Tag Archives: Emmett Haq

Ess Gormley

Learning the Language

I sat in the grocery store’s parking lot, my forehead pressed against the top of the steering wheel, trying to remember what I needed. The store closed in ten minutes and Leila wasn’t picking up her phone. I looked into the big, glaring white windows along the front of the supermarket. A college-aged girl was scanning a cart full of food. Her hair reminded me of Leila’s before she had it cut short. The girl’s face catered to no emotion as the scanner beeped the same incessant tone. She was young and sad and familiar.

It had only been fifteen minutes since Leila told me what I needed to get from the store. How could I not remember? The bathroom door had been closed and she was behind it getting ready for a bath. She told me what I needed and asked if I knew what the date was.

“December 11,” I said, pretty sure I wasn’t forgetting anything that could get me in trouble. Her birthday was in May, and I knew it wasn’t our anniversary because we’d started dating in July, two years back.

“Today was the day we had planned on leaving,” she said through the closed bathroom door.

“Leaving?” “For Québec.” “Oh.”

“Whatever happened to that?” “What do you mean?”

I sat down on the bed. It felt cold and stiff.

“I mean, whatever happened to all those nights you said we were meant for Québec?”

“Traveling is pretty expensive right now.”

“But if we really try,” she said. “And if we saved and—”“We can’t afford something like that this year,” I said.

“I don’t care.” She raised her voice. “I don’t care about money. I don’t care about what we have and don’t have.” She stepped closer to the door and I could see her shadow under it. “I just don’t care, Ryan. I can’t sit around here anymore.”

Her shadow disappeared. She slammed on the lever to the tub. “Well, you…” she said, but I couldn’t hear her over the rushing water. “What?”

She opened the door, leaving a small space between it and its frame where light broke through into the dark of the bedroom. The rising cloud of steam looked warm and thick from the cool shadow of the bedroom.

“You said we could before.” She was still out of sight on the other side of the door.

“It costs more now.”

“It wouldn’t have mattered to you then,” she said.

“Well, I was dumb then. Jesus, what do you want me to say, Leila?” She was quiet.

“Things change sometimes,” I said.

The beating of the water was the only sound in the apartment until something made a hard noise as it dropped to the bathroom tile floor. I stared at the bright open space between the rooms.

“Today was the first time that I’ve left Stillwater in—I don’t know how long,” she said.

“You should go to Saratoga more often.” I lay down and gazed at the black ceiling. “Make it a weekend thing. It’s what? Twenty minutes?”

She slammed the cabinet under the sink shut. “When would we start that?”

“Whenever you want,” I said.

“I’m not going alone again,” she said. “I hated it.”

I sat up slowly with my knees over the edge of the bed and my feet on the dark gray of the carpet.

“I never said you had to.”


Headlights flashed in the rearview mirror and into my eyes. A car pulled up close behind mine. I checked the clock: 8:51 p.m. A man stepped out of the car and closed the door. He hurried into the store before it closed. Stuck in that car alone, not knowing at all what I needed to get, the snow falling, Leila not answering my calls, I couldn’t watch the girl anymore. I turned on the radio.

“Leçon dix,” a woman said through the speakers. “L’université.

I pressed the eject button and snatched the CD. Learning French. My face floated behind the words of the shining disc. I thought maybe she was learning it to impress me. I figured that she wanted to surprise me by ordering herself a chocolat chaud as we brushed off the Québec snow from our jackets inside a café. That was something she might’ve done then, back when we planned on Québec. Or, I thought, maybe she still planned on going.

Leila had tried asking me something in broken-up, out-of-order French that evening before I’d left for the store. She said it through the cracked open door between the bedroom and the bathroom, the steaming bathwater filling the tub. I stood up before the bed.

“Say it in English,” I said, looking at the thin, fake wood of the door. She turned off the tub. I heard the water move as she dipped in her toes. I studied French for a while back at school. When Leila and I first met, she’d ask me to teach her some things every now and then. How to say things like tu veux aller. We’d read one of my old textbooks at the table with a bottle of wine every Friday night. That was back when the whole Québec thing was planned out.

