Orange Juice

A collection of short stories by

Timothy Willis Sanders

Originally published by Awesome Machine, an imprint of Publishing Genius, in 2010.

“You Have a Crush on Kellz” first appeared in Japanese Baseball.

selective focus photography of cat on green plants

ORANGE JUICE

BILL POURS A GLASS of orange juice. He tosses the orange juice carton into the recycling bin. Jeanie stops squealing. Bill looks at the hall. He drinks the orange juice and looks at Chris. Chris pauses WWE Smackdown and looks at the hall. Jeanie walks from the hall into the kitchen. She pats her hair.

Jeanie says, “I feel better.”

Bill stands by the fridge and watches her feet. Chris unpauses WWE Smackdown and body slams Tommy Dreamer.

Jeanie looks at the orange juice carton in the recycling bin.

Jeanie says, “We need groceries. I’m going to the store. Make a list.”

Bill says, “Are you sure?”

“Yes. I said I feel better. My little man’s coming with me.”

Bill looks at the floor. Chris pauses WWE Smackdown. He picks up Jeanie’s car keys and runs down the hall.

Bill says, “Goddamn your son.”

Bill runs down the hall and catches Chris.

Bill says, “Where were you going to go?”

“Not with her.”

“You’re going with. Give them to me.”

Bill returns to the kitchen. He puts the car keys on the counter. Jeanie opens the fridge. Jeanie says, “Make a list.” Bill begins to shake his head. Bill makes a list. He highlights and underlines “pulp-free Minute Maid.” Chris walks through the kitchen and Jeanie catches him by the elbow. Chris jerks free.

Jeanie says, “Hey little man, mom feels better. Aren’t you happy?” Chris unpauses WWE Smackdown and hits Tommy Dreamer with a chair.

Bill smacks his lips and frowns at his glass of orange juice. He remembers underlining “pulp-free Minute Maid.” Bill remembers highlighting with pink highlighter. He listens to Jeanie squeal.

Bill knocks on Chris’s door. He can’t hear Chris. Bill opens the door. He bangs the wall and flicks the light. Chris rubs his eyes and walks to the kitchen.

Chris says, “Goddammit, there’s pulp.” Bill hits Chris on the head. “You know she gets confused. It’s a side effect. Besides, you went with her.” Chris puts down the orange juice and touches his head. Bill picks up his car keys, wedding ring, a Timex. Jeanie stops squealing.

Chris says, “I’m going with you.”

Bill says, “You’re going with her.”

“I had to wake her up at a stoplight.”

Bill looks at Chris. He puts on the Timex. Chris looks at the floor. Bill drinks the orange juice. Bill sets the glass on the counter. Chris swipes at the glass. The glass spins through the room and lands on the couch.

OUT THERE DANCING

I THINK ABOUT DAWN or CVS brand dish soap.

I think, “This one?” I think, “Yes, Cottonelle. Yes, clean-feeling ass.” I think about sneezing but I don’t sneeze. I think, “I’m just getting three or four things. Maybe this Duracell 10-pack. Maybe some Raisin Bran Crunch.”

“Yeah, she was out there dancing. She’s always out there dancing.”

She’s at the end of the aisle scanning and stocking cans of Del Monte peaches. She turns each can for its UPC code and shoots with her handheld scanner. She laughs and says into a Bluetooth headset, “Have you seen her do that one dance? The one with the leg?”

The other day she checked a bag of Cheetos and chatted with a tall customer. She told him she’s 42, has a 24-year-old, with 4 grandchildren. She said her other job is babysitting and the customer laughed like a tall person. “You don’t look like a grandmother,” he said. She smiled and he shoved in his Bank of America debit card.

Her face is real white. She has penciled-in eyebrows. She has breasts that press against her CVS polo. Her CVS polo tucks into loose parachute pants. The Bluetooth headset blinks blue in her ear.

“She loves dancing, she had Momma out there dancing. That was nice to see.”

I pick up a plastic bottle of CVS multivitamins and pretend to look at the label. I watch her bend for a can of peaches. I look at how her parachute pants tighten on her hips and thighs.

“I guess he don’t dance.”

CAT STUFF

JARED CALLED MICHELLE to invite her to Patrick’s party. He joked about all the “cat stuff” in Patrick’s parent’s house. She said “maybe” and hung up the phone. Jared went to the mall. He stole a bottle of Cool Water cologne and a Tommy Hilfiger shirt. Jared went to 7-11 and paid a homeless man to buy him two cases of Natural Light. He walked home and hid the cases of Natural Light in the tall grass behind the backyard shed. Jared heard Nathan’s Camaro pull in the driveway. He walked to the driveway and saw Nathan. Jared looked at Nathan’s Camaro and thought, “I hope Nathan dies and I get his Camaro.”

“What’re you doing in the backyard?” said Nathan.

“Smoking,” said Jared.

“Well you need to mow. Dad wants you to mow,” said Nathan.

“Yeah, I’ll mow tomorrow,” said Jared.

“You said that last weekend,” said Nathan.

“Hey, will you give me a haircut?” said Jared.

“Will you promise to mow tomorrow?”

“I told you yes. I’ll wake up early,” said Jared.

“I’m serious. Dad’s going to make me do it if you don’t,” said Nathan. Jared looked at Nathan’s Camaro. It’s red and has a blower on the hood.

“When are you going to get a bra?”

“When I can afford one. I’m saving for a system now.”

“Your car looks kind of shitty without a bra.”

“I just got it last week.” Jared looked at Nathan’s Camaro. He remembers his dad saying, “If you can get your grades up, we might consider doing something for you.” Jared had no idea how to get his grades up.

“Give me a haircut,” said Jared.

“Get inside,” said Nathan.

Nathan cut Jared’s hair. Jared took a shower. He rubbed gel in his hair and parted it down the middle. Jared looked at his hair and face. He popped two small zits on his cheek. Jared looked at his shoulders and chest. He made a promise to begin lifting weights. He sprayed his body with Cool Water cologne. Jared ironed the Tommy Hilfiger shirt. The shirt was blue with red stripes and had a white collar. Michelle said he looked good in a collar.

Jared paged Michelle at 7:45. She didn’t call. Brad and Russell picked Jared up at 8:30. They arrived at the party at 9:30. They stood in a corner and drank Natural Light. Jared looked at cat stuff. There were cat paintings, cat throw pillows, and cat figurines. Jared looked at the party. He saw Curt Fernandez ash his cigarette in a glass filled with dark water. Jared thought “Curt Fernandez. What the fuck was she thinking? He’s a sophomore. He’s five feet tall. Fuck that guy.”

Jared drank Natural Light with Brad and Russell. Russell talked about a GTO they were rebuilding in his Vo-Tech automotive class. It was 10:42. Jared wanted to rebuild GTOs. If he dropped out and went to Vo-Tech, he wouldn’t get a Camaro. Jared wondered if he could rebuild a Camaro in Vo-Tech. He thought, “If I had a Camaro, she’d be here.” He drank Natural Light and looked at the party. He focused on Cassie Kerns. Jared thought “Cassie Kerns is pretty hot.” She was sitting on the couch talking to Curt Fernandez. Jared looked at her purse. It was open and sitting a foot behind her. Jared walked down the hallway to the other living room entrance. He reached into Cassie’s purse and took some cash and a green pager.

Patrick stood drinking Natural Light with Jared, Russell, and Brad. It was past midnight. He looked at the party and bit his nails.

“Guys, there are too many people here,” said Patrick.

Jared thought, “Too many sophomores. No Michelle.”

“You want us to tell people to leave?” said Brad.

