Fiction

(Say it in) Broken English

by R V Branham

 

(once) “There are only three stories in the series.”

“What series?”

“The Wall of Death.”

“Oh, that.” Toyboy had just put his clothes back on and Boyo had packed away the vidcam. “It’s cold in here. Turn the heater on.”

“I don’t want to run the battery down.”

Toyboy climbed into the shotgun seat. “That’s nearly as stupid as your saying there are only three stories.”

Toyboy and Boyo waited in a leprous minivan with halfshot stereo speakers and shittyass radio reception, waited adjacent to an alley under the east end of the Burnside Bridge, waited for the latest storm front coming over from the coast to pass on through the Gorge.

“Your fly’s open.”

The two watched sheets of rain, rain starkly lit by fluorescent street and billboard lights above and theatrically framed by the proscenium of bridge. The radio was tuned to KBOO and attempting to broadcast Sid Vicious’s take on I Did It My Way but the Eagles’ Hotel California kept interfering from an adjacent classic rock station. “White people cannot play music.”

“That is racist bullshit, Boyo.”

“No it is not, black people are incapable of racism. Tis a fact.”

“Like your three stories —”

“Three stories: the story about the story, the story of the life lived, and the story of love.”

“You are so full of shit, Boyo.”

“Look, that’s what Beausoleil said he’s aiming to illustrate with the installation. And if he’s full of shit, well, he’s making beaucoup buckarinos. Money talks and bullshit walks.”

“Money talks and pretentious trustafarian art gallery bullshit sells.”

“…’S not what you said when you got one of those grants his family hands out.”

The rain had stopped and the absence of torrential din was becoming as oppressive as its former presence.

“Let’s go.”

“Always change the subject, Boyo.”

Boyo grabbed the bucket of wallpaper paste and the photocopied sheets. “Time to give the sponsors a new message.”

“Should we do a before-after tape…?”

“Ummm. Beausoleil said he just wanted one bit from each contributor.”

“…So? Consider this an extension of the bit, then.”

The two hauled a yellow dumpster to a fire escape and climbed up onto the dumpster and pulled themselves up to the first rung, zagzigging upward and onward to the giant billboard atop the warehouse.

“Check it out,” said Toyboy, pointing to the cul de sac alley below: “I hope we don’t meet any skinheads tonight.”

“The fuck you worried about skinheads, Toyboy?, it’s my ass they’d want. Let’s get it done so we can dropkick the camcorder to the next contributor.” (diez) John Triplette, in a cab, was heading downtown from his condo just north of Mt. Tabor.

Headed to the Heathman Hotel.

Jag in the garage. Just two days, they had told him.

New timing belt and water pump.

At this rate the auto shop had sent someone to mine the ore and coal, then smelt the ore, cast the parts, and someone else to grow and harvest the rubber.

An altered billboard ahead came into sharp focus with each pass of the cab’s windshield wipers.

It was a microwbrew ad — only the text read: Pop a McCain. He didn’t entirely approve, especially since that particular parent corp was one of his firm’s clients, but all the same he hoped the authorities never caught the kids.

His cellphone rang; he answered.

“Daddy….”

“Gretchen.” The oldest.

“Please come.”

“No can do, you know that.”

“Please, dad.”

“Your mom’s got a restraining order.”

“It’s mom.”

He sighed.  “…Yes?”

“I think I broke her jaw.”

“What?” Then:

“Look.”

John Triplette spoke into the cellphone, spoke firmly to his daughter.

“Call an ambulance and get her into Providence Portland emergency, got that?”

“But, daddy….”

“All of you have coverage, I know you do, I pay the premiums, so call Providence and get an ambulance or a cab to take her there.” Then: “And what about your sisters? Where are they?”

“They’re still hitting her.”

“…Get your sisters to stop hitting your mom and call Providence. I’m meeting important clients. Goodbye, good night. Call my pager tomorrow.”

He turned the cellphone’s talk button off, and as he flipped the cellphone shut, it rang again. He flipped it open again, saw his boss’s number, then pressed talk: “John Triplette here, in transit.”

“…We’re all waiting for you, John. Legal’s got to catch a redeye to D.C., remember —”

“I’ll be there in about fifteen, twenty minutes. Maybe sooner.”

John Triplette felt in his jacket pockets for a breath mint, couldn’t find one.

“Excuse me,” he said to the cabdriver, “Do you have any breath mints?”

“Sorry, mon. No.”

A convenience store sign was visible ahead, bleary then sharp and then bleary again. Plaid Pantry.

“Do you mind stopping at the store a second?”

“No problem, mon.” The cabdriver laughed. “Dragon breath is not good, whether for business or pleasure.”

John Triplette unbuckled and got out of the car before the driver had fully stopped.

“Careful, mon.”

“Right back.”

The rain was now mere drizzle, a mere stigmatic oozing from the sky. The unseasonably bitter and marrowfreezing cold, on the other hand, was fucking annoying. Halfway across the lot an unkempt man asked for change. Or something. Absence of teeth made the man’s speech hard to understand.

“Sorry, no,” John Triplette said. He was astonised that the poor bastard reeked so horribly even in the dank and pouring rain. He saw the man’s pet dog, a terrier, with a bowtie serving as collar.

The man repeated his request and John Triplette was tempted to tell the man with absence of teeth to get a job.

Inside the store were two clerks, huddled behind the counter with a tiny sputtering heater. One rattled away in Russian. He heard “video-camera” twice but everything else was Russian. The Russian-speaker’s badge said “Anastasia.” Anastasia reminded him of a Salomea in Tel Aviv who’d given him a dickburning clap dose. But this Anastasia was too young and could be Salomea’s daughter for all John knew. And for all John Triplette knew he was her father…it had been long enough ago. She had the same delicately carved Slavic features, the same porcelain skin, as Salomea. The other clerk’s badge said “Carla” and she looked like those campesinas around Cuernavaca selling slipshoddy terra cota Mesoamerican figurines that always looks more Ming dynasty than Azteca or anything else Pre-Columbian. Only Carla was much much taller than the campesinas and less dark. Still, Carla had to use a footstool to refill the cigarette display. This Carla had the legs of a model or pole dancer and her teeth looked like she had extorted the world’s finest dentist. What interested John Triplette most about this Carla was that she seemed to understand what Anastasia said. This Carla spoke to Anastasia in Spanish and Anastasia replied in Russian, and Carla rejoindered in Spanish.

John Triplette found the Certs on a shelf with cough drops and chewing gum and antacids, right next to the magazine rack. The Oregonian afternoon edition had its bright red screamer: OUR LADY OF I-99: VIRGIN MARY IN McMINVILLE! There were also the usual adult magazines and the sort of newspapers with yellow or pink stars strategically placed on crotch or nipple. He looked closely and saw the smirky slutty cover sucked into a field of tiny dots, a vortex of printer’s ink. John had recently placed another ad so he grabbed an issue. He was also tempted by a display of chocolate Easter bunnies in bright gold foil, tempted to buy a few for his daughters. To hell with the girls, who had become bigger cuntessas than their mother; besides, they’d just pummel their mother to death with the goldfoil choco-bunnies and then expect to move in with him while filing their court Appeals.

He set the paper and the Certs on the counter. He noticed newsprint on his fingers, his fingerprints on the paper. The Russian, Anastasia, kept talking.

“…Excuse me,” he said to the clerks behind the counter. “I have a taxicab waiting….”

The Russian turned to him.

“I am so sorry.”

He saw her glance at his adult paper, her barely concealed sneer. She said something to the other girl as she rang up his purchase.

John Triplette looked at the Russian.

“If you’re so offended, then you shouldn’t stock them.”

She looked back at him. “It is not my decision, sir.”

“No, but if your employer sells merchandise you find objectionable then you have the option of working for another employer.”

“Three seventy-eight.”

He gave her four one-dollar bills.

“Keep the change.”

“Oolala,” he heard Anastasia say as he went out the chiming door.  (ocho) Toyboy hated Costco, hated the way they always moved the merchandise around.

He had just picked up two cases of microwbrewski and was looking for Healthy Valley Granola bars, which were usually with the other granola bars, near the coffee and spices, towards the back of the warehouse of forking and forklifting aisles. (The warehouse seemed a mirror of the labyrinthine rosecity outside with its oneway streets and switchbacks and fivecornered roundabouts, its northonly southonly freeway onramps, its divisions into North and Northeast and Southeast and Southwest and Northwest, that ensured you never returned by the way you came, and indeed might take a bridge over the Willamette and pass through a New Orleans Parish or New York borough along the way.) And no matter which forking aisle Toyboy pushed his yellow cart into, he found himself against the tallshort fatskinny flow of traffic.

He finally found the granola bars, now precariously stacked next to the peanuts and toffee and photocopy-cum-fax machines.

Toyboy hated shopping, actually, he loved the concept, loved the consumer goods grouped together in pyramids and ziggurats, each brand sitting side by side by side in commodified solidarity, but he absolutely hated the constant shifting and moving of displays, of departments reorganized constantly, made leaner and meaner, and the untrained staff.

The peanuts and toffee made him think of his uncle’s ad agency and the fax machines made him think of Tien A Min Square.

When he was in junior high school he hung out at his uncle’s agency, pigged out on toffee and cashews — picked from the mixed nuts, bantered with the screaming queen photo researcher.

Toyboy’s uncle insisted that if he was hanging around then he should at the very least tend to the photocopier and the fax.

The art director, the receptionist, and two account execs were Chinese and during the upheavals in China there had been a constant stream of ideograms spilling out of the fax machines, a constant stream of Mandarin conversation as the Chinese staff discussed the day’s events, or translated the faxes into English and sent them to local media.

And after the tanks in Beijing rolled into Tien A Min Square and rolled over the demonstrations and the demonstrators, after the clampdown, there was a mournfulness at the agency — an account exec had lost a cousin to the tanks.

As Toyboy made his way to the Costco checkout lines he passed through the CD and video aisle. Beatles Anthology and Babe ruled this aisle. Nothing on display interested him; musicwise, he only liked samba, industrial, tango, triphop and rap, and the only videos he enjoyed were foreign and indie films and porn. For those he depended on Music Millennium, Video Madness or the XXX video stores along 82nd. But the last time Toyboy went to Music Millennium — his first visit in six months, they had moved the used CD racks, and he looked and looked and went to the counter but he couldn’t abide that particular clerk so he just left. In the here of Costco was a gauntlet of big screens, each showing Babe or The Lion King.

The big screens made him think of the big screen at Boyo’s birthday party, and the video where a guy did another guy with a python, shoved the serpent’s tail up his sexual partner’s tail.

Toyboy wanted to get Boyo a python and saw a Petplanet ad, an ad boasting of a varied selection of reptiles, and when he got to the store all they had were garter snakes and small lizards.

Bait and switch.

He hated that.

The snakes were teensyweensy, and not advised for intimate play. Their teensyweensy serpent teeth were razorsharp, their bite only very slightly venomous.

Toyboy felt foolish and exploited, but bought a snake anyway. Along with an aquarium. He named the teensyweensy snake Mr. Big Ten Inch. And he found the situation to be more than a little ridiculous when he saw the snake observe him from its aquarium demesne. Observe him wank away, tongue darting in time as he spunked all over his unkempt futon.

He later moved Mr. Big Ten Inch to the kitchenette.

And one intermittently sunny day he found Mr. Big Ten Inch dead, fried by the combined sunlight, from the window, and the central heating’s rising heat. (siete) John Triplette woke up in a cold sweat.

In the dream he had been on the redeye to D.C. with Mark from Legal and smoke licked and flames curled while a porcelainskinned flight attendant who spoke Russian kept trying to give him foilwrapped Easter bunnies for his daughters and Mark whined about people talking during the movie and then the plane crashed, slowly, skidded into a wheatfield and shattered into bits and John Triplette himself felt as if each bone in his body had been broken.

And Mark from Legal, though decapitated, continued to bitch that he couldn’t see the movie now that his head was wedged under a seat.

And John’s daughters were there, too. Passing out paper spoons and silver plates.

The dream was a belated reaction to his second cousin Leslie’s jetcrash death. John never saw Leslie much but felt closer to her (and her dyke inamorata) than to his own brother and sister, whom he never saw at all. He didn’t need a licensed therapist to figure the dream.

John could smell the coffee and hear the gurgle from the kitchenette. He looked at the blinking digital clock. 6:00. 6:00. 6:00. It was going to ring anyway in five minutes so he got up and pressed the off button.

John staggered to the bathroom. Momentarily yanked down his boxers and approximately pissed into the toilet bowl. Then he turned on the shower…it took forever for the water in these condos to get sufficiently hot.

Then into the kitchenette for coffee. He winced as a few drops of java fell to the hot plate and sizzled. He hated the scent of scorched coffee.

John turned on the radio. OPB described a pileup on the Banfield that had caused traffic to back up to 205. He was halfway through his first cup when he heard the news item, which had the effect of making him splatter hothothot coffee down his thigh.

A convenience store clerk had been murdered last night. Stabbed during a robbery. He knew the name of the store and the name of the clerk before the announcer confirmed it.

A second clerk, on her lunch break, was in the bathroom when it happened and had not heard a thing.

The second clerk’s name was Carla Arrendondo.

John knew that name.

The last name.

He knew a Miguel Arrendondo.

A Mexican landscape gardener with an ulcer always got onto the Max tram at the same time as he did, then got off at the Convention Center stop, where civic banners hung from retro streetlamps promised a spring, three stops before his. The gardener worked at Palindrome Corp’s Beaverton demesne. But with all this downsizing shit, no one was really safe. Still, Miguel should be okay. Those topiaries were not going to be tortured by the CEO. John liked the gardener, he liked people who at least tried. This landscape gardener named Miguel invariably spoke to John in broken English, then invariably gave up and spoke in Spanish.

John Triplette didn’t mind, he got to practice his Spanish. At least the poor bastard was trying to learn English, progressing a tiny bit further each time before bellyflopping out of a cold sea of English and back to his safe shore of Spanish.

This Miguel Arrendondo had an exwife and his exwife was giving him all sorts of grief about child visitation so John Triplette referred Miguel to a good bilingual lawyer who did pro bono for the Latino community.

Later Miguel offered to do landscape work for him. Offer hell, Miguel insisted. Machismo pride strikes again. Miguel was scheduled to cut down two cherry trees for John’s exwife Laura in a few days and put in flower beds. Exwife Laura had already hit him up to pay for a god damn woodchipper rental.

John wondered if this Carla Arrendondo was Miguel’s exwife.

Maybe his sister or sister-in-law.

Miguel spoke of brothers in Gresham and Vancouver.

There was something ineffably sad and hangdog about Miguel, something he couldn’t quite place. Not the sadness of a marital breakup. Something else.

The phone rang and switched over to the fax on the second ring. Before taking a shower he looked at the fax. Mark from Legal, faxing from D.C. and requesting that John email him the most recent microwave radiation studies.

A lot rode on this.

