Third novel out to alphas

My third novel is out to alpha readers (many thanks goes to them). It took four years and four months to research and write with a 19-month hiatus in the middle. That’s nearly double the time it took to write the others. I’m grateful to all the places I sat writing in the notebook, usually at a bar or bookshop somewhere in the city (before COVID-19). I’m especially grateful to the following people for their inspiration: Ricardo Piglia (specifically Target in the Night), Esperanza Marie, Esther Vigil, Chris Dire, Roberto Bolaño (specifically The Unknown University), Chris Ransick, The Ancient Mariner, and the town of Salida, Colorado.

your books

The books you sent

lie on the shelf

I don’t read them

Austen and Maugham

books on old films

Nazi biographies

furry with dust

purposefully neglected

lies, all of it

histories of French kings

by church-going luminaries

not to be gifted or donated

sentenced to a life unread

books about

dandies and rich bitches

dogs in human form

Agatha Christie

biographies of propagandists

revered by some but

not me

books not worth the flame

not worth time

lying books to lie decoratively

(like all lies)

as long as I control

Apartment 303

The investigator asked me questions into the evening, trying to dismantle my story. He leaned in over the table between us. We were almost friends. Friendship is all about time.

It was supposed to be a simple bank robbery, I said again.

*

Sunlight smothered the city. People convened, they shopped, they walked and ran. It was normal. Vehicles cruised past with music blaring, impatient. This was before the pandemic. Children played, fountains splashed.

It was the perfect morning to rob a bank.

My partner and I walked in waving pistols and shouting for everyone to get on the ground. We both wore masks, back before it was common.

A woman screamed, then another. The three customers in the place raised their arms above their heads. They were all senior citizens. Four workers stood frozen behind the counter, all of them like spooked deer, watching me.

It should have been an easy job.

My partner hopped the counter and grabbed the bank manager by his hair, pulling hard.

Open the vault, he said, and bullied the man downstairs to the vault. I cursed and waved the gun around and shouted for everyone to shut up and lay flat. They complied.

This will be over soon, I said, pacing, spacing out my words.

Think of your families.

No one gets hurt.

It was the only time of week the bank had no armed guard on site. Still, we had to assume an alarm was tripped. Every job you do, that’s the understanding. Two minutes and the cops are there.

I waved the gun aggressively but it wasn’t necessary.

A guy tried to enter the bank entrance but saw me with the mask and gun and ran back out the door, stumbling.

I clicked off seconds in my head. Pop music played from speakers somewhere. I should have already heard a shout of some kind from my partner downstairs.

I counted five cameras in the room.

Two of the customers had walking canes lying next to them. The place smelled of wet carpet and bleach, as if the floors had been cleaned overnight. I breathed deeply from my abdomen, forcing air upward and out through the mask.

My partner took too long downstairs and I activated Plan B. You have to plan for contingencies. You can’t overthink. You’ve got to act quickly.

All right! I shouted through the mask. Everybody out! Everybody out now!

The employees and customers rose to their feet slow and uncertain, confused, afraid. But people move when you point a gun at them.

Out! I shouted, cursing. Move it! Out! Out!

I waved the pistol and shouted until they were gone, then I flipped the deadbolt on the entrance door and sprinted downstairs to uneven concrete beneath my feet and old brick to each side of a long hallway. A single bulb hung from a string, swinging softly. I heard no music — no sound at all.

Hurry up! I shouted into the darkness. What’s taking so long?

My voice echoed. I waved my gun like a fool and stepped beneath the bulb further into the shadows.

Hello? I said.

Hello, said a man nearby.

The bulb above flashed and burned out. I stood in complete darkness.

Hello? I said again.

I put the gun up and staggered, one palm on the brick wall at my side. Silence and darkness overwhelmed the hall. The damp air thickened and I moved through it gasping with arms out before me, each step a step into oblivion.

How is this happening? I thought.

