Sara Shea — EZ Money

EZ Money
by Sara Shea

This the ring?” The man behind the register at EZ Money Pawn Shop asked. His cool, steady gaze was on the girl, as she slid the ring over a slender knuckle.

He already knew the ring was hers. The tan line on her finger gave it away. Exact outline of the gold filigree. He felt bad for her. She was young, pretty … dazed and starring at the ring with wide eyes.

Intimidated by his piercing blue eyes and severe features, she’d nearly fled from EZ Money without inquiring. Too innocent to know his hard gaze resulted from decades dealings with addicts, thieves and liars; she’d only sensed he could see right through her.

“I’ll call the police if you wanna press charges. I’ll get an officer out to file a report.” She stared up at him; a deer in headlights. “Or you can just buy it back. Without pressing. Up to you. I take cash.”


She’d met Nick three years ago. They’d tumbled into love. After her grandmother died, he’d suggested they move in together and rent a one-bedroom near the lake. She felt grateful Nick had been there for her at a difficult time. She’d never lived with anyone else besides Nana.

She’d waitressed while Nick ran rentals, boat repairs at his friend Gordy’s marina. Out on lake summer nights, drinking Rolling Rocks with Nick and skinning dipping under the stars, her life had finally made sense again. Thus, she didn’t want to admit that he’d changed.

Nick’s late nights with Gordy; days he’d slept through work, his moodiness, strange anxious behavior … tip money gone missing from her purse. She’d discovered the drugs last week. Prescription bottles of painkillers in Gordy’s name. Then the ring had vanished. The ruby nana had left her.


“Watcha wanna do?” the man at EZ Money asked again. “Press charges or pay cash?

Irving A. Greenfield — A Symphonic Afternoon

A Symphonic Afternoon
by Irving A. Greenfield

Mario’s fourth epiphany occurred in Avery Fisher Hall. He came into Manhattan from Fairfield, Connecticut, to attend a 2 o’clock performance of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the featured soloist, a young Russian violinist, who would play Dvorak’s Violin Concerto.

Mario bought a ticket for the cheapest seat—a third tier box seat—though he readily could have afforded to buy a center orchestra seat. But he was there to immerse himself in the music and not be distracted by the conductor’s bouncing movements. In his opinion, having a conductor was just another example of showmanship and had nothing to do with the music.

Though there was an elevator to the third tier, Mario slowly climbed the marble steps. He told himself it was good for his heart, and therefore worth enduring the pain in his arthritic knees and hip joints.

Settled in his seat, Mario laid his coat neatly over his lap, took out his white metal frame glasses and began to read the program notes. He read carefully. None of the three pieces to be played were familiar. In addition to the Violin Concerto, there was another Dvorak composition, the “Overture” to The Devil and Kate, and Tchaikovsky’s Second Symphony, the Little Russian.

When he finished reading the program notes, Mario replaced his glasses in the outside breast pocket of his brown tweed jacket; and the folded program went into the inside breast pocket to show Anya, his wife. But he knew that she wouldn’t even bother to feign an interest in how he spent the afternoon. Rather than think about Anya and become upset, he gave his attention to what was happening in the concert hall. A French horn player and a trombonist tuned their instruments. Two violinists began to bow.

Suddenly the woman on his left said, “Isn’t it exciting to see and hear such a talent?”

He was about to answer, because the soloist will be on the conductor’s left, we will not see him. That would have been an accurate statement. But instead, he smiled and said, “Certainly to hear him.” Though it was half an answer, it seemed to satisfy her.

More of the players drifted to their places. The timpanist tuned his drums.

Mario’s attention was again diverted by the woman next to him. She said, “I have a subscription. I spent the morning in the museum and come here in the afternoon. Friday is my culture day,” she laughed.

Because it was an open invitation to engage in conversation and the woman seemed to be so jovial, Mario answered. “I’m in the city for the concert,” he said looking at her. She had gray hair done up in a bun, tortoise frame eyeglasses and wore a white jacket with a green sweater under it, and black slacks. In his opinion, carelessness not fit for a concert hall. He, on the other hand was fittingly dressed for the occasion: wearing a white shirt, a Brown tie and tan slacks and a brown Harris Tweed jacket, perfect attire for the afternoon event.

“I live within walking distance,” she said.

“I don’t think I could take the city on a full-time basis,” Mario responded. “I’m always thankful when I return home.”

Her round face became pensive, and several moments passed before she said, “I like the country, especially the seashore. From time to time, I go to Cape Cod or Sag Harbor. I’ve done paintings of each of those places. But the city—well, it throbs and I like the throb.”

Out of courtesy, he asked, “Should I know your work?”

She laughed, “I’m just an amateur painter with a means to indulge my amateurism.”

He was going to say she was in an enviable position. But he was in one too. He had been left a considerable sum of money by his father and received a substantial monthly pension check from the university where he had taught philosophy for thirty years.

“Painting provides me with another language, a way of expressing myself,” she said.

It was the way she said it—the self-congratulatory tone that immediately rankled him.

During his thirty years of teaching, he had heard and had read so much about self-expression that he had come to believe it was just another excuse a certain type of person would use to avoid responsibility either for an act of omission or commission. He wondered which of the two it was in her case.

“I’m not very good, but I have a great deal of fun being not very good,” she said with a smile.

Mario wanted to end the conversation before the woman said something that would disturb him. At sixty-six he was easily disturbed. Luckily the house lights dimmed, and there was a burst of applause for the concertmaster who began tuning the orchestra.

“Enjoy,” the woman said.

Mario managed a smile.

The conductor came on stage, and the applause was louder than it had been a few moments before and lasted longer. Eventually the applause subsided. A heavy silence filled the hall broken by several staccato coughs. Then, the music began.

The first selection, the overture to The Devil and Kate, didn’t last long enough to impress Mario. But the audience applauded wildly. The conductor took his customary walk offstage, returned and left again for several minutes while the stagehands rearranged the chairs to accommodate the additional instrumentalists for the Violin Concerto.

“The last piece had such lovely dance music,” the woman next to him said. “You could just feel the youthful exuberance.”

“Perhaps that youthful exuberance was a youthful lack of ability,” Mario suggested. “And to cover, if you will, to hide what he lacked the talent to express.”

The woman looked as if she were about to answer; but another burst of applause signaled the arrival of the conductor and the soloist.

The house became quiet and the music started.

Closing his eyes, Mario listened intently. The soloist played deftly and with emotional involvement. The music was intricate, and Mario found himself drifting away from it. Anya was the cause. She was his third wife. Lily was his first. He had been married to her for twenty-three years, long enough for his son, Paul, to graduate from college. He had endured almost a quarter of a century of marital and agony. He would have ended it sooner; but he not only had a son to consider, he also at that time had been a practicing Catholic.

The marriage ended without any explosion, not even a whimper. On a Friday afternoon he walked into the kitchen and said, “I’ve had enough. I’m leaving.” Lily didn’t even bother to look up from whatever she was doing, washing her hands, Mario remembered.

Four years later, Mario married a former student of his, Ellie. The marriage lasted two years. The woman was pathologically jealous; and he was guiltless of any marital indiscretion.

Shortly after his divorce from Ellie, his father died. His mother had died while he had been married to Lily. With a sizable inheritance from both his parents, he no longer had to scrape by on a professor’s salary out of which he had to pay two alimonies. His new status had enabled him to consider marriage again. By this time, he had met and had fallen in love with Anya, an Indian woman.

Of his three wives, Anya was the most beautiful and twenty-three years younger than he. She had a classic Indian face, black flashing eyes, waist-long, black hair that at times seemed to be iridescent, and exquisitely proportioned body. Her beauty captivated him; held him spellbound. Looking at her nude body not only gave him erotic pleasure but also artistic delight. Her breasts were high in fall with large pink nipples. Her ivory colored skin had a unique scent, especially when she oiled it with body lotion. And, unlike his supremely first wife, she thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of sexual intimacy.

Mario frowned; and the flow of the music caught him again. But the frown lingered. His own sexual needs and her ability—obviously her desire to fulfill them waned as he became more cognizant of the intellectual disparity between them, or so it seemed. But in truth he was aware of the difference between them before they married. She was an ordinary woman with no more than a secondary education while he had a doctorate in philosophy and taught aspects of it, especially those connected with Platonism, at the University. He hoped his overwhelming feelings for her would compensate for her lack of intellectual maturity. Even with this hope for their future, he came close to cancelling the marriage, but couldn’t see any way to do it and continue to maintain his dignity.

The sudden eruption of applause wrenched Mario away from his thoughts and back into the concert hall.

“Wasn’t that wonderful?” The woman next to him asked.

“Yes, quite spectacular,” Mario answered.

“It’s soulful music,” she said.


She laughed. “You know—the longing that is expressed. Something just beyond reach.”

Mario cocked his head to the left and raised his eyebrows.

“Haven’t you ever had that feeling that—you know something is out there but you can’t grasp it? I feel that way about my painting. Even with my dabbling, I feel I could do something… something better. But it’s not within my grasp.”

Mario nodded gravely. He understood what she said. “Yes, I know exactly what you mean.” His tone of voice matched his considered nod.

The conductor returned for the last number on the program, The Little Russian Symphony.

Mario thought about the woman’s words. They expressed something about his own ideas about art, but they also expressed his concept of love—the passion, the sexuality, and the intellectual ties between a man and woman. He knew his problem: he wanted to be loved absolutely; and none of the women he married were capable of that kind of absolutism. Lily was passionless. Ellie’s accusations killed his desire. Though Anya had the passion, but she mistook soap opera reality for REALITY never bothering to think about those things that he spent his life thinking about. Once he asked her what she thought about good and evil; and she answered, “They exist.” He waited for some sort of development, a follow-up. But none came. “Why do they exist?” he pushed.

Anya shrugged. With her eyes glued to whatever nonsense she was watching on the TV she said, “Does it really matter?”

Mario wanted to scream, Of course it matters. It matters very much. But he restrained himself and walked out of the room.

Suddenly Mario sensed the end of one of the symphonies’ movements was coming. But because he had not been following the music, he had no idea which one it would be.

The music’s last three chords sounded and the applause exploded.

To Mario surprise the symphony had ended.

“What a delightful afternoon!” The woman next to him said; and she clapped vigorously each of three times the conductor reappeared on the stage.

The applause subsided. The house lights came up; and the people began to gather up their coats and move into the aisle.

Mario followed the woman.

When they reached the corridor behind the box, she said, “It was a pleasure to speak to you.” She held out her hand. “My name is Florence Winter, but my friends call me Flo.”