Their clients hoped to set up a microwave antenna network along I-5 (from San Diego to Seattle) so that cellphone users would never again worry about a skyscraper interrupting their cellphone chat. And the hypochondriacs at FCC had gerbil whiskers up their assholes about the effects of microwave radiation.

John noticed someone in the apartment across the footpath as he went out the door.

His neighbor was on vacation and had told him to call the NE Precinct Office and ask for Det. Cosacher if he saw anyone in or around her apartment.

John went back into the house and got the number and dialed on his cellphone. He reported this apparent breakin to the police as he walked down his budding street to the transit stop.

The precinct desk officer was telling him that he should contact Det. Cosacher at the downtown Justice Center but became very interested when he gave them the neighbor’s name.

The neighbor’s son had operated a methlab in Oregon City and caused three deaths in an accidental explosion at a Motel 6.

The neighbor had gotten a restraining order against her son, too, after he beat her up and robbed her.

Restraining orders and cellphones were two of the dominant modes of discourse these days.

A cellphone was used to say “definitely maybe” and a restraining order to say “maybe no.” (seis) Laura Triplette looked at herself in the bathroom mirror.

The sunglasses hid the black eyes and half a pound of foundation hid the bruise on her jaw.

She hadn’t broken it, just lost a tooth. Chipped a second. Fortunately the teeth weren’t front teeth.

The kids were now at school. Too bad there weren’t Carmelite penguins with rulers to slap their hands until they bled.

She could not even remember what she had said or done to set the kids off.

One minute she was in dispute with her children and the next thing she knew she was in an ambulance bound for the hospital. Her exhusband always said she had a genius for pissing people off.

She burst with laughter, she couldn’t help it. — Fuck him, fuck John’s lawyer ass, fuck John’s lawyer’s lawyer ass.

She had to organize tables and campaign workers for the President’s visit next week.

Move those buttons and bumperstickers, get the ball rolling.

She was a precinct committee member, in part due to her ability to bribe or goad her children into endless hours of envelope stuffing, in part due to her exhusband’s connections.

The cocksucking bastard.

Laura Triplette took another viletasting sip from the glass.

Ploplopfizzfizz oh what a relief it — “Is that all there is?” blared from the livingroom radio. Tuned to the jazz station.

She hadn’t heard that song in eons.

That song couldn’t even be carbondated, that song was older than carbon, probably even older than the Big Bang.

Talk about Big Bangs. She had been talking to Johanna half an hour ago, Johanna being a central committee member and union local president, when they were interrupted by the loud klaxon screech and then a booming voice:

“MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION…MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION…”

Laura heard it clearly, too clearly.

Then Johanna said, “Gotta go. Bomb squad found a box in the park across the street. They’re evacuating the whole building.”

“So much for getting volunteers committed to set up tables.”

“That’s not funny, Laura.”

“Sorry.”

“Okay. I’ll call you later, smartass. I’ve really got to go.”

Then the therapist had phoned her. Gretchen probably left a god damn voicemail or email with the therapist.

Master of the pre-emptive strike, that one.

The therapist wanted all of them in separate sessions next week. — Again, she couldn’t help it, she laughed. — The therapist said something about displacement anxiety as Laura hung up.

A thought occurred to her and she ran into Gretchen’s bedroom and looked for the camcorder Gretchen was using for some “project” or other.

Gone.

Had Gretchen taken it to school?

Had she videotaped last night’s melee for showandtell?

Then a call from Sears, reminding her that they would be there to shampoo the carpet in two days.

The girls would have to make themselves remotely useful and help move the diningroom table and the Hepplewhite side chairs out to the patio before the carpet shampooers arrived.

Tommy, a neighbor, could be counted on to help, but she didn’t want to take advantage of him, have him do all of it.

Maybe his gay son the art student and his boyfriend “Toyboy” would help.

They had to take great care with the furniture. A favorite aunt had left her those six Hepplewhite mahogany side chairs, with vase-shaped splats, molded back uprights, and upholstered seats. Along with a Hepplewhite dining table and ladies desk — ditto — they were her most valued and heavily-insured possessions.

Everything had been shipped from her aunt’s Vermont house — the house itself and most of the furniture had been left to one of her cousins.

But another reason she so loved that furniture was how it daily brought back to her so many idyllically illicit New England summer nights of her youth, nights spent greedily in a nearby barn or lakeside boathouse.

She didn’t want to dwell on her uncle and the way he winked at her one night as she sneaked back from the boathouse or how later her aunt asked if her uncle had said or done anything to her, and how she just laughed, she had to, she couldn’t help it, she just burst with laughter until her aunt told her that, just wait, some day she wouldn’t laugh.

Some day, her aunt had said, and that was the last anyone ever said of it. — They would have to be so very careful with that desk and dining table, those chairs.

Other furniture was not so favored.

Half the den was done in red death-in-the-afternoon Hemingway leather, which she hated and would get around to changing some day.

Her exhusband’s office was in basic Peckinpah black. That, too, would go.

So much to do.

Laura finished the glass off, almost gagging as she got to the seltzer and aspirin dregs. (cinco) “Mami!”

“Que?”

Carla was in the middle of straining pasta, trying not to get splattered by the boiling water and olive oil. A drainboard tile had just come loose and she dreaded having to tell the hijo de culo of a landlord.

“Mira. En teevee!”

Carla ran into the livingroom. Her son had channelsurfed to the All Local News Channel™. She saw herself, she was on the News. Being interviewed.

Carla was embarrassed to see herself.

She looked like mierda — all zebrastriped due to the usually crappy Parable Cable reception.

She hoped Miguel didn’t see the interview, he’d get his cheap ass lawyer to try and make an issue of it, saying any mother who worked in a dangerous place was an unsuitable parent, or get her to quit there and then use that against her.

But Miguel’s vote didn’t count.

His lawyer didn’t count.

His asshole car mechanic brothers didn’t count.

And let Palindrome downsize Miguel’s skinny ass when it moved everyone to Indonesia or Hong Kong or wherever the fuck —

“Put Nickelodeon back on, Manny.”

“What happened to Anastasia.”

“Nothing.”

“Then porque en el News?”

“Put Nickelodeon on.”

“Mami.”

“Now. I have to finish the spaghetti.”

“I like pisketti.”

“I know why you like spaghetti, that’s why I’m making it. So put the cartoons back on, okay? I’ll call you when the spaghetti’s ready.”

“Okay, mami.”

The phone rang. “Get it, Manny. Ask who it is.”

“Hello,” she heard her son say from the livingroom.

Then, to her: “It’s a man, mami. About an ad. He said you called.”

“Bring the phone, Manny.”

“Please wait,” her son said as he brought the phone to her.

The ad.

Carla had been perusing the nudie paper.

Anastasia caught her and hit the ceiling.

And again when Carla wrote a phone number down and then called and left a voice mail.

Anastasia swore in Russian and Carla swore back in Spanish. Their mutual language lessons had gone well over the last six months. Too well. That Russian holy roller had been as bad as Miguel, her ex-. But she was dead now.

Still, Miguel would be furious if he found out. He claimed that nude dancing was dangerous and when she told him the clubs she worked were better-guarded than a bank he said that it was still puta’s money.

The pendejo’d rather she risk being knifed or shot for five bucks an hour than run risk of getting her fanny pinched or slapped for three or four hundred a night.

Fuck him.

Miguel didn’t nearly break his neck by sliding into a lake of murdered coworker’s blood and then have to call 911 and be asked a bunch of estupido questions by pendejo cops and friegado sin madre News At 9 Ken-and-Barbdolls.

Culos todos.

Miguel wasn’t chewed out by the pinchi puto supervisor for not being there when the murder happened.

It was all so unreal.

And then there was the vidcam that Anastasia brought to work, saying her film student brother wanted her to shoot strange scenes for this “project” this weird puto of a photographer was doing, that she’d get to be a Spielberg for a day. — What was that photographer’s name?

Beausoleil or something like that…Carla read about him in a Rocket To Uranus article, how he did photos and videos of naked guys. — So Anastasia started aiming the vidcam at the toothless bum who hung out in the parking lot to hit up people for change.

Anastasia felt sorry for the man’s pet dog, a terrier, with a bowtie. Anastasia had warmed to the old bum, too.

So when Carla stumbled on Anastasia’s dead body she took the vidcam, thinking it would be best to give it to Anastasia’s brother so that the “Spielberg For A Day” video would not gather dust in a police evidence room.

“What sort of experience do you have?”

“I danced at EJ’s for a year. And a year at Henry The VIII down in Ellay….” She didn’t tell him that was over five years ago.

“Well, it’s a retirement party.” She recognized the man’s voice but could not quite place it. “Our vice president’s retiring and we want to send him off with an idiot smile on his face.”

“Oh,” she said and listened, and said, “Oh,” a few more times. Then, finally she said: “I’ll send the gentleman off in style.” A bunch of lawyers and politicians. Easy money.

“What’s ‘Whitewater,’ mami? What’s ‘bailout’?” her son Manny asked her during dinner. (cuatro) “What strange beast is that?”

Toyboy pointed to a bunch of kids hanging out by the bus shelter, kids whacking away at the plexiglass with blunt objects. A feeble streetlamp gave more shadow than light, and the cast shadows made it hard to gauge their number. The plexiglass gave way.

“Let’s go.” Toyboy turned to run.

“Fuck ‘em.” Boyo drew an exactoblade from his pack. “We have an assignment.” A supermodel waif looked down on them from a well-lit billboard. The waif had a milk mustache and above her the print asked where your mustache was.

“Woo-woo-woo-woo!” The kids whooped as if part of a teevee talk show audience. One of the kids called: “We have us a spearchucker!”

“Let’s run for the van,” Toyboy whispered.

“Let’s kick their —”

The kids were in motion, closing in from across the street. There were seven. Three had bats. One had a twobyfour.

“Come.”

Boyo stood his ground.

“On.”

Toyboy backed away and hardly registered that he’d dropped the bucket of wallpaper paste and the photocopied sheets were blowing across the street. What Toyboy registered was that each of their seven assailants had hair cropped to the skull. That each had intricate whitepower lightning bolt insignias and symbols silkscreened onto his tshirt.

“Oliver!”

“Say what —”

“Niggah thinks he’s a Ninja!”

Whitepower laughter.

“Hey Nazis, fuck off!”

Two of the seven stepped forward.

“Just.”

Boyo held the exacto blade.

“Try.”

And the three with bats and the one with a twobyfour did just that. They bashed into him while three others chased Toyboy into the sociopathic night.

Toyboy saw the bright lights of an approaching emergency vehicle, now several blocks distant.

He turned back to see one of the whitepower seven stab Boyo in the chest with his own exactoknife. (tres) Carla Arrendondo wiped a small bit of dried semen off her leg before counting her tips.

Her skin had turned red when she wiped it so she knew it was semen.

She was allergic to semen.

Her doctor blushed before telling her that that was not uncommon.

Boys would be boys, whether young turks or oldfarts.

The crowd wasn’t any different from any other. Better dressed, more polite. But she expected no less when told to go to a suite at the Heathman.

Still, there was always a dollop or three of ejaculate. Kept them from dragging a girl into an alley. Three hundred and two dollars. Not bad. But it was beyond weird dealing with that John Triplette. He was the creep who came into the store the night Anastasia got killed. Carla had not quite connected the voice when making the arrangements. But when he gave her a ride back home in his Jag he was decent enough not to hit on her. (In fact he gave of the vibe of no-vibe, which sometimes, to her reckoning, was the best vibe of all.)

After a mysterious car parked across the street from her apartment hauled off all banshee llorona-like he offered to walk Carla to her door and when Carla said she could take care of herself he said he’d wait until she got to her apartment door before he left.

It was sweet, sort of, for him to be so paranoid on her behalf. She found people treated her with more respect after paying her to take it all off and shake her bootie.

“How’d it go?” the babysitter asked.

“Same old same old.”

“Oh. Your ex- called —”

Aha. The strange car across the street. “What’d you tell him?”

“I said you had a dancing gig —”

Miguel had probably borrowed the car from his bastard car mechanic brothers.  “Ah, mierda de dios —”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s not your fault. I should’ve told you. He always freaked bigtime when I danced in Ellay.”

“He probably freaked that you earned more money than him.”

“Exactamente. How’d you guess?” Then: “What’d he say?”

“He said he’d pick up Manny an hour later than usual next week, then he just hung up.”

“Typical.”

“Look, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t sweat it.”

After the babysitter left she checked in on her son. Manny had a habit of throwing his blanket off and then waking up with a bad cold — or worse.

She made sure Manny was covered before shutting the door. (dos) “Mi sister,” Miguel had said so long ago.

It had all happened so long ago.

Long before his mechanic brothers married Chicanas in East Ellay and sent for him and his mother.

Before the migrastroika amnestia allowed Miguel and his mother to become resident aliens.

Before his brothers migrated up to Oregon and sent for him again. Long before NAFTA, even.

“Not interested,” the gringo had said.

“Mi sister,” he had repeated to a gringo journalista in Mexicali, a journalist writing about the Mattel maquiladora.

Miguel was twelve years old. His older sister Flora helped support the family by working twelve hours a day six days a week at Mattel, where she checked the Barbie heads as they came off the assembly line and made sure their hair was all todo fino and that their eyes and lips were properly colored.

A pinchi puto supervisor had caught Flora stealing a Barbie. He didn’t care that it was for her cousin’s birthday.

The supervisor was a gringo who lived over the border in El Centro and drove the fourteen miles down to Mexicali and the fourteen miles back up to El Centro five days a week. The supervisor didn’t fire Miguel’s older sister. Just fucked her, got her pregnant.

Two months later Flora was missing.

She had been missing a week, and the brothers in Los Angeles hadn’t heard a thing.

It was late spring and the thermometer was taking up residence in the ninetyfive to hundredten degree range, where it would stay until October’s end. And when Miguel’s mother sent him to enquire with the police, well, the desk officer just barked with laughter.

The only reason the policemen did not beat Miguel senseless was that Miguel’s late uncle had once been a policeman.

“Mira en el Rio Nuevo.”

Look in Rio Nuevo, they had said.

El Rio Nuevo was a creek, really, a creek which filled with Mexicali’s untreated sewage to flow up north and empty out into a gringo canyon by the Calexico airport.

Sometimes bodies were found floating in the sewage. Bloated and broiled by the sun. Along the banks of El Rio Nuevo were billboards advertising Marlboro Country or the Frito bandito or cerveza Carta Blanca.

Sometimes the journalists and photographers who discovered and photographed the bodies were themselves later to be discovered floating there too.

Miguel next visited an amputee friend who shined shoes and over and over sold the same baggie of marijuana to about-to-be-arrested gringo touristas, over and over, day-in and -out. The amputee friend told him a prominent gringo journalista and his photographer were staying at the Mexicali Holiday Inn, that they would be interested in hearing about Miguel’s missing sister.

“Mi sister,” he’d said as they answered the door.

“No fuckee,” the gringo photographer butted in. The photographer had clutched a beer.