I stopped walking, feeling the pulse race beneath my skin. My head floated off my shoulders — a balloon in the void. I kneeled to the ground to keep from losing balance and falling over. I blinked but couldn’t tell if my eyes were open.

I stood and stepped slowly to feel with my palms out but met another wall. My breaths quickened, drumming from me. I counted them: thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two, thirty-three. I heard breathing nearby.

Hello? I said.

I reached to my right, disoriented.

Hello? I said again, whispering, eyes wide. The pistol trembled in my hand.

The wall to my left met a right angle of brick in front of me. I reached out and touched brick to the right of, then behind me.

I shouted and fired a round into the ground and saw in a flash of light that I was surrounded by brick, entombed. The bullet ricocheted into my left calf and I cried out, slinking to the ground with my back against the brick.

I cursed, shouting into the tiny space. My echo stretched to an impossible distance. I reached up to feel brick just above my head. Sweat poured from my face.

How long until I suffocated? Am I hallucinating?

The bulb sparked back to life, swinging above my head. I blinked at the brilliance of it. The familiar brick wall appeared before me with shadowed hallway disappearing away to my right and my left. I pushed myself up onto one leg, gasping painfully.

Hello? I said, my voice absorbing echoless into the air. I shouted again and heard nothing, deafened. The ground beneath vibrated.

What’s happening to me? I thought.

*

I began limping down the dark hall. I didn’t know from which direction I’d come. It didn’t matter — I had to get out. The cops were probably upstairs looking for me. I took 20 paces from the bulb that became 30 paces as I staggered deeper into the shadows. I stopped and turned around, walking back to the swinging bulb, a small wavering point of light in the absence. I hobbled past it another 80 paces before stopping again. It was pointless. The hallway stretched infinitely into shadow in both directions.

Hello? I shouted, my voice ricocheting like a bullet and repeating into the distance.

I shouldn’t have taken this job, I muttered to myself, cursing. I should have trusted my instincts. I knew it was bad.

I realized I still had my mask on and I pulled it off. Suddenly I could breathe easier. I heard a scream through the brick, as if from a nearby room. It was a man.

He actually wasn’t my partner at all. He was just a guy on a bank job. I didn’t know him.

He screamed again and I shouted his name.

HELP! he shouted. HELP ME!

I heard a crack, then silence. He stopped screaming. It sounded like the crack of a club or baseball bat smashing into bone.

I muttered to myself, trembling.

Another crack echoed through the brick and another and another and another until there were no bones left to crack. Then I only heard the precise rhythm of blunt instrument smashing into inert cadaver, blasting and blasting but also increasing tempo, crushing and echoing in the hall, building feverishly to satisfy some alien murderousness.

*

Wow, said the investigator. Descriptive.

He stood and paced behind his metal chair, then around the table. His shoes clicked on the concrete. I watched him and glanced at the two-way mirror. I counted two cameras in the room.

He had no hair on his head. No eyebrows, no facial hair. He stopped pacing next to me and leaned into my ear and whispered, cursing: Liar.

*

My next decision is difficult to explain. I was afraid and not thinking clearly.

I just wanted it to be over, to be done, and I didn’t care how.

I took off running on my one good leg down the hall past the dangling light with the pistol in hand and I continued lurching forward, fearless of falling into the depths or smashing face-first into a wall in the darkness growing suddenly cold with my breath pluming crystallized before me, my arms pumping, good leg pumping, heart pumping. The hallway widened though I couldn’t see it to confirm. I felt that I’d entered a giant space but still indoors, sheltered from the sky. The grade increased and I struggled uphill, slipping on sand yet stable enough to hold my churning leg.

A faded line of horizontal light appeared over the summit and I climbed to it, struggling through deeper sand. The moonlight swelled and cleared with each upward step until it appeared in full, the glowing face of an ancient friend. I marched up with lightning snapping overhead, powering my way upward toward a sense of remoteness, alienness, as if in a sea, surrounded by water.

