L is for Lingering

There was a flight of stairs and he, whoever he was, was trying to get down it. But something was wrong. John wanted to look down at himself but his gaze was fixed on the door at the bottom of the stairs, which was white and so could be seen even in the semi-darkness. There was a thumping sound, and a lurch forward. And a thumping sound, and a lurch forward. And then John woke up.

Or was woken, rather, by Gladys’s six girlfriends invading his tent.

“Gladys doesn’t have girlfriends,” he said, but this was lost on them as they pinned him down with a Dutch wife while they heated the wax and sipped white sangria.

They asked him questions without a proper response, like “What did you do with your love?” and they waxed off a section of body hair for every dissatisfaction. He gnawed on the Dutch wife for comfort.

When his body was bald they told him tales of other men Gladys had sweated through dorm room love with, which was bad, and then when those ran out they told him tales of her love for himself, which was worse. Then they read him passages from The Golden Notebook. Then they performed scene studies from Girls.

He begged them to stop and they said, “Did you think you wouldn’t have to pay penance in order to get our girl back? Did you think there would be no heavy lifting involved?”

“But I don’t want to get your girl back,” he said. “At least I don’t know if I do and if I don’t know you can’t know.”

“Oh come on, John.”

“Don’t make us laugh.”

“You need her.”

“Your story doesn’t get told if it isn’t next to hers.”

“I don’t want her back,” he said, and it stopped them for a moment. It surprised him too. “I don’t. You don’t know. It’s not just me. You can’t know the truth between two people unless you’re one of them,” he said.

This stirred them back to anger.

“What kind of rationalization is that?”

“Yeah, who are you, Woody Allen?”

“No, I am.”

Woody Allen was now in the tent, and the sight of him so enraged the GladysBacchae that they shattered the sangria glasses and gnashed their teeth. They would have committed a felony then and there but after all tomorrow was Monday and they had work in the morning so instead they away from that mandead place, screaming about how now they could never watch Annie Hall again.

“Thanks,” said John.

“I didn’t intend to help you,” Woody said. “I was here for a sorry test and I heard the sounds of women and wax so naturally I was intrigued.” He shrugged.

John knew about the sorry tests. Noah, who was the true holder of the title Sorriest Man Alive, would sit quietly with a person for a moment, hold his or her hand, look into the eyes, and then smile and walk away. Based on his verdict, the person’s name was added either to the Sorry or Not Sorry list. These lists were going to be used, John wasn’t entirely sure how, when the end of days started.

“Did you pass the test?”

“He said my movies did. Which is about as good, in my book.”

There was nothing to say for a moment.

“The heart wants what it wants,” John said.

“Who said that?”

“You did.”

“Which movie?”

“In real life.”


Woody then took out a scrap of paper and wrote the line down to remember for later.

“Do you still believe it?”

Woody was a little miffed by the question. “Kid,” he said, “I knew I wanted to be able to close the door when I wanted to close the door. With the crazy lady we shall not name, that eventually became too hard. So I started over with some fresh Play-Doh. The crazy lady said that my new Play-Doh is mentally challenged and afraid of men, but she is only bitter because I have been able to shape my new Play-Doh into a house with doors that close and lock when I choose. The worst of it, from the crazy perspective, is that the Play-Doh, and I, are happy. Play-Doh can be happy too you know.”

JG2 32

He pulled a handful of locks out of his pockets. “For your tent if you want,” he said, shrugged, and set them down. “I have to go. The Knicks are playing.”

“No they’re not.”

But Woody was gone. John had five more minutes before he had to get up. He looked at the Dutch wife with unexpected longing. The Dutch wife seemed ambivalent.

