Clock tower


Up and down the dark flights echoed their labored breaths of ascension. The walls were black and the wooden stairs creaked with their lamplit upward march and with each flight the man and woman drowned further in the clank and crash of the giant working gears.

In the belfry they stood silent about wavering shadow and watched the innards of the great clock, their bodies quaking with the sheer mass of sound, the measured scream of grinding metal and time. The man walked over to the control unit and with his entire body weight pulled down on the kill switch and the room trembled around them and the immense machine slowed to a halt.

The silence was complete and stunning, a sudden presence of swirling spirits, insidious and arresting in their scrutiny. The man and woman looked at one another for several seconds and then set down their pails of water and degreaser and other like solvents and began to scrub.

“Are you married,” the man asked.

“Yes, three years,” said the woman. “You?”

“No, no marriage.”

“A girlfriend, then.”

“I have a neighbor.”

“You have a neighbor.”

“Sometimes I feel like she’s my girlfriend. I imagine we inhabit the same intimate spaces, we breathe the same air. We have long dramatic and inane conversations in my head.”

“Forgive me, but isn’t that a little strange?”

“For years I’ve been asking people do they think I’m strange. Because I’m not convinced either way. They always say no. Then they add something very profound or insightful about me and I’m glad I asked the initial question.”

“Maybe you’re not entirely strange but it sounds like you do some pretty strange things.”

“I was dating this girl a couple years ago, actually dating her, not just imagining dating her, and I asked her do you think I’m strange or peculiar or weird or odd and she said no, she didn’t think so. ‘But I think you live completely inside yourself,’ she said, ‘And that must be exhausting.’”

“You always look very tired,” the woman said, scrubbing with a brush between the teeth of the giant main gear, cleaning away black gunk and rust and dirt and all the attitudes of time and wear. “Like you’ve been traveling varied expanses, or something.”

“I am tired,” said the man. “When I’m at home in my apartment I have the feeling that she’s with me in the room, she’s observing me. The girl from upstairs. Not just sometimes, but always. She’s always there, watching, and so I talk to myself, or I talk to her, but there’s really no one there. I say things out loud to explain why I do certain things or what I’m thinking. I speak to her to justify my behavior. I’m cooking a meal and I tell her, ‘You can never have too many tomatoes. And beans. Beans are necessary, good for the heart and colon.’ Or maybe I’m giving her a recommendation: ‘You should seriously consider supplementing your nutritive plan with a probiotic.’ I imagine how she would respond to my words, which of course means I then must speak back to her, keep the dialogue going. I speak more words and then more words and before I realize what’s happening I’m carrying on an entire conversation with an imagined person. Even though she really exists. I’m talking to myself, thinking she’s there with me, critiquing my behavior and actions. Telling me to do something or not do something. Asking me questions about how I live my life, commenting on the state of cleanliness of my apartment. Making small demands. Without even noticing, I’ve already tagged her with a knack for subtle harassment. She’s a nag. She nags me. The poor girl never even had a chance. In my mind she’s nagging, and every time I see her for real out there in the world and I talk to her face to face and not just in my head, I’m always wondering when I’m going to have to duck and juke and put up my hands, go defensive. But she never nags me and then we part ways and she goes into her apartment and I into mine and the strangely unforced conversations with myself continue. I tell her about the books I’ve recently read. I talk to her about jazz, that immense presence in my life, as if it was important to her. I pretend she likes me or maybe she doesn’t like me, she’s just getting to know me. I tell her what it’s like to be a creative person, the loneliness, exalted breath of life, the ridiculous self-demand. The loneliness. Perhaps I frighten her, the real her. I’ve considered this repeatedly. Maybe she can hear me talking to myself through the ceiling or the walls and she finds it strange, but certainly not as strange as she would if she knew I was talking to her. Or her projection. Her imaginary nagging presence. Then when I step back and observe myself, what I’m really doing here, it saddens me terribly. I feel the sadness in my bones. The solitude is crystalline in its purity, its edges sharpened to a razored danger.”

They scrubbed in silence. The only sounds their back and forth scouring motion, the slosh of dirty liquid in the pails. The woman thought about the dream she’d had the night before. She was a child again and back on the farm in Montana, gray sky and pallid sloping landscape of green and flaming brown, and it began to rain, the drops large and heavy and cold. She started to run up to the house with the clouds tumbling low and fast and stark directly above her and she stormed smiling with eyes wild into that familiar sanctuary of family and nurture but the inside of the house was nothing like she remembered it. Everything had changed. New furniture arranged in different places, different wallpaper adorned with alien photos and embroidered scripture. Unusually ornate statues of women in various elegant poses, all of them nude, haunting and surreal. Even her family members had been substituted. A bearded man who acted like her father and a fat dark-skinned woman who was not her mother, the mother she knew and loved and with whom all was sacred and plain. A thickness grew in her throat and she began to cry, tugging on the frayed ends of her long brown hair as she always did, and then a furious rolling sonic clap of thunder shook the house and she woke startled and alone, sweaty palms tugging curiously on the ends of her hair, now much shorter and much more pale in the fleeting morning dark.