“Mi sister, she missing.”

“Oh.”

“Come in.” The journalist had held the door open, admitted them to their airconditioned dreamscape.

And Miguel with his broken English and the journalist and photographer with their fractured Spanish had discussed his sister and her work at Mattel and her disappearance.

He had not been able to tell them of the gringo supervisor who had gotten her with child…some things were just not to be told to gringo journalistas.

The gringo journalistas had finally promised to do what they could.

He also had made the two gringos promise that they would not take a picture of her corpse if they found her. Or, if they did, that her corpse would not be naked. Miguel knew that his mother did not want to see her corpse on the front page of the newspaper.

The two gringos had indeed found Miguel’s sister, found her floating just a hundred feet short of the American border, and had written an article that was to appear in the San Diego Union and Los Angeles Times — Miguel’s brothers cut out and sent the articles to Miguel and his mother.

There were no corpse photos with the articles in the gringo papers.

But the Mexicali papers had the photo of his sister and gave her name and mentioned that she had been with child. And in the photo she had been bloated and naked and made a negrita by the sun and her teeth now looked all horse’s teethlike.

The gringo photographer’s name had been in tiny letters by the photo.

L. Smith. Lionel Smith.

Miguel would never forget that name.

At least the Mexicali police had beaten up the photographer.

Gringos were like that.

Offer to help. Make a promise. Then do something to your sister. Or even the mother of your child — even if she did earn puta money.

Miguel tore the letter up, the letter translated for him by his gringo supervisor, his gringo supervisor who’d gotten a letter just like his, a letter giving him three month’s notice; his gringo supervisor was on the phone and had another job lined up by noon, and by midafternoon had jobs lined up for everyone else but him.

His gringo supervisor said not to worry.

Gringos, all the same.

The gringo Miguel practiced his English with on the TriMet every day was no different.

The gringo who paid his ex- to take off her clothes for a roomful of other gringos.

John Triplette was no different than L. Smith or his gringo supervisor. (uno) “Gretchen,” Laura Triplette called up the stairs.

“Come down here now!”

Everything was moving too fast. The guy her exhusband had gotten to do the back yard, he was here early, John just dropped this wetback off at the corner and then took off. Of course, the restraining order had something to do with that. The wetback was trying to talk to her, only his English was awful.  And he was a surly bastard, too, and he stank. Was it oppressive or something for third world people to use underarm deodorant? The Sears crew was early, too, and uncoiling their hoses. One of the Sears guys told her they might have to postpone if she wasn’t ready soon. He was rude, too, but at least he did not stink, at least he spoke English, sort of. — Better English than the god damn soldiers who were supposed to be on military manoeuvres last night and instead sat on her front porch smoking dope and drinking microbrews — and you bet you she took the bottles into Freddies.

And the kid next door wasn’t able to help out because he’d been killed two nights before by Aryan Neo-Nazi homophobe types, and she was sorry about that, really, but couldn’t he have waited until after she got her carpet shampooed? Laura couldn’t help it, really, as she felt the damn laughter coming again. — She had already set the chairs against a far wall, lined them up like a company of wooden soldiers.  She took the wetback to the diningroom. She went to one side of the table and motioned to him.

“The other side.”

Laura remembered the word.

“La mesa, por favor.”

He understood Laura and went to the other side and, together, they removed the center leaves from the table.

“Gretchen,” she called again.

Laura took the leaves and set them in the winter closet, leaned them against two rolled up sleeping bags. Then to the diningroom again.

“La mesa,” she repeated and pointed to the kitchen.

They picked up the table and, tilting to the left, were able to clear the breakfast bar.  They set the table in the center of the kitchen.

“Maybe I should keep it here,” she said, “I’ve always wanted an island.” Laura thought of her aunt and her winking uncle by the boathouse, and she couldn’t help it, she burst, she laughed again, and only stopped when the wetback cleared his throat.

Then to the diningroom again to pick up a chair and ask him to pick up a chair.

Which he did.

And then on through to the pantry door and the patio, where she set down a chair and he set down a chair.

She showed him the woodchipper and the old pine branches stacked behind the garage and then mimed feeding the branches into the machine.

“First,” she said, “let’s get the rest of the chairs.”

Then back into the diningroom, where each grabbed another chair.

“Gretchen!”

Laura turned to see that the wetback had taken the chair out to the patio and returned for another.

“Come down here now!”

The shampooers were coming into the house with their miles of hoses. She turned to the diningroom. From the west window she could see out to the patio, where she and the wetback had set the Hepplewhite chairs, and where the wetback now stacked branches in front of the woodchipper.

“Gretchen, if you don’t come down here right now you are grounded!  Do you hear me?”

Laura heard the click of a switch through the open window, just like that, a switch clicked on and then an engine’s horsepower roar and buzz and a grinding sound. And turned to see the wetback feed the woodchipper. Some day, her aunt had said, she wouldn’t laugh. So she screamed, she screamed at the wetback.

“I said the branches!”

Laura screamed again and rushed to the window and screamed yet again as the wetback continued to feed all that remained of her favorite aunt and all those illicitly idyllic New England boathouse summer nights into the rented woodchipper and she could not help it because she burst again and laughed again and screamed and screamed and laughed and laughed again.

 

for O. E. B.

 

****************************************

R.V.  Branham was born & raised on the California/Baja border, & as an adolescent wound up in El-lay. When not co-hosting a floating æther-den, R.V. attended U.S.C., El Camino College, Cal State Dominguez Hills, & Michigan State University. Day jobs have included: technical typist, photo-researcher, x-ray tech. intern, interpreter, social worker, & Treasury Dept. terrorist. His short fiction has been published in magazines such as 2 Gyrls Quarterly, Back Brain Recluse (UK), Téma (Croatia), Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Midnight Graffiti, & Red Lemonade (online), & have been collected in such anthologies as Red Lemonade’s Hybrid beasts (available as an e-book), Full Spectrum 3, Drawn to Words, Mother Sun, & several Gardner Dozois anthologies; many of his short stories have been translated into Croatian, German, Japanese, & Spanish; his plays, Bad Teeth, and Matt & Geof Go Flying, have been performed in staged readings in Los Angeles & Portland; he attended writing workshops run by Beyond Baroque, John Rechy, Sheila Finch, John Hill, & A.J. Budrys. He has translated Laura Esquivel into English & several of Croatian poet Tomica Bajsic’s poems into Spanish. Back in the day he co-hosted a floating æther-den (it was the 70’s). He is the founder & editor of Gobshite Quarterly—a Portland, Oregon-based multilingual en-face magazine of prose, poems, essays, reasoned rants, & etc.; & author of a 90-language dictionary of insult & invective, obscenity & blasphemy, Curse + Berate in 69+ Languages (published by Soft Skull); & edited & published a bilingual edition of Luisa Valenzuela’s Deathcats/El gato eficaz.

fiction by rv branham_Painting Luis Carlos detail from CAMALEON DE ORO

Painting: Luis Carlos – detail from CAMALEON DE ORO 

Standard
Fiction

Staircase Hourglass Sundial Sand

by R V Branham

 

Injury, n. An offense next in degree of enormity to a slight.

 — Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

 

 

STAIRCASE:  “What do you mean by this,” the urgent care admissions clerk asks.

Pobrecito, todo chingado sin madrelike, todo Ground Control to Major Tomlike.

Geof Reid is at Sunnyside Medical Center, on an ambulance stretcher, waiting to be seen by a doctor, nurse practitioner, nurse, by a nurse’s aid, pillpusher, sawbones, homeopath, curandera, witch doctor, faith healer, psychic surgeon. (The ambulance and its attendants long gone.) At this point he’ll settle for a Psychic Friend. He probably needs, in fact, to start with Roentgenograms. Instead, he has an urgent care admissions clerk with claw-hammer eyes.

It is Geof’s fourth visit in two weeks — or is it his fifth? — They must be as sick of him as he is of them. He should ask Customer Services about renting a suite.

The first was when he brought in his son Drew for his annual check-up, annual shots.

Drew, barely eight, in eighth grade — taking Saturday seminars at PSU, Drew stuffed every science magazine he could find into his knapsack before they left.

The second visit was occasioned by Drew nearly having his right eye gouged out before or after earth science by a girl named Gretchen Triplette waiting for him on a staircase landing.

Drew nearly gouged Gretchen’s eye out, too. Good show, Drew’s grandpa would say, if still corporeal enough to be saying what grandpas say — and fortunately Gretchen’s father is a former associate of Geof’s father, so no attorneys were retained.

The third visit, he’d rather not think about. All the tubes leading into and out of his comatosely cyanotic father, yellowish uric or grenache white-wine-ishleachings or infusions.

This is his fourth visit.

No, it is his fifth visit, not his fourth.

The fourth visit, well let us draw a white hospital curtain around the amassed grieving and keening family members, an exploded view for a psychology textbook.

Geof came in a while ago by ambulance; since he has no actual identification with him, and even because the computers are down, they are sclerotic in attempts to verify account information. In the meantime he is strapped into a stretcher with a blanket the colour of a bruise or exit wound. Geof miserably tugs at his red goatee.

— His maternal abuela would have called him “Barbarosa.”

Even flat on a stretcher, Geof feels a tag team of sciatic agony sent up tingly legs to injured back and down to numb legs again.

Since he only remembers the first three of his Kaiser medical record numbers the urgent care admissions clerk asks questions so as to fill out forms. When asked his occupation he states “Film critic and crime beat reporter” and then adds “Landlord, really” and when the urgent care admissions clerk asks who he writes for he tells her, “Journal of the Plague Years: Northwest Music, Art, Sex, & Politics.” The urgent care admissions clerk says she doesn’t let her kids read that kind of trash, and then proceeds to tell him his name should have two ef’s at the end and he suggests she take it up with the hospital where his namesake and paternal grandfather was born. — At least she’s never seen his cable access show. If she had, the urgent care admissions clerk would no doubt have thoughts to share.

The computers must be back, because the urgent care admissions clerk is again in Geof’s face. “What do you mean by this,” the urgent care admissions clerk demands again.

He remembers her demanding before, she must have. “By what,” he says back.

“When I asked you, under ‘illness or injury.’ — ”

And your question?”

“Under ‘illness or injury’ you said, ‘Staircase’…” From the first to the second floor of the apartment building is a gauntlet of children’s toys or parts thereof.

Plastic masts to sunken toy ships, tiny bazookas and bows-and-arrows of missing-in-action troops and exterminated tribes, hubcaps to thrashed toy cars, maimed animal toys from popular cartoon characters, all, from endangered species.

Geof’s eyes open.

He is fascinated by these toys jutting from coffee grounds and egg shells strewn down the staircase where he just now has stepped on a golden plastic mast to sail down the stairs.

No smooth sailing there. More a pell fucking mell leap into the void. More a tracking shot. Spine bumping against each step. Snakes. Ladders. With close-ups.

Dem bones. Eschatology recapitulating scatology, chakra by chakra. His brain hurts. Fractal zooms.

Eisenstein would never shoot this scene that way. Wenders, probably not. De Palma, maybe.

Pinned to the stairs by pain and disbelief, he reels in a recurring dream, a dream with a dream staircase guarded by a scrofulous dragon, a staircase he must climb in order to rescue his one-eyed son or his willfully blind father.

Father, son, distinctions here have no difference. It is a dream, after all.

They are in trouble, one or the other — son, father, grandfather — for getting into a fight at school and they do not want to discuss this with Geof, not even with a scrofulous dragon breathing brimstone down all their necks.

Geof has never felt that his father trusts or believes him, and detects skepticism from his son Drew. In this dream of stairs he has to reach them, explain. But the dragon… “Shit.”

Geof looks up to see the neighbor from the apartments across the courtyard. The neighbor who always tosses plastic bags of clotted sand and cat turds over the fence and back to the dumpster. — Thus causing Daphne to go yell at her whenever the burst plastic sends tapered cat turds and sand clots across adjoining carports.

The neighbor who has rowdy boyfriends over when her speedfreak plasterer husband’s gone, the neighbor whose slutty teeny-bop daughter Ginny stands outside the corner convenience store and asks strangers to buy PBR for her.

The neighbor whose two rugrat troll sons always leave these toys or trade up by trying to steal Drew’s GameBoy. — In exchange for which Drew is permitted by the older boy troll to pick on the younger.

The neighbor beaten by her speedfreak plasterer husband every other weekend. The speedfreak plasterer husband who has a Prince Charles-like chin — which is to say no chin at all at all; the speedfreak plasterer husband who never buckles up or makes the kids buckle up when tearing out of the alley at any and all hours in an Ebola-red truck with expired Idaho plates.

Geof, astonished, says to the neighbor:

“Was that an earthquake?”

“No.”

“Oh,” he says. Then:

“There’ve been a few rumbles, lately.”

“Yes,” the neighbor agrees, then, “not today.”

Then, “I heard the noise a while ago.”

“When?” he ponders.

The neighbor backs away. Her black eye has faded to smudges of amber and green just above the cheekbone. Like a Weegee classic New York City crime-pix retouched with hi-liter.

“I’ll call an ambulance.”

“I have Kaiser,” Geof is surprised to find himself say.

“Don’t move,” the neighbor with the Weegee eyes tells him.

“Don’t worry,” Geof reassures the neighbor.

As soon as she leaves he starts to get up, tries to, reaches for the stairs’ hand rails, pulls himself up, tries to, but the pain causes him to lose consciousness.

#

The dream dragon is more intent on guarding its hoarded treasure than in dealing with Geof, his son, or father.

Geof shouts for his son or father to go to their room, still time out, no videos, no Nintendo. He says they narrowly gouged that girl’s eye out. Yet when Geof raises his sword, the scrofulous dragon yawns and sparks of slag cascade down the staircase. Geof’s eyes close. “Left knee.”

“What?”

“Turn over, bend your left knee,” the Roentgenogram tech tells Geof.

Left knee.”

He notices a tattoo on the Roentgenogram tech’s wrist, wants to ask if the tattoo motif is Celtic or Mayan. Or both.

What Geof says is, “It hurts.”

He hears a soft click of wooden beads.

“Don’t be such a wuss.”

Geof turns to see his wife Daphne. Braids newly beaded, nails, newly manicured, do not make her look any less harried, tired. Invoicing does that. But invoicing also provides medical bennies for both of them, including wrist braces she now wears.

Geof’s exwife works for State of Oregon Justice Department Child Support Unit and provides Drew’s medical bennies.

Daphne then tells Geof about his dad, about his mother phoning.

“Says it doesn’t look good. I think you should call her,” Daphne says, “No matter what kind of bastard your father’s been.”

“He never showed you respect…”

“Fuck that,” Daphne says, “Man tried hard. Behaved fine by me for a man who grew up in Kansas City in the 30s. What you mean is he never showed you respect, and that’s between you and him. Don’t pin that on me. Just call your mom.”

“They have our phone number.”

“Call your mom.”  HOURGLASS:Geof Reid floats on a couple of ten milligram Flexoril tablets.

