Sunday, February 25, 2007


"In the war," my grandfather says, "we'd of made men out of two pissants like you."

"What war?" asks Erik.

"Oh, some war or other. I think I was a sergeant, but don't hold me to that, and I drove one of those jeeps, like on M*A*S*H, and it was pretty fucking boring. I gambled a lot, had relations with the nurses. Drank soda pop."

My step-mother is preparing dinner in the kitchen. Aaron is somewhere. I'm sitting next to Erik on the couch, across from my grandfather who is sprawled in his easy-chair.

"Did you kill people?" I ask.

"Oh, I killed lots of things. I think I killed a water-buffalo."


"It's like this. Everything that's alive dies and so it's no big deal to kill a thing because it's natural. People don't kill things directly so they think killing is evil, but I think every person should kill something, it should start in elementary school. If I were President, I'd mandate that each kindergartener slaughter a live chicken on the first fucking day of school, and then every year thereafter, on the first day of school, the American student would slaughter a larger animal. Rabbits, cats, mountain goats, all the way up to senior year and a healthy goddamn bovine. This would take some planning and maybe you just have one fucking cow per home-room. I don't know, but America would be a better place if there was more killing and a more comprehensive understanding of death's place in life and society."

Aaron steps into the family-room. "I have to go," he says.

"Where, why?"

"I have a meeting downtown. I'll pick you up later."

"Can I come?" Erik says.


"What's your cell-phone number?" I ask. "What if I need to call you? I can't call you if I don't have your cell. Tell me your number. Please tell me."

"Here." Aaron hands me his business card.

In the corner of the card there is a line-drawing. The line-drawing seems very mysterious and abstract and I can't imagine what form it's supposed to represent, and I want the form to be a living thing like a beetle or a kitten or an antelope, but it's none of these. "What's this for?" I say, pointing at the drawing. I trace the drawing with my pinky and I watch my pinky move with the lines and my pinky moves in a jerky fashion.

"That's a W. That's my company's symbol, for my last name, Westphal." Aaron looks at Erik. "Are you ready?"


"Good, then."
I follow Aaron and Erik to the front-door and open the front-door and watch Aaron and Erik move steadily along the walkway to Aaron's Lexus. It is evening. The sky is clear. There is snow on the grass but the snow on the road has melted and everywhere there is dirt and dirty slush, and the houses in the neighborhood have many lights and the lights are many colors and the many-colored lights are bright and blinking and moving and the night is a cold, empty cavity with only colored lights and a thin, tragic wind.

"How are you, really?" my grandfather asks. His hand is on my shoulder.

"I'm a cavity."


"Happy fucking birthday to me."

"Oh, to be young," my grandfather says. "I was young and then I was old. No big difference. Everything basically the same, except my knees, which hurt all the time. I think more now. No, that's wrong. Now, I watch more television. I like the news. Watch the news every day, five times a day. The world's going to end sometime and I'll figure it out first."

I follow my grandfather into the family-room. We sit on the sofa.

"Do you know about the apocalypse?" my grandfather asks.

"Not really."

"It's all bullshit, but it's comforting bullshit." My grandfather groans and adjusts his legs with his hands. "I like to imagine a nuclear holocaust because a nuclear holocaust is probably the best kind of apocalypse. Nuclear holocausts have the most drama. There is the initial explosion, you know, mushroom cloud, extreme heat, gaudy casualty numbers. Then round two, radiation sickness. The news-media panicking over wind direction, government response, etc… People die trying to escape cities, which would seem, then, to be nuclear death-traps. The inevitable retaliation, with the same two rounds of death and panic in other countries. Radiation burns. Radiation sickness. More bombs, more dead, more radiation, more panic. Praying and stuff. People become religious. Mass graves. Bodies burned. A very melodramatic end, I think."

"That doesn't sound very comforting."

"Well." My grandfather watches television for a while. "I think it's comforting to know that most things have an end, small scale, lives etc…, and also large scale, world, universe. It's good to know that things end. If things go on perpetually, it's impossible to imagine and makes people anxious and fearful. If a television show never ended it would be creepy, scary, people wouldn't know what to do. Maybe destroy televisions, maybe urban rioting. So to with the world, I think."

"That's kind of sad."


My step-mother calls from the kitchen. Dinner's ready. Roast beef, mashed-potatoes.

"What about time?" I ask.

"That's exactly it," my grandfather says.

We are walking to the kitchen.

"It's nice to know that even time has an end."

We sit at the kitchen-table, forming an equilateral triangle, I think, and my step-mother has arranged the plates and cutlery into their proper places. Steam rises from the sliced meat and the sliced meat glistens a little in the light and reflects the light and the kitchen feels like a slick and slimy place. "What do you think about the apocalypse?" I say to my step-mother.

"Your sister is here," she answers. "She's cleaning up, just arrived."


"I called her and told her to come. It's your birthday after all."

My grandfather chuckles quietly. "It's not the end of the world," he says. "Watch out for that beef though. It's irradiated beef.


"Got it at a discount from this guy in a white van. He was driving through the neighborhood with this truckload of beef, one of these cut-rate, 'somebody ordered it but they died' deals. Round steaks, T-bones, chuck steak, cube steak, flank steak, filet mignon, sirloin steak, ground beef, rib-eye steak, spare-ribs, everything. I asked him why it's so cheap and he says, 'radiation poisoning' and I say, 'I'm old anyway' so I bought it all for fifty bucks. Probably a whole cow in the freezer."

"Oh stop it," my step-mother says. She looks toward the hallway. "Here she is," she says.

My sister steps into the room and she is Merna. Merna's holding her hands in front of her stomach and her hair is like my hair but short and her eyes are like my eyes but large and round and her jeans are very tight and stylish and Merna's mouth is smiling a wide smile and I can see her teeth which are large and white and even. She moves in a slow-shuffling way and she sits between my step-mother and me. I move away a little and we are a trapezoid-family.

"Trapezoid," I say.

"What?" my sister says.

"Nothing bitch."

"Don't," Merna says.

"It's the same," I say.

There is meat between my sister and me.

"Everything is probably the same," Merna says.

"Come upstairs with me," Merna says.

We're sitting at the kitchen-table. Dinner is finished and the plates are streaked with dirt and grease and there is a smell like eaten or digested food.


"Come up on the roof with me. We'll sit on the roof. It's beautiful there."

"It's cold."

"You're my little sister, right?"

"I guess." My mouth and Merna's mouth are the same mouth and my hair and Merna's hair are the same hair. When we were very young, I was Merna's miniature copy. A model: Merna at age five, then seven, then nine.

