SNFAW – part two.




6 pm – rehearsal dinner.

the cramped cabin, modern in all its trappings, sat on the edge of a quiet lake near the resort’s main entrance.

we were unfashionably early. i poured myself an unfashionable red. asked Chester’s girlfriend if she’d like anything.

Joyce was a tall drink of water. an approximate 5’11”. wavy hair, cheeks a perpetual light blush. she was respectful and polite, made her way through conversation with relaxed ease. laughed at the jokes she liked, smiled at the ones she didn’t.

also, she didn’t know a soul apart from Chester; so first impressions could have easily come down to best behavior.

i served her a glass of white.

we stepped out onto a wooden deck overlooking the lake. the water spilled delicately over a concrete levy. measured waterfall pouring into a thin, rocky riverbed.

everything smelled clean.

the rest of my crew stood by the railing, chatting up strangers. what brought you here? tossed around from person to person. simple, concise answers. everyone waiting for the alcohol to take effect.

Nick pulled me aside with a low whisper. it was time to meet the father of the bride.

i straightened my tie.

in place of a warden, i was met with Michael Dumas. a cut above 6 feet, silver hair and soft features blending Mandy Patinkin and Steve Martin. eyes half closed, bright smile suggesting he was the only person without nerves or reservations about the shape of things to come.

“Lucky!” his shake was solid. “we’ve heard so much about you.”

“were that i could disagree, sir.”

“you know Nicky from…?”


“kids, Philadelphia, or…?”

“kids Verona, North Carolina, yes.”

“and what do you do?”

Nick, who had been keeping tabs with paranoid glee, made this his cue: “writer. Lucky is a very talented, thrice-published author.”



“what publisher?”

Nick beamed. “Random House.”

this seemed to do the trick, and Michael smiled. “that’s great that you’re doing so well for yourself, Lucky.”

“thank you. i have my legion of fan to thank for it.”

“you mean fans.”

“i mean fan.”

“oh, Lucky…” Nick laughed, throwing an arm around me. squeezing very hard. “you magnificent, modest little man.”

i put my own arm around Nick and addressed Michael. “you should know, despite all the things Nick once did to win your affection, his current love for you is actually sincere…”

Michael laughed. honest and pure, and for some reason, his approval filled me with a sublime, fleeting bout of inner peace.

this bothered me.

i was relieved as Nick when the first few drops began to fall.

“rain!” Nick exclaimed. “let’s get everyone inside and far away from here!”

as the rest made for shelter, i remained outside for a dampened minute or so. close to the water. ripples of solid onyx, neverland growing wide, wide, wide.

cell phone buzzing in my pocket.

caught a raindrop in my glass and left my post to grab a refill.

do what i could to dilute some of that early evening poetry.


more circles awaited inside. tables set for 10, placemats packed tight, napkins and utensils awaiting orders.

i clung to the edges. watched the room swell. mingled conversations shifting from babbling brook to flash flood.

kept on with my wine. observed the crowd. scanning. experiencing facial recognition at the quantum level. that guy became that guy over there, became that guy, who i thought was talking to that group, all of whom were suddenly that collection of people at the other end of the room.

all at the same time.

the only constants were my childhood mainstays. doing just fine, every last one.

even Joyce was holding her own in this alternate reality.

got another glass from self-serve. returned to wallflower detail.

Korben parked it alongside me. plastic cup filled with keg libations. i had cut my teeth on Jack Daniel’s, forever unable to drink any beer above a pilsner, if that.

i gave him a nod. “hey.”


we found our silence. holding vigil. difficult to say whether we were wiser individuals with a healthy respect for the unspoken, or if there was simply not much left to be said.

about anything.

“just got a text from Misty.” i told him. “she says hi.”

“how is she?” he asked.

“she’s fine.”

“so, you still talk?”

“see each other once a week give or take.” i downed half my wine. “mostly take. drinks, or a bite to eat.”

“that’s good. didn’t want to ask, earlier, but… i’m glad to hear that.” he had himself a sip. “how long were you together?”

“8 years.”


“as the crow flies.”

“i think you’re getting your spatial aphorisms mixed up with your temporal maxims.”

“want to hear a joke?”


“a regret once walked into a bar…”

Korben paused. took another sip of beer. swallowed. then: “i like that.”

“because it’s past tense, instead of the standard present, and by nature, a regret –”

“yeah. you had to go and explain it.”

i shrugged.

Korben went to give the keg a conjugal visit.

i took a sip of wine. “2 regrets walk into a bar,” i muttered to myself. “bartender points down the way and says, Lucky’s sitting right over there.”

i nodded to myself, pleased.

just another place in the crowd.


the lineup for my table was Korben. Joyce. Alley. Alley’s father, Owen Springs. Owen’s wife. joined by 3 others who i figured as part of Nick’s China crew.

i managed to handpick a few items from the buffet. salad, coleslaw, green beans, and a dinner roll.

sat down to eat.

to my left were 2 of the unknown elements. pair of fellows some years younger than me. both white, sporting black-rimmed glasses, facial hair and plaid shirts.

they took the first step, and soon we were small talking between mouthfuls. the usual this, that and this. conversation engaging the ears of another Beijing acquaintance; this one a living statue, gorgeously carved from pure hematite. shaved head adorned with light beads of sweat.

“what do you do?” he asked, sporting an accent i was too uneducated to pinpoint.

Nick wasn’t around, and i was a bottle and a half in: “adult retail.”

he raised an eyebrow. “adult…?”

“i work in a sex shop. i sell sex toys. and sex movies.”

within 3 seconds, the 3 strangers went through the 5 standard stages:





topped with a quick evaluation of their own lurid desires and perversions.

one of the pair beside me swallowed his food. “cool.”


the ebony gentleman across the table nodded. “what’s that like?”

“glamorous as hell… and you?”

“i own my own import/export company.”

i cleared my throat. “what’s that like?”

he politely wiped his mouth… “profitable.”

“lot of work. i imagine.”

“well, you own your own store, Lucky. so i do not have to tell you the pressures of doing business.”

“pardon me?”

“i said, you own your own store –”

the pop of a microphone saved us all from oblivion.

i hadn’t given much thought to where Chester Springs had been this whole time. unsolicited question answered by his voice. rich and buttery, pouring generously through a pair of speakers. i glanced up from the losing end of my measuring contest, and saw him poised at the far end of the room. gathering steam before a white screen, which i prayed was not part of his 7-page manifesto.

no worries.

Chester’s declaration of war rocked the walls. brought all represented nations to their knees. true showmanship, coupled with ease, improvisation, warmth, and a basic knowledge of how far to keep the mic from his mouth.

he was a crowd pleaser. a ringmaster. unstoppable.