“Do you believe in time travel,” he said.

“I don’t believe in anything.”

“I was thinking about taking up a religion. Something morally precise, deeply ascetic in nature. I want to strip my world down to its bones. I want to believe in something just for the sake of believing. Take the blind leap, rescue myself from myself. Because that’s what religion is, when you dismantle its myths. It’s a rescue mechanism. Have you ever heard of the term eschaton?”

“I’m working here,” she said.

“It’s the philosophical study of the end times. Each religion or theological system of beliefs adopts or creates its own, they weave it into the body of their respective myth to give people the option of being rescued. This works most effectively on a micro level, interpretations taken from the myth, entrenched and transformed in the individual believer’s mind.”

“You’re making this up as you go along.”

“I told you I’ve been looking into it,” he said.

“We’re living in peculiar times.”

“I’m almost finished with this gear,” he said.

He polished the cog he’d been working on and moved over to the next as she continued to scrub the giant main gear, her face frozen in concentration, the lamp tossing waves of yellow light about the small dark room.

“If you could go back in time,” she said, “where would you go and what would you do?”

“I would definitely want to witness the crucifixion of Christ. Imagine the energy in the air, thick and electric with so much historical force. The birth of myth, ground zero of prophecy. This is all contingent on Jesus being the son of god, of course. Or even a real, breathing person in history.”

“I would want to witness my own birth, she said. “Stricken by the shockwaves of irony. Then I’d hang around in the shadows and watch my life unfurl. Try to confirm some things, warn myself of grave dangers. Either that or the beginning of the universe. I’d like to be there at the commencement of time. Listen to those words: commencement of time. I’d like to see those massive electrical storms of energy, feel the enormous wrath of mathematics. A witness to the jumpstarting of the currents of history.”

“How much longer?” he said. He stretched his back, his shoulders and abdomen. He cracked his knuckles and bent over to pick the brush back up and then he walked over to where the woman was working and helped her scrub away the grime on the main gear.

“When I was a girl,” she said, “I used to imagine what I’d be doing when I was the age I am now. I always imagined I’d be traveling the world, city to plain, living in bungalows or cloistered shacks and eating fresh vegetables. Snapping photos, speaking to the locals and listening to their stories, matching fable with scar. And now that I’m older I imagine what I’ll be doing twenty years from now. If I’m still alive. I can see myself running a small unconventional business. Maybe a hot air balloon park in Flagstaff, Arizona. A themed coffee shop in Norman, Oklahoma. You can never have enough themed coffee shops. In twenty years I’ll be mid-forties, the ideal age for a woman to begin grandmotherhood. I’ll be the cutest grandmother ever, little beaded necklaces, my hair graying and always pulled back in a pony tail, sandals every day of the year.”

“I picture myself as an article of history,” he said. Twenty years from now I’ll exist only as a newspaper clipping. Headlines like: Religious Fundamentalist Assassinates Pope. I see myself as a casualty in some grand personal war, a war I’ll attribute to my newfound religion. Anyone can commit a crime, violent or otherwise. But when you apply religion to it, an impassioned set of beliefs upon which you’ve vowed to die for, you assign novelty to the act, you thrust the crime past the news briefs in the daily paper and into the leather-bound volumes of history.”

“Man Stabs Librarian, Says She Was Satan,” said the woman.


“Bank Robber Vows Money ‘Belongs to God.’”

“That’s the stuff,” he said.

“How about: Strange Man Impregnates Imaginary Girlfriend.”

“Good one.”

“How’re we doing on time?”

“No, really,” he said. “I’m impressed.”

“I think we’re done here.”

“I’m laughing on the inside.”

“Let’s get this baby cranking.”

And so bejeweled by flickering light the man pushed up on the heavy switch and the room tremulous and sallow jolted he and the woman from discourse back into the confines of their own minds. They contemplated the majesty of engineering before them, sensorially merciless, and it humbled them into something like mirth, an inner shadowed room of awe and pleasure. The gears picked up speed and charged into a maddening frenzy of energy to compensate for the time lost to maintenance, a whirling and howling fury, a sudden massive force of heat and light and wind born of sprawling dendrites and tentacles snapping and licking electric white, crippling in its power. The man and woman with their eyes shut and faces turned upward surrendered complete to that relentless god of time with silent supplication, the lines of worship and the body of humanity’s sacred mantras painted in water upon them.

