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  • - * 13 DOORS OF X* *Meeah Williams* The Barking Cat Press * 2015 Brooklyn, NY * Seattle, WA copyright 2015 Meeah Williams/The Barking Cat...

Monday, February 29, 2016

=frieze=


=Motivational Seminar (I)=

The question you all have, the question preeminent on everyone's mind in this room today is whether or not you will make it. So let me cut to the chase. You will not make it. No one will make it. Not a single one of you. But you will forget I said that. You will go out there and try to make it and you will fail repeatedly but from time to time, at your lowest points, in your most subterranean moments, you will hearken back, not think back, note, but hearken, I choose my words with precision, you will hearken back and remember my words, and although they don't seem comforting right now, in fact, diametrically opposite to anything you'd consider comforting, you will find them comforting then. Of this I can assure you without equivocation. Or with some equivocating. Or. Well. No matter.

I went to the doctor not long ago and I said "Doctor. I've been chasing this pain around my body for the last six months. First it's one place and then it pulls up stakes and makes its home for a few days in another. I'm reaching, feeling, palpitating all around me like a man looking for matches. This roving pain is making a fool of me. I suspect a wandering cancer, a hobo tumor, a peek-a-boo malignancy. Am I nuts or what? Is there any such thing as a wandering cancer?"

He says, "If you leave me with just the two options, then you're nuts. Of course there's no such thing. A hobo cancer? That's plain nonsense. Where'd you read that? On the internet?"

"No sir," I says, "I theorized such on my own. I diagnosed it myself."

"A man who diagnoses himself has a fool for a doctor, to paraphrase the monopolistic maxim of another crooked profession. What you have is an imaginary terminal malignancy."

"Oh," I said, feeling greatly relieved. "Then it's nothing at all and the nothing's all in my head."

"I didn't say it's nothing. Did you hear the word 'nothing' in what I said? It is indeed not nothing. Quite the opposite; it's something."

"But nothing serious, I take it?"

"Serious? It depends on how you define serious. It's incurable, that I can tell you. It will kill you in the end. It kills everyone in the end. If this is something you take seriously then it's left to you to answer the question: Is it serious enough for you?"

Of course I'm speaking in metaphors, which has to do with ships, which is where they get the word semaphore from, its derivation, as they say. My story is a metaphor. A way to sail to Bangkok, or some other distant land of mystery and allure. Do you know the Theseus ship paradox—a very famous philosophical puzzle, not solved to this very moment. It goes like this: if, over the years, the Greeks replaced, oar by oar and board by board, every singe piece of wood on Theseus's ship in order to preserve it, and they do this until every oar, every board, every rope, stitch and hawser, every sail is replaced, at what point does it stop being the original ship? Or is it still the original ship? Puts me somewhat in mind of God and the Devil making that wager up there in Heaven before the action kicks off in the Book of Job. Have you read your Job? Great book. Cop out ending. All a semaphore. That's the connection, if you're wondering. We're all just lost ships at sea. But at what point do we stop being the original ship? That's the question. I'm waiting for the movie. 

But consider this, my friend, in the meantime, if you would. What if God purposely left a piece of the puzzle out. I'm skipping ahead a bit here, I've put myself in mind of something I'll mention in passing later, and that is the puzzle, specifically the left out piece, and maybe that's the devil's doing. What if the devil said to God, "leave out a piece of the puzzle and I'll bet you entrance back into paradise it drives them all crazy and the only ones who don't curse your name and renounce you are the craziest ones of all," and now I ask you to look at the world today and tell me, my friends, was the devil right or what, did he win that bet, is he back in heaven even as we—well, even as I—speak. You tell me. Or better yet, you tell yourselves.

Here is an observable fact: You can make yourself dizzy watching a cat walk across the floor. If you watch it closely, really closely—the cat, that is—you can provoke in yourself a first-class existential crisis of the Satrean order. Watch it closely and you will see the cat as if it were the first time anyone has seen a cat. The lazy, predatory shift of those sharp shoulder bones, the muscles rippling along the lean flanks, the tensile tail, the electric whiskers, the absolute silence of the creature—it can set you falling into the abyss like Lucifer from heaven. Let the scales fall from your eyes. The closer you look the harder it is to see a thing. You look closer and closer and you can't quite believe what's before your very eyes. The cat doesn't seem real, can't be real, and yet there it is. It's as if you can see right through it, behind it, and still, if you pull back a little bit, there it is again, stuck onto reality like a transparency. Who ever thought of such a thing as a cat? It's beyond your imagining. But if not you, then who? It's a rude awakening, like bumping against a table leg in the dark. You feel unbalanced, as if the room is spinning. Maybe the room really is spinning. Think of the earth—it's spinning. You grab the table to steady yourself, to root yourself, to hold onto something real, unquestionable and to that end you look quickly and with desperation toward the pepper mill. Some pedestrian, ordinary object. No good. The grain in the wood of the table. Bad. The person sitting across from you. Worse still. Your own hand. Worst of all! None of it seems real. This is the beginning of a terrible, nausea-inducing anxiety. You consider a brain tumor, perhaps. There's your hobo cancer setting up camp again, lighting a fire in the dark woods of your breast, singing the old freight car songs, there's your imaginary terminal malignancy, my friends. Boo-ha!

