wand and his sisters like doves. But the voices got quieter until they weren’t anymore. And he continued to look for signs of their returning. He looked until his sisters were covering the floor. And at the point he’d stopped believing, they came back. And they all of them rolled around in their sisters listening.

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DANIEL, MOSTLY by Nathan Dragon

He always felt like he needed things to be told to him. Bed and drinking water were always good, though. Something like that, so his TV would easily be a good distraction and some rest.

People’s voices, anyways, were fine. He worried a lot. Daniel needed something that could help with that. Nothing too scandalous, though. Everything as it comes, as he could handle it or it could be handled.

One at a time, please, he’d say.

Why did he walk away? Cause he couldn’t handle it.

Missed the point.

Did it anyways instead of not doing anything.

To feel like he was doing something.

Mostly he wanted to have some expertise. He wanted to be an expert, didn’t matter in what.

Just one thing that was no mystery to him, inherent, that he could understand fully.

Daniel knew some people, as people tend to know a few. Sometimes these people that one person knows, also know each other. Daniel’s circle could only be described by the thought of it.

Daniel had a brother, too. His brother could speak more than one language and Daniel was jealous at that, of his brother. His brother always knew what to say, had something to say about everything. His brother had fantastic communication skills. Clear and concise people said.

Then, there was this guy that Daniel sort of knew but not a whole lot. The guy collected the toys and trinkets from vending machines at like the supermarket or take out restaurants.

The stickers. Figurines. All those things in the plastic bubbles. Cheap yo-yos and the metal jewelry. Whatever there was.

Collected whole sets of the sets of the things.

Sometimes the guy would go to the bank and get out a roll of quarters or two then spend em up til he had a complete set or until he was out of quarters. If he got a complete set of the trinkets before running out he’d go to another spot that had some vending machines.

The guy always said, Not bad, to himself. At least Daniel had heard it consistently enough for always.

The sticker and temporary tattoo vending machines with the silver lower jaw protruding from a little display. The slots for quarters you jam into the jaw contraption and when a spring pushes the jaw back out, the quarters are consumed and the sticker or the temporary tattoo comes out sandwiched in between thin sheets of coated cardboard from a little opening above the quarter slot jaw.

The guy had the best luck over at the Chinese takeout place with these types of machines. Daniel saw that the guy got a whole set in five pulls.

That guy could always take home a complete set from there in less than a roll but Daniel never could.

The ones for the toys and trinkets, the machines with the clear cube of the prizes. Daniel saw this kind mostly at the supermarket and you had to put the quarters in the little quarter cut out, so as to put the quarter in the circle or half circle sort of against a wall, then it’d set in place and you’d rotate a little rectangular knob clockwise so the quarter descends in a round motion like descending on a Ferris wheel.

The best prizes from these types of machines, the guy told Daniel, were in the machines at the cinema.

The guy even had his own failing business, a collectors’ and hobbyists’ store that’s been there forever. Had a machine in there himself.

He was an expert.

He gave Daniel some of his collection, only the duplicates and encouraged him to pick something up, like something to do.

Encouraged Daniel to use the trinket vending machine.

Daniel more interested in the fact that the guy was an expert.

Someone else Daniel knew was also a regular that he, Daniel, saw at the café restaurant that he went to regularly himself. Daniel wanted to be a regular, like the regular he always saw.

It didn’t seem like he was ever considered one even though he went in every day. No one called him Daniel; not like Marty, Wendy or Trish, the other regulars.

They only called him pal.

Once Daniel got a small coffee for free. He threw the money he was going to use for the coffee into the tip jar anyways. Wasn’t really sure how or why it was free at that point but he didn’t mind.

Or why they were giving it to him.

He couldn’t tell.

Usually he couldn’t tell.

He kept the exchange going as long as he could, though. Put one coin at a time into the jar. Total of $2.60.

Daniel always saw that one regular. 7AM or 1PM, didn’t matter. The regular was always there in his regular spot, regular table. Daniel at least got the same things to eat and drink every day, but he didn’t pull enough weight in his regularmanship to have his own spot.

And sometimes too, Daniel only got his drink and sometimes he got his food and his drink. His food was only a sandwich. Every time he got food it was that, that one sandwich. He was embarrassed to order it by its name, a pun.

And sometimes when he was there he looked through some books and he hoped people looked at him like he was really smart.

Capable.

Daniel had something living in his wall, or things. He kept hearing crawling and scratching when he was drinking water and if he was sleeping he’d wake up from it, eyes bouncing all over the room, trying to quicken the acclimation of his senses, trying to hear in the room where it was coming from.

Still or on the move.

Sometimes the sounds seemed right over him like in the ceiling or like something’s on the roof or across from him in the wall or to the side of him under the floor.