Nick was next in line. better than the best days as a young performer, his skills had become nothing short of astonishing. Chester had taken care of the walls. Nick stepped in to blow the roof right off the whole damn world.

if i hadn’t blacked out somewhere towards the end, i might have even remembered to applaud.

came to as a trio of bridesmaids wrapped up their shared speech.

managed to put my hands together, reached for my wine.

someone mentioned how much they had liked Kayla’s speech.

i blinked. realized i had glazed my way through the entire thing.

goddammit, i whispered.

hoped i had whispered.

the part of my brain dedicated to dubious scientific reasoning suggested that an overdue visit to the bathroom might sober me up.

a capital idea.

assuming i had found my solution, i took down the rest of my wine.


i splashed some water across my eyes.

had myself a helping of my own reflection.

made a sour face and raised my middle finger. “i hate you.”

once more, into the breach.

the bathroom was situated at the far end of the building. a truncated hallway led to the dining area, directly onto the showroom floor.

spotlight occupied by Nick’s mother, Lacey.

i leaned against the threshold and listened in. entranced by the video feed from a nearby monitor. looked as though the cinematographer had been hitting the bottle as well; couldn’t see much of what was going on. kept listening.

“…as the key to a healthy marriage is relaxation, to be relaxed,” Lacey proselytized… “i thought i would give you something to make sure that relaxation is never more than a click away.” i heard cowlicks of laughter from the audience. “this is a massager. what i am told is a classic, Chinese massager, that will work miracles for you.” more sporadic bursts of mirth. “you can turn it on, and let the vibrations take you away. you can use it on any part of your body.” further laughter. confused laughter. restrained. as though everyone were caught between wild hysteria and chronic hiccups. “just relax, and i guarantee, this will take you to nirvana…”

this slippery, almost uncomfortable amusement gave me pause. yes, Lacey’s speech sounded charming enough to my inebriated ears, but it was hardly catching Todd Lynn at The Comedy Cellar.

“try it right now,” Lacey suggested. “my gift to you.”

with the end of her speech came the evening’s most raucous applause. i joined in. made my way across the floor. quick pit stop to procure a bottle of wine for the table.

i was back at my seat. a couple of chairs emptied out. a good deal of guests now roaming around, balancing cake and coffee along with their children.

one of the bearded duo nudged me. “can you believe that?”

“probably not.”

“you didn’t catch Lacey’s speech?”

“yeah… but i was too busy concentrating on the monitor to –”

“she openly gifted Kayla a vibrator,” he laughed.

i poured myself some wine. “is that what that was all about, the massager?”

“i think Lacey genuinely didn’t know it wasn’t a massager.”

“a vibrator is a massager.”

“i guess.”

“most of them are promoted as massagers to encourage sales in non-adult oriented brick-and-mortars, like Spencer’s gifts. depending on the price point, of course.”

he rolled his eyes, annoyed. “it’s still funny, though, who cares?”

“agreed.” i took a hit of red. “wish i’d been paying attention. would love to know which brand she bought.”


“just curious. was it multi-function, variable speed? external, internal use? hard plastic, velvet touched? curved for g-spot stimulation? now i really want to know.”

the bearded ones exchanged a look.

went to get desert.

they never came back.


the rehearsal dinner was winding down.

i borrowed the keys to Chester’s rental.

Korben spied my sweet escape. asked if i was up for a smoke.

the rain had tapered off.

i got my bookbag out of the back seat.

“what do you need that for?” Korben asked.

i handed him a smoke. “somebody’s got to be prepared for what comes next.”

Korben was content to ignore that, and we both lit up.

he exhaled. “everybody here’s got jobs.”

“i know.”

“like… import/export –”


“P.R. start ups –”


“consulting firms, hedge fund management –”

“fer sure.”

Korben took another drag. “i work in a bar.”

“i envy you.”

“you work in a sex shop.”

“i do.”


“history will decide.”

Korben shook his head. “no, it won’t.”

“that’s for me to decide.”

“no, it isn’t.”

“most likely not, no.”

our cigarettes continued to evaporate. from 50 yards away, back at the ranch, a burst of laughter reached our ears.

“but are you happy?” i asked.

“yeah…” Korben gave it some thought. checked his math. “yeah, i am.”

“so that’s good.”

“are you happy?”

“are you?”

“feels like i just answered that.”

“you seem a bit down,” i misdirected. “something on your mind?”

“a friend of mine tried to kill himself.”

i took a drag. “anybody i know?”

“probably not.”

“well… tried, right? at least they didn’t figure it out.”

“that was the thing about it…” Korben nodded towards my glass of wine. i passed it on, let him take a sip. “i don’t want to sound like i condone this, but he really did come up with something special.”


“he bought a bottle of vodka. had himself a bottle of prescription pills. sat in his room with a pack of smokes. started drinking. drank to the point where he was no longer… in control of his decisions, i guess. where if he was supposed to kill himself, then that is what would happen. blacked out. like he planned to. when he came to, he actually had taken some of the pills. but not enough…”

i nodded.

“so…” Korben took another hit of my wine, handed it back. “he was basically sick for an entire week. but at least he knew that he wasn’t supposed to die.”

“took himself out of the equation.”

“that’s right.”



“a little brilliant, is all.”

“don’t get any ideas.”

“haven’t had one of those in years. don’t worry.” had me some wine. handed it over to Korben. he took his share. passed it on back. i coughed. “hey, K?”


“i know we’re sharing a room, but… should lady luck offer up any of her ladies… i’m fine sleeping on the ouch.”

“sleeping on the ouch?”

“couch. sleeping on the couch. just saying. don’t let the decision involve a crisis of conscience.”

“thanks. same goes for you.”

i took a tug. “it won’t.”

“it might.”

i smiled, watched my cigarette dwindle. “of all the women i’ve ever hooked up with, 50 percent are married, or they have kids.”

“what about the other 50 percent?”

“who knows? 100 percent of them have never spoken to me again.”

the cloud cover finally broke, blessing us with a luminous moon, captured in half-imagination.

Korben reached out. gave my shoulder a tight squeeze. “thanks for the smoke.”

“any time.”

we gave the puddles a few more things to think about and went back to join the party.


out in the building’s isolated backyard, a bonfire had been lit.

Nick and his friends hauled the keg from inside. as flames did their best to kiss the sky, they all gathered together for keg stands. i stuck to the shadows. watched Nick wrap his fingers around the silver rim. muscles bulging as a few helpers turned his body upside down. face going red as the blood rushed south.

the nozzle was secured in his mouth.

everyone shouting out the seconds as his Adam’s apple worked.

i noticed a large Tupperware container resting on the lawn, next to the fire.

seconds later, i recognized it.

courtesy of the lady. in the cafe. just a few hours ago, diligently putting together chocolate, and marshmallow, and graham.

Nick tapped out, and everyone cheered.

the fire kept waiting to be put to good use.

none of us listened.


in print:

or for fucking free in digital

so long and thanks for all the pish.



