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‘Mila,’ he said, slightly sternly. ‘What are you doing?’

‘What. My feet are cold.’

‘You should have putten socks on.’

‘Putten?’ She repeated. 

He snorted a laugh. ‘Shut up.’

‘I don’t like to wear socks to bed.’

‘Then why do you have to make it so cold in here?’

‘I like it cold,’ she said. ‘Why are you bothering me?’

‘Okay, okay,’ he chuckled and shifted the blankets a little bit.

After a few moments, Mila announced: ‘I want a job mixing paint.’

‘What?’

‘Mixing paint. You know, like at a hardware store or something.’

‘Can you get a job doing that? Just that?’

‘I could do other things but whenever anyone wanted paint mixed, they’d call for me over the loudspeaker.’

‘And you’d mix paint.’

‘And I’d mix paint,’ she said. ‘I’d be the best paint mixer in the city. My work would be legendary. People would come from all around to have paint mixed by me. They’d ask for me by name.’

‘For you to mix paint.’

‘Yeah. It’ll be awesome.’

‘You’re crazy.’

‘I’m going to do it.’

‘No, you’re not.’

‘Just you watch. I’d look cute in an apron.’

‘I bet you would,’ he said. ‘Come here, let me help you with those feet.’

‘Good grief,’ she squealed. ‘That tickles!’

And the night continued to sigh its way toward dawn.

Written a couple of days ago and then modified slightly today (and edited for this post to prevent a spoiler).

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Stumbling up a flight of stairs. Stairs glided awkwardly under her feet. Where the hell am I? Am I crawling? No… Her left hand heavily traced her crude progress; a thick wooden banister roughed by fifty years of neglect threatened splinters, alarming textures. She wanted to recoil but: if I let go, I’m going to fall. Up and down the stairwell clattered voices, music, the heavy hiss of shoes scuffling against dusty wood. A girl’s unchecked laughter broke like glass on glass; it splashed around Mila’s shoulders. She tensed up. No cataloguing this cacophony. How much did I drink? No time for worry: here comes another step, an escalator’s parade. The ceiling at the top of the stairs seemed to be in some state of epic depression. An inverted crown of waffle glass ringed with intensely narrow bands of bright copper had captured a light that glared medicinally in an all-seeing clinical gaze. That light is pissing me off; no one needs a light that bright. Someone touched her back, called out her name, puckered admonishing laughter around the encouraging word, ‘Go!’ I didn’t know I had stopped. Step, step. Step. Okay, now I’m using my hands. The tile at the top of the stair was scuffed and cracked, cool and disintegrated, cloaked in a dust that could never truly be cleaned except by fire. Its marginally filthy kisses stained her palms.

Stillness. Stop. A cat the color of toasted butter gazed at her from its lazy repose. It hailed her sloppy frequency, radar ears forward, eyes narrowed: baleful apathy, cozy threat: don’t fuck with me, lady. Okay but: Mila couldn’t help herself: a wily grin and announcement to whomever was listening: ‘Hey, there’s a cat up here.’

A male voice loudly demanded: ‘Get it!’

Mila pushed herself up. The cat made as if it were going to bolt; it defiantly held its position. ‘C’mere, kitty. I won’t hurt you. I promise.’ Mila took a goofy-footed step forward, her hand a splayed outreach of peace. I mean you no harm, little kitty. The cat took off, unhurriedly escaping to some dark in-between place. Bastard.

Mila stood up at the landing and stared at a plain brown door with a cheap plastic ‘golden’ number 2 centered on it right beneath a grim-looking peep hole. She wasn’t sure if she had ever seen a door before.

‘Where am I going?’ She asked, trying to chase off the dizziness by squeezing the bridge of her nose. She looked down at her shoes. They seemed disinterested. She closed her eyes.

‘This way.’ Someone grabbed her arm, pulled her forward; down a hallway. Around a corner? Let go already. I can walk.

Someone was approaching. It was a scarecrow. Of course. A tall angular blight propelled by the unthinkable. Ginger hair wild as spilling rice. Marble paleness. Tattered clothes? ‘The after party,’ it sang as it drifted past, ’is thataway, sweethearts.’ It unleashed an infernal grin, as wide as a loaf of bread, presenting an array of cod-colored teeth. Narrow eyes, unfocused, khaki tones. Some awful scent. Weed? Someone’s smoking skank. The scarecrow tumbled away back the way they had come. Out of the corner of her suspicious eye, she watched it clatter down the stairs. A litany of cheers followed.

Mila crushed up against the girl ahead of her, somehow found her face buried in the girl’s hair, her forehead pressed against the girl’s neck. Who is this girl? Her hair smelled wonderful. Mila swallowed, asked, ‘Was that a man or a woman?’

The girl cackled and somehow managed to get her arm around Mila’s shoulders. ‘You’re terrible.’

Written a few days ago. And rewritten. And rewritten. And rewritten. Working hard to get the rhythm and word choice right. Still not there yet but I’m liking it so far.

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‘Funny you should ask,’ he said. ‘It’s the sixth anniversary of my divorce.’ He raised his empty glass and shook the disintegrating ice cubes. ‘Hear, hear, huzzah, and hooray.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ Mila said.

‘It’s the only time of the year when I drink,’ he said, looking through narrow eyes down the length of the bar. ‘Well, tonight and any other night the mood strikes me which is honestly pretty goddamned often.’ He flashed a smile at her and let the ice cubes kiss his lips a bit.

‘What happened? If you don’t mind my asking.’

