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David Herrle interviews Megan Volpert on 1976

1976 cover 2published by Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016

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Illustrations ©Asher Haig

Annoying Introduction

Megan Volpert’s new book, 1976, is jam-packed and overflowing with allusions, anecdotes and parallels, making it both richly enjoyable and exhausting. Lukewarm readers won’t (and shouldn’t) have an easy time with it. There’s very little downtime – if at all, which is to be expected from such a fellow bricolagic brain or “a full head like mine,” as she herself puts it.

Including a famous and infamous cast of pols (George Wallace, JFK, Jerry Brown, Nixon, Kissinger, Gerald Ford, Carter, Reagan and so on), there’s a wide political focus that’s summarized and evaluated through rather liberal eyes, something that I don’t usually mind, though it’s tiresome that many folks (not necessarily this author) tend to be vigilant against the fascist under every bush while overlooking the commie in every tree. Perhaps Lester Bangs, who gets slapped around in 1976, put it best: “[T]hose hysterical paranoid Left-er New Left idiots are just as much to blame as anybody.”  However, 1976 doesn’t stack the deck too much, and many of her observations are worthy and careful, if not right on.

For some reason, one of the parts of the book that impressed and riled me most was Volpert’s excellent analysis and juxtaposition of Marilyn Monroe and Debbie Harry. I found myself getting somewhat defensive on Marilyn’s behalf, which is perhaps part of the whole problem of how people (men and women) tended to treat Marilyn: as something to be saved, from others and from herself.

What I like most about 1976 is the potpourri: Volpert’s deftness in orchestrating a shitload of historical and cultural episodes and tidbits, sometimes unexpectedly and refreshingly unpredictably. One minute she offers an aphoristic line such as “I feel strongly that every person should own a good hoodie,” and the next minute she admits to conflating Raymond Carver with John Cheever (at least it wasn’t Raymond Chandler or Garry Shandling or Chelsea Handler). She spiels about Ron Kovic’s well-known Born on the Fourth of July and even mentions undersung sci-fi author Samuel Delany. (For readers who are, as Volpert phrases it in the book, “into weird voodoo numerology shit,” Delany’s psychedelic and enthralling The Einstein Intersection was published in 1967, the last two numbers of which are 76 reversed). There are Pol Pot and Bob Dylan, Ayn Rand and George Wallace, The Ramones and Rush’s Geddy Lee, Francis Maloy, Jr. and the Son of Sam, Jane Curtin and John Belushi, racing greats Niki Lauda and James Hunt – and even the ghost of Carson McCullers. In other words, 1976 would be an indexer’s effing nightmare.

As usual, I let out my long winds full of devil’s advocates and contextual pedantry, and Volpert responded and rebutted with her usual deftness. And, as usual, she delivered some welcome bitch-slaps, one of them reminding me of a poignant, even affecting passage dedicated to her beloved grandfather (Bapa), which I neglected in a question about her seeming shortage of literary heartstrings. (Sorry, Bapa!) Anyway, I hope this strange exchange makes for a unique read that might result in some collateral knowledge. Knowledge without monumental confirmations or closure, that is. Interviews – like novels, like memoirs, like lectures, like drunken texts, like barbershop gossip – are really just a lot of gab, after all. Let Volpert say it better here: “The importance never arrives though. These things are really about process over product, which is symbolic of our collective human journeying throughout blah blah blah.”


David: Superior to the irritable-bowel 1960s, the tacky 1980s and the truly barf-worthy 1990s, the 1970s is, to me, a culturally brilliant decade (if not just for Columbo and Pink Floyd), so I quite welcomed a book on the era. From 1976’s prologue:

My bag is more about induction, analytics. You pour in the facts and the gumbo gets to simmering pretty quickly. So I’m not worried that these paragraphs will contain too many I-statements for a treatise on a time when I did not even exist. It can’t be a retrospective. It’s a retrospeculative.

In a way that can be taken as poking fun at your own egotism, Gore Vidal’s 1876 novel is evoked: “You have to have real cojones to title your book with just the year, to harpoon your personal human flag into the still-moving beast of time and claim your interpretation of that freeze-frame as the ultimate word on the subject.” Is this evocation self-deprecatory? What about that time before your time fascinates you? How does retrospeculative differ from restrospective?

Megan: Yes, the Vidal comparison is self-deprecatory on my head and straight deprecatory on his head. This whole book project actually began as a kind of joke. Books that are simply titled after the year that they are about tend to be huge hits in the marketplace. To care about that is, in the minds of many writers and readers, to cut against the current of authenticity that essayists are generally expected to maintain. But I’ve always had a fondness for Vidal’s minute hypocrisies, the showiness and almost character-acting implicit in much of his writing voice. Plus, his books end up next to mine on shelves a lot, so there is an odd spatial connection that has always drawn me.

The time before my time doesn’t necessarily fascinate me. I try to be forward-looking, but history interests me as far as the art of telling its story. When history is not written by the victors, it’s written by the rebels. As a teenager, I was keen on some mix of Dave Barry and Howard Zinn. As a young adult, I got into Thompson and Wolfe and gonzo journalism generally, beginning to see my own present as the history of the future. I can’t really go head-on with factual writing; that doesn’t interest me as a writerly pursuit. As a reader, I invest tons of time in straightforward non-fiction, like I’m a big fan of Rick Perlstein. But as a writer I enjoy that more speculative territory, recording snapshots of my own life in the stream of time as if at some future point it will have mattered alongside bands and elections and other things that are more self-evidently powerful in their moment than I am. I insert myself – unasked, full of ambition toward better futures. Like Vidal, I aim to hold it down mainly just by demonstrating I have the big balls to do so. Or more like Fran Lebowitz.


David: Your favorite movie is Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused (the 1990s’ American Graffiti), which is conveniently set in 1976. Though I prefer SubUrbia, his more psychoanalytical overnight saga (which elevates both Parker Posey’s and Nicky Katt’s roles), I think Dazed immortalizes an era as deftly as Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, and I like how it favors character over plot, as Linklater prefers. Your play-by-play annotation of the movie is quite remarkable, and I share your adulation of Parker Posey: “Kneel before the sound of every ultra-hot cheerleader queen you have ever met, whose first words are, ‘Wake up, bitch!’” Please spiel about the movie, Linklater, high-school – and the almighty Parker Posey.

Megan: I liked SubUrbia, but actually I don’t think of it as part of Linklater’s oeuvre because he didn’t write it; he directed it and it’s based on that play by Eric Bogosian. School of Rock, which I also loved, also seems categorically different from movies that Linklater wrote. Both those movies have great soundtracks though. There is so much Sonic Youth on the SubUrbia soundtrack. The “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused came out a few month ago, and I’ve written about that here.

My favorite Parker Posey movie is House of Yes. I’m working on an essay about that, for a book project with performance artist Craig Gingrich-Philbrook. The book is about why we have aborted certain ideas for shows over the years. When I was at LSU, I wanted to do a freaky black box adaptation of House of Yes and it didn’t pan out for many reasons. I actually dislike the scripts for many things Posey has been in, but I respect her overall commitment to mainly making independent films and when she nails it, she nails it. Nicky Katt hasn’t gotten as much traction, which I think is a shame. He’s always a great villain; there’s something in his face that says so and I admire anyone who gives off their own weird vibe so effortlessly.


David: Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, a film that’s emblematic of a nihilistic strain in 1970s cinema (countered by teleological Star Wars), also premiered in your pet year, and your observation that Travis Bickle “stands out by choice” is apt. Slavoj Zizek thinks Bickle, in pulling the trigger on himself literally and figuratively after the brothel massacre (a scene you highlight in the book), acts out the Lacanian mirror stage, signifying his basic realization that he also is part of the city’s scum. However, despite his hypocrisy and racism, isn’t Travis somewhat admirable in trying to “rescue” Iris? And isn’t he sympathetic in that he, like Shakespeare’s Lear, piteously can’t relate to females, and in his being a confused societal casualty exploited by the world’s Palatines? Are this film and the decade quintessentially linked? And have you seen this generation’s Taxi Driver: Nightcrawler?

Bonus point for Zizek reference. I instantly approved of my niece’s boyfriend based solely on the fact that he could talk to me about Zizek for ten minutes. Actually, I have a theory that Zizek is not one guy, but a collective of a dozen or so people all writing under the one pseudonym. He publishes on too many subjects too much too widely too quickly – and hey, for me to say that is really saying something because I’m a nightmare of proliferation according to anybody who ever went to grad school with me.

I haven’t seen Nightcrawler. My watch list is even more out of control than my listen list, and the listen list current has eighty-seven bullets on it. But your questions about my seeming lack of sympathy for Travis Bickle are pretty leading. You tipped me off with the scare quotes around “rescue.” I want to ask: what is rescue? To save someone from harm? To “save” is a tricky deliverable to evaluate; I know that as a high school teacher. I prefer something closer to tikkun olam, the idea that good deeds repair the world. Bickle himself does not appear to be invested in any notion of repair, even of the chauvinistic white knight variety. Also, I think it would do far more harm than good if we were to extend sympathy to everyone we might classify as “piteously can’t relate to females.” But Taxi Driver is part of the nihilistic strain in 1970s movies, as you say, and I have an endless sympathy for that as a human predicament.


David: Even Rush and their 2112 album get retrospeculated. Rush used to be my favorite band long ago – but no songs about sex? WTF? Their former Ayn Rand association being considered an unforgivable sin does bug me, and, though the uptight, prickly prig would snub me as a shoegazing decadent, I think Rand herself is often misestimated and the popular total denial of her worth as a philosophical writer sucks. (There is honey among the bees.) Regardless, not only was Neil Peart’s interest really Objectivism-lite, but a lot of Rush songs contradict Objectivist tenets. Despite your basic disdain for Rand, you give credit where you think it’s due in this passage about 2112‘s birth:

The band had released far too many concept tracks and nothing approaching commercial blockbuster viability, but they convinced [Mercury Records] to give them one last chance. Rather than deliver the mainstream album they had promised, Rush decided to double down on the things they loved and somehow it all gelled together perfectly in the nick of time. Thusly, 2112 was born through a basic unwillingness to follow the instructions of corporate overlords. It is the same feeling that threads throughout Ayn Rand’s work and in particular adheres closely to the plot of Anthem.

For me, Rush’s prime was from Permanent Waves to Roll the Bones, so I don’t really like 2112, but your analysis of the album is great. Why do you consider it to be “Rush’s greatest work?” And why do you think Peart is “a self-righteous jackass?”

Megan: Roll the Bones is a great album, and “Roll the Bones” is unquestionably more stable, more timeless philosophical ground than any of the lyrics on 2112. But Roll the Bones didn’t come out in 1976, so you see my problem. If I’m going to make substantial meaning out of every major album in any given year, there’s going to be a lot of bullshit transitions imparting a certain profundity to those subjects. I like the way 2112 hangs together as a concept and a complete story. I like that it’s so clearly adapted from a short novel and that it so substantially rewrites the ending of that novel. I don’t think it’s “Rush’s greatest work,” but I sure did say that in the book. Now you’re on to me – again. As well you already know, it’s never safe to assume that my entire narration is reliable, even where it hangs its hat on the factual or actual. A fat historical analysis like 1976 requires a certain quantity of pompous lead-ins, of which the Rush pronouncement is indeed one. I’m like Odysseus; tie me up, because I’ll say anything when the sirens are in striking distance.


David: Aside from being an iconic percussionist, Neil Peart is a motorcycle enthusiast and author of some thoughtful motorcycle travelogues, which provides me with this kickass segue to one of the book‘s lovely motorcycle passages, which rings like something out of Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels:

The aerometry, the experience of air pressure when riding a motorcycle is the thing about the experience that makes it unlike any other thing you can do. We forget that we live constantly submerged in atoms, because most of those particles are invisible. When I’m driving a bike, those tiny pieces gather themselves into a wall, and I can tell the difference between forty and eighty by the amount of force that ghost substance applies to my breastplate.

Your exuberance for being “the lucky bastard sitting on that iron horse” (as you put it in Only Ride) is almost infectious enough to convince me to helmet up. Please tell us how you decided to break your youthful promise to your mother and hit the slab as a “flesh and steel android creature.”

Megan: Thank you! Yes, I very much enjoy Peart’s thoughts on motorcycles. He beats the pants off Robert Pirsig, though that’s a low bar to set. When I was growing up in Chicago, public transportation was enough. In Baton Rouge, I just mooched rides everywhere for a couple of years. Once I settled in Atlanta, where public transport sucks and most people move more slowly than I want to, some form of wheels became a necessity. Picking a bike over a car was super easy; my early negative experiences with cars appear in 1976 also. Breaking the promise to my mother that I’d never drive a bike was just gravy. Hey, promises to one’s parents are made to be broken. That’s evolution. Like it is for Peart, the motorcycle has long been my best stab at religion.

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David: ZZ Top gets great praise in 1976. I love that those tres hombres can jam about “tube snakes” and “pearl necklaces,” and then belt out something as tender as “Rough Boy.” Those guys are certainly dyed-in-the-beard horndogs, “just cars and pussy,” as you put it, and such straightforwardness is appreciated:

Whatever his personal political convictions, Billy Gibbons sticks to the script at a ZZ Top show. It’s just cars and pussy…If it’s any more serious than that, then shut the hell up. I went to fucking graduate school, you know, so I do comprehend completely how the personal is necessarily also the political, but I just do not believe that rock and roll must be personal. Sometimes the tighter you rock, the emptier you get, and with a full head like mine, sometimes that’s a blessing.

Right on! I love Jello Biafra, The Clash, the Minutemen and Midnight Oil, but I prefer politics-free music, cringing with Johnny Ramone at Joey Ramone’s politicism and cheering Kurt Cobain’s stated hope “to come across more personal than political.” What do you mean by “the personal is necessarily also the political?” (Isn’t dictatorship the ultimate personal politics?) How did you come to love ZZ Top?