"Isn't it natural then, that you'd do something for me if I asked? It's okay though, if you don't want to."

"I know." I look at Merna's mouth and Merna's mouth moves and there is saliva, teeth, other things. I turn my body away from Merna. The air feels dense and long, somehow, and I think birthday thoughts. My grandfather is napping on the sofa. My step-mother is throwing dishes one by one into the trash compacter and laughing quietly alone.

"You're still pretty," Merna says. "Sometimes I imagine that you're doing very pretty very smart things, studying to be a marine biologist, a physicist or something, sculpting important 'politically-charged' sculptures, collage-sculpting, from toy and food fragments. You create a new art movement called collage-sculpting, the cover of Time Magazine, art shows, minor critical success, some kind of website."

"That's detailed," I say.

"Come on the roof so we can look at the constellations."

"I'm really really sorry," I say. "I should've been more diligent. I should've called sometime. I thought about calling you but didn't call and usually watched television or something else instead."

"Don't worry about that." Merna stands and walks toward the stairs. "Come on," she says over her shoulder. "I'm going out on the roof."

I follow Merna up the stairs and out her bedroom window. The roof is slippery and cold but we lay a thick fleece blanket over the snow. The sky is clear and black and distant, and the stars are cold and strange. I try to find the constellations and I think, 'How can you tell a constellation from anything else?' I arrange the stars in different combinations. "What do you think about apocalypses?" I say to Merna. "Grandpa thinks apocalypses are comforting."

"I don't know," Merna says. Merna touches my hair. "I think it's beautiful for an apocalypse to happen, probably proof of god."

I think about the apocalypse, nuclear holocaust, general havoc and destruction, and I feel all at once like my grandfather is correct. 'It is comforting to know that things end,' I think. "But what about human suffering?" I ask. "Or at least physical pain?" I think about massive physical pain in each dying human during a worldwide apocalypse and try to quantify it, but it's not quantifiable, and instead I imagine slaughtering a small white kitten, a dozen white kittens, carefully cutting small kitten-pieces and placing the kitten-pieces in a large silver bowl, a billion kitten-pieces from a million kittens, and I think, 'Worldwide human suffering must be like that, incremental and ongoing.'

"I don't know," Merna says. "If I was god I'd arrange a beautiful apocalypse with rivers of blood and fire, evenly spaced explosions, and from a great height, I'd arrange the human corpses into complicated patterns, chaotic and touching patterns, familial, and every dead body would touch another dead body, and it would cover everything up and then it would snow for a while, I think."

"Snow," I say.

We don't talk for a while after that.

When I was five years old, on Saturdays, Merna and I played the apocalypse-game. We searched the house for every doll and stuffed-bear, every toy animal, dolphins, smurfs, my little cabbage-patch girl, and scattered them, each one touching another one, radiating around a central point as though a bomb had tossed their toy-bodies randomly but with purpose and we sat carefully between the bodies and lamented the toy-bodies and made sad faces and little boring fake tears.

"It's sad," Merna said.

"It's sad but it's just stuff that happens," I said. "The animals die and I saw it before on TV and I heard about it at school." I searched for more stuffed-animals to arrange in the blast zone. I threw pillows among them like concrete shrapnel and used old toys and I toppled tables and nightstands and my little plastic lamp. We pretended we were paramedics and tried and failed to resuscitate. I applied chest compressions to the smurfs. Merna pronounced time of death, then helped me gather and remove the bodies from the bomb-site. Merna said a little sermon in my bedroom. I sat in the audience and then I was the grave-digger. I buried the dead beneath red and gray fleece-blankets.

"Do you ever want to eat yourself?" I ask.

"What do you mean?"

"I don't know exactly. Sometimes I'm hungry, but not hungry and I think it I should slowly eat myself and disappear inside myself and I think about starting with my abdomen. Making a little cavity with a kitchen-knife or a potato-peeler or a melon-baller and baking my little abdomen balls in garlic or something, or maybe a soup, a nice me soup with parsley."

"No, I've never thought that."

"Yeah?" I hold my cell-phone and open my cell-phone and scroll through my cell-phone address-book. I text-message Erik. I type, 'Apocalypse death warrant.'

"What are you doing?" my sister asks.

"Nothing." I text-message Aaron. I type, 'I eat myself, self, I'm all teeth and stuff.' I say, "Just texting Aaron and Erik, my boring little lovers." I want Aaron and Erik to text me back and to come and pick me up and to drive around for a while and then kill me and roast me in a barrel-fire and serve my roast-body to lonely homeless men. But Aaron and Erik don't text me back and I put my cell-phone slowly away. Snow falls in a loose and dangly way and there is space between each snowflake and I avoid the snowflakes near my face. I think, 'I could remain untouched by snow, if I wanted.'

"Do you remember that little dog, Ana, from the neighbors?"

"No." But I do remember her and I can see her little black eyes in her little narrow face and her thin brown shoulders and her black spiked collar with its jingling name-tag.

"We used to take her for walks to the park and fetch and stuff in the street."


"Little Ana died,' my sister says. "I hit her with my car."


"On the way here," Merna says. "She's in my trunk right now."

My cell-phone plays a little song.

"I'm sorry," I say. I answer my cell-phone.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

My eventual bloodless coup

is at Bear Parade. It is a collection of stories and you should read it.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


"You're not even a real person," I said to my father. We were on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco. It was summer vacation. "You're like an android or something. Designed by the government to make me think I'm a real person. We're in a lab probably. We're an experiment and I'm the variable and you're the control. You like being the control but I don't like being the variable and the variable could do anything so the control should be careful." I stepped into a cell and closed the iron gate. I pulled my face against the cold bars. "Take a picture of me in the cell," I said, "if you can handle it, not being real and all?"

"Sshhh," my father said. "I'm listening to the audio-tour. He adjusted his headphones.

"I am the audio-tour."

My father didn't respond.

"Help," I said. "Somebody help me."

"Sshhh," my father said. "You're bothering people."

"I am not."

I stepped out of the cell and moved along the row of cells dragging my fingers lightly along the bars. My father was far behind me, one hand on his headphones, his face very concentrated and smooth with round hard eyes and a bright sharp nose. My father was a short man with short legs and short arms and narrow, stooped shoulders and a wide, oversized head. I thought, 'There is nothing real in the real world,' as I touched an iron bar. I said aloud, "Taxidermy." I don't know why I said "taxidermy" but I said "taxidermy" and a man who had been inspecting a nearby wall moved quickly away, glancing wildly in my direction as he walked, and nearly tripped over a crawling toddler. I followed the man outside where the sun was a large red ball hung loosely in the sky from little thin clouds. The man stopped near a low fence on the edge of the hill overlooking San Francisco and the narrow bay. I moved near the man. "Taxidermy," I said.

