U is for Ultra

When John awoke to look into the eyes of Hitler, and Pol Pot next to him, he had two thoughts:

1. Dead.

2. I was a worse person than I thought.

The first was not true. The second, maybe.

“He’s back,” said Hitler, who had come to prefer English a long time ago. Pol Pot went back to his crossword puzzle.

It was Sara, the Jessica Chastain lookalike who sometimes pals with Linda Hunt and kills terrorists, who had taken John down from his improvised hanging. John had in fact died, no one’s cheating on that, but Sara had brought him back to life. And now she pushed the former dictators out of the way to break the news that he was alive.

“How?” was John’s third question, directly after “Is that Hitler?” (Yes) and “Is that peanut butter?” (Yes). He meant the smell of her breath.

Sara blushed. “I got some of those orange crackers while I was waiting for you, but I made the boys keep watch so you wouldn’t be alone.”

“No, no, I meant–wait, what are you doing?”

“I have to hold your hands for a while. To readjust you back into the land of living. That sounds a little hokey, but, if the shoe fits…”

“You’re being shifty.”

“I am not.”

“Listen, I’ve been dead, I know what I’m talking about.”

“Okay, I’ve heard the whole ‘I’m dead and I’m wise’ act about a thousand times, so you can just check that little piece of designer luggage it won’t fit in the overhead.”

They held hands and looked into each other’s eyes for a moment. Sara looked away first. “So, what do you want for your first meal? All we have is orange crackers.”

“How am I alive?”

“Oh you know, mouth to mouth, a little spit and a polish.”

“Sara,” said Pol Pot, in that infuriating superior tone he had sometimes. Sara looked at Hitler, but Hitler was not making his view on the matter known.

“Okay look!” She held up a vial. “This is water from the Flood. This is aqua vitae. Literally. This stuff, it’s God’s mistake, you know? I mean, he never used the m-word, but he’s a man, so…at least he was back then. I’m getting off the point. God promised to never do it again, and this is the artifact of that. Somehow, when God changed his mind, the water changed its purpose. It became life-giving instead of ending. Noah found out about it after his wife tried to drown herself–that’s not in the book, of course, and I think she was just being dramatic, but she went full out Virginia Woolf on him on day forty-one when they all stepped onto dry land and she found out he had forgotten to pack the dodos. They were her favorite. But she just couldn’t stay underwater, even with pocket rocks, she kept bobbing back up. The whole thing just made her feel very well-rested. Cracker?”

She had big nervous eyes like a bush baby.

“Sara, what’s wrong?”

“Two things. First, Noah saved some of that water before it reentered the rain cycle and lost its power. He saved boatloads of it. He didn’t tell God, even though God already knows. It’s like an open secret between the two of them, like a parent who knows his teen is fingerbanging in the basement but never brings it up. I don’t understand it. I understand fingerbanging, that’s not what I meant. Although I’m not sure I agree with it. The point is, Noah’s been using this stuff for thousands of years to bring certain people back to life. Sorry people. Or, people who he thinks might be taught to be sorry.”

Hitler pointed to Pol Pot. “Eat me,” said the latter.

“Boys, please. Noah brings certain people back so that one day he can reveal them all and, um, prove that, I don’t know, nobody is unredeemable and so we should all get along. Boy my heart is just not in the elevator speech right now but you should hear the man explain it at a fundraiser. Pin drop stuff, really.”

“Wow. Huh. So Noah brought me back to life. Is it because I’m as bad as Hitler?”

Hitler ignored that. He was used to it.

“Not exactly. Well, you might be on the inside, I don’t know.”

“But he clearly thought I was important enough in some way for resurrection.”

“No he didn’t.”

“Nine letters: to throw out of order.”

“Distemper.” Sara pushed some hair behind her ear. “I did.”

Eye contact. She looked away. “That’s the second wrong thing. Noah doesn’t know. You went off his radar when you failed his test. He thinks you don’t really know what it means to be sorry.”

“I don’t.”

“That’s why I think we need you.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Sorry sorry sorry. That’s not what’s going to get us out of this mess.”

Thunder rumbled on cue.

“And that’s not regular rain,” she said. “Come on.”

She took John to Sorry Hall, where the many miscreants of history shuffled around, playing checkers or just waiting for dinner. It was a little bit like the part at the end of Titanic where dead Rose goes back onboard and all the dead passengers are dressed real nice to see her and dead Leo offers his dead hand to dead her, but it was much creepier because of the rampant sadism.

