Form: hypertext fiction

To Cut a Long Story Short

To Cut a Long Story Short

We lost. My generation.

My parents and grandparents were either unable or unwilling to do enough to change the world. And my generation was too late.

And now it is here. Just saw a vid in Meta about the hurricane that smashed New York. Well, its sister smashed Bangladesh the month before. And before that, the Summer Olympics were drowned in rain. In Brisbane, for God’s sake.

The world is heating up and there is no way back.

What do I do about it when it’s too late to do anything to stop it? How do I stop hating my parents, or people like them?

Should I have kids?

All of these things are crazy. I should not have to think about them. I’m only 26.

But there it is. There is only the struggle now.

What will my struggle look like, now that the enemy has broken the gates?

I don’t know. I only know that I can’t give in to what I feel.

In a nutshell, I choose life. That’s all you ever can.

Next Step: Tomorrow

Next Step: Tomorrow

The waiting is hardest when it’s for that flash of inspiration that will lift you out of the morass and give you an idea for action.

Action to change your life, create something moving and brilliant with your art, and set some relationship right. Sometimes you feel it’ll never come. But something always comes, if you listen for long enough you always hear something.

The trick isn’t getting inspiration but not forgetting it, because life stuff floods your attention and zaps your energy. I’ve often forgotten an idea for something really great I could do, something that would make a difference because soon after, you know, life happened.

Then two days or two years down the line, when I’ve parked my car somewhere I can see the horizon and don’t want to drive home because home is chaos, then – right then – an old idea or inspiration rears its head, and I go home with a little more hope for tomorrow.

Waiting for the Update

Waiting for the Update

I couldn’t escape into random news surfing this morning, because my iPhone had decided to run a half-hour long update so with “exciting new features to iPhone, including the ability to unlock iPhone with Apple Watch while wearing a face mask, more diverse Siri voices, new privacy controls, skin tone options to better represent couples in emoji, and much more”. So I had no buffer between myself and the five zillion demands that assault me every morning from the moment I open my eyes until I close them, from kids to looking for a job to kissing my husband goodbye and pretending we still have some semblance of a romantic marriage. But once I was able to gulp down my first cup of coffee, my brain began spinning scenarios anyway for how I could get everything out of life before it was too late: make more money, make more love, make more art.

The Seven Words Left On Paper

The Seven Words Left On Paper

“Isn’t that the bag dad uses for his guns?” 

“No, it’s an ordinary bag,” Carrie said, “like yours.”

Emma had her own new pink bag with the large Japanese letters slung over her shoulder, so it was obvious that she was going over to Mika, probably to try again to make a positive impression on the new smart girl in class.  

Emma nodded at the bed again. “It looks like dad’s bag.”

Carrie adjusted her ear ring, even though she had already done it. But at least she had somewhere to put her hands. “I’m going shopping. Is there anything special you want for dinner, sweetie?”

“Dinner?” Emma still tripped in the doorway to her parents’ bedroom, staring at the big black bag her mother had on the bed.

“Yes, is there anything you want?”

“Er, for dinner?” Emma repeated as if her mother had asked her about the site of an alien landing.

“Yes, I was thinking about fries and chicken … ” 

“We had that yesterday.”

“Oh, right.” Carrie left the earring alone and pretend she was all clear. “Well, your brother likes it so no harm in having it again.”

Emma smiled briefly. “I think I will eat over at Mika’s … if you don’t mind?”

“The rest of us will certainly miss your excellent company, but we will try to manage.” Carrie was about to say something more, but it was already too late.

“Okay. Bye now!” And away she was. Carrie could hear the stair groaning in protest as Emma flew down to the front door, like a soldier to battle.

Carrie hooked up in the straps of the black bag and felt its weight. It didn’t feel like going off to battle, although perhaps it should. The bag was there, but it did not feel it belonged to her. 

Her summer dress with the knee-length skirt—that belonged to her, even if she’d rather have a newer one. Her sandals that were a little too tight, and which she had to replace soon. A whiff of nail polish, deodorant, lipstick, all familiar. All belonged to her. She had just dressed for shopping, after all.  But she did not feel like it.

She felt like an intruder in her own life. And it wasn’t the first time. She wondered if it would make a difference what was in the bag or that she was going to give it to Jenna, before going anywhere near Costco. In fact, she felt no appetite at all … 

After a moment of hesitation, Carrie heaved the bag up once more, felt the strap bite into her naked shoulder but ignored it. She listened instead. There were the expected sounds. Michael was playing his games. This time it was strategy-something. And he was well into his own autistic world, as usual. He probably wouldn’t notice if she knocked on his door, anyway.

She went out, to do what she had to do.


Emma watched her mom walk over to the car, heels click-clacking on the sun-cracked cement that made for a driveway to their small house. 

She was in her usual hide-out behind Mr. Taylor’s fence, which he luckily never got around to replacing. The old planks had long since come apart as rain and sun had done their job, each season, and it was easy to find an opening wide enough to look through, but not wide enough to be seen. Or at least she reckoned so.

Mr. Taylor himself was at the nursing home, looking after his wife, as usual. Or at least she reckoned so.

There were a lot of routines in Emma’s world that she depended on to get by and crazy as it sounded one of the routines was that she knew her mother’s dark moods well enough to be able to predict fairly well, when Carrie would be angry or just distant. Emma also knew when to look out for worse things. Her father had had a long conversation about that one night when Carrie had been at her friend, Jenna’s, with some other of her friends.

That conversation had frightened Emma, and she had felt crushingly alone, and her father as usual had kind of left it there and didn’t seem like he wanted to talk about it again, although she desperately needed to.

Her mother started the car and it pulled out onto the street and then quickly disappeared between the boxes that went for houses in their suburb. She didn’t make the usual turn at the end, so Emma knew she wasn’t going into town. She was heading out of it. The only person in eastern Yuma that Emma knew her mom knew was Jenna Banks. Otherwise there was nothing for her there.

The sun was in the sky, as it was so often here in Arizona, but it felt cold.

Emma pulled her phone from her Japanese bag and called Mika.

“Look, I can’t come over now.”

“What?” Mika sounded both disappointed and a bit like it was what she had expected. “Not again!”

Emma bit her lip. “I’m really sorry. It’s mom. She’s gone over to a friend, I think, but something is wrong.”

“Last time you thought your mom would kill herself, she went to a barbecue party.” Emma could hear Mika chewing gum, and … someone else in the background. Were there other girls from her class? Mika had said that tonight was ‘their night’.

“It’s not her this time. I think she might kill … I don’t know.” Emma stalled. She couldn’t say it. And it was crazy, wasn’t it? The only clue she had was dad’s black bag. But it had looked … heavy.

“You think she’ll go on a shooting spree?” Mika’s voice became serious, all of a sudden. “Is that what you are saying?”

“I don’t know what I am saying … ” Emma felt something in her stomach, like acid. It was eating away at her insides. “I don’t know, I’m just worried. She has had a lot of arguments with Jenna recently.”

“Maybe you should call your dad. Isn’t he a police man?” Mika chewed the gum again. “I want to help. Tell me if I can do anything.”

“I’ll call my dad. It’s probably all right. She hasn’t been doing pills or booze or anything … ” Emma hung up, but the acid was still there and it was spreading.

It was that feeling that she had had more and more often. It was both acrid and ice cold at the same time, and it nailed her to the spot.

She couldn’t move. She felt her heart beat faster and she had trouble breathing. Doctor Maryam had called it anxiety attacks and had given her some pills, too, but the only pills Emma could think of was the ones she knew her mother sometimes had in her drawer. The ones against depression. Had she taken them recently? Were they enough? 

Despite what she had told Mika, she really didn’t know if her mother had been skipping her pills or if she had been drinking again or anything else. It was easier to keep an eye on mom due to COVID 19, of all things, because they had been home so much, but on the other hand, it wasn’t as if Emma could survey the attic or the bedroom 24/7. Emma suspected mom already knew that she was sometimes watching her.

She finally tore herself loose of the cold and started walking down the street, her pink bag bopping at her hip. She was only 15 but it felt like she had already spent whatever life had been allotted to her. She wanted to go over to Mika’s and have fun and watch those series they had talked about, because Mika and her brother had both Netflix and HBO.

But instead she got on her bike and began half-heartedly cycling in east, towards the Foothills where she knew Jenna lived. She wrestled with the question.

Should I call dad?

There could be a million reasons her mother had borrowed that bag. It was one of the biggest they had. Maybe her mother would go to Costco on her way back? Maybe her mother thought it was none of Emma’s business that she was going to Jenna’s first? Maybe she wasn’t going to Jenna’s but somewhere else?

Emma knew it was stupid to continue biking. She had to do something. Stop and call. Decide this was normal and ignore it. Go back to talk to Michael. But as long as she was biking at least she felt she had direction, as crazy as it was.

If only she felt that her own life in general was heading in some kind of direction. A direction that gave you hope. Not one that made you feel like you were driving towards a deep dark tunnel that nobody knew the length of.

Perhaps one that never ended.

Then the thought struck her. 

If mom really wanted to do something crazy, she would have left a note, right? That’s what they always do.

It was pretty absurd, but the thought gave Emma what she needed. Hope and another direction. She went back to the house to search for a sign, some indication. Then she would call her father.

I might be ten thousand times too late … but I have to do this right.

The doctor said she should always think twice. Think about what really could have happened. The possibilities. Not just the worst-case scenario. If only the latter wasn’t so hard.

For a moment, she considered calling mom. It would be the obvious thing to do. Except that her mom would probably lie, as she had done so often before. No, not lie. Lie was a bad word. More like her mom was always hiding, not telling her how she really felt.

Emma went to the bedroom. There was nothing.

Then she went to the locker in the basement where her father kept his guns. It was locked. But her mother knew where the key was. She knocked on the locker. It sounded as if there was something inside. She tried moving it a little bit. It felt heavy, as usual. There was definitely something inside. Yet, her father had many guns … 

She couldn’t stand it any longer. She went upstairs to get a better signal for her cell phone and began punching her dad’s number. She wondered if she should take the extra pills, Dr. Maryam had prescribed for ‘difficult situations’, but she wanted to call first.

Then she saw the note in the hallway.

It had to have fallen out of mom’s purse. No, it looked crumpled, like she had thrown it away. She sometimes did that with the strangest of things in the strangest of places. Once her mom had left an entire Happy Meal on the pavement, because she had decided she wasn’t hungry, and then went home to cook late. It had been one of the bad days, so nobody had said anything about how hungry they were and things had dissolved into workable normalcy the next day.

Emma picked up the note. It said:


One Step Closer

One Step Closer

The morning was really good for once – until the phone rang.

She didn’t take it. Not yet. She was not going to answer that damn phone. She had any number of excuses in the back of her mind, vague, dreamily, as if nothing else mattered than here and now. And everything else could magically take care of itself. You could say – think – anything to shape your world and it would do as you pleased.

In the end, she took it. Her lips still tasted salty and she allowed herself a second to remember that …

“Carrie – ? Are you there, honey?”

Okay, now there was no way back:

“Mom – what is it? Has something happened?”

She almost wished for it, although her gut told her it was not like that. And her heart that it should not be like that.

But it was something that would make her perfect, salty day all dry up.

Carrie seated herself upright in the bed, with the cell phone pressed hard to her ear. She soon pulled her legs up under herself, pressing her jaw equally hard towards her knees as she listened. It had only taken 10 seconds and now she was curled up like a steel spring.

Jon did not wait long before he rolled out and began looking for his socks and jeans as if nothing had happened. He knew it was now the only thing he could do.

The quiet morning before the suburban beehive woke up was still quiet. But in Carrie’s mind storms were raging.

Why could it never be different with mom, after all these years?

“Please, could you say that again?”

Carrie had to ask because from the moment she had picked up the phone, everything had become more and more unreal.

Her mother was happy to prolong that reality:

“Look, I know it’s hard to wrap your head around, and they have hundreds, if not thousands, of candidates. But this time it is you!” 

“Me … “

“Yes! Marcus will give you 100,000 dollars as part of the Church Universal’s yearly Give Way-Event. The only condition is that you’ll use them to improve, well, anything really. Start that business. Draw … whatever.”

“Uh … I don’t know if,” Carrie tried, but it was really too late.

“Don’t you think that it is awesome, darling?” her mother beat on. “I am really glad Marcus and I kept in contact all those years. And you know, last year there was a widow who lived on welfare in Boston who received the Event Money and she has a small salon today that – “

“Look,” Carrie said, “I’m really not sure that – “

“I mean,” her mother continued undaunted, as always, “with you leaving college like that and never becoming a lawyer and then – “ she hesitated ever so slightly ” – that problem down in Florida, and all the hard work afterward… I think you deserve it, Carrie.”

“I really don’t want to talk about Florida … “

Carrie didn’t know if she was irritated with her mother for using that damn euphemism for Carrie’s short, but nearly fatal, dance with cocaine over 15 years ago. Yeah, it had all started in Florida, but it wasn’t just Florida where the problems had continued. And why couldn’t we call it what it was …

I was a crackhead, mom … 

But her head now was beginning to swim with something that almost made her long for that escape.

“Mom, this really isn’t a good time. It’s morning here and I need to think about this … “

“Well, you have been thinking for 15 years, haven’t you?”

One of the Deborah Sawyer witticisms. You never quite knew if it was designed to make you laugh or cry.

“I have been trying to build a life – caring for my family.”

“And draw. I know you love drawing. And then of course that job …

“What, the cleaning?”

“No, no –  something better.”  Deborah Sawyer sounded like she had found something precious that had been lost for a long time ” – maybe you could use the money to pay for you doing more of that interpretation work for that organisation you help – I can never remember its name – “

“OMAC, mom.”

“OMAC – that’s it. With the migrants, and all.”

“That’s right. Separated migrant families. And other – “

Carrie didn’t say anything now. She seriously needed to stop this. It felt like she had been hit by a brick.

“Mom … it’s Marcus,” she then said.


“—What is it about Marcus that you don’t like?”

“Okay, it’s not just about Marcus,” Carrie finally said.

“Then who is it about?”

The old knife’s edge in Deborah’s tone, whenever they talked – it had never completely gone away.

“Look, I am not going to meet him, okay?” Carrie said with finality.

Jon had long stopped getting dressed and was standing there looking at her with a half-puzzled, half-worried expression.

“Do you think it’s funny for me having to work my ex to help you?” her mother said, the knife still getting sharper.

That tone – it was like her mother’s attempt at cutting away at that always smoldering exasperation and frustration that she seemed to carry around, just beneath the surface.

“No, mom, I don’t think so.”

“Well, don’t you think it’s a good offer … ?” Deborah followed up.

And then before Carrie could answer, her mother added:

“If I had had that offer at your age, it would have changed everything.”

“I’m 40, mom. And – “

“That’s my point, dear. It is never too late.”

“It’s certainly never too late to try to fix my life.”

“Well, that’s grateful, dear – real grateful.”

Carrie pulled her legs up tighter and clenched the phone hard now. Sure, she was naked in the bed with only part of the sheet pulled up around her body, but that was not the problem. The way this conversation veered off – the way it always veered off – made her feel it wouldn’t matter how many clothes she put on. Sure, a moment ago she had also been naked – but she had not felt naked. She did now. And in the bad way.

Again …

“Mom … ?”

“Yes, darling.”

You don’t mean that.

“Listen – ” she started, then caught Jon’s eyes.

He eyed her, questioningly. She covered the cell phone with her hand:

“Kids … ” she whispered.

“But – ” he began.

“I’ll be fine.”

“All right.”

He quickly tugged his shirt all the way down into his trousers and tightened his belt. Then he grabbed his shoes and was out the door, to wake up Emma and Michael.

And do all the things that needed to be done, even if the world had stopped a little bit in their bedroom.

“Carrie … ?” Deborah’s voice sounded more distant now.


“Want to tell me what this was all about?” Jon asked just when she had felt relieved he probably wouldn’t.

The breakfast table was half empty already, so Carrie was toasting some more bread and searching for the marmalade and moving some dishes around, and looking for more to do, so she did not have to sit too much at the table and talk about Emma’s homework or that Stanton kid Michael was afraid of, and who did seem like a certified bully.

Maybe he has absent parents?

“Can we talk about it … later?” Carrie eyed Emma and Michael.

“Sure,” Jon said quickly.

“Talk about what?” Emma asked.

“About … when we are going to visit Miriam in LA,” Carrie said quickly and looked at Jon.

“Yeah, right,” Jon said.

“Well, when are we?” Emma asked in a tone that was loaded with impatience bordering on … pain.

Carrie breathed deeply: “Maybe next month.”

“‘Maybe’?” Emma had not said much this morning, as usual, but now …

“What about grandma? She lives there now, doesn’t she?” Emma continued, “we could visit both.” But it was obvious from her tone that it was nothing she really wanted as much as visiting her best friend who was no longer there.

“Are we going to visit grandma?” Michael quipped while slurping his cornflakes. A flake had somehow become stuck in his wily blonde hair.

“Yes, dear, but … ” Carrie started and removed the flake as she sat down.

“You forgot the marmalade, mom!” Michael complained, fiddling his toast.

A change of subject. Never had it been so welcome.

“I did.” Carrie got up and took the jar of strawberry marmalade. She had taken it out of the fridge but left it on the table.

Carrie went back and sat down and gave Michael the jar.

“Here, honey.”

Michael turned the jar upside down and since it was open he almost immediately covered her toast and most of his bread in marmalade – and quite a bit of the table.

“No – ” Carrie started. And there they went again.

But it was comforting, after all. It was routine. Even the post-postponement of that LA visit. Carrie wanted so badly for her daughter to be able to visit Miriam, but not alone. On the other hand, it would just make her relation with Deborah worse, if Carrie followed her daughter to LA and did not visit her own mother.

So it was the ritual ruminations that were shut down as quickly as you could find some marmalade to worry about and thank you for that.

It was the ritual chaos in the tiny dining kitchen in a dry white house with a low-angled sun-bleached turquoise roof, doors, garden gates – or what went for a garden.

The garden was there but it was all the things there was never time for, and usually not enough money for, to really do something about. So it just had to be as it was.

It was home. In good times and bad times.

It was the comforting chaos and homely box full of unfinished dreams and decoration plans that she knew as a base, somewhere to shelter.

It was the shelter she had to leave in under 15 minutes.


Carrie and Jon finished up without talking more about the call from Deborah. Or LA. All the things that were better talked about … later.

And then Hammond picked up Jon on his way to the station, so for once, Carrie had the car. And the kids were allowed a ride in a real police car, so that also helped matters.

If being alone with your thoughts was helpful.

Carrie knew the city too well after all this time. She could almost follow the roads blindfolded, she thought, as she drove off to work herself. Everything was familiar – in all the ways that were both good and bad but ultimately comforting.

A strange kind of comfort … like sedation.

Today, though, Yuma was covered in the sun that made its city vista mosaic of rust red, and white look a little milder and more inviting than she had ever felt it would be.

Carrie had never wanted to come here, into the desert, close to the edge of this adopted country of hers.

But there had been work for Jon and none for her, so the story had played out as it always had in these situations. They moved here and not anywhere else.

And then she had to find work – any kind of work.

When Carrie reached Meachum’s Nursing Home she stood there for a moment.

Then she measured herself and went in, trying to put on her best ‘I don’t care’-face.

But it wasn’t the uniform or the stench of bleach that bothered her.

It was that damn phone call …

Carrie went through the doors and checked in. It wasn’t that bad.

Some cleaning ladies have to check in way earlier … this isn’t bad. This isn’t bad.

She thought about it and noticed the usual stillness in the air and the dust on top of the picture of Monument Valley in the reception. The dust was never cleaned because there were strict rules (regulated by strict budgets) about what should be cleaned and what should not.

Carrie knew very well what had to be cleaned. After five years she knew every nook and cranny of the 200 rooms, hallways, offices, and toilets of Meachum’s.

It was strange … when you wiped a table somewhere you began to notice cracks or marks and all kinds of atomic details when at home you could barely remember the color of the cushions on the couch.

That’s what cleaning full-time gets you … it makes you a goddamn robot with a photographic memory of things that don’t matter … 

She walked down the hall, nodded a few greetings to personal on morning watch and Mr. Hansen and Mrs. Mckenzie who were always roaming early.

In the little dressing room at the end of hallway 1, Carrie found the one person she always slightly dreaded to see, yet had learned to live with. Like a sore knee …

Clarice’s tiny wiry 50+ body struggling with the uniform and filling no space at all and her voice and attitude filling everything:

“Fucking hell – why can’t they ever get the sizes right for the new ones?!”

“Hey … Clarice … “

Clarice looked up and grinned and Carrie was reminded to be grateful that at least smoking was never a vice she had had.

The coke and the booze were quite enough …

That was a different time, though. A life lived … by somebody else.

“Carrie … ” Clarice seemed she had forgotten why the laundry or purchaser or whoever was a jerk.

“You look just like I feel … !” Clarice then added, as if it was a divine inspiration: “No, scratch that, girl. You look a lot worse.”

Clarice pulled out a packet of cigarettes from her own pocket.

“Clarice – goddammit – “


Carrie pointed at the pack, rolling her eyes.

“Fuck it – ” Clarice lit one.

Carrie shook her head. “We’re late,” she added. “And this ‘room’ is too small for that shit.”

“Not for the two wheezes I need.” Clarice blew smoke out her nostrils, then quashed the cigarette quickly. “Now do you know what you need to look a little more spiff when you come here, honey?”


Clarice looked at Carrie as if she was a grape – and Clarice had just bitten into it. Then she blew out smoke:

“It’s that husband of yours,” Clarice said. “I can tell.”

“Yeah, you know all about husbands.”

“I do.”

“You do.”

“And you know all about men, right?” Clarice’s tone became venomous.

Carrie shook her head and started looking for her buckets. She figured she’d just go with the flow and close her ears as usual. And her heart.

She knew Clarice well enough. Despite the slight soft turn at the end of this morning’s talk, the potshots had only just begun.


“I can’t stay here any longer.” Jocelyn gulped down some more coffee. It was her second cup while Carrie had been at OMAC’s office.

One precious hour before kids.

Carrie stared at her coffee then at her own cup, which she hadn’t really touched. “Why?”

But she knew the answer. This was all just going through the motions.

The office at OMAC was lightly air-conditioned as always, even this month. And it was spartan, as always. It was as if Yuma’s Office for Migrants And Counseling was a local NGO so attuned to the people it served that its founders had decided there need not be any spiffy furniture or pictures on the walls, not even a single flower in a vase.

Everything should be dedicated to counseling those migrants who crossed the border legally or less so, and who needed help.

That was one interpretation.

The other, of course, was that there was never money for anything, especially not new office chairs or some original paintings or even framed photos. Or someone to buy and water flowers.

But those were all things, and in truth, they were not the primary need in the run-down former tarpaulin store and warehouse-building in southern Yuma, a short walk from the Custom’s Service on East 39th and with a naked desert view out of the windows in three of four walls of the building.

Dedication was the primary need, not just because there was never money. But also because the mission here – to guide and counsel migrants, no matter their legality or circumstances – wasn’t exactly something everybody appreciated by default in the United States these days.

Dedication, though, was not an infinite resource.

“Work … ” Jocelyn said, after a long pause.

Carrie nodded. “Been there.”

She thought of Meachum’s Home … of how she had this one hour before she had to go get the kids … of how much … she needed to be … here.

Here instead of there.

Always the case for me, isn’t it?

Jocelyn stared blankly into the desert behind the windows. A few miles beyond the horizon there was Mexico and all the pain and suffering of moving people that had somehow – some days, perversely she felt – turned into meaning for her.

“That bad, huh?” Carrie added.

Jocelyn shrugged as if she didn’t care, but she looked lost.

“I can’t get that break I want as a new lawyer if I work here as well. Nobody cares about this and they still expect you to do 70 hours per week if you want to get a foot in the door… “

“You heard from Kirkland & Ellis yet?”

“No, they probably even haven’t looked at what I sent them … So for now I’m stuck with Margrave. Half of it paid, the other half … ” She looked even more lost. “It’s what I have.”

“It’s what counts if you want to move up, yeah.”

“As in getting a steady job at a firm – somewhere.”

“As in that, yeah.” She shook her head. “But … “

Carrie knew the rest.

” … I want to work here,” Jocelyn said, sounding more resigned than ever. Then she shook her head. “And with you … ” She looked at Carrie but her smile was thin.

“Through thick and thin … that’s us,” Carrie said. “The team supreme. The Anti-Trumpistas … “

“Yeah … ” Jocelyn said softly and poured more coffee.

“You okay?” she then said to Carrie.

“Yeah – yeah … just thinking … about family stuff.”

“Oh, okay? Everything good back there?”

“Yeah, no – I mean, it’s my daughter – I – “

“Difficult age, huh?”

“Damn right.”

Jocelyn looked thoughtful: “Why can’t anything ever be goddamn easy? I just want to stay here and do some work!”

“But you don’t have enough time,” Carrie added.

Jocelyn looked up: “Sorry, you’re the one with two kids … “

“Never mind that.”

Jocelyn stroked her jet black hair, just above her brow. She looked away into the distance, but there was nothing but the wall in front of her – that was where she looked. But her gaze was far away …

“You know, Carrie, I really never made a secret of how much I admire you,” she then said.

“Come on – “

“That cleaning work must be exhausting … “

“It pays the bills. Some of them.”

“Not so much time to interpret legal stuff here for scared migrants, though?” Jocelyn said. “But you come here anyway. You are my best interpreter.”

“And you are … my friend.”

Jocelyn smiled with a bit more light.

“Yeah, yeah I am. But I was just thinking that with you coming here – still – it must be so difficult and – “

“Don’t make this about me,” Carrie interrupted. “I fought to get that hour off earlier so I could get down here on a weekday before the kids … you know, to say goodbye.”

Jocelyn tasted the word: “‘Goodbye’ … “

Then she shifted the topic, and they chit-chatted a bit about everything else but the elephant in the room. Carrie was glad to oblige.

But her mind drifted while they talked. She had expected coffee, yes, and talk about how to help kids out of cages and anything else that could make her feel like she was in the good fight and making a difference – make her feel bigger.

And now she was thinking that she should be sad but that a part of her was also relieved. Jocelyn was 10 years younger and on the threshold of a brilliant career because she was so goddamn smart. She had already worked in many law firms, the only thing holding her back to become a partner was her own desire to be somewhere else, much like Carrie.

She wanted to do the dirty work here on the ground and help the legal department of chronically understaffed and cash-strapped charities like OMAC.

She wanted, in short, to do something for people for whom victory meant to be allowed living a life and not winning a settlement claim of 1 million dollars more.

And that was also what Carrie wanted. And that was also why she loved working with Jocelyn, even though – at times – she had also hated that Jocelyn wanted this kind of work.

Because it was only Jocelyn’s decision to hold back her career for some years that had held it back (that and not having kids, of course). It wasn’t because she had fucked up at life or anything.

In short: Jocelyn was everything Carrie had wanted to be at 30, back when Carrie was only 21 and didn’t yet know that she would never go back to law school after that sojourn to Bolivia.

A part of Carrie hated that no matter how hard she tried to put it down. And another part of Carrie hated herself even stronger for thinking of it like this. It was Jocelyn, goddammit …

I have to fucking pull myself together. I don’t need all of these thoughts … I need them like I need cockroaches in the goddamn kitchen … 

It was, of course, at that very moment that somebody knocked at the door to the meeting room – and half-opened it at the same time.

A curly, redhead woman in her early 50s peeked in:

“There you are – sorry to disturb, but – “

Yeah, always interrupt then say you are sorry, Brenda … 

“What?” Jocelyn said, alert.

Carrie tried to hide behind her coffee cup. It did not work.

“Margarita Morales is back with her son,” Brenda said.

“I thought we had an agreement she’d come back next week?” Jocelyn said. “I gave that case to Tom, so he could take care of it when I’m gone.”

“She might not be here next week,” Brenda said. “They want to deport her tomorrow.”

“Oh shit … “

“I thought the case was all in the clear?” Carrie blurted. “I mean, we talked to officer Dean about it last week and he said – “

“That’s not what she says,” Brenda interrupted, shaking her head. “Or at least not what I gather. In fact, we could use a little help with interpretation, Carrie – Linus went home half an hour ago.”

Carrie felt lost: “I have to fetch my kids in 20 minutes from school.”

“Can’t they take a bus?” Brenda asked in that way that did nothing to de-escalate the situation.

Carrie glared at her but said nothing. She knew it was exactly the time to say nothing. She gritted her teeth and motioned to get up.

Jocelyn got up before her: “Let me take care of this,” she said to Brenda.

“I think we need someone who speaks better Spanish – ” Brenda said ” – not that – “

She was interrupted when there was noise from the hallway … it sounded like a boy crying. And then – a woman shouting:

“Carlos – venga aqui!”

Carrie got up before Jocelyn could protest.

“I’ll call Emma and ask her to take Michael home on the bus,” she said, making a point out of not looking at Brenda as she said it.

But it was okay. Emma could do this and Michael was a big boy. It was just the bloody traffic she was worried about and Jon was working late – again.

And of course, Michael’s autism. But … Emma could handle it.

And Carrie would do what she could – as always.


On her way home Carrie noticed that Em had been trying to call her. But then there was a text saying:

Nothing important, mom. We’re home now.

It wasn’t usual for Emma to be so … clipped, Carrie thought. And yet – it wasn’t unusual, either. When she was mad … at her mother.

Yeah, I had promised to pick you both up and then you would go to Marie’s and not look after your little brother who I don’t want to be all alone in the house because he is only 10 and the neighborhood is not that … and maybe I am overreacting and … 

Well, she could try a different line. Carrie thought about it as she waited in a crossing, just behind a truck that smelled like it had driven all through nine states without getting a wash.

Sorry, honey, but I think you are such a big girl now it was time you stepped up and …

Nah, fuck it.

How would she explain that she went to OMAC when she had said to everybody at the morning table 2 weeks ago that she would definitely not spend time volunteering and therefore get home earlier?

She had promised Jon.

She had promised Em and Michael.

She had promised herself.

Except that the last promise had felt more like a betrayal.

What the fuck is wrong with me … ?!

Why couldn’t she ever just figure out life? Figure out some kind of balance.

Carrie rounded a corner and … a truck raced by from the left and passed her – very close. She could hear the roar in her head and smell the diesel.

It had been just a few seconds after the red light. Or had she been … distracted?

Some other car honked behind her and she realized she was clogging everything up and quickly shifted gear, but too quickly. The car’s gears made a groaning sound and the car stopped as if it had hit something.

The guy behind her was yelling something now – while he was honking. Somebody else was testing their horn, too.

Carrie was very close to exiting and yelling something back, but at the last minute, she cleared her mind and started up and cleared the crossing.

Soon she was on the small roads – into the sundry suburbia of Yuma where home was, and a kind of safety. At least until she had to explain things to Emma.

I can’t explain it, darling. I was there because I felt … I missed it. I missed doing something important. And it is important when I help them translate. They don’t have that many people who know law and who speak Spanish. They ...

She rephrased it over and over again in her, but it sounded wrong.

It sounded so wrong that even the fact that there had been a screaming kid and a desperate mother who was going to be deported tomorrow for no good reason – that fact felt more and more unreal, the more she repeated the other facts to herself. The facts that were supposed to convince her daughter it was okay she had let her down again. That she – Emma – had had to look after Michael again. Or do something else than the plan she already had. Plans which meant everything to a teenager. About friends. About being … part of the group. The important groups anyway … it seemed as if Emma had new friends every week and she went out with them and she …

Carrie sighed as she pulled into the driveway. For a long time, she just sat in the car, not bothering to go out. The road was quiet. Not so her head.

Emma – OMAC – that truck – everything …

And then, of course … a hundred thousand dollars.

It’s crazy … I barely know the man, Carrie thought as she finally got out, locked the car, and prepared for the long trek up to the front door.

What’s the catch?

Marcus Chen … she had only met the man twice and he always seemed like someone who could be philanthropic. And a quiet sort of charisma, a determination, and direction that she had always lacked.

Perhaps that was why Carrie had liked him and then … somehow – the second time – felt inadequate. It had been at her mother’s 60th birthday and not so terribly long after the whole debacle in Florida.

And her cold turkey.

Sure that was something. Not many people could do that. And even get something like a real family afterward. A job. A … life.

But as time wore on, it felt more shameful again. And like something that always made her stand out. What could she have done with her life, if she had not snorted coke and fucked around and generally tried to kill herself slowly?

Maybe a business empire like Marcus Chen? Maybe a project in Bolivia for homeless children. Or a hospital for war widows in Rwanda?

So, of course, it had felt like a victory when she discovered that Marcus Chen subscribed to a religion even more warped than her mother’s.

Sure, he said he had changed and all … but … who can really change? For real? Especially when it came to what you believed in?

And that was a good thought. For if Marcus Chen was a nutcase then he could not be better than her, no matter how many homeless children he saved with his new “socially responsible business” and the whole organization behind it.



Carrie opened the front door carefully.

She could hear the telly from the living room – cartoon channels being zapped fast and furious.

There was the sound of another car behind her, but it passed too quickly on the road to see who it was.

For a moment she hesitated, looked at the white boxes that were neighboring houses, hoping for some other distraction. Then she turned again and went in.

Michael was in the living room, of course. And so were Disney and all the others.

“Hi, honey, where is your sister?” Carrie called.

“Uh, hi mom – I think she is in the kitchen.”

He didn’t even look at her, and why not, Carrie thought.

It’s not as if I’ve been that much here, even when I am here … 

But the evenings were always long and Jon always got the lousy shifts, so who could blame her that she was tired.

Yeah, one person, in particular, she thought as she opened the kitchen door.

Me … 

“Hi Em.”

Emma was sitting at the kitchen table, typing on her phone.

She did look up: “Hi mom.”

“Mind if I sit here?” Carrie pulled out another chair.

“Uh-no,” Emma answered noncommittally.

“All right … “

When she had sat down, Carrie found that she didn’t know what to say. Apparently the same went for Emma, but at least she had some really interesting texting to focus on.

So both of them were silent for some time.

Carrie looked at her daughter – 12 years old, going on 13.

God, you are beautiful ...

“So how was school?”

“Okay, mom.”

Well, it was a start.

Carrie pulled herself together and said it:

“Look, Em – I’m sorry you had to go home with Michael. But after those kids started going after him, I didn’t want him to go home alone. And, well, he is still only 10.”

“I know, mom.” Emma was staring intently at her phone.

“So … are you mad at me?”

Finally, she looked up.

“I’m not mad, mom.”

Not quite the reply Carrie had expected. Especially because she could see Emma was sincere.

So there she was – Emma – the spitting image of Carrie at 12-13-ish: Long blonde hair, blue-grey eyes, and a slender but strong body that just kept outgrowing the clothes they bought for her. Or that she bought herself. She could outrun many of the boys in her class. Only difference was that Carrie had never used lenses or glasses for that matter.

But it was an invisible difference and not one that mattered.

In fact, what really mattered was how different Emma was from what Carrie remembered she herself had been like.

Unlike Carrie at that age, Emma was self-assertive and outgoing to a degree that made her seem at least a year, maybe two, older than she really was.

Only her body betrayed her – this time it was a betrayal, or so Carrie knew her daughter felt. Emma was caught somewhere between looking like a child still, in so many ways, and behaving much differently.

And then, of course, there was her passion for swimming and windsurfing, neither of which were particularly easy to pursue in a desert city. And stuff Carrie would never have considered even remotely interesting almost 30 years ago.

“You … are not mad?” Carrie replied at length.


Carrie sighed and felt a small part of the world lifting from her shoulders.

She really meant it … her wonderful, beautiful daughter.

“Well,” Carrie then said, feeling it was the only real option – to treat Emma like the adult she was quickly becoming ” – I think you should be mad. I was afraid you’d be.”

“Because I had to go home with Michael and not over to my friends?”

“Something like that.”

“You said many times you liked helping those mothers and kids at OMAC, mom. I watch TV, too, you know. I have seen those cages … “

“They are not all in cages. But most of them definitely need help.”

“Yeah … “

“I wish you could go help them, mom. If that is what you really want.”

“It is.” Carrie gazed out the window at the sun-white suburban world. It was all quiet. A life of dreary predictability and steady earnings. But people were willing to risk their lives for less, crossing the Rio Grande.

“Why can’t you get a job there? Interpreting?” Emma asked.

“Like I have said many times before … ” Carrie started.

Emma shrugged: “They don’t have money.”

“You know they don’t.”

“I think they should. They help people.”

“It’s not that simple.”

“Well, it should be.”

Carrie thought about Jon who at this moment might be called to help border patrol take in people. On some days when there were many illegal crossings, the highway police helped out. It was routine.

It was something she didn’t feel thinking too much about. She put a mental wall in her head and put the thought of Jon reluctantly escorting some of those women with children in their arms, into detention. That image had to stay behind a wall – for now.

She smiled at the irony. The world was so damn tiring sometimes …

“Do you think Marie is home this weekend?” Carrie asked.

“I dunno  … ” Emma replied, eyeing her mom with uncertainty.

“Ask her.”

“I don’t know if she is home right now. They may have gone somewhere else.”

“Well, ‘they’ brought their phones – didn’t they?” Carrie smiled wearily, but kindly.

“Oh – okay.” Emma turned to her phone again and her fingers danced across the screen.

“I don’t usually pry, honey, but that cartoon chicken profile is pretty hard to miss … “

“Yeah … ” Emma grinned. “That’s Marie, all right.”

“That’s her. What does she say?”

“She asks why.”

“Because I’m going to take you over to Palms and let you loose with a couple of movie tickets.”

“There aren’t any good movies right now, mom.”

“What about Captain Marvel?”

Emma looked at Carrie like she had just been served broccoli.

“I think we’d rather see Pet Sematary … “

“Right … Well, ask her.”

“Okay … it’s cool. She’d like to!”


Emma put down her phone.

“Mum – you don’t have to bribe me or anything. It was really okay about today … I mean, it was annoying but it’s okay. I see Marie all the time.”

Carrie breathed deeply: “I believe you but … ” She put her hand over Emma’s ” – but it’s important to keep agreements. Or make up for broken agreements.”


“You know it is.” Carrie allowed herself a tiny but honest smile.

It had been important to say this – to do this – for Emma. And she had.

“So maybe you don’t mind me going to Josh Layton’s party tomorrow evening?” Emma quipped.

Now she had found the doe-eyes, the secret weapons she had at the ready all the time – just in case they were needed.

“I’m not going to make up for that much.” Carrie crossed her arms, but she was still smiling.

“Oh, okay … ” Emma didn’t pursue it. She knew it had been a long shot.

But it was hard to keep a lid on, just the same … :

“Just because he is 15 and Jack had some beer there the other time doesn’t mean … ” she started mumbling.

Carrie looked her daughter straight in the eyes:

“No. It doesn’t. So maybe next time he throws one of those parties. I’ll talk to your dad about it. I promise.”


Emma put down her phone.

“So if you take those hundred thousand dollars, maybe then we could throw a party?” she asked, dead-serious.

Carrie felt something hit her in the gut:

“What? What … are you talking about?”

“Grandma called – like, at least 3 times before you came home.”

“She should’ve called – she should’ve called me … “

Damn … you have to use my kids, as well, mom.

Carrie gritted her teeth: “Okay, what did she tell you?”

Emma shrugged and looked distractedly toward the living room and the sounds of cartoon Batman knocking out a joker or two.

“Emma, what did she tell you?”

“She said her old boyfriend – Marcus – wanted to give someone a hundred thousand dollars to … to get something they really wanted. That it was charity.”

“Did she tell you about Marcus’ church?”

“Is he a priest?”

“No, he is a former member of the Church of Scientology, and we’ve talked about them before – when you had that school project, remember?”

“Oh … but now he is not a member?”

“No, he started his own branch. He invented his own version of their religion. It’s pretty big in some parts of California, I hear. Your grandma was into it for a short while.”

“But we could … I mean, mom, it’s a hundred thousand dollars.”

Emma looked at Carrie, then threw a glance at the dilapidated door to the yellow grass back garden. The one with the three short withered pine trees they never had been able to get to look nice. Or had the time for.

Even pine trees …

Carrie stood up. For a brief, terrible moment it all came back to her:

Lin’s death, her sojourn to South America to ‘find herself’ (what a joke … ), ditching her law school never to return, hooking up with Jeremy in Florida, hooking needles into her arm – like Lin, slamming a car door into Jeremy’s face and hope he would be too groggy to fumble for that gun …

… all across America, drifting …

… and then finally finding a home, and Jon …

… a life … a family …

… a job.

Somebody wanted her for a job. Even with her resume. Or lack thereof.

shitty job, yes, but somebody wanted her for it.

And somebody wanted her for a wife.

And she was somebody’s mother.

Life was … normal.

But no.

It was never normal.

It always came back to this.

That no matter how hard she tried she would never make it as far in life as her peers, women her age.

She had made one crucial mistake – no, several, in fact. She had fucked up. And everybody else had a head start.

No matter how much she pretended that things were normal, they never really were.

Sure, lots of women her age had lousy jobs.

Or no jobs at all.

But they were not stuck. Not like her.

Carrie breathed deeply, then turned to her daughter. She saw the fear in Emma’s eyes and hated herself for using it, but the girl had to be put into her place.

Her mother – Deborah – had used her – Emma – to get to Carrie, and it had to stop. Right now. Right here:

“Emma, what if it had been you Jack Monroe had taken those photos of, without your clothes and shared on Facebook?”

Emma shook her head: “He’d never – I mean, he got expelled – he’d never do that. He could never do that, I mean … “

“But what if he had. Or what if somebody else did?”

“I’d hate that. Sure. I would.”

Emma looked more and more bewildered, but the fastness and rising anger in her mother’s tone held her. She dared hardly move.

“Miriam thought Jack loved her, that he would give her something because she was loved,” Carrie said. “He betrayed her trust. In the worst way.”

“Yes, but – “

“Hear me out, goddammit!”

No. That had not been her intention …

But Carrie found herself short of breath, something old and mean rising in her as well. Some urge to strike.

Strike out at it all …

“Marcus Chen is the CEO of a big company that sells charity campaigns, but his church – his new, improved version of Scientology – is funding most of it. When his company sells a new campaign to collect money for boys in Africa who got their legs shot off in some war – boys who are Michael’s age –  then his new church gets to host charity events where they sell their church. You go to an event and you get a folder about how great his church is, and you meet all the right people from the church who say all the right things about how poor the world is and if only more would do like them and help. Sooner or later you wind up just a little bit tempted to give some more money to some other program the church has. And then the church can go out and say – ‘Look, this or that person gave us money. We are so good. And we are so legit’.”

“I don’t understand, mom.” Emma had tears in her eyes now and Carrie was painfully aware that there were no more sounds of Batman beating anyone up.

Michael could always smell danger a mile off …  I guess I taught him well … 

And now there was only the sound of one person beating someone up …

Carrie tried to compose herself: “It is simple: Jack said he loved Miriam, but in reality he used her. He used her to show his pals – those pals he really wanted to be liked by – what a cool guy he was. He used those photos to pretend in front of his pals that he was really good at fucking an underage girl!”

“Mum – stop it!”

Emma had gotten up now and she was crying, and Carrie was vaguely aware that she herself was shouting. But it didn’t matter now …

Storms had a tendency to live their own life. And they had to blow out, hadn’t they?

There was nothing she could do – was there?

“Marcus Chen only wants to do good – to the kids in Sierra Leone, or to some poor hairdresser in Boston or … to me … because … “

Carrie searched for the words, found it harder and harder to breathe.

” … because he wants to promote his church so they can trick people into becoming members so they can brainwash them and take all their money.”

“How do you know that?!” Emma cried. “You said they were different. When we had the school project, you said they were different. Different from Scientology.”

“Not that different!”

“But how do you know?!”

Emma struck back, with all the force and fury of a soon-to-be teenager who already knew too many of her parents’ weaknesses. And who was hurt enough to exploit them.

“Have you even looked at their website … ?” Emma continued, wiping her eyes. “Well, I have. Maybe you should not always judge things … people … before you look at them, mom.”

“I don’t – “

But Emma continued, and now she was the flood that could not be stopped:

“If you did that then perhaps you wouldn’t be so afraid to change things, and then we could move away … from this!”

She threw her arms out in a gesture that encompassed both the run-down suburban box they lived in, but also much more.

Carrie knew what that ‘more’ was.

She knew how much Emma hated school.

She knew how much Emma longed for another place to live – like all the cities she had imagined would be so much greater than this asshole in the desert …

She knew such a place, in Emma’s fondest dreams, would be Van Nuys in Los Angeles, where Miriam had moved just 3 months ago and left Emma to suck up to Marie to be part of a cool group …

Not alone.

“You can’t trust a website, darling – ” Carrie started, but it was too late. Much too late.

“Don’t tell me what I can trust and not trust,” Emma yelled back. “Don’t tell me about something when you haven’t even looked at it – have you looked?”

Carrie hesitated, then shook her head: “No, but I know Scientology and your grandmother was also – “

“Stop trash-talking grandma!”

Carrie’s face hardened, but she also felt the tears sting now.

“I don’t trash-talk grandma. She has been shopping around in the spiritual supermarket since I was a girl your age. After she and granddad divorced she has always – surprise, surprise – found a new man who was the perfect man and who had the perfect new religion. Until, of course, he was not good anymore.”

“I don’t care,” Emma said, sobbing and picking up her phone. “I don’t care about what grandma did. Or grandpa.”

She looked up through tears:

“I care about what you do.”

“So we can afford to move?” Carrie asked, feeling something tugging at her shoulders.

“No … ” Emma cried ” … so you can come home every day from work and not be angry all the time! I hate it!”

Then Emma turned and ran up the stairs, to her room.

And Carrie knew she had just broken an agreement for which there might be no way to make up.


It was darker than usual when Jon came home.

Jon could only see the small light above the stove when he took his jacket off in the utility room. That and the laptop.

And otherwise shadows.

Jon took a deep breath and walked gently to the kitchen door but he did not turn on the ceiling light.

He went slowly over to the kitchen table, pulling out a chair.

Carrie didn’t look at him, didn’t greet him. She stared into her old laptop. The pale light from the screen combined with the weak light from the stove to paint her face with shadows that looked like they were part of her skin.

He sat down.

“What’s going on?”

“It’s me,” Carrie just said.

“Yeah? How so?”

“I hurt her.”



“What do you mean?”

She told him.

When she was finished, Jon went to the fridge and got out a beer. Before he sat down again he turned and asked her: “Do you want one?”


They drank their Budweisers from the can and said nothing for a while. Then Carrie said:

“Say something, dammit.”

“What do you want me to say, Carrie?”

She looked around the kitchen, like a trapped animal. There were plenty of exits, but no way out.

“How about I’m a bitch and I don’t deserve to be a mother?”

“We’ve been here before. Everybody hurts their kids, even if they don’t want to. You can only try your best. You … did your best.”

“I did not!” Carrie stood up and almost knocked over her chair when she pulled it back. She looked as if she was about to go somewhere but just froze in the middle of the kitchen room. Then she looked back down at Jon, eyes full of pain, and he really began to feel bad now. He had seldom seen her so distraught.

Carrie pulled back her sleeve: The scars were still there. Like they would always be.

“I … beat this,” she said.

“You did. You beat it good.”

She turned the computer at him. The screen was filled with job adverts. She had been searching for something new – again.

“I got one. Even if nobody said I could.”

“Nobody said you couldn’t do it.”

“Enough did, and they were right. I should have died out there – on the road.”

“You made one mistake and it got you into deep – for a while,” Jon said, his voice steady even though he himself felt like getting up and just getting the hell out of there.

“You got back,” he then added. “You’ve been back for many years.”

“I have,” Carrie said. “But I still hurt my kids … I hurt you.” Tears were in her eyes.

“I do it so often … ” she whispered.

“Not that often … ” Jon said but his voice trailed off.

“Yes, that often,” Carrie said. “Often enough.”

“What are you going to do?”

Carrie sat down again. For a moment she looked out the window into the dark, dilapidated garden and then she looked at Jon:

“There is a baseline, you know.”


“For how much anger that’s normal. In families.”

“Oh … “

“You were right,” she said. “All the times you told me. Parents aren’t perfect. Nobody is.”


“I’m way beyond that baseline, Jon. I have been for … years.”

“What you said to her today,” Jon tried. “It wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t …. “

“Not what I said. But the way I said it …” Carrie’s voice became hard:

“I will not hurt her ever again like that. Not ever.”

Jon waited.

“I’m taking Emma to LA next weekend,” Carrie said. “Then we’re going to see Miriam, my mom – and Marcus Chen.”

“Marcus Chen?”

“His corporate HQ is in downtown LA.”

“The first two parts I agree on,” Jon said, “the last part … “

“I know what you are thinking but she is right – Emma is right!”

“About what?”

“I don’t know the man. I don’t really know if it’s Scientology or … or if he actually left because it was Scientology and tried to create something new, something better.”

“And what if it’s still the same old deal?” Jon looked at his wife squarely “Or worse: What if it is and you don’t notice it?”

“I’ll prepare. There’s a lot of Internet that can be looked through from now and until next Friday.”

He nodded, but then looked at her again because he knew it was not going to be that easy:

“You can patch up with Emma in other ways that are less … risky. It’ll take time, sure. But right now you are inviting her to give some kind of veto as to whether or not you should take that damn money and become poster-girl for Marcus Chen and his ‘church’.”

“I’m not. I’m taking her with me so she can see Miriam. That is what she cares about. I’m going to see mom, too, so we can have a serious discussion about how she is going to behave with our family in the future – and her grandchildren. But I’m seeing Marcus Chen myself.”

“Okay … “

“And I’m making the decision about whether or not to receive his charity for myself.”

Jon sighed: “Okay,” he repeated, “I still don’t like it much, though. I don’t have much faith – no pun intended – in this man and his organization.”

“Neither do I,” Carrie said and took Jon’s hand, “but Emma is right: I haven’t really looked at things. I just made a judgment about who he was and then decided beforehand that it was not okay. And that my mom behaved like … she usually does, well, that didn’t help things either.”

“So let’ say he is legit,” Jon said. “You have a hundred grand now. What are you – we – going to do with them? Will you quit your job? Start a business? Draw for a year?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you think it will make you happy?”

“I don’t know – and really, I don’t care if it is this or that. But I have to take some kind of risk … to be happier. Otherwise – ” her voice trailed ” – I’m lost.”

Jon put his other hand over hers.

“You could find another job.”

“I should. But you know I don’t feel I … “

“Yeah, I know. But do you deserve that money from this man, then?”

“I don’t know. Maybe – even if he is for real – I will run away at his doorstep. And I will have wasted the opportunity of a lifetime.”

“I don’t think so.”

“But that is the risk. The point, though, is that I have to do something – anything – to change.”

“It’s the only point there is,” Jon said

Hello And Welcome

Hello And Welcome

I love fantasies.

Except when I try to make them real.

Could be fantasies about anything, but you know what it’s mostly about. Maybe it is different for you. But … I dunno.

Well, anyway, the problem with fantasies is that they get messy and troublesome once you try to realize them, make them real.

The problem is also that fantasies don’t have any soul, if you go into them and never try to make them real. They get distilled, watered down. There is only the bare bones and framework.

That is so attractive. Of course. 

I wish I was better at making fantasies real and enjoying what I have. All at the same time.

And I am rambling, as I clean up the attic. Or my part of the attic anyway.

It’s dusty and forlorn up here, pieces of a life – more lives. I wonder what you could see if you went down the street here and looked into all the attics. I think you’d see pieces of many lives, never lived.

Or just clutter, thrown away.

Why did I go up here? I should try to fix my fantasies. I spent a whole morning with them, because I was bloody alone. And why hasn’t Jon called yet to say when he is coming home with the kids?

Read More Read More

His Last and First Breath

His Last and First Breath

“I should have died.” 

The words were hoarse and rough, like that desert he had breathed for most of a year. Over there …

“Don’t say that. Please, don’t say that.” Carrie held him tighter. “What about us?”

“It’s not that,” Jon said. “But sometimes there is a feeling of certainty … when it is your time. In Iraq, when we were being evacuated after our chopper was shot down, some of the guys from my squad were still … breathing. The medics talked like they could save them. But my pals … they just looked at me like it was all over. Somehow they knew they would not make it.”

“And you?”

“I knew that that time would not be it.”

“Why? How? How did you know?”

He shook his head. “Can’t explain it. At first, you are frightened, sure. And your body acts its best not to get hit. That’s instinct. But a part of you is just … in another place. And you know that this time you will not die.”

“It could be imagination … something your mind does to protect you.” She let him go, gently. She was searching for some kind of conclusion. 

The dishes were still out in the kitchen. The kids were on their way home. Life pushed its way back towards them. 

But Jon shook his head again. Like all of that ‘life’ was one enormous experience you could never be sure of. “Maybe you are right. But the other day – when I was drowning – then I felt for certain I was a goner. In a way that I had never felt in Iraq. And then …”

“Then you saw the boy.”


2 days earlier … 

There had been rain all night, a defiant remnant of Hurricane Rosa. Jon had driven through it on the first part of his watch, and the morning sky had been like a whipped up ocean. As if the storm had to punish someone before it finally died out. 

It was always an event when they got weather like this in Arizona because everything was dry and seared most of the year. But not that morning. It had been useless driving more until it was all over. So Jon had pulled over for some coffee at his favorite diner in Gila Bend. 

There had been ample time to drink and chat but mostly just sit and watch the colossal shower outside coming down hard on the small desert town.

And wonder if he would do the same thing in 10 years’ time.

When the rain finally receded enough, he got back in the patrol car and headed out Pima towards Interstate 8, ignoring several small lakes now pooling on the road. He sped up and slashed through them with water spraying to all sides. Just like all the other drivers.

It was still overcast, but he had a feeling it would clear any moment.

Jon was about to turn on the radio to hear how bad Phoenix was hit when he crossed Sand Tank Wash. 

Usually a long empty scar in the landscape of gravel and dusty sand, Sand Tank Wash was just that – an invisible creek with no water. It didn’t exist until it rained. 

Now the Wash had emerged from non-existence with a vengeance. Jon could hear the roar of the water before he could see it.

From the road, about a hundred yards before he reached the bridge crossing, he could also see thin trees and bushes alongside the wash quivering, but not because of the wind, which was long dead. The torrent of water came down from the mountains with such force that it pulled out enormous chunks of dirt and gravel from the edges of the creek. 

Something else was too close to an edge.

Jon hit the brakes right in a big pool of water, and it looked like the car temporarily exploded in raindrops. 

Then down with the window. “Hey, lady – get away from there!” 

The bridge over the creek had a ‘railing’ only 3 foot high. And somebody was leaning over it. 

It was a woman who looked like she was throwing up down into the flood below. Or … was she trying to jump down into it and had decided against it at the last minute? 

Jon got out and ran across the road, barely pausing to switch on the patrol car lights. The woman stood upright at the sound of Jon’s voice. She was twenty-something and frantic with fear.

“My son is down there!”

Jon hurried to the railing. “Where? Where?!”

She pointed desperately, and now he saw the boy.

There. To the left of the bridge, but right in the raging flood. 

The boy was only about 5 or 6 and clinging for dear life to some shrubbery that careened dangerously into the water. The spindly piece of vegetation’s roots was already half out of the dirt on the side of the creek, which was collapsing into the flood.

“Do something!” The woman was simultaneously crying and also pulling at Jon’s arm, so he couldn’t do much else than trying to get her to let go.

“Stop it – ma’am.” Jon forced her away and into the arms of a trucker who had come panting over after blocking the road for further traffic with 20 tons of furniture. 

More people came running, but Jon barely registered them. The boy’s head was almost underwater now …

His mind raced. He might get some rope from somewhere. Perhaps the trucker had something useful …

Now the boy’s head disappeared momentarily underwater. But he still clung to the bush.

“Call 911!” Jon shouted at the bystanders.

Then he ran to the end of the bridge where the railing ended.  He rounded the corner and skirted down the sloping side of gravel that led to the terrain below. Here earth and vegetation were still being torn at by the sheer pressure of the water flooding through the creek.

“Hang on!” Jon yelled. Then over his shoulder to the others on the bridge: “If somebody has rope, go -”

He never finished the sentence because he knew he had to act. An absurd act, with a vanishingly slight chance of success. But the shrubbery was there, dipping in the thundering brown currents just below the bridge, and clinging on to it – the boy.

“What’s your name?” Jon called out. 

Another futile gesture by any objective standards. What did it matter? In moments, the boy might be dead, and Jon as well. But it seemed like the only thing to do, aside from the actual rescue attempt itself – or perhaps despite it. Because Jon knew, as soon as he got to the bush, that this would not work.

He desperately threw himself to the ground and clasped both his hands around the stem of the bush, trying to hold it in place. Jon could feel the roots coming loose from the soil, as he tried to get a hold of them. The soil which was also being torn loose around him and devoured by the water.  

“I will not let go!” Jon called again. “Hold on!”

“Sani … “ the boy cried.

“What?” For a moment – confusion. Then understanding. “Sani? I’m Jon. I’m a state trooper. We’re getting help. You will be all right.”

And that’s when the handful of thin branches of the bush which Sani was clinging to were ripped apart and the boy lost his grip. In the next second, he disappeared in the water.

Jon reacted instinctively, although he knew it was playing with death. He threw himself forward onto his stomach and reached out with both hands to catch the boy – hoping against all hopes that Sani would come up again. And that he could stay on the rapidly deteriorating shore.

It was a matter of balance. Only Jon’s arms were in the water. He should be able to stay out of the water since most of his weight was on land.

And that’s when the rest of the shore that held the bush, and Jon, came loose and slid into the flood. 

Several yards away from the bridge other chunks of the ground came off at the same time and splashed into the water as if a fragile cord holding them all in place had finally been cut.

For Jon, the world became one long mad howl of rushing water, which was muted every time he was pulled down in it. He struggled to avoid it, but the current – the pull – was so strong, he felt like a rag doll.

Jon went blank inside. All he could think of was getting air; big wheezing gulps, half-filled with the brown muddy water.

It was like being a fly caught in the water from a firehose. Jon knew there would be concrete slabs under Papago Street – another crossing – a few hundred yards north of the Pima Street crossing. But his ability to orient himself was near non-existent in the howling torrents. So he didn’t even know he was at the bridge until he briefly smashed into one slab, tried to hold on to it, and was then promptly sucked under again and flushed out on the other side.

Further north there were only two or three other crossings. He couldn’t remember. But none of them had bridges. It was just roads crossing the creek which was also used as a North-South throughway whenever it was dry. All of those crossing roads had to be flooded now.

There would be nothing but water until the flood died out.

Somewhere between the gulps and the panic welled up inside him, like another flood, he saw broken pieces. Little shards of his vanishing life that gave way to a sudden sadness so deep and yawning that it was like he had already died, even if the currents still tossed him around and he was faintly aware of it.

It was the sadness of losing your life. There was so much you still had to do. So much you had not done. There was his wife – his daughter – son – brother – everyone he would never see again. And the clarity of that pain was almost worse than the grimy water in his throat and lungs.

Then he felt like he was pulled down for what was the last time, but suddenly there was the sun above, which was odd, like his thoughts. Like he had dropped out of dying and was seeing it all dispassionately, wondering about the sun, the weather, if it was possible to see this or that from 5 feet below a flood … 

And then current flung him upwards again. Suddenly there was sky – air – life. Another few seconds … 

And … 

Someone … 

Outlined against the light from above the water, Jon could see the silhouette of a human.

A small one …

Jon didn’t know how he knew. Or how it could strike him with so much clarity, so he didn’t think of the lack of air. But it was the boy.


Jon struggled and somehow kept his head above water for more than a few moments this time. It was like waking up in the middle of traffic. The world over the water was a giant thunderous rush, as waves from the flood drove him forward.

“Mister – here!”

It was the boy. It had to be.

He was on the shore at Jon’s right side. The current suddenly pushed Jon towards that shore and he grasped frantically for something – anything. But there was only more dirt and gravel being sucked down into the water. He couldn’t get a hold on anything.

“Mister! Look!”

The boy held out something for him. A hand? No, a branch? No … not that.

Jon desperately tried to reach for the boy, although it seemed insane. If the boy was reaching for him, the pull of the current would tear them both out into the roaring flood. He could not take the boy’s hand … 

“Get away!” He shouted, mouth half full of the seedy water. “Stay away!”

But the boy persistently followed him on the shore, as the current pulled him further and further alongside it, and soon back into the torrent itself.

“Mister – look!”

Then Jon saw it. The boy was not reaching for him to do some madly desperate and ultimately futile locking of hands that would just pull them both out. No, he was trying to get Jon’s attention. He was pointing … 

There was another tree, bigger, stronger. It was leaning over the water, but not because it was being uprooted. Not yet. It was merely bent that way. And its roots were deeper.

Jon knew that he would not have seen it, because he was busy panicking and coughing water out of his lungs before he swallowed more. 

It was like the tree had come out of nowhere.


He didn’t know how he grabbed it, much less held on. He didn’t know for how long. But at last he heard voices.

And felt … rope, hooks, hands. It was all a blur. But he was being pulled.

“You are secure. You can let go.”

Voices again. He let himself be pulled. Not by the waters, but by hands. And at last, he felt the ground again.

All kinds of voices asking questions, checking, handing him something to drink once they made sure there wasn’t more in his lungs that had to go out first. He struggled. 

Jon knew now this wasn’t the end. 

At last he recognized a voice. And there was a friendly face to go. 


How long had it been? There had been a road accident out near Theba …

“Anderson!” he called. 

And the face – mid-30s, curly hair, glasses – became Anderson. One of the floating voices around him was now Anderson. Real. Human. There. And someone he knew. Someone he could talk to. The flood receded.

“Is that you, Reese?” Anderson flashed a slight smile. “We have to stop meeting like this.”

“Sani!” Jon blurted. “What about Sani?”

“Who?” Anderson shook his head. Lights flashed in the background.

“The boy,” Jon said and tried to get to his feet. Anderson supported him.

“The boy … “ Anderson repeated. Understanding flashed in his eyes. “Oh, the boy … “ 

Then his voice faded. “I’m sorry. He didn’t make it.”


“He didn’t make it.”

He must have fallen in again, was Jon’s first thought. Even if it was absurd. Sani had been on land. Running. How could he have fallen back in … the flood?

No. There had to be a mistake. Sani had been safe. Unlike Jon.

Jon grabbed Anderson’s arm. “Where is he?”

“They have him down at the bridge. Papago … “

Jon looked confused. “At Papago? But that’s …” He looked south. It was at least a mile back.

Anderson nodded gravely. Another guy who Jon did not recognize excused himself as he brushed past them to put some gear or other back into the truck with the flashing lights, one of the few that Gila Bend had on hand for occasions like this.

“I talked to Cooper on the radio while you were trying to get some freshwater in … “ Anderson tried another smile, but when he saw Jon’s face he let it fade.

“I’m going down there.” Jon took a few steps in the sand alongside the roaring Wash before he felt Anderson’s hand on his shoulder.

“They are already half-way to Phoenix,” Anderson said. “And we should get over to EMS. To get you properly checked out.”

“The hell we should … “ Jon brushed Anderson’s hand away.

“You’re welcome to take that up with your Captain.” Anderson’s voice became firmer. 

“You talked to him?”

“Well, I know Les and I know that people who have almost drowned should – “ Anderson began.

But Jon was already running.

When he reached the crossing at Papago street there was nothing, though. Only some thin iron rods barely visible above the frothing whirls on the north side of the bridge. 


Carrie had of course been shocked when Jon finally came home, even though he had prepared her on the phone. But he was all right. 

It had been bad, yeah. But he had had a lot of bad days on the job. This one wasn’t so different.

He had a long day and a long night trying to explain that to Carrie, though. And to the kids.

“There were so many trees,” he had said to Emma and Michael. “I would have caught one of them sooner or later. It was dangerous, but I was going to be all right.”

Michael, 10, had asked a lot of questions. Emma, 13, had said nothing. She had just given him ‘that look’. Then she hurried up to her room.

Carrie asked a lot more questions, especially later on when they were alone. He answered most of them. 

He didn’t talk about seeing Sani on the shore, though.

It was only after a day off and a debriefing with Anderson and the other responders that Jon even realized that, in fact, he had told no one that Sani had been running along the flood, on the shore, trying to make him see that tree.

So the reality that Jon agreed to was that someone had called 911 from the Pima crossing, because Sani’s mother was out of it and both Jon and Sani had gone into the water. The firefighters from Gila were closest, a few miles to the west on Papago Street just north of Pima as fate would have it. 

The firefighters had been about to split up – someone to Pima and someone to follow the flood north and look for Jon and Sani. Then a guy who was there to film it all for his YouTube storm chaser channel came running over. He had seen legs sticking out in the water under the bridge at Papago.

Sani. Right there. He was hanging upside down from a rusty iron rod that had caught him under the small Papago bridge. That’s where he had drowned. 

But they knew from the 911-call that Jon was in the water, too, so Anderson and his teammate had driven further north to see if they could find him. 

When Cooper and his colleague got Sani up back at Papago, they had tried CPR, but it was much too late. Somebody had brought Sani’s mother to the scene, and she was in pieces.  Cooper had then driven Sani’s mother to the hospital in Phoenix with the body of her son, and they had confirmed what everyone already knew. 

Sani had drowned under that bridge and over a mile south from the spot where they had found Jon. 