The gears slowed into their steady circadian truth and the man and woman picked up the lamp and pails and brushes and began the long journey back down the rickety stairs to the pool of faint light at the base of the tower.

Solo dancer



“What do we do?” he said, breath steaming.

“We wait,” I told him. “He comes out that door and we wait for him.”

The tower loomed in front of us, massive and commanding, a cold gray stone obelisk devoid of sensation or spirit. Thin clouds of white and pink sojourned past it right to left in the bloody dusk. I could feel people standing behind the dark windows looking down at us.

“What did you used to do before this?”

“I always did this,” I said.

Delivery trucks and taxis and limousines slid past us in the street. People walking their dogs. Vagrants and their stammering supplications, toothless, vacant red eyes.

“I used to be a newspaper editor. Worked at the copy desk in Cherokee.”

“What happened.”

“I was fired for various things,” he said. “One time I invented a tasteless headline.”

Breath and life of the city, slow exhaust of time. The creep of evening as stars born into the shimmering gradient. The city clicks and claps and howls, it gurgles and screams and beeps all around us. Thundering humanity. Lights flicker and change colors. Everywhere people are moving.

“There was a guy, a priest,” he said. “He got caught with a little boy in the sacristy of a church in town there. Everyone suspected him for years but they couldn’t do anything. His brother was mayor and his father had been mayor before him.”

I didn’t say anything and watched the tower.

“So a janitor catches him standing with his robe up around his waist and this kid on his knees and so naturally he got arrested. We ran a story about the incident and followed the case while his trial was pending. One day he hung himself in the cell. Used a bunch of shoelaces he tied together. Of course we ran a story about it.”

“That’s a lot of goddamned shoelaces. So what did you do?”

“Father Ferris was his name. He was very well known in the community. I mean, his family basically ran the whole town. Anyway, the headline we originally ran with the story was: Father Ferris Dead, Hangs Self in Cell. I stayed late that night after everyone in the newsroom had gone and I promised the Chief I’d take the finished proof to press. I read the story some schmuck had written and decided to leave it alone but I had to change the headline.”

He held up both hands as if arranging the words out in the air before him.

“Father Phallus Gets the Rope.”

“Not too bright.”

“I knew what was going to happen.”

“It’s not even really that clever.”

“I thought it was.”

“How was the reception in the community?”

“I ever go there again, my murder is certain.”

“Aren’t there journalist ethics or something like that?”

“Very stringent. Many newsrooms are shaped around an agreed framework of principles. I didn’t necessarily agree with all of ours.”


“That headline, changing that headline, that was my way of giving the bird to the priest and the Church and the paper and the community all at the same time.”

“You’re very proud.”

“It was my greatest moment.”

“This is terribly depressing, this conversation.”

“Where is this goddamned guy, it’s freezing.”

He shifted his body weight to reach into the pocket of his jeans. He brought out a crushed pack of cigarettes and handed me one.

“No thanks.”

“You quit or something.”

“Or something,” I said, watching the tower. The sky had darkened to a deep pensive ruby and there were patterns of birds floating black and stark against it. Square white lights in a few windows in the tower, white eyes watching.

“I need to quit,” he said. “I been saying this for maybe twelve years.”

“So quit.”

“Quit. ‘Quit,’ he says.”

“It’s easy.”

“Easy. ‘It’s easy,’ he says.”

“It is. You just don’t put the thing in your mouth.”

He put the cigarette in his mouth and lit it.

“How long did you smoke?” he said.

“Thirty years.”

“And you quit. Just like that.”

“Just like that.”

“How long’s it been. Since you quit.”

“Two months.”

“You haven’t had a cigarette in two months.”

“Not a pull.”

“Bull shit.”

“Okay, bull shit.”

Pigeons and squirrels suspicious and drunk with cold huddled around us, hungry and mad. A handful of them inspected our shoes beneath the bench. Sirens in the distance, people in dark coats walking swiftly on the sidewalks. Taxis. Bicycles. An ambulance. A man in a bear costume with a sign hung around his neck: Who is John Galt?

“Maybe the guy’s dead in there,” he said. “You ever think of that? One of these times a guy gets hip. He feels it coming. He’s afraid of the fear.”

“You talk too much.”

