[she's got my number, she always did]
She always forgets about time zones, but Toby's the champion of grabbing a ringing phone out of a dead sleep. It's five AM in Manhattan; she's flying back from Lagos, where she spent the past week in a hospital ward full of dying teenagers. There's a weird exhilaration in her voice as she says, "We could fix this, you know, and I don't give a damn anymore how much pharmaceutical companies pay in taxes. Actually, I never did."
It's easier not to give a damn when you have a billionaire in your back pocket. "I used to have this Florence Nightingale fantasy," he says. She laughs, a long, throaty, possibly tipsy laugh. The first gray edge of daylight cuts in around his curtains and he realizes he's up for the day.
A few hours later, he drives out to Newark to meet her during her layover. They don't have sex. They just stand outside one of the thirty Starbucks in the airport, breathless and mostly quiet, knowing one another, knowing they could.
Eventually they get around to talking about the children. Molly's had her ears pierced. Huck won a spelling bee. Devon is learning to write now, presumably at her father's knee. Toby looks past C.J.'s shoulder at the newsstand, at the headlines, bold black ink, words like 'sanction' and 'deadlock' everywhere. She's doing good work these days, he knows this, while he's faded into the world of theory. He is a theory, relevance moving away from him like the lines of strangers streaming toward the gates.
C.J. pushes her big black sunglasses up into her hair. "I have never been to a PTA meeting," she says. "The last time I tried to cook, I attempted paella--stop smirking--and Devon threw it up. I bought her presents I know she's too young for." Her fingers drum on top of her dusty suitcase. "Toby, I'm not a good mother, I'm basically an absent father."
He looks steadily into her eyes and frowns for as long as he can stand to, but it gets away, and he's laughing out loud. "You know, that's--you have never been more wrong about anything in your life than you are about that. I could write The Iliad about how wrong you are."
She smiles back, the lines at the corners of her lips and eyes punctuating her beauty. "I love my daughter, I love my job," she says. "But I'm terrible at the whole balancing act."
"Yeah, but you're happy this way," he says.
Her smile disappears again, but she doesn't disagree. She cocks her head, staring back at him like she can see through his eyes to the place in his head that holds all the words he knows and keeps silenced. "I'll call you the next time I'm out this way," she says, meaning that she won't call him from Santa Monica. Which he already knew.
When he kisses her goodbye, he tastes coffee and cognac, and time does not stand still.
[saint somebody of perpetual succor]
"Want a cigarette?" you ask. The kid in the Karl Malone jersey nods.
Frank says, "No."
You pause with the pack cupped in your palm, one eyebrow arched, all innocence. "No?"
"You don't want one of his cigarettes, Deshawn." Frank's forearms are folded straight across his chest, his chin and eyebrows drawn down. From where you sit he looks like a disappointed statue, black marble in a pink Oxford shirt. It must look that way to the kid, too. "Man, he smokes these nasty-ass Newports. I tell him--Tim, what'd I tell you?"
What does he tell you? You let your mouth fall open, studying the scratched tabletop. "That I don't--"
"A real man does not fucking smoke menthols." Frank rolls the words real man around on his tongue. "Deshawn here is a real man. Isn't that right, Deshawn?"
"Marlboros. Colt 45. Malone the Mailman." Frank's hand slices across your vision, pointing at the kid's shirt. "You got taste. You know how to carry yourself. Nobody tells you what to do, nobody has to tell you what to do. That's a grown man."
"Uh huh," Deshawn says again. "You know that's right."
You raise your eyes and scan the kid's face, pitted with acne and lit with sweat, his mouth pinched and red like a new scar. And you look to Frank and say, "He's a man? So how come he shot Daniela Torres in the back when she was running?"
Frank sweeps you with a glare that's also a smile, if you know him well enough, look at him close enough. He shakes his head--Saint Somebody of Perpetual Succor--and leans down over Deshawn's shoulder, exhaling a long smokeless sigh. "Shut up, Timmy."
You sag in your chair, chastened, and put your cigarette between your lips.
[but it is selfish love]
When Cameron's drunk she seems happy, laughter floating on every breath. Wilson shifts on the barstool and her knee nudges his--a bare knee; it's spring. His palm cups her patella, fitting nicely, her skin smooth and warm and he can sleep with her if he wants. She would. But he likes her much better than the cheap motel where he's living now; it'd feel cursory. Like cheating, which he isn't, anymore. Never again. He's about to let go when her laugh dissolves into a sigh. She leans in close, so close, and murmurs, "Do you still have House's key?"
[if i was a dancer]
I dreamed of her once, and no, you Freudian pervert, it wasn't that kind of dream. It was more like a flashback to this night at the Waterfront. In the dream I knew how much cash was in the till, down to the penny, and the score in the Orioles game, and her fingers against my side as we danced--their exact pressure and position and warmth. All this crap I don't actually remember.
In the dream, I was going to say something when the song ended, but she looked up and just said, "Goodnight, John."
I've forgotten which.
[root, root, root for the home team]
Dana's rooting for the Yankees. Dana's rooting for capital-E Evil, for the Luftwaffe and Bush and Vader all rolled into one, and that's just Steinbrenner. Natalie swoons, grabbing hold of Dana's desk for fear that the world will literally turn upside down--
"--'Cause I'm sick of psycho Sox fans," says Dana, crossing her arms. "Seriously, you're not cursed, you just don't know when to yank a starter, so let the Babe rest in peace, okay? And maybe learn some small ball? Not to mention their payroll--"
"Darryl..." says Natalie, loudly. "Darryl..."
Dana throws up her hands. Schilling throws the ball.
i. good friday
November first dawned in darkness and stayed there, clouds smoking above the doused torches of the trees. How to kill the time between knowing--in the night, the Mark had seared scar-white on his arm--and knowing for certain, hearing the story? He cancelled no classes. He shed no tears.
ii. black saturday
Lucius despises the Hogs' Head, sits with shoulders crooked, collar high. It's good to see Lucius uncomfortable. Snape raises his glass to it.
"To Draco's second year at Hogwarts," says Lucius, misunderstanding as usual. "You'll look after him."
It's an order he has no right to give. Snape doesn't answer.
iii. easter sunday
He'll Apparate a yard off the mark and arrive ankle-deep in mud. He'll leave footprints black as curses on the path to the Dark Lord's door. He'll bow, scrape, beg.
The madness filming the scarlet eyes will be familiar, after thirteen years, and very much alive.
Snape will survive this.
[root, root, root for the home team]
[the beginning of a new age]
He tastes alcohol on her mouth, and not just champagne, something harder, and she reaches up to hold his collar, his hands dangling empty. He does not want to touch her white dress.
There are voices talking somewhere in her brother's house, on the stairs, in the hall, in the room beneath the floor beneath their feet. Her guests, her family, Danny's family, people he doesn't know, people who used to be his friends. He's walked a gauntlet of dirty looks and nervous smiles to get up here. He didn't mean to kiss her. She's kissing him like she'll never stop to breathe.
And she stops, her lipstick still perfect and dry, her lashes long and wet. She's aged in the two years since he last saw her, and he sees the change in her face, and beneath that he sees her face clean and smooth in the sunlight of a decade ago. The difference between the two images amplifies her beauty to a point that causes him physical pain.
"Be happy for me," she says, straightening his tie, the emerald in her engagement ring flashing like a jealous eye.
He looks away first. "Be happy," he says. "For me."
[august and everything after]
The strangeness began shortly after his eighteenth birthday. A time when, he'd wanted to think, his life might have begun to be more fully his own.
It began with a shadow in the farthest corner of his vision, like an unshed tear. When he tried to see it clearly, it vanished. It came and went. It came and stayed.
One morning he bumped into Ginny as she came out of the bathroom. She screamed, and he said, sorry, and she said, for a second I thought you were someone else, and he said, who, and she kissed him and they said nothing else for a while.