I don't want to depress you folks. No sir. There's enough of that to go around. I ask myself, I say: "Bill. What the hell do you want to go around depressing people for, to what end or purpose? If they're happy with their woodworking or their grandchildren or whatever it is, putting together their five-thousand piece jigsaw puzzle of the Grand Canyon on the coffee-table, why not leave them to it, why take that away from them even before they realize a piece is missing? You are like someone with a bad social disease purposely spreading it to others through a kiss, some otherwise friendly-seeming gesture they've learned to trust. That's an evil thing to do, Bill. You are sneakily dropping the worm of discord and doubt into their beverage of choice.  That's pretty satanic of you. In fact, that may very well be the definition of "evil incarnate." I don't know who's the one saying this fine-sounding speech to me. It sounds like something a wife would say, except I don't have a wife, not either one of them anymore, and friends are scarce these days, you learn who your friends really are in times like these. My kitchen is empty when I have this conversation. Empty of everything but the unreal things I mentioned earlier. Cat included.

She's right, you know. I've come to think of that voice in my head as a "she," for whatever Jungian reasons, but just as likely it's habit, the ex-wives you understand, they'll walk out the door, but never out of your skull. The cure, it's worse than the disease, the imaginary terminal malignancy or whatever you'd prefer to call it. The metaphor that's supposed to carry us across the water, to take us from here to there has sprung a leak. Theseus's ship. It's not seaworthy my friend. I'm here to tell you that. I'm sinking. Soon I'll be drowning, but not yet, the water's only up to my knees. But it's rising, my friend, it's rising, slow and steady. I know it looks like I'm just flailing around up here on the poop deck, slapping at myself like I've got fleas, but I'm signaling to you right now, I'm semaphoring over the briny chop. Does it mean anything to you? Can you even see me, my friends? Friends? Who am I referring to? You find out who your true friends are at times like these. There's hope on the horizon. There's always that, so long as the horizon can never be reached. There's hope, friends, rescue, something. But I think I need a stronger spyglass.

Let's break ten minutes for coffee.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

=on! x=


=sissy darkside (the peculiar case of)=


=3 bus stops from paradise=

The food court was peopled pretty sparsely. For a Wednesday afternoon, you'd expect as much. Most of them were older, retired probably. At one table, there was a group of those senior citizens who used the mall to do their daily walking exercise. They were kicking back, post-walk, with coffee and donuts from the food court Dunkin Donuts. I was filling out a job application. It was giving me problems. I was stuck at the section that listed past experience. How much of that, I was trying to determine, was relevant to working as an assistant manager in the shoe department at J.C. Penney's? A few moments earlier, I had met the shoe department manager. He was a short, humorless man with a little blonde bristle of mustache and a crusty, blow-dried comb-over.  Dandruff dusted his wide nylon tie which he wore over a yellow, short-sleeve dress shirt. I would have bet the house he was a foot fetishist. If he wasn't, he should have been because he could have played one on TV. Until he spoke to me, I had no  idea how seriously anyone could take the shoe department at J.C. Penney's. At first I thought he was being ironic, but with a slowly dawning wonder, I realized he was deadly earnest. I knew that even if by some miracle I got the job, I couldn't possibly last a month.

I'd been tapping the dauntingly large "past experience" box on the application for some minutes by now, staring off absently at the donut-munching seniors, and when I looked back at the paper there was a little galaxy of inky dots defacing the page. I was tempted to connect them to see what kind of image emerged.

Then, boldly, without hesitation, I wrote inside the box, in clearly printed capital letters: SEX SLAVE.

The rest of the form was a breeze. It took me less than two minutes to complete.

Maybe less.

*     *     *

I was living in the basement of an abandoned church at the time. I'm not sure what they do with abandoned churches but they weren't doing anything with this one for the time being and I'd taken up residence in a corner of the basement, where they probably used to hold Christmas socials and potluck dinners. At night, you could hear the bats in the belfry. The rats in the walls. The teenagers who'd occasionally break in to party. The vandals who'd come in to vandalize. The thieves who'd come looking for anything that might be taken and resold, but by now, there was nothing left, if there ever had been. Not a statue or chalice or velvet curtain remained. The walls had been stripped bare. What remained was smashed, splintered and sprayed over with graffiti. You could smell the harsh, lung-scalding reek of piss in the corners. Whatever iteration of God had once dwelled there, he'd long since packed up and moved out. The neighborhood was in steep decline. You could hardly blame Him. If He hadn't been able to do anything about it, who could?  It was mid-November and it was getting chilly, even for a warm autumn, even with all the politicians and scientists crying wolf about global warming. I couldn't stay hidden away in the basement corner for much longer. No one had discovered or thought to come down to the basement, at least not while I was there. But my luck couldn't hold out forever. If the weather didn't get me, surely I'd be discovered by some character even more desperate and dangerous than myself. It was a god eat god world out there, never mind the dogs. I had about a million tons of empty stone and mortar above me to prove it. I was basically living under God's tombstone.
*     *     *
As I predicted, I didn't last long in the shoe department at J.C. Penney's. Just long enough to collect two-and-a-half paychecks. That was enough to buy me a bus ticket to Arizona where I hadn't anything waiting for me but a lot of sunshine and turquoise jewelry. That's what the Arizona of my mind looked like, anyway. The real Arizona might just as well have been Utah for all I knew. Aside from the old cliche about it being a dry heat out there and some confusion about whether Georgia O'Keefe painted her skulls there or in New Mexico, I didn't really know much about the place. In fact, I wasn't even sure where it was on the map. Did it come before Nevada or after? Such was my state of mind at the time. Such is the state of it now. States of the mind, like states on the map, are arbitrary distinctions. All borders were just made-up. I was determined to pass freely between them. 
*     *    *
On the bus that took me across country, I sat across the aisle from a very pregnant woman. We spoke a little during the long empty stretches of nothing unraveling on either side of the bus. She said her husband was in Afghanistan. He was some kind of specialist first class in something or other. She was going to stay with his parents in Tempe until he was discharged. He'd be a daddy by then. If doesn't get himself killed, I thought to myself. I pictured a body coming apart like it would in a cartoon, the head and all four limbs flying apart in five different directions around the fat-lettered word BOOM! I kept thinking she was about to explode herself. I was afraid that at any moment she was suddenly going to announce that her water broke; that she was going to have the baby right there on the bus. As it turns out, she didn't. Let me tell you, it was a big relief. I didn't want any part of that.
*     *     *
In Arizona, I ended up in a smaller town outside the small resort town of Paradise Valley. I came within three bus stops of Paradise, I took to saying whenever I got the opportunity, although I was tired of my own small joke, it was nonetheless of immense utility. I found that all you have to say is one halfway clever thing in the early stages of any conversation and you've proved yourself alright from thereon out. You can pretty much coast with saying nothing after that. 