Megan: Johnny Ramone voted for Nixon and was a lifelong NRA supporter. Nirvana played many benefit concerts that supported fundraising and local ballot initiatives against rape and homophobia. Kurt Cobain’s humanitarian politics were constantly on display, as well as his more ambivalent anti-corporate stance. “Cars and pussy” is a matter of distancing. I’m sure Billy Gibbons has a lot of deep thoughts on numerous subjects. But the key phrase from the passage you excerpt is really “sticks to the script.” Political bands, a la Tom Morello, just for example, have one kind of script. Apolitical bands have a different script. This goes back to what I said about Gore Vidal earlier; there’s a kind of acting involved, whether you want to keep to alleged lowly topics like hotrods or you want to talk about alleged elevated topics like an AIDS epidemic.

I don’t remember how I came to love ZZ Top. I was born in 1981, so probably I first encountered them through MTV’s music videos. Also, not to let your parenthetical question slip by: this is rhetorical sleight of hand accomplished by a small change in syntax. I don’t know what the hell “personal politics” is. I guess if one person only cares about himself and that person is in charge, for example Donald Trump, that’s a personal politics that is also a dictatorship. But I said, “the personal is necessarily the political,” which simply means that the things I do every day have a wider impact on the world that I should perhaps take time to consider. For example, if as a teacher I decide I am bored with teaching subject-verb agreement every year and I want to stop teaching it, then in a generation, there will be several hundred fewer people who achieve subject-verb agreement. There might be consequences if subject-verb agreement is no longer a thing, so I should think about how my selfish avoidance of the topic may have wider negative results.


David: Billy Gibbons was two-hand tapping on the guitar strings before Eddie Van Halen popularized it, which reminds me to ask: Do you dig Van Halen, ZZ Top’s fellow cock-rockers? If so: Roth or Hagar? (I swing both ways.)

Megan: Under no circumstances would I put Van Halen in the same category as ZZ Top. The three guys that signed ZZ Top’s first recording contract in 1970 are the same three guys who have toured continuously as ZZ Top for nearly forty years. I don’t care whatsoever about Roth versus Hagar; the whole feud is ruinous and sets a bad example for younger bands. Eddie Van Halen is a very talented guitarist, but Billy Gibbons just smokes him. I prefer blues and slide, sorry. Gene Simmons of KISS actually produced Van Halen’s demo in 1976, so I had the chance to talk about the band extensively, but I passed.


David: A fascinating passage in 1976 reveals an unflattering assessment of Marilyn Monroe:

The other day, I found myself embroiled in an argument with my father-in-law concerning the intellectual abilities of Marilyn Monroe. He said she was above average in the smarts department and I said she probably wasn’t. At first, his main warrant for this absurd claim was that we should take a look at her husband because Arthur Miller wouldn’t marry a dummy.

Though I’m a Garbolator rather than a Monroebot, I think both underestimation and overestimation of Marilyn are bad. Sure, Saul Bellow said she “conduct[ed] herself like a philosopher,” but undermining terms such as “childlike sex goddess” (Gloria Steinem), “child-girl” (Norman Mailer), “beautiful child” (Capote) and even “baby whore” (Pauline Kael) have been dominant since her demise. Not that Marilyn was a deferred Atwood or Streep, but I trust Sarah Churchwell when she calls her “a greater Gatsby” and pierces the Dumb Blonde perception: “The biggest myth is that she was dumb. The second is that she was fragile. The third is that she couldn’t act.” Contrarily, you perceptively ask: “[I]f she was the total package and couldn’t maintain, what chance do the rest of us schmucks have?” This happens to echo Steinem on Marilyn: “How dare she be just as vulnerable and unconfident as I felt?” Basically, Marilyn offends you for not taking advantage of her advantage:

So if I give her the benefit of the doubt, I’m trapped with a version of history where a woman who was empowered by both her body and her mind could’ve had all the success of which she dreamed so ambitiously, but instead allowed herself to be subjugated to the position of sex symbol until coping with the emptiness inside herself required so many drugs that she torched her own rise to stardom and died in the weakest way at the least opportune moment…I’d rather believe she was a little too dumb to handle it and she just lost control over her own trajectory. I don’t want to believe that Marilyn Monroe was a picture of the consummate professional, full of intellect and common sense, who nevertheless cracked.

Might both “greater Gatsby” and Dumb Blonde be true? As for Marilyn’s (questionable) suicide, Sexton and Plath also killed themselves, so were they “too dumb” to deal?

Megan: I really like Churchwell’s metatextual projects, and though I ultimately didn’t read most of her book on Marilyn Monroe, the way she went at the subject – the nature of apocrypha itself – was very inspirational to me when I was waist-deep in Warhol research. Monroe died long before I was born, so all I ever have to work with will be under or overestimation, even out of the mouths of people who did actually know her. But I enjoy the second-handedness of most information, the way it mutates over time. We’re left with a kind of Pascal’s wager, where I prefer to gamble that she was sort of dumb so that I don’t live in fear of the implications for myself. Because I’m not dumb.

Nor do I think Plath or Sexton were dumb. I admire Sexton’s work particularly. You might argue that they were rather too smart to deal, not too dumb. That’s a perk of being a writer instead of an actor: you’re writing your own history in your own words. There is a cornucopia of archival material for both writers to convey with constancy and consistency how they felt about life, whereas there is comparatively little material directly out of Monroe’s own mouth, and she is not as articulate as those two writers. The chapter on Monroe doesn’t argue that you’d simply have to be dumb to kill yourself. There are some suicides that I would condone, though they tend to be more in the line of euthanization for physical pain than solely for emotional suffering, for example Hunter Thompson’s suicide.

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David: In Making Tracks Debbie Harry said that she “always thought [she] was Marilyn Monroe’s kid.” Even dubbed the “punk Marilyn” (Mick Rock saw more Marilyn than punk), Debbie brought “the whole Hollywood/Marilyn sensibility to [rock],” according to Chris Stein (the Lindsay Buckingham to her Stevie Nicks), and she wanted to be “a mysterious figure that’ll never be able to be truly defined,” echoing Marilyn’s stated desire “to stay just in the fantasy of Everyman.” 1976 presents a fundamental contrast between Marilyn and Debbie: the latter is “in charge of herself” and “campily capitaliz[ing] on her own sex appeal to drive [Blondie’s] image into record sales,” has “actual brains” and excels at puckish duping of fawning males. Later in life Debbie stated the obvious: “Certainly, 50% of my success is based on my looks, maybe more, and that’s a bitter pill to swallow.” Well, duh. As Janet Radcliffe Richards wrote, “Beauty is not a matter of what you are, it is a matter of what you look like.” Might physical beauty be its own sort of genius, as Wilde said? Isn’t love of foxiness more than acumen understandable?

Megan: I’ve wanted to talk about Monroe and Harry side by side since the Warhol book, where I could not find a way to do it to my own satisfaction. So much of that chapter of 1976 is a kind of deleted scene from that other project. In fact, the surplus of thoughts and residual understandings I had during that Warhol project in some sense made 1976 easy pickings among all the other years I could have chosen. It’s no secret that I’m working on a book about Bruce Springsteen right now, and in many ways these books are three of a kind, though they are in no way a proper trilogy.

But you asked me about physical beauty. Warhol, having none himself, sought ceaselessly to collect and then reproduce the foxiness he found in others. Where 1976 openly discusses physical beauty, it’s often as an absence, for example in the chapter on Richard Avedon’s political portraits. I understand that many people think of Springsteen as super hot, but I’m not one of them, and most of those people would likely agree with me anyway that his unusual voice has an ugliness that is the real seat of his rise to celebrity. It’s easy to agree with Wilde because physical beauty on a natural level can be a straightforwardly evolutionary prospect. I also admire people working in fashion, photography, or other arts fields where one is expected to be gorgeous, for the upkeep that maintaining gorgeousness obviously requires – foxiness as a kind of acumen. It’s a skill set, and I do love drag queens. But then eating disorders, expensive cosmetic surgery, and so on. I get through life mainly by displaying acumen, but I’d be foolish and not very feminist to disapprove of Debbie Harry’s good looks or how she used them.


David: Finally we come to the genius Lester Bangs: the virtuoso of disgust, rock ‘n’ roll’s John Ruskin. 1976 brings up his controversial Blondie book, which Chris Stein called simultaneous “condemnation and affection” and you describe as an “angry misogynist rant.” Here’s your stab at Bangs’ underlying psychology:

It was supposed to be an authorized biography, but ended up like an ex-boyfriend’s crazed public service announcement about the bitch that dumped him…He was jilted to discover that [Debbie Harry] was her own boss, and in misconstruing the emotive capacities of her singing as earnest and serious, he was shamed by the sudden realization that she had a tricky sense of humor…He fell for the joke! She was therefore smarter than him and he was threatened.

But Bangs was too smart to fear smart women. Rather, he perceived a vampiric, blues-anemic Blondie, coldly embodied in the glib, irony-clad lead vocalist so unlike “flesh and blood” Patti Smith. This statement of yours really strikes me: “Debbie Harry is smiling at you, only for you to understand a moment later that she’s actually laughing at you.” Well, isn’t that akin to Roger Waters, hot in his hypocrite-socialist narcissism, spitting at his own fan? A superior mind deserves respect, but someone laughing at you? Fuck that. Besides, Bangs hated everything that was out at the time (Rod Stewart also got skewered) – and he was smarter than Debbie. Isn’t divergent but well-written criticism just fun to read? Shouldn’t celebrities’ hearts be hardier than glass to endure sharp-penned Lesters? And doesn’t affection often verge on condemnation?

Megan: I love this question because, I swear to you, every person I’ve ever met who’s even heard of Lester Bangs instantly talks to me from the perspective of being a Bangs apologist. Look, I think he wrote many excellent essays (especially on Lou Reed and Patti Smith) and I even agree with some of his more marginal negative reviews. But he was also such an unthinking asshole who could be put on tilt pretty easily and often unproductively, and then there’s the drugs. Yes, divergent but well-written criticism is super fun to read. And yes, I believe that affection not only often but always verges on condemnation. If those two things are untrue, a lot of what I’ve published is going into the trash bin and even my hypocrisy has limits. There’s a chapter in 1976 where I expound on this belief concerning my opinion of Raymond Carver. These are cautionary tales to me personally; 1976 takes no position on whether Harry herself should have been sad, flattered or pissed about Bangs’ book. For most people, Lester Bangs just didn’t make it onto the reading list. I may be taking him down a peg in the book, but hey, he made the cut. Even Van Halen didn’t make the cut.


David: Debbie Harry once likened her persona to “a wizard’s screen,” and, thanks to Toto, we know to question such screens. In your work you wax ironic but seem to omit metaphysical/emotional blues, let alone existential terror, and, related to Rush avoiding songs about sex, I don’t think you’ve ever spieled about, say, playing on your phrase about ZZ Top, motorcycles and pussy. Your libido-perking gush on Joan Jett is a whet that could’ve been wetter: “She was a fucking cherry bomb of kid. Hello, daddy! Tons of girls, perhaps all girls, feel these feels. We run around in the dark, human and wild, the same as boys.” Call me perv, but I want to feel more of those feels. Do you consciously avoid sexual confessionalism, or is Melville’s Ishmael right that “wonderfullest things are ever the unmentionable?” Might a future book reveal a Pascalian shiver at indifferent outer space, spill some tears, skinnydip?

Megan: The book emits existential laughter, not terror. I am a human at peace with the human predicament. But I do think 1976 is very blues-based; it’s a deliberate echo of the gonzo free-styling and the uppity hippie indignation of days of yore, regularly shot through with the anthemic power chords of youthful rebellion. Did you read the letter to my last surviving grandparent in there? Did you read the three pages devoted to Halston’s cologne? The passage about peeing in public? I know you loved the motorcycling parts. That is all some very poignant shit, is it not? The sex is in there, but the explicit stuff you’re after has long faded from my writing.

Here’s an exclusive: I’ve never skinny dipped and I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. It can’t be better than doing seventy on a bike with a monsoon pelting your chest. Yes, I do occasionally spill tears (see that letter to my grandpa in the November chapter), though not as often as most people think I should. I cry more often at car commercials than I do at funerals, because one might be art and the other is just death. When I look at outer space, I don’t see indifference; I see infinity and possibility. Look, I do consciously avoid what you’re calling sexual confessionalism, because I make a living as a public school teacher and there is a ridiculous amount of stuff that passes for “moral turpitude” these days. My readership includes some teenagers now, so I go easy on the drug references, too. Have you noticed me even cutting way back on the cursing? Although that is a major fucking bummer. I have also been in a monogamous marriage to my lovely wife, Mindy, for more than a decade – which is to say that our sex life or my fantasy life is no one’s business anymore but Mindy’s.

To return to a previous topic, the focal point of my foxiness is acumen. As a writer and a person, I have been out of the closet as a queer for nearly twenty years. My very existence as such is a public service and one that I am gleefully honored to provide. I don’t think you’re a perv; I just think you’re being a particular type of man at this moment. More on this on your Joan Jett question immediately following…


David: Continuing with cherry bomb Joan Jett, here’s quite a provocative line from the book: “Asking a girl to play guitar is a lot like asking a horse to talk.” More gold:

To be a girl on the boys’ stage, to be playing their instruments and making their noises, and to do it with the same technical proficiency and charisma with which they do it, is vulgar…Asking a girl to play guitar is a lot like asking a horse to talk…Maybe Planet of the Apes is a better metaphor, because the horse that could talk was still confined to his stable, whereas the girl who could play guitar was free, independent. Something can only be vulgar if it is also at least somewhat mesmerizing, and inside that feeling of enthrallment is a quick little drop-off into a pit of willing subjection. The damn dirty apes are running the show. Joan Jett is a king.

You also point out the dearth of recognized female guitar giants and cite Jett’s inclusion on Rolling Stone’s male-majority Top 100 Guitarists list. Why is guitar godhood so testicular? Is it just a fish/bicycle situation? Also, if you had your own rock band, what would be its name?