I reached the summit with my chest heaving and stood atop a giant dune beneath the pregnant moon with lightning attacking dangerously near —on a sand dune in an ocean of sand dunes.

Clouds like dirty snow sprinted overhead as if in time lapse. White veins lit up the alien landscape and I gazed over the endless rolling hills of sand with hot wind whipping my hair and clothes, a conqueror atop his endless spoil, absorbing the immensity and perilousness of his journey for the first time.

*

Lies, lies, lies, lies, lies, said the bald investigator.

*

A sand crab rose to the ivory surface near me.

Black and slick in the moonlight it dashed toward me and I kicked it tumbling into the wind.

Dark imperfections began spreading across the sand in the distance and I smelled them on the breeze, acrid and menacing.

Soon all the desert was alive with them, each distant crest and valley rolling outward like waves began to flower in black and the ground below bubbled porous and chaotic with the crabs climbing up from the depths, surrounding me, shrieking with snapping mandibles when I confirmed with my eyes that they weren’t crabs, they were larger and faster, more aggressive. They weren’t anything I’d seen before.

Quickly they struck and seized my ankles, biting and clawing with hot pain like liquid up my spine. The monsters dug into the meat of my thighs and continued up to my torso, slashing at my clothes and skin, overtaking my arms as I tried to slap and peel them away. There were too many of them and I struggled against the sensation of falling. I shouted pleadingly at the moon, stone-faced and indifferent to my cries.

The creatures climbed to my neck and pierced the skin, bounding onto my face with tentacles searching and I tasted them as they pulled me down into the sand with their poison coursing my brain.

Soon my lower half melted beneath the sand and I screamed with sand filling my mouth and eyes.

Then the world disappeared.

*

The investigator paced the interrogation room with arms folded, nodding, a smile on his face.

*

I don’t know how much time elapsed. I woke atop a pile of sand in the middle of a blacktop intersection in the Chicago neighborhood where I grew up.

It was a moonless night and the whole place was empty of people. Orange streetlamps lit the sidewalks and I eased myself down from the sand pile to dust myself off. My bad leg had healed and both were good again.

I looked up to the façade of my childhood apartment building. My old bedroom window on the third floor was the only window lit.

In the light I recognized the silhouette of a figure, unmistakable and familiar. I shivered in a way I hadn’t since I was a kid.

Dreamlike I wavered toward the building feeling sand in every part of me, inside me.

Across the empty street I navigated the familiar brick, concrete and asphalt panorama of my youth and entered the building past the broken elevator to the stairs as if routine, as if blindfolded and half-conscious up the threadbare staircase to apartment 303.

My hand floated to the door. Slowly it creaked open, alighting the small cluttered landing area and bookshelf. I heard my mother’s voice — she sang while cooking and I smelled the emotional aroma of her inventions there in the third-floor hallway of our project housing complex. I pressed the door and it was no longer my childhood apartment door but the vault door in the basement of Community Street Bank in Philadelphia, a summer morning in the year 2020.

The bank manager lay dead in his cheap shirt, shot twice through the chest.

You’re late, said my partner, a duffel slung over his shoulder and his pistol trained on me.

I’m sorry, he said, meeting my eyes.

We both had masks on.

He pulled the trigger but his pistol jammed. He ran past me up the stairs to the bank lobby and I looked around, incredulous and panicked. The sound of pop music melted down the stairs like syrup. I saw the dead manager on the vault floor and scuff marks on the tile around him. The gun was molten steel in my hand.

I finally shook myself awake and ran upstairs just in time —

I paused and looked at the investigator.

Just in time to meet your … people. The cops swarmed in.

The other guy wasn’t my partner. Just a guy on a bank job.

He must have got away.

*

The investigator sighed and nodded his head.

So here we are, he said.

He scratched his chin and looked meaningfully into the two-way mirror. He smiled.

Here we are, I said.

He sighed and sat in the chair opposite me and leaned over the table, glaring at me. He smiled.