They’ve made a mansion, a castle or condo out of his home.

Wall floor ceiling.

They had more room than him.

He was half glad to have the squirrels or chipmunks or mice in his walls. Half afraid, sort of paranoid that he was under siege. That they’d take his home from him room by room because they finally had scratched through the wall.

That he’d have to retreat to his storage room and he’d have to close the door.

And when they started to break through into that room he’d have to go down the stairs in his floor to the basement and hope that the door to the unit next door is open and he can make a through the unit, his neighbor’s place, duplex style building, if it’s clear.

He had a brother somewhere. His brother would’ve known what to do. But Daniel was sick of not knowing what to do. He wanted to prove he understood, what to do, so he called animal control to have it taken care of and they gave him instructions for the meantime.

He’d sleep better.

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IN CARS by William Lessard

1

The car stopped turning. Jay would drive to the deli, reverse the process once the six-pack or bag of 40s was chilling his inner thighs. The job of the person with him was to rotate their head to the middle of their back. Bumper distance within ten feet required a preemptory “Yo.” In tighter circumstances, random curses were substituted. Increasing volume emphasized proximity of the parked car/oncoming vehicle/pedestrian.

Walking the five blocks was never a consideration.

2

My father’s car was parked in the yard with hedges growing from one of the wheels.

On the screen in front of him, men in red uniforms zipped around each other. They appeared to be chasing another man, this one in a green uniform with a black dot he slid back and forth with a stick. The man with the dot had the confidence of someone who had just acquired magical powers. Powers that included disappearing into the TV’s faux-wood grain.

3

There was a smell in Freddy’s car on hot days. Strong, with the animate quality of freshly prepared food. Sometimes we would turn around, expecting to see someone in the back seat cooking a Big Mac and fries. Freddy thought the smell was a gift from the car’s previous owner. A built-in air freshener. Freddy changed his mind when the smell became a heavy sourness, a stench that absorbed all the air in the car. A stench that lingered even after we drove 80 miles an hour on the highway with the windows down. It would return whenever the temperature rose above 90 degrees. Its lesson, delivered from deep inside the vinyl, was to remind us what the body did to a Big Mac and fries once they had passed the teeth.

4

Being a non-driver allows you to see what your friends would do if they were God.

5

“Do you have any warrants?”

“Warrants?”

“Are you guys wanted?” asked the cop whose bumper we almost flattened, thanks to Freddy’s fondness for rolling stop signs.

“No, no. Nobody wants us,” I said.

The cop undid the clip on his holster.

“I want you, out of the car,” he said.

He knew to point at me, even though I was a baby sheep, tucked behind my friend’s shoulders in the back seat.

6

The mechanic didn’t give Jay a price. He gave him the number for a used car lot. This would have been useful information, if it wasn’t the place Jay bought the car that had lost the will to steer.

7

“Look out your window,” Jay said on the phone. A black Lincoln slid up the middle of the block, taking up three car lengths. Jay was dating a woman we called Cold Cuts who worked as a dispatcher at a car service. She sent him limos anytime he wanted. That first one we took to get slices of pizza. Other times we’d go to a club or just ride around. Jay took his to his window cleaning job on days he overslept.

8

Glen picked me up in the driveway in my socks.

When someone says they “need to do something for five minutes,” that estimate does not include travel-time to a pile of sawdust in Delaware.

9

He walked out five minutes later, exactly. Right pocket bulging, knuckles bleeding.

10

What would you say to new clothes, free food and coke all weekend in Virginia Beach?

11

What would you say when he asks if you’re interested in another side-trip? Friend of his in Florida will take good, good care of us.

12

Help.

13

Grand Prix was a popular model. With a back seat more commodious than the beds we slept in at home. Motels were for special occasions.

14

Rearview mirrors threaded with silk scarves. White. Names in red script—with date—stitched across the front. Ladies first, always.

Angela & Tony2/14/82

Anne-Marie & Vincenzo7/2/81

Tina & Joey9/22/83

The scarves were from the same old woman in Morris Park. For a few dollars extra, she added a heart pierced by an arrow, or a brief saying. At Last. Together 4-ever.

My friends had trouble matching the scarf to the person they were with. The scarves were jammed in the glove compartment like an overstuffed sock drawer. Getting busted with the wrong scarf meant coming up with a lie. The more intelligent young women would snatch the scarf from the mirror, hold it tight in their fist as they punched. The less intelligent/less emotionally mature would believe explanations worthy of a senator. “My friend Jay, who I know has the same name as me, borrowed the car.”

15

Everything was about sex, except the sex.

16

Troy at my house at 8 a.m. with tequila, a gift of his parent’s liquor cabinet. He was back from LA with three tattoos he didn’t remember getting. The most visible: a woman’s name uncoiling across his right forearm. Cath or Kate.