"Don't say that." The man turned toward me.

"Why not?"

"I'm a taxidermist and it's terrible and hollow and fake."

"So what?" I hung my audio-tour headphones on the fence.

"I stuff pet cats and kittens and dogs and people put them on their walls and bookshelves and mantles and they look at their dead pets and cry. It's really terrible."

"You should stuff people," I said.


"You should kill people and stuff people and put people in life-like poses in their own homes. Like a serial killer. You could murder whole families and stuff whole families and arrange them carefully in their homes in boring family situations, like playing monopoly or eating a home-cooked meal or arguing about what TV show to watch. You could be famous. You could be the taxi-killer."

"Why would I want that?"

"Why does anyone want anything?"

I picked up a rock and held the rock high and with my arm carefully aimed and threw the rock at my audio-tour headphones and smashed my audio-tour headphones into little headphone pieces.

"Why'd you do that?"

"You ask too many questions and are boring," I said. "I should smash you with a rock. I thought taxidermists were interesting people, but you're really boring."

The taxidermist turned away from me and moved along the fence with little shuffling steps. I followed closely.

"I'll follow you somewhere and tell people you're a serial killer."

"Stop it."

"You're a terrible serial killer and you kill people with kitchen knives and carefully skin your victim's bodies and you take the victim-skin and stuff it with sawdust and garbage and sew it together and dress it up like real people and put them in your basement as pretend friends and lovers and stuff, and you eat their organs probably, you cook and eat their organs and open a restaurant and serve the organs and entrails and meat to unsuspecting customers with basil and parsley and chili oil to disguise the taste." The taxidermist had moved far away now. "You're disgusting," I shouted. "You're terrible and terribly terrible or something something."

I took a running step toward the taxidermist and stopped. I imagined the taxidermist stuffing my body with sawdust and using a scalpel to make slow incisions along my belly and then hanging me from a pulley system over a bathtub so that my body-liquids slowly drain into the bathtub and so my entrails and organs would slowly flop into the bathtub and dry.

My father touched my shoulder. "What are you doing out here?"

"There was a taxidermist," I said. I told my father about the pulley system and the incisions and stuffed families eating plastic dinners. My father watched a small square of my face, above and to the left of my left eye. He seemed to be slowly counting in his head. "Nothing," I said.

"You always lie and I can tell and I can't handle it anymore. You have to stop it and tell the truth or something terrible will happen. Something really terrible."

"That's not true."

My father shook his head slowly and I followed him down to the boat and we boarded the boat and stood on the deck and leaned against the gunwale until the boat began to vibrate and then move. My father hugged me for a moment and together we watched San Francisco grow larger as we slowly approached.

My father looked at me and said, "Everything is true all the time, huh? But I have to go to the bathroom." He moved past me toward the front of the boat.

I followed, hiding behind other passengers. I was very small then. I wanted to drink a soda. I wanted to ask my father for quarters for the soda-vending machine. My father was in front of me and his wide oversized head balanced strangely on his narrow neck and his little gray sweater hugged closely to his narrow body and the boat rocked a little with the waves and his legs and my legs absorbed the rocking and we moved weirdly, awkwardly forward as the boat moved smoothly, swiftly through the low waves, until, finally, my father's hands grasped the gunwale and pulled on the gunwale until my father's body was perched on the gunwale and my father's face looked for a moment at my face until my father's body shivered slowly over the gunwale and disappeared silently beneath the boat.

"What's a gunwale?" I ask.

"Part of a boat," my grandfather answers.

"Change the channel," Erik says. "I hate this show."

We're watching CHiPs. Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox are riding motorcycles through the foothills of the Siskiyous, side by side, pursuing a red Chevy Nova. There is cocaine in the Nova's ceiling panels. I think, 'Erik is Erik and Erik's on television and next to me.' I think, 'If Erik Estrada and Erik were the same Erik, would the TV implode?' I imagine Erik and the television imploding: Erik stands next to the television and Erik and the television expand suddenly, and then slowly contract into a central point between Erik and the television, pulling Erik and the televisions atoms individually and then in large atom-clumps until Erik and the television become the central point. My step-mother has set the photo-album aside.

"I want to see more photos," Aaron says.

"All of our photos were destroyed in a house-fire," I say. "Cameras too."

"They were not!" my step-mother says.

"She has Alzheimer's and senile dementia," I say. "Everything was destroyed. The fire killed two kittens and I can't look at kittens anymore."

My grandfather begins to chuckle. "And my leg burnt off and I have a wooden leg." He grabs his leg and shakes it. "See, lifeless. When the heat clicks on I can't stop crying."

Erik says, "Can I have the remote-control?"

"Anastasia started the fire. She was making Molotov cocktails in her bedroom. Anastasia's an anarchist, even in elementary school. She was terribly violent and devious. She made a shiv in metal-shop. She sliced my arms while I slept. She sliced my arms and drained the blood and into little glass bottles and saved the little glass bottles under her bed, each one labeled with withdrawal date and time. The little glass blood-bottles burned in the fire though, and then there was nothing."

"What?" says my step-mother.

My grandfather is laughing. "It's all true," he says.

Anastasia was hiding in her room, under the bed. Merna was at her boyfriend's house. I sat at the kitchen-table with my mother. We were drinking tall glasses of milk. My mother's hair was long and brown and soft and beautiful, and the hair was very thin and shiny and my mother had pulled it over her very slim shoulder and let it lay still on her chest. My mother looked at me with her eyes and her eyes were large green eye-shapes and her eyes blinked at a slower, stranger rate than mine, and we sat together at the kitchen table with our hands on glasses of milk and carefully tipping glasses of milk so that milk poured slowly into our mouths. I was little then, and chubby and my hair was very dirty and tangled.

"Where is your father?" my mother said.

"I don't know."

"Did he say where he was going or when he'd be back when he left?"

"I don't know. I think he went to work."

"Hah!" My mother finished her milk and slammed her milk-glass onto the tabletop.

"Are you taking me to school today?"

"I don't think you should go to school anymore, or I think your father should take you to school. I'll call him for you. Maybe…did he give you a phone-number to call him at?"

"I don't think so." I tried not to look at my mother's face because my mother's face was a little wrinkled oval with sad eye-shaped eyes blinking slowly while the eyeballs moved wildly from one object to another object to me.

