“But, why me?”, asks Bixby.

“Because, Mr. Hermann, we need a man to do an impossible job.”


“Yes. We need a man with NO pretensions. Do you understand me?”

“No pretensions?”


“But sir,” Bixby quivers. “I don’t think I can do it. I don’t think anyone can – ”

“Hermann stop it. Stop. Listen to me. Look at me. Are you looking at me?”

“Yes sir.”

“We need a man like you. You’re the man we need. And anyway there’s no time for discussion, see. These cards must be shuffled. The top men here have studied it. Meetings. Experiments. Do you know about the experiments?”

“No sir.”

“Well. Believe me. We don’t do things willy nilly around here.”

“But Mr. Anderson, sir. Uh, General Anderson – I’m not even in the, uh… service. You know? I’m just a dentist.”

“Exactly! Now you’ve got it. Just the man we need – and no pretensions. Ahh, Bixby!” General Anderson smiles broadly, “I admit, I had my doubts, but now I see HRC was right. Couldn’t be righter!”


“Now then. Take these,” Anderson says, handing Bixby a set of playing cards. “I want you to shuffle them, see? And then starting walking thataway.” General Anderson lifts his right arm and points, squinting.

“When you can’t go any further, well, you just turn around.” Anderson mumbles, looking off in a different direction. Then he snaps back toward Bixby, leveling his gaze. “And always shuffling! Shuffling that deck!”

The sky is a flat, washed gray screen. The road rolls gently and rises, a faint line of wire fencing beside it.

Bixby looks down at his hands. Then he lifts his head and looks east, into the distance.


Easter when
he rose
he couldn’t see
his toes
you know the way
that goes?

he rose
to feel
the ground,
spongy wet
and sucking
at his feet,
slurping sloshing,

A marsh.
A cross.
The cattails bent
from heavy snows,
and moss,
and mud.
He rose because
he could.

To cross
a marsh
as if he could
by miracle.
on the ground,
soaking cold
and marshalling
his breath.
Snapping sinking

He rose
because he rose.
You know the way
that goes.

Et tu, Fernie?

It’s twenty minutes to close when the doorbell chimes and two middle-school-aged boys enter the shop. Newt, the chinchilla, is frenzied, running on his wheel as fast as he possibly can.

Mack looks up from the cutting board, where he’s chopping bananas and lettuce for the day’s last feeding. He’ll close up soon, feed the animals, and then ride home. He scratches his thick, gray, yellow-stained mustache, revealing forearms marked with tattoos that say “Goodness Snakes” and “Boa-lieve it”.

In the fish aisle a little girl in a pink skirt is sitting on a man’s shoulders and tapping on the beta’s bowls.

Continue reading “Et tu, Fernie?”

On my night off

My pecs are sore.
They’re sore!
I drank one beer or maybe
more, and prior to that,
before, I performed push-ups
on the floor
until I could push up no more
and earned that one
or two or three or five
or was it four?
Those beers they poured.
That now my ears have caused to ring
my head to swim my breath to lung.
Oh, I admit
it was just one.

Ice Breaker

He looks west to where the clearing should be but the horizon is gone, swallowed by snow. The ship’s iron hull, forty-eight millimeters thick, groans against the fresh ice. He cups his hands together and blows into them, then straightens his sunglasses.

The south-west passage should be open – it’s usually open – even this early in the season. And the Halvljus has opened this very route dozens of times before. Palms sliding down his gray-blonde beard, he recalls the first time he made the trip, as second navigator, seventeen years before. It was the peak of the oil crisis, and the ship’s radio was tuned to the state broadcasting service every morning for scratchy snippets of the latest news.

Now Ryuikssen comes with news of the Finnish breaker, Kontio, sent to pull them out. She’s delayed south of Negerpynten; running too light, it seems.

“And what about Andres?” he asks.

“Fine,” Ryuikssen says. “In quarters, recovering.”

“And the girl.”

Ryuikssen looks down. His blonde hair is thinning at the top and his lips are chapped to white.

“I don’t know,” he says. “She’s talking but no one understands.”

The captain of the Halvljus turns his head, cracks his neck to the right, then the left, heaves his chest and sighs. Three weeks ago he left Maarit and the baby in Luleå. It had been early morning when they went out, and from the pier he could see the cathedral spire covered in frost; the city beginning to light up behind it. The baby was wrapped up so tightly only her face showed, and Maarit, her hair pulled back, looked upset.

He didn’t know what was wrong. He thought to ask her in the car on the way over, but couldn’t bring himself to do it. Instead he stared out the window, watched the refinery lights go by. When they reached security he gave her his badge to show the guard. In the side mirror he saw the baby’s pinched face and then reached behind awkwardly to hold her mitted hand.