‘I would have minded, sure, if you’d have asked me a few years ago but now I’ve told the story so many times to so many people that I guess I got over whatever’—and the next four words he said slowly, ruefully pronouncing each one—‘post traumatic stress disorder I had.’

‘Sounds pretty bad.’

‘It was, it was,’ he said. ‘Bad enough that I’ll never marry again. Can I buy you another of whatever it is you’re drinking?’

‘I won’t say “no”,’ she said and smiled.

‘Tony?’ Warren called out. ‘Another round for me and another for my new friend here.’

‘Mila,’ she reminded.

‘Mila,’ he repeated loudly, as if it made any difference at all to the bartender. ‘So, the divorce story. All right. Well, let me just put two things out there right up front both of which are true; one you’ll believe and one you won’t. First, I have, for the majority of my life, maintained a pretty healthy porn collection. Got into it when I was a teenager and never got out of it again.’ He looked at her, letting the boldness of his statement settle down on her. ‘Second, what lead up to my divorce was not my fault at all. I didn’t do anything wrong.’ He smiled. ‘Now, which do you believe? The porn collection? Or me being innocent?’

Mila smiled but said nothing.

Warren smirked. ‘Anyway, so I have this porn collection. When I was young and starting out, it was all on VHS. Then the Internet came around and I just started downloading everything. I even paid some company to transfer all of my tapes into video files so I could watch them on the computer. Now, my wife knew about it. It was always kind of my litmus test for girls I went out with. They had to be cool with the porn collection. They had to be into it, if you know what I mean. So, my wife was into it. Not at first but she got used to it and got to where she liked it. She even started collecting on her own. It was fun to see the kind of shit she was getting into.

‘Anyway, so we’re married. We have kids. An older daughter, Veronica, and a son, Blake. Things are good. I’m working. My wife’s working. Blake’s in junior high and Veronica’s off to college on a scholarship. Things are good. Really good. So, imagine my surprise when I find out that my daughter’s become a porn actress. And, well, I bet you can imagine how I found out.’

‘Get out,’ Mila said, leaning forward against the bar, her right elbow resting in the palm of her left hand, her chin supported by the heel of her right hand.

‘I start watching a new movie I just downloaded and, well, there she is. In a threesome.’

‘No way,’ she whispered.

‘Now, here’s my mistake,’ Warren drew in a deep breath. ‘I didn’t tell my wife about it immediately. It took me a week before I brought it up. That right there, that delay, that’s what ended my marriage. Well, that and I didn’t delete the video immediately. I didn’t delete it because, for some reason, I thought that she’d want to see proof. So, I tell her, and it was a hard thing to tell her, and she starts getting mad and I think she’s mad about the fact that our little girl’s in porn but, no: she’s mad because I didn’t tell her the moment I found out. And when I bring up that I still have the video if she wanted to see for herself, she got stone quiet. And she said—and I’ll never forget this—she asked, “Warren, why do you still have that video?” Actually, she didn’t even ask it. She said it. Like it was a statement. No, not even a statement. Like it was an accusation.’

‘You don’t mean…’

Warren nodded. ‘That’s exactly what I mean. My wife accused me of keeping the video so I could masturbate to our daughter having sex.’

Mila’s lips parted but she said nothing, she just continued to gaze at him.

Warren’s eyes widened. ‘No. No. No, no, no. Of course I didn’t. Why does everyone think that?’ He let out an alleyway chuckle. He forced a shudder and closed his eyes. ‘Anyway, she pretty much asked for a divorce before we went to bed that night. She said, “I can’t be with anyone who would do that.” No matter what I said, no matter how much I begged and pleaded, it didn’t matter. She had made up her mind about the situation. No amount of logic was going to make a damned bit of difference. I asked, “Why would I tell you that I kept it?” Didn’t matter. I asked, “If I was doing that, wouldn’t I keep it secret from you? What good does it do me to tell you if I had been?” She didn’t budge. I stayed in a hotel that night.

‘Anyway, next morning, I call her and we talk and she’s acting a bit more rational and she wants to get together and discuss what we’re going to do. I’m asking myself, “What can we do? She’s an adult. She’s making her own choices and it don’t matter how much we don’t like it, she’s going to do what she’s going to do.” Funny thing is, Veronica was never very headstrong. She just kind of went with whatever. I used to call her my little Jellyfish because she just drifted wherever the tide took her. Her brother, on the other hand… whole different barrel of fish.

‘So, anyway, I know we need to talk it over and figure out how we’re going to handle it and I want to hopefully smooth over everything about the video and whatever. But before lunch comes up, my wife calls me and says she can’t, that something big came up at work and I’m thinking, “What’s more important than this? Than your daughter? Than our marriage?” But my wife’s always been a kind of workaholic and it was her and not me that was the breadwinner so I’m used to taking second chair to her job. We plan to meet up for dinner. Well, that didn’t happen either.’

‘What happened?’

‘So, she calls me in the afternoon and right after I say, “Hello,” I get hit with this wall of I don’t even know. She’s yelling, she cursing, she’s crying. She’s freaking out. I can’t even make out what’s going on so I’m thinking something really bad had happened at her job or I don’t even know. Something, right? Well, that something was Veronica had just randomly called her and my wife couldn’t resist getting into it with her without even talking to me first and you know what? My goddamned daughter sold my ass out. She tells her mother that the only reason why she’s doing porn is because I used to… I can’t even say it,’ Warren swallowed. ‘That I used to touch her. And more than that. The whole works. For years. The fuck I would ever do that. My God. Just the thought of it makes me sick to my stomach.’

‘This is insane.’