“Do you ever miss speaking French?” she said from the bathroom. “That’s what you were trying to say?”

“No, I’m just curious.”

It sounded like she was looking at the doorway. “French isn’t too convenient here in New York,” I said

She didn’t laugh. I couldn’t see her, but I knew she didn’t smile, either. I thought about how she might’ve laughed at something like that before.

“You have to miss it a little,” she said.

I stepped away and sat back on the bed. “What were you trying to say?”

“I want to see what Sue’s doing for Christmas this year,” she said. “That’s what you were trying to say?”

“I just want to see what she’s doing. That’s all. Maybe she’s finally skiing out West.”

“I doubt that.” “Why?”

Sue didn’t go anywhere besides to work or down the road to her brother’s, not without Tom around, but I didn’t say anything, hoping to prevent another argument. We’d been arguing a lot at that point and it wasn’t looking good.

“She could,” Leila said to the partly open door. “You never know.” “You should call her tomorrow,” I suggested. I had learned the language

when it came to certain topics with Leila.

“I’ll bet she’s off somewhere already.” Her voice bounced off the mirror and slipped through the steam in the doorway and into the bedroom. “Remember how she’d talk about those ski trips?”

Leila and I had skied with them once.

Tom and I were on the lift, rising to the summit. It was Leila’s first time skiing, and though I had snowboarded once before, I was nowhere near comfortable with the plank attached to my feet. I saw the girls in the following chair and watched the base of the mountain slide away. Tom looked at me and laughed.

“How you feeling?” he said. “Ask me at the bottom.”

“There’s a lot of falling,” he said. “But it’s worth it.”

I could barely slide down the mountain on my ass those first couple of runs. I dug the edge of the snowboard into the trail to keep from sliding off into the woods. Leila was standing with a ski and two poles in her one hand. She dug through a patch of powder with the other hand, searching for the ski that unclipped when she fell. Tom and Sue stopped waiting for us after a while and took off down the mountain, gliding over the trail’s curves. I shook my head, amazed. I unclipped my snowboard and trudged through the powder to Leila.

“They make it look so easy,” she said, out of breath.

I agreed and kicked at the snow until her ski emerged.

“Ha!” she shouted. “You found it.” She kissed my cheek. Her lips were warm on my bare skin.

I brought the snowboard over to her and we leaned over to strap in together, not giving up. All of a sudden she let out this sort of uh-uhhsound, almost like a build-up to some giant sneeze. She was sliding down the mountain without one of her poles, and she hadn’t exactly mastered stopping at that point.

“Ryan!” she said. I unclipped my boot and stood up. I sprinted after her and snatched the pole off the ground. I caught up. I wrapped my arm around her waist, and I felt pretty great—like Brad Pitt great—until I tried stopping her. One of my feet landed on the back of her ski while my other stayed put on the summit, sending Leila and me to the ground, and turning me from Brad Pitt to an abusive linebacker, sacking my one-hundred-and-five-pound girlfriend. We hit the ground pretty hard.

“Are you all right?” I asked her before I even slid off the back of her legs. She was on her stomach, her small frame bobbing up and down against the snow. “Leila,” I said and rolled her over. She looked up at me, laughing.

“Thanks a lot, Ry.” She pushed the front of my shoulders.

And then I knew Tom was right. An afternoon like that had to be worth it.

That mountain wasn’t as cold as the sheets on our bed. That mountain wasn’t as cold as the parking lot outside the grocery store, alone.

I watched my breath steam to the roof of the car. I put the CD back in the slot, turned off the radio, and stared at the cool blue light of the digital clock on the dashboard.

8:52 p.m. The store locked its doors for the night in eight minutes. I shifted in the seat of the car, my thumb tapping the button of the seatbelt. I stared at the clock and waited for her call.

