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Adreyo Sen

The Boy Who Loved to Dance

I was five when my mother signed me up for lessons at the Maharashtra Lawn Tennis Association.

But I was scared of my coach, who was critical of my sissy handling of the racket.

One day, I was in tears and his fellow instructor bought me a bottle of Pepsi.

My mother drove me home in silence. When we were in the living room, she began to beat me with my tennis racket.

“We paid so much for these lessons and this is how you repay me?” she yelled as I sobbed.

Later, my maidservant held me and made me a cup of tea when I was finally cried out. She let me play with her brightly-colored bangles.

When I was eight, I scored above 90% on my final exams.

My mother took me to buy a book.

When we got home, she took the book from me.

“I feel you didn’t put in your best effort,” she said. “What do you think?”

I went to the bathroom to cry and she stood behind me.

“I have no sympathy for you,” she said, “crying over spilt milk. Dry your eyes and come and do your lessons.”

I often cried those days. When I was five, I was brave and bold and bright. But by the time I was eight, I was scared of everything.

My father was unable to protect me from my mother’s slaps. He was a quiet man.

But he often took me out for a drive and something stirred in me as I saw maidservants returning home from shopping, clad in yellow or red or pink tunics.

I told myself I was attracted to them. But I knew I, too, wanted to be a bright bosom, to be crushed in some man’s strong arms.

I began crossdressing that year.

My father was often on tour for his engineering firm and my mother would join him.

While they were away, I would sleep by my maidservant’s side.

She would let me wear her blouse and petticoat and sing to me until I fell asleep.

This took me a while because I loved the feeling of her soft, worn garments against my skin.

Sometimes, in the morning, before I went to school, still in her blouse and petticoat, I would don her bangles and her silver anklets and dance for her in the style of the heroines of the old Bollywood movies we watched together. She was loud in her appreciation and would kiss me when I finished.

My maidservant and I were allies. My mother was angry with her all the time because she used to invite her lover, a security guard, into the house while the rest of us slept. I was only four when my mother caught her letting him in.

Even now, I like to imagine my maidservant’s slenderness in the ardent embrace of her lover, melting into the rough body that smelt of tobacco and sweat and oil.

When I was twelve, I was sent away to boarding school. My mother worried about my dreamy and soft ways and the tendency of my early friends to dismiss me as a hijra.

My friends were really teasing me for my clumsiness, for my inability to catch the ball during our interminable cricket games. They despised me and thus threw the word at me to criticize my useless girlishness. After all, to be a girl in India is to be a burden and the sum total of the dowry with which one is transferred into another family.

But the word hijra really referred to India’s transvestite community, a group of men who eked out a living by begging and by dancing in sarees and salwar suits at weddings and other occasions. Even then, I felt these “degenerate” men were women because they saw themselves thus.

I confided to my maidservant, who cooked me all my favorite dishes before my departure, that I longed to be a hijra myself, to break free, as these once-men had, from the constraints of their unsympathetic families, and lose myself, in dance and song.

At boarding school, I was a failure. I could not play sports. In class, I dreamt of being transformed into a woman by some act of courage and winning the adoration of a tall and muscular man. When my seniors scolded me, I dreamt of kissing their rugged faces.

I was often beaten up for my untidiness, for my poor marks and horrible sports performance, for my tendency to dream, for my effeminate ways.

When I was eighteen and just finished with boarding school, my mother threw my maidservant out. She said that she was too inefficient and lazy.

I cried for days until my mother slapped me.

I slapped her back and for the first time in my life, yelled back at her.

But my father took her side and threatened to put me in a mental hospital if I didn’t calm down.

I went to the only engineering college I could get into with my poor marks. I felt guilty about my behavior with my mother and I studied hard.

I was lonely, but my effort paid off, and I made it into a reasonably good engineering firm after my graduation.

The three years that followed were hard.