Mario took her hand and shook it. “The pleasure was mine,” he responded “I’m Dr. Mario Fusco.”

“A medical doctor?” She asked.

“To my father’s disappointment, only a Dr. of philosophy,” he answered. They were still holding hands, and he liked the feel of her hand in his.

“I’m impressed with anyone who has the stamina to get any kind of doctoral degree,” she said.

Mario nodded and released her hand.

“Will you be here next week?” She asked looking at him as they walk toward the stairs.

Mario hesitated looked at her as if he was seeing her for the first time, and with a smile, he answered: “Yes, I think I will.”

Lou Gaglia – Hiatus

by Lou Gaglia

After his regular Friday night T’ai Chi lesson at Carnegie Hall, Frank walked down Seventh Avenue for only one block before turning, as usual, down the quieter, less crowded 56th Street on the way to the Sixth Avenue F train. Fifty-Sixth Street was well-lit, quiet but not isolated, and 6th Avenue was more open than the tightly-packed Seventh. On these streets he liked to think about Josephine’s lessons, committing her notes to memory and letting what he learned sink in.

Josephine was almost five feet tall and ninety years old, and she moved like a thirty year old. She was sharp and gentle and demanding and exacting and positive all at the same time. She taught creatively and always delved for meaning and subtlety. Tonight she’d talked about activity and stillness, how important it was for the mind to be aware, during a form, of the parts of the body that were still as well as the parts that were moving.

He thought there was something beautiful about being aware of what was moving and what was still, but he didn’t know why it was beautiful.

When he reached 6th Avenue he almost turned immediately right, but the light turned green so he crossed the street. He liked to walk through the city, liked to walk fast, and didn’t like to stop. Often when he reached a corner he turned right or left rather than wait for a green light, then crossed later when and where he could. If ever his walking route could be mapped out, it may have consisted of almost all green zigs and zags.

A few blocks from the Rockefeller Center train, as he neared the corner of 55th Street, he heard pops—two and then another—from across the street. Figures moved hurriedly behind the glass lobby windows of the Hilton. And then another pop, and a flash. Frank stepped down into a small courtyard in front of an office building and ducked behind a bush growing out of a large cement pot. He saw them move toward the door, and so he ducked his way from cement-potted bush to cement-potted bush and then crossed 55th Street from behind a truck without looking toward the Hilton. He stayed close to the buildings, walking quickly, and his heart raced.

People passed him going in the opposite direction. A man in a long coat, unaware…two women soon after….

He wanted to tell them, but they passed so fast—or maybe he did. His green zig-zag on the map would now be green streak interrupted with large red dots. When he reached the subway stairs he heard the train and ran down, jumping the last few steps as the downtown F came to a stop. He stepped inside just before the door closed and sat down near it, gripping the cold silver pole.

He watched the impassive faces of people all around him, some standing but most sitting, and blew out a huge sigh, feeling safe there underground speeding along a tunnel among strangers.


Although East Broadway and Market and Monroe Streets were darker and more solitary, Frank felt safer as he walked home from the subway. In his courtyard, three ladies who always seemed to be sitting on the third bench gave him warm hellos. He stepped into the elevator in his building just before the door closed. Lena from upstairs, his former student in her late teens, was inside leaning into the far corner.

“Hey Lena.”


He pressed number six and looked at the closed brown door.

“My mutha says hello,” she said.

“Oh! Say hi back. I haven’t seen her.”

“She’s sick.” He turned to look at her. “She thinks she’s sick. She keeps fainting or something.”

“Didn’t she get checked?”

“They don’t know what it is.” She sighed and looked upwards with a frown. “I think she’s faking it.”

The elevator slowed to a halt, and the door swung open. “Well, tell her I miss her laundry room banter.”

“She don’t banter.,” Lena said, moving up to press the close button. “She just yells.”

He smiled. “Tell her I said hi anyway.”

A month earlier a friend of Lena’s had jumped from the roof to her death. She’d jumped on the side of the building opposite the courtyard into the alley used only by maintenance workers. This was the first time he’d seen Lena since, but he’d seen the four Boccia brothers, also former students, sobbing in the courtyard before they went on a several days rampage against any innocent who got in their way—upsetting the shopping carts of older Chinese women, threatening strangers who came into the courtyard, drinking openly, laughing and cursing and daring security to call the cops on them.

At his apartment door, Frank glanced over at Rita’s door across from his before he unlocked. Rita was in her eighties, and the last time he’d seen her, her leg was wrapped up and she walked with difficulty, using a cane. “I’m an old lady,” she’d laughed when he wondered what could be done for it. “There’s no reason to get anything fixed at my age.”

Inside, he locked up, threw his jacket on the couch, and gazed out the window. Lena’s friend would have landed somewhere near the front steps, he thought, where people came and went constantly, even now at 9 P.M. But she’d wanted to be considerate, maybe, or private, or just invisible.

He shuddered, remembering the Hilton shooting, Josephine’s interesting words about paying attention to stillness during activity far away now. Josephine had broken her hip in a fall only a year before, pushed down after a theater production while exiting among a large crowd. Now she was back, at ninety, teaching again, walking easily, speaking and thinking like a thirty year old. She didn’t believe there was no reason to get anything fixed at her age.

He wanted to feel palpably Josephine’s determination and will again. But Rita’s resignation and the girl’s suicide and the Hilton shooting raced through his mind. And then there was that other shooting, six years before. He sat on his windowsill and looked directly below at a young family with two small children sitting on the benches…

On East Broadway as he walked home from work, the thin man in the dungaree jacket appeared next to him, slightly in front, and fired three-four shots quickly a little silver gun and the girl four years old or younger holding her mother’s hand dropped forward and down he wasn’t playing he shot her not playing and she was on the concrete and her mother folded herself down to the falling girl and the man curled back behind Frank into the alley and Frank still hearing shots ducked behind the bakery wall and then jumped inside.

“Call 911!” he shouted.

“You call,” said a voice, so he raced to a back room but heard the sirens before he could dial. The police were already there when he went back outside. The ambulance was on the way. There was absolute silence in the crowd of almost all Chinese people surrounding the woman. She screamed and sobbed over the child.

Frank looked at the sky. “God,” he said.

Uniformed police asked with disgust through the silence who saw it. “I did,” Frank called out and felt the crowd’s eyes on him as the ambulance arrived and police hustled him behind a van. They questioned him and then took him to a car.

“I’m not getting in there,” he said, seeing a young Chinese man in the back seat.

“He’s another witness,” the officer scoffed.

They drove him through the neighborhood, past basketball courts and handball courts and side streets, but all he remembered was the jacket and the small silver gun…

He went into the kitchen and grabbed a few crackers from the pantry, then picked up his jacket from the couch and walked out of the apartment.


He intended to walk to the Brooklyn Bridge the long way, past Columbus Park and then the court buildings. On the way he bought The Daily News and tucked it under his arm, thinking briefly of stopping at Rokka’s for a coffee, but he didn’t want to see anyone he knew.

Glancing down East Broadway before crossing Chatham Square, Frank saw the spot in the distance where the little girl had been shot. She had died afterwards, and the shooters were never caught, or he would have been called to be a witness. There were three shooters because the police had told him it was a triangular hit attempt on another gang member who was beyond the little girl on his side, a guy all three shooters missed. Frank could have sworn the man shooting the silver gun had been aiming downward, right at the little girl, not beyond her at some gang member.

So he went the opposite way, to the bridge, and maybe he’d walk all the way to his old neighborhood in Brooklyn, stopping on the way at the diner on Clinton Street where he’d get his coffee, pie and sports section: his cure for the blues.

Frank liked to watch faces, so he glanced in turn at those who came toward him down the wood-slatted incline of the bridge. None of them exchanged looks with him, so he watched freely a large group going out together, dressed up. Men were dressed in suits or in jeans and t-shirts like him, alone. Women were alone walking fast, or in pairs, walking slowly. Some teens walked in large groups, and there were young couples, a few pushing strollers that Frank didn’t look into. An older couple walked slowly while others passed them on both sides. He stopped watching when he reached the center at the top of the incline, and walked fast all the way down into Brooklyn.

The sports section and coffee at the diner helped him think baseball and basketball for a while, but after he finished reading and sat sipping his coffee, the shooting of the little girl and the older girl’s suicide and the Hilton shots flashed into his mind. He tried to shake it all away, wanted to be somewhere else again. Impatiently he left the entire bill, plus tip, on the counter and hurried back to the bridge.

Halfway across again, at the height of the walkway, he decided to sit on one of the benches under the huge arched towers. He faced downtown Manhattan and watched the lights, the projects quiet from where he sat, while below the walkway traffic hummed loudly. Idly he opened the paper again and read from the front this time, having exhausted the sports section.

A few pages in, he scanned an article about an Arkansas man who was forced by some ex-friends to eat his own beard in a dispute over a borrowed lawnmower. At the top of the article was a photo of the man, showing a wild brown scruffy beard still attached (or newly grown). He wore a baseball cap and had a vacant look in his eyes and parted lips.

Frank laughed out loud and shook his head, then read the first two paragraphs. The man’s ex-friends had guns and knives, and they shaved the victim’s beard and forced him to eat it. Frank didn’t read far enough yet to find out how deeply involved the lawnmower was. He rubbed his eyes to keep from laughing again and looked at the Friday night crowd rushing by him on the bridge, not one of them noticing him sitting there.

He read the rest of the article. It was written as though it were a deadly serious crime, and the ex-friends were being sought. No tongue-in-cheek comments from the reporter…nothing about the lawnmower’s involvement in the crime, either as accomplice, victim, or object of jealousy.

Frank chuckled, folding the newspaper tightly and tossing it into the bent steel garbage can beside him. He watched each face as it went by, wondering what was going on in each mind. Was it a swirl of complicated thinking and feeling in this person, or little eddies of thought in that one, or nothing much at all in those?

Did any of them wonder at how perfectly still one T’ai Chi hand could be, while the other turned so slowly and precisely, at the same time as the entire body—legs, arms, waist, and head—moved in tempo, all parts finishing a form at once? Were any of them wondering at their own beating hearts or at their racing minds that felt the present and flashed back to many moments and looked forward, all at once? Did they wonder at the stillness of death and where they went after that? Did any of them think that even a thing like that was at once beautiful and horrible? If he shared this, grabbed one of them by the shoulders and wondered aloud, would any of them think so too and wonder about it with him?

Would any passing person crash into despair too, remembering a little girl dying, or an older one?