The TV is on, tuned to the Invertebrate Channel™, yet Geof hardly watches a black widow spider with secondary sexual characteristic belly markings, hardly watches a black widow spider devour her mate, in close-up, he barely registers her.

He recalls a thing his son Drew told him, about species of tiny spiders that eat the webs of black widows, steal their silk — and actually get away with it.

In fact, Geof does not so much watch video black widow predations directly, but watches, rather, the cathode reflected on a glass cabinet bearing familial bibelots and curiosities.

The only thing he acutely registers is his back. Geof hardly hears the laptop’s beep as its battery runs down.

He’s been following late-night Sunday drivebys online, seven dead so far this year, cutting and pasting for a research file — great article there, even a book. Lately, he hasn’t heard the driveby gunfire, the Flexoril knocking him out by then. His laptop is perched on a pile of biographies of Sergei Eisenstein, in English, Russian and in German — a PSU library overdue or two — biographies used as source material for his own bio on Eisenstein’s misadventures in Mejico with FridaKahlo and Leon Trotsky, a bio now languishing on an agent’s desk.

Somewhere in the pile are cassettes and cee-dees he is supposed to review.  Most interesting one’s a vinyl ee-pee from a Mexican synthduo, Los Ambrose Bierces — and yes but does the world need Kurt Weill and Kraftwerk done in Spanish?

Geof hears the mail slot. Rent checks dropped through the slot he notices; those are set in a pigeonhole by the winecork-lined workstation.

Geof is never so fucked up as to ignore a succulent check fall into the mail slot. Never.

So fucked up.

A Reed alumni newsletter goes straight to the recycling bin, after peeling off unfranked Alice B. Toklas and Charles Bukowski stamps. — A postally-maimed New Yorker, Harper’s, and Drew’sScientific American and Science News are added to an ever-toppling pile of to-be-reads. — The black widow documentary sound is turned down. Speakers from the dining room and a carousel cee-dee player ensure hours of Keith Jarrett’s Sun Bear concerts. Almost Glenn Gould-like mewling and keening, pyropianisms.

Geof returns to the sofa, elevating and propping his legs against a sofa arm, his knees propped by pillows. He is distracted by wind blowing from the Columbia Gorge, blowing into Northeast Portland, leaves, shaking and rattling them loose to fly down to cover lawns and side-walks. Every time Geof, or Daphne, or Drew opens the front door, brittle amber-rust and purple-mottled leaves come rattling inside from up the stairwell.

Geof thinks about the voicemail messages. One is from a publicist, announcing a rescheduling of the director’s cut of something or other — the publicist accidentally hung up before revealing the movie’s title.

One is from his mother. He erased that. Another he erased before listening to.

Another, from Sam, his editor at Journal of the Plague Years, he wishes he’d saved. Sam wants revisions of his most recent piece. She does him the courtesy of discussing, negotiating, requested cuts or revisions. She detests complex sentences and makes him fight for every adjective, every semicolon.

And she always wants more theory, though expressed simply. Film theory. Political. Theological. Metaphysical. Linguistic. Anthropological. She loves systems, theories, philosophies — especially if accompanied by a cute anecdote. See Jane, See Jane signify — Geof hates theory to pieces.

At any rate, if he doesn’t get back to her within twentyfour hours, then she does what she deems best. Geof cannot recall when the bitch goddess left the message.

Should he call, negotiate?

Or was the erased message from the landscape guy?

Daphne told Geof to call the landscape guy, have him send a wetback out to rake up, sweep up, bag and haul away the leaves.

So Geof told her that the wind from the Gorge will only rattle more leaves loose just as soon as the landscape guy’s wetback rakes, sweeps, bags and hauls away the fallen ambermottled and purplerusted leaves.

Daphne said they’ll just call back the landscape guy and his wetback. And for all Geof knows, the landscape guy called and Geof fucked up, goofed, erased the message, consigned its digitized bytes to a telecomm hinterhell.

Geof notices the crimson hourglass of the black widow filter into his Flexoril fog. Notices red triangles drawn on the dee-vee-deejewelbox labels. There is a shitload of dee-vee-dees he has to return to a publicist — letterboxed foreign films mostly, scheduled for the film festival in late February. Amongst the dee-vee-dees is a rediscovered Chinese epic, a Sino-Soviet coproduction.

The only thing Geof likes about that particular film is the raggedy-clothed monk’s hourglass used to time the eternal warrior sent to confront a brimstone-breath dragon now residing in the verdigris-stained temple. Crimson of the black widow’s belly the same colour as the Chinese monk’s hourglass — the monk is actually the warrior’s father, and in penance for causing his mother’s death joined a Buddhist sect. Crimson the same colour as the sand in the three minute egg timer for calling time out when Geof or Daphne used to send Drew to his room for a few eternal minutes.

The worlds found in an egg timer. Turn the egg timer over and the sand runs back or forth twice, thrice, depending on the severity of Drew’s trespass, how many times he called them neofascists. Or shouted out that there were twelve gods during Mass, then rattling off Greek and Roman name variants before Daphne shut him up. But it has been years since they used the timer for that sort of thing.

A car horn outside honks.

Geof forgot to set the oven timer when he put the lasagna boxes into the oven. The horn again honks, his exwife’s horn. Geof and Daphne have Drew this weekend. He hears Drew bound up the stairs.

Then other steps, those of his ex-. What this time? He knows the child support check cleared; he always calls the bank to verify this. He hears Drew insert the key into the doorknob and turn it, then into the deadbolt, sees the door swing open.

“You’re letting the leaves blow in, Drew.”

Drew does not close the door. “Hi, dad,” he shouts, loaded with a knapsack and an overnight bag and hoisting a pile of thick books across the room. Geof sees a title: The Coming Plague. Drew comes to Geof, sets the books on the coffee table and the knapsack and overnight bag on to the floor before bending down to hug him. “Got any Pearl Jam,” his son asks, as usual. (Geof hates Pearl Jam, and Drew knows it.)

The eyepatch makes Drew look piratical. The visible (left) eye, hazel, is hard to read — blue is a recessive gene, hence Drew has inherited his mother’s almond hazel eyes.

Geof realizes he cannot smell his son; sinuses fucked up. Is it the bronchial asthma and æternalearnosethroat cycle of infections or the shot septum from the cocaine cowboy years?

His son Drew pulls away: “I smell some thing…are you burning the boxes again?” Drew makes for the kitchen.

“Careful with the oven,” Geof calls after him. “Grab the potholders.”

“Hey,” his ex- shouts to him from the stairs. “Better call nine-one-one. The slutty brat’s slutty brat next door is passed out on your lawn.”

“Again?” He slowly gets up. Tries to remember where he left the cordless phone.

The ex- comes through the doorway, wipes her feet, admits more leaves. He expects the ex- to ask him if he thinks she has put on any weight, to which he usually replies, “You’ve put on grams.” She doesn’t ask; and she hasn’t. The ex- wears a white crushed silk jacket with trashy goldcoloured silkscreen, “One-Cup-Wet-Noodle Dragon Lady” ensemble, she calls it — “One-Cup-Wet-Noodle” is a Japanese pejorative for premature ejaculators — referring to the time it would take a male college student to jerk into and hump a styrofoamnoodlecup. Geof turns to the ex-: “How do you know the slutty brat’s slutty brat’s a slutty brat?”

“Because Drew says she wanted to play Spin The Bottle with him.” Geof laughs; the ex- tries not to. “But. Really. ’S serious. Breathing’s irregular. She dies, her cunt mom sues your ass. Cunt mom sues, you and Daphne lose this place, file bankruptcy, move under the Morrison Bridge. And my son loses support checks.”

“That little slut: first name, Ginny.” Then: “You’d just be pissed about losing every other weekend to yourself.”

“You burned the lasagna again, dad,” Drew shouts from the kitchen.

“Again?” the ex- asks Geof.

From the kitchen: “Why are there leaves in the oven, dad?” Then: “I’ll make some bread.”

Drew makes bread from scratch; he learned from his maternal grandma and is extraordinarilly good at it and says he wants to have his own bakery when he grows up; has even enquired about getting an Employment Identification Number, like his grandma. Pounding and kneading dooes wonders for Drew, according to his school therapist.

“Be right back,” Geof calls to his son as he limps toward his ex-. “We have to go see a neighbor.”

“Just call nine-one-one,” his ex- says.

“Guy’s a drug dealer, I don’t want him to come over and blow us away.”

“A drug dealer? You have me dropping off my son —”

“Our son.”

“— to stay next door to a drug dealer.”

“Okay. Probably a drug dealer. Possibly. Maybe just a speed freak, probably too whitetrash for černobyl. Possibly. And there’s a drug dealer on every corner of every neighborhood in this town, so don’t bust my balls. Let’s just go get her mom, she was decent enough to call an ambulance when I fell.”

Going down the stairs after his ex-, Geof finds himself thinking of his ex-’s ghostly gash of a Cesarean section scar, a silver lining that Geof always finds — Oedipally? — adorably sexy — he was himself delivered by Cesarean section; the ex- is completely unselfconsiouslike about hers, wearing the skimpiest of twopiecers by cigarettestub-, and sodacan-, littered poolside or by she-scours-oilspilt-seashore.

Daphne too has a cute ghost of surgical incision scar, from a premetastatic ovarian surgery. Such a tiny scar for such a major event.

“You said her kids leaving toys on the staircase are what caused the accident.” Then, looking at him: “What’s with the wamble?”

“The what?”

“That staggering limp! You’re such a ham.”

“I have a back injury, you know.”

“A back injury, the drama queen says.”

“I get an MRI next week.”

“They only do it because you have the insurance.”

“I might need surgery, might need traction.”

“My mom was in traction for months and she didn’t bitch about it.”

“That’s what my other wife says.”

The slutty daughter of the slutty mother is passed out on the lawn, between the birdfeeder and the sundial, sweater and tshirt bunching up towards her shoulders, skin turning a goosepimply blue to match the pale winter sky. She is on her side, clutching a notebook with cutesy kitty decals on it, drooling on to blades of grass and broken bottleshard.

The name “GINNY” is written in a script not unlike graffiti gracing the neighborhood.

“Breathing’s okay,” Geof says and pulls the sweater and tshirt back down, “Who’s the drama queen? Look we can do three things here: Rape her, rape and kill her, or just get her mom over here.”

“What about just killing her? You forgot that option. Just like a male.”

“Let’s just go get her mom. Remember when you passed out in the swimming pool?” Geof is halfway across the courtyard when he is bashed by a flying video cassette tape.

“I tell you what I’m doing!” His ex- rushes to his apartment building, to his apartment. “I’m calling the cops!”

She rushes back upstairs.

Geof feels his forehead, runs his hand through his thinning hair, smearing a trail across his bleeding scalp.

The videotape is a Multnomah County Library VHS in a clear plastic case. The Wizard Of Oz.

There was an hourglass in that film, wasn’t there?

The neighbor and her plasterer husband slam each other across the livingroom of their apartment like anorexic sumo wrestlers.

The torn garnet curtain and picture window lends their fight a theatrical flair.

Sirens call from the distance.

The neighbors stop fighting.

The plasterer husband hooks the curtains back up, ignoring Geof’s hand-waving. The neighbors crank up the radio to Classic Rock. Aerosmith.

Geof turns around.

Dream On.

The police are still with the neighbors when Geof’s ex- leaves him with their son. An ambulance has already taken the slutty brat away from the front lawn.

A police tank arrives, parks across the street.

“Don’t let Drew see any of those Hong Kong movies,” the ex- tells Geof as she hugs Drew goodbye. Then, to Geof:

“Too fucking violent… Shoving chopsticks up someone’s nose to kill them. That’s sick.”

“That’s a Japanese Yakuza movie.”

“Then no Yakuza movies, either. And call your mom.”

“Daphne put you up to this?”

“Yes. Who gives a rat’s assignation about your father? Who cares if he never believed you?”

“I care.”

“Christ. If I hear one more time about how your dad didn’t back you up when you were caught plagiarizing that thesis —”

“He didn’t, and I didn’t.”

“That thesis you’d written for someone else, right?”

“My exact point.”

“You’d been paid top dollar for that thesis, that thesis that you’d submitted a year before. It was dishonest of you to ‘recycle’ it. And lazy.”

“It wasn’t theft.”

“Yes. It was.”

“Wasn’t plagiarism — can’t be theft from myself. There was no explicit contract forbidding reuse.”

“There was an implicit contract,” she says, finding herself sucked in.

“Was not.”

“Who cares — You weren’t expelled, or even failed. Unlike the lazy ass who paid you for that thesis. And no jury in heaven, purgatory, or hell would have convicted that lazy ass if he had wasted your sorry sadsack ass after being expelled, all you had to do was write another one —”

“— Just write another one, are you insane — ?”

“— Your mom backed you up during all of that self-inflicted horse shit, you’ve told me. Your mom’s a saint, so call her. Don’t be an asshole.” She smiles sarcastic. “You are a lucky seventh idiot bastard son of an idiot bastard son.”

“How is that?”

“I like Daphne. She’s good people. You marry a good person who then inherits an apartment building. Lucky.”

“We still pay a mortgage.”

The ex- waves her hand.

“My rent’s twice your mortgage, and you’ve got six units!”

Then, pointing at the apartments across the courtyard, the ex- adds:

“Call my pager if any thing happens. And if any thing happens to Drew, you will die.”

“Show’s over. Cops’re here. Nothing’ll happen.”

The ex- gives a final dismissive wave:

“Exit stage left.”

The knock-down dragout fight across the courtyard starts up again when the police and their police tank and black marias with their “The City That Works It” painted on their doors finally depart.  SUNDIAL:  There is a sere sundial on the lawn in front of Geof’s and Daphne’s apartment building — it is a northern exposure and gets no light ever.

And spiky moss covers the north side of the pedestal, all micro triffidlike.

The day is clear but cold; clouds approach, perhaps bearing more rain.

Geof wears one of his favorite winter coats, sheared from alpacas, from the altiplanos of South America.

His father, he remembers, gave this to him when he graduated from college. They weren’t speaking at that point, but did still exchange gifts at the appropriate holidays or milestone occasions.

There is broken glass from bottles of rotgut wine and malt liquor at the base of the sundial, along with tapered pale garlands of album græcum.

Drew could cut himself on that glass. — And the ex- would never let him forget, if she let him live.

And hair there, hair the colour of microbrew pale ale everywhere on the lawn, as if some body got her or his hair cut by a marine corps barber.

One of the rugrat trolls from across the courtyard has hair that colour — the one Drew picks on. Geof remembers some thing from his childhood, a specific act of logical cruelty involving someone’s hair. He cannot recall the colour but the memory creeps him out.

The hair and the glass also makes him think of his so very-recently-dead father appearing to him in a dream the night before, saying he wasn’t dead, was really in the Witness Protection Program and might not be able to drop around for a while, and of course it being a dream there was a test and his father was administering the test and accusing him of cheating before the test even began, saying Geof lacked Ethics and railing against Kids Today! — His father who made a smallish large fortune in a rotten real estate venture and then spent half that money hiring attorneys to finesse the legal fallout.