“These guys are just a link in the chain of their own lies. The bonded untruths. Their lies are their memories. They become them. They have to know it’s all going to end violently one day. Feel it behind them like their shadow on the wall. They poison themselves in their spacious offices. They hang themselves in the restrooms.”

“They got no clue.”

“Oh, they know,” he said. “They know the end is inevitable. It’s an arm’s length. They delay it until it consumes them in waves of paranoia.”

“They’re criminals.”

“They’re misunderstood.”

“Like newspapermen.”

“There he is.”

“That’s not him,” I said.

He finished his cigarette and pitched it into the gutter. The pigeons swarmed onto it and then ignored it. Darkness folded over the city and wrapped the base of the tower in a waxen white glow. People all around. People on cell phones, people selling magazines and designer handbags. I looked down but the pigeons and squirrels were gone and I wished for a cup of coffee. The ground trembled with the rumbling current of the subway below.

“Maybe we missed him,” he said.

“We didn’t miss him,” I said. “He’s watching us. Doesn’t want to leave just yet.”

“How do you know?”

I didn’t answer him. He craned his neck to get a better look at the tower entrance and then he relaxed again.

“Maybe my mother was right,” he said. “Maybe there is a God with a stake in our lives. Everything we do.”

“What the hell are you talking about now.”

“Or maybe we’re all part of the spirit, man. One great spirit. Bacteria in the meta-culture of some giant soul. All of us are a part.”

“Please just stop, man.”

“I’m just trying to make conversation.”

“Make it quietly.”

When the man came out of the building he was a lot younger than I expected. He wore a charcoal suit coat buttoned to the neck and he carried a black nylon bag with a shoulder strap. He blew into his hands and I stood and began to cross the street and then it started to snow.



Deep in the wastebasket his hand searched, past the balls of crumpled paper and empty paper cups through the cool slick slather inching up his arm, down to the bottom of the barrel, the tiny metal idol he never meant to retrieve. He pulled it out through the muck, small and golden and untouched by the slop, his fingers caked in slime. He ran his hands under the water tap and rinsed the idol and brought it to the light and looked at it, hands dripping. He had never really looked at it before and it glowed from within. This token of days and seasons past.


“She gave it to me on our anniversary,” he said into the phone. “A year, our one-year anniversary. I got her a three-hundred-dollar shopping spree at some fancy women’s boutique and she got me this necklace with a little golden Buddhist-looking dude on it. As if I’m Buddhist. Or know anything about Buddhism. I don’t even wear jewelry, man. I mean, I wanted to hand it back to her right then. It was like a metaphor for our whole relationship . . . So I was cleaning out my drawers today and throwing away old socks and stuff and I saw it lying there all curled up in a corner of the drawer and I smirked, you know. It was like a revelation to me. That was the one single instance, right there. Nothing I had done or seen or thought of up to that point had gotten me over her more than looking in that drawer today and seeing that necklace in there. It was like I was disgusted . . . Yeah, so I threw it away . . . ”


He stared at it, studied the detail of it. He went to the junk drawer and found a magnifyer, turning the little gold man over beneath it, his fingerprints like immense fissures beyond the magical glass. Long flowing golden robe. He could see the man’s face, smiling, serene, omniscient and meek. The little statue burned in the light. In the tiny eyes was the transience of time, a subtle understanding of the places of the earth and beyond, places like the lighted area beneath giant scrutinizing lenses and still rooms amplified by molecular discourse and the crowded spaces of the profane and scrapped. Looking at the little man, he was amazed he saw all of this.


“I want you to have this,” she said, handing him a small package wrapped in yesterday’s newspaper. “It’s been in my family for many years.”


He washed and dried the idol and set it on the counter. Prismatic streaks of sunlight from the window, silent shadows of approaching dusk. He thought about her again with a deep and tortured longing, as if mourning her spirit now departed everlasting. The auburn tint of her hair in the sun. The skin of her cheeks so soft and warm. Freckles splashed in abstract expression upon her chest. Skin everywhere, landscapes of skin. A seeping lavender sky and not a charge in the air nor wickedness in his heart but only affection and the clarity of understanding. Garbage littered about the base of the bin as if heaved upward from its depths, the open vein of his very being, exposed, accountable.

In this room


In this room he sits facing the processor with papers and notebooks scattered about the desk and the rest of the room is bare save for a small window draped in pages of his various manuscripts to shroud the room in timelessness. A pastel glow from the desk lamp splashes his shadow on the bare wall at his back and outside this room explosions wrack the terrain and crowds move in subtle majesty of sheer mass and pestilence devours entire races of people like waves of viral famine and messages of hope and peace infiltrate the violent leanings of men but contained within the walls of this room are the most profound things, for this is where the spectacle of the outside world is extracted and concentrated and enumerated for posterity.