"Let's go shopping," my mother said. "We'll go shopping and chat and be like friends, but I'm still your mother. Let's get dressed and go shopping. Get dressed and we'll go shopping? I'll take you, we'll go to the mall, we'll go shopping and we'll talk, and I'll buy you a soda and a piece of candy, no not candy, I'll buy you a soda and an ice-cream cone. We'll get fancy ice-cream cones and we'll go shopping, just the two of us, and we'll talk and it will be fun and touching and something to remember when I'm dead."

My mother was a brilliant behavioral psychologist, on vacation. She worked at a university research facility with people and mice and mazes and little white soundproof rooms. She often told me about the little white soundproof rooms. "I wish I had a room like that," she said. "I'd stay in the room at home, or I'd take you with me to the soundproof room and we could talk without other people talking and without sounds like creaking floorboards or outdoor birds or the dishwasher or refrigerator engines or automobiles. There are noises everywhere and you can't stop the noises because the noises make waves in the air and the air particles move with the airwaves and our ears interpret the airwaves as sounds so the thing to do is have a little white soundproof room and to stay there until all you can hear is your body-sounds, like your heart and lungs and stuff, or we'd go together and talk for a while and we'd make the waves in the air and the only waves in the air would be our airwaves."

"Get dressed," my mother said. "We're going shopping."

I wore my pink dress which was part of my Halloween costume. My mother drove slowly to the shopping-mall. I turned off the radio. My mother parked and we ran to the shopping-mall entrance and entered the shopping-mall and stood inside the shopping-mall entrance and looked at the moving swarms of people and the rows of shop-facades and the many shop-signs with strange words and colors and images.

"Come on!" my mother said. "Let's go to JC Penney."

Inside the JC Penney fitting room, my mother stuffed packages of socks and t-shirts and chocolates into my pink dress. My mother folded skirts and blouses and shoved them beneath her shirt and blouse. "Come on!" she said. We ran out into the parking-lot and laughed a lot. My mother opened the car-trunk and placed the blouses and skirts inside the trunk and had me place the socks and shirts and chocolates inside the trunk. "Good job!" she said. My mother held my hand and we went back inside the mall. "Let's go to Sears!" my mother said. In the Sears dressing room, my mother hid wrenches, screwdrivers, and hammers beneath my pink dress, and then hid neck-ties, belts, and cumber-bunds beneath her skirt and blouse, and she held my hand and we ran swiftly outside into the parking-lot where the sky was a looming gray overcoat and where the black asphalt was wet with rain and dirty and dusty. She opened the car-trunk and we put the stuff in the trunk and she closed the trunk.

"Now for ice-cream!"

My mother took me to a table in the food-court and I sat at the table and the table was cold and plastic and blue.

"Wait here," my mother said. "I'll get the ice-cream."

She walked slowly among the moving people and I watched her until I couldn't see her anymore and I sat at the table and watched the people move and I thought, 'Each person is a person thinking different things.' I saw an old woman with and plastic rain-bonnet pulled tightly to her head. "Hello," I said. "What's that?" I pointed at the rain-bonnet.

"You should respect your elders," the old woman said.

"I do."

"You're an evil little thing aren't you?"

I looked at the old woman's eyes and the old woman's eyes were round and gray and motionless. "I am not," I said. "I am me," I said.

"You're a little bitch is what you are."

"My mother is here and I'll get my mother and she'll tell you," I said. My eyes looked for my mother.

The old woman moved her face close to my face and her face was very wrinkled and old and her mouth was a little black hole with no teeth and a gray shriveled tongue and the tongue wiggled strangely at me and I tried to move away but the old woman's hand was on my neck and the hand gripped my neck like a handle.

"You're a filthy murdering vile bitch," the old woman said. "If I were your mother, I'd drown you in the bathtub like a useless kitten and I feed your dead kitten-body to the monkeys at the zoo if the monkeys at the zoo would eat it, you useless child thing robot bitch."

The old woman pushed me and moved slowly away. I looked for my mother but couldn't find my mother so I went to the Burger King counter and said to the Burger King person behind the Burger King counter, "Have you seen my mother?"

"We're closed kid." The Burger King person turned away.

The mall-lights shut off and the shopping-mall was a dark, empty place. I ran to the door and out the door into the parking-lot and to the parking-space where my mother had parked her car but no car was there and no car was in the parking-lot and the parking-lot was an empty black thing with little empty lines and the sky was an empty black nothing and I couldn't see any person or any car so I walked out onto the highway and along the highway and the wind was cold and swift. My house was somewhere and I tried to walk toward it and when cars drove nearby, I hid in the grass and brush next to the highway. I imagined my mother's car as a great glowing beacon, very large and car-shaped sitting solidly on the horizon like a stone fortress, but mobile, and I imagined my little child-body approaching the beacon with little child-steps and maybe the beacon was on top of a hill and I climbed the hill for three months and then sat cross-legged in front of the beacon and gently slept next to the beacon with my little dirty head resting on the little dirty tire. But none of that happened and so I sat down and thought about it and wondered why.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Epic Burger King poem and stuff

In line at Burger King
Before me, behind me, beautiful girls with credit-cards
Drop-down ceiling-tiles hide closed-circuit video-cameras
Want yellow plastic tables for my apartment
To re-create my first date
We'll read about terrorism and hamburgers
Then you'll finger me until I fall asleep

Need new tires for my little Honda
Need credit-cards to build my credit-file and buy a condo
You deliver pizzas
And live in the basement
We read pornography together
You like pornography and I'm bored
I download video-game ring-tones and we look at each other

I watch Chuck Norris battle helicopters on television
Machine guns and motorcycles
You want a motorcycle to deliver pizzas
Your hair is very pretty and soft
I tap tap my computer keyboard
And email my sister in Oklahoma
And make jokes about fertilizers and bombs

At Burger King I crown the boy who lost to the bullies
He rides, bleeding, his bike away
The beautiful girls giggle into their soda re-fills
My favorite place is the zoo
You won't take me so I go alone and feed the penguins
My sister emails about her divorce
Says "I feel more beautiful now that he is alone"

In my little Honda, I listen to Johnny Cash and eat a hamburger
I text you then regret it
The paper says "Woman Pleads Guilty to Firebombing"
All little girls want rock music
You call my cell-phone but I ignore you
Want a yellow plastic table for my apartment
Want to destroy my first date

Buffy the Vampire Slayer slays vampires prettily
Drive down I-90 with a bag of hamburgers
Cell-phone ringing
Dirty snow in piles along the sides of the freeway
I am my own commercial entertainment industry
If celebrities were terrorists today
We could overthrow public relations