Another morning he awoke standing on the doorstep, looking out across the garden that boiled with summer color. He thought he must have come down for the Prophet and fallen back asleep, but he didn't remember. He wiped his glasses on his shirttail. The shadow was still there, just barely out of sight.
Nobody Apparated in the garden at teatime. Nobody came through the Floo at sundown. He and Ginny took their brooms up most days, as high as they could without losing control to the wind. They talked more than they'd ever done, drifting comfortably in and out of one long conversation. They had talks about the future and silences about the past.
So many letters came that sometimes the owls made the beams groan. People wanted to thank him for winning the war, to remember his loved ones for him, or have him remember theirs, to know exactly what he'd done. They wanted. He didn't. He yawned, quit reading, and got up to shift the clutter in the spare room. It'd be hell if someone came to stay.
The Marauder's Map fell into his hands like a star he might have wished on. It fell into his hands like a man falling into death.
Sirius, Dumbledore, Snape. He remembered all the falling in exquisite detail.
Harry solemnly swore that he was up to no good, and nothing happened. He tried again. Not even one drop of ink appeared. Not a word from his father, his godfather, their good friend, and their traitor. He frowned at the Map. He'd never used it outside Hogwarts, but surely it should at least speak up.
Ginny, he called, check this out. Bring your wand. But she was asleep, or maybe she'd flown off somewhere.
He dropped the ragged parchment on the floor and started up the hall.
Come to think of it, nobody he knew had written to him in a while. He stopped on the stairway. Owls came from strangers, parents and children of the dead, but never from the survivors.
Aren't there survivors? Apart from us?
Ginny, are we still here?
He heard her humming someplace above him. The love of his life. His lifetime. He'd ask her, and she'd say, we don't need anyone else, we have all the time in the world.
The shadow blossomed, black as ink, in his eyes.
He was a boy when he came for me. Twenty, at most, and I had not been so young at his age. He had made his first moves, though. The traditional opening gambit: Change your name. Kill your father. Cover your tracks.
"I'm looking for someone," he began. He had no Russian, but his German was as good as mine. Einen Berater was what he said. More than a teacher, less than a hero.
"You haven't found him," I said. "I don't take in English strays. I'm no mentor." The waitress poured him a vodka. He pretended to drink without letting it touch his lips. I almost laughed. Waitresses rarely poison paying customers. "I am," I said, "just a comrade."
He did not smile. His fingers struck a nervous march on the bar. "You're nobody's friend," he said. "And I don't need friends. What I need is someone who knows how to..."
Briefly he struggled with his words, and with something else, and his schoolboy's face went bone-white. Every eye in the bar was watching.
At last he said, "To make a fist around the throat of the world and hold it."
The words were fair enough, but his voice impressed me. He spoke as a man pronouncing a death sentence on the child he had once been. I looked down to where he gripped the shot glass and saw that the vodka inside it was boiling black. Possibilities opened in my mind like hungry mouths.
"What are you after?" I asked him. He must have known already that he had power, and power cannot be borrowed or bartered. Incantations, flourishes, rituals: such things he could get from books. I had little patience for that sort of thing. Power and learning carried one to a gate and no further. Unlocking the gate took something more.
"Most of Grindelwald's supporters were wiped out," he said. "It was hard to find one alive. To find you."
"So," he hissed. His hands twitched, but he gave me a steady stare. "I want you to teach me that. Not dying. It seems to me the only thing worth learning."
For long seconds I did not reply. His eyes stayed fixed on me. I downed my drink. The waitress passed us as if we were invisible, and perhaps we were. The air around us had stilled, dark and mute as the substance in the shot glass.
"You'll teach me." That voice.
"Yes," I said.
As I stood up, he offered me his hand to shake. Such a boy. Instead I turned my collar up, though I was warm to the marrow of my bones.
This was in another country, a country that can no longer be found on any map. The city has since changed its name. Our tracks have been buried under stone and ash. How many killed, I don't know or care.
He smiled to himself, before I walked away. I've never forgotten.
"I'll teach you more," he said.
And he did.
Years later, smoking again, on a dirty balcony with a view of lower roofs and pigeon-shit, a thought strikes Dan that makes him fumble his cigarette over the railing. He grasps for it, misses, watches it eddying down.
The apartment is Dan's, but it's occupied by a women's furniture, her paintings on the wall, her body's warmth. He lives here and on the back page of Sports Illustrated twice a month, and he freelances. He free-associates: freedom.
He remembers Casey saying, "You can do it without me."
It's proven true. This grief is what opens Dan's fingers, letting things fall.
Jeremy spent his first night at Natalie's apartment drifting, on her even breath and the warm smell of good sex. Around five, he stretched and swung himself up from the bed.
By the hallway lamp he studied her bookshelf, smiling at the new edition of Friday Night Lights that he kept on his nightstand. Some well-thumbed Stephen Kings, The Shipping News, Bridget Jones, Anna Karenina. Natalie.
He scrambled for a pen, opened Friday Night Lights to the title page and signed his name, neatly, with love. Then he closed the words between their covers and shuffled silently back to hers.
It was easier to kiss Harry Potter than you'd once imagined. To sit beside him in the Three Broomsticks as he drank steadily, pointlessly. His face was white as thin ice when you leaned over, clasping his knee. Don't you want me, then?
He touched your flaming hair. You needed no magic to know he was thinking of Ron, of Ron's body found broken. Yes. Yes, I do. You arched your breasts forward, your mouth up to his. It was as easy as that.
In a black corner of your mind, Tom Riddle smiled when your tongue traced the scar.
I hit the high note. Hedwig didn't.
Those fingers below my breastbone taught me to breathe. The nails were sharp, blood-colored; our hands laced like lovers. Our ribs struck together as we finished The Star-Spangled Banner. "Gibberish," Hedwig sighed. "What self-respecting country would want this piece of shit for an anthem?"
"I don't know about countries." Ours were no longer on any map.
"'Does that banner still wave?' Stick your head up and look..." Those fingers, a gun to my head.
I drew it in, raised it on my breath. "Land of the free," I sang. Hedwig didn't let go.
[in the desert, you can't remember your name]
On slow afternoons, he fucks Catherine during shift change, in the locked observation cell off Interrogation One. Her breath clouds the two-way glass as his hands chart the unbearable beauty of her dipped spine, lifted hips, parted thighs. He keeps his eyes open, lunging against her, and his teeth clenched shut.
They never talk about it, because they hate to lie to each other. No one says what the truth should be: that they're not strangers. They're gambling an old friendship. That they might have loved each other a little.
Her shudders run through him. She never says his name.
All this misbehavior is delicious: climbing down from the loft bed, naked except for an afghan your boyfriend's grandmother knitted. Your hair's stringy, your skin's sticky. You feel beautiful.
You tiptoe to the bathroom. There's no hot water, so you cold-rinse your glowing body. Streaks on the mirror, stubble in the sink. It's obviously a boy's bathroom. You sort of like that.
Wrapped again, crossing back through the common room, you nearly trip over his roommate's feet. You laugh. "Sorry, Josh."
He snores, splayed across the futon. Or pretends to snore. You can't tell.
You sort of like that, too.
[things he isn't getting used to]
Wearing shoes on the beach.
Walking along the waterside with a camera crew.
Seeing his childhood home on the evening news, and old photos where his hair was almost blond and his parents were almost happy.
Turning to a microphone and saying, "I, I, I," instead of 'the Governor' or 'the President.' Being the center of attention, the subject of every sentence. Giving speeches full of someone else's words.
Shivering as if he was snowbound in Washington, even as California sunlight licks his face.
Leaving the White House behind.
Waking in the night, sweating with the desire to win.
[the end of history]
Toby sits in his car, watching the white Monument overwhelm the early sky. He can easily picture Washington leveled, burned, half-buried. It might be lovelier then, like the ruins of Rome.
Like C.J., glimpsed through glass or alcohol. All her expressions, his cruelties, overlaid like carbon on the vellum of her skin. She smiled last night with an implicit pain and he imagined he could rub his hand hard enough against her face to smooth away history. He could strip her naked of time and damage. And then she wouldn't need him.