“Maybe soon. I just hope nothing gets burned or spilled,” said Patrick. “My parents don’t smoke.”

“It’ll be okay. Just chill,” said Russell.

“I will. I just. I think people need to go soon.” Patrick walked away.

Cassie Kerns knocked over the glass while looking for her pager. Dark water spilled on a tiger-print throw pillow and a stuffed cat. Jared remembered Patrick saying the cat died in 1983. Her name was Sigourney Weaver.

“Oh my God. Sorry. Anybody see a green pager?” said Cassie.

“Everybody out!” said Patrick. The party looked at Patrick. Patrick said “Everybody out!” and punched a hole in the wall.

“You heard him,” said Brad. Jared and Brad ushered people to the door.

Patrick looked at the hole in the wall. Jared, Brad, and Russell looked at the hole too.

“Nice rage out Pat,” said Brad.

“My mom’s going to shit,” said Patrick.

“Don’t take much to fix,” said Jared.

“Let’s smoke,” said Russell. He held up a joint.

“Let’s go to the garage,” said Brad.

Patrick looked at Jared.

“You really think it’s easy to fix?” said Patrick.

“Yeah,”said Jared.

“Cool. Sorry Michelle never showed,” said Patrick.

“Ah, whatever. I’ll see her soon enough.”

“Well, you smell good, fag,” said Patrick.

“Fuck you,” said Jared. Brad and Russell laughed. Patrick and Jared traded slap-punches and laughed. They walked to the garage.

Russell handed the joint to Brad.

“Check what I jacked,” said Jared.

Jared showed them Cassie Kerns’ pager. “This, and seventeen bucks,” said Jared.

“Why would you take her shit?” said Patrick.

“Why?” said Jared.

“I had people at my house, they should be comfortable, not look and find their shit is gone,” said Patrick. He kicked the floor and looked at his foot. Jared rolled his eyes. Brad cracked a knuckle. Russell blew out smoke and coughed.

“I don’t care about sophomore girls,” said Jared.

“Still,” said Patrick.

“Everybody’s drunk, she’ll probably just think she lost it. Chill out.” said Brad, cracking a knuckle.

“I gotta piss,” said Jared.

Jared went into the house. He saw things doubling. He thought of paging Michelle “666” for no reason.

Jared peed a little on the leopard-print mat around the toilet. He looked in the mirror and clenched his teeth. Jared left the bathroom without flushing. He remembered Patrick punching the wall. Jared walked down the hallway. He glanced at a painting of a bobcat. The bobcat was sitting on a rock next to a waterfall. Jared opened the door to Patrick’s parent’s room. Two cats ran past his feet. Jared peed his boxers a little. He stepped inside the bedroom and shut the door.

Jared opened a nightstand drawer. He saw a jewelry box. The jewelry box had a latch in the shape of a lion’s head. Jared opened the jewelry box. He took a diamond ring, gold earrings, and a cat pendant and put them in his pocket. He closed the box and the nightstand drawer. Jared walked to the garage.

“I have Vo-Tech tomorrow,” said Russell.

“A Saturday? Fuck,” said Patrick.

“I’m sleeping in,” said Jared.

“It’s cool. We’re putting custom seats in the GTO. Plus, only have a half day on Monday,” said Russell.

“Still though. Saturday? That’s weak,” said Jared.

“If you want a ride home, I’m leaving now,” said Russell.

“Yeah lets get out of here,” said Jared.

Patrick patted Jared’s shoulder. Jared tensed his arms.

“Sorry for busting on you for taking Cassie’s shit,” said Patrick. “You know, you know, I don’t care.”

“It’s cool,” said Jared. Patrick put out his hand. Jared saw drywall on Patrick’s knuckles. Jared shook Patrick’s hand.

Jared sat in Russell’s car. The cat pendant stabbed into his leg. He looked at the side mirror for a long time. He relaxed his face. Michelle said she can’t trust his face sometimes.

SWEET POTATOES

I PRESSED THE GAS. “Pocket Full of Stones” played on my stereo. I pressed the brake. Pimp C was rapping. I thought, “Can’t believe this dude’s dead.” I rapped with Pimp C. A woman in a Rav 4 looked over. I pressed the gas. I looked at fields while Bun B rapped. I pressed the brake. I looked at cows and wondered if I should call my mom before or after turkey. I imagined her and Bill eating cheeseburgers and drinking orange drink.

I saw a sign for Texaco and exited. My throat was sore. “Three and a half hours in traffic.” I subtracted the hours and said, “Two to go.” I bought Vitamin Water and Peanut M&M’s. I looked up the weather in Oklahoma. There was a 80% chance of thunderstorms. There was a tornado warning in effect until 8 p.m. I imagined a wall cloud and hail. I imagined my mom turning on KFOR and watching the doppler radar. I looked at the road and thought “Maybe another hour and a half.”

I turned on the radio and found NPR. I didn’t hear the title of the show. The words “inspirational” and “human” took listeners to commercial. The commercials were for a life insurance company and an investment firm I’d never heard of. The host said, “LaVon is determined to achieve his dreams despite the odds.” I tried to look for lights on the horizon. It was past 8 p.m. “I was like, I’m a get where I wanna be,” said LaVon, “and that place is the NFL.” I looked at the radio. I looked at the road. The host said, “Just when everything was going for him—he had a home, a job, a school, teammates, friends—trouble found LaVon again.” I put my hand on my forehead. I rubbed my forehead. “Man, it was like my whole world fell apart,” said LaVon. I rubbed my eyes and thought, “Goddammit.” I remembered playing football in the fourth grade. Something happened and the coach kicked me off the team. “I can handle this. This’s going to be okay,” said LaVon. I turned the station. “Wasted” by Gucci Mane was playing. I said, “Can’t believe this dude’s in jail.” I rubbed my eyes. I imagined the portal from the movie Stargate. The Stargate portal was blue and spit lightning bolts. I imagined driving through the Stargate portal and arriving at Sarah’s parent’s house three hours ago. I imagined Sarah’s parents smoking weed. I laughed because I couldn’t imagine Sarah’s parents smoking weed. I laughed more and thought, “If I drove through a portal, how do I know it’d take me where I want to go?” I pressed the gas.

There was a giant skunk holding a mailbox on Sarah’s parent’s street. I called Sarah.

“Sarah, where’s the house?” I said.

“Have you seen the skunk mailbox?” said Sarah.

“I just passed the skunk mailbox,” I said.

“Then turn around. We’re right after the skunk mailbox,” said Sarah.

I did a u-turn. I saw the skunk mailbox. I saw Arthur waving from the driveway.

I hugged Arthur and Sarah. Opie sniffed my shoelaces. I said hello to Opie and scratched behind her ears.

“Three hours, straight up stop and go, from Austin to Waco,” I said.

“Damn, really? Holidays dude,” said Arthur.

“Well there’s plenty of stuff here to help you forget about the drive,” said Sarah. I walked into the house. Sarah’s parents were smoking weed.

“Hey, there he is!” said Ben. Sarah’s parents walked to the door. Ann held out her hand. I shook Ann’s hand. Ben handed me a pipe. I took a hit.

“Weren’t you supposed to be here earlier,” said Ben.

“We made food. Are you hungry?” said Ann.

“Here’re your pillows and blankets for the couch. We’d give you the bed but one of the cats got locked in and peed all over everything,” said Ben.

“Veronica, my cat. You remember him?” said Sarah.

“Did you go up I-35?” said Ben.

“We have mashed potatoes, some pie. I could heat you up some pie,” said Ann.