Megan: I’m super glad you quoted this whole passage and not just the line, because the line alone is likely going down in history as one of the most offensive things I’ll ever write. Guitar godhood is not the only thing that’s so testicular. Fish do not ride bicycles; there is no reason a woman can’t play guitar as well as a man. A lot of life is male-majority best-of lists. In 1977, the Runaways released the Live in Japan album, and there’s a track on there that I think about all the time: “I Wanna Be Where the Boys Are.” The song was written for them by their manager, Kim Fowley, and his seventeen years younger girlfriend, Roni Lee. Lee also performed the song in another more short-lived Fowley band, Venus and the Razorblades. Joan Jett is one of the few women who are (now) where they boys are. She’s an inspiration. I want to get into that space, coasting on enough borrowed privilege to pull the next one up. This is related to Zizek’s musings on Antigone, right? Just knock on the door they told you to knock on, and claim what they tell you is yours if you claim it.

When I parrot some of the most antifeminist rhetoric about her, it’s because I’m in search of strategies for defeating it. There’s an irony embedded in there. In many places throughout 1976, I’m doing an at times sickeningly convincing impression of what I called in the December chapter the language of the “standard American male.” 1976 is really my effort to “communicate like a man.” Hilarious, right? There have been mixed receptions to this concept. Some people are misreading the book and assuming I really do harbor the objectionable sentiments of the standard American male. Most people are reading it as a more nuanced type of butch dyke machismo and crediting me with largely the same ugly opinions but from a somewhat more feminist place. That’s alright by me. More people are figuring out the joke now; I hope I haven’t spoiled it by explaining it. Maybe I will send a copy to Zizek, or the collective masquerading as Zizek, and ask for an essay examining to what extent 1976 constitutes a proper pastiche.


David: From the Ramones section of 1976:

The Ramones did not evolve, ever. They personally grew old and gray and sick and cantankerous, but did not condone or experiment with adulthood in the image they presented to their rabid public…This continuous performance of the Ramones as a coadunation of grizzled teenage soul is so unimpeachable, so thoroughly curated, so perfectly glossy, that I even feel a little bad discussing it in the past tense.

There’s a thread of sameness for sure, but their trademark lowbrow songs seem obligatory (brand rather than band) by, say, Halfway to Sanity or Brain Drain, and certainly by Mondo Bizarro, which includes the world-torn, affecting “Poison Heart.” Joey’s vocals certainly evolved over the years, and his deeper, denser voice seemed to coincide with increased lyrical gravity. Your thoughts?

Megan: Obligatory, brand before band, archaic…look at your word choice. You agree with me. The Ramones did not evolve, ever.

David: “If I’m being honest, Tom Petty saved my life.” That’s how you start your digressive spiel on Tom Petty and George Harrison (with particular focus on Petty’s debut album and Harrison’s Thirty Three & 1/3), which also appears as an essay (with slight differences) in PopMatters: “Tom Petty and George Harrison Were Two Sides of the Same Bicentennial Coin.” You also discuss your gastrointenstinal curse of ulcerative colitis (an affliction Marilyn Monroe probably had, very coincidentally). How do Tom, George and GI disease go together, and how was your life was saved by that lead Heartbreaker?

Megan: Tom and George were the best of pals. I have many more words on both of them, but of course had to stay focused on the two albums they happen to have launched in ’76. I’ve got more than one Tom Petty book proposal rejection under my belt, in fact. I think of Tom and George as my personal spirit guides. One of the greatest and longest challenges of my life will be living with ulcerative colitis. There are times when it causes me unimaginable physical pain – the GI tract has its own nervous system, so when I say the pain is unimaginable, I mean it quite literally. I have an exceedingly high pain threshold, and sometimes the pain still just topples me. It’s completely incapacitating, even blinding (again, literally).

During prolonged bouts with this type of pain, I have sometimes considered suicide. My wife, bless her, has pulled me out of that. On the brief occasions where Mindy has not been able to snap me out of it, the music of Tom Petty has been my salvation. That’s it, no fun story to tell, just a statement of faith. Something in that music speaks to me like no other music can, and for that I’m eternally grateful to him and the Heartbreakers. I suppose I could explain it more vividly or emotively, but I find it more valuable to detach from this type of suffering when I’m not directly experiencing it. Otherwise, as they say in Baton Rouge, it haunts you down.

02 February - Perspective-01 cc

David: 1976 is jam-packed with coincidental historical timelines and lightning-quick political analyses that star a vast cast of pols: George Wallace, Jerry Brown, Nixon, Kissinger, Gerald Ford, Carter. In one of my favorite passages, you write “Lord knows all roads through politics lead to a Kennedy,” a rif on an earlier golden line: “Sometimes I get mad about the fact that all roads lead to a Kennedy.” Fuck, if that ain’t the truth! You also admirably admire the admirable Ron Kovic, perhaps America’s most popular wounded warrior and author of 1976’s Born on the Fourth of July. Why/how have Kovic and his autobiography affected you? What do you think of Oliver Stone’s film adaptation? In general, how the hell did you research and cohere all of the historical/political stuff in the book?

Megan: Before we talk about Kovic, I have to give credit where it is due as far as that thought on the Kennedys. That is my really obvious salute to Eileen Myles. My favorite book of hers will always be Not Me. It opens with “An American Poem,” which is for me personally one of the greatest poems ever written. In it, she asserts that she is a Kennedy and then asks whether we shouldn’t all be Kennedys. Just go read the poem. Every line of it feels attached to my personal missions in life, and I just wanted to put a little ghost of Eileen into this book. We have to propagate our species.

OK, Ron Kovic. I haven’t seen the movie, except in pieces in the background in the living room as a kid. Some of my friends are librarians, and so for a long while now, based on the things they have told me, I’ve wanted to write the history of one copy of one book. I just like thinking about a book bouncing from hand to hand, house to house, human to human. There’s an element of chance, but an opportunity for unusual synchronicities, and we make meaning out of the life we’re living regardless of how deliberately we’re living it. Kovic’s book is a memoir, so I figured if I could inject myself as I’d been doing with all the other artifacts of ’76, to do a history of a copy of the book would add a third layer of complexity and also keep the book as a whole more grounded in the lives of regular citizens. So I specifically sought out a used library copy with the seller’s assurance that the library stamps were still on the inside pocket. I had not ever read the book before, and I would say the process of researching the town history of this one copy’s origin affected me more deeply than Kovic’s own narrative. I’ve thought about phoning up those people who checked out this particular copy and asking what they felt about reading it.

As for the totality of the book, my research strategy had grown pretty robust thanks to the work I did on the Warhol book. That was a similar matter of basically: gather a reading list, make a spreadsheet, break it into assignment chunks, read a few things, write something, read a few things, write something. I laid out a spreadsheet with one page for every month in 1976. Then I listed all the dates in each month down the left column and got deep into the internet for a day or two on each month. I filled every date of the entire year with artifacts that were color-coded according to their subject area, like music or the election. Then I tried to find patterns through which to thread a theme for each chapter. Once I selected all my artifacts, it was cut and dried. Soak up all the stuff for one month, then craft all the chunks in the chapter. I’d let it sit for a week, then go back to smooth the transitions between chunks and sprinkle in a healthy additional dose of adjectives or make other voice-related edits. It was written chronologically start to finish. Glad you think it coheres pretty nicely. Thanks.


David: Asher Haig did 1976’s illustrations. His work reminds me slightly of stuff by painters Francis Bacon and Schiele, and even Joseph Schindelman (illustrator of Roald Dahl’s Charlie books). Haig says that he pays special attention to image distribution, the relation of images to each other and to what’s written in each chapter. He’s also an expert in artificial intelligence and psychoanalysis. How did you two hook up for the collaboration? What do you think of his work? Do you have any thoughts on AI?

Megan: Asher is amazing; I feel like I have my own Ralph Steadman. This is such a good story, too. He and I were on rival debate teams in college. Among the debate nerds, he was a minor deity and I was like a little earthbound chaos demon, occasionally knocking down the best-laid plans of my betters. Mostly he wiped the floor with me, as I recall it, and though we were certainly acquaintances who often orbited each other at times of late-night shenanigans, I wouldn’t say we were friends. We had a healthy competition and a mutual respect. At some point, each of us moved to Atlanta.

So Mindy and I are in line at our local liquor store one sunny weekend afternoon, and she was holding too much stuff. A very nice gentleman let her cut in front of him in the line so she could put down the bottles. I only glanced at him briefly in saying thank you, but as soon as I left the store, something clicked. I just felt sure it was Asher, though we hadn’t seen each other in over a decade. So then Facebook, where I discovered that not only was it him, but he does illustration work as something in between a hobby and a job. He was working on illustrating all of Kafka’s aphorisms, which reminded me of how much Asher and I always had in common in our ways of thinking. So then coffee, and I offered him the project, which he was psyched to do. We have a natural language between us, with a lot of comfortable silence. He does beautifully precise, often hilarious work. We’ve already batted around one or two ideas for future collaboration.

Do I have any thoughts on AI? Yeah, sure. I think a lot of intelligence is artificial and I think artifice is a good offensive maneuver.

Cover - Eternal Return PDFC

Illustrations ©Asher Haig

“Red Leaves” by Lisa Nanette Allender

As the falling leaves remind us all what time of year it is (my favorite time of year, by the way, is autumn) I’m often prone to bouts of almost inexplicable sadness. The Buddhists have a saying about leaves falling and the loss of a child: that they are the same, that all loss is simply loss, which implies that everything is somehow “equal.” That, coupled with the Buddhist notion that desire leads to pain, are just two reasons why I will probably be unable to call myself “Buddhist”, though I certainly can adopt many other precepts which make sense to me: respecting all of the natural world, maintaining a connection through nature, even the absence of G-d.

While I’d never use the word a-theist (absolutely denies or refutes the existence of G-d) to describe the very spiritual practice of Buddhism, it does appear to be non-theist (not attached to a particular theory of G-d), or, at least, non-dogmatic. In these times of falling leaves, with the yellow and orange and red – like the children’s blood being transfused daily in places like Egleston Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and St. Jude’s Hospital in Tennessee – I am acutely aware because of the holidays and fundraisers for the aforementioned, and very, very valuable medical centers. I also am reminded of this saying of the Buddhists, almost daily, such as when I was in the checkout line at Barnes & Noble, North Point, to grab a book or two before heading off to see amazing, suspenseful, going-to-get-an-Oscar-nod-for sure Argo, and the sales associate asked me if we’d like to “donate a new book to a terminally ill child this holiday.”

I gulped, suddenly feeling quite greedy for purchasing not only a gift for friend, but for snatching up the paperback of Unsaid, a novel about a redemptive dog, just for me, just because I wanted it. I glanced at my husband Hansoo, who appeared as shaken as I was, both of us imagining children on the brink of death, with tubes in their noses, reading a few words between labored breaths.

I quickly asked the questioner, “Could we get one for a boy? I mean, everyone gives girls books. Do you have one that both could enjoy, or something specifically for a boy?”

“How about this ninja book?” she asked, holding aloft a bright-colored manga book.

“Perfect,” I replied. “Look, Hansoo, it’s Asian-centric.” She popped my purchases into a bag and gently laid the book-for-unknown-terminally-ill-boy in a nearby donation stack. As we hurried to leave, I asked, “Is it possible to donate gently-used books, or, um…?” I knew the answer, as soon as the words flew carelessly out of my mouth.

“Well, they’re in terminally ill/critical care.”

I interrupted her with “Oh, of course, the germs.”

“Yes, the kids sneeze on a book, you know, it could expose them to –”

“Of course.” We walked away, heads down, to the great film we were about to see, the film in which lives are saved and there is hope at the end. Exiting the AMC Theatre, I noticed a maple tree shuddering in the strong winds of that Sunday afternoon. She’d lost several bright red leaves, and, I’m guessing, if trees can weep, she wept.

Peace, kids.

An earlier version of this piece was featured at Lisa’s official blog, Lisa Nanette Allender Writes, in 2012.

“Are You Now, Have You Ever?” by Terry Barr

My question was quiet, but clear: “So what do you think today about those years in Birmingham? You know, when the Klan and the Citizens’ Council opposed integration?”

“Well, I’d have to say the Klan was right. I don’t mean right in burning houses or churches, but people had the right to shop where they wanted and to go to school where they wanted. It wasn’t the federal government’s business.”

I wasn’t interviewing a former Birmingham police official or a former Klansman. I wasn’t in someone’s office or downtown club. I was in my parents’ home, my wife and baby daughter ten feet away playing tea party, while my mother and father and this man’s wife socialized before supper. Christmas Eve supper.

These were family friends – longtime. Their daughter and I had been friends before kindergarten, since the womb even, as old photographs of our mothers sitting on our front porch, pregnant together, attest. Through the years there were many such suppers: trips to Alabama football games on fall Saturdays back in the Sixties. Back when the crowds and the teams were all white.

Their daughter and I went to public school together. We experienced the convulsions of integration, the fights, and the supposed harmony of our senior year when the Homecoming Queen was white and the School beauty contest winner was black.

Times change both more and less than you think they do.

Our senior prom was held privately at the Birmingham FOP lodge. A segregated dance at a policeman’s hall. For our first two high school reunions, though, the parties were held publicly and were integrated.

But ever since, due supposedly to the two sides disagreeing over venues, there have been separate but equal reunions, except that it’s hard to say what is equal.

Much harder now than in the Fifties when anyone could see the rundown black school and the slightly less rundown or perhaps wildly prosperous white school.

For no one on either side actually got to see the other’s reunion site, the actual locale, unknown to anyone not invited. Of course, not even all white people received invitations to “our” reunion. Only a few: the proud, the elite.

Our venue was a private home, a very fine mansion in the hills south of Birmingham. Maybe it isn’t a mansion, but it will always be three times larger than anywhere I’ll live. Amongst the reunion selection committee was the daughter of our family friends.

“Remember when she threw sand in your eyes?” my mother asks recently.

“We were only three, Mom! I’ve tried to put that behind me. I think I’ve forgiven her.”

Forgiving, forgetting. But nothing is ever quite over.