‘You’re telling me. So that’s it, right? I never laid a hand on my daughter. Not even to spank her. And she’s doing porn for God-only-knows-why and she pins it on me so her mother won’t hate her. And it works. My wife hangs up and next thing I know I’m getting served divorce papers. And here’s the goddamned dumbest part of the whole affair: if I had been molesting my daughter, why didn’t they call the cops? Why didn’t they sue me? My lawyer, what a sheister. What a waste of oxygen and food that guy was. I’m totally distraught. My life’s completely ruined. And he’s telling me that I should just accept whatever they want in the divorce agreement so that they don’t take me to court. But the charge never comes up. Never. Not once. At the time, I was so scared about it, I was just grateful to get it over with. But my wife never once thought it either. That if it were true, why didn’t Veronica want to press charges? Why didn’t they want to put me in jail?’

Mila made a face. ‘Well, you know, from a woman’s perspective, they don’t always want to put themselves through it. I’ve known a lot of girls who’ve been raped and just bottled it up. It was easier to do that than it was to get the police involved, go to court, be publicly humiliated. Pretend it never happened and make it go away. Get on with life.’

‘What are you trying to say here?’

Mila warded off Warren’s alarm with her hand. ‘I’m not suggesting anything. I’m just offering a thought.’

Warren looked sullen, stared down his drink. ‘I’ve heard that argument before. And it makes sense, I guess. I just wish my lawyer would have been… better. Looking back at it, I guess he wanted to shuffle me through the process as fast as I wanted to be done with the whole thing. And I didn’t want to be publicly shamed either. The idea of people labeling me a child molester? You can’t live that down. Once you’re accused of it, they’ll suspect you forever. So, I just let it go past. But I lost my family. My wife, of course, won’t have anything to do with me. Nor my daughter. I talk to my son once in awhile but I know he does it on the sly. His mother would tear him apart if she knew he was talking to me.’

‘And it’s been…?’

‘Today’s the start of year seven. Lucky number seven. Blake’s in medical school. My wife’s remarried. Veronica’s married and living in California and has a kid of her own. A kid I’ve only seen a couple of pictures of that Blake’s sent me in e-mail.’

‘What about you?’ Mila asked. ‘What do you do?’

Warren smiled. ‘I’m a Socialist and an activist. I run a non-profit for runaways and counseling and a phone bank for kids who are persecuted for being atheist or for their political beliefs. And I work with inmates.’

‘Wow,’ Mila said, raising her eyebrows and sipping her drink. ‘I don’t know if I’ve ever met a Socialist before.’

He chucked. ‘Oh, I’m sure you have.’

‘Have you always been an activist?’

‘Nah,’ he shrugged. ‘I thought I was an anarchist when I was a kid but so did every other kid who listened to The Sex Pistols. Back when I was married, I used to work at an auto dealership.’

‘You sold cars?’

His smile widened. ‘I sold cars.’

Mila hummed and sipped her drink again. A few moments of silence passed. She asked, ‘Hey, what about the porn?’

‘What about it?’

‘Do you… do you still collect it?’

‘Damn right I do.’

As usual, first draft but not spontaneously written; I wrote a bunch of it in my head this morning before I woke up. I need to go back and add some more descriptive text; I got wrapped up in the dialogue.

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Sunday wandered into a week where it felt like it didn’t belong, shouldering it’s way into its position, crowded as usual by the days around it. It brought with it bright spring sun in preparation and practice for summer, looking to inflate its transit of heat and light at relentless apogee for the upcoming endless days under brittle blue skies. 

Mila was up early, showering, enjoying how the sunlight was shattered by the privacy glass in the bathroom. The door was wide open so music from the stereo in the living room would drift in; it was tuned to a weekly broadcast of classic blues and gospel music. She didn’t care much for a lot of it but when something raw and dirty, something that seemed to carry with it subversion and secret histories of illicit suffering, drawn from an America and a time in its past with which she was the most unfamiliar; it was odd, she thought, to be attracted to music with which she had no personal connection but the coarsely hewn rhythms and gravelly recordings and voices seemed to reach out to her anyway; there was scant other music that made her feel the way American blues did and every Sunday she reveled in it.

After the shower, she slowly wandered into the living room wearing a comfortable dark red robe, head tilted to one side, working a towel into her still damp and limply hanging hair. A particularly soulful gospel song filled up the room with supposed angels and an Abrahamic glow; Mila could almost feel the texture of the golden milk spun out through the widely open windows of the room. Working the towel around her hair still, she stood and faced the window, squinted down at the street below cooled and darkened by the shadow of a building across the way. She saw scraps of discarded history being urged along by sleepy breezes, dew-swept cars parked in narrow rank along the sidewalks, and only a handful of people at this early hour walking or driving on their way. She craved breakfast and her mind offered up a rolodex of possibilities from which she chose a café that specialized in egg-based breakfasts; eggs drowned in cheese, bell pepper, and jalapeño called out to her. A garbage truck came rumbling by, threatening to wake all with its rough, even mechanical thunder. She watched it go.

I haven’t written in two weeks due to illness but started writing again today. Unfortunately, none of it is worth posting so here’s something from a month ago (also not really worth posting but it’s been too long since the last posting).

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Levi froze. 

The man was smoking a cigarette and staring up at the sky. He was wearing blue jeans that looked too big for his thin figure, a t-shirt, and an old, battered brown paint-splattered hoodie. His hair was brown and shaggy, looking as if it hadn’t been cut in a long time. A mustache only made him appear more grim and defeated. The age on his skin and the valleys on his face made him look older than he probably was and even then Mila suspected he was in his late 40s or early 50s.