8:53 p.m. No one was inside the market besides the girl leaning against the counter. She waited for the okay from her boss to count her drawer and end the shift. She just wanted to leave and go home, to sleep, to dream of places to see. Or maybe she’d go out with friends to Saratoga for the night. Something fun. Something that she really wanted and could still do. I thought about the last time I had brought Leila to Saratoga. It was in October, before the winter choked the life out of the season.

We sat in the front of our favorite downtown coffee shop looking out the windows from stools we must’ve sat on a thousand times before. We looked at the same street with its same cars, their same tires rolling over the same white lines of the crosswalk. The streetlights beamed across Broadway to the same motel with its brightly lit lobby that shined the same white all year long. But then, from those windows, the lights looked dim—distant.

“Did he say why he’s leaving?” she said.

“No,” I whispered, as if Sue was behind me and Tom hadn’t told her yet. But she wasn’t and he had. He was already gone.

“How’s she taking it?” “Terribly,” I said. “How else?”

“Poor Sue.” Leila sipped from her coffee. “These kinds of things are always so tough.”

“What kinds of things?”

She raised her eyes and turned to me. Her knees touched the side of my legs.

“What? A break-up?” she said, as if that was all that it was.

Whenever I talked about Tom and Sue to my parents, they would interrupt me. “Are those two married yet?” they’d ask, and Leila and I would say, “No, not yet.”

I held up my forehead with my hand until I peeled my palm away. It was shining with sweat.

“Are you all right?” I didn’t look at her.

“You’re pale and your face looks like it’s sinking into your mouth.” “I’m fine.”

“No, really. You look—”

“I said I’m fine, Leila. Jesus Christ.”

She looked behind us to see if anyone was listening. “Do you want to leave?” she said.

“No. I’m sorry.” And I was then.

“Could Tom and Sue get their deposit back on the room?” she said.

It was Tom’s idea and we’d all fallen in love with—going to Québec to see the City Lights Festival.

“I don’t know. I only talked to him briefly.” “What else did he say?”

“I only talked to him briefly,” I said again.

“Something’s bothering you, Ryan. He must’ve said something.” “He said that it just hit him one morning.”

“Oh, stop. Is that what this is about?” “No, it’s nothing. I told you—”

“An aneurism will just hit you one morning. Jesus, Ryan, a stroke will just hit you one morning. These kinds of things don’t just happen.”

Leila doubted it, but I figured if it could happen to Tom, it could happen to anyone.

“We’re still going to Québec, right?”

“I don’t know,” I said. I looked away from her and down the street. “I feel weird about going on their trip if they aren’t.”

“That trip wasn’t just theirs, you know.” “Why don’t we play it by ear?” I said.

I took a sip from my cup and the coffee was cold. I wondered how long we’d been sitting there watching things go by.

In the silence of the car, my phone made a noise.

8:54 p.m. Low battery, and still no call. The man wheeled his cart with some food to the girl’s aisle. The guy was going to make her cash him out and I hated him for it. He was around my size—tall and a little too skinny. He couldn’t have gone earlier? I figured I would’ve gone earlier if I could have, and I would have been quick. Now though, I thought I might be even worse than him, just barely sneaking in the store in time. I made sure the ringer of the phone was on loud.

8:55 p.m. I watched her swipe the food through the blood-red light of the scanner. In between a carton of milk and a loaf of bread she looked up at the clock on the far wall. I checked my phone.

8:57 p.m. Nothing. He was helping her bag. He was really moving, too. Maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy, realizing how her shift was about to end. He saw that she needed to get out of there. He was practically throwing the bags in the cart. Some things he didn’t take the time to bag. Some things he actually threw. I pressed a button on the phone to light up the screen and check the messages.

8:58 p.m. Still no call, still no message. The cart was full again. The snow had stopped falling and the pavement of the parking lot was a thin white, the black of the ground still running through to the surface of the snow. He talked to her. She smiled as best as she could, but I knew it was fake. It had been fake for a while at that point. He still hadn’t paid. I checked the time.

8:59 p.m. No call. He was talking to her. He was going to keep her in that place for too long. I decided I wasn’t going to do that. I turned the keys in the ignition to start the car.