He thanks God for powerlessness. The light changes.
[and she glittered when she walked]
She's so angry that her heels strike sparks on the marble floor. Full of anger like a glass full of poison. It buzzes in her blood, stronger than any alcohol she knows. Anger at herself is barely the beginning.
Toby tries once to corner her on the steps that lead down from her podium, within earshot of half the press corps. Carol hovers a foot behind him, ready to play lifeguard.
"I almost told you, when Andi told me." His voice sags with sadness. "You were--After Simon Donovan--"
She flashes her teeth at him and walks away smiling.
[only by reputation]
Everything you know about this man predisposes you against him. Quick deals, shabby relationships with his assistants, the motorcycle in the parking garage. In an office of clichés and archetypes, a stacked tarot deck, he's the showboat. You are--were--the workhorse.
He walks in with a swaggering step, an appraising look, a smile he must believe is irresistible. "Jack McCoy," he says, offering you his hand.
He already knows he's taking your place. The place you're leaving behind. You frown, to keep your focus against the onslaught of his smile.
"Stone," you say.
But his handshake is surprisingly warm.
[heart of glass]
He's always watching through windows here, waiting outside a room where his future's decided, or a patient suffers, or somebody falls in love.
Gray rain falls into the parking lot. Chase turns from the window and walks down to the on-call room. He lies on a cot, forearm over his eyes, thinking about Allison Cameron. He doesn't understand her confidence in House, or her patience, or her persistence.
He doesn't understand that bond, or why he hates that it excludes him.
His sleep is troubled by their faces and a vague lust which translates, when he wakes, into a grudge.
In the car, in the dark, sweating despite the cold, and Josh doesn't know where to put his hands. Touching the door handle, thinking about jumping out, running away. Hoynes behind the wheel, eyeing him, bird-of-prey stare.
You can be Leo to me.
This man is running for President. This, again, after seven years. A shiver down Josh's spine. He doesn't want this, begins to say so--
"If you're saying no," Hoynes interrupts, a hand descending on Josh's thigh. An urge Josh thought he'd forgotten. Between them: inches, sweat, and history. He closes his eyes. His mouth is still open.
[all these seas are dead]
,br> "And once"--Catherine leans forward over her drink--"I had a dead guy in scuba gear. His lungs full of water. In the desert."
"You can drown in a sandstorm," Gil says. She ignores him, licking martini glitter off her lower lip. The young cop is fascinated, she's just reeling him in.
"The thing about this job," she says. "Some things lose their mystique, but...you become an urban legend."
Gil nods vaguely for the cop's benefit. He can almost read the shadow of ribs above Catherine's breasts and neckline. Some things stay mysterious, but they drift out of reach.
[...and I'll no longer be a Capulet]
Fingers in his hair, lips near his cheekbone. Warm wine breath: "You've gotten good at this."
His hand on satin, on her hip. "We've never danced before, Mallory."
"We should've." Her head tilted. Half a smile. "So, Congressman. Do you miss the White House?" Fingers interlaced. A question everyone asks. Another question.
Memory: a rougher hand against his head, a harder embrace. Josh's wide willing grin.
Red hair in his eyes, and stars. Almost a lie: "I miss the work, is all."
A nod, tiny, decided. "We should do this again."
"We will." Throat drawn, head bowed.
Almost a kiss.
[and the lights go down]
Fingers on her lips, lips against her ear as in a last kiss, his voice seductively soft: Don't make a sound. His handgun like a hard-on against her back. Smell of smoke, alcohol, and mingling sweat.
She's so drunk the club light drowns her; the fire door opens on pitch-black night. Her eyes dilate. The first light she makes out: light glinting on Molly's blood.
He needn't have warned her; she has no voice to scream. Hardly enough to whisper Daddy? into the fingers. And his free hand grips her wrist, draws her against him, as in a last dance.
Two teachers from P.S. 34 herd the first grade down the sidewalk, and the kids take advantage of their freedom. They hop off the curb into puddles and beg for ice cream from Ernie's. Toby's bored, but he stays in line.
He's used to being bored and behaving anyway; school is like that. It's hard to understand why they're still learning I-before-E, vocabulary and sounding things out. He's known how to read forever--how can anyone still have trouble by the age of seven?
Linda Wickstein should be next to him, but she's skipping ahead. She hates him because she's behind in her workbook; Toby's already finished his. Sometimes, he wonders why he even goes to school. He has to take Linda's sticky hand to cross Manhattan Avenue. Ahead of them Eddie Caulfield reads the street sign, hoping for special credit. As if he needed to read to know the street names. Toby kicks a pebble. Linda chirps, "Keep up, Toby," and Miss Lafonte says, "Toby? Keep up."
"I was," he mutters, but nobody listens. Pretty soon they're at the library.
He could find the basement children's section blindfolded, just by the musty, dusty, papery smell. He pauses, then picks two books he's read before: The Yearling because it's especially long, and Rockets To The Moon to read to his baby brother. He sets them aside and waits.
Theresa Tortorici bawls when someone takes her ballerina book. Fits are Theresa's specialty; her face turns tomato-red and she lets loose. Both teachers rush to her as the other kids start running around. Toby slips away.
On the stairs, he feels guilty about breaking the rules. But something keeps him going, straight to the grownup level. The front counter's up to his head, and the librarian doesn't see him. He concentrates so hard on sneaking by that when he looks up, he's stunned.
The books go to the walls, to the ceiling, so many that the shelves might burst. More books than he's ever seen in one place.
He wishes he'd broken this rule sooner.
He wanders, looking over the books on low shelves, hands behind his back. Wonderful titles sing out to him: From Here to Eternity, A Passage to India, The Old Man and the Sea.
That one sounds like a children's book that he dares himself to take it down, and then does it. He opens it on the floor, to the middle. The words pull him in, and he whispers them aloud: "Imagine if each day a man must try to kill the moon. The moon runs away."
A hand yanks him up by his hair, and he's looking at Miss Lafonte's witchy eyebrows.
"There you are!" She's already hauling him to the door, the big library vanishing behind them. She scolds him all the way downstairs, but he's not listening. He's repeating the rest of the paragraph to himself, so he'll never forget there are words like those.
"We are born lucky. We are born lucky."
Every movie Sam's seen, every paperback he's read has told him that hysteria always ebbs to calm. So he tightens his hand around the phone and waits for his mother to stop sobbing.
He isn't troubled by the tears or their duration. She's cried from Election Day through Inauguration Day, at three graduation ceremonies, at Hallmark cards and sand tracked over a clean-swept floor. It's the hitches between sobs, ugly inward gasps that seem to clot in her throat.
And it's that she started crying by laughing. Laughter as cold and sour as milk forgotten in the back of the fridge. Not at all his mother's laugh.
"Mom," he says, for the twentieth time in ten minutes. "Maybe try and... tell me what's going on? Or, at least, try to breathe?"
He isn't sure she hears him. He spins his chair toward the window. Even the White House landscapers can't produce a green lawn in midwinter. A patchwork of brown grass and brown mud, a sky bricked up by clouds. Nothing moves but dead leaves rolling over in the wind. He wishes it would break into a snowfall. His mother is still crying.
"Whatever it is," he says, "it can't be that bad. It'll be okay. I promise." He bites his lip. Of course he can't promise. His fingers on the receiver freeze.
Nightmares flurry through his mind. There's been an accident. There's been a fire. Maybe she's sick--that thought seizes him and then lets go. She'd never cry this hard about herself. He thinks of his grandmother, nearly eighty, but still sharp. Last he knew.
His mother's coughing, spluttering because she can't possibly get enough oxygen through her tears. Drowning. He has to pull her through to the other side of this, calm her, save her.
"Are you by yourself? Is anyone else--"
His blood stops moving, and he sees nothing but white. His father. It must be. A February fog; a car crash between the house and his office? A heart attack. A stroke. Are there strokes in his family? Do strokes run in a family?