Levi started walking quickly toward the man, arm raised and finger pointing. Mila made a noise in her throat, wanting to stop him but finding herself mute and stuck in place. There was something that felt wrong about this guy: he was an interruption to this place, a piece of black pepper against shiny white teeth.

‘Hey!’ Levi shouted as Mila caught up to him and they neared the bunkers. ‘Who in the hell are you?’

‘Hey, kid,’ the man said as if he had expected Levi all this time, ‘have you seen my dog?’

Levi stopped now, a little winded. ‘What? Your dog?’

‘I’m looking for my dog,’ the stranger said, smiling. Mila couldn’t shake a feeling of increasing dread.

The stranger sat up, turned around, and faced them; said, ‘Yeah, my dog. His name’s Roland. Have you seen a dog around here?’

His voice all sharp edges, Levi said, ‘No, I haven’t seen any dogs. What’s he look like, this dog of yours?’

‘Well, I wouldn’t know, to tell the truth. I’ve never actually seen him.’

Written long, long ago.

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And there she was, standing on the porch under the halo of the fading doorbell, trademark leather knapsack slung over her back, her blonde curly hair dancing around her shoulders. She looked darker, bleaker than he remembered. 

‘Hi, Sean,’ she said, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.

‘Mila,’ he smiled, trying to hide his emotion, trying to sound casual, knowing that he was failing, but he was flooded with unexpected emotions, a tidal outpouring of memories and thoughts, the bibliography of which unfurled like vellum into the infinite blackness of a broken history. At the forefront of the attack was the essentially surprising focus of her exquisite body, all purely spun pale silk along architectures of spines, delicate curves and arches, long celestial garden pathways through which he had once long wandered and now found himself uncontrollably wanting to revisit. He wanted to be fiercely reacquainted with the solitude of her in his grasp as the rest of the world fell away in long, curling strips, fading into nothingness; they paired storms shattering each other across bedsheets as wide as oceans in a conspiracy of lusts channeled along furrowed tides that would come crashing down over the whole of existence; the sound of her secret breathing and her carnal rhythm in syncopation with his own; a pact he had believed to be a sacred trust that he now knew to be traded in terrible deceit. This wasn’t what he wanted or expected to feel but he couldn’t help it: he wanted to hold her tightly against him in the doorway of his family’s home, feel her face pressed against his chest, her lithe arms around his waist, knowing her eyes to be tightly closed in calm ecstasy; and he would upturn her delicate face with his fingers and feel again the pressure of her volatile passion against his lips. All of these silver linings bordered the shameful clouds that he hoped remained occluded from his face.

‘Um,’ she said, ducking her head a little bit, ‘may I come in?’

‘Of course, sorry,’ he said and stepped aside. She entered, head still ducked with a mournfully brief smile on her face. He guessed that she did not in any way suffer the same legislation of emotion that he did, that there was no way that she had even thought for one moment the kind of beautifully sordid thoughts about him that he had just had about her and he wasn’t sure how to feel about that. On one hand, it was distressing to think that she had not cast him into legend as he had her, that he ended up being, essentially, just another in a long line of failed relationships for her, his name marked in some internal registry that contained no other data to impart anything other than the bare facts: it had begun and ended terribly wrongly and thus he suffered a fate in her heart of absolute neglect. But he was also relieved: if she had given him any sign at all, he would have—dumbly, he knew—leapt at the opportunity which was precisely what he did not need to do. This lexicography of lustful melancholy was brutal: her mere presence, the way she managed to smell like something implacably gorgeous without having to wear any perfume, the way she walked, the way she always seemed to be looking out at the world from beneath the shelter of her hair; and that brown leather knapsack, a universe within forbidden to all except her, a universe which she protected fiercely, a universe full of unknowns other than what she allowed people to see her draw from it: usually a notebook, sometimes a bottle of water, sometimes a bar of candy; but other than that it was a black infinitude, a caricature of her soul.

He closed the door and followed her into the living room. Mila tossed her knapsack, adeptly catching the strap of it over the back of a chair, displaying a casualness that demonstrated her unfaded familiarity with the Kincaid house. She walked along the walls of the room, distracted now by the collision of nostalgias. She touched the frame of a painting, let her fingers run along the spines of books. ‘I’m…sorry about Seamus.’

‘Thanks. I really appreciated your phone call. It was really nice of you.’

She looked back at him and smiled meekly. ‘How have you been? Are you okay?’

‘Yeah. Of course,’ he shrugged the question off. ‘I’m doing all right. It’s been tougher than Mom, you know.’ He paused. ‘This was sudden.’

‘How’s Brian?’

Sean smiled falsely, ‘Oh, you know. Brian’s Brian.’

She returned the false smile. Nothing really needed to be said there. She lost herself again for a few more moments, lingering at the mantlepiece and the photos aligned along it. Still standing in the doorway, Sean watched her carefully, soaking up her every movement. He couldn’t help but let his eyes wander all over her body; even in an untucked flannel button-down and jeans, she managed to maintain a sexuality, as sloppy as it was entrancing, as accidental as it was unavoidable; maybe not for every man but for Sean she was a gravity in which he desired orbit, a black hole the event horizon of which he chided himself for wanting to cross.

‘I miss this place,’ Mila whispered.

‘Yeah, it’s weird spending so much time here now.’

She started as if she didn’t think she had spoken aloud. Quickly, she asked, ‘Are you thinking of moving in here?’