“That’s Osama bin Laden.”

“Yes.”

“I thought you killed him.”

“I did.”

“Why would you kill him in order to bring him back?”

“We killed him to teach him a lesson. It’s like why adulterers get stoned, so they won’t do it again. I grant you it’s a little Old Testament, but that’s Noah. We’re trying to bring him into the twenty-first century but it’s a process. He has started to DVR Modern Family though and he finds it compelling, at least the first two seasons. Speaking of I’m going to go find him. I can’t keep you hidden forever and I think you can really help me get through to him. The whole thing’s gotten out of control. They’re serving chicken fingers in a few minutes.” She was gone.

John surveyed the dirty dozens, and chose to wait in a corner where a man and a woman sat with their guitars.

JG2 44

“Not sure I would come over here, brother. We’re a couple of drunks and I’ve heard it’s catching.”

“That’s cool: I’m a problem drinker. I think maybe it’s a newish term, so I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. Mostly it means if I could take the amount of time and energy I spend wondering about whether I’m going to drink on any particular night, and then how much I’m going to drink, and then how much I’m going to beat myself up about how much I decided to drink, and then channel that into something productive, I would be making a lot more money. And I’d be thinner. My name’s John Lake. I didn’t kill anyone or anything, but I’m here.” He stuck out his hand.

“I’m Gerry Rafferty.”

“Sandy Denny.”

They passed a flask.

“So um, what are you two in for?”

Sandy and Gerry looked at each other.

“Music.”

They shared a little laugh.

“Music? What’s so bad about that?”

“Nothing, brother. Music’s not why we’re sorry. It’s why he brought us back. He’s hoping we might turn sorry, but…”

They laughed again. Passed the flask.

John looked around the room. Jeffrey Dahmer was watching Jeopardy with the sound turned off. “How exactly does Noah go about getting people to…you know…repent?”

“He sits with.”

“…With what?”

“With you. With ‘it.’ With time, I guess. He sits with. Sometimes he lies with. Not in the Biblical sense, but next to. Sometimes he stands with. Mostly it’s with. Mostly it’s silent.”

“I see.”

For reasons passing his understanding John was thrown into the memories of the brief period during which he had been obliged by his nut-shrinking company’s pro bono policy to be the coach of the fifth grade baseball team they sponsored. The lads were known as the Swinging Nuts, and they lost a lot. Like always.

So John would sit with them at Cici’s. They ate their cardboard with cheese in relative silence. The boys didn’t care about losing but they sensed that John did, so they were quiet for his sake. And he did care. He sat with the loss they didn’t feel, and it sat like slick liver in his gut. As did the pizza.

A series of letters to the editor ended John’s tenure. They were ghostwritten by one Braxton Hinchcliff, a colleague who was tired of his pro bono work running the American Legion bingo game and wanted John’s more presumably plum gig. The letters mused openly whether it wouldn’t be quite the coup if the terrorists could infiltrate the ranks of our little league coaches in the hopes of releasing America’s stranglehold on baseball mastery and so ending our freedoms. The ensuing uproar prompted an investigation. Authorities gained access to John’s computer and found he had Googled

How to coach baseball

How to coach young people baseball

and the nail in the coffin

How to play baseball

It was generally agreed upon that John was not a terrorist, but was probably a moron, athletically speaking at the very least. Still it had been a worthwhile experience for him, as it brought the realization that each sports contest, or at least each season, is a complete emotional life in miniature. The elation and anxiety and rage and despair were a full workout and each was necessary in its own way. The necessity in losing was not because it made victories taste sweeter, but because it made you feel bad, because it kicked the shit out of you, and that in itself was good.

He told that to the boys on their final trip to Cici’s together, when everyone knew the end had come and nobody ate the cinnamon pizza because it didn’t feel right. But the Swingers didn’t understand. He knew that was part of it too.

The other time John really sat with was at the Gulf County Health Department. He was in town for a beach vacation and went one morning to get tested for STDs. There was a kid in the waiting room screaming about some shot he’d just had, and this fat Florida woman without all of her teeth cackled and said, “The pains of life is just started for him!” It was a line she was so pleased with that she repeated it to anyone who would give her the time of day and a few who wouldn’t. The doctor told John he could find out if he had AIDS in two weeks, but he’d have to come get the results in person. John said he would be gone after two more days. The doctor said, “Why did you come here, and not where you live?” And John said, “It just felt like it was time.” The doctor stuck in the needle. John still doesn’t know if he has AIDS. But he knows you can’t go through life feeling you are better than people who go to malls.