The geography could not be wrong. The Papago crossed Sand Tank Wash long before Jon had even seen Sani. Even if Sani had somehow made it up from the flood and then fallen back in, he would have been swept further north, not south. That was the direction the firehose was pointing. South to north. Not the other way around.

So Jon figured he had to be wrong. And  said nothing about what he had seen. He only mentioned the tree. 

At the end, when all had done their ‘choir practice’, as they called it, they soon found themselves in a diner nearby. That was the part of the debriefings that everyone always looked the most forward to. 

But Jon had no appetite. He drove home as soon as he could excuse himself.

The next day, Captain Browning had Hoffman do their own report about the incident and he asked Jon a few questions, but Hoffman seemed more than ready to get it over with. Even more than Jon.

Jon thought about trying to contact the mother. But a sinking hollow feeling came over him every time he thought about it. So it was better just to get on the road again as soon as possible.

And so the October flood of Maricopa County was over. And the story about its single casualty was over.

If you doubted it, you could always refer to the reports.


Weeks later …

“It’s the same shit as always,” Carrie complained. “I get home weekdays and I’m beat after the kids go to bed. I am home on weekends and I still get beat – because there is so much house-stuff leftover from the weekdays.” 

She held the beer in front of her, watching it thoughtfully, then took a big gulp.

“I know the feeling,” Jon said. “Hmm … I thought you got some drawing done yesterday?”

“I planned to.” Carrie slumped in the chair. “But then Jenna called and ‘could I please help with outfitting her gym?’”

“She’s still doing that?”

“And the children’s rooms, and the bedroom. And the garden. Oh, and the living room will be repainted again next month.” Carrie sighed, but something in the tone of her description wasn’t dismissive.

Jon frowned. “I thought you and Jenna … I thought she was good company?”

“She is …” Carrie sighed again “ … when you are a lot alone or alone with the kids. Then you need company. You even think you need hers. You even feel good about it when you’re there. But she just talks about her sons and herself. And you get home and feel just the same …”

Jon saw what she was getting at. “And you regret you didn’t stay home and got that drawing done?”

“Damn right. What a waste. The only time this month the kids are out on a Saturday and I blew it.” Carrie finished the last of the beer.

You drink like a biker, honey,” Jon made a toast in her direction. 

Carrie went to the fridge and got another beer. “When I’m angry at myself, I do.”

“We all need some things,” Jon said. “Sometimes … we just throw it up against the wall and see what sticks. You couldn’t really lock yourself in another weekend, even if it was to get something on that canvas.”

Carrie sat down again. “What do you need, Jon?”

There was silence for a moment. Carrie’s question caught him off guard. He should have seen this coming. But his mind had been elsewhere. He had really enjoyed that beer … until now.

“I guess …” Jon started “ … I guess I just need to relax a bit.”

“I thought you had.”

After the debriefings, he had been home for three days before going back to work. The Captain had insisted.

“I have … relaxed,” Jon said. 

She wetted her lips. There was little taste of beer left, of anything really. “I’m not saying you should be more home, or with the kids. I know your job pays the bills. Just …”

“Carrie, we don’t have to – you don’t have to say that every time, we -”

“But I want to, because it’s goddamn important.”

There was another awkward silence, which was filled with the echo of a fist that had slammed the kitchen table. It was Carrie’s.

She apparently became conscious of what she had done and got up from the chair. “Never mind … Just never mind.”

Jon got up, too. “Wait. I know I haven’t been home much, but work is … you know.”

Carrie looked straight at him. “It’s not work. I just said that.”

Jon crossed his arms. “Then what is it?”

It was a strange little stand-off now, not unlike a thousand other standoffs. A situation that a thousand other people probably repeated right now. And the silence of the road outside would be as unchanged as ever. Perhaps that was what annoyed Carrie. 

That she had a deep feeling this wouldn’t matter – again. This time more was at stake. She knew that, too.

So she had to try. “Recently, you have been too busy even when you were home.” 

Jon looked at her. “What do you mean?”

“What do I mean …? How about that you are so busy brooding that you forget the rest of us?”

“I’m not ‘brooding’.” He looked down, then back at her.

She crossed her arms.

“Okay – okay!” He waved dismissively at her like he did when he passed a smoker on the street and accidentally got a lungful of nicotine. “I’ll try to get some more days off – even after I get back to work. This takes time. I know.”

If Carrie had noticed that he had reduced her to cigarette-smoke, she didn’t flinch. But her voice was still hard. “Do more than that. Don’t just sit here – when you are at home – with a beer and watch television. Talk to someone.”

“Who?!” Jon got up and paced around. “Who the fuck do you think I should talk to?” 

He stopped, turned towards her. His eyes were like those never-ending, gray skies in the Atlantic that Carrie had grown up with, and for a moment she flinched.

Jon hated smoke. Carrie hated bad memories. 

“You could start by talking to me …” she said.

“I’ve said all there is to say …” Jon looked out into their dilapidated garden as if he was casually inspecting it, but it was as if his breath had stopped half-way in his throat. “I can’t think of anything else to say.”

“I believe what you saw,” Carrie tried. “The problem is that you are shutting yourself down over it. As if it was you who had died …” 

She shook her head. “Sorry, that came out weird …”

“No. It’s okay.” Jon spoke quietly now, but in the tone he reserved for those men who opened the door when the wife had called and said they threatened to kill her. 

“But the problem is what I saw. It is because of that that I …” He trailed off.

She went to him and put her arms around him from behind. She let her chin rest on his shoulder. “You don’t have to. Why do you have to?”

He kept looking at the garden. The tiny pecan tree looked frail and spindly, like some of the bones he had seen in the Iraqi desert.

They had better water it soon.

The breath that was stuck in his throat had turned to a lump now. Something that felt like ash but heavy with the mud-brown water of the Tigris 15 years ago. It had coagulated on the shore like big black drops of blood, while factory buildings on the other side were burning. Or were they houses …?

“Carrie …”

“I’m here.”

He put a hand over one of hers. She was still holding him like she had always been there.

Perhaps she had. Perhaps that was why they had stayed together, despite all the yelling and shouting, especially after Emma was born. They had been together for less than a year. And then later on, when there had been more shouting, but over other things.

Sometimes the shouting died out, though. And they continued. Sometimes they talked about it later on, or sometimes they did not. They just put it to rest and continued. For the children. But also, they both knew, for each other. What else was there to do? If they couldn’t make this work, then what would happen to them?

But right now something tore in Jon. He felt Carrie near, as he always did when things got rough. She had never once tried to run or escape or bullshit him in all the years. She had called him things he’d rather forget. But she’d always been honest, and she had always been there.

But the worst part now was that he felt he … didn’t want her there. He didn’t deserve it.


The days passed and Jon was back to work. So for a time there was that normality.

He even inquired about Sani’s mother. Proper channels and all. The Captain didn’t approve, but said he wouldn’t prevent Jon from calling her either.

Jon found the number and got through on the first try. For about 2 minutes. He only remembered that there had been much yelling and crying at the other end, once Sani’s mother realized who he was. 

So she was angry at him. He should have … done something. It was the same with all cops. They all didn’t give a fuck about her and especially her ex. Or something. She was not coherent. She was out of it in a way that made Jon both feel concerned and sick at the same time, so it felt like a relief when she hung up on him.

But then reality settled in. Nothing had been solved by that call, quite the opposite. It had been better if he had not tried.

That’s when Jon understood he could never have the conversation he imagined with Sani’s mother, and he thought a lot about how Sani had talked to her. If at all …

I’m not even sure what the hell I imagined … that I could somehow make her son come back by telling her … 

But he never got to tell her he had seen Sani. And he wondered if he had, would it have made her hate him more? 

He had seen her son when her son was supposed to be dead. How was that supposed to make a mother feel?


They were in the garden. Carrie and him. It was Sunday. They were supposed to be fine. But they talked about superficial things.

Jon looked out into the garden and in the direction of the soccer game between Michael and his buddy, Ari.

Carrie frowned and pulled her legs closer to her body. It hurt to do this while sitting on the concrete step from the kitchen door and to the garden. That damn muscle she had strained last Thursday when she was rushing too much to finish all the rooms in time at the nursing home. It still wouldn’t leave her alone. But she couldn’t make herself move away. 

She was sitting beside him, after all.

Jon merely had his elbows on his knees, one hand resting lightly in the other. But she could see his hands were opening and closing, like her husband was holding an invisible object. 

Testing it. Checking. And then checking again.

There had been a shooting in a supermarket just a couple of months ago. The man with the AR15 was dead. Jon’s reflexes had been as sharp as ever. 

That was something to be relieved about, wasn’t it?

Carrie put a hand lightly on Jon’s arm. “You thinking about the supermarket again?”

“No …” He didn’t look at her, and he still didn’t look at the kids either.

“Well,” Carrie continued carefully, “you never saw doctor Maryam about those dreams, and I think you may feel … bad about shooting that man in the supermarket, even if it was the only thing you could do.”

“I don’t have the dreams anymore …” Jon said, but his voice was raw. He looked down.

“But I don’t think it has gone away,” Carrie said gently. “Maybe it … faded. But now that you survived this flood, it has all come up again.”

“Not just that,” Jon added quietly. 

She gripped his hand now and made him look at her. Lines of worry were edged in her face. They should make him react. That he could see how distressed she was. He usually did.

But he just looked away again, down on the concrete.

“We have to do something,” she said. “We should have done something long ago. This can’t go on.”

“For my sake or yours?” There it was again. A sudden flash of anger. He would do that whenever this came up. It had all become one big knot … 

She almost let go of his hand.


Another week went by. Then two. Then three.

Then it was Sunday again. But Jon didn’t feel like he could relax. He was usually able to zone out with TV or beer on the weekends. But this was not a usual weekend. They hadn’t been for a long time.

He and Carrie had stopped talking about ‘it’. Or rather, she had given up trying to get him to talk about it. And he had given up trying to explain to her why he could not. Talk. 

Not yet. Not like she wanted. He didn’t even understand what she wanted. Not in this case. What did she want him to say?

So he focused on the kids. On old promises. And he looked for fresh ones to keep. Anything to keep him moving. 

Maybe the creek would soon dry out again …? At least the way he imagined it. The way he always saw it when he closed his eyes now. The rage of the water. Sani’s call.

Hands slipping …

The Arizona sun was not burning this Sunday. But it was ever-present, dominating as always here in the desert. He wiped sweat off his brow, took a sip from the plastic bottle.

“Want some?” Jon held the bottle of water out towards Emma.

She shook her head. They had allowed her to grow her hair longer, and even though she was only 13, it amazed him how much she looked like Carrie already. Carrie no longer had long hair, not like when he had met her. He sometimes missed that.

He missed a lot. But he often thought he missed things that never were. Like peace. Real peace.

“Dad?” Emma looked at him closely.

“I’m coming now.” He got up. “Don’t want to get you late for gym class.”

“You promised to stay and watch.” She ran alongside him. The car was waiting. The tiles from their front door and to the driveway were warm.

“Hmm-mm,” he muttered.

The tiles were warm. Not burning. No, not burning … not yet.


“I’m all right. Get in the car.”

She did, hesitantly. Jon got in, too. He took her bag, which she had placed between her legs and flung it onto the backseat. “No baggage on the front seat while we’re driving, young lady.”

Emma nodded but kept looking at him.

“What?” Jon was about to turn the key, but now he felt like breaking it. “What?”

“Dad … why are you angry?” Emma’s eyes widened, she paled. He almost never yelled at her. That was mom’s territory.

He shook  his head. “Nothing, sweetie. Nothing – let’s go.”

He backed out of the driveway. Once they were on their way he asked, disarmingly “ – You sure you want me to see your class today?”

It took her longer to say yes than he liked. But he knew why. There was a cause and effect to everything. 

Except what happened in Gila Bend.

Everything he had found a shelf for, fighting for 15 years to put behind him. He had found all of that again – in that creek at Gila Bend.

And it was all about cause and effect that didn’t add up. That never added up.

Carrie didn’t ask Jon about it when they got home, even though Jon knew Emma had told her mom about all that happened. 

Emma was like that. She didn’t get along well with Carrie lots of times, under normal circumstances. 

But somehow when her world began to crack, the first place she looked for understanding was with her mother. Jon told himself that that was all right, and that there were good reasons why he was not number one on her list, like when she was younger. Especially now. 

But as the days passed, he found himself thinking more and more that it was a problem that had to be solved. Because Emma avoided him. It was obvious.

And there it was again. Cause and effect. 

He argued with Carrie now every evening, sometimes – most times – over paltry things. 

They had done that in periods, sure, especially when the kids were small. But this had come after Gila. And there was a black chasm, he felt, that opened wider and wider between them, even if it was just about who had forgotten to wash the car.

It was this tone in their voices that became more and more distant and at the same time vigilant and tensing up like there was only one way this could go. Like before, they had gone in for the attack, all those years ago. 

Or when they had waited in the dark for someone else to attack, although it often came to nothing. Voices took on a special quality during those times, even when it was just whispers between the soldiers. There was always the tinge of steel, even below reassuring words. 

For every time he actually did try to talk about it, somehow they ended up arguing and arguing about things that had absolutely nothing to do with what was wrong. 


The night was black and the road outside devoid of sound. The suburban beehive had gone to sleep. 

But Jon couldn’t. There was something in the silence that kept pulling him back from the brink of sleep. Like something or someone was waiting. 

Like there was an enemy out there.

But there wasn’t. There had not been enemies in the dark for 15 years now. He had to tell himself that.

Still … no sleep.

It was the most disconcerting experience – not being able to sleep – because usually he could sleep the best when there was complete quiet in the house. He had a collection of earplugs to rival that of a pro musician. Now the quiet was the enemy.

And then it was broken. “Honey?”

Carrie …

When he didn’t answer her she turned in their bed so she faced him. He realized he was still lying down on his back, as he had for the last 2 hours, staring into the ceiling. He wanted to move, but didn’t feel like it. But now he had to do something.

Carrie frowned. “You’re not asleep?” 

“So it looks …”

There was more silence, but this time it was the problematic silence of just having taken that tone with her. The tone she hated. The tone that hid all sorts of things. But he didn’t feel like talking about it, and she knew it.

So let her decide what to do … 

“What are you thinking about?”

“What do you think?”

Carrie shrugged, but her shoulders were already tense. “I dunno – sex?”

“Ha!” Jon exclaimed, but only slightly relieved.

“Well, it’s not as if we … you know … too much … “

“Yeah, I know.”

“But you weren’t thinking about that, obviously.”

He sighed. Didn’t answer.

Jon wanted to reach out, but he felt numb. Why the hell couldn’t he just do one simple thing?

Why couldn’t he just say what he felt … because of Gila Bend?

And the boy … ?

But that was the problem.

He could feel it like he had felt that brown water in his lungs … but he couldn’t say what it felt like.

And every time he tried, the knot inside became more and more twisted, until he knew he couldn’t say anything at all.

So they got into their usual argument and she went to sleep on the couch, like she had done 3 nights in a row now. In one week.

Jon didn’t stay in bed. He got up and got some clothes on. Then he went outside and began pacing the quiet street. 

Everything looked so frail in the gossamer light of the street lamps. Every house looked like cardboard. The sidewalk was thin, he felt, like the rock and sand of the desert could come through at any moment and reveal just how much there was down there. How thin this entire city of Yuma was … this way of living.

This could not go on.

Jon went back to get the car. 


It was less than two hours’ drive to Gila Bend from Yuma. It was night now, so that made it even less.

The town’s streets were empty at this hour, as he had expected, which suited him fine. So he went to the Pima crossing first. Right where he had seen Sani’s mother that day. 

Below, he could see how the Wash had almost drained of water again. It was reverting to its non-existence. Like a road accident. 

When a truck hit you out of nowhere and then sped away, leaving only death and chaos. But when you finally came to your senses again, all you had was a wrecked car and screams and blood and quiet and kids’ chests that weren’t heaving.

And your mind refused the scenario. This could not happen to you. But there it was. And then your body acted. The body always knew what to do, even if the mind had to catch up.

Just like in war.

Jon stared into the darkness. 

Then it came over him. “Fuck you … “

He waited, almost as if he had to assure himself that there was no one else around. But aside from a few lights from the nearby Palms Inn there was no one. Not even a passing car.

Jon didn’t look. He couldn’t care less if anyone heard him. He just waited because he had to find the right words. Like taking aim.

“Fuck you, you little son of a bitch. Fuck you to hell.”

The words were meaningless, but that’s how he felt. Even though everything in him screamed: No!

You should not feel like that. You survived. You should not be angry. Especially not at that poor kid who drowned.

Instead of you.

There it was.

Instead of you.

Just like in Iraq. It was always someone else. Not him.

Like in L.A. where he had grown up, trying to survive and help his frail little brother survive, when their father had given up on that responsibility and their mother was long gone.

San Pedro, L.A., was sometimes like Iraq. And sometimes it was the kids from such a place they sent over there – to fight. For the US of A.

Jon noticed that he hadn’t breathed for … a long time. But only when his body did it for him. He had held back. Now it was like coming up to the damn surface after almost being pulled under for good. You hurt inside. Your body forced you to  … breathe. But what if there was nothing to breathe?

At least there was now. But for how long … ?

He felt himself sinking down again, staring into the darkness, opening and closing his fists. Then there was a voice.

“You …”

He turned and saw her.

Jon hadn’t really gotten a good look at her that day. But now that she was here he was not in doubt.

Sani’s mother had long hair, black as the night, unkempt. She wore an old leather jacket and tattered jeans. The same clothes, he now remembered, that she had worn that day. Night was in her eyes, too. But also a distant glow reflected from one of the lonely street lamps along Pima.

Jon said nothing. He just nodded. He had closed his fists again.

For long moments they just stared at each other.

Then the mother said: “I come here every night to beg forgiveness. Have you come for that, too, officer?”

Jon looked away, but only briefly. “I don’t know why the hell I have come …”

“I know why I have.” She went over to the low railing, still at least 5 yards from Jon. She looked down into the dying Wash.

“For ‘forgiveness’ … “ Jon repeated quietly. “I’m not even sure what that means … “ 

He looked down over the bridge railing as well. As if Sani would somehow be more alive if they looked at the place where he had last been alive. As if memories could become more real by clinging hard to them. Like tree branches …

Sani’s mother coughed a little. “I … he didn’t like me much.” 

She was still looking out in the darkness on her own. For a moment, Jon felt she was talking more to herself than him.

“He was running away that day,” she continued. “We had some arguments. We had lots of them. I … may have hit him.”

Jon shook his head again. “You don’t have to tell me this.” 

He was still processing the fact that she had come here – at the same time as him. That it wasn’t just a fluke, a crazy unbelievable coincidence.

But the more he dared to look at the shadows on her face, the more he became convinced it wasn’t. She was telling the truth. She did come here every night. Perhaps all night.

She finally turned towards him, realizing the implication of where this was going.

“I never told the police that part. But now I have.” She huffed. “Perhaps I was waiting to be able to do that.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Jon said. “I’m not going to tell anyone.”

She looked like she wanted to say something again, but he shook his head to stop her. 

“Even if I did,” he said, “it doesn’t matter. You didn’t … kill your son.”

A lone car passed by. For a long time Jon eyed its fading lights. Then he braced himself.

“There is something you should know,” he started.

Now it was her turn to shake her head. “Don’t tell me. That you are here is enough. And I’m not angry with you. I’m sorry about that day … when you called.”

“But this is important,” Jon pressed. “And it’s not about the call. It’s about Sani.”

She began backing away. “I don’t want to hear it … “ 

Jon felt something boil in him, just like before. Why the hell was everything so difficult? Why the hell was the world made up this way? Why didn’t anyone just listen to him? 

He held her back. “You have to hear this.”

She struggled. “I don’t want to.”

“You don’t even know what it is!”

Then he let her go. What could he tell her? That he had seen Sani after he was supposed to have been dead? Jon didn’t even believe in God or anything himself. He didn’t believe it was possible.

What if it had been stress? His mind playing tricks? He was drowning, after all.

But everything had been so clear. He was as sure that Sani had been there as if it had been Emma or Michael.

But what could he tell her? What if he offended her religion by telling her? What if she didn’t have a religion?

And … no matter what he told her, it wouldn’t bring Sani back, would it? It wouldn’t make it all better. It wouldn’t erase the fact that an innocent child had died, and he had lived. 

When it should have been the other way around.

Then he discovered that Sani’s mother had not run away. She stood there, on the pavement, very close now. Her face was streaked with tears.

“You saw him, too, didn’t you?”

Jon swallowed. “How do you – “ 

But she interrupted. “I mean, I dream about him. You dream about him, too, don’t you?”

He took a deep breath. The first real breath, it felt, since he had been pulled from the flood.

“Yes,” he said. “I dream about him, too.”

“What does he do in your dreams?” Her voice was close to a whisper.

“He … “ Jon felt something push in his chest, like a thousand knots. “He …”

“It’s okay,” she said. “I’m sorry I am like that. I was … I would like to hear it now.”

“He tells me he is okay,” Jon finally said. “Yeah, that’s what he tells me.”

“But you can’t believe it?”

“Not really.” A resigned smile made its way over his lips for the first time. 

“I can’t either,” she said. “But I would like to.”

“Me too.”

She gave him a quick hug, and then she started walking away again. Briskly. As if the hug had been the actual crime.

He stared after her, but didn’t move. 

She stopped and turned slowly. “You can call me again, if you want to. But now I have to go home.”

Jon just nodded and held up his hand. 

Then he pulled out his cell phone. He wasn’t sure why, because he hadn’t called Sani’s mother from that phone. Her number would be at the station – not on his private phone.

Then he remembered why.

And the phone was full of messages. From Carrie. And one from Emma. 

He unmuted the phone and called.


Last updated 27 Feb 2021

Sparkles In The Rain

Sparkles In The Rain

“What do we do when we feel time is passing too fast?” she asked.

“Do ye feel that already?” her father asked, looking mildly surprised.

“Never mind,” Carrie said. But they had stopped.

“It’s not what I mind,” her father said. “It’s what ye mind. And maybe we haven’t been that much together in the last 20 years but I know my daughter. What’s wrong?”

Carrie breathed deeply. They were both standing on the side of a hill overlooking the Bay of Portree. It was crisscrossed with small paths that were barely visible but her father knew them all and she had followed him this far, and he had allowed her to set her own pace.

“Megan died,” Carrie then said. “She was my age – a year younger actually. 37 … ”

Her father nodded gravely: “That’s sad.”

“Yeah … ” Carrie shook her head as if she had been hit by sudden nausea. “Yeah, it is. She worked at that organization I told you about. Didn’t know her that well, but … “

“But enough,” her father concluded.

They both looked out in the distance. There was mist, as always. In the harbor below small boats darting to and fro and there was a slight hum from the small town around it, giving a faint but reassuring indication of life. And it was a life that – in later years when she got in touch with her father again and more and more often thought of Portree and Skye – had often appeared to her as … uncomplicated. Much more so than the life, she knew in the big cities in the States, where she had lived since she was a teenager.

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The Inside That I Carve

The Inside That I Carve

Carrie was trying to decide whether or not to get divorced, while taking the bus for the work she hated.

They had had sex last night, for the first time in months – sure. That was nice. But it wasn’t as if it mattered.

Jon was too tired after, and she didn’t really feel they connected. More like they just tried to copy something they had done without thinking 10 years ago.

Now they were over-thinking it.

So sex, or lack of sex, was a problem but it wasn’t the problem anyway. It was just a sign.

One of many.

“East 24th” the bus driver droned and Carrie got up without thinking, as she had done so many times before.

A lot things you did in life without thinking, and then … when you got thinking too much: It hurt.

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From The Day You’re Born

From The Day You’re Born

Michael saw it first. The bolt of lightning cracked the sky in the west, and for an instant made the otherwise dusk-hazy silhouette of Snake Range clear and sharp as if it was day.

“Look, Em!” Michael cried. “Did you see that?!”

“It’s just lightning,” his big sister said and tried to suppress a shudder. She was 10 years old and the eldest by two whole years, so there was no question of the indifference in her voice, as she awaited what she knew must follow lightning.

The thunder rolled over the desert and reached them after several long heartbeats.

“Oh – wooow!!” Michael blurted and pulled a shadow-punch with his fist, as if he was cheering the thunderstorm to pull an even bigger punch next time.

The storm obliged. Only minutes after the first rift had been torn in the sky, new ones opened up over the mountains. It was odd, though, Emma thought, that they could be sitting here, under the big truck and there was still no rain out on the parking lot or anywhere near the Border Inn. But she knew it must be pouring over the mountains now, like a flood.

“Thunder is cool,” Michael said, a big grin on his 8-year old face.

“It’s very natural,” Emma said. “There’s el-electricity in the sky. It comes out when the clouds clash together, like sparks.” She tried hard to remember what Ms. Peregrine had said in class and at the same time not to think about how loud the next rumble of thunder would be.

Or when it would reach the Inn.

It was already late and the desert was a carpet of shadows, the occasional bump of a stone or bush no longer visible; it was all slowly being absorbed in the grey, chilly dusk. Emma strained and tried to see more, but she knew it would only be possible when the next bolt of lightning shot through the distant sky, and then only for a little while, near the mountains.

Where they were, everything would soon be shadows.

“I’m hungry,” Michael suddenly said. “Do you still have the Snickers?”

“Yes,” Emma said and fished the chocolate bar from her small rucksack. “There’s only one, so we have to share.”

Normally she would have insisted they eat dinner first, as she knew mom would say. But right now Emma Sawyer Reese felt okay about letting her little brother eat that chocolate bar. Then at least they wouldn’t just sit – and wait for … something.

They would be doing something. She wondered what else they could do, aside from going back into the motel before mom, or maybe dad, would come out after them.

Mom had given strict orders that she was to look out for Michael, and they were not to go near the high way. The occasional truck still rushed by, lights quickly fading into the oncoming night.

Emma didn’t think the lonely road out there looked particularly dangerous. The one near her school had much more traffic, and she didn’t really want to look after Michael now – until they could all have dinner. But she did not want to make mom angry either. Not again.

“One thousand twenty … one thousand twenty one … “

“What are you doing?” she asked him.

“Counting the distance to the lightning,” Michael explained, looking wholly absorbed.

“You always count.”

“I like counting.”

“Yeah, I noticed,” Emma said sourly.

She wondered what took mom and dad so long. Why couldn’t they just go over to the motel’s restaurant and have that dinner now, instead of having to kill time playing on this boring parking lot with almost no cars or people while mom and dad … did something.

Fought with each other, she supposed … it wouldn’t be the first time. Why else would mom had told them to go outside and play at dinner time instead of just going over to the motel’s restaurant? Mom had been tense the whole drive. As had dad. As usual …

Emma was getting really hungry now, despite the chocolate.  It was as if it had just made the whole she felt in her stomach larger somehow … and then, when she thought about the hunger, the wind from the oncoming storm made her shiver visibly now.

“Maybe we should go back to the room?” she suggested to Michael. “Maybe mom is looking for us and can’t find us?”

“Mom would be calling. She is not looking,” Michael said. “Dad, too.”

“Dad ‘too’ what?”

“Isn’t looking.” Michael hated it when she corrected him – or implied she had to. Em wasn’t his teacher, like right?!

“Look,” Emma said. “But either we sit here and wait for her to call, and make her mad if she can’t find us, or … if we’re not supposed to sit here … ” She looked up at the bottom of the huge dark truck.

“Or what?” Michael asked, suspicion in his voice.

“Or we just go in now and avoid a fuss.”

“You mean, they’ll yell at us? But why?”

“Because they couldn’t find us.”

“They haven’t been looking! And we have done nothing wrong!” Michael protested.

“I think we should go in now. Look – the storm will be here soon, with rain and lightning. We will be and wet – and we’ll catch a cold.”

“You’re just afraid of the lightning,” Michael said, and Emma froze.

“Am not!”

“Yes, you are. I heard you say so to dad that night back home when it was all thunder and …”

“Will you shut up, Michael?!”

“I knew it – you’re afraid.”

“And you still wet your bed!”

Michael’s face turned red and dark now, all at the same time.

“You lie! You lie!” He suddenly lashed out and began hitting her and although he had done it before, this time it caught Emma by complete surprise. He had never gotten angry so quickly. She usually could see it coming. She usually knew how much she …

Emma took her hand away from her nose, which was burning and …

“Blood!” she cried. “You gave me nose-blood, stupid! You little stupid stupid bed-wetter!”

Tears stung in her eyes and she felt a rising panic whilst trying to control the blood-flow and breathe at the same time. She had had nose-blood before but somehow never this strong. Emma scrambled to get out from under the truck, while protecting her nose with one hand.

Michael just looked on in shock.

“I didn’t mean … ” he tried to say.

Emma said nothing. It was as it had always been with her little brother. As it had always been in the family. You thought you saw the storm coming and had time then suddenly … it was all there. And you thought you saw it coming. You thought you knew what it was all about. But you didn’t. You were just … caught.

Another whiplash of lightning cracked the darkening sky over the desert.

World Drifts In
Image credit: Ken Beghtel

Last updated: 2 May 2021

Ghost Hearts (VII)

Ghost Hearts (VII)

One night I try to throw it out, in the bin. And then – as if it’s a bad movie replaying itself – I get stopped.


The kid discovered that I took some of his drawings – you know, the crayon stuff he did on the back of the dot matrix print outs of “Ghost … ” by Adeline ‘Lin’ Christakis, 1999.

“I thought you didn’t miss them, darling? You said I could have them back, remember?”

“Noo …I did NOT. ” And he begins to get miffed. (My son can get miffed very loudly.)

He said I could only borrow. But hadn’t he understood that mommy misplaced the papers – that she left these papers in the stack by mistake? That they weren’t made for drawing on? With crayons or anything else?

It’s hopeless. Here you go. Peace. Let’s watch TV. Story of my life as a parent. And my life.

But maybe … one last time?


I read the story again, in the living room – Michael allowed me to hold the papers again, if he could keep me under watch, I guess. Barely.

I read it again. One last time. One Last Time.

I have to do so whilst commenting distractedly on Michael’s cartoons, as well – my co-nanny that evening when Jon was working late and Emma was over at Janice’s. (Bless you, Walt Disney. Are you a ghost, too? I don’t care.)

And Michael likes Donald Duck very much. You’d almost think he forgot the papers that made out Lin’s lost “Ghost” or the killer truck vs. Godzilla he drew in 3 different variants and then 3 other variants. 6 pages out of 7, both back and some on front – over the fainted dot matrix text.

“Look at that, mommy!” Suddenly Michael has forgotten why I was the worst, most forgetful mum in the world.

And Donald … does something funny. Something that …

And then … I knew something.

I knew … and I had to really make an effort to still comment on Donald Duck’s doings and mischief.

I knew the ending of “Ghost … “


There was no new ending. It would stop where Lin had originally stopped and the place she didn’t like, because that was the only place the story could stop.

The empty space of the loss of her sister would eventually be allowed to live in heart of the girl, if she made the choice and did not try to fight it.

But it would not be painful. It would be okay. The pain came from trying to fight it too much.

If it was allowed to be there, the empty space would – somehow – over time – become a link to the lost sister. A place to … sense her.

Even if there was nothing. Even if there would never be anything but memories. Even if those were the conditions there would STILL be another part of that “Ghost” in the title of the story and in the universes that Science Guy spoke of.

A part that was enough.

A heart.

It would be a heart, because it would be the girl’s own heart – which she now finally dared to be with – wounded forever as it was because of the loss of her sister.

But she didn’t try to repair it. Or forget it. Or heal it. Or hurt it. She didn’t even pretend she could do either of those things and achieve a meaningful effect.

She knew that even if she – in the wildest of her dreams – had been able to communicate – through angels or whatever – with her sister in the other dimension, then the sister would still be lost, disconnected, from her life.


It would at the very least be like having a sister living across the Atlantic. You could only Skype, but never visit.

Her sister was gone. And in her place was the doubt about where she had gone. If anywhere. If there was anything left but the ghostly space in the heart.

She had stepped over a boundary to … somewhere … to a place she could only be followed on that final day. If it ever happened. She had left … space.

But the space could be owned. If the sister who was left made the choice to own it. It could be inhabited – by her own spirit.

So the girl knew the only way to live with it was to carry it with her. The empty space.

And that was it.

I couldn’t write that at 20, and neither could Lin. I can’t even write it now – I’m only ranting.

But that’s my way, I guess, of owning the empty space.


We turned off the TV, finally, and I put Michael to bed and tried not to think about what if something happened to him. Was there a limit to how much empty space you could have in your heart?

I think so. But what I had … maybe I could make it like that ghost ending to that story and be with it and accept it. And … live.

Lin was too attracted to Goth and Martin Gore and dark tales with dark endings, like an addiction. She freely admitted it. Even made fun of it. Capitalized on it. Made me like her because she was cool and mysterious, whenever we were in public. And I was the only one she let down her guard with.

No, Lin would not have liked the ending to this particular story, that I just felt should be the ending. She would not have liked it at all.

But she would have wanted me to live.

Ghost Hearts (VI)

Ghost Hearts (VI)

More days …

Jon and I have a serious argument – one of the first in a long time. He tries to restrain himself, but his patience is not what it has been. So much for our deals and freedoms and gifts to each other. All misplaced, covering up … how much we need to work on.

“You have got to get yourself together. If nothing else, then for the kids.”

Focus. That’s it. Don’t forget lunch boxes or drive recklessly, when I have the car. I know what he is afraid of. He knows my fragile mind. What it can do.

And I know he hates himself for having fallen to this level. For not being able to be the helper he always is.

The man … the rescuer.

But we both play the game and get the shouting done, and then make amends. Later that night we have sex for the first time in a month and it is very good. Surprisingly good.

But it solves nothing. There is no ending to the story. And it takes all my willpower not to think too much about Lin again.

She just broke into my life again – or the ghost of her did. And I can’t get rid of it. I can’t.

It came back, after years and years, and I know why.

I should have stopped her.


I should have seen how unhappy she was. I should’ve predicted …

Stop it, Carrie. It. IS. Bullshit.


I couldn’t predict she’d shoot so much cocaine into her veins so it’d kill a herd of elephants. Why am I trying to be a fucking martyr here? It is pathetic.

But why can’t I then leave the story, without that ending?

Ghost Hearts (V)

Ghost Hearts (V)

A Thursday.

That’s when I find the old novella draft from Lin. Another one unfinished. I kept it because she allowed me to keep it, when I was afraid she’d throw it out. She would have. Then it was with my mum for a long time, until she dropped most of my archived stuff here last year. Fair enough. I threw out a lot back then. But I kept this and then forgot.

Maybe part of me wanted to remember it now, because suddenly it dawned on me – that it existed. But I was afraid that I might have thrown it out. I searched and then I found out that Michael had taken it, because it was – somehow, inexplicably – in the bag with old paper to be reused. A lot of fine crayons 8-year old style on both back and front of the dot matrix-printed story.

So now you are expecting me to say that the story helped me. That grace or something like that made me think of it and find it. That’s not so. As a matter of fact I’ve got so few things left from Lin – even photos – that I obsess about the ones I do have. And even this one, precious as I said it was, did not avoid to come close to extinction in the mess that is my life and my house.

But I saved it. In truth, I thought about it all the way from Vegas. But it was a secret thought – the one I kept pushing away, because I didn’t want to feel it all again. I didn’t want to think of Lin lying in that pool …

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Ghost Hearts (IV)

Ghost Hearts (IV)

Another week.

I am stressed and tired and near breaking. I thought I had put a lid on those feelings of loss years ago, and of guilt. And here they fucking come again.

Lin … lying in a pool of her own … no, I can’t even think it.

But I can see it. Feel it.



Ghost Hearts (III)

Ghost Hearts (III)

The next week

I’ve changed tack. I have been honest with myself. About what I really want.

And I suppose I’ve got a somewhat more poetic (cowardly?) take on the question at hand – is Lin alive? Somewhere? Right here and now? No BS. No Hollywood. No fantasy. For R-E-A-L. Even if it sounds insane.

My take is that I don’t really want to explore the answers – as you might do – about which dimensions are there and which are not. And who lives in them.

But that’ just the problem with my fragile and more-than-slightly obsessive mind. It tends to crack a bit there and now, especially when I think I’m home free – literally – after years on the roads, with drugs and whatnot. Especially now that I’ve found a functional everyday life with house, husband and kids in a suburb in Yuma of all places. I didn’t want to think – too hard – about what if my dearest dead friend from those shadowy teen-years were still out there … in some other dimension, now that science had ‘approved the possibility’.

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Ghost Hearts (II)

Ghost Hearts (II)

Yuma – not Vegas

I am back where I am.  It is a blur. I need it to be a blur.

I clean rooms and put on clean sheets at the nursing home and get the usual broadside from Jeannie and her ilk for not being fast enough, as if they cared. I come home tired. I fetch the kids and I am tired. I cook and I am tired. I don’t have sex with Jon – again – because, guess what, I am tired. I watch television to forget that I am tired and fall asleep. And through all of it my thoughts race, because I just opened a fucking dam.

Then the science guy actually emails me back.

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Ghost Hearts

Ghost Hearts

I was on my second solo-weekend in the Bigger City as per the new ‘rules’ in Jon’s and my marriage. I was beginning to regret it, though.

I felt good about it – no doubt! – but the goodness – like the food and wine – and even the freedom to think, all of which I had yearned for … it was as if something still didn’t click, still didn’t feel enough.

And for that reason alone I was spending this evening alone with a bottle of white wine, counting the lights on the Strip outside the hotel room window.

When I could have been anywhere else, with anybody else.

When the hell am I going to be satisfied?

I chuckle, at myself, when I become aware that I’m bitching about this … but there is no joy in any sounds I can make right now. Laughter, chuckling, or just being silent. It is all as if a cold, empty feeling is growing and infects all of me, and all the sound I am able to make or not make.

And the worst is that if only I could say with definiteness that there was NO goodness or NO good food or good wine (all which was a damn unselfish gift from Jon combined with hours of my own slaving in order to save for it) …

If only I could say that I had found out that I hated the freedom and the long hours of uneasiness when I suddenly become aware that I have full control over my own thoughts. I don’t have to distract myself, to be or do something for someone else – to make the family hold together or to hold myself together at work. I am… free.

If only I could say I had not been able to handle that …

But no. Everything is perfect. Really. Goddamn perfect.


So what has crept up on me? What has gently pushed my attention towards some misty darkness between the lights of the Strip, something that seems to pop up in my mind more and more often now as the evening wears on?

Perhaps it comes because I am secretly looking for it? I should drink more wine. Or go find a bit more … goodness to tell Jon about.

It was after all the ultimate freedom, he gave me – to be used. And born of bitter experience – about what it really means to raise children when you weren’t always ready – about swanky and self-confident Juliana from Jon’s station – about that idiotic getaway as a stewardess – and about crazy but very strong urges to stay in an airport in Morocco even if I am about to cry every time I think of Emma and Michael.

That’s why I didn’t do it. I couldn’t ever leave them. But have I left myself … somewhere?


So yeah, I was bored and I locked myself in the hotel room and surfed and surfed and surfed. What else to do? TV was all about Trump …

Then I came across the article:

Maybe it was someone who shared it and I clicked. I don’t know – okay? But I am easy to distract, especially in situations like this when I want to be distracted.

I read again:

Our universe …

shares space with a large number of other universes …

particles in our universe feel a subtle push from corresponding particles in all the other universes …

These other worlds are mostly invisible because they only interact with ours under very strict conditions, and only in very minute ways …

via a force acting between similar particles in different universes …

One way to think about it is that they coexist in the same space as our universe, like ghost universes …

So …

Ghostly universes that are not parallel to ours but PART of our own universe.

Which may look and feel like ours and be vastly different in some cases.

They are here – now – right beside us, only a little bit removed.

Weaving in and out of our reality, like misty vapors, but if we could see them from their perspective WE would be those misty vapors – very close, and yet far away.

That’s how I – try to – understand it anyway. Never was much of a physicist.

Anyway, so this is an insane but certified theory of more – infinitely more – universes crammed into the same box …

But the gist is this: The universe could be like the hall of mirrors, only every distortion, every variation takes place in a part of the same mirror. Everything that could have happened and could not.

It’s out there. So close.

And so I began to think of Lin again, after at least 5 years of willing myself not to think of her.

What if my dearest dead friend still existed in another universe in the same space as ours?

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The Morning Sun

The Morning Sun

It’s one of those mornings that should’ve been like a zillion others, yet it isn’t.

But I remember what came before the morning. Not like a zillion.

And now: Sun rays through the window as I do a quick dishes. Enough to make me squint. But also to smile. And I usually hate the sun here.

I usually hate doing lunch boxes, too: A peanut butter sandwich for Michael and fruit only for Emma. Water. Some juice. That’s all. All that which I could usually hate.

But I don’t. I feel light. Like it all has taken on some hidden meaning that I was only too blind to see before.

“I get off early, I could pick up the kids,” Jon says while scrolling through today’s news on his phone with one hand and absentmindedly harpooning the bacon with another.

Jon never picks up the kids on Fridays. But never is far away this morning.

“That would be lovely,” I reply and the light continues. I put the last dish on the tray. Now everything will look neat when we all get home, and until that washing machine repairman can get his ass over here. But he doesn’t have to hurry, it seems. I got it.

And lord knows, I have got enough of this on my job. In 40 minutes and counting. But at least the car works today. And I have that, too.

The small blessings. Of the morning sun.

And not like a zillion.

Why can’t we have more in our lives of the things that make us a light inside?

Ancient Melodies

Ancient Melodies

Michael screams as I try to take the Mars bar from him. “Gran said I could have it!”

” – Granma shoulda asked me before she gave you that. It’s candy day every Sunday, not every weekday. And you can’t take that with you in class. It’s not allowed.”

All the arguments – I run through them like a machine. A tired machine. And then I think about choking mum. And not inviting her for Christmas. Or both.

“Michael – come here. Right now!”

But off he runs, his 6-year old-feet tapping along the sweltering pavement. In the wrong direction.

“Emma – stay here. I’ll be right back.”

Yeah, sure.

So I leave my oldest daughter, staring dumbfounded after her mother, chasing after her little brother. Oh, well, she’ll only have to stay there, at the bus stop and take care of herself and be the butt of jokes from the other children, who have some good reason for taking the bus, instead of our reason which is that Jon couldn’t fix the car “in a jiff”, like he said he would last night after I threw something at him. I don’t remember what it was, I think it was heavy enough, though, to make an impression.

“You hear me – stay there, Emma. – Michael!”

I imagine I can hear the snickering of the other kids. I imagine I can feel the eyes of the older lady, who’s there waiting, too, and who has already judged me in a hundred different ways. I imagine that Emma’ll deal with all this, no problem, and stay safe till I get Michael. Emma’s eight. She can handle it, big girl.

“Michael – goddammit. Come here, or I swear, you’ll never have chocolate again.”

I finally catch him in the sleeve, two seconds before some truck lunches from the hidden nothingness behind that corner: the places we usually don’t think about until it’s too late.

The driver honks, Michael screams, I scream. It’s a cacophony. It would be funny if only I didn’t feel like crying.

I wonder if it was wrong to invite mum down from Bakersfield, or if it was wrong of me to throw that glass jar (yes, now I remember what it was) at Jon? Or if it was wrong of me to let Michael see it. I only threw it on the floor, after all. Not at him. But inside it felt like I threw it at him – my husband. Could my son, somehow see that? Is he just as smart as all the other kids, who begin to hate their parents at an early age, having seen through them – seen that there’s nothing there but fear, terror, helplessness?

Thoughts race, while I race back to catch the bus. Emma dutifully waits. The traffic of East 48th drones by, ignorant; people with real jobs, real directions. Perhaps somebody smiles mockingly. Perhaps no one notices. We catch the bus, last second. Michael is crying loudly, impossible to ignore.

Emma grabs my hand. But I feel guilty. I should grab her hand, feel in control.

But control left me years ago, when I thought Jon saved me from myself. When I thought children were the blessing of all blessings. When I thought that I had a right to a new life, and finally somebody noticed.


The sun blazes, Yuma burns. I burn. We go with the bus. I deposit my children at their school. I wait for another bus to take me away from the school again – to work. I wait while I burn.

And then I notice her: the dark-haired 40-something lady who was also waiting for the bus when I ran after Michael. She took the bus with us, sitting just a few seats behind … Why is she here – at the school stop? Why is she the only one here?

“Finally free?” she asks, when I come back out from the school yard.

Direct, isn’t she? What the hell …

I push my sunglasses all the way up, so I can catch her eye. I’m not going to hide from anyone. And there’s five minutes until the next bus and on to work.

“Are you waiting to change busses?” I ask.

“Yes, but I’m in no hurry,” she answers. Still friendly. Oh, so friendly …

“I am,” I say. “I am going to work.”

“So am I. Tonight. Right now I’m just going downtown to shop a bit.”

“Uh-huh … “

“Not feeling up to conversation, eh?” she smiles. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

Now I feel strange … and like sitting down on the bus bench. I grab for my water flask in the bag.  Where the hell is it … ?

“Listen,” I say while I grab, “I just delivered two monsters – well, only one actually, but it feels like two – to school. So yeah, maybe I don’t feel up to conversation …”

She nods, stares out over the street, squints at the sun.

“I just wanted to say that I … oh, never mind.” She eyes me carefully. ” – It’s idiotic anyway.” She shrugs. “What can I say?”

I look back toward the school grounds. I can hear lots of children. No one screaming. Not yet. A bell rings. My shoulders ease. Michael kind of smiled when the teach took over. But  …

“So you’re not going to work until tomorrow, then?” I ask, still fumbling for the flask. I give up. Look up:

“What do you do anyway?” It comes off as kind of rude. Surprise …

But she just smiles again. It’s like she could disarm a whole army with that smile. Somehow it gets to me. She really means well. She’s just awkward … ?

“I am a doctor.” She stretches out her hand. “Charlotte Danner. – Danner Tansley, actually. My dad was a big Virginia Woolf-fan. It’s not a certified name, but I kept it in his memory. God, listen to me – I’m really babbling today, aren’t I?”

But she still holds out her hand.

I take her hand, carefully, as if I had grabbed tumbleweed flying in from the Gila bassin, once full of barbed wire. I search for some leftovers, some trap. I find nothing. But her grasp is as ephemeral as those flying wisps, yet with a sinewy, firm strength. How can something be both gentle and iron cast?

“I’m just Carrie Sawyer,” I say, “cleaning lady for the elderly.”

“That where you are going?”

“Uh- huh.”

“Sounds like you don’t like it.”

“Sounds about right.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. What kind of doctor are you? You work at the hospital?”

She shakes her head. “Not here in Yuma. I work abroad – for Doctors Without Borders. Know them?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

She hesitates, on guard. Something flickers in her brown-grey eyes.

The bus comes. I’m relieved.

We board, sit down. The school disappears behind me and I disappear from it, like a wild animal crawling into hiding.

I feel edgy all the way to my seat and wonder if I’m going to break down and cry. Something’s completely off. I’m falling too pieces. And why …

“We all have days like this, don’t we?”

The Danner-woman has chosen the seat next to mine, but on the other side of the aisle. All other passengers are non-distinct grey shapes. Like we’re riding a bus with shadows.

“I … guess we have,” I finally manage to reply, wiping the sweat of my brow.

But I’m going to work. The one thing I don’t need right now. How do I look my chief in the eye? How do I keep up the cheery face, when old man Kensington cracks his racist jokes?

“It’s hard having kids,” she says.

I can’t make out if that’s an observation or a question. If it’s a question it would be stupid, bordering on rude, given the mess she just witnessed at the bus stop. But an observation would be … banal.

I finally get a hold of myself and look more closely at her.

The lines under her eyes and the grey shadows above them indicate a handful more years than forty. But her eyes themselves are alive and sparkling, as if they are the source of all life itself. Who is she?

“Where are you going?” I ask, trying to be polite, controlled. Trying not to think of Mr. Kensington.

“To _________ Motel,” she replies. “Been visiting my aunt. Really.”

“Here in Yuma?”

“Really. There are other aunts in Yuma, right?”

A mischievous smile, as if she knows she got me. Or maybe just  doctor knowing that her patient is improving.

I lean a bit more back into the hard bus seat and try to think of good things. Like Mr. Kensington visiting his grand children today. I think they live in Nebraska.

“So – ” I say, gazing at some point between the ceiling of the creaking bus and the dusty Yuma-scape passing by outside the window ” – it’s a family visit and then back to doctoring?”

“That’s right.”

“I don’t want to sound rude, Mrs. Danner – “

” – Miss.”


We chit-chat a bit. About the traffic. Weather. Stuff. But then I can’t keep it back any longer:

“Look –  I might as well be honest – ” I take a deep breath and then let it out while I look/don’t look at her ” –  and honesty is that I’ve only had one good conversation with a stranger on a bus for the last five years and I don’t think today is the one, when I’m having another.”

I end that sentence with the look. At her. The ‘get it’-look. That look I hate when it comes to me. But it’s a powerful way to look. At others.

“I think you may be right,” she says, but matter-of-factly, as if the renewed hostility in my tone (why couldn’t  keep it down? – I felt I could) doesn’t matter. Like she has seen it all before:

“I’m sorry for bothering you. I guess I just felt a bit, I don’t know … “

She trails off. Looks out her window.

The bus lumbers on, like a groggy rhino. Traffic thickens. Rush hour at its deadliest.

We sit in silence for the next many minutes. I’m approaching Kensington Station and my stomach churns. Maybe I can get to clean the basement today? So much for the money that went into law school. About the same amount that went out through that needle I pushed into my arm for so many years.

I glance at her – the Danner-lady. She looks … sad somehow.

“I’m sorry,” I then say and feel like I have to clear a stone out of my throat: “I’m just sorry. About all of it.”

I dunno if I say it to myself or her or both.

Another woman, 60-ish, on the seat in front of me turns and eyes me like I was a convict she is not certain she recognizes. Then she turns back to her knitting.

“It’s all right,” Charlotte says. “I understand. Children can be the worst test – but still – ” she looks at me directly now, something warm and embracing in her eyes ” – they are the miracles of our lives, right?”

“You have some?”

She shakes her head. Something in me sours.

“Any small children in the closest family?”

” … No.”

“Delivered some?”


Something in me sours again. Like old food I thought I had thrown out, but I only put it someplace to be forgotten for awhile. Then I find it again and it smells worse:

“Okay, but even so I guess you don’t know what the hell you are talking about, do you, doctor Danner?”

I see the next stop and get up from my seat in one fluid, perfectly aggressive movement – like a snake slithering toward its next prey. Then I look down at Not-Mrs.-Danner:

“I’m getting off here, ” I say and hate every word and myself: “Sorry for being a bitch. I guess I can’t help it, but not all of us have perfect lives.”

Something glistens in her eye. I don’t know if its a dying sparkle of the blazing sun outside the dusty bus window, or something that glistens for other reasons. Perhaps reasons to do with delivering children that do not breathe and feeling lonely enough to talk to strange women who are a little better than weeds …

“I wanted to have children so badly …”

It comes out almost like a whisper.

She is looking me straight in the eye for the briefest of moments, then her head slumps a bit. She looks away, continues:

“We tried for eight years. Nothing could be done. I had a depression. My husband got tired of it and left.”

Then she hesitates – looks at me again – sees how dumbfounded I am, that I have nothing to say. Then it is as if she makes a decision.

She stands up quickly, walks down the aisle and exits from the centre door of the bus, just before the rhino lumbers on again.

I want to follow. I want to talk. To apologize. To explain that maybe I am also depressed. Maybe the pills I’m taking to keep it a bay aren’t working. Maybe there are all sorts of reasons I just broke her heart when she tried to be kind to me. Which is the story of my life and I wish I could change it, but it never – never – changes.

Including the fact that I’m a coward and sit in the bus until the next stop – but then run back towards the nursing home and don’t even look for her, because I’m afraid they’ll kick me out if I’m late again.

I only stop once. When somebody yells at me:

“Hey, lady – you forgot your purse!”

It’s a young guy, with pimples instead of a face, and he looks embarrassed by just looking at me. He stands at the bus stop where he got off same time as me. He waves at me, and the waving gets more and more timid as I turn back and walk towards him and try to grasp what he just said, and try not to look to much at him, in order not to make him more embarrassed and my heart feels like a knotted fist.

Then I get it:

“It’s … it’s not my purse … ” I say.

“Must be that other lady’s, then – the one you talked to,” the young guy says and pushes the purse into my hand without explanation. Then he is gone.

Somehow Charlotte Danner Tansley won’t go away so easily.


We’re home and it’s late and peace has caught me after all. In a few brittle moments, but nevertheless. I cherish them even so. For their fragility. For the time I can just sit here in front of the computer and let YouTube-videos run and try to think that it was okay that Jon had to put Emma and Michael to sleep for the nth time this week. He was as dead-tired as I was, but what do we do? Have a lottery?

Why can’t my husband just say he doesn’t care? Even when he has had to follow another con to another transfer up in Flagstaff and listen to this creep’s insults throughout another blazing day on the high way.

Life as a cop kills you, but not in the ways you think.

I tap another video and it runs. It’s my junk and I know it.

Then I look at the purse again.

It’s small, brownish. Leather. Some kind of African pattern (I guess) on the front.

I have already opened it more times than I care to. I want to again.

Damn her.

If she only had left an address. But no. She wouldn’t just make it easy. Perhaps it’s some kind of refined revenge. But she would have to know me better than that, right? To know what ticked me off.

To know what I would not stop doing, once I saw that I had no choice because that is who I am. When all is said and done.

But a stranger can’t know another stranger so well. That’s impossible.

No address. Damn her.

Just that pic. Some lipstick. Old receipts. A gasoline card. Small mirror. That’s it.

That and that pic.

Lying there at the bottom, like a nugget of gold in a mess that could as well have been my life.

I take it up again and look closely. It looks back at me:

Charlotte is there, in some village. Africa. She’s in a medic’s uniform – or what goes for it in the bush. She is holding a boy, perhaps eight years old or so. He only has one arm, the other is bandaged but it is clear that half of it is missing. She holds him in her arms. He clings to her, with all the strength he has in that arm he has left. She smiles to the world on the other side of the camera: That sad, strained smile, I saw on the bus. Yet also a smile of hope and infinite patience, like she could carry that boy forever.

And maybe – just an infinitesimally small maybe – it is also a pic that’s one of the most personal things she had – for some reason. Why else carry it with her like this, so close, instead of leaving it in a drawer or on some hard drive?

It’s a real photo – developed on that glossy paper they used to use all the time. Not a photo-copy. Not a print-out. Real. Like in the old times, say, 10 or 15 years ago. Like the last picture I had from my life on Skye from the summer of ’94 – the one where Siné Munroe and I stand with our backs to the autumn-red sea down at Armadale and hold out the camera and hope it will catch us, like we hope this will not be the good-bye that would last the 16 years it actually did.

So it was Charlotte’s pic that did it to me. It made me do it.

Made me excuse myself with that same old excuse to my husband and feel bad about it, but it was only a little sting and it was quickly over. Once I had closed the door … once I had distracted myself for the usual 20-30 minutes with videos of nothing and email and status-updates.

Then I knew I had to find her.

Say I was sorry.

And … find out if it was just an accident that I sit here with her and the child she never had.

It can only be an accident. There is no other reasonable way to think about it.

And yet …

On the back of the photo, some words in handwriting (hers?):

… It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you …

No. It has to be an accident. I’m just being hysterical about it, because I feel like a pit inside – for unknowableth time in my life.

I want to find her. I have to.


But despite several hours of frantic search on the web, I never find Charlotte Danner Tansley. No Facebook page. No NGO. No clinic – nothing.

It is as if she never existed. Or doesn’t want to …

So all I have is what she left me, for her own reasons which I will never understand. If they were reasons at all.


I only discover that I have fallen asleep by the laptop, when Michael wakes me up, because he can’t sleep and has braved the stairs in the dark to come down and look for his mother.


Photo by Mara 1



Every day my four-year-old son counts the all numbers on all the 78 houses and on all the 21 cable boxes on our route as I take him from kindergarten to our house, and he begins to cry if I don’t count along with him.

It’s been a little over a year since Michael got his autism diagnosis, but I mobilize a determined hope every day that it is not that bad. 

After all, Jenna’s son scarcely looks at her when she tries to communicate with him. Michael is fairly eager to catch our eye, but only if he wants something. Like me saying the numbers of cable box 345128 just like I have done every weekday for five months now since this particular habit started. He has loved numbers for a long time, but the boxes came in later.

“At least he finds new things to count,” Jon says. “He doesn’t count the same stuff over and over again.”

“It feels that way some days,” I say.

And then we get into an argument because we are both stressed out of our minds and arguing seems to be something that has now become a trap we can’t get out of. Something as basic and instinctual in order to cope in some fucked-up way when Michael has been crying or howling all day for reasons we don’t understand because he hasn’t learned to talk for real and we don’t know what ails him, or in what way those multiple problems autistic kids have with sensory overload affects Michael.

And then Jon goes to work, and Emma goes to her room, and I’m not sure if it’s because she doesn’t know how to deal with her brother or with her parents.

And yes, I am thinking about all this as I count house number “fifty-threee”.

Michael loves drawing out the pronunciation of this particular house number – it’s as if normal kids were offered ice cream. The same joy – every time. Michael doesn’t like ice cream. In fact, he doesn’t eat much but bread, and we are worried sick but that’s how it is with autistic kids and there is a very long wait to get some help from anyone who can, especially in Yuma, and especially if you are not the richest family in the world.

So you see, I’m thinking about all this, and it’s not as if Jon and I just had that conversation, but we might as well have had it. We seem to have it every other day. We definitely have the argument.

If only we could use our energy, the little we have, to help Michael. To help our son. But it feels like we are stuck in quicksand and it doesn’t help that I’m unemployed again or that Jon shot a guy in the chest two weeks ago when said guy tried to rob the grocery store with a shotgun.

I try to tell him that the man will live. I tell him that even if he didn’t live I’d much rather have that reality than the one in which Jon’s head had been turned into pulp by the same dumdums that went clean through the big Halloween pumpkin by the door two seconds after Jon came in to buy a soda while in uniform, and the robber panicked and fired at him without warning.

It later turned out the guy—Carlos was his name—had pumped as much cocaine into his veins as I did myself over an entire year back in the early 2000s. But what does it matter?

It doesn’t make you any less dangerous just because your brain is to fried to even register what you are shooting at.

And my head is like a fucking beehive. Why can’t life be easy for more than five minutes?

Why can’t I get … peace?

“Fifty seeven!”

“Fifty-seven, sweetheart.”

“Fifty-seven!” Michael looks at me with mounting sadness and a stint of anger, unable to grasp that I just told him I love him in one extra word, but the extra word does not go with the numbers. You have to say them exactly as he does, or his world falls apart.

I wonder when Jon will come home. I wonder if we will argue. I want to shout at Michael now.

Fuck fifty-seven. Fuck that number.

But I don’t. Not today.

I walk on with my son’s hand in mine, and Yuma’s winter sun is mild and I wonder when he will learn to understand what ‘sweetheart’ means.

That’s what I use to chase the bees away for a little while, even if it hurts to think about, too, when I pass so many other parents on their way home, with kids babbling away and being aware of the world in a way I don’t know if Michael will ever be.

But this is a hurt that is better. So I choose it.


Losing Your Place On Earth

Losing Your Place On Earth

“Please, don’t say that about our son,” she had said.

“Well, I said it,” he replied and left for work.

Driving alone for 8 hours through the desert gave Jon plenty of time to regret what he had said, though. Not the feeling that he sometimes did not want an autistic son who had a habit of getting up in the night. Especially the nights when Jon was desperately in need of sleep from the last watch as a state trooper looking out for the lonely highways and byways of Arizona.

That particular feeling was genuine. But he regretted that he had said it out loud.

No. No, that wasn’t right. He also did regret the feeling itself. Little Michael needed all the love he could get if he was ever to have something remotely akin to a normal life. And Jon did love him.

Except for the times when he wished that his son wasn’t there.

Michael was still too young to understand, of course, and maybe he never would. The psychiatrists put his chances of ever learning to talk at about 50-50. Jon knew he had committed a cardinal sin, though, by saying what he felt that morning out loud, in front of his wife and oldest daughter who was just as dead-tired as he was, from being up all night.

So that was the question, Jon thought, as he made ready for his routine turn at Gila Bend back towards Yuma. At the last minute, though, he decided to go directly south on the 85. He didn’t feel like driving home just yet, although his watch was almost over.

Jon turned on the radio and listened to the pundits who hadn’t much to talk about. Obama’s win had been pretty clear.

They droned on, while Jon’s thoughts about what had happened that morning were the only noise in his head.

I regret every damn word, dammit. But …

But he didn’t feel like calling Carrie and saying he was sorry. Not yet. Even though he knew those kinds of remarks hurt her more than she let on. The problem was an insane work schedule, two kids – one of them handicapped, or so he thought of it. The only way you could sometimes carve out a niche for yourself was by being angry.

Still, it was not right. Jon decided he had to tell Carrie … something when he got home. He didn’t know what, but at least a decision had been made.

That was when he heard a loud ‘crack.’


Jon hit the brakes.

The patrol car came to a stop in the middle of nowhere. There was no one but him. And no other vehicles.

But that sure as hell sounded like a gunshot …

Jon got out of the car and carefully surveyed all directions.


Nothing in his world now but a few cacti and the usual horde of dusty creosote bushes, and then in the distance, haze-shimmering mountains.

He was about four miles from the road fork towards Tucson, but otherwise, there were no other roads nearby. None meant for normal vehicles, anyway.

Then he heard another ‘crack.’

Instinctively, Jon ducked low at the side of the patrol car. In the next second, he had his gun ready. But there was still no one to see.

The shot, if it was that, had come to his right, he figured. It had come from somewhere from out in the sea of small, spindly desert bushes. That much he was sure of. It didn’t sound as though somebody was shooting at him in particular, but that he could definitely not be sure of.

Jon reached in through the half-open front door and pulled at the radio’s mike. “This is 477 – reporting possible firearm discharges on highway 85 at Cameron’s Tank, approximately four miles out of Ajo.”

He filled in the rest. He couldn’t see anyone. But he would stay in the area to investigate, and they would send 436 which was the nearest unit, for backup. Maybe it wasn’t needed. Maybe it was just some kids, borrowing their dad’s car, going out in the desert to have fun shooting at cans.

Jon put down the receiver and narrowed his eyes against the desert haze.

Then another ‘crack’ came. This time he was sure it was gunfire. He had heard that sound too many times.

Jon crouched quickly and crept to the tail end of the car. He had pulled it over and stepped out to the driver’s side, so he had asphalt to his back and maybe another car passing by at some point. But on the passenger side, there was just the desert.

He felt fairly sure he wasn’t the target, but he could become soon enough by accident.

It was like he had been in this situation before and the crazy thing wasn’t that he was in somebody’s line of fire. He had been that often enough.

The crazy thing was that it never seemed to stop.

The Cold Has A Voice

The Cold Has A Voice

My relationship with my step-brother is a bit complicated by the fact that he has been dead for almost 10 years, and I never got to say goodbye. Never got to say much, in fact, before it was too late because I drifted away from him busy with my own problems.

And that’s where a lot of the shame comes from. Tim always had my back when we were kids and my ‘mates’ from the class were after me.

Actually, Tim never backed down from any fight. If somebody wanted a scrap they got it. As a result, he got a lot of bruises. Also, he couldn’t back down from a provocation, and provocations were rife on that island.

After all, if you lived with a family with an immigrant unemployed step-mother (my mother) from ‘big stupid US of A’, and you had a father who slowly but surely drank himself into permanent unemployment, then you were a returning target for the McMurdo boys, Sam Cullen’s gang.

But Tim didn’t mind, it seemed. He just kicked back. He always looked unphased. Except when some of the gangs had done something to me. That made his face darken and even I got scared and asked him not to do anything about it. But the next day, of course, there was a call from the principal and some kids got to see the dentist an extra time.

He had one weakness. You see, all the older boys on western Skye at the time listened to punk or heavy metal, at the time he came to live with us because his mother had to have another “holiday” at the Royal Edinburgh.

Anyway, there was a certain sport in listening to the most outrageous stuff and in hating all the pop stuff, especially the local stuff like the Runrig boys. But in his most private moments, Timothy took a holiday himself by ratting out on all those solemn promises to be tough as nails, for all time. In Fort William’s small record store he had found a couple of pieces of vinyl, which he had bought for the money dad had given him instead of Christmas presents:

Two A-ha albums. 

I don’t know why he picked up ‘girl’s music’ in the first place. Perhaps he had planned them for a gift to indulge himself with Maire, or perhaps the opposite, when she was playing mean bitch … like making a package of them, throwing them off at her house, and writing all sorts of obscenities on it. The younger teen boys often did similar things to tease the girls, but in reality, they just wanted to connect, and the girls knew that. 

But Tim kept at least one of the pieces of vinyl. I honestly don’t know what happened to the other. It might have ended up smeared with dog food on Maire’s doorstep, or it might have gotten lost. 

The one he kept, though, was Stay On These Roads

Our rooms were just next to each other, and so, one evening when dad had gone to the pub again and my mum was over at the Munroe’s (back-talking dad most likely), and he was supposed to be looking out for me. That’s when I heard it. 

He hadn’t come out of his room all evening, and I was just sort of going into my own little coma, lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering how to avoid going to school tomorrow. That’s when I heard it:

He played the record that all the girls liked because they were crazy about this Norwegian guy with the soft voice and the big deer-like eyes. He played a particular song, over and over. 