Geof sees the Nation of Islam neighbor from across the street walk past with a bag of groceries. He greets him and waves and the Nation of Islam neighbor flips him off. A middle fukka-you-ofay-redneck-cracker finger.

Whenever he tells Daphne or the ex- that he wishes there were more Nation of Islam members in the neighborhood, they tell him he is so full of shit an enema could not save him.

At this point he tells them of seeing the Nation of Islam neighbor chase away dealers, backed up by his shotgun-toting wife.

At this point Daphne asks why they still have cracker white trash tweaker neighbors.

Geof frowns as he cuts across the lawn, past the sundial, to get into his car, a Hyundai. He’s been so wanting to clean the broken glass up since he noticed it last week but he has too many appointments today. “Just lie down,” the MRI technician tells Geof.

Geof, dressed in a paper gown, feels a cold draft on his testicles and dick. “Can I ask you some thing,” he asks the technician.

“Okay.”

“Do I smell bad?”

“What?”

“Do I smell funny?” Then, “Never mind. Forget it.”

The technician looks at him.

“…This’ll take about forty-five minutes altogether. Some people find this very uncomfortable, but it’s not painful.”

Geof lies down on what could be an examining table at the foot of what could be a very large frontloading laundromat dryer, the one into which half the planet’s left socks vanish.

“And don’t move,” the technician tells him and then leaves the room.

The table moves, the table Geof is lying on, taking him from the gleaming white room with its toobright lights, and he is inserted into the chamber. He remembers a scene from a Kubrick.

Open the pod doors, HAL,” Geof says.

“…’Smatter,” the technician says. “You okay?”

“Fine,” Geof says.

“What,” the technician says.

Looking up, he sees light reflected from the room outside into the chrome rim of the chamber.

There is a series of percussive movements in the Magnetic Resonance Imaging Chamber as the MRI reverses the magnetic spin of Geof’s very atoms, allowing sagittal, double-echo sagittal, and axial images to be taken through his lumbar spine.

He knows these anatomic terms because he glanced at the technician’s notes — “lumbar” seems redundant. The percussive noises remind Geof of the Bang On A Can Festival he went to in New York years ago. A white of Christmas light bulbs dances in the trees as Geof heads downtown, cutting through the redbrick warehouse labyrinth of the eastside industrial district.

The palimpsest of cobblestone, abandoned rail track, and worn asphalt is hell on the tires.

He makes the Hawthorne bridge, westbound. But the bridge has been raised so a boat can pass, so he has to stop — this steelgrated bridge gets icy in the season of misted burgeoning skylines but really is the best route to downtown. Geof turns on the radio for news about the recent drivebys but there is only more Truth & Forgiveness Hearings crap — so what’s with the “The Secret War”? Nothing secret about shoot outs at federal buildings all over the country — couldn’t get a passport without being caught in some god damn faction’s crosshairs, so why not just call it by its real name, “The Dirty Little”?

He tunes in-to NRK, to a song sung by The Presidents Of The United States of America, about stepping on kittycats.

Geof looks up, a mere glance, at the soon-to-be federal court building, at the arcs of welders, splatter and slag sparking down with the drizzle, splashing against the girders. He thinks of the dream dragon.

Thinks of his father, who never believed him when he said he hadn’t taken the change from his father’s coin roll to buy comic books. — Fantastic Four and Spiderman, his favorites from Marvel, and The Flash and Green Lantern, from DC. — He thinks of the workers up on the girders — must be nativeamerican — after all, Mohawks built the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings, half the bridges in Canada and New England. — Thinks of the Ojibwa Chippewa on his father’s side of the family, of the Huichol, Pima, Comanche, Sinaloa, and Maya on his mother’s. — Splatter and slag. Red lights ahead. — His father never apologized after later finding the coin roll in his car. Striped wood and aluminum arms lower to block traffic as the bridge is raised to let a boat pass.

Geof slows, gently taps the brake, and skids into the jeep in front of him. He gets out and the burly driver of the jeep in front of him gets out. “Wwwawatch it, jjjjejerkoff.”

The stammering jeep driver has lime-green hair.

Geof starts to apologize and the other driver continues to berate him. There is no apparent damage to either car. “Look,” Geof declares. “Nothing happened.”

“You wwuwere lucky, ffffufuckwad.”

“We were both lucky.” Geof checks on his father before picking up his son from the optometrist appointment. — Daphne volunteered for overtime today, and already dropped Drew off at the doctor’s.

He sees John Triplette, an associate from his father’s public relations firm, and nods slightly to him. His mom Dora is in the back row, away from the stink of floral arrays, with friends and relatives Geof barely remembers or recognizes — except for slacker dyke sister Gloria and her cocksure turkeybaster kid with two effs in his name. It has been years since Geof saw his nephew and he is amazed how the vicious little bastard’s grown.

And truth be told, Geof has no quarrel with dykes, turkeybasters, or vicious little bastard nephews, once indeed having shot his spunky wad into the pool so to speak for a trustafaridykester who dropped out of college in her third trimester and — last he’s heard — teaches at Rutgers University.

The ex- is there, too, wearing her “Fuck-Me-On-The-Stairs” jacket, and slung on her shoulder is a pink fur-lined valise like a cunt.

“Daphne had to do overtime.” He manages to choke back sobs as his mother hugs him.

“¿Porqué no visitas?”

Pardona me. Yofue. MiinfermidadPardona me.” Geof goes to the front. Checks his father.

Yup, still dead. Favorite watch, an old Rolex. Favorite shirt and tie, a bit faggy. But his father was a dandy and liked to shock his pallsywallsies on the green. Favorite ring, Princeton, Class of 1946.

The cosmetologist made his father look to be wholly foolish, a defanged and deballed lion, a sacred clown. These rituals, he thinks, are too ironic to be barbaric.

“I just.” He finds napkins in his altiplano jacket, paper napkins from Coffee People, some already stained with coffee and crystallized snot, and uses the cleaner ones to wipe greasepaint away from his father’s collapsed face.

An event horizon to the black hole of death.

“Just wanted to.” He wants to say some thing sarcastic and spiteful and unforgivable — a cut or fade to black, not a dissolve, wants to tell the old man he just wanted to make sure it was him and wants every body to hear him say this but the words fail to ignite and the flames catch in his throat, sparks descend down the stairwell, slag and splatter, back down his gullet.

#

Geof picks up his son from the doctor’s before going to the screening. He can tell Drew knows he’s been crying — though he doesn’t know what or if the ex- told his son about grandpa — and can count on Drew to say nothing to him about it. Drew asks how there can be measurable objects in the universe, like quasars, that are apparently five billion years older than the known universe.

“Because they are remnants of the universe before?”

Exactly!” Drew laughs. “Exactly!” Then: “And the math on this is a real bitch.”

“Watch your fucking mouth.”

Drew laughs.

“No. Seriously. And don’t tell your mom I took you to this film.”

“Why?”

“She’ll bust my chops.”

“…Why doesn’t mom like action movies?”

“She thinks cinematic violence is bad for kids.”

“Our teacher says that about cable TV programming.”

He considers telling Drew she’s probably right, but for the wrong reason: Cable’s just subfuckin’moronic.

Instead he says, “Just look at me, Drew. I’ve seen twenty thousand films; half containing an average of, say, twenty-point-five killings. — I’ve seen —”

“Four-hundred-and-ten-thousand,” his son tallies.

“Yeah. I’ve seen four-hundred-and-ten-thousand people killed. So just look at me.”

His son laughs: “You’re a weirdo, dad.”

The Movie Palace is in a splendid old brick building, unassuming and plain on the outside, elegant on the inside.

A former British Consulate, then Freemason temple, it still has its original chandeliers, ornately carved ceiling, mezzanine with crimson carpet and leather chairs set in front of backgammon tables or chessboards, the odd presidents’ deathmaskmothattacked Oriental rug, and a courtyard with ferns, fountain, and verdigrismottled sundial.

Geof is lucky enough to find a parking space.

His watch indicates he is half an hour late — which should make him fifteen minutes early.

These things run on Standard Publicist Time. The marquee reads:

ONE COP, ONE CROOK, 10,000 BULLETS …

“Look at that.” Drew points to a car parked in front of them, a Silver Cloud Rolls Royce. —  Geof shrugs: “So?” — Drew points at the Silver Cloud’s bumper sticker: “LIVE SIMPLY SO THAT OTHERS MAY SIMPLY LIVE.” — “That,” Geof says, managing not to laugh, “has a certain elegant entitlement.” — Drew sees a bento cart at the next corner. — “Can we get teriyaki?” — “After the movie.”

Geof and his son pass through metal detectors, which go off.

A tattooed woman wrestling with the popcorn machine basket waves them through.

“Sorry, I forgot to turn off the damn things.”

Inside the theatre, the usual crew:

Sergei, the mad Russian Stumptown Senator & Sun third-stringer, with the odd byline in Fangoria or Spin — also Veep of the PSU Film Society — and so soon departing for Mexico and Guatemala on his annual workstudyhejira — credits to go towards his interdisciplinary archæology and film production degrees.

Marvelous Harve, the Portlandic Weekly Herald & Argus film critic and presskit whore with knapsack and taped-together hornrim glasses.

Cecilia, a fellow Reedie who writes for a biweekly Eugene anarcho-slacker staplezine called The Snark, as well as for Stumptown Sputnik (which doesn’t take any adult advertising because they have integrity, and doesn’t pay anyone, especially when they promise to do so).

She is excited about a piece she just sold to Twist, after getting a killfee from Sulky.

Every body says hi to Drew, compliments him on his eyepatch. Every body compares various blue, yellow, and white asthma guns with the child’s — commenting on which look all scifi movie space ship miniaturelike, then asks him when he’s going to write his first review.

“Do I smell funny,” Geof asks Cecilia and Sergei.

They laugh; look at him, each saying, “No.”

“My doctor says I smell funny. I shower.”

“He does,” Drew affirms.

With or without Drew, Geof always sits with Sergei and Cecilia, who always whisper to each other throughout the film. Usually, the film at hand is so awful Drew does not much mind. Sometimes Drew asks them to please shut up.

Marvelous Harve always sits a few rows to the front of every body, making a point of having a notepad and tiny flash-light. Two minutes after the opening credits Harve gets up. — Two minutes after the opening credits Harve always gets up.

Cecilia whispers to Sergei, “What do you think?”

“I bet five he does.”

“I bet a cappuccino that he does.”

“Hey,” Cecilia whispers to Sergei, pointing at a gentleman with a very small bald spot and a very long ponytail who sits several rows in front of them. “Isn’t that Stella Capra’s husband, Uggo?”

“Ssshhhhhh.”

“Think he knows you porked his wife last year?”

“Uggo?” Sergei asks, “where?” Then, seeing him: “Oh, yeah. You know, he heads Television Studies now.”

Ssshhhhhh.”

“Hey Uggo,” Geof starts to call out but Sergei kicks him hard as the lights dim, the curtains open. Show time.

On screen the Hong Kong cop hero tells of his immigrant petty criminal Yakuza father who repeatedly accused him of stealing when he was a small child, who never believed him when he denied it and accused him of lying and beat him with kendo shinai; and how there was trouble and his mother died and the neighborhood went kaboom (or boom, ka-) (there are issues of dialect as well as dialectic, to say nothing of how to express the postindustrial quasispectral world in still-Taoist ideograms) and his father disappeared into the endless Hong Kong Triad backalley underworld, fading to black, and he was raised by his uncle and aunt and grandmother.

The Hong Kong cop relates this to a colleague while shoplifting bootlegged merchandise in a department store.

In a repeated scene, not quite a leitmotif, the Hong Kong cop hero keeps going back to what is left of his old neighborhood — shoplifting in markets and boutiques, most rebuilt since the boom, ka-.

The cop hero stands in front of a metastasized glowing tin shed of a factory with pincers extruding from the roof all Japanese atomic crabmonsterlike and backflashes to his smiling mother singing him to sleep and then the neighborhood going boom, ka-, everything flying, seeking its own vector as order unfolds into resplendent chaos.

#

Marvelous Harve eventually comes back into the theatre with popcorn and a candy bar. Gets up a few minutes later.

After the film villain named Dragon, who runs a Hong Kong Triad, is shot, stabbed, immolated, and defenestrated from the balcony of a luxe suite on to a staircase floors below, to then crash through the landing rail and be impaled on a sundial in the garden below that — all this done to the Dragon by his long-lost son who has become the shoplifting policeman; after the Chinese credits with French subtitles roll by. Drew reminds his father Geof of the bento cart. Geof gives him a ten dollar bill. “Get me chicken with rice and just a splash of teriyaki.”

“The noodles are better.”

“I want rice.”

After the publicist gives every body press kits and posters and tshirts and key chains and cee-dee soundtracks, every body goes back down to the lobby to get the newest Portlandic Weekly Herald & Argus.

Marvelous Harve dismissively waves to them as he exits the building, clutching a Portlandic Weekly Herald & Argus. Drew returns with a white plastic bag containing black bento trays.

Geof has already grabbed the new Portlandic Weekly Herald & Argus from a lopsiding lobby news rack, and is checking it against last week’s press releases.

“Sergei. You owe me a cappuccino for last week.”

“Hey!” A hand grabs Sergei’s shoulder.   “Good to see you guy.” Uggo’s hand. Sergei jumps out of, then back into, his skin.

“Oh — oh — Uggo!”

“You still owe me a term paper, guy.” Uggo looks at his watch. “Have to pick up the noneck monstrosity from day care.” Then to Geof: “What happened to your cable show?”

“It was just a temporary gig,” Geof says.

But Uggo is out the door. As he departs, Cecilia turns to Sergei: “He knows.”

“Nah,” Sergei says. “He doesn’t. He can’t.”

“I heard he likes to watch,” Cecilia says.

“Besides, who cares what a trophy-hyphenator thinks.”

“A trophy-what?”

“He was married once before, and he has not one, but two hyphenates for his last name.”

The publicist arrives with a tray of cappuccinos. “Gotta make like a particle and split,” she says and does so. Every body goes out to the courtyard, with its gurgling fountain and black and white floor tiles looking like a barbershop where Mafioso get whacked or like an infinite chess board where the Red Queen demands decapitations, and where a few white tables and plastic chairs are set up. They find a table that isn’t too wobbly or filthy and find chairs that aren’t cracked or chipped or covered with bird shit and drag them to their table and then they sit.

Drew takes each ribbed ebony sarcophagus from the bag and passes the one with the rice to his dad. “Anyone else want any,” he asks the group as he passes a pair of chopsticks to his dad. “I can go get some more.” Sergei and Cecelia decline. “I didn’t know she was in on the bet,” Drew says.

“You kidding,” Sergei replies. “She started the tradition.”

“At least Marvelous Harve didn’t stay to lecture us about how film’s gone dead up the ass ever since Fassbinder died —”

“I’ve seen a few,” Drew says, “a bit Angsty but they’re not bad.”