There is news in his village of a great earthquake across the globe and lovers stroll easily through the city square but in this room the streets of Mexico City burn with the energy of rebellion and New York’s midnight veins purge the police presence from the subways and the children of London dance upon the recycled ashes of autocracy just as Afghan warlords slink wormlike and intrepid through the dusty darkness down secret doors into caves sweet and warm with human vapors to plot their violent logical ends. Floods and windstorms reshape the surface of the earth and he sees himself in the crowds, the swaying hunger marches and chaotic zigzag sprints from terror. He sees his face looking back up at him in the words he creates, the meta-messages and diatribes against authority. He stares into his own eyes and smiles at the likeness, torturer of innocents, playing both victim and tyrant, ultimately a patriot for freedom of thought and individuality.

For he only recognizes himself when he’s creating. The world continues to revolve and shudder deeply and burn in places and he’s huddled in some dark corner of the planet somewhere, in this room, thinking, staring into the mirror of his thoughts. He sees himself and looks away, focusing deeper, because he knows he is only relevant as a medium of the message, and at the root of his ability lies the most fundamental purpose, a vehicle in the continuous search for truth.

In this room the walls are tremulous and time is heartless. He taps at the processor and scans the papers, jots some notes down in a pad. He can’t remember his name. He only knows that no one shares it.

group discussion


The room began to burn around them and the oldest of them said, So what are the prevailing themes of the work. So far, I mean. If it’s not too early in the story.

The other three looked to the flames spreading quickly about them, orange and yellow and red pulsing light and heat. Billowing flames upon the wide raftered ceiling and floor and white walls. They sat in silence and studied the force of the flames and then they dropped their heads into the text, scanning mindlessly, listening to the fire snap and lick carnally at their world. They tried to remember what the oldest one had just said and couldn’t and then what.

I know it’s early, she said. But surely we can identify at least one thematic element.

The flames carried a truth of their own, a rogue life force born of circadian breath and sustained by thought, thrust outward to the realm of awareness, attacking each of their senses and spreading violence and destruction and misunderstanding. Regeneration. Someone cleared their throat and the flames grew larger and doubled in heat, smoke whirling mad cyclonic threats about their heads.

Violence, said the second one. Violence is a theme, I think. He had to shout to be heard over the growl and whine of the spreading fire.

Please explain.

Well, um, he said, trying not to focus on the dancing fire but the topic at hand, the discussion. Not just overtly, he said, With the brutal beating at the beginning of part one and the shooting there at the end of part two. But also the implicit violence. The interaction between characters. There’s violence in the language, the dialogue, even without being profane. Especially without being profane. The author has chosen to create a dialogue of what seems to be constant agitation between parties.

Hmm, yes. Interesting.

And darkness. Darkness also seems to be a prevailing theme, I think, though I’m not quite sure how yet.

I was thinking of that too, said the third one, flames lapping at her legs. Her face was wet with sweat, hair matted to her forehead in knotted clumps. There’s obviously something complicated going on here with the use of light and dark, she said, Illumination and shadow. It’s like a dichotomy, like the author is using light and darkness to set up some kind of dichotomy.

Between what. Give us an example.

And the entire room was burning now, flames affronting physical and metaphysical laws alike and consisting not of individual bodies of flames but of one churning mechanism roaring godlike and ferocious and the people of the room watched transfixed with the glittering vortex tattooed onto their dark pooling irises amid the sounds of crashing wood and stone and screaming steel.

Well, for instance, said the third one. The narrator’s not really explaining anything he sees on the highway other than what’s revealed in the Cadillac’s lights. It’s almost like nothing really exists on the Highway Six unless it’s bathed in light.

Okay, yes. I see. Hmm. Interesting, yes.

It’s about revelation. I think. And the highway itself is very intriguing, said the second one. The highway itself is a character. There’s something very strange and fabular going on here, I think. I hope we’ll encounter more as the story progresses.

Well the story is named after the highway, said the oldest one. So I imagine the narrator will get around to enlightening us before long.

The ceiling crashed down around them, sparks and flames shooting up into a black void, deep chaotic vibrato and a loud hiss of smoke and pressure being sucked upward into the hole.

I think it’s too early for theme, shouted the fourth one, the skin of his arms bubbling in the heat. His hair was on fire, his eyes glowing red and orange with swirling rings of white. But symbol, he shouted. There are symbols galore. The Cadillac is a symbol, I think. It’s a transporter, a protector. I mean, the only time we haven’t seen what’s happening are the times when our narrator is in the car, driving. We don’t get to know his thoughts, his doubts. This is when the world slows down enough for him to think, to assess his world and situation, and we’re not even there.