Sean’s eyes danced. ‘You know, that’s a great question. I haven’t even thought about it. The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. I have to do something with it, I guess.’

‘What did your father want you to do?’

Sean rolled his eyes. ‘His will was vague. We’re splitting everything evenly between Brian and I but we haven’t even talked about the house. We could sell it I suppose.’

Mila took a step toward him. ‘Oh, no, you can’t. You can’t sell it. This house is beautiful.’

He chuckled. ‘What. Do you want it?’

Her eyes grew fierce and a blackness seemed to swoop over her face. ‘No,’ she said flatly. ‘I could never leave my apartment.’

‘I was only kidding.’

‘I know,’ she said, her voice far away. ‘I know.’

Sean stood there, feeling helpless, unsure of what had just happened. He waited for a few moments but she didn’t move. Finally, he asked, ‘Can I get you something to drink?’

‘A little vodka would be nice,’ she said, her voice still on approach from wherever it had briefly lit off to.

‘Vodka?’ Sean felt an irrational giddiness which he immediately tried to quash. ‘Sure, yeah, good idea. I’m pretty sure there’s some Sprite around.’

‘Doesn’t matter. Whatever will work,’ she said, finally turning away from the window. She still seemed grim, looking as if she were trying to recover from some grave offense. She sat at the end of the sofa and untied her shoes, sliding them as far as they would go beneath the coffee table in front of her. She curled up as tightly as she could on the cushion.

Sean returned with two glasses carefully perched on the palm of one hand and a can of Sprite in the other which he took to the liquor cabinet. As he poured the vodka, she asked, ‘Haven’t heard from Cathleen?’

‘She sent a postcard,’ Sean said.

Mila snorted. ‘A postcard.’

‘It was more than anyone expected.’ He handed Mila her drink from which she took an immediate sip, her eyes slightly closing. 

‘This is good,’ she said.

Sean sipped as well, suddenly feeling nervous. ‘How have you been, Mila?’

‘Me?’ She asked, clearing her upper lip of vodka with her lower. ‘Oh, I’ve been good. Things are good.’

‘I miss you, you know,’ he said, suddenly.

‘Oh, Sean,’ Mila replied with a hint of reproachfulness.

‘Not like that,’ he replied quickly. ‘Just in general. You were a good friend.’

She maintained her gaze and said, ‘That’s not why you called me, is it?’

‘No, not at all.’ He took a drink, suddenly wanting to down the whole thing. ‘I just… I don’t know.’

She gazed at him cooly. 

He said, ‘I called you here because I wanted to show you something. My father… after Ma died…’

‘Take your time,’ Mila said.

Sean took another sip. He still suffered the poison of her reproach and found it difficult to turn his mind. Did she truly have no sentiment for me at all? He wondered. It was a tough idea to contemplate even though he had assumed that to be the case since they had broken up. Seeing it now in her body language only reinforced what was otherwise a fantasy he had long hoped to be a lie. Now he realized why Brian had told him it was a mistake: Brian knew well enough—and had far more experience in such matters—to know that in spite of being able to handle talking to her twice on the phone, having her physically present would present him with a barrage of feelings that Sean had believed, had earnestly hoped, to be long destroyed but had instead merely laid dormant.

‘When Pop retired,’ Sean said, trying to focus, ‘he always talked about how he was going to write a book. Actually, it was something he talked about even when he was still on the force but when he started talking about retiring, he started talking about writing a book a lot more. I guess he wanted something to occupy his time.’ 

Mila smiled. ‘Yeah, he talked to me about it, too.’

‘You knew about that?’

‘Of course,’ Mila said and then upon noting Sean’s sudden tension, added: ‘You’re not suddenly surprised that I spent a lot of time with him. I loved your father.’

‘Tell me about it,’ Sean said and looked away, immediately regretful. He took a sip of his drink, trying to find purchase on an encounter that was not playing out at all like he had expected or hoped. 

‘Sean,’ Mila warned.

He suddenly went ahead and downed his drink. ‘Should I pour another?’

Mila eyed him for a moment before finishing her drink over several gulps. She then smiled weakly, said, ‘I think we’re going to need it.’

Written earlier today with only minor revisions.

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That night, the moon betrayed its piercing indifference; it trembled under the weight of its secondariness, of its relegation, of its inability to turn its eyes away from the horrors that played out below it on Earth. It shrugged off its entourage, turned even colder still to its maid of honor, Venus, who dutifully trailed nearby in her celestial arc, a certain sadness now penetrating her hazy bridesmaid’s gown of acidic, crushing violence. Thus, a lunar coolness descended upon the city like a snapped sheet coalescing over a mattress in the act of bed-making. In spite of the moon’s sudden uncertainty, this was one of those nights where comfort defenestrated itself throughout the streets, where otherwise grim and threatening visages of crumbling humanity passing by seemed now quaint and austere, patient and enduring, prowling for stability, calm, and maybe even loving embraces.

Cafés were burning with brilliant relaxations. Restaurants donated their clatter to the overwhelming peace under which the city was now consumed. There were culinary clusters of brown-jacketed men and women flowering up from their dresses’ last seasonal exhibition: they hunched over tiny candle-lit tables, braving patios braced by winter’s retreating caress, chatting brightly over the senseless and unimportant, slender and shining glasses full of wine red and white at their ready; genteel arguments sprouted like thorny bouquets over items robbed of their gravity by the unskilled tactics utilized in their discussion until suddenly they were all cheerfully interrupted by delicious explosions of food erupting from pristine white plates delivered with moderate care by angular waiters whereupon the friendly warring words were traded for the gleaming weapons of consumption. Meanwhile, there was an occasional yelping proclamation by someone overcome with zeal; elsewhere a shushing as the sensitivity of a topic was rawly exposed and then quieted; and shards of laughter erupted here and there like blasts of thunder from some amusing troposphere, raining down guffaws over some juicy humor. 