In the end, I had to open the door and see if he was still alive. Some odd thought struck me that perhaps he wasn’t, and the record player had jammed in the same groove. Of course, that wasn’t possible, but I was only 10 or so at the time so what did I know. It would be a long time before I would get anything better than my old cassette player, especially all the money going to dad’s drinking binge. 

I didn’t open the door very much, but he saw me. I was afraid then that he was going to hit me or yell at me, but he just called me in. 

“Ye like the tune, Caroline?” he asked, lying on the bed as I had … just staring into the ceiling. We had been like mirror images all evening, it seemed, but invisible to each other all the same. 

“I like it … ” I confessed. 

“I like it, too … ” he said, still just lying there, looking into some dream and not at me or anything else in the room. “I like it … a lot.” 

He never told me why he liked it, and after that day I never heard him playing it again. I think he had gotten rid of it. And when I tried to ask him about it one time, he got angry. 

Tim moved back to his mum in Edinburgh (later Aberdeen) in the early ’90s. She had gotten better and found herself a new man. Things were in some sort of fragile control. 

But Tim still had to pick a scrap whenever he could find one. He moved to Manchester with some girlfriend in the late ’90s and got involved in more brawls than I care to count. And then he joined the army. From that point on I seldom saw him. It was bad enough that I had moved to the States and gotten lost in my own way. I tried to get in touch again at some points, half-hearted I guess. 

In 2003 Tim was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, just when his unit was coming home from patrol, and two days before they were to be sent home for good. I had barely spoken to him since the turn of the century.

One day while I was on the road in the early 00′s my mum finally managed to track me down and tell me that he had been killed …

So there I was, sitting with a needle halfway into my arm, and feeling like going all the way more than anything, but … couldn’t. It was my last fix, and I didn’t finish it.

I was ashamed for having lost contact with Tim, but also for sitting there like the derelict piece of trash I had become … while he was actually trying to do something (even if going over to that war may not have been the best thing to do—but I keep out of such discussions on principle).

And then he got killed.

Me, I was just trying to kill myself.

At least he was trying to find his way … I wasn’t. After the news of what had happened, I couldn’t do anything less than at least try.

Was it crazy of me to tell you all that? Maybe. But I’ve had to admit a lot of things since then, and it’s the only way to salvage something, isn’t it?

If you’re an addict, the first way to get clean is to admit it. 

And that’s what Tim still has to tell me even today, just as Lin has certain things to tell me. Keep salvaging.

And I feel now more than ever that Tim was my brother—my real brother. I don’t care about that ‘step’-thing. To me, he proved more than once that that was just a label.

I was ashamed for years I didn’t feel anything at his funeral, but how could I? I had drunk half a bottle of whiskey to douse the shock. They almost had to dig an extra hole for me.

So in some way, Tim kept coming back for me after he died, like that day in Miami when I got that phone call in between god-knows-how-many fixes.

I know this may sound just like post-fact rationalization, but in my heart I know I always loved my brother even though it would be years in between our talks, when I moved to the U.S., ditched college, and took to the road. And I am grateful for all the scraps he took on my behalf, back when we lived in the same house.

I’m grateful that he will always ‘stay on these roads’ for me. As long as he does that, the cold outside—and inside me— won’t really be that frightening.

For it will always have a voice … A voice I know.

In memory of Timothy McDonnell (1974-2003)


Last edited 26 April 2021

When They Asked Me If I Knew You

When They Asked Me If I Knew You

I had a strange dream last night – one of those dreams that don’t evaporate into the mist of your mind when you wake up.

It’s been a long time since I dreamt something I could actually remember when an endless day repeated itself all over again as if God had decided to have fun and make every Monday loop.

As in … getting the kids up, clothed and fed; Emma for school, Michael kindergarten; exchanging a few routines with Jon before he is off to patrol, reassuring myself that he will be home again tonight as always. As if nothing bad will happen to him if I just pretend that this is completely normal work; and finally getting my own behind hauled off to the nursing home.

If only I could have done something important before my life got sucked up in this routine.

If only I could have done something out of the ordinary.

I know it sounds pathetic because I’m only 32, but don’t you have the feeling sometimes that the race is run?

That this is all there is: … Rat racing …

Sometimes I feel so worn out already that I think I should be a resident in the nursing home, and not the one giving old Mr. Porter a hand to safely traverse the distance from wheelchair to dining room chair, and then making sure he doesn’t spill dinner all over himself when trying to get it to traverse from from plate to mouth.

Perhaps it’s because it’s Friday, and after another 9 hours there will be a freedom, of sorts, for a whole two days. Freedom enough at least to up on the Everest-sized piles of laundry and maybe get that last paint job done in the old barn. And maybe, if the kids fall asleep early, Jon and I could … you know.

But then again, since it’s the end of the week there is every chance that both he and I will fall asleep early, too.

I didn’t last night, though.

And perhaps that book had something to do with it.


I had poured over the book all evening before, as if it was necessary reading for some term paper. But I haven’t done one of those since Cuyahoga High School in the good ol’ mid-nineties, when you still danced to Haddaway.

Jon had peered at me suspiciously, from above his stack of week-old newspapers:

“Is that a German book you are reading, honey?”


“Wow – you are the brainy one,” he said and blinked at me in a way I didn’t quite know whether to interpret as a compliment or … “I’ve always said that.”

And then he leafed through his issue of National Geographic with feigned rapidity, like he wanted to indicate that he – Jonathan Reese, hardworking cop in the Arizona state police – could do no better than look at pictures.

I shrugged: “I know it sounds masochistic, but grammar is my crosswords.”

“I knew that,” Jon said. “What I didn’t know was that you could actually read that damn language.”

“We learned it when I transferred to the community school in Portree. I had a few courses in high school as well.”

“I thought all pupils hated German.”

“I’m good with languages … the ones I want to remember.”

He nods, knowing full well this particular personal border of mine and just how close he can get to it, without crossing it.

I hate Gaelic. If I never utter another word of it, I’ll be happy.

It’s funny, though, that I should have felt like brushing up on German now. Not just because there are quite a few similarities, pronunciation-wise to Scots Gaelic, I feel.

No, Jon is right: It was ages ago. And even though I took a class in high school, because I had this short-lived teenager-seeking-identity burst of interest in my great-grandfather … I had indeed forgotten a lot.

Well, almost everything in fact.

But after Anne died, it had felt like a strange necessity. I had only known her so briefly, after that meeting on the bus from Bakersfield (where my mum now resides with her new guru).

Marvelous creature, Anne … I really wish I’d known her longer: Short and incredibly delicate; simple but elegant dresses; strong glint in her eye but always gentleness in her tone. And she was at least 10 years older than some of the pensioners at the nursing home, but her mind was younger than the mind of most people my own age. Including my own …

We had talked really well on that never-ending bus trip from Bakersfield to Yuma; and then she invited me to visit her when I came back to Bakersfield; and I did. Once. When I came back the second time to look her up … she was gone.

86 is of course quite ‘fair’ … and all that. You ‘have lived’. There’s ‘no need for more’. And yet, I still miss her like … But I guess that’s what death is all about for us living folks:


We want people who have died to come back, not because we feel sorry for them that they missed living some more, but because it’s to painful not to have them in our own lives.

And yet we have to.

And I wouldn’t have wanted Anne to end up in a nursing home anyway. She would have been as trapped there as she was in that munitions factory in Nazi Germany in her youth.

What were the last words she said to me, as we said goodbye?

“Don’t hold on to it for too long …”

She was the only one who was allowed to call me that and she had meant the book, of course. I had borrowed it from her: A brick, yes – but not so much as to scare me away.

It was just in from the German bookstore in Sacramento, the owner of which Anne had known for 20 years and who always kept a few copies of the really good stuff for her when everything else had sold out. She didn’t come up there so often as she had done … 20 years earlier.

I wasn’t sure, though, if I was going to read it. After all, it had been almost 20 years for me to – as regards German classes.

But Anne had taken some cooing old-womanish delight in my demonstrated ability to still translating single lines from Brecht and a few other books in the original German, so many of which presented themselves on her brimming shelves: ‘Take me … take me’ …

I think she had great fun with it the first hours I was there, and then later it became a test, and then a game to her once more.

I never quite got to figuring Anne out, and I’m not sure I would have gotten the chance, had I known her for 5 years more and not just 5 months. She had her quirks, yes, but she didn’t have an evil bone in her body – that I already knew for sure.

It was more than I could say for the people she grew up with, though. The book was about them, too.

And about the few people who dared to stand up against them.


In the dream, I was walking through a dark wood, and then I came upon a campground with a single fire lit. There was a girl sitting there – in a brown uniform, with tie and all: It was the Jungmädel-uniform I knew instantly, sort of a Hitler-Jugend for girls. She was staring into the fire, brooding.

I also knew instantly that I was somewhere in Nazi Germany, but although I thought it was real, as you usually do when dreaming, I was not afraid.

The girl wasn’t a beauty by any measurement; she was rather bland and normal-looking, I thought: And she had short, cropped hair, almost as a boy. And hardly any shapes to speak of … but then again – I wouldn’t have taken her to be more than 15.

Or maybe it was the ugly brown shirt that did it – the uniform. She might have looked better in a simple dress.

And there was something about her eyes – as if they beheld the whole world.

I sat down beside her. She hardly noticed me.

“What are you thinking about?” I asked her cautiously.

“I am thinking of how unfair it is.”


“That women aren’t allowed to do much in the Party.”

“They aren’t?”

She looked at me, oddly, as if she recognized me as a complete stranger – and yet someone she had known.

“Of course not,” she then said, as if taking a few seconds to gauge how stupid I was – how simple she had to put it ” – we can only do so much in the Youth Movements, and then in the homes. If you really want to fight for Germany, you have to be a man.”

“Do you want to go to war?”

She scoffed at me: “There’s no war.”

“Not yet ” – I felt a spark of cold coming from the fire ” – but … there might be.”

She looked as if she chewed on something.

“Perhaps,” she then said. “But I would still like to help Germany become great again. I am good with music – and children. I could teach … but I am also a good leader.”

She didn’t need to tell me who had said that to her. It was obvious she trusted completely in her own abilities. I couldn’t help feeling a sting of perverse jealousy.

I mean, sure, she was some brainwashed Nazi-teen, but at least she knew what she wanted. I was twice as old as her and had just drifted along, being thrown back and forth between cities, jobs … men. I had nothing to show for it, and probably never would.

All the old dreams … of becoming an artist, or a lawyer … all too late.

As if on cue, the young woman pulled out a picture from her rucksack.

I recoiled: It was a drawing of

… him.

“Tell me your opinion” she solicited – and with an insisting frankness, too. She didn’t want just another stranger telling her how “good” she was at everything she touched, without any substantial critique.

And yet that’s what I did:

“It’s … very lifelike,” I tried, working overtime not to show my disgust. “It’s good – really is.”

“But you don’t like who I have drawn?” she guessed immediately.

My God, she was so … sharp …

I have ducked Jon’s inquiries with that poker-face several times, and many more from my “broom sisters” – in the nursing home staff:

‘Are you all right, honey?’ – ‘Not coming down with something, are you?’ –  ‘Feeling down again, Carrie?’

But I could poker-face them every time (well, almost). It was an art.

But she saw right through me: The little Nazi-girl.

And still … I didn’t feel in any danger. Not yet.

I shook my head:

“No, I don’t … like who you have drawn.”

“It’s okay,” she said, as-a-matter-of-fact, and put away the drawing. “There aren’t many who understand our beloved Führer, and you are obviously a foreigner. You would not understand what he does for us – why I am willing to give my life for him.”

“No … you can’t do that,” I blurted.

“Why not?” she came back sharply. “Perhaps I will get the chance despite any rules and regulations about what women can do and cannot do. You said there might be war?”

I pressed my lips together. She hesitated for a second, then continued her offensive:

“If our neighbors cast themselves on us, trying to destroy all that our Führer has rebuilt for us  – all that is good … is that not worth dying for – in order to protect that?”

I didn’t say anything, but she could see in my eyes the answer I didn’t dare to give.

She breathed in deeply as if I now had indeed exhausted her enigmatic patience:

“Everyone will be required a great sacrifice … ” she said. “But it doesn’t matter. It is for a great cause.”

Then she turned away from me and stared into the fire once more.

We both did, for a while.

Then I said:

“Have you considered the … alternatives?”

“Alternatives?” She tasted the word as if it was some kind of strange fish.

“Now it was my turn to take a deep breath:

“Suppose it wasn’t … the others who threw themselves at Germany? Suppose it was Germany who attacked them?”

“That would not happen.”

“How can you be so … sure?”

“Our Führer says that we only want what is ours by right and that it will come to us by means of peaceful negotiation – and the others will have to understand that. They may attack us and force us to defend ourselves, however … “

“They won’t … ” I tried again, feeling desperation growing ” … you will attack them – all of them. And they will respond, in self-defense.”

“But that’s not just!” she exclaimed, and with such perfectly genuine sincerity – as if she really believed that Nazism had anything to do with justice that I could not fathom she had put on that ugly brown shirt in the first place.

“No … no it’s not,” I said, getting a hold of myself. “But that’s what Adolf Hitler will do. And there will be more … much more. Everybody who is against him will be killed, or put into camps.”

Her eyes widened, and then she shook her head – but in a sad kind of way:

“You are lying.”

I had had enough. I got up.

“You’ll see … ” I said and wiped my trousers (an odd thing to do in a dream, I know – but I remember it vividly … as the rest).

She shook her head as if I was not worth explaining anything to anymore. It just made me fume even more. What did I need to sit here and try to lecture that brainwashed little Nazi-bitch? She could go on and die for all I cared.

Then our eyes met.

Christ, she was only 15 … and at 15 you really, really need a direction in life, don’t you? To make the first, best choice about who you are … preferably a choice that is sanctioned by those you care most about.

“ … Do you mind if I sit down again?” I asked.

She looked at me for two long seconds. She was sitting there, legs pulled up under her, arms around the legs, her face seemed lit up but I couldn’t tell if it was the glow of the campfire flames or …

Two seconds but they felt like two hours … as if she had to size me up definitely now.

“I don’t mind,” she finally said. “You are a very strange woman. I have never met anyone like you. I would like you to tell me more about … the place you come from.”

And so I did.


I don’t remember the rest of the dream, but I assume that we talked a lot more. Then my bedside clock’s alarm hammered into my poor head that it was 0630. Time to get into the race again.

Yup. I didn’t think anything else than 1000 other things for the next 9 hours.

But when I came home … after having picked up Michael at the kindergarten …  after I had once again wrestled with the ungrateful curriculum of teaching him why he should not hit back at the other boys who hit him … after that I could finally drop down in the favorite rocking chair and lose myself a bit in German verbs.

And I had a pretty big dictionary lying right beside … Anne’s book:

About the life and times of a young student and her friends, who distributed anti-Nazi propaganda, got caught and executed for it. She was 21. I knew I had to read it the moment I saw it.

I took up the book and paused before taking out the bookmark; glancing briefly at the cover again …

The resemblance to the girl from the dream was … but no, that couldn’t be.


And even if it had been her, it was just a dream.

Figures, when I finally do something worthwhile, something really important

… it is not real.


More than a dream ...


Like Grace From The Earth (III)

Like Grace From The Earth (III)

“Jon is gonna be so pissed.”

“Have you tried calling him again?”

“I’m working on that part.”

“I’m sure he’ll understand.”

“I know he will. But he is gonna be pissed at first.”

The new bus had come to Salton City and apparently, it was not going on from there for the next 2 hours.

“Gotta have my scheduled break,” was all the new driver had said. He was a big black man with a left eye that looked like it once had met a boxer’s fist. Ernest H – ‘Your God’ – had gone back to Bakersfield when the new bus came to pick them up at the parking lot outside Palm Springs. All the passengers were weary, but some were not too weary to complain loudly over this new, unexpected stop.

“And I’m due in Mexicali for a meeting,” a pale-looking, freckled woman of about Carrie’s age snorted but didn’t say anymore as if inviting everyone to guess how important the meeting was but not why someone who was due for an important meeting had to go to it in a Greyhound bus.

A fat Texan man in a crisp white shirt and tie argued for a long time with the new driver until he, too, had to give up to the imperatives of regulation.

“Look here,” the driver said with finality, “I’ve been going on for 10 hours until I had to pick up you lot in Palm. Do you want to be in Mexicali 2 hours later, or do you want to be in a ditch somewhere because I fell asleep behind the wheel?”

The fat Texan didn’t answer. He went out of the bus instead, growling to himself.

A dark-haired girl sitting on the first seat, on the right side of the aisle almost next to the driver, looked after the Texan. Then at the driver. She was barely a day over 18 and already visibly pregnant. She started mumbling something about why Ernest couldn’t have stayed, but the black man gave her a hard look and she kept silent.

Then he leaned back in his seat and seemed to fall asleep almost at once. Soon he snored, along with the Chuck Norris-guy from a few seats behind Anne and Carrie. ‘Chuck’ had already been snoring loudly under his cowboy hat before they stopped again. He was seemingly unaware of the new delay.

The bus emptied as people had nothing left to do but go out and wander around a new sunburnt parking lot. Only a few people, like Anne, actually had to get off at Salton City.

Carrie was standing with Anne outside the bus. Anne had no luggage besides her handbag.

“At least we’re not in the middle of the desert, although it sure looks like it,” Carrie sighed and surveyed her surroundings.

“I’m sorry that you have to wait here even longer,” Anne said. “At least I am where I’m supposed to be.”

“Yeah, I seem to get delayed a lot,” Carrie said.

Anne smiled knowingly but said nothing.

“Now that you are here, perhaps you would like to follow me to my ‘motel’. It is just down at the end of that road there, close to the Salton Sea.”

Carrie looked at the lonely, faded sign: ‘Marina Drive’, it said. There were only a few scattered houses along the ‘drive’, they mostly looked abandoned. And then there was just the desert and the small, dried-out bushes and scattered cacti. She couldn’t see any ‘marina’ anywhere, much less water.

“What kind of motel does one stay at in this place?” Carrie asked.

“A private one,” Anne said and smiled. “I have a good, old friend, Mr. Rubensford – Charlie. He moved into part of the old motel down there – back in 1987.”

“Oh … “ Carrie said.

“There’s a Mexican family staying in one of the other rooms,” Anne said. “Apart from that, I think it’s empty. Unless someone new moved in recently.”

“Abandoned … to squatters,” Carrie mumbled to herself. But Anne heard it:

“I would hardly call Mr. Rubensford a ‘squatter’, honey.”

“Sorry. But he is not – I mean is he and you – “

Anne smiled mischievously: “What if we were? Who said that you had to give up the little pleasures in life, just because you are not fifty anymore?”

Carrie felt like the sun had already burned her, although they had only been outside for maybe 5 minutes.

“Maybe I’d better walk you to your motel,” she said.

“May you’d better.” Anne smiled again.

Then began trotting along down the cracked, deserted ‘Marina Drive’. After a little while, Carrie thought she heard something that sounded like surf.


Carrie had barely heard of Salton City. Now she was here. And whatever she had heard, it was very different from what she had imagined.

The town was developed in the 1950s as a resort community on the Salton Sea, Anne explained in her low, soft voice. Yet very little development was achieved due to its isolation and lack of local jobs. In the 1970s, most of the buildings were abandoned.

Carrie and Anne strolled quietly down ‘Marina Drive’, passing scattered husks that had once been houses and where it was far from certain anyone had ever lived. So far Carrie had only seen a few trailers, parked here and there, which seemed to be inhabited.

Suddenly Carrie spotted something else, though.

“Hmm – that place over there looks a bit like a casino,” she said, nodding towards a large, flat-roofed building with several rusting neon signs on the facade. The building seemed to have sunk a few inches down in the sand as every year had worn by since the 1950s.

It could have been one of Salton’s larger hotels, for all Carrie knew, but it was clear that nobody had been living there for decades. The crushed glass in the tall, narrow windows stood out like broken teeth in the gaping maw of a corpse. She couldn’t help staring at them.

“Have you ever been to a casino?” Anne asked and broke Carrie’s reverie.

“Uh, yeah … kind of.”

“Was it exciting?”

Carrie looked down: “I worked in one up in Nevada, near Vegas … kind of a ‘waitress in a cocktail bar’-thing, you know. But not for very long.”

“I wonder if I’d win,” Anne mused. “I have never really felt lucky like that.”

“I don’t believe in luck,” Carrie said. “I always had that feeling that it was just a bad excuse. But I always wanted to believe – that if people made something of something, then it was luck. Crazy huh?”

“A little, yes. Most of the time, when people make something of something it is more work than chance. Except in the casinos, I expect.”

“But then there’s skill …” Carrie knitted her brow, tried to find the right words “ – you can work hard and still don’t make something of anything! Although I’ve heard that some people who are good at counting cards and stuff can do well in a casino … ”

“Perhaps,” Anne reflected. “But it depends on what you want to make. I never made much money in Germany, but I still made something for myself. What is ‘counting cards’?”

“Well, it’s like … some people just have trained themselves to count … cards. So they know exactly where a particular card will be – in whose hand – during the game. A big advantage when you’re to decide if you’re gonna fold or play on.” She ended the explanation in a mutter: “Me, I never learned to count cards …”

“What, honey?”

Instead of answering Carrie just looks straight ahead, towards the still invisible Salton Sea that is supposed to be at the end of the road:

“God … this place is really empty. – Do you realize there’s so much of America that’s just … empty. Abandoned, like … people just tried to make something of it and then … they gave up?” She could not hold back a small, joyless laugh: “Not the kind of America they advertize, huh?”

“Maybe they didn’t give up,” Anne suggested, in earnest. “Maybe they moved to that other America?”

Carrie stopped: “Other?”

“The one they advertise.”

“Ha-ha,” Carrie said. “ … Where?”

Anne shrugged: “New York. San Francisco. The big city. I have been to New York many times. I like it a lot, but I don’t think I could live there. It is so busy.”

“Yeah, me neither … ” Carrie muttered.

Suddenly she felt like dropping to a hunching position. They had come to another crossing, with only one, lonely wind-worn house at the corner. It had no roof anymore, or the roof had simply collapsed. In front of the house was a big garden of sand, which had been neatly fenced in. The fence was sunburnt white and the paint had fallen off almost everywhere. A few still lay in the sand, looking like big ragged snowflakes

Carrie took up one of the paint flakes, then looked up again, down the road. There was still no sign of the sea and Carrie didn’t think she could hear it anymore:

“Are you ok, honey?” Anne asked slowly.

“Anne … what exactly is it you would like to photograph around here? This place is so full of loneliness.”

Anne said: “If nothing else then I will photograph the loneliness, then. Then I can sell it to people who want a picture of that to look at when they are losing their minds in, say, an apartment in the most crowded part of Manhattan.”

She laughed a little too loud, as she said this, but there was no doubt that she had meant well – if not for the stressed inhabitants of New York, then for Carrie.

Carrie knew this and tried to suppress an involuntary smile.

Anne pulled out a camera from her small, black bag. It was a Polaroid camera that looked several decades old: “ – And I can take a picture of you if you allow?”

“Of me?!” Carrie almost gasped “That’ll be … no, that won’t be any good.”

Anne cast her glance down. “Of course not,” she said quietly.

Carrie bit her lip: “I mean … I don’t exactly look my best now and, you know, out here – in this … ghost of a town. You could not sell that to anyone in New York!”

“Well,” Anne started, taking her time. “I think photos, where people look their best, are redundant. I like people who look like people and places that look like places … Real places.”

Carrie was still weighing the crumpled paint flake in her hand: “I dunno … Maybe … ”

“Are you sure you shouldn’t call Jon, Carrie?” Anne sounded worried now.

Carrie suddenly dropped the ‘snowflake’ and looked right up at Anne:

“Do you really think it would be a good picture?”


Carrie began getting on her feet. “Okay then. Where do you want me?”

“Just sit down again,” Anne said, now with a calm that seemed like it had been honed a thousand times. She readied the camera with her thin, wrinkled hands displaying a surprising nimbleness and firmness at the same time.

“‘kay … ” Carrie said and hunched down again, hesitantly.

There was a click. Just one.

Anne pulled something from the camera, waved it slightly in the warm air, then held it and waited. She looked pleased with the result.

“Crap – I didn’t smile did I?” Carrie blurted.

“You did.” Anne handed Carrie the Polaroid.

“Wow … a real Polaroid,” Carrie said, turning the photo very carefully in her hand. “ – Been ages since I saw one of those.”

“You look … grown up,” Anne commented. “That is good.”

“’Grown up?’ Ha-ha, I was on my knees … but maybe that’s how most grown-ups live?” Carrie said, not caring to hide the bitterness she suddenly felt welling up inside.

“Look at the little lines around your eyes,” Anne continued, unperturbed. “You look like you are thinking, I think.”

“I was … yeah I was … ” Suddenly Carrie felt the tears. She wiped them angrily away. “Maybe we should get going? There’s the bus and … it’s awfully hot out here … Awfully hot … ”

“Well, there is no negative,” Anne said softly. “So if you don’t like it you can throw it out and no one will know.”

Carrie turned the photo again, looking at it very closely. There were furrows all over her brow now. At last, she said:

“Don’t … throw it out – but don’t give it to anyone neither, just … keep it.”

Anne didn’t say any more. She just handed Carrie the plastic water bottle. Carrie suddenly remembered that she was very thirsty and drank hard. The water was, predictably, very luke-warm, though, but she drank a lot of it, still. Finally, she wiped her mouth, came to her feet.

“I think you should keep the picture,” Anne said.

“But – ”

“It is only about 1 dollar,” Anne said before Carrie could protest – “ so don’t get too excited.”

Carrie smiled slightly: “Seriously,” she then said, “ – I’m not a good motif for any picture, Anne. It’s just … just … I should’ve gone much farther.”

“What are you talking about?” Anne asked gently.

Carrie shrugged and began walking again as if she felt uncomfortable standing in the crossing. Anne followed, at her side.

Carrie tried to collect the right words, but it was difficult. It was difficult because he had never really tried before. Finally, they came, though. Not the right words, she felt, but just the words that she needed:

“After college – I mean after I dropped out – I did some pretty idiotic things. Drugs, actually. A little … and there were those men … and a lot of … a lot of drifting. I could’ve gone on to draw like a pro, like my brother-in-law. I could’ve stayed in law school. I could’ve done a zillion things.”

“But you didn’t,” Anne said.

Carrie breathed deeply. The desert air was dry and awfully warm:

“No, I did not. I just went down the drain … and wasted time. And time is precious. I know it sounds ridiculous to someone like you, Anne, because … you probably expect me to have lots of time. But what if I don’t?”

“What if you do? That is almost worse.”

“Then it’s still wasted … ” Carrie said harshly as if this was a conclusion she had long since come to. “ – Ten years that’ll never come back. How do I make up for that?

“You don’t,” Anne said. “But I am not sure they are wasted. How did you meet Jon? Why are you on this bus? Why do you help those immigrants? Are those things not to be counted, too, when you look back upon those ten years?”

“They are … I guess …”

“So it is not all bad,” Anne concluded. “Apart from the awful bus, I mean.”

“Yeah …” Carrie smiled weakly. Then she suddenly stopped again:

“Oh – ”

Carrie and Anne had come to an empty parking lot, just before the motel.

Here Marina Drive ended, and indeed there was a marina. It had fallen into decay years ago, but it was clear what the builders had intended. Before them was the Salton Sea, shimmering in the sunlight. Carrie had not even noticed it, so busy had she been following the lines in the cracked, scorched pavement while thinking hard about what to say.

At the far end of the marina, there was the old motel. Its walls were burnt pale, too, after decades of sun and no paint or maintenance, but there were whole windows in the part of the building that loomed closest to the water. It was possible to sit in that room and look out onto the marina, and once, there had been many boats to look at.

“So this is your ‘hotel’?” Carrie said.

“It is.”

“Do you think Charles is home?”

“It doesn’t look like he is here right now,” Anne said and narrowed her eyes a little as if she tried to see from where they stood if there was anyone inside. “Anyway, he knows I’m coming, so I’ll just wait. He’ll come back.”

Carrie wasn’t really listening. She looked out over the lonely Salton Sea that had just seemed to come up in front of them, to relieve the sight of the endless desert and the abandoned houses.

“You know,” Carrie mused “ … that’s got to be the only big body of water in this desert. And yes, because it is here, it is not really a desert. At least not the way I think of deserts. Hey, do you think it’d make a good photo?”

“Possibly,” Anne said. “Depends on your eye.” She took the camera and placed it in Carrie’s hand.

Carrie held the camera a bit. It felt big and slightly awkward compared to her slim digital camera. Or at least how she remembered its feeling. The digital camera – a birthday present from Jon’s brother – was in a drawer somewhere back in Yuma.

“So?” Anne asked cautiously. “Do you want to?”

Carrie nodded: “Yeah … just gotta … just gotta find the right focus.”

She turned the old camera in her hands, then held it up.

Then she pressed her finger, slowly, down on the photo button.

Like Grace From The Earth (II)

Like Grace From The Earth (II)

The bus was going nowhere – again. Another problem with the engine, Ernest growled from his driver’s throne. Carrie went out the bus and over the parking lot for more water.

There was a McDonalds at the other end. Most of the others went out, too. But Carrie came back in again. It was like entering an oven. She tapped the air condition. It was as dead as the engine. The old woman – Anne – didn’t seem affected, though. Not yet.

“Sorry if it’s not too cold,” Carrie said and handed Anne her plastic bottle. “It looked as if the fridge in there wasn’t working properly.”

“Thank you, honey,” Anne said and drank.

“Damn,” Carrie muttered under her breath. “Jon’s not gonna think the world of me if I come late back to Yuma again. He’s drowning in work these days and first Emma had the flu and Michael – “

“The bus will probably be going again soon,” Anne says quietly. “I don’t think you will be too badly delayed. Was he very upset when you called?”

“No … in fact he sounded very calm about it. But that’s usually a sign … that he is biting on something.”

“He has a temper, your Jon? Some men do.”

“You know,” Carrie said, very still, as she sat down again “ – he is so controlled, at home – usually. But then there are these small eruptions … like he’s holding something back. God, it would be easier if I had a job … then the bargaining would be more equal, if you know what I mean?”

Anne nodded, while looking out the window. The carpark off the highway was almost empty. “It is important to feel equal,” she then said. “Even if you’re not. Hans and I used to fight a lot.”

“What did you fight about?”

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Like Grace From The Earth

Like Grace From The Earth

A blond woman in her early 30s scrambled to make the bus before the door closed. She wore old jeans, t-shirt, short jacket, and carried a rucksack. Her hair was slightly messy and thin lines were showing under her eyes. It was a desolate Greyhound station in Bakersfield, California.

She got into the bus and thought that she had to hold on to something, because they would be driving any time now. The bus did not move. So the woman began looking for her seat instead. All the time checking her ticket which, it seemed, she had great difficulty in reading.

She found an empty seat – it was one of two in the entire bus. On the seat beside it an old lady was seated already. She had completely white-gray hair and was dressed in a blue nylon dress that looked at least 30 years old.

The dress also looked noble in a strange kind of way, the young woman thought. Then she thought about her troubles again:

“ … this ticket is unreadable,” the young woman mumbled. “Is … is this seat taken?”

“No, it is not,” the old lady answered. She had a faint accent.

The young woman sighed deeply: “Oh, thank god … I’ll just have to move if somebody comes around. But there should be at least one seat for me in this bus.”

“Of course there is,” the old lady said. I have taken the bus many times. So many never show up. You will be fine.”

“With my luck,” the younger woman said, “it’s probably Mr. Texas Ranger down there.” She nodded at a red-haired Chuck Norris-type, slouched in his seat a little further down the aisle, seemingly guarding the only other remaining empty seat in the bus. “But I’m not gonna go and ask him… not until I have to.” She smiled hesitantly.

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1986 – Wilmington, Southern Los Angeles

That was then …

“Admit it, David—you saw your no-good brother steal that car.”

Gray light filtered into the room, and the smoke from the Detective’s cigarette seemed to add to the general murk in his coffin-sized office. David Reese did not look up. He already knew very well what he would see and he did not wish to see those small, cold eyes of Detective Felt.

In fact, none of the kids who were caught by Harvey Felt wished to ever sit in The Chair again—or the ‘Electric Chair’ as his colleagues referred to it, exchanging knowing glances over their stale coffee when he hauled a new underage suspect into his office for questioning.

The A/C had broken long ago and the smell of old cigarette buds from the pool of ash in Felt’s mud-brown tray at the center of his metal desk appeared to have seeped into every nook and cranny on the wallpaper. It seemed as well to have seeped into the ruffled papers sticking out from black file folders, and even into Felt’s half-open shirt. He didn’t seem to care—about that or anything else except getting another little trophy.

David had to fight himself not to hyperventilate, to look calm.

Fight, fight, fight …

“Come on, David,” Felt pressed, with the same determination as a construction worker turning a screw until it absolutely cannot be tightened anymore. “– Jonathan does not deserve your loyalty. You were the lookout. You saw everything. It’s that simple. Admit it.”

“I didn’t see shit …” David said, arms still crossed tight, eyes still locked on the floor.

“You’re lying!”

“I’m not lying—!”

Felt heaved himself up from his creaking chair. He walked past the desk to look David directly in the eyes.

“Well, kid, you might not be lying but you sure as hell ain’t tellin’ the truth!”

Felt’s fat sweaty hand suddenly clamped down hard on David’s shoulder. He leaned very close to David, who stared hard at the dirty carpet on the floor.

“—You think you know what it’s like to be tough,” Felt rasped. “You think you can come in here and just shrug because you’re underage. Well, I got news for you, sonny. Your brother’s going to prison. He already got a record. And you saw him take that car because you were watching out for him – weren’t you?”

“I didn’t see anything,” David repeated, clenching his teeth.

“Oh, didn’t you?” Felt growled, leaning so close David could smell that he had been drinking something. It smelled like his father’s breath too often did.
Felt was keenly aware of David’s edginess. He smiled a bit: “I know a liar when I see one, David. Your brother stole that car and that’s why we caught him running away from it, after the chase.”

“It was Sim,” David tried again.

“So you keep sayin’ … So you keep sayin’…” Felt shrugged, but not as if he meant anything by it. Then his voice grew colder: “Sim was nowhere near that car. Otherwise, we would’ve caught him, too, don’cha think?”

“What do I know what you think I think?”

“Don’t play smart with me, boy!”

“I’m not. I’m telling the truth. My brother didn’t steal that car.”

“He did. And you saw it all on your little guard post and if you don’t admit it—David, I’m not sure you fully appreciate the consequences. You see, you already got quite a record, too.”

“I know.”

“You should. He’s heading for prison next. This is what he deserves. He got a lot of chances because he was young but this time he is going to do time.”

“He didn’t steal that car!”

If Felt noticed this peep from David, he didn’t show it. He lit another cigarette and thoughtfully watched the first few skull-like wisps of smoke dissipate:

“He did steal the car, David. And you know it because you were there to make sure he got away with it.”

“I was not. And you can’t prove I was!”

Felt looked like he was going to laugh so hard he could have swallowed his stinking cigarette. Unfortunately, David thought, he didn’t.

“We got ourselves plenty of circumstantial evidence, kid. Too bad you didn’t see that guard – Mr. Shrum – at the laundry, or perhaps you had forgotten to check this time? Well, he was there. The whole time – saw you loitering at that corner where you got a nice and clean view of the street before Mr. Barnham’s house. Nice and clean, yeah—for exactly 15 minutes before your brother jerked the car door open, did his little trick with the ignition, and drove away. All professional, I might say. He sure has the expertise.”

“I had to … get some laundry for my dad.”

“Your old man doesn’t use a laundry this far away, does he? There are plenty closer to his dump in South Bay than—but then again, I guess he is too busy to get his pants cleaned, isn’t he? We’ve been trying for two hours now to get hold of him.”

“He’s working.”

“On a Saturday afternoon? Kid, you fucking crack me up!”

David closed his eyes. He knew the noose was tightening. He could almost feel it. Like the stinging smoke from Felt’s Marlboros became solid, entwined itself around his throat.

He could be defiant all he wanted to. Felt wasn’t going anywhere and neither was he. But he was not going to say anything that could get Jon into prison. Maybe Jon had been caught too many times. Maybe Jon was old enough to get a more severe sentence. What did David know? He never cared shit for that. He just wanted Jon to … well, not to leave him at home, he guessed. Not that dad beat him or anything. Well, maybe once or twice, but then again, they had been pretty stupid to play around that huge, rusty oil pump. They had gotten what they deserved, hadn’t they?

It had been before he was old enough to take to the streets with Jon. It had been when their best, most dangerous time together was at the pump. They first used to pretend the oil pump jack near their house was a dinosaur, and sometimes it would make noise and even sound like a dinosaur.

And the monster had to be challenged: So they would jump the chain-link fence around the oil pump jack, next to their yard, and then head over to the pump and put discarded beer bottles on the platform and wait for one of the arms to crush it. Once they had come out and saw that a dog had been squashed under there.

It had been David’s first meeting with death. He dreamed about the pinkish-bloody guts, spilled out from the stomach of the skinny street mutt for the better part of a month. His second meeting came a day or so after when he slipped and he would’ve been squashed, too, if Jon had not caught him by the jacket and pulled him to the side. He had dreamed about that for longer. He had cried out because when you are five years old such dreams don’t go away by themselves.

Only Jon had been there to talk to him, all the times when he couldn’t sleep.

Dad had been out.

“Just take your time, David,” he heard Felt’s voice say, from somewhere that suddenly seemed far away. “I know it’s hard, but your brother doesn’t deserve your protection. And I would hate to see you taken away from your father but I’m afraid if you insist on being stubborn, there’s not much more I can do for you.”

David felt it again: The tightening around the throat, but he was not going to tell on Jon. Maybe Jon had done something stupid. However, his brother was not going to prison. He was not.

David had often wondered what it felt like to be ready to die and to have made a decision so steadfast that if you had to go through with it then you would surely die.

“…counselor might blabber otherwise. But don’t think that he’s gonna help—”

Felt’s combination of threats and bait seemed to recede even more. Perhaps it was all as it should be. If he was going to be taken away from home because he didn’t want to tell on Jon or because of something else that Felt had on him, real or invented, did anything matter anymore?

Not words, certainly. He should have been listening attentively, trying to find some way out—some clue in what Felt was saying to how he could get out of this one without betraying Jon. There wasn’t any and he knew it. There was just the tightening around his neck.

It wasn’t a particularly cool way to end his youth. It wasn’t as in those tales dad would sometimes come up with (or cook up?) when hard-pressed, when he was in one of his less depressive moods.

… About how grandmother had been a real Cherokee and how they all had real warrior’s blood in them. It was hard to trust, though, wasn’t it? He had never met grandmother, either, and she seemed as much a fairytale creature to him as anyone. They had left Louisiana and mother when he was only three years old because of the break-up.

They had ended up here in Wilmington, living next to a monster of an oil pump. They were close to the Pacific and he loved going down to the harbor, just sit and watch the water, trying to imagine what it would be like to go all the way to the horizon. He wished it were visible from their house, which was less than a mile away, but from his and Jon’s bedroom window the sea was obscured by cranes, factory pipes, and the towers of rusty freighters.

However, when he was old enough he would stow away on a ship. That was the plan.
He wasn’t sure why it had to be the plan, only that he needed to do it, because it would get him away from Wilmington. He hadn’t even overheard tales from the sailors or anything like that. There was just a strong sense in David that … something awaited out there, which was better, than whatever he could find in L.A. He didn’t even consider going overland instead, because to him it was just desert or prairie, maybe mountains, and when it wasn’t that it was just another big city that he imagined would be like this one. But the places he couldn’t imagine, on the other side of the ocean, they allowed him to hope exactly because he didn’t know what they would be like.

He would fight for his chance to get on one of those ships—one day. In fact, if you didn’t know what it was like to fight, how could you be anyone else but John Reese – blowing your rather generous harbor worker paycheck on the booze, the horses on the Alamitos racetrack and sometimes on those women but seldom on a new pair of shoes for your 13-year old son?

“—You know that your loyalty shouldn’t be with that brother of yours … “

Something dawned in David’s mind, as Felt’s repetitions now became completely opaque, like the ghostly smoke that now seemed to permanently glue to the big, fat detective, wherever he paced back and forth in the room. Strange … David had never seen it so clearly until now: His father was an okay man, maybe.

But he was not a fighter.

David could be a fighter, though. He could somehow delete that part of their family record, which felt heavier in his heart than any record Felt had on him. He could throw out an invisible line to grandmother whose tribe had had that clash with the police when they were to be moved to a poorer reservation and who had almost died herself when the cops beat her and did who knows what afterward.

He could be like grandfather, who had quit his job in that store that sold goods to the tribe at the border and then taken her to his home in Lafayette to start over. He could be like his great-grandfather who came from a white family that had owned the largest number of slaves in Louisiana until 1865 and had some prominent members of the Klan after that, but who now didn’t hesitate to supply the mixed couple with money.

Yes, there were all kinds of warriors in his family. Maybe dad invented a part of it. Maybe dad didn’t really know all of it, but—David decided right there and then—some of it was truth. And he wanted to continue that truth.

Even if he had to make it up.

He only just managed to relish that last thought, the warmth it gave him when he suddenly looked straight into Felt’s puffy, unshaven kisser. The police officer had obviously lost patience and had now grabbed both handles of the ‘Electric Chair’, right in front of David, like a big wall of sweaty skin and cigarette breath.

“You’re not listening to what I’m saying’, David Reese.”

“I … am.”

“No, you are not and that – ” his bloodshot eyes suddenly became slightly, awkwardly sympathetic “ – that is not a good thing, because if you are not listening you are not cooperating and if you are not cooperating then I can’t help you anymore. One last chance:
Tell me how you saw your brother steal that Chevy Nova. Then you can go home. ”

Suddenly it was all clear.

Somewhere in the distance, somewhere outside the bars of the nicotine-greased blinders, he could not see the hard contours of the nearby concrete blocks stand out against the decaying sunlight anymore.

He could not see the jagged silhouettes of the harbor cranes, like dead metal trees along the docks.

He could not hear the constant whooshes of cars droning by out on Gibson Boulevard.

He could not feel the hardness of the ‘Electric Chair’, nor the spindly, stinking smoke from Felt’s cigarettes.

Only one thing was clear:

Along a creek, somewhere … perhaps back in Louisiana, although he had been too young to remember, there was a man, looking for something in the water.

David saw him clearly now. The man was a Cherokee.

The man stood up, turned, and … looked straight at David.

“I did it,” David then said. “I stole the car.”

Felt’s eyes narrowed. For a long time he said nothing, then:

“You can’t drive.”

“I can. Do you want to see me do it?”

“You were on the lookout. The laundry guard saw you.”

“He saw shit. I know where I was. He didn’t see what I was doing after we went across the street and took that car. Jon … wasn’t with me, but we planned to meet up later. I did it for him. And we met up where we agreed to.”

“Jonathan was caught running away from that fine old Chevy – only one block away from it. The patrol car had spotted it 10 seconds before it spotted him. We found some of his ‘tools’ in the car.”

“I borrowed them.”

“Bullshit … The officers didn’t see you at all – before they caught you in the other street, right after big bro had been netted. You were running for home.”

“I was running away from the car – but in the opposite direction. Do you think we’re stupid?!”

“I don’t know what to think: So you’re saying your brother was not in the car – at all. He was waiting for you to ditch it? Bullshit. Even if you had been able to drive that car there would at least have been prints and – ”

Something snapped inside David: “I was wearing mittens, you f– !” he blurted. “ – I always wear mittens!”

Felt looked as if he was an executioner just about to swing the ax and then the pathetic sod on the scaffold had pulled a yellow rabbit out of his ass.

Once again, he leaned very close to David, and now some ancestral part of David Reese was not in doubt anymore. Those reddish veins, clawing at the rim of Felt’s eyeballs, were the same that a Lakota squaw had seen in the bloodshot eyes of a US cavalryman at Wounded Knee before the soldier had put a bullet through her head and thought no more of it.

“Awright, kid,” Felt concluded chillingly: “You insist on taking the blame for your no-good brother, I’ll make sure you take the blame – even though your testimony is all over the place. You see, I don’t believe in self-sacrifice. I only believe in consequences. And you might as well get a preview …”


Yuma, Arizona

This is now…

“And what exactly are you trying to tell me with that story … officer?”

Jonathan Reese had heard the word ‘officer’ pronounced many times, but seldom with so much venom as what the young fellow in front of him had just spit out.

It was a blisteringly hot day in Yuma as if the heat was cutting into your skin; same as when you come too close to an open oven. It had not been nearly as hot that day, Jon thought – that day almost 25 years ago, in a dark office of a bitter police detective looking for a way, any way, to choke his brother without actually touching him. After all, weeds had better be killed before they grow bigger, hadn’t they?

Jonathan Reese didn’t see David Guerrero as a ‘weed’, though.

On the contrary, the 19-something Latino was handsome by any standard, if perhaps a bit on the slick side. His faded red t-shirt and tattered jeans betrayed his position in the hierarchy, though, but that’s the way it was with all of the youngsters who stayed here in town, wasn’t it?

If you were of a mixed family, was there any more hope for you than if you had risked your life digging your way in – somewhere under that 600-mile fence that separated the US from another world?

No, David Guerrero had no semblance to David Reese, except in name. It had definitely not been so hot that day in Wilmington, he was sure, or … maybe it had been, if only in that particular room where the questioning had taken place.

There were many things his brother had not told him about that day. There were many things about that particular period of their lives Dave would probably never talk about, and

Jon would always have to try not to think too hard about what he would say if Dave ever opened up about it.

Jon leaned back in his ergonomically designed office chair. It was new and the leather was clean; it would, he hoped, be enough to keep his back working for ten years more. Five would also be okay.

“I’m not trying to ‘tell you’ anything, David,” he then said. “You make of my ‘story’ what you will …”

“Hey – aren’t you supposed to be off-duty now, Officer Reese?” David Guerrero asked, and again there was acid in each syllable.

“I’m supposed to at least try to do my job,” Jonathan said. “And that means taking whatever time I think is necessary to prevent young men such as you from going down the wrong lane. I don’t want to see you in prison, David.”

“I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“Haven’t you?”

“Hey – you got nothing on me, man.”

“Was that an admission?”

“It was an admission that I’d like to go now … officer.”
Jonathan leaned slightly forward, his hands resting on the desk he had cleared half an hour ago, when Joyce had told him David Guerrero was here, asking about his brother who was in custody.

“I know what you are doing … out there,” Jonathan said quietly. “But yes, I don’t have anything to charge you with yet, and even if I had I might want to give you another chance like my brother once gave me a second chance.”

“He did time—for you?”

“He was too young, but he went to juvenile hall for half a year. Felt saw to it, even though there were many counselors who didn’t believe his little lie, either. But Felt was the kind of man you didn’t play the hero in front of.”

“Your hermano got taken away from home?”

“Oh, yeah – and our father was furious. I guess he finally woke up—and he was not the only one.”

For long seconds David Guerrero did not say anything. Then, without blinking, he concluded:

“Those kinds of fairy stories don’t really do nothing for me, man. Can I go now?”
Jonathan felt something strain across his eyes:

“Yes, David – you can go now.”

The young Latino got up, swiftly, as if he had something to do before everything closed down for a siesta. At the office door, he seemed to change his mind. He turned slightly:

“You know, Officer Reese: Suppose you had gone to the slammer because your little brother had squealed on you for boosting that car …”

“Suppose I had?”

David Guerrero shrugged as if it didn’t really matter, but the triumph in his smile said everything.

“Just saying … what does your brother do now, by the way?”

“Since you ask. He is a writer.”

“Really?” David Guerrero looked as if he wanted to roll his eyes but thought the better of it. “And what does he do to make a buck?”

“Dave … does the cleaning at a medical research lab. Nights. In Philadelphia.”

“—He does that, eh? And you get paid shit for sitting here after 6 PM and talking to guys like me when you are not out at the border trying to shoot drug dealers – or avoid getting shot yourself. Oh, wow … you two sure got it made.”

Then he briefly fondled the golden chain around his wrist; the chain Jon had not asked him about. Not this time. And then David Guerrero was gone. The door to the hallway at the Yuma police station was still open.

Jon did not go after him. He punched the space bar on his laptop and the screen came alive again.

Then he opened the next file on the next young man, who, he knew, would soon be sent in here, like David Guerrero, and say the same things and go out again, not giving a damn until it was too late, just looking forward to telling all his friends about the ‘fucking stupid cop’. It would never stop.

But he fought on.

With gratitude to Michael Shrum.

Last edited 20 November 2013

Like The Wind Through My Tree (II)

Like The Wind Through My Tree (II)

The next afternoon after work I decide to go by the gym, anyway. But after the time I know she has been here. Or usually is here.

Forlorn concrete boxes on the edge of some dusty Arizona town – that’s the gym and the nearby pool. They are as shitty as they look, but they have what people need.

To come here. Often.

They have it.

I step through the doors and then remember I haven’t brought any gym clothes.

“Hey champ!” Dylan calls from his cave behind the desk.

“Hey – uh – I guess I am getting old. Forgot my clothes.”

“Why did you come in then, champ?”

“Got nothing else to do, I guess.”

Dry laughter. My best attempt.

“You here to see Carrie?”

Dylan goes right to it. He has his lucid moments. Not sure I like that …

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Like The Wind Through My Tree

Like The Wind Through My Tree

“That’s the problem with being in love,” Hammond said, “most guys don’t want to admit it.”

“What makes you an expert on that?” I quickly shoot back and chow down some more fries. And cola. And then more fries.

Anything to concentrate on … just concentrate on eating.

Hammond leans over the diner table, conspiratorially:

“I have figured it out,” he half whispers. Not low enough so it’s completely certain she doesn’t hear. Even with all the noise from the rest of the noon-time diner.


“What have you figured out, amigo?” I say, but keep my eyes where they are supposed to be:

The food …

My bulky partner grins. It is easy for him.

Eric Hammond: Ready to tell me some bullshit, to rub me the wrong way as usual. In his sweaty trooper shirt, beard stubs, and unkempt hair. Like some Burt Reynolds movie’s version of a cop – too fat, too slow, too sweaty.

He is anything but.

That biker he stopped from cleaving my skull yesterday, baseball bat-style, is still in Flagstaff Med Center wondering if he’ll ever be able to propagate his genes again – so we can have more alcoholic bikers with a grudge against the rest of the world.

Not the first time he’d done that. And I’d do the same for him. Every time.

So I let him BS me.

Every time.

“You know,” Hammond says, “I was always crazy about some chick when I was a teen, and then 10 times more after that. I never said a word.”

I look up from my cola, which is empty soon. But I am not going to call her to come get me a new one.

Maybe …

“Just because you were awkward when you were young … ” I start.

“Don’t give me that,” he interrupts. “I wasn’t finished. It’s not just me.”

“Keep it down … ” I say, breathing heavily and wondering if I can chow down more fries before we have to leave. I want to do something not to leave, but not eat.

“We have to do the round between Kachina and Sedona,” I continue, trying to make this all business.

Which is all BS, too, of course.

Hammond takes one of my fries, the last one. Eats it like it was a delicacy.

“Jon, my man – we’ll get there soon enough. The question is why you don’t want to talk to her.”

“I do. We have talked. I drove her home from the gym.”

“Yeah, and then you want to come here every day to have lunch. So you can talk about fries and ketchup with her. Great way to keep a conversation going. I’ll say it again: You don’t have the balls to ask her out!”

“I don’t want to – look, you don’t know shit about her. You don’t even know if I want to ask her out.”

“You have only been talking about her for the last two weeks. I know what the hell you want.”

He winks at me: ” … amigo.”

“Stuff it.”

“Oooh … ” Hammond’s eyes widen at me, mock-like. Then he turns in his seat before I can stop him.

“Honey – we’d like some more to drink,” he calls out.

And she comes over.

Carrie is a natural blonde but doesn’t look the part if you know what I mean. Oh, I realize how that sounds but you should see her eyes, man – you should see them. Like they are looking at all the world and like there is a world behind them. But that’s where the problem comes. I’ve seen such beautiful eyes before.

I’ve seen the pain and strength which are there at the same time in such eyes. Because she knows that everything she dreams about, everything she really is inside – all of her world – it may never be part of the world outside.

The fence is just too high.

“What’ll it be, gentlemen … Another round of Larry’s the best?”

She means the fries.

Hammond is polite enough not to stare at her breasts as she leans a bit forward and you can see that she also has got all the right curves beneath that dull waitress uniform.

It’s not because he is married, you know – the a-hole is busy looking for my reaction.

“Eh … “

Yeah, I get off to a great start.

She smiles and I am lost again.

“Maybe you want to,” she suggests, “but don’t really have the time?”

“Something like it!” Hammond quips and grins broadly at her.

She nods, she understands.

“I can get you some to-go. It’s gonna be a long afternoon, right?”

“Yeah, right,” I say and mean to get up. “Just get us the same as we had … Carrie.”

I hesitate on all counts. On saying her name. On getting up. On finding out where to look.

This is … not right. I’ve been in serious relationships for fuck’s sake. I chase bikers and drug dealers for a living. I know how this works.

And yet … I don’t.

I don’t go anywhere, just lean back and don’t even bother to hide how tired I feel.

Now it’s her turn to hesitate.

“Will I see you at the gym, tomorrow?”

That was not for Hammond.

I go for the cola but it is long empty, so I put the cardboard cup down and …

“Yeah,” I say – fully aware that I am not myself right now – “yeah!”

And I look up and smile. And she smiles.

And I have never really seen anything that makes me happier. Even in a run-down diner waitress’ uniform.

“Ha-ha!” I hear Hammond go, mouth full of his last fries. As if he had saved those for this moment.

“You got something stuck in your throat, hon – ?” she asks with accustomed ease.

She has been working here for months, I know. She must get all the shit from all kinds of …

Hammond wipes his mouth with the back of his sleeve. Leaving grease spots on his own uniform, to join the rest.

“I’m fine, thanks.” He nods vigorously. “I’m fine.”

“Look,” I start, manning up before this gets out of hand. “I’ll be there. As usual.”

I say it to her, and I am still not myself. Who is talking? How did this guy who can say these things to this woman – how did he suddenly get here?

I dunno.

But I’m glad he did.

She smiles again and takes our trays.


The problem with ‘the guy’ who just offered me help in the diner is that he is … not a regular.

He comes and goes.

Kind of like that self-confidence you are depending on when you are out to arrest people. Especially dangerous people, with guns and not a whole lot of resistance against using them.

Then you prep with your colleagues and you remind yourselves that you have a ton of experience doing this. You just need to remember it. Everything will go well.

But then you are out in the field, and something goes awry and you forget. And you begin to get those shakes or that cold feeling in the stomach. And you do your best to hide it, and just get it over with.

Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it happens even if everything goes according to plan.

I guess things went according to plan this time, in the diner. At least I did not screw up.

But I feel like I screw up every time I talk to her, even if it is just small talk.

So I come there, usually with Hammond, for lunch. And I get like I don’t want to be there, and I feel like something in me is taking over and looking for all sorts of distractions, even though what I want most is … to be there.

And then, sometimes, ‘the guy’ shows up and I manage to have a normal conversation with Carrie. Even if it’s just about what we’ll have, and if I’ll show up for gym the same days as she plans to.

So maybe ‘the guy’ is not someone else. Not some secret courageous Cary Grant living inside me.

Maybe he is just normal me.

And the true impostor is that feeling that takes me over and makes me feel like … she’s out of my league.


“Are you that skittish in the gym, too?” Hammond asks as we drive out I-17 towards Kachina Village. “I mean when she’s around … “

“Maybe you should start coming to the gym,” I say, “then you can see for yourself.”

“I bet you are doing fine,” he says, unperturbed. “I bet you work out there and everything is fine. With talking to her and all … “

“I bet you are right. It’s just … small talk, though.”

“That’s a start. Why not more?”

“You begin to sound like Dylan from the gym, Ham. It doesn’t really help.”

Hammond’s voice shifts, a tone that doesn’t help. And I know I did that.

Fucking stupid.

“Listen,” he says. “Don’t compare me to that chatty man-baby. He just messes with everyone, he tries to draw them into talk about all kinds of crazy stuff in his mind.”

He then looks at me, dead-earnest:

“What’s on my mind is you, partner. You haven’t been yourself for weeks now and it’s beginning to … “

I know. He doesn’t have to finish. I am a liability now. Ever so small, but still.

And partnerships and, heck, friendships don’t need that.

Especially now.

We drive on in silence and the trees seem to grow more shadows. At the Dollar Store we pull in and Hammond gets a new package of smokes – for later, of course.

I don’t comment anymore – of course.

I just wait in the patrol car, watching people a little bit but really, I am watching the shadows between the trees in and around Kachina Village.

My bro explained it to me last fall when I took him here for some R&R after his illness, and why not – he is much more into shit like that than I am:

Kachinas are spirits or personifications of things in the real world. These spirits are believed to visit the Hopi villages during the first half of the year. Kachinas are understood as having humanlike relationships; they may have uncles, sisters, and grandmothers, and may marry and have children.

I remember Dave looking at me in a strange way, when he walked between the trees one morning, just a little away from our cottage. I got out and asked him what he was doing, it looked as if he was feeling his way through the forest – with closed eyes.

What was he looking for?

Maybe what everybody who has almost died of hepatitis – or anything else – is looking for?

Dave looked at me and said something I don’t remember about the kachinas. And then he said something I do remember:

” … kachina has to do with the idea that there is life in everything in the world – rocks, trees, people. Everything has an essence or a life force, and we have to connect with that life force.”

“Or what?” I asked, in good spirits, because I had just made coffee, and it was a great morning and Dave looked a bit comical out there among the pines in his bathrobe.

Obsessing about our imagined Cherokee ancestry, like he always had.

But then he looked at me in that strange way and said:

” … Or we die.”

Hammond came back with cigarettes and colas and off we went again, looking for things on the road that violated some regulation or other. Like people, cars.

My mind felt hazy. I let Hammond do the looking, and take care of the radio. I just drove on.

That’s the way I’ve done life so far, alright. I just … drive on.

Whenever there is something by the road that makes me jittery … or makes me feel like a million bucks … or just really, really fantastic … whenever there is that …

I drive on.


Let me tell you about Carrie Sawyer. Let me tell you what I fear about her.

First of all, I fear that she is too wonderful. That she is … someone so special that there is no way in hell I could ever deserve her.

I dunno why there is that feeling. It’s just there.

It was never that way with Kim, and we did have some good times. Or with Maggie. Or Shay.

I don’t think I’ve had any other relations with a woman that was worth mentioning. Not in my 30 years in this fucked up world …

And Shay – oh, man – we were hardly out of high school. That was just … a fling.

It’s not that Carrie is your almost stereotypical good-looking blonde. It’s not that. She’s got it where it counts, sure. She’s got those ice-blue eyes and that nice long hair and some curves that are really, well, beautiful.

But all that is just … nothing. It’s not what really counts.

I mean, it does matter that she is … you know … that she has those looks. But she is hardly a model. Her face is a bit like some soldier I once saw in a movie.

I know that sounds odd, but I think it is beautiful, too. I talked about models before and they are all smooth as silk and look like somebody drew them with a feather pen.

Carrie has got the looks all right, but there is a roughness about her that comes off as more sincere.

Heck, I don’t even know what the hell that means …

I guess … I guess it means that if you put some of those models that I used to fantasize about when Dave and I were kids – if you put someone like that in a snowstorm and ask her to find her way home, she would either not come home or she would come home and look like a doll that somebody had hit with a sledgehammer. She would be just like that.

Like somebody who looks like someone who had been hit by a sledgehammer. And who would never go out again. Anywhere.

Carrie would come home and she would look like she had been in a snowstorm, but she would be tough. She would be there. She would be beautiful.

She would be able to go through another snowstorm.

And I guess that’s also what …

There’s something about that strength I see that makes me think it’s not all roses for her, or it’s never been. It’s the kind of strength that’s either genuine and really beautiful when you have it and you are as beautiful as she is – as a woman.

Or it’s a cover. A cover for something that’s as messed up as I am sometimes. And as I know Dave is.

And which is probably because our mum died and left us with that asshole for an old man.

And then all sorts of other shit. And it’s a wonder I ever got accepted as a cop, you know … but that’s another story.

I’m proud I got this far, but I feel like I have been in 3 of those snowstorms to get there. And I feel like … I can’t really go through another.

I need some years where I don’t get into all kinds of shit with people I love. Or people I am supposed to love.

Don’t get me started on my old man …

Don’t get me started on all the crazy arguments Kim and I had at the end. She wanted someone who was going to be … refined.

Or just all right, I guess. No baggage. I don’t know what kind of movie she saw, but it was different than mine.

We didn’t think so at the beginning, but that’s the way it turned out.


“You want a cola?”

“No thanks, buddy.”

“It’s late.”

“I’m turning back to Flagstaff at the next roundabout.”

“Good. I’m starving.”

“You’ve been fucking eating for the last hour.”

“I asked if you wanted something.”

“You did… “


I come home to my condo and I don’t turn on the light at first. I just go into my living room, which is the only room and I sit down on the couch and look into the darkness.

And I think about her, of course.

I’ve never felt … so close to anyone. And yet we have barely talked.

Mostly about weights and push-ups.

And ketchup and fries, of course.

What if she is the real thing?

What if she is not?

What if she is from somewhere as shitty as Dave and I?

That would mean I am not really in love, right? I am just looking for someone to share my own messed-up-ness with. Some kind of crazy sympathy …


What’s crazy is that I don’t even know that. About her.

I don’t really know her.

And yet … I know I have known her all my life.

Carrie Sawyer.

With that quirky accent that she can’t really hide. Where is that from anyway? Wales?

Fuck it.

I reach for the remote. A safe option. There is a program about …



On Fox. Of all places.

So maybe she is from Scotland.

And maybe I should steer clear.

I should.

I am thinking that maybe she is too beautiful for me because she is beautiful and tough.

And maybe she is tough because she is as big a mess like me.

And I’m not tough. Only when I do my job …

It’s not a good combination.

Kind of like two people, with the same messes, feeling they have something in common. And they do. But what they have is not love.

It’s more someone to share the loneliness and the messes with.

Not a good combo.

I’m going to bed.

Fuck it.

I was pretty close there for a moment – believing I ‘knew’ her.

Yeah, I probably do. But for all the wrong reasons.

And I’m not coming to the diner anymore. Or the gym.

I’ll be doing us both a favor.



The Finland Station

The Finland Station


The sweat is everywhere.

It’s in my hair, on my brow, cheeks, throat.

It’s under my arms.

It’s in creases and folds of where my jogging trousers touch my legs.

It’s between my breasts.

Crotch …

I ignore it.

I push – lift – push – lift – push … and keep going until it feels like my arms are going to break.

I try not to look at everyone in the room.

It’s not as if I just committed a sin or something, though.

It’s a gym. We’re all used to each other’s war cries. And the smell of sweat. The smell that doesn’t get better when it’s 80 degrees Fahrenheit of scorching merciless Arizona-sun outside.

In here it would be a boiler if the fans weren’t running wild. Great big rotor blades making the whole ceiling turn, like they want to heave this suburban concrete-carcass-turned fitness center into the heavens.

Fat chance.

I look at the others, without looking. I don’t want to be seen. Just alone.

Glistening sweat, war-cries, bulging muscles, bulging fat, big asses, skinny asses … it’s all there. It doesn’t look back and I am glad.

I want to be alone.

But I have to move when a lady sometime past her 50th b-day over and asks politely if she can use the machine.

“Uh, yes, ma’m. Sorry for sitting here, counting the stars.”

“That’s okay, dear. Was it a tiring workout?”

“It was hard enough. I put on a bit of extra weight – on the machine, I mean.”

We both smile politely.

“That’s good, dear. That’s good,” she says, slams her skinny ass in the seat and puts on some extra weight, about 10 pounds more than me. And begins lifting. I try not to look.

Damn. I’m only 26 but I already feel 26 years older than that lady. It’s not as if I don’t run around. It’s not as if I don’t move. You should try waiting tables all day in a Flagstaff road-side diner.

But it’s not as if I’m getting any skinnier. Still a few lumps too much around the belly and hips. Others might call me a hysteric. ‘Typical women’, you might cry. But I’m not. I’m not one of your ‘typical women’.

I really don’t care about the pounds. It’s as if I’m trying to wash something off. That’s why I keep at it, after a long day at the diner, when I really should just worship telly.

Those two Latinos are watching me. While they pump all the iron in the gym. Thinking about pumping the little blonde? Probably. I’m still good-looking enough for a mag or two. Others would say slim. Only I can see the extra lumps. So, yeah, they think it for a second:

‘Is she in on something – with us?’

If only they knew. If only they found some of the shit on the internet from my past life. I don’t think they’d be so eager not to conceal their staring.

I walk over to the empty spot just right in front of them and begin to stretch. Use the rib, that’s fine. Show’em some.

They’re intelligent. Good. Not like so many who think it’s a one-way ticket to an effortless romp if some chica show’s you how she looks from all angles.

That’s because they see the winter in my eyes.

Oh, they get the idea, all right.

They don’t want anything to do with me and so they laugh and shake their heads and move on to some of the other machines, and a single ‘fucking cold fish’ hangs in the air.

But I’m not for sale anymore.

I should really try another machine. Or go home. And crash. But I have to wash it off. Not the sweat. Something …

Stretch – stretch – stretch – don’t mind the pain. Pain is good. Pain is a focus.