I was working on an essay about my father’s rabbi, Milton Grafman of Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El. Rabbi Grafman was a good man. He encouraged interfaith dialogue. In a troubled time, he chose not to be an ardent Zionist. He was no racist either, yet he did not believe that Dr. King, or any outsider, should journey into Birmingham and stir things up only to leave it all behind for others to clean up. Others, like himself and the Alabama clerics who wrote a declaration advocating that changes in Birmingham be left to Birminghamians to orchestrate and administer. Their public letter provoked a response from Dr. King. The one he wrote from a Birmingham jail cell. That’s famous history.

I don’t know how many private stories of those days still exist, published or not. But our family friend had one.

A prominent Birmingham lawyer, he was involved in the negotiations between Birmingham city officials and the Kennedy White House. I don’t know exactly what he did or said back then, but he told me that times were tense, that the Kennedy delegates dispatched to Birmingham didn’t understand the local problems. I wondered aloud if anyone did.

“That’s a fair point,” he said. “But we had to live here.”

I think it’s interesting when people say things like “We had to live here.” Interesting because in those days, the Sixties and Seventies, many people left. Sometimes they moved out of specific neighborhoods and into other ones nearby. Other times they moved into neighboring counties. Suburban counties. Sometimes they moved across school district lines or into rural, county outposts.

What does “living here,” mean? Exactly where is “here?”

For instance, our lawyer friend’s family moved from the older neighborhood we lived in to a newer one in the western part of town where a newer high school was being constructed – one zoned for whiter clientele.

I got zoned to that school too, as did black kids from my side of town. By the time my friend’s daughter and I graduated, the ratio of black to white students was 60-40. Over the next decade it got worse, if by “worse” we mean more segregated. If we mean that others who “had to live here” found that they didn’t.

“It was just a difficult time,” he said. “Raising children back then – yes, I believed the Klan was right in that there should be neighborhood schools, freedom of choice.”

“Did the Klan want freedom of choice?”

“Well, yes. Meaning that we ought to be able to pick the schools we wanted our children to attend. I think you’d find back then that not only did white people want to go to school with other whites, but so did blacks. When you force people to change, to mix, then you’re asking for trouble.”


The neighborhood my parents lived in at the time of this Christmas gathering had been changing for the previous ten years. Black families had moved into the next block, and just before Christmas a black family moved in next door to my parents.

And so it was just after supper, after it seemed that all discussions of race and the past had been left in the wake of our Cornish game hen supper, that my mother turned to the lawyer’s wife, her oldest friend, and said:

“Well, they moved in last weekend.”

Her friend made no verbal response. She didn’t have to. Her face contorted into the visage of a mongrel pug, and then she shivered like you do when someone scratches her nails on an old elementary school blackboard.


My parents remained in their home, the place where my mother grew up, the house she and my Dad were married in. Married not by Rabbi Grafman, but by a Montgomery rabbi, Rabbi Blachschleger, who sent them an anniversary card for the next fourteen years until he died. Unlike Grafman, Rabbi Blachschleger believed in mixed marriages. It took a drive-by shooting in front of their house on a hot summer Sunday afternoon to get them to move. Ironically, they had become friends with the family next door.

Do times change? When change is imperceptible, is it still change?

So many of these figures are dead now. Rabbi Grafman, my Dad, Dr. King, my mother’s oldest friend. But just last weekend, my mother called her friend’s husband, the lawyer. He’s in an assisted-living home now. He has severe back problems and who knows what else.

“He was glad to hear from me,” my mother said. “I had to get his number from his daughter after she told me he wished I’d call him some time. The funny thing is, he’s always had my number. Why didn’t he call me?”

Of course, I had no idea.

“He always was strange,” my mother said then.

I agreed with her. We can hide from the past, and sometimes we can even bury it. At some point, though, we give ourselves away in a chance remark or a silent action. Or in a ringing voice that speaks of “freedom,” even if most of us will never agree about what that word meant back then, when things seemed so black and white. Or especially now, when they so clearly aren’t.

“The Psychedelic Wedding” by Angel Uriel Perales

Everybody attended, my entire family, to witness this spötterei of love, my enduring humiliation, the sad little wedding fiasco. They came far from exotic places such as Puerto Rico, and they came from closer corners of the nation such as Florida and California. Monies were spent on my behalf. Vacations rearranged. Wedding gifts bought. 

What could not be ignored was that my fiancee’s half of the church was aghast at the jibber-jabbering polyglot emanating from my side. And my side was tense and concerned at the consternation emanating from her side. The swollen week was culminating into a calamitous crescendo of clusterfuck proportions.

My friends were there as well. The happily married ones, the bitter divorcees, the laughing bachelors. I swear they were placing bets, gambling on the longevity of our commitment. An ex-girlfriend walked in late, attracting attention. She had tempted and tested my amorous resolve two weeks previous, the siren, the hussy siren, and then simply looked winded, patulous, almost dyspneal in the wake of my rejection.

The preacher was rote, the kiss of little note, and a psychedelic sheen began to transform all the colors surrounding me as I tried to keep anxious sweat from stinging my eyes. Her father openly wept, mine was thin-lipped and pale. And some crazy lyric from Crowded House got stuck in my head: …in the paper today tales of war and of waste but you turn right over to the TV page…

And I looked at my bride, looked at my bride and assured myself that I loved her more than anything in the world. I did love her unsoundly, without boundaries, away from those that still sought to define us. Some time into our courtship we had surpassed ourselves, our painted backgrounds, our inherent fears, even all our influential atmosphere, and we merged into an indescribable and frightening intimacy, panoptic, bringing me hope indefatigable. She accepted and desired me and all I could feel was inexhaustible hope. And the rest of the song fell into place in my head: …they come to build a wall between us. We know they won’t win…

But as the old adage proves true, when you marry, you marry the whole family. Shortly after returning from the honeymoon to our new house, the marriage was over. 52 days, as a matter of punctilious fact. 52 days before the house of cards crumbled. I object! Protesta! The deck was stacked. Then the deck was shuffled. Somebody marked the jokers. My joker has a curled devil’s tail and is holding his gut from laughing so hard. Her joker sits turned away with her face in her hands, a box of tissue by her side. The game was a sham, Your Honor, and we demand our loss of honor returned. Duly noted, Valentinus, and denied.

“Atlantic Threat” by Tom Sheehan

A series of strange bubbles of unknown origin broke the water only 25 or 30 feet from Jasper Henry, resting in a fog bank in his kayak on a morning trip on the Atlantic Ocean. An excellent swimmer and kayaker, his vest strapped in place, he was a mere mile from his home in Nahant, a Massachusetts peninsula running into the ocean from Lynn. At first floated in the thought it was a sea turtle, the bubbles were so large, like balloons had let go their breath below the surface. But he suddenly became aware of a huge presence below him, a huge presence, one he had never imagined, shadowy but solid, seen but not seen, spelling displacement to the core.

He was leery, World War II in high profile, his brother Jim off in the South Pacific, on that other body of water, and treachery possibly afoot in his homeland. He was 13, but his mind loaded with imagination at every vector made him a reader, a romantic, and a slight adventurer who could still make a fist. He had seen a movie a week earlier where a troop of Boy Scouts had made the difference, thwarting off danger, saving the innocents. He loved the movie, took it into his dreams, saw scenes over and over again in his half sleep, and could see the puffy cheeks of the young leader, Jackie Cooper, boy movie star. It was high adventure for Jasper Henry. And he had heard about German U-boats on the prowl on the coastal Atlantic, the east coast.

With a decision as quick as his paddle, Jasper Henry drove himself against the fog bank, heard more bubbles popping up behind him, followed by a whoosh of noise coming from underwater, and small waves touching like hands and fingers on the sides of his kayak. He made a low profile, shifted his paddle, and drew it onto his craft and kept it motionless. Holding his breath, letting all curiosity find silence, sitting at the very edge of the gray fogbank, he felt a mysterious and different wetness on his arms. He was not alone in the waters off Nahant.

Afraid to breath, to move, he kept the profile log-low on the water, heard the final bubbles break the surface, saw a hand paw at the water and a strange head appear, a head with an apparatus on it, like a diver’s helmet. The apparatus and the hands moved toward the shore, halted, looked about, seemed to stare past him and the kayak, continued on.

Jasper kept his frame low, log-low. The figure of a man eventually stood up in shallow water, took off the apparatus, walked onto land’s edge, found a large stone, stuck it into the skull of the apparatus with difficulty, walked back into deep water, dove, and came back up without the apparatus. He stumbled back to the shore, started a search for something, found it and withdrew a black bag from under a pile of stones. Quickly he dressed in clothes taken from the bag, put the clothes he wore into the bag and carefully buried it under a pile of rocks. He walked onto Nahant proper, took a turn, climbed a rocky path, and set off as though the morning had called him out for a seaside walk.

Jasper, with his heart beating, disbelief and fear pounding his senses, paddled ferociously, beached his kayak, ran up on the other side of a big rock, and saw nothing of the stranger. The swimmer, the man up from the depths of the ocean, was nowhere in sight.

Then panic hit him like a fever. He heard his brother Jimmy say, “Don’t let him get away from you, Jazz, I’m counting on you.” He ran down the first street and there in the front yard of Donnie Brougham’s house was Donnie’s bike, the new Western Flyer with handlebars a yard wide. He grabbed it on the fly and took off.

Ten minutes later he still had no sight of the man, blond hair, blue shirt, black pants, and black sneakers. Nobody walked this end of the road. The fog had not crossed onto Nahant proper. The diner at the beach was lit up as usual, the police cruiser parked outside with several other cars. He put the bike beside the diner and through the window he saw Officer Rogalski getting his morning coffee from Perly Gates, who owned the diner, two fishermen having a small breakfast at a window table and two older ladies having coffee and rolls, and the blond man in a blue shirt, black pants, and, he was willing to bet, wearing black sneakers.

Jasper kept hearing his brother’s voice, so he walked in and said to Officer Tim Rogalski, “Hi, Tim. How are you this morning? Foggy, huh?”

“Well, Jasper, were you out there today at the point?”

“Oh, no, Tim. I just wanted to tell you something.”

The blond man shifted in his seat at the counter, turning his head slowly, pretending to look around the room.

Jasper said, “I have to tell you, Tim, that I borrowed Donnie Brougham’s new Western Flyer bike, not a week old and it was right out on the lawn in front of his house where he left it. Can you imagine that? Right out on the middle of the lawn.” His hands were on his hips as though a teacher was expressing concern about a student to another teacher.

“Gonna teach him a lesson, huh, Jasper? Good idea. His father’s got more money that he can count, so Donnie’s got to learn from someone else. Might as well be you.” He looked up at Perly Gates and said, “Kid’s ahead of the game already, ain’t he, Perly?”

The door opened into the small diner and another man walked in, slapped the blond stranger on the back, and said, “Hi, Greg, I told you I’d make it. The walk on the beach was great, all the way from over in Swampscott. How was yours? And the eggs smell great or is it the bacon?”

He sat beside the blond, pointed at the blond’s plate and said to Perly, “I’ll have that, but doubled, if you don’t mind. Another coffee for the officer, too, if he wants one. My walk was just great. I feel like celebrating.”

Rogalski said, “Thanks, mister,” and to Gates nodded his head and added, “Might as well while I’m here. It’ll come in handy. I’ve got to do some coast-watching later today. We’ve had reports, pretty firm ones, that German U-boats or submarines have been spotted off Nantucket and up in Maine. Nahant’s not far from either place. When we hear those kinds of reports, we think about spies being set ashore, so I’ve got to keep a sharp eye.” He rubbed his hand on Jasper’s head, and offered him a salute. “Keep it up, Jasper, I’ll be watching you.”

“I might as well go out with you, Tim,” Jasper said, “and take another spin back to Donnie’s house, see if he calls you before I get back there. I bet he does, or his father does.”

Rogalski winked at Gates and the policeman and the boy on the watch left the diner together.

Jasper wheeled around a corner on the bike, came back to the house a few doors from the diner, a garrison being repaired, scrap lumber in odd piles around the yard. From a seat on a carpenter’s horse he had a view of the whole street where five cars sat against the curbing and the small parking lot across the street where four cars were parked. Beyond the small lot ran a narrow section of the beach, and beyond that the Atlantic ran all the way to the horizon. A ship dotted the very fringe, the Atlantic as calm as the morning kitchen at home until his father walked in, the day already loading him down, his mother doing her best to smile, cheer on the day for him, and worry about Jimmy on some open sandy beach in another ocean.

Wondering if he’d be able to see a car if the blond got into it, thinking the other man might not have walked all the way from Swampscott, all along King’s Beach and then the whole causeway onto Nahant, he thought about his options, how best to see and record any plate registration numbers. If they were up to no good, he’d have to record it somehow. Could he remember the numbers of one plate? Of more than one plate? His breath, as with each problem appearing, came heavy again.

At some point, not sure when it began, his stomach hurt, a small throb of uneasiness making news. He could hear his father say, “At least it’s not my heart, which is not down that low.” His mother would smile to make him feel easy, as if she had laughed at his small twist of humor.

Jimmy’s voice came back, secretly, but with a nervous edge to it. “Don’t let them get away with anything, Jazz.” He always loved how his big brother called him Jazz, the only one in the family, the only one on the whole island of Nahant.

In the solace of that thought, the nub of a carpenter’s pencil slipped its dark slabby lead into his awareness. It was hardly two inches long. He leaned down to pick it up even as he looked at the cars, counted them, tried to read the numbers. He couldn’t read them all, and guessed that he could never remember them all.

Jimmy, from way off, his voice thin and weary, simply said, “Think, Jazz. Think.”

The weariness in Jimmy’s voice made hum jump and hustle. He grabbed a piece of clean scrap wood, dry, almost off-white in color, and in a second act picked up a dozen or so used nails, leaped on the Western Flyer, hoped Donnie or his father had not called the cops, crossed the road, did a few wheelies in the lot, and at the end of the lot, close to beach sand and the ocean, he printed the number of each car’s plate on the board. He made the trip four times, did four wheelies, and checked the numbers one last time. They were complete, correct, all Massachusetts plates.

