Brrrrrrrrupt! Brrrrrrrrupt!” A muddled fanfare penetrated Allison Reed’s sleep. She rolled over, hoping she was dreaming. She was pleasantly hot under the heaped up blankets and vaguely aware that she wanted to keep sleeping. But a few moments later the sound repeated – “Brrrrrrrrupt! Brrrrrrrrupt!” – followed by a bellowed “God bless the Mummers!” in the street below and Allison was awake and knew that it was New Year’s Day.
“Of course I’ve been in the woods before.”
Lucia glanced around the visitor center to reassure herself that she looked just like everyone else there, then glared back across the counter at the skeptical park ranger. Until encountering him, she’d felt impervious in her new acquisitions: stiff hiking boots with heavy Vibram soles; cargo pants of a slippery, fast-drying fabric that made soft whispering noises as she walked; a rain jacket with a thin fleece lining. In preparation for her excursion, she’d also bought a 20-ounce sleeping bag that would bob atop an unwieldy pack, itself stuffed with a tiny tent – two-and-a-half pounds – a couple of changes of socks and underwear, and foil packets of freeze-dried dinners, their desiccated contents so devoid of texture and smell as to be guaranteed not to attract bears.
I took the subway to the party in Center City. I walked from the stop down a quiet street in the business district, where merchandise peeked out from behind thick steel gates. As I approached the address of the old brownstone, I heard the muffled sound of voices and the latest Nirvana album. I felt a wash of panic. I could be back home and under my blanket in twenty minutes; but my feet kept moving forward. I found the appropriate apartment number, rang the bell, and was buzzed in without question.
The party was a crowded gathering of hipsters. I scanned the room for familiar faces, feeling stupid. The few I recognized looked at me, then quickly turned away. Finally, I spotted Noelle.
Around the corner he come all panting and wobble-eyed with his little sticks kicking out to the sides, and he slipped because the grass was wet. One of his Velcro shoes flew off and knocked into the siding. He got himself together, picked up his shoe, and bounced inside the house. Willard. I told Angela he’s over-sugared.
The older one, Brian, come sprinting across the yard. “Will!” he’s hollering. “Will!” He dropped his old bat as he flew past me, and the screen door slapped shut, and then everything was quiet again.
He doesn’t know about her tattoos until they sleep together. After they finish, his eyes adjust enough to the darkness so that he can make out the black ink on her back and stomach. There are three: small, medium, large. The level of grayness and fading indicate that the smallest one was first and the largest one was last. He can’t see that much detail. She prepares homemade mushroom ravioli for dinner. A girl who matches her shoes and her purse, she doesn’t look like the kind who would have tattoos. He tries to decipher their meanings and authors: Maimonides, Cummings, Shakespeare.
On the screen, a pair of giant breasts rubbed against another pair of giant breasts, each the size of a patio table if you walked right up to them. And a person could have walked right up to them, too, without bothering practically anyone, since only one seat was filled down below. Frank watched the scene from the projection booth: the four breasts mixing it up together, and the man down in the seat, angling for just the right time to jerk off and leave. There, Frank said to himself, is a traditionalist. The man had left home and come all the way here for the show.
After he hit our last halfie onto the roof of Perlstein’s Glass, Frankie Wnek stepped over the broomstick we used for a bat and shimmied up a drainpipe to get it. Frankie was my age, fourteen. Since I was pitching and gave up the home run, I was supposed to go, but when he said don’t worry about it, I wasn’t going to argue. Who knew when that pipe was going to snap away from the wall? Who knew that two older kids named Chickenhead and Toot were already up there, just for the hell of it, waiting to take turns punching whoever came up, then grab his ankles and swing him back and forth over the ledge?
In all things, I blame the husband.
Women who sleep with teenage boys, women who shoplift collectibles, Yes. Their rotten husbands drove them to it.
And that is why, when the kidnapper cracks open our new skylight like an oyster and slithers in, I don’t blame the defective latch, the alarm system, or the thin bronze shell of the new tin roof. The dotted line of fault doesn’t lead to my architect or contractor or engineer.
And oddly, lastly, I do not blame my intruder. And that explains everything that follows, doesn’t it?
In a previous life, my husband was an alley cat in Rome who lived in the Colosseum and whose purrs originated in his scrotum. Now he finds love in the belly of compost heaps and in the folds of Burpee Seed envelopes—fixed and declawed as he is. These thoughts are typical of the private games I play each morning before I visit Karen’s grave. The content of my mental life is the Swiss-army knife of daily cemetery goers: it snips, scrapes, uncorks, screws, and whittles its way to consecrated ground.
Dad just came home
from Boston like he does when he can. He drove up to the house
in his rental Mustang and beeped his horn, and then he clunked