Well you could, but you’d never make it through Gulf County Public Health, and sooner or later we all stop there.

“He’s really in it,” Gerry told Sandy. They laughed and had a drink. The rain pounded and the wind wounded.

“Sorry,” said John, and shook the space-out from behind his eyes.

“S’alright. More important than talking to us. Whatever’s written in your heart, brother. You’ll say it someday.” Gerry laughed. “It’s writing that song got me on Noah’s list. Made him think given a second chance I might repair the mess I made of things. Or Sandy here, might make it down the stairs without falling. And I still believe it. The song. I do. It’s just that, comes a time in your life, it’s harder to change what’s written in your heart than it used to be. Maybe impossible.” He took a long drink.

Sandy looked longingly at the flask, then turned to John. “Worried?”

John thought about it.

“Yes.”

“You don’t have to be. No one needs to sit with you to see it. It’s in your blood, love, it runs through you like water. Yeah.” She nodded, plucked the guitar. “It carries you, though you can’t tell if it’s taking you to joy or sorrow. That’s the nature of this particular donkey ride. But what you have to figure out, John Lake, or maybe what you get to decide, is whether, in the face of that uncertainty, the love in you is an ocean or only a stream.”

She patted his face sadly, then looked out the window at the flood. “Someone’s drowning out there,” she said, but looking in John’s eyes. “This donkey only goes one way you know, Pancho. No matter what the man says.” She sighed, and looked down at her dress. “Not to worry though. The whole thing will be dry by tomorrow. You’ll see.”

At that point the roof crashed in and killed her instantly. Gerry too. John narrowly avoided a crushed skull and was carried away by the cascading water, two minutes before chicken fingers.

He sped out a shattered window into the maelstrom where, luckily, an ark was afloat. It was the right number of cubits and everything.

“JOHN!” Sara threw a knotted rope over the side, like in gym class.

“I’m an athletic moron!” John said. “I’ll never make it!”

Sara couldn’t understand the words but figured the tone. “LISTEN MISTER. DON’T YOU THINK IT’S TIME YOU SAVED YOUR OWN LIFE?”

What Mrs. Noah didn’t know, despite how her husband tried to tell her, was that the dodos, along with the moitles and the jabols and the yellow kneffers, simply chose not to get on the boat when the time came. They had their reasons, and their reasons weren’t the same, and their reasons would be hard to translate across species.

JG2 45

The truth is sometimes you get on the ark and sometimes you don’t.

This time John did.

S T is for Straight Talk

It was raining in Ubania too, though Gladys couldn’t tell, imprisoned as she was in an underground cave. She was in the UTI, the Ubanian Terror Institute, in the capital city of Through. She could see no things, and hear two things. One was a slow dripping carefully designed to drive her insane. The other was the snoring of her cavemate. In the sixth hour of this sonic pairing, she began to personify the sounds, believing that they were speaking to each other, fighting with each other, reconciling with each other. In the fifteenth hour, they had blended and become one sound. In the thirty-second hour, she could no longer hear that sound.

Who sleeps for thirty-two hours? she wondered, and said “Wake up!” but of course it fell on deaf ears because if you can’t hear yourself no one else can hear you, and if you hear no one else you can’t hear yourself, and that’s just true and we all know it.

Gladys was alone so long she no longer remembered what it was to be with. Parts of her sealed over again, wax on an envelope. But it was an aloneness without shame, since there was no one to see it, or at least since she was allowed to believe that she was the only one left, the only one ever, and the only task in life, in the life of the universe, had something to do with her mind. That if she had the right thought, an egg would crack open, and out of it would come a beautiful white bird-horse which she would ride right into the yellow yolk of the sun which would burn around her and through her and as her forever.

She tried to have the thought. She thought, “Peace.” But that wasn’t it. She thought, “Love.” She thought of John and wished him well, wished him even a better life than her own. She thought of Albert, the child born to die growing within her. But she knew she was doing it wrong. It was too expected to wish for the ones you love, even if you also hate them. So she tried to imagine someone she did not love, but it was impossible, because as soon as she imagined them, she loved them. Then she thought maybe it was not people, but animals. Then, maybe a desk. To love a desk. A cluttered desk. A clean desk. She began to cry, thinking about a desk, the very word poked around her entrails, doing something to her.

Desk.