At first, I worked in a motel, changing bed linens with illegal immigrants. It was a surprisingly hard job to get seeing as I wasn't an illegal, hard to get the supervisor of the motel cleaning staff to accept the fact that I'd work at the same slave wages, subject myself uncomplainingly to the same kind of abuse as everyone else with no alternatives. She was suspicious, I think, that I might have been a plant from some government regulatory agency. Or a crusading undercover journalist. I can look like that sometimes.

In the end, I was able to persuade her that I was just a desperate, talentless girl with no prospects and nowhere to go and a lot of unseemly background to leave in memory's rearview mirror where, as everyone who's ever read the fine print knows, objects are larger than they appear.

"This is a job," she said, taking it that I'd know what she meant, "not without its opportunities for ambitious and industrious girls." 

She looked at me meaningfully and, seeing no reflection of meaning coming back, she added "You make the beds in a job like this. And you can also lie in them."

Ah.
*     *     *
I did a little of both but my career was not destined to be in motel bed maintenance. Instead, on one of my few days off, I drifted downtown and met a woman at a weekend craft fair who needed an assistant. I had stopped at her table display to admire her wares. We got to talking. She had developed rheumatoid arthritis in her hands and wrists some years ago and it was steadily worsening. It had been getting harder and harder for her to do the delicate work necessary for stringing beads and feathers and whatnot. She could use an assistant, was I interested? She offered me a room in her house as part of my apprenticeship. I would need to help her out around the house, too. One day, she feared, she'd end up all but crippled. I hoped to be long gone by that day, but you never know. I was building up a resume, although it kind of resembled a collage more than a narrative to any specific destination or meaning. I might wind up pushing this old lady around in a wheelchair, spoon-feeding her, cutting her toenails in the end. Who knew? She didn't ask me much about my past life and what she did ask I answered with a good amount of fictional aplomb. She never caught or, if she did, never called me out on all the contradictions in my purported life-story. I credit this to the fact that she lived with quite a few cats. It was hard to tell just how many. They were always coming and going and she talked to them the way you talk to cats, mainly saying a lot of different words in varying tones without there having to be any meaning to anything you said. We were, in other words, speaking the same language. We all understood each other just fine.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

=untitled (just what you think it is)=


=painted wood assemblage=


=The onion conspiracy=

"All day long I was at my desk plotting. How to steal a bag of onions. I had no need for onions; and, as proof, I submit to you the fact that I might even be allergic to them. They make it hard for me to swallow. I don't like the taste of them, or the smell of them. I don't like the feel of them either. All that crinkly skin. Yuck. And they make me cry. That's the worst. Onions make me cry.  But I had determined to steal a bag. It came to me initially as inspiration and soon thereafter assumed the importance of a quest. There were further elaborations on my project. To steal the onions, I had to be dressed like a rabbit, or, somehow, it wouldn't count.  You could say it was a poetic act. Yes, I'd conceived of it as a performance. You might even say I was making it all up as I went along. Carrots would have made more sense, you might also say. Rabbits like carrots, at least in cartoons. Have you ever noticed, by the way, how much of our embedded so-called knowledge of zoology comes from watching cartoons as children? Cats, for instance, don't really like to eat fish. Cats, as far as anyone can tell, originated in the desert, where, obviously, fish are in short supply. Anyway, I'm getting off the point. The point is, it wasn't about what I liked or didn't like. It wasn't about me. Or the rabbit. Or even the onions. These three things came together, like three strangers at a bus stop. We were brought there by the desire to get somewhere else. You know, I wish you would say something. You're looking at me like I'm crazy, which I'm not, I assure you, as can any number of therapists I've seen over the years have assured me. That last part is a joke, but it's also true, as it happens."

He didn't say a word. He just sat there on his side of the table, chewing his wad of steak. I felt I knew exactly how that steak felt, being turning over and over inside his cheek, repeatedly crushed by molars plugged with silver, tongue casually flipping me to the other side of his mouth, where another row of relentless molars had their turn, the periodic acid wash of saliva; softened, mashed, weeping, enough already, enough, I was that piece of meat thinking, I must be nothing more than a gluey gray paste by now, swallow me, swallow me, make an end to it already, spit me out or make me part of you, put me out of my misery one way or another!

When he did speak, I still wasn't sure he had swallowed. 

I couldn't help asking, "Have you swallowed that piece of meat you've been worrying the last ten minutes or what?" 

He looked at me oddly.  "What?"

Then he resumed chewing. I knew it! I knew it, I thought to myself, triumphantly. But what had I won, really?