Yes, but if this is a coincidence or on purpose, we don’t know.

Everything in literature is on purpose.

This narrator, anger rules his world, said the fourth one, and then his body was swallowed in heat and glow, liquid flame of autonomy, his former body impossible to distinguish from the rest of the throbbing blaze.

We’re not even real, the oldest one said, and then nobody said anything, they all sat watching the blaze reach its howling culmination of size and depth and menace and they listened to its biblical crash and wail and they felt the heat abate as the walls fell away into black, total black surrounding them above and below and layers upon layers of dark nothing through to the very core of the universe and they all were able to breathe and all was so very silent as to hear one’s heart beating somewhere in the heaving cocoon of their chests, so very human and fragile.

Part two seemed to have a small meditation on police, or being a policeman, or the perception people have of policemen. Or something. This was the second one speaking again. She had her head in the text, a lone finger probing a page in repose, back and forth, back and forth, her eyes following the finger’s march through words and phrases and thoughts and messages both innocuous and incendiary. Trying to recapture a message or image burned forever into her mind with the power that only the written word possesses. Silence engulfed them. Playground of gods, landscape of the cosmos. Black on blackest. Infinite clarity.

What type of police officer is this narrator, the first one asked.

A complicated one, said the third one.

No, I mean a good cop or a bad cop.

He’s obviously a bad cop.

I think he’s a good cop, said the second one.

Maybe he’s a conflicted cop, said the Author.

You can’t do that, said the oldest one. It’s against the rules. Or something.

The interpreters interpret, said the Author. They do this because they cannot create. The creators just create. They do this because this is what they do.

Someone tell him we’re not discussing theory.

So you write for readers, then?

Who said that, said someone.

What are you trying to do, what are you trying to prove.

Who’s that speaking, who just spoke right then.

Why don’t you ask the creator, the Author said.

The silence


She said that she had looked up to the sky in the dark wasteland to the shimmering lights of energies distant and ineffable and what she imagined was the very sum of all the things her mind could render. I spoke to her years later amid fragrant seaside discourse during an evening of food and wine and the amiable company of friends and intellectual neighbors and I asked her what had been the most cherished moment of her adult life and she tried to explain it to me vividly: that night long ago and her standing beneath the stars painted on blackness everlasting somewhere in the vast American desert, hands in her pockets and no sounds but those she conjured and felt in her toes through the vibration of the dusted earth. I asked her what was so seminal about the moment and she was silent for a long time staring off into some candle flame or inner reflection and then she broke from her reverie and regarded me with an expression of total indifference and said, I’ll always be incapable of explaining the significant moments in my life, however small and seemingly trivial they are to others, and that was one of those moments. Then she drained her glass of wine and leaned back against the wrought-iron chair and looked away from me to the dark cresting hills at the island’s elbow with the sound of night waves crashing upon the moon-paled beach behind her, dark eyes shadowed but glistening with tears. She refrained from looking at me or uttering any word in my direction for the rest of the evening, even when the oculoid moon crawled from one end of the sodden navy sky to the other and when the waves of the sea failed to rest upon the hour of their programmed repose and when our friends dispersed drunk and flaccid to their own nests and the dreams therein, and even when I walked her back to her room at the villa in our shared silence, my head oscillating from the flickering lights of town to the restless black water foaming at our feet. I wanted to tell her I understood but I knew that a woman enraptured by the sentiments of certain memories is an impenetrable emotive force. I stopped at her door and she passed through it without regard for me or my considerations or the steady rhythmic clock of the universe rolling its omniscient eyes at such petty human ruminations.

The next morning I awoke tremulous and sweating from some dream I couldn’t recall and there were sounds of rain and people scurrying about in the square. I stepped into some clean clothes and opened my door to see what was happening, the rain falling heavily like a translucent screen, boiling sore of the world opened up and electric gray throughout. There were three men carrying the woman out of her room supine and motionless with a white sheet draped over her while other women huddled about trying to keep the sheet dry. People bowed their heads in prayer and a lone dirge echoed throughout the square in the rain and I looked down to them transfixed as the men placed the woman in a van and drove her away, mud slinging from the tires like the bloody pigment of the earth, the deep wounds left by the tires quickly flooded again by the torrent. I closed the door and my room fell dark and cold and so I called the woman’s room and listened for hours to the empty line ring until the rain ceased its barrage in the square, and the people came out of their rooms at dusk with candles aloft and flickering in the gray mist, water dripping from the rooftops. I stood from my window and watched them and tried to remember what the woman looked like or even her name but I could remember nothing other than her long and bitter silence the night before. And standing there gazing down upon the darkening world and the people of the square hovering about somnolent and wraithlike I understood the woman’s last words with a clarity proportionate to the white moon hanging dry and sagacious behind thinning silvery wisps of rainclouds.