17

Calm person, crazy driver. The instructor said it was always opposite, yet mid-season Columbo episodes disproved this theory.

The drunk driver who killed Commodore Jones’ wife turns out to be Mr. Sketchy McSketch, the one we thought it was from the first five minutes.

The writers were tired, perhaps low on blow.

18

He gestured with the remote. Waving it over different body parts to demonstrate bathing in a stranger’s swimming pool.

19

“The things I did.”

“Yes.”

The line of tequila even with the eyes of the pirate on the label.

20

Put car in Park, catch a few winks, drive on at the green. Freddy’s system for driving under the influence was a success. He arrived home, bladder full, tank empty. Total travel time, for the 15 blocks from Dawn’s house: just under six hours.

21

Jay’s limo-on-demand lifestyle ended when one of the drivers told Cold Cuts that Jay’s trip to First Blood Part II last Thursday night wasn’t a solo.

22

Troy at my house at 8:30 a.m. with crème de menthe. He had drunk his way through the rest of the cabinet. He was left with the booze his parents poured on their ice cream.

“How about we go find a wall to break that up against?”

23

Dropping the unwanted cassettes in a pile on the floormat, fingers mashing buttons. He put in a tape, drove a few feet, popped it out, tried another.

Fast Forward, to the last tape in the ashtray: “Where Have All the Good Times Gone?”—Diamond Dave vibrated in the left kickpanel. The perfect soundtrack for exiting that movie parking lot.

24

When the brake is no longer the brake.

25

Glen showed up at Jay’s house every day with a different car.

T-Bird on Tuesday was good. But it was the Seville on Friday that got him. Emerald Green. Spoked rims.

Jay offered him 3 grand cash. Right there.

“Next week—and I want the wreck in the driveway.”

He flashed the knot under Glen’s nose, close enough for him to smell it.

“Monday. I promise. I’ll even make sure it’s detailed.”

26

No word from Glen Monday.

27

No word from Glen Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.

28

Friday. Glen waiting for Jay first thing in the morning. The driver-side door swung open, even with the front gate at 5:30 a.m.

“You still got the money?”

He leaned over the steering wheel in a way that Jay could see something he didn’t want to see.

29

Everyone in the neighborhood thought Glen must’ve been high when he sold the Seville for only $1,500. The next week, Jay had it painted. Red.

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PEOPLE WATCHING by Michael Seidlinger

You aren’t alone even though it still feels that way, long gaps of nothing between discussions that seem to have everything to do with the weekend, which leads you to the assumption that tonight won’t be much. You are with someone familiar, been around, floating along with the same circle since as far back as you’re willing to remember, and you are both searching the shopping mall for the others, convinced that they had told one of you to meet them at the food court.

“Why, I have no fucking clue,” he says.

But that’s really not ever worth considering because you both enjoy people-watching, picking out the men on the prowl, the women and which ones are possible targets, the others not so much because, as he says, “Too fat… Too ugly… One word: herpes.”

You listen to him string together a situation where the men on the prowl meet the women and how it’ll end up on the nightly news, or not, but it’ll still be something that probably happens, and happens a lot. You tend to agree. The funniest part of his mostly nonsensical scenario has to do with the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Inevitable, you think. You ask him what it would take to fuck a girl with gonorrhea but before he can answer, you change the subject, asking him, “Hungry?”

He’s like, “I could eat.”

And so you go to some fast food restaurant and both get huge burritos that neither of you have any interest in finishing. Between gorging on big bites of the burrito, you count the seconds it takes for him to swallow and then he does the same. When you watch him swallow, you think only of empty calories and stomach flab and throwing up the burrito once you’ve had enough. He watches you swallow and thinks of ejaculate.

Really?

It is what it is, what else do you want? Shall I continue?

You end up fingering the area between table and wall anxiously, digging out dark matter from previous meals, while waiting for him to hand you the flask so that you can add rum to your soda. And then you drink it down in bigger gulps than before, counting calories, anticipating when the buzz wears off so that when you stick your fingers down your throat.

He jokes and asks, “What else have you choked on?”

You laugh along, the liquor kicking in, making the washed out light of the food court blinding to your eyes. You squint, wishing you had sunglasses but that doesn’t seem like something you’d wear unless it was ironic.

He stares at the half-eaten burrito without blinking, and then leaves the table without a word. You stare at your own burrito, certain that you didn’t eat all of it.

You start counting calories. You think of the sour cream, the cheese, the beef, the brown rice, you think about how many calories are in the tortilla, but when he returns, he smells vaguely of vomit and you get hungry.

Then you lose count. Start eating his leftovers, drinking more rum than soda, and then, when it’s your turn, he goes with you in the stall.

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