“Listen to the kid tell us about Angst,” Sergei says. “The only thing you need to know about Fassbinder is that he made fifty movies in twelve years, some of them over eight hours long, and most perfectly calibrated in one way or another but only in one way or another — and he died at his editing table of a heroin-cocaine overdose and that you need to do lots of coke or heroin to get into his films. But. You’re a kid and we don’t talk about that around kids. Marvelous Harve always rewinds to a particular scene in Fassbinder’sLola — I think it was Lola — he’ll go on and on about Fassbinder setting up an impossible scene where his male and female leads are in a parklot at night and are about to kiss and the audience wonders how they’ll pull off the shot off because the actor is lit with blue gels and the actress with soft red gels and just then as the two’re about to kiss they turn and hold up their arms because of the whitelightwhiteheat glare of a large automobile’s headlights as it comes into the lot.”

“And since he’s not here you’ve got to repeat it verbatim,” Cecilia comments.

“Look.” Sergei turns to her. “I’m warning him, okay?

“Speaking of warning. Got all your boostershots?” Geof enquires.

“Of course.”

“So.” Cecilia continues: “Going to bone your teacher Stella again this year?”

“The kid,” Sergei mutters, pointing to Drew.

“Stella Capra?” Drew asks.

“Yeah,” Cecilia says.

“I audited her Mayan astronomy course last summer.”

“Go on,” Sergei says to Cecilia, “Go on. Ask Drew if he boned her —”

Drew blushes as Cecilia and Geof do doubletakes. Cecilia starts in: “You should watch what you say around kids —”

“It’s okay,” Drew says to her. Then to Sergei: “I’m not that precocious —”

“I should hope not,” says Cecilia.

“Besides,” Drew adds, “her grasp of geology is shaky at best, and she’s over-rated as a Mayanologist.”

Geof picks at his sarcophagus of bowl and stops when a crimson drop falls onto his white rice.

“You okay?” Cecelia asks him. Another drop falls, then another, another.

“That’s disgusting,” Sergei says.

“Shut up, Sergei,” Cecelia says. Then to Drew: “Go to the restroom, and get a bunch of paper towels. Dampen them.” And then to Geof, “Tilt your head back.”

“I’m okay. I get these sometimes.”

Tilt your head back.”

“Yes, mother.”

Just shut the fuck up, Geof, and tilt your head back. And call your doctor’s advice nurse when you get home.” The bleeding stops, gradually. They drink another round of cappuccinos in the courtyard, watch the brief afternoon sun do its shadows and light dance with the sundial — and try to ignore the dandruff kernels and popcorn flakes on Sergei’s black tshirt — and discuss the office politics of their various publications, and all the vaccines needed whenever going abroad.

Cecilia astonishes every body by telling of attempts to impregnate herself with the services of a local fertility clinic. Actually, she explains, they have fertilized Andrea’s eggs and implanted one in Cecilia, or tried to. That way they are both the parents.

She also tells of an incident a few months back where they initially decided to go lo-tech turkey baster and they had three guys doing a circle jerk in a guest bedroom and when the cup was quarterfilled one of them took it into the dining room where Andrea would route it to their bedroom where Cecelia awaited the demon seed. Only there was a cable guy doing repair and after he used the bathroom he asked for coffee and thought that the cup had nondairy creamer, and afterwards wanted to know the brand. And the three guys were too tired and discouraged to try again. Hence, the fertility clinic route. And in a few years they want to implant a fertilized egg from Cecilia so that Andrea carries a baby to term, though not now. Right now, it’s Cecilia’s turn. “It’s just not working,” she finally says.

“But why,” Sergei asks, bemused, “why a baby?”

“My clock is ticking.”

“How does Andrea feel about it?”

“Andrea comes from a big family — she’s supportive.”

“Supportive?” Sergei laughs. “Supportive, good. I s’pose if she’s letting them suck out eggs and freeze them before popping them into you, I s’pose she’s supportive. You know you’re only twenty-five.”

Cecilia laughs.

“But my eggs aren’t going with the plan.”

“Silent sperm,” Drew says. Every body looks at him.

“There’s an article about environmental pollution and resultant reduced sperm motility. Pollution’s not the only factor.”

“Listen to him,” Sergei says.

Cecilia pauses, turns to Geof:

“Really sorry about your dad.”

“What about his father,” Sergei enquires. Then: “Geof never talks about his father.”

Geof reaches for his coffee and is tempted to ask her to pass the nondairy creamer. Cecilia looks at Geof. “Nothing,” she says to Sergei.

He died,” Drew says, surprising Geof.

“You heard Cecilia,” Geof says to Sergei.

He looks at what was his lunch, looks at the black sarcophagus of bowl, at the white grains swamped by clotted blood.  SAND:  Geof and Drew go home.

This time Geof takes the Burnside Bridge across the sluggish-unto-sclerotic Willamette, to avoid any ice.

There are orangeorange cones funneling the traffic down to onelane each way and the flow slows as Geof and Drew merge into a queue. — The day has become overcast and a sullen bluegray glare is sent bouncing everywhere. — To the north Geof and Drew see the Steele and Broadway bridges and the immense Fremont Bridge of suicides, and to the south a glinting blur of metal rushing across the Morrison and (mostly hidden Hawthorne) bridge(s), and the doubledecked glittering bumpertobumper double-arch of the Marquam Bridge — the Marquam arcing as it takes I-5 across the Willamette, and shows off pretty city lights for outoftowners. Drew points out a billboard for the Gay Golf Channel™.

Drew next points out the river’s ripples below the Morrison Bridge, river water against bridge foundation piers and bridge against river water — slicing water into rippling vee-formations, and then reminds his father that none of the bridges are earthquakeproofed, and Geof says he’d rather not hear this right here right now.

Before the signal completely craps out they hear an old Ramones song on NRK, I Wanna Be Sedated, and Drew sings along. Drew comments to his dad above the bompbompabompa of the radio about how the car’s radials make strange and soothing musics in response to the buckling city streets around Lloyd Center. They take the freeway and Drew plays a favorite car game, calling out “Ouboros,” to which Geof replies, “Subaru?” There is a familiar homeless person at the Lloyd Center turn-off, with a sign: WILL WORK FOR FOOD.

“Why don’t you ever give him money, dad?”

“He’d spend it on —” Geof stops himself short; that is what his father would have said, that the bum would spend it on wine.

“You buy wine,” Drew says. “You probably have a case in the trunk. Give him a bottle.”

Geof pulls over, gets out and opens the Hyundai’s trunk; he runs back to the offramp panhandler and gives him a bottle of Italian merlot. The offramp panhandler tries to tell Geof he is in a 12-Step Program but Geof is running back to his car. The neighbors across the courtyard are at it again.

Drew is in the kitchen making foccacia when there is a loud pounding on the door: “Get that, dad.”

The knocking continues. Rugrat troll eyes glance at Geof through the mail slot as he goes to answer the door. The slot shuts.

“Hello,” the neighbor says to him, loudly. Geof can tell she is furious, by her agitated eyes, by the vein pulsing fiercely on her forehead, by the spittle flying with each word, and by the way she clutches at her little son, whose hair has been very badly shorn. “I know you laugh at us!” Her son looks like the kids you see in a cancer movie, when they do the obligatory children’s hospital scene. “I know,” the neighbor tells him, “I know you think we are white trash rednecks, but I want to know what sort of parents raise their boy up to do this to my baby!”

“What?” The hair on the lawn. “Drew,” Geof calls, no, yells, to his son. “Drew, right here, right now!”

“I don’t want to hear your son’s lying ass.”

She pivots to stomp back down the staircase, her whimpering redneck rugrat troll in tow.

Drew comes to his father, wiping his hands with a towel.

“I didn’t, dad. Honest.”

“Didn’t what…?” Geof regards his son, the lying son of a bitch.

“Whatever you’re going to blame me for, I didn’t.”

Downstairs in the courtyard there is screaming. Daphne is home, screaming at the neighbor: “You get your Jethro-clone redneck ass out there and clean up that sand and cat shit before I call the cops.”

“Kiss my white ass,” the neighbor calls back: “Look at what your boy did to my baby.”

I don’t care if Drew cut his dick off and fed it to your cats,” Daphne is heard to reply. “Unless you clean up that sand and cat shit right now I’ll call your landlord.” There is scuffling and the sound of wood hitting flesh. The neighbor screams and uses the N-word and Daphne tells the neighbor to cunt off and the neighbor’s flipflops echo back across the courtyard. (Geof is a bit shocked at Daphne’s language, language Daphne picks up from her reading group, language Daphne picks up from the ex-.)  Daphne storms up the steps.

“Honest. I didn’t, dad,” Drew repeats. A smile (incriminating?) forms on his face.

“Then who did,” Geof asks. He knows that smile ironic. From a slightly opened window, the voices of the neighbor and her speedfreak plasterer husband can be heard to converge: “Out.” — “Your.” — “My.” — “Out.” — “My.” — “Fucking whore.” — “Fucked Ginny.” —

“That’s it!” Daphne barges through with a janitor’s broom, slamming the door behind her. “That’s it, Geof! I’m calling their landlord!” She shuts the window. “I do not fucking need to hear that vile horse shit! Where’s the phone number?”

“On the fridge.”

Geof looks at his son.

“I didn’t do it, dad.”

“Where is the god damn telephone? Never mind, I found it.” Then, “I got there just in time, Geof. They were going to shut the lid to —” Daphne looks at Drew. “I talked to your mom, Geof.” She looks at her husband, turns away, and looks back. “You okay?”

“Fine.”

“You look like you should lie down.”

“Dad had another nosebleed today.”

Daphne turns to her stepson: “What do you mean another?”

The neighbors are still to be heard screaming in their downstairs apartment across the courtyard, voices now muffled, words unclear.

“Dad. I did not.”

“What,” Daphne says. To Geof: “What did he do?”

“Neighbor says Drew hurt her kid.”

“Did not.”

“Good. Brat deserved it, probably.”

Geof hates that, hates it when Daphne undercuts his authority. Geof sees his son Drew bite his tongue, trying not to smile or grin or show any expression, which terrifies Geof. Geof knows this one, too; has done it himself. He could slap that shitty smile off Drew’s face. “Like you didn’t try to poke the girl’s eye out?”

“Foccacia smells great,” Daphne says from the kitchen as she dials: “Hello.” Pauses, listens: “Voicemail sucks.” Then:

“Hello, this is Daphne Reid, owner of the apartments across the courtyard from yours. About your tenants in Apartment B.”

“I did not.” There are sirens, only they sound like they are going away, dopplering red shift. Gunshot. A bullet flies into the room, shatters the window, flying seconds per second, shatter and slug whizzing past Geof and Drew. Geof reaches for Drew, embraces his son, and they fall to the floor, fall to safety. There is then another gunshot. Again. From across the courtyard. Then another. Again. Daphne crawls to them. “I didn’t.”

Another. Not semi-. Still, the gunshots, the bullets, come. Again, again. Another. Another.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

R.V.  Branham was born & raised on the California/Baja border, & as an adolescent wound up in El-lay. When not co-hosting a floating æther-den, R.V. attended U.S.C., El Camino College, Cal State Dominguez Hills, & Michigan State University. Day jobs have included: technical typist, photo-researcher, x-ray tech. intern, interpreter, social worker, & Treasury Dept. terrorist. His short fiction has been published in magazines such as 2 Gyrls Quarterly, Back Brain Recluse (UK), Téma (Croatia), Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Midnight Graffiti, & Red Lemonade (online), & have been collected in such anthologies as Red Lemonade’s Hybrid beasts (available as an e-book), Full Spectrum 3, Drawn to Words, Mother Sun, & several Gardner Dozois anthologies; many of his short stories have been translated into Croatian, German, Japanese, & Spanish; his plays, Bad Teeth, and Matt & Geof Go Flying, have been performed in staged readings in Los Angeles & Portland; he attended writing workshops run by Beyond Baroque, John Rechy, Sheila Finch, John Hill, & A.J. Budrys. He has translated Laura Esquivel into English & several of Croatian poet Tomica Bajsic’s poems into Spanish. Back in the day he co-hosted a floating æther-den (it was the 70’s). He is the founder & editor of Gobshite Quarterly—a Portland, Oregon-based multilingual en-face magazine of prose, poems, essays, reasoned rants, & etc.; & author of a 90-language dictionary of insult & invective, obscenity & blasphemy, Curse + Berate in 69+ Languages (published by Soft Skull); & edited & published a bilingual edition of Luisa Valenzuela’s Deathcats/El gato eficaz.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

 Jane8

Artist: Jane Gilday

Woman in Pink

Acrylic on archival paper, mounted on board

Standard
Fiction

Famous Blue Raincoat, Slight Return

by R V Branham

 

Geoff Emiliano Reid comes home from school for lunch, answers the phone. There is a pause. — …Hello?

— Geoff, her voice says, — Geoff. The rabbit fucking died.

— You must have a wrong number.

— Look, I’ve missed my period and the strip turned green.

She doesn’t have the wrong number, which is why he hangs up on her. God, he could kill the bitch! Kill her.

The phone rings again. He picks up the receiver and shouts: — And how do you know I’m the father!

— Geoff, the voice on the other end says; it is Phillip. Phillip, whose voice is unresonant. Gray, but not foggy. Dull. Phillip, who is dead below the neck and dying above. Who has got the most amazing collection of rockabilly and punk and jazz ceedees you would ever imagine…as well as the original 45’s from such labels as Sun and Stiff and Rough Trade. Phillip, who after all has a few credit cards. Who hasn’t so to speak killed any rabbits.

In the instant it takes to squeeze a tube of shampoo, Geoff Emiliano turns on the charm. If he talks to Phillip long enough, she’ll get busy signals, give up calling back. Also, he might need a ride to Trendy-Third. His Geo shimmies on the Banfield, on NE Sandy… hell, standing still, it shimmies.

— Phillip, m’man. How’s it going?

— Want to go to Buffalo Exchange this afternoon. It’s launder day…dry cleaner closeouts; they got a new shipment?

Phillip’s questions are always flat, uninflected, as if there is no question whatsoever.  His statements, however, are always uncertain… His father is a corporate attorney and Geoff Emiliano wonders if Phillip got that vocal habit from him.

— Thanks. Geoff Emiliano makes a decision, perhaps unwise. — Nah. Too much to do. Got to go back for a semifinal this afternoon.

Then:

— S.A.T.’s next week.

— Still be able to hear the band tomorrow.

Phillip refers to a band his cousin started, which he wants Geoff Emiliano to hear, as Geoff Emiliano’s uncle writes for the alt weekly Journal of the Plague Years.

— You’d be a good…no, a great manager.

Geoff Emiliano knows that. His family might not have a tenth of the money Phillip’s has, but Geoff Emiliano has taste. And his taste buds tell him, a priori, that the band doesn’t even rate a garage.

— Maybe tomorrow.