That day John joined Noah on his inspection of the grounds. Close to the wall that was to hold back the sea were a number of gated communities. The gated communities, full of inhabitants prescreened for their sorriness, were building their walls higher and higher out of bricks in case Noah’s wall didn’t hold out. Down the road a bit from those communities were much smaller gated communities, of only a few houses per unit, and they were also building higher walls, of sticks. Farther down from that were the smallest gated communities. These were each filled with just one person, building higher and higher walls of mud around themselves. It was here they found Linda Hunt, who was nearly finished with her wall, being as short as she is.

JG2 34

“But why?” John asked.

“It’s no picnic being Linda Hunt,” Linda Hunt said. “You know I won an Oscar. But did you know I had to play a Eurasian dwarf to do it? A MALE Eurasian dwarf. Opposite MEL GIBSON. And now I get some roles playing judges and other cretins but there are only so many Law and Orders in the world, and it’s hard to parlay them into a reason to keep facing the slings and arrows of female-male Eurasian dwarfdom. And don’t think I’m taking the easy way out, pinching myself off here like the mug you make at a ceramics class you had a Groupon for and wanted to take your boyfriend but you broke up first. Yes, I may get the benefits of being CEO of my own private Idaho so to speak; I may get to drink this entire cask of Amontillado by myself, but I also have to be my own policeman and fireman and garbage collector and meteorologist. I’m a whole village now. You’re looking at the Linda Hunt Village. It takes a village to raise a child, you know, but you have to be able to keep all the Mel Gibsons and rising sea levels out of the village and this is the only foolproof way. Not that I’m pregnant but what are you doing tonight?”

Noah gently steered John away.

All over their were little CEOs of little villages, and from the looks of some of the shifty-eyed rich folks peering out from behind their brick curtains, some of the big villages could splinter at any moment.

“John,” said Noah, “I’m sorry we’re having to keep you a little in the dark about operations for the moment. But this thing is sensitive and we’re still waiting for your test results to come back from the lab.”

“That’s fine.”

“Is it? Tell me something, John.”

… “What?”

“Just tell me something.”

“Oh. Well. One time I shaved, and something distracted me and I didn’t rinse all the hair down the sink. I mean I didn’t rinse any of it down.

JG2 33“I was living with, I was in college at the time, see, and well my roommate’s sister was coming to stay with us that day, and a few hours later she arrived, and went to the bathroom, and screamed, cause there were all my dark hairs plastered against the plaster. And she came out, and they had seen me – oh, that’s the other part – they had both seen me unshaved before, and shaved now. I mean it was clear what had happened. They looked at me, expectantly. And I just said, well…and I blamed it on our other roommate, who was kind of a loser. I wish I hadn’t done that.”

“That’s more regret than sorry.”

“I’m not sure I know what this sorry thing is then.”

“I know.” And that was all John saw of him for the day.

That night John had the second episode of the same dream. He was advancing down a flight of stairs, headed for the white door, shadowed by that thumping for some reason. Again he tried to look down at himself, and then he was woken up by Gladys’s six brothers. Undaunted by the locks on the tent, they had simply ripped the thing apart.

“Gladys doesn’t have brothers,” he said, but this was lost on them as they forced John to take keg stands of their nasty homebrew.

“Why did you marry our sister if you weren’t going to support her child? Why did you inSEMINATE our sister if you weren’t – ”

John tried to explain that no matter what he told them it wouldn’t be true, not completely; it couldn’t possibly be an accurate recreation of the reality of the past. He tried to say there was no truth in reconstructing the past, not even personal truth because no one could remember it long enough or write it down clear enough for it to actually be real. He tried to explain the truth was a wife and all we have is Dutch wives but they did not know what a Dutch wife was and would likely not have accepted the metaphor even if they had.

They got him so wasted on the vinegar swill that he was easily led to the Linda Hunt Village, and didn’t even protest as they packed him in mud not far from her door (now permanently closed). It wasn’t until they were gone that he began to realize he’d been buried alive.