SNFAW – part one.



as with most all things involving Nick Reckless, i found myself in an unfamiliar vehicle at 4am. head a mess with unwelcome test patterns, squinting through streetlights. no guarantees where this road may lead.

just like old times.

only now, some 34 years were stuck in the rearview, and Nick was some 500 miles north. some 36 hours away from the end of the beginning.

my compact rental made for smooth travel along I-85, I-95. not a smoky in sight. punched it through most of Virginia. stopped for gas and sat on the trunk, forcing raw kale and blueberries down my throat. ‘round 7:30 in the morning. sunlight playing its old tricks, insisting the day was already on its way out.

an old timer in a pickup stared at me through tinted aviators. i remembered the scruffy buildup along my face, tired eyes and sun-cured skin. felt strangely obligated to reassure him that i had no plans to detonate his truck, church, or family.

but nobody ever believes me when i tell them that.

so instead, i continued north.

nothing familiar past the DC beltway. first time on Route 15 through Maryland and Pennsylvania. faced with a tsunami of solid green. merged onto I-8, winding roads slicing through corridors of dense trees. a couple of hours there where the world seemed a little less lonely.

ten minutes to my destination, i took a wrong turn. 45 minutes and 27 houses of worship later, i had arrived at the Sky Summit Lodge and Resort. it was 1:30pm.


the lobby’s sprawling floors and high ceilings were reminiscent of Scandinavian dining halls of old. the reception desk was reminiscent of a reception desk of right now. i rifled though the assortment of polo shirts, khakis, and baseball caps. caught sight of someone with their back turned, someone who looked practically as rough as i did.

also, the only black person in sight. i calculated the odds and figured they were in my favor.

the bet paid off. next thing, Korben had my bones bundled in a fearsome hug. couple of slaps on the back. i pulled back to get a better look. approaching 6 foot, build of a Brooklyn barkeep unwilling to risk being on the losing end of a fight. eyes of a negotiator uninterested with being in that fight in the first place. hair and beard trimmed close.

same old Korben, save for a few fledgling greys.

“yeah, Lucky,” he said. “you don’t look like you belong here either.”

“called it, K.” i scratched at my scruff. “cannot wait to get this hipster mold off my face.”

Korben had taken the bus from Port Authority, together with Alley Springs. she was by our side a moment later. radiating an intrinsic kind of beauty that could have easily turned most women ugly from the inside out. Alley was somehow immune to her own reflection, resulting in a sophistication and quiet intelligence that kept the world safe from its own envious thoughts.

“where are you staying?” she asked.

“some kind of place… not sure. the emails have been scattered and confusing.”

“why don’t you check your phone?” Korben asked.

“did you call me?”

“no, i mean so you can check your email…”

beat. i pulled out my black, outdated flip-phone.

Korben led with a wince… “yeah. you don’t have a smartphone, do you?”

“the more things change, the more i stay the same.”

Alley whipped out her own device. “don’t worry about it, Lucky. let’s have a look.”

i crafted something resembling a thank you.

the 3 of us had been shelved together in one of several privately owned houses surrounding the resort. we had an hour to kill before settling in. while Alley scoped out the dining situation, Korben and i carried their bags to my car.

“you and Alley come here together, or are you here together?”

“yeah. Chet would love that last one. came here together.”

i slammed the trunk shut, stretched. “that’s 3 stags. so far, so good.”

“you still living with your sister-in-law’s sister?”

shook my head. “had to pack up shop last year.”

“oh, wait. right. you’re at your friends’ house. the ones with the kid. a room under the stairs, i heard.”

“not anymore.”

“oh.” Korben scratched his head. switched gears. “how’s the new book doing?”

“i could really use some coffee.”

he let it go.

we found a small cafe area downstairs, adjacent to the kind of game room a miniature golf course might have if it gave a shit about its game room.

a family of 8 hovered over the counter. discussing their plans, ignoring their children, all of whom ran wildly about in search of potential head wounds. i kept disparaging remarks to myself; every last stranger a potential member of the wedding party, an easy-bake enemy in the making.

Korben ordered a BLT.

Alley ordered a turkey club.

i ordered fresh fruit and coffee, black.

i bet them twenty that when our food arrived, they would serve Alley the fresh fruit.

got no takers.

one of the resort staffers trudged past. parked it 2 tables down from ours. slapped an oversized garbage bag on the chair beside her. sent her arms in, all the way up to her shoulders.

i felt as though i shouldn’t be watching.

the coffee arrived, and that helped.

“woah…” Korben’s inside voice kicked in. “i think that lady’s actually… is she?”

Alley glanced up from her iPhone. “oh. yep. she is.”

one of the few lessons that had ever stuck with me was to never turn around while the world stared. “what’s the story?”

Korben kept it casual. “that lady who just sat down appears to be… making s’mores…”

“what, fire and everything?”

“yeah, Lucky, fire and everything, we’re all going to die.”

i pretended to tie my shoe. sure enough, there she was. diligently packing chocolate and marshmallow between two slabs of graham. each treat wrapped in cellophane and carefully placed into an oversized Tupperware container.

a pack of Parliaments peeked out from her uniformed slacks.

i straightened up. “there’s nothing fun about that.”

Alley and Korben nodded.

our food arrived.

they served Alley the fruit.

Korben and i talked about being old. Alley was kind enough to play along. we did our best to sort out conflicting schedules, information, updates that had been emailed over the past few weeks. the pair of them tending to their smartphones. moments of conversation interrupted by text messages. Facebook updates. Instagram shares. amiable trivia settled at the drop of a hat.

unable to keep up or contribute, i helped myself to a few slices of melon.


Korben was bold enough to proclaim his BLT as one of the best he had ever had.

i bit into a strawberry and fantasized about the fifth of vodka in my garment bag.

“whatcha thinking about, Lucky?”

i was seized with an urge to kill myself, but by then it was 2:3.


we slid into my rental, skirted the golf course. a family of peacocks crossed our path. little ones wobbling their way up toward the links.

our house had been christened The War Admiral. built on a steep incline, stone slabs descending to an above ground pool. a pointed, wrought iron gate bordered the surrounding deck.

Korben and Alley held their excitement in check; even the slightest remark on the excellence of a weekend retreat would surely set the stage for a modern slasher film.

instead, we chose to investigate the basement.

our journey was cluttered with rusted pencil sharpeners, steak knives, random hard hats, snow boots, empty paint cans. a large confederate flag was fastened to the wall by 2 rusted nails. next to it was a limp American flag, hanging by a single thumbtack.

Korben scratched his head. “i get the feeling that the American flag is there to cover up the confederate for when people are renting this place… and maybe they just kind of forgot.”

Alley suggested we go back upstairs.


upstairs, Korben and i stood in one of the 3 bedrooms.

bags stationed in the doorway.

“yeah,” Korben said. “this is right.”

i went through it once more… “because Chet and his girl will be down the hall.”

“and Alley is a single woman.”


“and we are two men.”

“of course we are.”

“so Alley gets the other queen-size,” Korben wrapped up, throwing his duffle on one of the 2 mattresses. “and we get the twins.”

“wish you weren’t talking about beds.”

“sorry Misty couldn’t make it.”

“yeah…” i went to hang my garment bag. “she’s got a wedding to go to in July.”

“whose wedding?”

“don’t know.”