The back of his chair hits the rim of his desk, snaps his focus away from the solid white of the sky. The phone cord has snared his elbow. The coughs on the other end of the line break like waves of static.
"Mom?" He sounds hoarse. He frees his arm, keeping one hand clenched, white-knuckled, around the receiver. "Mom. Where's Dad?"
The sound she makes wants to be a sob but twists, twists on the line and turns into that rancid laugh. "He's in Santa Monica. With a--with another--" Finally, her breath catches up with her. It's his mother's voice after all. "Oh, Sam," she says. "It's been going on for years."
This is how he learns that the books have it half right. Calm comes from hysteria. But he never knew that shame, shame flows from one sick split-second of perfect, perfectly calm, relief.
You watched him go with his overstuffed suitcase, one tuxedo sock spilling on your threshold. It's quiet in the apartment now, except for rain on the windows. You walk around, counting things he forgot: the sock, a sweater his mother sent for his birthday--in August--a Tiffany pen, a Grateful Dead cassette, his toothbrush. You wonder if he'll come back for anything, if he'll make Josh stop to buy dental floss.
You bet he's having sex with Josh right now, awkward, sloppy sex in the back of the rental car, better sex than he ever had with you.
You sit on the sofa staring at the ring, his grandmother's ring. You should return it. Maybe you'll hock it, let some stranger have it, or some thief. Maybe he deserves that, your bad side, your scathing side. He doesn't respect you. He hardly knows you. He thinks you don't know him, but you do.
You know he's slept with guys, though he's never told you. You knew he'd marry you before he stammered the words out over linguini. You know he thinks he's smarter than you, deeper than you. You let him think so, because it makes him happy. You make him happy, sometimes.
He makes you happy, too. He's clever, sweet, so pretty and sometimes just listening to him is perfect. But it's not enough. Because he always wants more than your attention; he wants you to care. Because he can't dance, because he listens to Grateful Dead tapes while wearing Armani, only half-noticing the irony. Because he doesn't like New York much and you'd never live anywhere else.
Because Josh hates you, and Sam loves Josh, and now they're on the interstate having the best sex since sex was invented. Going to New Hampshire, where the rain is snow, and there's some Governor--Bartlet, you first heard of Bartlet twelve hours ago and already you're sick of the name--and journalists are the enemy. You're the enemy.
You'll never have a wedding, now. You're cute, but not gorgeous, and too smart for lots of men. Too realistic for Sam, because you know most politicians don't change anyone's lives, even their own. And if someone ever asks you, you don't think you'll say yes.
Sam said he'd love you and live with you forever, and you said the same thing. Somebody lied.
You're cold. You put his sweater on, pop the Dead tape into the stereo, listen to Uncle John's Band. You yank the ring off and drop it on the coffee table. The exposed skin is snow-white. Sam is fucking Josh Lyman--being fucked; you're starting to giggle--and heading north, and you'll have to make calls soon, cancel invitations, tell your friends how he dicked you--laughing now, at Sam the villain--spin this to your advantage, because you're the enemy.
He was your last chance, and even still, you're surprised when the laughter
makes you choke.
"I think you've--"
"Had enough," I say. "And then I say, I'll tell you when I've had enough."
The bartender grumbles, leaves a thumbprint on my glass.
The kid beside me chuckles. "You stepped on his line, pal."
"Oh, I love being called 'pal,'" I say. "Particularly by strangers five years younger than me."
He hesitates. Grins. "I'm Jack."
"Leo." We shake hands.
Like there's another reason to be here? "G.I. Bill."
He looks guilty. "Let me buy you a drink."
I think of Jenny waiting and say, "No." Then I think again. "I'll buy you one."
[the conspiracy of women]
You stare at your firstborn and see a baby. A downy blonde baby crying herself purple, hiccupping toward calm when you scoop her up. Tiny fingers tangling in your hair.
You see a beauty in her twenties, or thirties, thinner around the cheekbones, the first traces of laugh lines framing her eyes.
And: you see your daughter, almost-but-not-quite eighteen, your hair and her father's eyes and skin that just lets out light. Sitting on her feet, right hand squeezing the left until her fingertips are bone-white. She's waiting for you to say something.
"Oh," you breathe, "oh." Your clinical training kicks in, like a plane's backup engine. "How many weeks?"
"Nine," and she actually holds up nine fingers to show you.
"Have you seen a doctor?"
She shakes her head. "I just did the, you know. At Janice's house, when--Mom?"
"Could you--could you please not be staring at me?"
You *are* staring. Because this isn't a patient, it's your Elizabeth beside you on the sofa, blue water welling in her eyes. Almost grown, but not quite, so how can this be happening, how can she--
Something in you that isn't a doctor, something inherited from your own mother, stirs. You don't mean to move your hand, don't know it's moving, until you hear it connect and see the red rising in her cheek.
Her chin drops. The tears spill down her nose. Your hand is stinging; your stomach turns. "I guess I deserved that," she says.
"No." You swallow hard. Too late: you're crying, too. "No, sweetie, you didn't. I'm sorry. You must--" You press your fingers gently to the hot place where you hit her. "You must be so scared."
"He's going to marry me." Her voice rattles, but she sets her jaw, looks up. Her father's eyes. "We were talking about maybe getting engaged after graduation, already. We're going to get married."
You've met the boy; you believe this. But in college she might have met other boys--she wanted to teach--all these choices that have suddenly moved light-years away. She's already terrified, and she has no idea what it is to bear and raise a child. No idea what she's put you through.
You say none of this. Just pull your baby close, hold her until the shaking crying stops. Eventually, you murmur, "I made it tough to tell me, huh?"
She manages a wet laugh. "Not as tough as it'll be to tell Dad."
Oh, God. Oh, God, she's right.
You pull back to look at your firstborn, remember her trembling before her First Confession. The puffy red face of a baby, but she *is* a woman now, a smart woman facing the hardest thing in this world. It doesn't need to be any harder.
You take one of her hands in one of yours, squeeze it. You're a smart woman, too.
"We're not going to tell him," you say. Your fingers tangle in her hair. "We can keep a secret."
He slides his fingers out of her, wetness like honey in the comb and a soft moan; her cheek turning into the crisp hotel pillowcase, into a dream. She curls around sleep like she's guarding something precious, her calves a cross, her wrists a wall before her eyes. Closing him out as he leaves her bed.
Water from the tap and he stands in the bathroom doorway, cooling, marveling at her outline curved blue in the glow from her laptop's screen. At his thirst, at the sand still in his mouth. If he dies without walking on another beach he won't mind; today provided sunburn and memory enough. Sam against the wind and C.J.'s illuminated face, all eyes and endless smile. The water vanishing in Toby's throat; just now, he can't see her face.
Pacing toward the brocade curtain, a shield against the cloudless California night. Toward the desk, and the armchair: a place to rest without disturbing her. Leave without waking her.
He reaches to close down her computer. Square of snowy light on his face and chest, a shiver catches him, hand against the screen and his eyes squinting to see words there. Words. He'll read spaghetti boxes, beer bottles, toothpaste labels, any words in front of him, and he's paragraph-deep before he's aware this isn't for his eyes.
A letter. A letter, to a lover.
No gushing, no poetry. Thank God, no sex. A love letter all the same, though; he reads this woman as easily, compulsively, as her words. So. This Marco, from high school--must have been the reunion, she needed someone there to touch her. Sickening intestinal knot of jealousy, then guilt: he has no right. Wishing there were alcohol in his glass. He should stop reading. He can't stop reading.
Scrolling, then stopping his finger on the arrow: she's writing about her father. More good days than bad, still, but; the words so plainly hurt they hurt him, too, as wind-driven sand stings. Naked. Truth. Couldn't stand leaving this to strangers, but her brothers have children, have their own problems. Leaving this heaviness on her shoulders; no one to lift it.