Down the causeway in its slow curve into Lynn, he rode back towards the diner to get the numbers of the cars parked on the street. Up a slight rise he drove the bike, pushing hard on the pedals, found another site to study the cars, and waited for the men to exit the diner. With a nod to himself, he was glad he had also noted each number by location, in the lot and on the street, and by relative positions.

The last time he had seen Donnie Brougham, they had a fight about some movie. He could not remember what it was about, who won. But Donnie would call the cops if he had seen him take the bike. Behind a high bush he stashed the bike, returned his watch, remembered the smell of bacon and eggs in Perly’s place, heard his stomach acknowledge the aroma, wondered how his father had been this morning, how his mother was doing.

The two men, the swimmer and the walker, came out of the diner and he decided to note the walker as “W” and the swimmer as “S” whenever he recorded any comments about them. He studied them as they stood away from the diner about a dozen feet. W looked up and down the street and across the parking lot and along the beach. Jasper somehow knew he was looking for Rogalski, who was not in sight. The man wore a thin summery jacket that carried an emblem he was not able to figure out, some golf club emblem he assumed. He wore a pair of pants that sure looked to be suit pants like his father’s, but were not walking pants, not beach pants. And he too wore sneakers, the kind S had on. He looked down at his own sneakers, black high tops, and a buck a pair from the Converse Rubber in Malden.

Then, right there on the sidewalk as if they were out in front of their own house, like they belonged someplace, W in a secret move handed S something from his pocket, shook his hand, and walked up the street, climbed into a Chevy, backed up, turned around, and headed off down the causeway towards Lynn, slowly, easily, as though he might be counting the waves of the new tide, looking at the early women walkers. Jasper checked off the Chevy plate number with a W.

S, also looking around, perhaps also searching for sight of Officer Rogalski, crossed the road and entered the parking lot where he sat down in a Packard two-door car with a hood as long as the Erie Canal. His uncle Owen had the same 1939 model, the same long hood with the same threat of power under the hood. Once he said he ran it up to Portland, Maine on a few stretches at 90 miles an hour – 90 miles an hour!

Jasper marked this registration numbers with an S, realized he should do some more reading about U-boats on the coast, and suddenly remembered he had seen a few likely magazines in Easy Eddie’s Barbershop but hadn’t given them much attention, his father sitting there, drumming his fingers on his knee like he was counting the hairs falling off a head. That’d be easy too, sneaking looks at Easy Eddie’s magazines, or else he’d look in Santry’s Drugstore and slip behind the door with a few other magazines off their rack, fill in the threats of German U-boats, here and all along the eastern coast. Vaguely he recalled a U-boat once was suspected of being in the Gulf of Mexico, just beyond New Orleans. It made him shiver, and he felt the sting in his stomach start anew. Rogalski’s comments in the diner might have carried too much information.

The Chevy was long out of sight, and the Packard, once that engine got warmed up, could be out of state in an hour or two. He didn’t know which way to turn, who to turn to. It would not be Rogalski who’d fake interest, drink coffee, rest, but remember other tales Jasper had told, and snuff it off like one of his butts right into the gutter. Nor would his father help, too angry early in the day, too tired at night, his mother at such times too busy making up for all other things in the house.

He wished Jimmy was here. Then, as if coming from an intolerable distance and bouncing off a clean rock of Nahant, like a bugle call or a razor’s edge, he heard Jimmy say, “Don’t let them get away from you, Jazz. I’m counting on you.” When he added “We’re all counting on you,” that did it.

All the things he thought he should do started to fall into order, and a small joy of being in control began to find some appreciation. The glow was short-lived when he saw the Packard start up, move down the parking lot to the far end, and stop in a new spot. S stood up outside the car, took off his shirt and put on a short-sleeved summer shirt, as though he was preparing for a walk.

Jasper panicked. He thought that S would go back to the rocky landing place, look for his stowed gear, destroy it or get rid of it in some manner. He had to beat him to it. Without looking back, he retrieved Donnie’s Western Flyer, flew out a back yard and raced away toward the rocky point without S seeing him.

Or he hoped so.

He resisted the urge again to look back. The pedals came up hard against his feet, his thighs felt the thrust coming back into them, and then found and matched it with his own power. The sound made by a ’39 Packard was comparable to his energy, he believed for a moment, as he drove hard over a hill and saw the whole Atlantic out there, the one small ship on the horizon. He wondered if a U-boat’s periscope watched the ship as he did, saw it better than a dot on the horizon, saw it as an easy kill. The movie whoosh of a released torpedo sounded in his head, he saw the light of an explosion on a thin, thin horizon where the world fell away.

Staying away from Donnie was important; he’d mess up everything and every which way. Donnie and his father would run with it, their mouths blabbing like babies, terror running out of their mouths so all Nahant would go all abuzz, explode…and miss what was important.

He drove harder, ditched the bike down between two slabs of sea-worn stone, and scampered down the rocks. In a few minutes he had the hiding place located and recovered what was hidden there. It was a black bag, smooth and oily to the touch and made him think of the table covering on his mother’s kitchen table, the red and white squares leaping into his mind like a strange checkerboard, how water would run right off the edge.

Not daring to take time to look into the bag, he grabbed it tightly, climbed between rugged rocks to keep his profile and silhouette as indistinct as possible, and found the bike where he’d left it. His stomach hurt once more, now tingles of pain as though needles were loose in him, flashing their points around with little care, no care. Down two lawns he rode, off the street, keeping out of sight, and suddenly saw S turn a corner ahead of him, on a casual walk. Jasper ducked behind hedges, flattened the bike, lay down with the oily black bag still in his hands. His breath was heavy and fearfully noisy as he tried to hold it in place.

S was coming down the street leisurely, as though he was a neighbor from the other end of town or over from Lynn or Swampscott for a morning constitutional, the sun only part way up in the sky, the sky a perfect blue on a day coming perfect – for a U-boat spy checking out Nahant, perhaps trying to cover his tracks, or retrieving the buried black bag.

Jasper wondered why S’d dare come back. Was there something in the bag he had forgotten? Didn’t dare leave behind for discovery? Would slap him in jail in a minute? If he waited and it was found by someone that someone might think it had fallen from a boat or ship, to be claimed by the finder, carried off to be lost forever in the heart of the country, in the heart of America.

Or point fingers where fingers should be pointed.

S passed him as he hid behind the hedges thick as grandma’s oatmeal, heart pounding all the while. He waited until the blond was out of sight around a corner, jumped on the bike with the bundle and headed down toward the beach. On the way, behind his own house, he hid the bundle inside the tool shed, tossing it onto the small shelf above the door.

Meanwhile, the Packard bothered him. A few Halloween tricks came across his mind, and one of them loomed as a definite possibility for immobilizing the vehicle. He decided against stuffing a potato into the end of the muffler or pulling spark plug wires from the engine. A dozen other pranks rode his memory from past nights of the holiday.

The few wheelies he performed in the parking lot attracted attention only for a while, and when he rested he rested beside the long-hooded Packard and with utmost caution, alert to anybody who could see him if they wanted to, stuck two slivers of wood into the air stems of the tires on one side, and loosely tossed the nails from the construction site around the area. It might spend some of S’s time to think about nails in the tires. It was the easy part of the equation of “how and fixed.”

Air began to escape its tight compression and leaked until the tires were flat and the Packard settled lower on the ocean side of the lot. S was not in sight as he gazed back toward the rocky point, so he sped back on another street, came to the rear of Donnie Brougham’s house and saw Donnie in front talking to his father, and saw the cruiser come to a stop out front. Rogalski slid from the cruiser, just as Jasper walked from behind the house.

There was instant yelling from father and son and Rogalski did not say a word until Jasper reached them. “Hello, Jasper,” he said. “How you doing today?”

“Oh. I’m fine, Mister Rogalski. I just came up from the point and saw Donnie’s new bike back there near the shed and was telling myself how great it looks. I love those wide handlebars.”

Rogalski said, “I had a report his bike was stolen, but I guess that was a mistake.” He turned to Donnie and asked, “Didn’t you say you left it out front, right on the lawn last night. Donnie” Is that correct?”

“Well, maybe I forgot. I sure won’t leave it around anymore.” His father walked off in a huff. Donnie ran to get his bike and Rogalski said, “Where you headed, Jasper, home or down the beach? I’ll give you a ride if you want one.”

“Can I ride in the front seat?”

“Sure can,” Rogalski said, slipping into the cruiser. Jasper went in the rider’s door.

Before the cruiser came to a stop, Jasper spotted the Packard leaning on the whole left side in the lot, but he said nothing to the policeman who paid no attention to the vehicle.

He wanted to get to Easy Eddie’s Barbershop or Santry’s Drug Store, catch up on U-boat information. He caught the edge of something he had forgotten, but it didn’t surface. Worries crowded him that all he had seen wasn’t real, wasn’t dangerous. Maybe it was a test of home defenses, alertness, the home guard, as it were. Rogalski always seemed kind of sleepy at the switch.

During the day, S went off after he had seen the condition of the car, walked back toward Lynn and returned a few hours later on a bicycle with a bicycle pump across the handlebars. When the tires were fixed, he placed the bicycle and the pump in the trunk and drove off down the causeway, towards all America. It was the last Jasper saw of the Packard, but he knew the sound of the engine, could pick it out of a dozen different cars.

After 9 PM he went to bed at his father’s insistence, knowing he’d be unable to sleep: he hadn’t warned anybody yet: not his parents, not Rogalski, not anybody. Not even the FBI. He sat up in bed at that. The thought sat there in his mind, fermenting, thinking of what he could say. How to phrase it.

Past midnight he heard an automobile. The tappets said it was a Chevy. Nobody on his street came home at this hour, though a few families did have one, and Pete and Jerry Milburn each drove one. The car turned around down the street and slowly passed his house again, and he could imagine S or W checking him out, the oily black bag discovered and taken away.

“Oh, Jimmy,” he said, “will playing cops and robbers bring trouble home? I remember Dad always saying, ‘I know you’ll never bring trouble into the house. Was he talking about something like this?”

The next night it was the Packard he heard, the thrusting purr of the engine. He couldn’t imagine how big the engine was beneath that long hood. It was well after midnight as the Packard went cruising down a few streets, but not his street. Could he take that as a bit of security? Was he clear of them as their suspect who had taken the black bag? That made him laugh in the back of his throat, but not loud enough for anybody to hear. There was no one he could tell what he knew about S and W.

Just Jimmy, but so far away it made him cry.

The newspaper the next day carried a report of U-boats off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire and one report of a woman being caught as she came up on the beach in Maine in an inflatable craft and she carried a large sum of American money. Police whisked her away before newspaper people could even talk to her or take her picture. She might have slid into the middle of the country if one man had not been on watch for the country, an old WW I veteran, his eye on the horizon, the beach, and odd entrants to his neighborhood.

Jasper read the story when his pal Barry Reese left it on his doorstep. Barry had two brothers in the war, one in Germany and one in the Pacific. Not yet 6 in the morning, they chatted a while about last letters and known places their brothers had been.

Jasper read parts of the story to Barry who replied, “If I caught someone like that I’d bash their brains in with a baseball bat, even if it was a woman.” He could do it, too, Jasper knew, as Barry was the best hitter on the island, picking right up where his brother Buddy left off when he joined the Marines.

Barry said, “My dad watches the whole coast line some days from the second floor back porch. Mom thinks he’s sleeping, but he’s got his bird glasses in his hands all the time.”

Jasper said, “My father just gets mad all the time, like he never sleeps.”

“Maybe he just want to be out there with Jimmy and can’t. That makes some guys mad. Ever think of it that way?”

Jasper said, “Maybe. I hope so.” Then he said, “’Member that triple Buddy hit in that last game? How sweet was his swing, huh?”

Then Buddy reported, “Rogalski says he’s the best he’s ever seen from here to Gloucester, and he’s seen ‘em all.”

It had all gone around and come back again.

Maybe Rogalski was the chance for him.

The fog was in again, sliding in with a soft breeze, and sat on the grass as well as the rocks at the end of Nahant. Jasper felt a minute chill touch him. The sea was making noise, too, the swells coming ashore, washing sand, washing rocks, running out of breath on the beach, the ranks of waves eternally deep. Boat motors had begun to hum their morning music. Road traffic was steady on the causeway. The gulls were quiet, some other birds as noisy as ever, and chipmunks and squirrels played tag along the stone wall and in the trees and he could hear their chatter snappy as popcorn.

He heard Jimmy, too. “It’s time to step up to the plate, Jazz, Your turn at bat. Pick a good one. Right in your wheelhouse. Give it your best shot. Slap it silly, Jazz.”

In bed that night, he chose Rogalski, “He didn’t snitch on me to Donnie or his father, but it has to be on my terms,” he kept saying, making an oath of it. He had checked the black bag in darkness, just making sure it was still there, untouched, unopened by him. He wondered again why had had not opened it. The thought of secret explosives thumped at him, or sticks of dynamite to cripple some special target, shut down a bridge, a tunnel, the subway. That kind of surprise was too much for him; let the police take care of that.

The radio in the house was on continually as his mother listened to war news all day, especially about the Pacific campaigns. She kept shining Jimmy’s pictures on the mantel above the fireplace, his First Lieutenant’s bars of gold as shiny as a new coin, his smile handsome enough to wilt a dozen hearts. His patience at building model planes was unequalled, and when one was finished, like a P38 or a British Spitfire with expended .22 caliber shells added like supercharger exhausts on each side of the balsa-covered and camouflaged fuselage, it made him want to fly. His heart would soar when Jimmy wound up the elastic band motor, stood tall on a high rock and commissioned each model to flight and to the sea. Off they’d go, in a nice steady wind, the propeller striking for more air, pulling the nimble little craft until the moment of death came, and it dove out of the sky and into the Atlantic. Once or twice they had tears, measuring the work put into the craft, or thinking about the pilot, the war on top of everybody…and Jimmy’s turn not far away.

So, trying to bolster his confidence, he thought again and again what he’d say to Rogalski. When it was all settled he realized he’d have to admit a few lies he had already told the officer .., and be prepared to face the consequences.