Korben let it go. left the harping to whatever angels had bothered to stick around.

i stood by the window. stared out past the mountaintops.


while Alley and Korben organized themselves, i had a shower. shave.

suited up.

checked my phone. missed call from Chester Springs.

he was still on the road, riding a rental in from Philly. asked me if anyone needed him to stop for beer or liquor. i told him he might not have time; rehearsal was in an hour.

“oh. um, that’s real cool…” Chester’s voice dropped out, back in. “nobody told  me that.”

“i could be wrong. got an email said 4:30.”

“i did not receive that email.”

“who do you suppose had it last?”

“what the fuck does that even mean? seriously, this traffic is –”

i lost the signal.


after a swift pull of Grey Goose, i felt considerably better. after a half hour or so, i noticed nobody else was in the house. stepped outside and saw Korben and Alley sunning themselves by the pool.

…eyes closed at the edge of a pristine, sky-blue oval.


i took a few wild looks around the lobby. resort staffers moved about with great purpose and oversized strides. wide smiles and preoccupied eyes. vests, ties, brass name tags embossed with lettering too small to read at a glance.

i went random. picked a petite brunette with heavy mascara, miniature lips, and a bandaged ring finger. she pointed to a set of double doors. hardly time for a thank you, and she was on to the next one, helping an elderly couple make sense of their own complaints.

i stepped out onto the terrace; a 30-yard half-circle that curved back towards the far end of the lobby. at the top of the arc were 20 or so steps, bottoming in a cobbled courtyard bordered by lush grass. meticulously trimmed, 8-foot hedges patrolled the edges. at their zenith was an open gate, its gaping maw leading out to what must have been the resort’s 75th hole.

Nick Reckless materialized before me. wide, manic grin. sandy hair trimmed, properly parted, eyes gleaming a pale, wild blue. signature white dress shirt. top two buttons undone, fitted nicely to a lean, well-maintained body.

“on time, and dapper as hell.” he took me in his arms and scratched the back of my head.

“you’re only saying that because it’s true.”

“still using that old line?”

i pulled away, feeling a faceless ache in my stomach. “you look good, Nicky.”

“yeah, don’t i?”

“anybody here actually know what’s going on?”

“somebody. maybe nobody. let me introduce you to Kayla’s mom.”

the next 2 minutes snowballed into a pageant of women; friends, relatives, bridesmaids, secret Santas. names bouncing uselessly off my brain. they all blended together in a mix of smiles, perfect hair and slender hugs. the edges of reality faded into a fast forward blackout.

Kayla swept into view, somewhere from the great beyond. demure smile, an angel bearing the gift of familiarity. one swift embrace, and she was gone.

and i was, once again, floundering.


the cyclone tossed me out onto the courtyard. solid footing, finally. standing next to Nick and his father, Paul Reckless; ruggedly handsome, grin of a great white. ran a 2-minute mile. bench pressed Cadillacs for sport.

Nick loaned me a bizarre smile. “we’re going to come out from the bushes.”

i didn’t know what he meant. that is to say, i knew a few dozen things he could have meant. as always, it was best to not waste any time guessing. move on, and prepare for every possible scenario.

through the filter of a painful squint, i spied a proverbial figure descending the stairs. black jeans. broad shoulders filling a like-colored button-up. rolled sleeves revealing a kaleidoscope of earth-toned ink. Irish mug already at odds with the sun. nose like a toucan’s beak. narrow blue eyes enjoying the various contradictions that made up the soul of Chester Springs.

he took me in a muscular bear hug. “hey, Lucky. you look great.”

“we’re going to come out of the bushes,” i told him.

“that’s real good, buddy.”

during the 300 or so years Nick had spent in China, Chester had been the only person i knew who had gone to visit him.

out in the wild, wild east.

standing in the middle of that courtyard, browbeaten by every last bifurcation, i was struck by the sound of another volume slamming shut. another one of those wasted possibilities that begged for a practiced moonwalk across the page to properly kiss each chapter goodbye.

Kayla and the bridesmaids joined us.

Chester was introduced.

i was somehow reintroduced.

Chester was a musician who had left North Carolina to seek his fortune on the sunny streets of San Francisco. he was a social creature. had a way with charm that i certainly must have possessed in my younger years. capturing the nuances of every situation, the precision to interact without setting off alarm bells.

then again, perhaps i had never mastered such talents.

could be it had always been this way.

Paul led us through the open gate, around the bend. rolling green stretched out into the horizon. golf carts in the distance grazing quietly while their masters enjoyed an afternoon tee-time.

on the other side of the hedges were the aforementioned bushes.

Brian, brother of the bride, sneaked into our ranks. quietly introduced himself. he was young, tall, physique of a wide receiver. shy demeanor, flawless skin.

somewhere, there was an issue of GQ missing one of its starring G’s.

as the men discussed their responsibilities, i happened to glance at a passing golf cart.

felt time rip at the seams.

recognizing a passenger-side face i had long considered beyond recovery.

just a glimpse. hardly enough to jumpstart certainty, but something in that smudged smile and those square, dark-rimmed glasses yanked at my heart, hair like a razorback, fresh sweat pouring into my eyes, blurring my vision, furthering hopes that someone in the records department had simply made a serious mistake.


felt my left eye twitch. saw Nick and Chester standing by, their arms crossed. waiting.

took a timid look out to the golf course, expecting the shape of further impossibilities.

shook it off and got my head back in the game.

Paul took us through our paces. this consisted of sporadic gestures towards ever shifting marks, coupled with the repetitive use of vague prepositions.

“over there.”




“back there.”


James Reckless, Nick’s little brother and best man, made his entrance. slightly taller, slightly more skinny than the groom. eyes on the alert, nervous ticks heightened by ever-clenched fists. he promptly began to paint the proceedings with his own abstract brushstrokes.

all 3 Reckless men breezed through the rehearsal as though skimming a menu.

at one point, i mentioned that there seemed to be more bridesmaids than groomsmen, and how would that affect the recession?

the 3 of them simultaneously lifted their hands, let loose with a series of hesitant, drawn out vowels, then simply began talking about something else.

welcome to the house of mirrors.

a healthy 5 minutes worth of rehearsal time, and  the ceremony was placed in an incubator. players randomly stationed about the courtyard like chess pieces on a pool table.

Chester blinked. “so, are we all married now, or…?”

“yes. sorry. i always don’t cry at not weddings.”

“do you have a tie i can borrow for the rehearsal dinner?”

i stole one last glimpse through the gates. still wondering. “huh?”

“i don’t want to be that rock musician asshole who everyone thinks is too cool to go formal for the occasion.”

“certainly would be the first time in human history a rock musician’s ever been an asshole.”

Chester sighed. “do you have a tie i can borrow for the rehearsal dinner?”

“i have exactly that. gunmetal ok?”

“it’s the metal of my hopes.”

and, no. not one part of that conversation meant a single thing.


as Chester and i walked back to my rental, he asked about the book. “are a lot of people downloading it?”

“have you?”

“nope. you download my latest album?”

“don’t even know what it’s called.”