Ashamed of himself and finally ready to rip his gaze away, leaning back, lowering the screen. But in the last flash a last line blazes, bold before it disappears. She has written: I can't blame them. I wish it was different, but there are people here I could never leave. Not completely.
A love letter. He turns, sees her huddled like a pearl among the sheets. The room in total darkness now, yet a brightness lingers on her skin, or in his eyes.
Into the bed, lying careful along its edge, almost holding his breath. Not touching, not nearly, but he can almost feel her heartbeat. Even that's more than he deserves. Lucky to lie near her for the few hours until dawn.
And, until her warm hand closes on his shoulder, never imagining that
perhaps she was never asleep at all.
[draft day: part one - it can't rain at Indian Wells]
The day before they ship out from California, six of them take a Jeep and drive south toward some resort town. Smoking cigarettes, grass, passing Jack Daniels around. "Pussy," someone says. "And McDonald's. Pussy the most."
"They got pussy in Vietnam."
"Hey, that's what's in the stir-fry."
Five of them laugh. The guy driving squints against the late afternoon glare. He takes a swig from the bottle.
"Hey, McGarry," someone says, grabbing it. "What about you?"
He grips the wheel, driving faster into the clear desert. Into the clear sky. His throat burns as he lies: "I'll miss this weather."
[draft day: part two - the fall of Ryan O'Brien]
11:57. Each boy lays a twenty on the table. "In case anyone needs it," they say, though none of them has much to spend.
11:58. Ted switches on the TV. Short red-haired Ryan bites a hangnail. Toby paces, scratching his forehead.
11:59. Steve takes out a cigarette. "Quiet," Toby snaps at the click of the lighter.
Noon. No one breathes while the numbers are read for the draft.
12:01: Ryan shoves their money to the floor. "No way, man." He tries to grin. "You guys keep it." Relief sours Toby's stomach as they argue. These boys won't be friends anymore.
[dreams, by proximity to reality]
Abbey swallows the pills without water. The drugs filter through her like fog.
She's still at her desk, waiting, unable to cry. Wanting to scream: Do whatever you must. Bring her home.
She buckles a gurgling baby safely into a high-chair.
She's standing naked on paper-thin ice: if she moves, she'll fall. If she doesn't, she'll freeze.
She watches Leo drive away and Jed turns to her, shrugging. Says, "My thing...I'll have to tell him no." Slowly, she nods. Kisses him. They walk into the house together.
She knows herself to be dreaming, then, and wakes, in tears at last.
[fucking his wife, four months pregnant]
The line between wanting and not-wanting blurs more every day. On the phone, Andi says 'please.' It's New Year's Eve and Toby leaves the White House party without drinking champagne. Without a good-luck kiss.
The snow falls sideways, chasing him into Andi's apartment. She's already undressed. No seduction scene. He watches her breasts as she's unbuttoning his shirt. They're swollen, ready for what's to come. Pregnancy's done something to her skin, made it glow, made it give off heat.
She's got one leg thrown over the back of the sofa, and he may be uncomfortable but she's actually dripping, fresh as a freshly-split fruit. God, he's never seen her like this, and not for the first time he's thinking if only she'd been four months pregnant four years ago there would never have been a divorce.
She's explained this to him, the hormones, and he understands and doesn't care, doesn't care about the technical explanation. She is warmer, wetter, sweeter than ever, when he enters her, her mouth a perfect circle. He touches the inside of her lower lip with his left ring finger. Her eyes are closed. Maybe if she was permanently four months pregnant (never nauseous, never bloated) they would be happy.
He's thinking about this and then about nothing except how good this feels, how it always feels good. She's tossing her ass up and her head back, making noises like a porn star, red hair spreading like a firework, and he moves his hand to her newly impressive breasts. She said 'please', but she isn't looking at him now. He wants to make her look at him. He wants to make her come so hard that her labor will be painless. So hard that every orgasm she'll ever have will be by comparison nothing more than a muscle twitch, a lonesome cough.
He's concentrating on her. On convincing her, maybe, in ways he can't achieve with words.
And then she gets there, all at once, eyes flashing open and without knowing it she kicks him in the shoulder. In seconds it subsides, her eyes close, the porn star disappears from under him. She's just Andi again, with a slightly fuller figure and a blissed-out beautiful smile shining from her face. A smile with absolutely no thought behind it.
And he's in her like a deep-sea diver who knows where the treasure is, and he can come right there and then if he wants. She'd let him do anything he wanted to her right now, but instead he's reaching out (ignoring the twinge of pain in his lower back), touching her cheek where it curves with that smile. "Say yes," he says.
She doesn't hear him. Four months pregnant and her smile is still as a painted Madonna's.
He finishes in silence and leaves without another word. Before he gets into his car, the night air freezes his sweat to his skin. He hadn't realized it was after midnight. He speeds down Andi's street.
The line blurs.
[gold dust woman]
Something unspoiled in Donna makes you want to warn her, something bright. Maybe because you're finishing your fourth champagne cocktail. Maybe just because she's ridiculously blonde.
"Josh builds you up," you say. "Then grinds you down."
She looks away, bar light glittering in her eyes.
"Once he's done chasing you. One minute I'm the brass ring; the next..." Even the sex went bad. You swallow hard. "I'm...nothing. Dust."
Donna puts down her beer. "I believe you, Amy. But..."
It's useless. You can't spoil him for her, any more than you can stop staring at her hair. Probably, it's the champagne.
[I robot, you Jane]
Josh is beating his chest like Tarzan, and everyone laughs because everyone's drunk. Sam hears himself laugh, too.
"I don't know what I see in him," Amy says, sipping her martini.
He yawns. His legs feel like they can't stand much more; he's breaking down, the gears inside him grinding away his ability to think. Slow and exceeding fucking fine.
He drinks some vodka. Josh lumbers over, grins, holds out a hand to Amy.
"Knuckle-dragger," she says, but she lets him pull her into a dance.
"You see him," Sam mumbles into his glass. He wishes he could switch off.
[in the magazine age]
"Condé Nast wants to keep me," says C.J., sipping espresso. A nice restaurant. She's buying.
Toby steals her tiramisu. Her eyes flicker; candlelight flickers in them. She's gotten blonder since he last saw her. She looks younger.
He squints. "They offered you something permanent?"
"Yes." She takes the plate back. "And, yes. I'd be moving here."
"What's the other offer?"
"A congressional campaign back in L.A." She sighs. "Long hours. Barely pays minimum wage."
He can't watch her anymore, as her mouth closes, smiles around the sweet taste. Tiramisu. Pick-me-up.
"But worth it," he says. Already letting her go.
[in the woods alone]
One thousand years ago this was all forest. Will squares his skinny shoulders, shuts his eyes and conjures it now.
Leaves poke up between the paving stones, at first like crocuses in spring (but it's November), then more insistent. Stones shudder, crack, crumble as leaves yield to branches. Around him a thousand thousand-year-old trunks rise, a rumble swelling from roots thicker than Will's arm. The leaves, green and darker green, reach for each other, covering the sky. The trees shake hands over his head. There's grass underfoot, and he isn't cold anymore.
It's not just his imagination; once it was here.
Will is two months shy of eleven years old, and this is his newest trick: blinking himself into the history he reads in his father's heavy cloth-bound books. A gift he's been nursing for maybe a year, maybe (around the time his mother died) longer.
So far the Middle Ages are his favorite. So easy to place his father in a throne, robed and crowned. His brothers in armor, shining; they always have seemed to him to shine. They each have more than ten years on him, years of growing, learning secrets, knowing people. All three make a habit of resting a hand on top of his head. Will is their mascot, an extra, like extra credit, which most people don't count.
He read about the trees last night; he's been walking in and out of their shade ever since. Today in class he hardly raised his hand; his throat didn't feel like talking. Instead he kept his chin down, carpeted the floor with moss, read along silently: qui est l'hero dans l'histoire?
Now a chilly present-tense breeze whisks around Will, mussing his hair and the leaves. He glimpses the gray sky. What happened to the forest?