Nearby bars were starting to aggregate their vectors of drunkenness, exposing black literatures from half-hidden personalities who were engaged fully with the haughty dismissal of guilt brought on by the shame of an early inebriation, unwilling to accept the moray of patience in counting up the hours until the gates were officially opened for their nightly approvals; these infernal wraiths crowded up in thirsty riot against sullen barkeeps who sloshed around with great acuity and unbelievable speed in their half-lit purgatories of loud music and the endless shouting demands of the damned. These were the sloppy corrals of the mirthfully undelved who more than willingly checked their exquisite interiors at the door, hung them as long drapes or intense headdresses unfurled on bleak hooks, shaving off from their egos all sense of propriety and reason, who were dangerously grateful to pass along only the worst parts of their anatomy as affairs of the mundane while they put their meager war plans to task, carnal strategies designed solely to disarm and overwhelm someone else’s sensitivities, to weaken and ruthlessly abrogate.

Sean was in equal rejection of these spheres of food and filth as they were of him and past them, one after the other, he now walked, hands jammed deep in his jacket pockets, his head a billion miles away, astral eyes in constant search for some kind of sense or reason, for the soul of his father who through some kind of cog-infested Gehenna now wandered in bleak admiration for the infinitude of the afterlives laid out before him in glittering inescapable array. Ultimately, even though he did not yet understand it, Sean searched for comfort, for the dot at the bottom of the question mark that when pressed would dismiss the concerns which seemed now hellbent on drowning him in their tapestry of quandary. The night, even this night of ultimate repose, brought upon him heaps of merciless worry and inexplicable regret and, even subconsciously, he rallied against the sentence brought upon him by the abdication of the day by the sun, the coup d’état of the moon. All certainties were exorcised by the lattice of stars above his head; every sentence was now in the form of a question, each earnestly awaiting his individual attention, desperately craving a dusty grandfatherly doting, desiring nothing more than to be unfurled into absolution. 

Images of his father, singing as if he were drunk, hovering over a billowing vat of stew swilled to capacity with potatoes and boulders of rough cut lamb, expelling depression and the winter that brought it through the disclarity of condensation on the windows engendered by the divine steam that now danced about the kitchen like a satiated dervish. Images of his mother, legs primly crossed at the ankle, wearing a flowery dress the color of spilled red wine which she had made herself, nodding her head and humming along to the thunderous paternal reel coming from the kitchen, head tilted just enough to cast her coarse beauty in the illumination of the legendary, her thin lips expressing her amusement and her contentment; her hands worked a needle back and forth through her cross-stitch matrix of crowded colors and carefully arranged letters, the wooden circumference which like a halo held her majestic craft aloft seemed to float, thumbing its nose to gravity and even to the black years of death that would follow too soon and invisible now to the children who danced and argued at her feet, who laughed and swatted at each other: they were drowning then in the infinity of thoughtless cheer of youth as they drown now in the dark certainty of the oncoming mortality of all.

These bright, grim memories stalked Sean like a murder of ethereal crows. His eyes felt heavy and his feet hated him for each step he forced them to take. His stomach was in swirling rebellion, casting up vote after vote for spiteful upheaval. He wasn’t sure where he was going although he knew well the neighborhood and sidewalk on which he traveled. Maybe he did know where he was going: semi-subconsciously drawn to the house of his father which he had since his father’s death yet to visit. He had told Brian that the house was his charge, had entrusted him with the task of caring for it, taking stock of its contents, inventorying the nostalgias that crowded shelf and drawer. Sean dreaded returning to his family’s house, a house which had, at one time, belonged to his father’s parents, a house in which they had, at one time, parents, grandparents, and children, all lived together in cacophonous harmony. But, one by one, the elders were carried out of there in one way or another into the unknown and now there was just himself and Brian, drafted caretakers of a disintegrating dynasty, his sister having long since abandoned her heritage and family. Why now, on this night, on this night which had brought with it a friendliness and warm concern that could spawn dangerous mythologies, did he now feel siphoned toward a house of doomed generations? 

Ahead of him, a gaunt collaboration of revelers in blissful stupor were parading the wares of their culture. They seemed to him like distant relatives, plucked from some alarming photo album and made alive through unthinkable alchemy. He remembered himself in similar configuration years ago, brightened by the falsities of liquor, surrounded by the endlessly festive, his life hung in dismal sway from the fulcrum of the weekend, lost in wastelands of rhythmic electronic noise and cartoon females who always seemed somehow out of focus and always seemed to want something from him. He remembered falling hard as he came up the steps on some cool epilogue morning and chipping a tooth; he spat blood and rolled over on his back, treating the porch stairs as the world’s worst bed, and looked up at the slumbering trees and the purple sky glowing above crowded with clouds. He was too drunk to think straight and so he let his mind drift with queasy buoyancy: what in the Hell am I doing? It was a mere fortnight after his mother and father had gathered him, Brian, and Cathleen into the living room and announced her illness. Sean thought of this and spat again, feeling with his tongue the roughness of his newly damaged tooth.

He heard the door creak open and his father’s voice, ‘Sean? That you?’

‘Yeah, Pop,’ he said. ‘It’s me.’

‘You all right? I heard a bang.’