I think I see the machine I wanted to use know. It’s free.

I’m not.

Nobody can make me free. And I don’t want anybody to try.

Just wait tables, and forget the future exists.



Just as I figured. Dylan still can’t find any other CD’s for sweating people than those of 20 years ago.  I wonder if people also biked or jogged to this here 20 years ago, or if time just stands still.

 You’ve got a heart of glass or a heart of stone
Just you wait ’til I get you home
We’ve got no future, we’ve got no past
Here today, built to last
In every city, in every nation
From Lake Geneva to the Finland station
(How far have you been?)

Anyway, I sling my towel over the shoulder, wonder if I should fill my flask with lukewarm, steel-pipe-tasting water from the sink in the corner, then decide against it. I’ll have a beer when I’m finished, even though I know it defeats the purpose.

Hell, I feel like 20 years ago.

I sit down on the exercise bike and feel heavy enough to just keep sitting. I wonder why the hell I even bothered to come? So I wouldn’t have to go home, perhaps?

There’s only so much you can do in a two-room apartment in downtown Flagstaff after hours – to forget.

What it’s like, you know, to clean up another shaggy cardboard excuse for a house where dad beat up mom with an iron bar. No, steel I think. Whatever.

What’s it like when dad beat up his daughter, too. Steel or iron? Whatever it was it was in his fists.

I’m not sure doc Wilburn will be able to patch her face up again. She’s only five. And even if he was, who’s going to pay?

We drove away quickly once we had delivered her – given her a new rebirth into a life full of terror and with a dead mom and a dad who’s a monster, and probably a return ticket to Mexico unless Jane can prove that she was born here. Maybe it’s just an orphanage.

I begin to pedal. Slowly. I am already sweating. But it’s not the bike. It’s not the heat. It’s something inside me. Something burns, wants out, wants to burn through my skin. I stop. I listen:

Too many shadows, whispering voices

He put it on again!

“Dylan – will you stop playing that fucking track?! I’ll throw your ass in the slammer if you don’t find something else.”

He grins, from his booth at the entrance and switches CD’s. Some modern pop I don’t even know. He has a good view over the whole floor. He can see people grinning with him. They love ol’ Dylan. He’s half the reason they come here.

Not to exercise. Just to chat about … things. All things and nothing at all. Dylan’s an expert at that. And of making you forget your shitty life. He’s a bright smile all the way.

I pedal. I stomp. I push up the dial – level 14 – 15 – 16. Somebody tied another stone to the pedals now. I don’t care. I don’t care. I –

“Woa – pardner. Go easy on that’ ol’ bike. She can’t stand it when people are mean to her.”

Dylan is there, by my side. He is still one big grin. Something got jammed. Or broke. Suddenly the bike either won’t go round or it just goes round without any resistance.

Dylan kneels down and studies the fitness bike like it was a crime scene.

“Nobody ever did that to my machine before, pardner,” he drawls. And grins. Again.

“That’s because nobody ever trained in a center with such shitty, old machines.”

I get off the bike, finally. Wipe my forehead. God – the towel is warm, too.

“You’re just’ complainer, that’s all,” he says and gets up. “My little center here’s got other qualities.”

He knows what I’m looking at now. Why didn’t I see her before?

“Who’s that?”

I look at the blonde doing sit-ups now, over at the ribs. And who looks like she’s fighting a war.

“You would like to know, eh?” Dylan’s smile suddenly gets seedy. “You want me to make introductions?”

“I want you to fix your shit-bike, so I can work out again.”

“Hey-hey … take it easy, man.”

“I am.”

I wait until he is gone, then I stop the bike-thing and begin closing in a bit … towards the blonde. For no particular reason other than I want to.

She’s beautiful.

Even through the sweat and … tears?

No. Sweat. It has to be.

She’s …

No, this is silly. I stop at the weight lifts.

Some big Latino let’s go of a 50 pounder that slams into the floor right as I stop. He smirks at me, as if he dares me. To do what?

Book him? Out do him on the weights? Both? I don’t even know the guy.

Or the girl …

And this is silly. I can’t just go over and talk to a stranger – a woman. Even if it’s how it is done in all the movies.

But I never liked those movies. Too unrealistic.

I ask the Latino if I can try the weight. Am I sure I have not seen him somewhere before? Hopefully, I am.

He passes it to me and I have a go. Fucking thing is … like … a freight train. And I stopped smoking 6 months ago. Why the hell isn’t it getting any better? Fuck.

I hold it then let go. Too soon. Much too soon. The blonde is getting up. The weight slams down into the floor, freight train, with cargo and all …

She doesn’t seem to notice. She seems like she has had enough punishment for one day.

She should be nothing, too. She should be nothing to me.

Just some girl …

I drop it and start with another machine.

I should have learned by now … going through all this again, so soon after Natalie. That’s just damn wishful thinking …

… or setting myself up for more punishment than the weights can dish out.

Lots more.


Song bridge:

“What does it mean?”


Dylan looked questioningly at Jon, while the latter was drying his hair with a towel. They were both standing at the gym’s reception desk but on opposite sides.

“‘The Finland Station’? – ” Jon said, ” – What he sings in that damn song you play all the time … ??”

Jon threw the towel back at Dylan, who caught it in mid-air.

“Thanks for the loan,” Jon added.

“Well, next time bring your own!” Dylan grumbled – but glanced at Jon in a way, so nobody could be sure if he was pissed or not. Dylan liked looking at his customers in that way …

“I did bring my own,” Jon said wryly and began pouring himself a plastic cup of coffee from the thermo Dylan had always had placed on the corner of the reception desk.

“You did?” Dylan asked. “Really?”

“Yeah. But some asshole stole it. So I had to use my fucking t-shirt … “

“And my towels for your hair, which you should just let dry in the sun, my friend. It’s that kind of weather.”

“It’s always that kind … and you didn’t answer my question.”

“I didn’t because you would not understand it. It’s a song for intellectuals.”

“Well – whopee-fucking-do … “

Now it was Jon’s turn to find the enigmatic grimace. But he couldn’t quite keep it up, so eventually, it cracked and he just grinned at Dylan.

” – And I’m just a dumb cop, eh?”

“No, but you are perhaps a man who cares too much about fixing that which is broken,” Dylan said as if he was talking about lunch.

“Is that a problem?” Jon said, an edge in his voice which was reserved for people on dark highways near the border.

“It could be,” Dylan reflected. “You want to fix things – people – who somehow disturb your idea of what is good and nice and polite living.”

“It’s called upholding the law … “

“It’s not a crime, I’m talking about, ” Dylan continued while tapping furiously at the keyboard to his old computer behind the desk. As if there was something in it that was just about to be found, but wasn’t quite on screen yet.

“What is it then you are talking about? Tell me before I find some kind of crime to book you for.”

“Prison would not hold me. And society would mourn the days I did not contribute!”

Jon laughed without joy. There was something here that bothered him deeply and it wasn’t Dylan – yet – it was more likely the fact that he only stayed to talk this meaningless talk because he didn’t feel like going home and waiting. For another day at work. For another day alone.

“In any case, ” Dylan said, and look up from his computer ” – your drive to mend everything that is broken could be a fatal weakness. Someone could take advantage of that weakness. On the other hand, someone – the right person – might also benefit from it.”

“You benefit from me coming to your goddamn gym to fix my ankle.”

” – How is it doing, by the way?”

“Feels stronger, but next time I’ll let King run that compadre down.”

“Your fine police Shepherd would eat anyone who looked like they were selling amphetamine between here and Yuma if you let it loose.”

“I’d rather have that on my conscience than having to spend 3 months in your retro gym every time I fall.”

“You will not. You will try to take charge of the next situation yourself before you let loose King. And all because you are … ” Dylan lowered his glasses, and his smile was close to revealing itself this time.

“One. Dumb. Cop.” Jon said it for him, shook his head. Dylan was okay. He was an asshole in many ways. But he was also okay. If only he could stop being an asshole long enough at certain critical times …

” – I appreciate that you are a dumb cop, Jon,” he said – “because it will keep you coming back to my business. “

Then he lowered his voice: ” – And if you are really lucky you will forget how dumb you are – for just a moment.”

Dylan nodded towards some place behind Jon.

Specific direction: The women’s changing room.



Who is … he?

That’s as good a question as any, I guess when you’ve just been locked in the women’s locker room for 20 dreary minutes with tits sagging and perky and non-existent and extra pounds hiding in plain sight and thoughts about if you look … enough.

Maybe they were my own thoughts. It wouldn’t be the first time … 

I think I’ve learned to live with my looks, especially after all the crap I’ve been through on the road, all the men, all the … bad stuff. I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter.

It’s just fluff anyway. I used to be so obsessed with my nose and some extra stomach fat. But that is … fluff.

People are people and 3 years ago when I worked or whatever the hell I did in Miami and no man could resist that work, I felt the most – the absolute most – rotten inside. I looked like a star. I played the star.

I felt good moving here because then I could – truly – disappear and just be plain old me. And remember how insecure I was about my looks before I briefly thought I was a star and spellbound the world, but the only lights that really went on were the magnesium flares in my head when I snorted white diamonds. Through such a lens flare you can’t help but feel that you look the world and that your looks can kill and no one can kill you.

You are invincible. Until the day you wake up from the dream and discover that it has only killed one person: You.

Life is such bullshit. And I’m here for a reason. I’m never going to get involved with anyone again because there is no reason to.

It doesn’t exist … this thing that people call ‘real feelings’. It’s a sham. And I should know because I was the best shammer for a good long while.

So that infinitesimally small moment when I look at him and imagine … something more … 

… that I kill. Instantly.

Even if it was real, and I guess it is … for some … even if that was the case … it would not be me.

Unfortunately, I have to renew. 


And the guy doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. 

One step, one more. I’m getting closer.

He is still talking to Dylan, like old friends. War-buddies or something. Ha!

Maybe he is a vet? Nah, he looks more like … I don’t know. But he looks … nice.

Nice at shams.

I might as well have to learn how to kill it. I could walk out the door and come back and renew tomorrow. I could borrow Marcy’s computer and internet connection or go to the café and do it.

But I want to pay cash and I want to kill what is a sham and that little thought inside me that says I can have a normal life and everything can be all right, and – ooh – maybe I could even have a Nice Time, just talking to someone like … him.

“Hey Dyl!”

Decision made.

“Hey, Carrie – crushed some weights in there again today? Am I gonna have to deduct it from your discount for the next 3 months?”

I walk up to the desk.

“What discount? You never give any discounts, you stingy … “

Dylan’s grin …

“I do give discounts! It’s my new policy!”

The nice guy is still there, too. Is he trying … not to look at me?

Christ, Carrie – you are SO much focusing on things that you should not. Move on. It’s over.

Don’t even THINK that it is not.

“3 months more – half price … ” Dylans leans conspiratorially over the desk. “It’s my newest offer.”

“For everyone?” I eye him skeptically. At least I’ve something to … focus … on.

“It’s an inspiration,” Dylan says without blinking, “You see, I was just talking to my friend Jon here – “


“Jon – meet Carrie Sawyer. She moved to Flag 3 months ago. Down from … what was it … Nevada?”

“San Francisco. Nevada was before that.” I grit my teeth as I try to look … as if everything is about Nevada or Frisco.

“Jon?” Dylan’s voice is raised a little.

The man holds out a hand. Is he tensing, too?

“I’m Jonathan Reese. Lived here for 3 years.” He tries a smile.

It looks .. nice.

“I was talking to my friend Jon,” Dylan continues, “about the Russian Revolution.”

Jon’s eyes show me that that was absolutely not what they were talking about. But he keeps his mouth shut.

“Yes,” Dylan adds in a tone, as if there was an audience somewhere, “what if it had never happened? What if Lenin had gotten arrested when he arrived at the Finland Station in 1917 to start the revolution that changed world history? When then, eh?”

“Just … give me my membership, please.”

“Aren’t you interested in history, Carrie?”

“Not really.”

“I know what would have happened,” the man – Jon – finally says. A firmness in his voice now. Tiredness, too. Like mine …

“A lot less dead people,” he concludes, with finality.

Dylan shakes his head, but Jon insists – and now irritation insists with him:

“I don’t know much about revolution or communists or Lenin, except that they killed a lot of people and changed nothing really.”

“Stalin beat up Hitler,” Dylan quips.

“My membership? Please?”

I am SO close to leaving.

I’m standing … there.

“What about D-Day?” Jon continues, irritation verging on anger. Like me. Like … something is not so nice, just beneath the surface.

Like he’s not Mr. Nice who has control of everything and a perfect wife and life and gets gold stars every other week from his boss at work …

“What about it?” Dylan shrugs. “80 per cent of the German forces were tied down on the Eastern Front, fighting the Russians. The Russians were fighting for their home but they were also fighting because Stalin would do away with them if they didn’t fight. It took one devil to defeat another.”

“I’ll … see you both tomorrow.”

I finally come out of my temporary stupor. And discover to my horror that I said one word too much.

“You can have it for free,” Dylan says, laser-focused.

Because everything is about focus, you know. Stalin, Hitler, Lenin, Frisco, or Nevada, memberships  …

“Don’t bullshit me, Dylan.”

“I mean it.”


“Because I want you to come back and change your own history. Yes, it’s sometimes about whether or not one … ruthless history is better than another. But I think there is an answer to that. There is a choice. Even if it is between two evils. And I’m afraid you won’t come back …”

That last one surprises me. So much, in fact, I don’t know what the hell to say. Is Dylan … hitting on me? In his own clumsy, nerdy way? Did I get this … all wrong?

Jon seems as surprised as I.

“Do you two have something going on?” he asks, that seething irritation evaporating a bit. Not it’s just a tough grin.

Still a nice grin, though.

And I really need to kill … my focus.

“We are pure as snow,” Dylan assures. “But I have a soft spot for Carrie here in other ways. She is a seeker like I am, you see. She comes here seeking absolution.”

“Fuck you, Dylan.”

I finally get my shit together and walk out of there. Membership or no membership.

Dylan’s attempts at … whatever … they just backfired 120 per cent. I think another decision has been made.

I’m going to find another gym.

Pity there are so few good ones here.

Maybe I should just keep moving. I was considering Mexico …



Dylan’s yell stops me at the revolving door out the gym. Just barely.

“Don’t forget your membership. It’s till free tomorrow.”

“I’ll tell everyone! It’ll be the ruin of your business.”

“It’s going downhill anyway. I might as well enjoy giving something to others before I close.”

I close now. This … charade. Of … I don’t know what the hell … Dylan’s always been weird, but never this weird.

As I walk down the stairs and out in the sun-blaze of the street I wonder:

What was that all about?

Then I hear his voice.

Jon rushes out the door to the street, catches up.

“Sorry about him,” he says, panting slightly. “Dylan’s one … well, he’s just Dylan. And he always likes to embarrass me.”

I stop and turn and take a good look now. My first real look. All in the sun’s light over us, behind us, on us …

But this is a friendly flare. Soft …

“You two are an odd pair of friends,” I then say, because I feel I need to say something.

“He’s not my friend,” Jon qualifies, looking like he is searching for a word or two to add, “but  – and I know how this sounds – I saved his mom.”

“His mom??”

“He adores her. And she is twice as crazy as him. But one evening there was a break-in in her house. Mitchell – that’s my partner – and I, we happened to drive by … I think it could have gotten pretty ugly if we hadn’t checked it out.”

“You’re a policeman?”

He smiles wrily.

“Is that a problem?”

My shoulders lower themselves a bit.

“Not at all.”

“Can I give you a … drive somewhere? I’m sorry for this …  for Dylan. I know it’s none of my business but all the shit he said to you … “

“You don’t have to care about that.”

“Well, I do, okay? Call it public service.”

He puts his hands in his pockets. Looks serious again.

I have a feeling I’m on the verge of something here. But I have forgotten that I want to kill.

Kill my ideas that I can have something good.

That is … far away.

But maybe I am on the right path even so. What was it Dylan said about Lenin, Stalin and Hitler?

It takes more ruthlessness to defeat ruthlessness. Or some such …

“You see a lot of bad shit as a cop, don’t you?”

“Yeah. Yeah, we do.”

He crosses his arms.

Cars are droning by. People squeezing past us.

Then I finally say it:

“I live in a rental at Sawmills. I was going to take the bus but … “

“I’ll drive you. It’s fine,” he says.

He means it. I know he does.

I’ve seen those guys before, I remember them now. They do exist.

Not like the muscle-idiots in the gym. In fact, I think this guy shares something with me:

A few extra pounds.

But it doesn’t matter.

And I tell myself that I don’t need to kill the moment between us. The moment that he knows, too.

I don’t need to kill that he felt … nice. 

Or that I liked that he felt nice. Just that little moment.

We would go together in his car, back to my box of a room, and nothing would come of it, except a bit of vague talk about all the shit we both have been through. Shake hands. Goodbye.

Two people sharing a bit of been there/done that.

Because we can’t change anything anyway. It’s all going to go down the drain, except for some of those who do make it to the front of magazines.

It’s just a question of how many people die. Of our choices. Or how much goes wrong.

Almost all choices come without any really different results. I’ve learned that much.

Maybe Lenin shouldn’t have stepped off from that train and changed world history. Maybe he should.

In either case: I think Jon is right – people would’ve died. Lots of them. Who can say what’s for the best? One choice or another?

There is no such thing as ‘best’.

It’s all going to hell anyway. And I think Jon knows it.

We might as well go together.

What could change?



As I drive her home, a part of me wants to rebel … to show me Natalie.

To say: ‘Look what you are about to do – again.’

I only look at the road. And listen as she tells me about the highlands.

Scars of Our Civil Wars (III)

Scars of Our Civil Wars (III)

She had not spoken to a soul since spring. This morning would be the same.

Anna went outside as usual and did her round. The wind had gotten colder, just like the sting in her side. She knew it probably wouldn’t go away if she kept it up with those bottles that Limerick—the prick—had left. The only thing he had left.  But it was hard not to.

She thought about her book again. It was rare that she did these days. She hadn’t written a single entry in it since April.

It was a stupid idea that she could write a book like that about herself. Papa would have thought it was not something a girl should do. But she was not his little girl anymore. Who cared who she was?

… Who cares?

Those words stayed with Anna as she walked along the edge of the small stream that ran a few hundred yards from the cabin. There were no other sounds here, aside from the ever-present whisper of the wind and the faint gurgling of the flowing water. Anna liked that.

What should she do?

She had come a long way since escaping into the wilderness those 25 years ago and escaping a fate worse than death, or so she thought. But sometimes she wasn’t sure. What was worse?

Would it really have been worse if that roving detachment of drunk Yankee soldiers had raped her again and then cut her throat and been done with it?

Then she would not have had to remember her parents’ screams as they died in the fire or think of what happened to her little sister, or Mama’s loving eyes suddenly looking at her with fear and disgust—for every day of those 25 years.

Then she wouldn’t have had to let others do even more unspeakable things to her than those Yankees ever did— just to get by after she emerged from the woods and stumbled into the scorched streets of Atlanta. Or later, when she learned to ride and shoot and became somebody and thought she could leave it all behind once more—only to realize that it didn’t work that way. 

Like her friend, Jane, she had been one of the few women who could scout and who knew that land in Dakota better than most, because—by ways nobody cared to ask—she had had a lover from one of the tribes they were about to wipe out. 

Oh, he had been a scout, too. For the army, like her. Then he had gone back when the tribes got their own land.

But that arrangement wasn’t to last if General Custer and the Great White Father in Washington had anything to say about it. And she had needed the money, and hey—he had left her without explanation. Had it been love or some fantasy about escape? Or an idea that since all White Men had darkened souls, then perhaps Red Men had the pure opposite? 

The fantasy only lasted until he abandoned her, too. 

So was that why she went up there with a damn Yankee General or was it the money? Again?

Money definitely wasn’t enough to forget what butchered women and children looked like. And she knew that whatever revenge she had felt like doling out wasn’t going to be like this. So Anna had bolted from the army, and at just the right time, too, before the Yankee General got himself scalped at Little Bighorn. 

They had sent a warrant out for her, but nothing ever came of it. Anna disappeared into the vastness of the South-West. 

Anna sat down and watched the stream as it went down the mountain, vanishing between golden bushes. She knew where it ended, though. She knew every inch of this mountain.

No, not all men were wicked. Limerick hadn’t been. Until he had.

Anna looked down and saw shadows swirl in the stream. She hated herself. Now more fiercely than ever.

Despite everything she had learned and done and survived, one enemy she had not conquered.

… Who cares?


I spent dad’s money on some food, a fresh pair of boots, and a guide named Robert, who I immediately disliked. But again, he was the cheapest. So there.

Robert J. Miller: 23, glasses from the last World War, short-cropped hair and beard, and a nervous look in his eyes. A history student doing fieldwork for his thesis on mining here and a native from Grand Junction. 

So impeccable references; if only I didn’t hate them all.

I mean, he is going somewhere with his life.

But never mind. We prepared, and then when the weather was good enough, we waded into the endless sea of fir and pine. And its islands of boulders and rocks. 

It seemed like there wasn’t anything else beyond the last ski-equipment shop, and I can tell you, in my condition, you don’t want to do this for adventure even if it looks like a postcard from above. Down on the ground you wear out your untrained feet after the first 5 miles hiking up, up, and a little more down, and then further bloody up.

And you find out you bought a pair of boots that fit nicely in the shop, but not so nicely after 5 miles of rocky trekking.

But Robert knew the cabin well enough. He even knew the man, Briggs, who had found the place in 1974 and the script and all the other stuff that either went into the garbage dump of history or on auction for eccentrics like Tom Conway to find and pour over all those evenings he wanted to forget his impending divorce. Briggs died a few years ago but was a friend of Robert’s father, who owns a hotel back in Grand Junction.

I only told you that last part because I want to emphasize that’s all I care to know about Robert’s family. I want him just to help me get up there, not entertain me with stories about his straight-and-planned life and the resourceful people around him.

My dad was a highland ranger until he retired because of alcoholism and a knee that was shot to pieces in the Falklands and never really put back together again. 

I was, well, you know the story. So credentials only matter if you aren’t hit by the bus of life.

I wonder, as I brush the 10,000th pine-branch away from my face, what Anna thought of her life before she was chased away from it? From the burning home where she grew up? Mum and dad now reduced to cinders? Nanny dumping her like so much excess baggage?

Did she think she would become an important person? Someone famous? She sure seemed to have it made, belonging to one of the richest of the old families in Georgia. And then one day—all over.

The last photo of her in the back of the script—the only one where she wears a dress—I see that constantly in my mind’s eye as we approach the cabin. The end of all of those dreams. Of fancy dresses and well-bred gentlemen.

The photo itself is odd. Like she looks uncomfortable in the dress. She must be about my age when it was taken. 25-26-27-ish. There is no year in the photo, though—no context. So I don’t know. And why did she have that kind of photo taken in the first place? I mean, all the other photos are like regular Calamity Jane poses with her guns and horses and riding boots? 

Why did she keep it if she only wanted to remember her life after Georgia as her scout life, as her life as a would-be miner—her life as anything else than just a woman? She never wrote anything about dresses.  

And yes, she hardly mentions her childhood, either. So she must have wanted to forget all that and only focus on what happened afterward. What she achieved after God had cut her down, as the song goes.

And then, before I can imagine my answer to this new question— we are there.


“There is nothing here?!” 

It’s a ruin. 

No, not even a ruin. This is a forest and an echo of something that once was a log cabin. 

And then to top it all off, there is my bespectacled, soft-spoken young friend here whom I have paid my last dollars to guide me up here and kill my feet in the process. Good grief.

“A wooden cabin is not really that easy to preserve if left unattended for over a hundred years.” He says it like he is reading from some kind of manual. 

And still soft-spoken, like a pro-manual-reader. That I have to give him.

As if he is explaining some problem in his up-and-coming thesis about people who had lived, slaved, and died in the mines here—a world he will never know.

“Jesus Christ—why didn’t you say so before we trekked all the bloody way up here?!” I feel like killing, but all I manage is yelling.

I also feel myself slump down on a rock and the rucksack slump down beside me. Like that verbal slap was enough to sap the last of my strength. I pull off one boot and massage my sore feet, all the while making sure he can hear my curses.

Robert hesitates. Then he skids past me and over to the naked spot between the ever-watchful pines where I had expected to see … something.

“Here.” He holds up a brick-like ‘rock’ like it was the key to everything. “This was part of the fireplace.  And see those logs over there?—They are from one wall. The place was used by trappers and other passers-by for some time and partially rebuilt as needed. But after Briggs came here in 1974, nobody used it, and wind and weather did their thing.”

Silence. Only the wind and the emptiness. Like what I feel inside.

“I’m sorry if this is not what you expected.” He eyes me cryptically, his aloof master-student calm, a red cloth I can no longer stand.

You are sorry?! Fuck you! I gave you my last hundred dollars to take me up here, and I expected to find … to find … ” 

I was about to get up from my rock, feeling more or less like rushing the few yards over to the carcass of the cabin and strangling him.

But I can only gawk at what is left—or rather, what is not left. It is a pile of bricks, heavily hidden by bushes and dirt. And then there is a skeleton of walls of uneven height like the wind had torn the logs away, like the roof.  And all of it is partially obscured behind new walls of trees. It looks as if the forest is digesting the rest of the building. Bringing it back to where it came from. Like dust to dust.

And that sight is enough to stop me from going anywhere. So I slump again. 

Then something happens that makes me want to kill someone else more fiercely than Robert—namely myself. 

Not now! Not in front of him.

I hide my face in my hands, but the gesture can’t hide shit. So I cry and I shake, and all the while the quiet mining-history-student with the old-fashioned glasses is sitting over there on his log and regarding me with a mixture of fear and awe like I was a fucking zoo animal seen for the first time in ‘his’ mountains.

“I-I’m sorry,” is all he can repeat, dumbfounded.

I don’t hear it. I just struggle to get a hold of myself. 

Control! I know how to control myself. It’s what I’m best at … It is. It is!

“Should I take you back?” Robert finally asks, his voice sufficiently subdued to give me a pang of guilt for my attack before. 

I shake my head. Wipe my face with my dirty sleeve.

Robert fiddles intensely with the straps of his own rucksack. 

I go over to him.

“I’m the one who is sorry,” I just say and look away. “I should have had a plan.”

“What kind of plan?” 

“For what I would do now that I’ve come here.”

“What did you want to do?”

I look around and feel a sudden, deep sting in my side. It is not physical, but almost. There is a deep loneliness to this place that I have seldom experienced, not even in my childhood when I sometimes strayed off in wilder parts of Skye on my way home from the school in Portree and my dad and god knows who else would have to go look for me.

Robert means well, but this is as far as he can go with me.

“I have to find Anna,” I tell him. “But I don’t know … how.”

“But she’s dead,” he replies, still without comprehension. “She might have been dead for over a hundred years.”



It has begun raining. But the tent is up and I take little notice. I have put it right here in the middle of the cabin where the main floor once was. 

Inside, I have my flashlight. I watch the shadows its light is throwing on the walls of the tent. 

Like ghosts … 

Robert had insisted that I came back with him but I won the argument by staying put.

But I don’t have much to stay on. I have some biscuits and chocolate and about half a gallon of water, and that is it.

I also have my drawing pad.

Well, since this is the craziest shit I’ve ever done, I might as well continue. 

I think I finally know what to draw—not just sketch. After 4 years. After Lin … 

It’s so obvious. But I didn’t get it until I was alone. 


I have to draw Anna’s story. Nobody knew what happened to her. But what if I imagine what happened? 

There was this other life, in high school, in Ohio. And a bit at the State University. There was Lin and me. And she wanted to write the next Virginia Woolf and I had to draw it—illustrate. I also experimented with comics. We were proud of being both pretty, clever, and nerdy all at the same time. We had the future. Until the future went away. And left us without.

There was no amount of pills and electroshocks that could cure Lin’s dead father and psycho mum. And in the end, she cleansed herself with the only thing that can truly make you white inside—pure.

When I took it—it was different. It wasn’t to get high. It was at first perverse revenge.

You see, Lin was weak. She quit. And she left me. I was angry. I had to show her how weak she was. I see that now. Even if I hate myself for it. But that’s how it was. I was so angry.

But it quickly became something else. A way to show that nothing could ever hurt me. That I did not care.

I found the last words Anna wrote. They were scribbled on the back of that single photo of her in a dress:

‘Who cares?’

I care, Anna. 

I have hated myself for a million reasons and I have hated others. And the latest reason was that I wasn’t as strong as you. And I threw away a life that could have been for losing Lin, and perhaps others—but mostly Lin.

I wasn’t as strong as you. You didn’t really get any more chances. I had all the chances, and I threw them away.

I can understand how you feel. And I will make up for my own life by telling everybody what happened to yours. I will write a great story—something Lin could have been proud of. And I will draw it. Something she would have loved.

I will go back. Talk to mum. Get another job—something. Doesn’t matter if it’s just flipping burgers. 

I will stay clean.

And all the way through, I will have this grand project. Maybe it is my way of being strong—finally?

You know, I can’t help crying more now, even if it’s piss cold and I can hardly see where I put my pen and the forest is full of ominous rustling and I don’t know how the hell I will get home, now that I decide I have a home to get to.

I think I cry because I have found something I was meant to do.

What was it that guy said in the TV series, Tim and I watched whenever he was on loan from his mother in Edinburgh?

Nothing is forgotten, and nothing shall ever be forgotten.

So many people don’t get second chances and just disappear—forgotten. But one of them, I will remember—for everyone.

It’s so crazy, isn’t it?

My ‘plan’.

But it’s what will save me, bring me down from this mountain alive. And out of this darkness.

And it will make me able to bear my scars.


Scars of Our Civil Wars (II)

Scars of Our Civil Wars (II)

Anna cursed. She didn’t know how to write anything now. She couldn’t.

Oh, she had had good schooling at home. Before the Yankees came.

So it wasn’t that she could not spell. It’s just that tonight there were no words to spell. 

There ought to be, she thought and bit the tip of her pen, looking out the tiny cabin window. The night outside was pitch black, and the wind was her only company. 

There ought to be, she mused again. 

She had already written a lot before she came to Telluride to seek out Limerick again. There were so many things she still had told no one—not even him. But right now it was only inside her, like an old snakebite. Still injecting venom.

She had been 12 years old, and one night life was still life.

The next it was all dark. The night that lasts a lifetime.

And here she was now, and her candlelight was close to going out, and she hadn’t written a single damn sentence. 

The mountains outside were still. If Limerick was out there, she thought she’d be able to hear him for sure. But he wasn’t. The cabin had been empty when she arrived. Just like his promises. 

He took all the money.

Everything they had scraped together and then some. And the proceeds from the mine.

The letter was a mystery, though. It had said that Limerick was ill and that Anna should come quick. So was it all a lie? Was he so ill that he could barely ride back and forth to the post office down in that sick little town, but did it anyway? Did he go back here to lie down with this Winchester and hope bears were the only thing he had to worry about when he finally had to go to sleep?

Anne threw away the pen. It made no bloody sense. 

He loved me.

But he was just the same, wasn’t he? Like every other man. 

Unless something happened? Why write the letter?

She stood up and took another sip of whisky from the bottle. She knew deep inside that she would never know what had happened to him. A thin line between hope and hate.

She should write that down. In the book. Why Limerick was a no-good son-of-a-bitch. But she was too angry tonight. And she was still not sure it was fair. 

What if something did happen? she thought again. 

What if someone had come and knocked him down and taken the money and dumped him in a ravine somewhere? Someone like Baldy and his friends?

But everything had looked so neat and clean in the cabin when she finally made it up here. Cleaner than it ever was. Much cleaner than the first winters they had spent here. Especially on their good nights. It was so goddamn cold outside, but they had a great fire going inside.

Now the fire was gone. 

I should go and light up the fireplace, she thought. See if there is still something that can burn. I should go get the wood. I should do a lot of things.

But tonight she felt like freezing.

And she didn’t write a single line. 

Good thing the book was soon finished, anyway.

I wonder who will read it, though.

It was the best and worst idea she had ever had. She wasn’t even sure why. As with so many things she had done since fleeing the other flames that clawed at the Southern night.

Except … it came down to one thing, didn’t it? She had shown the world that she could survive. She learned to ride and shoot and talk fast and steal and kill even faster—and all those other things she needed to learn.

But it was never what she wanted. 

She had always wanted to do something else. Only she couldn’t remember what. That dream had died, and now she only wanted one thing.

I want someone to know.

To know me.


I try to draw but fail again and again. It’s late here at the cheapest of cheap in Telluride. For a ski resort, the selection isn’t that big. Good thing I came out of season.

What hurts isn’t that I can’t figure out what to draw or that it looks like shit every time I get the smallest idea that inspires me for like 2 seconds.

It’s that I feel with icy certainty this isn’t temporary. Or it should have passed when I stopped pricking holes in my arm and started, ever so carefully, using my pencil again to sketch—back at the boarding home. But I didn’t get much further than sketches.

What hurts is that, like law school, drawing was another investment I threw out the window. A longer, more heartfelt investment. An entirely different ballgame. But important in ways university and prestige and purpose could never be. 

I have done it since I was a little girl. Ever since I drew X-Men for my big bro back in Scotland. At least before he settled permanently with his mother on the mainland.

I tried calling dad from the post office. I hadn’t thought about time zones until after the call, but he was up. He always is. 

We had a talk which was longer than I bargained for, even though I accepted that he called me back so I didn’t have to pay for it. Or maybe he was still his old self and wanted it exactly like that. Well, two can play that game. 

Anyway, I told him where I was, how it was going, and blabla. Nothing much had changed. He asked if I was still clean if I had a job, a place to stay, those things. And I told the truth, mostly. Then we talked about mum and me kind of skidded over that I had passed on her in L.A.

Then we got to the why—why Telluride? Why the Rockies?

And I had no answer. Nothing that made any sense, that is.

“There is this cabin up in the mountains. It’s probably been abandoned for over a hundred years, but that’s where the guy who put the script up for auction found it.” 

Yeah, and miraculously intact. Like time had not passed at all.

“Okay … ” he said while I slipped out of the conversation and couldn’t help imagine what it had been like, breaking open that door and seeing … the cabin. Probably untouched since the 1890s. That’s how well hidden it was. It must have been.

“Okay,” he repeated, “and you want to go up there?”

And I had to admit it. I had already said too much. I hadn’t planned on telling him. Or anyone. 

But he didn’t try to keep me from it. Instead, he just said:

“Carrie, I’ve been a ranger for almost 40 years, and if this log cabin is as high in the mountains as you believe from the information you have, then you will have to get a guide. Do you have the money for that?”

I didn’t. And you know how it ended.

Dad wired me some money. And I searched for a guide. The guilt of barely speaking to your daughter for almost 10 years until her estranged half-brother steps on a mine in Afghanistan—that kind of guilt is worth a lot.

10 years ago, when I went back to the US with mum, I didn’t choose her because I loved dad less. Even despite all the drinking. I chose mum because I had to make a choice. There was no malice in it. I swear.

Is there now? I mean, I use his guilt like the ghost I am. I use it and I think no more of it. I do what I have to.

It’s like this: When you already feel like shit, there is less stopping you from doing more shitty things. Odd, huh? You’d kind of think it was best to do better.

I have thought about it a lot. Maybe I can’t forgive myself that I never pursued my passion for drawing. I think of when I closed the door to the room with Lin’s lifeless body and saw somebody else call 911—someone who looked like, but wasn’t. My body moved. My mind, my soul had stopped moving. That’s when time stopped, too. I ditched college two weeks later, got out of the condo, sold most of my stuff, never looked back. 

But law school wasn’t that important in retrospect. It was only a superficial way of numbing the pain—do something destructive. The real destruction came from giving up drawing—and my few remaining friends. And my family.

Maybe the answer is that damn simple. 

And you know, the more I think about it the more sense it makes because drawing wasn’t just drawing. I was meant to draw a story for Lin. She was an up-and-coming writer, and I was illustrating one of her books and we had oh so many, many more projects. Together.

We would be somebody. Together.

Instead, Lin became a dead body because of a depression that she had had since childhood. And I did everything I could to destroy my body after that.

And so I throw away the pad and the pencil and go to bed.

I threw away all my chances of doing something with all my talents, all my skills, and now this last part of me has been eaten by the ghost. 

Despite everything I survived until now, every step I’ve taken back into the world of normal, it doesn’t matter.

I. Don’t. Deserve. A. Second. Chance.

I am weak. I threw too much away. 

I spend the rest of the evening looking at the old photos of Anna. I read the last entries in her diary repeatedly. I try to decide what happened to her. And I do a good job on that whiskey I got from the store around the corner.

So now my mind can focus on the important things again. But what little research I’ve been able to pull off in some Internet cafe or other—that has yielded less than nothing about Anna.

It is like Anna Lee Shepherd, who survived being orphaned and raped and almost killed during a Civil War … she just went away.

But I will find her. If it’s the last thing I do.




Scars of Our Civil Wars

Scars of Our Civil Wars

Guilt, if that’s what it is, has to have consequences. I bear them all as scars beneath the sleeves of my blouse. 

I used to have another life. In that one, I left college after my best friend killed herself. There just didn’t seem to be a point anymore. And so I drifted for years, often in dubious company. 

The most recent place I ended up in was this boarding home outside San Francisco, run by a guy who collected military paraphernalia—Civil War stuff. He was a nice guy. Like badgers can be nice if they are well-fed and the temperature is right, I reckon.

Anyway, I got a job—my first—helping him transcribe old letters for a book he had been working on like forever. Stories from the war. Ordinary soldiers’ stories. 

History never really was my thing, but it helped pay the rent. And his wife baked me pie and got me a glass of orange juice every Sunday, when I was sitting in their attic listening to the heartbeat of the Pacific, straining to decipher curls and loops that made out 140-year-old memories.

Yeah, I can do shit like that when I want to. I always crushed languages in all my schools (and got crushed by math in return).  But the badger was smiling for the first time in weeks when he found out. Not in the least because he could save a lot of money. 

I didn’t care. I also loved strutting my stuff, for a change. Oh, and I can draw, too.

I am someone. Not no one.

Not the one who always catches up with me. Not my ghost half. 

Less than a year before moving into the boarding home, I had ditched my last boyfriend (the guy was into bruising). I had gone cold turkey right after that and I had kept ‘clean’ by drinking whiskey instead. 

Now, Tom Conway—that’s our Civil War author’s name—he didn’t take kindly to drinking. In fact, everyone who stayed at his “Home”, as he called it—had no choice but to keep clean. No smoking. No drinking. No nothing.

But of course, I did just that. And with some new guy, I picked up at a bus stop in Oakland no less.

And yes, you guessed it. No men allowed in the women’s rooms either.

The breakup wasn’t good. They never are. 

But his wife wasn’t angry. She gave me a farewell present. 

I got a copy of all the letters I had translated. Just those, she said.

But I was grateful since it made me feel worth something, even if it had been an obscure gig. 

And I would have more than enough time to read it all on the bus to L.A. with less than 100 dollars in my pocket and the knowledge that I had to beg my mother for cash again and try to pretend I was finally coming back to life when I’m anything but.

I couldn’t do it. We hadn’t seen each other for years and only talked on the phone and whenever I passed an Internet café.

What could I tell her? I was a prize student. I knew I had my future in my hand. I threw it all away because of one terrible thing that I should have gotten over. I made a ghost of my life and now I have become a ghost.

Dad also tried to call. I told him less. 

It’s always the same.

And I couldn’t even open the damn envelope because I was busy staring out the window and feeling sorry for myself.

Except when I was bored out of my mind at the transit station. Then I finally looked in that mother of an envelope, and my jaw dropped.

There was nothing in it.

I mean, there weren’t any of the printouts I had expected—of the letters I had transcribed. 

Only old letters. Letters I had never seen before.

Mrs. Conway must’ve gotten it wrong in all the hurry, and I’m sure she didn’t have the badger’s blessing to give me originals!

Yes, she gave me a bunch of genuine letters from the 19th century. 

On second thought, maybe that wasn’t a mistake. Maybe that was her rebellion. I mean, they were talking about divorce all the time and didn’t care if anyone heard.

For a moment, I considered calling and delivering it all back to Mr. Conway. Then I started reading because I couldn’t figure out why the hell Mrs. Conway wanted me to have more letters 

That’s when I discovered that the papers weren’t letters at all.

They were a diary.


Anna Lee Shepherd exited the only store in the mining town somebody had thought to name Telluride. That was when she saw the three men waiting for her.

She recognized them all from the saloon from last night. They had not seemed better company yesterday than now. 

“You leaving town already, girl?” 

The first man had a gruff voice. He was at least 6 feet tall, sported a big black mustache, and was bald as an egg.

“We thought we recognized a dame getting a room last night.” 

The second man’s beard was gray as the dust from the mines. He was also missing most of his teeth and wore an old Confederate slouch hat. He had played cards with Baldy last night. 

“Rarely we see a dame around here. Shame to leave so soon. “

The third was built like an armored train and had an odd accent. He had been sitting silently at the table next to Baldy and Graybeard. 

“I’m not a dame.” Anna slowly let go of the bag of provisions she had just purchased.

Both hands free. That was best.

“Sure look like one.” Baldy spat something out, black as tar.

The single town road behind him seemed empty suddenly. There was only whispering of the mountain wind between the handful of shed-like houses.

“And she talks like one.” Graybeard grinned, but his eyes were dark pits.

She had seen such eyes before.

“Okay, so I’m a woman. What’s it to you?” Anna’s hand wasn’t close enough to touch the cold steel hammer of the army colt very visible on her hip. But she knew exactly how close it was.

Less than a second close.

“Please … ” The mousy form of Mr. Simmons emerged from the shop. “Please, no shooting here.”

“Shut up!” The Train waved him back and Mr. Simmons retreated as quickly as he had come. 

The wind was now almost still.

“There are few women here.” Graybeard smiled so Anna could see what remained of his teeth, which was not much. “And the ones that are, wear proper skirts.”

“Then maybe I am not a proper woman.” Anna’s voice was even.

This wasn’t so different from escaping Union soldiers who had raped her at age 12. 

Or shooting a man in Reno years later when he had tried the same.

This wasn’t any more different from knowing that her parents were inside the burning mansion back in Georgia and would never get out in time.

Or Mammy who had fed her and played with her when she was a little girl, but who preferred the woods and freedom instead of helping that same girl, just a few years later, when the whole plantation was torched by Sherman’s men.

No. No different at all.

At first, it is. But then it becomes strangely normal. A small part of you—a deeper part—still feels the terror. But it recedes. The part of you that is the eagle—that part soars above it all and flies away and survives. 

So the eagle part is different and speaks in a different voice. It’s the part that learns to be still and wait for the moment.

And so there is no need to raise your voice.

“I don’t want to kill you.” She looked down upon the entire scene now. From high above. 

Marking exactly where the three men stood on the deserted street.

“Kill us?!” The men heehawed. 

Then Baldy spat again, but slower, all the time looking at Anna. And at her gun. “There’ll be no need for killin’. We just wondered if you were up for a good time?” 

He eyed her carefully. “It’s been very long since there were any good times in Telluride.”

“I hear that,” Anna said. “Simmons back there tells me the mines are almost empty.”

“There’ll be new ones.” Graybeard’s gaze flickered from Baldy to The Train and then also back to Anna’s very visible colt. “There always has been.”

“All things must end,” Anna said.

A few heads peeked out windows further down the street. It was as if the sudden delay to disaster acted as a magnet. As if the wind whispered impatiently and called people out to see.

Anna had hoped to make a discreet getaway into the mountains after getting her provisions. She had hoped her story from last night about her ‘husband’ waiting for her just outside town, because of some vaguely defined accident, would hold up and that there wouldn’t be too many questions. 

But she felt she didn’t have time to change her clothes again as soon as she had gotten provisions. Or maybe that was the excuse. Maybe the single dress she owned reeked of too many bad memories. 

And she was already behind her schedule, and perhaps Limerick was really dead—up there. She eyed the mountains that dominated all horizons in Telluride.

Then she eyed the men again. Wolves.

And she knew the dress would have made it worse. Also, it would not have let her do what she now did.

The shot silenced the wind immediately. It cleaved the air like a whiplash of thunder and smoke. One second the colt was at Anna’s hip, the next it was in her hand.

The slouch hat flew off Graybeard and landed in a puddle on the muddy street they all tried to dominate.

But the battle had been fought and won before the men had even decided to participate.

Nobody should be that fast. Least of all a woman. 

But whatever their own dark thoughts about what ought to be, the men kept all of that to themselves. They were busy staring dumbfounded at the hat and then at her gun.

After a few more moments of hesitation, they backed off.

Anna knew that time was not on her side, though. Not just regarding Limerick and whether he was dead up there. No, these men would be back soon. They did not like to lose. They did not like tables turning and suddenly becoming the weaker part they had hoped to prey upon.

She knew all that. She knew men well by now. In her 38 years, she had known quite a few. Some were good, most were bad, and quite a few were dead.

Time waited for no man or woman. 

They must have been desperate, she mused, and picked up her bag. This old gal is not worth that much attention anymore.

She was about to get her horse when something stopped her. She looked down at the slouch hat in the mud.

Had one of these once. It served me well. 

She picked it up and looked at the small scar in the left brim where the bullet had grazed it, exactly as she had wanted it to.

But that was a long time ago … Now I’m at the end of my ride.


Money is not a problem if you are willing to put a part of yourself to sleep for a few hours. That’s how I always deal with it. 

I look down at the man beside me in the bed. He is sleeping for real. And snoring, if anyone was in doubt.

I’m not. I’m sitting in the other half of the bed, legs drawn up and the sweaty sheet only tentatively covering me. I look at the stars outside the motel window and the curtains we had forgotten to close completely because he was so hungry.

But it was all right. With whatever his name was. And it isn’t like I am doing this full time. And even if I was, does it matter? He was nice. He had the money for the next ticket to my next destination. And more. 

I have decided not to see mum in L.A. but I wrote a message for her about soon coming home and that I was all right and other reassuring things I hardly believe anymore.

Maybe mum doesn’t either, but it was a little game that was easier to play the more you played it. You have a confederation of lies you nurture and the more you do that, the more it feels like reality. The reality of wishes and intentions.

I pull out the envelope again and the thick bunch of old papers, which I carefully unwrap from their protective plastic sheets.

At first, I thought they were just letters. But my God—this is a little script. An attempt at writing a book. Or a diary that was to become a book. It is not entirely clear. 

5 April 1889 is the last date on the last page, and there is no ending after that.

The author—Anna Lee Shepherd—had just stopped.

Perhaps that was why Mr. Conway had cared so little for this stack of old paper, which he had probably got from one of the many Civil War auctions he constantly bragged about winning. He had not even mentioned this script to me in the 4 months I was at his ‘Home’. Or perhaps he believed it was just fiction and not an actual diary. And hey, it was all written by a woman and not a soldier, anyway. 

So there.

And maybe Mr. Conway would spare his wife because she put this little treasure in my bag when I was booted out of the boarding home (along with a lunchbox with enough pie for 3 days).

Maybe not. There were thunderclouds in the air every time I saw them in the kitchen together. But whatever sainthood the Pope is planning to announce next, Mrs. Conway is on my shortlist.

I can’t help smiling at the memory of that sneaky, elderly woman while I continue leafing through the old pages slowly and carefully.

It feels strange, though, to do this—sitting here in a bed with a stranger I fucked so I could get money for the next three days. 

It is strange to be here and feel somewhat like flypaper but also feel that real old paper under my fingertips. Can’t explain why, but that last part almost feels holy. Unlike the feeling in the rest of my body which I have had enough practice in burying. 

Yeah, my ghost self takes care of quite a few burials.

My other self—the one I like—hasn’t decided what to do with this script yet. I have been in self-imposed exile for 4 years and drifted over most of the Americas, working as … everything. And often not working. Just drifting. I have not been used to planning anything more than a few days ahead.

I once was. I quit law school, of all things. And family. People. Even my drawing, which had once been the most important thing in my life. It had all faded like the old photographs that were glued to two pieces of cardboard at the end of all Anna’s diary pages.

But the principal person in those photos had only faded because of time, not because she had lost her spirit. She had not quit like me. 

She had lost so much more, during the Civil War and after. But she had not quit. She had moved on. She had survived and lived. Scout. Miner. Even a stint at selling cow hides in Nebraska.

I had lost one person. Maybe Lin had committed suicide after a long depression. And maybe I feel like she should have done more to make it. And maybe there are always good reasons you shouldn’t hate yourself for feeling like that. Rational therapeutic reasons.

But still. It was one person. Not an entire family, or home, or way of living.

No, the rest of those things I had thrown away. And for what? Getting high? And a man who beat me, but whom I stayed with for too long because he gave me that high for free? If I can be that stupid then something must have been very, very wrong with me way before Lin died.

And I roamed around with no purpose—always moving. And moving. Meeting new people in Bolivia, Peru, Argentina—and then north again—all the way to Cape Cod. But always leaving them. Never staying.

 Doing nothing to change.

My hands are shaking. I turn the last page of the cardboard with the old photographs. 

Here’s the very last photograph. Again Anna Lee Shepherd. Her name scribbled on the lower part of the photo. And in a dress for a change. Cute.

Okay, I have seen drawings of myself that were more mirror-like, but something in her eyes shines with life that goes beyond simple physical resemblance.

No, no—Anna doesn’t look much like me. That’s not what I mean. 

She just has the eyes I want. 

Eyes that have seen it all and moved on.

That’s what she wrote about in the diary. 

Still, there is the missing ending. Her diary stops in that mining town in the Rockies, Telluride. There all traces of Anna Lee Shepherd disappear.

So what to do with that? 

I look for the last time at the nameless man in the bed beside me. 

I make a decision and feel like a thief now more than ever. And, you know, he had promised to pay for another night.

But I pack my bag and put on my clothes silently. Then I leave the room without waking him.

Putting myself to sleep in that room, with that man, while my body worked—that had netted me another 300 dollars. Enough.

It has been a long night, but it was what I needed. To get to where I knew I had to go.

I dash through the warm night towards the Bakersfield bus station. Once there, I curl up on a plastic bench until the ticket sales open at 7 AM. 

Then I buy a one-way ticket for Grand Junction, Colorado. 

From there, it is only a brief trip with a local bus to Telluride.



Portrait Of A Killer (III)

Portrait Of A Killer (III)

It ends on a Friday evening.

I come home dead-tired and feel rotten and then sorry for myself and then angry. Business as usual. Then I think about why my mother hasn’t called and told me she understands why I asked her to go to hell the last time we talked because she wouldn’t cut it out with all her just-go-to-a-spiritual-retreat-and-everything-will-be-fine. Then I put my ear to the wall to Daniel’s room and think about why the hell he does nothing I can hear. I know he is in there right now. What is wrong with him?

Then I try not to feel too cold because I remember what silence is all about. What it can be. Not the kind you find at the end of piers looking at mirror-like surfaces of water. No, I think about Miami and blood in my nose and how it tastes.

Then I think about options:

I could stay and pretend that Daniel is normal. After all, I rarely see him. I don’t have a relationship with him. What could he possibly do – to me? Would he come in, one night, with a knife in his hand, trying to rape me? That’s ridiculous. Isn’t it?

I could leave – find another place. It’s not going to be cheap, though? And this place is as cheap as they get. And I still don’t have much money, although I work my ass off every day. But I guess that’s what’s good about charity, eh? The feeling of being grateful is worth it all, isn’t it? No, I shouldn’t say that. Mr. and Mrs. N are good people. They offered me something when I had nothing and nobody wanted me. But the pay is … pfff.

There are cheaper places, but further down the coast, away from Frisco. And I already spend too much time on a bus. And who knows what people are there? At least I know who is here.

Except for Daniel.

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Portrait Of A Killer (II)

Portrait Of A Killer (II)

The weeks pass. 

Daniel fits right in. He seldom talks.

We seldom talk …

… except about instrumental things, like where is the remote for the television in the common room. But I think about him, almost every day, although I had made a firm commitment on that first night to completely exorcise him from my mind. I don’t need the grief.

But aside from the senseless things about remote controls, Daniel doesn’t talk. Not at all. Not even small-talk. The only time was that time on the path, and that did feel kind of forced, now that I think of it. 

And I have only seen him once come out of his room to actually watch television, and that was just news – half an hour, in silence with me and Quiet Man from Grant, who I think was half asleep, anyway.

Is Daniel autistic? What do I even know of that? I’m not a shrink or a doctor.

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Portrait of a Killer

Portrait of a Killer

I need time to think about where I will get rid of the gun, so I get off near Kearny and walk the rest of the way to Embarcadero. 

There is a grainy mist in the air that makes San Francisco feel forbidding and cold like it doesn’t really want to receive me. 

I work here, sure, and I live in fucking faraway Montara, but the whole Bay Area feels like a stranger every morning, even though I have come here for over three months. 

Like this is someone else’s city.

I glance at my watch and try to distract myself with calculations about how fast I can walk to the pier and back to the restaurant without being late and getting fired. I have not had the best of records in being on time so far, and it’s not just because of traffic. I have to pull myself together or Mrs. Nicolo’s famous social conscience might wear thin – if it hasn’t already.

And still, there is the gun. I can feel its weight in my bag as I cross the street and make a point of passing the Financial District, without actually passing through. That is a world that is now forever out of reach, after the road I’ve been on for the last three years. 

My career as a drifter would not get me anywhere in those hallowed halls of glass and concrete. And to think I once dreamed of being a lawyer who went there and made an example of some guy who did all the dirty deals, and then I showed society what justice was all about. Just like on TV.

I hurry towards the water and the Bay. I can see the green-blue stripe between the buildings and I think for a brief second about if I should take a boat to Alcatraz, which is crazy because then I could really be late and get my ass fired.

One of the few people who gave me a chance, and I would have let her down. And myself. Well, I’ll be damned if I will let that happen.

So I walk faster.

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Shadows In The Shape Of Men

Shadows In The Shape Of Men

For a split second, a perverse thought struck her … what would happen if she told Mr. Conway the truth?

‘Oh … by the way, I’m a former addict!’

The contract clearly said that Mr. Conway had to give her a month’s advance warning if he ever wanted her out. So if she told him outright, would that be … insane?

Maybe. But in a strange way, it would feel good to prove that she still had the guts to stand by who she was. She could always go back to the motels until she found something else.

Also, doing something insensibly crazy like this would feel even better than the oh-so-sensible promise she had made to herself: That come summer she would have earned enough of her own money to pay back Jeremy and return to university and finish—guess what—her law degree. After she had become a real lawyer, she would spend the rest of her life helping people who had found themselves up to their throats in shit, just because they had made a few bad calls at a time in their lives. Yeah, she would go back to university, and then she would be like that lawyer in the John Grisham-novel … what-was-its-name-again…?

But she hesitated … and then she told herself sharply not to think crazy thoughts again, not to ruin it all on a childish whim, and to smile normally to Mr. Conway.

He didn’t smile back at her.

In fact, he just kept staring at her, with both hands immovable in his pockets, and she felt increasingly uncomfortable. When she first had met him an hour ago, his eyes had been narrow slits. Now they were even narrower—as if he was always scanning his surroundings or people in them. He was short, stocky, in his early 60s, tanned and with compact muscles bulging under his army-green t-shirt. As he stood there, obviously annoyed about having to look slightly up to her, he reminded her of a badger she had once seen—in a cage.

“So you were due in Restaurant Nicolo Monday morning, Miss May?” he said.

She swallowed but kept up the smile. “Uh-huh.”

“Waiting tables?”

“That’s the exciting part.”

“I see,” Mr. Conway said, nodding gravely to himself. “I still don’t understand, though, why you want to live out here in Montara – so far away from downtown San Francisco, a young woman like you.” He looked down into the asphalt of the driveway for a moment then directly at her. “If you know what I mean?”

“Sometimes it’s nice to be away from downtown San Francisco, exactly because I’m a young woman.” She took a chance and winked at him. “If you know what I mean?”

He scowled at her, but removed one of his hands from a front pocket, reached into his back pocket, and then pressed two cold, small keys firmly into the palm of her open hand—and held them there. For a moment she was afraid he would not let go.

“Take good care of them,” he said. “The locks in this house are brand new. They cost a fortune.”

“I will.” She quickly put the keys in her pocket.

“Good.” He turned and with another set of keys, he opened two of the expensive locks and then pushed open the big white-painted door, which led into the ground floor of the old house. He motioned for her to go ahead, and she stepped into the hallway with her rucksack. The door just on the left had the nameplate, ‘General McAuliffe’. It was her room.

She stood a moment in the hallway, taking it all in once more—but with a mixed feeling of being estranged and high on joy at the same time. This would be her place, a real place to live. It didn’t matter that the house itself was … old. There had been a granite boulder on the front lawn with a year chiseled in it: “1846”. She had briefly seen the rooms when she came and was again pleasantly surprised about how pristine everything looked as if somebody cleaned the old woodwork every day and painted it at least once every six months. A big copperplate lamp in the ceiling lit up the entire hallway and there was a faint, recurring creaking sound somewhere as if you were on a ship. Somewhere on the other side of the house, she could hear the muffled booming of the Pacific surf. She had already felt more than a few needles in her stomach when she walked from the bus and couldn’t stop herself from looking down the cliff along the road. It grew ever steeper as she had made her way to the house. She had had to concentrate not to stare for too long at the waves vaporizing against the rocks below.

Behind her, Mr. Conway cleared his throat—loudly.

“Leanne May, you are now officially a resident of The Fremont Home,” he then said, with a notable tone of resignation.

She just nodded, stepped into the hallway, and hoped he would accept that as a satisfactory closing of the conversation. She desperately needed to be just herself now.

Apparently, she got at least one wish today. For Mr. Conway didn’t say anymore. Instead, he closed the hallway door behind her.

The woman, whose real name had never been ‘Leanne May’, was finally alone


For a long time, she sat on the bed, thinking hard about all the things she had to do, all the things she wanted to do. When she finally realized that her mind was just going round in circles, she got up and began to pull off her blouse and jeans. They were sweaty from walking from the bus station and up the hill to The Home. She really, really needed that shower now. The room had a minor shower cubicle, and a tea-kitchen, and not much more—aside from the bed and desk, of course.

A big black and white framed photo of Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe hung on the wall above her bed.  He was standing somewhere outside, presumably near the front line, but his uniform looked immaculately clean and without any folds that were not supposed to be there. With determined dark eyes, set in the chiseled face of a middle-aged man who had known what his role in life was, it appeared as if he was scouting the horizon for something—perhaps another enemy to beat. She felt it was going to be somewhat unsettling trying to sleep with him hovering over her bed.

For a few moments, she considered ways to cover him up, and how to avoid that Mr. Conway would notice. He had specifically instructed her not to put anything on the walls. That probably meant not taking anything down either. It wasn’t long, though, before she decided that she could live with the general. She had had to adapt to many things, why not continue with him? She suddenly longed for a TV, or a radio—something that could distract her so she didn’t have to think anymore. She ditched her clothes in a pile on the floor. Then she hurried into the shower and turned on the warm water.

It wasn’t as warm as she had hoped for, and it took a long time for it to become even moderately comfortable. The old cheap-shot—Mr. C—had probably not wanted to pay for proper heating, she thought gloomily as she soaped herself over and over again with a minuscule piece of soap she had taken from her last motel. She also briefly thought about where she had put the cutout from the paper and if she wanted to confront Conway with it. She decided not to, although the wording on heat had come off as rather unambiguous:



But maybe she had read what she wanted to read? Who put an ad for rooms in the paper these days, when everything happened on the Internet? It had been blind luck she had even found the crumbled newspaper under a bench at the station and even luckier that she had actually read it and made the call. It was a bit far away from Frisco for her taste, but the rent was ridiculously low. On the phone, she had soon convinced Mr. C—who had mumbled much about ‘the right kind of people’—that she would be perfect, even if she was absolutely the opposite of that.

Maybe she shouldn’t have lied about Tim, though … It had been a long time since she had spoken to her stepbrother. She was still not able to think about it for more than a few moments. It wasn’t because he was dead. It was because at that moment her mum had called to tell her that Tim had been blown to pieces by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, she had had the cell phone between her ear and shoulder because she was busy adjusting the needle in her right arm. After her mum had hung up, she had been sitting like a statue for almost half an hour. Then she finally pulled out the needle. She dumped its contents in the toilet. Then she spent the rest of the day diving into Jeremy’s whiskey collection, just to take the worst of the withdrawal symptoms.

Nevertheless, for Mr. Conway the story about her brother had been the true icebreaker; the part about his heroic service, anyway—most of it guesswork from mother’s infrequent contact across the Atlantic. Whatever her outstanding moral debt to Tim for inventing all kinds of shit about their relation, it had served a very important purpose that almost made her dizzy with relief. Mr. Conway had wanted to see her right away, and she had only been a few days in the Bay Area.

When he actually saw her, though, he seemed suddenly to get second thoughts. She had done her best to shine up herself and she had even secured a direct phone number to Mrs. Nicolo, whom he could call for ‘a little backup’, although they had only known each other on the trip in the Nicolo family truck from Sacramento to San Francisco. Mr. Conway, however, was no Mother Theresa, looking for ‘lost women’ to take under his wing, and The Fremont Home was no pet social project, like Nicolo’s Restaurant. She had been afraid he would actually make the call and say something bad about her to Mrs. Nicolo. She’d rather lose the room than that job opportunity. She still couldn’t believe Mrs. Nicolo had asked her. It was as unreal as a second-rate Hollywood movie.

Here and now, she pushed the memory of Tim away as she tried to rub some heat into her skin. She could still not feel any real heat. Although the weather here would never be as harsh as in Cleveland—or even back on the Hebrides of her childhood—winter had indeed come to California. The mornings, in particular, were as cold as the white chill she sometimes felt inside, after waking up on yet another strange bed. When she arrived in Frisco she had felt acutely aware of a need to find shelter, somewhere to stay for a long time, somewhere out of reach. She hoped the radiator in the main room worked properly, and she berated herself that she hadn’t checked before paying the first 6 months. What kind of ‘shelter’ did she expect to find by the bloody sea, anyway? She had gotten a room on the side of the Home, which faced the ocean and the wind and…

However, there were far bigger messes. She needed to think of something that would somehow negate the crap she had done to herself. She needed to do something new that would make the past unimportant, or less important. She gritted her teeth and rubbed her arms and thighs and her face more fervently with the ever-smaller piece of soap. It was one thing still to have the kind of control that allowed her not to give in to a whim and blurt out something insanely stupid about her past missteps in front of a card-carrying patriot like Tom Conway. Another thing was being able to get all the threads untangled in her mind—and find out what she was actually going to do.

Finally, she threw away the soap. There was nothing left of it anymore. She leaned her head against the shower cubicle wall, felt the hard tiles against her forehead, wet tangled strands of her long hair in between, allowing the sprinkle of the water to caress her back. It was finally warm enough so that she could relax and just feel it.

She was not a loser, not stupid. She was not. Sure, things had happened that were serious enough—but she had gotten good grades before those … things. She had done well. She wanted to do something right again. Why couldn’t she?

She could blame her parents of course, Lin who had killed herself when she needed her most, or Jeremy … But wasn’t it really something in her character? She could get all the good grades in the world, have all the good intentions, all the opportunities, and yet she let herself slip back on a path where she just threw it all out the window; all the gifts she had been given. What were they worth if she worked so hard on grinding herself down? Wasn’t that the very definition of lack of self-insight? Or … being stupid? When she could even define it like this, and still couldn’t get her act together and do something to move past the destructive streak—or whatever the hell it was … did she really deserve anything else than being labeled just that: Stupid?

That doubt was a constant companion and all she could do was trying to fight it off whenever it came.

There was of course another possibility to quench it … but no.

She had been clean for almost half a year now, and she had been sober for a little over a month—not a drop of alcohol, although the yearning to just lose herself through the welcome burning of absinthe or whiskey in her throat… it was still there. It was as if it would never go away, and she needed all her strength of will just to keep it at a tolerable level.

She tried to turn up the heat of the water even more, but it was already at max and that, apparently, meant just a little bit above tepid. In some motel rooms where she had stayed, she had showered for almost an hour, turning up the heat at full volume, coming out of the bathroom red as a scolded lobster. It had worked, though—at least temporarily. It had provided the necessary distraction. Still, it wasn’t enough. For some reason, she hadn’t picked up smoking yet, the obvious distraction. She wondered why. It seemed like an odd kind of abstinence to have the knack for, when it was rather obvious that you couldn’t really stay away from anything else.

Her cell phone rang.

She rushed out of the shower, and almost slipped on the wet floor tiles. She grabbed onto the sink to prevent herself from slamming into the floor on her back. She still managed to hit her knee, though, on the corner of the shower cubicle.

“Aw – goddammit.”

The phone buzzed on. It was deep in her rucksack, which was on the bed.

She rummaged through all the little side pockets of the rucksack until she found it, but then saw who it was. For a moment, she just held it, staring at the display as if the little Nokia was an ugly and perhaps slightly dangerous piece of flotsam, which the thundering Pacific had flung in through her open window, although that was quite impossible. There were at least 100 meters from the cliff’s edge, which began where the strip of grass outside her window ended, and then down to the inferno of the waves.

The phone fell silent.

She threw it back on the bed. It landed beside the steel nozzle of the first thing she had unpacked and which was now tugged safely under the pillow.

She then slumped down on the bed, wet hair dangling in front of her eyes.

That was stupid, missy – maybe you didn’t know the number but still … why should it have been him? Why would he even have my number?