The wood went to build the great cathedrals, said the book. More people were born, farmers needed more land. Then the Black Plague, and the fires that followed it. Cities sprouted up instead of oaks, men and women instead of squirrels and robins. Progress.
Probably there were men like Will's father in charge. Strong, stern, wonderful men remaking the continent. Will wonders if anyone asked them about the trees. Probably someone did.
Adeline calls his name. He winces; he's too old to have a nurse. The forest disappears in a flash-fire, ashes fading into clouds. The school returns, the wrought-iron fence and paved yard. Will wipes his glasses on his sleeve. He hates the glasses, and he hates the idea that someone spoke up and the book didn't bother to set it down.
The breeze flutters his tie, and fleetingly he sees a falling leaf instead. One thousand years later, the world's changed. Maybe now anyone (even an extra) might get into history. Or--write it.
He walks through the gate. Adeline asks him, as usual, "What did you learn today?"
She asks in his language; he replies in hers: "Qui est l'hero dans
l'histoire?" And then he runs ahead of her.
[Inca mummy girl]
Wrapped in Egyptian cotton, her face like a landscape under snow, voice muffled: "Turn off the light."
He turns a page in his binder on Kensington Oil. His gaze slips off the lines, topples into the margin.
If he died tomorrow, was given an Egyptian or an Inca funeral, someday they'd unearth these artifacts from his tomb: a nightstand, a lamp, corporate law texts and Lisa, the white sheet pulled tight around her.
"Turn off the fucking light!"
He closes the binder and obeys. Dreams of Josh, of New Hampshire, while Lisa beside him sleeps still as the dead.
[the morning mail]
"Unbelievable," Dan said. "It has to be another Jed Bartlet."
Casey looked up, raising his eyebrows. "Who? A poor mountaineer, barely keeps his family fed?"
"Let me see it again."
Dan feinted at the letter; Casey jerked it out of reach. "No."
"Let me see it again." Casey gave it up and Dan read the first sentence aloud. "'Your unwarranted, unprovoked, and cold-blooded attack on sophomore Notre Dame running back Jerome Harris was brought to my attention'--this is pretty disturbing, Casey."
"That the President's angry at me for mocking his alma mater?"
"That the President knows you exist. Unbelievable."
[never kill a boy on the first date]
Sam remembers this beach from childhood. Driving waves, seagulls, driven sand. The high wind that makes conversation a struggle.
Will's saying, "--Not my business, I know--"
Sam inhales. Salty air burns in his nose. He leaves footprints where the sand's color darkens. "Yeah."
Will pulls off his glasses. "So I'm not asking."
Sam stops walking, swallows hard, turns. "No, I'm saying...yeah. Yes. I am."
Will's eyes are full of sunlight. He's actually smiling. "I kind of thought."
Sam hates the smile for a moment. The warmth, the unspoken possibility. Then the sand shifts, leaving nothing underfoot but air.
[nine words probably not ever found in personal ads]
"Congressional candidate seeks SWF for marriage and campaign appearances." Sam paces by the window. "I really don't think so."
"It wouldn't hurt," Scott says, twiddling a pencil. "Except--single *Hispanic* female."
"You're kidding, right?"
"It wouldn't hurt."
"How about if I just rented a wife and a couple of cute bilingual kids?"
"Listen, this may just be a whim for you, but I intend to get you elected. I think it'd help if you had a wife or even a fiancé. It would dispel some of the rumors."
"Which..." Sam swallows the question. What he doesn't know won't hurt, either.
[nothing happening between two people in Amsterdam]
They have about an hour before the speech. They're walking in de Wallen. Hookers pose in windows, baring hipbones sharp as glass. Sam thinks, anything goes here. And he smiles--not at the knife-edged girls--he smiles at Josh, who's nattering about sex-trade reform and why the Dutch get high, or something. Sam shifts closer and allows his hand to swing into the space between them. Like a touch, but not quite making contact. Josh looks up. A line stitches his brow, and disappears.
"I swear," he says, "I'm hearing Amy's voice."
Sam steps aside, hands clenched and turning cold.
Five minutes before the press conference, Sam can't take any more news. No more of the ticker, the clips, the pundits and experts diagnosing the President. On the remote his knuckles are white. He changes the channel.
A blond guy in khakis sneaks up on a black snake coiled under a rock. Sam hears the rain whipping the window behind his head. Nice, to be under a rock, dry, unaware of the truth.
"Sam?" Bonnie, red-eyed, in the doorway: "The cars are here."
He stands. Throws the remote on the desk.
"Remain calm," shouts the guy on television.
Silver isn't a metal for wedding rings, C.J. thinks, touching her necklace. It's strength.
Toby hides his hands in his pockets. "We're having dinner."
"A constituent, uh, buffet, actually. Hers. Up in Silver Spring."
Sharp laughter lodges in her throat. "All-you-can-eat?"
"Yeah. Want me to bring you a dinner roll?"
His eyes won't leave her alone. She wishes he knew her less well, or knew her better. She hears herself say, "Don't--"
He lowers his voice. "What?"
Don't ask her to marry you. Don't tell me about it. She touches her necklace again, smiles. "Don't steal the silver."
[the sixth chamber]
He was ten when he took the gun. He lifted it with both hands. It was heavier than it looked, yet lighter than he had expected. The light from a bare bulb made the barrel glint like an angry animal's eye.
It wasn't exactly curiosity. His father had shown it to the children last summer. He had let them touch the cool metal and the black leather grip. Josie had wrinkled her nose; their father had laughed and explained that it was there to keep them safe. He'd shown how the cylinder opened, revealing six deep, hollow chambers. He'd cocked the hammer back with his thumb and demonstrated how, when he pressed the trigger, the hammer twitched slowly--slowly--forward.
Then he'd put it back in the cabinet under the workbench, beside the big bottle of Dewar's. "Now you know how it works," he'd said. "So leave it alone."
He had said this in his warning voice, his eyes trained hard on the children. The girls had bent their blonde heads close, and Beth had popped her thumb into her mouth. It was nearly as bad as the voice he used to fight with their mother at night, long past bedtime but just before sleep. It scared all of them.
On the day Leo took the gun, his sisters were playing an elaborate game of House, and so he went alone to play in the garage. He boosted himself up to sit on the workbench. The gun looked like he remembered, all rounded lines and gray gleam. It took him a moment to remember how to release the cylinder. Then he touched the lever properly, and it opened into his palm easy as cracking an egg.
Then he did something startling, acting on instinct he didn't know he had.
He set the gun aside, hopped down and knelt in front of the cabinet. From a small cardboard box, he shook out a single slender bullet. This, too, was heavier than it looked. He turned it in shaking fingers, fit his thumbnail into its narrow groove. It didn't blow him up. So he stood, loaded the bullet into a chamber, clapped the cylinder shut. His hands warmed the metal and left faint fingerprint smears. He inspected the marks, polished them away with the hem of his T-shirt. He held the gun by the leather grip, peered down the sight and waited.
He did not know why he waited, nor how long, before his mother called him.
Leo replaced the gun as carefully as Father Whelan setting the Communion cup on the altar. It was dinnertime, and his father wasn't home yet. His mother would be anxious, watching the door while she filled plates. It was better when his father came home early. They all knew that; they all loved him.
As he went inside, he grew tired of thinking about the gun. It could not move from where he'd left it, behind the closed cabinet door, where it was kept safe.
[some things I have done to disgrace my family name]
My roommate came in after two, smelling of at least two kinds of smoke, and plopped down on the bunk below me. "I could kill Jason," she said.
I sniffed. "How? He's six-foot-four."
"Can't tell you how. You'd have to testify." Ashley wiggled out of her jacket; her tank-top was practically lingerie. As she stood up, she saw me. "Ellie, you've been crying."
"I flunked my Biology midterm." There were fresh tears. "I don't--I can't do this."
On tiptoe, she reached up to squeeze my hand. "It'll get easier, I promise."
She was wrong. But I kissed her anyway.