The smoothness of the word and its form made her think next of lake. John was a lake, and she was a lake, because he had made her one. Can you love a lake? Beyond wanting the lake to be pristine, beyond tree-hugging. Can you love a lake? How do you hold a lake’s hand?

She thought of the joke John liked. Two men looking at a lake: “That’s a lot of water.” “Yeah, and that’s just the top of it!”

To love the top of the thing was simple, if for nothing else than the reflection. To love perhaps even the bottom, the way the mud shocked your toes, posed no threat. But to love the whole inner body of the body of water, huge and invisible until you submerge in it; to love the part that could kill you, without a chance of it loving you back; to love never being able to hold the entirety of it at once; to love a thing without color or sound, only the taste if you let it in, different from drinking, and realize, this is not me, this is not of me, this is not the same as me, this will never be me, this was here first, this is here after, this is hereafter–

Unless the lake dries up.

In school Gladys was taught, as we all were, of the legendary Lake Bifrost, which the residents of Fingerbone, Wisconsin were surprised to find one morning had vanished from the outskirts of their town. The case remained open for exactly fifty-three hours, at which point Moreland Buxbee, a distant cousin of Fingerbonian Gertrude Fishkill, called (collect, as usual) from Yellowhair, New Hampshire, to relay the news that a lake had opened up there some two days prior. Out of the blue, as they say.

Being tied up at the mill as Moreland was you know he had only that morning had a chance to visit the wonder, and as he breathed in the newly brackish air, he detected, on the breeze, a soft lavender soap smell which evoked cousin Gert, and especially the summer walk they had taken during a family reunion some decades gone now, when Gert had pertly allowed herself to be kissed. Alas, that had not been meant to be. Though it was pretty to think so.

Only three residents of Fingerbone made the trek to Yellowhair to pay their last respects to the departed lake. Gertrude Fishkill was not in their number, which included

1. Sir Robert Brownhaven (the title was self-bestowed, but not begrudged by the town, which was grateful for his general gallantry while delivering mail),

2. Edie Wishington, for whom this was the first and last time she set foot outside of the ten mile radius God had thought to born her in, and

3. Edgar Lee Husbands, the young poet who went to the lake solely to drown in it, and who among historians is widely regarded to be the only one who truly loved it for what it was.

It was the same lake, Gladys thought, no matter where it opened. Which meant really a lake was no different from any other lake, connected as they were under the earth, and that further there was no difference to the rivers and the brooks and the seas and oceans, the same water, if we could only scrape back the asphalt and dirt and seagull shit that keeps them locked in their manmade borders.

It seemed to her now, as she conjured the face of Edgar Lee before her, seen so many times in her seventh grade history book, that the trick of existence was not a thought at all, but a way of seeing, of perceiving the single lake which is the lake of all things.

JG2

There was a sudden explosion, high above, which shook the cave like giant’s steps. And then, fire.

It was a torch.

“Gladys?” The accent betrayed Jean before the light did. He looked and sounded frazzled, a decidedly un-French condition.

“What was that?”

“In order for me to answer that, there is much you must know. Listen close; there is not much time. Gladys, you are a thinking person. Did you not ever wonder why you never heard that Ubania was the cradle of civilization until I told you it was?”

“Well I haven’t heard a lot of things. Like why Holland and the Netherlands are two names for the same place.”

“That is a complicated issue.”

“So it isn’t true, about Ubania?”

“Oh it’s true. Absolument. They found cave paintings here, right where you stand, nearly twice as old as any others on record. But all of the evidence of this place being the genesis of humanity was deliberately destroyed by an international panel of scientists.”

“Why?”

“Because of what they found here. Voila.” He illuminated a cave painting with his torch. Throughout the story he told, he showed her more and more paintings which depicted the tale.

“In the beginning the Ubanians were as confused as the rest of us as to where they had come from and why they were here. They tried diving deeper and deeper into the water, to see if perhaps they could get in touch with what had made them. Meanwhile on land they lived a peaceful and cooperative life, each according to his needs and abilities. Finally one day there was a young champion named Dardareefellavillagepeople, and he was able to dive deeper than anyone before. That’s when he encountered the Giant Squid.

“He knew the squid was an ancient creature that must have many answers, so he wrestled with it to bring it to land. It was a tiresome struggle between two evenly matched foes, but finally Dardareefellavillagepeople brought the Giant Squid to the delta where the river meets the sea.

“‘Now you will answer to me, Giant Squid,’ he said. ‘Where did we come from and why are we here?'”