He watched their faces, looking intently into as many of them as he could. They were all strangely beautiful in their preoccupation or oblivion, but why did they so intently walk some place if life could end so quickly, if it couldn’t tell them that they would always be someone, or become no one?

He thought of going to the bookstore on Crosby Street, or maybe to Fay Da Bakery on Mott, or maybe just home to sleep, but he didn’t make a move. In the morning he knew the sun would be up and he’d feel like going to a bookstore or a bakery, but now it didn’t matter if he went to any of those places or if he just sat there all night perfectly still.

Raouf Mousaad Basta – Fata morgana in Amsterdam

Fata morgana in Amsterdam
by Raouf Mousaad Basta

It was after two months in the Camp: the political refugee camp on this island, which is not sure of its name. Then at last I received an invitation from my lawyer to discuss my case.

My case is simple, but my lawyer thinks it is not easy. (I met her only once before. She had been appointed by some ministry.) In this country they think many things are not easy.

However, I told her—my lawyer—“madame lawyer, I do not care about the result of the trial. I care about one thing: going back.”

She asked: “Back where?”

I said: “Back to the desert.”

Of course, she—like all people here—wants to find logical reasons for human behavior. Logical! From the beginning ‘they’ did not know what to do with me. I had come to ask justice but they arrested me to subject me to their own justice.

I told them: “Sorry to have come without visa, just let me go back” but they said: “Sorry. You cannot go back till we subject you to our justice. Then you can go back.”

And so on and so on. It just means they want to punish me.

I know also she wants to wash her hands off me and off my case. I do not blame her. She told me in our first meeting in her expensive office at one of the canals, that my case confused her. Jokingly she said that. I asked her why. She said because I challenged the basis of her convictions as a lawyer. I did not understand it but…I did not comment. I know now that I made a mistake.


If you ask me now what mistake and why this is happening, I can tell you in length the whole story of the journey, which became more important and even more interesting than the reason of the journey itself.

I have no special likening or hatred for the cities and countries and refugee camps I passed through asking justice. They are just places which belong to other people different from me in everything: color of skin, language, habits, even the way they laugh and of course the climate and food of these places.

However, in spite of all that or perhaps because of all that I do not care much about these places, countries, people, language, food, climate, etcetera, because I know I am not going to stay here and live in a small concrete place like my cousin.

And, by the way, I did not come here to look for work or to live or even to visit my cousin who has a shop in Amsterdam. The mistake I mentioned before, was that I came looking for a mirage in concrete buildings around people who have their own way of justice.


For a person like me, born in a tent in the desert with lots of space around, there are many ways of justice. For instance if a camel enters the small farm of my aunt Fatima we do not punch the camel, we give Fatima something instead .But If the camel insists on visiting her farm, we give her the camel and she is free to do what she likes with it. Most probably, she will let him go on eating.

This land here, small and with watery grey rainy mornings, long dark rainy nights, gives me uneasy feelings about myself and the idea of asking help and justice. I was born near the mountain on top of which, according to the popular belief, God spoke to Moses when Moses and his people were looking for refuge. Everybody knows that the desert is the land of refuge.

When somebody comes to us to ask for help and refuge we do not put him in prison (we do not even have one … although the government has many), but we put him in the guest tent, offer him food and water, and after three days we would go to him and ask him what he wants.

My family earned their money and reputation by giving refuge to people and by leading believers to the top of the Mountain, either by mules or by foot (for those who want to suffer more than others). When I was very young, I used to climb the Mountain, waiting for the voice of God to speak to me, because I was stuttering like Moses. I grew out of stuttering and wishing to hear voices from the Mountain.

But then when I became fifty-six, I had to leave the Mountain, the tent, my family and the desert, traveling to other countries, asking for justice, or, because I thought that I should fight for justice I had to travel, leaving behind me the interrogations, torture (and possible death).

But let me tell the story slowly, in my old way of telling things, not in the new quick way people want to hear things from someone like me “please can you hurry up, we do not have all the time in the world ” smiling politely (or so they think), to show “no offence intended”. I am not sure why, as they spend a lot of time sitting in the cafés and bars waiting for someone to speak to them.

However, let me concentrate. Some three years ago, when my youngest daughter was born, I became the leader of my tribe after my father’s death. I inherited it, as eldest son. I got his camels, (and his Japanese four-wheel drive), his sword (there were also modern weapons) and a large piece of land in the desert, which is also part of the common heritage of the tribe.

This land is the prettiest scenery between the Mountain and the sea. It is near the place in the red sea where Moses and his tribe are believed to have crossed when fleeing from the Pharaoh.

I was born in this land, as was my father and his father and all my ancestors.

This piece of land has a history of hiding people fleeing injustice. There are places where one could live in peace and listen to stories beside the fire, where nobody can find you if you do not want to be found.

And, lots of mirages.

Here is the problem I mentioned in the beginning, which started with our mirages. People who do not live in the desert know nothing about mirages, which turn slowly – if you believe and have patience – to things with which one can play.

It would become what you believed you saw.

Are you patient now so I will explain?

They turned to playful things to play with us, the people of the desert. Why? Because they are bored… When you live in the desert you have to do lots of things just to survive, but if you are sure of your survival like the mirages are, you do not have anything to do. They are just there.

That’s how they get bored.

If you having nothing to do, then you are bored…

Then you want to play or you want to kill.

However, because we, the people of the desert, know mirages well enough, we only let them play with us and do not let them kill us.

They—and we—enjoy having games, tricks, and the fun of playing together games and tricks. The funniest game is what we desert people call “catching Mirages”.

The desert is like human beings, she loves tricks and games. She also behaves often like them: angry, moody, deceiving, loving.

Some time self-pity like us.

I could not tell my lawyer or the investigator of the minister of justice about this thing of the desert’s self-pity. Or games. They would think I am crazy. I told them about other things, which are part of reason.

Some of the reasons are like this: Some rich tourist company from across the sea wanted to take the common land of the tribe and build hotels and swimming pools (the sea is so near!) but I refused to sell it for any price.

The other reason that the whole tribe does not want to sell: this land is full of mirage games. I played here “mirage catching” and now my children and their children are playing here.

Even some other tribes ask permission to play mirage catch on our land. We make it in to a great festival.

The games are like this: We all know the perfect time for the mirages to appear. .. So we wait. They always come in time… and than begin to call us to play with them ….One would say, “I see the lost camel of so and so … he is walking beside the tent of so and so.” Somebody else would say “no, it is not the camel you are seeing… I am seeing the four-wheel drive of my brother, which has been stolen. I see it in the oasis of so and so.”

The players divide themselves into two teams. The players of the first team agree with the person leading their team. The second team agrees with the second person. Then we, the elders of the tribe, agree between each other which team should win.

The winner must slaughter a goat or two and offer it to the losers so they can take the best parts and then we all sit together and eat.

Then this tourist company came and with them the money they offered us for the land. Of course, the news spread across the desert and all tribes were angry. I felt that the desert became angry and more hostile and the water in the secret places was disappearing. Palm trees refused to give dates in their time. The desert could hear and listened like human beings.

I asked the elders for a meeting to discuss what was happening. The meeting went on for days. We all agreed not to sell.


This decision was received badly by the tourist company and by the police officers in the desert because they knew how much allowance the company would give them to close their eyes for collecting corals from the sea, or when the tourists go diving in the forbidden areas or shooting eagles.

It happened suddenly: they came with guns and many soldiers to dismiss us from the land of the tribe which belonged to us for thousands of years. They said we do not have papers to prove the ownership of the land. True, we do not have silly papers, because simply our ancestors came here before they came to the valley.

What happened later is a sad and long story; I am not going to bother you with it. The elders of the tribes asked me to travel to the other side of the world and put our complaints in front of the chiefs of the tribes of the world.

So I went to the embassy of the land of America where the nations sit and listen to complaints. They refused to give me visa and laughed at me. They told the local authorities about me.

This is why I fled because they wanted to arrest me.

However, I knew people who take money and help other people to travel. My cousin in Amsterdam said: why go to America… come here to this land because there is a court to do justice around the world. So I decided to go to see and speak with my cousin who lives in the city of Amsterdam city he has a big restaurant. He had met a woman from this country some years ago when she came to climb the Mountain and she took him back with her.

Only once he came back to visit his mother and he told us fantastic stories about this country of his wife and how he eats a lot of halal meat every day, because his mother was worried that he was not eating halal meat.

He told us stories about the important people who came to his restaurant and ask his advice about many things. He said these people like justice so much that they make a special court to put the bad people in front of judges, even if they are big kings or high police officers.

Why I was been chosen to travel? Because I know the tongs of the other two countries at the other side of the sea. I learned their tongs when I used to trade in the town near by the place where tourists come to climb the Mountain.

The Tourist Company did not like that either, so they send somebody after me to put obstacles in front of me, so I would not be able to speak to the court. And of course I did not get visa from their embassy. I was smuggled in after I paid a lot of money.

My cousin in Amsterdam has a small shop selling “Halal shwarma” not a big restaurant as he said. But never mind, he seems happy to see me. He named his shop Fata Morgana. I asked him what it meant. He smiled and told me it means Mirage. He said because he misses the mirages.

Then the police arrest me one day because I have no visa. My cousin brought a good lawyer who said that I came here to ask political refuge, although I told him and the police that I am asking only for justice and would like to return back to my tent and my desert and my mirages as soon as I finished.


That is how I become a refugee in the camp. You see… if you are patient and give me time then you will get to the bottom of my story and may be find a way to help me to go to this big court. If I succeed, then I will bring justice. If not then they will send me back accompanied by soldiers to another prison in my country because the two countries consider me dangerous.

My new lawyer believes me or that is what she tells me; she is asking to meet me today to discuss the case, as she put it. My cousin advises me to drop the whole thing.

I ask him—after I agreed—if he can put me in contact with people who can smuggle me out from here and back to my tent. He looked to me as if I am crazy.

I am sitting now in his mirage shop after he came to collect me from the railway station. I smell the food he is giving to his clients… Not really nice. I ask only for coffee.

I think I would not mind much to return back to the desert or even to a prison in my land where every thing is clear… The mirage is a mirage the injustice is injustice; the prison is called prison and not a camp…

I think he began to like my idea because he looked to me and began to laugh. “People pay a lot of money to come here and you want to pay money to get out… where is the logic?” he asked.

We both laughed. I heard him speaking to some people in his phone asking about a way to smuggle me out.