I ate apple pie while Ben talked about Israel. I was too high to understand what Ben was saying about Israel. I finished the apple pie and wondered if a tornado destroyed my mom’s house. I thought, “Will I call my mom before or after turkey?”

I woke and there were three cats on me. One cat was awake. It looked at me and blinked. The curtains were open and there was a lot of light. I heard water running in the kitchen. Ann was humming a song. I thought, “I can relax. I can let myself relax.” I tried to go back to sleep but there was too much light.

I looked at the bookshelf. There was a large blue book with the word HISTORY on the spine. It was the only title I could read from the couch. I thought, “What did Ben say about Israel?”

Ben came down the stairs. He scratched his beard. I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep. I thought, “No. I need to relax.” I opened my eyes and said “G’morning” in a folksy way.

“Oh, I hope you’re not allergic. That’s Veronica, Silverfox, and I don’t know that one,” said Ben. He nodded at the cat on my knees. “He came in and beat up Boxer and kind of stuck around,” said Ben.

The cat on my knees looked at Ben. She seemed to be waiting for Ben to do something. I laughed.

“It’s okay. I like cats,” I said. I remembered my mom coming home with Wishbone. I wanted to hold him but he kept running everywhere.

A dog walked into the room. The dog looked at Ben. “Boxer,” said Ben. Boxer looked at me, then at the three cats, then at Ben. Ann walked in the room.

“Good morning. Do y’all want breakfast. There’s granola, yogurt, we have some cereal too,” said Ann.

“You want to eat now. We’re not going to the grandparents until noon or so,” said Ben.

“I can make some toast. No eggs though,” said Ann.

“Toast is good. Thank you,” I said. I thought “Grandparents?” I imagined them refusing to eat with me. I imagined them talking shit about Barack Obama. I smelled weed. I thought, “It’s like nine in the morning.” Ben handed me the pipe. I took a hit. Ben talked about Harry Truman. Ann set down a plate of toast, blackberry jam, butter, a yogurt cup, orange juice, coffee, and cream. I ate and listened to Ben. “If Harry Truman had gotten off the farm maybe he would’ve made better decisions about Israel.”

Arthur came downstairs. He suggested we go out to the pond. I opened the Weather Channel app on my iPhone. It was 57 degrees and sunny in Oklahoma. I thought about Googling “Oklahoma + tornado” to see if the storm hit near my parent’s house. I imagined my stepdad inspecting cracks on the windshield of his Yukon. Ben opened the back door. Boxer, Veronica, Silverfox, and the other cat ran outside.

We walked to the pond. I took pictures of the sun on the pond with my iPhone. Arthur took photos of Ben and Sarah. Sarah walked Opie. Ben sat on a tree stump and looked at the pond. Boxer sniffed trees. A small dog walked to Boxer. Boxer went to sniff the small dog. The small dog jumped and ran away. Opie stared at Boxer and the small dog.

“Whose dog is that?” I said.

“That’s Mitzi,” said Sarah. “The neighbor’s dog.”

“The people with the skunk mailbox,” I said.

“Yeah. The husband is an exterminator,” said Sarah.

“I thought they only dealt with bugs. Why the skunk?” I said.

“It’s the country. There’s bugs, and then there’s vermin,” said Sarah.

Mitzi yelped at Boxer. Boxer began growling and trying to bite Mitzi. “Boxer!” said Ben. “Boxer, get over here.” Boxer walked to Ben. Boxer looked calm. I took out my iPhone. I Googled “Oklahoma + tornado.” The page took a long time to load. I turned off my iPhone. I imagined Wishbone flying through the air.

I looked at houses as they passed. I thought “So huge.” Arthur was playing Mingus and Pike by The Ruby Suns. I wondered if Sarah’s grandparents would be nice. I wondered if they would smell weed on us. I wondered if they smoked weed. I decided to call my mom after turkey. Opie sat in my lap. I stroked her ear and looked at the houses.

Arthur turned right. The road was dirt. Opie stood in my lap and looked outside. She perked her ears. Opie licked her nose. There were flower beds next to the road. There were cows beyond the flower beds. I thought “So huge.” We parked. I got out and sat Opie down.

“We’re here,” said Sarah.

“This is nice,” I said.

An old man walked to meet us. He wore a red sweater vest. He smiled and hugged Sarah, Ben, Arthur, Ann. He shook my hand.

“Grandpa, you remember Keith,” said Sarah.

“Yes, how are you doing? Happy Thanksgiving,” said Sarah’s grandpa.

“Happy Thanksgiving to you. This is a great place,” I said.

“Thank you. Lets go and get everyone a drink,” said Sarah’s grandpa. We walked inside. I walked close to Arthur.

“I don’t remember Sarah’s grandparents,” I said.

“From the wedding. You never notice old people,” said Arthur.

“All old people look alike.”

There were plates on the kitchen island. There were green beans, mashed potatoes, asparagus, stuffing, carrots, cranberry sauce, three pies, rolls, and truffles topped with bacon. I stared at the food and looked for sweet potatoes.

“Turkey’s not ready yet. Let’s drink!” said Sarah’s grandpa.

“Keith, white or red?” said Ben.

“Oh, white, I guess,” I said.

“Not a wine man. Want a beer?”

“No, I’ll have white,” I said.

“White it is,” said Ben.

Ben poured a glass. I took the glass and sat on the couch. I looked at Opie. Opie was staring at two cats. The cats stared at Opie. The cats sniffed at Opie. Sarah’s grandpa sat in a chair. Sarah’s grandma sat in another chair. Sarah and Arthur sat on the couch. Ben and Ann did things in the kitchen. I thought “All couples here.” Sarah’s grandpa asked about Sarah’s iPhone. Sarah handed her iPhone to him. Sarah’s grandpa poked at Sarah’s iPhone. Sarah’s grandma told Sarah’s grandpa not to break Sarah’s iPhone. I wondered when the turkey would be done. I looked at the results of my Google search. A tornado touched Bethany. Three people were dead. They found a woman in a tree. Opie yelped. Arthur stood up. The cats hissed at Opie. The cats smacked Opie with their claws and jumped away. Arthur grabbed Opie and sat with her on the couch. The cats stared at Arthur. I was glad my mom didn’t live in Bethany. I decided to call her after turkey. I thought of a woman in a tree without leaves.

We said a prayer. We passed dishes. There were no sweet potatoes. I remembered my mom’s sweet potatoes. There were melted marshmallows on each yam. I remembered a work potluck where my coworker Dario refused to eat someone’s cornbread. “I only eat my momma and thems cornbread,” said Dario. I ate mashed potatoes. Ben talked about the weather. “The food is excellent,” I said. I scooped more mashed potatoes on my plate. I remembered the last time I visited Oklahoma. My parents took me to Golden Corral. In front of the Golden Corral a sign read “Endless Babyback Ribs.”

Ben cleared the table. “Okay so we have pecan, apple, and pumpkin pie,” said Ben. “Who wants what?” I rubbed my stomach. We ate pie and drank coffee. We put on coats and walked to the porch. The sun was going down. I looked at the cows. I looked at the flower beds. Sarah’s grandparents sat in white rocking chairs. I smiled at Sarah’s grandparents. Their faces seemed happy. I took a picture of them with my iPhone. I dialed the area code for Oklahoma. I looked at the area code for Oklahoma. I dialed the rest of the number and walked inside the house.

“Hey, Happy Thanksgiving.”

“Happy Thanksgiving,”

“What are y’all doing?”

“I’m watching TV. Bill’s messing around on the computer.”

“Did y’all eat?”

“Yep.”

“What did y’all eat?”

“Oh, Bill just made some burgers.”