At home, my parents and I rarely spoke. I was still a coward, but I made it clear I would no longer tolerate my mother’s constant criticism. To taunt me, she complained about my ingratitude to the neighbors when I was within earshot.

At work, I was taunted for my quietness, my excessive neatness, for the way my eyes would fill up with tears whenever I was criticized.

When I was twenty-four, I’d had enough. I locked myself in the bathroom and slit my wrists.

At the hospital, my parents didn’t visit me. I was placed in a psychiatric ward and among the other unhappy souls who’d found their way there; I made many friends. They saw me as a woman because that’s how I saw myself and one of them told me I was so beautiful he’d like to take me out on a date.

My mother took me home when I was discharged and mocked me in front of our neighbors. But her words had ceased to have an effect on me and I laughed at the ridiculous woman.

The next morning, I left my house for the last time and went to a shopping mall. I bought myself a salwar kameez and changed into it.

People stared and called after me as I walked down the street. But I didn’t care.

I felt beautiful. I felt finally myself.

At the intersection near Victoria Memorial, I found the two hijras who normally begged on that route.

I knelt before one of them, a tall and wise woman, who must have been kind and beautiful even when she was an unhappy man.

“Guide me,” I begged. “Teach me to be beautiful.”

She kissed me and I felt myself blessed.

I won’t say that the last year has been easy. My parents still live in the same city as I do and often try to drag me home, or to have me committed.

One day, I was in a train on the way to a shrine beloved to the hijra community in a new floral salwar kameez when some of the passengers took offense at my presence.

A man caught hold of me and took me to the carriage door.

He was about to throw me out when the ticket collector saved me. He sat me down next to him and put his arm around me. He told me how he, too, had always felt trapped by his own body. That was why he took so little care of it.

I think he did see me as a woman. Bless him, dear man.

The police frequently raid the house in which ten other hijras and I live. If we don’t have enough money to give them, they beat us with their canes.

Once upon a time, all of this would have made me miserable. But even if there are hard days, I am always myself. And thus, I know happiness.

My maidservant, now married, has been to see me and has gifted me with some new salwar kameezes, as well as those bangles and anklets I always loved.

I wear her bangles and anklets and sing and dance to earn money.

I was always creative, but my parents saw my creativity as another example of my sissyness.

In the evenings, I tell my sisters, I mean my fellow hijras, the stories I used to tell my maidservant. Sometimes, the children from the neighborhood join us. And sometimes, their mothers and their aunts join us too.

When I was a terrified and captive boy, I was scared of the world. But now I have been set free by my flowing sarees and lovely salwar suits and know there is much to love everywhere.

I carry my anklets and bangles wherever I go, so I can dance to the beauty of the world.

Atelophobia >>

Adreyo Sen is pursuing his MFA at Stony Brook, Southampton. His thesis is a novel incorporating elements of fantasy and magic realism.

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Taylor Lea Hicks

Neon Tiger

On Monday, March 26, a new animal arrived at the St. Louis Zoo. Zookeeper Larry Post was at the receiving dock, ready to unload the feline. He went about his task clumsily, this being his first introduction. The cage was lowered off the truck and onto the menagerie floor. He supervised the vet testing for any signs of stress or disease. Larry checked the items off his list in between taking frantic phone calls from his pregnant wife. He couldn’t afford to lose this job, she reminded him. They couldn’t afford any more failures.

Under his observation, Luna was securely howdied into her holding habitat, a technique that allows animals to slowly become acquainted with their new environment. His job now done, Larry went about his daily tasks hastily. The general curator of the zoo was coming at the end of the week to inspect the big cats and Larry was up for his first review. Between this and his wife’s impending due date, Larry was burning the candle at both ends.

The next day, Tuesday, March 27, Larry had duty at the lion enclosure.

“How’s he holding up?” Larry asked Brad, another zookeeper. They stood outside the habitat watching the male, Sebastian. His white fur was dull and dusty, his frame precariously thin.