This had happened to him before, and recently. On his New Year’s trip to Alaska he had visited the bus where Alexander Supertramp, aka Christopher McCandless, had ended his journey into the wild. Gladys was supposed to have gone with him. He had watched a number of E. M. Forster movies with her as a trade, but obviously that didn’t work out. So he went by himself and only took rice (when in Rome) and it snowed sure enough and he was stuck and starving when one morning – or night, since one was like the other – someone clawed through the snow.

A haggard-looking man, not unlike himself, with a sack of rice. “I watched both Bridget Jones movies to get here,” he told John, “but my wife ran off with a cardboard cutout of Colin Firth instead.”

So they stayed and it snowed and they starved until a sorrowed-looking young woman dug them out. “I listened to six Ani DiFranco live double albums,” she said. “Then she told me I wasn’t normcore enough. Or too normcore. I DON’T EVEN KNOW.”

They huddled together and agreed that John was the worst of all three of them and they sucked their hard rice pellets but there was no peace, as more and more poor unfortunate souls kept scrabbling through the snow before anyone could die or even get a good psychosis going.

So John set off on his own again and went up to the Grizzly Maze where Timothy Treadwell had died at the hands of the creatures he loved, and also let his ladyfriend be eaten in the process. Treadwell was a self-proclaimed user and loser before he met the grizzlies, the communion with whom gave him something to live for. John figured the choice between a life’s meaning and a quick death wasn’t one to sneeze at.

He had forgotten that bears hibernate, of course.

When he finally dug through into an actual grizzly den, Mr. Chocolate, a Treadwell favorite, raised his head sleepily. John thought, Here we go! Life!

But Mr. Chocolate just went back to sleep. In fact all the bears – Tabitha, Rowdy, Sargeant Brown, even the evil Bear 141 himself – smelled something on the Lake man that made them pity him, which made them ignore him, because grizzly bears ain’t got time for pity.

JG2 35

John ate some raw salmon, made a few cave paintings of Gladys, and went home.

Suddenly, the mud around John began to crumble as giggles filled the air around him. He found himself blinking into the flashlights of a group of rainbow children.

“Oh, sorry,” their Mom-ish ringleader said. “We’re looking for 276 schoolgirls, and you’re not any schoolgirls.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“No no, it’s better that you aren’t. For you I mean.”

The children pulled John out of his cocoon.

“You’re Mia Farrow,” he said.

She smiled. “I’m me.” She produced a bag of juice boxes for the kids. She let John have one too. Hawaiian Punch.

“These are your children. You just keep getting more and more.”

“Being able to take care of someone is a special blessing.”

“But. I’m sorry this may be the live burial that’s making me so uncharacteristically blunt: Don’t you think it might be a pathological need you have? You help others to help yourself? Or to avoid helping yourself?”

“Maybe,” Mia Farrow said, before taking a crayon out of the hand of a small girl. “We don’t eat that,” she reminded. “I don’t have a lot of time to sit and think about those things. If I wrote a screenplay a year they would probably all be the same. Moses,” she said to a boy, “we ask before touching, don’t we?”

“Can I touch you?” Moses asked. John somewhat reluctantly nodded. Moses touched his hand, too shy to hold it.

“They would all be about taking care, my screenplays, and that’s a story pleasantly exhausting to live and perfectly boring to tell. We should get going.”

Just then a bulldozer beeped its way over. From the looks of it the intention of the driver was to barricade John and/or anyone else into personal vaults. For their own good, of course.

“I think what you’re doing is wrong,” Mia Farrow said to the bulldozer and to the bulldozer’s driver. Bulldozers almost always don’t work without drivers.

“Man is not an island!” Mia said. The dozer wasn’t stopping. She turned to John. She held up a sign. It said, #itdoesn’ttakeavillage.

He said, “What does it take?”

She said, ” – ”

The bulldozer went right over her. John pushed the children out of the way and the children pushed John out of the way and somehow they all pushed each other out of the way except for Mia Farrow and the bulldozer went on.