“No turkey? Sweet potatoes?”

“No. You know us. Just a day off.”

“I miss those sweet potatoes.”

“Hmm.”

“We didn’t have sweet potatoes. Even if we did I wouldn’t eat it.”

“Ha. Hm.”

“I’ll only eat the sweet potatoes you make. With the marshmallows.”

“Haha. Okay.”

“Was the storm big last night? I heard about a storm.”

“Bethany, they found some woman in a tree.”

“I read that! How sad.”

“Bless her heart. That’s why you have a storm cellar. Ha.”

“How’s Wishbone?”

“Good. Laying next to me. Spoiled rotten.”

“Okay. Love you mom. Tell Bill I love him.”

“Okay. We love you too.”

I walked to the porch. Opie chased Arthur around a tree. Sarah took pictures. Sarah’s grandparent’s rocked back and forth.

YOU HAVE A CRUSH ON KELLZ

KELLY DID the Tootsee Roll. Adina Howard watched Kelly. Kelly dipped and looked at Adina Howard. Adina Howard walked to Kelly.

“I like watching you Tootsee Roll,” said Adina Howard, “Take me to that Kevin Bacon movie.” She handed Kelly a folded napkin.

Later, Kelly got on the highway with Michael Bivins. Kelly unfolded the napkin on the steering wheel.

“Digits. Kevin Bacon movie,” said Kelly.

“Big ass chi-chis. Go for it,” said Michael Bivins.

“Hate Kevin Bacon though,” said Kelly. “Don’t know … she was with DMX. I think he’s in jail.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. Maybe you have to watch out for girls who make those kinds of choices.”

“No. Why is he in jail?”

“They found a gun in his car or something.”

“When does he get out?” said Michael Bivins.

“I don’t know. I don’t really know him,” said Kelly.

“Probably be a while,” said Michael Bivins, “Big ass chi-chis.” Michael Bivins spread his hands over his chest. Kelly laughed. They exited the highway.

Kelly sat in the box office. He saw the Mall Security Guard. Kelly flagged down the Mall Security Guard. The Mall Security Guard waddled over. Kelly thought, “You’re like 800 pounds. Your face …” He looked at the things on the Mall Security Guard’s face.

“How long does someone go to jail for if he’s caught with a gun?” said Kelly.

“Depends if the gun was stolen, or used in a murder,” said the Mall Security Guard. Kelly looked away. He thought, “Giant chi-chis.”

Aaliyah walked to the box office. Kelly met her at the glass.

“Two for Titanic, 7:30 show,” said Aaliyah.

Kelly looked at Aaliyah’s body. Aaliyah wore slacks and a low cut top. He looked at her Banana Republic name tag.

“7:30. Are you bringing your boyfriend?” said Kelly.

“No. My girlfriend Missy. I like boats. She has a crush on Leonardo.”

“And you have a crush on Kells.” Kelly smiled and pointed to his name-tag. The name-tag read KELLZ.

“No,” said Aaliyah. She took her tickets and walked away. Kelly watched her walk away.

Kelly swept behind the popcorn machine. Teddy Riley stacked popcorn buckets.

“I like Aaliyah,” said Kelly. “She works at Banana Republic, dresses nice, watches movies like Titanic … not the Kevin Bacon shit I’m seeing Friday night.”

Teddy Riley sighed a little. He walked to the store room without looking at Kelly.

“And she likes boats,” said Kelly.

“Boats?” said Teddy Riley from the store room.

“Yeah, boats.”

“Wrong movie to see if she likes boats.”

“Yeah. Who says that though? I like boats.”

“Didn’t she go out with Keith Sweat?”

“Did she?”

Teddy Riley walked out of the store room. He had five bags of Twizzlers. He said, “I don’t know” in a low voice. Kelly swept some popcorn kernels into a pile. He swept the pile into a dustpan.

Kelly picked Adina Howard up at 8:30. She wore a pink top and tall black heels. Children stood at the movie theater entrance. They looked at Adina Howard’s chest and laughed. Kelly thought, “Giant chi-chis.”

Kelly looked at Kevin Bacon. He thought, “Jesus. I hate Kevin Bacon.” Adina Howard put her tongue into Kelly’s mouth. He put his hand on Adina Howard’s breast. He thought, “Feels empty.” Adina Howard pushed her tongue further into Kelly’s mouth. He thought, “I am going to choke. I am going to die during a Kevin Bacon movie.”

Kelly got in the car. He rubbed his jaw. His jaw was sore from kissing Adina Howard. He parked near Adina Howard’s apartment. Adina Howard looked at Kelly. She looked at the ignition.

“Do you want to come in?” said Adina Howard.

“No,” said Kelly. He thought, “Aaliyah.”

“Not even for a little bit?” said Adina Howard.

Kelly drove home. He thought, “ Banana Republic.” He will talk to Keith Sweat tomorrow. “Uptown Girl” by Billy Joel came on the radio. Kelly turned the volume knob. He rubbed his jaw.

Kelly saw Keith Sweat outside Foot Locker. Keith Sweat was holding a job application.

“15% discount, if I get it,” said Keith Sweat.

“Tight,” said Kelly.

Keith Sweat and Kelly slapped hands. They walked to the food court. Kelly looked at the Starter logo on Keith Sweat’s Green Bay pullover. He thought, “Tight.” They got 8-piece nugget meals from Chik-Fil-A. Keith Sweat got Polynesian sauce. Kelly got Honey Mustard.

“What’s up with Aaliyah?” said Kelly.

“She’s cool. I don’t know.”

“Don’t know what?”

“She’s alright. I kissed her once in the Hallmark Store.”

Keith Sweat looked around. Kelly put a waffle fry in his mouth. He thought, “They just kissed. That’s all.” Keith Sweat took out the job application.

“You got a pen?”

“No,” said Kelly, “good luck.”

Kelly made a peace sign. Keith Sweat nodded. Kelly threw away his Chick-Fil-A bag.

Kelly sat in the box office. He watched Aaliyah walk by. She looked at him. Kelly smiled. She kept walking. Kelly pulled out a spiral notebook. The spiral notebook had “Lyfe Journal” drawn on the cover in graffiti letters. He thought, “Aaliyah.”

He wrote two lines:

   You remind me of my jeep

   I want to ride it

Kelly thought, “A jeep is a good metaphor for Aaliyah. I should write this on a card from the Hallmark Store and send it to Banana Republic.”

Kelly imagined Aaliyah reading the card. He imagined being on a boat with Aaliyah. The phone rang.

“Heritage Plaza 3, this is Kells,” said Kelly. He looked at the two lines.

“Kells?”

“Yeah.”

“Kelly?”

“Yes?”

“It’s dark and hell is hot.”

“I’m sorry?”

“You will be motherfucker.”

Kelly hung up. He looked at the phone lines. Line 1 was red. Kelly pressed Line 1. Line 1 went clear. Line 2 blinked red. The phone rang.

“Heritage Park 3, this is Teddy,” said Kelly.

“Do you know the latest time Titanic is playing,” said a lady.

Kelly told the lady 9:30. He hung up. Line 1 and Line 2 were clear. He heard the theater doors open. People walked into the lobby. Kelly closed his spiral notebook. He went into the theater. He swept popcorn into the dustpan. He picked up an empty box of Milk Duds. He swept a Hot Tamale into the dustpan.

“Kells!” said Teddy Riley.

Kelly jumped. He saw Teddy Riley at the door.

“Someone wants to talk to you,” said Teddy Riley.

Kelly looked out the theater doors. Kelly saw a man standing in the lobby. The man had on a tank top, jeans, Timberland boots. The man looked at Kelly. Kelly nodded at the man. The man walked to Kelly.