In another town, I go to Burger King
Before me, behind me, beautiful girls with credit-cards
Drop-down ceiling-tiles hide closed-circuit video-cameras
Bullies steal a boy's crown and spill soda re-fills on his t-shirt
This boy wants Bill Murray to save him
This boy rides his bike, bleeding, away
My cell-phone ring-tones make me cry

At the border of Idaho and Washington everything looks the same
I want to burn pharmacies with Tom Cruise
I call you and tell you about yellow plastic tables
An airplane flies east again
My little Honda waits by the strip-mall
I'll shop for designer party-favors today
And celebrate something forever

At the hospital I watch car commercials
And you're at war with the middle-class
If you were a boy at Burger King, I'd buy you a motorcycle
Beautiful girls with credit-cards sit in yellow plastic seats
Bill Murray can save no one
I'll drive my little Honda to the Pacific Ocean
I'll drive onto the beach and listen to "independent music"

Bill Murray should kill you
We'll drive across America to save "independent music"
My little Honda on flat gray sand
The little wave that crawls toward my tires
I'm a part of "the world at large" with suffering
I and my little Honda can save America
If I destroy everything I see

Saturday, February 10, 2007


"You are not."

I've said the words but Aaron's not looking at me and Erik's not looking at me and together with my step-mother, Aaron and Erik are watching television commercials. 'Maybe everybody is somebody else,' I think.

"You're my step-mother," I say.

She sighs. "Maybe I am," she says. "But I'm your grandmother."

"If you're my grandmother then where's my grandfather?"

"Sshhh," Erik says. "I'm watching TV."

"I just want to know."


I step into the kitchen. Here the hardwood flooring continues, broken only by a wide island with a built-in double-sink. The countertops are marble. The refrigerator and the double-oven are a dull, lightless metal, probably stainless-steel, and perfectly clean. The cabinet-doors all have windows through which you can see the rows of clean plates and glass and saucers and serving dishes. I open the refrigerator. From the door, I remove mayonnaise and ranch dressing and mustard and soy sauce and white wine and nacho cheese and a tiny bottle of tiny pickles, and I place all these objects on the countertop in a row from shortest to tallest, and from within the refrigerator I remove lettuce and tomatoes and a banana, and I stack these objects upon the row of condiments. I get more from the refrigerator. I get milk and orange-juice and tofu. I get yogurt and marmalade. I get baking soda. I move these objects and construct from these objects a miniature castle on the countertop and I look at this castle and I am proud of this castle and I want suddenly, at this moment, to display this castle for my step-mother and my grandfather and to take a photo of the castle with me in front of the castle and with Aaron and Erik and everyone, so with my arm I sweep this castle violently to the floor. There is a noise and a mess.

"What the hell's going on?" my step-mother says.


But she has come into the kitchen. Aaron has come into the kitchen. Erik has come into the kitchen. The kitchen is warm and hurried and the air is more precious here as each person breathes their share away.

"I'm sorry," I say. "I'll clean up."

"Don't worry about it," my step-mother says. "Somebody'll take care of it later."

Aaron pushes the mess around with his foot.

"Let me show you boys something," my step-mother says. "Meet me in the family-room." She walks away.

I follow Aaron and Erik into the family-room. "Don't listen to her," I say. "She's crazy. She married into my family for the money but she was in an insane asylum place because of manic episodes and a 'psychotic break' she suffered in college when she stole her roommate's car and crashed her roommate's car into her roommate, a young, thin girl named Darla who's spine was crushed until she became paraplegic. It was finals week and she failed all her finals."

Erik says, "This is a really nice television. Flat-screen. I want to get a flat-screen sometime. I wonder if it's a LCD or plasma."

"I don't know how they're different," I say.

Aaron is examining the sofa with his hands. "The fabric is really soft."

"LCD means liquid crystal display," Erik says. "I used to have a watch with a liquid crystal display. It's really amazing and clever the way humans can make things with crystals."

"Really, you guys, don't listen to her. She's crazy. We could steal everything and sell everything at a pawnshop and make money and go somewhere else. Help me tie her up when she comes back. We'll tie her up in the kitchen."

"I wonder where they got the sofa."

"We'll gag her and blind her and leave her starving alone."

Aaron begins to remove the cushions and to search the cracks of the sofa with his hands. "So nice," he says. Aaron's arms seem very long and active and Aaron's head is moving side to side quickly and the cushions are scattered on the floor. "Soft," Aaron says.

Erik looks at me. "This is a really nice house, really nice. How come you never took me here before? I wanted to meet your grandparents. Are you ashamed of me or something?"

"What do you mean?"

"I'm kidding."

My step-mother is returning. I can hear her steps on the hardwood floor. She's wearing a white flower-print dress now and her arms are holding a large brown scrapbook book. "Darla," I say. "You killed Darla and now you're going to show the dead Darla pictures to my lovers?" I move to my step-mother and reach for the scrapbook. "She took pictures of Darla after she killed her with her Polaroid camera. It's disgusting. Stop and give it. No dead Darla pictures. No dead Darla."

"Whatever are you talking about?"

Aaron has fixed the sofa and Aaron and Erik are sitting on the sofa and my step-mother steps down into the family room, cradling the scrapbook.

"Stop," I say.

My step-mother sits between Aaron and Erik and opens the scrapbook.

I move to the stairs and up the stairs and I watch the three of them as I move up the stairs until the angles are wrong. I'm in a hallway with seven white doors. I open the door that opens to my bedroom. There is a narrow, made bed with gray sheets and a dark blue patchwork quilt in the corner next to a dark, three-drawer nightstand. When I was young, I kept my knife in the nightstand, in the back corner of the top drawer behind my panties taped beneath a knife-sized strip of cardboard. I was ten years old when I stole the knife. I slept over at my classmate's house. My classmate's name was Mallory and her hair was dark and curly and brown and she once said to me, "How come your hair isn't curly or brown and pretty like my hair is?" and I came to love her. I imagined killing her with a knife and with a baseball bat and I imagined tying a noose and hanging her little gray kitten from her low porch, and I knew I loved her then and I watched her in class and sat next to her on the playground at recess and touched her brown and curly and beautiful hair with my little imperfect hands. The knife was a kitchen knife with a round black handle and a long curved blade and I found it in Mallory's kitchen in a drawer that had many knifes and many slots for many knives. I thought, 'Nobody wants this knife because there are too many knives and even knives the same size and shape as this one, and this knife is probably sad and neglected and unused,' and I felt terrible that the knife was unused and I took it and hid it in my jacket.

'It's not always evil to kill a person,' I think.

I lay on my bed and look at the little plastic stars glued to my ceiling.

"Stars," I say aloud. "Evil."