John got down on his knees to try to dig her out, but Moses said, “Can I touch you?”

John, distracted, said, “Fine,” so Moses put his hand on John’s shoulder and said, “It is okay. This is how she wanted to go.”

“THIS is how she wanted to go?”

Moses smiled. The children left to take care of themselves.

“John!” Linda Hunt called to him from inside her village. “You need to get out of here!”

“Why? I mean other than the obvious reasons, like torture.” His body hair was growing back and it was itchy as SIN.

“Because you’re not sorry, and when Noah finds out – ”

“How do you know I’m not sorry?”

“I ran the tests. I tried to delay the results coming back as long as I could.”

“I don’t know, Linda Hunt, I feel pretty sorry.”

“You might feel sorry, but Noah’s talking about being sorry. I can feel like a firefighter whenever I’m confronted with a towering inferno or the impulse to save cats and babies, but if I don’t train and listen and practice the acts that go along, well, would you want me between you and a fire?”

“I’d want anyone between me and a fire.”

“HA HA old man!”

“Why does Noah get to decide? What makes him so sorry?”

“The flood of course. It was only his family saved, remember.”

“Aha! That’s survivor guilt! That’s not sorry.”

“I haven’t finished. Only his family was saved. Which means his descendants are responsible for everything that’s happened since then.”


“And he figures it’s been a bit more bad than good.”

“Well, the Inquisition and stuff, balanced against the pyramids – ”

“Slaves built the pyramids.”

“Yeah okay. I can see how owning all of human history could make you sorry.”

“Yes. But you are not sorry, John. You are something else.”

“What am I?”


“Oh well FINE. Thank you SO MUCH for that ENLIGHTENING diagnosis. I’m so glad I came to the edge of the WORLD or wherever the hell we are – listen just leave me out of your walls and villages and boats, alright? I don’t want to be in on or near them anyway.”

“Who said anything about a boat?” Linda Hunt said. John was gone. “He can’t possibly know about the boat,” she said to herself.

John walked home. It took a while.

The first thing he noticed, upon turning onto his street, was a trashcan on top of his car again. This was the straw that broke the even-toed ungulate’s back. John took the trashcan from the roof of his car and threw it into the window of the house opposite. The window shattered. A moment. A light switched on. A man stepped out of the broken window. He had large eyes, a bathrobe, and wild steely hair.

“Thank you!” he said.


“But of course, because if you throw something away, you can’t get it back unless someone gives it back to you. Them’s the rules.”

“But why did you throw this away if you wanted it back?”

The man cocked his head. “Oh,” he said. “Pity. I thought you understood.” And then he picked up his trash and walked back through his window.

John climbed into bed and fell into a quick sleep. He was coming down the steps to the white door, thumping, but the thumping was doubled this time, like a thump and its equally thumping echo. He woke up from a knock on his door. His white door. He opened it. A female form stood there, holding a cluster of envelopes and magazines. He looked down at the anchor where her right foot should be. He looked up at the stairs she had climbed down.

“You’re Paloma Palumbo,” he said, in almost a whisper, like a child caught making fun.

JK is for Just Kid-ing

Gladys was still creating her act and had not made her stage debut yet when the Ubanian Emperor arrived one day to take her to lunch. After serving two soggy Waldorf salads, his attendants were ordered away.

“Is that because you’re afraid of them exploding on the food?”

“No. It is because I want you alone.”

Gladys noticed something about the way he said no. It’s almost as if his no had an extra and unpronounced ‘n’ on the end.

“You have maybe guessed who I am?” he said, allowing his real fake accent to thicken over his fake fake one.

“Well, I guess you’re the Ubanian Emperor, but it’s not really a fair game since you told me.”

“There is not something familiar about me?”

Gladys did admit to herself, with whom she was getting along nicely these days, that there was something a little familiar about the eyes.

“I have to tell you. I am not really blue. This is paint.”