I did not smile but watched as his grin widened. His face melted up and back and his cheeks somehow made room for the hideous growing discolored teeth. His eyes bulged and his lips squeaked like plastic as they stretched, his mouth a giant lightless cavity from which a sand monster spilled onto the steel table, its insect legs flailing in the air before it righted itself and stood, watching me.

The investigator licked his lips like a salamander and winked one mad balloon eye at me. He leaned back in his chair and looked up to the fluorescent lights laughing, laughing.

post-pandemic perspectives

 

(in their own words)

Age 20 — marketing professional, part-time professional musician, black male, NY
50 — survivor of COVID-19, female, Mexican-American, retail worker, CA
61 — realtor, lost three family members to COVID-19, African-American male, NY
5 — loves animals and outer space, MI
28 — gave birth to triplets during pandemic, business student, multi-ethnic, VA
68 — white male, retired engineer, no known relation to COVID-19, KY
10 — female orphan, likes baseball, MI
58 — male, dead from COVID-19, postal worker, NJ
47 — cranberry and grape farmer, white male, father dead from COVID-19, WA
52 — chef, African-American male, poker genius, VA
12 — autistic girl, MO
71 — retired news reporter, white female, proud American, AK
8 — entrepreneur, female, Mexican-American, CA
50 — unemployed laborer, female, one uncle and two aunts dead from COVID-19, TN
16 — volleyball captain, African-American male, AL
49 — chief of police, African-American male, brother dead of COVID-19, AL
81 — retired salesperson, white female, husband dead of COVID-19, IN
75 — retired postal worker, Cuban-American, COVID-19-positive, FL
43 — human resources professional, Latina, OH
34 bartender, black female, part-time professional musician, LA
67 — animal rights activist, Mexican-American male, Scrabble champion, CA
72 — war veteran, grandfather, secret government agent, mother dead of COVID-19, WI
59 — litigation attorney, Japanese-American, female, COVID-19-positive, WA
13 — social influencer, female, NY
19 — thief, male, currently hospitalized with COVID-19, MA
38 — unemployed restaurant worker, aspiring fashion designer, white female, CO
91 no known relation to COVID-19, African-American female, MS
31 — unemployed retail worker, Phillipino-American, accomplished rapper, NY
44 — unemployed single parent, white female, blogger, KS
29 — restaurateur, trans-gender, NY
58 — electric transit vehicle operator, African-American female, CA
75 — production line specialist, Indian-American male, bookworm, MI
23 — unemployed restaurant worker, Mexican-American male, UT
61 — female, dead from COVID-19, retired dancer and entertainer, NV
90 — retired architect, white male, nephew dead from COVID-19, NY
66 — retired sales director, French citizen, Algerian, GA
84 — retired funeral home director, white female, daughter dead from COVID-19, FL
45 — unemployed construction worker, Mexican-American male, MT
78 — professional gambler, no known relation to COVID-19, black male, NJ
53 — elementary school principal, Mexican-American male, proud American, AZ
67 — retired police officer, white male, cancer survivor, dead from COVID-19, WY
76 — retired public servant, white male, positive with COVID-19, AK
37 — unemployed artist and dancer, Nepalese-American female, NY
59 — certified public accountant, white male, wife dead from COVID-19, MI
98 — retired CEO and philanthropist, two children dead from COVID-19, CA
14 — high-school student, wrestler, male, class clown, OR
43 — meat factory worker, Harley-Davidson collector, dead from COVID-19, NM
88 — retired nurse, no known relation to COVID-19, white female, HI
56 — retired colonel, African-American male, grandfather of 18, LA