Coming Home by Susan Carey

Coming Home
by Susan Carey

I was down in the river meadow when the white-topped ambulance showed above the overgrown hedges, going up the road towards our farm.

‘She’s coming home, she’s coming home!’ A childish voice rejoiced in my head and I ran up to the farmhouse to greet her. Tears were falling by the time I got there and in choked silence I watched the ambulance men help her out of the vehicle.

“We saw you running,” one of the ambulance men said. I could only nod in response. Mum had come home, but it would be for the very last time.

How would we cope, my stepfather, sister and I? We had one strong woman to rely on, our District Nurse, Joan Ingram, who fought so that Mum could come home to die. If it was left to medical bureaucracy, my mother would have been shoved up to the end of a hospital ward and forgotten. A woman, who knew the smell of shit better than the smell of disinfectant and who had helped countless ewes to lamb, was almost condemned to spend her last days in the sterile environment of a general hospital.

Mum was in the final stages of ovarian cancer and was taking liquids and morphine intravenously. A hospital bed was set up in our living room and the district nurses came twice a day to administer medication. I looked forward to Nurse Ingram’s visits the most. Joan brought the hustle and bustle of life with her and the power to briefly persuade you that life might just one day be alright again.

Joan was a well-rounded woman. The seams and waistband of her navy blue jacket and skirt were showing signs of strain. She kept her dark hair back in a bun but disobedient strands of hair escaped and fell around her face. Her pill-box hat had usually slid down by the end of her rounds, arriving at a jaunty angle. She had a capped temporary-tooth that sometimes wriggled loose and fell out of her mouth. The sight of Joan’s ample bottom restrained by navy blue Crimplene as she retrieved the tooth from under a piece of furniture, made us smile.

One evening she arrived and announced. “I’ve got something to celebrate.”

My stepfather, Harold, fizzed open the cider bottle.

He poured a small glass of cider and pushed it into her hand, ignoring her protestations.

Harold, Joan and I raised glasses. My sister was out for the evening. Taking a break from full-time care of Mum. Outside the birds were singing as dusk approached and in the top meadow our first spring lambs were playing King-of-the-Castle. Mother Cat was curled up on Mum’s bed, purring.

“What are we celebrating then?” Harold asked.

Joan didn’t need much prompting as she loved to talk. “I had my thousandth baby today!”

“You’re looking well on it,” Harold remarked.

She walked over to Mum’s bed and leaned down towards her. “This week I delivered my thousandth baby, Nell.”

“You’re a marvel, aren’t you. I don’t know what we’d do without you.” Mum said, a glimmer of a smile around her lips.

“It took me back to one of the first babies I delivered. What a night that was!” Joan put down her glass of cider, unsnapped her nurse’s bag and took out a morphine ampoule, ready to inject into the drip.

Mum shook her head and held up her hand. “No, not yet. I want to hear the story of the first baby.”

“Alright then, Nell.” Joan patted Mum’s hand and placed the unbroken ampoule down on the bedside table.

“It was one of my first, solo call-outs.”

We settled back, waiting for the story to unfold.

Joan sat down in an armchair near Mum’s bed and took a tiny sip of cider. “It had been raining solid for days on end. I’d just finished watching Z Cars and got up to switch off the telly, when the phone rang. Even as I walked to the phone I had a sense of something not being right.

She’s having a baby, Miranda’s having a baby! The well-educated voice shouted down the receiver at me, his words slurring into each other.

Alright, now try and calm down, I said. Your wife and I need you to be calm.

We’re not married, Man, but you’ve gotta come quick! My chick’s having a baby.

I asked him where he was phoning from and my heart sank when he told me the address. The Manor in Hay-on-Wye was notorious back then. Squatted by a hippy commune. An exodus of them had come down to the Welsh borders, escaping the rat race and had set up shop in the dilapidated stately home. The house was about half a mile back from the road and the track would be deep mud after all the rain we’d had.

I’m on my way, I said.

My windscreen wipers were going like the clappers but they weren’t much good in that downpour. After driving through that for an hour, The Manor loomed in the distance, its windows all lit up as if it was on fire. I parked on the roadside at the entrance, not wanting to risk getting stuck in the mud. I pulled on my wellies and got out my bag and torch. Even from the road I could hear the rock music blaring out from a downstairs window. Loads of brightly-painted old bangers were parked in front of the house; 2CVs, Renaults and VW campervans all higgledy-piggledy on what used to be landscaped gardens. I was drenched by the time I reached the house. I stepped through the enormous doorway into a great hall where a long-haired bloke was propped up against the curling banisters. He lifted his hand and said: Hi, Babe.

Nobody ever called me babe, not even in those days and I certainly didn’t merit the title when I was in my uniform and mud-splattered wellies. He had a drunken grin plastered on his face so I ignored him. The double doors to the main drawing room were open. Inside, a sea of prone bodies lay strewn over ramshackle furniture and empty bottles jostled against each other on the floor as I picked my way over the debris. Candles in the windows were burning down low and the smell of wax and some sweetish tobacco was overpowering. Brightly coloured saris hung in the windows. The whole place could go up in flames if they caught on one of those candles, I thought. As if I didn’t have enough to worry about.

The main drawing room led onto another room full of people in varying stages of consciousness and then, almost as I was beginning to give up hope of finding anyone sober, a young man came up to me and took my arm.

She’s through here, Love, Miranda’s through here. I recognised his voice from the phone. He led me along a dark corridor into a room at the back of the house. Must have been a library judging by all the old books on the shelves. On a filthy mattress on the floor was a young, long-haired woman. She was on all fours, as high as a kite, crying out: I’m having a baby, I’m having a baby. She was stark naked and the baby’s head was just showing between her legs.

‘Now keep your head Joan Ingram,’ I said to myself sternly as my heart hammered in my chest. ‘You’re the only one here who’s still got her marbles and that baby is depending on you!’

I knelt down beside the bed and helped the woman breathe through her contractions. They were coming rapidly by then. She gave one last push and screamed like a banshee. Even though she was stoned, I was amazed that her body knew what to do.

I supported the baby’s head and the little girl popped out into my arms, sweet as a nut! The woman had the baby so easy, like a cow calving. Thank God there were no complications. Maybe the baby knew it would have to be sharp to survive in the world it had just come into. I quickly cut the umbilical cord and wrapped her in a clean towel I’d brought with me. I gave the baby to the mother, who seemed to have sobered up a bit and then instructed the father to go and get a bowl of hot water to help mother and daughter clean up. I was just getting my breath back when an enormous red setter came lolloping into the room and ran off with the still-warm afterbirth. I dashed after him, stepping over party-revellers and smashed wineglasses – I needed to take a sample back with me to the surgery – but it was no good. He shot out of a back door and disappeared into the night.’

The thought of Joan Ingram chasing a red setter as it ran off with her patient’s afterbirth brought tears of laughter to our eyes.

“I stayed the night to make sure they were alright and on the way home I parked the car on a quiet road. The sun was just coming up. I pulled onto the grass verge and had a good cry. It was a miracle I didn’t lose that baby. A miracle. I was so inexperienced, not much more than a baby myself in those days.”

She smiled at the memory, stood up and quickly administered Mum’s morphine. She straightened her pill box hat and said, “Got to get the old man’s dinner on.”

Harold stood up and opened the door for her.

“See you tomorrow.” She smiled and waved at Mum.

“Thanks for the story,” Mum whispered as she drifted into sleep. “See you tomorrow….”

Chapter X from The Other Man by Ronald Linder

Chapter X from The Other Man
(A novel written in the 1970s)
by Ronald Linder

Early Sunday morning, weary but buoyed by the fact that he might be discharged that day, Ralph shaved, preparing for the psychiatrist’s visit and his decision whether or not he would let Dr. Ralph Bouman go home. The telephone rang, and for an uncontrollable instant, he hoped it was Jeff. But Ralph realized that was weak and wishful thinking.

As the phone kept ringing, he turned off the water in the sink and thought about answering it, wondering if it was Jeff begging for a second chance. But how could a second chance get rid of Jeff’s family or his idea that the world came on a serving tray? Jeff would probably laugh at his story of the orderly he’d ditched who’d been assigned to guard him last night so Ralph didn’t “hurt himself.” Jeff had to learn they were through.

Ralph wiped his mouth and chin and picked up the phone. A familiar coaxing voice with the clink of ice cubes in a highball glass greeted him. “Ralphie – is that you?”

“Yes—Agnes.” Ralph hadn’t expected a call from his sister. They hadn’t spoken in two years.

“You have to come down right away! Dad’s had a heart attack and Mom’s going crazy. I can’t handle her. And she blames you because you weren’t here being his doctor!”

Scatching a sudden painful itch on his neck, Ralph saw blood on his fingernails. “Just wait a minute.” He tried to keep his voice low and controlled. His arms and hands dropped with a special heaviness he always felt when he talked with Agnes—those weights of anger, fear and disappointment. The older sister who should have been around and never was, when Ralph was growing up. She was a ghost who never helped with anything. For years Rob hadn’t been able to finish reading a story or sit through a movie with happy brothers and sisters or families.

Ralph was also surprised that he felt no reaction at the news to his father’s heart attack, but years of his father’s schemes and promises that never came to pass dulled his son’s senses and feelings. He didn’t believe anything his father said or did.

“Agnes—you’re calling me at the hospital. I’ve been sick myself,” Ralph said flatly.

There was a pause at the other end, then Agnes’s young, surprised voice asked slowly—“I didn’t know. I thought I was getting you at work. Are you better? Uh—what was wrong with you? Anything catchy? Agnes was always the hypochondriac.

“Just pneumonia and a coma.”

Another pause, “Then—you’re better now?”

“Yes, I hope to go home in a day or two.”

“Good Ralphie—then you’ll come down. I’ll meet you at the airport.”

“You don’t need me that fast! I haven’t been to Vegas for two years…and Mom’s last letter said I was dead to her!”

“Oh, you don’t take her seriously! Remember—A wise son maketh a glad father, but a foolish one is the grief of his mother—.“

Ralph shook his head wearily. His sister had always been conspicuously religious, but only for her own purposes. “Please do me a big favour and don’t quote the Bible. It makes my stomach hurt, coming from you.”

“—Whoso despiseth the word shall suffer thereby. But he that feareth the commandment, shall be rewarded.”

“Agnes—I’m going to hang up!”

“Don’t do that. I’ll stop.” But you know, we don’t hold grudges. Mom and Dad need you now.”

Dizzy and angry, Ralph twirled around, just catching the edge of the bed in time to sit down. “Why do they want me around just when they need me?”