“You Kelly?” said the man.

“Yeah,” said Kelly.

“I’m the brother you just got off the phone with.”

“Oh …”

“I’m DMX.”

Kelly looked away.

“I didn’t know you was so young. I should’ve known since you workin’ at a motherfuckin’ movie theater in the motherfuckin’ mall,” said DMX. “No wonder Dina said nothing happened. How old are you?”

Kelly looked away.

“Shit, I came ready to stomp some ass. But nothing happened. Right?”

DMX looked at Kelly. Kelly shook his head.

“Right. Cause I’d stomp your ass.”

DMX walked out of the lobby. Kelly exhaled. Aaliyah walked by the box office. DMX waved at Aaliyah. They talked. Kelly watched DMX talk to Aaliyah. Aaliyah laughed and threw back her hair.

INFINITY GAUNTLET

JACKIE LOOKS AT DAN sleeping and thinks “I have to tell him.” She doesn’t want to be naked. She imagines screaming and jumping out of Dan’s window and landing in the grass. She looks at her new phone. Jackie has three texts from Dan-in-Chicago.

There’s a nice smell in Dan’s room. Jackie looks at Dan’s hair. She remembers he has nice-smelling shampoo which seems to withstand other smells. Jackie is afraid to smell her hair. She thinks “Why is Dan-in-Chicago so bald?”

Jackie thinks, “What the fuck.” She stares at the ceiling. Jackie imagines the crack in the ceiling is a mouth. The mouth says, “Horseshoe. You took Dan there to tell him about Dan-in-Chicago. You drank too much, idiot.”

Jackie looks at Dan’s hair. She points a finger at Dan’s hair. Jackie moves her finger close to Dan’s head and smiles. Dan moves and the blanket slips down his body. Jackie looks at his nipple. She thinks “This is the last time I’ll see you nipple.” Jackie smiles. She looks at her new phone. She thinks “1.5 megapixels.” Jackie wonders if she would do something like that. Jackie looks at Dan. Dan looks at Jackie.

Dan says, “Creep.”

Jackie thinks “What does he mean?” She thinks “He’s joking.” She’s not sure. Dan’s not smiling. He’s looking at her. Jackie stared at his nipple while he slept. She’s a creep. Dan smiles. Jackie wants to slap his face.

Dan turns on his side. Jackie thinks “He’s sleepy now. When he wakes up. I’ll tell him.” She looks at a mole on his back. “This is the last time I’ll see you mole.”

Jackie’s stomach gurgles and pops. She goes to the bathroom. She leans forward on the toilet. She looks at the floor tiles. Jackie looks at the scale. She looks at the bath mat. Jackie thinks “I hope he can’t hear me shitting.” She twists her face. Jackie opens a window. She turns on the shower. Jackie opens Dan’s shampoo and puts the nozzle to her nose.

Jackie walks to the bedroom. Dan is looking at a comic book called Infinity Gauntlet. Dan says, “Basically, the Infinity Gauntlet is a big glove. Put it on and you can control time, space, and like, all reality.”

Jackie buttons her shirt. She thinks “I’m immature. That’s why I fucked Dan-in-Chicago. I’m immature.” Jackie pulls on her jeans. She thinks “I’m not telling him. He’s not mature enough.”

Dan says, “If I had the Infinity Gauntlet I’d make this hangover go away. What would you do?” He takes Jackie’s wrist. Jackie pulls away and sits on the bed.

Jackie says, “ I don’t know. Can it pay off my student loans?”

Dan says, “Yes. The Infinity Gauntlet can make college free for everybody.” He makes circles with his hands. Jackie picks up Infinity Gauntlet and flips through it.

Jackie says, “Why do you have this? Are you reading it?” She thinks “I sound mean.”

Dan says, “I read it when I was like 13. So I bought it again. Is that a big deal?”

Jackie places Infinity Gauntlet on the nightstand and looks at Dan.

Jackie says, “Did we use a condom?”

Dan says, “I don’t know.” Jackie looks at Infinity Gauntlet.

Jackie says, “I don’t think you did.”

Dan says, “Well before you left we … We don’t usually.”

Jackie pushes air through her teeth. Her phone vibrates. She has a text from Dan-in-Chicago. The text reads “Hi Ms. Feet.” She remembers telling Dan-in-Chicago she was thinking of modern dance classes. He called her “Angelfeet,” and then “Ms.Feets.”

Jackie wants to text “I can’t believe I fucked a bald man.”

Jackie says, “I know. It’s not a big deal. I’m hungover too, grumpy.”

Dan says, “Yeah.” He touches Jackie’s elbow. She flinches.

Dan places Jackie’s luggage in the trunk. Jackie gets in the car. Dan starts the car. He puts in a CD. She thinks “Fucking reggae.” Dan starts humming. Jackie thinks “He’s going to sing.” Dan begins singing. She thinks “I could tell him now.” Jackie looks at the road. Dan looks at Jackie. Dan turns down the volume. She thinks “He’s going to talk.”

Dan says, “I can’t believe Jennifer is still with Dave.”

Jackie says, “Why?”

Dan says, “Why? Cause he’s an asshole.”

“Hm.”

“He hit her. In the face.”

She thinks, “I fucked Dan-in-Chicago. Hit me in the face.”

“Why do you care?”

“I don’t know. Because she’s your friend.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

Jackie looks out the window. They pass a boarded up mini-mall. She imagines being 40 and teaching modern dance to teenage girls in a mini-mall. Jackie laughs.

Dan says, “What?”

Jackie says, “Nothing. It’s just. She hit him first.”

“So?”

“I don’t know. I’m joking.”

“If you’re going to joke, at least be funny.”

“Yeah, you’re right. I’m sorry.”

“I’m joking.”

Jackie thinks “I’m not going to tell him.” Dan turns up the volume and exits the highway.

Jackie looks at the McDonald’s in the food court. She looks at the travelers. She looks at a little girl playing with dolls. The little girl makes the dolls kiss. She calls Dan.

“What if I had a baby.”

Dan says, “What if you had a what.”

“What if I’m pregnant.”

“You’re not going to have a baby.”

“But what if I did. My sisters have lots of kids.”

“You’re not going to.”

“But what if I did Dan?”

Dan says, “I don’t know. Get the Infinity Gauntlet and make the baby disappear.”

Dan says, “I’m joking.”

Dan says, “I don’t know what to tell you.”

Dan says, “Hello.”

Jackie looks at her new cell phone. She wonders why she hung up on Dan. She wants to tell him about Dan-in-Chicago. She wonders if Dan will be hurt. She wonders why she fucked a guy also named Dan. Her stomach growls and she thinks, “Nuggets.” She walks to the McDonald’s. She orders nuggets.

VACATION TIME

GREG PACKED SHIRTS and shoes. Greg put a tube of Crest in his toiletry bag. He packed the toiletry bag. He packed The Collected Works of Leonard Michaels. Greg put Stevie Wonder on his iPod. He clicked Sync and opened a drawer. Greg took out a pill bottle. He opened the closet. Greg hid the pill bottle in the pocket of a coat hanging in the closet.

Greg put .jpegs of Jessica in a locked folder. He hid Keeping the Love You Find behind the bookshelf.

Greg clicked on Google Reader.

“Where’s the hotel?” said Jeff.

Greg clicked the Travelocity email and read the address.

“Uptown. Neighborhood’s kind of sketchy, isn’t it?” said Jeff. “Don’t get stabbed in your hotel room.”

“I’ll get stabbed by Clifford,” said Greg.