Rogalski, coffee in hand came out of the diner and approached the cruiser, Jasper leaning against the trunk of the vehicle. “Tim,” he said, his voice as deep as it ever had been, his eyes downcast. “I need to talk to you on some very important matter. Nobody can hear us. It has to be a secret for now.”

The officer, a sly smile on his face, said, “Jasper, I know all about you sneaking out of the house to go on your kayak rides ever since you got Jimmy’s room downstairs and your folks never knowing. I used to do the same thing when I was your age.”

“Oh, I heard all about you as a kid, Tim. Everybody knows, but this is real different. This includes something about Jimmy out there fighting the Japanese on some crazy island nobody’s ever heard about, and the other guys who are fighting in Europe.”

He took a deep breath and added, “This is life and death of someone somewhere I just know it. I heard you about your coast watch. I’ve seen you doing that, some early mornings, some evenings.”

He took another breath and said, “I saw something, Tim, I was afraid to tell anybody. I didn’t even tell my parents, but I saw something you should know about or the FBI or whoever.”

Rogalski looked into the boy’s eyes, took his own breath, and replied, “No more crap in it, Jasper. Not a single word.”

“I have proof, Tim, in my tool shed. I saw a man with a crazy thing on his head come out of the water near the Point after lots of bubbles came up first. He came on shore, took the thing off his head, found a big rock and went back in the water and dove and came up without it. Then he looked for a package, which was a black bag buried under some rocks, changed his clothes and put his wet clothes in the bag and buried it. I have the bag in my tool shed. Like I said.”

“Let’s go look at it.”

“There’s more, Tim, lots more.”

Rogalski nodded again, and then shook his head. “What else, Jasper. Is it going to get better?”

“I hoped it wouldn’t be like this, Tim. There’s a lot more. Remember that morning in the diner when I told you I stole Donnie’s new bike, and one guy there said he walked from Swampscott and felt so good he told Perly he’d buy you another coffee?”

“I remember.”

“Well, the fellow that he met in the diner is one of them. The other one, blond hair, blue shirt, black pants, black sneakers, is the one that came up from the water with that thing on his head.”

“My God, Jasper, you’re making me a little upset with all this made-up drama.”

“Tim, when I prove this is all real to someone and you were the first to think it was all a joke, you’ll be laughed at. I’ll tell Jimmy when he comes home and he’ll tell all his buddies.”

“Is that all of it? Rogalski said?”

“He came up out of a submarine. I can show you where he dumped the thing on his head.”

“Now that has got to be the end of it, Jasper. You’re getting way ahead of me.”

From his back pocket, Jasper pulled out the piece of wood with the registration numbers on it, explained about all the cars listed, showed him which two cars were directly involved, showed him the Massachusetts plate numbers, described the vehicles, drew Rogalski‘s memory to the ’39 Packard. A pal had one just like it, and the one in the parking lot came quickly to mind. He explained the S and W marks.

“Is that it, Jasper? I think you’re starting to convince me it’s worth checking.”

“There’s some more, Tim. The Chevy has gone past my house on a couple of nights and I’ve heard the Packard on the other streets, and I’ve seen S walking by and I hid from him. When I flattened his tires on the Packard, he knew someone was on to him. He went off and came back with a bike pump and pumped up the tires. If Jimmy was here, he’d go after him right away.”

“Let’s go look at what’s in that bag.” It was like Rogalski had joined the ranks.

“I’d be afraid of that, Tim, those guys getting near my house. If I could tell Jimmy somehow someway he’d get real upset.”

“Okay, you go home, keep watch. I’ll be off in a couple of hours, and I’ll keep patrolling, then after dark I’ll sneak over your place come in the back side and meet you in the tool shed. Is that a deal?” Then, as though he had gained a whole lot of smarts and odd information since he had last talked to him, he asked Jasper, “You still use the window from Jimmy’s old room to sneak out of the house?” It was like the cop had known everything there was to know except how to catch spies.

“Yes,” Jasper said, put in his place a bit, “as long as you don’t tell anybody and swear to it.”

It was the first time Jasper Henry ever shook hands with Patrolman Tim Rogalski. The closest was an occasional pat on the head.

The round-faced and usually lazy policeman had made some secret arrangements other than what he had with young Jasper Henry. He had a friend invite them to a secret home showing of new paintings by a noted Nahant artist…out of the house…out of the way. “And keep them as late as you can.”

And at the far end of the causeway, sitting outside a restaurant at the Lynn shore circle, another close friend watched every Chevy and Packard that came into the rotary and headed down the causeway to Nahant. Both these arrangements were with Rogalski’s high school pals, still as tight-fisted as ever, and tight-mouthed. Except for the one watching traffic.

Near 10:30 he telephoned the Henry home where Rogalski waited his call. “The Chevy’s coming.” He repeated the plate number. “It’s one of the two cars you’re interested in, Tim. I’ll watch for the Packard. Good luck, whatever it is.” He hung up the public phone and went back to his Ford pick-up truck. It was 10:45 on a thick, dark night, overcast and rain predicted.

Rogalski and Jasper, at the receipt of the phone call, had slipped out of the house and into the tool shed. Jasper told him to touch the black bag on the shelf. He touched it with his fingertips and advised, “It’s waterproofed alright, and thick. I bet it was heavy.”

Jasper heard the Chevy tappets coming across the darkness. He didn’t know where the car was, but it was somewhere on the next street, on the backside of the Henry property.

“That’s the Chevy, Tim. That’s it.” His excitement was almost visible, and Rogalski said, “I sure hope I didn’t make a mistake here, Jasper, but we better not get cornered in here. We’ll go behind your father’s woodpile. I’m betting they don’t dare carry guns, but I have mine.”

They’d talk about it afterward, how the voices, even in whispers, came to them on the clear night air, the voices of S and W, most all of it in English, and all of it pretty audible.

W was talking, with near a curse in his voice, “You should have taken the dumm bag with you.” One word was clearly German. “You have me deeper in this than I was supposed to be. All I want is my money and to be done with this. If U-509 is sunk because of this, they’ll kill us. Cousin Hans is a crew member. I haven’t seen him in a couple of years, my last trip to Spain. It’s all getting worse because of a dumm kid.” The German dialect came again on the one word, as if it was a pet word. He must have stepped on the rake Jasper had forgotten on the lawn. The curse was cut short, as if he had stuffed his fist in his mouth.

It was S’s turn, and he said, “The parents of the family are out. If the boy’s here, he’s got to be alone, asleep. We get the bag, take care of him, and get off this stupid island.”

W said, in a paraphrase, “This dumm island.”

S, seeming conscious of their voices carrying in the night, said in a new whisper lower than before, “He must have hidden it. If he told the parents the police and the federal men would be all over the place. So he must have hidden it. Let’s first look in the shed. The door’s open. Perhaps it’s in there.”

One of them stepped on a shovel, or stubbed his toes. “Got damm,” he grunted, pain in his voice, his reserves beginning to break down. “Es ist alleswegen dieserdummen Jungen.

Somehow, Jasper Henry knew he was being cursed. He tried to remember it. He had to tell Jimmy when he came home, not yet knowing it meant “It’s all because of that stupid boy.”

The pair of agents entered the tool shed, half as big as a garage, and pulled the door closed behind them and began a quiet search, now and then a tool touching another tool, a saw blade clattering upon a hammer or rake handle popping on a shovel handle.

None of it was alarming in tone, but it provided some cover noise for Rogalski who grabbed a three-foot piece of 2×6 Jasper’s father used to keep the woodpile aligned and to prevent it from falling onto the neat grass.

“Shhh,” he whispered and held his finger against his mouth, stepped from behind the pile silent as an Indian, and reached the shed without making a sound.

When he jammed one end into the ground as forcefully and as silently as he could, he slammed it with noise and great force against the door and quickly sat on its incline. It jammed tightly against the door – and all hell broke loose inside, and out.

Rogalski fired his pistol in the air three times, three loud bangs that cruelly invaded sleeping Nahant.

Most of the neighborhood and much of the island heard the gunshots and also heard Rogalski screaming in the darkness. “Call the police! Rogalski here on the Henry property in trouble. Officer needs assistance! Call the FBI, hurry! Hurry! Rogalski needs help. Officer needs assistance.”

The shots sounded like an invasion was taking place. But it really wasn’t and wasn’t going to come this time by way of the U-509, because of Jasper Henry and Tim Rogalski, insular coast watchers.


Jasper’s mother was in the kitchen and did not see the official looking uniformed man get out of an official looking somber gray vehicle. He was a Marine captain, his brass shining like a whole new day along with all the ribbons and medals on his chest, and a yellow telegram envelope in his hand as he looked once at the address on the mailbox and then again and started up the walk in a very serious but slow stride.

A neighbor, who had moved in only a year earlier, held her breath. Mr. Henry, she knew, was at work and his wife was in the kitchen most likely. She wondered if pain ever ceased hanging on to people, or crowding them, and she didn’t know where young Jasper was.

But he was at the window of his room, saying again and again, “Es ist alleswegen dieserdummen Jungen.” He knew it by heart and also knew he’d have to give up his room too, as previous connections had allowed his new captain brother to deliver his own wounded-in-action telegram to his parents.


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“Makeup” by Vivien Steels

Vivien is a writer, illustrator and painter who lives in Nottingham. Her written works include Promise, Mandala, Secrets, Home From Home, Winter White, Into the Past and Ferne and Chocolate and the Rollercoaster Rainbow and Other Stories. Visit her official site for more information.

I have always worn makeup. Since I was about 15, I’ve been drawn to using colour to enhance my face as I use colour to enhance my paintings and illustrations. Putting on make-up each day is like a meditation: it calms me, concentrates the mind, so thoughts can flow into a stream of reverie.

At the back of my mind, wriggling like an enclosed larva, there is always the idea that I am disguising my real self behind a mask; I have something to hide, and that this ritual is so part of my psyche that I have to do it. I have to colour my face with a slightly darker tinted moisturiser, add deep blood-red to my lips, dab my cheeks with the same tint, slightly pencil in my eyebrows with a dark brown pencil, brush smoky brown shadow over my eyelids and just under my bottom lashes to add even more depth to my dark brown eyes and then add several coats of the thickest, darkest mascara to my eyelashes – top and bottom.  It looks right with my black-brown hair with a deep fringe. And my deep red shade of lipstick alters shades with the colours I wear. You can’t wear a blood-red lipstick when wearing blue or purple. It has to be a berry colour with those blue tints. I have written a “concrete” poem about lipstick, I love it so much.

Anyone who knows me will probably have never seen me without my makeup on.  If I had to go to the shops to buy a pint of milk, I would look like this; if a parcel was being delivered and had to be signed for, I would look like this; and if my cleaner, Amy, was coming to do the house for me, I would look like this. I even go to bed with my mascara on. It has to be waterproof mascara, none of that “one drop of rain and it pours down your cheek like soot” variety. And I have been called glamorous and striking though I never think of myself as that. I am me and “me” came out of the womb made-up.

I think there is a link here. I love making things up.  How do you know all that I’ve just written isn’t just made-up? Here I am baring my innermost being, my soul, and you may decide – it’s just make-believe.  I may really look like an old hag, who’s never been near a pot of cream in her life, let alone the right tip of a lipstick. But you’re wrong. Writers are so egocentric, so into themselves that what they concoct is carelessly camouflaged autobiography. And I’m no different, though my publisher might tell you otherwise.

* * *

It was my birthday, the 14th of April. I was staring at myself in the mirror. Outside the bedroom window the lake in the park sang like another mirror to the spring sky through new green leaves. Another year. Another set of smile lines. Another dressing table full of cosmetics. I think they were working because people just don’t believe I’m the age I am, though some say it’s because I seem so young at heart. I am young at heart, but today my heart feels rather heavy. For the first time I can remember I feel depressed. I don’t know if it’s looking at my naked reflection once too often, or if I’m beginning to feel old, or, if I’m feeling old, why put on the war paint if the battle’s over? “A woman without paint is like food without salt,” wrote Plautus. And I’m feeling very bland at the moment. I need to colour my hair to keep the grey roots at bay. My nickname changes from Cleopatra to Femme Fatale to Fenella (as in Fenella Fielding – when she was younger, of course) with whoever I’m with, but there is always the element of the exotic in their pet names for me and I do like it. I would hate to be bland. And I do feel bland. I even bought a new red lipstick to stave off this feeling, but it wouldn’t leave. And here it was parading up and down my dressing table, shouting “bland, bland, bland” instead of “rebel, rebel, rebel!”

I was getting an awful sensation in the pit of my stomach. I was rebelling against all that artifice, all that money spent of trying to change the way I was, all the hours I sat applying lotions and potions, colours and concoctions until I was a parody of myself. I knew what I was going to do. For a selected time only just to see what it was like, I was going to “go commando”, au naturel, bare myself to the elements and let people know who I was straight away. I would stop colouring my hair, would wear no makeup at all, would not paint my nails. Any colour would be nature’s colour. I felt liberated. My mask was slipping and my gown was falling to the ground.

* * *

I have been reborn in a shadowy cave. I am a totally different person. There is no barrier between me and the world anymore. People have started guessing my age correctly. I have no exotic nicknames. The money I’ve saved from cosmetics has gone to my favourite charities and paying my gas and electricity bills. Men don’t stare at me in the street or wolf whistle from scaffolding. No one wants my point of view on anything and I am always served last in shops and cafes. I’ve become one of the invisible middle-aged and I HATE IT! Yesterday I went shopping and, as you know, this was just an experiment for a selected time only. Well, the selected time is over and I’m back. Bland is not grand, bland is shorthand for unplanned, bland is banned.