Geoff Emiliano wants to leave his options open.

He cuts the conversation with Phillip short. He then unplugs the phone, in case she calls.

Good thing mom’s out in Hillsboro, her girl-friend’s realtor firm is doing major damage control on a dream subdivision where all the dream houses with their new Parable dream siding suddenly became shiitake farms.

Or has mom gone to Fake Oswego, a-hunting for a house?

Every one was surprised when his grandpa left close to ten million in stocks and bonds, annuities, crystal balls and crow’s entrails to his mom, every one except his rat’s-assignation uncle Geof. Every body knew grandpa had some money squirreled away, but not that much. His uncle Geof doesn’t need money any way… His uncle’s second wife inherited a couple of apartment buildings…buildings paid for before the neighborhood went all gentrified, and real estate became so fucking ridiculous. In a way, he’s glad his mom inherited the money…even though the money is all tied up and unliquid, the interest and dividends have enabled her to quit her peon job at social security before another coworker shot at her. But mom has not chilled out yet and is being more than a bit of an asshole. She even wants to be a realtor.

 

#

 

Later, taking a fast shower, he decides against the semifinal. Not today. There’s a T.A. in Attendance who’ll give him a class re-admit, for a case of microbrewski.

Geoff Emiliano will get his hair permed; his hair’s not like Phillip’s. Phillip’s is genetically permed…he had it done just last month. Yet Phillip has his hair styled like a porcupine’s.

An orange porcupine’s.

And Geoff Emiliano, whose hair is straight, wants his curly.  Phillip’s cousin is right…he wrote a song Geoff Emiliano likes the title to, If You Meet Your Guru On A Cliff, Push Him Off!

Geoff Emiliano gets into his Geo, a battered handmedown from his uncle, from when his mom Gloria Reid and her brother were on speaking terms.

He takes Sandy to East Burnside, playing hide and seek with the shimmer of green and red of the tower of Koin above hills and billboards and faded brick storefronts, crossing over the eponymous bridge, instead of taking the Banfield freeway and I-5 and that immense arch bridge into Northwest ambitious leapers embark off of…he always forgets the name.

The Geo shimmies any which way… Stud tires and police tanks have ripped half the roads in Portland to concrete and shit-pats of tar.

The perm will mean a third of his week’s wages from bussing tables and dish washing his grandmother’s restaurant, but what’s a cyberpisher to do?

He has a fifteen-minute wait at the salon.

The receptionist, with a barberpolestripedyed beehive, offers Geoff Emiliano wine… The premature graying of his temples renders fake I.D. unnecessary.

Geoff Emiliano enquires as to variety and vintage. A ’04 Cabernet. He accepts. Sits.

She brings him the wine. He looks at the glass and worries about red stains on white clothes.

Later, after the perm, while paying the receptionist, he decides to go to Buffalo Exchange any way.

There is a certain joy to be found among the detritus of a society. To rescue unloved and unwanted clothes from the racks, clothes that are art, have style. He had read the word detritus in a Village Voice online review of a German director’s first music video. Had looked it up in the dictionary; nice word, detritus.

He tips the hairdresser… He always fails to remember her name. She thanks him.

Out-side, some thing flashes past, a blur of silver. Every one turns.

There is a loud grinding of metal on metal and then, the crash. Geoff Emiliano rushes out, along with every one else in the shop. Along with every one else on the block.

Shit. His Geo.

A motorcycle has scraped into the side of his car, breaking off his rear-view mirror, and bending the front fender, badly.

The front left tire is flat.

The motorcycle rests, impacted into the driver’s seat of the car in front of his, an ancient scabrous Mazda.

Where’s the god damn bike boy, yells the receptionist.

Every one peers under cars, across the street.

Was he thrown —? — Did he run away —? — Shouldn’t we call nine-one-one —?

Two young men run up the side-walk, towards them. A police tank, coming past, does a U-turn and parks in the red zone. The two men, in their late 20’s, look like the gay guys who hang around Burnside… They wear earrings on each ear, and one has a nosering. Geoff Emiliano finds himself wondering where else they have rings. The taller one, the one without a mustache, speaks up:

— Any body seen a motorcycle?

Johnny points to the Mazda:

— You sideswiped my Geo, you FAGGOTS. — Jesus Christ, watch your language, kid! —Y ou watch your language, an on-looker shouts, and others murmer. — What’d he say, some body else asks. — He was talking religion, some body else says. — Man, they gotta take that shit in-side. — You know, there’s no proof of that Elohim virus. — There’s no proof it doesn’t.Doesn’t what? — Go fuck yourself.

— …Look, we’re sorry about your car, the one with the mustache says, — but you better watch what you say…

— Bite me, faggot. Geoff Emiliano aims for his jaw, but the taller one grabs for his arm and pins it behind him. — You pisher… Geoff Emiliano resents the insult and breaks free, swinging around only to fall into the man’s arms like a long-lost lover. Each attempts use of his knees to groin the other, to kick the other, to trample the other’s feet. — Fuck you, asshole!

Geoff Emiliano and the man, sweating and flailing, wrestle each other to the concrete.

The man cuts his head, while bumping against a parking meter, and Geoff Emiliano hits his while falling against the man. Geoff Emiliano gets blood all over his white clothes. He is astonished at the speed with which the fight happened. He is in a daze when they drag him away.

As it later turns out, the two faggots are undercover cops as well as faggots.

On-duty faggot undercover cops.

 

#

 

Geoff Emiliano’s mother Gloria Reid switches the phone back on.

At the police station Geoff Emiliano is being permitted to make his two phone calls… The only time he has seen his uncle Geof in the last seven years is at his grandpa’s wake, and his uncle did after all say to call him if he needed any thing.

He calls his uncle’s house and gets the answering machine. He calls Journal of the Plague Years, where his uncle occasionally appears for freebie ceedees or promo books or videos.

His uncle Geof, it turns out, is out, getting Roentgenograms.

They let him make another call. He calls home, and the line is busy. He hopes his mom switched it back on. They let him call again ten minutes later. His mom Gloria Reid shows up and posts bail.

Geoff Emiliano’s first reaction, on seeing his mom, is fear, is panic. He fights back a sob. He is seven years old again, being sent to his room, sent to the corner, time out, grounded, yelled at.

— You got a hell of a shiner, Tigger…

—I’m sorry, Mom.

— Don’t worry. She hugs him.

— You couldn’t’ve known they were cops.

Then: — Your car was towed. I just got enough to get you or the car out. ’S a good thing you’re 18, or you’d be in Juvenile Hall. And those two cops you picked a fight with, I happen to know them from the Cascade AIDS Project. Not nice what you said to them.

She laughs in spite of herself. — Not nice. But.

— Really.

He knows she is furious.

— But, mom, they began talking religious shit.

— Those two?

— They almost caused a riot.

— That is different. People have to be really mindful about what they say in public.

— No shit.

His mom Gloria laughs, despite her anger: So thats why they dropped the charges.

— What?

— They didn’t tell you?

Then:

— We’ll get your car tomorrow.

— We’ll have to tow it to the garage. Front wheel’s completely fucked up, as well as the door on the driver’s side, and the door’s rear view mirror…

— No worries, we can get you a rental… Insurance’ll cover it. And if the damage exceeds the blue book value we can use the insurance money to get you a better car.

 

#

 

His mom Gloria Reid takes the freeway; they get caught in the Banfield rush. Northward scudding clouds pass over them, bringing a brief light drizzle, more a mist.

— Kate called.

— Oh.

Geoff Emiliano looks at the parade of images on the billboards. Armed Forces. Be All You Can Be.

— She called twice.

Levi Nightcrawlers. Getting In To Your Jeans.

— …Oh.

MicroPop. Tax Amnesty.

— She was upset.

Club Med. Hughes-GM. Tokyo-Joe’s Rice Wine Cooler. — We…we broke up yesterday…

The car ahead of them, a van, brakes to a sudden halt. Geoff Emiliano’s mom Gloria slams the brakes. Geoff Emiliano is jerked torward the windshield by their stop, then jerked away by his seat belt.

— Okay. Geoff Emiliano’s mom releases a sigh that sets the dust on the dash-board in flight.

— If you don’t want to talk about it, you don’t want to talk about it. I’m not going to attach electrodes to your dick.

— Mom.

— But. If Katie is pregnant…

— MOM!

— Stop whining! Just hear me out. If she is pregnant, I am going to offer to pay her to have an abortion. I’ll get her to Seattle, every one here gossips too much… I’ll even buy her a car, used…

She turns to him, fiercely but quietly continuing: — You are not going to marry her… You are going to Antioch University in the fall…

— What about Reed?

— I went to Reed.

— You always talk about what a great Party School it was.

— Which is why you’re going to Antioch.

— What if I want to go to PSU? What if I don’t want to go to college at all?

— You won’t be an assistant manager in mom’s restaurant. She’ll outlive us all, any way, so you’d never inherit the restaurant. As for Kate…she’s a sweet girl…but she is a fucking stoopard cow!

He stares at his mother Gloria.

— I apologize for using that language, and for belittling the idiot cretin, but I will not have a fucking stoopard cow for a daughter-in-law!

— I told you we broke up.

— And you turned away when you said that to me.

Fly United Airbus. Mercedes Jeeps. Dune on Fox 49.

We did.

— Fine. But I talked to her. I told her you would call tonight. Ball’s in your court.

Geoff Emiliano nods off.

He dreams. Of his windsurfboard.

Her. Kate. Of bashing her head in while they’re in the Gorge. Claiming the board hit her. That fiberglass fin just gashed her skull open.

They cremate her, in the car his mom bought. Used.

 

#

 

His mom Gloria shakes him awake.

— We’re home.

And they are. They enter through the service porch door. His uncle Geof is waiting for them. Weird, like his uncle Geof and his mom have not exactly been on speaking terms. Elated, his bipolar uncle Geof shakes them, hugs them.

— I sold the fucking Eisenstein book!

— But Daphne told me your agent got a book contract and big fat fuckyouverymuch advance and movie option on that Plague Journal driveby series.

— Yeah, that too.

They congratulate Geoff Emiliano’s uncle Geof.

Uncle Geof looks at his nephew: — That’s some shiner you got.

At least he isn’t hearing for the upteenth time about how his son Drew almost lost an eye.

— Should I put an extra quiche in the oven? Geoff Emiliano asks his mom Gloria.

— No-no-no-no, his uncle says:

— We’re going to dinner. To Dodeskaden. Sushi buffet tonight. Daphne’s joining us straight from work.

— What about the ex-? Geoff Emiliano’s mom asks.

— What about her?

— Bitter, aren’t we.

Then, to her son:

— Bette’s joining us, and your cousin. So try to be nice for a change. And put some thing decent on.

Geoff Emiliano rolls his eyes but his mom does not catch the gesture. Geoff Emiliano starts to leave the room:

— Better change, then.

— And take a shower; you’re riper than a rotten banana.

Then, remembering some thing:

— Oh, yeah!  Phillip’s left you some thing, from Buffalo Exchange. Famous Blue Raincoat, he called it.

— Wasn’t that a Leonard Cohen song? Geoff Emiliano mom Gloria asks.

— Donovan, Geoff Emiliano’s uncle Geof says.

— I think. Tim Buckley?

— No. ’S Cohen. He’s a lugubrious bastard, give me good old Public Image any day… Even Public Enemy…

— You liked McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Geoff Emiliano’s uncle Geof says.

— So what if it’s one of my alltime favorite movies. Not because of that music. Same three chords.

 

#

 

Geoff Emiliano showers, lathering. He knows his uncle Geof doesn’t know about her. About Kate. Pink. White. Pink.

Lathering. Turning in to the shower jet. Washing the suds away. Lathering again. Kate. That’s it.

Wine and valium. Then, into a hot tub. He would leave. Her alone.

They would find her. Very pink. Geoff Emiliano’s uncle Geof pounds on the bathroom door:

— Hurry up.

Then:

— It started to drizzle. Dress warm.

He dresses. He reads a note from Phillip:

I saw this coat just this very afternoon, and (honestly) the coat spoke to me, it had your name on it, like destiny.

Geoff Emiliano laughs at the note, at Phillip’s ridiculous sense of melodrama. And then he tries on the Famous Blue Raincoat. Nice. He puts his hand in one of the pockets. A pawn ticket.

 

#

 

Dinner turns out to go better than Geoff Emiliano had expected.

He manages to find a seat where he can ignore his cousin Drew without seeming rude. Bette has invited her martial arts instructor, a Japanimei in banker drag, who thinks he has a sense of humour.

After dinner, the martial arts instructor asks Geoff Emiliano how he got the black eye. Geoff Emiliano tells him.

The martial arts instructor listens intently, and then tells him it’s a good thing he had not been in Tokyo, that Tokyo police get free Kendo lessons from the Academies, and laughs as if delivering a killer punch line. Geoff Emiliano vaguely remembers that Kendo is a Martial Art; but what makes it different from Judo or Karate, he can not recall.

So he nods.

The instructor laughs.

Later, on Trendy-Third, in front of the restaurant, Geoff Emiliano and his mom and uncle and uncle’s wife are getting into his uncle Geof’s car…

Bette is giving the martial arts instructor a ride home, then will go on over to Geoff Emiliano’s mom’s.

A silver Volvo drives past. Geoff Emiliano recognizes it. The car belongs to a friend of Phillip’s. The car is full of people.

And she is in the back seat.

 

#

 

Later, at home, he calls. Her.

— Kate’s not home yet.

— Could you ask her to call me? This is Geoff Emiliano.

He nods off.

She is being driven out to the desert, over the Cascades and through the butt end of Oregon, and on into Nevada. She is trussed up, hog-tied. She is to star in a video. It will be the last video she ever appears in.

The phone is ringing.

Behind. Behind that tall cactus.

Geoff Emiliano wakes up. Goes to the hallway. His mom Gloria has answered the phone.

— It’s Kate. Take the other phone into your room.

He does. She keeps holding out for a new car.

But Geoff Emiliano persuades her to go for the used car. But she insists on a ceedee deck.

 

#

 

The next morning, after they have retrieved the car and had it towed to their repair shop and returned home in separate cars… She took him to get a rental, Geoff Emiliano waits for his mom Gloria to run errands.

He calls school and, using a deep voice, says that his nephew Geoff Emiliano Reid is very sick…

His mom had already written him a note for the first two periods, a note so vague that he can milk it for a whole day’s absence. He calls Directory Assistance and gets the number of the pawn shop. He calls, but the line’s busy.

He’ll have to use his car. Geoff Emiliano looks for his famous blue raincoat. Searches his room.

Mom. He ransacks the laundry room.

No raincoat. He finally finds the raincoat, in the garbage can of course, covered with eggshells and coffee grounds and rotten carrots.

His raincoat.

Geoff Emiliano takes the raincoat from the garbage, and out the service porch door to shake all the coffee shells and egg grounds out of the coat. Then he rushes back upstairs, to his mom Gloria’s room, to her closet.