“Yes, I know that. All Ubanians are painted.”

“Yes, but I am painted painted. I mean I do not paint myself because I am Ubanian pretending to come from the sea. I paint myself pretending to be Ubanian pretending to come from the sea.”

“I have no idea what’s happening.”

“My name is Jean.”


“Oui. I come a secret agent working on behalf of the King of France.”

“I thought France had a president.”

“It does. The king has been in exile for hundreds of years now. You see, madame, Louis Seize was never executed. He was spirited away at the last minute when, en route to his beheading, he sneezed.”

Here Jean paused, for effect.

“When you sneeze, of course, it is the body’s attempt to free itself of the soul. The soul is a disgusting thing which clouds the body. The body is naturally good. It expels waste. It fights infection. It does not shove several eskimo pies into its mouth in a fit of loneliness.”

“That’s true.”

“So the king sneezed and his trusty advisor sucked in all of the air and fluid coming out of his nose at exactly the right moment, thus gurgitating his soul.

JG2 28

“His advisor then had a son, who had a son, and so on. Meanwhile Napoleon and the other pretenders assumed rule of the land, but the one true royal line is quite intact, and we loyal subjects eager await the moment when the heir may emerge to the throne. But that day is not yet. You see, before he was not killed, the His Majesty Louis XVI became obsessed with life in the way that only a king may. The guillotine loomed and he began to dine seven times a day, with five enemas in between. He ordered in exotic birds and mimicked their melodies. He hired an army of perfumiers to present him with every scent known to the imagination. He slept only for two and two quarters hours a night. He used to invite giant fat women into his bedchamber simply to smother him with their enormous aliveness. He paid for royal expeditions to the ends of the earth in order to find the origin of life, which he thought might bring him some comfort in the face of the chaos that swirled around Paris. Perhaps if he knew where we came from and what we came for he could face the wicked truth of revolution. Well. Roughly one hundred and eighty years after his failed execution, we found it.”

He gestured to the air around him.

“This tiny democratic republic with a nice stretch of prime oceanfront real estate. It also has many mountains with very deep dark caves. It was here, on an expedition financed by the heir of Louis XVI, that evidence was discovered of the first human beings as we know them. Evidence much older than that found at the Ngorogoro Crater and other false origin points. Much celebration was had that day in the halls of the king. We prepared a great festival to honor the occasion, and to reveal that it was the exiled French monarchy which had made such a thing possible. To be the chairwoman of such a fete, we invited Miss Loretta Lynn. We thought the first lady of American country music would be a good fit since she crawled out of the dark mines of Kentucky and humans crawled out of the netherparts of Ubania. As you now know, this was a terrible mistake.”

He took Gladys’s hands across the table.

“The time is ripe again for monarchy. It is a dark age and the people are afraid. There is too much noise and gridlock in democracy for the safety and certainty that can only be provided by l’etat c’est moi. When there is peace in Ubania, the King of France will take the credit and use the positive PR to reclaim the throne.”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Because I believe you have a unique role to play in restoring order.”

“Oh, my role! Yes, it’s coming along. I’m not sure it’s all that exciting, but Agatha says it’ll do.”

“I do not mean the circus.”

“Then what do you mean?”

“I mean your womb.”

“Oh. Well, my womb currently has no vacancies at the moment.”

“Yes, but it shows off wonderfully how full of life you are, in the literal and figurative sense.”

“I’m glad you think it’s wonderful.”

“The man who has been inside you does not agree?”

“Is it that obvious? I’m sorry. It’s hard to be somewhere where everything reminds me of him. Everything has a memory tied to it here.”

“Here? In Ubania? Like what?”

“That tree out there.”

“What about it?”

“John and I have a tree outside our window.”

“Like that one?”

“No, it’s a different kind of tree.” She smiled softly. “I hope his fingernails get pulled off one by one.” She laughed. “I’m sorry I’m going on and on about my husband and I hear when you’re having sexual tension with a stranger you’re not supposed to do that.”