“No better. The lionesses just don’t like him. They won’t even let him eat with them. When he eats, that is.” Brad sighed. “I’m afraid we may lose him soon.”

Larry shook his head. Brad patted him on the back and left Larry standing alone, only a plate of glass between him and the miserable lion.

That afternoon Larry had Sebastian moved into the exhibit adjacent to Luna’s.

On Friday, March 30, Ted Sanders, the general curator, arrived at the St. Louis Zoo. He went about the exhibits as he always did, reviewing and marking on his imposing check board. By the time he reached the holding area, Larry was practically dizzy with anxiety. Ted Sanders wasn’t known for leniency, and Larry couldn’t lose any more jobs.

“Afternoon.” Mr. Sanders nodded to him.

“Hello, Mr. Sanders! It’s good to see you, sir.” Larry clumsily shook his hand.

“Sure.” Mr. Sanders wiped Larry’s sweat off on his pant leg. “Let’s see the new cat then.”

“Right this way, sir.” Larry led the way through the zookeeper’s entrance into the back of the observatory glass, stopping to watch the two masses of white fur as they slept beside each other. “Cute, ain’t they?”

“Larry, what is this?”

“The new cat, sir. She seems to be adjusting nicely.”

“What is she doing with him?”

“Um…sleeping, sir. I thought–”

“We don’t cage a white Bengal tiger with a white lion! They go with their own damn species!” Mr. Sanders spat all over his check board. “Don’t you realize how this will make me look?”

“But…but sir! I just thought it would help Sebastian! He’s been so sick and lonely lately. And I introduced them properly, just like regulations say! They took to each other so fast.”

“I don’t care, Larry. I really don’t.”

Larry Post was fired on Friday, March 30, but by then it was too late. Luna and Sebastian were removed from the holding habitat and introduced into exhibits with their own species. Fifteen weeks later, Ted Sanders was called back to the St. Louis Zoo due to a rather unusual circumstance.

On Friday, July 13, Ted Sanders arrived at the St. Louis Zoo, his inbox full of frantic voicemails from the keepers and vets begging him to, “Get down here pronto!” and “Come ASAP!” He clicked the DELETE ALL button on his voicemail and entered the mammal veterinary clinic. Immediately he was bombarded.

“Mr. Sanders! Thank God you’re here.” Vicky Anderson, the mammal curator, rushed up to him. “We don’t know what’s going on. Well, we think we do. It’s just so strange…”

“You’ve got to take a look, Mr. Sanders. It’s the darndest thing!” Brad, the head zookeeper, waved him over.

The vet, Dr. Garner, also called to him. “Mr. Sanders—”

“ALL RIGHT!” He threw up his hands. “Just show me.”

Ted Sanders was led into one of the birthing rooms, where lying on the concrete floor was Luna, the white Bengal tiger. She was panting and her eyes were closed, but otherwise nothing appeared wrong.

“What’s she doing?”

Vicky replied, “Well, that’s the thing. She’s going into labor. But she hasn’t mated with any of the male tigers.”

“Are you sure?”

“We keep very close tabs on all of the mating procedures. We like to be prepared for something like this,” Dr. Garner answered.

“Well then, it must have happened while you weren’t watching,” Ted snapped.

“But that’s impossible,” Vicky replied. “We’ve got cameras on them 24/7. Unless—”

Larry,” Ted finished for her.

“But she hasn’t shown any signs of pregnancy until today, didn’t even gain a pound,” Brad countered. “This can’t happen.”

“Well, it is happening,” Ted grunted. “And I’m not going to be the one going down for it.”

The group turned to Luna, who at that time was struggling to move to the corner, growling at Brad and Dr. Garner when they tried to approach her. They were forced to back away into the observation room, peeking around the corner to watch her. Soon she became so fierce that even that became dangerous. Dr. Garner was beginning to worry about the health of the cubs when abruptly they heard a squeal. Vicky glanced around the door, gasped, and dashed into the room, the others close behind her.