Jeff opened his palms and laughed. “Who?”

“Never mind,” said Greg. Greg read a blog post. He thought, “The name Clifford could be a murderer’s name.”

“Oh hey. Pat’ll be here when you’re in New York,” said Jeff.

“Pat?” said Greg. “He’s staying here?”

“No. He’s not. Well, maybe. Think he’s staying at Lana’s.”

Jeff walked to the kitchen. He said something while in the kitchen.

“What?” said Greg. Jeff didn’t answer. Greg read the same blog post he’d read a minute ago. He read it again and thought “Pat’s at Lana’s.” The blog post had links to rap songs covered by different bands. Greg played a bluegrass version of Dre Day for four seconds. He opened the closet. Greg reached into the coat. He ran his fingertips over the pill bottle.

A Puerto Rican woman handed Greg a room key. She had Puerto Rican flag earrings. She was olive and pretty. Greg walked down the hallway until he reached 16C. He imagined Clifford in the room with a knife. Greg wondered if internal bleeding felt like chugging water really fast. He pushed the door open with his foot. Greg looked at the window and the bed. He looked at the night stand. Greg turned on the bathroom light and looked at the sink. He looked at the bathtub and toilet. Greg looked at a stack of white towels on a shelf. He imagined the Puerto Rican woman bringing white towels every day. He imagined her removing the Puerto Rican flag earrings.

There was a TV held out from the wall by a metal arm. There was a chain wrapped around the TV. The TV was tuned to local news. Something happened and a woman with a bun of grey hair was very concerned about the thing that happened. Greg turned off the TV and walked to the window. He saw garbage bags and the sidewalk. Greg saw a jogger on the sidewalk. He saw a cat slide under a parked car. A teenage boy reached under the car for the cat. Greg thought “Good luck” and spread out on the bed. He thought, ”Pat’s at Lana’s.” Greg napped for twenty minutes. He woke and thought he was home.

Pat texted, “I’m sleeping in your bed.” Greg texted, “No” and placed the phone on the nightstand. He looked at the phone and thought, “Pat’s still in Texas.” He wondered if Pat had pissed Lana off. Greg wondered if Jeff would text. Greg put the tube of Crest in his toiletry bag. He packed the toiletry bag. Greg set a cell phone alarm. He named the alarm, “Flight time.” Greg pulled sheets over his body. He head-butted the pillow four times. Greg couldn’t focus on The Collected Works of Leonard Michaels. He imagined Pat in his room looking at .jpegs of Jessica. He imagined Pat reading aloud from Keeping the Love You Find. He looked at the chain on the TV. Greg thought, “I hid the pill bottle pretty well.” Greg couldn’t remember where he hid the pill bottle. He thought, “That’s how well I hid it.” Greg packed The Collected Works of Leonard Michaels. He turned off the lamp.

Jeff texted, “When do you get in? Pat leaves day after 2morrow.” Greg typed a text. He deleted the text. Greg stared at the cursor. A flight attendant tapped him on the forearm. He looked at her makeup.

“All electronic devices must be powered off,” said the flight attendant.

Greg opened the shade. An airport worker was on the tarmac. He had on big yellow headphones and a jumpsuit. He threw a bag with blue flowers at a baggage truck. The bag with blue flowers landed near the truck’s tire. The airport worker ignored the bag with blue flowers. The airport worker grabbed another bag and threw it in the baggage truck. Greg thought, “Why doesn’t he pick up the fucking bag with the fucking flowers?” Greg pulled the shade down and turned on the overhead light.

Greg opened the Delta Travel Magazine. He looked at pictures of an island off the coast of Mexico. There was a woman on a beach. There were pink drinks served in large pineapples. There were people on jet-skis and kids building sandcastles. Greg thought, “What if I could take a pill there.” He put the magazine on his lap. Greg thought, “I don’t know where they’re at. I’ll get in my room and it’ll come to me. Pat found them maybe.”

Greg looked at the couple across the aisle. He guessed they were 50-something. They spoke into the seats in front of them. The man wore Hushpuppies, khaki pants, a gold bracelet, a black shirt. Greg could smell cologne. They seemed to be talking about their trip. They smiled and nodded at the seats. Greg wondered what age he’d wear cologne and khakis. Greg imagined being a tourist in the city with Jessica. He imagined asking the couple to take a picture of him and Jessica in front of the Statue of Liberty. He wanted to tell the couple he’s only seen the Statue of Liberty from the sky. Greg thought, “From the sky, the Statue of Liberty looked like a booger.”

Greg pressed the button on the seat divider and leaned back. He tried to sleep. “Sir. All seats upright.” Greg opened his eyes and saw the flight attendant’s makeup. He pressed the button on the seat divider. Greg opened the shade. He saw the bag with blue flowers on the tarmac. The baggage truck and the airport worker were gone. Greg looked for the flight attendant. A man in an Indiana Jones hat stopped the flight attendant and pointed out the window. The flight attendant leaned over and nodded. The flight attendant walked behind a gray curtain. Greg stared at the bag with blue flowers. The plane began pulling away from the terminal.

Greg opened a drawer and removed two CD spools and an external hard drive. He shuffled some envelopes. Greg swept aside bottle caps and dead lighters. He said, “It’s got to be here somewhere,” and opened another drawer. Greg moved CD cases, coffee table books, a vaporizer tube, Final Fantasy strategy guides. Greg rotated his body. He looked at the bed, desk, IKEA dresser, bookshelf. He blew out his cheeks and tap-danced.

“Think,” said Greg. He sat in the desk chair. He thought “Pat slept in my bed.” Greg lifted the mattress. He found feathers and lint.

Greg thought, “I should retrace my steps.” Greg saw Greg packing shirts and extra shoes. He saw Greg packing his toiletry bag. Greg saw Greg packing The Collected Works of Leonard Michaels. He saw Greg put Stevie Wonder on Greg’s iPod. He stared at the surface of his IKEA dresser. He focused his mind. Greg imagined shaving his head. He imagined standing in front of a mirror and black chunks of hair falling from his head. Greg’s stomach growled. He ate a bag of peanuts on the plane. Greg thought, “What to eat?” and sat in the desk chair. He sat there. It was getting dark. Greg turned on the lamp. He heard keys and the front door open. Greg looked at Jeff’s head.

“Hey,” said Jeff. He pointed at Greg.

“Chillin,” said Greg. He looked away from Jeff and thought how Jeff didn’t say, “What are you doing?”

“Nice,” said Jeff. “How was New York?”

“It was good. I bought some stuff. Saw some friends,” said Greg.

“You didn’t get stabbed in your hotel room,” said Jeff.

“No, I didn’t get stabbed in my hotel room,” said Greg. He thought, “Clifford isn’t real,” then, “Pat is real.”

“The hotel room was okay. I wasn’t bothering anyone else,” said Greg.

“Cool. Sorry about Pat. Lana had to go out of town and he didn’t have anywhere else to stay,” said Jeff.

“It’s alright.”

“He’s toned it down. Stopped drinking as much.”

“Good. Last time was too much.”

Greg walked to the bathroom. He opened the bathroom cabinet. Greg saw Pepto Bismol, CVS brand acid reducer, rubber gloves, a tube of Crest, four combs, a pair of clippers, tweezers, Q-Tips, and two pill bottles. One pill bottle was half full of Hydrocodone. Greg wondered why the dentist gave him so much Hydrocodone. He thought of selling the Hydrocodone to someone who likes downers. There was a wisdom tooth in the other bottle. Greg wondered why the dentist gave him the wisdom tooth. He opened the pill bottle. Greg looked at enamel and blood. He closed the pill bottle and placed it in the cabinet. Greg pulled his hand out of the cabinet and hit the Pepto Bismol. The Pepto Bismol fell from the cabinet. The cap opened and Pepto Bismol spilled on the floor and bathtub.