26 — unemployed barista, actress, Latina, CA
61 — freelance IT consultant, greatest uncle ever, dead from COVID-19, NJ
82 — retired film studies instructor, white male, part-time chef, NE
22 — garbage disposal mechanical specialist, Colombian-American, Texan, TX
41 — police officer, positive with COVID-19, father of triplets, Chinese-American, MA
36 — retired professional athlete, entrepreneur, black male, DE
51 — professional caterer, white male, car salesman, father, lover, KY
16 — student, violinist, #gobucks, occasional eating champ, WI
48 — master carpenter, hot-rod enthusiast, white male, pet groomer, MT
47 — unemployed electrician, wine connoisseur, mestizo, NM
21 — volunteer, motivational speaker, paraplegic, white female, OH
77 — part-time poker player, retired sales manager, Native American, SD
31 — unemployed music DJ, gay, Brazilian-American, uncle dead from COVID-19, CA
18 — intern at book publisher, white male, video game enthusiast, TN
66 — retired firefighter, antique restorer, grandfather of eight, black male, LA
59 — part-time airline employee, crocheter, nanny, African-American female, IL
71 — retired real estate developer, speaker of five languages, dead from COVID-19, OR
74 — homemaker and seller of exotic fish, white female, dead from COVID-19, FL
37 — nurse, mother of four, Alaskan of the Haida people, positive for COVID-19, AK
86 — retired city services employee, positive for COVID-19, black male, WI
27 — casino employee, part-time dancer, Venezuelan-American, bad bitch, NV
40 — former collegiate athlete, unemployed chef, Black male, positive for COVID-19, TX
76 — retired Navy SEAL, avid bowler, father of three girls, Italian-American, PA
49 — investment manager, certified educator, defending fantasy football champion, MA
34 — unemployed baker, black female, VT
48 — grocer, investor, white, father dead from COVID-19, ND
53 — freelance proposal manager, Italian-American, Boston Celtics fan, AZ
91 — retired attorney and professor of law at BCU, white male, dead from COVID-19, MA
24 — unemployed business major, artist, musician, dead from COVID-19, AL
64 — delivery driver, proud black king, positive for COVID-19, OK
89 — retired real estate magnate, white male, no known relations to COVID-19, CO
6 — builder, Canadian superhero in training, NH
33 — data center professional, music lover, Indian-American male, WY
40 — writer, sun-poisoned, jaded, loved, not currently positive for COVID-19, CO
51 — unemployed golf course maintenance professional, part-time musician, IN
77 — retired, part-time volunteer, European immigrant, NE
56 — unemployed bus driver, positive for COVID-19, black female, AR
37 — United States Marine, brown man, Billings, MT
69 — retired veteran of military affairs, United States Army, positive for COVID-19, IL
83 — retired real estate professional, helicopter pilot, father of five, white male, PA
36 — retired adult actress, theater director, artist, FL
66 — convict, Colombian, born-again Christian, MO.
22 — pregnant, unemployed, mother of three, mixed-race female, GA
59 — medical practitioner, proud Iroquois, WI
32 — brewer, restauranteur, entrepreneur, coffee junkie, AL
29 — reporter for local TV news, positive for COVID-19, avid cyclist, spin captain, CA
84 — retired salon owner, white female, investor, MI
44 — entrepreneur, self-employed, Greek-American, father positive with COVID-19, NV
55 — unemployed bartender, Uber driver, sister dead from COVID-19, OH
20 — student researcher, poet, black female, no known relation to COVOD-19, NJ
63 – horse breeder, wine collector, doctor’s wife, white female, WY
80 — fly fisher, grandpa, gardener, white male, positive with COVID-19, WV
59 — unemployed journalist, Black American male, recent lottery winner, DE