Luna lay dead on the floor. A single, tiny cub lay beside her body. As big as an adult human’s palm, the cub lay curled in a ball, eyes closed. Its fur sparkled in the fluorescent light, shining radiantly in so many different colors that there was only one name for what it was.

“Why, it’s neon,” Vicky said. “A neon tiger.”

“Where did it come from?” asked Brad.

“From Luna and Sebastian,” Dr. Garner replied. “It must be their cub.”

“How in the world…?” Brad trailed off.

“I thought it was supposed to be a liger.” Ted crossed his arms. “Maybe it’s another kind of hybrid.”

“That’s no hybrid.” Vicky smiled. “It’s a miracle.”

“Well, that miracle better not get me fired.” Ted ground his teeth. “Or I’ll have all your asses.”

Ted Sanders was not fired. He met with the Board first thing on Monday morning, explaining how he had kept Luna’s pregnancy quiet because of the delicate nature of the birth. The Board not only pardoned Ted but congratulated him on an idea that could bring much needed revenue to the suffering zoo. He was a visionary, they said. He couldn’t help but agree with them.

The neon tiger was given its own exhibit and raised under the strictest security as the prize of the St. Louis Zoo. Feline specialists and experts came from all over the world to see it, not to mention celebrities, and anyone else who could afford it. The neon tiger shone a different color for everyone who saw it, which gave rise to a debate about what the tiger’s colors meant about the viewers. The zookeepers who cared for the tiger (they had taken to calling him Neo) secretly thought this was a joke he liked to play on his audience, since he typically appeared in all colors for them. Neon, they called it. He was neon.

Larry Post’s wife officially signed the divorce papers on Wednesday, August 15, exactly four months after their child was born. Larry didn’t blame her, really. He had lost exactly twelve jobs in their ten-year marriage, all due to stupid mistakes. Nothing ever went right for Larry, so he didn’t really expect things to this time. No, Larry was happy for his wife to finally have the chance to find someone better than him. He told her so that morning, as the lawyers went over last details and custody schedules. He could see his daughter every day if he wanted to, as long as he kept a job and didn’t impede on his now ex-wife’s privacy. That was okay with Larry. He felt he could do at least that.

About four months later, on Sunday, January 13, Ted Sanders was interviewed once again in front of Neo’s exhibit about the strange circumstances of his birth.

“So, Mr. Sanders, tell us again how Neo came to be.” The reporter shoved his microphone in Ted’s face.

Ted grabbed it out of the reporter’s hands and straightened his tie, smiling at the camera. “Well, it’s a fascinating story, really.” Ted stepped closer to the camera, pushing the reporter out of frame. “We always strive for excellence and innovation here at the St. Louis Zoo, and those were the ideals behind my experiment to breed a white Bengal tiger and white lion hybrid. It’s never been attempted in the U.S. before, so there was a slim chance of success, but I’m a risk-taker. This time it paid off.”

The reporter managed to take the microphone back. “Well, you could certainly say that. What a bit of luck! I’m here at the St. Louis Zoo with curator Ted Sanders, the genius behind Neo the neon tiger cub. Back to you, Mandy.”

Later that night at a banquet in his honor, Ted Sanders was given an award by the Board of Directors. He received a plaque and a generous bonus check, which he put towards a sleek new sports car.

On Wednesday, January 16, Larry mopped the hallway at the local high school begrudgingly; a child’s vomit puddled in front of the bathroom door. The final bell had rung a few minutes earlier and most of the students had already fled.

A cough snapped him out of the daze. Ted Sanders stood a few feet away, phone in hand, with a frustrated expression on his face.

Larry cleared his throat. “Hello there, Mr. Sanders.” Larry nodded to him.

“Huh? Oh, hi. Have you seen my daughter around? She’s making me late for an important meeting.”