“I’m pregnant,” Maarit said now, looking away, and then directly into his eyes. “I’m pregnant again.”


Expose yourself

Write what nobody hears. Fill the page and turn it black. Fill a void, yourself, ambition, vanity, self-consciousness.

Pick up a pen do it. Have a notebook write it. Watch people. Note gender, size, age, hair color. Write it down.

Eavesdrop. Quote it. Don’t trust yourself to remember, you will not.

Expose yourself. Expose others. Observe and report.

Don’t swing at the ball. Swing where it will be. As if it’s not there. Discover that, indeed, it was. That is a home run, baby. A hole-in-one, nothin’-but-net, buzzer-beating crosscourt winner.

The truth is you don’t trust yourself. You want to transcend but hate to scrape and toil for it.

You fell in love with a cold chill, spine-descending, sleep drubbing, soul numbing. Paralyzed amputated imagination.

Throw up the windows now, the night is cool. The city hums. The whole ecstatic vibrating mess of it running out of steam. Moonless birdless cloudless only the flaccid post-rush-hour highway traffic tumbling from a distance. And the faucet drips and the refrigerator snaps to life, oh coils coils coils freon.

The Second Quarter

I had a an uncle named Rawley. Well, I have an uncle named Rawley but he lives in California. He used to come over on Saturday mornings and take me to get groceries. He was terrible at groceries. My mom gave him lists but he liked going up and down every aisle instead. It took forever.

The basketball says Rawlings. I prefer Spalding because that’s what they use in the NBA, but still this is a nice basketball. I like to feel the dimples, like an orange. A huge orange.

I bet Rawlings and Spalding were cousins. Spalding Evinrude and Tom Rawlings.

I look at the game clock, and note that I have been holding the ball for twenty-seven seconds.

If my name was Spalding and my cousin’s name was Tom, I’d be pissed too. I bet they were buddies until high school, when Tom got picked for varsity and Spalding got made fun of and no one asked him to prom. Then Rawlings went to a D-I school and Evinrude had an apprenticeship in a shoe factory.

It’s the second quarter. In the first quarter we scored 17 points. I scored 14 points. Arnault hit a three from the corner. I got the assist.

There are six minutes and forty-two seconds left before halftime. I look at coach.

If I had to guess, I would guess coach is fifty-two. He wears braces on both knees even though he never runs with us in practice. He alternates between two shiny wind-breakers and a navy blazer with gold buttons he wears for games. The buttons have anchors on them. Like, for ships.

Fortunately, I don’t have to guess. I know he’s forty-one, because he told us last year when he turned forty. He went to Vegas for a week, and Dolores, our assistant coach, took over for him. When he told us he was turning forty, I think most of the guys were kind of disappointed. It meant there was absolutely no chance of him retiring before any of us graduated.

I look at Dolores. It’s been about two minutes. I have the ball cradled under my armpit and I’m pulling the drawstring on my shorts. She makes a pushing motion with her arms like ‘get rid of something hot!’ or ‘here take this baby!’ but I realize she means I should pass the ball to Arnault. I hate to do this, but I do it.

Now Arnault is holding the ball. The other team is confused. The big white kid who plays center for them is standing under the hoop with his arms up, trying too hard. I want to tell him he’s going to get a three-second, but why would I tell him that? Anyway I don’t think he’s going to get one. The refs are talking and they have their arms crossed.

Did you know there’s no shot clock in high school basketball?

Arnault has been holding the ball for a minute. I smile, thinking “Here Arnault, can you hold this basketball for a minute?” I hate to let him touch the ball. But it’s true he hits that three from the corner almost every time.

I look at coach now, and he hugs his belly with both his arms and looks at me and frowns. Arnault throws the ball back to me.

Here is the thing I don’t like about him: when my mom was home sick last year in the spring and she said I could drive the car, I told Arnault I could pick him up, but he said no, he’d rather take the bus. That’s bullshit. We live on the same damn block.

Rawley used to tell me, when we were going up and down the aisles, not to let anyone think they’re better than you. I already didn’t think anyone was better than me, but the point was not to let anyone else think it either. I think that’s what Arnault thinks. He thinks he could score fourteen points in the first quarter if all the plays weren’t designed to get me the ball.

There’s a minute left on the clock. Coach told us before the game if he made an X with his two forearms that we should just hold the ball.

– Like call a timeout? I asked.

– No, just hold it. Pick up your dribble. Just hold it.

– Can we doing that? This is Diego asking that. Diego speaks very little English. He moved here from Barcelona when his dad got a job teaching philosophy at the college. I think things were pretty different in Barcelona.

– Yes, Diego, we can do that.

Coach says Diego like “Deego”.

– Or you can pass it, if you want. But just you two. Ok?