“my girlfriend, Joyce, is reading Absolute Cool.”

“she enjoying it?”

“told me she was pleased she hasn’t once needed to consult a dictionary.”

“terrific.” i lit a cigarette. “if anyone ever asks, you can tell them you were close, personal friends with the author of the world’s first full-length fortune cookie.”

“nobody’s ever going to ask.”

“what about him?” i pointed to a man hoisting clubs from his cart.

Chester waved in the man’s direction. “hi, Bill!”

the man waved back with a bright, friendly smile.

“oh my god.” Chester began to giggle, “what are the odds of that?”

“do it again.”

with an even larger wave, he called out to another arbitrary person. “hi, Bill!e woman gave us a confused look. held her infant son just a little closer.

Chester shook his head. “and all is once again right with the universe.”

“it’s still early,” i said, and reached for my keys.

we changed the subject to vodka, and nobody was the worser for it


i poured a measured shot into 3 separate glasses.

cool and viscous from its time in the freezer.

opened the fridge. skimmed my detox kit. pulled out a bottled smoothie. mango madness. poured a half-ounce into each glass. watched the orange pulp settle. popped a bottle of pomegranate juice. added a dash. dark red cut through the liquid, ugly and embryonic.

went to the living room, and distributed the shots. “just made it up. i’d take it down all at once, if i was yous.”

Korben raised his glass and toasted to something.

Chester and i agreed, and down went the shots.

consistency of a raw egg, with a remarkably pleasant finish.

i smacked my lips. “want another round?”

Chester and Korben shook their heads emphatically.

i shrugged, made myself one more.

Chester asked if i was planning to make a speech at the rehearsal dinner.

“Nicky’s got enough to worry about,” i said.

“i feel i should make a speech.”

Korben nodded. “you absolutely should.”

Chester pulled out seven or so pages of typed remarks. “these are just some ideas.”

Alley came down the stairs in boxers and a white undershirt. glanced at her brother’s notes. “wow, Chet. are you making a speech or a declaration of war?”

“declaration of war,” he replied flatly.

Korben helped himself to some almonds. “you really ought to make a speech, Lucky.”

i shook my head.

“why not?” Chester asked. “i’m curious.”

i sighed. “here’s a brief anecdote about Nicky and his legendary habit of conflating events. you should feel free to use it, Chet…” i topped off my vodka concoction, set the bottle down. “back in early 2001, i went to visit Nicky at Wesleyan. my first time there. Milo, Trina, Hank and myself took the bus from Port Authority. got to Middletown right about 8. We met Nicky at the station and he escorted us to the dorm…”

i swished the vodka around… “i had packed 4 bottles of red. Gato Negro, just in case the alcohol situation turned out to be less than optimal…” i smiled, best i knew how. remembering. “i’m not in Nicky’s room more than 5 minutes, when some kid i never met pops his head in and asks, hey, man, are you Lucky Saurelius? i told him i was. here you go, man, he says, and hands me a bottle of Absolut. leaves without another word. 2 minutes after that, a cute blond shows up with a fifth of Tanqueray. Nicky told us all about you. hope that’s enough gin. 3 or 4 more times this happened. apparently, Nick had been building an entire mythology around my exploits as a drunken denizen of America’s bars and most dangerous dives…”

i brought the glass to my lips. “over the course of that weekend, i did my best to destroy all those bottles, if only to be polite, but…” i knocked back my drink. vodka and mango pulp slithering down my throat… “suffice to say, when i got back to New York, i arrived with the exact amount of red wine as when i left.”

there was an uncomfortable silence.

Alley was leaning against the kitchen threshold. arms crossed. staring at me with what felt like mild revulsion.

“yeah, Lucky,” Korben ventured. “i feel like that story wasn’t so much about Nicky as it was about you.”

“and that’s why i won’t be making a speech tonight…” i poured myself one last hit of Goose. “this is Nicky’s time to shine. last thing we need is a self-absorbed piece of shit like me mixing the message.”

nobody argued. they all knew i was right.

hadn’t there been a time when at least one of these people liked me?

“rehearsal dinner’s in a half hour…” i polished off my drink, grimaced. wiped an inexplicable tear from my eye and added: “don’t want to be late for Chet’s declaration of war.”

i set my glass down. stepped outside, and watched the clouds begin to roll in.



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that’s the fucking game.


Growing up, the boys who claimed to be my friends were idiots. We all were, but at least we knew none of it mattered or made any sense. We all loved tits. We all loved hips, lips, fingertips. I thought we all loved girls. Not to say any one of us turned out to be gay. I just thought, honestly, there was an unspoken consensus, that we all loved girls.

The boys in the band managed to hook up with hideous frequency. I enjoyed what I could, thankful for every little bit of fortune that smiled in my direction. Never had a way to say it back then, but kissing, tongues, having a decent moment licking along inner thighs, faces pressed together in the rain, I lived and died for anything that felt real.

We never talked about those moments. That was boring. Details were boring. Who cared what girl, what position, in what room? Looking back, it’s several side-steps short of unbelievable how little we knew about where our extremities had been. Looking back, at the time, I took comfort that stories trumped details.

Then I moved away, north to New York.

Then I came back, and the boys in the band had some songs that sent my mind south.

“Ha!” Chester laughed, leaning against the bar. Blue eyes free of their edge, lazy now. Devil may care grin turned inside out to the devil who cared. “Remember that girl when we were on tour through Pasadena?”

“She was so desperate, dude. And her pants were almost off before we went on!”

“Don’t even remind me of that fat chick that Chet nailed.”

“I was drunk!”

“Dude. We were ALL drunk, so what was my ass doing with tank-top girl, and that fucking chick who worked… I don’t know, some fucking tight-ass job?”


“Yeah. We called her sperm bank, right?”

I ordered another beer and pretended to be across the pool hall. Kept a close eye on Nick Reckless, now some several years older from sixteen, joining in:

“What about, come on, Chet?! When ADF was in town and you told that group of ballet dancers that you were a fucking yoga instructor!”

“I know! I look like SHIT!”

“Whatever, you don’t look enough like shit.”

Nick had never played with the boys in the band, let alone gone out to San Francisco to seek his fortune with them. But new additions to the crew had left their impression on him.

Two men with brands burning hot.

One in particular, I knew, was the single mastermind behind the new paradigm.

Chet called me to action. He’d lost a game of 9-ball to Jamie, who stood by the felt, cue stick in hand. Taller than anyone had a right to be. Curly surfer hair. Tanned, toned. Blue eyes that mimicked absolute zero. Too busy enjoying dominion to bother retrieving any of the pocketed balls.

I went ahead and racked. He watched the whole time. Sizing me up. The crowd at On The Rail was buzzing with energy that night. Side bets, juke box favorites, stories, street smarts and hustles. None of it touched Jamie. An invisible hazmat suit surrounded him, magnetic field, repulsing, creating an empty world.

“I get to break, bro.” His voice was a flatline, stretching out and over the ends of the earth.

I picked up my cue stick, nodded. “Yeah. Winner breaks. The way that goes.”