“Ah, you hear this?”

“In books and films and the like. Songs. John believes there is only one perfectly executed love song, and that it’s ‘You’re the One,’ the version by The Vogues from 1965. I don’t understand it because the verses are about how sweet the love is, and it’s in present tense, but the chorus is about how much he longs for and misses her. Are they together or not? It’s a confusion that is never fully resolved and in fact ‘miss’ is the last word of the song. So. That says a lot about John I guess. And me since I’ve spent so much time thinking about it.”

“I’d hate to think we haven’t had a perfectly executed love song since nineteen hundred and sixty-five.”

“We have. The perfectly executed love song is growing inside me. Right now it’s just a line, a single line that gets stuck in your brain, but it’s going to be a full symphony so complex you’ll forget more of it than you remember no matter how hard you try.”

“Well, I do not mind that you speak so much of your husband. What is the alternative? You do not tell me what is on your heart? We speak of rain the park and other things?”

“The rain the park and other things! See, I think that’s a perfect love song.”

JG2 29

“I thought you might. The story of a girl who slips in through your eyes and infects your very brain. A girl who just has that je ne sais quoi. You cannot explain it. You need to be around her. You want to live a hundred lives and learn her a hundred times.”

“I think there must be as many perfect love songs as there are teenagers on the planet at any given moment.”

Jean reached down and plucked a blossom from one of the many bouquets gracing the table. He put the flower in her hair.

She blushed. “Look you’re a very nice Frenchman and I’m sure you saw this coming I certainly did but it might be better if I stay a pregnant woman etched on a Greek vase to you. What I mean is an idea in your head.”

“Do not be afraid of life.”

“Oh I’m not. I love life. I want life to continue forever.”

Just then, everything went dark.

“Whoa,” Gladys said. “Did I do that?”

“Ah, this is the Ubanian sunset. You must have missed it on the other days. There is no twilight here, due to our particular geographical location and the extremity of the mountaintops. The sun beats on until poof, gone. I think this must have contributed to early man’s sense of good and evil.”

He lit a candle.

“I shall have you taken back. And then, tomorrow, allow me to call on you. There is something I must show you.”

“Jean. You’re the King of France, aren’t you?”

And he did that French thing, where he answered and did not answer.

Back at Saints HQ, Ubanian Lisa was just wheeling in Alex.

“Look Gladys!” Alex called to her. “They painted me blue because I’m so skinny! They thought it was because I was a starving Ubanian and not because I’m blessed.”

“How, nice!”

“I think I’m really getting along with them. Lisa even taught me some Ubanian slang. Here. Tell me something that’s really obviously true.”

“Alright. Well, it sure is hot here.”

“No duh!”

Alex and Ubanian Lisa laughed and high-fived.

“It means like no kidding. All the cool kids are saying it.”


“Wow I laughed so hard today some of my teeth are loose.” She began to root in her mouth.

Agatha came close. “Have you had your communion wafer today, honey?”

“No, I divvied it up for some kids at the government school because their teacher blew himself up in front of them and I felt bad.” She pulled out a tooth. “Oo, that’s a big one. Wheel me to bed, Agatha!”

Agatha began to wheel her off.

“You think the tooth fairy comes if it fell out from malnutrition?” Alex asked.

“If she does she must be one busy bitch.”

And they were gone. Ubanian Lisa smiled shyly at Gladys. “Sorry about the slang.”

“Oh don’t be sorry. Kids will be kids.”

“I mean sorry it is so lame. The satellite signal has to bounce in and out of many caves to get to us here. So by the time we see the TV it is many years old.”

“I see.”

JG2 31“In the same way it takes years for the light of a star to get to you and many stars we see are already out but we don’t know yet.”

“That’s true.”

“You seem uneasy around me. Is it because you are afraid you will accidentally do something racist?”