JG2 43

“And the Squid said, well, something complicated in Ubanian which means fuck me I don’t know! And the hero said, ‘Oh,’ and felt a terrible flatness in his heart. So the squid took pity and said, ‘Look. All I can tell you is this. Man is mortal, which means his days are numbered. It’s going to feel to you like there aren’t enough of them. And so as you age a struggle will emerge among you to try and enjoy those few days as well as you possibly can. This will lead to bloodshed.’

“And the Giant Squid blessed him with a prophetic vision. Dardareefellavillagepeople saw heaps of bodies churned under by the tractor of history. He saw a vast inequality widening like a growing chasm between the haves and havenots. In short, he saw the future, and he was afraid. The Squid returned to the waters and Dardareefellavillagepeople warned his people of everything he had learned.

“They all agreed that this was a serious matter. They debated for many hours until the sun came out, suddenly. It was then that the decision was reached. The people would live on in cooperation and shared success. Everyone would have the same life. To ensure this, the knowledge of the fate of man would be painted onto these walls and told to children as a bedtime story. This way they were scared straight into socialism. Then, once a generation of Ubanians had lived the best parts of life and no longer took real joy in anything, in other words at the age of thirty-eight and a quarter, they would make the trek here, remind themselves of the potential horrible future, and to avoid it, they would simultaneously shoot themselves in the face.”

Jean paused here for effect. Gladys said nothing.

“Unfortunately, one year a man named Gramalkintyaxlrose accidentally survived the gunshot, but damaged the part of his brain that promotes empathy. He emerged from the cave and assumed control of all Ubania. He used force to enslave the majority of the population in back-breaking labor in order to prop up the luxurious lives of his family and friends. He lived to be one hundred and four and passed on all his wealth to his eldest son. The rest, comme on dit, is the history of this sorry species homo sapiens.”

There was another explosion.

“Are they blowing themselves up up there?” Gladys asked.

“No. They have stopped doing that. You stopped them. Through acknowledging the value of the man you fell on and crushed to death, you have inspired them.”

“Oh. Well, good for me I guess.”

“But bad for them. The new slogan which they chant is ‘kawamidinglefootbiggiebiggiebiggie.’ That means, ‘You’re nobody till somebody kills you.’ And so they are killing each other because they believe it is a great act of recognition. At least, they did that for the first day. On the second day, they started to do things worse than killing.”

“What’s worse than killing?”

A third explosion, the loudest, rocked the cave and awakened the snoring cavemate. She made a sound of displeasure. Gladys went to her, but the woman spoke no English. So Jean translated as best he could, though he had never deigned to really learn the Ubanian tongue.

“She is here because of what happened to her,” he explained. “Usually the Ubanian Terror Institute is not used for criminals, but for the criminized, as a dark place to go and sleep and forget about the terrible things.”

“What happened to her?”

Jean asked and the woman spoke. “Ah, she goes too quickly,” he said. “Something something husband. Something something set on fire. Something something soldiers. Something something baby. Something something bayonet.”

“…neerytarayraymichaeljackson,” the woman said, finishing.

“That doesn’t sound good.”

“No, Gladys. That is the worst. But that is what Ubanians do when they aren’t suicidal. They find the worst and they force each other into it. They do things to children, and make children do things to their own parents which you cannot fathom. You should not fathom. There is nothing to which they will not stoop. What we are faced with here is a race peering into the heart of its own darkness, and unable to stop themselves falling in. That is why we must act.”

He produced a vial, glowing with some bluish solution.

“In its desire to know the origin of life, the exiled French monarchy sponsored many different projects, one of which mapped the entire human genome. We gave to the public only the official version we wanted you to know. The private genome was much more detailed. Gladys. We found the gay gene.”

“Sorry?”

“The gay gene. The gene that turns you gay. And then we isolated it. And then we turned it into a chemical weapon.” He waved the vial in her face. “All we need to do is introduce this to the water supply and the Ubanians will turn gay and thus die out after a generation. Tabula rasa. We can start again here, a new people, in a real garden of Eden.”

He touched her belly. She gasped.

“I am the heir of the king who was the sun. And you…l’etat c’est toi, cherie. It’s you who understands love and hate and all the difficulties and sufferings therein. It’s you who perceives the lake of all things. It’s you who has within you the capacity to raise a wise and noble race. We can do it. Together.”