“Just saying…”

He didn’t elaborate on what he was just saying. Went for the break and got lucky enough to sink the seven. Did a good job on the two. Prowled around the able. Looking for an angle on the three. Ran his hands over his six-pack, reminding himself of the effort it took to look that good.

He blew the three.

Straightened and rolled his eyes, blaming the table. I went low and misread the leave. Cue ball, right off the red and into the side pocket.

“Ball in hand,” I told him.

“Yeah, I know.”

He took the cue ball and placed it behind the three. The three, right next to the nine, right next to the left corner pocket. Easy combo even for an amateur, and he stood tall after the win, staring at me as though there was something else he needed.

“Ok,” I said.


“It’s etiquette, around here, in a friendly game to not use ball in hand for a kill shot. Around here, the game is supposed to last. Creativity. Let the table tell a story.”

He shrugged, and his eyes were so far gone from alive. “That’s the fucking game, man.”

And how do you argue with humanity’s origins?

I nodded, went to the bar and tapped Chet’s shoulder. “You’re up.”

“Thanks, man.” He downed his longneck and hugged me. Pat on the back, a little to hard for my taste. “We should hang out more often.”


Chester went to join his new mentor. I watched long enough to catch Jamie glancing my way. Saying something, then laughing. Terrible, hollow sounds, echoed by Chet’s unrecognizable smile.

I ordered a beer. Drank.

Overheard Nick Reckless, boys in the band talk the talk.

“Ok, but when you fucked her, tell me she was facing away from you.”

“Needle nose!”

“Always points north!”


That one didn’t make sense.

Though it all stood to reason.

I took a look over my shoulder as Joe Jackson stormed the juke, wondering, Is she really going out with him?

Saw Jamie take another shot. Spread his lips in a passive grin.

I would have punched him in the face if I didn’t know there was another one laying just underneath. I wasn’t charming. Wasn’t fun. Didn’t give license. Didn’t have the qualities, details, drive to bring men into my inner circle.

And maybe that was the key.

My boys had become men.

Time to let go.

Realize that maybe I was no better than them.

Realize just how fucked this world would be in another ten years or so.


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next door.


She would sit. Sit and be alone. Because she liked it. Because it was difficult. Because it was how it was supposed to be. Made no difference if it was a park, second to last seat of the downtown bus, middle of a crowded diner, following the upwards stroke of a brush along stretched canvas, renting from the last video joint in town, watching her toes wiggle, brown with teal painted toes against backyard blades.

Made no difference that night either, she thought, this time alone at a bar. Checked her watch and now he was an hour late, which she felt predicated being alone for the rest of the evening. Which in turn, made the loneliness something stranger. Rough patches along bar’s surface. Dim lights a darker expression of yellow. Sallow shade to her beer. That last bit easy enough to take care of, and she thought about what to order next.

Something in a whisky, maybe?

Hearing her thoughts manifested, Sable turned to find impossibly blue eyes peering from behind a curtain of blond curls. Four seats down. Drinking whiskey from a weighted glass. Fingers tapping against the rim. Left index and middle toying with the cocktail straw.

Sable drew a breath, felt the words coming from somewhere else, “What’s yours?”

“Just your classic Jack.” She smiled, slightly. “Want one?”

“Yeah. Ok, if we’re doing this, yes.”

Jack Daniels placed in front of her, and for some reason, the coaster’s colors popped. An image shot into her brain with the violent, honest luxury of the last time she’d slipped her lips along another woman’s tongue.

Sable raised her glass, had a drink without toasting. Just forgot the polite thing for the moment. Was about to correct herself, when she saw that the blonde wasn’t much in a worrying state of mind. Wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and asked: “You waiting on someone?”

“I was.” Sable had another sip. “Now I’m just… just here.”

“Not waiting?”

“Waiting for what?”

Sable watched her swipe at some hair. Watched her sweater sleeve get stuck in a single loose knit lock. She tore at it with a smile. Reached for her cigarette and moved down one seat.

“What do you do?” she asked.


“What do you really do?”

“Thank you.” Sable laughed at the sound of what she had just said. “Sorry. I’m… I paint. I’m a painter.”

“That’s pretty fucking great.”

“I get that a lot.”

“From who? Men? Women?”


“Depends who’s trying to get into your paints?”

Sable didn’t mind the sound of her laughter this time and found herself moving one seat over. Easily. Noticed the bartender had stepped outside for a smoke. Alone in a bar, the both of them. She sat down.

“I was supposed to meet someone.” Sable found herself saying. Now very close to her new companion, enough to watch eyelashes flutter with a signal to go ahead. “I was supposed to meet someone here, and they…  I thought, had this… Thought I might feel comfortable around someone again.”

“Could be she’s next-door?”

“Say that again?”

Southland.” She took a drag, pointed towards the bar. Through the bottles, mirrors. “Just as good as this place, back to back. Wall to wall. They do get confused sometimes, wouldn’t be the first time.”

“I mean it’s not a she.” Sable had a drink, and the shudder that came with it was something so much more than frightening, complete. “She’s a he. I don’t know if that means anything. Hasn’t been a she since one time, so damn long, long ago.”

The stranger stared at her ashtray. “All you have to do is check next-door.”

Sable stared at her drink. “I don’t want to.”

A silent nod. Followed by a drink. The blonde reached down to her waist, fingers taking hold of her teal woven sweater. Lifted. Sable got a look at her belly as the shirt lifted as well, stopped just below tit level, where folded, faded letters spelled out an incomplete slogan, I Got Lucky With, before the sweater lifted, caught her upper lip, dragged it, revealing tongue, teeth, up past her forehead, almost off, where it caught another one of those blonde curls, and she leaned to the side, stretching her flank, laughing, saying, “Oh, shit. Oh, no. Hey. Help me? Help me out?”

Sable reached, took hold. Undid that one strand of dirty, obstinate gold and slid the sweater right off, sleeves slipping past arms, falling to the ground, endgame with her face so close, their eyelashes sent smoke signals, mouths half open from laughter, lips magnetic, Sable could smell the sour perfection of her breath, and if she were to reach up, match the long hand on the clock above the bar, trace her fingers along her new friend’s electric smile –

The bartender walked in, and severed connection with a well meaning request for any request anyone might have.

Sable was about to order another round, but the blonde was already out of her chair. Scooping up the woven witness from sticky depths, throwing it back on. Sable prepared herself for being alone. Turned back to stare at taps, maybe glance at her watch, when the blonde came in from behind, chin resting on her shoulder, lips wandering close to Sable’s ear with a plainspoken suggestion:

“You should come to the beach with me tomorrow.”

Sable turned.

The blonde gave her space, stepped back. Grin caught halfway between confidence and whether or not this withdraw would result in an overdraft.

“Come to the beach with me,” she said. Breathless. “I don’t want this to be here, and I don’t want  it to be just because. Meet me here tomorrow. Noon. And don’t get the wrong bar, and don’t, please don’t show because it’s easier…” Beat. She shouldered an imaginary bag, added. “My name is Camilla, by the way.”