I put all my new purchases on my dressing table. I’ve coloured my hair again and my straight shoulder-length style with a deep fringe is like “a rippling sheet of dark silk” – or so I’ve been told by several new admirers. My new lipstick, Darling Violet (which sounds like a friend, and has been) has kissed several new lips, and I’ve been given a payrise by my boss, Mr. Starling, and asked out on a date by two new acquaintances. I’ve started going to a new Yoga class once a week, and one lady, Sue, of the “don’t shave your legs or armpits” brigade told the group that a Yoga class wasn’t a catwalk, when I wore my new deep purple velvet leisure suit. Dirk, whose mat was getting rather close to mine, whispered that he thought I’d get picked up if I went out in it. So I didn’t get changed afterwards and I did get asked out, but I refrained from saying “yes’.” My husband, Ethan, says he’s booked a table for a special anniversary meal at my favourite restaurant, The Peacock, and I intend to be there, all dressed-up and made-up. He likes me just as I am.


“Havana Honeymoon” by Jean Colonomos

Jean Colonomos is a former member of the Martha Graham Dance Company and a former freelance dance journalist who wrote for publications such as Dance Magazine and The Village Voice.  Her award-winning play, Black Dawn, is based on psychogenic blindness many Cambodian women suffered in the wake of Pol Pot’s Cambodian genocide.  

In January, 1959, Fidel Castro overthrew the American-supported Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista, and installed a Marxist government. At this time President Eisenhower still maintained diplomatic relations with Cuba.

When my then finance and I planned our Cuban honeymoon, my great aunt Mary, who lived in Havana, told us life was proceeding as usual under Castro. At that point, he was still setting up his new government.

It’s early July, 1959 and we are a ridiculously happy honeymoon couple strolling down the seafront gem, the Malecon. This “we” consists of a nineteen-and-a-half-year-old ex-ballerina who’s a French major going into her junior year at Hofstra, a commuter college on Long Island, and a twenty-two-year-old Colombian who just graduated Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as an electrical engineer. We are insanely proud of having withstood a three-and-a-half year courtship when for a time my parents wouldn’t let me see my beloved. They thought we were sleeping together and it took time to convince them we weren’t. Even though we were. And they never wanted me to marry so young. Two reasons that made me want to escape my house. 

We’re honeymooning in Havana, courtesy of my Cuban Aunt Elvira’s mother, Great Aunt Mary, who lives here most of the year except for the brutally humid summers when she visits her daughter in Roslyn, Long Island. The Havana apartment comes with a housekeeper who’s been taking care of the family for years and who my Bogotano husband jabbers with incessantly. He asks Modesta what she thinks about the new Cuba; she answers it’s too soon to tell.

Our first few days, despite the steaming heat, we’re intrepid tourists pounding the streets, hopping on buses, shopping in open markets and eating new foods. The Cubans we meet on the bus want to adopt my Colombian husband: they adore his pristine accent – and me, his gringa sidekick. Sweating non-stop by noon, we return to the humid apartment with a ceiling fan to cool us off. It doesn’t. When we turn on the television, Fidel Castro, who’s been in power five months, rants twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. How does he do it, we wonder? What about sleep?

My husband and I abandon sightseeing. We escape to the air-conditioned Hotel Nacional that’s now empty since dictator Batista fled. They say these big hotels were run by the Mafia, who’ve been kicked out. Though outside it’s burning daylight, inside the Nacional it’s an enveloping, black-velvet night. The days we visit we notice three men gambling. One white-haired gentleman at the blackjack table looks as if rigor mortis has set in.

My darling marido and I flee to Varadero, a pristine, white-sand beach on the Caribbean. We’re finally in honeymoon heaven. Our hotel is simple and clean, we can walk out the door and step into the gentle, bathtub ocean water so clear we can see the veins in our feet. Our meals consist mostly of fresh fish, rice, beans and plantains. The cooked bananas are new for me and I love their sweet bite. At night after we make love, we fall asleep to the men playing dominos below our balcony. The sounds of them tapping the domino twice against the table before playing it soothes us.  

After five blissful days, we return to Havana and what happens next dictates our departure. Re-entering the city, we notice rebel soldiers we haven’t seen before, stopping cars at gunpoint to collect contributions to Castro’s Reforma Agraria. The soldier who points his rifle into our car is barely fifteen, I’d guess by the sparse hairs on his baby-face skin. It’s the first time we feel the oppression of Fidel’s regime up close. We donate and get out of there.

At the apartment my husband tells Modesta we’re going to Mexico City the day after tomorrow. My husband’s parents are there, so our honeymoon is now a family affair. I like his parents but they’re skeptical about me. They’re Holocaust survivors who’d hoped their son would return to Bogota, but he sees his future in America. At least I’m Jewish, which is a plus in their eyes. And I’ll take care of their son, the tall husband next to me with a lilting foreign accent, whom I love.

“Homeless” by Karl Miller

“Mommy, what’s the matter with Daddy?”

Kevin Pierce looks through the open window of the Civic to see a thin child pulling on the leg of her mother’s dirty jeans as the woman and a man rummage through a pile of garbage that rests against an overflowing dumpster in back of an Italian restaurant.  The three have dirty-blond dreadlocks and are barefoot; lesions run across the parents’ cheeks but the child’s face is pristine. A pizza box moves, the tail of a rat flicks under its lid. The man doesn’t appear to notice and stares at the ground with a distracted expression. Pierce shakes his head and keeps driving toward his destination. 

Fort Zachary Taylor had recently seen more action than it ever did during a war. A few days earlier, Francesca Donovan, a junior at Miami University and the daughter of one of the city’s leading investment bankers, was found floating facedown in the moat around the fort. In the hours after the discovery the scene had been choked with police and reporters, with morbid onlookers raising their phones to snap a post for Facebook or Instagram. One even got there early enough to see the body, and, like a dutiful contemporary American, promptly put it on the Internet, where of course it went viral. Shortly afterward, a letter from the Donovan family attorney arrived, threatening a lawsuit against her sorority – and the school itself – for negligence in keeping participants at an official school function “reasonably safe” from harm. Attorneys passed the letter to their insurer, who in turn assigned Pierce to fly to Key West and investigate.

Before he left his office in Jacksonville, Pierce had looked up the memorial site for Francesca. The pictures traced a kid who had pieces of a nice life. A lush home on the water in the earlier photos. Private school. Basketball and piano. Travel teams and a lot of attention for a 6’1” forward who averaged 27 points a game – and could also place with her Schubert in regional piano competitions. A Mercedes on her sixteenth birthday. A mother whose smiles looked increasingly forced as she aged. A father who was largely absent after the divorce. Francesca had been a striking brunette, a free spirit who sometimes wore sparkling blue contacts over her brown eyes.          

The investigator read her profile on the team’s website. Her status showed a noticeable decline since her sophomore year. A link had shown a YouTube video of an interview with Francesca that now had 129,372 views, a lot for a backup player on a mediocre team. Pierce guessed ninety-nine percent of them came in the last few days. Francesca came across as witty, downplaying a 79-51 loss to Virginia with an endearing laugh. 

Now it’s quiet, with only a handful of people wandering about, taking much less interesting pictures. The dirt path Pierce walks leads to a breakwater composed of hundreds of boulders placed along the Gulf shore.  Occasionally a heron cries in the distance. 

The insurance investigator photographs the site carefully. He walks around it in every direction, closely checking the surface of the dirt road. Not surprisingly, after so many others had gone through the same exercise, Pierce finds nothing. He clambers onto the rock wall and begins examining the spaces between boulders, potential hiding places filled at high tide with sand, shells and assorted driftwood. Stymied, he walks to the fort and looks over every inch of ground as he steps off the perimeter, staring at the water and imagining the beautiful, promising college kid floating there. 

Using the bridge, he enters the fort itself, a brick structure finished in 1866.  Once much taller, it was reduced to a one-story structure in 1889. He walks past a bored-looking park ranger with a scraggly beard and a Union uniform that seems stretched to the limit, and moves onto the spotty grass of the parade ground then to the interior of the fort, making his way through the enlisted men’s quarters and the mess before he gets to the officer’s area.

Light arrives through ancient cannon openings in the thick brick walls. The massive Columbiad is black, silent and impressive. Plaster coating the interior is chipped and completely worn away in places. Rust flakes from old turrets are scattered on the floor by the remains of iron cannon supports. Dusty red bricks lie in the corners of the room.

“You won’t find anything.” Pierce jumps at the sound of the voice. He looks up and sees the homeless man who had been milling about earlier. The man is wearing a brunette wig. His teeth are horrible, gapped and discolored. “I don’t know why people feel the need to pry into sorrow.”  Pale and sickly thin, the man’s voice sounds broken, an oboe with a faulty reed.

“You’re probably right,” Pierce replies, straightening up and looking at him, “but my boss wouldn’t like it if I didn’t check around a bit.” He finds himself trying not to stare at the wig, then finding himself staring at the lesions, so he goes back to staring at the wig, finding it less problematic as an alternate focus. 

“Oh, you’re one of those,” the homeless man says, viewing the investigator with disapproval.

A second passes before Pierce grasps what he means. “Oh, no,” the investigator responds. “I’m not with any tabloid.  I’m with the insurance company.  Do you know anything about this, you know, the girl dying?”

“I know something – I think.  It’s all very confusing.”

Pierce prepares to mentally kick himself in advance for asking a stupid question. “Confusing?”

“Well, I was there. And then I wasn’t.”

The investigator delivers the mental kick. “OK. Well, I have to work now.”

“Whatever,” the man says, abruptly disinterested in tone. “You should let the dead lie in peace.” He moves away but keeps staring at Pierce as he goes.

Pierce shakes his head then resumes his search, spending the next hour fruitlessly going over the grounds again before giving up and walking back to his rented Civic. He turns the car on and, sitting in the cool air, he pulls up a message on his phone from Ron Torborg, once a classmate at North Florida, now a deputy with the St. Augustine Beach Police Department. Torborg recommended Pierce contact John Jimenez with the Key West Police Department as a possible aid. Pierce leaves a message for Jimenez then kills an hour writing an initial report on his laptop before his phone buzzes with the return call. 

After they exchange introductions, Jimenez says “Ronnie told me you may be calling.”

“Yeah, I appreciate you calling me back. This thing is getting lawyered-up pretty quickly, and we need any help we can get.”

“Well, not a lot to give at this point. The autopsy is not back yet. he family attorney is involved on that. Her sorority sisters all swear they hadn’t seen her for at least four hours before her estimated time of death, which was around 3 AM, give or take. No indication of anyone else with her at the scene. Apparently she wandered off by herself. Could be a simple slip and fall. Hit her head and fell in the water. All possibilities are being checked.”

“Say it wasn’t a slip. Any suspects?”

“You know we can’t talk about that kind of thing.”

“I realize that. But there’s an awful lot of money riding on this and we’d like to work with the police in every way possible.”

“Actually, at this point we seem to be OK,” Jimenez says ironically.

“Can you give me anything to go on?” Pierce pleads.

“OK, no B.S., and of course, off the record, we are looking at Ricky Velasquez. He’s a local dealer, small time. She was apparently dating him.”

 “Why is he a suspect?”

 “A potential suspect,” Jimenez corrects. “And I can’t really say, other than circumstances dictate we look at him.”

 “Can I get any info on her sorority sisters?”

 Jimenez gives the names of the girls. “Most of them have stayed here to party, in spite of the death. They’re still at the Sheraton on Roosevelt. I guess they couldn’t have been too close. Kind of messed up.”

 After the call, Pierce looks up the girls online and quickly gets pictures of all three. At 5 PM, he checks into the Sheraton and gets a decent third-floor room with a balcony that looks down at the tiki bar by the pool. He opens the sliding glass door and walks out into the warm evening air, then sits down by the glass table and starts watching the swarm of kids hanging at the bar. A reggae band plays “Buffalo Soldier” and then launches into some pop covers. Around seven-thirty, he sees the girls arrive.

 The investigator walks down to the bar and tries to stand inconspicuously a few feet away from the girls. At thirty years old and wearing khaki shorts and a polo shirt, he doesn’t fit the crowd but no one seems to pay attention to him. He orders a Sam Adams then watches the Panthers-Canadiens game on the bar TV, gradually moving closer and surreptitiously listening carefully to the kids wearing the UM T-shirts. 

Jennifer Winston, a voluptuous brunette with arresting green eyes, sips a Mai Tai from a plastic cup. “I never figured this Spring Break would have gotten so much better, after the way it started.”

“What time are those boys from KU getting here?” Elena Rodiguez asks.

 “Should be around 8,” answers Ashley Canfield, a well-tanned blonde in an orange T-shirt. “But whatever. I’ll always remember this as a horrible Spring Break.”

“You’re not glad you stayed?” Rodriguez asks, looking up from her strawberry daiquiri.

“I still don’t know if it was right thing to do,” Canfield answers.

“Well, we burned a day going back to Miami for the funeral,” says Elena.

”’Burned a day.’ Nice way to put it,” Canfield says sourly.

“Don’t act like you were her best friend. Everyone knows you two had issues with each other.”

“Well, you should have said something about that scumbag boyfriend. You knew what Ricky was like. You dated him.” 

“Two dates, OK? Two dates. And I stopped when I found out how he could be.”

“If I had dated someone who hit me, I’d be sure to tell you.”

“It was one hit. He was drunk when it happened.” She pauses. “He didn’t hurt me.”

“Sure, he’s a great guy. All men hit girls on the second date,” Canfield responds, rolling her eyes. “Did you at least tell her about his side business?”

“You do know she was into it too, right?”

“Yeah, thanks to him.”

“Come on. She was never an angel.”

“No, she wasn’t. But she sure wasn’t like she became. I found needles she hid up high on bookshelves. I’d leave them alone, but it always freaked me out that she was doing it and playing ball at the same time. Crazy.”

“And we probably should all shut the hell up now,” Jennifer says, interrupting her friends as she looks around carefully. They abruptly start talking again about the overdue boys from KU. Pierce finishes his beer then gets the tab from a beleaguered bartender who drops the bill and returns to his blender. The investigator leaves a ten on the bar and returns to his room.

After fifteen minutes on the Internet, Pierce finds “OMG Ricky is amazing” along with a photo of a thin kid with a big smile and dark, menacing eyes. A few more minutes and Pierce has an address. He drives to a rundown street by the Naval Base and parks behind a late model Infiniti. 