The moment was an insignificant blip in an inevitable script. He said, "But I've seen you do things…like pick up the salt cellar, for instance. You do it the exact same way every single time. Or when you got up to use the ladies room a few minutes ago. You did a pirouette, three of them, in fact, a series of three pirouettes, one series on your way to the bathroom, a second series on your way back. That was six pirouettes in all. People were noticing. They were looking up from their soup to watch. They're still glancing this way, just to see what you might do. They aren't watching me, that much I know. No one ever does. Unless I'm with you."

"So don't be with me, if that's how you feel," I said, my blood rising, feeling self-justified in my own defense. "If you don't like an audience, maybe I'm not the girl for you. I'm a dancer. I make a study of movement. Everything I do is choreographed. My life is a dance."

"What I think is that you're maybe just a little obsessive-compulsive."

Now I felt a thundering anger rising inside me. I reached for the salt cellar (christ, who actually calls it a salt cellar, anyway? What kind of man had I gotten myself involved with this time?!), tracing graceful arabesques with my arm as I did so. I would not be shamed; I would not be intimidated. Ridicule was what the defenders of the quotidian used to poison the marvelous. Did Breton say that? Why couldn't he have? Was someone there recording his every utterance? Surely he didn't write every thought down. He might have said it to himself one morning, said it in his head, while shaving the soft place under his chin. My food—some sort of spinachy dish—was already over-salted. But for the sake of my art, I sprinkled on more. I hated a man who used words to break  everything down, to reduce everything to root forms, to the lowest common denominator. I know…I shouldn't have begun dating a linguist if that was the case. But I thought he'd be good with his tongue in all the right places. It was a misguided notion, that was clear to me now. It was clear to me then, too, if only I'd glanced over in that direction. Our entire relationship, in other words, was based on a lot of oblique thinking of the wishful variety, as well as a good deal of not-looking, and out-and-out desperation. I told him as much. I was fearless now in the face of his rejection. I was a girl, I had to remind myself, and him, as well, who stole onions, and, what's more, onions she didn't want. I was the rabbit, the White Rabbit, and I could turn reality on its head. Well, maybe I couldn't turn it completely on its head, but I could shake it around a little. I could throttle it, like a little girl with a worn rabbit doll. 

"You know," he said, "don't take this the wrong way, but you're maybe just a tad bit paranoid. The whole world isn't out to get you, you know. I'm not some kind of agent sent to spy on you. There isn't a secret government directive to implant chips inside our brains that will tell us what to do and what not to do. JFK may have been the victim of a conspiracy, but that doesn't mean everyone else was, too. Elvis isn't roaming the deep south in a Cadillac. Hitler, to everyone's satisfaction but those selling tabloids, died in the bunker."

"Have you proof of any of this," I answered, eyeing the path to the ladies room, three pirouettes away.

"Your hopeless," he said, grinning like an alligator and sawing through another piece of meat.

I walked right out of the store with those onions. I remember this as if it were yesterday. And it did me good to remember it. Like it was medicine. It was my finest moment. Straight out the door, under everyone's noses. I didn't even have to hide the bag in the big pouch at the front of my rabbit suit. No one made so much as a move to stop me. I had dazzled them, that's what I had done. They'd never seen anything like it; they'd never see anything like it again. They had no frame of reference. The frame was missing. They didn't know what they were seeing. Maybe they hadn't seen anything at all. 

And Elvis isn't dead.

=sissy darkside (the peculiar case of)=


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

=USA TOAD: Special "Pando" Birthday Edition=






=book recently read: Just Kids by Patti Smith

Well, she loves him, you see, she loves him so much
She loves him so much she tells her own story by telling us his
She loves him so much to the end of her life and beyond it
She loves him so much

She loves him so much she doesn't see he doesn't love her
Not the way she loves him
She doesn't see what he sees when he looks at her body
What he feels when he touches her body
She doesn't feel
It's something quite different
Because they are four different people in love with each other
But there's one person missing
He doesn't even realize it himself it's so beyond what he wants to accept

They are two souls alike with four different bodies wanting one thing
They want to be artists
They go hungry. They go cold. They sleep in uncomfortable places.
They wear makeshift clothes.
One day an older couple sees them walking through Washington Square Park and the wife says to the husband "Take their picture, they're artists," and her husband shrugged her off, "Artists," he scoffs, "They're just kids."
They are like ghosts, in other words, only a few sensitives can see.
They want to be seen by everyone which means being seen on television & in museums but one of them needs to be seen more than the other
It makes sense that it's the one who takes photographs
He's looking for himself, like she is, but he's also looking for that missing person
He is the one who wants to be a star the most, to ascend that spiral zenith
She'd be happy to chart his rise 
She's the one who follows after him following the trail of stardust that he sheds
She's the one who sweeps up behind him, takes the crappy jobs to buy the soup he must slurp to stay alive while he dreams of being crucified Adonis on a movie marquee
She's the one who gets lucky when he gets lucky and finds the rich hero just like in the movies
She's the one who would have been happy right here on earth poor as two mice in a floorboard
But to go higher he must go lower than the floorboards
To find the ladder to heaven he must go to the curb
To climb out of the gutter first he must go into the gutter
He stands on street corners dressed in scarves & leathers waiting for men to pull up the sidewalk and motion him into their cars


When she starts singing it's almost by accident
She starts out drawing pictures, writing in spiral notebooks
She writes to Rimbaud and Blake and Whitman and Jim Morrison and Jesus and Joan of Arc
She scribbles them secret love letters in notebooks while sitting in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel watching an entire cultural history march by 
She starts reading these letters at clubs on a dare out of desperation out of an unbearable need to split her skin
She's seeking a way out 
But a way out of what
Herself?
Where would she be if she found a way out of herself?
This is the one question that seems worth the answering. 
She adds a guitarist and that's the beginning of something she didn't expect
They think she's a junkie, a lesbian, a punk
They see what they want to see and that is her luck
They haven't any idea how uncool she really is, how romantic, how innocent, how shockingly normal
Allen Ginsberg bought her a sandwich she couldn't afford in an automat once thinking she was a boy he might feed & then fuck