9:00 p.m. Leila didn’t call in time. I looked to the girl to watch her leave the register. The shift was over, but she was still stuck there. She looked scared. The man said something, shook his head, and reached into his jacket. Her arms were stiff at her sides—frozen. He grabbed one of the tan plastic bags.

She screamed as he jumped over the counter and pushed her to the side. Another employee saw and ran away. The man shoved all the money in the register down into the bag. It looked heavy swinging in his hand as he took off out of the store, the cart abandoned at the counter. I saw that she was crying. Holding her chest, crying.

The first heel that hit the pavement slid, but with flailing arms he re- gained his balance. There were only two cars left in the parking lot—mine and his. The button on my seatbelt clicked in the quiet of the parking lot, where everything seemed like it should be loud but nothing was. He sprinted for our cars and I knew he was going to run right by me. And I knew I wasn’t going to do a thing about it. I fingered the keys, still in the ignition.

The phone rang. I jumped in my seat, looked down at the screen and saw her name—too late. The store had closed and I was stuck in that parking lot. Over there at the register, she was crying, with no one to help her. The other employee was in the office, on the phone, calling the police or whoever fixes this sort of thing, although I was pretty sure it was too late to fix anything.

The man was getting closer in my mirror. His face was as dark as mine under the orange of the light pole. I heard his footsteps hit the ground, so clearly that they could have been my own. The lock to the door was loud as I clicked it with my thumb.

And he ran close. I didn’t know what was happening. I let go of the keys. His footsteps screaming, Leila calling, phone ringing, while the girl was crying inside and the car door was unlocked, the bottom of my feet suddenly pressed against it, my hand ready to open it, the heaviest door I’d ever felt, and he looked down in the window, mid-stride, just before I kicked it open and it crashed into his side.

The only noise was the buzzing of the parking lot light above us. I stepped out beyond the door and into the light. By following the route of his feet on the thin snow, I could see that he had fallen backward after hitting the curb. He slouched against the cement base of the light pole. I wasn’t really sure what I’d done or why I’d done it. But she was looking at me. She had stopped crying. My fists were clenched and my fingers were slick with sweat. He made a noise, and I took my eyes away from her. I walked over and saw the line of blood sprouting out of his forehead, outlining his chin and neck. My hand reached into his coat. It was a gun—or, it felt like a gun. I pulled it out and realized it was light. It rattled when I moved it. It was a BB gun. A toy. She had lost everything because of a toy.

He looked up at me holding his weapon. Then he looked at the bag, and I followed his eyes to the car door, and his eyes, dazed, gave me a look that asked how this had just happened to a guy like him, no different than me. I started laughing—first slowly, once or twice, and then into a hysterical, exhaling laugher.

After the sirens, lights and questions, I got out of there as fast as I could. I parked under the bright white lights at the pump of the gas station. I checked my phone. 10:21 p.m. Over an hour after I’d first called her, and

only one missed call. She had given up.

I dialed her number. Steam swirled from a snow bank beside the road. “Hello?” she said.


She said my name, and then I remembered what I’d forgotten. Her words were slow and sharp as she said, “Where are you?”

“I’m at the gas station. I called you earlier because I forgot what I needed from the store.”

“What did you say?”

“I was at the store. You won’t believe what happened.”

“What about the store?” she said. “Ryan, I have no clue what you’re saying.”

“No, listen.” I spoke slower. “I forgot what I needed from the store. It’s too late, but I can pick us up something else.”

“I don’t know what you’re saying, Ryan.” She sounded young, and then laughed like she used to.

“Never mind,” I said in English. “I’ll be back soon.”


Ess Gormley is from Ballston Spa, NY—a small Upstate New York town beside Saratoga Springs. He is editor in chief of SUNY Oswego’s Great Lake Review. Ess could see himself spending a lot of time with Sal Paradise, cruising around the States on the back of a pickup truck.