[tricks we play]
Andi knew she was posing; she could see herself, one hand high on the frame of her bedroom door, her skin in the lamplight white as a debutante's dress. She hadn't meant it to happen this way. Toby, I took you to dinner to tell you something, she said, inside her head, but she got as far as "Toby," and he all but pushed her toward the bed.
(It was his own fault, she decides later. He could have agreed to after-dinner coffee, could have paused in her living room for another drink. Could have put distance between them. While she was undressing, he could have hit the button on her answering machine.)
His fingertips were colder than she ever remembered, but they warmed against her shoulders, her breasts, her breathing. If he was having any second thoughts, they must have dissolved then. Her hair fell into her eyes as she rolled over, and it was hands and tongues. Hands and tongues. Hands and, and, and he tossed her ankles over his shoulders. "Toby," she tried again, but he was already inside her, not listening, not caring.
(But he would never have hit that button. So he didn't hear her doctor's warm, rational voice, not that he would recognize it after so many years. Four years, and he didn't even glance at the night-table drawer. In retrospect this bothers her; he wasn't drunk enough to excuse it.)
There were new things, things that felt different; most obviously, his eyes stayed open. That was new, or maybe it wasn't, and her eyes had always been closed. It was irrelevant. They were not the same people who had fought over the cost and value of air conditioning, had endured each other's quirks and each other's jokes. Inside jokes. Inside. The ring still on his slippery finger: irrelevant. She could almost convince herself she wasn't fucking her ex-husband.
(She wonders about an alternate ending to this evening. An ending where she wiggled free of him between the foyer and the bedroom, while she was still half-dressed, and finished the sentence. Toby, I didn't call you for a pity fuck. Toby, the clinic disposes of unused embryos after a certain period of time. Toby, I had to do it, with or without you. Toby, I'm finally pregnant.)
Maybe he was playing the same trick on himself, erasing her with every stroke and seeing C.J.--it would have to be C.J.--instead. But Andi could see herself, from above, so that as she moaned and rolled her spine back, hips lifted up to take him, she was looking at her own exposed throat. At her hands, sharp and white, scratching at the knotted muscles of his back. Even as she threw herself into him, and he grabbed at her waist and grappled to go deeper, inside deeper, she could see them from the viewpoint of her conscience. Toby, she thought, or said, or screamed, and he came before she could.
(But her conscience is clear.)
[when she was bad]
She doesn't think about Sam Seaborn much anymore.
Washington's a tiny town, and so she hears rumors about him. Never anything embarrassing. They say he's going to run for Senate, maybe next year.
People mention him to Laurie to watch her reaction. She smiles, says, "I knew him when," goes back to her dinner.
He never meant to harm her; he doesn't have the malice. Still, no one else ever treated her like that, like a lost lamb. Nothing else ever made her feel so unworthy. Unclean.
She lets it go.
And he probably doesn't think about her at all.
[where the wild things are]
Sam is waved by the bouncer into bright purple light, raw music, a platform just inside where you can observe or pose, where he realizes he looks wrong, too freshly pressed, these guys wear tight jeans, tight T-shirts, dance tightly together, about Sam's age but they make him foolish, babyish, the way he felt in Washington, and now someone comes toward him, tanned skin, shaved head, holding out a beer, and Sam backs up, against the door, he hates this music, he won't find Josh here, he won't find Josh again, he's alone in New York; he takes the drink.
He wonders exactly what they've done.
Dozens of Potentials in Sunnydale alone. How many, around the world? A fleet. An army of Slayers. Still outnumbered, but the odds have never been this close to fair. Giles can't quite imagine it. A hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand lovely young women, suddenly endowed with the power and authority to fight and kill. As if they'd fallen from a ledge and found themselves able to fly.
From the back of the bus, Buffy calls, "Hey, whoever brought the apple juice? Much with the thank-you."
He smiles to himself. There's still only one.
[dead man walking]
They say "guilty" and his chin drops to his chest--no it doesn't, no it doesn't, Neil, look them in the eyes like you rehearsed, your eyes water, doesn't matter, don't blink.
They say "guilty" and he holds his head still but his hands twitch, he can't help that, little seizures of vein and muscle. Some of the jurors must see it because they can't look at his face. Good, he thinks--no, not good, nothing about this is good--that he isn't the one turning away.
The judge keeps talking and he knew that would happen, he's been in court before, but still on television and in the movies they always cut, when the verdict's read and the victim's sister cries, one hollow piano note repeating. He thinks he can hear that now, pounding--that's your heart, idiot, and you might want to think about breathing or something soon--and the air tastes like dust. He allows himself one glance to see the victim's sister, she isn't crying, just staring through him, blank, hate--but Julie, you're an actress too; you must know this isn't in the script.
He's going to throw up. All over this suit, this table and Teddy, Teddy will eat him alive but he's going to throw up because his stomach is rioting, writhing around itself. His neck breaking out in sweat, like withdrawal at its worst--the snake--and what he wouldn't give for a drink right now, two lines of white powder straight to the brain. But he looks straight ahead, dead on, twelve faces and the ones that don't flinch from his are so disgusted, he's disgusting--fucking violent cokehead statutory rapist, rapist, killer?
He's tried, tried to remember and he doesn't, traitor memory, damaged, deadened, black hole--did you?--but he knows he didn't, couldn't, do this thing. She was his girlfriend. Only fifteen, Jessie was only fifteen, he never knew that--did she tell you when you were too high to remember, did you--but she was his girlfriend, she was his friend, and he went to her meetings, watched her sitcoms with popcorn, held her when the snake was eating her from the inside out--bought her drugs too, didn't you, did you--loved her, innocently, loved her--kill her?
They say he did. The law says so, beyond the shadow of doubt, can't prove otherwise. But he wants to scream, though Teddy's told him, don't: he would--would you?--know! His hands would know. He looks at them, and--no--knows they never closed around that girl's throat.
But they've said "guilty" and Chris takes his arm, and he almost jumps.
He thought it would be the bailiff, the cops, the handcuffs and he already
sees the bars, but that's only in the movies, sentencing at a later date
and he's going to sleep in his own bed tonight. Home. For the last time in
his life and he can't hear his heart anymore--hey, asshole, you're
first sentence from One Flew Over The CUckoo's Nest, by Ken Kesey.
They're out there.
"They're out there," Jamie says, louder. Hands gripping the rail of Katie's crib, eyes half-closed. "Everyone we've gotten acquitted. Teenage rapists, serial murderers. Going on with their lives. Thanks to us."
Neil lays his hand on her back, a warm touch through her blouse. "Without us, this would be a police state."
"I know." Jamie sighs. She's given that speech. She opens her eyes, wondering when the sight of her sleeping baby began to fill her with terror instead of peace, and shivers. The window's open. "But they're out *there.*"
And he doesn't understand, and she is not comforted.
I drive down the street. Late at night, when traffic is minimal. Late in summer. Moisture dazzles in the air and I drive down the street. It's hardly out of my way, a slight detour on the way home. Alone.
I see the suspended glow of the red light, at the intersection, from a block away. But she never saw it coming. Oh, Jack, aren't you the sentimental fool? Aren't you the Irishman?
There's a bottle of Scotch in my desk, in my office. Faith and fucking begorrah. I make a U-turn at the light.
I drive down the street.
[everywhere you look]
"So you're, like, in love and stuff," Claire said, walking past her brothers and the breakfast table.
Nate paused with a raised forkful of runny egg. "Oh, Jesus."
"What?" She stood at the open refrigerator, her face freon-bright. "I wasn't talking to you."
David reached out very slowly, dipped a finger into his fresh coffee and then yanked it back, wincing. "Ow. Damn. I'm awake."
"You guys suck." She took a block of cheddar cheese out and rummaged for a knife. "I'm not like the kid sister from the sitcoms, you know. I never followed you around, or tied your shoelaces together. I'm a person, not Stephanie fucking Tanner."