She picks up a camera, too, when the time comes, and it comes too soon
She goes on taking the pictures he didn't take
She sees a different world than he sees 
They are like a beast with eight eyes that cannot see itself
They are living in two worlds even before he leaves the one they share
She is married in love with someone else and has children not theirs
But she feels him leaving when he rides out of this galaxy on his last breath, dies of AIDS, aged 43
He leaves so much of the world unseen and undreamed into being 
He leaves the world and she lights a candle she will not let it flicker out
Not to this day does it flicker out
She is careful, so careful not even to breathe on it
She goes on photographing all the places he isn't 
Through the camera lens she finds that there aren't any places he isn't 
She never leaves home without him
She sings & she dances & she paints & performs & takes photographs
She never leaves home without him






Sunday, February 21, 2016

=traffic cones=


=Fake Girls=

5. Junk food, fishing, and looking for nada…

“Ho-ho,” the fisherman says in a dry, midwestern nasal twang, and, at first, probably just like you, I think it’s a fake laugh, but he reaches into a soft cooler by his chair and pulls out the packaged snack by that name, an artificially-flavored cake-roll injected with an alarmingly white chemical cream that seems to be giving off its own spectral light.

I say, “No thanks. I’ve already had my recommended daily allowance of carcinogens today. Who the hell are you?”

“Mr. Franklin,” he says around a mouthful. He touches the brim of his snap-brim hat. “Nice to make your acquaintance.” 

“Well, Mr. Franklin, I can’t say I’m too happy to make yours. In fact, to be perfectly honest, I’m taking a downright dim view of you right now.”
            
He pushes the rest of the Ho-Ho into his pursed mouth, pressing it slowly into his gaunt face with his thumb, making it obscenely disappear, inch by gooey inch, and then popping his thumb from the tight orifice at the end of this lewd performance with a loud wet pop! He licks his lips, licks his thumb, picks up Ho-Ho number two. Eyes it, eyes me.

“Oh really? And why, pray tell, is that?” he asks.

“How about kidnapping for starters? Being forced to drive here under threat of execution. Frog-marched at gunpoint by one of your goons. No offense intended," I add, just in case, into the surrounding darkness.

Mr. Franklin licks around the end of the second Ho-Ho, smacks his lips, and says, “Oh. That.”

“Yeah. That.”

“The night’s young, Mr. Molloy. First impressions can be misleading. Perhaps I’ll grow on you.”
            
“I’d like to know what I’m doing out here,” I glance around at the sand, the sea, the starry sky, most of it just a lot of blackness, “…in the middle of nowhere.”

“We have some questions for you.”

As my eyes become accustomed to the star light, I get a little better look at Mr. Franklin. He’s in his late fifties, maybe even midway into his sixties, narrow-faced, baggy-eyed, sober-looking, thin as a weathered fence-post in a three-piece suit, gaunt, grey; he looks like a parched scarecrow that survived, barely, a lifelong heroin habit.

“We? Do you mind telling me who “we” are?”
            
“We are US. Think of US as Fate,” he says, teasing the cream out of the tip of the Ho-Ho with a thin reptilian tongue, “unknowable, ineffable, unanswerable, inevitable. A real bitch. We make a demand, you fulfill it. Think of US this way, Mr. Molloy, and we will all be better off. I’m afraid you’ll have to think of US this way in any event. I’m afraid there is simply no other way to think of US.”

“Okaaaay….” I say, trying to decide if he’s joking or not and deciding, to my mounting alarm, that he’s not. “But if you wanted to talk, couldn’t you have just made an appointment like everyone else? This…” I wave my arms around to indicate, well, basically everything, “was unnecessary.”

Mr. Franklin leans momentarily forward and fastidiously flicks chocolate crumbs from what looks like his bank manager’s suit, only more sinister because real bank managers gave up wearing this kind of suit decades ago.

He looks up from his lap and fixes me with his colorless eyes. “What is necessary, Mr. Molloy? If you strip away all that is unnecessary from a man’s life, what are you left with? You are left with the instant that he ejaculates the seed that will conceive the children of the next generation. And, please note, only those particular impregnating ejaculates, not just any ejaculate. The rest of a man’s life is just a commute to and from those singular moments.”

This was not the time and place to argue metaphysics, not that if this were the time and place I’d have necessarily disagreed with Mr. Franklin, so I ignore what he just said and try to keep us focused on the business at hand, whatever it might be.  In the meantime, I don’t really want to see what’s going on at the periphery of whatever’s happening here. I don’t want to get sidetracked. I know that there’s a disaster lurking somewhere off to the side that’s just waiting to happen. It’s out there in the darkness, waiting to blindside me. But I don’t want to think about that just yet. I’m not ready for it. First things first.

“You said you wanted to ask me some questions. What are they?” 

“We understand that you’ve been contacted by a Mr. Knott.”

As usual, I debate whether or not to lie, decide there’s no reason to, at least not right now, and say, “Yes, that’s true.”

“We’d like to know what he wanted.”

“He wanted me to find a woman.”

“Really?”

Mr. Franklin leans back in the canvas chair, as if he were settling in to hear a good yarn. Problem is, of course, I don’t have much more to tell him. I tell him as much.

“I turned him down. He had a problem telling me who he was working for. Just like you. And I have a problem with that.”