portrait of a mute

IMG_0942

There he was, pale faced and morose. Nobody like him anywhere. Beneath the white lamp glow, sullen there with his stack of blank papers, which would be creased or imperfect if only he didn’t fill them so quickly, if only the pages remained longer in his care, beneath his pen and his scrutiny.

What is the measure of a man? Is it in his handwriting? A person’s life displayed before the discerning reader, as if in a crystal ball. Wade’s short bursts of near-perfect proportionality were written hastily, without error, as if the author, given to spasmodic and obsessive episodes with the pen, always knew where his pen was headed. As if the pen cast a sweeping glance like headlights upon the fibers and terrain it was soon to illuminate. As if the driver of that pen, omniscient and aware of his fate, preferred to follow blindly rather than see his journey.

Dreams, by Eduardo Galeano

CD291646-C7C7-46F0-B2AC-BC91443C99E5

7 November

One night in 1619, when Rene Descartes was still quite young, he dreamed all night long.

As he told it, in the first dream he was bent over, unable to straighten up, struggling to walk against a fierce wind that propelled him toward school and church.

In the second dream a bolt of lightning knocked him out of bed and the room filled up with sparks that illuminated everything in sight.

And in the third he opened an encyclopedia, looking for a way to live his life, but those pages were missing.

*Trans. by Mark Fried

Pharaoh and servant

What can I do for you this night, master? asked the servant, kneeling before his Pharaoh.

The master paced the tile in shadow, free of headdress, as he preferred.

Arid breezes and swirling garments.

On cloudy nights they ceased their disciplined adjustment of mirrors that

sucked moonlight deep beneath the pyramids

where men and women worked tirelessly in deep chambers

and bacchanals flowed like wine through the night,

poets dawdling by candlelight, observing all.

 

On clear nights, servants were assigned to each mirror station.

The poets admired their discipline but not their fawning

or their status as servants.

A subterranean culture of nocturnal diggers, morticians, freaks, insomniacs.

Most worked through dawn, a manic colony of human ants

exploiting the desert

meeting it, absorbing it, becoming it.

Darkness and mystery deep as history and tradition.

 

Bring me a wife, said the Pharaoh.

His eyes burned in the half-light. The servant departed.

Myrrh and cinnamon on the breeze, hot as day.

Moonlight battled cotton clouds of aquamarine, gray, white.

What will become us, wondered the Pharaoh.

hunter/hunted

Lakeview

I hauled twenty-three loads this week, he said. I’m drinkin til I pass out.

We hefted oversized mugs of gold beer to our faces. The manager and bartender eyed us. A racist-sounding country singer drawled from the overhead speaker.

He said: Worst of em was Reno to Chicago. I rode a storm the whole way. Truck blowin this way and that.

His name was Nick and I met him at this shitty bar one hour and two mugs ago. Truckers are a lonely bunch. Nick came here to drink. I walked over from the stop because I was bored.

I said: I did twenty last week, so I feel you.

We’d started to settle into a drinking rhythm, a locomotive just catching full speed.

My wife’s asleep by now, he said, flipping his phone on the bar top.

We don’t ask after another trucker’s family, even if there’s something we want to know, even if we freely offer those details about ourselves. I looked at my watch.

Where you from? he asked.

We drank. I said: I’m from everywhere but right now I live in Vermont.

Vermont, he said, staring into the distance.

I noticed he was near done with his beer, so I gulped mine down. I motioned for the bartender to pour us another.

Nick said: Thanks.

You got the last one, I said.

Let me ask you, he said. You ever do time?

I thought it an odd question. Because I’m black? I wondered.

I made no expression, no movement.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha I’m just fuckin with you, man! he laugh-shouted, smacking my back.

I drank and nodded. This beer would be my last. Darkness at the windows kept me from seeing night in Spokane. It was almost closing on a Tuesday night. Only a few other losers wasted their time in the place. Most of them worked there.

I fuckin did time, he said, humorless. Then he distracted himself with the monitors above the bar and drank down half the mug. A minute passed and he turned his head toward me, his eyes shiny and unfocused.

He said: We should get a hooker and tag team her.

I smiled. I thought he was joking, but he was serious. He lowered his voice to a whisper.

I can get us something young, he said, drunk, looking over his shoulder, then mine. I know a guy here in Spokane.

His eyes reached for mine and landed. The skin on my back rippled to my shoulders, riding a wave to my scalp. Again I made no expression. I nodded solemnly and drank.