“You know, that’s not fair. They really love you.”

“Then why couldn’t Dad ever pay the bills or have food in the house?”

“Ralphie—they had a lot of hard luck.”

“Because Dad would never quit the theatre and get a real job. He always had to be the star.”

“He was a star, Ralphie, twelve shows a week, and don’t you ever forget it!”

Ralph could see Agnes sitting at a desk in the back at one of her ice cream parlours in Vegas, her young, underpaid, high school soda jerks out front scooping ice cream, making malts and shakes and stealing a little money out of the till. She had the highball glass in her hand as she read the Bible on one side of the table and How to Win at Blackjack on the other.

His father had always praised Agnes. “Such a good girl, so smart and sweet with a real future.” He hardly said anything about Ralph who’d been born thirteen years later.

“Let’s not fight,” he said. That’s all Mother ever does.”

The voice from Vegas became frantic. “What the hell’s wrong with you? Don’t you have a heart? Your father—your Dad almost died! Mom wants you here! She needs help to get back and forth to the hospital—I’ve got a business to watch!”

“So do I! Listen, Agnes, I was very sick. I almost died. I didn’t let Mother or Dad know because they’d only say I brought it on myself. That I deserved it, because I didn’t live down there with them and support them.”

“You’re ungrateful.”

“Ungrateful for what? Oh, Christ, I’m sorry you called. I was planning to go down there anyway in four or five days—God knows why. I really must be crazy, but maybe that was to convince myself one final time before I break all ties that I wouldn’t be losing anything worthwhile!”

Agnes’s voice changed from a sullen, self-pity to a bright, saleswoman’s banter. “Listen, Ralphie, if you’re interested in something new, I’m thinking of opening up another store, right on the Strip.”

Rob looked for cigarette, but saw none in the room. “I’m broke, Agnes.”

“You always say that. How can a doctor be broke?”

“It takes careful planning.”



The new shiny voice went on. “Five thousand will do it.”

“I don’t have five hundred!”

“What the hell do you do with your money?”

“And what about yours, Agnes?” What about your husband and daughter? Do you have any insurance for them or do you trust your luck, like Dad did? Or do you have a son who’s a doctor who they don’t know about?”

“Don’t get nasty, Ralphie. George is still working. I don’t have to worry about him. I’m warning you…!”

“Or you’ll do what?”

“You know—!”


“You— you and your roommate!”

“Me and my roommate what?” Agnes didn’t know that Chuck had been gone for four years.

“Oh—you know!”

Ralph remembered his fights with his family always came down to something like this—some innuendo or half statement he was supposed to carry the rest of the way—so that he’d been forced to pay his mother and father a hundred dollars a month for years to keep them quiet—to keep them from bothering Chuck—and forcing him never to be able to tell Agnes what a stinking bad, big sister she was.

And Ralph blamed them for his never having any money—because they would want it. Any savings would mean a fight. He couldn’t have money and just tell them “No,” because he’d feel too vulnerable as a queer. It was easier to say, “I don’t have it.” But he knew he’d have to learn to say “No,” or he’d find himself trapped in a net of yesses and sures and okays, with no way to escape except by taking another bottle of sleeping pills.

Talking to Agnes he felt a bone-hollowing loneliness. He looked down at a stack of books he had checked out of the hospital’s library. For years when there was no one to talk to, he lived with books. They were his mother, father, sister, friends—but Jeff showed him there could be so much more. He caught himself almost crying.

Ralph’s father and mother tried to take everything away from him. They’d been American nomads—with their midnight elopements from landlords who kept Ralph’s books hostage in hotel basements, never to be recovered. Ralph brooded over how many other families in moving-crazy America drifted from city to city with stuttering jobs and incomes. He wondered how many other men his age could never remember a home—not even a kitchen-heated tenement. He could see himself, age nine or ten, sitting in big chairs in hotel lobbies, reading—because his father and mother were upstairs “busy for awhile.” But they had taught him how to fight in a silent sneaky way. He had to battle to stay in school. His father wouldn’t have minded if Ralph had dropped out of school to get a job and “contribute to the house.”

So he fought and stayed in school—despite his father’s demeaning smiles, his mother’s angry, nagging eyes, Chuck’s putdowns—because his medical-student-lover was poor and he didn’t want Ralph to ever feel good enough to leave him.

“So, will you be here tomorrow?” Agnes asked.


You have to—it’s your duty!

“Right now it’s my duty to stay alive! I told you I almost died, you bitch!”

Ralph thought of the parents who depended on him—he had a responsibility to them. They were mostly simple, trusting people who could never understand the complications of his life—but who knew if they were sick, he usually made them well. Some of Ralph’s patients had died when he had left New York because they refused to go to anyone else. The doctor who took over his practice told him. And though he’d always considered himself dispensable, always thought if he wasn’t around there would be some other doctor to take his place, there were certain patients who wouldn’t go to anyone else. He had saved lives because he was somewhere at the right time and did the right thing—if he hadn’t been there, those people would have died—and death is the only real endpoint in life that can’t be apologised for or corrected—no matter what anyone straight, gay or “family” yelled. He realized that his keeping alive meant that probably at least a few other people would live, instead of die. But if he gave in anyone longer to what he wasn’t himself, he wouldn’t want to live.

After the long pause on the phone…softly…hurt…”Ralphie—you don’t have to use dirty language.”

“You don’t understand any other way—and even then you don’t understand! Mother won’t have anything to do with me unless I give her my whole life—and father wants money—any money—from anyone—that’s Mom and Dad! God—you people make me angry!”

“If I were you, I’d come running and pray to God and your parents for forgiveness.…I can’t keep driving Mom around…she screams for her darling Ralphie!”

“Agnes—I won’t be there at all! You’ve convinced me. Thanks! The faster I forget all of you and the rotten life I had with you, the better. I’d only give Mother a heart attack—or get blamed for one anyway.”

You have to come!

“I’m hanging up. Tell Dad good luck!”

“How can you be such a bastard?”

“Maybe I am a bastard! Maybe that’s why the three of you are so different from me. I was born by accident—Mother told me a hundred times. Doesn’t that make me a legitimate bastard?”

“But we always treated you like one of us!”

“No you didn’t. I was a pain in the ass to all of you—then a pain in the ass who was a doctor who could do the things a doctor does. I was never a son or a brother!”

Ralph slammed down the phone, furious and guilty and lonely and for an instant, he wanted to try to ram his body through the tenth-story, wire-reinforced window.

The Acrobat at Rest by Mistale Taylor

The Acrobat at Rest
by Mistale Taylor

(Inspired by Picasso’s sketch, “La Saltimbanque au Repos”)

It’s 1744, so it’s very inadvisable to steal sheep. “If any person or persons shall feloniously drive away with, or shall wilfully kill, one or more sheep, with intent to steal any part of the carcasses, the person or persons so offending shall be sentenced to death, without benefit of clergy.” Ezequiel Aramburú stole a sheep yesterday.  Today, it’s all he can think of as Mr. William Hogarth draws him. “Good afternoon, Mr. Ambrew, could you sit on a box, please, thank-you. It is most important that you keep very still.” Ezequiel has the sad face of a barn owl: pale with round eyes, like a forlorn moon with a widow’s peak.  The only clues that he is an acrobat come from his cheery, delirious circus outfit: a silly hat and a frivolous collar, a bulging stomach in a leotard and humble little slippers. He looks like a bizarre hot air balloon.

Ezequiel tries so hard to keep still that his face pinkens. He had run around a field for three hours chasing those sheep. Well, probably three hours. Mr. William Hogarth asks why he has paint on his clothes—was he re-painting his caravan? Oh how lovely. Those splodges will have to go into the drawing. Actually, it’s sheep blood all over the innocent violet of his leotard. Will the executioner get blood all over himself when he has to kill Ezequiel? Or will he be hanged? He squirms. Mr. William Hogarth asks him, please, to stop moving. Ezequiel had sold the sheep’s fat to a candle-stick maker for two shillings and twopence halfpenny. The coins jingle in his pocket. He wants to take the trapeze artist to the theatre or the opera. And suddenly Ezequiel remembers he probably won’t take her to the theatre, the opera, London or to anywhere else. Maybe she’ll come to his funeral?

He looks at his humble little slippers. He despises this costume—it makes him look absurd. And now Mr. William Hogarth is immortalising Ezequiel the Absurd Saltimbanco. He never meant to be an acrobat; he’d wanted to be a butcher, but his English was too poor. He’d enjoyed butchering that sheep. Last night’s meal had been most enjoyable. He smiles. Mr. William Hogarth asks him, please, to stop smiling. Nonetheless, Ezequiel is blissful as he remembers yesterday in his battered caravan, with a plate of heavenly meat before him and the promise of a day with the trapeze artist jingling in his pocket. Sergeant Joseph Agnew and a local farmer stride into the room: “Mr. Ara…Aram…the clown in the leotard, please.”

Robert Marswood – Economy

from Book II, Chapter 3 of Out of Zion
by Robert Marswood

Surprisingly after his unnerving meeting with Joe, Brad slept soundly for the first time since he’d arrived in the San Francisco. He knew the postcard would comfort his mother, even if she thought he was at the other end of the country. In the next weeks, Brad’s guilty feelings and survival anxiety also began to dissipate and a new, genuine curiosity about the City began to grow. He started thinking about staying in California and going back to university.

By some miracle, he’d managed to flee Provo with just a five-minute warning and all he could stuff into a backpack. Now after having lost two weeks’ rent and a month’s deposit on his first shared apartment, he’d still managed to get a second, studio apartment—“roach motel” or not—for himself. And he had a steady temporary job photocopying documents—even if it was just for two more months.

In addition, he was becoming familiar with San Francisco’s unpredictably hilly streets and its changing neighbourhoods and microclimates that had him unzipping and then zipping his jacket as the sun shone and then hid suddenly behind clouds or fog as he commuted from work to his apartment.

Brad could now find his way around town without looking at a map. He automatically knew where to get off the bus, tram or Bart. And he finally realized, after watching the scores of “clones” with short hair and tight T-shirts walk under his kitchen window each hour, that by accident he had ended up in a place most gay men dreamed of living.

Brad’s escape fantasies, however, had always run geographically in the opposite direction—back East where he wanted to get a Masters degree or a PhD and then teach. He wanted to live again in some green, suburban neighbourhood similar to where he’d been born in Ohio, where the trees planted themselves, were watered by rain not artificially irrigated and grew in forests thick as broccoli tufts. As an adolescent, Brad had daily fantasies about running away from his Mormon convert family in Utah back East to his relatives. From what he’d seen, it seemed that people only got more zealous about religion and/or sex the farther West they went. Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Los Angeles were proof of that.