He finds a leather jacket of his mother’s, with a mink collar (dont ask), that he takes downstairs and puts in a plastic bag.

Then he puts the bag in the garbage can, with a note:

Dear Mom,

If you do not fuck with my wardrobe, I will not fuck with yours.

Ever yours,

Geoff Emiliano.

 

#

 

He then finds disgusting leftovers inside the fridge, which he slops on to his mom’s leather jacket.

He hits the phone’s redial button but the line is still busy. A thought occurs to him and he eventually finds a phone book, looks into the gray pages, finds the pawn shop’s address listed.

Geoff Emiliano first stops at his Automatic Teller and withdraws a hundred. The shop is in Southeast, off Foster Road, towards Felony Flats, next to a religious supply store, which specializes in voodoo and Santeria shit.

The pawnbroker is a fat greaseball, who, even when standing, looks like he’s squatting on the crapper. Geoff Emiliano gives the man the stub. — I remember this one… You’re not the guy…

— I’m his brother.

— You’re the wrong colour.

The pawnbroker sneezes.

— And you’re a good thirty years too young.

The pawnbroker sneezes a second time.

— Don’t care. ’S no skin off my nose; you could’ve rolled ’m, left him for dead, all I care. Real creep, that one.

The pawnbroker goes to the back.

Geoff Emiliano looks around at the watches, typewriters, appliances, musical instruments, jewelry, weapons. A computer, a Thinkpad.

— Here we go. The pawnbroker returns with an instrument case.

— This is a real beaut…

Geoff Emiliano is surprised.

— You like music?

— My father worked with Prez; I saw ’Trane and Ornette and Dexter in clubs when your father was in pre-school…

— You saw Lester Young play?

— My dad played with him, but I grew up on his music. Sax is my favorite instrument, a cry from the heart… Punks today, they’re just technicians.

Geoff Emiliano doesn’t quite agree, but sidesteps the issue. — A friend of mine thinks Lester Young was the greatest saxophone man who ever lived.

— Your friend is not fucking wrong. The man regards Geoff Emiliano.

— You learning sax?

Geoff Emiliano pauses for an instant. — Yeah.

— Another day, and I’d’ve had to set it out.

Geoff Emiliano reaches for the case.

— Hundred thirty.

Geoff Emiliano takes the money out. Counts it out. Twenty. Forty. Sixty. Eighty. Hundred. Hundred-ten. Hundred-fifteen… Sixteen. Seventeen… Eighteen… I’m twelve bucks short, I could use my card.

The pawnbroker winces, then shrugs.

— What the hell. I’d rather have the cash…but I’m not giving you a receipt.

Geoff Emiliano opens the case. He is glad that it’s an alto sax. Cracked reed. A couple of hankerchiefs, which look bloodstained. He sees some thing wedged into the tattered lining of the case.  An A.F. of M., A.F.L.-C.I.O. Local 47 card, or, rather, half of one. It reads:

— C.J. HA…

Half a picture of a black man, a black and white picture taken decades ago, playing the sax.

A nearly illegible and badly spelled list of clubs in El-lay and San Francisco and Portland and Seattle:

 

#

 

Litehouse

Shelleys Manhoel

The Parishian Room

The Doude Ranch.

 

#

 

He thinks of bartenders who might know this social history.

Geoff Emiliano decides to visit The Lucky Labrador. He drives down to Hawthorne, near the bridge. Looking up at the bluegray sky, he sees a smooth glazed surface, like Noritake China. The bar is open for lunch. Two different tribes, the burger tribe and the granola tribe. (Geoff Emiliano belongs to neither tribe, as he prefers fajitas, or the occasional sushi.)

Geoff Emiliano asks a waitress if there’s any body who’d remember westcoast jazz or blues musicians from the 60’s, 70’s, or 80’s. Or as far back as the 50’s. She tells him to try the India House, downtown, near or on Taylor. An ancient bartender called The Duke. He takes her advice.

Geoff Emiliano does. — …’Xcuse me, The Duke says. Geoff Emiliano’s eyes are still trying to adjust to the dim interior and it’s tourist poster vibe, his eyes are still outside, in the sun, watching barely clad flesh, freckled thighs and asses, and titties.

— I’m taking my break in a quarter hour. Meet me at the Starbucks by Pioneer Courthouse Square, The Duke suggests.

The Duke meets Johnny at the Starbucks by Pioneer Courthouse Square; they sit at an outside table, overlooking the fountain with its guardian skatepunk and skinhead angels.

— How’d you get his sax?

— In a pawn shop. I’m just… Curious.

— C.J. I forgot his last name: Hancock, Hackett, Haggerty, Harrison, maybe. A mean player…

— Yeah?

— And a mean man.

He tells Geoff Emiliano how the ladies’d loved C.J., but he hadn’t loved them. How C.J. had been arrested. Cut a girl up bad. Waitress. Down in El-lay. At the Lighthouse, where he’d worked. The waitress was pregnant by him; she had really fallen for him and his famous blue raincoat.

— A famous blue raincoat. That’s what my friend called it. This C.J., he wore it all the time?

— Yeah. The Duke lights a cigarette.

— Blue raincoat. He came up to Portland, worked a club with LeRoy Vinegar. Trying to remember the name of the club. What was it. I just had it on the tip of my tongue. …Just vanished.

The man laughs.

— I can remember clubs he’d worked here back in the Fifties: Dude Ranch, McElroy’s Spanish Ballroom, Chicken Coup, Paul’s Paradise. But that’s all old, long-term memory. I can tell you everything I did the day Joltin’ Joe won the World Series, or the day Bird died, but I can’t tell you what I did last week. Getting old sucks.

Geoff Emiliano goes to his seventh period class, and takes the semifinal, make-up. The teacher, a woman with leathery skin from too many years under too many suns, makes him stay after school to make it up. Honors English. Heart Of Darkness.

He thinks of her, Kate, and, the teacher, in Africa, with Mr. Kurtz. Their heads on his poles. Geoff Emiliano feels dizzy. He finishes the exam as quickly as possible.

He goes home. Looks at the raincoat. On the left side, below the pocket, is a very neat bit of patchwork. The inside lining is stained. Blood? Geoff Emiliano laughs. Jesus fuck a pope.

He plays a Dead Kennedys concert bootleg cassette.

Her. Kate. In Dallas. In Dealy Plaza. Sitting next to J.F.K.

The last good President this country ever saw, his other grandfather always said.

He recalls his other grandfather asking him where he was, what he was doing, when Kennedy died. How he had reminded his other grandfather he wasn’t born yet.

And how a few minutes later his other grandfather would ask him again. Look.

Up there. Bullets, a rifle. And she goes down in history…. Perhaps a miniseries?

The phone rings and he answers. It is Geoff Emiliano’s mom, calling to say she made an appointment at a clinic in Seattle. For Kate. And two round-trip Amtrak tickets to Seattle, and next day, the clinic.

She wants him to do the decent thing, the responsible thing. To take her there. To hold her hand. And Geoff Emiliano wants…

— Geoff Emiliano, hey Tigger! You okay…?

And Geoff Emiliano hangs up.

 

#

 

Geoff Emiliano is in Fake Oswego.

He is in Phillip’s backyard, overlooking the lake, and not far from Trader Joes or Natures Fresh. He is in Phillip’s backyard, overlooking the band’s set-up, downstairs, by the pool.

A whiff of mould is in the air. A whiff of mould is always in the air. In Fake Oswego.

Fake Oswego.

A bottomless petit-bourgeois bog, a complete slough of postconsumer despond.

All the children of all the residents of Fake Oswego have at least three asthma guns, take at least two pills to decongest the lungs, the throat, the sinuses.

Geoff Emiliano can not see the embankment where he tossed the raincoat. Where he will toss the sax.

Earlier, after a brief game of tennis, Geoff Emiliano showed Phillip the sax, the card, the photo, the stained rags.

— C.J. Haley. Sax man, Phillip told him.

— He was the pickup reedman for any jazzbos on the westcoast. He played with Mingus, with Miles, Nina Simone. He even did rock gigs, even in Portland with LeRoy Vinegar, even in Eugene. Buddy Holly. Chuck Berry. And Los Lobos, The Blasters…

— Did he record with any of them, especially the later groups?

Phillip shrugged.

Never did any any recording dates I know of…

Phillip had paused a moment, and then, spraying Geoff Emiliano with his spittle, had laughed:

— Maybe C.J. was a vampire.

— Be real, ’kay…?

— Think about it, Geoff, maybe recording tape’s like a mirror, insofar as it won’t record things not of this world.

— You can be a real asshole, Phillip.

— Count Jazzbo the Vampire.

— Count Jazzbo was a whacked-out psychopath, Geoff Emiliano had informed Phillip.

— I talked to a bartender, used to work at The Lighthouse, down in El-lay.

— I know about The Lighthouse.

— He said C.J. was arrested for cutting up a woman, she was gonna have his…

— Sure that bartender wasn’t putting you on?

You so sure that he was?

Geoff Emiliano is quite fucking relieved that Phillip either didn’t catch (or didn’t want to) the fact of C.J.’s waitress being with child. Now the sun is setting, to the west, behind a condo-covered hillock. The bass and synth players are warming up.

Phillip is helping the others set up their equipment.

Some of the gang arrives. Moe Hawk’s shown up, looking for a fledgling band to consign to Rock Stars Kill… But sign these postpathetic postbozos? Margie the mind fucker, and Toy-Boy or Boyo…notorious fagellahs whose names he can never get straight. She is with them. Geoff Emiliano wants to unstring the bass and throttle her with the strings, wants to slap the cow silly, wants to shove her off the balcony, to shoot her, to throw her out of a moving Geo, to love her, to honor, to cherish her, to marry the stoopard fucking cow who is having his baby.

She is talking to Phillip. The stoopard fucking cow who is having his baby. Or maybe Phillip’s? It doesn’t matter. Fuck Antioch; Ohio is too cold in the winter, too hot in the summer… Why can’t he go to Reed…? Okay, so what if Reed is more expensive…? And then there’s all those nosey aunts and uncles… But his namesake can not abide Reedies, so at least he’ll get away from uncle Geof, whom he hates.

He wants to coach the stoopard cow in natural childbirth, to be an assistant pizzeria manager, to take the cow for a Sunday drive and drive off the edge of road at Jantzen Beach that dips around and under I-5 and just a sharp turn from a dunk into the houseboaty Columbia drink.

 

#

 

He thought the band was tuning up, but they are actually playing, after a fashion. Two chords. Played badly.

And not fun-bad like exuberantly sloppy bands… Not brilliantly-bad fun like Patti Smith Group or genius-bad like the Ramones. If only that five-hundred-year-overdue earthquake finally came, not like all these cocktease baby grande false alarms, no, what was needed was another El Grande to slosh the water out of the lake and on to the twonote wonders, fry them and their poor tortured instruments, wash them into the lake of Fake Oswego.

Death to the Colostomies. Recommend these postgeeks to his cousin?!

 

#

 

On his way home, he retrieves the famous blue raincoat. Puts it in the trunk of the family car. Along with the sax.

He watches a bit of video before going to bed. VH1 clips of Billy Idol. (His mom says she had had a platonic teendyke crush on Billy Idol, though mostly as a carryover from the Roentgenogram Spex days.) Odd. White Wedding. He wants to marry her. Kate. In an old church… Perhaps Episcopal. With black candles. All the guests must wear leather, must wear an ikon: swastika, hammer’n’sickle, star of david, dollar sign. Doesn’t matter. And chains, which they bang against the pews. And of course, none of this rice shit. Throw appliances, bricks, knives, ever-the-fuck.

He even calls her.

The line is busy.

 

#

 

The next day, Geoff Emiliano gets up. Has a hearty breakfast. Like a condemned man should. Takes the sax and the famous blue raincoat out to the family car and puts them in the trunk. He goes upstairs and gets tickets for the Amtrak and the money for the abortion and the check for the car, used, from his mom.

Geoff Emiliano smiles at the way his mom avoids his eyes, avoids the famous blue raincoat and her leather jacket, with its mink collar. At one point, his mom almost catches him smiling. Almost catches him.

He drives to her place. Picks her up. Why, Kate? Why? They go to Union Station, then board the train which chugchugs up to Seattle in a few hours. Then a taxi to the hotel, and the next day a becalmed taxi ride to the clinic. There are only a few picketers, and they are only slightly creepy, with pasty pimply glasses and tapedtogether cracked palates and cleft skin… Since Kate, too, has just turned eighteen, there are no consent problems, under Washington law.

Before the abortion, he holds her hand. And afterwards, after the abortion. But not during. Not that they would let him. Not that he’d want to if he could.

Later, in the hotel room he cries. But she doesn’t. The stoopard cow is tranked out on the next bed. He drinks every little bottle in the wetbar fridge.

The next summer Geoff Emiliano will have the raincoat drycleaned, even pays twenty extra to remove the blood stain. But some stains just do not come clean… At the end of this summer he packs up for Ohio. Off to Antioch. Geoff Emiliano takes the sax with him, packed away in the trunk. And neatly folded on the back seat is the famous blue raincoat.

 

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 R.V.  Branham was born & raised on the California/Baja border, & as an adolescent wound up in El-lay. When not co-hosting a floating æther-den, R.V. attended U.S.C., El Camino College, Cal State Dominguez Hills, & Michigan State University. Day jobs have included: technical typist, photo-researcher, x-ray tech. intern, interpreter, social worker, & Treasury Dept. terrorist. His short fiction has been published in magazines such as 2 Gyrls Quarterly, Back Brain Recluse (UK), Téma (Croatia), Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Midnight Graffiti, & Red Lemonade (online), & have been collected in such anthologies as Red Lemonade’s Hybrid beasts (available as an e-book), Full Spectrum 3, Drawn to Words, Mother Sun, & several Gardner Dozois anthologies; many of his short stories have been translated into Croatian, German, Japanese, & Spanish; his plays, Bad Teeth, and Matt & Geof Go Flying, have been performed in staged readings in Los Angeles & Portland; he attended writing workshops run by Beyond Baroque, John Rechy, Sheila Finch, John Hill, & A.J. Budrys. He has translated Laura Esquivel into English & several of Croatian poet Tomica Bajsic’s poems into Spanish. Back in the day he co-hosted a floating æther-den (it was the 70’s). He is the founder & editor of Gobshite Quarterly—a Portland, Oregon-based multilingual en-face magazine of prose, poems, essays, reasoned rants, & etc.; & author of a 90-language dictionary of insult & invective, obscenity & blasphemy, Curse + Berate in 69+ Languages (published by Soft Skull); & edited & published a bilingual edition of Luisa Valenzuela’s Deathcats/El gato eficaz. Most recently he has co-designed, asst.-edited, & published a collection of poems, “A Bright Concrete Day: Poems, 1978—2013, Douglas Spangle”… The project’s editor was frequent IN OTHER WORDS: MERIDA contributor M.F. McAuliffe.

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WBIFA_Love

Artist Nannette Guinto Amorado

Love

 

 

 

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