Young as you want, he whispered, looking back to the TVs above the bar.

I must have misunderstood him. What we talked about after that is blurry, indiscernible. I don’t know how I got back to my rig. Most of the trucks were gone when I woke at dawn.

I saw him again ten months later in Colorado Springs. I’d thought about him every day, wondering if I’d imagined the episode. I saw him refueling at a hauler station and reintroduced myself.

Oh yeah, he said, eyeing me suspiciously before shaking my hand. Snow and cold swarmed us.

Yeah I remember you, he said.

You need a coffee? I asked, motioning toward the cafe next door.

I said: I’m buying.

He nodded.

Once seated at the table we layered down and thawed and danced around small talk before he leaned in and whispered to me, his breath smoke and coffee, cold sores, rotten teeth.

Last time we talked, he said.

He squirmed in his chair.

In Spokane. I mention anything to you about —?

I looked at him and sipped the coffee.

He said: I don’t know how to put this.

We told each other we’d both done time, I said. That’s what I remember.

Yeah, he said, relief refracting about the asymmetry of his eyes.

He leaned back in his seat.

I said: We said to keep in touch and I never gave you my card.

I plucked a business card from the back of my iPhone and handed it to him. He handed me his card and I put it in my pocket without looking at it.

If you’re ever in Vermont, I said, shaking his hand outside the cafe.

I pulled his card from my pocket once back in the cabin of my truck.

Nick McKesson. Address in Louisville, Kentucky.

Weeks passed and I couldn’t forget him. His odor. I trained both body and technique with him in mind.

Negotiations with crew mates and surreptitious questions to office personnel yielded nothing to Kentucky. When I finally landed a shift to Louisville, the load was light as the spring rain and I drove as long and hard as law allowed. I arrived at dusk and took a cab to three blocks away from the address on Nick’s card. It was hot and humid on foot, but breezy.

I knocked on the building door, unsure of my purpose. It was a trucker warehouse with no lights on. I waited. Footsteps, then the door cracked open. His eyes: squinty and hard and uneven.

What’you want.

Nick, I said, my voice as non-threatening as possible. My body language was bad.

We don’t want none, he said, and closed the door.

You gave me your card, I said to the door. Vermont. Remember?

I waited and the door cracked open again. A fly wandered in.

He sent a hard, suspicious look.

Sorry, he said. Round here don’t get a lot of.

It’s cool, I said. Just stopped in to say hey. I was in Louisville and remembered your card. 

He nodded once, eyeing me.

Want a quick beer? I’m closing up.

Sure, I said, walking into the darkness after him.

Crazy you got me today, he said. I got in last night and I’m leavin in the morning.

The shop was empty of people and machines except one truck, likely his.

I said: I didn’t think anyone would be here.

He opened the refrigerator. Budweiser cans. I took one.

Just me, he said.

I don’t remember our conversation over the next several minutes as I drank the Budweiser. I was too far into my head. The can was empty and fragile in my hand.

Hey, I said, and paused.

I lied to you back in Colorado.

What? he said.

In Colorado, I said. I wasn’t honest with you.

What happened in Colorado? he said.

I remembered our conversation from Spokane, I said.

He was suspicious.

What’you talkin about, man? he said.

Then I hit him. All the attempts in my mind, all the square shots and the misses, the temple grazes, all the scenarios I’d played and replayed over the past eighteen months were nothing compared to the pulpy sensation of his nose and left cheekbone meeting the fist at the end of my right arm, bent slightly at the elbow as I leaned in lighting quick from the waist, a solid strike in any storm, any war, under any circumstances, just or unjust.

He staggered. He could take a punch. Adrenaline rocketed through his body and mind but mine was already in orbit. I pounced atop him with the other fist, then both. My physical shape and training made quick work. I knew what he was going to say when I arrived at the door, about not getting a lot of black folk around there. I thought about pissing on him but hit him once more instead. He lay there like the little girls he — I thought. Then I left.