“I guess it is. I’ve never had a Ubanian friend before.”

“That is fine. Please come and sit down with me and have a semi-long semi-important chat. Girl talk. If you are going to help us you must know us.”

“I’d love to do that.”

They sat side by side.

“My father did not paint a totally accurate picture for you,” Ubanian Lisa said, then looked around suspiciously. “Do not tell him this. I am secretly a Sissy.”


“He has given you a twisted approximation of our faith. We believe in Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn because she is fake. We renounce Loretta Lynn as Loretta Lynn because she is real. How much better that Sissy Spacek could embody the feelings of someone who was not herself? This is empathy.”

“That’s what you believe in? Empathy?”

“Above all else.”

“You kill people in the name of empathy?”

Ubanian Lisa made the eekamakajagoogoo gesture.

“Oh. Ee-ka…”

“Eekamakajagoogoo. Half a bucket of yes – ”

“Fifty cents of no.”

“Yes. Sometimes it is hardest to empathize with those closest to us.”

“I know what you mean. I, my act in the, show is I. Well, I love my husband and hate him at the same time.”

“Ah. You are living eekamakajagoogoo.”

“I guess I am.”

“Very special. You and Loretta Lynn have this in common.”

“Oh really?”

“Oh yes! Do you not know of her difficult marriage to Doolittle Lynn, so nicknamed because of his special talent to avoid work? Ah my god! What a love story. But a hard love. Like yours must be. Does your husband beat you?”

“Oh, no.”

“Does he throw the food you make him to the dogs?”

“No, he’s allergic. To dogs, not food.”

“Has he slept with your brother’s wife?”


“Your son’s girlfriend?”


“Did he run off when you were pregnant and get syphilis from another women and make love to her in the house he was building for you?”

“That has not happened yet, no.”

“Doolittle did all of these things to Loretta and more.”

“Well, you know marriage troubles are really relative. You know what they say, every happy family is exactly the same, every unhappy one is its own Picasso of grief.”

“Yes, I have heard that.”

“Did Loretta and Doolittle ever sort of, level off?”

“Level off?”

“Did it ever get easier?”

“Oh no. Worse. Every time he pledged to not be bad and then was bad again, can you not see how it must have been the pain of all the times before combined, re-added, doubled onto her shoulders? He drank so much they had to cut little pieces of his body off one at a time because they were too full of poison. But Loretta Lynn stayed to the end and held his stumpy little body as he died.”

JG2 30“Why? I mean, has she, do you know why?”

“She herself only fully knew why after his death. She said that life with him was hard, but life without him was harder. Somehow her body knew this when her soul didn’t, and her body kept them together.”

“That’s nice.”

“I think it is because her body could not hear the difference in two sounds. Doolittle, for short they called him Doo. Doo she called him always. D-o with an extra o. And I think the ears heard Doo, and the brain thought both of his face and of doing. Do, do, do, and the extra O, for extra doing. Extra effort. Extra trying in the face of hardness. Over and over she heard it, it seeped into her skin, it was a part of her purest self.”

Gladys nodded. “Yeah. I should have married a man named Peace.”

“Yes, or Doubleorgasm.”

They laughed.

“I hope you will be good for us, Saint Gladys.”

“I’m not – ”

“We say we understand eekamakajagoogoo, but I think we have forgotten the real meaning. Which is what you do. You live life which is both love-hate, not too much one or the other. I think my people are like those stars I said. We are already burned out even though you can still see us. You can remind us. Show us the way back to balance of light and dark. Or else a new fire will spark in us and we will kill each other again.”

She touched Gladys’s hand. There was an explosion nearby. Ubanian Lisa checked herself, first, to see if it was her. No one really knew how sad you had to be to pop, so no one never knew it wasn’t them until they knew it wasn’t them.

Some of it had sprayed onto Gladys’s face.

“That one was close.”

“Yeah.” She wiped her eyes.