For the first time since he’d arrived in San Francisco, however, Brad began to see the City not as an irritation or a temporary weigh station, but as his new home—even if his uncomfortable, noisy, expensive, tiny, cockroach-infested apartment could ever be compared to the two, large, detached homes with front and back yards where he’d lived in Ohio and then Utah. Brad comforted himself by remembering this apartment was safe and warm and his own. It had a long way to go, though, before he could call it comfortable.

At the moment, Brad had only two chairs “for friendship,” but no third “for company” as Thoreau had said in Walden. After three months of living in his apartment, the only other pieces of furniture were a mattress and box springs that were on the floor in his studio’s living room. The rest of the apartment was echoingly empty. Brad needed a desk, a kitchen table, a nightstand and a dresser. In desperation, he took a board out of the kitchen cupboard and put it over the bathroom sink in order have a “desk” where he could write. And the bathroom was the only room in his studio with a door that could close to shut out the constant rumble of Haight Street traffic. To shut out his loneliness and fears, Brad re-read Walden cover-to-cover as he did Emerson’s philosophical works—especially his essay on Self-Reliance and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass along with Der Zauberberg, which Brad read to keep up his German. These books were more than enough to satisfy any sudden urge he felt to open the Scriptures or get dressed and go to church, especially on quiet Sunday mornings when he seemed to be the only one awake as he ran through the Panhandle and into Golden Gate Park.

And as he ran in the early morning on the weekends, Brad began to notice abandoned tables, chairs, lamps and other furniture left at street corners or along curbs. Brad guessed that these had been dumped at night by people who had left town quickly. In addition to the furniture, piles of clothes were not uncommon. Shirts, pants, underwear, socks and shoes were often left behind in a line or in a pile on the pavement. Brad wondered if their wearers had performed a striptease or been squirted out of their clothes, taken up in a sudden Rapture or abducted by aliens. And there were the abandoned boxes of personal belongings—books, stereo records, framed pictures, cigarette lighters in the shape of guns and ships, bookends—personal knickknacks that were too heavy, bulky or considered worthless.

Brad soon began to collect some of these abandoned items for his own use. And furniture and clothing that were good, but for which he had no use, he “recycled” to second-hand stores to make some extra money.

Some furniture was too bulky or heavy to carry. For that, he used a dolly his supervisor, Cathy, had been complaining about at work.

“I wish somebody from building services would come down here and get rid of this,” she said as she stumbled into it every Monday morning as she tried to hang up her coat and forgot the dolly was still there. “We don’t need this anymore to move files.”

“Don’t worry,” Brad told her. “I’ll take care of that.” And he did, putting it over his shoulder after work that day and walking right past the security guard who didn’t even look up.

He used the dolly to move a pine desk someone had painted army green that had been abandoned on the corner of Fell and Clayton. It now stood in his living room against the wall facing the kitchen.  Its pinewood was light enough that he hadn’t had to take the drawers out before he rolled it up two blocks to his apartment. The neon purple and orange, four-drawer, oak dresser that stood next to the silver steam-heat radiator across the room, however, was different. Brad had found that farther away at Cole and Judah. It was so heavy he had had to take out its drawers to make the shell light enough to roll it back to his apartment. He prayed that the drawers would still be there when he got back. And by some miracle, they were. Less interesting finds were a saggy, six-shelved, cherry bookcase that was missing its back. It had been abandoned, for good reason, at Oak and Masonic. Brad brought it home and wedged tall books between the shelves to straighten them out. He also had a piece of pegboard cut at the Haight Street hardware store that he nailed to the bookshelf’s frame to close up the back and add support.

On the corner of Ashbury and Page, Brad found a blond-wood telephone table. He used it as a nightstand on top of which was a digital AM/FM alarm clock, the only new purchase he’d made for his apartment. On the floor in the alcove of the three bay windows, was a black, plastic stereo record player. Next to it was a stack of Longines Symphonette Society recordings of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies and ballet music. Brad had found all of these things in a box left out on the curb at Cole and Page with a sign that said: “Take What You Need.” Brad guessed that since most people played music from cassette tapes or CDs, no one had wanted the plastic ’60s portable stereo and worn classical records. The stereo still worked, though the scratches on the records and the hiss from the old needle spoiled the quiet passages. And in the kitchen in front of the windows and next to the refrigerator was a maple table that had a deeply scratched top and two broken legs. Brad had glued and wire-trussed the legs back together and covered the scratched top with a red-and-white checkered restaurant tablecloth he’d found sticking out of a dumpster.

With his apartment “furnished,” Brad turned his attention to making extra money from collecting more things abandoned on the street. The biggest moneymakers were the books, especially hardbacks with dust jackets that he bought sometimes for $5 a box at garage or estate sales in the Haight or the Inner Richmond. Just one book, if it was a first edition or a relatively popular one like Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, could be worth at least what he paid for the entire box when he resold them to used bookstores on Mission Street in the City or on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley.

Clothes were initially Brad’s least popular kind of second-hand goods, but Brad needed “new” clothes since he’d only been able to jam two pairs of jeans, one pair of dress pants and temple undergarments, three button-down shirts, and two pairs of socks into his backpack before he ran out the back door and jumped over the back fence to elude the Provo Police. The first items of clothing Brad looked for were things he could wear himself—especially to work. Things like socks and underwear seemed to wear out the fastest, but were hardly ever sold at second-hand stores.

Brad sorted the clothing under his bathroom’s bright, 100-watt light. Wearing rubber gloves, he shook the clothes against the tub’s white enamel to see if any articles harboured wildlife. Clothing, which was too worn, torn or stained, was moved immediately from the cardboard collection box to a plastic garbage bag that went down the building’s trash chute that evening. Clothes Brad thought might fit him or which he thought he could resell to second-hand stores, he washed first, by hand, in the tub. Then, he took them to the Cole Street laundramat for a complete wash and dry. Within two months, Brad had an extra dozen pairs of wearable socks, three pairs of dress pants and shirts, four T-shirts and a week’s supply of “normal” underwear.

What surprised Brad the most, however, was how much money baby’s and toddler’s clothes brought at the Mission Street thrift stores. The first time Brad put the baby clothes on the counter next to the jeans and T-shirts, the store owner’s hairy, tattooed arm reached surprisingly for the toddler’s garments. He offered Brad a dollar for each piece in good condition. Brad didn’t realize how many poor, young families lived in the Mission.

And as he became more experienced and made more money at his “recycling hobby,” as he called it, Brad bought a second-hand bicycle. He fitted it with saddlebags like those he’d used in Germany on his mission. The bike increased his range, so he could cover all the garage sales in the Richmond and the Sunset from early Saturday morning to early mid-afternoon before the fog rolled in and people usually gave up for the day. Sometimes they just dumped what they hadn’t sold at the curb with a sign that said: “Take What You Need.” And Brad did, again and again.

Brad was able to replace many of the books he’d left behind in Provo, especially the 19th– and 20th-century novels and the Norton Anthologies. He even came across a copy of Hortense Powdermaker’s Stranger and Friend from his anthropology courses. He added these books to the old bookshelf in his living room. Within a few months, all its shelves were filled.

As Brad put the last book in his bookcase, he decided that he needed to change his “hobby” from something a little less hunter/gatherer to something more settled. He continued scanning classifieds every Thursday and Saturday. However, instead of concentrating on estate sale ads, he looked under the help wanted category to find work on the weekends since his “temporary” weekday assignment had been extended for another two months. Most of the ads he saw were for second- or graveyard-shift cleaners, security guards and attendants at senior citizen centres.

Brad had thought about getting a second, weekend job for a long time. He couldn’t really afford to go out to the bars—not if he wanted to save money. Most bars in the Haight and South of Market charged a cover on Friday and Saturday nights. Once he paid to get in, all he could afford was a bottle of mineral water, which he spent the night nursing and refilling from the bathroom sink tap when no one was looking. And the people Brad met at the bars—if he could even communicate with them over the deafening music—seemed only interested in one-night stands. Three times he’d made the mistake of inviting guys home. All three men had looked and seemed nice in the bar. Once in his apartment, however, all they did was complain about Brad’s mismatched, “junk furniture,” “an apartment with no TV” or that Brad wanted to use a condom. So Brad finally decided it wouldn’t really make much difference to his “social life” if he worked seven days a week.

He interviewed for job at a new senior citizens’ centre on Geary Boulevard in Japantown. The interviewer, an overweight middle-aged woman, was so desperate to fill the second-shift, weekend position she hired him on the spot without doing a background check.

“We can get that done later,” she said.

Brad wondered for a moment what would happen when she did. Then he decided: ‘Flip. I need the money,’ and just crammed that worry, along with many others, so far back into his brain that he didn’t even think about it again for the rest of the week.

His new boss’ name was Peggy. Peggy Lee from the way she piled up her hair in the kind of a beehive Brad hadn’t seen since he’d left Utah. And Peggy was so happy that Brad showed up for his own and other’s shifts early—unlike many of other security guards who came to work late and half-drunk or stoned—that she decided to let sleeping dogs lie. She was afraid that if she dug too deeply she might lose Brad like all the other attractive, seemingly well-adjusted men who had come into her life, who, with a closer look and a few hours of research by private detectives, turned out to be con artists and/or living under an assumed name usually so that their wives couldn’t track them down for alimony payments.

In addition to working the second shift weekends, Brad was called in at least once a week to pick up a graveyard shift. Brad soon began to look forward to working at the centre because he got a free, hot meal for every shift he worked.

And as he worked seven days a week, Brad tried to forget the $6,000 he’d saved and spent on his two-year German mission. That money would have been more than enough to have gotten him started comfortably in San Francisco without Brad having to work two jobs and scrounge through other people’s trash. Brad wondered if he could ever save that much money again living in San Francisco. At the moment, he was only saving about $250 a month. He wondered if that would be enough eventually for him to go back to university and get a degree. But thinking about the past or the future only made Brad feel angry or panicky during the day and unable to sleep at night, so he forced himself to concentrate almost exclusively on the present.