She left, quickly, leaving a trail of smoke and longing, desire so lengthy, Sable imagined she could have traced it down the streets, around the corners, into her car, that back seat, and her imagination went wild with what it would be like to not be alone, as she forgot what she was waiting for and managed to pump her heart for a few extra seconds of delirium, and she slipped the coaster into her pocket to commemorate the moment, whispering into the night, “My name is Sable.”


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what was now.


If you were the kind of person she didn’t like, then you were also that sort in severe need of reconciliation. An entire week with the shades drawn. Ceiling fan hypnosis, maybe take the time to wonder if every last thing you thought you knew was simply untrue. Dalia noticed everything. Didn’t bother with the corners, if it was you that needed a second glance, she would turn her face towards yours. Didn’t care if she was caught in her curiosity. She would observe, soft brown eyes hidden by a cresting wave of blond hair, but it never took her too long to catalogue, and she would turn away. File it under future analysis. Go back to her cigarette. Focused on the what was now; a conversation that might illicit a slight frown, mini skirt smile, disbelieving raise of her eyebrows. She didn’t just nod with her neck. The entire top half of her torso would lean in with each movement, led by her head. If you said something to tickle her funny bone, she would pull back slightly. Her eyes would squint, practically disappear, and her lips would widen, shuddering peals, but it wasn’t just the joke landing. As she laughed, you could see each layer of implication rolling over her, gathering, culminating, leaving behind a smile, aftermath of a wave, pulling away, then back to position one. Eyes focused, moving on. Ready for the next moment in the what was now.

One night in late July, she sent her wondering eyes, entire face in my direction from over her side of the bench. She nodded. I placed my gin and tonic on the table, picked up my pack. Kiki was sitting between us, and I reached around, behind her shoulders, to hand Dalia her cancer stick. It slid between her fingers, easily. Eyes meeting, she nodded once more, and I reached for my lighter. An operation that required silent synchronicity. We crossed our legs, respective thighs pressed against the underside of the picnic table, allowing us to rock back. Abdominals working. Simultaneously reaching out. My left arm, her right, taking hold, hands clutched around wrists. She leaned in. Cigarette in her mouth. I reached out. Anchoring each other as I extended my right one, sparked a flame. It was a hot summer night in New Orleans, no wind to put the fire out, and the smoke went swirling between us. We released, withdrew our arms and returned to neutral ground. She turned her face towards mine. I met her curiosity with a nod.

And Dalia returned to position one. Nodding with her upper half, focused. Ready for the next moment in what was the now.

I went back to my drink and thought about Dalia

and thought about what were the moments before this one.


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red meat.

red meat

Kiki Capri kissed my cheek with lips painted an emergency red. Smiled at me, catastrophically blue eyes, and told me she would be right back. I smiled back, ten times over in love, and nodded. Watched her hips make change with the world, stray strands bobbing with her head, everything that should have been perfect with the world.

But I went back to my whiskey and soda. Arms crossed over the bar of The Valiant . Stomach tense. What few muscles I had all bound up in a secret. Brain stuck on an endless paragraph. Terrified. Remounting the same production in my head. Staring straight ahead at a litany of high end bottles, half of which I couldn’t name because I was still stuck in the well, such a familiar sight that it felt this familiar feeling wasn’t just an accident.

“Hey, Lucky.”

Hobbes was at my side. Wavy hair, handsome features. Thin body of close knit, well maintained sinew. Healthy cheekbones, eyes dark against pale skin, pupils shifting along the bar he owned, nurtured. Fought for on a nightly basis.

Brought me back to the moment. Details of my brain scenario replaced for what passed as reality. Slow night. Empty couches and low riding cocktail tables. Dim light. Walls painted a wandering gray. Music on a steady Jazz kick, bartender on an old school swing. Candles. Crystalline dessert bowls filled to the brim with multi-colored mints.

“Hey, Hobbes,” I managed.

“Hey, me…” He paused over his beer. Dark bottle of something I probably would have found repugnant. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

Hobbes didn’t have any male friends. Then again, he was a mover, shaker, carnival barker. People who work the room don’t always have real friends anyway, so I wasn’t sure whether his lack of male companionship had anything to do with mine.

I hated sports. I hated beer. I hated talking about high end whiskey, unless it was in my mouth, in which case, why bother opening it?

I still didn’t know Hobbes very well, but I sensed. Had a notion.

So oddly enough, it felt as though I had been waiting for this moment to say

I can’t shake this vision from my head. It’s been with me for a few weeks now. And it won’t leave. Hangs in, hand in with two things that happened two years ago.

And maybe Hobbes paused before saying, Oh yeah?

Bit of a back story. I moved down here with, originally, the reason I moved down here. Wait. I moved down here with the intention to kill myself.

And maybe he nodded.

Second thing. I’m a vegetarian.

And maybe he said, I know. It’s fucking shame. Go on.

A few months before I moved, still living in NC, and a few days after deciding that New Orleans would be where it would all end… I ordered a hamburger.

And maybe he asked, and I hoped his eyebrows would slant with a certain concern: What did you get on it?

Hard to say. I met two idiot friends of mine for a half-off wine special at bar nearby. I was living paycheck to paycheck and didn’t have all that much to spend. Wasn’t feeling much of anything.  That empty sort of sense you get from watching a bad play. And I thought, why not? When the waitress came up to take our order, I asked for  burger with bacon, blue cheese, because, let’s face it, nobody on this planet would be kissing my face anytime soon. Also, cooked medium rare. Red. No lettuce. Mayo, tomato, all the rest was fine.

My dinner companions cheered, figuring I’d turned a corner, or some such shit. Finally enjoying life, or some other such even more shit. Truth was, I thought maybe biting into a dead cow, topped with two strips of dead pig in the city might release the right endorphins. Make me feel something.

And maybe Hobbes took an understanding pull of his beer and asked, Did it?

No. They forgot the bacon, blue cheese. The burger was done well, past well, made me wonder who this cow had to fuck to get where she was, and the bun was broken down the middle. Didn’t complain, because it didn’t matter. Every bite was like what kale or broccoli must taste like to someone like you. It was nothing. A hail Mary with none of the trimmings.

And maybe Hobbes took a sip of his beer, eyes deepening, and motioned with the bottle.

I’ve been getting this vision. In my head, this vivid daydream… I’m in a restaurant. A fancy one. The kind with cloth napkins, black ties at your table. White dishes set to the side for your bread and butter… I’m at a round table for two. But set only for one. Because it’s just me. Next to a floor to ceiling window. And it’s midday outside, and grey. I can see the people walking by in my head. The ambient noise is so full, I can isolate every sound. Silverware scraping. Ice cubes popping in fresh water glasses. Twist of a salt shaker some two tables down. Every last moron who thinks others care for their conversation conversation, amplified. Every goddamn commentary, the goddamn problems they have with their domestics, the fucking Peterson Account, enough to make me vomit in my mouth, only there’s nothing left in there, but soon

in front of me is a plate with a burger. Perfectly cooked. The kind you see on billboards.  Perfect melt of cheese. Bacon that you barely have to chew because the fat is going to dissolve in your mouth the moment it makes contact with your tongue. One of those twenty-one dollar hamburgers, meal before an execution level of perfection, it is so nice… So great to be alone with this simple burger, and such a happy feeling to know it’s there because I have just, frankly, and to be clear, just given up… I’ve given up.