“Mr. Knott is working for no one. He’s working for himself. He has a fool for a client.”

“What do you mean?”

“He’s a lawyer. Well, he was an attorney. He’s since been disbarred. With extreme prejudice.”

“What for?”

“Erm…irregularities.”

Ho-Ho number two, meanwhile, is in the process of disappearing, deep-throated in the snake-like manner so vulgarly identical to the previous Ho-Ho that it all smacks of ritual, or instant replay. When he finally finishes swallowing the cake-roll whole, he wipes his mouth fastidiously on a pocket handkerchief, and lifts the fishing pole out of the plastic holder planted beside his chair. He slowly, very slowly, reels in the line.  One revolution per minute, I estimate. This goes on quite a while, as you might imagine, the line is really far out there, well beyond the breakers. He must have made one hell of a cast. I find myself watching, with a certain amount of unavoidable suspense, to see if he’s actually caught something. Neither of us says a word. This interval in my narrative would be quite excruciating if I were to continue it in anything resembling real-time so I'll spare you any further detail and skip to the climax. Eventually he’s got the dripping tackle up and I can see the large silver lure, bristling all over with cruel hooks and festooned with dangling Day-Glo rubber wiggly worms, smoldering phosphorescently in what little light there isn’t.

“Nothing,” he says, staring expressionlessly at the naked tackle. He doesn't seem surprised.

He holds up the big metal lure, a red dot near the tip, supposedly an eye.

“Nothing,” he says again with the finality of a bell-tolling. He scrutinizes the empty, dripping hooks. He looks up at me and says, “The ocean is depleted. What we have here is an exhausted planet, Mr. Molloy, a planet that is out of breath, out of energy, out of flounder, out of luck.”

I notice for the first time that the grey pants are rolled up above his knees, his bare feet sunk in the sand, like bony claws. He has the skinniest, whitest calves I’ve ever seen. It’s just one of those useless things you focus on, I guess, when you’re scared shitless.

I say, “What does this have to do with anything, Mr. Franklin?”

He says, “Think globally, act locally.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“We want to retain your services, Mr. Molloy.”

“My services?”

“Yes.”

“Doing what?”

“We want you to find the woman Mr. Knott is looking for. But we want you to find her for us instead.”

I’m not really sure how this offer is any different from the offer that the fat man offered me, except that Mr. Franklin is offering it to me at gunpoint, which, of course, makes it instantly a lot more compelling.

“I’m a practical man,” I say, “I like to deal in specifics. Can we get down to a few? Who’s missing for instance? And why is everyone so interested in locating her?”

Honestly, I’m expecting more ring-around-the rosy nonsense, but Mr. Franklin begins promisingly.

“Her name is Nada Klone. Her real name is something else, of course. What she looks like, is, well….” 

“Anyone’s guess,” I finish.

“No, actually. We have a photo. It will be provided.”

“Mr. Knott said that no one knew what she looked like. That it wasn’t even clear that she exists at all.”

“Mr. Knott,” Mr. Franklin interrupts himself and burps lightly into the back of his hand, “is a moron.”

“Is she in some kind of trouble? I mean, Mr. Knott claimed the man he worked for was in love with her. Why do you guys want her?” 

I was trying to get a grip on just what the deal was here: was this girl a victim, or a victimizer? By finding her, just who would I be helping—and who would I be hurting? 

“She’s an enigma,” Mr. Franklin says with the straightest face you can imagine. He didn’t seem to have any other kind. “A mystery, like the Mona Lisa, only she talks a lot dirtier.”

“Do you have any idea what reason she’d have to disappear.” And I’m thinking, Is she trying to get away from you?

“That’s part of the mystery. You see, Nada Klone is the kind of girl who gets involved with a lot of interesting characters. The kind of girl that Nada Klone is, well, it allows her to move among some surprising levels of society, both high and low. There’s just no telling where a girl like Nada Klone is going to turn up.” He says this with a wink, “Nope, there’s just no telling what kind of trouble a girl like Nada Klone may have gotten herself into. As for acquaintances, known hangouts, and the like, we’ve prepared a list. That, too, will be delivered to you. What do you say, Mr. Molloy. Have we a deal?”

I say what I always say. I say, “I can’t make any promises.”

Mr. Franklin regards me with his one-expression-fits-all face. He says, “Oh, that doesn’t sound like the kind of overwhelming confidence and eager-to-please suck-up answer that we like, Mr. Molloy. Oh dear, not at all.”

“I’m sorry, but it’s the best I can do right now.”

“Oh no,” Mr. Franklin says matter-of-factly. “You can do better. I’m certain of it. I think this is the kind of case that will end up becoming an obsession. I think it’s the kind of case that you will take to heart and make your very own. I predict,” he says, putting his fingers to his forehead and squinting out of his cold lizard eyes as if seeing into a future that consisted of nothing but endless miles of uninhabited frozen tundra, “that it’ll turn into a matter of life-and-death.” 

“I guess what you’re saying is that I don’t have a choice.” 

That’s, I think, the very least of what he’s saying, but I’m trying to put the best face on it, and even at that its looking butt-ugly.

“Choice?” Mr. Franklin repeats, as if he doesn’t understand the word. “You’re an amusing man, Mr. Molloy. Are you an amateur astronomer by any chance?”

I’ve lost him here. I say, “Huh?”

He’s been looking up at the night-sky the entire time, ever 
since he gave up on trying to catch a fish, and now he’s saying something about the Perseides, a meteor shower apparently scheduled for any moment now, but more or less, right now. He is pointing up into the black at something specific, a quadrant, as he puts it, and I’m following his grey skeletal finger, sighting along it like an arthritic gun barrel, basically to amuse him, but I don’t see a damn thing, just black sky, a random scattering of shuddering pin-pricks.