When he got home one Saturday night around 1 AM, he left the lights off in his apartment as he looked out through his windows down at Haight Street. The electric #7 bus twanged by, singing along the overhead wires. Above the store tops across the street were the hills of Cole Valley, which led upwards towards Mt. Sutro and its red-and-white striped radio and television tower, tipped with red flashing lights. Up by the tower, simple, two-story, three-bedroom homes were built into the hills. Brad followed the housetops and streetlights westward until he could see the gray-and-white concrete blocks of the University of California San Francisco hospital and its parking garage wedged into the side of the hill. This is where Glenn worked as an intern. Brad had stayed away as Glenn had instructed him when he’d first arrived in town so that Glenn wouldn’t get involved in any of his trouble. But now, six months later, Brad thought it was time to pay Glenn a visit again.

Robert Marswood – The Letter

The Letter
from Book II, Chapter 2 of Out of Zion
by Robert Marswood

“Fifty dollars for one lousy letter!”

“You want to make sure it’s sent from the other end of the country—and no one finds out you’re here?” Joe said raising an eyebrow.

Brad suddenly realized that Joe could not only send the letter, but also betray him. He felt sweat in his armpits. “How much could it possibly cost to get one of your air-steward friends to take it on his next flight to the East Coast?”

“Not much. But of course, this letter isn’t important to me. It’s important to you. What’s it worth to you?”

“How about 25?”

“How about forget it.”


“Not even warm.”


“And you buy me a drink.”

“I’m always buying you a drink every time I meet you in a bar.”

“That’s what people do in bars here. Buy each other drinks. Get drunk. Take each other home. Have sex—and leave the next morning. I guess you haven’t gotten the hang of that yet.”

‘And I hope I never do,’ Brad thought. He raised his hand and caught the bartender’s attention. A tall man with a military buzz cut and a strong jaw leaned over the bar to take Brad’s order. “A white Russian and a 7-Up,” Brad said.

“You remembered!” Joe said acting genuinely surprised.

“Yeah, that’s what happens when you don’t kill too many brain cells in a place like this.”

“You know just how to make a girl feel special!” Joe said as he picked up his white Russian. He stirred the ice cubes a few rotations with the little, red, swizzle stick to mix the cream on top before taking a sip.

Brad said nothing. He just watched the video playing on the screen above the bar. It was Madonna’s Vogue. The dancers wore 1930s or ’40s clothing and struck poses. ‘How appropriate,’ Brad thought. ‘Just what everybody in this bar is doing—posing and acting—badly.’ Brad turned his attention back to Joe who had quickly emptied his glass.

“Buy me another one, Jethro, and I’ll do it for free—if you show a girl a good time.”

“As appealing as that offer is, I think I’ll pass. Let’s just keep this strictly business.”

“If that’s the way you want it. So, how’s your new place on Haight Street working out?”

“H-H-how did you know I moved there?” Brad stuttered.

“Your super called to have the ad pulled. I asked who moved in. So, are you enjoying the roach motel?”

Brad was afraid and ashamed that Joe knew where he lived and that his apartment was a dump. He could tell the police exactly where Brad lived if they ever came calling. Brad was so unnerved by Joe’s comment that he almost walked away before giving Joe the letter.

“Sorry to cut things short, but here’s the money.” Brad counted out two twenties and a five into Joe’s outstretched palm. “And the letter. Make sure someone sends this within a week from the East Coast.” Brad handed Joe a thick, white, security envelope that wouldn’t reveal its contents when held up to a light. His mother’s name and address were typed on the envelope and Brad had affixed a first class stamp. Inside was a postcard of Times Square’s neon signs with the short message. “Living in New York City. Have work and a place to live. Hope you are well. Love, Brad.” He hoped that his mother would be the first to collect the mail as she usually did at noon when she walked the three blocks from the store to the house to make his father’s lunch. If she did get it first, Brad knew she would keep it a secret.

“What’s in here?” Joe asked as he waved the envelope in front of Brad.

“None of your business. Just make sure it gets mailed,” Brad said finishing his 7-Up. Then he walked out of the bar unaware of the half dozen men who watched him leave.

Alison Leigh Brown – Lavender

by Alison Leigh Brown

Emily was not seduced by the perfume encoded on brightly coloured ads; they felt like sandpaper on her wrists, didn’t smell real. Her high school friends swooned and dreamt of lead roles in those glossy romances. But Emily just liked lavender—the colour, the scent. She remained faithful to it. Her friends laughed—they called her quaint. They said, “Emily’s crazy for lavender.” It didn’t bother her. She liked what she liked.

A woman now, she’s planted a border of the bristly stalks around her front garden. Saying good-bye to dinner guests, she fondles the stalks, brushes her fingers over the tops as if tousling a toddler’s hair. She rubs the dry flowers over her arms, even in the creases of her elbows. She says lavender reminds her of Provence, of Nana. David had taken her to France for their first anniversary. Her grandmother sprinkled its chalky powder on her dresses, on her sweet, old arms. So, Emily fills sachets with dried buds, adds lavender’s essence to chocolate desserts. Friends have caught her crumbling freshly pulled petals over lamb ragout.

Yes, Emily is mad for lavender. She has invented a delicate, yet potent blueberry lavender martini. When held to light, three distinct colour layers are revealed, each shade shown to advantage by the blueberry mint garnish she crafts. Her husband, David, is sick to death of lavender. He mocks Emily’s preoccupation with it, says she’s afflicted by sophomoric affectation. She thinks he’s joking.

When Ben first saw Emily, lavender didn’t come to mind. He looked up from his work and there she stood: modern and spare. Small of bosom and hip, she presented all legs and eyes. Ben was researching the division of marital property in Oklahoma on the public library’s Internet, trying to stretch out the time left before putting in a little face time at his office. He doesn’t have any afternoon clients, but has to review the Johnson file before tomorrow morning. That file. What a sorry record: grief and pettiness cutting across three states, requiring custodial arrangements for two sullen teenagers. There’s more pain than money here. Seeing Emily gives him a mini-daydream; trying to refocus on work, he notices a bright flash of white hair tumbling over the woman’s huge laughing eyes. He sees her again. She hasn’t moved out of his sight. Emily is wearing a short brown skirt and tall tight boots from which her long, pale legs extend. Ben gives his attention to her, catches himself thinking, she knows me. He smiles at her, asks if she needs anything.

“I guess I do,” she says, leaning deep into his space. It’s only then he becomes aware of lavender. He was expecting J’adore, or, perhaps, Poison. Last spring, his last girlfriend moved out. He missed the hominess, at first. When a letter comes for her, he takes it over in person. They chat; she makes him a drink. He keeps her many magazines for himself: Glamour, Self, Elle. She’s never asked for them. He likes to take the quizzes, scan the ads. He really enjoys them—looks forward to the next issues. He’s learned as much about himself as the minds of women. For instance, Ben now knows that as a woman, he’d be moderately conventional. Adding up the points of his answers reveals that he would not be kittenish in bed. He’s more demure.

He’s surprised when Emily asks him to join her for tea. She’s pretty and young. She knows exactly where they’re going and soon they’re sitting on fussy, overstuffed chairs. Their tattooed server sets down pots of floral infusions, clattering, borderline messy. She has to return with sterling strainers. It’s a haphazard establishment with no discernible theme, no trays. The tea, however, is excellent. Ben adjusts to Emily’s height, allows himself to relax into adventure. He confirms that he’s not married or in a relationship, and that he’s straight. He finds her questions irritating. She tells him all about her Internet search for Katy’s Tea Room; her tone apologetic. She says she’s a little tired from the drive. She’s come all the way from Oxford, not that she doesn’t make “cooler runs” all the time. Ben knows about the sedans and SUVs whose trunks are kept ready for sun chokes and decent arctic char. He’s familiar with the Memphis-Oxford food run. He’s suddenly tired too, realizing he’s cycling the names of perfectly decent places to buy groceries in Oxford. Emily turns business-like.

“I have a request.” She’s urgent, insistent.

Her direct examination bothers Ben. This is not a quiz in Cosmo. He is not half-asleep wondering how pathetic it is to answer yes to questions, he suspects should be no. He’s bothered but also baffled. She can’t know what he’s capable of doing or offering. He switches on lawyer mode, wary and precise.

“A request?”

“I’ve been married for five years.” She’s shameless, stares him flush on. “I’ve never had relations with anyone but my husband. David.”

“And this concerns me, how?”

“I don’t want a boyfriend, to have an affair or anything. I just want to know what it’s like with someone else. You know, to see if it’s different. When I saw you, I could see you’re clean. You don’t look like a creep.” Her voice loses steam. She pours more tea.

“Yeah. That’s me, a regular boy scout.” Ben is trying to figure out why he is so insulted.

“Would you be willing to have sex with me?”

Ben brings his napkin to his face. He realizes that he is embarrassed, shocked, flattered. His face is red, his mouth dry. He drops the napkin, rubs his hands on it.

“Just once.” Her tone is almost condescending. It’s the voice Ben uses to calm an edgy client. “No strings attached. I promise. We’ll just do it, and then I’ll leave. I’ll never call you. I won’t stalk you.”

Emily is so sure he’ll say yes, Ben wants to reject her out of hand. He wants to show her that men aren’t what they seem, that they aren’t so easily won. Instead he says: “Sure. Why not?” He follows with his spectacular smile. His partners call it is his closer look.

Emily stands up even though they aren’t half way through their little sandwiches, the dainty scones. He hasn’t poured a second cup, had been planning to make a better job of it, without dribbles. She starts chattering.

“Let’s go, then. Before you change your mind. I really appreciate this, Ken.” She takes a bill from her back pocket, slaps it on the table. Ben can see it’s only a twenty. Pretty sure this isn’t enough, he stands there, uncertain. It’s her party, but it’s his town. He adds a ten. The whole thing feels farcical. He hopes she hasn’t seen him increase the payment.

“Ben,” he states. “My name is Ben.”

“Of course.” She produces a smile of her own.

Emily’s eager to go. They leave, not looking back, not taking one last sip. Emily laughs again, amused as they bump bodies, each having decided they know which way to go. Ben likes her laugh. Still, he’s not as happy as he feels he should be. Has he been chosen because he’s non-threatening? There are lots of men in Memphis. Trying to make an almost creepy situation appear friendly, he takes her hand. Emily pushes him away as if he’s insane.

“Someone might see us! God, Ben. I’m married.”

Ben acknowledges his mistake. “I read law at Ole Miss.”

This is enough to convey to Emily his awareness that women who live in Oxford shop in Memphis and that he knows they talk. She nods relieving him of social embarrassment. They walk along in silence the few blocks to his car. Once inside, she puts her hand on the back of his neck, making little circles in his short, wiry hair. Ben knows this is how she plays with her husband. He puts the thought out of his mind, tries to just enjoy this domesticity. So this is what it’s like to be married.