Arnault is dancing around and clapping at me. He wants the ball. There are thirty-six seconds left on the clock. Yeah like I’m going to give you the ball after all that.

Coach calls a play. He holds his fist up and then a two, which is a pick and roll for me to the left. I cross over twice, and kid in front of me pulls his shorts up over his knees. I cut to the right, then Arnault slides over and sets the pick. I cut back left and go behind my back to my left hand, and now I’m clear all the way to the hoop.

In two more years I’ll be out of here. Out of high school and out of New Hampshire and I’ll go to USC and live with Rawley and they’ll have Spaldings.

I go up for the layup with my left. And out of nowhere that giant white kid is there, behind me, like a clown, and he swats my shot away. He hits the ball clean and doesn’t make contact and just the shock of it knocks me off balance and I go twirling down to the hardwood.

The ball flies, arc-less, as if drawn by a powerful magnet, to the corner, where Arnault has set up, and is completely undefended. He checks his feet, brings his elbows up, sticks his tongue out one side of his mouth, and nails the three.

Le Petit Pont

Do you remember, darling, how you broke my heart?

The pieces of it, lying in the street, swept into the gutter on the remains of the afternoon’s cloudburst?

It was there, on the bridge, right there. Where you see the young Algerians roller skating for the tourists, scissoring their legs and flying off the curb so reckless and graceful.

It was Friday, and the rain had washed the air of its late summer smog and heat. The sky was marbled yellow, pink, gray, and purple as the sun set behind the storm. Above us it was clear, and we sat and watched the cool dusk come over the city; watched the umbrellas collapsing all at once, and the tourists emerging from beneath grocery bags and newspapers.

You held my hand, cherie, your perfect fingers aimless and fidgeting. We talked as though it hadn’t been so long, in quiet voices, smiling. You glanced across the river at the great church. There were children standing frozen – pigeons lined their outstretched arms – in Our Lady’s plaza. How many times did we kiss under her watchful gaze?

I wanted to ask you so many things. I didn’t understand. Not long ago everything between us was so perfect, so pure. In spring, it seemed we were just babies, remember? We played, blithely, like we didn’t know what we were doing.

Then came Pablo. Bastille Day, at the park. He just showed up, a bad dream in denim shorts. And bald, cherie, bald! You didn’t care; you were carried away. His lines of Baudelaire, crudely recited, had the intended effect. His Neruda, my dear, I’m sure of it, was all invented on the spot. But what could I prove? I don’t speak Spanish.

You said he was mature; I said he was old. You said he was worldly, but I had never heard of these places. I looked them up and found nothing; granted, it was a place mat map, but it seemed complete.

By August I saw you less and less. The last time, you said you were going away for a while. The rage I felt then. A sick jealousy occupied my soul. Jealous of Pablo, of all things, and his shiny skull. The twisted fates.

And then you were gone. Oh, I asked around a bit, acting casual with your friends; they all said they didn’t know. Until one day Maria said she thought it was Disney World. Orlando, she said.

I found it on the place mat. I tried to imagine you there, with him. I lost my appetite.

Finally the wind changed. The highest leaves in the trees started to lose their color. The children went back to school, and I could see their uniformed bodies packed into city buses and coming up from Metro stops gasping for air.

I was preparing for the damp and cold, knowing I’d be alone throughout the worst of it, wondering if I could once more bear to watch the city put on the sour, empty costume it wears in winter.

Until this morning, at breakfast, mother said you were back; that she thought you might like to see me. I scowled, but she continued. She’d run into Pauline at the market and my name had come up.

So, like a fool, I let her drag me down there to the Seine, to sit over it with you and watch the rain and the sunset, believing perhaps my fortunes had changed. Believing – idiot! – you had come back to tell me your heart was not with him, there, in Orlando. That it was with me, always me, and that we’d spend the winter together, bundled against the chill, exploring the city of lights.

Instead we talked like old friends, as I said, smiling, watching the world go by. And you touched my hand, but you didn’t hold it. You let me go, cherie, and the sun went lower, and the streetlights flickered on.

And then my mother said goodbye, and Pauline pushed you away. And I watched you, in your stroller, as she took you down the Petit Pont, and you disappeared into the crowd.


Jeremy said he knew for a fact they kept cash in the back, and there was no pickup Tuesday night because of the holiday. I told him bullshit but he said his cousin used to work there before his mother died.

So Tuesday night we killed time at Murphy’s, drinking and playing Big Buck Hunter. I’m sixteen but Laurel works there and she was in my sister’s class and she doesn’t check my ID. It was pretty empty anyway, just some college guys with their backwards hats.

After that Jeremy said we needed somewhere to put the cash, and a way to cover our faces. I said I didn’t think a bagel place would have that kind of security, and Jeremy called me a dumbass, everyone has cameras. Continue reading “Burglar-agelry”

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