There is a knock at the door. My grandfather steps into the room. My grandfather is very tall and gaunt and stooped and his red flannel shirt is baggy and tucked into his jeans which are loose and held up by a tight leather belt. "You're here," he says. My grandfather moves to the chair and falls to the chair with a little soundless sigh and his face becomes a round thing with wrinkles that run parallel like lines of latitude on a globe. His mouth is big toothless hole and from his big toothless hole come the words, "I'll die soon."

"You always say that," I say, but I don't know if that's true. I try to remember my grandfather saying those same words before.

"I went to my doctor and my doctor said I'm dying. I have cancer. He said I'm a 'cancer-garden' but that's okay. I'm ready. All my friends are pretty much dead. My tree died, you know. The maple my father planted. Rotted through the middle. Had to have it chopped down before it fell on the house. House is old and dying too. Every week it's a new repair man. Replace the insulation. Replace the refrigerator. Replace the drywall. Dry-rot. Only thing that's living well is the insects because the insects eat dead things. There are probably insects inside me eating my insides like I'm already dead and buried in the ground. Like preparation. I don't know anything. Maybe god knows about death and stuff. My doctor kind of knows. I eat twenty different pills every day. And I go to the pharmacy once a week and I go to the doctor once a week. It's really rather boring."

"I'm dying too."

"Don't be ridiculous. You're too young to be dying."

"Life is a long dying probably. I just thought that in my head and then said it and it sounds true. I probably read it somewhere."

"That's stupid." My grandfather begins to cough. "You teenagers are all stupid and melodramatic from watching television and television-dramas. You probably want life to be a drama with a silly plot and crying."

"I'm not a teenager."

"Do you remember your sixteenth birthday party?"

I try to remember. I think the words, 'Birthday caterpillar sandwich.' I think other words. "No," I say. "I don't think I had a party."

"We drove to Canada, stayed in hotel? Invited your high-school friends, that girl Mallory?"

"I don't remember."

"Doesn't matter anyway." My grandfather's hand reaches toward me. "Here," he says, "help me up."

I grab my grandfather's hand and arm and pull my grandfather to his feet, and his hand and arm are very cold, even through the flannel, and his flesh is soft and malleable, and he groans as he stands, and he seems very lightweight and frail and I think that I could easily lift him and carry him on my back. When I was very young my grandfather carried me around and picked me up and tossed me into the air. Sometimes he caught me. Sometimes he let me fall. He said, "You have to learn that people sometimes drop people and it hurts like fuck." My grandfather had black hair then, combed into a delicate pompadour, and his face was lined and rigid like a metal grating.

He shuffles out of the room. "Come downstairs," he says. My grandfather is hunched and can't see me. "We'll have coffee together."

"In a minute," I say. "I'll be down in a minute."

I open my nightstand's top drawer and reach to the back and loosen the cardboard and remove the knife. I hold the knife in my hand. It seems pale and flimsy now, a dollar-store kitchen knife with little dents and nicks in the blade. I put the knife in my purse.

I think about my sixteenth birthday in Canada. Mallory was there and beautiful in a flower-print dress and with bouncy curly brown hair cut into a bob. We stayed at the Hyatt and shared a room and outside our window was a tall fountain with five stone fish spitting water. I sat next to the window. Mallory lay on the bed.

"This is Canada," I said. "I don't feel different."

"It's ugly here," Mallory said. "But it's ugly everywhere, so I don't blame the Canadians."

"Do you think we can have wine with dinner?"

"It's your grandfather."

We drank wine with dinner and became very drunk and Mallory and I stumbled outside near the fountain with our arms laced together. There were bright white lights lighted from beneath the pooled water and the fish were wet and gleaming and spitting water and we sat next to the fountain and leaned against each other.

"You know what?" Mallory said.

"This fountain is a fountain fountain," I said, laughing.

"I fucked the math teacher in the math classroom."


"On the math desk."


Mallory didn't answer. She stepped into the fountain. "There's money down here," she said. She dove under the water and grabbed all the money she could grab and put the money down the front of her dress. "Help me get the money," Mallory said.

"Stop. People will look at us."

"So fucking what?"

"I don't want people looking at me," I said.

Mallory shook her head and dove under the water again, her hands searching the fountain-bottom for change.

I went back to our hotel room and sat by the window. I could see Mallory and hear Mallory as she dove into the water and grabbed money and then surfaced and laughed at her good fortune in finding so much money. I wondered if anybody was watching Mallory and if anybody was watching me as I watched Mallory or if anybody was watching anybody with video-cameras or satellite-cameras or even with human eyes. I was watching Mallory so somebody was watching Mallory and Mallory was watching only money. I thought about this and leaned my head against the window and half-closed my eyes so that everything but Mallory was a little gray blur. Then, Mallory slipped and fell forward and hit her head on the fountain's concrete edge and little red drips of blood dripped on the fountain's concrete edge and Mallory slid slowly, drunkenly into the fountain-water and her little head and beautiful curly hair bobbed up and down with the fountain-water and the fountain-water turned dark with little bubbles of red like sprayed ink and Mallory's head bobbed faster and then slower until, finally, all movement stopped.

"This is from the elementary school pageant. See, Cleopatra," my step-mother says.

I am on the stairs, against the wall. I can't see Aaron or Erik or my step-mother or my grandfather, but I hear my grandfather cough hoarsely and apologize. I hear the slow turning of pages and the sound of old fingers and old paper. At my feet, a heating vent forces warm air onto my ankles and up my dress in a pleasant way and I crouch and lean back to maximize the warm airflow into my dress, holding my dress around me to hold the warm air in.

"This is the home-coming dance when she was fifteen. The dress is so pretty. We made it together, kind of, and sewed it and designed it, and her little date is so handsome in his little suit, don't you think?" My stepmother sighs a little sigh. "Look at this."

Aaron says, "Do you have photos of her parents?"

There is a pause.


I run down the stairs. I leap the last six and land with a solid thump. "I'm back," I say. "What's everyone doing? Let's play Monopoly, except I hate Monopoly, so let's watch TV and sit together on the couch or something." I rush into the family-room. My step-mother and grandfather sit across from Aaron and Erik, the coffee table between them. "This is so family-like, like we're a family, just step-mother, grandfather, and lover Erik and lover Aaron. We should take a family picture for the family scrapbook so we can have family memories and stuff." I squish myself between Aaron and Erik and feel Aaron and Erik's bodies against my body, holding me in the slim space, and we generate body warmth and pass body warmth through each other in a circuit.

"I'm your grandmother, not your stepmother."

"My name is Todd."