I parked the van in the alley behind the building and went in the back door. The bar smelled like hickory and smoke, rich autumn sunlight flooding the place. There was no one there, or at least that’s what I thought. I walked around the bar and poured myself a glass of orange juice and stood there drinking in the morning silence, languid dust particles shoaling in the sunbeams.

“Where’s the stuff?” I heard someone say. I looked toward the end of the room on the right and saw Sal leaning forward on the bar, smiling, his bald head gleaming and slick and tracked by veins.

“The place looks good, Sally,” I said, and drained the juice. “You ought to lock it.”

Sal came back behind the bar and we shook hands and hugged. We stood there for a while holding each other at the elbow, two old friends frozen in the aging light of morning and studying one another’s age spots, the wrinkles and other flaws fashioned by gravity and time. He was much older and he didn’t look well. I tried to put his appearance into context, weigh it against my memories of him as a young man, flamboyant and indestructible. To stare into his eyes long bereft of their luster and see the irrefutable residue of his strain, the effects of life’s bitter charm, his youthful gloss wiped clear away and replaced with irony, it made me wonder how bad I looked.

“How long you been here?”

“You’re the first person I come to see, Sally.”


“They’re listening now, I guarantee.”

Sal grunted and picked up the bar phone and dialed a number. He muttered a few words into the receiver and hung up and said, “Let’s go.”

We walked out to the alley awash in fluid morning hues and I swung open the back doors of the van. Sal looked up and down the alley and shuffled his feet and neither of us said anything. I climbed in and pulled the two suitcases toward the rear of the van and got back out, stealing a cigarette from my jacket pocket and lighting it and then snapping open the suitcases one after the other, the objects inside coming to life as if illumined from within, deep reds and browns and stark blacks of exotic hides with the names of men and women stamped in glittering gold and silver upon the handcrafted spines. Sal inhaled audibly and climbed in the van, leaning over the suitcases.

“I can’t tell you how beautiful,” he said, one hand reaching and hovering over the titles. “They’ll torture us, they catch us with these.”

“First editions,” I said, and sucked on the cigarette. “Each and every one.”

“Reminds me of the old days,” he said, and climbed back out of the van, his eyes wet and large and rendered frozen upon the books. Another van peeled into the alley and I had a brief moment of panic, my hand at my hip and the steel waiting there. Sal waved for the driver to park behind my van and a young man of maybe twenty got out and walked quickly towards me, his hand stretched out before him.

“Mr. Guy, holy shit, it’s an honor,” he said, and I took his hand. “How long it’s been, I’ve followed your career.”

“What’s your name?”

“His name is Billy,” Sal said. “And he’d better get on.”

“Good to meet you Billy,” I said, and loaded the suitcases into his van. “But Sal’s right.”

“Yeah,” Billy said. “I’d better get on.” He reached out for my hand again and I shook it, feeling the coarse strength and energy in his skin, thinking back to when I was his age and wondering where the virtue had died between the people of my generation and our own shadow-leaders. None of us are safe, I thought. Not then, certainly not now.

I watched Billy drive out of the alley into the radiant unknown and I could have worried about our precious delivery but I pacified myself in knowing that some day in the future there will be large hallowed libraries again and there will be books lining their shelves protected from the destructive clutch of tyranny and those books will forever provide testimony to man’s most sacred ideas so long as courageous young minds like Billy and his peers continued our honored struggle of liberating them to the grueling end.

dialogue ad infinitum

She said: “I like your apartment much better than mine. This room. It’s comforting. It generates warmth, stimulates deep rhythmic sleep. There is an energy in this room, I’m telling you, it’s agreeable. I can see myself here, sitting on the edge of the bed right there, drinking hot tea and stretching my toes, watching you cook breakfast in the kitchen.”

“What else,” I said. “Make a list.”

“Winter morning, windows of crackling white light. Jazz soft and cerebral. You, shirtless, the wafting grease and butter. The cup in my hands like fire, brown liquid steaming, too hot to even drink. I’m sitting there on the corner of your bed wearing one of your tattered shirts, deep fabric of your scent. Tacit anticipation of Christmas in the coming days, a subtle tactile yearning, candles wavering in daylight, crystalline contentment.”