Greg heard his stomach growl. He wondered how long a human can survive on a bag of peanuts.

Greg heard the front door open. He heard Jeff say something. Greg looked at the pink spill. He imagined cleaning the spill with toilet paper and the toilet paper falling apart. “I gotta piss,” said Pat. Pat set two bags on the couch and walked to the bathroom.

“Damn, what’s up Greg?”

“Spilling shit, you know.”

“I see that. Can I piss or do you have to clean it now?”

“Sure,” said Greg. He walked to the kitchen and got a roll of paper towels. He walked to the bathroom. Pat didn’t shut the door. Greg waited.

“Looks like you’re looking for something,” said Pat. He looked over his shoulder into the cabinet.

“Yeah,” said Greg.

“What’re you looking for?”

“Nothing,” said Greg. “My hand sanitizer.”

Pat flushed and zipped up. He stepped in Pepto Bismol.

“Watch your shoe.”

“What? Oh shit.”

“Here,” Greg handed Pat a paper towel.

“Thanks. What’re you looking for?” Pat wiped his shoe and looked into the cabinet. “Is that a tooth?”

“Yeah.”

“Why do you have a tooth?”

“I don’t know. Dentist just gave it to me.”

Pat looked at Greg and smiled. Pat walked to Greg and touched Greg’s back. “It’s good to see you,” said Pat. Greg nodded his head. He got on his knees and cleaned the spill.

DRIVER’S LICENSE

IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT. Carl looks at the audience. The audience focuses on the reader. Carl tries to focus on the reader. He sips his beer. Carl listens to a few lines and looks at Jill. Her mouth is drooping a little. Carl looks at her and thinks, “She’s bored.”

He taps her on the elbow. She looks at him and smiles. Carl nods. They walk outside.

They open cigarette packs. Jill searches her purse. Carl pats his pockets. Jill hands Carl a lighter.

Carl says, “Thanks. This is boring.”

Jill says, “It’s okay.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s fine. It’s different.”

Jill talks. “My real dad,” she says, “is a Republican asshole. He lives in Arizona and I never see him.” Carl watches her nose. He thinks of a Persian man standing alone in the desert. She says, “And my stepdad is just a dick.” A Crown Victoria passes.

Carl says, “Where does he live?”

Jill says, “He’s here. All he cares about is money though.” Carl looks at her teeth. He tries to think of a metaphor for her teeth. A Dodge Neon passes. Carl thinks, “Her teeth are like what?” Carl tries to think of things white and ordered. Carl thinks, “No, they’re just nice teeth.”

“I used to work for him. He’s a developer. I worked in his office with three other women. One of them hated me.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. She’s just a bitch who couldn’t keep her id in check.”

Carl thought “Wikipedia ‘id’ later.” Carl laughed so Jill wouldn’t think he couldn’t remember what “id” meant.

Carl sees the reader in the window. He wishes he could sustain focus on the reader. Jill has switched topics. She says, “No one flirted with me in Belgium. I hate Belgium.” Carl wonders how Belgium came up.

Carl says, “Do you want to get out of here.”

Jill says, “Sure.” Carl watches her bottom lip.

Jill says, “Where do you want to go?”

Carl touches his wallet. He remembers he has three dollars. He doesn’t want to start a tab. He wants to lay Jill down on his bed. Carl says, “Want to have a beer at my house?”

Jill says, “Sure.”

Carl says, “Good.” He looks at the reader in the window. The reader’s eyes are closed.

They are on Carl’s porch. Carl smokes. Jill talks. Carl’s roof shades Jill’s mouth.

Jill says, “I dated a screenwriter once. He only showed his stuff to his family and friends.”

Carl thinks, “She’s talking about Gary.”

Jill says, “I mean, that’s not going to get you anywhere.”

Carl thinks, “Why are you not saying his name?”

Jill says, “Never date your roommates. I mean, I love him to pieces, but we just don’t get along.”

Carl places a hand on her back. He leans in and kisses Jill.

“Hey there, young people.”

Carl looks at the street and sees a homeless man. The homeless man has on a red hat.

The homeless man says, “Listen y’all. I’m not homeless. I ran out of gas down the street and I’m trying to get to San Antonio. Can y’all spare any change?”

“Sorry. Don’t have any cash.” Carl thinks of three ones in his wallet.

The homeless man says, “Thank you. God bless you.”

They are on Carl’s bed. Carl thinks, “Her stubble feels kind of nice.” Jill bites Carl’s bottom lip. Carl tugs her hair. Her purse falls off the bed. Jill and Carl fall off the bed. Jill laughs and catches her breath.

Jill says, “I should get to walking.”

Carl puts a shirt on and follows Jill. She stops at the door. Jill presses her face against Carl’s face. Carl thinks, “She’s going home to Gary.” Jill bites Carl’s bottom lip. Carl thinks, “It’s 3 a.m.”

Carl says, “Do you want me to walk you home?”

Carl thinks, “Gary.”

Jill says, “No.”

Carl says, “Okay.”

Carl thinks, “Good.”

Jill bites Carl’s bottom lip. Carl thinks, “Stay.” Jill opens the door. Carl says, “When can I see you again?” Jill walks down the steps. She waves. Carl runs his tongue behind his bottom lip and feels pain.

It’s Sunday morning. Carl lays on his bed. Carl thinks, “Two fathers.” He imagines Gary’s bad teeth and tweed suit. Carl remembers seeing Gary at a party. Gary talked about James Baldwin. Carl said, “Going to find the bathroom man,” and walked away.

Carl gets up from his bed. He sees her driver’s license on the floor. Carl thinks “She will have to come back.” He writes an email.

Thanks for coming out with me. You left your id at my house. It must have fallen out of your purse when you attacked me 😉 I’ll be home all day.

Carl scans for typos. He looks at the winking emoticon. Carl thinks “Should I use the regular emoticon?” He wonders how Jill will perceive his joke. Carl thinks, “Would she read that sentence as id or ID?” He remembers Jill saying, “She’s just a bitch that can’t keep her ‘id’ in check.” Carl looks up “Id” on Wikipedia. He reads the entry and feels confused. Carl deletes “id” and types out “lisense.” The spellchecker underlines the word in red. Carl deletes “lisense” and replaces it with “ID.” He clicks send.

Carl thinks, “Lives with Gary. Loves him to pieces.”

It’s Monday. Carl checks his email. There’s an offer of discounted hotel rates in Cancun. There’s an evite to a robot theme party. The party requires attendees to dress up “like your favorite robot.”

Carl’s mother forwarded a chain email. It’s a series of quotes from Andy Rooney. “I think if you feel homosexuality is wrong, it’s not a phobia, it’s an opinion.” The quotes are followed by pictures of kittens and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Carl opens the last email from Jill.

i’d love to go to the reading. i don’t read enough! 🙂

Carl thinks “Lowercase! Regular emoticon!” He reads the message again. Carl thinks, “She walked home at 3 a.m.” He imagines the homeless man with the red hat following her. Carl imagines being questioned by detectives. He imagines stuttering and getting his stories mixed up and having his head slammed on a table. Carl goes to work.