<< It Begins with Two

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Emmett Haq

It Begins with Two

It begins with two women. It seems as though it has always been two women. There is something to them, something of note. Is it their faces? Reinforced corrugated-steel heart-shaped faces both, bristling with elegant defenses, armed to the flashing white teeth, beautiful and cold and weathered, hardprettysensualsneeringlovelyvenomous. It is not their faces. Is it their names? Are they possessors of themed appellations, are they Lily and Petunia (of course not—toobotanical), are they Mercedes and Lexus (no, no, too adult-entertainment), are they Artemis and Athena (this is ridiculous, are we talking about two women or two plot points in Chick tracts from ancient Greece?), and in the end, they are only named May (born Mary to a pious parent and raised in a single-mother single-minded single-story household) and Trish (born in July of 1985 to H—and J— K—, names rescinded as American law requires; this woman is now in the United States Federal Witness Protection Program), and in the end, Mary and Patricia are the two most common female names of the last fucking century, so no, after one-hundred-and-eighty-odd words, we can conclude that it’s not their names.

The suspense must be lifted before the narrative can progress any further. Their notability derives from their line of work and nothing else. There. It’s out in the open and now we can deal with it as necessary. They are professional bandits, burglars, swashbucklers, crooks. They are stickup artists, kidnappers, killers, and a hundred other nouns in between. They are May and Trish, and they are walking up a star splashed side street in a generic Rust Belt city at 2:00 a.m.

May hocks an irradiated loogie onto the cracked blacktop. “I just don’t understand the appeal,” she rasps. They are moving at a fast clip. No time to experience, only to act.

“Of truck nuts?” Trish answers, glancing over at her companion, an arched eyebrow implicit in her tone. May has the emaciated-yet-somehow-still-suggesting-a-semblance-of-muscle-tone body of a former track captain and current amphetamine user. She is lanky, white, bottle-blonde. That is May. “I don’t think it’s necessarily a matter of appeal. There are only so many stupid fuckin’ things you can put on the bottom of your F-150, right?” Trish hoists her large brown knapsack farther up her back. She is curved, lush-haired, of indeterminate (to us, not to her) Latina origin. That is Trish.

“You don’t get it,” May says, narrowing her eyes at the reeling figure up ahead and to their right. “I don’t understand the market as a whole. I don’t understand those little family decals. I don’t get fuzzy dice. Diamond plates. Even bumper stickers are so weird to me. Who cares? It’s just a silly attempt at individuality”—the figure is revealed to be a man in a gray business suit, drunk, foolish, clutching a stop sign—“that doesn’t actually mean anything”—the man jeers, catcalls, propositions, casts wildly-inappropriate-but-not-altogether-inaccurate aspersions on the sexualities of the two women, all in a moment’s time—“from the eight-year-old city councilman sticker”—the women share a glance of mutual understanding—“to the ‘Co-exist’ one where you know the driver can’t even name all the movements the symbols represent”—the drunkard is lifted by his ashen lapels, protesting in slurred slurs, Trish rifling through his wallet while May sticks her sidearm in his flabbergasted face, waggling its suppressor under his chin as he gasps out obscenities—“right down to the fuckin’ Gandhi quotes about leaving the world blind and ripping out eyes”—and it is finished, and he crumples into a rapidly coalescing pool of crimson, and they pick up the pace a bit, for this was not the main attraction, only an unanticipated sideshow.

“I’d rather see an Idi Amin quote, or something by Kim Jong-Il, or a Reagan or Bush quote on one of those American-made fuckers,” May says to herself, or Trish, it doesn’t matter, rambling, on a jagged high and allowing her words to bounce out irrespective of forethought or coherence.

“It’d be something new, I guess,” Trish concedes, looking over her shoulder, a bit shaky but more talkative the faster they trot.

“More than that. Dictators and authoritarians speak better than almost anyone else on the planet. Take Bush Junior. Worst president we’ve ever had, but the guy knew his constituency.” May adopts an exaggerated hillbilly stutter: “‘Ev-everywhere that freedom stirs, heh, let tyrants fear.’ Now if that doesn’t put the fear of God and country in you, I don’t know what will.”