He says, “Look just northwest of the Dipper.”

I say, “The Dipper?”

If I look hard enough and connect the dots, I can imagine I see the Big Dipper just about anywhere. Right now, I’m looking just about anywhere.

He says, “There, there…Do you see it?”

“Yes,” I say, seeing nothing.

Mr. Franklin looks pleased. He says, “Do you ever wonder at the bigness of it all, Mr. Molloy? The sheer immensity? Do you ever look up and think about the magnitude of possibilities? Do you ever have the feeling that there is something else looking back at you? A Great Spirit, perhaps, a Cosmic Intelligence? Is it likely, do you think, that it’s really all just burning gases, explosions, and chemical reactions. Nothing more?”

There is something else, alright, but it’s not coming from the heavens. It’s approaching us down the beach from the north, a ramshackle beast, like a walking picket fence made of three uncoordinated black dogs. This is what’s been happening off to the side that I’ve been trying not to think about. This is the catastrophe that’s been waiting for me. 

The idea of running the hell out of here flashes briefly through my mind, but that seems ridiculous, I could certainly have been killed at any moment up to now if Mr. Franklin wished. As it is, I’ve got a queer feeling in my heart and it’s for good reason: when I look down there’s the red laser dot of a rifle scope jiggling on my sternum.

Mr. Franklin says warningly, “Steady there, Mr. Molloy. Steady.”

This is not going to be good, I’m thinking. Whatever this is, it’s not going to be good at all. I may actually be saying this aloud I’m thinking it so loudly and so insistently inside my thundering skull.

The shambling monstrosity coming towards me has slowly resolved itself into something a little less nightmarish, but every bit as ominous. What’s coming towards me now, it’s clear, are two large men, both in natty black suits, and between them is a woman taller and bulkier than either of her muscle-bound companions and she’s dressed in something black and slinky and glittery that’s showing off little bits and glimpses of her impressive cleavage and thickly muscled legs. She is being held on either side by the two men, but it’s not like she’s being forced, it’s more like she’s being escorted, like she’s been drugged, maybe, or hypnotized, and it’s her total lack of resistance that makes the whole thing seem even weirder and more disturbing than it should be.

The man on the beach chair interrupts my general confusion to say, “There may not by anyone in heaven watching, but we’ve been watching. We’ve been watching you for some time, Mr. Molloy.”

“That’s nice. I hope you were entertained. It’s nice to know I’ve been fucking up my life for someone’s amusement.”

I’m trying to sound cool, and I’m cool alright, my blood is freezing in my veins and I’m saying all this through clenched jaws to keep my teeth from chattering. I’m trying to sound in control of myself, but right about now, I feel that falling to my knees and begging for mercy may soon be the most powerful survival strategy at my disposal. Right about now it’s taking everything I have left to control my bladder and keep from squeaking out the words, “Please, oh please, you've got the wrong guy, just let me go.”

The hulking girl is on her knees now, on her knees on the wet sand and the pair of well-tailored apes have backed up a step or two behind her, and she’s just kneeling there, her big paws at her sides, doing nothing. She’s pulled her black evening dress up over her knees so she could kneel, and she’s kneeling there, her strong, square-jawed face calm and still and totally pale, her mascaraed eyes looking dull and spacey, but focused right on my face, as if I were a blank sheet of paper and she were faced with the world’s worst case of writer’s block. 

Her hair, which is blonde and worn up, looks pretty good. I’ve never seen it this way before, even if it does show too much of her thick, muscular neck. The last time I saw her she was sporting an unfortunate red perm, ala the early Nicole Kidman; the last time I saw her was at Sooki Soo’s place, discussing cut-rate breast implants, because this was no girl, this was Trina T.

“Funny thing is,” Mr. Franklin says, “I think you’re beginning to see how all this involves you far more than you ever suspected. I think it’s becoming obvious that there really are no innocent bystanders in the great big scheme of things.”

“Mr. Franklin,” I manage to say, “This is really a very bad idea.” I’m not ashamed that my voice is cracking. I’m beyond any of that right now. “Mr. Franklin,” I say, “Let’s come to some kind of reasonable understanding.”

The ocean breeze is picking up. One of the men, the one on the right, I think, has done something to Trina T’s top so that one of her meaty shoulders is exposed, and also one small, chemically-enhanced breast that’s growing out of the melting muscle around the nipple of her left pectoral. It’s sort of hanging off her chest, like a white, diseased lemon. The horn of a tanker, miles and miles away at sea, on the edge of the horizon, only a row of seven, barely visible, shimmering lights, gives a few lonely toots.

It sounds like this: “Toot…toot…toot.”

I say, “Why are you doing this? Why are you screwing with my mind?”

Mr. Franklin shrugs. “I can’t help myself. What can I say? I’m an enabler.” He pauses thoughtfully. Then he adds, “But I’m also a disabler.”

What happens next I would like to forget. What happens next I would like to pretend never happened at all. 

This is what happens next:

Behind Trina T, still kneeling on the sand, still half-exposed, still staring at me expressionlessly, like a cow at a fence, the two men in natty black suits have each produced a silver handgun from somewhere on their persons, like they’re both doing the identical card trick at the exact same time.  Trina T slowly lifts her large hands, lifts her large, gnarled, broken fighter’s hands slowly to her lopsided pug’s face as if she were about to pray, because she knows what’s coming next, and she modestly covers her eyes so that I can’t see her disfigured expression when the small silver pistols talk to her. 

Those pistols say, “Pop pop…pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop.”