“First, I don’t know how you know about the lake because I only now just figured that out, and anyway I can’t see it all the time sometimes it’s too fuzzy or I forget about it completely.  Second, I tend to not trust anyone who wants to build a new race. I guess that’s just me being prejudiced but what can I say.”

Another explosion. Two stalactites fell, one right on top of the cavemate, who smiled and said “Oh thank God” and died.

“We must leave this place.”

Jean and Gladys ran through the cave and crawled through the tunnels and made it out of the Ubanian Terror Institute. The rain extinguished his torch, so he used the gay gene as a lantern. “Come,” he said, “we must go to the river and drop this in.”

“Jean, I want you to know that I only use the word I’m about to use rarely, and carefully. But you are crazy. I have to find the Saints.”

Find them she did, or most of them.

“They ate Grigio,” Bosco told her.

“Somebody ate that scrawny fleabag?” Agatha said.

“Hang on,” she said. “Let’s not rush to judgment. Maybe a coyote or something ate Grigio. I mean how can you know?

“There was a picture of Sissy Spacek on his carcass with a sign that said ‘We ate Grigio.'”

“Okay, well. Assumption confirmed then. Where’s Alex?”

Everyone looked around in that way people look around when they realize someone is missing.

“Give me your flashlight,” Gladys told Jude. He signed his concern to her.

“Yes I can handle whatever’s out there. I’m a mother. Motherhood starts at conception so I’m already one. And that means I have special powers: I can lift a whole car if I need to and I always know where to find lost things. Also I’m pregnant and not in the mood to be fucked around with.”

He gave her the light. She went out into the violence, Jean running after to keep up. But moms on missions have strong powerwalk game.

“Alex?”

But instead she had found Ubanian Lisa, bloodied.

“Lisa! Are you alright?”

“Yes.”

“Where are you hurt?”

“I am not hurt.”

“Oh.”

“This is the blood of my father.”

“Oh God, I’m sorry Lisa, where is he we can–”

“He is dead. He was a dirty Spacek. I killed him.”

“But. What about empathy?”

“I feel empathy. Perfect empathy. You cannot feel it for everyone in the world, for then it will be stretched like a piece of gum that can no longer blow bubbles. I choose to feel it for the victims of the dirty Spaceks. For Saint Alex.”

“You’ve seen Alex?”

“Yes. I felt what they did to her down to my bones and it gave me strength to fight back.”

“Where is she?”

For an answer, Ubanian Lisa kissed Gladys. “Thank you, Gladys. You made this happen.”

She disappeared. Gladys began to run.

“Wait!” Jean cried. “You are not prepared for what you are about to see!”

But she ran far past the power of Jean to stop her, until she tripped and her flashlight went out. Then she heard…it was a barely human sound.

“Alex?”

“Sorry,” the girl managed to get out.

“What? Where are–”

“I made you trip.”

Gladys found her outlines, and cradled Alex in the darkness.

“Oh shit. Oh, Alex, are you–oh Christ.”

“Gladys.”

“What, what happened to you?”

“It’s a little foggy. Something something group of men. Something something broomstick.”

“Broomstick?”

“You can see it if you want. A piece of it broke off and it’s still inside me. I think.”

Nothing but the rain for a moment.

“Gladys?”

Nothing more, then… “Yes?”

“I think I’d like to leave the circus.”

“Sure, baby.”

“Okay. I think I’d like to work in a Sunglass Hut.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. I’ve wanted to do that since I was little, but I knew I wasn’t ready. People are different people when they wear sunglasses, just like when they wear hats, chew gum, and get naked. At Sunglass Hut you have to have a good eye for the right different people they ought to be so you can recommend the right sunglasses.”

“Sure.”

“The first time I saw you, I knew I was ready. Because I could see the different person you ought to be.”

“What kind of different person is that?”

Only now did Alex sound scared. “Don’t you know?”

Silence. “Yes, I guess I do.”

“Good. I was afraid I’d seen it wrong.”

“No.”

“I think you should take the hate out of your act. If you don’t come leave the circus with me I mean.”

“I will.”

“Good. I’m a saint now.”

“Yes you are.”

“Can I have some water?”

“I don’t, I’m sorry baby I don’t have any.”

“That’s alright. I’m just going to close my eyes.”

“No don’t go to sleep, Alex, you’ve got to, Alex! Alex!”

The rain.

Jean stood behind her.

Gladys was impossibly still. She spoke without moving.

“Do you have it with you right now?”

“Yes.”

“Do it.”

He did it.

There was a big gay explosion.