They are at the place.

Trish breathes deeply. They do not need masks. Either no one will see them, or no one will be able to identify them. One way or another. “I wonder what he even does now. I wonder if—”

“Who cares?” May cuts her off. “He ain’t boosting cars and wasting nobodies for their pocket change, is he? He knows where his next meal is coming from.” She kicks in the window, an impossibly high kick, and they are inside.

George Walker Bush, former President of the United States of America, former Honorable Governor of the State of Texas, onetime chairperson of the G8 Summit, onetime First Lieutenant, 147th Recon, former President of Delta Kappa Epsilon, doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. Paula, the housekeeper and cook, is gone for the night. Hunger gnaws. Multiple Budweisers require companionship. You know how it is. He has begun drinking again after twenty-seven long years of staid sobriety. He does not know why. He worries about Dad. Dad is, in plain Texan terms, old as shit and ready to die, but his eldest son is not ready to see it happen. He cracks another Bud.


George (for us he is not Mr. President, he is George, he is our friend and colleague whose Uncle Will still half-affectionately calls him Georgie the fuckup, the little Georgie that couldn’t, even now for Christ’s sake, even after two presidential terms and God alone knows how many fundraiser dinners) rises at length and moves pensively to the atrium of his secluded North Dallas residence, his home-away-from-ranch, to where his easel and paints are illuminated in the soft lighting, waiting to be picked up (please permit this mediocre personification for the sake of an unsullied glimpse into George’s thoughts). He hasn’t been painting lately. He did some pretty nice dogs and cats, and all the nerdy hacker people on the Internet who got ahold of those love them, or maybe not—it’s hard to tell sometimes—but they talk about them lots. But he’s been stymied by this wretched soldier. His humans are still a bit misshapen, still make their homes somewhere in the uncanny valley, but they’re mostly passable. But this soldier’s goddamn mouth, well, the smile is ghastly, looks like the poor fella was born downwind from an outhouse, as folks are wont to say around these here parts. But the smile is very important. He tried to explain this to Laura once, but she didn’t get it. Told him to try painting an eagle instead. Sometimes people don’t get things that George tries to explain. He is used to it.

George thinks about himself for some time. Jeb said history would be kind to him. History is one thing, but regular folk haven’t quite caught up to that yet. He gets his fair share of awestruck Tea Partiers and fawning Wal-Mart managers, not to mention the boys at the country club and the DKE meetings that still treat him with respect and camaraderie, but that all kind of pales in comparison to the rest of it. Venomous glances, mocking photographs, egg all over the brand new Silverado—and half the pavement be-sides—in the middle of the goddamn night. Pretty much anything you can imagine, short of actual physical violence, and even that is probably only out of fear of his Secret Service detail. The neoliberals and the commies on the Internet, too, are—he stops himself here. He remembers what Don Evans told him. They call him stupid because they can’t understand him. They call him a monster because they are ignorant. They call him unreasonable because they are lazy, intellectually and physically lazy. There is a whole table of if you think that then you are this and Cheney laid it out for him once, but George was thinking about parachuting into a canyon full of wild dogs who might be friendly and lick his face when he landed and help him stand up to the people who told him things as if he didn’t understand them and the parachute was, well…was it blue or was it rainbow colored? Maybe neither. It might have been sunburst yellow and the landing would teach him something important about himself and it would teach him something about God, the Almighty, the Unknowable, the Ineffable, a word he had learned from a science fiction book Laura had left lying around. It means unknowable but he likes ineffable because God isn’t Effable, he Effs you. He fucks you over again and again and suddenly you’re in your sixties and hundreds of thousands, or maybe even millions, yes definitely millions, of people think that you—

Enough. We do not need this much of a window into his thoughts, do we? That is basic storytelling. This is a former American President and we all know everything there is to know about him thanks to the cults of personality that form around presidents and heads of state. Suffice it to say that George gets up with force to show himself that he means business, and he heads upstairs to bed.