“I want fire. Can there be a fire?”

“Everything is white. Bright reflective glare. Things are cleaned and shined to a luminous sheen. The day’s newspaper has been read and disassembled and stacked neatly by your front door. We are both unshowered, smell of sleep still on our skin, in our hair. Remnants of jagged dreams congealed and stuck in our tear ducts. We don’t speak. We function minimally, with the ease of knowing we’ll eat and make scattered love and then soak together under hot water, exhausting the building’s supply, tea and honey on our shared breath, sunlight blinding white from the bathroom window. We watch our shadows coalesce and dance on the walls.”

“We go to work or it’s our day off or what’s happening here.”

“This is our life. We have no obligations. Nothing is required of us.”

“Utopian afterlife.”

“Only here and now. This is everything we need. We only go out at night when the world is sleeping. We have the city to ourselves, the whole buckling monster of energy and grit. Dark and segmented enchantment. We feed the night pigeons, they ask us questions. Everyone else is asleep, dreaming their icy dreams.”

“What do we talk about?”

“We don’t hold hands because it’s way too cold for that.”

“You’re not even real.”

“We walk different areas of the city each night. Shoulder to shoulder. Our breath leaping out before us in violent plumes, mirror images of the horrors inside. We walk all night and plot our return as light begins to breach the black and star-spotted winter sky.”

“But you’re not even real.”

“And the moon watches us, it keeps us warm through the night, we melt into each other on those frozen sidewalks and the moon watches us, the moon prays for us.”

“Standing there. In this room. You don’t exist.”

“And then we’re back here in our lair, timeless and casual and static in our comfort, our ego-universe.”

“Standing in front of me, you’re smiling, a transitory manifestation. So real. It’s so easy to imagine you. Your voice, I can hear it, the subtle inflections and pitched stresses. Your little coded patterns of behavior, body language, eye movements, positions and fluid gestures. All the things that make you a singular entity, who you are, your personal genetic mutiny against the world, my creation. All this I create.”

“We have each other. We’ll take all the clocks, all of your instruments of time measurement. We’ll crush them, hammer them to bits, burn them, submerge them in your bathtub.”

“Because I need to fashion something that moves me. And there you are, eyes green or blue or both, hair the color of mud. You smile, I can see it, it’s real. I could reach up and touch you, feel your fibrous truth. God, I ache for you. I can see you, every real part of you, connecting your pieces and breaking me down. Because you help me on nights like this, you keep me creating. You sustain me through the loneliness, the pacing, the knuckle biting. I pinch at my mouth when I’m deep in thought, I realize this.”

“And maybe I fall asleep and you’re still there working through the ideas, the pictures in your mind, images of words and whatever. Working by candlelight. Scribbling or tapping. The sound of imagination replicating. You stop and find me in the semi-darkness as your eyes adjust, outlines of a body warm and curled into itself beneath your blankets.”

“I have to remind myself what’s real.”

“The quiet stillness. You finish your lies or truths and fall into bed, warm and fragrant. A calm richness on your skin. Almost immediately you begin to dream, small running portraits in mystery.”

“In my dreams I’m always confused. Confusion is the prevailing theme in my dreams.”

“You need me.”

“Sometimes I feel like I’m thinking so clearly, like my mind is slicing giant gashes in the universe, anti-matter oozing out. I can see and feel the world and interpret the patterns, stepping out of myself to observe the terrific chaos, the mute precision and omni-conscience. The beauty and tragedy of it is enough to kill anything. Maybe Nietzsche was wrong and this is why god died, not a martyr of history but a victim of her own marvelous creation.”

“You need me to help you work through your muddled logic. To protect you. You’re being watched, observed from the dusty corners of other dimensions. The thinking creatures across the galaxy study the works of human writers and grow jealous. This is your power.”

“I’m inventing this entire dialogue.”

“You need me to balance your consciousness. You need our perfect little winter mornings together, our midnight strolls. Together we interpret the world through our misunderstanding of it.”

“Ninety percent of what I love exists only in my imagination.”

“This is not sad.”

“I need you to help keep me grounded. There is a potency, a drugging clarity in madness.”

“But I’m not even real.”

“Together we will shape cultures. We will fashion worlds, create the offspring of nuance. Beautiful, twisting ideas of perfection. Condensed thought. We will create a new moral paradigm. Trust me, I’ve had visions.”

“But I’m not a real woman, though.”

“This is the only way it can work. It has to be this way.”

“Our little secret.”

“You and me.”


“We’re gonna live forever.”