Carl gets home from work. He checks his email. Heath Miller sent Carl a Facebook invite to a housewarming party. Carl thinks, “Haven’t talked to Heath Miller in 10 years.” The housewarming party is in Nebraska. Carl clicks Maybe Attending. Carl’s mother forwarded a chain email. It’s in Comic Sans. There’s a picture of a cross over a schoolhouse. “When they took prayer out of school, students started shooting.” A spam email says, “Party with the horse team she takes for a long walk!” Carl imagines Jill naked on a horse. He imagines Jill being pulled from the horse by the homeless man in the red hat. Carl tries to stop his imagination. Carl imagines detectives showing him pictures of Jill’s body.

It’s Tuesday. Carl’s alarm buzzes. He checks his email. An old girlfriend posted a YouTube video on his Facebook. The video is a bunny eating a dandelion. The bunny finishes the dandelion and wipes his paws over his mouth. The bunny wipes fast. Carl smiles.

Carl gets a cigarette and walks out to his balcony. Two police cars park in front of his house. A policeman gets out of each car. The policemen are wearing jeans. Carl thinks, “This will be my last cigarette for a while.” One policeman opens his trunk and pulls out a black case. The policemen walk toward Carl’s house. Carl thinks, “We were at a reading. We left. She walked home around 3 a.m.” Carl wonders if they found his lip-DNA in her teeth. The policemen walk past Carl’s house.

Carl remembers Jill’s face. He remembers her real father lives in Kansas. He remembers she didn’t get along with her stepfather. He remembers her stepfather is a Republican asshole. He thinks, “No, her stepfather only cares about money.” He imagines a man with a mustache smoking a large cigar and counting money.

Carl imagines a Belgian man passing her over for a blonde woman with red lipstick.

Carl looks at her ID. He thinks the photo is pretty. Jill is 5’9”. She is 122 pounds. She lives three blocks from him. Carl types Jill’s address into Google Maps. He goes into “Street View” and zooms in. The house is white and the mailbox is stuffed with envelopes.

RUE DE SOMETHING

I LOOK FOR a street sign. I am sweating and there’s a cramp in my foot. A man questions me in French. He is wearing sandals, jeans, a Milan jersey. I think, “Oh no” then say, “I don’t speak French.” He nods, holds up a finger, and walks to a man bleeding from the knee. The man bleeding from the knee yells in English, “Do you have band-aid?” I shake my head and say, “I’m sorry.” I walk on my toes and the cramp goes away.

I see an Airstream trailer with a Nutella sign. There are two girls in the Airstream trailer. The two girls are speaking French very fast. One girl has acne, the other girl is blonde. The blonde girl looks at me, then looks at her phone. The girl with acne looks at me. “One Nutella crepe,” I say to the girl with acne. I give her two euro notes. The girl with acne makes the crepe. The girl with acne hands me the crepe. “Mercí.” The blonde girl waves me off and begins speaking French very fast. I walk away and eat the crepe. The crepe makes me thirsty. I forgot a napkin. I look back at the Airstream trailer. The blonde girl is speaking very fast. I keep walking.

I imagine my voice is someone else’s voice. The someone else is named Michael.

Michael says, “What was with those girls?”

“Teenage girls don’t like working.”

I remember the man feeding birds. He fed them in the gardens in front of the giant museum. “Bird man was cool. Birds on his fingers, eating from his palm.”

Michael says, “Like he was one with nature or something.”

“There was a crowd. This euro dude in a mesh shirt and combat boots flicked his fingers at the birds. They got freaked out and flew away. The crowd left.”

Michael says, “Euro dudes.”

There are two men in harnesses hanging a banner on the side of an apartment building. The men ease their pulleys and ropes and watch an African woman walk by. The African woman is wearing a pink skirt. The African woman has long legs. Michael disappears and I watch the African woman with the men in harnesses.

I breathe and begin walking. The cramp returns to my foot. I walk on my toes. Michael returns. He says, “It’s hot and your mouth is sticky with Nutella.” Tourists are cleaning children or pointing at maps. I wonder where I can get a map. I wonder if there are kiosks for lost Americans. I imagine a wooden stand painted with stars and stripes. They sell Rand McNally maps, Evian, keychains, Wet Wipes, Scope, band-aids. The salespeople speak perfect English and are helpful. I could say, “Excuse me, where are the band-aids?” and the sales person would say, “Band-aids are on your left sir.” I could say, “Thanks” and the sales person would smile. I could buy band-aids and take them to the man bleeding from the knee.

Michael says, “Ask one of the tourists along the sidewalk.” I imagine making a “yeah, right” face at Michael. I walk on my toes. There is a sweat bead in my eyelash. Where’s the street sign? I am looking for Rue-de-something.

I walk over a hill and see a river. Tourists are boarding a boat. The boat is wide and has rows of white seats lining the deck. I look for a sign that tells me how much. I don’t see one.

Michael says, “There’s isn’t a sign in this entire country.”

“There was a sign for the crepes and I got a crepe.”

Michael says, “Yeah, now you’re thirsty as fuck.”

Michael disappears. I give a twenty euro note to a girl with a nose stud. “Mercí.” She smiles and points to a row of white seats. I wait for change. She moves to the next passenger. The white seat burns. Michael returns. He says, “You don’t get change? Twenty euros for a hot ass?”

The boat budges from the dock. The water is black. I think about guillotines. I imagine lobbed-off heads splashing into the black water. I imagine a large pile of lobbed-off heads at the bottom of the black water. I imagine falling into the water and feeling hair from the lobbed heads under my toes.

The passengers look at buildings along the river. One couple is well-dressed. The man is older, grey hair, round glasses. He is talking and waving his hand. The woman is young and she looks pleased. I give them movie names: Marcel and Cleo. I imagine Marcel is a history professor and Cleo is a girl from a wealthy family. I imagine Marcel offered Cleo a tour of the city and Cleo suggested a boat ride on the river. I imagine Marcel pausing, touching his round glasses, looking at Cleo’s breasts, agreeing. I want Marcel to tell me if there are heads at the bottom of the river. I want Cleo to tell me what her family is like. Marcel looks at me looking at Cleo. I look away.

Michael says, “Kill yourself dude.”

The boat docks. I walk across the plank and up some stairs to the sidewalk. I see a line of tourists waiting to enter a museum. There is a woman with a water bottle carrier strapped across her chest. She frowns at a little boy playing in the line ropes. On each side of her mouth is a deep wrinkle pointing to her chin. She yanks the little boy from the line ropes and scolds him in a language I think is from a Slavic country.

I walk into a small room. A museum guide stands near a painting of a naked woman with open legs. He says, “It’s called Origin of the World.” He lifts an eyebrow. A woman smiles into her hand.

I walk around the corner. There is a fountain. There are six babies in the fountain. Four of the babies are lying in the fountain. Two of the babies are peeing in the fountain. “This means something,” Michael says, “I just don’t care what.”

I see a bathroom sign in English. Michael says, “They have signs telling you where to eat crepes and shit crepes.” I drink from the water fountain. I drink until I have no feelings of thirst. I drink more and think of camels. I think of growing some kind of sac for saving water. I imagine it extending from my back and doing some kind of gagging motion to relieve thirst.

I walk into the gift shop. The gift shop has calendars, tote bags, postcards, Evian, band-aids, t-shirts, coffee mugs and a machine which prints images on coffee mugs. Michael says, “Buy a mug with the pussy painting.” I buy Evian and band-aids. I add up two museums, the boat, crepe, Evian, band-aids. I calculate exchange rates. A number enters my mind. Michael is making jokes about the Origin of the World. The number leaves my mind. I leave the museum and begin to sweat. I look for a street sign.

About the Author

Timothy Willis Sanders (b. 1980) is a writer in San Francisco, CA. His work has appeared in Nano Fiction, Noö Weekly, New Wave Vomit and elsewhere.