‘Yeah, I’m fine. I fell on the stairs.’

‘You drunk?’

‘I am,’ he said and spat again.

‘You want to come in? I’m making breakfast soon.’

‘I think I’m going to stay out here for awhile.’

‘Sean,’ Seamus said, his voice deepening in a familiar way. ‘I think you should come in.’

Sean sat up and groaned a bit; he wasn’t sure if he wanted breakfast and was uncertain what the smell of it cooking would do to the disaster now occurring in his stomach. Looking still over the morning silence of the street, Sean said, ‘I think I want to become a cop, Dad.’

‘You do, hunh?’

Sean nodded. ‘I think so.’

‘Well, that’s more reason for you to come inside to talk and for me to stop letting out all the heat,’ his father said. ‘C’mon, son. I’ll put another pot of coffee on.’

Sean stood up, took a deep breath, and one last survey of the street over which the immensity of the sky above was holding its morning ceremony before turning away and climbing the stairs, this time using the wooden railing. His father was quietly smiling at him and stood aside, arm draped wide against the door, beckoning him inward.

When Seamus closed the door, it was as if the entire world for one brief instant winked out of existence.

Written just now with minor revisions.

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The city was adrift in time and space. It had always been a vessel of wholeness, existing in a near complete state of self-sufficiency. Much like a coffin once set in its permanency like a diamond atop an icy band of silver, the city became symbolic of its own mythology, perpetuated by those who lived within it and those without who thought of it, wrote songs and stories about it, dreamed of visiting it. It wasted no strength in counterbalance preferring instead to honor and obey all of its glittering facets in their unified equilibriums: its beauty and its grime, its newness and its decay, its stasis and its dynamism; all of these things it left in stateless grace, each hermetically sealed yet connected via vacuum tubes through which was shuttled enough debris to keep the city steady on its gyroscope, a miniature galaxy on the smooth highways of interstellar and possibly even astral sceneries.

It relied wholly on its inhabitants, thrived on their triumphs and defeats, on their births and on their deaths. The cadences of music and of murder were of equal thrill and fuel for it. It was because of its people that it allowed streets to be paved and repaved; for new buildings of progressive purpose could be erected on the graves of the destructed buildings of exhausted utility; for trees to be grown, for their leaves to glitter in dew-kissed breezes warmed by the freshly risen sun; for all of these things to occur as a kind of living declaration, bill of rights, and last will and testament. The energies that coursed because of and through the individual processes of creatures, corpses, and all that was required to sustain them in their existences from one end of life to the other percolated as blood for the city’s heart, located somewhere downtown, drawing from the denizens and their constructions a spiraling gravity and returned it again as gentle supernovae all in a bargain struck unbeknownst between the people of the city and the city itself; neither knowing of the other in a way that wasn’t thoroughly mundane, that would describe or even make suspect their true natures.

This ignorance served as the blissful lubricant that kept the giant machine of the city and its tiny incognizant inhabitants in harmony. It could not even be guessed at the ramifications of one learning of the other. Perhaps the city would shake off its mites; perhaps the mites would consume fully the city leaving nothing but rolling fields, lumbering forests, and lakes alit by sleepy starlings all together composing the greatest mass grave in the history of any world, natural or supernatural.

Yet the veil which separated city from citizen wasn’t always so opaque as on one morning, the highlight thus far of the otherwise painfully mundane week that had transpired since Mila had been to the park: as she was walking to work around 9am, the city held its breath as the sun unexpectedly reached a milestone in its life cycle where, for a brief, heartbreaking moment, it was more beautiful than it had ever been before or would ever be again; at least, not while mankind was still around to witness it. Mila paused, unsure as to why, and shaded her eyes, looked toward the sun. She held her position briefly until she was jostled by a pair of gruesome-looking boys dressed in stolen Boy Scout shirts and grimy, oversized jeans.

‘Hey, more walking and less looking like an idiot,’ one of them said to her. The other snickered.

Mila snickered back and continued on her way, imagining what it would have been like to have pulled out a gleaming black pistol and aimed it at the kid’s face.

Written a half-hour ago and added to the beginning of the chapter. No revisions.

Text

Even in spite of the oncoming rain, Mila wandered back into the city in a state of slow distraction. She walked along the sidewalk, arms crossed, mind chewing on what had just happened. The city’s pedestrians moved with great alacrity under the pressure of the oncoming storm which was now tickling them all with errant drops but no actual rain yet. The fast-paced people on the sidewalk stepped out of Mila’s way, parting around her as if she were some kind of pariah, a leper. The storm roared at the city again, hovering over it like a meteorological dragon. She stopped and looked at her watch but the positions of the hands seemed to have no real meaning and she wondered why she was even bothering.

Mila looked up unexpectedly as a clock tower somewhere rang one time; it was now one hour after noon. Ahead of her were two city blocks that terminated at a large, gray building that she knew to house one of the city’s oldest banks. Everything seemed to slow down as if time were suddenly overcome with apprehension, with fear. The sky dimmed absurdly as a wall of rain appeared over the façade of antique bank’s building: an undulating curtain that was as loud as waterfall, it slowly approached with the grim certainty of an oncoming tide. Everyone around her continued to move in decelerated time. She couldn’t help but stare at the oncoming wall of precipitation in amazement, a smile breaking across her face even in spite of the idea of getting in a few seconds completely wet. With a sparkle in her eye any witness of would call preternatural, she stepped daintily to her right and under the black and green awning of a coffee shop just as the downpour reached her. She felt what was possibly one of the most pleasant sensations she could remember: not the presence of rain on her skin but the joy of the proximity of rain. Suddenly, the street was overcome by water coming down with a brutal disregard for mercy. The rain danced up on the pavement, up on the roofs of cars, and up off of a field of blossoming umbrellas coming up all in beautiful chorus. The downpour seemed to wash away most of the color of the world, leaving everything in a near monochromatic shimmering haze. Time returned to its pace and, perhaps, was briefly but slyly accelerated by the cloudburst.