And maybe Hobbes wouldn’t say anything.

I’ve been thinking about it, I might say, swallow hard… and this vision won’t. go. away.

And maybe Hobbes never would ask the question, rocking us both back into the moment and then I said, insisted

“I don’t have anything to say for myself.” Downed my whiskey soda and added: “I am an intensely uninteresting person.”

Hobbes gave me a fuck you kind of look.

He licked his thumb and pressed it against my cheek. “got some Capri still stuck on you.”

He went about his business and left. Me to my own, I brought my fingers together. Intertwined. Terrified. The bartender asked if he could get me anything.

I asked for a burger with bacon, blue cheese, and no lettuce. Cooked medium rare. Red.

He laughed and served me another whiskey soda.

I didn’t laugh, but took what was given.

Drank deep and crossed my fingers that this chapter would melt along with the ice under New Orleans memories, and maybe, shit, fuck, goddamn, look at those bottles behind the bar, that it wasn’t all just starting up again.


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kyleBarlow lit a cigarette. Worried about rolling down the window, though no chance it would make anyone out on those streets anymore the wiser. Paranoia, he supposed. Something worth considering. But end of the day, it still didn’t feel like a feeling. So maybe not paranoia so much, as he wanted the Dodge’s vinyl interior to fill with smoke. Acrid haze creating a sensation, quiet coming attraction of every night to follow.

Barlow took a moment to watch the filter between tips of brown fingers, closing his eyes as he brought the filter to chapped lips, close to bleeding.

He glanced across the street, scene outside a deep south bar cropped by Duncan’s face; a pale, crooked nose. Flat forehead, and a jutting chin Barlow and Kyle had always referred to as the extra. Beyond dark eyebrows and a wide, trembling mouth, two white boys in black leather jackets were grabbing smokes outside the venue. Laughing. That was what got to Barlow the most. Didn’t know what Duncan was thinking, but seeing those two white boys laugh… Roughhouse… Knock each other around the way they say pro wrestling is fake. Thrill of the fight without a bruise to show for it, the flattened nose, collapsed eyeball, crushed skull, all the details of Kyle’s autopsy.

“You sure that’s him?” Barlow asked.

Duncan gave a single nod. “Yeah.”

Barlow exhaled, nodded. Checked his own watery eyes in the rearview. Caught a similar shimmer along his shaved dome. The engine was running. No trace of music from the radio. Had this wild idea that their song would be playing when the moment arrived. Wild, wild idea, well beyond where they were, and the streetlight gave him one last notion, something he’d been playing over in his mind.

“You remember that night outside Finley’s?” he asked. Duncan’s face didn’t need clarification. It was a tacit bit of wonder, so Barlow kept on: “We were outside, sitting on the benches. It was one of our first nights out together. So you, me. Kyle, we were just trying to, you know, enjoy the night. And this group of dudes, Latinos from I’m not even sure where, come stumbling out of the bar. Drunk, yeah. Having a time. They started talking to us. You and I were sitting, on the bench, Kyle was standing. He was wearing that shirt. Charlie Brown hugging Snoopy. And that one dude was all amped about it, loved Snoopy more than anything. Growing up, childhood thing. Offered Kyle fifty for it. Kyle, being Kyle, couldn’t accept such a large bribe. And one of the other dudes, just to show up his pal, offered Kyle twenty. And Kyle agreed. Couldn’t very well walk around all night with no shirt on, so they changed shirts. And don’t think I don’t remember you smiling, seeing Kyle half naked for a split second before taking that other guys shirt and slipping it on, taking that twenty from him.”
Barlow took another drag, looked out the window.

Saw the kid in the leather jacket light another cigarette. Say goodbye to his friend, giving this whole evening another few minutes, or maybe no time at all. He continued. “And even as those dudes went on their way, and Kyle reached down for his G and T, we all saw what was written along his shirt. Some shitty Jim Beam or some such merch that boasted I had a three way. And you and I laughed, and later, bam, prophecy. We got all tangled up that night once we got home. I remember how good that looked, watching you straddling his face while I went down on him, one of those best of moments. Best of nights.” Barlow laughed. “And afterwards, as we fell asleep, we could hear Kyle smirk as he said, the shirt was right.

Barlow couldn’t smile along with himself. Was hoping Duncan might. “You remember that after that night, Kyle would slip it on whenever something important was going down? He said, the most important thing about a lucky shirt is that it better be dumb enough, embarrassing enough to wear out in public. That’s the sacrifice, he said. The mild humiliation for something truly great to happen.”

Duncan didn’t reply.

“Does that do anything?” Barlow asked. Checked out the bar, saw that the leather jacket was still on his own. Leaning against a dumpster in the baleful pool of a tilted lamppost. “I mean, Duncan… does that do anything? Does that night, does it… is… was as that night… is that night good enough, can we still feel good? About Kyle, can we still feel?”

Duncan popped the glove box and pulled out a 22. Hand picked because he knew those were the worst. A single slug could rattle around in a person’s body, play pinball, organs, bones like bumpers. Bring the pain.

Barlow felt the tip of his cigarette burning against his fingers, down to the hilt.

Duncan bit the side of his lip, tilted his head. “There’s no such fucking thing as a lucky shirt,” he said.

Barlow nodded. “I just wanted to make sure.”

“Wait until I’m across the street then start the engine.”


Duncan flipped the safety, opened his door.

A brief chill of January slipped into the car before he slammed it shut.

Barlow watched him cross the street. Saw Duncan’s boot step up on the curb and turned the key. Saw Kyle lead with a swift arc of the arm, slam the butt down on the white boy’s head. Barlow watched. Wasn’t enough someone was about to get shot, Duncan had to make it worse for all of them. Silent film, watching the kid go down against the dumpster. Double trouble, getting his face pummeled, back of the head bouncing off the steel, noises off, blood flying from his face, mirroring what he had done to Kyle, making it even Stevens, until Kyle finally stuck the muzzle between popped eyeballs and pulled the trigger.

And that was loud.

Brought the curtain down and brought Duncan running back across the street, door open, sliding into the passenger’s, never needing to say go. Buckle up. It’s done. No point in any directive, so Barlow tossed his cigarette beneath the gas, pressed the pedal down, crushing the filter, cherry, as they pulled out before anyone could make head or tail of where this event came from, and they’d tell themselves any number of stories in the days to come, cry, wonder, and maybe someday the cops would come looking for them, but as they drove, headlights bright against warning signs, Barlow kept his dangerous pulse to himself and rehearsed the only alibi that would matter:

We. Loved. Kyle.


in print:

or for fucking free in digital

so long and thanks for all the pish.