"I liked Stephanie," Nate said. David spluttered on his orange juice. "What? D.J. was a show-off, and the twins were annoying. No one ever paid attention to Stephanie. She'd totally put out."
Claire retched convincingly into the sink and turned back to slice the cheese. "The point is, I'm entitled to a little brotherly advice. As back pay. For not bothering you."
Nate coughed. "Bothered the hell out of me when you were smoking--"
"Like I said, I was talking to Dave."
David sighed. "I'm eating here."
"It's a legitimate question," Claire said, opening a box of crackers. "You're in love. With your sex cop."
It was Nate's turn to choke. "Sex cop," he managed between chuckles. "You should be a writer, Claire. You really know how to turn a phrase."
She ignored him. "So, spill it. Tell me everything."
"Claire!" David sipped his coffee. "We're not together. Exactly. Right now."
"So?" She leaned against the counter, nibbling a Triscuit. "That doesn't mean you don't--"
He set his mug down hard. "It means I don't want to talk about it."
"You could ask me," Nate said. "I've been in love."
Claire shook her head. "It doesn't count if you were drunk."
"Or in Mexico," David put in, brightening.
"Or you've forgotten her name."
"Or she never knew yours."
"Okay!" Nate held his hands up. "I was being sincere. I am. You know. In love."
Claire folded her arms. "So how did you know?"
He smirked. "I just did."
"Oh, thanks." She popped some cheese into her mouth and said something unintelligible.
"I'm not stupid! People come here when someone's dead, and we're always talking about their loved ones. I'm not dumb or crazy for wanting to get what it's like."
"What what's like?"
They looked up as Ruth appeared in the doorway. "Nothing," Claire said.
"Oh." She filled her water glass at the sink. "If it's none of my business, that's fine."
Nate grinned. "Claire wants to know what it's like to be in *love*."
"It's like dying," Ruth said calmly, and walked back into the hall.
They stared at each other silently. Then David pushed his chair back and stood. "Well, there you have it."
"Yeah." Nate stood up too. "Aren't you late for school?"
Claire turned her back on them. "I hate everyone."
[he shall, from time to time...]
Gone, she's been, for decades now, nearly a century. Still. Sometimes. Restless, midmorning, a basement apartment so deep you can hear the fault line growling, know in another few years the sea will lick this city up, and he wonders what he'll do then. Lying on his bed, on his back, one arm flung over his eyes, one hand under the sheet, and he dreams, and it hurts, and he dreams, and he sighs her name.
"Buffy," into the deaf darkness.
Only sometimes. Still. When he leaves, he doesn't know where he'll go; when he goes, she'll meet him there.
[the Indians in the lobby]
In Mexico it's too hot to sleep, and Andrew snores. Jonathan locks the door when he leaves the room, like it would matter.
He's crossing the lobby when he bumps into them. Three berry-brown men, drinking beer, on a bench that wasn't there yesterday. He scrambles backward, almost falls down. "Sorry. I didn't see you."
One of them looks up. His eyes are very black, very old. "We're waiting for our boat."
"Oh. Me, too. I guess."
The Indian nods like he knows everything, and it's funny. "Your boat ain't coming."
Jonathan returns the nod. His back's against the wall.
"Chinese or Italian?" Natalie asks.
"I'm never coming out of this office again," I say.
"Okay," she replies. "Chinese, then."
"I mean it." I tip my head back against the top of the couch. "You'll have to put a camera in here so I can do the show on location. Remote reports from the table in the corner. Kung pao chicken, please. With extra sweet and sour sauce."
She cocks her head and leans on the door frame. "You're sulking."
I fold my hands and sit forward. "I'm not sulking. If anyone's sulking--"
"Then why are you hiding in here?" Natalie interrupts.
"The question, really, is why I would even leave here. 'Cause, you know, I love it here. And unlike Casey, I love my job, so I think I'm just gonna stay in here forever."
"Danny," she says. "Dan. Danny."
"You know, if you keep going with that, you're just going to turn into my mother." I stood up and stretched. "Yelling at the neighbors' dogs, cooking matzoh, stuff like that. You wouldn't be very happy."
Her forehead wrinkles. "Your mother's not happy?"
"My mother's fine."
"But you just said--"
"My mother's fine, Natalie; nothing is wrong with my mother. But you wouldn't be happy if you had my mother's life." The back of my neck is in knots. I reach up and rub it. "And you wouldn't be a great mother, either."
Her voice can get so sharp so quickly. She folds her arms. "You're awfully snippy when you're sulking."
"I'm not sulking. I'm pissed off. And I appear to be the only one who isn't taking this in stride." And the only one who knows why it's happened.
"Nobody's taking it in stride," she insists, hugging herself tight as if she might burst. "But this is my job, Dan, not my playground. So I have to keep doing it. It doesn't just hang on one person's presence."
"Yeah? What if it was Jeremy?"
I wish I hadn't said that. But she fixes me with a calm stare. "It wouldn't be Jeremy."
She's right. It wouldn't be Jeremy, because Jeremy would never fuck me and then completely lose his shit over it. But Natalie's right. "Yeah," I say. "How much do I owe you for the chicken?"
I fish a twenty out of my pocket. "Keep it."
Natalie shakes her head. "I'll bring your change when I've collected from everyone."
"Don't worry about it," I say, and I'm not sure whether I'm being sincere or whether I'm trying to get her out of my sanctum. "Remember the extra sauce."
She turns to go and then turns back. Her hair falls into her face and she pushes it away. "Casey'll come back," she says. "Dana will get him back. You'll see."
I shake my head and sit back down on the couch again. Natalie leaves and
it's mostly quiet. I wonder if the door locks. I should have had my own
office in the first place.
[out of it]
first sentence from Tar Baby, by Toni Morrison.
He believed he was safe. He stood before a brilliant Vermeer painting, a milkmaid. Amsterdam had little law and less enforcement; Ben had crossed the red-light district and felt no righteous impulse to interfere. He was safe. Free.
Mail could still get to him. But he kept Shambala's letters unopened and did not expect Adam to write. His daughter didn't write, either. Out of sight, out of mind. Simply: out of that world.
Sunlight cupped the milkmaid's face as she poured the white milk, forever at peace with her work. The painting hurt Ben's eyes. He left the museum, hurrying as though something chased him.
first sentence from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig.
I can see by my watch, without taking my hand from the left grip of the cycle, that it is eight-thirty in the morning. So we're late. Or would be, but it's July. Courtrooms stand empty; judges disappear to Aspen and Tuscany. Justice sleeps an extra hour.
It's good to take Riverside downtown, though the potholes play hell on my tires. A breeze comes off the water, sticky, but cleaner than usual. It almost smells like ocean. Up ahead, traffic's slower. I take us down to twenty-five and touch Claire's knee.
"We're late," I say. She says something I don't hear. "What?"
She leans forward. "If we're late," she says, louder, lips at my ear, "don't slow down."
I think I might never stop.
[the U.S. poet laureate]
"Should we write our own vows?" he asked.
Xander, my love, light of my life,
I'm so glad you asked me if I'd be your wife.
I promise to love and to honor, that's cool,
But not to obey, 'cause we're not that old school.
If all demonkind came to fight us and howl,
It's you I'd protect, and them I'd disembowel.
I'll stick close to you like a shell on a turtle,
'til death do us part, which it will, 'cause you're mortal.
I'll remember this moment, this day of this month--
"...then again, maybe not," she said.
[we killed Yamomoto]
"Is he dead?"
"Going by the burn-y disappear-y thing he just did, yeah."
"That was *so cool.*"
"Dawnie, it's not like it's your first--"
"It's the first time I got to stake my biology teacher."
"True. One of the perks."
"I *knew* he was evil. He always gave pop quizzes. To the point where they didn't really pop anymore."
"This is no excuse to let your grades slip."
"Buffy, we killed Mr. Yamomoto. He's not gonna come back and haunt me for not doing my homework."
"Stranger things have happened."
"I... you know, I can't really argue with that."