She got up and went to the bathroom again, suddenly conscious that she had been naked in front of the open window. If any of the other residents had decided to go for a stroll along the garden fence just now to look at the waves, they might have gotten a little more to look at … not as if it mattered an awful lot after all the things she had already done to her body. She didn’t want to give Mr. C another reason to be suspicious of her, though. It was clear that he had already been thinking hard about whether or not to give her the room, and only the cash had convinced him … for now.

She came back into the room, with a towel around her body. She began drying her hair with another towel. Then she changed her mind and pulled down the blinds, too. Somehow, it felt better that way. She sat down on the bed again, looking at the phone while she rubbed her hair thoroughly with the towel. She expected it to ring again, but it didn’t.

For the first time, Carrie wished she had a cigarette.


Carrie nearly got a shock when saw the black-haired boy staring at her outside the window. She considered – briefly – that somebody from the other rooms might decide to take a walk around the house and pass through ‘her part’ of the small garden strip that separated the rooms from the cliff and the ocean. Maybe some of the other residents had a thing for looking at the ocean, so close to a free fall? Maybe they just liked to take a walk now and then, like normal people. She hadn’t really expected anyone to go out, though – not past her window.

After she got dressed, she had skittered around in her room, sorting out the mess, a big towel wrapped on her head like a turban to keep her wet, long hair in place. She should have gotten that haircut long ago. It would be one of the first things on her to-do list before Monday morning and Restaurant Nicolo. In fact, she was just thinking about the haircut, and where to get it, while sorting through the four different town maps, and that was when she cast a casual glance out through the window and froze as she locked eyes with the boy.

Carrie’s second almost shock came, when she realized ‘he’ wasn’t really a boy—but a girl with her hair tightly gathered in a bun behind her neck. The girl had frozen as well. She was, in fact, not a girl but rather a young woman about Carrie’s age, in her early twenties. She wore tight-fitting old cowboy jeans and an open leather jacket. It looked as if she hadn’t been able to make herself throw it out. It did look a little too small for her…

The woman had a boyish body with only a few curves. Maybe the light had flickered in the rain-laden clouds behind her and confused Carrie. However, the realization that ‘he’ was actually a ‘she’ only made the woman’s deep, ebony black eyes more mesmerizing. They looked like two pieces of the night sky.

The young woman was looking at Carrie with a mix of what appeared to be embarrassment and curiosity. Then she seemed to gather her wits and flashed a brief smile. She sent Carrie a vague nod as if she was just another passer-by, who had accidentally looked too long on Carrie on any public street, and by doing so had broken unwritten rules of politeness.

The woman turned and walked to the fence and stood for a few seconds watching the sea, and then she began moving away, obviously feeling uncomfortable to be standing right outside Carrie’s window now that the spell of anonymity had been broken. She went further to the left, away from Carrie’s window towards the back end of the house. Then she stopped, almost immediately, as she was reminded that the garden strip narrowed to almost nothing now. It was impossible to walk around the house from this angle unless you wanted to crawl over the fence and scale the cliff.

Carrie just … stood in the middle of her room, her towel-turban feeling awkward and shuffling the maps in her hands, having completely forgotten what she wanted to do with the goddamn things. Had it been a bad idea to roll up the blinds again? No, she had been dressed and she needed the little sun that seemed intent on breaking through the ocean fog during these early hours. She had been in the dark for too long.

Because there was nowhere to go near the back end at the house, the girl reluctantly had to backtrack and ended up outside Carrie’s window again. Unlike before, it seemed that this time she had decided it would be even more awkward not to show some kind of recognition that they had become aware of each other just before. She nodded hesitantly again. Then, as if she was afraid that Carrie couldn’t hear over the roar of the surf, said in a louder-than-normal voice:

“I didn’t mean to pry. I was just taking a walk … getting fresh air.”

Carrie had to mobilize extra will for a few seconds before she was ready to smile. She had counted on being utterly alone for the rest of the day; alone to think, about all the things she … needed to work out. At last, she got her act together. She returned the smile. “It’s all right. You live here?”

It was a stupid question; just as it was stupid standing there half-shouting. She went over and opened up the window. There were quite a few locks on it as well, but none needed a key. At last, she got it open and stretched out her hand.

“I’m Leanne.”

The girl took it.

“Ghazala. I live in ‘Sherman’.”

“Ah, the room,” Carrie said.

“Of course.”

“You must have ‘McAuliffe’, yes?”

“Yup. Tony and I are best buddies.”

The other girl didn’t seem to know if she should smile at this. Carrie quickly diverted the topic:

“So… I’m just staying here temporarily until I find something better.”

Carrie wasn’t entirely sure about this, but it seemed like the right thing to say. She wasn’t sure about anything today, which, to her annoyance, wasn’t big news. Ghazala seemed to sense her unease. In a soft, careful tone she said:

“I live here with my father. We are also looking for somewhere else to stay. My father has been negotiating a deal for a small bungalow in Corona, but I don’t think we can afford it.”

Carrie nodded solemnly as if she was already well informed about this. Then she squinted against a sudden burst of sun that had managed to slice through the heavy clouds and leaned on the windowsill with her elbows. She had briefly to hold up one hand to shield her eyes from the sudden light. It only lasted a few moments then the clouds had mushroomed again and choked the rays. There was a dim glow behind the clouds now but they looked fat and not as if they intended to give up so easily again.

Ghazala looked over her shoulder towards the gray ocean. “In Pakistan, we lived almost as far away from the sea, as one possibly could. In Kashmir.”

“Oh …” Carrie blurted, “isn’t that where— ”

“Yes,” Ghazala nodded quickly. “But it’s not as bad now as it was.”

“So … uh … what brings you to ‘land of the free’?”

She laughed, a short dry laugh: “Certainly not our own free will.” Then she frowned as if something had stung her across the eyes. “My father was an official in the local government. He met an American woman, a soldier, during your invasion of Afghanistan two years ago. My mother had died and they fell in love the good old-fashioned way. Some people didn’t like that.”

Ghazala looked like she regretted saying this, then she gathered herself:

“It’s … complicated, as you Americans would say.” She flashed a strained smile.

“—It’s none of my business … !” Carrie said quickly.

“No, it’s … fine,” Ghazala said. She cast a brief glance over her shoulder, towards the ocean. “Look—are you doing anything right now?”


“There’s a small place down the road, to get something. The only place around here I think,” Ghazala said, nodding in the direction of the only road leading away from The Fremont Home, down to Montara.

“The ParadIce place?” Carrie asked.

“Yes. Would you like to go? There’s not much to do around here today for me.”

“You don’t have to—”

“I go to the university,” Ghazala said, “and I work at a hair-dresser in my spare time, but today is my day off—and I don’t feel like studying.”

Carrie didn’t feel sure that this cloudy day was right for ice cream. But after that shower, there was something demoralizing about the prospect of staying in her room with the good General, who already had made something of his life, and seemed to be waiting for her to do the same—a task she was definitely not up to before Monday. And for her all her foreignness, Ghazala seemed like somebody it would be nice to share at least a cola with … after too long alone, on the road.

“Oh, why not,” Carrie said. “Gotta get to know your new neighbors, right?”

A faint smile showed briefly on Ghazala’s lips. Carrie turned from the window to rummage through ‘the Pile’, as she now had dubbed the second-level order she had managed to impose on her personal items. She turned to the bed instead and took her old gym-jacket

“It’s rather cold today,” Ghazala commented..

“Oh—I ’ll be fine,” Carrie said, zipping up the jacket too close to her throat so it bit into her skin and she had to pull it down a little. “So, uh, what about the other tenants?” she asked swiftly while messing about with her shoes and rummaging the Pile for her purse. “Do you plan on inviting all of them for ice cream, too—or do I get special privileges?”

Ghazala shook her head: “Leanne, you are the only other tenant.”


ParadIce was an ice-cream parlor, cheap seafood diner, and postcard shop all in one. However, its full selection of offers wasn’t something you realized until you had stepped in through the front door and almost bumped into the stand with oddly oversized postcard reproductions from the 50s and 60s. As they walked over the minuscule parking lot before ParadIce, Ghazala looked determinedly relaxed. She had brought Carrie here along a gravel path, which ran alongside the main road. It was as if Ghazala already knew all there was to know about the terrain near the Fremont Home, for she had led on with quick assured steps.

Unlike the garden outside Carrie’s window at the Home, there was no fence here between the two women and the vertical fall down towards the agitated sea, which was coiling itself into a pit of white snakes around the rocks below. One or two times, Carrie closed her eyes instinctively, even though it was crazy because that would just make it more dangerous to walk there. But it was the only thing to do, she felt, which would keep her from looking down too long, and being captivated by the hypnotic pull of the white snakes. She didn’t say anything to Ghazala about that. What would she say?

When I was eleven, I fell down a cliff in Scotland and almost killed myself, could we please go another route?

No. She had deliberately chosen the Fremont House nestled in its alluring safety and seclusion out here on the edge of the rugged coast, west of San Francisco. She wanted Ghazala to like her. She wanted to start over. There was only one choice: Close your eyes hard and tell the past, and all things in it, that it was now invisible and therefore didn’t matter.

ParadIce’s shop sign was yellow and complete with two big white balls glued to the sign after the ‘e’. They denoted the scoops that topped a plastic cone icon, which had fallen off the sign long ago and only left a lighter, more faded triangle in the paint. Birds had shit on the white scoops and the shit had grown black, so they looked like two large eyeballs staring at her.

Carrie and Ghazala went in.

They found a table near a window on the side of ParadIce that faced the ocean. The windows were slightly damp but Carrie couldn’t see if it was from the fumes from the kitchen or the mist outside. There was a big sign beside the counter displaying all the variations of ice cream that could be made for you. Carrie eyed the silent, balding man behind the counter, who shuffled some fries with one hand and stacked small boxes of cones with another and looked concentrated as if there was nothing more important in the world.

Carrie ordered a coke with nothing to eat. Ghazala ordered nothing to drink and a cone with three scoops of vanilla ice and a blood-red strawberry on top. It looked remarkably fresh, but also unnaturally pumped—as if it could burst at any moment. Carrie looked at the strawberry for a moment and then Ghazala bit over it and swallowed it whole along with half a scoop.

“Aren’t you hungry?” she asked.


Carrie stared hard out the window and, for a moment, she couldn’t help following the billowing vapors of mist with her eyes. The mist itself seemed to follow the waves of the ocean.

“You’re a strange one,” Ghazala said.

Carrie forced a smile: “I beg your pardon.”

“No, no—I don’t mean it in a bad way.” Ghazala shook her head and wiped ice cream from her lips. “I mean … you don’t look like the average drifter.”

“I didn’t think I looked like a drifter,” Carrie lied.

Ghazala ignored it. “You look like you don’t belong here—or on the road.”

They had talked a bit about Carrie’s sojourn across the States, on the way down here. She had said that she just traveled from place to place in order to find work, and she hinted that she had had an alcohol problem. She had not mentioned anything about Jeremy or his particular business, or the missing money or anything else that might come off as less acceptable in Ghazala’s eyes than a ‘heroic struggle’ with alcohol. Perhaps that was what aroused suspicion? Carrie found to her dismay that even if she had acted in those films, she certainly didn’t have an acting talent of any significance. Perhaps that was exactly why she had wound up where she had?

Ghazala bit her lip slightly, then said: “You look like you belong in a … school, I suppose.”

“I went to university.”


“I dropped out.”


“It … didn’t really work for me.”

“Oh … ”

Ghazala looked quickly out into the mists. Then she ate the last of the cone in one bite. She had devoured the whole ‘Super-Pack’ homemade ice cream very quickly.

“I was just … you know … not cut out for school,” Carrie tried.

“You look smart.”

Carrie couldn’t suppress a short—joyless—laugh.

“Believe me,” Ghazala said and blinked at her. “I know people …”

She glanced discreetly at the sign again up at the counter. It was as if the Pakistani woman suddenly wondered if it would be rude to order another one or upsetting. Carrie couldn’t quite make out what she thought about the prospect of Ghazala throwing herself over another X-large cone with scoops, but she supposed a thin girl like her didn’t need to worry about such matters. Jeremy had had a fit each time she gained an extra pound, but she didn’t feel she had the strength to exercise and it was very tempting to put all sorts of other things in your mouth when a day’s work was finished.

“I like studying,” she then said. “The authorities that got us here made sure I could continue my studies. I went to a university in Kashmir also.”

“What do you study?” Carrie asked.


“Political studies?”

“You sound like it was a foreign fish!” Ghazala exclaimed and smiled.

Carrie felt something loosen up in her: “Uh, no—I’ve just never been much into politics. That’s all. I’ve never voted.”

“Why not?”

Carrie shrugged: “I guess I’ve never felt it would make a difference. But I kind of regretted it the last time. I think Bush stole that election.”

“Oh, but he did,” said Ghazala. “He got less popular votes than Gore.”

“Well, that’s our system.”

“That’s why someone needs to study it,” Ghazala said earnestly, “to make it better.”

“How can you make it better? I thought you said on the way down here that you hadn’t even gotten permission to stay permanently, much less citizenship.”

“It will come,” Ghazala said and shrugged, too, as if it was already decided. “Do you want something else?” She nodded at Mr. Silence behind the counter. He looked as if he in turn was watching something in the deep fryer as if it was still alive.

“Maybe … I am a bit hungry, anyway,” Carrie said. “I wouldn’t have chosen this place if there wasn’t the small store on the other side of the highway, but I may regret it later. I don’t feel like cooking in that mini-kitchen up in my room.”

“And you can sit on your bed and eat,” Ghazala said. “You won’t like sitting at that table.”

“Do you sit on your bed and eat?”

“All the time.”

Carrie wanted to say something, but it was as if she couldn’t, not without feeling … wrong somehow. Perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea to get something to eat. She didn’t want to tell Ghazala more about herself, really. But how to avoid it? Perhaps it had been best to take that room over in Montara, but they had little kids and a dog and although the suburban family of four seemed as friendly as if they had been picked right out of a commercial pamphlet urging people to move there, Carrie just hadn’t felt at home at all. She needed someplace solitary, and yet out in the open, and far away from everything. It had seemed like a good idea to choose the Home, not just because it was cheap but also because there appeared to be more privacy, even if you lived in a hallway with rooms of other inhabitants. But those doors were closed, like another motel … She could deal with that. But now she had already broken the first promise she made to herself when she came to Frisco: Don’t get personal with anyone, not until you have gotten your life together.

“Have you changed your mind?” Ghazala asked and glanced at the menu. It was a slip of paper printed from an average computer and laminated to the table.

Carrie shook her head. “No—no, I could use something to eat. I haven’t had anything since this morning.”

“Let’s eat then.”

Ghazala didn’t order anymore except a Dr. Pepper. Carrie had fries and a fish that tasted like it had been in the freezer for too long. She felt awkward eating alone and tried to finish quickly.

For a long time, Ghazala sat with her hands folded under her chin and looked at Carrie eating. None of them said anything.

Carrie ate more quickly, wondering if she should just stop and say that she wasn’t any hungrier. But the problem was that she was hungry. She had only had a coffee and a bagel for breakfast and that had been her only meal all day. She had to get herself together and cook some proper food. Soon …

“Why haven’t you asked me why my father and I had to go to America?” Ghazala said and broke Carrie’s reverie.

“I … thought it wasn’t any of my business,” Carrie answered quickly, swallowing a mouthful of two or three half-chewed fries with some difficulty. Then she drank deeply of her new cola.

Ghazala’s eyes mirrored the nearest mist bank outside for a moment. It seemed heavier now. There was a sharp sputtering from the deep fryers on the other side of the counter. Then Ghazala said:

“My father is a professional IT engineer. He worked for the local government in Kashmir. He was … hired as a consultant for your US Army in Afghanistan because he spoke the local language—Pashto.” She smiled like it was all a joke and took a zip of her Doctor Pepper. “He was also very good at making the local jury-rigged computer solutions work.”

“So he helped the army install computers?” Carrie asked, and sucked hard on the straw that dipped into her coke.

“No, silly,” Ghazala snorted but not with too much malice “—he helped the local governments, or what goes for government, in various areas of Afghanistan. They need to come into the modern age. They need computers, right?”

“Right …”

“So that’s what he did.” Ghazala looked out the window again. The horizon was just a thin line now. It washed in and out of gray clouds and mist, as the sea stirred. “There was more money to be earned.” She smiled joylessly.

“Did you go with him?”


“So why did he stop?”

“He didn’t. He was stopped.”

Carrie knitted her brows. She tried to sit more comfortably on the plastic chair but she might as well have sat on the asphalt outside.

Ghazala continued, delivering every word slowly and sharply as she was edging something into stone: “My father was seen as a traitor by various Taliban factions so they burnt down our house. I was home …”

Carrie stopped moving about on her chair.

Ghazala shrugged and looked away: “I was the only one who escaped, but I was badly burned. I was in a US Army field hospital for about a month.”

She pulled off her jacket so Carrie could see her bare arms. Carrie had once seen a horse that had burnt to death, back on Skye when she was eight or nine. It was Chisholm’s barn and lightning had struck that night. The nearest help was in Portree, too far away. Her father and all the neighbors went out to help but they could do nothing but watch it burn down. Her mother put her and Tim back to bed because she didn’t want them to hear the screams of the horses that Mr. Chisholm had not been able to get out in time. In the morning, the men had pulled out the carcasses and laid them on the ground. Carrie had snuck out with Tim and watched from behind the fence. When the men had gone inside to talk to the constable, who had finally arrived, Carrie and Tim had snuck over to one of the horses. What was left of the horse’s skin was black and dark red, and reminded her of charred wood that had gone strangely pulpy, as if it had bubbles all over which were hardened.

“It boiled …” Tim had whispered, looking impressed.

Carrie felt like throwing up and crying at the same time. She had run inside again. That was almost 15 years ago, and she thought she had forgotten what it looked like.

Right here and right now, Carrie became aware that she had covered her mouth with her hands. She took her hands away quickly.

“I’m sorry—I …”

Ghazala put on her jacket again: “It’s okay. It’s normal to react like that.”

“Couldn’t they—I mean … surgery or …”

Ghazala shook her head: “Not out there. It was too late before somebody thought it would be worth flying me to Lahore in a helicopter. But they saved my life.” She shrugged again and grinned as if she had just been showing off a particularly daring tattoo. Something churned in Carrie’s stomach.

“Does it hurt?”

Ghazala shook her head again: “I’ve got plenty of painkillers.”


They went back along the small path at the edge of the cliff. The sun was low in the gray sky and the fog banks seemed to have thickened even more as if they were getting ready to fall over the coast with the darkness. Carrie was glad that Ghazala seemingly knew the way because there wasn’t much light and she still felt jittery walking so close to the cliff. She tried to look at Ghazala’s back and not down into the frothing surf. They walked in silence. When they approached the house, the sky had deteriorated from gray to a dark blue that looked as if it was rising over the horizon like a wave, larger than all the others. But it was a wave that was slow in coming, taking its time to swallow all light as it crept in on the coast. It was her first night in the Home by the Sea.

She was grateful Mr. Conway had lit the lamps on the front porch. As they went up the stairs, she noticed a man in the window of the room next to Ghazala’s. It was an elderly, thin man with dark skin and steel gray, short hair and beard. He wore a pullover that seemed like it was a size too big for him. He was hunched over a laptop that emitted the only light in the room, and he didn’t notice them. He just sat, hands folded under his chin, looking at the pale light from the laptop screen as if waiting for an answer he had just asked it.

Carrie glanced at Ghazala.

“My father,” she whispered. “He is always working.”

Carrie didn’t know why Ghazala whispered, but she automatically did the same: “So … he has got work here already?”

“Kind of,” Ghazala said. “I can tell you tomorrow. You want to go to San Francisco with me tomorrow?”

Carrie felt uncertain. Something began knotting itself hard in her belly, twisting round and round, harder and harder.

“Leanne?” Ghazala looked at her, concerned.

“Oh – tomorrow? Yeah, why not?”

“Okay.” Ghazala nodded and then went to work on the many locks on the white oak door. Her key got stuck several times because apparently the locks weren’t designed to be opened easily because they weren’t as new as Conway claimed, or both. But Ghazala was patient, humming softly to herself. Only a single time did a curse almost escape her lips.

“Brand new locks my a—”

But she choked it.

And finally, she succeeded.

Carrie hesitated for a little while longer, then followed Ghazala into the hallway.

“Next time let me try first,” she said to Ghazala. “We had a lock which was a bit like that on a barn door where I lived as a child, but much more cranky. I think I know just how to twitch this kind of lock right.”

“Oh!” Ghazala exclaimed, “—why didn’t you say so before I spent five minutes wrestling with it?”

“I guess I forgot that I had seen worse locks. I do that a lot when I get too caught up in my own world.”

Ghazala’s smile had returned, very faintly, but slightly warmer. As if there was still some of the dead sun left in it.

Carrie decided that was enough.

Together they went into the Home.


Last edited 12 Feb 2021

The Frozen Horizon

The Frozen Horizon

I went out of my rented room the next morning wondering where to go next. I didn’t want to leave the farm, but I knew that I didn’t really belong here. I stopped at a fence looking at the white plains stretching away toward the hazy mountains on the other side. The whiteness was new-fallen snow with no features. It was as if there was nothing on that plain, living or dead. If I went out there, would I become part of the whiteness, too? Is that what my future looked like?

That Which Cannot Be Broken

That Which Cannot Be Broken

Imagine that your boyfriend just hit you so hard, he knocked loose a tooth and the only reason your head is spinning several days afterwards is not from concussion. It’s because it was the first time, and you never saw it coming.

So what is the solution? At first it is to deny it, of course. You have problems, not him. After all, you do drugs and he supplies. Maybe he is even within his right to treat you like this, because you can be such a bitch at times, especially if your body is tearing you apart and you haven’t gotten your fix.

But eventually, after he hits you again and again, you figure it out and leave. 

The problem is that the memories don’t leave your head. 

You feel you don’t deserve to get rid of the memories because you didn’t stand up to him quickly enough. Even if you were a complete fucking mess at the time.

So when you miraculously get around to ditching the coke and go far, far away in search of … something, then you still need a solution. 

To keep away the memories.


Carrie put down her glass hard on the bar desk.

“Another one.”

Doris crossed her arms. “You’re gonna kill yourself if you keep drinking like a bloody lumberjack.”

Anaconda Bar’s resident matron was a plump 40-something Aussie immigrant with fiery red hair, who had a fondness for playing her native CD collection of insipidly PC rock music from Midnight Oil—over and over again. 

She had just changed t

She had just changed tracks and now she looked determined to change Carrie’s evening plans, or at least pretended to look determined.

Carrie for her part had no intention of even pretending to react to another of Doris’ sermons. She kept her mouth shut and waited until Doris turned away. Then she could go at it again.

The Anaconda Bar was one of the most run-down bars in which Carrie had ever tried to douse the black acid feeling inside with generous amounts of whiskey, and she had tried this in many bars. 

Beer splotches and cigarette ash littered the plank floor, and stains of an unknown origin dotted the vomit-green wallpaper like pimples. In a corner near the front door stood an empty jukebox, which now served as an extra shelf for a row of brazier candles on tin foil. 

The only redeeming feature of the room was the framed black and white photograph above the jukebox, showing two young GIs smiling broadly to the camera with an idyllic Mediterranean village and sea vista in the background. One of them was an American Indian, looking slightly out of place in the World War II US army uniform. 

There was a faded writing on the photograph. ‘Salerno 1943’. 

Although she liked looking at the photo now and then, the two men’s confident smiles barely distracted Carrie from the flaming feeling in her throat each time she gulped a bit of whiskey.

She had a mission. And so, she returned to the Anaconda Bar every night.

A little while ago, she had heard the roar of the motorcycles outside the bar, and the booming voices of Jonah and the gang, and she had wondered if she would make it home in one piece tonight—or if that also didn’t matter anymore? 

She glanced back over her shoulder. Yup, Jonah and his friends were still out there, chain-smoking, bragging loudly about something to do with their sparkling Harleys—and they had all the time in the world. Was Jonah still pissed about last Friday, when she had given him the cold shoulder? 

She would know any moment now.

They sounded drunk already. There was also something in their laugh—maybe the volume, or the amount of time it took for it to subside—which unnerved her. Why did they laugh in that high-pitched, creepy way? 

Carrie had a solution for that as well. She reached for the whiskey bottle on the bar desk. 

Doris’ hand came down on hers immediately.

“I think that’s enough,” she said firmly.

“You’re going to ruin your sales.” Carrie tried to pull her hand back but Doris held it down. 

“Look—I appreciate selling liquor—but not to people who don’t know when to stop. I don’t want to have to call Sheriff Jenkins to come and carry you away in a couple of hours.”

“Yeah, this isn’t exactly a place you’d like to let the sheriff in too often, is it?” Carrie pulled her hand away.

Doris’ voice took on a softer tone, as she peeked over her shoulder in the direction of the grinning bikers out in the parking lot.

“You can slip out the kitchen door before they make up their tiny minds and decide to come in.” She added a meaningful glance in the direction of the front door. 

“I’m not afraid of Jonah.”

Doris took a deep breath. “You should be. I bet I know what he’s been planning for you in return for the insult you gave him last time. The only reason he didn’t do anything about it Friday was because Paul—Sheriff Jenkins—had come down to water, too.”

“Determination is good,” Doris said, frowning. “But you don’t play like that with Jonah.”

Carrie just shook her head, but in truth she had already begun to consider her options. 

Then suddenly it sounded as if the bikers were walking … away. After half a minute or so there was no sound of them at all. 

Both Doris and Carrie strained to hear. 

There was nothing, just the distant surf-like whoosh when a car or a truck passed out on the highway. 

Then Carrie slowly turned to look. It was difficult to see through the windows, though. There was one on each side of the bar’s front door, but the glass hadn’t been polished for ages and it was pitch black outside. 

However, now Carrie wasn’t in doubt either. Jonah and the others had chosen a different hunting ground—for whatever reason.

“Do you think … they went down to Harry’s?” Carrie asked hesitantly.

Doris looked straight at her again. “I don’t know but I know where I think you should go. They’ll be back for their bikes.”

“I think they went down to Harry’s,” Carrie said, but more to herself than to Doris. “That’s their preferred hang-out. They won’t be back for hours at least. And I really, really need one more, Dorrie—then I’ll go.”

Doris looked uncertain about what to say. Then she went around the bar, to look through one of the windows. She surveyed the night-filled parking lot for almost a minute.

“All is clear,” she then noted and withdrew from the window. “They must have gone to Harry’s instead. Dunno why the hell they parked here, though.”

“Me neither, but I know I have time for one more,” Carrie said.

Doris sighed and went back to the bar. “Just one more then.”

Carrie received a new glass of whiskey. “You’re an angel.” 

“Either that or I’m a greedy bitch who’s just made a mistake you’ll be sorry for,” Doris said in a resigned voice.

“I can’t blame you,” Carrie said.

“I don’t want to have to give that as a reason to the sheriff,” Doris said, “for why you got yourself in a real bad fix.” She put away the sparkling glass but immediately took up another and started polishing it instead.

“You won’t have to,” Carrie assured her. 

Nevertheless, she felt an indeterminable chill in the bar now, one which hadn’t been there before. Even more reason, she figured, to make this glass of firewater the very last. Or maybe just make it last? 

After all, she didn’t care to think about the prospect of sitting alone back in her shady motel room now. Right now that somehow felt more frightening than anything else.

“You should take Dorrie’s advice,” a hoarse, sandpaper-like voice came from down in the corner, breaking off Carrie’s reverie.

It was old man Eisenhower. 

Well, everybody called him Eisenhower, because he kept blabbering about how things would be better all around if only old Dwight D. Eisenhower—“Ike”—was still president. Carrie knew soon enough that wasn’t his real name, though.

Abel “Eisenhower” Battenberg was 82. He had made a living as an electrician after the war. He lived in a small trailer community a few miles out, not far from Silver Lake. He had done and still did a lot of work free, especially for people who couldn’t afford much. 

He came down to the Anaconda Bar, every evening out of personal allegiance to his brother, Billy, who’d started the bar before Doris became proprietor. Billy had left Abel all his money after Billy himself died in a car accident. At least that was what Ike had made quite sure to tell Carrie on the first night she came in to drink.

Carrie tried to smile at him. “I can take care of myself, Abel.”

“Sure you can,” the old man replied drily, “only I wish you would try harder.”

Carrie didn’t say anything to that. 

Eisenhower kept smiling genuinely at Carrie instead. His teeth were surprisingly healthy for a man his age. Their pristine whiteness made a strange contrast to his sunburned, wrinkled face.

“I don’t wanna see you in trouble again with Jonah,” he then said quietly. “He is a goddamn redneck.”

“What’s it to you?” Carrie asked, not trying to feign enough surprise to please him. “You hardly know me. I only came to your little town two weeks ago.”

“Then it’d be a shame if they have to carry you out in your third week, one piece at a time, wouldn’t it?” Eisenhower’s bright smile made the rather serious question seem less ominous than it actually was.

“You’re already fussing about me,” Carrie retorted, “as if I was a ten year old or something.” 

“When my daughter was ten years old she was considerably wiser than you.” Eisenhower smiled smugly. “She knew when to fight and when to run from the bullies at school.” 

Then he shook his head and stared into his drink for a few moments as if there was some memory he had to put to rest before being able to find out what to say next.

“Look—don’t worry about me, okay?” Carrie said, seizing the opening that arose from his hesitation. “Jonah may be a big shot here, but he is not stupid. He is not going to barge in here and do something he’ll regret.” 

She quickly turned back to lean against the bar counter, so she didn’t have to look Eisenhower directly in the eyes anymore. They were as blue and intense as any set of eyes she had ever seen on a younger man, and she felt uneasy looking into them for too long. 

Eisenhower had taken a special interest in her from the first night on, but not in any lewd way. In fact, it seemed more as if she had reignited a fatherly, or perhaps grandfatherly, mission for him, which he had given up on long ago.

So after only a week she knew about how he had a daughter out of marriage who now lived in Phoenix, worked as a dentist, and didn’t want to answer his letters, because he didn’t answer hers for the first ten years of her adult life because of some misunderstanding, or depression, or whatever. It was never entirely clear. 

However, what was clear was that she knew that he regretted this course of events much more than anything else. Even the war. 

The war. There was a cue to a lot of other memories.Sometimes Carrie wasn’t sure he was telling her everything, though. She suspected he was at least modifying the old war stories, because she had already caught him in two or three inconsistencies. 

However, she didn’t say anything. Maybe the inconsistencies were just due to the usual lapse in memory that comes when you have 60 years to remember, she thought. 

Some of the other regulars certainly didn’t seem to believe a word that Eisenhower said, though. They just rolled their eyes, when he began talking to her, and gave her looks which resembled pity, as if they were going to say, ‘There, old Ike has snatched another one’. 

It didn’t matter to Carrie. It didn’t matter what was pure truth and what was just imagined truth. The fact that Eisenhower so obviously, and sometimes clumsily, wanted to protect her from herself—that mattered. 

It mattered even more because she knew she wasn’t going to give him the chance. She couldn’t let him. The latter was a decision that felt like cutting oneself with a razor blade, but as with people who committed just this kind of self-mutilation it couldn’t always be helped.

For a while nobody said anything. Then she heard the scraping of a chair against the dirty floor. She glanced over her shoulder. Sure enough, he was coming over. Carrie tried to remain indifferent. 

Ike chose his spot at the bar—but in respectful distance from Carrie. Even so, she felt that he was standing too close to her by any measure. Perhaps that kitchen door was still a good idea? But she really, really needed that last drink …

“Another one for you, too?” Doris droned, not even looking at Ike.

He nodded. “Yeah. Make it a big one.” 

Carrie allowed herself a discreet glance at him. 

“I think our lady-friend here has drunk most of my whiskey,” Doris then said, sending Carrie ‘that glance’.

“I’ll take one from your hidden reserve,” Ike said.

“I’ll see what’s left.” Doris turned towards her rather limited collection of bottles. 

The night before a traveling salesman had come in and asked for gin and Carrie had immediately heard Dorrie snap. “If you want a fuckin’ martini, head to New York. This is a whiskey bar.” 

So Carrie had found out, too, when she landed here less than two weeks ago, but that was a smaller problem for her than it had been for the salesman. 

Doris searched a little more and then found a half-empty ‘Old Thompson’ on the lowest shelf. With a professional twist of the bottle, she poured exactly the right amount in a tiny glass, which she then passed to Ike. 

He took it and turned towards Carrie, leaning on the bar counter with one elbow.

“Since Doris is too kind to seem to kick you out on your ass, I thought I should make a final attempt to convince you not to hang around here anymore.”

Carrie bit her lips and didn’t look at him. “Everybody’s so concerned about my health tonight.” 

“It seems a shame to waste it,” Ike said, “for such poor reasons.”

“You thinking about the booze or Jonah?”


She nodded and looked at her glass, wanting to take another gulp but felt something in her resist. “Look,” she said, after long seconds of silence, “believe it or not, I do appreciate the concern. But I’m really not sure I should be concerned about myself. Not anymore. I’m not going to back down for such a type as Jonah.”

“He is dangerous,” Ike said.

“Yeah,” Carrie said reluctantly, “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know.”

“So you got some other reason for staying then?” Eisenhower asked mildly.

Carrie held her breath for a moment, and then she said. “Let’s just say that I’ve got lots of reasons … For example, there was this guy I was with. He was just as bad company as Jonah, maybe worse. Then there was the … snow, a lot of booze, and a lot of other guys who were bad company, too. I don’t feel like talking about it, but that’s what it’s about. And I should never have been in it.”

“Where then?”

She hesitated. Something suddenly stung in her throat. “I should have been better than that,” she then managed to say through firm lips. “I should not have let them treat me like … There’s no excuse. Not for that.”

“I know how you feel,” he said.

“You do?” Carrie smiled weakly at his attempt to show sympathy. 

Even if he was every bit as clumsy at expressing understanding with a young blonde woman as one would expect a lonely guy his age to be, she didn’t mind. At least not right now.

But he surprised her. “Back in the Big One,” he said calmly. “My first battle, and we got our asses handed to us by the Krauts. I think I shit my pants.”

“It’s not the same.”

“It’s war. Here and back then.”

He turned to look directly at her. She thought he was about to chuckle at her bewilderment, but instead he just said, in a very firm voice. “Sometimes you got to know when it’s time to fight. We’d get both bigger and better than them eventually, but in 1943 Rommel and his bunch—they were tough customers. We were greenhorns. Our generals should not have let that happen. It was called the battle of the Kasserine Pass. It’s in Tunisia if you want to look it up.”

“Not Italy?” Carrie glanced at the photo on the far away wall.

Eisenhower smiled a wicked smile. “Told ya, we got better soon enough. But that first time. All of us should have been killed. It was pure luck we didn’t.” 

He looked at his drink for several long moments. “My buddy up there on the pic, he didn’t make it. The trick is always to know when to fight—and, of course, what to fight for. So if you die, it’s for the right cause.”

“Your war-stories really suck,” Carrie said and downed her drink. “If you fight Nazis it’s always a good fight. And Jonah’s little better. Nor was—”

Carrie shuddered. She dared not look at him.

“You don’t have to tell me anything,” he said quickly. “It’s none of my damn business anyway.”

“No …” she said, her voice very thin now, “I think I should … ”

Somehow, she managed. 

She started telling what she had sworn several times she would not tell anyone—especially not someone like him. She couldn’t make herself talk about everything. But Ike had given her an opening and she felt obliged to give him something in return. So she did—in bits and pieces, with many pauses and many more gulps of whiskey in between.

“I … hitch-hiked from Ohio to Florida and nothing bad happened, until I made a really bad call. I got together with a man who hit me whenever he felt like it, but since I felt I deserved it I stayed with him. It didn’t help matters that meanwhile I had done some coke myself, starting one night at one of my boyfriend’s infamous parties. It was a night when I was particularly angry and wanted to ‘prove’ that … someone I once knew who had … left me … that she had been weak, that she should have been able to cope … or some other idiotic reason.”

She looked at Ike hesitantly. “This makes no sense at all, does it?”

“On the contrary,” he said. “It makes too much sense. My daughter was married to an asshole, too. He beat her. She tried to get out several times but … ” He shook his head. “Eventually the police had to take care of it.”

“I … couldn’t go to the police.” Carrie swallowed hard, but she forced herself to relax. Or at least look like it. 

“So …” she said, almost regretting it but then going on anyway, “… this single really piss-poor decision I made to ‘just do it’ led to another, and another, and it all continued as a weekend-escape and ended in full-blown addiction. My boyfriend was the only one with the money to pay for it. I tried to get clean three times, and one of them nearly killed me. But I failed each time, and wound up with him again … and his abuses.”

Ike listened on in silence. He didn’t comment and he didn’t look as if what she said made him look at her in a different way than he had done the whole time.

Doris had retreated to a corner of her bar and looked as if she was checking something at the register. 

Outside there was only the grumble of a big truck as it drove back and forth at the adjacent lot for large vehicles, apparently trying to find a place to fit but without much luck. She had actually left the bottle, totally forgetting herself from before. Or was it on purpose?

Carrie didn’t care. She poured another one. But she found she couldn’t drink it.

Carrie stared hard into her drink. “One day I found a little spark of … something … inside myself which I didn’t even know I had left … perhaps it was desperation? Anyway, I finally slammed the door on him. I got away. I got clean, too—in my fourth attempt—or as clean as you can get if you’re me. I hadn’t stopped drinking, for I felt more than ever before that I had been a fucking coward … that I had let Jeremy and his damn friends do everything they had done to me, and that I had nothing left to offer anyone anymore. So I kept on drinking.”

“You’re not drinking now,” Eisenhower said.


When Ike didn’t comment any more, Carrie turned to look straight at him. “So you see, Abel, why I’m not worth your time. In fact, I think you’ll do yourself a favor if you split before Jonah comes back. He hates guys hitting on ‘his’ woman, you see.”

Eisenhower shrugged. “Oh, Jonah hates a lot of things.” 

Then he shook his head with something resembling sadness, and emptied his whiskey in one gulp. “In fact—” he concluded after placing the glass firmly back on the bar desk “—I’m not even sure he would stop hating even if you and him were an item.” 

He smiled and for a moment Carrie thought she saw a young, suntanned soldier readying his rifle. “ Fortunately that future is not going to happen.”

She didn’t react to his attempt at cheering her up, though. Instead, she just stared hard at nothing in particular in front of her; as if there was a mist there she was trying to see through. 

Suddenly she felt bad again, although the conversation had managed to cheer her up a little before. She raised her glass, then stopped halfway and placed it gently on the counter again without touching its content. Her voice was thin again. “My future is easy to divine. There is none.”

“You could have fooled me.” Ike breathed deeply. He frowned, too, as if his mood had also shifted. Then he poured another whiskey. There was something in his tone, which left her feeling guilty for that last remark. She tried to make up for it. She didn’t want to sound like a whiner.

“Look,” she then said, “It’s been nice talking to you, and it’s nice of you to take interest but …”

“—But you’re gonna stay here and drink the rest of that bottle after all?” Ike finished for her.

“Something like it.”

“You’re not the least bit worried about Jonah and his boys?”

“I am … but I shouldn’t be. As I said, there have been worse things. And … what if I went back to my motel room? What then?”

He looked directly at her again. “You tell me. What then?”

“Then I’d just drink there!” she blurted. “I’ve got a little sample of absinth in my bag—” she nodded towards her handbag, which was placed on the floor, under her legs “—but back there, in my room, I got the whole stock, if you know what I mean?”

“I think I do.”

“And I don’t think there’s much preventing me from going overboard in that, too, if you know what I mean?”

He nodded gravely now. “I still think I do.”

“So you see, it doesn’t really matter where I am,” she concluded. “There’s no reason whatsoever for me not to just … finish it.”

“I see,” he said quietly. Then, after a few moments, it was as if he had reached a decision.

“You’ve been through some pretty rough times. I can only say this again. There are good times to fight and bad times to fight, good reasons and bad reasons. There are no reasons tonight, though … and … I think you’re worth more.”

She shook her head, as if he had just slapped her in the face. “No,” she said firmly. “I am not.”

For a while none of them said anything. It was as if the air had gone heavy, a lot heavier than it usually was in the damp bar. Doris looked at Carrie from the register, her lips a thin line now. She had put the CD back on, from the beginning. Somebody was singing about rusty-red cliffs, Aboriginal land rights and dream worlds lost and found—again.

“Aren’t you ever gonna play a different one?” Carrie snapped, feeling both sorry for herself and angry now.

“No,” Doris snapped back. “If you don’t like the music in this bar, go to New York. They got plenty of boring American rock’n’ roll in New York.”

“You always say that,” Carrie said, a rising antagonism in her voice. “You always—”

“Don’t sidestep the topic of the evening, lady,” Doris cut her off immediately, her eyes narrowing. “Ike here is actually trying to help. I think it’s the last genuine offer you’ll get tonight.”

Carrie looked at Doris, then at Zeke. He returned her glance briefly, but quickly refocused on the bottles on the shelf, as if he was searching for a specific one. His brow looked extra furrowed now, however. 

“Okay,” Carrie said mutedly. “I’ll go now.”

Ike didn’t say anything. A faint relaxation of the lines on his brow seemed to show for a moment, but that was all. Carrie turned to walk around the bar to get to the little swing door at the end of it, so she could slip out the back. And that’s when she almost … dropped like a dead tree.

Ike and Doris was there immediately, trying to help her to her feet. They managed barely, but it was Doris doing most of the lifting. When Carrie was on her feet, Eisenhower kept an arm around her, even if he probably couldn’t prevent her from falling by himself.

However, at that moment the main door to the Anaconda Bar swung open and the real chill from the Montana-night came stomping in.

The bikers greeted Doris with a couple of worn-out obscenities, and then demanded a “shitload of vodka”. The frontman was Jonah himself. He was a giant. Almost 7 feet tall, muscles straining his black leather vest and the t-shirt underneath. 

Next was a big fat wrestler-type, dome-headed, who sported an enormous red beard. He wore the usual black leather motorcycle outfit as well, but without the skulls. 

Last up was a smaller, wiry guy with pale blonde hair. Of the three she had only seen Jonah before.

Jonah looked at Carrie and Ike and grinned rustily. “Hey—hey! What have we missed, guys? Huh? What have we fuckin’ missed?”

“I say we missed a fuckin’ old perv carrying away your girl, Jonah,” the wrestler-type answered in a voice so gravelly and muffled that Carrie couldn’t help imagine that his huge beard was growing from inside of his mouth as well as all over the lower part of his face. 

Carrie staggered and Ike’s grip tightened around her waist, but it was obvious he couldn’t hold her.

Jonah strode towards them, and the others fanned out so Carrie couldn’t run past them, even if she had been able to run. 

She thought for a split-second about the kitchen door, but her legs felt too much like jelly to move her anywhere now. She doubted she could reach the end of the bar, to get around it and reach the door, before Jonah blocked her way. She doubted even more she could jump over the bar. 

For the moment, just standing upright was a main priority. On Doris’ vintage CD player a bitter, defiant vocal reached a crescendo.

Jonah now hovered over the elderly man and the shabbily dressed young woman, regarding both with perverse relish.

“So where you goin’ with my girl?” he bellowed.

His two companions laughed hoarsely from behind him.. Doris had retreated to the bar and stood frozen. 

“—I asked ya sump’n, ya old  piece of shit!” Jonah spat.

But Ike just stood there, his surprisingly strong right arm still around Carrie’s waist, lending her that at least some balance.

“ … I, uh, asked him to help me home,” Carrie managed to croak.

“Izzat so?” Jonah smiled coldly. “I didn’t know you liked old timers so much, Carrie.”

“I like—.”

“Yeah, you like me better. Isn’t that right?”

Carrie cast her glance down.

Jonah looked directly at Ike now, smiling. “I thought so. This old fart is below even your standards.”

Jonah obviously meant that last remark to be a threat, but Eisenhower still just stood there, looking through the big biker as if he was made of air. 

“I know what you’re going to do,” Ike said calmly. “You’re going to beat up an old geezer who might as well be six feet under, and you are right. I am old and useless and might as well be dead.”

Jonah’s mouth opened a bit, but then it closed again. His mates even stopped laughing for a moment, as if they had to cough something up before they could go on.

Jonah found his mettle first. “Yeah, you got that right.” His arm shot forth and he grabbed Ike by the throat. The huge biker pulled in the spindly old man, like a fish on a hook. Then he whirled Ike around and caught him in a chokehold. Obviously, Ike couldn’t hold on to Carrie and she reeled, barely managing to grab onto the bar instead.

“—Jonaaah!!” Doris wailed, coming out of her trance. “I’m gonna call the Sheriff—”

“I’m so afraid … ” Jonah snarled “ … that I don’t give a shit.”

He tightened his grip around Ike’s throat. 

“So you were gonna shove your dick into my fine little girl, weren’t you?” he went on, holding the old man in a steel grip. “Don’t lie to me, motherfucker.”

Eisenhower couldn’t lie, since he couldn’t breathe. His face began to turn blue.

Now it dawned on Carrie. Jonah was crazy tonight. Artificially crazy, that was. She of all people should know the signs … the way his smelly breathing was into overdrive—almost hyperventilating. She could hear it in the way he bellowed and roared, like a maniac, seemingly for no reason at all. He was high on something.

Probably crack, she thought. I should know …

From the creepy, tick-like way his mates laughed, Carrie also gathered they all had shared a big pot of candy before coming here. In other words, they had already had their ‘Carrie’. 

She was high herself, but it was all adrenaline. No one was choking her yet, but she still felt like she could not get another mouthful of air into her lungs.

With an effort she didn’t know she was capable of, Carrie got the lump her throat out. 

“—Stop it!” 

Jonah regarded her slightly amused, but unsurprisingly didn’t let go of Eisenhower.

“– D-do anything you want to me,” Carrie heard herself say, shaking. “Just let him go.”

“Who sez I want you anymore, Carrie?” Jonah drawled coldly. “You look like you’ve seen better days.”

“Hey, I’ll fuck her!” Beard Mouth yelled, and immediately the follower lapsed into a nigh-hysterical laughter.

“I’ll fuck all of you … all night,” Carrie blurted again, trying desperately to sound calm and not pathetic. “Just let Ike go.”

Now both Beard Mouth and the follower seemed on the verge of collapse from laughter. Doris, who until now had been standing almost frozen behind the bar, couldn’t help herself any longer. She began to sob.

“—Shut up!” Jonah looked at her menacingly.

“I mean it …” Carrie tried again “—I’ll do whatever you want.” However, while she said it she felt infinitely weaker. The fear she was trying to fight had begun to infect her again. Moreover, she had to cling to the bar once more, because the floor seemed like it was constantly trying to move without her permission.

“I’m not sure I would like to fuck anyone who stinks so much,” Jonah said, still regarding Carrie with wild bloodshot eyes. “Maybe I should just put this old perv away for good and then fuck you anyway, though. That would be a better deal, wouldn’t it?”

Carrie had seen such eyes before. There was no doubt now what they had gone away to do right before they waded into the bar. 

She had little doubt what they would do from here on. Jeremy always hit her the most when he had snorted coke. 

“You … should … just kill me …” Ike managed to rasp.

“Shut up!” Carrie cried “—I’m going to give them what they want—so shut up!”

“They don’t … want you,” Ike kept on, his hoarse voice straining more and more. “ … they feel sure nobody’s ever going to want anything … valuable from them … that’s why they decided … might as well just … kill everything—urgh—”

Jonah squeezed Ike’s throat so hard the old man almost went limp. And the words disappeared like they had never been there.

“Do it, for fuck’s sake!” Beard Mouth bellowed. “Snap his fucking neck!”

The follower found this remark so amusing that he almost fell over on his ass from just laughing. He didn’t fall, though.

Suddenly Eisenhower gasped loudly and his arms flew from Jonah’s chokehold and down to his chest. For an instant, it looked as if he was trying to cry out something … but the gasp was all that came from him. Then his body finally lost all strength and he dropped in Jonah’s hold, like a ragdoll. 

Doris screamed.

“Shut the fuck up!” Jonah snarled. “Mason—get over there!” He let go of Eisenhower who dropped to the floor.

Beard Mouth lumbered past Jonah, and stopped at the lifeless old man.

“ … A heart attack …” Doris whimpered. “Ohmygodhehashada—”

“Wha—?” Jonah began, for the first time looking genuinely human and not like a wild animal.

“He’s having a heart attack, you asshole!” Carrie cried. “He already has a condition. He—”

“I’m—g-going to c-call an ambulance …” Doris got a grip on herself, and reached for her cell phone, which she had put on its usual shelf below the counter.

“You do no fuckin’ thing, Dorrie!” Jonah interjected with venom in his voice. That stopped Doris again, as effectively as if he had thrown a real rattlesnake between her and the phone. Jonah turned to Beard Mouth.


Mason was on his knees before the fallen old man, looking positively out of his element. “—The old geezer’s not … breathing,” he said, like it was a baffling discovery.

“We have to call an ambulance!” Carrie tried again “—or he’ll die!” She still clutched the bar desk, her knuckles almost white. 

“He’s already dead,” Jonah said, his gaze beginning to flicker.

“No—” Doris cried “—Eisenhower can’t be dead!”

“He is dead,” Mason Beard Mouth said and heaved his blob-body up from kneeling position.

“‘Eisenhower’? ‘Dead’…?” Jonah shook his head, like somebody had punched him.

“At least we won’t have to hear about his bullshit stories anymore,” the follower commented coldly.

“It wasn’t bullshit,” Doris retorted, through several sobs. “H-he showed me a picture once, of how he met Eisenhower, and got a medal …”

“Well, he’s gonna meet Eisenhower again now!” the follower chuckled.

“Shut up, Rex!” Mason barked. 

“Let me help.” With an effort of will Carrie let go of the bar. But she couldn’t make herself move yet.

“You can do … that CPR-shit?” Jonah asked, looking directly at her now.

“Yes.” Carrie took a step forward. She had to.

“Shiit …!” Mason blurted.

“—What the fuck is it now?” Jonah was slowly coming out of his stupor and the coke-induced frenzy glowed again in his red eyes.

Mason pulled something from the vest of Eisenhower.

“He wore this …” Mason mumbled “… this medal. The old fart did get one.”

Carrie felt a rising panic, raw and real, but couldn’t help herself. She let go of the bar and dropped down beside Eisenhower, as if somebody had pushed her. 

She couldn’t determine if he was breathing. She was on her knees now, cradling his head in her arms, frantically searching for a sign—she thought he might still be breathing, but she was not sure. 

“Get up, bitch.” Jonah commanded through gritted teeth.

She just shook her head, as if in a daze.

Jonah hesitated. Mason still dangled the brightly polished medal that he had snatched, looking at it like it was something a UFO had dropped. 

“—Boss—uh—what do we—” he began.

“Shut up, Mase! Just shut the fuck up!! Let me think, okay!”

Jonah then turned slowly towards Carrie. And in the next moment there was a switchblade in his hand. 

Carrie had torn open Eisenhower’s shirt and was trying to find the place to give CPR. In reality she didn’t have any training. She had only seen movies.

“Get away from him!” Jonah commanded.

For a moment, Carrie froze. Then she shook her head as awakening from a bad dream.

Ike was there, but he was dying. Or maybe already dead. He was the only good thing to happen to her in a long time, and like everything else that was just the least bit of good and passed her life … he was gone.

“Noo!” She screamed and began punching and pumping the old man’s chest with her hands, and then occasionally leaning over to breathe into his mouth.

This was when Doris moved as if she had been hit by one of Carrie’s punches. “I’m gonna call the fuckin’ sheriff—gonna call—” She almost stumbled as she flew into the backroom behind the bar and slammed the door shut. 

Nobody had the wherewithal to do anything to stop her.

“Shiit!” Rex the follower squeaked, like the gravity of the situation that his friends were responsible for finally dawned on him. He hesitated for about two seconds, then turned and ran for the door, too. Jonah yelled at him, but it was too late.

Jonah stood frozen for exactly one second. Then he kicked Carrie hard in the head, and she fell back on the grimy floor, away from Eisenhower. 

“When I tell you what to do, you do it!” He snarled. “I don’t care what’s the problem. You fucking obey me!

Carrie wiped blood from her nose with her sleeve. “No.”

She got to her feet, barely. And started moving for Eisenhower again.

Jonah hit her again, and she staggered back. But despite all the whiskey in her blood something kept her up.

“You just do … what I say … ” Jonah’s voice was like gravel. 

That was when Mason also split. There was a brief clank, as he dropped Eisenhower’s medal on the stained floor. 

Jonah eyed him for a millisecond then it was Carrie once again. 

Jonah flung open a switchblade.  “When I tell someone to obey—they fucking do it!”

Carrie saw herself, as if from a distance. She felt … light. Maybe she was already dead and on the way … somewhere else?

She saw Eisenhower, cold and still, his eyes looking wide open into emptiness. Did he see anything anymore? Was there any lingering memories of sunny liberated beaches and laughing Italian girls and dust and sweat and everything that had come after, or was it all gone now?

“I’m going to help Eisenhower,” she heard herself say. “If you want to stop me … you will have to kill me.”

She took another step forward. Jonah lifted the knife.

And that’s when Doris slammed open the door to the backroom. And she had company.


“Stop this shit, right now, Jonah! I’ve called the Sheriff!” She aimed the gun at Jonah with uncanny expertise. It was apparently not the first time.

Jonah looked as if he was going to take another step forward and gut Carrie for her insolence, but in the last second he lowered the knife.

“Put it down on the floor!” Doris almost screamed.

Jonah didn’t say a word. He put down the knife and held up his hands, then he slowly backed towards the door. Carrie saw that his eyes were almost completely red now, but not red enough it seemed. If they had been, he would have made another choice, she knew. Cocaine did that to you. Whatever brain you had got switched to a different mode, and sometimes that mode was not human at all.

Carrie took a deep breath. Then she ran to Eisenhower’s lifeless body. She felt the tears on her hands, as she pumped his chest once more to start his old heart again.


The aftermath was strangely muted. Eisenhower never came back. It had been his last battle and he had chosen it for reasons that probably seemed right to him. At least that was what Carrie tried to think as she rocked back and forth on a chair, looking at the spot where the medics had taken his body. She knew she would not come to the funeral. She was not family. And he would likely be flown to Phoenix so his wayward daughter could take care of it. At least that was what the Sheriff said. 

Sheriff Jenkins didn’t say much more than that. He didn’t ask many questions, once he realized who she was.

“So you’re going back to L.A.?” That was how he ended the brief interview, and it almost sounded as casual as he intended it to.

“I don’t know,” Carrie said, “I don’t have a home anymore.”

“But your family lives there.”

“Yeah, my mother does.”

“Okay. That’s all.” He packed away his pad and pencil. “I’ve talked to Doris and you can stay here until we get a hold of Jonah and his boys. You’re not going back to the motel. My deputy will go over there and get your things.”

“There’s only a rucksack.”

“Then he will get the rucksack.”

“Okay.” Carrie fiddled with an empty glass on the table beside her, and the Sheriff looked as if he was going to say something more, but he left it at that.

Doris came out from the backroom. She had been trying to straighten her make-up but it looked as if she had stopped half-way.

“I’ll go up and make your room ready,” she said, addressed to Carrie. There wasn’t any real warmth in her voice, but it was not cold either. Just neutral, bland even. Like she had spent all her capability for feeling something for one evening, perhaps more.

Before Carrie could answer she was already up the stairs to the first floor. Sheriff Jenkins had also left. Carrie was alone in the bar.

On the desk there was still the bottle of whiskey. 

Carrie took a breath, much like someone who was about to run a marathon after they had just finished one. Short and sharp. She raised herself slowly from the chair. She grabbed the empty glass to bring it over to the bar desk and the solution that awaited.

She needed it now more than ever.

Then halfway across the dirty floor she saw something lying in a corner.

It was Eisenhower’s medal.

She stared at it for a long time. It was a gold star surrounded by a wreath, topped by an eagle on a bar inscribed with a single word. 

The word was “Valor”.

After a while, she put down the glass.


Last edited 26 Feb 2021

Paris Nowhere

Paris Nowhere

From the truck window, she had noticed the warning signs about how you now had so and so many miles to go before there would be another gas station. Or anything else.

When they finally reached a lonely gas station, the first she had seen for hours, the desert around it looked like bleached bone.

There was a single motel behind the gas station. It was so small it looked like a rundown house somebody once had lived in, had it not been for a rusty sign in front.

“You sure you want to stop here, miss?” the truck driver asked in his gruff bass.

“Yes,” she said.

“It’s only an hour more to – ” he started.

“I like it here.”

“Suit yourself.”

He dropped her off and there she was.

The woman took in her surroundings. Yes, this looked very much like the end of the earth, with the shelter-like excuses for houses, the white desert, and its endless pockmarks of sun-shriveled bushes.

A man appeared at the porch of the ‘motel’ – just under the rusty sign. He was there so suddenly that she began to doubt if he had been staring at her all along, and she had missed until she blinked the dust out of her eyes.

The man made no move, so she began to walk over the gravel parking lot space, directly towards him.

He was of an indeterminable age, with whiskers of hair on a bald head, unshaven, and a rugged hawk-like visage. His clothes were grubby – jeans and a t-shirt. She wondered what impression she might make on him.

As she approached him she wondered what he was studying the most – her lithe form, which could still draw the attention she wanted when she wanted it (and sometimes when she did not want it). Her long and dusty blonde hair. Her little rucksack that was way too small for any expedition into this part of the world.

Or was he studying the dark hollows under her eyes; or the red in them. She could feel his gaze, steely and intense, even if he himself looked like he could be swept away in the rising wind at any moment.

Something had blown up from the south, but it was not the merciful vanguard of a storm. It was hot desert air rearranging itself and making her feel like she was walking through the exhaust from so many open ovens.

When she reached him she noticed just how small and shriveled the man looked, not unlike the pockmark bushes around the motel. She was taller than him and even though she stood on the ground and he on the porch, he had to raise his gaze slightly to look her directly in the eyes.

It was the first movement he made that she was aware of.

She felt a brief sting of doubt, but then she reminded herself why she was here. She had nowhere to go back to. So it did not matter if he was hostile. She would just go … out there.

She thought of the desert.

Her distracted reverie was broken by the hard, raspy voice of the old man:

“Welcome to Rex’s motel, miss.”

A Letter For My Daughter

A Letter For My Daughter

i am not sure what i want to tell you about myself
i am not sure if it is worth trying to tell you something
after all, most of us tend to think about ourselves first right
so if you think about yourself first
why would you want to spend time thinking about me
about something I have to say
if this sounds needlessly gloomy
overly self conscious melodramatic what have you
then you are absolutely right
i dare you to just look away right now
because I know that you are thinking
little spoilt girl
or maybe you cant stand all the whining
or something
and I would not berate you
so where was i
god its so hard when your brains been run over by a truck
and squeezed by a drycleaner
so do you know why my words looks like shit
and why my words sound like shit
its because they ARE an absolute reflection of my thoughts
and my thoughts are a whirling vortex of mad dancing leaves
and i am in the middle choking
god wish i could breathe
what the hell is happening to me
what i am i trying to tell you
when i look at these words they are like
stings in my skin
like i am trying to tell you
and that something is hidden beneath my skin
and i have just cut open to see
look for it
and i have taken it out
all the tar
or whatever
it is
and now i have sewed everything back together again
but still its bleeding through
and my hands are shaking
the words are in and out of focus
its called a focus
i would not be so confident if i were you that i am mad
after all theres only one way to determine this right
you would have to look inside my head
and then youd most like likely end up choking in all the tar as well
and then itd be normal for you
to choke
for you too
so what i am trying to tell you
who i am right
who i am
that is the first most simple thing you can tell a person
you can say myname is such and and such
and then youve mad made a connection and it is all very simple
so utterly very fucking simple
well for me it is NOT FUCKING SIMPLE
it never was
oh god dont want to be like this
a regular beat girl or something silly like that
now if only I could focus
focus is good
they teach you that in society
focus is what it is all about
wheres my card
oh here
focus back
but now i dont have
i think it was here before
wheres my dollar bill

will you still be waiting for me
if i dont kill the future right


Emma Sawyer Reese was born at St. Luke’s Medical Center, Phoenix, AZ on 6 May 2006.

A Thousand Reasons

A Thousand Reasons

It’s stupid to try to walk through the desert from Painted Rocks to Tucson with only half a bottle of water in my handbag. But I’m doing so anyway. 

I’m still hitching … even if there will never be another car …


I didn’t want to blow the money that I took from him on a plane ticket back in Miami. If I first set foot in an airport with a plan only to go to Phoenix – or perhaps as far as LA – I knew I would let panic seduce me and spend them all on a ticket for the San Juan Fernandez Islands or someplace else so far away nobody knew it existed. But I would not feel safe anyway once I got there.

I didn’t want to rent a car, either.  He’d find out for sure. He still supplies those underage flicks to Mr. Fed. He’d have access to databases or credit cards and whatever he needed to track me in 60 seconds, just for 60 seconds extra whack-time – or worse: Real-time.

That’s just the problem. I am paranoid. So cash is the only option. And staying low …

When then?

Taxi across the South? Might as well have doled out for that plane.

Bus? Forget it. Too much info you have to give, too slow, too many mamas with screaming babies.

Last and least traceable choice: Hitch it.

So I did. Across five states.


In Orlando, I was picked up by a middle-aged man with thinning hair and sweat stains all over his back. He chattered ceaselessly for the next 100 miles about his ex-wife, his purebred canary that he had recently sold for 500 dollars, and some high school buddy who he was going to visit in Shreveport.

He was rambling, maybe overjoyed by finally having someone to talk to? Maybe afraid that if he stopped, I would leave again? So if he could just hold my attention for the next mile and then the next and … then I would not just be some dream he had had in a twilit 1-room condo in a Vicksburg suburb, which he swore he’d leave behind for good. He was going to change his life now, turn everything around, he said. I guess that made us kindred spirits.

I was deadly tired from hiding that day. So when some primeval instinct had assured me that the chattering hermit would be no threat, my eyelids gave in. I dreamt, briefly, almost blissfully, of water that turned into green swirls while my dad and I sailed to the lighthouse in the dinghy a summer’s day that might as well have been as phantom-like as the imaginary high school friend whom the driver, Mr. Fitzgeorge, – (yes, that was his name) – kept babbling on about.

I thought I was … close to making it. Until a few days later. Somewhere in Nowhere.

When Jeremy found me.

We went through it all again. And then I made a choice.


I got off near the Rocks and slammed the car door into his nose and heard the bone crack like those shells you sometimes step on the beach – old and left behind by life long ago, all brittle. My skin is prickling from the heat and my throat feels like I swallowed sand.

And sand is all there is … all that surrounds me and this river of forgotten asphalt, my only tenuous umbilical cord to a life of shopping sales and strangling predictability. The empty sky plays prism and focuses the sun right down on me. It must be trying to scorch me away from the earth …


… like Tim sometimes scorched ants with a fireglass on the veranda way – way – back in our house in Glendale. He always laughed when I said he shouldn’t hurt them.

‘They’re just ants … ‘

Strange. I minded him hurting the ants, but not the day when Tim broke Rory Mcpherson’s collar bone, pushing him off his bike because he had called me a whore again. It wasn’t the last thing Rory would break. It wasn’t the last time I’d be called a whore, either.

I was only 11 years old. There was plenty of time for things to break and to get their proper names.


I don’t have the guts to walk right through gravel and sand and cactus anymore… not after what feels like ten miles of zigzagging, trying to avoid anything that moves behind rocks, and seeing only more rocks … so I’m back on the road.

And his car is gone. He is not coming back for me.

But nobody else is coming this way, either. It must be a back road. Nobody who wants to see damn scratches on stones comes this way …

Still … it’s a road. So why aren’t there at least one car here every hour? – or every two hours? – or  … ?

My head feels like all of those gazillion small cactus sprouted inside it. I feel –

Oh, wait … there’s a new car up ahead now.

That’s the only problem with illusions. They always leave you disappointed.

When We Hear The Voices Sing

When We Hear The Voices Sing

The morning came, although I did not expect it to.

I go down to the small, clammy reception because I am not sure where else to go while I wait for Jeremy.

Perhaps they have some sodas or something I could buy. I am not sure I need sodas, but perhaps I just need to need something.

Mr. Ruiz (that’s what it says on the small cardboard sign taped to the reception desk) is here.

Or rather his body is here, but his mind is elsewhere. He sits as if half-asleep. A black and white TV flickers strangely on the shelf behind him, between bursts of snow and then the silent running of a horde of football players after a ball I presume is somewhere, outside the screen, too fast for the camera to follow. The picture winks in and out of existence – snow, match, snow…

I tap the bell.

“Uh — yeah?”

“Do you have something to drink?”

“There’s water up in the tab, ain’t there?”

“I mean a cola or something?”


He dries sweat from his forehead and then keeps his hand there for a moment as if he has to think really hard about what a cola is.

Mr. Ruiz is a short, plump man; face puffy, something black under his eyes that I’m not quite sure about. His eyes have this feel like a glow from a dark room, where a single red light bulb dangles.

“Cola?” he repeats.

“Yes, please.”

He turns, fumbles with something behind the desk.

“Lemme see. Might have some here.”

I lean on the counter, on my elbows. Everything in my body hurts. I wonder if it’ll ever stop.

There’s no one else here.

Outside, through the dust-plastered window glass, I  see the small parking lot in front of the motel. Beyond that: big, grey-green nothing that stretches from here and into Arkansas. Maybe it’s all there is.