I don’t answer. I turn on the television with the television remote-control. "We should watch a murder mystery," I say. "Something where the cop beats the truth out of the criminal in the interrogation room. I like interrogation rooms." I imagine an interrogation room with a wide table and three chairs and a bright, hot light, or a bare one-hundred twenty-five watt light-bulb hanging from a black cord. There is a window with one-way glass. There is Aaron and Erik. Aaron is sitting at the table, leaning lazily in his chair, his slim little head flopping around. Erik is pacing in front of the one-way window. The criminal is me and I sit in the far chair, clutching a bottle of water. "You don't fucking know what you're talking about," I say. "I'm not even a real person."

Sunday, February 04, 2007


The house is at the base of two hills, the lowest point in a little green valley, surrounded on all sides by similar houses but separated by fences, and really it's too large to be a house, but a house anyway with two peaked roofs and two separate attics. The house is gray and tall with many windows and two garages and a neat hexagonal lawn lined with a garden of green shrubs and snow-covered dead little flowers. I tell Aaron to stop. "We're here," I say. 'We are here,' I think, but I feel desperate and disappointed and I think the words, 'home-invasion' but I'm not excited and I'm not anything so I hold my hands together in a little knot and carefully stop myself from thinking.

Erik snores against the window.

"Where are we?" Aaron asks.

"Here," I say.

The garage-doors are open. I can see two gray sedans, and from the garage-ceiling hang two gray racing bikes and along the garage-walls are rows of gray steel grids from which hang power-drills and hammers and screwdrivers and skill-saws and routers. I open the car door and slowly step out onto the sidewalk, which is snowy and icy and deadly. I move closer to the garage. Now I can see the little line of light beneath the door that leads from the garage into the house, an elongated rectangle of light, very symmetrical and bright. I move toward it.

"Wait," says Aaron.

"Yes, wait," Erik says. Erik has awakened and is out of the car. His face is very tight and small.

I move at a steady pace. I can hear Aaron and Erik behind me and feel Aaron and Erik's bodies approaching, but when I turn, Aaron and Erik's bodies are still some distance away and so I continue my pace into the garage and toward the door. I turn again and see Aaron and Erik. Their faces are little red balls floating from their necks and their mouths open and close in a rhythmic way but I can't hear the words their mouths are forming and these words must be very important but the mouths are moving secretly and angrily and I want suddenly to be these mouths and understand the movements of these mouths and to form words with these mouths in a meaningful and important way and later to write the words down in my diary.

My hand is on the door. Aaron is distant. Erik is nearby.

Anastasia once told me it was good luck to touch every door that you see and that if you miss a door you will probably die. I didn't believe her.

"That's stupid," I said. I was very short then and my hair was very long.

"It's true," Anastasia said. "Everything's true."

I followed her into the backyard and onto a rough patio where we sat cross-legged, knee to knee. Our knees were bare because we wore skirts that fluttered when we moved and the sky was a soft blanket above us, wide and long so that no matter where you looked there was the sky falling down on you.

I said, "Don't be so permissible. For example, I could say, 'You are the ant-queen' and that wouldn't make it true."

"It would be kind of true."


"If you tell me something, then the thing you told me is a real thing and real things are true."

I looked dumbly at Anastasia. "Follow me," I said.

I walked slowly into the garage, this garage, and Anastasia followed close behind. There was little room to move around because of the cars and the tools and bicycles and toys and footballs and everything else our parents had crammed into the little garage. I moved sideways next to my mother's car and leaned against the wall and removed a battery-operated power-drill from the grid.

"You're a robot," I said. "I helped put you together on your birthday. We bought you in a kit at the store because I wanted a little sister."

Anastasia didn't say anything. She leaned against our mother's car, a great gray sedan with four large and heavy doors and a massive windshield that shined with some of the outdoor light.

"I put your head together, that was my job. I used this power-drill to put your head together and I'm bored and now I'm going to take it apart." I turned the power-drill on. "Don't worry about the pain, it shouldn't hurt that much, and anyway you're a robot and you can't really feel pain, pain, for you, is just part of your 'programming' and nothing to worry about. I know about these things. I learned about them in school."

"Don't," Anastasia said. "Please."

But I did.

I removed her eyes first.

Outside of her head, Anastasia's eyes were very large and round like billiards balls, maybe, and Anastasia's eyes were very soft and pliable and I pushed them with my fingers and my fingers pushed into Anastasia's eyes and Anastasia's eyes began to leak a clear fluid, as though I had punctured the eyes with my fingers and the eyes shrank slowly and became shriveled things like little brown prunes or raisins.

'Which is wrong,' I think. I think, 'I am wrong.'

Something has happened.

Erik is touching my shoulder softly from the side and Aaron is staring directly into my eyes.

"You stopped moving," Aaron says.

Erik says, "You said something but I couldn't hear what you said."

"Nothing," I say. "I was thinking something." I touch the door. "Home-invasion," I say.

"Why this house?" Aaron asks.

"Because they're rich. Can't you see? The house is very large."


I consider Aaron's question. "I removed Anastasia's eyes with a power-drill," I say. "I was thirteen." I open the door into the house. There is a long hallway with shiny hardwood floors and a high white ceiling and very flat white walls, all well-lighted with regularly placed fixtures made to look like torches but instead of fire there are little twisted fluorescent light-bulbs and the light from the fluorescent light-bulbs is pale and dead. "Follow me," I say. I step into the hallway. I listen to my shoes on the hard-wood floor. "Home-invasion."

When I was fifteen I was alone in the house for a year. Merna was at college. Anastasia was dead. My parents were vacationing in the Virgin Islands or something and my grandparents were my caretakers. I came home from school and found my Grandparents cold and unmoving in the family-room. I called my parents told my parents and my parents laughed at me and said, "You're so funny…" I called Merna and Merna said, "Don't call me bitch." I left the bodies in the family-room and closed all of the family-room doors and carefully placed thick bath-towels under the family-room doors and removed the knobs on the doors and filled the doors' knob-less holes with cardboard and then, with old white paint from the garage, painted the family-room doors so that the family-room doors looked like solid walls. I called my parents and told them what I'd done. "Don't lie," my mother said. "If you always lie some day you'll turn into a slut," my mother said. "All sluts are liars and all liars are sluts."

"No mom," I said. "I did it."

"Don't call me again," my mother said.

I walked to the grocery store. I wore loose clothing and I filled my loose clothing with fruits and vegetables. I thought, 'It's better to steal healthy food.'

In the morning, I went to high school and to math class and to my math teacher I said, "I'm quitting. You won't see me anymore."