It’s that simple gesture that I know right away will haunt me to my dying day. It’s the way she lifts her helpless, busted-up hands with the French manicure to her face. That’s what I will always remember, what I won’t be able to forget, lying awake, staring at the shadows on a moonlit closet door at three a.m. for the rest of whatever is left of my life.

I would like to pretend this didn’t happen, that somehow this was all staged. But there are things that happen to a human head when it is hit by half-a-dozen-or-so hollow point bullets of unknown caliber at close range. What I have just seen happen to Trina T’s head is exactly what’s supposed to happen. What happened is murder but it's also a warning against further mayhem, I know this, but a warning about what? A wave of nausea passes through me when I think that could easily be Sooki Soo lying there with a head like a smashed bowl full of turkey chili. The temperature seems to have dropped about twenty degrees in the last ten seconds and another wave of nausea rolls through me and I realize it could be even worse: that corpse lying there with the head turned inside out could easily be me.

Trina T. is now lying face down, on the wet sand, loose and boneless and beyond care and the two men step forward, as if they really needed to, and they point their silver handguns down at the back of her already obliterated head and their guns once again say, “Pop-pop-pop, pop, pop, pop.”

Mr. Franklin rubs his hands together with a flourish. He says, 
“Well, that’s pretty much that then.” He interlaces his long skeletal fingers and cracks his knuckles. He looks at me. He says, “Please Mr. Molloy, get a grip on yourself.”

He's referring to the fact that I’m bent over, hands-on-knees, as if closely inspecting individual grains of sand, being sick. 

Mr. Franklin says, “Really, Mr. Molloy, this is most unbecoming.”

I say, “Waaarrrgh, wralllghhhh.” What I mean to say is: “Fuck you, Mr. Franklin.”

He says, “Come, come now. We all have to die sometime. It’s in the rule book.”

When I’m done throwing up, when I’m done wiping the snot and tears and vomit from my face, when I’m done pushing myself up to an erect position, I look over at Mr. Franklin and whatever I was planning to say dissolves into a pathetic sobbing version of “Why did you do that?”

Mr. Franklin is pragmatic. “You needed to be motivated,” he says. “But now I think you’re finally coming round to the viewpoint that we’re all in this together. I think you’re beginning to experience the participatory nature of the cosmos.”

I ask, “What the hell do you want from me?”

The men in the natty black suits are doing something to Trina T now, as if they hadn’t done more than enough already; clothes are being ripped, limbs are being re-arranged. The whole thing is being made to look like something else. I’m not looking. By now I’m asking, for a fourth or fifth time, “What the hell do you want from me?”

You might say I’m getting hysterical. But yes, from Mr. Franklin’s point of view, you might interpret it differently.

Cool as a cucumber, Mr. Franklin replies, “I want you to find out why she was killed.”

“You killed her you son-of-a-bitch,” I cry. “Just now!”

I’m crying out of rage and frustration. I’m crying out of fear. It’s not just Mr. Franklin. It’s not just the brutal, cold-blooded murder I’ve just witnessed. It’s everything. It’s a whole life of bullshit and lies and the frustration of dealing with other people and their bullshit, lies, and frustration, all of the stuff we usually keep festering out of sight, all of it, the whole magilla stew boiling up to the surface. 

“Stop playing games! You killed her! I just saw you!”

Mr. Franklin has his bony hands folded over his bony knees and he looks like he’s going to get up but instead he’s just taking up this homey down-on-the-farm pose. He says, “That’s now a matter for police inquiry.”

He says this like he has insider information. 

“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?” I ask, as if I don’t already know.

The ship, now so far out at sea it’s invisible, calls out to shore. It goes, “Toot…toot……….Toot?”

I know what the emaciated bastard is talking about. I know only too well what he’s talking about. My legs are shaking, my hands are shaking, my shoulders are shaking, my whole goddamn body is shaking. It’s as if I’m shaking apart.  Fact is, I don’t know what’s holding me together at this point. I feel like I’m going to be sick again, but that’s impossible because there isn’t anything left inside me to be rid of. I’m empty. I’m so totally empty I feel light-headed. I feel almost like laughing.

I am laughing.

Mr. Franklin is laughing, too.

For a few moments there, we're both part of the same audience sharing the joke. Then he suddenly stops laughing. 

He says, “You’re a suspect, naturally. You’re here, after all. Fibers, hair, footprints,  DNA.” He holds up a hand and counts off each of his points, one by one, on a skeletal finger. “Even your fingerprints will end up on the murder weapon.” He holds up his other hand and he counts off those fingers, too. “Circumstances, opportunity, motive.” 

He goes on. “History, physical evidence, prior connection with the victim, no credible alibi.” Then he has to reuse the fingers of the first hand. “Eyewitnesses, photographs, times, and dates, past criminal record.” He looks at me significantly, as if no one who’d used up that many fingers could possibly be innocent of anything. “That’s a lot of damn fingers Mr. Molloy. And they all point to you.”

“No one will believe it,” I say, but the fact is, I can believe it, it’s all-too-damn believable. 

“Unless you find Nada Klone for us, whoever she is, wherever she is, dead or alive, you just killed her.” 

“I don’t get it.”

“No one else knows what Nada Klone looks like.” He points to Trina T. “Unless you find her, we will arrange for that to be Nada Klone.”

I’m not laughing anymore. I’m not crying. I’m just standing there feeling extremely drained and completely sorry for myself. I’m all of a sudden feeling just totally bummed out. I say about the only thing I can think of to say under the circumstances. 

I say, “Can I please go home now. Please?”

Coming soon: 6. Bad dreams, paranoid delusions, and breakfast in hell