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The One I Tried To Destroy (epilogue)

The One I Tried To Destroy (epilogue)

I don’t go to the police. I think about it of course, but I don’t go. Mr. Lynch back at the hotel don’t ask questions and I have no idea why. I look like hell. He just gets a maid to come up and help me wash and bandage and ask if there is anything more I need and when I say ‘no’, she doesn’t come back. But there is something I need, so I go out again to a 24-hour store.

In the morning then I haven’t slept at all and I’m all drugged up on caffeine and cheap booze. It’s a wonder I can still walk down the stairs to the ancient computer that Mr. Lynch has lovingly installed on a small table across the minuscule reception desk.

‘Free for use for guests’ – whenever it works that is…

There’s a single e-mail. Nobody’s written to me in ages… Who –

My uncle finally went to Villa Tunari, so I could get a lift. You had not answered my last mail so I try again. Where are you? Your mother has left a message, too, at ENTEL. I picked it up. She is very worried. But you have not given her your e-mail address, she said. I am praying for you – wherever you are. Please answer this mail and tell me you are all right.

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The One I Tried To Destroy (final part)

The One I Tried To Destroy (final part)

I should’ve quit at the first danger sign – that is when he insisted on us driving in his own car and not taking a taxi. I should have just gone away then. But after all that struggling with myself to prove that I was not afraid and didn’t care if … well, I didn’t.

The real shit started, though, when he suddenly turned off the expressway, down a minor road without lighting that ended in a container lot of some sort. We had been talking fairly normally, albeit awkwardly, up till then – actually, we had been talking quite well from the moment we left hostal Peron:

Miguel had first asked if I wanted to come with him to someplace called “Tigre” where his brother owned an “acclaimed” restaurant. I had said yes, because what else should I say? I had gone this far with him. Why question the fact that a guy like Miguel really might have a brother with a restaurant that got stars in the local newspapers.

I mean, didn’t everyone have a life before a war? Why not him? Why was I so focused on seeing only stereotypes – like the young offenders from Boyle Heights or Mid-West small towns who so often sign up for the army because they got nowhere else to go.

Then we had reached his car, an old Sedan that looked like it was only running on good will. I hesitated. I discovered that I was still in the process of making my real decision. The problem was that I didn’t even know for sure why I had done this. I only knew I didn’t want to date him for real – you know go home with him and all that – or anything. Of course not! But this was kind of like a date, wasn’t it? The problem is always like that: If you have never made up your mind entirely, if you don’t know your own reasons, someone else will tell you what they are.

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The One I Tried to Destroy (IV)

The One I Tried to Destroy (IV)

Night envelops Buenos Aires again. And with it I am enveloped in more strange dreams about ice cold seawater pushing into my mouth. It’s like Miguel’s bag is still in my room. I know what is in it, and yet I did not look in it. Or … have I not been sleeping at all, since I came home, just imagining?

Outside my hostal a hooker howls in frustration over a customer that apparently drove away without paying for a job in the car just below the dead lamppost at the corner; there is the even more distant howling of horns from taxi cabs squeezing each other to get the last customers in front of the Estación Buenos Aires Línea Belgrano Sur; transistor radios blast through wide open windows in the apartments opposite our building and in our building – bad pop music from the more seedy discos in the barrio of Barracas where I’m staying.

Funny, because in the day, Buenos Aires seems relatively mild, despite its subdued Latin American passion and the occasional soccer brawl; it’s mild in attitude, even welcoming in places – unlike, for example, L.A., which I’ve been to a few times. Sucked big time. Didn’t like it. Maybe if you lived in Beverly Hills, but then you’d just be a bird in gilded cage, wouldn’t you?

Maybe Ohio wasn’t so bad. Or even Skye …

Careful, Carrie – don’t get over-sentimental. Just find that single clean black blouse you have, and the least-worn looking pair of jeans and that comb you use too seldom. And then Mr. Miguel Sanchez Palomino won’t get any ideas of the sort men who are 20 years older than you might easily get. I’m not gonna look the part.

It could still go horribly wrong, though … What was I thinking?

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That Imaginary Desert

That Imaginary Desert

MissCarraway: Hey bro, I thought you military men weren’t allowed to use ICQ? What if the brass suspected you of divulging state secrets or something?

BlackRock245: Haha im on leave this week, remember? What time is it over there anyway? Shouldn’t you be in bed?

MissCarraway: Only about 7PM. Don’t worry about me.

BlackRock245: Caroline its been like six weeks since we heard a peep from u. Dad is freaking a bit out. Where are you? Brazil?

MissCarraway: Close. Buenos Aires.

BlackRock245: OK well just here on good old Skye. But going back to Inverness tomorrow.

MissCarraway: They going to send you off to war soon?

BlackRock245: Only the seasonal drills this year. Dont think there’s goin to be another dunkirk in 2001.

MissCarraway: Careful what you wish for. Granpa’s stories aren’t exactly fun.

BlackRock245: Sis, when are you going back to the states?

MissCarraway: Soon. A little more time.

BlackRock245: Deborah must be worried, too.

MissCarraway: Mom is okay. She emails a bit. She’s not on chat.

BlackRock245: She is. She chats with us sometimes.

MissCarraway: Dad talks to mom?!

BlackRock245: Course not. But Sheila does sometimes. Her and mom always got along. Crazy huh? But don tell dad they do it. Hell go bananas. 

MissCarraway: I won’t. I don’t talk to dad, remember?

BlackRock245: He wants to talk to you u know. He wants to know if u are all right. He asks me all the time if i talk to u and what do i say? ‘yeah like every 6 months’ lol 

MissCarraway: Tell him I’m OK. I’m coming home soon. I’ll email mom about it tomorrow. Just need to figure out which plane so I don’t end up in Timbuktu haha.

BlackRock245: Funny sis as always. What have u been up to? Wish I could travel as much as u. See the world!

MissCarraway: I only went away because I had to. You know that. But yeah, I saw all the touristy sites. Machu Picchu and such. You’ll hate it.

BlackRock245: I hate crowds alright. Glad u remember that 🙂 Still would be nice to go sometime

MissCarraway: Hey, don’t they send you on exotic overseas on missions?

BlackRock245: I don’t think theres goin to be anything ever, tbh. Well be chewin highland grass this year again. Was thinking about quitting actually, getting a wee job or somethin

MissCarraway: Now dad *will* go bananas!

BlackRock245: Not his call. Im here because I want to, but if nothing much happens I may change my mind. All that bollocks about the Falklands was a long time ago anyway. He doesnt talk about it anymore, btw, and i dont let him

MissCarraway: About the Falklands … I was thinking about going out there.

BlackRock245: What? Isnt it like a 1000 miles furhter south?

MissCarraway: Just kidding. I don’t even think you can fly there from Arg. Probably still pissed about the war.

BlackRock245: And u always yap about how I should stop letting dad

MissCarraway: I don’t!

BlackRock245: Ur the one wanting to go to the bloody falklands.

MissCarraway: It was just a thought. I am here, so why not? And

BlackRock245: What?

MissCarraway: Maybe it’ll make a difference to him, you know? Maybe he’ll stop being an ass if I came home and told him that I was actually there. That I wanted to see where it happened.

BlackRock245: Dads not goin to stop being dad. Or an ass.

MissCarraway: Haha. Good one.

BlackRock245: Look, are u goin to come home to bonnie ol Scotland? We miss u.

MissCarraway: I am pretty broke after this, but I think I will. Yes. That’s a promise.

BlackRock245: FInally. 🙂 🙂 Look, I got to go now. Sheila & dad just came back. Unless u want to say hello?

MissCarraway: Tell dad I will call him soon.

BlackRock245: I will. And Caroline

MissCarraway: Yes?

BlackRock245: Its been 7 years and dad’s been an ass. But we want u to come home safe ok? No matter if its US or 

MissCarraway: You’d better log off now. And tell him I’m fine.

BlackRock245: I will. Take care.

MissCarraway: You too. I’m coming back to Scotland before they send you to Dunkirk, okay?

BlackRock245: Dont worry. I think there arent goin to be any more world wars.

MissCarraway: No, war is over.

The One I Tried to Destroy (III)

The One I Tried to Destroy (III)

The cold South Atlantic waters can no longer be stopped from pressing through your nose, mouth, into your lungs; – the inevitability of the breathing reflex is remarkable, even when there’s nothing to breathe but heavy sub-Arctic seawater …  


I get torn out of sleep, almost instantly, when I can’t breathe.

Wait … I … can breathe. I’m … alive. Here. In the hostal. In Buenos Aires. Near the railway …

It’s deep night. The city is not asleep. I don’t think I’ll be again.

I’ll be thinking about why I am going back to look for Miguel tomorrow, and why it is so important that I have not  looked in the bag.

His bag. It’s there. On the floor, beside my too-short bed with the cement-mattress.

What do I want to prove?



There he is.

Back on his little ’platform’. In his uniform.

I should really … get the hell away.

I walk over.

The plaza in front of the presidential palace is almost deserted. They must still be holding a siesta or something. A few seagulls drift lazily above, looking down on us indifferently as if they’d say: ‘We’ve seen it all before’ … ‘we’ve seen it all before’.

Miguel reacts like he’s seen me before, sure enough:

He doesn’t even nod. Just look the other way. Problem is, like I said, there’s no one else really to look it.

I take a few steps closer:

“Hi. I’m sorry for what I said yesterday. I acted like a jerk.”

A little twitch around the mouth, but he says nothing.

“I brought … your bag.”

I put it down on the ground, before him.

” … I have not looked in it.”

Something … changes in his face, like a little part of the invisible shadow on it fades away. He shakes his head a bit, then looks briefly after the seagulls. Then at the pamphlets. There’s a huge stack in a cardboard box. Same size as before – the stack. Then he looks directly at me.

Then he takes a step forward – suddenly, takes the bag.

“Thank … you.” He looks at me, still suspicious.

“You … really have not looked? In it?” he asks, not really looking as if he’d believe any answer I’m ready to give.

So I just shake my head.

“Why?” he inquires sharply.

“For the same reason I came back. I want to … ” – Now it’s my turn to shake my head – “Oh, I don’t know … I don’t know what the hell I want. But I know that I didn’t want to piss you off yesterday. I meant well. I just wanted to …  a cup of coffee … you know … “

My words die, but he nods; looks like he is considering something.

“Here.” He holds out one of his Falklands War-pamphlets.

“I already … have one of those.” I regard the pamphlet skeptically. He keeps nudging it towards me – as if he’d want to stick it on my t-shirt or something.

“Nono – ” he says impatiently. “I want you to write me where you stay – your hotel. If you want … “

He hesitates.

“No, no it’s okay – ” I manage to say and take the pamphlet “But do you want to – “

He holds up a hand as if to silence any further discussion.

“I will pick you up. At 8.”

(Okaay … )

“Do you, er, have a pen,” I ask stupidly, just realizing what’s missing from the picture.

“A pen?” he repeats, as if I had just asked him about the space hamster. Then he slips a hand into the breast pocket of the worn uniform. It comes up empty.

Now it’s Miguel’s turn to look like he’d rather have seen a space hamster.

“I must have forgotten it.”

“Then you’ll just have to hope that people have their own pens with them – so they can sign your petition,” I say and expect a lash back because that was positively the most inappropriate joke for someone who only just got to the phase of ‘ready-to-repair’ in the relationships truck stop.

He shakes his head again, at me I think … but for the first time a smile seems to be creeping up on his lips. Like it had been lying in ambush all the time.

“You’ll just have to tell me. I’ll remember.”

“The Hostal Peron, near the old railway station. You know it?”

“I know it. I … think.”

“It’s between – look – ” I pull up my Lonely Planet, which by now is only held together by hope. It’s a wonder it’s not fallen completely apart. I show him – on a minuscule map.

“Oh, there!” he exclaims. “Good.”

“Now you can pick me up at 8.”

“Good,” he says again.

“This is pretty odd … I thought you’d say no.” I put the guidebook back in my side-bag, and take a good look at him.

A voice screams from somewhere faraway but deep inside me: What the hell are you doing? Does he think I’m crazy? Or just pathetic?

Or is he so desperate that he thinks I’m so desperate and this is the clownish movements before a little roll in the hay, or some sweat-stained bed in a clammy motel. He must be at least 45 – God …

Miguel looks like, he is about to swallow something, like some of that humid, stale air that seems to be lying heavy over the main plaza this afternoon; drenched with a good dose of lead and exhaust from the millions of cars who probably feel it’s more their city than the humans’ now.

“I don’t know … what to say,” he then blurts, meekly.

“You’re not supposed to say anything,” I say and shrug. “You just invited me out. That’s all.”

“This is a stupid idea,” he then exclaims. “Stupid, stupid … “

“If you’re not gonna come, that’s okay, but I’ll be waiting at 8. I trust you. Ask for Carrie ‘So-ieer’ in the reception.”

“You really want to go out, señorita. What kind of woman are you?”

“Not the one you thought I was – for a few seconds. I’ll choose to let that slide. But if you think about me that way again, I might not come down when you stand there at 8.”

“Why do you do it? Do you feel … sorry for me?” He looks like he had tasted something disgusting, about to spit it out.

“No. But maybe I feel sorry for myself. Is that good enough for you?”


“Well, why do you say yes then? You must feel at least as crazy as I am acting, to say yes to such a proposal.”

“Maybe I … would like some company. Not of … that kind!” he quickly ads.

“I know … ” I say an watch him again, not wearily anymore, kind of like attentively. He’s got a sea of lines under his eyes, making him look even older, but for some reason all I can think is ’45’. I dunno why …

“I know … ” I say again, as if to reassure myself before I begin to question my craziness. “I am good at spotting people who are as fucked up as me.”

“Why do you say that? Your Spanish is pretty excellent” – he nods with a suppressed hint of admiration – “if you are this good at speaking our language it should mean you are patient. And patient people are seldom ‘fucked up’ – loco.”

“And yesterday it meant something different.”


“Oh, I forgot. Never mind. But yeah, I’ve practiced. Now, do you still want to do this?”

“Do you?”

“Hell, yes.”

“Good.” He nods more slowly, then takes a deep breath. It’s like he feels relieved like he didn’t – or couldn’t – believe this was real. I’m real enough, though. For now.

I turn to walk. I don’t want to break the moment. Perhaps if I stay he’ll regret it. Or I will. Maybe we’ll regret it all later. We still have time for that – and to screw up. Two total strangers, so totally incompatible don’t just do things like this. Do they?

Perhaps you’re just only good at making weird friends, Carrie Sawyer, so you might as well accept it. You are weird yourself, not like everybody else – who’re weird in their own right. You’re weird-weird. You’re someone who’s on the fringe. Not normal. You might as well act the part. Embrace it.

Hell, yeah …

“I’ll see you at 8 then,” Miguel affirms, looking somewhere else, everywhere else than at me. Perhaps he’s afraid, too, that I’m just a figment of his imagination. I wonder what that imagination has seen … in war, I mean. Perhaps that’s why I wanted to jump into this, to be crazy. Perhaps it’s my only chance to gain access to the mind of someone who’s really been to war and then know what it means. Does his war look like mine?

Probably not, but maybe there are similarities.

And that – is as close as I get to a definition of an explanation for my actions today.

Wait – there was something else. I’d almost forgotten.

I turn, look back at him:

“Miguel – why do you say that patient people are seldom loco?”

He regards me inscrutably: “Well, patient people are able to wait until the madness has left them. That’s really all there is to it. And madness comes to all of us, if we live long enough – it comes in some form or other.”

“You sound very philosophical.”

“I’m not. I was a history teacher, though, before I went to war. There is a close relation between history and philosophy.”

I nod. “You can tell me about it tonight. I look forward to it.”

I walk away, without saying goodbye, without shaking hands. When I’ve left the plaza and can’t see him anymore, my mind goes into overdrive again and I agree with myself that this was most definitely the stupidest thing I’d ever done. Not only that, it was also an illusion.

He is not gonna show up.



The One I Tried to Destroy (II)

The One I Tried to Destroy (II)

The next day:

“Hola … “

“Ah, the beautiful señorita is back. What a surprise.”

“People don’t often come back?”

“Nobody ever comes back.”

Today the sun is up, which is another surprise. The mist is still lurking somewhere out at sea. The streets are less crowded but the ever-present droning of traffic from a million cars you can’t even see reminds you that this is Buenos Aires – a capital.

A few people have found their way to Plaza de Mayo, along with me, however …  a lone Japanese tourist, lost in his love affair with the camera; an old man picking up garbage and putting it into a can; a smart lady talking into a cell-phone, adjusting her sunglasses … They all seem strangely upbeat even though you can’t see it directly if you look at them. They don’t smile, but they seem to be filled with some kind of … energy.

Perhaps it was an energy that only I could sense, something I longed to have myself: A sense of somewhere to go. But I saw nothing new for me in this city, after the fat mist had finally been torn away by the fierce winds I could hear outside my small room at the hostal all through the night like they were trying to tear apart the building itself.

Nothing except him …

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The One I Tried to Destroy

The One I Tried to Destroy

<Dear Julia,

It was not easy coming to Buenos Aires, finally. It was not easy saying goodbye. But I had to go and you know why … There’s a war in me. But maybe here, at the edge of another ocean, I will be able to make an armistice?

I’m afraid you can’t understand what I’m trying to say – even though you are trying; even though our wars – yours and mine – are so much alike. After all, what is the true difference between losing a husband and your best friend? It’s so close, as we often talked about. The wound is the same shape; it is just a matter of depth, isn’t it?

My war led me to abandon a ship that was already sinking: I left Ohio, my few friends, my mother, and began … drifting. My months in Bolivia, with you, was one of the stops I will never forget.

You helped me find faith again; faith that perhaps all losses are not final. Perhaps … there are always other friends, waiting somewhere, for you to find them – when the ones you knew have been torn out of your life.

If there was one thing I could never share (and I made no secret of that) it was the other faith – your Catholic faith in God. But in a strange way, I feel I have shared it.

Because it was that faith of yours that kept you alive; that there was some indefinable meaning to all you had to go through and that there was some even more indefinable salvation at the end. It made you not give up, and it somehow made me not want to give up.

Maybe it was like one of those waves from the ocean you always wanted to see but never have seen. Like those huge Pacific waves that greeted me every day when I hitch-hiked down the Pan-American.

If you go down to the rock-strewn beach and stand as close to the surf as you dare, then you easily feel the fine mist from its crest in your face even before it crashes down. It’s a nice way to wake up, especially if you are a little sore from 200 miles on the back of a post truck.

Your strength reminds me of the strength of such a wave, Julia; because of your determined will to live – to try again and again, no matter how hard you yourself are hit back by the rocks of the coast, which the currents and wind inevitably hurl you into. You accept it, gather yourself, and come back. Always. And eventually, the sand and gravel of the coast will be eroded away, the rocks will submerge and your wave will win.

Am I being too far out? Perhaps. You know my bouts of melancholy and my penchant for the dramatic. But what can you do when you sit on a bench here in front of that faded palace of roses they call the government building for all of Argentina; where such monumental figures as Evita and Juan Peron once stood on balconies and set afire the imagination of the crowds.

Right now the government palace is barely visible through the clouds of sticky fog flowing in from the South Atlantic. And so is my purpose in continuing all the way to here … I feel. Perhaps there never was one.

I had to journey on, Julia – to leave our friendship before it really got started, I sometimes feel. But at least this time I knew what I was leaving. In Puno, where I met this other traveler, the Canadian – you remember? … there I just left in the morning – before I got to know her at all. I was afraid, but I didn’t even know what for. Now I know.

And it’s hard to have to admit to yourself: That the reason you’re alone is that you are running away.

It’s even harder when you know it’s what you are doing and you just can’t stop doing it: It’s like some illness of the mind.

My mum briefly worked in health care, as I think I mentioned. She needed the money and during summer there were not many substitute classes in school. She told me that the worst of it was not to see the patients who did not know they were hurting themselves.

It was to see the patients who knew they were hurting themselves but could not stop it.

I sometimes wonder if I …

… What would you say?

Perhaps … that I am addicted to running away.

Yes, you would probably say that. You know how it is.

But the only way I can get un-addicted is to drive myself away from everybody – until the end of the world. And if I survive going that end, then … it … is finally out. I think. I think the knot will be loosened. I think I can go back, then.

But right now I don’t think I can send this letter to you, Julia. Like all the others, I think I will just crumble it and throw it away.

What would you think of me if you actually read it?>


I am just about to go home to my shoddy hostal, when I run into him.

Okay, perhaps I could have evaded him … but perhaps I didn’t want to.

After all, what is he doing there, alone on the Plaza de Mayo, standing below sickly-looking trees with the silent rose-tinted presidential building hovering behind him? Is he some kind of guard?

No, his uniform looks old and worn and he hands out some kind of leaflet.

I walk up:

“Would the señorita care for something to read?” he asks when he sees me.

Now that I’m closer I see the lines of his face clearly, like a map of some scarred coast. I don’t want him to be more than 40 but he looks older. Hair slightly greasy and he has stubs. Okay, so he is not in service – not in anybody’s service anymore, it would seem.

I take the leaflet. It is poorly printed, written by a typewriter. There’s a lot in Spanish that I can’t digest with only a few seconds of skimming, but it’s something about a pension for retired military servicemen.

“That’s right,” he says – voice slightly whispering, slightly coarse at the same time. “They deny us our pension. Those pigs. Makes one think, right?”

“Uh, yeah … ” I nod courteously. “That … is unfair.”

I close the leaflet. On the behind is a photocopied cut-out of a map. Now those shapes I recognize.

Something twinkles in his deep, black eyes but his face remains the same. Not a winch.

“Las Malvinas… ” I say and close the leaflet, for want of something to do. Then after a few seconds, I decide I’d better put it in my small shoulder bag.

Something dark, like a shadow, seems to briefly glide between us. Then I make another decision; to say something else – something … polite.

I could have gone on, like the couple of tourists who passes us just now, heading for the presidential palace and chatting eagerly in English about whether or not Madonna was really any good as Evita.

After all, I still look the part. – Okay, my clothes may be shabby from so many months on the road – but what does this old soldier from some long-forgotten war think that I really am? Does he think I am just what he sees: A blonde tourist gringa not really being conscious of anywhere she is going? A little tourist bunny lost?

I realize that I don’t really know what to say, so I don’t say anything. I just nod, and I hope he doesn’t notice that I don’t feel like looking directly into those black eyes. At all.

Then I leave, heading back for the little hostal with the creaking door handles, crammed into that narrow alley a stone’s throw from the central station – somewhere I think by now I can find my way back to. I’ve been here a week and that should be enough, to find my way back to a hole. But is it enough to find out which way to go now, I wonder?

I’m not sure if he follows me with those black eyes of his, but I get the feeling that he does.

It’s not that … they are threatening eyes, yes, but not pitch black like the inside of a grave; more like the pit you sometimes glance in the eyes of alcoholics, sitting in the streets … staring after you.

And perhaps that is what makes me come back the next day.




Last edited April 2021 

Until You See the Signs

Until You See the Signs

“You were the attractive queen of hearts while I was only the jack of clubs.”

The driver glances knowingly at me, then adds, “that’s what the cards told me this morning.”

“Oh, really?” I laugh nervously and try not to look at where his hand is moving. He should really keep both hands on the steering wheel. But he rattles on.

“I always have my coffee in the same café, a nice gringo place by the way. And I always tell my fortune with the cards before each day’s drive. And isn’t it remarkable that a lovely señorita such as you need a lift just today when there’s a queen of hearts in the reading?”

“No comprendo.” I throw him the stupid didn’t-bother-to-learn-that-much-Spanish tourist smile and then I look out the window for the nth time but the car is still going at least 80 so I’d get squashed if I jump out now.

Let me rewind a bit and tell you how I got into this mess. I’m not certain you can make any more sense of it than I can, because my life sure as hell seems to be like a series of tornadoes these days, all crashing into each other and throwing things around.

But the fact is, I have lived for almost a year now in Bolivia, and I have never felt threatened here. Ever.

I guess any sane person should have. Mom would have freaked out if she knew just how far out in the jungle I was living until recently. Me: 21-year old, blonde, a ‘stupid American’, and definitely ripe for the picking – at least in the eyes of some men. 

But nothing ever happened.

Then I finally decide to go back to civilization and things turn crazy real fast.

It starts when the bus’ gear shift breaks. The driver manages to wheel it into a village in the first gear and then runs off to find an auto mechanic without saying when he will be back. 

As I drift around the village with the other passengers, mostly locals out to smoke and take a piss, I notice a lone taxi in a corner of the market square.  I reckon I’m still at least an hour away from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the only place here big enough to host an international airport, and I don’t know when the bus is going to ever move again. So I walk over and ask the taxi driver, how much for the rest of the way? 

One hundred bolivianos. 

Okay. It’s a lot of money here but back in the US, it’s more like two drinks, even though I still have to be careful with the little money I have left. 

There are no phone numbers or addresses printed on the taxi, only a homemade sign in the window. Tourists are warned in all the guidebooks not to take taxis like that, only the official ones. But, you know I feel I have lived in Bolivia forever now, so I’m not a tourist anymore, right? 

I look at the driver, trying to take stock of him. He is a sweaty 30-something guy with a thin mustache and piercing eyes but seems like the harmless silent type, or so I convince myself. And I really don’t want to be stuck here.

I agree to 100 bolivianos and off we go.

For 20 minutes he stares blankly out the front window, while his body is going through the motions to get his vehicle from the spartan upland and into the city where I plan to sleep for a hundred years. Then he begins to talk about cards.

And when I don’t seem to identify overly much with his vaunted queen of hearts, he ignores me and keeps talking about all the times he didn’t make that draw – and never met a girl on the road. 

My mind is racing way faster than the car. I look out the open passenger window again and pretend to admire the withered baby palm trees, dry fields, and unfinished buildings on both sides of the road.

I try to say to myself that this guy is not going to follow up on his implied threat of pulling over and doing various things to me if I don’t pretend to be his queen of hearts. But who’s to say he won’t pull over if I do agree to play along, and he is not just out to give compliments and let that be that? What if it’s the little finger that will tempt the shark enough to fancy grabbing the rest, and then some? I heard about two female tourists getting raped and killed at Lake Titicaca not so long ago. A rarity in Bolivia, but not an impossibility. 

This is insane. Am I about to be the next headline on some traveler warning site?

I glance at him again and see pearls of sweat dance over his brow while he tries to find a grimace that is somewhere between friendly and intimidating. My heart beats like a jackhammer but I try to remain calm and use the only asset I have right now.

Anger. And believe me, I have plenty of that.

I turn slowly towards him and explain in perfect Bolivian Spanish that he is going to pull over now because I am a crazy American chica who is here to jump from a chair with more than his loving arms around my neck, once I get to the hotel where my Bolivian boyfriend was supposed to meet me, but instead hung himself on this day exactly a year ago. I have tried life since but I have given up and now I am going to follow him. 

Because I loooved him so much.

Yes, that’s right. Everything is planned. I have even reserved the exact same room.

So I am not afraid of you, Mr. Sweaty, and I have nothing to lose so you had better drive me all the way to the hotel and to the agreed price, or I’m going to fast forward my planned exit from this world by pulling at a lot more than what is in your pants and make this car go over in the other lane and get squashed against the next oncoming truck.

Sweaty looks like somebody threw him a gut punch, bewildered and somewhat in pain. He didn’t get what he wanted; he hadn’t even articulated it for himself and that was the hole in his defense. And so I made my move and now he is off-balance, his tired self-pitying mind trying to process the new information. 

And so when a big fat truck actually pulls out to get in front of us (as Bolivian drivers are wont to do) but from a side road, and Sweaty hits the brakes – that’s when I kick open the passenger door. He forgot to lock it, of course, because, as I counted on, he hadn’t really planned this out. Or perhaps the lock didn’t work as most things in Bolivian cars. 

Whatever the case, I run to the roadside and then up the gravel lane that the truck came from where there is an excavator exhibition of all things, and I never see him again. 

I even got my few remaining things, all in my small faded rucksack, which never needed to go in the trunk anyway – thank God.

All in all, I get away with the whole stunt with only a few bruises on my left leg, which I get because I stumble after I get out on the asphalt safely because there is a damn rock on the road. 

Go figure. But I make it.

And now I have to make it on foot in burning noon heat towards Santa Cruz, still 20 miles away.


I hitch a new ride with a pharmacist, who drives an old American Ford pickup. Small, gray man, about 55. His wife, I take it, is in the pickup as well, so I climb in without too much apprehension even if my heart still hasn’t quite slowed to its normal routine. 

She is a big woman, with clear native features. As I squeeze in, I’m really glad there weren’t any ice cream parlors in the jungle.

And you know, my feet hurt and it’s too bloody long to walk to the city center where the decent hotels are. So Señor and, yes, Señora Flores are going to be my saviors and hopefully no more surprises. If there was a plane today, they could have dropped me off at the airport, but in a way, I’m glad there isn’t so I get an excuse to burn some of my last reserves on a room with a proper bed.

I find out that the two are on their way to an evening shift, right after the siesta they both look like he’d rather be doing still. But there is a sharp twinkle in the tired eyes of the woman, when she asks me, why I am out here, all alone and walking to Santa Cruz.

So I explain it, as nonchalantly as I can, and she feigns a quick smile, as she hears the story about how the taxi driver looked like an idiot while I heroically bolted towards the fenced area with the latest fashion in excavators.

“Where are you going, then?” She says it just loud enough, so it makes me think she also wants to make conversation in order for her husband not to fall asleep behind the wheel.

“I’m going to … Hotel Amazonas.”

I had almost forgotten the name. It looked good on one of the few pages of my Lonely Planet that was still readable after almost a year in jungle humidity. I had thrown it away, but Luis – Julia’s kid – found it for me. Behind a shed. Apparently, I had been reading it last when I came to town, and then not really. I don’t even know if the hotel still exists. I didn’t call beforehand.

“I know that place,” she says and lights up as if something grand has just been revealed to her. “It is two blocks from our pharmacy.”

Thank God for small favors.

We get there without any more incidents, only lots of small talk which I can deal with.

So the Hotel Amazonas turns out to both exist and be okay, too. A middle-end hotel where everybody looks a bit tired and the vending machine in the lobby is empty, but otherwise, it is clean and friendly. 

I hit the shower next and after that hop straight into bed. Then I treat myself to a good load of CNN droning on the fuzzy TV that is precariously mounted on the wall in front of the bed. But, of course, I can’t concentrate on president Bush’s first budget.

I try to imagine what a guy I could like would actually
be like. Someone I might meet – tomorrow? Someone like Manuel maybe, with all his good parts and none of the bad.

How about a good-looking guy, who was born into a mob family or something – and he wants out because of me? Ha, ha …

I smile about that scenario for the rest of the evening, and in the beginning, it feels exciting. But as night descends on Santa Cruz, excitement gets replaced by a feeling of desolation. My construct of a perfect man fades out and only fog is left in my mind.

What is wrong with me? Can’t I even think of a good-looking guy anymore, after what happened?

Anyway, since I sure as hell can’t sleep I know I have to go out or lose my mind in here.

The problem is that the first place that strikes me as the place to go, is a bar I saw at the plaza and I promised myself I wouldn’t get drunk so easily anymore.

Yeah, just like I promised myself I would recover from losing my best friend back in Ohio, oh, and also find love again and, yeah, in general only think about love. Pure love. How else to attract it? Yes, I would seek out and find good things only. Rebuild. Those were some of my most cherished promises.

I get up and get my clothes on and head for the bar. It’s too late and I’m too tired to start over before tomorrow, anyway.


The bar is okay but boring. Irish theme. But it’s mostly tourists and the local rich kids who haven’t really seen what is going on in the jungle or highlands outside their city. Anyway, I had to go although I really shouldn’t have.

There’s some kind of, I dunno, expectation of richness that comes with being a white American. People here seem to expect you to bathe in money every morning and you get to think of yourself like that after a while, even if you constantly scrounge for cash and send pathetic emails back home for the support you can never really get and pay with promises you can’t really keep.

Julia once confided in me that Bolivians are used to thinking about Americans as either DEA agents or uncaring tourists with a gold bar up their asses. They only shit out pieces if they are allowed to take a nice photo of your kids and pet the llama.

And so I got enlightened about living in rural Bolivia for some months. At first, I felt superior. Then I felt inferior. And finally, we were all just normal. Just human beings getting by and trying to do the best we could.

But I had, of course, met Julia, not to mention her brother. That changed the game. From eternal-backpacker-moves-in-with-locals to … I don’t know, but it didn’t work out. Living with them became the kind of normality I had run away from in Ohio with family responsibilities and close ties that hurt when they broke up and people died. I had run away from closeness because it brought me too much pain and lo and behold – I ended up just the same in the Bolivian outback of all places.

God, Julia was crying when I said I had to leave. And I lied when I said I would go home to the States, the natural thing to do now that my little ‘Second Life’-project in South America has met its end. 

And at the bar there is no one interesting to talk to about all of this, and, more importantly, no one to buy me the drinks I don’t feel I can afford.

So on the wrong side of midnight, I finally retire to my hotel room’s small balcony with a bottle of the local sweet booze, Singani, from the store across the street and a surprisingly cold coke from the machine in the reception. They make good company.

I checked the only computer they have in the reception and there was no email for me. No messages in the reception. I’ll check again tomorrow.

 I let my mind run through all the impressions from the last 10 months. Like a kaleidoscope of love and hate and quiet evenings outside the tin-roof house listening to the jungle murmur. Julia and I never got tired of that. And she was – is – very sharp. She’ll get out of that one day, to some better place. I’m sure of it.

And she has heart. She was the one who found a doctor we could trust and pay for when we thought I was pregnant. Manuel had just found his friends and an extra bottle.

I bet he was scared. But does that excuse him? I think that’s when it started to go wrong.

I drink more and my mind churns around the possibilities. Below me, the streets of Santa Cruz are as alive as ever. The warm tropical night mixed with clinking bottles, hooting scooters, and boys and girls laughing.

As I crane my neck to see, I also move my butt and the rest of me and I accidentally push the bottle so it topples. I manage to catch it but not before a good deal of Singani goes through the empty spaces in the metal railing.

“Hey! Que pasa!

Down below are two guys, looking up and laughing and waving at me. Goodlooking, shining smiles, pastel-colored t-shirts, nicely tanned and trained. Some more rich kids. They’d never dress like this where Julia lived. Maybe I missed that, too. 

“Hey, guys – sorry for dripping on you.”

I raise the bottle up again and the dripping stops. 

“Why don’t you come down here?” 

Direct, aren’t they? Okay. I give them my best and least drunk smile. “I can’t. I have been drinking too much.”

What? Did I just say that? Oh, what the hell. Let’s see how they react.

“You speak good Spanish,” Guy no. 1 widens his toothpaste smile.

“I have lived in Bolivia since last summer.”

“Here in this hotel?” Guy no. 2 snickers again. I notice a splotch on his pink shirt, near the collar. Probably beer.

“No.” I roll my eyes and try not to have the world roll back at me. They are only one floor down, but I’m glad the railing is there.

“Where then?” Guy no. 1 insists.

“In the Chapare.”

That stops the snickering.

“Chapare is where the drug barons live,” Guy 2 confides, his demeanor suddenly all too serious for his age and level of intoxication.

“No, they don’t,” I explain. “Some people grow coca and sell it. Some coca ends up as drugs. That’s not the same.”

“Bullshit.” Guy 1 shakes his head. He grins, but there is a grimace behind the grin that is not friendly anymore.

“You were just the lover of a drug baron, I bet,” Guy 2 dares and smiles, too, but not in a friendly way either. 

More like the way you smile at a cat before you kick it.

I feel the anger rising again. I have not had enough Singani to quench that.

“Fuck off.” I almost feel like throwing the half-empty bottle after them, but I manage to at least control that. 

So I just sit there and scowl.

“I think we’ve got ourselves a drunk drug-whore,” Guy 2 explains to his mate as if he had just discovered something important that they might have to report somewhere.

“Go fuck yourselves.” I get up, almost without reeling. One hand is firmly on the railing.

They just snicker some more and then begin to walk away. 

“All gringas are whores,” I hear one of them add to this most brilliant analysis of who I am and where I come from.

I should never have told them I had lived in the Chapare. 

There are a million farmers there and maybe a thousand or so sell coca plants for cocaine that somebody else does, but I had forgotten the prejudice and racism here in Bolivia. It’s not as if it wasn’t in Chapare, either. Just reversed.

Back there you talked about everyone who lived in the East province cities as assholes who bled the poor working people dry. And also in cahoots with the “gringo oppressors”, as Manuel’s friends in the Movimiento Al Socialismo would say when they thought I didn’t listen.

I lean so far over the railing that I almost forget my plan about not falling out. “Go to hell! Go to hell!!

All I get for being a drunk bitch are some more stares from the street below and some more snickering from the two guys who round a corner and then they are out of my life but not of my mind.

I slam the balcony door and retreat to the dark room. My half-finished bottle stays outside.


Eventually, the morning comes. It always does.

No email for me, so I go to the rundown hotel pool and try to float, but in the end, I just sit in the shallow half for too long staring at my own reflection in the water.

But it’s okay. I have all the time in the world.

I get up and get dressed and head back down to the reception.

Still no email. No messages, either. 

But I can wait some more. 

I have all the time in the world.

She has to feel the same.

The Halo Of Our Souls

The Halo Of Our Souls

The boy is crying. I can hear him even before I see him.

I am trying to make my way through the grand market of the valley city of Cochabamba. Through hundreds of Bolivians, mostly women, selling everything from new hats to cabbages. They sit on big piles on sheets of plastic on the asphalt and wait and wait. Then the next day they do it all over again.

Now I see the boy. He must be about five. Faded red training jacket and shorts. No shoes. Cute curly hair and big streaks of grime and tears across his face.

The Bolivian women sit by their vegetables, silent as sphinxes, gazing into the milling crowd and at nothing in particular. I am sweating in the noon heat like it’s a marathon and cursing it all away. I want them to look at the boy – take some kind of responsibility.

I was on the lookout for some cheap vegetables and bread for my lunch, now that I have burnt my travel money. I need to make every penny last.

Yeah, I have a lot on my mind.

So what do I do?

I walk on, of course. Past the boy.

For a brief moment, though, as I pass him, he looks at me. And, of course, I look at him.

I quickly look another way and continue to walk. He continues crying.

This is somebody else’s kid, somebody else’s problem. This is not even my country.

I stop. Turn.

The boy is still there, still crying. People still moving about him, like indifferent waves of flesh and sweat.

Okay, then.

I’ll have to hope I don’t have to look in the dictionary too much. Or for too long.

I go back to him and squat down beside him. He looks at me again, and I can see he is struggling because he is afraid of me – the stranger. But he is also afraid that nobody is going to pick him up. And God knows what else.

One of the few things I’m good at is languages, and my high school Spanish is still very much present. Not because I’ve used it much until now, but because a vaguely autistic drive had me reading Spanish books all night the last year Lin was alive. I should have been studying, but it was better to read gloomy love poems in Spanish. It was a better escape than commercial law.

So that at least I’ve got going for me. Not so much else.

“Hola,” I say and continue in Spanish with the thick accent that I know all the nasty love poems did not erase. “What is your name?”

“Luis,” the boy mutters and flinches again. I don’t try to reach out to him. This has to work or not work.

I look around feverishly. The human waves roll on past us, oblivious. God, I hate them all …

But I have got to pull myself together. I look at him again. What if I was 5 years old?

“How old are you?”

He says he is five and I congratulate myself for yet another easy victory. I also make my best effort at smiling, which is difficult when you are sweaty and hungry and have a beehive for a mind. But at least he gives me something to focus on.

“Where are your parents?” I ask.

“My papa is dead,” Luis says.

What the …

“Now? Where?” I ask and feel the world tumbling.

“Last year,” he says and I calm again. A twitchy weird calm. Because what the hell can you feel after such an answer?

“And your mother?”

“I can’t find her… “

Okay. So now the mission is clear. I get up and finally reach out for his hand. The litmus test.

He takes it.

“Come now. We will go find your mother.”


So we’ve been running around the market for half an hour and I am getting fucking desperate. I’ve tried to follow Luis’s directions. When and where did you last see your mama? I’ve tried asking around but all I get out of it is a growing chunk of ice in my stomach.

I have fucked up. I have made things worse. What if his mother is running around on the other end of the market? Now she can’t find him because he is not where I found him, and where she expected him to be?

No, he said he had walked around. There is no place she expected him to be, except the stall where he wandered off and which he says he can’t remember. His mum was buying bread but I see 10 stalls with bread and none of them have seen a boy like him or his mother.

I stop for a moment and feel the cold knot in my stomach and I dare not look the kid in the eyes, though I know he is looking at me.

“Hey – queres agua?” I ask and hand him my plastic bottle with water. It is half-filled and he drinks greedily but what the hell. I can still afford another bottle. And if I don’t find his mother that will be the least of my problems.

Cochabamba valley market – I hate you. I hate your sea of dirty vegetables and plastic and cracked asphalt, which I can feel through my worn shoe soles. I hate your chattering women. And men. And everyone.

And then suddenly one of those women explode from the crowd and virtually assaults me. “Luis – hijo mio – there you are! What have you done to him?!”

She is slim and wiry and angry as an alley cat. Her black hair swirls around her like a stormy night and there is lightning in those dark eyes.

She tears Luis out of my grip then lashes out of me, as if to hit me. I am not sure. I instinctively take a step backward before I can find out.

“Calm the fuck down! I was just trying to help – !” I cry, in English.

To my surprise she answers in English. “I not need your help. You leave my boy alone.”

“He was lost,” I continue, still in English but she seems like she comprehends, even if her own English is broken and all over the place. “I not believe you. You gringa – you take him for tourist photos.”

My jaw almost hits the asphalt. An elderly woman grins at us, half-hiding behind a mountain of mangos.

“Bien,” I say – going Spanish again because that could at least give me the upper hand now that I am in the ring with this crazy woman – “no quería tomar fotos estúpidas. Tu hijo estaba perdido. Tratamos de encontrarte.”

Yeah, I let her know in no uncertain terms it was not about photos but about finding her. Because maybe, you know, she could’ve looked better after her son, right?

She looks as if she is about to give me another punch, words, or fists.  Luis looks away like he is trying to hide in her skirts.

Then it sinks in.

“You speak e-Spanish?” she blurts, still in her own, heavily accented English.

Yeah, I might have gotten the past tense wrong but I do speak Spanish, you crazy b…

And with that punch of my own, I don’t need to defend myself anymore. Instead, I point to Mango Lady, who is having the time of her life at our expense. “Ask her – preguntarle!

We were here 10 minutes ago, so Mango Lady knows me. Yeah. She and I are like peas and pie.

But it doesn’t matter. I get what I want. When Crazy Mum asks the question, I understand that the mango lady confirms what I say.

Good, or I would have smacked her.

Good that I can still get the gist of it even though they talk much too fast now and weave in and out of Quechua, the native language.

So much for my bloody Spanish. So much for all the long nights with Neruda’s poems while listening intently for Lin’s door. Was she getting up and taking those pills again – one time, or one hundred times too many? Yes, I read those poems all night.

The first time I get to show off and I use what I can to piss somebody off.

They still talk – Crazy Woman and Mango Lady. Luis looks at me. He has my bottle of water in his hand.

“Keep it,” I say in Spanish. Then I turn and walk away before his mother’s interrogation of Mango Lady is finished.

Fucking story of my life … I should talk with people here all the time, share all the time.

I should be much more than a bloody tourist. I actually bothered to learn Spanish, even if I did it for all the wrong reasons. And the first time in weeks I talk to a Bolivian, and not another bloody tourist, it’s Crazy Woman.

I don’t the hell know. I don’t much care. My stomach is no longer ice. But now it is screaming at me to find something to eat, and make it something that won’t send me in exile at the hostel toilet.

So I do what I have done each and every day for the past many weeks. I buy some groceries and bread, and another bottled water. Then I find somewhere to sit and watch people while I chow down.

And I do it like I have done in the months since I crossed the Rio Grande with no goal but to getaway.

I do it the only way I can.



Once again, I am not allowed to be alone.

You know, like I have forced myself to be since I went away on this trip to South America and ditched law school, probably forever.

Since I closed the door for the last time to our apartment back in Columbus.

A void has become the center of me since Lin died. I thought it would help to travel away 6000 miles, but it hasn’t.

And here she comes again, out of the crowd, right towards me. Just when I thought I had found somewhere good, so I could get the fuck away from annoying pests like her.

My spot is a street corner at the far edge of the big market. I eat my dry bread and gulp it down with lukewarm bottled water. I feel kind of good.

And then I see her.

Crazy Woman. With little Luis in tow. Heading towards me.

I should get up but I am so surprised all I manage is to sit like a dunce, with my mouth full of bread.

She reaches me and stops, right in front of me, on the pavement.

With the same assertiveness that almost made her assault me half an hour ago, she says, “I talked to women at the market. I am very sorry.”

I swallow my bread and nod. I don’t know what I look like, but this was the last person in the world I thought would come and see it.

“He told me, too, of course.” She manages a faint smile while looking down at her son quickly. For the first time, I see embarrassment behind her stern façade.

Then her visage changes even more and she shifts to almost despondent.  “I am so, so sorry. Can you forgive me?”

And I am taken aback. If she was the night before then how did the sun come out so fast?

But I can see that she means it. If only she didn’t … mean it so much.

“It’s okay,” I say nonchalantly and try to focus on anything in the crowd behind her. Anything but her.

She bites her lip and begins rambling. “I am really sorry. You see, I – I … “

“It is okay,” I blurt and hold my hands up.  “No harm done. I was just trying to help.”

She nods, more vigorously. “A white hombre – a man – he took Luis, last week. He took photos. Gave him candy.”

I frown. “That’s sick.”

“’Sick’?” she repeats.

Depravado,” I explain.

She shakes her head. “No, no – I don’t think he was like that. His wife was there. But Luis was playing – “ she continues in Spanish and it all comes out more freely.

I don’t run away again. I know how to function among other human beings. I can still do that.

So the story winds down. She was busy outside some office or other, discussing something with some people. Many people were waiting in line. Luis was there and this elderly couple began taking photos of him and giving him, well, candy. And maybe it looked to her like they were going away with him? I don’t know.

She speeds up, and I know she is embarrassed too and wants to get away, too, but she cannot. The story grows like a weed as she tells it and it locks her to the spot. It locks us.

I have to pull it up.

“Look – “I say, continuing in Spanish, “I don’t understand exactly what that hombre did, but I only gave Luis water.” I try a strained smile. “And like I said, I don’t take photos.” I pull out my camera and open the flap. “Look – no film.”

She hesitates a moment, and now she smiles at me and I know she caught it. But she also blushes. I can see it, even though her skin is quite dark – darker than usual for the women of the Bolivian lowlands.

“I must make no sense to you,” she says and ruffles Luis’ hair. The boy is beginning to look around, getting restless.

My turn to shake my head. “No, no – I get it. You thought they were going to take him away. I could have looked like that.”

“Only – “ she replies and something in her dark eyes becomes even darker “ – if you are always on the watch. Then you see ghosts everywhere.”

‘Ghosts’ … There is something in that word. Fantasmas in Spanish. But there is nothing fantastic about it.

I feel cold, even though the afternoon heat is still warm. It is also choking and mixed with fumes from the big roads on either side of the market.

“You see ghosts?” I say, not knowing if it was a question or not I wanted to ask.

Now it is her turn to shake her head, and the red in her cheeks is quite evident now.

“Not those kinds of ghosts … “ Then it looks like she makes a superhuman effort like she has to pull an arrow out of a leg. Her words are slow and strained. “My husband – Luis’ father – was killed a year ago. It was a demonstration. Against the government. A policeman shot him. It has … not been easy since.”

She turns to me again. “I should go now.” She looks like somebody is tearing at her, and it is not Luis.

And what the hell can I say? What would you say?

So I just nod.

“Thank you once again,” she holds out her hand. “I am Julia. Julia Jimenez Aroyo.”

“Carrie,” I say and don’t add anything.

“Ca-ree,” she repeats slowly. Her grip is firm even if she looks like she is falling apart and gathering herself up at least five times in a minute now.

“Julia Jimenez Aroyo,” I repeat.

She smiles one last time, then reaches out for Luis who has been playing with some stones. She begins to walk back towards the market. But then she stops again as a rope jerked her back. Back to one last question. “Where are you going, Ca-ree?”

I look at the bustling market. Then back at the main road and the long line of coughing cars and mini-buses. Then at her. “I am going … back to my hostel.”

“I wasn’t asking that,” she says and her dark eyes now lock firmly with mine. “I was asking where you are going in Bolivia – in South America?”


She grins. “Is that a strange question?”

“Why – no, I mean – “

She grins even more. “So where are you going?”

I feel her sizing me up.

And I let her.

There is a … something in those eyes of hers. The same as before. But before it was angry and ghost-seeing. Now it has revealed a power that was always there, a core that wants to know – all the world around her.

It is a power to lash out to hurt people when they are ghosts. But also to catch them and reel them close.

I know for I have seen that so many times with Lin.

We are what we are. And most of us do want to get to know each other, I guess. We just need to get the ghosts out of the way first.

“I don’t know exactly where I am going,” I admit, and without being able to explain why I know it is safe to admit it to her. This strange, crazy-not-crazy woman. Julia …

She could make all kinds of comments on that. But instead, she says, “Then why don’t you see some more of Cochabamba? I can show you.”

“Really?” I cross my arms in mock seriousness. “What is there to see here?”

“Not much,” she says. “But perhaps you will see more interesting things than me because it is all new to you.”

I hesitate for the briefest of moments.

“Okay,” I say. “Where do we begin?”

“Right here,” she says.


New Year’s Day (IV)

New Year’s Day (IV)

In the morning it didn’t feel as if Jacob wanted to talk more about what happened.

But I didn’t feel as if he wanted to be alone either.

It just felt like he wanted us to go.

… Somewhere.

So we went, down to the beach where we bought a ticket for one of the crammed boats that would take us out into the endless blue depths of the Lake Titicaca, out to the Island of the Sun.

And after searching for a few inches of space in one of them, to sit down, we do just that. We go somewhere.

But first we sit – for a long time. We don’t talk about anything.

We just sit, in the boat, and try to ignore some slight edge of anxiousness that’s in the air.

Like we’re not going anywhere really. Just waiting. But not knowing for what.

After half an hour or so my mind begins to wander. I begin to look too much at the roofed pram they’ve stoked us into. “Uh, – there aren’t enough life-jackets on this boat, are there?”

“Hm – aren’t there?” Jacob mumbles. He looks distracted like he is still thinking about the night. And so many other things.

“No, there aren’t.” I feel a bit queasy. “And have you seen how many passengers we are? If something happens – “

“I don’t think anything will happen,” he says, still in a flat voice.

“I absolutely hate the idea of falling into that lake,” I mutter for lack of anything more brilliant to say on this situation which, right now, we can do zilch to change. “It’s probably freezing.”

“Are you afraid you can’t swim to the shore?” He looks at me. I can see how tired he is.

Did he get any sleep last night, after I saw him like … that?

And it freaks me out that we can’t talk about it. And that there is no space in this boat. And no life-jackets. And about 20 tourists talking happily about all their happy experiences and 10 or so Bolivians traveling back to the island with everything from tin cans to bags full of fruit.

So I stand up and almost hit my head against the wooden roof of the boat. “I’m afraid I can’t get out of this sardine can if everybody panics.”

I look at the other tourists as if they should listen. They seem totally oblivious. Damn it.

I turn to Jacob again. “Maybe we should go outside, get up on the roof?”

“What about our backpacks?” he asks, but I can hear it doesn’t matter

“Who’s going to run away with them – on a boat?”

“I prefer staying down here.”

He dismisses me with a wave of his hand and looks away, out one of the grimy plastic windows. “You go up if you want to.”

Okay. I need to do something. Or I’ll go crazy.

“Are you afraid of the sun?” I ask.

He looks baffled. “The sun? Er … no.”

“Ah – !” I throw my hands up in mock surprise. “So why is it I think that you don’t have faith in my super-suuuunscreen?”

I do some magic, rummaging through my handbag, and get lucky. The first catch is what I am looking for. I pull the bottle of sunscreen out and wave it in front of his nose.

He hesitates for a moment. Then something in his visage changes. Like he is reminded of something. Something that is both stupid and yet real and good.

He laughs. For the first time since I met him.

I suddenly feel grateful. After a few seconds, it’s over, but something seems to be more alight in him now than just before. 

“Maybe faith is something you have when you have to have it,” Jacob says still in a low voice, but now he looks directly up at me as if I am there. “So why do I want to have it and why don’t you seem to want to have it?”

“I … want it to have it.”

Jacob keeps looking at me. “What about everything David Bohm writes about – one of the most esteemed physicists of the 20th century? Or is that just ‘New Agey-wish thinking’?”

“I don’t know,” I say honestly, while at the same time I manage to cast a longing glance towards the door to the small deck in the back of the boat.

A middle-aged Bolivian guy, skin as brown and weathered as 100-year-old leather, sits outside on a small bench, which is part of the railing. He leans cozily back towards the railing, one hand on a tiller that controls both the outboard engine motors. It looks as if he knows the path over all the blueness in his sleep for he doesn’t really look where he is sailing. He just … sits and lets the boat move.

I sit down again. With something resembling a sigh I try to explain in the best way I can.

I chose to stay with him so I owe him that much “Look, rational arguments based on some quantum-something that I don’t know much about and which you read about – they don’t work for me. One thing I do know about quantum physics is that you can interpret it in a million different ways. Just because two particles seem to be connected beyond the speed of light or whatever. Why should that mean that something like ‘God’ exists? That’s a real big leap. And so it just doesn’t work for me. It just makes everything more doubtful.”

Jacob looks as if he’s about to say something, but then he stops himself.

“And – ” I continue, some feeling of finality sweeping over me ” – I don’t feel that I can believe either, just with faith, like so many of these people seem to be able to.”

I nod towards the locals who seem to have decided to clump together in one end of the boat, putting up some invisible wall between themselves and the Babylonian buzz of the tourists. They discuss something in their own language, not Spanish – some indigenous language. Probably something about crops. Or fish. Something sufficiently concrete, no doubt.

And when they need to be helped by that which is not concrete, they’ll go to the cathedral and get their car blessed. How difficult can life be?

Hey, what do you need David Bohm or quantum physics for?

“You lost someone, too.” Jacob states it like he does not want to remind himself of it, although he has never known Lin.

As for me, he might as well have pushed me overboard.

” … Yes.”

He looks down, briefly.

“I’m sorry. Family?”

“A friend.”

“I’m really sorry.”

“Don’t say that – ” I interrupt, not caring if the other tourists hear or understand. “I’m just being selfish now. We shouldn’t be talking about me.”

“Why?” he asks sincerely. “Wasn’t it a good friend?”

“My dearest friend … “

“And Levi was my dearest brother – and my only brother. So you are not selfish.”

“Then why do I feel that way?”

“You are a nice person, Carrie. I wish you’d come to Israel once. I could show you my country. It is a beautiful country.”

“I’d like to go. I don’t think the time is right, though. And I’ve blown the money I got my hands on, all for this trip.”

“Why? The trip, I mean?”

“Because I believe that … it’s necessary. I have to see this lake – Titicaca. It meant something to her.”

“To your friend?”


He nods, slowly. “I couldn’t afford to go either – and I had to borrow some money from my uncle. My father was furious. But I wanted to go. Before – “

I touch his hand lightly. “So we both have to go – without lifebelts.”

This time he doesn’t shy away. 

For a long time we just sit and listen to the drone of the engines and the chatter of our fellow travelers; all excited, eager, looking forward to seeing the island where the sun was born.

Part of the ‘journey of a lifetime’. The myth and legends of the Andes …

“Have you noticed – ” Jacob suddenly says ” – how the water looks as if it’s sprinkled with diamonds?”

I turn around, peak out the dusty plastic window of the cabin. Then I see a hasp and manage to pry the window open. Immediately we can see everything clearly.

Including the diamonds.

“Oh, my – it is beautiful … ” I mumble on but very soon I shut up and just look.

“The Incas saw this place and knew that this was where the Sun was born,” Jacob says in the background, ” – or at least that’s what I read in the guidebook. I didn’t know much about Incas before I bought my Lonely Planet.”

I squint my eyes against the sun. “Neither did I.” 

All around us, the profound azure blue of the Lake but now dotted with thousands and thousands of small, star-like diamonds.

And I had been so busy thinking about … everything. I hadn’t even noticed it, and we’ve sailed what? An hour? At least.

“It’s the high noon sun that makes it look like that,” Jacob starts to explain.

Then he stops and lets out a breath as if he also lets go of something heavy. At least for now.

“And we’re way up in the mountains – not a cloud on the sky,” he continues after a few moments. “So in a way the lake is almost close enough to touch the sun. It looks that way, doesn’t it?”

“It’s … beautiful,” I just repeat, at a loss for words again. “I wish I could take a photo, but with my old camera it’ll probably end up like shit.”

“Better just to watch it then … ” Jacob says. “Maybe it’s always better to try to experience the most beautiful things in life directly.”

And so we try.


Last edit: 7 Sep 2021

New Year’s Day (III)

New Year’s Day (III)

Night …

I’m trying to sleep in spite of my stomach doing the alien thing.

I don’t think the impatient restaurant guy washed his hands too well before he prepped those trouts for us.

And now there is noise, too.

Who in this itsy-bitsy-tiny hostel has a walk-man with the volume of a ghetto-blaster?!

With some effort, I push the squeaky door open. Guess who I find out on the patio.

“Jacob, shouldn’t you be in bed?”

“Can’t sleep,” he mutters.

“No wonder- ” I cross my arms ” – I can’t sleep either. Not since Bono moved in.”

I nod at the walk-man. It is on a small table in the middle of the patio. Jacob is sitting on a plastic chair beside the table. He is alone, except for several beer bottles. He looks up at me but he doesn’t really see me.

I tentatively step out from my room and into the patio. I glance at the other doors to the other rooms. Nobody else seems to have noticed this little private concert.

Perhaps they didn’t want to yell at someone they didn’t know? I get that. And I’d rather do ten thousand other things, but with my stomach messed up like this, I have to get some quiet, between all the running back and forth to the toilet. Or I’m going to be even more a nervous wreck than I am, come morning.

So do I take his walk-man or turn it off or throw it over the roof and out onto the street? I don’t know. But I have to do something.

The night is ink-black and it’s freezing at least 10 degrees below zero. This tiny town by the Lake Titicaca may look like some kind of South American mountain Riviera-heaven during the day, as welcoming in real life as on the covers of brochures.

But you don’t want to stumble around for too long up here when the night falls.

So I quickly pull out the other plastic chair in order to sit down opposite Jacob. I cram my sleeping bag down in the chair first, though, and then wrap it around me as I sit down. Then I just sit there and try to figure out what the hell to say.

Jacob has no such problems, although what he says doesn’t make much sense. “This – this is a fucking great song, Carrie. Really f-fucking great.”

I try to say something but then he makes a sudden jerky move with his hand as if to wave away all advance critique of this song. He succeeds in smashing one of the bottles against the cracked tiles of the patio.

I jump back in the chair and it almost buckles under me, so I nearly – but not quite – fall on my back, down on the hard, freezing tiles. Like most other places in Bolivia, they have a lot of chairs – but all of them are plastic, commercials for Coca Cola mostly because they are free. But hell to sit on. “Shit! If you have to recreate a rock concert, including the cheap beer, why in heaven’s name do you have to do it right out here?”

“S-sorry …” He tries to pull the two surviving bottles closer together on the table. They are all open, I notice. Different brands, one stronger than the other.

He must have been sipping them all by his lonesome until he decided to crank up the music. How long has he been out here?

“I’d better g-go back into m-my room … ” Jacob tries to get up from the small table in the middle of the patio but he’s not doing too well. He drops back down in his own buckling plastic chair and begins gulping from another bottle.

I notice his thin blouse. He had a coat when we came on the bus, but he seems to have forgotten it somewhere. He hasn’t even taken one of the zillion blankets from his room and brought it with him out here.

“You’ll get pneumonia if you stay out here, Jacob.”


“So just go to bed, okay?”

He tries to get up again; this time he succeeds. Barely. At the cost of another bottle that is smashed against the pink and grey tiles of the patio floor.

“Jacob – be careful!” I make to get up, but it is difficult with my sleeping bag and all.

He looks down at his feet, as if he hadn’t heard me or as if it didn’t matter that his feet were there or that he had only sandals. Or that the glass shards from another broken bottle could have gone clean through both the soles of the sandals – and the soles of his feet – had he stepped on that bottle.

I scout around, trying not to look too annoyed. There’s light in one other room and down in the bottom of the patio, at the entrance,  by the diminutive reception.

I wonder why the owner hasn’t come around yet. Maybe he doesn’t want to lose customers? This place sure looks like it could need some more tourist feed.

Suddenly Jacob turns and shuffles into his room, not a word of good night or anything.

He forgot something, though.

Though I want to be with you
Be with you night and


It’s only fair that I mention that Jacob did turn down the damn thing, the moment I came out. But now I turn it off.

Then I look at the closed door to his room. I am annoyed with myself because I still bother … but after a little while, I pick up his walk-man and go to the door, and knocks gently.

He opens it ajar. “W-hat?”

I shiver and it is not because of the cold. In the light from the lamp over the patio I now clearly see his face. But it is a ghost face. Like he is some shell of someone else.

“You, uh, forgot your ‘ghettoblaster’.” I hand him the walk-man.


“Just keep it a bit down, okay?” I say, trying my best to make light of this whole annoying situation. “Michael Jackson must have invented those earphones; it’s like having a loudspeaker in the middle of the yard.”

Jacob nods, but in a way that doesn’t really make me confident that he understood me. Or cared.

“G’night, Jacob. Sleep well, okay?”

He doesn’t answer, just closes the door, like somebody closing the lid to a coffin.

I want to be worried. I have seen something like this before, I’m afraid. But I don’t want to think about that. I never want to think about that again. And I really have to think about myself.

I go back to my room, swallow some more Imodium to put a stop to my stomach once and for all. I hope it’s enough … to keep everything locked up.


Even deeper in the night …

My stomach finally decided to reboot a bit. The pain is only like somebody tattooing me now, without sedation. But with needles, not a pair of scissors. At least I have that.

When you travel to South America for the first time and you are on a shoestring you learn these lessons the hard way. You learn to be hungry instead of eating something that you have even the slightest sense will upset your stomach. You learn to appreciate feeling well in your body, like normal – not like you want to flee it every second, because it hurts so damn much.

In fact, I have never hurt so much in my life – physically. As when I ate something down here I should not have. And it takes weeks for my stomach to reset itself. In the beginning, I had some faint, grudging idea that it would take away my focus at least, on why I am here. Why I keep running. But at some point, you just realize that it hurts too much. And you want the pain to go away. You’d give anything.

Right now I sigh deeply and release some of the tension, as another shot of chemicals from my grand assortment of pain- and germ killers do their work and I feel myself slowly getting back into my own skin. The room is dark and there are no particular shapes for the faint light from behind the curtains to catch on to. Just my bed and a little table, not even a poster on the wall with some busty lady advertising the latest Bolivian beer.

It is all simple and relaxing. As it should be after so many hours of the opposite.

But I can’t help think of Jacob.


I heave myself out of bed and waddle over to the wall, still with the sleeping bag wrapped around me, trying the impossible art of not letting feet touch the cold floor for too long at a time.

I shouldn’t care. I shouldn’t really care. But I’m already fully dressed – (yes, in my sleeping bag) – because of the damn cold and because I want to protect whatever I can still feel of my body after my little flirt with the local bacteria.

So it’s relatively easy to skid outside and over to his door, next to mine – both facing the small patio.

I just want to make sure, you know.

I knock on his door again. “Jacob?”

Some unintelligible sounds. But it is him, all right.

” … Is everything okay?”

Was that laughter?

“Can I come in?”

No answer. However, the door is not locked. I push the door open.

And there he is, Jacob – right in the middle of his own … god-awful mess.

I wouldn’t have imagined that it was possible to make a mess in these rooms that look like something decorated by Spartans on a budget, but Jacob has practically torn open his rucksack and spilled its contents all over the room.

He has also, it seems, spilled quite a few gallons of that cheap local brew he must have bought on the market while I went home early when I first noticed that something was not right about that trout. Some of the beer is on the floor is on the icy tiles on the floor, in big sticky poodles. And I just stepped in one of them with my bare feet.

God, it stinks in here. Has he thrown up? I can’t see, because the light switch doesn’t work, so we only have the light from the patio’s single bulb. I tear the curtains away and almost regret it.

Now I see him.

… Jacob’s lying there, on the bed, fetus-position, all curled up; still in his clothes from yesterday.

I hesitate but then I sit down on the bed. It squeaks a little. The only sound in the room. Except for my voice now.

“Jacob, are you … ill?”

He shakes his head.

“Jacob … what is it?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Yes, it does. How can you say it doesn’t matter?”

“Because it’s going to happen anyway – just like everything else.”

“What is?”

No answer. I look around for something –  to use to wedge myself back into this conversation that I don’t really want to be having.

“Uh, so what have we here?” I pick up the book from somewhere between two folds of Jacob’s Prussian blue sleeping bag. It’s part of the pile at the foot-end of Jacob’s bed; a pile that also includes a small case for his glasses (empty), an unopened beer bottle, and a pair of dirty underpants.

I look at the cover. Between the beer and coffee splotches, the title is clear enough.