My math teacher said, "You're not really allowed to quit. There are laws and other things. Besides, next week is quadratics." He looked at my hands very carefully. "Quadratics!" he said.

"I'm moving to Tibet," I said. "My parents are Buddhists and we are going to learn meditation from this really famous monk in Tibet for a year and become better, more centered people. I think I am supposed to learn 'enlightenment.'"


I nodded.

My math teacher's eyes became very active and his hands clenched into fists repeatedly until he stepped to the whiteboard and began erasing equations in orderly way. He erased variables in alphabetic order, then numbers from least to greatest. "Quadratics are really dynamite. You could really learn a lot," he said. On my math teacher's desk was a shiny silver pen with a very sharp tip. My hand reached slowly toward it and removed it from the desk. The pen was heavy in my hand and the pen was heavy in my pocket.

I stayed home whenever possible. With my math teacher's pen, I made shopping lists, and late at night I took the shopping lists to the grocery store and stole what food I needed. On Sundays I called Merna. I would say to Merna over the phone, "Today I stole apples and pears and carrots and lettuce and a pineapple and a cantaloupe."

"I told you not to call me," Merna would say.

"I have become enlightened. I meditate three times a day."

"Good for you bitch."

I loved my sister very much and she loved me.

In the garage, I built a small model house, three feet high, five feet a wide, a detailed miniature version of this house with windows and hardwood floors and carpeting and a garage and two attics. I made little people and little furniture and arranged everything as it should be within the model house. I called my mother and told my mother about the model house.

"It's perfect," I said. "It has everything."

"You're such a lying slut," she said.

I took the model house into the backyard and soaked the model house with lighter-fluid and made a little lighter-fluid trail up to the model house and from a distance lighted the little lighter-fluid trail with my zippo lighter and watched the little model house burn into tiny little ashes.

"Beautiful," I said then. "Beautiful," I say now.

"What?" says Aaron.

I tell him about my grandparents and the model house.

"I don't believe anything you say anymore," Aaron says.

At the end of the long hallway is the foyer. To the left is the carpeted family-room, separated from the foyer by a low wooden railing and sunken into the floor, three steps down. To the right is the main entrance and wide wooden door with a four-panel stained-glass window depicting the flight of pigeons near a willow tree. Above is a silver chandelier.

I jump into the family-room. I jump onto the piano.

"Get off," says Erik. Erik looks around the foyer and angles his head as though listening for sounds or movement or danger.

"Let's destroy this piano," I say. "Help me push it outside. I have lighter-fluid. We can burn the whole thing on the patio. We can take all the furniture to the patio and burn the furniture with lighter-fluid and make a big pile of burnt furniture and pianos and stuff."

I hop to the floor and push the piano. The piano doesn't move.

"Come on," Erik says. "Stop it."

"Whoever these people are, are probably home," Aaron says. "I don't know where they are but they're here, and if they come in here, what're we going to do? Kill everybody? Tie them to chairs and torture them or something? It's too dangerous. We should go watch a movie or something. This whole thing's stupid and I've let it go too far." Aaron falls heavily onto a wide sofa. His torso falls at a different speed than his arms and his head, and each part of Aaron is falling at a different speed and the sofa slides a little and hits the wall. Aaron's narrow little head flops over the top of the sofa and his wide fat body sinks into the sofa until the sofa springs back and holds Aaron's body in place. "This is nice," Aaron says. "I don't want to burn it."

"My grandparents died on that sofa."

Erik chuckles.

Aaron touches the arm of the sofa and pulls the fabric on the arm of the sofa and moves the fabric side to side and rubs the fabric. "Nice sofa."

"Erik," I say. "Make love to me on the piano."


"It'll be very entertaining for Aaron."

Erik looks confused and moves away from me. "I can't," Erik says. Erik moves into the hallway and leans against the wall. "My name is Todd."

I sit at the piano and push the piano-keys and listen to the sounds of the piano-keys which are high-pitched and very raw, and so I push some other piano-keys in a rhythmic way but with no regard for sound or beauty. "This is my step-parents' house," I say. "They're probably sleeping. My step-parents sleep all day. They're very boring people and they can't move from their bed because their bed is so comfortable and it's painful for them to move and especially to see people or to watch television. They're hiding from us. My step-parents hide from everybody. My step-parents are terrified that murderers will come and burn them in their bed or even tie them to the bed and cut small pieces from their little bodies until they slowly, painfully bleed to death, and especially they are terrified of bleeding in the bed and staining their very soft satin sheets. I told them about the bloodstains I made on satin sheets and how hard the bloodstains were to clean and they are terrified for their bed which is very expensive and antique and from Lisbon." Aaron and Erik aren't listening to me. Erik has moved to the sofa and is sitting next to Aaron. Aaron holds in his hand the television remote-control and has turned on the television, and on the television is a beautiful elderly women with beautiful elegant wrinkles wearing a soft red skirt and a beautiful white blouse and she is crying and behind the beautiful elderly women is a young man with wide white teeth and symmetrical facial features and he is leaning against the wall with his hands in his pockets. The symmetrical young man shakes his head and say, "It had to be done." I don't know what that means. I think, 'People who are symmetrical are happier than people who are not symmetrical.' I say, "I'm asymmetrical and it's really really terrible."

Erik looks at me and then back at the television.

Aaron says, "Sshhh."

"Steal everything," I say. There is a sound from somewhere and I look there and it is the stairs and there's a foot. It's the foot of my step-mother who hates me and who beat me when I was young with a stick. "She beat me on Fridays and Sundays," I say.

"Sshhh," Erik says.

I can see the ankle on the stairs and I can see the knee on the stairs and the hem of the thick terrycloth bathrobe and the waist with its little tie and slowly the bulge of breasts and shoulders and the little wrinkled head above the terrycloth bathrobe and the long gray hair pulled tightly into a little gray pony-tail and draped carefully over one shoulder. And my step-mother can see me with her little gray eyes and it is terrible and I am terribly aware of her terrible wrinkles.

"You came," she says with a little delighted smile. "I didn't think you'd come, you never come here anymore."

"I came."

"Who's this? Who're these people?"

"It's Aaron and Erik. They're my lovers."

"Oh, you're terrible," she says. She steps down into the family-room and holds out her finely wrinkled hand to Aaron and Aaron takes her hand and their hands are shaking. "I'm Stella," she says. She looks at Aaron and Erik and Aaron and Erik look at her in a curious way and the television is bright and lighted behind them. On the television, the beautiful, elegant woman is crying into her old and useless hands. My step-mother smiles at me. She says, "I'm the old, useless grandmother."