Mila turned and stepped up onto the step of the café’s inset door and without thinking about it pressed through its threshold causing a little bell to ring merrily, announcing to all her presence. Here she almost bumped into a plump woman nearly twice Mila’s age, dressed in a heavy khaki-colored raincoat and in the process of tying a delicate and certainly not rain-resistant patterned scarf over her exquisitely maintained permed gray and brown curls. 

‘Oh, excuse me,’ Mila said and held the door open for the woman.

‘Me? Oh no, I’m not going out there now,’ the woman said, her accent thick and endearing. ‘You can go out there. I’m staying in here.’

Mila mumbled, ‘But I don’t want to go out there.’

‘Smart girl,’ the woman said. ‘Have yourself some coffee. Have a danish. You look like you haven’t eaten in months.’

Beginning to undo her gauzy headscarf, the woman retreated back into the anonymity of the coffee house as Mila approached the heavy wood counter, placed her order with a disinterested teenager, and then retired to a brushed metal bar that served as a table which ran along one of the wide front windows of the place, choosing the stool in the corner. She deposited her knapsack on the bar which accidentally jostled a neighbor’s laptop (for which she apologized but got no response other than a resetting of the laptop’s position), and sat down. She deflated and, for a moment, felt like it was the first time she had even breathed since she had reached the clearing an hour or so ago for her grim task. She leaned forward, holding her forehead with one hand which pushed her hair up and over, and looked up from beneath her eyebrows at the rain-beaten street scene before her. After a few moments, she straightened up, dug out from the main compartment of her knapsack a sore looking Moleskine nearing the end of its days and from a smaller, front pocket a pen. She curled up on the stool in a way that seemed to defy both physics and physiology and began to quickly write. Her handwriting was actually a draftsman’s lettering: square, boxy, uniform, mechanical, and thoroughly unfeminine. The barista had to call her name three times, each louder than the last, before she snapped out of her scrawl to fetch her latte and a cheese sandwich.

She wasn’t sure what she was writing. Like most of what was in her notebooks, it was a combination of prose and poetry, broken sentences and the occasional sketch (she was actually a good artist but had no interest in pursuing it), song lyrics, or whatever else came to her mind when she had to somehow transcribe the indescribable of her thoughts into something that, hopefully, she could return to later and decipher well enough to construct some kind of sense out of it. Mostly, though, she’d go back and think to herself, ‘I wrote this? What in the hell is this? What was I thinking?’ Often that was more interesting and gratifying to her than any other result.

At this point, she was quickly and roughly skritching out a sketch of the clearing, of Levi’s face, of the stranger’s face, of an iconic dog which looked mostly like something that Keith Haring would have done (and of this stylistic thievery, Mila had no compunction), and some lines she could recall from a Walt Whitman poem the title of which she could not recall. Occasionally, she’d sip her coffee or take a tiny bite of her sandwich which had far too much slobbery mayonnaise for her taste; she had to wipe the corners of her mouth each time in mild irritation yet, moments later, found herself craving another bite mainly because of the overabundance of mayo. But her mind didn’t dwell too long on such a triviality as it was, at this point, pretty much barfing through Mila’s pen and onto the lined paper of her trendy notebook. Overhead, jazz faded into some bland female singer/songwriter into a classic rock compilation that seemed heavier on the Steely Dan than it was the Led Zeppelin into some jaunty modern classical (which Mila flippantly assumed was the Kronos Quartet—and she was right) and finally back into saxophone-dominated jazz which became to her so unreasonably irritating that she stopped writing only to find that the sun had set.

She looked around, pen in hand and hand against lower lip. Everyone who had been in the café when she entered was gone, including the people working there. How many hours had passed? Mila glanced at her watch and saw that it was nearly six o’clock. She looked at her notebook, rapidly flipped through pages, and saw that she had written dozens of pages. Her latte was long finished and only the crust of her sandwich remained. She had been sitting there for nearly five hours. Suddenly, she was embarrassed. She saw herself as if in a movie: Steadicam shot, step by step through the tangle of table, customer, and chair, lens focused on her in her corner, curled up impossibly on her stool, hunched over like some kind of beast, writing, writing, writing, completely oblivious to everything happening around her. Had anyone tried to talk to her? Had a worker come by and asked if she was done? If her plate, cup, and saucer could be taken away? Had she just kept scribbling and scribbling, writing and writing like a madperson, completely oblivious?

Mila felt irrationally ill. She quickly closed her notebook and sealed it with its elastic waistband, jammed it deep into the belly of her knapsack, and stabbed the pen in the front pocket. While standing up, she became slightly tangled and in her frenzy overturned the empty coffee cup onto her plate with a loud porcelain complaint that seemed to her like a delicate gunshot. She looked up, frozen, holding her breath, expecting that everything, including the overhead music, would have stopped; she expected everyone to be staring at her with a uniform judgment that was as negative as it was nonchalant. But no one seemed to notice her clumsiness or her haste. She slung her knapsack over her shoulder, buried her chin in her chest, and exited the café as quickly as her legs would take her.

Pardon the poor quality as it’s still in first draft. The novel is as yet untitled.