“‘David Bohm: Wholeness and the Implicate Order’? – Nifty choice of travel reading, Jacob.”

No answer.

“Okay – okay. Not funny. Jacob, please … “

I gently touch his shoulder and he just lies there, as if he is dead. For a moment I become afraid that he actually is dead if it wasn’t for the fact that I could see his chest heaving up and down like he had to make an effort each time.

But his eyes …

He is lying on his side, looking away from me, staring into the gray wall that separates his room from mine; looking into that strange world that only he can see.

“Jacob … “

“Uhn … “

“Can I get you anything? Can I – “

“I wasn’t trying to be smart, Carrie.”


“Asking you about God and everything … “

“Oh, forget that. I just want to know if you’re ill or something or just drunk. I really don’t feel all that well myself, so if you’re just … drunk, I’ll go back, mind my own business. So is that it? Tell me you are just drunk.”

“I’m just drunk. You can go mind your own business.”

I nod and … stay rooted to the bed.


“Look, Jacob – it was nice of you to stay, to wait for me. So tomorrow we’ll go to Isla del Sol. Together.”

“Hmn … “

“That’ll be nice, right?”

“Hnn … “

“So, uh, I never really got around to asking, but are you going to, uh, Cuzco next? How about the Inca Trail? I … wish I’d done that.”

“Hmm … maybe.”

“But you still have time? You’re not going home next week, are you?”

“In a month.”

“Plenty of time then.”

“Yes, plenty of… time.”

“So what then? College? Some job waiting for you?”


“Wh – “

He doesn’t turn around, just lies there; staring hard into the wall.

“Wh –” I start again but can’t seem to do any better than that.

“Prison, Carrie. Because I’m not going to do military service for 3 years. Three! I’m not going to do that!”

“And then you … you have to go to prison? Is that for certain?”

He does something with his shoulders that I think is a shrug, pulls his legs closer to himself; still staring hard at the wall, not blinking.

“I’m sure there must be some way of – “

“There isn’t.”

I don’t have anything to say about that.

He rattles on. ” – But I don’t want to go to prison. I just want to … “

He trails off.

My own voice feels far away now. “I wish I knew what to say.”

“You don’t have to know what to say.”

“Maybe military won’t be so … I mean, maybe it’ll be better than prison. At least. Maybe it’ll – “

“My brother died in the military. He is – was – just two years older than me.”

” … “

” – Blown to bits by some suicide bomber. A girl, around 15. She came walking up to the checkpoint asking for candy.”

“Oh, God – I’m so sorry … I’m so sorry.”

For a moment his eyes narrow and some kind of stillness creeps into the room; stillness full of ice.

“Strange … ” he then remarks. “You use God’s name a lot. Yet, you don’t believe in some god or other.”

“It’s just a manner of speaking.” I run a hand through my hair and can’t help noticing how filtered it is. “Look, are we … going to argue about God now?”

He shakes his head; like he just awoke from some dream. Then he shivers. And changes. “I – I don’t want you to be mad at me, Carrie.”

“I’m not mad at you.”

“I didn’t want to offend you. I didn’t want to impress you because … you shouldn’t think that I wanted to … with you … or anything.”

I almost smile. “It’s okay. I wasn’t offended and I didn’t think you were out to score me or … ‘anything’.”

“I just … ” He shakes his head again. I try to find something new to say. I have to.

“Look, I can understand why you don’t want to go into the army. I mean, I’d be afraid of that, too.”

“It’s not that. I just don’t want revenge.”


“They demolished the entire village, Carrie. They just drove in with tanks and everything and some other children who were in the way, they got … “

His voice breaks as if a stone got crushed in his throat.

“I’m sure they didn’t demolish the entire village?” But I know full well that if the Israeli army wants to demolish something, they are quite able to do just that.

“They just drove through some houses – ” he continues, fighting with the stone ” – houses with families. They arrested a lot, too. But they never found those responsible for sending the girl. Hamas said they did it, but Hamas is just … everywhere. You can’t arrest Hamas. It was in Gaza.”

I discover that my hand is still on his shoulder. I’m not sure if I should move it again. When is the right time to move it if you sit with someone like this?

I can also feel that the pills I swallowed are no longer working as well as they should and I really want to get to that island tomorrow. But now – now it is 4 AM and I’m sitting here.

And Siobhan is probably off to have fun with that Olympic swimmer or whomever it was we spied at the bar – if they are both still in Puno. I could have been, too.

But I’m here instead – here with skinny, beer-stinking, lip-biting Jacob.

And this, apparently, is where I’m going to stay and I loathe myself because I can’t mobilize a tiny bit of idealism about it. Yes, I want to be the pure-hearted martyr if only for a moment, but I wish … I really wish he’d just stop; that I hadn’t heard all this.

I put the book away.

He notices. “I have a favorite quote by David Bohm, actually … “


“Yes … ‘The notion that all these fragments are separately existent is evidently an illusion, and this illusion cannot do other than lead to endless conflict and confusion.'”


“Everything in the world: particles, thoughts, trees … “

“Even Israelis and Palestinians?”

“I’m thinking … that if I can understand what Bohm means when he talks about this … wholeness that pervades everything, then perhaps I understand for sure – with my mind – how God could exist. Okay, maybe not the God of the Torah or of your Bible but some kind of divine dimension to life – something that links us together.”

He finally sits himself up in bed, but he looks like he had already been in a war. He takes the book, weighs it in his hands, looking intently at it, as if he is trying to remember another quote from it.

“Jacob … ? Maybe you should try to get some sleep. It’s awfully late.”

“You know, I have read a dozen books about interpretations of quantum physics, Carrie: Capra, Bohm, even that one by Greene about string theory … to me they all point to some greater wholeness the binds together everything; something we can’t just explain with our theories about combinations of dead, soulless atoms racing about in empty space.”

“But what do you want … explained? Why your friend died?”

He bites his lip, seems to grip the book harder. Then tears come to his eyes. And I can see that he is ashamed of them.

“I just want to choose my own way in life – without being punished for it. And I don’t want to have revenge. I don’t want to be like that. Running over a couple of Palestinian kids with a tank doesn’t bring Levi back. I won’t be like that … I won’t.”

He lets his head sink down on his chest, lets the book slip from his hands. “Even if I can somehow avoid prison – there are some ways – it’ll never be good with my family. My father is an officer. He is proud of Levi. Proud of his ‘sacrifice’ – can you believe he said that?”

Jacob looks up, staring wildly at me like I had some of the answers he is looking for. 

I just have one. “If it’s about fathers, yes, Jacob – I believe you. I believe you very, very much.”

“I should just stay here,” Jacob mutters, looking down at the floor. “I should never go back to Israel. But I can’t. Eventually, I will go back. So I’m also a coward.”

“No …”

I reach. For him.

And he flinches … draws away.

The moment dies.

“You … should go now,” he says.

Then he begins to pick up his stuff, with no real plan for it. He just piles it on the other end of the bed.

“Jacob, I – “

“Please, just go now.”

“Jacob … “

” … I would like to be alone.”

” … Okay.”


Last updated: 7 Sep 2021

New Year’s Day (II)

New Year’s Day (II)

“Do you think the blessing will protect them?” Jacobs asks, looking at the procession.

“Are you asking me again if I believe in God?” I ask back, trying to sound neutral.

He shrugs. “I’m just very interested in religion.”

“So I noticed.” I give him a non-committal smile.

We’re still in Copacabana, Bolivia – not its colorful cousin in Rio. This is the cold and austere version. The one where you have trouble breathing because you are almost 13,000 feet up in the mountains.

The Copacabana cathedral spire is standing out like white cardboard against the blazing blue sky. Two dozen or so bulky Bolivian drivers are waiting patiently to get their trucks sprinkled with holy water by the priest.

The Benedicion de Movilidades occurs daily and Jacob insisted that we went to see it, before crossing over to Isla del Sol out in the Lake Titicaca, which is where everybody is going.

But right now here we are in front of the cathedral looking at all the cars, trucks, and buses lined up to receive a cha’lla, a ritual blessing – some odd combo of the local Pachamama-worship and reluctant Catholicism. And so they spray booze on the cars (that’s the holy water if you sacrifice to Pachamama), but they do it in front of the Church of the Holy Virgin.

Jacob snaps one pic after another with his tiny but very pro-looking camera.

I just gawk – fascinated.

I mean, when this is all over the vehicles and their drivers should be protected against driving on some of the world’s most dangerous roads, all of which are here in Bolivia … I wonder if they are protected against their own thirst for strong liquor?

“Look,” Jacob says, after snapping three more pictures. “I’m not religious as in ‘fanatical Jew’-religious.”

“Never said you were fanatic about anything.” I try to concentrate on the ritual. I really try.

But Jacob keeps it up. “However, I’ve taken my Bar Mitzvah, read my Torah and all the things you’re supposed to.”

Okay, now I have to look at him. “That … doesn’t sound very heartfelt.”

“It wasn’t,” he agrees and nods, “but I do believe – just in my own way I guess.”

“And what way is that?” I ask, already beginning to regret that we are talking about this again. Or rather, that I’m trying to be nice by indulging him and pretending I want to talk.

“Well, take these rituals – ” Jacob explains, frowning as if he is concentrating, “I’m not sure they’ll work. I think it depends a lot on what goes on in the drivers’ minds and hearts and the way they themselves believe.”

“You’re saying,” the nice part of me keeps on, ” that God or the Earth Mother – Mrs. Pachamama – only hears the prayers of those who believe they will be heard?”

“No, not exactly … ” Jacob shakes his head. “Maybe ‘God’ is not the right word,” Jacob tries. “Have … you heard about the new interpretations of quantum physics?”

Who-boy. I think I could need some holy protection myself now.

“No. Can’t say that I have. Jacob.”

He doesn’t catch my drift. Maybe he is tone-deaf?

Jacob clears his throat, then sloughs on. “There are quite a few different interpretations of what the, shall we say, manifestations of quantum physics mean – for example, the fact there appears to be a way of subatomic particles to communicate that is faster than light. Maybe it means that they are part of some … universal wholeness, something that links everything and everyone together across time and space.”

Oh, for fuck’s sake …

I mean I had the whole day in my mind’s eye. It was easy to see how it should play out. We started last night by checking in at the cheap but friendly hostel. We got a room each. We slept beneath 10 blankets to keep the mountain cold out of the unheated rooms and while shivering we tried to divert ourselves thinking up all the nice touristy stuff we could do when day came. But I guess Jacob was thinking about something else.

“Are you doing this on purpose?” I ask sharply.

“Uh … ” Jacob starts, but I don’t let him explain.

“I told you yesterday I wasn’t really big on talking religion and stuff, because my friend had just died.”

“Okay,” he mutters. “I’m sorry. I was just thinking about this ritual. Sorry.”

“You think a lot about this stuff. Can’t you just watch and take some photos?” I ask, knowing that I sound like a class A jerk now.

But every time I try not to feel annoyed by this, it’s like it’s having the opposite effect on me. I just get angrier.

We stand in silence for a while, but it’s like the spectacle in front of us has lost its power.

We come here secretly snickering about how stupid it is to believe that you are blessed by booze and then drink more booze and drive. We come here and think we have it all figured out and they – the Bolivians – haven’t.

Which is why we hate to be reminded of all the shit we haven’t figured out ourselves.

“Look …” I say, doing my best to get this day back to the plan I had imagined, “I’m going to get a tougher sunscreen. The sun’s really hitting hard now.”

I make as if I want to head back to the crowded main street with all the tourist shops.

“I could use some sunscreen, too,” he says and my shoulders drop. A lot.

“Cold and sunburn,” Jacob says trying a faint smile, “what a combination.”

“Yeah,” I say, “only in the Andes. Or mountains, I guess.”

So we walk and talk about those things I had planned. The things that don’t have you think too much. Or not at all.

I hope we can keep it up.


Last edited: 7 Sep 2021

New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day

“I was wondering … do you believe in God?”

“Excuse me?”

“Do you believe in God?”

“Jacob – we’re about to eat.”

“Well, if that’s a problem … “

I ignore his last comment; my gaze concentrated on the menu. Jacob seems confused for a second, then looks straight through me, into some kind of world in the empty restaurant behind me that only he can see.

He’s an okay guy, though. Kind of. I guess.

It happened as it always does. We got to sit next to each other on the bus from Puno in Peru to Copacabana here in Bolivia. By the time we were ready to stand in line like cows at the cramped border station to get out tourist visas, we just sort of drifted together once more.

Preemptive insanity protection, you know; if I hadn’t had someone to talk to during that hour, I’d have gone positively loco, as they say here. Because Bolivians apparently seem to think that efficiency rhymes with multiplicity. So if you need three stamps in your passport, for example, it is obvious that you also need three persons for the job – one to give each stamp – and one long line to get each stamp.

“What’ll you have?” I ask him again.

“Hmm … “

Jacob scans the menu as if it was a secret map. At least he finally picked it up.

The small, round restaurant owner hovers over in some imaginary corner of his small, round restaurant and waits patiently for us damn gringos to make the decision that will secure him a few hard-earned bits of another day’s pay.

It’s a touristy place, I’m sure – but not now. Except for us. Because we’re very late – because the bus from Puno was very late and because of the Kafka-esque stamp circus at the border.

I make a supreme effort to concentrate on the choice of fish and the funny English spelling errors in the menu.

“They don’t have Diet Coke here?” Jacob suddenly exclaims to no one but himself.

“I don’t think they know what that means.”

“Diet or Coke?” he asks, raising his eyebrows and looking directly at me like he was a comedian waiting for the audience to react to his punchline.

“Funneee … ” I snort and push away my menu. “Hey, you aren’t diabetic or something?”

“No,” he replies. “Just never liked all that sugar. So what about it?” He closes his menu.

“What about what?” I feel tired already.

“If you believe in God – ” he stops and quickly follows up ” – I didn’t offend you? By asking, I mean?”

“Of course, you didn’t.”

Oh, brother.

“I just read somewhere – ” Jacob continues ” – that despite what everyone thinks about the United States – with your Christian Right, Bible belt and all – Americans are in actuality quite secular-minded.”


He puts the menu away like he’s already forgotten about it. The owner frowns.

“Meaning that you say that you believe in God – but most of you don’t.”

“I’d like to show that little research to my uncle from Louisiana.”

“Is he very religious?”

“He practically lives in church. I think he’s a Baptist or something, though, but I don’t know much about the different strands of … Have you decided?”

“About what?”

“Food, Jacob – ” I say and realize that I am no longer trying to hide my irritation. “I almost haven’t had anything since we left Puno. Do you want to be responsible for me dying of starvation? If you don’t make up your mind soon, our amigo over there is going to have a fit and kick us out.”

“I hardly think so. We seem to be the only ones in his restaurant.”

“Just choose.”

“Okay, I’ll have the trucha. Am I saying it right? – And a normal Coke.”

I lean back and try not to sigh from relief. The owner’s smile widens again and he comes over, greasy, curled notepad in hand. I try again not to think too much about Siobhan back in Puno, that I could have been sitting here with her instead of just leaving in the morning without a word. Is she disappointed that I left without saying goodbye?

No. She seemed so carefree, so upbeat… She probably already forgot me. I really think that she has.

Yes, I really think she has.

And now I’m sitting here with Jacob instead. Whoo-hoo.

He’s definitely not remotely like that cutie Siobhan and I gawked at in that Puno bar last night. More like your stereotypical student-type; a bit thin, big glasses, don’t-care-too-much-about-my-hair-hairdo, and generally too introspective and silent to be much attracted to a dance floor.

It probably looks like a minefield to him.

We eat our trucha – trout – and fries and drink normal Coke, all in relative silence, except for the usual small talk about travel plans from here and guestimates about bus and boat fares.

The topic of God does not come up again, but I think Jacob is thinking of it. Or that he is still thinking about whether or not he insulted me or something. Trust me, a girl develops instincts to detect a guy’s thoughts about such things, especially when it relates to her.

And now he begins to talk about religion again, sort of sneaking up on the topic. 

“I wrote an essay in high school about why we keep thinking God must be good, even if there is so much proof to the contrary … ” And he smiles his shy but kind of endearing smile and adds: “I thought for once I would get good grades by sounding really smart and copying large parts of text from an old philosophy book I had found, and which I believed not even my teacher had read.”

I just nod but don’t say anything. I really don’t feel like talking about … it.

At that begins to feel awkward now – this God-sized elephant in the restaurant. And, you know, I do regret sitting here pretending I like being with him and not wanting to talk about what seems to be really on his mind. He was good to talk to while we drove along the winding roads along the Lake and marveled at the new-fallen snow on the hills above the Lake, while the sun was blazing from an azure mountain sky. I told him all about high school and college in Ohio and he got all the usual lies about why I felt so damn free traveling here, taking a break from my studies, carving my own path, and yadayadayada.

And all the while I tried to forget how I chose to leave Siobhan in Puno without even saying goodbye. She would have been a good traveling mate.

Better than shy Jacob I have to admit, but on the other hand he is here and she is not. And he means well. And I …

I hurt like hell but I don’t want to be a bitch-in-disguise. I have already tried that too often and it never works.

“Look,” I start and slowly turn my last fry around on the plate. “I think it’s … an interesting topic … God and all. But I just went to a funeral some weeks ago. I don’t feel like talking about it much.” I give him my best smile. “I hope you understand.”

“I do,” he says without hesitation. “I don’t agree, though.”

My brows go into knit-mode instantly. “About what?”

He shakes his head and finishes the last of his fries as well. “Forget it. I understand. I would just have said that maybe it’s the best of time to talk about … God.” He looks up, almost apologetically. “When … you know.”

“Right,” I say and I actually feel something warm in my chest now and it’s not excess heat from those lazy fries.

He really wants to talk. About this and a million other things, I guess. Which I don’t care much about, yeah. But he doesn’t want to be a jerk.

I guess we have that much in common, then.

“Come on,” I say and get up, pushing out the squeaky chair from the table and nodding towards the door, our escape into the cacophony of the main street. “Let’s go find a place to stay.”

“I saw a nice-looking hostel just around the block,” Jacob says. “Aransaya, I think it was.”

“Yeah, that looked nice.”

It also looked cheap enough, but I don’t say anything about that. I have burnt my money much too fast coming down here, but that is also a topic I don’t feel like discussing.

So we pay and leave the restaurant and it feels like we are good. All the elephants walk out of the restaurant and follow us, though.


Last edited: 7 Sep 2021

Across Icy Pools

Across Icy Pools

Siobhan could not stop thinking about Carrie. Why had she left?

Siobhan was not one to think too much about people’s motivations, she rather preferred to evaluate others by their actions.

But here now was a discrepancy. She could not, even with her best efforts, understand why Carrie had left her room at the hotel, so early in the morning, without even leaving a message of some kind.

They had not formally agreed to do anything together today, that was true, too.

Except perhaps that simple unspoken agreement of two people who have shared a warm-hearted evening together, drinking and joking, in a frosty town on the shore of a mountain lake in tourist land – a certain chillingly blue mountain lake that made out the natural border between Peru and Bolivia: Titicaca.

As Siobhan continued carefully to take a few more steps out onto the long, spindly wharf – little more than some tied-together rubber tires with planks stapled on them – she could not stop thinking, though.

About Carrie.

The plan had been simple – even obvious: She was backpacking and aiming to see as much as possible of Peru until she had to go back to “tedious life” (as she never failed to consider it). So what did you see at the world’s highest navigable lake?

What did you really want to see? According to all guides, the azure blue waters of the lake, the mile-long reed lands along the coast, colorful and mysterious indigenous locals who certainly did not live from tourism all year round, but always made an exception for the visitors?

Did she want to see all that? Not on her own.

She had woken up today, and it had been clear in your mind that she was going to be together with someone she actually cared quite a bit for, odd as it was.

But Carrie had left her. Without a word. Snuck out of the hotel in the early hours.

And it was not even a fun thought any longer, to go see fat Andean women in their overstuffed dresses selling small reed boat figurines and having their children sing ‘row-row-row your boat’ in dreadful Spanish as a goodbye to you, ‘esteemed visitor’.

Carrie had just checked out. No messages.

And Siobhan’s urge to island-jump on Los Uros, the artificial reed tourist magnets, had all but checked out, too.

She had, in fact, been very close to just jumping on the bus back to Cuzco, but decided against it. It was a bit too silly now that she had come this far.

But the day was already old, and the last boats to Los Uros had sailed. She was stuck here in Puno.

So she drifted a bit herself on dry land, in fact, she walked very far into the outskirts of the city, ignoring the burning mountain-sky sun and the sickly looking street dogs.

Then suddenly something new had stopped her:

Down by the waterside, there was something that looked like a very different ship … near a wharf that jutted out from a sunburnt lawn that went all the way down to the water.

A long, narrow pontoon bridge led to the ship. It looked as if one could go out there.

And so she did because she had nowhere else to go.

And while she walked carefully across the unsteady wharf, swaying in the shallow waters for each of her steps, and as the steamer grew in front of her – all that had happened to her – to them – just the night before … came back to her once more.

And she again felt sorry, for herself first – because she was alone, and then for Carrie because she could not even be here, to explore this new adventure… Whatever had driven her away this morning had had to be pretty serious.

Siobhan reached the entry ladder of the ship. A name that sounded local was inscribed in big black letters on the white upper side of the hull. A friendly name, of sorts, although she had no clue what it meant. It was probably Quechua, the resident Indian language.

The ship seemed to be open for visitors, but not a single soul was there to greet her. No ticket-person, of which there usually were many in Peru, no guide, no no-one.

Should she … try to go aboard?

In the end, the decision was easy: No.

Who cared about an old steam-ship, even if it was some kind of strangely inviting apparition?

Who cared to go aboard and get thrown off again, because it was outside opening hours, or not allowed at all, or some such – when you had to go alone?

Who cared to stay aboard and explore if it was allowed – when the one you had counted on or made yourself believe you could count on to go with you and explore such things when she had just … gone away?

Siobhan started walking back along the wobbly wharf.

No, it didn’t matter. Without Carrie, it didn’t matter. But Carrie was probably gone for good. Damn.

She had to find someone else to travel on with, just for a few days. The thought of traveling alone for more than a few days made her queasy.

Siobhan stopped in the middle of the makeshift wharf. She looked carefully back over her shoulder, towards the old steamer.

Why was she about to pull the same stunt as Carrie did to her?

True, Siobhan was not used to people leaving her. It was a new feeling. It was like … a clear pool you had discovered when out walking, to your delight – perhaps after a rainy evening.

You had stopped and mirrored yourself in it, found a certain sort of odd company in your own reflection – if only for a second or two; enjoyed it immensely, perhaps even kneeling down to gently strafe the rim of the pool with your finger and then …

… it turns to ice.

Yes. That’s how it felt.

But … she had only known Carrie for a day, and despite her deep feeling of connection, a day was not enough to behave like Carrie.

She looked back at the ship…

“Somebody left you, too, huh?” she murmured. “No explanation? Perhaps we should stop that kind of silliness here, then … before it becomes contagious … “

Siobhan turned and walked back – to the waiting ship.


 Last edited 22 December, 2021

Islands in the Mind

Islands in the Mind

Her name’s Siobhan—(21, Cape Breton, Canada)— and she’s been my travelling mate for about half an hour.

We both happened to need a chat while struggling to make the ancient computer at the Margarita hostel send an e-mail before it went into another coma.

And we both gave up one of us just going ‘fuck it—I’m going to grab something to eat. Hey—want to come?’

And next we both went out in to the dull streets of this near-border town, but didn’t feel hungry anyway and decided to stroll the harbor instead.

Isn’t that enough to be travel mates, even if it only last for a few precious hours one random evening in your life?

Siobhan is already filling me in on her personal manifesto about why everyone should travel round the world for at least a year in their lives, and how—by the way—her dull ex-boyfriend, whom she dumped before leaving Canada, was more interested in becoming a lawyer ASAP and spending the next 40 years on the job market, instead of 39.

Oh, and Siobhan is going to be a travelling journalist, once she gets around to that education— once she gets home, that is. In a few months. ‘Maybe a little more.’

She should annoy me.

She really should.

But God, it’s good to be with someone like her after traveling alone for so long.


It is a cold afternoon here at the harbor in Puno, Peru—on the shores of Lake Titicaca, that painfully blue jewel that somebody dropped from the sky right in the middle of the Andes and which I’ve been traveling just around 5000 miles to reach, without exactly knowing why.

It is always a cold afternoon by Lake Titicaca.

And here we sit with our legs dangling over the pier, my overcoat tucked good and well and Siobhan’s poncho wrapped around her. We sit and behave like a couple of girls on a summer swim at some tropical pool and chat and laugh. And when we shiver we chat and laugh a bit more, and tuck our clothes a bit more, and then we can keep it at bay a little while longer.

It will not get warmer, though.

If I continue directly from here, I’ll arrive in Bolivia—over there on the other side of the Lake—about 5 hours drive in one of those chicken-cramped minivans that seem to go for buses around here. Still about 12000-13000 feet up.

“ –  So what do you think we should do now?” Siobhan asks.

“I think we should go get something to eat soon,” I say. “I could eat one of those llamas over there, if we stay here much longer.”

I nod to the left of us, and Siobhan looks in that direction, beyond the paint-flaked tourist boats.

A brave young Peruvian is standing rigid near one of the tourist boats with not one, but two llamas. He is in full local colorful dress, which he will probably throw off as soon as he gets the chance, but which right now is his best opportunity to get some tourist to take a photo and leave a coin or two.

“Well, I don’t want to see you eat a llama here at the harbor,” Siobhan deadpans. “So I vote we go.”

She is on her feet, stretching out her hand. I grab it.

Siobhan’s got sparkling eyes, that’s the first thing I noticed about her, when we met up at the hostel; the eyes that instantly inspires trust although it’s a complete stranger. Wondrous, isn’t it?

I wonder what she sees in mine.

“Maybe we should wait a bit.”

“Wait for what? It’s freezing out here.”

“We’re in the mountains, stupid.”

“As if I hadn’t noticed.”

She shakes her head, spits in the water—then proceeds, as if she concluded on an article about odd Scottish-American girls she met on her travels:

“Carrie, you really are a hard one to figure out—you know that?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“It’s just that you seem to change your mind every five minutes.”

“You have barely known me for over five times five minutes; how do you know that’s not normal for me?”

“Is it?”

She blinks teasingly, as if this all was some kind of big joke; as if we had been drinking too much already and were just talking nonsense because we had nothing better to do.

Then she gets up. She puts a hand on one of my shoulders for support.

Siobhan, I’ve already figured, is one of those girls who has a natural self-confidence; a gene that nullifies any fear or reservation that some well-meaning but ultimately destructive parent or authority figure might have planted in her. She just does things whenever she wants to.

Yeah, I sure got her figured out.

“Look, if you want to sit here and look at the flaking paint on those cargo boats, be my guest …” —She dusts of her already way-too dusty jeans—“I’m cold and I’m going to get myself some of that nice hot soup they advertised across the hostel—if that cardboard with the twisted letters hasn’t been blown away by the wind already.”

I don’t look up at her. The Lake is somehow holding me—even now, when we are here; in some joke town where tourists flee from as fast as possible because it doesn’t live up to their prejudiced dreams of exotic Titicaca.

“Okay, Siobhan—go. I’ll join you later. If you survive…”

“I’ve survived street food in Botswana, Bangalore and Beijing. I think you’re just afraid you can’t do the same, poor little American girl.”

She flashes me a smile that’s so carefree that I feel even more affirmed in my own conclusion—that we really don’t belong together. I want too badly to bathe in her sunlight, but I can’t give her anything back.

“Already missing your McDonalds, aren’t you?” she continues, seemingly oblivious to my badly hidden brooding exercise.

“I take that as a compliment,” I say, and pull my legs defiantly up under me.

The cold is coming in strong as that dark glow over the northern cordilleras over there grows and grows. Soon the shadow will be here and then it’ll be bye-bye to the last sunrays, which could give us an illusion that there is still heat left in Puno.

Puno, a city that’s like something half-thawed you pulled out of the freezer and then forgot about for hours; and when you come back you are  loathe to eat it.

“Carrie… “


“I’d really think it’d be cozy if you’d come along for some dinner. You don’t have to eat anything. I’ll buy you an Inca Kola or something.”

Something resembling a smile tries to live in my face…

“You know, Siobhan… you really do want to poison me, and we’ve only just met. What am I to make of that?”


She didn’t poison me. I did that just fine myself.

It’s some when beyond midnight, at a bar the name of which eludes me, like the name of this local sweet booze that tastes really good once you mix it with enough Seven Up.

We shouldn’t really be heading back to the hostel …

We really should.


“You know, Carrie, about that time in Melbourne… I… I… “

“Watch out, honey, if you giggle too long into that cocktail it’ll enter your bloodstream faster. And then you won’t be able to tell me anymore about that surfer-guy in Melbourne.”

“Yeah, the guy-“(Giggling-burst, rest incomprehensible.)

“Believe me, I’m an expert on this,” I continue, professorially. “The fumes are actually stronger than the alcohol itself.”

“There are no fumes. Idiot.”

“You made me an idiot. Without you I’d never have known this-whatsitsname- …”

“J-janis? An-A-anis-“




“Behave yourself – that guy over there is looking at us.”

“Why are you suddenly so worried about that? I thought that was my job.“

“You’re so lame.”

“Am not.”

“Yes, you are, – here’s something to make you more lame-“

She pours until it runs over. Good thing most of it is from that big bottle of Seven Up we had brought over to the table.

Most of it.

We should really go now. I get more intoxicated being with her than drinking that local firewater, and she doesn’t hold back.

The guy over there by the bar is actually a little cute. I wonder…

“Do you think the girl that went to the banjo a little while ago really is his girlfriend or that they just travel together?”

“What’s the difference?” Siobhan shrugs overly much.

“Dork. What do you think?”

“I think she’s his girlfriend. Sorry, Carrie. No hope for us.”

“Who said I wanted him? He’s English isn’t he? They are probably absolute boors in bed. Not like Italians or-”

“Carrie– !”

Siobhan’s control fizzles again. She takes a huge gulp from the Seven bottle.

I snap it from her.

“What? Afraid I got virus?” she blurts, a bit miffed.

“No, but why don’t you pour more of it up our glasses instead of pouring it into your greedy little mouth?”

“Yeah, why don’t I?”

“Yeah, why don’t you.”


The attacking air outside is razor thin and icy invisible at the same time. The Andes don’t care about our little escapades; we weren’t even meant to be here they seem to say – ‘get back to your little cozy civilization down the lowland, silly human ants’.

Yeah, why not.

Oh, great. Siobhan is throwing up.

I actually thought I’d go down first, but… here we are. And I’m the one who’s still sober enough to feel bad about all my crap-talk back in there.

“Carrie – help me here…”

“Sure, sure thing.”

“Because… I think I may trip, if… “

“It’s ‘kay. We should be heading back.”

“Think you can find the hostel?”

“I’ve got photographic memory.”

“What does that help when every house looks the same in this dreary town? Can’t wait until I get out of here.”

We start walking down the street, slowly. My arm under hers, although I feel a lot less stable than I try to impress upon her.

“So do you want to come?” she asks.


“To Los Uros, of course – that’s where I’m going tomorrow. They are really something.”

“Those reed islands in the bay?”

“Yeah – don’t say you’re not going to see them.”

“Actually I had planned to go straight to Bolivia.”


She almost tears herself loose from my grip, as if I’d told her something vile.

“What?” I blurt, confused, a little scared.

“You are not going? Why? It’s the coolest thing around here – floating islands of reed, for God’s sake!”

“Yeah, well, it’s nice but – “

“No buts, you are going. Tomorrow. With me.”

“I- I can’t.”

Her eyes narrow. She now stands without my help.

“Can’t what?”

“It’s hard to explain… “

“Try me. I’m drunk enough to understand anything.”

“I… “


Franklin’s Church …

Her skin’s whiter than ever before…

as white as the snow

which covered everything on the night we first met.



“Uh- yeah…”

“You faded on me for a moment.”

“Yeah… “

“So what’s the rush about Bolivia?”

“M-maybe I have to meet someone. In Bolivia.”

She looks at me incredulously.

“Meet …?!  You didn’t say anything about a boyfriend waiting on the other side. Is he Bolivian?”

“It’s not like that. I already told you – the last time I was with a guy was over a year ago and it wasn’t a success.”

“You didn’t tell me. That.”

“Just- let’s just go back.”

She seems surprisingly alert now and I suddenly want her to be dead drunk, to the point of unconsciousness – even if I have to carry her.

“Who are you going to meet?”

“It’s… complicated.”

“Whatever…” she says and shrugs, a little defiantly.” – But you should come see the Uros.”

“It’s a tourist attraction, Siobhan. I bet they do it all for the tourists.“

She pats me on the shoulder, lightly.

“Does it matter? They are floating islands, Carrie. – Floating! And did you know –  it’s possible to stay overnight! Wow, I’ve never slept on a floating island before.”

“Neither have I.”

“Well, maybe it’s time then?”

“But why, Siobhan – what’s so hopelessly speeh-cial about them aside from the fact that they are, well, floating?”

“You’re hopeless.”

“So sue me.”

“Really, Carrie – you seem to be allergic to fun. And we could bring some of that Anus Janus-whatever and have a ball. If I could get you just as riled up as back there in the bar, it might just be worth it. Then we could fix the whole damned world situation, while sitting gawking at the sunset, legs dangling in the water – from a floating island!”

If she says ‘floating’ one more time I’m going smack her. Good thing, we are almost at the hostel. (I think.)

But Siobhan isn’t finished:

“We could even ask that cutie from the bar if he wants to come?”

She blinks seductively.

“A year, Carrie. Really? You are soo ready for a little- “

“Shut up.  – Just shut up. Hostel’s over there, and I’m not going to carry you up the stairs, as well.”

“You might have to.”

“You are getting awfully sober, since we left that bar.”

“Funny, I was about to say the same thing about you.”

“Yeah… well, say all you want. I need to see some pillows.“

We work open the bulky doors, apparently waking the receptionist who only reluctantly begins scrounging for our keys. Big fat Bolivian lady who has specialized in the most disapproving looks for decadent gringas who just come down to her country to get drunk, spending more on liquor than she earns in a month.

Maybe she has a right to. Maybe I don’t care right now.

I end up following Siobhan to her room anyway, by the way. Just to make sure, I guess.

She fumbles with the keys, and finally the door gives.

“Can you find your bed?” I ask, tired, close to annoyed.

“If not, I’ll holler for h-*hick*-help.”


I begin closing her door. She stops it with a hand.

“Carrie… I didn’t mean what I said about you and that guy.”

“It’s okay. He wasn’t that hot anyway… But English guys definitely can be.”

“Guys in general,” I affirm and try to sound sober: “If it is the right guy.”

“Look – ” she says, “if you still want to go with me tomorrow, the boat is leaving at 11 AM.”

“I think I should just go on… “

She shrugs, looks down.

I look down, too.

“Okay, maybe I’m not meeting with anyone, yeah. But maybe I don’t feel like going to those floating islands.”

Siobhan steps a bit closer:

“I didn’t mean that about partying out brains out, either. It would be so rude. To those families who arrange the accommodation. Hell, they probably have their kids running around outside our rooms,  because, you know, the islands aren’t really that big and- “

“I know you didn’t mean it. I – Ouch.“

A guy brushes past me in the hallway. I think he was one of those guys from Austria. There were two guys from Austria – or Switzerland – checking in, same time as me this afternoon.

“Uh, where’s the toilet?” he asks, eyes all over me and Siobhan.

“Banjo’s down at the end.” I point.

“Uh, thank you.”

He scuffles on, casting a few looks back at us.

“Ignore him,” Siobhan says firmly. “We should go –just us. I really it’ll be… beautiful.”


“Yes! Don’t you think they are… beautiful, the islands – the Lake… the people?”

I shrug. “In a way… “

“I think those people up here are really beautiful. Because I’m not prejudiced like – you know, in the bus I heard this couple, also from Canada, talk about how the Indian girls looked like crows who- “

“You should go to bed, Siobhan.”

I make as if I’m about to go, too. Then her hand is on my arm.

“It’s okay to have fun, Carrie. Even if a lot of shit has happened. – Especially if a lot of shit has happened.”

I swallow.

“I’ll think about it, okay, but I really should be going to Bolivia.”

She nods.

“Just think about it, okay?”

“I will. G’night.”


She closes the door. I go back to my room. The guy from before still hasn’t come out from the toilet.

Wonder if he’s disappointed …


Before I wrap myself up in a million blankets to keep the cold out, I set my watch for 6 AM sharp.

Early enough to check out long before Siobhan wakes up.

The Division of Lima

The Division of Lima

So should I … jump?

I mean, there’s nowhere else to go here.

The pavement I walked on just ended.

There’s just the cliff and after it – a Pacific ocean that seems to have merged with the gray sky.

So I’m standing at an edge, then – another one.

The cliff is almost provocative in its sheer ugliness: Mud-brown dirt sloping hundreds of feet down straight into the traffic-congested highway, the only fragile fence that seems to hold the back the cliff’s secret desire to collapse, and take with it all the houses perked on here on its edge, and me, crashing right down into the dark depths below the angry Pacific surf.

Lima could have gone on, but it didn’t.

It would have been simple, though, for an 8-million inhabitant mega-city such as this to just go on. After all, that is what mega-cities do.

It is a cold, misty morning – like most mornings here in the vaguely greened seaside neighborhood of Miraflores, where I am hiding out.

The only way you can see the morning is in fact because the perpetual mist has shifted from black to white.

The mist of Lima is Lima.

You can’t extract it anymore from the city than you can extract the houses or the people. Here you are never really outside because you are always in a prison of mist.

I have just been walking slowly down one of the streets that run along the cliff, then I turned, and then … stopped. The street ended in oblivion. The asphalt literally has been chewed off by the cliff’s dirt-brown gums.

After it there was just more mist. And beyond that a dim dissolved horizon which I can only just glance through the plumes of smog and fog, being continually fanned out over the sea from the center of Lima as if the huge city is trying constantly to shake off some unpleasant infestation.


Barely two months have passed since the funeral; then I went away – leaving everything behind. And everyone.

It seems, though, like I have already spent forever on dusty roads that cradle the spine of the Americas: Escaping Ohio’s coffin to hitchhike haphazardly through the states down to do a veritable firewalk over Mexico’s burning border; later cooling temporarily in Belizean beach waters; just barely surviving Colombia; seducing in Ecuador, and now … facing a choice in Peru.

There has come a division in me, like the city’s division between ordered blocks of concrete and greedy, chaotic primeval waves: My journey has been divided. Between where I can go next and where I can never really go.

Geographically speaking it is just the division between the continent and the ocean.

But it is also the division between my reason to travel all this way and my reason to go on.

So why did I feel the division when I saw that Lima had stopped – right here? Maybe because I hadn’t expected it.

When I read about Miraflores in the coffee-stained guide I picked up at that hostel up in Quito, I figured it would be something akin to a Peruvian riviera.

And after all this time on the road, I longed for something akin to the real Riviera – at least as I imagine it. And I was ready to blow my last cash on it.

So I found this nice, little hotel – El Patio; a place that for once looked as nice as it sounded, but only because I had decided to pay for it. I paid and went quickly to my room, taking a shower and finding my last good clothes, the trousers and the blouse that the señora washed for me yesterday in that little pueblo, the name of which name I have forgotten already.

Then I went ‘out’ for a walk. Feeling like the stranger that I am, I did not really look people in the eyes. Why would they want to look back at me anyway? And more importantly: Why would I want them to? I mean, if they looked too long, would they not see that I came all this way, all these thousands of miles for something that any normal person would not have?

I try to think that that’s bogus, of course, but my heart disagrees with me. Therefore I don’t look people in the eye, on this subdued morning in Miraflores, Lima.


She had died, I had to live but I couldn’t.

Couldn’t die either, though, not any more than I already had … So I had to go instead. Somewhere.

And then, as the road wore on, I made the one big mistake a traveler should never make. I began to think too much about the journey.

It was not that other people questioned me about my purpose – for God’s sake, no. I rarely spoke to strangers in the North, just as I rarely speak to strangers down here.

And when I did, I rarely told them why I was journeying onward – onward – onward. We mostly just laughed and discussed the number of cockroaches in cheap hotels and the weight of gross Andean women doing the laundry and where to get so plastered for only a few dollars that it would be worth the whole trip.

Yeah, we were fine specimens, all right. Stupid arrogant tourists.

I had sworn, I’d never become one myself. But when you go away like this, to escape something that is impossible to really escape, well … then stupid talk with other people at bars and in buses is the first best pill. That and plenty of drinks.

So I have had plenty of drinks with a whole lot of boys and girls I have already forgotten on my way down here. I drank a lot and talked a lot but never went into detail.

Never a word about why I pulled the plug from law school, left my remaining friends like Nadine, left my mom, and then flushed the petty dollars I actually had stashed away for something like this right out the toilet.

No, I never talked about the reason I started this journey to a cliff-side at an ugly highway in Lima.


I guess in the end we all reach our own cliff-side in Lima.

We start by thinking we have arrived in an oasis – the part of the city that is actually not the dirtiest, grimiest, and most desolate Latin American inferno this side of Ciudad de Mexico. The part called Miraflores. An oasis.

Then we venture just a few minutes away from our last palm in that oasis, to see what’s beyond.

Then we discover that there never really was an oasis. It was just another illusion.

The oasis was surrounded by the same dirt and grime we had fled all along. So the oasis is a prison. A fake. There is no escape from the dirt and grime.

Sure, you can stay in the oasis, but it’s as unrealistic as me staying for the rest of my life in Lima. What would I do? How would I get money? Who would I be with? It would be as crazy as staying the rest of your in a hotel you liked or felt … safe in.

So this cliff-side at It wasn’t even a fork in the road, it was just the place where there are no more roads.

That’s my division.

So I had ended up here … out of options. Or so it seemed.

No options. Except maybe a jump.

I have never had such a thought before.

Never thought I would have it.

But that’s what the death of your best friend will do to you, I guess.

I suddenly hear a child laughing. I turn and look.

There is a little girl and her mother, strolling along. Moving to somewhere in the lives. They have lives.

What do I have?


Love Is A Shield

Love Is A Shield


There’s a world of light dawning outside my window.

White beach. Turquoise blue sky. Spindrift from gentle waves.

It’s all out there.

I’m in here, and the curtain is only half drawn back. I can feel the burning of hot tea water through the paper cup. I’ve been holding on to it for the last 10 minutes.

I have yet to put tea in the water.

I look down over myself and wonder if the whiteness of my legs and arms is ready to meet the source of all that light out there. Maybe if I take a bath in sun lotion before I go out … ?

Did you know that bikinis are actually named after a chain of islands where they tested nuclear bombs?

I guess it’s the only interesting thing about this two-piece. All black with a bit of white at the sides. Nothing special, but what I pulled from the drawer, along with some other random clothes, before I left our apartment for the last time back in Ohio.

Lin always said that it didn’t matter what clothes I wore, when I kept yapping about never having enough money to buy … stuff.

Even though she always had the money, eventually I came to accept what she said. Because she always dressed like …

Ha. There’s something to smile about. Even if it bloody hurts. Lin and all her stupid jackets and skirts – either total black or never ever in colors that matched.

Like her sense for dressing was inversely proportional to her sense for putting the right words on the page and writing something that would make Hemingway cry.

Or blow his head off.

That’s how Lin would put it. She always said so many nice things about how I looked or what I did that I came to believe her. But I wished she had reserved just one or two of those words for herself, instead of those shotgun metaphors.

In the end she didn’t use a shotgun.

The result was the same …

My hand is shaking as I put the hot water to my lips and remember that I have to actually put tea in it, but then I just pour it out in the sink of the kitchenette.

Not thirsty. Not hungry. More like numb.

Should I go out? I can hear voices …

I grab my bag and towel and then move absolutely nowhere.

But after a few seconds, my body catches up with my decision.


Now I sit here and watch the ocean and wonder what to go next. I’m going to be working on “next” for a few hours.

No rush …

The warm wind caresses my bare legs. The voices I heard came from my only company, the crew on one of those shark-fishers from San Pedro. They seemingly went out without any tourists on board. I thought they didn’t really go out without tourists, but maybe I was wrong.

The boat looks small and fragile as it sets sail and bobs towards the quiet Caribbean horizon.

Then come the first girls and guys – all tourists – and set up camp, and throw themselves in the water like it is their own private pool.

So should go back to my bungalow and close the door? Is that my “next”? There will be more shadow in there in any case. There is still a chance I can prevent my skin from turning lobster if I get my butt off this towel now …

“Great morning, isn’t it?”

I hear the voice behind me and I turn slowly and see Dale.

Curly blonde, nice tan, curves of his muscles just visible below the t-shirt.

He beams at me.

I smile back and pretend I don’t see his eyes following my cleavage. As I said, my non-famous bikini isn’t exactly state-of-the-art, but it shows what it has to show.

“Am I looking great, or the morning?” I ask, all poker-face.

“Both,” he replies with a new smile and a casualness that is obviously rehearsed and intended to disarm me as he plumps down in the sand beside me. He smells of fresh men’s shampoo and sea salt.

“You been up a long time?” I ask.

I pull out my equally rehearsed list of casual questions for initial defense. Way of the world, I guess.

We didn’t get that close last night, while I poured down margaritas and poured out … something. Rambling. I don’t remember what I said, not much. Superficial things, I think

I hope …

“Been up since sunset,” he says and shrugs like early rising is as natural as breathing to him. “Water’s good at that hour. And you have the beach to yourself.”

“You went home early last night,” he then says.

I study the sand that is calm again after the wind: “I was tired.”

“Cool.” Dale nods towards a party a bit down the beach, two guys and two girls, not much older than us. “It’s not everyone here who knows when they are tired.”

For a while, we just watch the surf. The fishing boat is all but gone.

I guess I’ll have to say something, then:

“Look, what I said last night – I don’t know how much I said – but it’s okay now. It really is.”

He turns and smiles that bright smile that makes me remember why I actually stayed and rambled, even before the drinks began to do their work:

“I ditched college, too.” He beams at me.

“You don’t remember I said that, huh?” he then adds, as if this is our little shared secret and now we have a bond forever.

“Ha, er … no.” I reward him with a grin and allow myself to breathe.

“I do have one edge over you, though,” Dale adds mischievously and leans slightly closer.

“Oh, and what pray tell is that?”

“I’m a certified beach bum now,” he says and blinks. “Living here, serving drinks – taking life as it comes. So before you move on to Guatemala – it was Guatemala, right? – “

“It was.”

He grins approvingly: “Well, before that – unless you swear that you will give yourself some rest in, dare I say, good company, then you won’t have anything to show for it.”

“So I should be ashamed I didn’t exchange my college degree for a diploma in making cocktails?”

“As I said – I have something to show for it.”

“Remind me again what you quit?”

“I’m a never-to-be-engineer.” He grimaces. “Because dad wanted it – and paid for it.”

“I was in law school.”

“So you said. Last night.”

“Did I … say why I quit?”

“No. It wasn’t the right thing for you? More people should have the courage to make that decision … “

I shake my head, tasting the air between us, contemplating the shining spindrift.

He is really sweet. I should tell him.

But … if this is going where I think it is going, I don’t think hearing all about how my best friend lost her battle with depression is going to work wonders.

But can I keep it, while we … you know?

I sure as hell need some … ‘you know’. After pills and hospitals and guests in black.

So what will it be? If I tell him, I’ll probably ruin it. If I don’t, I can’t stop thinking about it anyway and the result will be the same.

“Did I say something wrong?” I hear a voice asking, and realize it’s Dale.

“No – no,” I quickly say and look at him to reassure. “I … was just drifting a bit.”

“Aren’t we all?”

“Ha-ha. I tend to get lost in my own thoughts sometimes. That’s all.”

I pat him on the arm. Friendly pat. But a bit longer …

Around me is the breeze of the Caribbean, the shining water,  laughter drifting on the air from everywhere else on the beach.

I want some of that laughter – just for a few moments.

I get up and begin to brush sand off my legs. He keeps sitting, looking up expectantly.

“I’m hungry,” I say and meet his eyes.

“We have some great breakfasts at the cafe at this hour – ” Dale nods in the direction of the main resort.

“Maybe I’m more for grabbing something to go and getting back out in the sun,” I counter.

“Sure,” Dale says while the wind plays with his locks. “We can just skip between the sun and shade. No need to stay in one place. How’s that?”

“That sounds like something I want to try,” I say.

Roads To Leave By

Roads To Leave By

“I still don’t understand, Carrie – why do you want to travel to that … place?”

Nadine looks at me like she has just discovered that I am really an impostor – not the study mate she has known since high school.

“It’s not the Dark Side of the Moon or something, Di.”

I keep walking, clutching my bag tightly. I want to walk just a little faster than her, and then I can’t – because some damn bus stops right before we reach the crossing and a million people pour out in front of us.

” – You asked what I thought about it,” she retaliates.

Bus away. Nadine walks more briskly, getting a little bit ahead of me.

She is irritated. Big surprise. Since I started this conversation it has become more and more an argument – me against her.

“I just thought you should know,” I try. “After all, you have to find a new study mate in good time before the exam. And …  “

“Right. Thanks,” she replies warily. “Look, I can understand that this must be incredibly, terrible and … ” she casts me a glance I can’t quite interpret – ” … but is it really the right thing to burn all bridges and hitch-hike 3000 miles because of her?”

“It’s not about her!”

I stop –  a second before I discover we’re standing smack in the middle of the crossing.

“It isn’t?” Nadine cocks her head, knowing that it is Very Much about her.

A car honks to get us out of the way. We just glare at each other. I give in first:

“Okay! – It’s a bit fucking hard just to ‘be myself’ now, wouldn’t you say?!”

Car honks again. Much louder. A guy, neck the size of an ox, rolls down the window:

” – Hey, coeds – go discuss yer pretty books some place else, willya?”

“Hey, jerk – go drive some place else, ‘willya’?!”

I want to slap him, too, but the last shred of sense in me wins out. This time.

Guy rolls his eyes, and a split second before we reach the other side he speeds up and roars past, almost strafing us.

Nadine touches my shoulder gently. I feel like tearing away her hand, but I also need it there now. More than anything.

“Carrie …  I didn’t want to say that you’re not allowed to grieve. I am devastated, too. Lin, well, we weren’t as close as you and her, but if it was me. I’d be – “

“Yeah… ” I say and begin to walk.

She follows.

So we both walk again, God knows whereto now. We were supposed to catch another bus but now we are just walking. As if we have somewhere to go to. Some solid goal that will make everything all right when we have reached it.

We walk in silence for a while and around us there is only the bustling traffic, people, the buzz of Columbus, Ohio – a city full of life, full of spring. We move along its streets like zombies.

“Carrie … ?” she finally says.

“Really, Di. I’m fine.” I cut her off. “What so wrong anyway about wanting to get away for a little while?”

“But to Bolivia? – and in the middle of semester?! And where are you going to get the money?”

“Lin actually left me some.”

“She knew she would – “

“No,” I say. “Not like that. It’s something she did long ago, when she first … got those depressions. I tried to get around it. I joked about it. I couldn’t take it seriously.”

Suddenly my eyes are full of tears and I turn towards Nadine. She hugs me, right there on the street. People stare, but … what of it. I shiver and I shake and all that has been coiled up in me just come pouring out. I tried not to make this conversation end this way. And here we are.

“Oh, god … it was a year ago, and she insisted,” I ramble. “What if she had it all planned then? Or what if she somehow knew?”

“No – no,” it’s Nadine’s turn to say. “I don’t believe it. You can’t know those things. She wouldn’t … “

“Well,” I sob. “I have to get away.”

She lets gently go of me: “And what about your exam? The scholarship?”

“Maybe I just don’t care anymore. If my … best friend can just … no goodbyes – why should I care about some idiotic exam that just sends me on to another idiotic exam that just sends me out to some 90-hour a week job, where I end up defending scum or combing mountains of regulations – looking for tax holes for the rich?”

“I thought you really wanted this, Carrie …  law school …”

“I do! And … I don’t. Not right now. Maybe later.”

We start walking again and I wipe my eyes, but they sting. There is too much traffic here. Too much exhaust. It gets into my throat, my eyes. That must be it. It makes everything worse. I think that is it. But I just keep walking down Silver Drive, when we should veer into Glen Echo Park. But I don’t feel like walking in there. Lin and I did. So often …

“I just need to clear my head first,” I say, by way of some conclusion. “Staying here, in this city, makes me feel trapped …”

“Have you talked to the counselor?” Nadine asks in a low voice, barely audible over the traffic. But I hear it just fine.

“I don’t need to talk to any university counselor,” I say. “What could he tell me that I don’t already know? – ‘I know you are feeling bad, Ms. Sawyer – It happens to all of us – I really don’t think you should jeopardize your studies to go hitch-hiking three months to South America – blablaBLAH.'”

We slow down, or maybe it’s just me.

I feel dead-tired suddenly. All of a sudden the world feels like it’s standing still where I am, and everything else is just moving past me – the droning cars, the loose leaves blown in from the park which is now behind us, even the sprinkles of sunlight through the clouds.

I’m not really sure when, but at some point we just stop walking, surrender to a bench. Like reality just caught up with feeling.

“Maybe you should go talk to him,” Di urges carefully. “He’s a nice guy. I talked to him once, when I broke up with my boyfriend. You remember Derek, right?”

“I remember Derek.”

I don’t remember what number he was, though. But that’s Nadine for you. She is okay, anyway. She really is.

“You were there for me,” she says and takes my hand, and it feels awkward but I don’t try to push her away. But I am somewhere else.

My body is here on this bench. I am watching the cars rush on 71 just outside Silver Drive. But my mind is rushing somewhere else. My mind is like spindrift tossed to and fro against a desolate shore, but it’s not white anymore. Somebody just poured a bunch of chemicals into the water and now it’s puke-yellow spindrift and it sticks to the shore of my mind in these big poisonous-yellow splotches, but there is nothing in them. I don’t want to go near them, to see what is really inside the splotches.

I hate you Lin. I hate you for leaving me.

There. That’s as poisonous as it gets.

“You were there … ” Nadine repeats as if she has become nervous of my tense silence ” … for me.”

“Yeah,” I say and drift off again.

Does she feel she owes me something? And now she wants to stick with me when I’m a total mess and can’t really do no good helping her memorize the whole Uniform Commercial Code.

“Do you want to go somewhere?” she asks, not with too much commitment, ” – the Northstar?”

“Too crowded, and no – I just want to sit here.”

“It’s a bit cold. And the cars … oh, god. We really should go into the park.”

“You can just go on home,” I say and let go of her hand.

She still clutches her books, stares hard at some indiscernible point between the lines on the ground. ” – I just want to help, Carrie. I … don’t think I could’ve made it through this semester without you. Frankly, I don’t know why you keep up with me? With your laser-brain, you could be two semesters ahead already.”

“Maybe I don’t want to be ahead. Maybe I just want to control-alt-delete everything now.”

“I thought you just wanted some time to get past … it.”

“It’s not about ‘getting past’ – I’m never going to get past that.”

“Don’t say that.”

“I just did.”

” – But why go on the road for such a long time?! And where? The Lake Titicaca in Bolivia?”

“It’s both in Bolivia and Peru. The border goes through the Lake.”

“Oh, okay.”

Another bus drives by, this one I know will stop near the empty condo which is waiting for me now. On the side, it sports an old advert for Leo’s new movie The Beach. Lin and I had agreed to go see it, but I felt there was too much to read before a term paper and butted out at the last moment.

‘We can always do it later,’ I told her.

A week later she was dead.

We sit for a while saying nothing. Nadine was never very good at this.

Me neither, I guess.

Nadine buckles first. “So, Bolivia, huh? You’re seriously considering this? Well, maybe you do need to get away … and there’s a lot of really ancient culture, and mountains … and Indian culture and … “

“Yeah … “

“Alan did the Inca Trail last year – did I ever tell you?”


So she still has contact with Alan? Wish it was me. On the other hand … maybe it’s best not.

“Well, Alan did and said it was really awesome. The Machoo Pitchoo was really an awesome place, he said.”

“That’s in Peru, Di.”

“But close to Bolivia, right?”

“I guess.”

“So … do you want to go there, too, or – “

“Maybe. For now, I just want to go to the Lake, though.”

“But why … the Lake?”

“There is no reason, really,” I say. “Except … “

“I need to get away. I’ve never been outside the States – well, except Scotland, of course.”

She nods. She knows we don’t have to talk more about that, too. So I move on to the only logical place, where she craves to be: The place where you find a reason for what you are doing.

“Lin had this picture on the wall in her room – of the Lake Titicaca. Never asked her why. She said she just liked it. It made her feel … peace. I could need some of that now.”

“Peace,” she says. It was not a question.


“And it has to be in Bolivia?”

I look at her, not sharply – but hard enough to let her know that I’m too tired for this again.

But I’m not sure what I should do. I asked her to talk. I wanted to tell her. And now she’s being just too helpful without really helping me at all.

I really want to be left alone, take that next bus to the airport, no matter how many people are aboard. ‘Just pack up my things and go’, as Morten Harket sings on that record I loved as a teen … which got lost in a box somewhere after my parents’ divorce when mum and I moved back to the States from Scotland. Lost … like so much else.

Oh, god – mum. What do I tell her? Maybe I should not tell her? Or only after I have gone, I suppose.

“It has to be there,” I just say.

Nadine shakes her head. “… If that’s how you want it. But if that’s really so, then there’s another thing I don’t understand … “

“What?” I say jump up from the bench as if I had discovered she had contracted a dangerous virus or something.

I might as well have slapped her.

Nadine’s eyes glisten. She looks up at me:

“Maybe I was so naive to think that you actually wanted me to hold you back or something. But you are hell-bent on going, Carrie.”

I feel us edging dangerously closer to some kind of line.

I want to be alone, yes, but not that kind of alone.

I’m not talking too well with other people these days. Nadine may not be what Lin was, but she’s still someone I can call ‘friend’.

I’m not talking to my mom. Dad’s gone – off to God knows where. I rarely show up at university any more. Lin’s … And now I’m doing my best to sever my final connection with the human race.

Suddenly I feel scared.

“Nadine – I’ve got to do this.”

I squat in front of her and take both her hands. Like some imitation of a proposal that would be funny, if it wasn’t all so fucked up and I didn’t hurt so much.

“Nadine – ” I say again, almost pleading like this is the truth – that I have to have her blessing. Not her advice. “I’ll go crazy if I stay here.”

“But why, Carrie?” she asks and her voice is higher and trembles like she is going to have a breakdown now. Like I asked her to condone that I threw myself in front of those cars …

She wipes something from her left eye, taking one of her hands away from mine. She still lets me hold the other.

“Jesus,” she mutters. “Sometimes I just don’t get you.”

“Yeah, I don’t get myself either.”

The joke falls flat but she allows me to pull her up from the bench and we keep going, letting everything pass us out on the road. We walk like sleepwalkers until we finally reach East Hudson Street and now would be a good time to turn. If we want to ever reach the university in time and normal life.

We stop and look at each other, Nadine and me. She is the comely looking, slightly freckled, rust-haired all American girl. I’m the icy blonde from Scotland who no longer has an odd accent but doesn’t fit in either. Maybe I am not the odd-girl-out anymore but I always felt like that, even after we started at Moritz.

Yeah, the college of Law is by far the most normal part of university. When you get to that part of campus you know life is governed by rules and predictability.

Don’t you?

“So – you wanna come?” Nadine asks.

I nod, but I don’t mean it.

It’s like the afternoon’s become colder like some strange cold light has seeped through the clouds and blanketed everything. We expect it to be good when the clouds finally break, but what if it’s not? What if we really don’t want to see what’s on the other side?

But right now there are just my attempts to explain what can’t be explained:

“I need to go, Nadine.”

“To the Lake Titicaca?” She puts up a brave smile.

“Yeah, I guess. Or just out – out of the States. On the road. Hell, I don’t know, but it feels so.”

She nods, even looks a bit sad.

“Okay, Carrie – do whatever you have to do. Pack up your things and go.”

I freeze when I hear that bit. It’s a coincidence, right? That she would say the line from the song I was thinking about half an hour ago? Like, just like seeing the bus with that movie ad – the movie Lin and I should have watched.

But that’s crazy. That’s definitely not Moritz Law College and order and predictability.

And there’s no Big Man in the sky sending signals to me about having to do anything, right?

The only one I can count on to make this decision is … me.

“You’re not mad with me?” I ask warily. “For leaving you with the books?”

“No – no, of course not!”

Di shakes her head vigorously and her long red-brownish hair swirls. “I’ll find someone else to study with. You’re my friend going away, to do something … I’m just a bit worried, that’s all.”

“I’ll come back, finish my studies.”


I try an arm around her shoulders. Nadine looks  at me as if we had agreed that the world is going to end:

“You know, I always wanted to …  go … somewhere, just travel or whatever. But what about my degree? And how would I be able to afford it?”

I try a grin, too: “I don’t know how to afford it either. Lin didn’t leave that much. She spent most of her inheritance, after all. But I’m thinking about a Greyhound to the border and then hitch-hike some of the way, maybe all of the way through Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador … “

“You’re crazy,” she says, smiling weakly.

“Yes, but you want to be crazy too, Di – one day. Just almost admitted it.”

She hugs me again.

“I want to … ” Nadine says as she withdraws from the embrace. ” – But not that far away. But far enough – for me. Maybe we could go together. The next time …”

I nod and try not to notice her eyes glistening again. “That would be nice.”

“So … ” she says, readying herself for the conclusion, looking relieved, “I guess that’s it then. Carrie Sawyer – going to Latin America for eight weeks. Or eighty!”

More mandatory smiling.

“Big adventure, huh?” Nadine continues, and hugs her books now, the glistening in her eyes very close to running over.” – Big adventure, once-in-a-lifetime. Carrie-Thelma-and-Louise-Sawyer. Oh, God, I wish I had the courage, Carrie. Yes, you’re right. I really wish so.”

“You have next time …”

“So you’ll call before you leave?”

“I’ll call.”

“Yes, do that.” She kisses me on the cheek, one final hug, and then she walks briskly down the street, towards the still far-away campus, still cramming her books.

She’ll catch another bus. Me – I don’t know what the hell I will catch.

I just know that when something like this happens, you can’t just go back to normal. You have to do something, even if you don’t know what you are doing.

I’d like to think that is healthy, but ask me again when I come back. If I come back …

What would you do?


Last edit: 24 Sep 2019

Fighting For the Gospel

Fighting For the Gospel

Lin blinked when she saw who was there with her. On a chair. Beside her bed. The lovely long blond hair in slight disarray, as always.

“You came … to visit me.” Lin felt another smile coming. It was a good feeling, even if she could hardly feel the rest of her body. Or … remember. “How long have you been here?”

“I’ve been sitting here trying to talk to you for hours,” Carrie said, “and it was like you were awake at times and heard me but then you fell asleep again.”

Lin shook her head. “I … don’t remember.”

Carrie looked as if she was about to cry. “Well, they say there’s a lot of things you can’t remember after another treatment.”


“The electro-shocks, yeah.” Carrie looked away briefly. The room was completely white, like all hospitals, and should’ve been ugly.

But now that Carrie was here it seemed like the most beautiful room in the world.

“Patrick must be furious since you spend so much time here,” Lin said.

Carrie shook her head. “He’ll survive.”

“I’m glad you came.” Lin tried to smile again. “Mom and uncle were here yesterday, that much I do remember. God, it was awkward …”

Carrie leaned over and brushed the dark curls gently away from Lin’s sweaty brow. “We have all told them it was time you tried coming home again. Dialed down a little bit on the meds. But they still say no … I don’t know what to do.”

“Just be here with me,” Lin said and put her hand in Carrie’s. “I don’t want you to do anything else.”

This Is Where We Walked

This Is Where We Walked

The ink-black mass at the bottom of the mug is completely solid.



“Has there been anyone in this place since it closed?”

I try to catch Lin’s eye, but she is just sitting there – on the big kitchen desk, pondering unknowns.

“I have.”


“I … have come here sometimes. When I needed to go somewhere quiet. Mostly to get away from my parents.”

Now I don’t try to catch her eye anymore.

“You think it’s creepy,” she says. Not a question.

“Well, no, but you have to admit – coming back to moonlight at your old ‘kindergarten’, turned into ghost house, is, well –”

“Yeah. It is.” Lin lets her fingers strafe gently across the kitchen desk. They go gray immediately, from the thick layer of dust. “Guess I just wanted you to see

it, Carrie.”

“Okay. The, ah, cupboard doors are nice … they almost look handmade – with patterns and all.”

“They are handmade. I believe they are copies of the original cabinet doors from the 1800s. Everything in the mansion has been restored.”

“Some ‘kindergarten’…”

“It wasn’t actually the kitchen, I wanted you to see.”

I swallow. It wasn’t the coffee but it sure feels like it. “Okay then, ready to boldly go where no woman has gone before, Mr. Spock.”

I turn for the large double door, which apparently leads out of the kitchen. But Lin holds her hand up. “Nothing to see in there but armchairs covered by white sheets and cobwebs.”

” – But since we have broken into the ‘haunted house’, why not go all the way? ” I have my hand on the handle.

I don’t want to look like a complete coward but I sure wish we’d go back to Columbus soon. We were supposed to check on Deborah and now we’re looking for Norman Bates out in Chagrin Falls.

“Miss Super Lawyer,” Lin says, wry smile and all. “You see crimes everywhere. “

“Shut up. I’m barely through the first third of the long and weary road to my bar X.”