“I don’t believe I’ve ever met your daughter, Mr. Sanders.” Larry leaned on the mop. “Didn’t exactly know you had one.”

“Yeah, well, my wife really wanted kids.” Ted looked at Larry for the first time since Larry greeted him. “Do I know you?”

Larry awkwardly looked at the floor. “I’m Larry Post, sir. From the zoo. You fired me a few months ago.”

“Oh. Right. Larry.” Ted checked his phone impatiently.

“So, how are the cats doing, Mr. Sanders? Sebastian? Did he ever get a mate?”

Ted glanced up. “What? Oh, yes.” He dialed a number and held the phone to his ear.

“So, he’s better? Eating and all that?”

Ted hung up and scoffed. “I don’t know, Larry, I’m a busy man. Now, I need to find my daughter or I’m going to be late.” He stomped off down the hall. Larry watched him go, a dismayed look upon his face. He finished mopping the floor with minimal skill and clocked out, returning to his one room apartment and a refrigerator full of TV dinners.

That Friday, January 18, Larry Post revisited the St. Louis Zoo for the first time since his termination, to visit the neon tiger. He’d heard the stories and wanted to know what color the tiger would show him. He waited until almost closing time, when the exhibit was clear and the street lamps illuminated the tiger to him. He walked up to the fence overlooking the enclosure and peered around, searching for the famous feline.

Craning his neck and leaning over the railing, he spotted the beautiful creature. It yawned at him from inside its enclosure.

“Hey, don’t do that.” A voice from behind made him jump, almost falling into the habitat. He turned, leaning on the fence.

“Oh, Mr. Sanders! You scared me.”

“Do I know you?”

“I’m Larry, sir. Larry Post.”

“Right. You looking for Neo?”

“The tiger? Yeah.”

“What color he show ya?”

“I think it’s a bright orange.” Larry turned back around to continue gawking. “I don’t suppose you know what that means?”

Ted shrugged, inspecting his nails.

“Is it true, what they say? Is he really neon?”

“He’s whatever color he wants to be. But I suppose he is neon sometimes.”

Larry whistled. “I wish he would let me see him like you do. A sight like that would make life worth livin’.”

“Guess so.”

“My life’s not been so great lately, so something like that—it’d really be a treat.”


“My wife left me after I got fired, you know. Couldn’t find another job zookeeping. She got the baby and everything. A girl. Chloe. I eventually found work as a janitor down at the high school. Been doing that ever since.”

“Glad you found something.”

“Yeah, I found something. You know, what ever happened to those two cats I put together, Luna and Sebastian?”

“Well, Luna died. Sebastian’s not doing much better.”

“That’s a shame. I should have kept up with them more when I left. I just had a lot on my mind.” Larry shook his head guiltily. “I guess you were right in firing me. I thought I was doing a good thing, but I suppose I just didn’t have it in me.” He turned around and gave one last longing look at the tiger, then turned back to Ted. “Well, congrats on this guy. At least your ideas seem to work out for you. See you later, Mr. Sanders.” He walked past Ted, who, with a smirk on his face, continued to survey the exhibit.

“Yeah, see you.”

The neon tiger growled inside its exhibit. Its sly eyes watched Ted Sanders as his gaze flitted across the habitat, searching for the tiger that was always black to him, blending in with the falling shadows. Larry Post paused on his way out of the zoo to pick up a penny laid heads-up on the ground.

Taylor Lea Hicks has a B.A. in creative writing from the University of Central Arkansas and is currently in the M.F.A. program at Stony Brook Southampton. Her scripts have won awards from the Arkansas College Media Association and her play “Whiskers” was produced by the UCA Youth Theatre in 2012. Her work has been published in Arkansas Anthology, Vortex Magazine, and Cattywampus Magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @taylorleahicks or email her at taylorleah8@gmail.com.

The Contract  >>

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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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