Ricky’s supposed residence is a dilapidated two-story wooden house. Occasionally some Spring Breakers pass, laughing raucously, but Pierce sees no one enter or leave so he departs for his hotel at 10 PM.

In the morning, Pierce drives his rental through the quiet streets, passing empty bottles and assorted trash from the prior night’s partying and goes to 7:30 Mass at Mary Star of the Sea. The cadence of the prayers comforts him, bringing back the memory of sitting between his Irish father and Jamaican mother at church when he was a kid. When he gets back in the car, his phone shows Jimenez called and also texted him to come to the station right away.

Pierce drives to the police headquarters and parks the Civic by the main entrance. He walks in and asks the officer on duty for Jimenez. When Jimenez comes out, he seems tired and aggravated. He’s tall, maybe 6’3”, and in his early 30s, with thinning hair and a thickening stomach. He doesn’t look like the voice on the phone. “Kevin Pierce?”

“Yes. Your message said to come down?”

“Yeah, thanks.” He gives a perfunctory handshake. “Come back with me,” he says, and Pierce follows him back to a worn, gray metal desk dominated by a gold-framed photo of a blonde with two little girls.

“Were you parked around the Naval Base last night?”

“Yeah, I was. Why?”

“Parked by Ricky Velazquez’ house?”

“Right. Why do you ask?”

“Let me ask the freaking questions, all right? Ricky Velazquez was a lead we were looking at, and I thought you’d have enough sense not to interfere.”

“I didn’t interfere. I didn’t see anything at all, so I left after about an hour of sitting. I actually never even got out of my car.”

Jimenez pauses and seems to catch himself. “Did you see anything at all?”

“No, just some people passing by, but no one came or went from the house.”

“We had him under light surveillance, which is how we found you were watching him. We definitely would have liked to have talked to him some more.”

“Well, why don’t you?”

“Because he’s dead.”


“His throat was cut. Almost decapitated. We were going to ask him some questions, but when we got there, we saw his body on the sofa through the window.”

“Damn. Any suspects?”

“Well, he was a drug dealer, so no shortage of enemies. But the only one – other than you – who showed up was Francesca Donovan.”

“Who?” Pierce asks, surprised.

“Yeah, exactly. Our camera has footage of someone about her height – which is pretty damn unusual for a girl – and looking a hell of a lot like her walking out of his place shortly after you departed.”

“Well, it obviously wasn’t her. Any idea who it could have been?”

“You can take the ‘obviously’ out of your sentence. She walked right past the surveillance camera. It wasn’t totally clear but it even kind of looked like her close up. I know it sounds crazy, but I actually called the morgue to make sure her body was still there. Which it was.”

“How do I fit in?”

Jimenez sighs. “I guess you don’t. We were just checking if you saw anything.” He looks around his desk for a second. “Right, I left my cards up here,” he says, standing and taking a step toward the high window ledge over his desk. “One good thing about being a little on the tall side,” he says, as he takes a card from a box on the ledge and gives it to Pierce. “Let me know if you find anything.”

“Will do,” Pierce says, suddenly struck by what Jimenez said about his height. He walks out to the Civic and drives to the fort. A scattering of tourists stand along the top of the walls. Pierce jogs through the gate and into the interior.

No one else is in the first room Pierce enters.  He walks around it, carefully looking at the top part of the room, then moves on to the next room, following dim passageways as he makes his way through the fort.

Pierce strides past a gun emplacement – and stops short. In the corner, wearing the same brunette wig, the homeless man sits on a stool. He stares down at the dirt floor as though he hadn’t noticed the investigator’s arrival. His slow, deep breathing fills the room. Gradually, he raises his gaze. Pierce is stunned to see the homeless man is wearing blue sparkled contacts, with blue eye shadow. “Whoa,” Pierce says, “you’re going way too far.”

“Do you think?” the homeless man asks, except the voice is purely feminine now, a pitch-perfect imitation of Francesca.  

“Why are you…” Pierce stammers, trying to get his footing. “A girl died here. This isn’t right.”

The homeless man sighs. “You’re not getting it.” He stands and gives a brief smile with perfect teeth.   

Pierce could swear the man is at least three inches taller than before. There are no lesions anymore. The investigator shudders and unconsciously reaches into his pocket and finds the Kel-Tec .32 he keeps there as a precaution for when investigations go wrong. “Look, I don’t want any problems. I’m just doing my job then I’ll be out of here. Please stay over there and I’ll be gone in a second.”

Near the cannon port is a ledge Pierce can barely reach. He looks around and locates a wooden stool. Keeping an eye on the homeless man, he pulls the stool toward the ledge.

“What are you doing?” the man asks.

“Just doing my job,” Pierce answers warily.

“Don’t look up there,” he says, still in a woman’s voice.

“I’ll be gone in a second,” Pierce says.

“But it’s that second that matters. Please don’t look.”

The homeless man begins to move toward Pierce. The gun comes out and the man stops moving forward. “No need for that. No need for that,” he says.

“What’s on the ledge?” Pierce asks.

“Don’t look. Please just don’t look,” the man says, his voice dripping desperation.

“All right, calm down,” Pierce says. “Just go on your way, OK?”

The homeless man takes a step backward. Keeping an eye on him, Pierce steps onto the stool and glances at the ledge. A syringe rests in the sunlight.

The man makes a small cry. “I let everyone down,” he says in the woman’s voice. “I should have known. He should have known.”

“Who should have known? Have known what?”  Pierce asks.

“There was no point in any of it. No one was any good. Nothing was any good. It was all a letdown, a wasted trip. But I didn’t mean to go that far. I just wanted to touch the edge, but not go over.” He stares at the ground. “But Ricky knows now. That son of a bitch knows.” He stumbles out the door. 

Pierce steps back down and puts his gun away. Even the air seems unnatural after the homeless man leaves. The investigator takes out his cellphone and calls Jimenez. When the police get there he carefully omits any mention of the homeless man. After being questioned, he heads to the airport, drops off the rental car and gets the first flight back to Miami. He stares blankly through the plane window as the sun disappears and the night begins with a purplish introduction to black. Pierce spends the leg to Jacksonville successfully convincing himself he was mistaken about what he saw and winds up never mentioning the incident to his wife when he gets home.

A few days later, when he receives the final police report that rules the death an accidental overdose, Pierce leaves the office early and goes home to his apartment. He pulls up Francesca’s memorial website, pours some Patron, and slips away to random images. The forward in mid-air blocking a shot. The pianist in a black dress sitting pensively before the keys, fingers poised to start. The sorority girl holding a beer and laughing with friends. The sad-faced child standing on the beach. 

But in the end, Pierce’s thoughts return to a homeless family wandering somewhere in Key West, and he wonders what they’re doing at that moment, and how the four of them will turn out.  

“Jackson Pollack’s Strokes” and “60” by Mitchell Grabois


At midnight, Jackson Pollack went to my mother’s gated community in Boca Raton, Florida and dripped paint on her driveway and on the driveways of many other residents. At dawn, when the old Jewish ladies went to the curb to retrieve their garbage cans, they witnessed what had been done. Dozens died instantly from heart attacks and strokes.


Nanci’s back on chemo, trying to keep the tumor down so she can attend her only daughter’s wedding. By force of will, Nanci’s already a month past the two weeks her doctor “gave her.” The days go by like a mountain of sand pushed by a bulldozer in a beach replenishment project.


The black men stink of pesticide. They’ve been on a Southern road gang. This is, after all, the Deep South, how deep you can never even guess. The ghosts of the brutal past animate the present as the ghosts of our brutal present animate the future. The black men have been chopping brush, spraying poison. The blacker they are the more poison they absorb. The blackest die first.

The roadway is not asphalt, but the bodies of Doberman Pinschers laid side by side, their dead bodies recruited from junk yards from Mobile to Apalachicola, Galveston to Jax. The highway is the bodies of Dobermans, and the bodies of black men with huge blue muscles, reeking of pesticide. Sometimes all the Dobermans come back to life. They spring at the black men’s throats. They engage in pitched battles, apes versus wolves, as it was back in the day. Do you see why I have so much trouble traveling with all this roiling around me? I tremble to get on a bus with the image of a stretched Doberman on its side.

I climb into the belly of the beast and commingle with blue toilet disinfectant and xombies travelling en masse to the next xombie jamboree. Please, mister, give me a ride in your white Cadillac, with fins like an angel’s wings. My race is nearly run, and I prefer to fly in the clouds with your drunken hand between my legs, and your clothes dirty and rough.




I want to take a roots tour with my friend Abbas. An Armenian, his name means cruel, dreadful, pugnacious, and many people see him that way. They never experience his soft center. It is like some kind of candy. But he keeps shutting me down. The women in Armenia are dark and hairy like spiders, he says, and I’m afraid of spiders.

I’ve seen some beautiful Armenian women, I argue. Your sister is a beautiful woman.

My name is Vlad, which is also off-putting. It conjures Vlad the Impaler, but Vlad is not an uncommon name in Moldova. Abbas says that they’re so poor in Moldova that they cut out their own organs and sell them.

After he left his wife, Abbas hooked up with a biker babe. She gets on top and does all the work, he tells me. He doesn’t want to mess up a good thing, going halfway around the world to consort with spiders and vampires. He hurts my feelings when he uses the word “vampires.” In the morning we go back to work in the popcorn factory and talk about other things.


This is a dove, I think. I’ve never been good at bird identification. That’s funny, now that I’ve been laid off from the popcorn factory, and my new job is picking up dead birds killed by the windmills’ spinning blades. There are 60 windmills in this “wind farm,” lots of dead birds.

I think I might get a book. I mean, I can tell an eagle from a sparrow, but is that really a sparrow lying there with his neck broke, or a wren? It would be respectful to the dead to know.

I never studied much in school, and I left after the eighth grade. It was too hard for my dad to get me to town, to the high school. I was happy to be on the farm, but in the end I couldn’t keep farming, not enough land, not enough money for new equipment. There’s only so much repair you can do until you’re done. Everything literally falls apart. That’s how I ended up with a job at the popcorn factory. That’s how I ended up with a job like this, collecting dead birds. Abbas still works in the popcorn factory. The boss is Armenian.

I don’t need much money. The farmhouse and land was paid off long ago. I have a well, so my utilities are minimal. I don’t leave the lights on. My mom taught me that. I don’t have a wife, no car payment. I fix my own truck, no problem. ’55 Chevy’s are easy, no computers or nothing, and I have spare parts in the barn.

I like this job because no one bothers me. I drive my pick-up around the township. Even as a kid I liked the how the township looks in different seasons, and I like the cold. The colder the better, as far as I’m concerned.

Birds are pretty in death, unlike humans who are just spooky and grey. Keep that casket closed, Jack! I once stood at a casket and studied my uncle Kep, studied him the way I’d never studied in school. I couldn’t take my eyes off him, my favorite uncle, always telling lame jokes. Afterward I felt sick for a week, lost about ten pounds, couldn’t keep a thing down. But Audubon discovered long ago that dead birds are pretty. He killed a lot of them to make paintings. I have a few of them on my walls I got in a yard sale. I had them on my walls even before I got this job. Funny, isn’t it, how we prepare ourselves for our fates without even knowing it?

“The Last Thing I Stole” by Joanna McMillen

The first thing I stole was a taste. I swiped the little, yellow cookie from the highest tier of the silver tray and absconded away to the pantry.

The voice screamed, Not yours!

Lemon decadence crisped against my teeth as my mouth met a middle soft and sweet. Macaroon, how have I lived never tasting you?

The second thing I stole was a walk. My breath caught in my chest when I slipped on the boots from the box that read, from Paris. The zipper sang up my calf.  Zzzzzz.

The voice called, Not yours.

I strolled through her dressing room. I’m not just a maid when I’m wearing these.  I shake my head and put them back.

The third thing I stole was a glimpse. I found the necklace under a cushion. It sparkled and shone. 

Not yours, the voice said.

The chain felt cold on my neck and the green gemstone glittered in her mirror from the hollow spot between my breasts.  Maybe, I don’t put it back. Maybe, I go home.

My key, in the door of my building, squeals as I wrench it. No mail. One flight. Two flights. Three flights of stairs and I open the door to my studio apartment.  The cat meows.  The radiator knocks. There was a time when I loved it here. I never knew how poor I was until I saw how rich I wasn’t. I touch my prize.

I strip. Even naked, I’m beautiful wearing it. I shower. I put on makeup so that I’ll look different, lace panties so I’ll know they’re there even if no one gets to see them, a short skirt so I’ll feel the wind on my legs, and heels so I’ll hear them crack against the pavement. I’m out the door.

The bridges of the city greets me. The street lights are bright but the neon martini glass shaped sign flickers. I wait and then fight for a seat at the bar.  A cold, wet bottle moistens the tips of my fingers. I take a sip. Disappointing. Empty wine bottles, banging together through their translucent, blue recycling bags, ring in my ears. I remember reading the labels as I drug the bags outside to the trash.  Merlot. Not yours.

Chardonnay.  Not yours. Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir.  Not yours, not yours, not yours. 

Hey,” someone says. I turn. It’s him. Next to me at the bar, it’s Him. He’s never looked like this.  I’ve washed his clothes, cleaned his toilet, listened to her complain about him but, to me, he’s never looked like this. His green eyes fall to the necklace. I gasp and cover it with my hands. I’m in trouble. He smiles and brings his finger up to his puckered lips. He won’t tell her. He touches my hand, kisses my neck, touches my knee, and touches me. I look into his face, grab his oddly perfect and thick, dark hair.

Not yours, the voice whispers.

I say back, but he could be. Maybe, the last thing I’ll steal is you.

But…I didn’t. I don’t. I lay the cushion down, put the necklace on her dresser, and I really go home.

I strip. I shower. I put on lotion so I will feel smooth, soft pants so I’ll feel free, and socks so I can slide across the slick wooden floor.  The tea kettle whistles. I pour and I steep. I wrap my cold fingers around the hot porcelain cup and sink into a chair. The cat jumps in my lap and purrs. I open my worn journal, touch pen tip to page, and smile. Mine, I say. Mine.

The last thing I steal is me.