“Sorry …” Lin says quietly. “Maybe I couldn’t decide for myself what I wanted. But now I have.”

Lin slides down from the desk and walks over to a small door in the opposite corner of the kitchen, between two large cupboards. I hadn’t even noticed that it was a door. But now I do. And it looks like there is a staircase inside the darkness.

“Uh … is there no light down there?”

“Just as much as here, when you pull away the curtains. No electricity, of course. “

“Are we going into the basement?”

“With its basement windows, yes. I didn’t think Captains were afraid of anything?”

I roll my eyes at her. Then I march past her and begin walking the cliché of a creaking staircase. I have to wipe my face with my sleeve almost the whole way down, while a thousand cobwebs try to steal a kiss from me.

Lin follows right after.

We end up in a basement room with curtainless windows looking out into the empty garden. The pale autumn light is mostly lost in the thick greasy dust, covering the windows, but there is still light enough to clearly reveal a bed, a table with chairs, and two shelves with no significant amount of books.

On the wall. A faded poster of Johnny Cash in San Quentin.

A room with more order than items; where you know it is a sin to move anything.

“Janitor’s room,” says Lin. She sits gently down on the bed, which is only covered by a single, tight sheet.

“I find it hard to imagine a janitor in such a neat little place – even if it is in the basement,” I quickly add (and wonder what the hell I meant by that).

“We called him ‘the janitor’. He had a different title, but never mind. Someone has to keep such a big house going,” she added. “It was like his ship and he was the guy in charge of the engine.”

“Lin … why are we here?”

Lin pulls up her legs beneath her on the bed.

I am still standing, not quite sure if I should sit down beside her. She is my best friend. I should.

I keep standing.

“When I was a little girl,” says Lin quietly, “my parents felt I kept too much to myself – I isolated myself. Like a female Robinson Crusoe or something. I would stay for days, and almost not get out of my room during vacations.”

“That was a problem for them? Your dad who was always on business trips and your mum who was always at some conference? They had Mick to look after you.”

“It wasn’t the isolation that was a problem in itself. But I was also often depressed …. Sometimes angry, sad – without knowing why. Couldn’t explain it. “

I finally sit down, but there’s still an arm’s length between us. The bed creaks a little like we’re in a bad movie. I fold my hands in my lap and look at her, waiting.

She pauses, and something glistens in her eyes. “Yes, I was damn well not normal – but when I was little …” she tries, then her voice fades.

“I was really … I had some real problems, Carrie.” She looks directly at me. “But no one knew what it was about. I certainly didn’t. However, my mom was a big fan of Goddard’s ideas about pedagogy that could help children with ‘special challenges’. So she and my father agreed that I should attend here before they dared to send me to school.

“… How was it?”

“It was okay … but there were not many of the other girls I felt I could talk to or adults for that matter. Except for Uriah. “

“The janitor…”

“He scared me silly.” Lin smiles weakly. “Half of his face was scarred from burns. He kept much to himself. But he had to go look after the garden and paint and repair and such. So it was impossible not to notice him sooner or later, although he would certainly try to avoid us. “

“But why did he live here?”

“He had nowhere else to live.”

“Okay …”

Lin stares at a small photo frame on the bookshelf. The photo is in black and white and depicts a young, athletic-looking man in a full firefighter uniform. He leans almost nonchalantly up against a fire engine. I can see the flash from the camera sparkle in the polished hood. The young firefighter is ready to save the world.

“Uriah Shannon helped put out a lot of fires in the Cuyahoga in the sixties,” Lin continues softly. “There was always someone who had forgotten that the river was more oil than water and dropped a cigarette in it. It must have been quite a sight for tourists – a burning river. One of the fires took nearly a day to get under control. Something went wrong. Uriah must have slipped at one point, for he fell straight down into the inferno. They thought he was dead, but when they pulled him up he was still alive… barely. Perhaps it would have been better for him if he hadn’t been.”

I try to breathe normally, as I look at the photo.

After having been silent for a few seconds, Lin returns to those ghostly memories. “… Uriah was burned on nearly half of the face – and who knows how much more of the rest of the body.

He could, for good reasons, not be a firefighter anymore. He could apparently not be anything else anymore, maybe because nobody would hire him because of his face. He started drinking, was repeatedly arrested for fights, got into debt, and was eventually evicted from his apartment because he couldn’t pay rent. Catherine – our principal – was evidently sorry for him. He was her cousin. She offered him a kind of job and a place to be. He had to be a kind of caretaker in the Yeardley House.”

“So finally someone could use him?”

“I think the other teachers didn’t like the idea,” says Lin, and looks as if she is still far away, in another time. “Perhaps they were nervous about what us kids would say to have a man who looked like that, in the house. Or perhaps it was the booze and the trips to jail.”

I nod.

“Maybe some of it’s just my imagination.” Lin shakes her head, motions to get up. “I was only a girl. Maybe I mix things up … memories.” She looks down.

“It does not matter,” I say, and get up, too. I touch her shoulder. “So you were scared of him?”

“Yup. Until one day. I think it was a November day -” Lin smiles, all too briefly “- I had had enough of it all. I had decided to run away. I snuck around by the hedge where we came into the grounds because I knew there was a hole in the hedge, and in the fence, it grew alongside.”

“You ran away?”

“Didn’t make it. But it was not one of the teachers who caught me.”


“Yes, I thought he would beat the crap out of me. They said he hit children. They said the principal sent children to him because the other teachers were forbidden to hit children. But he took me by hand and took me into the yard behind the kitchen and closed the door to the rest of the garden. Then he sat down, looked me straight in the eye. I could see every scar on his face and I was petrified. Most of the others were away on some trip. Those who remained were in the other end of the house. For once, I hoped that some of them would come and find me, but I knew that that was unlikely. I was also afraid that if they came, he would tell them what I had tried to do.”

“But you had only looked at the hedge, right?”

“Okay, maybe not exactly … I actually found a place, a kind of hole – not far from where we came in, and so I tried … you know … to get through.”

” … Escape from Alcatraz.” I squeeze her shoulder slightly, but it’s like she doesn’t notice it. She doesn’t look at me while she tells me this. We’re here, in this little dark, damp room full of cobwebs and frozen memories.

“I was actually almost out on the other side …” she muses, with a grim smile, and then heads for the stairs. I slug along, trying not to give in to my urge to overtake her. I wouldn’t able to on the narrow stairway, but I would like to. I’m glad we leave now. Damn glad.

“I almost wet my panties, when I felt his arm grab me from the other side – ” she looks back at me, mid-stairs, as if this is of extreme importance ” – the hedge was thinner then.” I nod. We walk up. Into the kitchen. Out the kitchen. Into the empty yard.

Lin stops.

“And one minute later I sat here – in ‘his’ yard.”

She looks back at the mansion, then her gaze drops to the dusty basement window – the one in Uriah’s room. It is impossible to see through the dust and the dark, and somewhere behind the mansion, the sun is setting in dense, somber clouds. Distant traffic drones on, behind the neighboring houses, but much weaker since we went in.

Her eyes narrow. “I wonder why he didn’t take this stuff with him when he left?” 

“Maybe he could no longer bear to be reminded of the past?” I suggest.

Lin shakes her head, then looks for the hole we crawled through to get here. The place some zealous judge might lecture at length about, if we were to be caught ‘breaking and entering’ a property closed down for ages, by some powerful heirs of Catherine Duval, ex-principal, who don’t know what to do with the house who may even have forgotten it, who have faceless attorneys to nitpick such things.

But we’re alone here. No one will catch us.

It’s as if Lin remembers she broke off her story. “We sat on his patio and I was ready to die. But after what felt like three hours, he simply said, ‘Would ya like ta tell me why ya wanna go through the ‘edge, Adeline?’”

“I could have come with many lame excuses. I was only five years old. It is natural that children climb into strange places, isn’t it? But he knew I had tried to run away, and I knew he knew it. But he was staring at me until I got a strange feeling that I was no longer afraid of the scars – perhaps because I now had been looking at them for what felt like a long time. It was as if I knew them.”

Lin looks back towards the mansion-house one last time, and it looks like there’s something pulling at her like she wants to go back and lie down on that dusty bed and never get up again. But there’s also another power, a power that has almost pushed her away from the house – without even being able to finish embracing those memories as if she had to get away before that embrace chokes her.

“I told him … everything,” she finishes and looks at me, at last with some semblance of summer in her eyes. “I don’t remember exactly what ‘everything’ was. But it was everything that I had never told the other adults, even my mother, and father … How sad I was to be there, in the house. I do not know if it was because I was stubborn or frightened or desperate or a little of everything. He sat still and nodded once in a while saying nothing. But I could sense that he listened to everything as if it was the first time that someone told him anything like that … and that maybe it would be the last.”

Her voice becomes intense as if she’s afraid that I will not listen to her. I nod, try to make it look reassuring. I couldn’t go anywhere right now.

She picks up the thread one last time. “I became more and more upset because I felt I couldn’t explain it well enough – how I felt. And finally, I cried and cried. So he put his arm around me and waited until I couldn’t cry anymore, and I thought – ‘when will the other grown-ups come?’ But there wasn’t anybody coming around, and finally, he let me go, looked very closely at me said, ‘I ain’t gonna say anything ta Ma’m Duval. But next time ya’ll want ta run away, Adeline, ya run by me first, ‘kay?’”

Lin suddenly shivers, then stops. As if somebody hit her.

” – I’m babbling. Let’s go back to the car.”

She turns, quickly, and looks for the hole in the hedge.

I feel like I’ve dropped something precious on the floor, and I want to pick it up, but I have to follow. I don’t want to be alone here.

Even with friendly ghosts.


As Lin drives us out of Cleveland, towards the main highway, and the silent mansion of Catherine Duval and her Goddard-inspired pedagogy has long since disappeared in the rear-view mirror, I catch a last glimpse of the Cuyahoga. In the evening sun, it looks almost like it’s still on fire.

Lin has been silent since we left the house. But I have to ask:

” … Did you try to run away again?”

Lin shakes her head, and the brightness of the fire that is both in the sun and the river touches her eyes. “No. Now there was a reason for me to stay.”


Last edited: 17 October 2021

Clear Horizon

Clear Horizon

After buying the sodas at the gas station, they crossed the street to sit down on the sidewalk. They found the first best, place which was the still warm wall next to a flower shop with rows of violets crammed in the front window as if they had been hauled in quickly during the day.

They might very well have been. It had been quite a summer’s day – and now night – here in Columbus, and the two young women had had most of the cinema to themselves.

People had better things to do than watch 11 PM showings of scifi train wrecks, it seemed.

But not Carrie Sawyer and Lin Christakis.

“Actually, I find it quite appropriate – ” Lin said as she popped her cola open “ – that the monster did not die.”

“Oh?” Carrie said and gulped down her own lukewarm drink directly from the can – and then spat it out: “Fuck – you took one they had only just put in!”

“Sorry,” Lin said, “I can go back and get another one.” She started to get up.

“No – “ Carrie said and grabbed Lin’s cola. “Just gimme that!”


Carrie drank a bit and then handed the can back to Lin.

“That’s better. Why didn’t you check?”

“Sorry again, mate – he just put’em in the bag, you know and then I paid.”

“Well, at least we have one cold drink.” Carrie leaned back against the bricks and a tired but satisfied smile slowly spread over her lips. “Do you think Alan and Nadine made it home all right?”

Lin snorted: “They didn’t even make it home – let me tell you that. And the night is warm enough.”

“Warm enough for what?”

“Shut uuup … “ Lin boxed Carrie on the shoulder, but it was the friendliest pain Carrie had felt all day.

“You know … ” Carrie said and followed a lone, slow-moving van with her eyes “ … we should be jealous.”

The van passed them and its taillights were still visible long after its drowsy engine hum had been absorbed into the quiet summer night. Carrie kept staring in the general direction, a dreamy look in her eyes.

“They’re high school friends,” Lin said in a tone as if she was making a routine conclusion to a philosophical problem long out-debated. “Now they are college friends. And above all – friends. I wish the best for them … ”

“Friends … “ Carrie said and turned her head back to Lin. “Can I have more of that cola? My head hurts.”

“Is it the heat or that bottle of wine we did before we let Natasha entertain us?” Lin asked, a sly smile showing quickly then disappearing, and back was the standard Christakis-poker face.

But it was a beautiful poker-face, not particularly because of Lin’s gossamer features surrounding those intense deep dark-brown eyes, but more because when she was happiest it always looked as if there was some secret she did not tell you but really wanted to, and it would make you laugh when you knew.

That’s what Carrie loved about Lin –  that was where it all started: That was what you could see if you knew her. If you had lived with her for almost two years sharing two apartments and argued about dishes and change for laundry machines and Nietzsche and bad scifi movies. You knew it was there, just under the surface of the smile, something beautiful – more than was ever evident in what you could see. And you remembered it when there were blacker nights and visits to the psych ward, and you weren’t sure it was a safe call to have that many pills in a glass in the bathroom at the same time.

The good periods outweighed the bad and when you are 19 you can’t imagine it otherwise. You have tremendous powers of suppression because your whole life is in front of you and no one is going to take that away.

And summer nights with train wrecks on screens, they are the life-blood of your future. That kind of happiness is strong and real and obviously, it must win and in the end, come to stay forever.

“What did you mean?” Carrie asked when Lin had not spoken for some time, “about it being good that the monster won? I thought it was a shame. I wanted the movie to end.”

“No more sequels?”

“No,” Carrie said, “I couldn’t stand it, even if she is pure eye-candy.”

“Nothing to be jealous of again?” The sly smile again …

“She is a movie star, Lin,” – Carrie shrugged, trying to make it sincere “ – she is supposed to look better than the rest of us. Maybe all the making out between her and the others did something for Alan and Nadine, you know – they looked like they were in a hurry to get home. And she told me they hadn’t, you know … for two weeks at least.”


“Dunno – too many books, I suppose. Or Alan hasn’t been himself since his father died. It’s hard … “

“Movies with monsters having sex usually isn’t the recipe,” Lin said, “to get over that … “

There was just the slight edge of pain in her tone now and Carrie got up quickly, holding her hand out to Lin.

“Let’s go home. Fuck monsters. Fuck bad movies.”

“And you love both,” Lin said and grinned but took Carrie’s hand and dragged them both to their feet.

“I love this night,” Carrie said. “That’s enough.”

Like Blood In A Darkroom

Like Blood In A Darkroom

“Hey, want to hear a freaky story?” Lars blurted. “Last time I visited Alan in his new place, he and I made a dare … ”

“Maybe we should make some coffee now,” Alan said.

“It’s because his uncle owns this gay bar—” Lars continued, emphasizing ‘bar’. 

Alan took a deep gulp of his beer. “Look, I’m not going to tell them about how many times you puked on stage during those rehearsals in our garage, am I? Because that’s what happened!“

Opposite the two guys, the girls had gone silent. 

Lin looked from Lars to Alan but betrayed no emotion. Carrie looked away.

When the silence had lasted too many seconds, Carrie began talking quickly about how much she had fretted about going on to study law when she had been seriously tempted to go all-in with art school. 

Outside the large windows, it was pitch black, like the entire world around the holiday house had turned into a featureless night. 

Carrie kept it up for almost a minute.

“No more drawing for hobby’s sake,” she lamented. “But my mom’s always dead broke and I never want to—”

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” exclaimed Lars, who was already well into his fifth beer in less than two hours. “Choosing what to do after high school is the biggest and most difficult choice in life. It’s like groping your way through a darkroom—like the one we saw!”

Carrie frowned. “That’s not—”

“I’m going to make coffee.” Alan almost toppled the round chair as he got out and made for the kitchen.

“I don’t need coffee,” Lars called, “plenty of good things to drink already!“ He waved his beer and almost dropped it.

Carrie looked as if she had lost her car keys. “I don’t even know what a ‘darkroom’ is.” 

Lin closed her eyes briefly, then leaned over and whispered something to Carrie, who snickered. “Really?”

“So I had only been there for like two days,” Lars continued, his tone a combination of drunken hoarseness and the whisper of secrecy, “and then Alan asked if I had the nerve to sneak in, and of course I said ‘yes’. Alan’s uncle owns the place and so we could go in the back door and—”

“I thought you said ‘sneak in’?” Lin interrupted. “Which is it?“

“What I mean is,” Lars started again, “Alan has a key for the street door to storage because he cleans that and the bar on Mondays when they are closed for customers. But obviously, we’re not supposed to use that door to get in on a Saturday night.”

“To sneak in?” Lin queried again.

Lars ignored her. “There’s a ventilation shaft. If you get up on a table and take off the filter you can see a little slice of the darkroom on the other side. But there wasn’t much to see. You could hear everybody moan, though. And then afterward we talked about — ‘hey, how do you know the other guy isn’t like a big fat slob or something?’”

“Well, you can use your hands, right?” Lin looked at him seriously, and for a moment it was like Lars wavered. But he swallowed the rest of his beer and opened a new one.

Carrie looked halfway over her shoulder towards the kitchen. Alan had several bags of coffee out now, and none of them seemed to be the right one. He kept shuffling them and then putting one or another back in the cupboard.

“What I mean is,” Lars tried again, “no matter what they, well, feel they still don’t know. And there are holes in plywood walls in the room itself, you know, if you just want to—”

“Would somebody like that coffee now, or is it just going to be me?” Alan called out.

“I would,” Carrie ventured.

“I know plenty about darkrooms,” Lin said, as if she was expounding on literary analysis. “My father used to go to them rather frequently. But he fucked girls—not guys. At least as far as I know.”

Lars almost spat out his beer. “What?!”

“Lin … don’t.“ Carrie put a hand gently on Lin’s shoulder, but Lin pushed it away and Carrie felt vertigo that didn’t quite align with how little she had been drinking.

“Er, but the problem,” Lars continued, foundering like a ship in a storm, “is that you can also end up real bad in such a place. Alan’s uncle told me once about a murder in a darkroom in a bar he knows in L.A.”

“You’re full of shit,” Carrie said. 

Lars looked at her with the iciness he usually reserved for his parents. “Don’t get all riled up. I’m talking with your girlfriend here.”

Carrie frowned and looked around in confusion as if she hadn’t understood what Lars had said. Lin raised a brow but said nothing. She was still fixing Lars with intense eyes.

Alan had stopped the coffee machine and pulled out a French press instead. But it just stood there on the table, and he did nothing more.

“It doesn’t matter.” Lars made a sour gesture with his free hand and then took a big gulp from his current bottle. “It doesn’t matter. But it’s true, all right. Imagine that, huh?“ 

He trailed and looked to the darkness outside the east windows for solace. “Imagine that … you feel something sticky and it’s not cum but someone else’s blood. Just like real life.”

“I thought darkrooms were real life?” Alan came back and sat down. Without coffee. He studied Lars like he was studying the scene of an execution.

“So now the fun is beginning,” Alan continued, “maybe I should go break open the champagne? It’s not yet midnight, but since we’re having so much fun we might as well celebrate early, huh?” 

Lars just looked away. He looked deflated in the round chair. “Forget it, man. I’m just drunk. Forget it … ”

“What was that all about?” Carrie sighed. “Tonight was supposed to be … ”

“Fun?” Alan helped.


“I think the story is relevant,” Lin continued, unabashed. But there was something in her eyes now that was darker than the night outside. “I often think of life after high school as fumbling through a dark room, not sure what you are looking for.”

“And sometimes you find something you definitely don’t want to find,“ Alan suggested, lighting up a little.

“Exactly.” Lin smiled, but without warmth. She took a sip of her red wine for the first time this evening. She usually drank very little or very much. There was no in-between with her. 

They had all emailed each other for weeks before Christmas about how cool it would be to have their first new year’s eve after high school be a reunionborrow the holiday house on the Canadian side of the lakesget away for one last time together. A strange feeling of still being able to live in your past life and yet not knowing if it meant something. So they agreed, met in Cleveland after the mandatory family Christmas parties, and went up there. And it had been a kaleidoscope of memories and laughs. Until now.

“I’m sorry, man,” Lars finally said, “I’m drunk. And—” he looked at Lin with as much steadiness as he could muster, “about your dad, I mean—”

“Never mind,” Lin said. “I say a lot of shit, too, when I’m drinking. And my dad’s dead, as you know. He doesn’t care.”


“I don’t want to talk about him.”

On the sofa, Carrie changed position uncomfortably. Beside her, Lin leaned back and looked up. For a moment she studied their flickering shadows on the ceiling, a strange inverted reflection of the flames from the fireplace.

“Well, what should we talk about then?” Alan eyed Lars with mock cheerfulness.

“We could talk about Carrie … ” Lars had sunk far back in the round chair, his beer-free hand in his pocket now. “Uh, what was that you said about art school?”

Carrie grimaced and looked far from ready to pick up that topic again, but Lin made sure she didn’t have to.

“Oh, so you want to talk about Carrie now?” she purred. “What would you like to know? I’ll answer for you.”

Before Lars could reply to that, Lin made a small jump on the sofa so she almost ended up in Carrie’s lap. Then she reached for Carrie’s cheek and turned her head so she could kiss her quickly on the mouth. 

“I think you’re jealous,” Lin mused and proceeded to lean her head against Carrie’s shoulder. 

Carrie was again caught too much off guard to decide how to respond. She just sat there, frozen. 

For a moment, everything tethered on a precipice.

Lars swallowed. “I’m—”

“Oh, I’m just fucking with you.” Lin moved away from Carrie as quickly as she had come on to her, then grabbed one of Lars’ beers from the small table between them and opened it effortlessly.

“I’m fucking with you, Lars Anestad!” Lin repeated and looked around as if waiting for applause. She then shook her head in a goofy way so her face got half-covered behind her wild curls. “You’re so negative all the time. All of you. You need to lighten up.”

She blew a kiss towards Lars and took a big gulp of her bottle of Molson, then put it down beside her unfinished glass of wine. “Cheers.”

“Why not?” Alan said.

“Why not what?” Carrie asked, feeling an intense need for the coffee that would never come.

“We ask questions to each other and somebody else answers,” Alan explained. “Lin answers for Carrie and vice versa. Then me and Lars.”

“That’s a stupid game,” Lars commented. “We should play D&D instead. I’ve got some dice.”

“We finished that,” Alan said. “Our Dungeons and Dragons campaign is finished. Just like all the classes. The school bands. The—”

“I like the idea,” Lin quipped.

“You kind of started it,” Carrie muttered, looking out the window again. 

Lin squeezed Carrie’s arm. “It’ll be fun. We’ve got some time until midnight and the fireworks. And I don’t want to talk more about Lars’ cum.”

“Hey—” Lars started.

But Alan interrupted him. “It’s a deal.”

He raised his glass. “Let’s see if there are some things about each other we still don’t know, after our long ‘sentence’ together in Cleveland’s most deadbeat high school.”

“I feel I know you all well.” Carrie fumbled after another soda on the table since there was no more cola.

“Well, nothing to fear then … ” Lars added wistfully. Now it was as if he also had become enormously interested in the writhing shadows on the ceiling.

“We should only do it if we promise not to lie,” Lin said, “about—” she looked at Carrie.

Alan nodded. “It’s easy to lie if you talk about yourself. Harder if you talk about someone else, because you don’t know what it’s okay to say or not.”

“I think Lin knows most of my secrets.” Carrie finally decided on a Molson. Not that there was much else left. “And I also think this is a stupid game.”

“It’s just to lighten things a little up,” Alan said, getting more comfortable every minute, as opposed to Lars who still concentrated grimly on the ceiling. “It’s not okay to lie, but it’s okay to give bullshit answers, yes?”

“You’re making up the damn rules as you go along,” Lars growled. 

“It’s my job.” Alan shrugged. “I’m your Dungeon Master.”

“Was,” Carrie said. “Do you think you’ll find a new group in Duluth?”

“Sure,” Alan said, “but not as good as you guys.”

Carrie allowed herself a guarded smile, but it was over quickly. 

“So who will start?” Lin broke in, something gleaming in her eyes now. 

“I’ll start,” Lars said. “You said so before.”

Lin nodded, and nobody protested.

“Okay,” he continued, “Lin—why did Carrie choose to study Criminal Justice in Columbus instead of going to art school in Cleveland?”

“Because she hates Cleveland,” Alan interjected, trying to make it sound funny.

“That’s right.” Carrie nodded somberly as if she thought it wasn’t a joke at all.

“Hey—” Lin broke in, “I’ll answer this!”

There was an awkward silence. Then after a loud spark from the fireplace, Lin said, “Carrie chose to study law instead of art because she is a person with a powerful sense of justice. She wants to do something for the world and she feels art as a pursuit is too egoistic.”

Carrie grimaced again. “Lin, that’s not what I—”

“It’s true, though, isn’t it?” Lin eyed Carrie, but the intensity had faded from her gaze, and instead, there was compassion as well. 

Carrie lowered her shoulders. “It’s—” 

“Not now,” Alan interrupted. “We just continue. Next, I will ask Carrie about Lin. Then we switch.”

“You’re still making up the damn rules,” Lars shot in.

“And I’m good at it.” Alan didn’t conceal his satisfaction. It was obvious the coffee was all but forgotten, and so was all the extra searching around for it. 

Alan crossed his arms and looked at Carrie. “Now, let’s hear the answer to this: Will Lin Christakis ever write a book that becomes famous, like her big idol—Virginia Woolf?“

Carrie’s eyes flashed briefly to Lin. Then she said, “Yes.”

Alan raised a brow, waiting. 

Lars still moped. “I thought we were going to talk about who we are, not the bloody future. This game is worse than one of your kill-’em-all dungeons, Alan!”

“It’s not the future,” Carrie said. “It’s not a prediction.”

Alan looked expectantly at Carrie, while Lars just shook his head for the nth time. Lin hardly moved.

“She has already written a novel that is going to be famous,” Carrie said.

“Ah,” Alan said, “but will it be? Do you believe it will be?“

“ … Yes.”

“She’s hesitating, man,” Lars blurted, “just like when she had to review the songs I wanted for the album.”

“Maybe Lin’s writing is not to her taste?” Alan was looking straight at Carrie.

“Maybe  … ” Carrie said “ … I am not so stupid that I believe romance novels are the only good books around. And I like what she is writing. I can see it is good. And someone will like it even more—many people.”

Carrie faltered and looked at everyone except Lin. Lin patted Carrie’s knee, almost without touching.

“And we both like Fitzgerald,” she said, no more than a whisper. Lin was staring into the fire behind Alan and Lars.

“Now it’s your turn,” Carrie said, a new firmness rising in her voice. She wiped something from her face. Then she fixed Alan and Lars with her ice-blue eyes. 

“You should—” Alan began.

“Lars,” Carrie said, without waiting for Alan’s permission, “why did Alan want to go to that gay bar?”

“What? He didn’t. He—” 

“I thought we could ask any kind of question? So why?”

I wanted to go,” Lars said sullenly. “I was daring him. Stupid shit you do when you are drunk. We also went into a pornshop once, if you want to know.”

“I don’t,” Carrie said, “I want to know about the gay bar.”

“That’s not a fair question,” Alan started to argue, finally getting a hold of himself. He mustered a decisive tone of voice, but it sounded like it came from a man who had just been tackled. 

“You don’t get to make up the rules on this one,” Carrie said. “Let Lars answer the question.”

“I’m not making up the rules,” Alan shot back. 

“Pfff … ” Lin snorted while sipping dark red wine once again.

“I don’t know why he wanted to go,” Lars said and shrugged. “Maybe we should just get the champagne ready. It’s almost 12.”

Everyone looked at Alan, who rolled his eyes. “We were drunk, okay? There’s no secret homo thing going on here. If you are in doubt, just ask Nadine.”

“I did,” Carrie said, “right after you invited me to this holiday house last Christmas because you said she didn’t understand you. Your ex-girlfriend happens to be my friend, too. I wanted to make sure I didn’t get into trouble.”

“Last Christmas?” Alan looked confused. “I don’t remember.”

“You asked her,” Lin broke in angrily, “you asked her to come up here during the holidays—Carrie and you—‘because she listened so well’. Or some such crap.”

“What the fuck is this?” Alan pushed back the chair and looked around. “What have I done that you are suddenly going after me like this? I thought this was supposed to be our going away party. I thought we were—”

“Friends … ” Carrie finished for him, but with no genuine enthusiasm left in her voice. She was sitting slightly crouched on the sofa, looking for something indefinable in the utter blackness outside the wall-sized windows.

“You had it coming,” Lars said, looking at Alan. “I don’t get why you always go after Carrie like that. She has been good in the group since she joined. And you both draw.”

“Well, I do architecture now,” Alan replied dismissively and got up, but with nowhere to go he just drifted toward the kitchen again. “I’m going to find the champagne,” he finally said. “You want champagne, don’t you?”

There was some muttering and nodding, but for reasons, nobody fully understood it felt like the door to the winter outside had been flung open. 

“While we wait for the champagne, I believe there is someone who hasn’t been questioned yet.” Lin folded her hands and looked innocently at something close to Lars.

“Can we stop this already?” Lars grabbed his guitar, which had been leaning idly against his round chair until now. “I’ll play the damn song if that’s what you want to ask about.”

“That’s exactly what I wanted to ask about.” Lin smiled, for the first time with a semblance of spirit. “When somebody out of the blue asks me to write the lyrics for a song for his first album, I’m entitled to hear it.”

“It isn’t finished yet.” Lars probed the strings tentatively. “I told you all evening, but you kept pestering me to play it.”

“I didn’t pester you … ” Lin replied, her smile fading.

Alan came to the rescue with the champagne glasses which he handed out to everyone. Lars looked at him briefly and then concentrated on his guitar.

“It’s not quite there yet,” he continued. “Maybe in another week.”

“When will the album be finished?” Carrie asked, smiling as best she could. Something was glistening in her eyes.

“When it’s ready,“ Lars said and struck a chord. Then he blinked and looked at Carrie as if she had only just entered the room. “I don’t expect you’ll even want to hear it. You told me once you don’t read books by ‘jerks’. I guess the same applies to music, huh?”

“There are no jerks here tonight,“ Carrie said, pulling herself together. She held her glass ready. 

“Let’s have a toast to that,” Alan chimed in from behind them. 

He had come back from the kitchen once more but hadn’t bothered to sit down again. Instead, he stood ready with the champagne bottle by the fireplace, exactly where there was a little ugly souvenir clock on a shelf above the flames. 

The clock was adorned with mud brown reindeer running along its wooden frame, presumably in search of a romantic winter motif. Alan’s mother had bought it on a Christmas market in Toronto in 1988. That was all he had told the others when Lin had asked about it only two minutes after she and Carrie had arrived at the holiday house. Lin had taken it down and petted the reindeer even before she got her coat off. When Carrie asked Lin why she wanted to know about the thing, Lin had replied that she ‘loved oddities’. 

Alan began fiddling with the cork of the bottle, but Lin stopped him. “Let’s hear the song before midnight. We have time, don’t we?”

“I’ll try.” Lars started playing.

And so, nobody spoke for almost five minutes. It was a song about tears in the rain and life as an old movie, and Lars matched the last chords almost precisely to the moment the hands of the worn souvenir clock struck 12 with a single ‘ping’. 

Then Alan popped the champagne and cheered wildly while filling their glasses and splashing the rest on the sofa table. “To Nineteen-fucking-ninety-eight! Let’s own this year—yeah!”


They had planned to go down to the lake after the champagne, but it took a long time for someone to finally take the lead. However, the fireworks from Rochester on the American side would still be beautiful, right? If they were lucky, they could even see some of what was going on in Toronto. Alan had said as much when he sold them on going up here as if he needed to. 

The guys had gone ahead. Carrie excused herself that she needed some boots which were still in the car, and Lin waited for her. Above them, there were only faint specks of stars in gaps between heavy clouds. It was a lightless new year’s night. 

Carrie made her way back through the snow, looking glum. “Ready?” 

Lin shrugged. “I dunno. We could stay here and drink the rest of Alan’s stash.”

A slight smile crossed Carrie’s lips. “I don’t think so. It would just make things more awkward.”

Lin looked up at the remote light specks. “What the hell happened in there? Aside from the song, it was all drama after that stupid darkroom-story.”

Carrie sighed. “I have no idea why it went down like that, but I’m not … happy about a lot of things. Coming up here hasn’t helped. Maybe it’s the same for the guys?”

Lin frowned. “What are you not happy about?”

“I’m not sure it was the right choice to go to Columbus and, well, law school … ”

“Hey—I went with you, remember?”

“We’re on different campuses.”

“It’s the same address. At least we didn’t go to Duluth!”

They laughed, at last, and began walking. Alan had left a flashlight which they almost forgot. 

Carrie ran back and got it from the bench outside the main door. She turned it on but the pale beam revealed only never-ending rows of shadowy pine trees surrounding the house on the lakeside. 

“Where the hell is the path to the lake?” Carrie muttered.

“Does it matter?” Lin said.

Carrie kept searching. “Aw, come one … Where is it?”

“If you can’t find it, I think I’m going back.”

Carrie turned and for a moment accidentally shone the flashlight in Lin’s face. Lin blinked but didn’t turn away.

“Are you all right?” Carrie asked.

“Yes. Let’s get going. I’m freezing my butt off.”

“What about your pills? Did you—”

“I’ve got them, but they aren’t so good with alcohol, you know.”

Carrie knitted her brow. “But you took them?” 

“I can drink for one night,” Lin said, irritation creeping into her voice. “It won’t be a problem.”

“So you … didn’t take them?”

“What do you think? I will not die of pills and Molson. Not in this godforsaken place. Everybody’s raving about Lake Ontario. Looks like all the other damn lakes to me!”

“Especially in wintertime,” Carrie mumbled. Then she pointed with the flashlight. “Look there. I think that is the path.”

“You sure?” Lin took a step past Carrie to inspect the plethora of footsteps in the snow, which didn’t really indicate any specific kind of ‘path’. “Some of these don’t look so recent, Carrie. Fuck. The boys could have waited for us. Then we would have been sure.”

“Let’s try,” Carrie said. “If we get lost, they can try to find us. Then we will see if what Alan is pissed about is more important than our lives.” Carrie made a show of saying ‘lives’, as if she was speaking for a B-Movie trailer. 

It was a fragment of impromptu acting skills that Carrie hadn’t bet on either for her career, except that they made Lin’s argument easier when she had to convince Alan that Carrie should play Dungeons & Dragons with them.

Lin laughed at Carrie’s goofiness, but it sounded like it came from a believer who had lost her faith.

“I think Lars is more pissed than Alan, but we’d better find out.” She started walking down the alleged path Carrie had found.

“You were pretty rough on him,” Carrie said. “He didn’t know that much about your father.”

“I don’t feel good about that either,” Lin said, “but what can you do?”

“You can take your damn pills.” Carrie slapped Lin on the shoulder with forced playfulness. 

“Did you know that Paxil also takes away your sex drive?” Lin asked as they carefully dove into the embrace of the dark frosty pines.

“No,” Carrie said, “but if that’s true then I’m not worried about our friendship.”

She was relieved when Lin laughed at that.


“So what’s your fucking problem, anyway?” They were almost at the frozen lake, and Lars had his eyes firmly fixed ahead.  

“My problem?” Alan blurted, sounding both angry and surprised. “What do you mean?”

Lars took a few steps past Alan, towards the lake. The beach, if one could call it that, had been covered with stones, but now it was also covered with snow and only some stones protruded like black lumps. 

“You never know anything, do you?” Lars had his hands tight in the pockets of his leather jacket. “You always pretend everything is a surprise.”

Their eyes had gotten somewhat used to the dark, but following the lonely beam of Alan’s flashlight had also worked against the shift. For all intents and purposes, they could only see a little slice of the voluminous night world around them. Everything else was still indistinct, gray and black masses.

“Don’t go further towards the lake now,” Alan said. “We can’t see exactly where the ice starts. There’s too much snow.”

“You’re dodging the subject.”

Alan took a deep breath of the icy air, and Lars could hear that he regretted it as it filled his lungs too quickly. 

Alan lowered the flashlight. “I’m sorry about that stupid thing with my uncle’s bar last month.” 

Lars looked at him. “Why?”  

Alan sounded like he was further away than just a few steps. “Because I love my uncle. He was there for us when my parents almost worked themselves to death. He got me a gig when I moved from Cleveland to live on my own so I didn’t have to start college being piss poor. He never hesitated to talk about, well, being gay and all. But also you could talk to him about everything else—you know, life and stuff. And without him being a condescending ass like my dad.”

“Yeah … ” Lars nodded. “Like when I had broken up with Denise and wanted to drink until I died. He talked me out of that one. Wise man, your uncle.”

Alan nodded. “He is the best. And he has been living with George for like a million years and they are incredibly boring at home. And then … there is the bar.”

“He never told you about what they did? In the darkroom?”

“I’m not sure he does anything in there.“ Alan shone the light further out on the ice. “But he owns the place, and he makes big bucks. He always told me exactly what was going on in there at night, though, and that he made more money because of it. He also told me that if I wanted to earn my buck cleaning the storage and bar, I had to promise to stay out of the d-room. He would clean that up himself.”

“We didn’t go in,” Lars said. “We just peeped.”

“Yeah, right,” Alan said. “Feels like I betrayed him, though. And for what?”

Lars’ voice became firmer. “I don’t know, Alan. Is there something you haven’t told me?”


“Yeah, you,” Lars said. “You’re not, like, gay or something?”

There was a moment of near-stillness. They could only just hear echoes of fireworks from diffuse directions around the lake. But they could see absolutely nothing. It was like the rest of the world was happily entering 1998, except for Lars Anestad and Alan Stockdale.

Then Alan laughed. “You—you think I—?”

“Yeah, you!” Lars sounded both annoyed and cold at the same time.

Alan shook his head and even in the gray night, Lars could see that there was wonder in his eyes, like when he described those treasure chests they discovered in the game after they had killed the dragon. Like Alan could really see them in his mind’s eye and was sure everybody else could. 

“No,“ Alan said. “I thought it was you, man.”

“Me? Why did you think I was gay?”

“Well, you kissed that guy from the band at your release party? Don’t you remember?”

“Oh, Derek?” Lars replied as if that cleared up everything. 

“Yeah, that’s him,” Alan affirmed.

“Well, since this is the last time in a very long time I may see you … ” Lars stared wistfully into the darkness “ … I guess it doesn’t hurt to tell you that—yeah, I have had my thoughts about that. But also about others.”

“Others?” Alan swallowed something.

“Lin … ” Lars’ voice was gossamer thin.

“Lin?” Alan exclaimed. “Say, where are the girls? They should’ve been here ages ago.”

They both turned and looked back, but there were only the dark, jagged shapes of the massed pine trees. 

“Should we go after them?” Lars asked.

“We have to,” Alan replied. “They should have been here.”

“What if they arrive after we have gone?”

“There is only one path. We’ll backtrack.”

“There must be other paths,” Lars suggested.

“Yeah, well, I don’t think they—say, maybe I should just call them if I can get a signal.” Alan pulled out his Motorola and flipped it open, the small greenish display lighting up in the dark.

Alan punched in a number. “No answer. But there is a signal … ” He looked befuddled.

Lars took the phone from him. “Let me see—is that Lin’s number?”

“Yeah, Carrie always whines about how she can’t afford a phone,” Alan said. “Hey, has she got one now?”

“How the hell should I know?” Lars snapped. 

“What’s your problem now?” Alan snatched the phone back, almost knocking it out of Lars’ hand and down in the snow.

“‘My problem’?” Lars repeated. “‘My problem?’”

“Yeah, you sound like I kicked you over the fucking kneecap or something.”

Lars had stopped by one of the big black stones. He hesitated slightly but then stepped up to balance on the stone’s icy surface. Lars looked at Alan for a long harsh moment, before he said anything.

“Wouldn’t you be pissed if your best friend tried to out you by dragging you into a gay bar to peek into a bloody darkroom—when he could just have bloody asked?!” 

“Look, I do a lot of stupid shit when I am drunk—” Alan started.

“Don’t give me that fucking excuse!” 

Alan’s lips were close to curling into a snarl. “Well, look who is the master of excuses. You start talking about that stupid darkroom-thing to the girls and then go after me for ‘outing you’. You take a swipe at Carrie because you are jealous of her and Lin, and then you take a swipe at me because I don’t really think that much of her anymore.”

Lars laughed a short, joyless laugh, but didn’t hit back this time. He just shrugged and looked around the darkness, like that was his real home and not the songs he worked on every day.  

Alan breathed in a lot of cold air again without flinching, as if he was emptying a particularly strong drink. “Hey … buddy. Let’s go find, Lin, okay? And Carrie.” 

Lars got down from the stone and shuffled after Alan without a word.

“We can talk about all this shit after we find them,” Alan continued, not looking back after Lars. “We can’t see anything down here, anyway.”

Lars followed but kept his distance. “Why did you want to out me—that night at the bar?“

“I didn’t,” Alan said. “Honestly, I was just drunk and doing drunk things.”

“Okay,” Lars said. “Guess I could write a song about that.”

“Yeah,” said Alan. “You’ll have plenty of time in the new year—unlike the rest of us college-stiffs.”

“Nobody forced you to go straight to college,” Lars said. “It’s a free country.”

Alan just walked faster through the snow.

They went back in between the pines, brushing frosty needles away from their faces while calling out to Carrie and Lin.


Last updated 16 Sep 2021

All I Wanna Say IS

All I Wanna Say IS

“They don’t really care about us … “

Carrie shook her head and tried – just for a second – to imagine she and Lin, two slightly off-beat high school girls, handing out signed copies at one of those comic conventions she had read about.

Right here, right now, sitting as they were at her desk in Carrie’s half of the two-room suburban Cleveland apartment, it felt like a really long way to San Diego or New York.

“You just have to believe in it – ” Lin retorted, giving Carrie that determined, slightly unsettling look.

“Okaay!” Carrie snapped and picked up the pencil, starting for the third time on a character sketch. Yup, there was a really long way to San Diego Comic-Con.

They had been here all afternoon, Lin having called suddenly saying she had to come over because she had a new idea. This usually meant Lin had had a new row with her mum. Julia Christakis (who had now become Julia Stephen again) still wavered on whether to go back to England or not, apparently having a stroke of guilty conscience after Lin’s dad had died. At least every second week or so. The other weeks she had made up her mind to go to the UK.

And Lin actually wanted her mother to leave – or so she said. Then I can ‘do whatever the hell I want!’

One of the crazy things she had talked and talked about wanting to do since they first came together was a real comic book – or graphic novel, as Lin insisted on calling it. Like Carrie, Lin had some comics but mostly the ‘elite’ stuff – European albums and such.

Carrie for her part wasn’t that choosy, having grown up with reading her step-brother‘s X-Men comics, more out of necessity than choice. Often she had felt there was no other way to make time pass in that lonely house back when her mum and Calum lived together. And being chased around by your ‘classmates’ daily in school didn’t exactly invite you to longer excursions in the village or elsewhere.

But now she was far away from that life and it had seemed like an attractive beginning on another life – and, well, just … a cool idea! When she ‘accidentally’ had mentioned, and then shown, her new friend her “dabblings” into drawing. Two seconds later Lin had suggested that they do a comic book together.

Carrie had of course pulled the brakes – for two seconds more. ‘A comic book? Are you out of your mind? … … … Oh, hell – why not?’

And Lin had had just the idea for a story: love, horror, weirdness – all rolled into one.


Carrie threw down her pen again. “Crapcrapcrap -! ” she moaned “ – even if I were good enough to be the new Colleen Doran in 10 years or so … who would publish this? Some oddball sci-fi-story that it’s just you and me who digs.”

“We’ll worry about that when it’s finished,” Lin said in a low tone, but firmly.

“No, we’ll not – because it’s not gonna be working wonders for our rather strained reps at school if anyone – especially Eric Markham – or Denise’s clique – finds out about this! It’s definitely not ‘in fashion’ … ”

Lin knitted her brow. “Hey, since when did we care about fashion?”

“Look – ” Carrie pulled back the single desk chair and dropped down on the creaking bed-turned-into-couch “ – nobody is ever going to read this. Even if we printed it ourselves and paid them money to do it. It’s not gonna be pro.”

“It’ll be close enough, Carrie – you’re good.”

“No, I’m not.”

“It doesn’t matter if anyone reads it -” Lin drove on, firmness in her voice up a notch. “What matters is creating it!”

“That’s ridiculous,” Carrie shot back. “If no one reads what you’ve made, then it doesn’t matter at all.”

Lin looked down. “It matters to us … ”

For a moment there was only the sub-current of a beat from Carrie’s worn loudspeakers, then Lin looked up again and Carrie looked at her and they stared at each other like it was a western stand-off.

“Okay,” Carrie said, crossing her arms, “why?”

Lin inhaled deeply. “Because …. that’s the first reason you create something. That’s the first reason I write, for example. I know I’m not, like Virginia Woolf, yet, but I’ll get better. And even if I don’t … or worse: Even if I do get better but I still don’t get published – I would still be writing. I would do it – for my sake. Because it is my … passion.”

She looked away briefly as if she had just said something dirty. Carrie threw up her arms in what appeared to be exasperation, but she didn’t say anything to back it up.

“I like to draw, too – very much – but … ” Carrie then tried but stopped herself again. Lin just couldn’t get it through her thick skull. And she had been stupid to even go along with this …

“ … And you like this idea for a story,” Lin then said quietly. “You said so yourself.”

” … I love it.”

“Then we should do this!” Lin exclaimed. “We’re already weird, so we might as well be weirder!”

“But it makes no sense – “ Carrie protested, but with slumped shoulders – “I’m not going to be a comic book artist, ever. It will … take too much time.”

“What are you going to be then?”

“I dunno … I figured I’d go to law school or something.”

Lin smiled faintly. “Yeah, and I want to throw myself into English lit. Suicidal, isn’t it?”

“Because your mum’s an Eng-lit professor an’ all?”

Lin looked down again, and this time Carrie knew why.

“Yeah,” she then said and looked up at Carrie once more, “ – but that doesn’t matter, for sure. Just because my mum can be … bitchy … doesn’t mean that everything she’s read is flawed. Virginia Woolf certainly isn’t!”

Carrie sighed and cast a quick glance out the room’s only window. It was supposed to be spring in Cleveland, but this Saturday was so thick with grey clouds and occasional bursts of cold, clammy rain that it might as well be autumn – either somebody had beamed her Deborah Sawyer’s apartment back to Scotland.

Carrie heard Lin tap the CD player, and then MJ sprang to life – out into some street in Rio again.

Lin got up from the borrowed living-room chair, dropped down on the bed couch beside Carrie. “Sometimes,” she said, “you just have to do it. I know that sounds like a commercial but – ”

“It does,” Carrie said, still looking out at the clouds, “ – and I was just becoming afraid that you were about to say that we should do this, even if we knew it would be a failure … ‘like, Boldly they rode and well … Into the mouth of Hell ’ or shit like that.”

Lin shook her head. “I never could understand Mrs. Lane’s Tennyson worship. Correction: Dead-white-males-war-story-worship. Do you think she was a man in her previous life?”

They snickered. But the inevitable decision was still there …

Carrie had slumped down onto the couch, so she was half lying down now. Lin, for her part, sat straight up … expectantly.

“Promise me,” Carrie then said, “we do this because we have to because it’s right. Not because we’re pissed that nobody’s going to read it.”

“I promise,” Lin said. And turned off the CD player.


Last edited on April 27 2021

The White Pill

The White Pill

“Lin seems like a troubled kid,” Jarrod says and gulps down more coffee.

“Hmm-hmm.” Deborah nods and looks out the window. The world is all white – out there. Jarrod’s condo is grey and brown because he didn’t have time to finish the planned do-over after his divorce. But this summer …

Carrie and Lin must be up now. Maybe Lin has already been picked up. Should I have stayed? No, Carrie wouldn’t have wanted that …

“Should I speak to the counselor at Cuyahoga?” Jarrod asks, mouth full of scrambled eggs, “just to get an idea of how much help she gets there?”

Deborah raises a brow. “I thought you counselors weren’t allowed that? Confidentiality … ”

“This may be a special case – ” Jarrod proceeds to attack the bacon. He seems hungry as if he had been at it all night. Deborah knows he hasn’t.

“ – We’re allowed to notify relevant authorities,” Jarrod says with trained patience. “Everyone is. And as you said earlier, neither of the girls is volunteering much information.”

“Carrie says Lin does get counseling at Cuyahoga. And I believe she is seeing a psychologist as well.” Deborah sips some tea but not much. Jarrod only has Earl Grey which is three months too old. But she didn’t decline.

“Okay,” Jarrod says and then something more, but Deborah doesn’t hear it.

I wonder if I can keep this up a week more without going all the way? He sure wants to, even tonight. Using Lin as an excuse wasn’t the best, but I am really thinking about what’s going to happen to that poor girl. And what happens to Carrie, when she finds out that maybe Lin is not going to be alright? Like my mother, like my brother, like …

“… and Lin is from one of the better-off families.” Jarrod continues his analysis and pours more coffee – his third cup. “They should be able to afford anything for her – doesn’t matter with insurance and all …”


“I mean it is Theodoris Christakis’ daughter. My God, he really made it big with that new program for – what was it? – Dell computers? I have a Dell myself …”



“Do you have more aspirins?”

“Sure – I’ll go get one.”

“Make that two.”

He hesitates briefly, then he is off. A few moments to think …

It hasn’t been easy for Carrie since we moved over here. I haven’t been easy. She hasn’t been easy. Nothing is goddamn easy. Why can’t it ever be? If only I could find a steady job. If only that asshole, Calum, would call her more often and not just sit at the pub and sulk with his ‘chums’ …

Deborah stands up and goes to the window. Jarrod’s condo is not far away from her own, but there is a world of difference. There is an actual view here, to one of the lakes, not to granite industry blocks whose only redeeming feature is that they are blocking the view to one of the freeways.

There is a world of white out there now. The lake is white, too, and below it … ice.

Used to love skating, when I was Carrie’s age. Now I’ll probably fall on my ass …

She closes her eyes, but the white is still there. Or she wishes for it to be there, soothing, in her mind. She remembers the fights. Not Lin’s. Her own fights with Carrie.

Deborah had heard all the gossip about that family, about how Lin’s father died. She had argued that maybe Carrie and Lin should ‘take it easy’ after that Christmas party, where they suddenly became peas and carrots.

But Carrie had hungered for new friends, any friends. And it had been a rough start at Cuyahoga Heights High. And how many times had Carrie come back after school and locked herself in her room and Deborah knew she was crying? Carrie vehemently refused to admit it, much less talk about it, but Deborah was sure. How many times …?

I have not been able to give my daughter a good life after I talked her into going with me instead of staying in Scotland. It was for the best, wasn’t it? Calum is so deep in the bottle now he can’t take care of the bloody dog …

And what would be left for a 16-year old girl on that rock anyway? Carrie already hated Skye after all the problems she had had there, in school and everything …

No, I have done her a favor. It is hard, it takes time. But it is for the best that she stays here, get to know her grandparents and uncles more. Gets a fresh start …

“Here are the aspirins.”

Deborah opens her eyes and sees the two white pills in Jarrod’s outstretched palm.

“You look like you could use them.” With the other hand, he takes her untouched glass of juice from the table and hands it to her.

Deborah hesitates for a moment. Then she takes just one of the pills and puts it in the corner of her mouth, thoughtfully, as if it was a piece of altar bread.

She takes the glass but puts it back on the table. “I have to go. Carrie is probably a bit out of it after last night.”

“I thought you said she didn’t want to talk about Lin’s problems with you?” Jarrod breathes heavily, glances at the juice like he is torn about giving it back to her or not. “Don’t you think it’s better to stay here awhile and then we can discuss how you and Carrie best can-”

“No.” She brushes past him to the hallway for her coat, then stops for a brief moment and looks back. “I have to try to talk to her again.”

“I don’t think she wants to, Deb. I have seen this attitude in a lot of kids her age.” He crosses his arms. “It takes time to thaw. You have to consider-”

“I’m sorry. I’ll see you Monday, okay?” And then she is out the door and into the white.

It is also a world of cold, of icicles on roofs, of road signs glazed over. But it is a cold that clears the mind.

Deborah spits out the pill and heads for home.

In the Eye of the Storm

In the Eye of the Storm

Have you ever had one of those experiences where the phone rings and you just know something bad has happened?

Not easy to explain why – maybe there is no explanation. But I think everyone knows.

“Should I get it?”

Jarrod looks quickly at my mum. She only looks at Don Johnson on the TV. So he turns to me, almost apologetically.

“I can do it,” I say and reward him with a quick smile.

Mum has only been seeing Jarrod for a week, but he is pretty sedate. So I don’t mind being nice …

Wriggling out of the couch, I do feel a small point of iciness in my stomach but I ignore it.

I take the three steps from the couch to the kitchen door, slowly and deliberately as if my body already knows something I don’t. Grab the phone and then close the door as much as I can without choking the chord: The eternal struggle.

Now I’m alone in our tiny kitchen. It’s snowing outside again. The lights from the street below give the flakes an eerie fluorescent glow against the night sky. It would be pretty if it wasn’t coming down in waves that only grow bigger by the hour.


“Carrie … ”



“It’s … almost 10. Are you alright?”

“Not … really. Can I come over?”



“Where are you? Are you at home?”

“Not really … ”

Tendrils of coldness spread in my stomach.

“Lin – where are you?”

“It’s kinda hard to tell. Street signs are all covered by snow.”

“I’m coming to get you. But can’t you see where you are? There’s got to be something … ”

“I know where I am. Sort of.”

A note of irritation creeps into her voice, but it quickly evaporates and there is only deep tiredness left like she is already half asleep.

“Are you far away?” I ask, twisting the phone chord harder between my fingers.

“No. I think I can be at your place in maybe 20 minutes.”

I want that to be 2 minutes. I want to interrogate her about what the hell is going on, but part of me already knows.

Lin’s father dies in a hotel in Haiti. Big famous IT-business man and then … dead.

And her mother’s a nervous wreck whose best idea of a ‘cure’ to the insanity is to leave Lin with the old man who takes care of the house and then fly off to the Keys with her own lover, and then come back because she has a guilty conscience … but not really be there.

Lin got counseling. Lin got back to school. Lin walked and talked normally. But of course … ‘normal’ is just a word.

I feel determination rising in me, mixed with my own guilt about all the things I didn’t do or say until now, because how the hell could I? I can barely figure out my own life.

“I’m coming out to meet you. Are you coming up from the main street?”

“Yeah.” Her voice is weak. “I’m at the phone booth near the park … I think.”

“Okay. I’ll go get my clothes. I’ll meet you.”

My heart beats faster, louder. I don’t remember if I manage to say goodbye properly. I just hang up and rush through the living room again, past Don Johnson and his melancholy beach walks on the TV …

Lin, please … stay safe.

There are the usual questions, from my mum – and a few perfunctory ones from Jarrod. And then a bit of shouting. But I’m off – down the stairs so fast I almost fall, and then into the gusts of snow that are like small razors against my skin.

There’s practically nobody on the street at this hour because the weather is straight from Antarctica. I work myself through the snow piles towards the main street and the little park. I didn’t get extra socks in my boots and soon I feel the cold numb my toes. So I walk faster.

I expect to see Lin all the time, but she is not coming. Did she go another way? Did she get lost?

After what feels like forever I see the small huddled shape on a bench, just opposite the first phone booth, I know on the main street.

I hurry closer and the small wiry form becomes Lin Christakis.

She is not wearing a cap, although this is definitely cap weather. Her dark stiff hair locks are sprinkled with snow. For a moment she looks like a frozen hedgehog.

I stop right in front of her and grab her shoulders, not really knowing if I should shake her or what the hell I should do.

“Why the hell didn’t you walk to meet me?” I yell.

She looks up at me, hollow-eyed. “I knew you’d find me.”

“You’re absolutely crazy, girl. You’ll get pneumonia.”

I pull her up from the bench. She follows willingly, but as we make our way home, her arm in mine, I wonder if she would have kept sitting there if she hadn’t called me.

I quench the thoughts and we get the hell back to my apartment.

Everything has been so bad this autumn: The jerks in class, the teachers, Richard dumping me … everything except Lin.

Until now.

We finally get in. My mum meets us in the hallway. She is all business and Jarrod follows in her wake.

“You must be freezing!” Mum almost pulls Lin’s coat off her and gives it to Jarrod so he can put it over the extra heater we have in the kitchen.

“It’s okay, mum …” I know it’s a pipe-dream with an entrance like that, but God, I wish mum would let us handle this ourselves!

“No, it’s not ‘okay’. Lin – do you want a hot shower?” My mum pulls open the door to our bathroom cubicle with one hand, while she is on her knees, working Lin’s boots with the other.

Lin kind of nods and I go with her and show her how to work the tabs.

After half an hour, Lin gets out of the shower, a cloud of steam following her into our box of a hallway.

I take her to my room and we find some dry clothes that don’t look too much like they don’t fit.

Inside the living room, my mum has found a use for her herbal tea obsession and made big mugs for the three of us. Jarrod has strategically retired to the kitchen to make more coffee.

Nobody is talking and the only sounds are fake gunshots from the obligatory shootout at the end of the Miami Vice re-run.

Lin sits on the couch. My mum sits beside her. I take the footstool with the “sacred Maya pattern” blanket. Jarrod stands by the kitchen door.

Lin puts the tea to her lips but doesn’t drink anything before she sets it down again.

Next up is the news on TV about death here and bad shit there, and then I become clear-headed enough to find the remote and mute it all.

Lin sips her tea, at last, her lips barely touching.

My mum breathes deeply. “What’s going on, Lin?”

“My mother and I had a fight.” Lin’s voice is little more than a whisper.

“Again, huh?” I deadpan because that’s all I really can do now.

“Again … ” Lin nods, while she looks down in the tea.

Then she eyes Jarrod for the first time. That’s his cue.

“Hi,” he says and smiles a well-rehearsed smile under the crisp mustache. “I’m Jarrod. Deborah’s … ” He nods towards my mum but hesitates.

“My hot date for the evening,” my mum explains, returning the smile but wryly.

“Since last Monday,” Jarrod adds, keeping up the cheery smile. “I’m the counselor at Collinwood High. Deborah subs in middle school there.”

“That’s nice,” Lin says, making an obvious effort to make it sound nice.

Then the phone rings.

I get up ready to get it, but my mum is quicker.

“Stay here,” she says.

I bite my lip and move over to the couch beside Lin. I don’t want my mum to take the damn phone because I know bloody well who is calling now. But what do I do? – Run past her and block the door?

Lin rocks a little back and forth, her eyes closed, holding the tea in one hand like she is meditating. The scent of hibiscus, the warmth – promises of other worlds than this.

My mum’s voice cuts through the half-closed kitchen door as Jarrod clears his throat and moves to annex the footstool I just left.

“Hello, Julia. Yes, she is here,” I hear my mum say from the kitchen.

“So … you two are attending Cuyahoga High?” Jarrod starts and looks expectantly at us.

And that’s when Lin jumps from the couch and barges into the kitchen. “I’m not going home – I’m not!”

My mum looks stunned for a moment and I can hear Lin’s mum at the other end talking frantically, a mixture of anger and desperation as if she wants to reach out and grab Lin just by shouting.

The next five minutes are a blur. I remember running to the kitchen also, reaching out for Lin, who stands there like a wild animal, trapped. Lin’s mum shouts at the other end of the line. My mum shouts. Lin cries. I say small incoherent, meaningless things, meant to calm her down, but  

I think Lin barely registers that I’m there.

Lin doesn’t want to talk to her mum, even though the distant, desperate voice pleads with her to do so, and sneaks in a few veiled threats, too, about changing schools again.

Then Jarrod tries, and that counselor-voice does something to douse the fire, enough for my mum to get Julia Christakis calm enough to listen to my mum’s pitch that I think she just made up on the spot:

‘Lin might get a serious cold if she’s to go out anymore tonight. Not good for her asthma … What if your car is stuck in the snow? … What if … What if … What if … ‘

My mum is annoying in a million ways which include being a certified health nut, stuffing half the kitchen with dietary supplements … but sometimes it’s pretty darn useful, especially when Lin’s mum is a sucker for those things, too. And sees my mum as an authority.

That and the fact that it snows an awful lot outside now …

So Lin’s mum relents and lets her stay. At least until morning.

After she hangs up, Jarrod asks the predictable questions about Lin’s family, and if she gets any help and all that, but my mum ushers him back to the couch and says she’ll take that from here.

“Carrie – find the air mattress for Lin,” she says to me through tight lips. “And maybe you two should just go to your room? We’ll be off to Jarrod’s after the news … ”


“I’m not going back this time,” Lin says with finality. For the third time in as many minutes.

“Sure … ” I say, “but where will you go then?”

“I’ve got an uncle in Missouri. I could go down there.”

“Your uncle Jimmy? The Vietnam vet?”

“Why not?” Lin doesn’t try to hide her irritation. “He is missing half an arm – not half his mind. Like my freaking mother … ”

We’re in my room and it’s later than late. I can only see her face because she has gone into hiding below more than half of my comforter. I’m sitting at the end of the bed with my back against the cold window.

“Okay, fine, your mum is daft, but that doesn’t allow you to come up here in my bed and steal,” I shoot back.

Joking. My first and only strategy.

Lin smiles suddenly, but it’s so quick I almost don’t see it. “‘Daft’,” she muses like she tastes the word. “You know, your accent isn’t that bad any longer. But you still use cute words.”

“I practiced a lot. I get enough grief from the jerks at school as it is, for being Scottish.”

“Pity, I like your accent and cute words.”

“Don’t wiggle out of this one,” I say, half-annoyed with the topic already. “What were you fighting about this time?”

“Oh, it was nothing special … ” Lin grimaces, so I know it’s special. “We’ve been at it since my father died, as you know – and way before that. But after he died it got worse.”

“So what was it, then?”

“You really wanna hear it?”

I take one of the pillows and hit her square in those dark locks. “D’uh – what do you think? Tell me everything!”

Lin closes her eyes for a long moment, then opens them again and looks straight at me. There is no real light in her eyes now, just shadows and intense fire.

She looks away. “My mother wants Gerard to move in.”

“Oh, shit …”


The next few moments are going to be as easy as walking on hot coal.

“I … thought you said he was kind of okay, though?”

“Carrie – it’s been less than two months since my dad died!”

I look away, looking for some sign – some help for what to say. There is none. Just words that can’t do fucked-up reality any justice. “Yeah … it was pretty bad of her to fly off like that when your dad had just died … ”

“‘Bad’ doesn’t even begin to cover it,” Lin says darkly, and in a split second, I get this vision of her walking alone in some abysmal landscape with toxic fumes swirling all around.

But she is not afraid. She is just walking with silent determination, breathing in everything, letting it blacken her skin. And that is what makes me afraid …

Lin goes on, pulling me back to the here and now and the half-darkness in the room. “I wanted to move out if Gerard moves in – but my mother won’t allow me. So I can run away from home and try to get pneumonia but that won’t really solve anything. Or going to Missouri.”

I swallow. “Damn, this is so fucked up. But your uncle could get custody, couldn’t he… ?”

Lin smiles a brief, joyless smile. “ – My uncle would fight to keep me. He knows how fucked up my mother is. But he can’t afford all the lawyers she can, not on his shitty pension.”

“Does your mum … love Gerard?”

Lin shrugs. “She says she does, and that she should have recognized her ‘true feelings’ a long time ago. So why not have him move in now? When she ‘needs’ him the most? Blablabla … ”

“But he is her shrink … ?!”

“Not just that anymore.”

Lin wriggles herself into an upright position, so she is sitting with her back to the wall, her pillow in her back. The comforter is still tightly wrapped around her, but I let her have it this time.

She looks like one of those natives from the old paintings from the Arctic explorers – sitting in her igloo, huddled in furs or whatever. I’m still lying down, looking up at her, resting my head on my hands and my own pillow.

“So I’m technically rich,” Lin says wistfully, “because my dad left money for me in his will – earmarked just for me. But it’s not money I can use before I’m 18. So I can’t buy a place for myself even though I could pay cash. Isn’t that crazy?”

“It’s so stupid,” I say with rightful indignation. “You must be able to use some of it. There must be a law or something … ”

She sighs. “There probably is, but what should I do? Sue my mother? Do you think she’ll give me money to at least let me do that?”

We laugh a bit at that, but not much. Then Lin’s face is a mask of sadness again.

“You might get our school counselor to support you,” I suggest without much faith. “He knows what your mum did – going away – when your dad died.”

“Yeah, but it was just there and then,” Lin says, her voice getting more and more resigned. “And aside from that brain fart, she doesn’t mistreat me – not physically anyway.”

“Lin … ?”

Lin wipes something from her eyes and sniffs. “Yeah?”

That ice in my stomach it’s still there. And I need to know. “Remember when you told me, you told your parents you’d kill yourself if you didn’t transfer to our high school – ?”

She shrugs, but a bit too quick for my taste. “It was just something I said. I was so angry last summer. I said a lot of things to get away from that snobby place in Toledo.”

“Okay … ”

It seems like there is nothing more to say after that. So I don’t. But I can still feel the ice. Like a small razor from outside, somebody forgot inside me.

Lin doesn’t look much better. She stares into the semi-darkness of the room, but not at the new stack of magazines and comics on the shelf opposite the bed. That has been the place we usually started. Not tonight.

Then a weak smile touches her lips and she turns to me again:

“You know what I really appreciate about you, highlander?”

“That you are the only one who gets to call me that without me slapping your head off?” I suggest, being half-serious about that last part.

“I appreciate that you’re not afraid to see me like this.”