Trish limps all the way home. She has not been injured in the line of duty. She and May are rarely injured in that way. She has only twisted her ankle after vaulting herself in through the jagged window, stray shards of glass puncturing her thick gloves. She sloughs off her knapsack, its interior spangled with jewelry, small electronics, candlesticks, whatever else might be in a successful thief’s backpack after a night on the town. Use your imagination. It’s not important. She arranges herself awkwardly on the creaking metal frame bed. The house is empty, save for May in the other room, and it feels perhaps even emptier with the knowledge of her presence. It has been empty for what seems like a long time. She thinks about the people tonight.

The people were…they were afraid and pleading and she had—May had told her—May said to—and she—The one man kept asking for God to help him and May said she would give him a whole minute to see if God would help him and the man cried during her countdown and then May—and then Trish yelled soundlessly and ran into the bedroom to get the jewelry and vomited out the window in a haze of shrieking fluorescent heat. The money is there though and the money will help things. It will fix what Trish cannot and bring light to her dark and empty surroundings. Trish thinks that. There is a palpable disconnect between her thoughts and the reality of things, but of course you already knew that.

Trish fidgets for a few minutes but soon sinks into a dreamless and blanket-like sleep. She moves very little as her breathing slows and the noises from the next room recede.


George is also in bed. There is a strange ticking noise and he does not know whether it is in his head or coming from an external source in the house. He keeps a fifth of Evan Williams in the bedside table, next to a container of melatonin tablets and a small bottle of Ambien CR. He sleeps in a separate room from Laura now. They had a calm and smiling discussion about how it was the best thing for both of them because you know how you snore, George, and don’t you want your own space anyways, all this room in the house? And George saying okay, all right, that’s fine. He feels very little about this. He folds his hands and stares at the ceiling, letting the soothing tones of a nameless news anchor wash over him. His thoughts shuffle in orbital patterns and dark circles ring his eyes.


Trish is jarred awake by an unfamiliar voice, speaking in a very familiar tone. There are police at the door, and she is coldly aware of this in less time than it takes her to open her eyes. May is shouting. There is too much light and Trish is afraid, feeling as though herlong-dead mother has just caught her smoking menthols on the back porch.


George cocks his head like a terrier, his attention briefly snagged by the anchor’s use of the phrase “killing spree.” Onscreen, a group of mutely shouting men in dark blue body armor surround a tumbledown home that resembles nothing so much as Dorothy’s house from The Wizard of Oz, albeit the overall aesthetic is more Detroit than Kansas. The anchor is gravely intoning that the two targets of this raid are suspected of over a dozen instances of robbery and murder. “We here at the station hope only that the suspects can be taken in without any further violence,” she says. Her eyes betray her.


There is smoke in Trish’s eyes and in her mouth and in her brain. She hears the chattering of semiautomatic weaponry and the slower pow, pow of May’s sidearm, and she understands numbly that she is about to die. (She is not, of course, which you’d know if you were paying attention, but she is so thoroughly convinced of this that for days afterward she will awaken radiating heat from every extremity, certain she has finally emerged from a lingering coma into a netherworld of punishment and grief). Her eyes dart across the room and she lets out a low, awful moan. She is not cognizant of this.


George sighs, a dry, reedy sound, incongruous with the low hums of the settling house and the excited chatter of the news anchor. He thrusts the remote forward with one hand, presses the channel button without watching the screen, faster and faster until his thumb begins to tire, unconsciously groaning, mirroring Trish halfway across the country, mirroring all of us, searching unceasingly for some way out of this mess.


Emmett Haq is an MFA candidate and teaching assistant at Stony Brook Southampton. He’s studied under Ted Pelton and Susan Scarf Merrell and is an editor at Starcherone Books. His work has also appeared in SLAB Literary Magazine and Many Mountains Moving. He currently edits for local magazine Dan’s Papers while (supposedly) working on his thesis. If he were to befriend a fictional character, Yossarian would be pretty high on the list, though most of his friends had a shockingly low life expectancy.

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