Once home he looks for any evidence she’ll back out. There is none. Emily’s undressed before he’s shown her the bedroom. Ben is unnerved by her lack of artifice. Her tall boots are quickly dispensed. Emily hasn’t needed to sit down, to pull or wiggle. Zip and they’re off. She gets out of her socks like a youngster, using the opposing toes of each foot to scrunch the fabric down and then flip them off. She bends to stuff each one inside its partner boot. She is not worried about the view of her backside. He’s never been with a woman so unconcerned about her body. It’s like she’s getting ready for gym class.

“I knew your house would be tidy.” The words she chooses to describe him leave Ben feeling unmanned. He can’t argue with her assessment. He is neat; he is a gentleman.

So there she is: waiting, completely at ease, naked. Still in his suit, Ben thinks: I’m dealing with a child. Emily appears to be waiting for him to cause something, not unlike the way his previous partners’ children, his nieces and nephews, stand by swings, silently demanding a push, a boost up, or the way they eye teensy spoons coated with peas or beets. They know the spoon will end up in their mouths if they just sit there looking at it. Emily reminds Ben of a cat nuzzling a door in that way that shows time is not a concept for it, that it can wait as long as necessary for the knob to turn, the door to open. Emily makes him think of a baby waiting to be diapered.

“Are you sure about this? There’s this sense I’m having that I’m maybe taking advantage.” Ben imagines what his mother would advise for this situation. What is the right thing to do? He tries to understand why, with so many candidates to choose from, Emily has picked him. Why me? “Do you still want to do this?”

Emily nods. “Yes. I committed to this before I left Oxford.” After a pause and with nothing happening, she asks, “Don’t you have to call your work or anything, Ben?” And then with equal weight, “Is there something you want me to put on?”

“Emily. I haven’t had sex for four months. I need a little time to get to know you. And no, I don’t have to call into my work ‘or anything.’ What a wifely thing to say.”

He’s only trying to make a joke, to loosen things up. Boundaries are shifting too quickly for him.

Emily takes his comment the wrong way. She swallows, holds her eyes tightly together, a movement he knows from his divorcing clients is meant to keep you from crying.

“I knew I wouldn’t be good at this.” She sits down on a dining room chair, her posture perfect. Back against the chair, her breasts stick straight out, too small to go anywhere else. Each nipple is tiny; they’re pale—the colour of a toy doll. The pink fleshiness accentuates how white the rest of her is. Ben can’t get over her poise; the innocence of her relationship to her body is new to him. He likes it. “You can change your mind if you want to, Ben.” She’s composed her face and has resumed the negotiation. “I know this is bizarre. You don’t have to go through with this.”

His body isn’t anticipatory, even though here she is. He can’t stop wondering what men had been considered and rejected before she focused on him. Had she come directly to the library or had she tried her luck at the courthouse, the supermarket? Had she been with someone else forty minutes ago and when he gave her an out, did she say those exact same words? He can’t let her be rejected twice.

“Of course I want to, Emily. The pacing’s off. That’s all. Let’s start over again. Let’s pretend we know each other. You stay here and I’ll come back when you’re not expecting me. It’ll be more fun. Sex is not just the doing of it, you know.” He sounds inane to himself. The rhythm of his words seem childish.

“I know that.” She doesn’t pout. “Ben. I’m not a virgin. I’m just inexperienced.”

“Emily, we didn’t think things through. For me, I need a context. Look. You get dressed, go in the kitchen and pretend to be making dinner.”

Emily indicates she’s game. She asks how long she has to get ready.

“I’ll be home by five.”

“Okay, sweetheart.”

Ben leaves his house with the stranger inside. He doesn’t usually drink in the afternoon but he stops at a bar by his office and orders a beer. There are quite a few men he recognizes, but doesn’t know, chatting over cokes and pretzels. Ben nods and smiles. He drinks straight from the bottle, wondering whether he should bring Emily a gift. Decides against it. He wonders if she’ll be there when he gets back. He doesn’t know if he’ll be relieved or sad if she’s gone.

Emily is excited now that she’s alone. Anticipating sex warms her skin even before she sees its glow in the mirror. She blows a kiss at her reflection with her hands on her hips. Emily winks at Emily. She turns to Ben’s closet but finds nothing of interest there. His shirts are on laundry hangers. This makes her feel sorry for him, that he has no one to force him to use good wooden ones. She searches for any little something left by another woman—a slip, a nightgown, but finds none. The suits soldier from charcoal wool to pale linen, just like David’s do. She has no choice but to put back on her same old clothes. Knowing that this won’t take long and that there is no way she will eat dinner with Ben, she calls the first take-out number she finds. It’s a sushi place and they say it will be there around five-thirty. She’s never cared for any kind of Asian food; she orders what David would if he were here. Nothing with eel or octopus—a California Roll in case the fish is off.

With fifty minutes to kill, Emily doesn’t know how to follow Ben’s instructions. She remembers her lavender martinis and how they always cheer a place up. She goes out back to cut some fresh lavender, but remembers where she is. There’s nothing in Ben’s garden except a few trees, some grass and the sorts of perennials bachelors have. A look through his cabinets shows he doesn’t keep liquor at home.

Emily almost had sex with the boyfriend before David. There have only been the two. Her reason for constant deferral had been the gravity he brought to each encounter. They were young, freshmen in college. Allen got all red-faced and fumbling from wanting her. Embarrassed for him, she couldn’t keep her focus. David was older than Allen, a senior, and more experienced. He came at the whole thing playfully, pretending to be a cat, biting her toes. It wasn’t until years later that she wondered if serious wasn’t more in keeping with the nature of the thing.

Yesterday afternoon, Sunday, she approached David with a sombre face. She wasn’t sure how to convey what she wanted. She almost asked him to stop joking around but couldn’t figure out how to say this, without it sounding like a criticism of their entire shared life. So she wore the sombre face and willed him to notice what she wanted. David somehow sidestepped the force of her willing; he just couldn’t keep his mirth down. After they’d finished, he went, as he always did, to fetch some water. She lay there, trying to find the reason to forgive him.

Emily balances their checkbook, was an A student in college and now is competent at her job. She’s in charge of all the windows at Oxford’s department store and she signs off on all marketing initiatives. She has a good eye for fashion, colour, the juxtaposition of shape and font. David’s daddy owns the store; the three of them do their business things together across the square in their corporate offices. Over morning coffee, she gave David several chances to apologize for missing her cues, but it was like he didn’t even know anything was wrong. Infuriated, even though she knew she really shouldn’t be, she decided to go over to Memphis and set things right.

“I’ve got to get to Memphis, David.”

“Well, that’s good, Emily. You have fun.” David didn’t even acknowledge her resentment. He just smiled. “Be careful.”

The world turned until it became five to five at Ben’s house. She decides to take her boots back off. Ben suspects Emily will return to Mississippi to spend the night with her husband, so he stops at his office to pick up the rest of the Johnson file and to check in. He’s stalling. He can’t be late so he gets his car and drives back to the house. He sits out front, waiting for inspiration. Nothing. Letting himself in a little noisier than if it were to the customary emptiness, he announces,

“Honey, I’m home.”

She welcomes him with a warm, open-mouthed kiss.

“What’s for dinner?” When did I become such a ham?

“Sushi. It’ll be here in fifteen minutes—we can put it in the fridge for later.”

Emily hasn’t lost her self-assurance. She leads him into the bedroom. She doesn’t ask Ben about his day. She refrains from using funny voices. Emily kisses him again, so soon they are prone and panting, as people do. Pieces fit where they should; the feeling of being marionette is unavoidable. In spite of her intentions toward gravity, then, Emily giggles. Ben is relieved and starts in with a few jokey remarks. It’s a good time—sex is what it is.

Emily tells Ben she better not stay for dinner. She’s ready to go home. As Ben drives her to her car, she’s proud she keeps the lesson to herself. It’s exactly the same.

Ben’s life was not much changed by his afternoon with Emily. He sometimes thinks about their late afternoon encounter. Sometimes he allows himself to dwell on it. He credits its novelty for a happy conclusion to the Johnson affair. His altruism stoked, he made an extra effort to keep his client from haggling over furniture, from bartering weekends with distressed offspring for any other thing.

Two years after his tea with Emily, he finds himself married, domesticated. It’s a puzzle though, that he smells the stink of lavender everywhere—on his fingers, at the bottom of his drawers.

Switching from coffee to tea has produced a Ben who is almost prissy. He loves its paraphernalia; he even plans vacations to places where tea rites are prized. When tall, pale women hold his eye, he wonders why they pass him by. Why not me?

Occasionally, he finds himself thinking about Emily, whether he has damaged her. He holds the memory close, just as he does his tins of teas. The Assams and Jasmines are delivered to his office; he never shares them. After a trying deposition or a rare failed settlement, he warms a clay pot on the hotplate he keeps hidden in a bottom file drawer. From that same drawer, he retrieves an antique silver strainer with its porcelain drip bowl. Ben is soothed by lovely cups of tea.

Kristine is perfect for him. She’s stately and funny, numbers three and seven on his list of ten preferred qualities in a wife. She’s surprised whenever he gives her gifts with a lavender theme: soaps, hair pomades, little baskets filled with dry buds. She doesn’t like lavender. Kristine’s considered telling Ben lavender is not quite her thing, but she doesn’t. Over the years, she finds a way to just be grateful. He loves me. He wants to grow old with me.

Emily and David continue living. David takes over the store when his father retires. Emily returns home to raise the two children. Sons. Slowly, she starts using the perfumes David gives her for appropriate occasions. The men who did the back fence did such beautiful work that she asked them to fill the front garden’s borders with matching stone. She doesn’t have time to stuff sachets.

One day the doorbell rings. She’d been rushing to find the boys’ soccer cleats. Annoyed, she opens the door to find a florist’s box on her porch. Thinking that David has sent roses again, she finishes packing for practice, then confirms private goalie practice for the next day. She thinks she’s earned a hot bath and is about to take it when she remembers the delivery. She’s grateful, of course, but wishes there could be a little variation in this world. Lifting the lid, having already set David’s mother’s best vase out to receive its bouquet, she doesn’t immediately make sense of the two long stalks of dried lavender tied with twine. “A little lavender for Emily,” is typed by one of those machines that ape human hand. Emily’s not usually overcome by emotion, but she is utterly delighted. She sits at her perfect kitchen table, shoulders straight back. She’s pleased.